Saturday, December 15, 2018

Friday, December 14, 2018

Desperation

From the Washington Post:

A 7-year-old girl from Guatemala died of dehydration and shock after she was taken into Border Patrol custody last week for crossing from Mexico into the United States illegally with her father and a large group of migrants along a remote span of New Mexico desert, U.S. Customs and Border Protection said Thursday.

The child’s death is likely to intensify scrutiny of detention conditions at Border Patrol stations and CBP facilities that are increasingly overwhelmed by large numbers of families seeking asylum in the United States.

According to CBP records, the girl and her father were taken into custody about 10 p.m. Dec. 6 south of Lordsburg, N.M., as part of a group of 163 people who approached U.S. agents to turn themselves in.

More than eight hours later, the child began having seizures at 6:25 a.m., CBP records show. Emergency responders, who arrived soon after, measured her body temperature at 105.7 degrees, and according to a statement from CBP, she “reportedly had not eaten or consumed water for several days.”

It took them eight hours to find out that she hadn’t eaten or had water.  All they had to do was ask.

Note that these 163 people were not trying to enter the country illegally.  They presented themselves at the border crossing as refugees, turning themselves into Border Patrol, the way you’re supposed to.

This is a result of a border policy that is more concerned about politics than it is about people; about a mindset that says that people who try to violate the sanctity of our borders deserve what they get — trust me, that will be the GOP base response via Fox News — and a president and an administration that doesn’t give a damn about anyone that can’t do something for them.

This is devastating.  It was also utterly predictable.

Thursday, December 13, 2018

In Charge

After Tuesday’s meeting in which Nancy Pelosi basically ran the table, why would there be any doubt from anyone — Democrat or Republican — that she has the power and the smarts to be the leader of her party and Speaker of the House?

In contrast to Trump, she knows how to lead, she knows what she’s doing, and most importantly, she knows how to negotiate.

Rep. Nancy Pelosi clinched the votes for a second stint as House speaker on Wednesday after agreeing to serve no more than four years in a deal with a group of Democratic rebels — a significant concession to their demands for generational change.

The group of insurgents wanted new blood in the top Democratic ranks and maneuvered for months to deny Pelosi (D-Calif.) the votes she would need. After weeks of behind-the-scenes negotiating, Pelosi backed off her resistance to setting a date for her departure but avoided becoming an immediate lame duck.

“Over the summer, I made it clear that I see myself as a bridge to the next generation of leaders, a recognition of my continuing responsibility to mentor and advance new members into positions of power and responsibility in the House Democratic Caucus,” Pelosi said in a statement.

Almost immediately, seven Democratic holdouts said they would back Pelosi. Their support would be enough to secure the House majority that she needs for her election to speaker on Jan. 3 — 218 votes if all members are present and voting for an individual.

That’s true leadership and confidence in your abilities and knowing when to leave.

And the way things are going with Trump, by 2022, she might be in the middle of her first term as president.

Wednesday, December 12, 2018

Live From The Oval Office

Via the Washington Post:

In his first two years in office, President Trump operated without a clear check on his power. With his party controlling both houses of Congress, he issued demands from his bedroom in the form of early-morning tweets, and legislative leaders got in line. He rarely was personally confronted about his untruths and misstatements. And he mostly ignored congressional Democrats, choosing to spar instead with journalists.

That all came to a crashing halt Tuesday. In an extraordinarily heated public fight with the nation’s top two Democratic leaders, the combustible president confronted for the first time the enormity of the challenge he will face over the next two years: divided government.

House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.), the likely next speaker, and Senate Minority Leader Charles E. Schumer (D-N.Y.) called out Trump’s falsehoods. They exposed him as malleable about his promised border wall. They lectured him about the legislative process and reiterated to him that he lacked the votes to secure the $5 billion he seeks for the wall.

The Democrats also needled him for his party winning Senate contests last month only in reliably red states. They provoked him by highlighting the softening of the economy and the gyrations in the stock market. And they extracted from him a claim of personal responsibility for the current budget brinkmanship.

