Friday, May 31, 2019

Basic Education

Someone — presumably certified in early education — needs to sit down with Trump and explain how things like courts and the Constitution work.

“I don’t see how they can because they’re possibly allowed, although I can’t imagine the courts allowing it. I’ve never gone into it. I never thought that would even be possible to be using that word. To me, it’s a dirty word — the word impeach. It’s a dirty, filthy, disgusting word.”

Circling back to whether he thought he would be impeached, he told reporters, “I don’t think so, because there was no crime.”

He returned to a flawed argument he and his backers have long put forth to dismiss the threat of Trump’s impeachment.

“You know, it’s high crimes and, not with — or — it’s high crimes and misdemeanors,” he said. “There was no high crime and there was no misdemeanor. So how do you impeach based on that?”

I’ve had more cogent arguments with a four-year-old.

  • The courts — Supreme or otherwise — have nothing to do with impeachment.  It’s solely up to Congress.
  • He needs to read the Constitution on what it says about impeachment.  And taking reading interpretation instructions from him is like getting ice skating instructions from a snake.
  • His fixation on “dirty, filthy, disgusting” goes back to his germophobia, which is something that’s better left to a Freudian.

Where is “Schoolhouse Rock” when you need it?

Sunday, May 26, 2019

Sunday Reading

Charles P. Pierce — Paranoia Strikes Deep.

Something about Speaker Nancy Pelosi sets all the bats flying in his belfry. On Thursday, the president* and his administration* surrendered to the bats entirely. The belfry is too crowded with bats for anyone of them to think clearly and every damn one of them at this point is in some way barking mad. I warned you about the prion disease that was eating the higher functions of the conservative brain ever since Ronald Reagan first fed them the monkey-brains in 1980. They are the living dead now, and they are running the country.

First, there was this insane press availability—the second insane press availability in as many days, if you’re keeping score while fleeing the country—in which El Caudillo del Mar-a-Lago dragooned his minions into public assertions that he had been, in his own words, “an extremely stable genius” during his brief meeting with Pelosi and Chuck Schumer, the one that he ended with a badly rehearsed tantrum. From Politico:

In a remarkable scene, the president proceeded to name-check senior White House staff and advisers in the Roosevelt Room whom he said had attended Wednesday’s session on infrastructure initiatives with top congressional Democrats — which Trump abandoned after declaring that the lawmakers could not simultaneously negotiate legislation while investigating and threatening to impeach him. “Kellyanne, what was my temperament yesterday?” Trump asked White House counselor Kellyanne Conway. “Very calm. No tamper tantrum,” she replied before criticizing journalists’ coverage of the meeting, which Trump has complained portrayed him with a “rage narrative.”

It was a reporter’s question at the White House about Pelosi’s “intervention” remark — which Trump dubbed “a nasty-type statement” — that put the president on the defensive Thursday. He began turning to aides such as Mercedes Schlapp, the White House director of strategic communications, and pressing them for first-hand accounts of his scuttled meeting with Democrats. “You were very calm and you were very direct, and you sent a very firm message to the speaker and to the Democrats,” Schlapp said.

Next up was Trump’s top economic adviser, Larry Kudlow, who said the president’s conversation with Democrats was “much calmer than some of our trade meetings,” followed by White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders, who described the president’s demeanor as “very calm and straightforward and clear.”

But the greatest praise for the commander in chief came from Trump himself, who told the assembled members of the media during one non-sequitur: “I’m an extremely stable genius. OK?”

Highly respected Intertoobz weisenheimers were split over whether the president* was re-enacting this famous movie scene, or this famous television skit.

Later on, after this brief comic interlude, the president* got down to some serious paranoia, and things stopped being funny very quickly.

He reiterated Thursday that he believes he is the victim of a long-running effort that meant to stop him from winning in 2016, delegitimize his presidency and remove him from office either through impeachment or by Democrats damaging him enough with investigations that he can’t be re-elected. He has charged that some of his adversaries are guilty of treason, and he was asked Thursday to provide the names of people who should be held accountable for a crime punishable by death. Trump answered with a list of names: McCabe, Comey, former FBI agent Peter Strzok and former Justice Department official Lisa Page. Strzok and Page exchanged text messages during the 2016 campaign — when the FBI was investigating Trump’s operation — that disparaged him, and Trump says attempted to prevent him from winning.