“I am proud to shut down the government for border security,” Trump said. “I will take the mantle. I will be the one to shut it down.”

During 17 extraordinary minutes of raised voices, pointed fingers and boorish interruptions in the Oval Office on Tuesday, Pelosi and Schumer introduced Trump to Washington’s new dynamic.

And no apparent progress was made — perhaps a harbinger for what lies ahead.

“Unfortunately, this has spiraled downward,” Pelosi interjected midway through the televised meeting.

Once she returned to the Capitol, the speaker-in-waiting told some of her Democratic colleagues that she felt like she had been in “a tinkle contest with a skunk” — and even questioned the president’s manhood, according to a Democratic aide in the room.

“It’s like a manhood thing for him,” Pelosi said in reference to the wall, according to the aide. “As if manhood could ever be associated with him.”

Is there any doubt as to what will be the cold opening for SNL this week?  Alec Baldwin, please report to make-up.

What’s extraordinary about this is that no one from the White House press office or staff moved in to hustle the TV crews out.  Usually they’re herded in, given a moment to get a few shots while the president and his guests nod and smile, then get shuffled out before they get down to business.  Not this time.  My guess is that Trump wanted to the show the world who was in charge and it promptly went south, he got owned, and by a woman.  Yeowch.

By the way, I think Mike Pence’s Secret Service code name is Potted Plant.

Tuesday, December 11, 2018

The Never-Ending Mission

Glenn Kessler, the Fact Checker at the Washington Post, has had to come up with a new measure for the number of lies a politician tells and how often they repeat them.

The scale used to be one to four Pinocchios: one Pinocchio was a fib; four was a blatant falsehood.  But now we’re in the Trump era and that quaint measurement is shot to hell.

To accurately reflect this phenomenon, The Washington Post Fact Checker is introducing a new category — the Bottomless Pinocchio. That dubious distinction will be awarded to politicians who repeat a false claim so many times that they are, in effect, engaging in campaigns of disinformation.

The bar for the Bottomless Pinocchio is high: The claims must have received three or four Pinocchios from The Fact Checker, and they must have been repeated at least 20 times. Twenty is a sufficiently robust number that there can be no question the politician is aware that his or her facts are wrong. The list of Bottomless Pinocchios will be maintained on its own landing page.

The Fact Checker has not identified statements from any other current elected official who meets the standard other than Trump. In fact, 14 statements made by the president immediately qualify for the list.

The president’s most-repeated falsehoods fall into a handful of broad categories — claiming credit for promises he has not fulfilled; false assertions that provide a rationale for his agenda; and political weaponry against perceived enemies such as Democrats or special counsel Robert S. Mueller III.

The number of Bottomless Pinocchios is legion, ranging from Mexico building the Wall to car companies building new plants to the number of people that showed up at his inauguration, and on and on.

The problem with fact checking Trump is two-fold: it’s never-ending (as it should be for any public figure who can change our lives) and the lies never die.  They’re zombies; no matter how often they’re debunked, disproved, and even mocked, they still get repeated and passed on by the gullible or those who would rather repeat a flaming lie than accept the boring truth.  (And, like zombies, they’re in search of brains.)

So while I applaud Mr. Kessler and his mission to expose the lies and the lying liars who tell them, he’s like Voyager 2: there’s no end in sight to his mission.

Monday, December 10, 2018

Florida’s Turn

Michigan and Wisconsin Republicans are doing their best to kneecap incoming Democratic governors and state officials with lame-duck laws.  Now Florida Republicans, even though they maintained control of the governorship and state legislature, are trying to subvert a clear election result that they fear could result in bad news for them in future elections.

A month after Florida voters approved a measure to restore the franchise to about 1.4 million former felons—the largest expansion of voting rights in decades—a battle over implementing that change is already beginning.

The state’s Republican elections chief is resisting swift implementation of the measure, which was approved by nearly 65 percent of Florida voters on November 6 and is scheduled to take effect on January 8. He’s asking the state Legislature, dominated by Republicans, to interpret the ballot initiative. As a result, the dismantling of one of the harshest disenfranchisement schemes in the country could be subject to delays, confusion, and lawsuits.