He answered with a list of names. Of people he thinks should be tried as traitors and subject to the only crime defined in the Constitution and one that is punishable by death. Think about that.

And, later on Thursday, he put the power of his office behind this angry fantastical snipe hunt of his. From the AP:

The move marked an escalation in Trump’s efforts to “investigate the investigators,” as he continues to try to undermine the findings of special counsel Robert Mueller’s probe amid mounting Democratic calls to bring impeachment proceedings against Trump. Press secretary Sarah Sanders said in a statement that Trump is delegating to Barr the “full and complete authority” to declassify documents relating to the probe, which would ease his efforts to review the sensitive intelligence underpinnings of the investigation. Such an action could create fresh tensions within the FBI and other intelligence agencies, which have historically resisted such demands.

Trump is giving Barr a new tool in his investigation, empowering his attorney general to unilaterally unseal documents that the Justice Department has historically regarded as among its most highly secret. Warrants obtained from the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court, for instance, are not made public — not even to the person on whom the surveillance was authorized. Trump explicitly delegated Barr with declassification power — noting it would not automatically extend to another attorney general — and only for use in the review of the Russia investigation. Before using the new authority, Barr should consult with intelligence officials “to the extent he deems it practicable,” Trump wrote in a memo formalizing the matter.

If you’re an FBI agent, and you’ve been chasing down, say, something about where Deutsche Bank got some of its money, and you hear this news, you’re not sleeping well tonight, I guarantee you. And that’s the point.

And the last signifying event on Thursday was the superseding indictment filed by the Department of Justice against Julian Assange, who now stands accused not of helping Chelsea Manning hack a government server, but of 17 violations of the Espionage Act in sharing the fruits of Manning’s hacking with various news organizations. This move runs headlong into both the First Amendment and the Supreme Court’s decision in the Pentagon Papers case. But with the very real possibility that Assange may never see the inside of a U.S. courtroom, it’s incumbent on us to look for another motive for this overreaching indictment. From The New York Times:

For the purposes of press freedoms, what matters is not who counts as a journalist, but whether journalistic activities — whether performed by a “journalist” or anyone else — can be crimes in America. The Trump administration’s move could establish a precedent used to criminalize future acts of national-security journalism, said Jameel Jaffer of the Knight First Amendment Institute at Columbia University. “The charges rely almost entirely on conduct that investigative journalists engage in every day,” he said. “The indictment should be understood as a frontal attack on press freedom.”

If you’re an investigative reporter, and you get a tip about, say, where Deutsche Bank got some of its money, and you hear this news, you’re not sleeping well tonight, I guarantee you. And that’s the point. With the active connivance of his pet attorney general, William Barr, the president* is putting his own law enforcement apparatus and the free press on notice—do what I want or I will make your lives hell. The only saving grace in the whole situation is that Nancy Pelosi is driving him so far up the wall that he probably can’t concentrate long enough to be the dictator he wants to be. That’s a helluva thing to hang your republic on, but here we are.

Carl Hiaasen — Ghost Stories

The ghost of Richard Nixon sat down in his favorite armchair in front of the television. He still didn’t know how to work the remote, so the ghost of H.R. “Bob” Haldeman turned on the TV and handed the former president a glass of red wine.

“What channel?” Haldeman’s ghost asked.

“Anything but Dan Rather.”

The ghost of Haldeman got tired of reminding his former boss that the pesky Rather had been gone from CBS for years. He put on the Fox News network, which was broadcasting live from the Rose Garden at the White House.

“I never liked those outdoor press things,” the ghost of Nixon remarked sourly. “You’d always hear those damn hippies raising hell across the street in Lafayette Park. The anti-war crowd, you know. Did we ever find out who was paying them?”

Haldeman’s ghost said, “Still working on that, Mr. President.”

Just then, on television, the current non-ghost president entered the Rose Garden and announced that he’d just walked out of a meeting with Congressional Democrats because they were all out to get him.

“Welcome to the club,” muttered Nixon’s ghost, and took a loud sip of wine.

On TV, the mortal president began to fulminate, veering from one random topic to another —investigations, infrastructure, the Mueller report, his unfairly persecuted son Don Jr. On it went.

Fascinated, the ghost of Nixon edged forward in his chair.

“Didn’t his staff give him a list of talking points?” he asked.

“He pays no attention to his staff,” Haldeman’s ghost explained. “He likes to wing it.”

“Is he insane, or is this just an act?” Nixon’s ghost signaled for more wine. “They said I was nuts for talking to the White House portraits in the middle of the night, but I was drunk as a skunk at the time. What’s this guy’s excuse?”

Haldeman’s ghost shrugged. “Trump doesn’t drink. We’ve had this discussion before.”

The Rose Garden tirade went on for 12 full minutes. The ghost of Nixon watched transfixed, his expression pinched and brooding. Afterward, when the Fox commentators began chattering, he told Haldeman’s ghost to mute the volume.

“Bob, that was the most unconvincing, half-assed denial of a cover-up I’ve heard,” the ghost of Nixon said. “Mine were so much better.”

“Absolutely, Mr. President. Your denials were rock-solid. The gold standard.”

“Well, until the day I resigned.”

“This fellow won’t ever do that,” said Haldeman’s ghost.

“You think they’ll actually impeach him? That’s what he seems to want.” The ghost of Nixon gazed out the window, his mood sinking as it often did. “Maybe I should’ve gone the impeachment route instead of quitting. Made those bastards drag me from the Oval Office kicking and fighting.”

The ghost of Haldeman was accustomed to such maudlin talk. “Mr. President, they don’t have the votes in the Senate to convict Trump. That wasn’t your situation during Watergate. You did the honorable thing by sparing the nation a long, divisive trial.”

“That’s right — and the damn liberal media, they claimed I did it just for the pardon!”

“History will judge you kindly,” said the ghost of Haldeman, a line he used no less than 10 times a day to placate his old friend.

But the face of Nixon’s ghost was a familiar mask of bitter intensity.

“Bob, I could be spiteful, paranoid and anti-Semitic, but I never paid hush money to a porn star! I never hid my IRS returns from the public! I never grabbed women’s privates and bragged about it! I never got campaign dirt from the Russians, even in the McGovern race! And I never ordered anyone working for me to defy a Congressional subpoena. I might’ve asked them to tidy up their testimony a little, but —”

“Mr. President, all you ever did was lie about a third-rate burglary.”

“Exactly! Compared to this guy, I was a model commander-in-chief. My face ought to be up on Mount Rushmore next to Lincoln and FDR!”

It wasn’t unusual for the ghost of Nixon to mix up his Roosevelts after a few drinks. Haldeman’s ghost said nothing.

“Bob, answer me this. Trump tells more lies before lunch every day than I told in all six years I was there. How on Earth is he still sitting in that office? And don’t get me started on his hair! Did he steal that stupid wig from Carol Channing?”

“Time for your nap, Mr. President,” Haldeman’s ghost said gently. “Don’t worry. I’ll wake you up for ‘Jeopardy!’”

“That kid with the name I can’t pronounce — he’s still winning?”

“Yes, he is.”

Hmmm,” said Nixon’s ghost, rising. “I guess that’s all right.”

Doonesbury — Act now!

Thursday, May 9, 2019

Daddy Issues

Paul Waldman in the Washington Post on Trump and his fear of revealing his tax returns:

There are two explanations for what Trump is trying to conceal. The first is that there are scandalous or even criminal activities that he has engaged in — partnerships with shady characters, cases of money laundering — and the returns would point the way to discover them.

To understand why, you have to remember that the Trump Organization is not an ordinary corporation in the way you might think of it. In fact, it is an amalgam of approximately 500 separate partnerships and pass-through companies (which is why Trump almost certainly reaped millions of dollars in tax benefits from the 2017 tax law, which included a 20 percent deduction for pass-throughs). If we had Trump’s returns, each of those arrangements could be investigated, and no one who has reported on Trump’s business activities would say there aren’t shocking things to discover.