To those who crafted Amendment 4, the ballot language was straightforward. It read, “This amendment restores the voting rights of Floridians with felony convictions after they complete all terms of their sentence including parole or probation.” It stipulated an exception for people convicted of murder or a sexual offense.

“On January 8, anybody who has completed the terms of their sentence for an offense other than murder or felony sexual assault had their rights restored by the voters on Election Day,” said Howard Simon, who as director of the Florida ACLU helped craft and shepherd Amendment 4 to passage. But Simon, who retired last week after 21 years leading the Florida ACLU, predicted that there might be trouble ahead. “I’m not naive,” he said in an interview with Mother Jones on the day he stepped down. He predicted that the state Legislature, which does not convene until March 5, might try to muddy the waters. Legislation could bog down rights restoration or sow enough confusion that some ex-felons are deterred from registering.

Gee, what a shock… not that they’re doing this, but that it’s taken them more than a month to rear up on their hind legs and say “Hey, the language in the amendment isn’t clear.”  Which is cynically funny since the Republicans are famous for crafting ballot measures and amendments that read like one of those software user agreements you click through on your way to download an app.

But they know that the majority of people affected by this amendment are minorities who, in their mind, don’t deserve to vote regardless of their record, and that if they are given back their constitutional rights, will vote for the other guys.

So here we go again.

It Cannot Stand

The release of the sentencing memos by the Southern District of New York for Michael Cohen has launched a flurry of data and expectations about what could or will happen to the people who surround Trump, and inevitably, what will happen to Trump himself.  Trying to summarize it all is very difficult, but I think Adam Davidson at The New Yorker has a pretty good handle on it.

Even if we never learn another single fact about Trump, his business and campaign, and any collusion with Russia, it is now becoming clear that Trump’s bid for the Presidency was almost certainly designed, at least in part, to enrich Trump, and that he was willing to pursue the political interests of a hostile foreign power in order to make money. This scheme was executed ineptly and in ways that make it highly likely that the intelligence agencies of Russia, as well as several other nations, have been able to ferret out most of the details. This means that Trump and the people closest to him have been at enormous risk of compromise.

We will learn more facts, no doubt—many of them. Mueller has revealed only a few threads of the case. He has established that Cohen spent the months between September, 2015, and June, 2016, actively engaging the Russian government to exchange political favors for money, and that, throughout this period, Cohen routinely informed Trump of his efforts (and presumably, though it’s unstated, received Trump’s blessing). This was the precise period in which Trump’s candidacy shifted from humorous long shot to the nominee of the Republican Party. Mueller’s filing also contains suggestions that people connected to the White House, possibly including the President, knew of Michael Cohen’s lies to Congress and federal investigators, and, also, that White House officials stayed in contact with Manafort, who had been revealed to be in close touch with a known Russian intelligence asset.

This is a lot. But it’s not the complete narrative. It is not clear what happened after the notorious Trump Tower meeting of June 9, 2016. Cohen appears to have been pushed aside, and no longer to have played the role of intermediary. Does this mean that Trump insisted that his team shut off all contact with Russia? Or did he hand the portfolio over to a more trusted staffer?

[…]

Mueller’s filings do mark a different sort of end. We are at the end of reasonable debate about whether Trump is hopelessly compromised. As Mueller’s filings encircle the President, the special counsel surely knows he is at ever-greater risk of being fired. Presumably, he wouldn’t have released memorandums as damning as these if he weren’t prepared to make a fuller case. Each filing fills in the over-all picture in ever more granular detail. It seems reasonable to assume that we haven’t yet learned the most disturbing facts. But, even if we learn nothing more, we are already in an unbearable condition. The President of the United States knowingly and eagerly participated in a scheme with a hostile foreign leader who he knew was seeking to influence the Presidential election. Trump sought to profit politically and financially, many of his closest subordinates executed this effort, and he then was aware of and, it seems likely, encouraged an illegal effort to hide these facts. His reckless, unpatriotic actions have left him compromised by at least one but likely many foreign powers and have left his election open to reasonable questions about its legitimacy. And, every day, he sets policies and makes decisions that have an impact on the lives of all Americans and the fortunes of the very autocrats who hold sway over him. It cannot stand.

The scary part of all of this is that we as a nation haven’t faced this sort of threat to the very foundation of our democracy in our collective lifetimes.  Watergate was big and dangerous, too, but at the least the central figure in it — Richard Nixon — still bore some allegiance to the system of our government and yielded to the rule of law, ultimately abiding by the rulings of the courts and the Supreme Court.  And when he went, he went without threatening to hole up in his office, daring armed officers to drag him out by his heels.

We can’t be that assured about Trump.  For one thing, he has an embedded media operation that will back him no matter what.  Second, we’re seeing that his supporters at various state and local levels are willing to cheat — albeit clumsily — to win an election, and of course he had an entire foreign government at his disposal to win the last one.

So dreaming about the chances of Beto O’Rourke or debating the ages and merits of Joe Biden and Bernie Sanders are nothing compared to the fact that we are about to embark on a presidential campaign that has all the earmarks of one that kept Robert Mugabe in office for generations.

Which means that we need to win the next election or face the real possibility that it will be the last real one we have.

Sunday, December 9, 2018

Sunday Reading

The Central Issue — Charles P. Pierce on the Democrats’ identity crisis.

I may have mentioned once or twice that the single most dispiriting political event I ever attended—prior to Election Night 2016, that is—was the 1982 Democratic Midterm Convention in Philadelphia. This was the first gathering of the party since the disastrous 1980 general elections and it was prior to the party’s partial legislative comeback in the midterm elections later that year. Mainly, it was an ensemble exercise in performance-art terror at the prospect of dealing with the electoral juggernaut that was Ronald Reagan. Bold strokes were readily dismissed. “We have concluded,” said a great Texas progressive named Billie Carr, in summing up the first day of this fiasco, “that crime is really bad.”

The chairman, a banker buddy of Jimmy Carter’s named Charles Manatt, was ever alert to any signs that the party’s left flank would be tempted to color outside the lines. In that event you could see the sprouting seeds of what became the Democratic Leadership Counsel and every attempt thereafter to restructure the Democratic Party along a more corporate-friendly, less-civil-rights-conscious lines—from the DLC, to the Concord Coalition, to “neoliberalism,” to Pete Peterson’s assaults on Social Security, to No Labels, to the cult of Simpson-Bowles, to the Problem Solvers Caucus and right up to the present day. In 1982, the entire gathering was so deadeningly cautious that I wound up spending most of the first afternoon and evening in the hotel bar with Christopher Hitchens and Alex Cockburn, drinking many funereal toasts to any politician to the left of Scoop Jackson.

So, anyway, I’ve been watching these folks for a long time. And one of the things that consistently drove me around the bend was the refashioning of the word “centrist” to suit the agenda of the DLC and its many descendants. What we had here were conservative Democrats—in truth, some of them were more Eisenhower Republicans—but there suddenly was no such thing as a conservative Democrat. There were liberals and “centrists.” For decades, the dialogue shifted inexorably that direction. (One of the side effects was that, as the Republicans slid steadily off the right edge of the political world, some Reaganauts found themselves referred to as “moderates,” which did not help matters, either.) Now, though, “centrist” has taken on a whole new meaning and a whole new purpose within the Democratic Party. It is now a club to beat people with.

In the long view of history, a lot of people who are being accused of being “centrist”—or, more often, “centrist corporate Democrats”—hold positions well off the port beam of the 1972 McGovern campaign, and almost over the horizon from the left side of most Democratic presidential candidates of the past 20-odd years. Hillary Rodham Clinton’s 2016 platform was the most progressive Democratic platform since McGovern’s. That’s not deniable. Neither is the fact that the most conservative member of the prospective Democratic field in 2020 is Joe Biden. But if, as a lot of people seem to believe, anyone who is not full-tilt behind the Green New Deal and/or Medicare For All is unacceptably “centrist,” then the word has lost all meaning and the Democratic Party is in danger of losing its way.