The second explanation for Trump’s determination not to allow the returns to become public is in some ways more innocent: that as so many have speculated, he’s not nearly as rich as he always says. Is it possible that Trump’s motives are only the most petty, shallow and vain ones? After all, we’re talking about Donald Trump.

Of course, both things could be true. Trump’s returns could show him to be less wealthy than he says, and also reveal instances of scandalous or criminal behavior. If I had to hazard a guess I’d say that’s what’s most likely.

I think the biggest reason is that Trump has spent the last fifty years or so trying to get his father to like him.

No, I’m not a psychiatrist or psychologist.  But I am a theatre scholar and I spend a lot of time analyzing plays that deal with family, and this Trump story has daddy issues written all over it.

Think about it: the failed marriages, the serial lying and boasting, even the obsession with his appearance; he’s trying to win approval and be seen as a success to the one person who could make him feel fulfilled and gain acceptance.  This sort of pathology is the root of drama going all the way from Oedipus and Shakespeare and through modern drama — Eugene O’Neill, Arthur Miller, Robert Anderson (“I Never Sang For My Father”) — and on and on.  Even the bible is rife with characters seeking their father’s approval, including the big one: the New Testament.

It’s not like he’s the first president trying to win paternal blessing.  Our history has a lot of men who played out their family dynamics on the national stage as well as around the kitchen table.  But with Trump this particular drama seems to be on a tragic arc that not only drags the audience along with it but the whole world.

Wednesday, May 8, 2019

Bad For Business

The New York Times dug into the clues available on Trump’s business dealings in the 1980’s and 90’s and found out to no one’s surprise whatsoever that he is really lousy at it.

By the time his master-of-the-universe memoir “Trump: The Art of the Deal” hit bookstores in 1987, Donald J. Trump was already in deep financial distress, losing tens of millions of dollars on troubled business deals, according to previously unrevealed figures from his federal income tax returns.

Mr. Trump was propelled to the presidency, in part, by a self-spun narrative of business success and of setbacks triumphantly overcome. He has attributed his first run of reversals and bankruptcies to the recession that took hold in 1990. But 10 years of tax information obtained by The New York Times paints a different, and far bleaker, picture of his deal-making abilities and financial condition.

The data — printouts from Mr. Trump’s official Internal Revenue Service tax transcripts, with the figures from his federal tax form, the 1040, for the years 1985 to 1994 — represents the fullest and most detailed look to date at the president’s taxes, information he has kept from public view. Though the information does not cover the tax years at the center of an escalating battle between the Trump administration and Congress, it traces the most tumultuous chapter in a long business career — an era of fevered acquisition and spectacular collapse.

The numbers show that in 1985, Mr. Trump reported losses of $46.1 million from his core businesses — largely casinos, hotels and retail space in apartment buildings. They continued to lose money every year, totaling $1.17 billion in losses for the decade.

In fact, year after year, Mr. Trump appears to have lost more money than nearly any other individual American taxpayer, The Times found when it compared his results with detailed information the I.R.S. compiles on an annual sampling of high-income earners. His core business losses in 1990 and 1991 — more than $250 million each year — were more than double those of the nearest taxpayers in the I.R.S. information for those years.

Over all, Mr. Trump lost so much money that he was able to avoid paying income taxes for eight of the 10 years. It is not known whether the I.R.S. later required changes after audits.

Since the 2016 presidential campaign, journalists at The Times and elsewhere have been trying to piece together Mr. Trump’s complex and concealed finances. While The Times did not obtain the president’s actual tax returns, it received the information contained in the returns from someone who had legal access to it. The Times was then able to find matching results in the I.R.S. information on top earners — a publicly available database that each year comprises a one-third sampling of those taxpayers, with identifying details removed. It also confirmed significant findings using other public documents, along with confidential Trump family tax and financial records from the newspaper’s 2018 investigation into the origin of the president’s wealth.