Bernie Sanders had a moment with Stephen Colbert on Thursday night that is worth studying in this regard. They were talking about Medicare For All, and Sanders said it is no longer a fringe idea, which is true. Colbert asked, logically, what the political path to achieving this laudable goal might be, particularly through a Republican-controlled Senate. Sanders replied:

If the Democrats in the House move us in the direction of Medicare For All, and Mitch McConnell chooses not to do anything, there will be enormous pressure all over this country on Republican senators to do the right thing, do what the House did.

Now, it is not being “centrist,” or “corporate,” or in any way “neoliberal” to point out that Sanders here is being almost preternaturally optimistic, to the point of being unacceptably glib, about the difficulty of getting McConnell and the Republicans to do anything of the sort. And swinging those words around like a baseball bat to any Democratic politician who points out that’s a short route to chaos and a return to general minority status.

The fact is that there is a natural center in American politics that is not neoliberal, or corporate, or “centrist,” in the ever-changing meaning of that word. My politics don’t happen to reside there, but that doesn’t make it any less real. It’s been obscured by decades of dishonest politics, personal agendas, and rhetorical sleight-of-hand. It happens to be the solid place whence can be launched real progress. Political patience is the most lost art of all.

Teachable Moments — Humor from Andy Borowitz in The New Yorker.

WASHINGTON (The Borowitz Report)—Pushing back against criticism of her lack of diplomatic experience, Donald J. Trump’s choice to be the next United States Ambassador to the United Nations, Heather Nauert, said on Friday that a memorable visit to the “It’s a Small World” ride at Disney World made her eminently qualified for the U.N. post.

“When people look at me, they think Heather Nauert, former Fox News anchor,” Nauert told reporters at the State Department. “What they don’t realize is I’m also Heather Nauert, who went on ‘It’s a Small World’ three times when she was nine.”

Nauert said that, while career diplomats might spend twenty to thirty years learning about only one country, “I learned about twenty-five countries in fifteen minutes.”

Laying out her objectives for her tenure at the United Nations, the prospective Ambassador said, “Right now I’m just looking forward to seeing all of the other Ambassadors wearing their festive costumes and doing their dances. That’s going to be amazing, I think.”

Nauert bristled when a reporter asked about her controversial comment that D Day was evidence of the long-standing bond between Germany and the United States. “At the end of the day, there is just one moon and one golden sun, and a smile means friendship to everyone,” she said.

Doonesbury — Message delivered.

Saturday, December 8, 2018

Friday, December 7, 2018

Good Housekeeping

Via the New York Times:

During more than five years as a housekeeper at the Trump National Golf Club in Bedminster, N.J., Victorina Morales has made Donald J. Trump’s bed, cleaned his toilet and dusted his crystal golf trophies. When he visited as president, she was directed to wear a pin in the shape of the American flag adorned with a Secret Service logo.

Because of the “outstanding” support she has provided during Mr. Trump’s visits, Ms. Morales in July was given a certificate from the White House Communications Agency inscribed with her name.

Quite an achievement for an undocumented immigrant housekeeper.

Ms. Morales’s journey from cultivating corn in rural Guatemala to fluffing pillows at an exclusive golf resort took her from the southwest border, where she said she crossed illegally in 1999, to the horse country of New Jersey, where she was hired at the Trump property in 2013 with documents she said were phony.

She said she was not the only worker at the club who was in the country illegally.

This is the real thing about undocumented workers: they are an essential part of our economy.  Not only that, they’ve risked life and limb to get here to do jobs that many so-called “real Americans” wouldn’t do such as make Donald Trump’s bed (that gives me the creeps just writing about it).

But they’re a convenient and easy target for political exploitation — they have no super PAC to buy their way to power — and so Trump can go to some rally in Alabama, rail about the hordes of illegals, and come home to nice clean sheets and a clean house thanks to Ms. Morales.

Thursday, December 6, 2018