The bottom line is that he’s a fraud and always has been; no different than that guy on late-night TV who sells you all-natural boner pills and prostate cures or foam-filled pillows for $100 a pop.  He made his millions and lost them twice over because he sucks at actually working but makes up for it with bluster and bullshit.  That’s the one thing he is good at.  Thirty years ago it only mattered to the bankers or the poor schmucks who bet on him — and the tenants in his properties — but now he’s in the White House and running the same con.

Ain’t that America.

Tuesday, May 7, 2019

One Way Or Another

Trump trolled the twitterverse with his approval of Jerry Falwell Jr’s idea that somehow Trump deserves either reparations or another two years to make up for the years “stolen from him” because of the Mueller investigation.  It’s nothing more than a stupid attempt at getting a rise out of the usual suspects, and it to some degree it worked in that some columnists and cable chatterers thought it was worth discussing.

It’s not.  Even though Trump has made noises about contesting a close election in the past, he’s all bluster and bullshit and when his time is up he’ll go.  Not quietly, and it may take a couple of well-muscled federal marshals and the Secret Service, but he’ll be escorted out of the White House.

The only downside is that there won’t be a tumbrel to take him away.

Consensus

It’s nearly impossible to get 450 lawyers to agree on anything.  But there’s this.

More than 450 former federal prosecutors who worked in Republican and Democratic administrations have signed on to a statement asserting special counsel Robert S. Mueller III’s findings would have produced obstruction charges against President Trump — if not for the office he holds.

The statement — signed by myriad former career government employees as well as high-profile political appointees — offers a rebuttal to Attorney General William P. Barr’s determination that the evidence Mueller uncovered was “not sufficient” to establish that Trump committed a crime.

Mueller had declined to say one way or the other whether Trump should have been charged, citing a Justice Department legal opinion that sitting presidents cannot be indicted, as well as concerns about the fairness of accusing someone for whom there can be no court proceeding.

“Each of us believes that the conduct of President Trump described in Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s report would, in the case of any other person not covered by the Office of Legal Counsel policy against indicting a sitting President, result in multiple felony charges for obstruction of justice,” the former federal prosecutors wrote.

“We emphasize that these are not matters of close professional judgment,” they added. “Of course, there are potential defenses or arguments that could be raised in response to an indictment of the nature we describe here. . . . But, to look at these facts and say that a prosecutor could not probably sustain a conviction for obstruction of justice — the standard set out in Principles of Federal Prosecution — runs counter to logic and our experience.”

No wonder the dude wants to stay in office as long as he can.  It’s the only way he can evade prosecution.

Sunday, May 5, 2019

Sunday Reading

Where Will They Go? — Susan Glasser in The New Yorker on how Trump is destroying reputations.

In the first year of the Trump Presidency, White House advisers often promised reporters that this would be the week when they would unveil Trump’s plans for a massive investment in American infrastructure. On the campaign trail, Donald Trump had vowed to spend a trillion dollars rebuilding roads, bridges, and airports. He said that he would work with Democrats to do it. For a time, it seemed to be the only bipartisan project that might actually go somewhere. But, of course, Infrastructure Week never happened. There was always some distraction, some P.R. disaster that overwhelmed it—a chief of staff to be fired, an errant tweet upending foreign policy. Infrastructure Week lived on as an Internet meme, a Twitter hashtag, a joke; it became shorthand for the Administration’s inability to stay on message or organize itself to promote a legislative agenda it claimed to support.

Trump never fully gave up on the infrastructure idea, though, and this week he resurrected it in a rare meeting with congressional Democratic leaders, who emerged from the White House on Tuesday morning, smiling and apparently excited. The President, they explained, had decided to double the price tag of his proposal, from a trillion to two trillion dollars, because it sounded more impressive. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, to whom the President reportedly offered Tic Tacs at the meeting in a friendly gesture, praised his vision for a “big and bold” plan. The meeting, Senator Chuck Schumer added, had been a “very, very good start.”

But it was all just a form of Washington performance art. There are no Republican votes for such an expensive package, as the Democrats well knew, and there is no way that the President’s allies on Capitol Hill, nor his own penny-pinching White House chief of staff, would agree to such a budget-busting deal. Trump’s “extreme and aspirational” idea, as Senator Kevin Cramer, of North Dakota, put it, had Republicans “rolling their eyes,” Politico reported. The ranking member of the House committee that would have to approve any measure had offered a simple answer to the question of whether Trump’s idea could ever be passed. “No,” he said. It would not be Infrastructure Week, or even Infrastructure Day. The new era of bipartisan dealmaking was over before it began.

By late Tuesday, the news cycle had moved on. Trump’s Attorney General, William Barr, was refusing to testify before the Democratic-controlled House Judiciary Committee and would not turn over the unredacted Mueller report or its underlying evidence. The Administration, in fact, was refusing to comply with more or less any congressional demands for information and testimony on an array of investigations of the President, from his business-related conflicts of interest to his family-separation policy at the border. Then came more news: Barr had a behind-the-scenes dispute with the special counsel about his characterization of the report. Robert Mueller, it turned out, had sent a letter to Barr (who later called the missive “snitty”) weeks earlier, but it was only now being revealed. In the letter, Mueller suggested that Barr had minimized and deflected the serious questions about the President that Mueller’s investigation had turned up. The next day, the whole mess was fought over in excruciating detail when Barr appeared before the Republican-controlled Senate Judiciary Committee to testify for the first time since the release of the Mueller report.

By Thursday, House Democrats were holding a hearing, with an empty chair where Barr would have been seated, had he shown up, and threatening to take the Attorney General to court. One of the Democrats had brought fried chicken, which some of his fellow-representatives ate during the hearing, to mock Barr—he’s a chicken, get it? It was all a “stunt,” a “circus,” and a “travesty,” Representative Doug Collins, the panel’s top Republican, complained. But Representative Jerry Nadler, the Judiciary Committee’s Democratic chairman, said that nothing less than the “integrity of this chamber,” the Constitution, and the American system of “not having a President as a dictator” was at stake in Barr’s refusal to comply with the Judiciary Committee’s subpoena. “There is no way forward for this country that does not include a reckoning with this clear and present danger to our constitutional order,” Nadler added. Soon after, Pelosi, at a press conference, told reporters that the Administration’s refusal to coöperate with Congress on so many matters was itself obstruction. As for Barr, she said, he had lied under oath to Congress about his dealings with Mueller and “disgraced” his office. “We are in a very, very, very challenging place,” she said. So much for Infrastructure Week. The constitutional crisis was back on.

The Trump Presidency has been a great wrecker of reputations. In his short time in politics, Trump has managed to shred the careers, professional integrity, and dignity of many of those who worked for him. Rex Tillerson had been an American corporate superstar, the C.E.O. of ExxonMobil, one of the wealthiest oil companies in the world. He became Trump’s Secretary of State and, according to the account given to reporters at an off-the-record session by Trump’s chief of staff John Kelly, learned that he was being fired while sitting on the toilet, an indignity followed up with a Presidential tweet announcing his exit. Trump’s first chief of staff, Reince Priebus, was just leaving Air Force One, oblivious, when Trump tweeted the news of his firing. On Thursday, Trump did it again, with Stephen Moore, his controversial choice for the Federal Reserve, tweeting that he was out of contention soon after Moore told Bloomberg News that the President was his “biggest ally.” In the interview, Moore said, of the President, “He’s full speed ahead.” The Trump tweet abandoning him came at 12:29 P.M., which was apparently little more than half an hour after Moore told a Bloomberg writer that the President was still all in. “Moore got Priebus-ed,” the writer tweeted.

Just as striking as Trump’s own crude efforts to humiliate, however, are the numerous examples of those who seem to abase or degrade themselves in their efforts to curry favor with the President. Such behavior, of course, has long been a bipartisan feature of life in Washington, where access to power can do bad things to the character of those who seek it. The Trump Presidency has produced more than its share of examples, however, given that getting and staying in this President’s good graces appears to require an extra helping of public obsequiousness, grovelling, flip-floppery, and over-the-top televised pronouncements.

This unseemly aspect of the Trump era was on full display at Wednesday’s Senate Judiciary Committee hearing, where both the committee chairman, Senator Lindsey Graham, of South Carolina, and Attorney General Barr went out of their way to appeal to the President, at the expense of their own credibility. Graham, who ran against Trump, in 2016, and called the future President a “kook” who was “unfit” to hold the office, opened the hearing by reading aloud text messages exchanged, in 2016, between two F.B.I. agents, who expressed the same fears about Trump that Graham had at the time. Graham then announced that he had not actually read the whole Mueller report, the contents of which he proceeded to dismiss.

For his part, Barr, once again, acted more as the President’s defense lawyer than as his Attorney General. Taking a maximalist position on Presidential power, Barr argued that Trump would be well within his rights to shut down any investigation of himself if he believed it to be unfair. Surely, that statement will go down as one of the most extraordinary claims of executive authority since Richard Nixon said that “when the President does it, that means it’s not illegal.” Throughout his appearance, Barr continued to assert that Trump had been cleared of all wrongdoing by the Mueller investigation, while admitting, under questioning by Senator Kamala Harris, that he and his deputy had not actually looked at the underlying evidence of Presidential obstruction assembled by Mueller before determining that it was not sufficient to warrant charges. Barr also said that Trump directing his then White House counsel to fire the special counsel—a key incident in the Mueller report—was not a big deal because Trump was actually ordering that Mueller be replaced, which, Barr contended, is not the same thing as ordering him fired. His client, not surprisingly, was pleased. “A source familiar with Trump’s thinking said the President thought Barr was great and did an excellent job,” Axios reported.

Barr’s whole performance, in fact, was so over the top, so Trumpian, that it immediately led to an array of tweets and op-eds wondering why Barr, a once-respected figure in conservative legal circles and a relatively uncontroversial Attorney General during the Presidency of George H. W. Bush, would choose to end a distinguished career in such a fashion. After all, Barr, like Graham, hadn’t even liked or supported Trump when he ran for President.

The most scathing take of all came from the former F.B.I. director James Comey, whose firing by Trump led to Mueller’s appointment. Writing in the Times, in a piece titled “How Trump Co-opts Leaders Like Bill Barr,” Comey posited that Barr’s conduct and that of others around Trump was a consequence of their having chosen to serve the President. “Amoral leaders have a way of revealing the character of those around them,” Comey wrote. “Accomplished people lacking inner strength can’t resist the compromises necessary to survive Mr. Trump and that adds up to something they will never recover from.” It doesn’t happen right away but over time, Comey wrote, in a series of compromises along the way. “Mr. Trump eats your soul in small bites.”

So Washington enters May as it ended April, with a constitutional crisis in the making and no Infrastructure Week. But will the constitutional clash between the Democratic House and the Republican President be any less performance art than the nonexistent infrastructure deal they claimed to be making? After Wednesday’s contentious Senate hearing, Lindsey Graham, whatever you think of his credibility, spoke what appeared to be a genuine political truth. He said that, as far as he and his Republican-controlled committee are concerned, there will be no more discussion of the Mueller report, no more testimony, and no impeachment. “It’s over,” he said, and he may well be right.

Scamonomics — Paul Krugman on the GOP’s plot to rig the economy against the Democrats.

Do you remember the great inflation scare of 2010-2011? The U.S. economy remained deeply depressed from the aftereffects of the burst housing bubble and the 2008 financial crisis. Unemployment was still above 9 percent; wage growth had slowed to a crawl, and measures of underlying inflation were well below the Federal Reserve’s targets. So the Fed was doing what it could to boost the economy — keeping short-term interest rates as low as possible, and buying long-term bonds in the hope of getting some extra traction.

But Republicans were up in arms, warning that the Fed’s policies would lead to runaway inflation. A Congressman named Mike Pence introduced a bill that would prohibit the Fed from even considering the state of the labor market in its actions. A who’s who of Republicans signed an open letter to Ben Bernanke demanding that he stop his monetary efforts, which they claimed would “risk currency debasement and inflation.”

And supposedly respectable Republicans engaged in conspiracy theorizing, suggesting that the Fed was secretly in league with the Obama administration. Paul Ryan and the economist John Taylor declared that the Fed’s policy “looks an awful lot like an attempt to bail out fiscal policy, and such attempts call the Fed’s independence into question.”

Of course, all these warnings were totally wrong. Inflation never took off. Although almost none of the people who waxed hysterical over inflation have so much as acknowledged having been wrong, Bernanke, Fed economists, and Keynesians in general were proved right: printing money isn’t inflationary in a depressed economy.

But what lay behind all these dire warnings about inflation? Well, they came at the same time that Republicans were warning about the terrible, horrible, no-good consequences of deficit spending.

And it was obvious even at the time that G.O.P. deficit posturing was hypocritical – obvious, that it, to everyone except the entire Beltway establishment. All you had to do was look at what was actually in Ryan’s budget proposals to realize that he wasn’t sincere, that he was using deficits as an excuse to bash social programs and hobble Obama. It was utterly predictable that Republicans would decide that deficits don’t matter as soon as they recaptured the White House.

But I thought that monetary policy was a bit different. Republicans have been the party of fiscal irresponsibility since Reagan, and there was no reason to believe that they had changed. But goldbuggery, hatred of fiat money, and abhorrence for the printing press did seem to be long-standing attitudes on the right. I imagined that Ryan, who once asserted that he had learned all he needed to know about monetary policy from Atlas Shrugged, might actually believe what he was saying about the Fed.

In light of recent events, however, it appears that I was wrong. Republican posturing on monetary policy was as insincere as the party’s posturing on fiscal policy. We now have to see the party’s 2010-2011 demands for tight monetary policy, like its demands for tight fiscal policy, as reflecting not economic principles, but rather a desire to sabotage Barack Obama.

You see, Donald Trump’s attempt to install Stephen Moore at the Fed failed for the wrong reason. Moore fell short because he turns out to be a loathsome individual. But he should have been rejected out of hand simply on the basis of his economic views. Not only was he wrong, again and again, during the financial crisis and its aftermath; not only did he refuse to admit error, or learn anything from his mistakes; but he turned on a dime as soon as Trump was in office, showing himself to be a purely political animal. He demanded higher interest rates when unemployment was above 9 percent; now he’s demanding lower rates with unemployment below 4 percent.

But as I said, that’s not why Moore fell short — because his whole party has followed the same path. Mike Pence, who demanded higher rates in the deeply depressed economy of 2010, wants lower rates now. No Republicans in Congress seem to have criticized Moore for his policy views, as opposed to his misogyny. Aside from Harvard’s Greg Mankiw, not one prominent Republican economist stepped up to oppose Moore, even though he clearly was engaged precisely in the kind of politicization of monetary policy Taylor and Ryan claimed to see in 2010.

I made a little chart to summarize the evolution of Republican positioning on monetary policy. It shows the employment rate of prime-age adults, widely seen as a better indicator of the state of the labor market than the unemployment rate, and the rate at which wages are increasing. Both measures hit low points in 2010-2011, making a strong case for expansionary monetary policy. That’s precisely when the G.O.P. was pressuring the Fed to stop trying to help the economy. Both measures are at post-crisis highs now, and sure enough, Republicans are advocating now the policies they opposed when they were most needed.

As Matt O’Brien points out, you don’t see the same thing on the Democratic side: center-left economists who have argued for years that the Fed was being too conservative are still saying the same thing with Trump in office.

What all this tells us is that Republican positioning on economic policy has been in bad faith all these years. They didn’t really believe that a debt crisis and hyperinflation were looming. They were just against anything that might help the economy while a Democrat was president.

Doonesbury — Up in smoke.

Tuesday, April 30, 2019

It Never Stops

This is just amazing.

It took President Trump 601 days to top 5,000 false and misleading claims in The Fact Checker’s database, an average of eight claims a day.

But on April 26, just 226 days later, the president crossed the 10,000 mark — an average of nearly 23 claims a day in this seven-month period, which included the many rallies he held before the midterm elections, the partial government shutdown over his promised border wall and the release of the special counsel’s report on Russian interference in the presidential election.

This milestone appeared unlikely when The Fact Checker first started this project during his first 100 days. In the first 100 days, Trump averaged less than five claims a day, which would have added up to about 7,000 claims in a four-year presidential term. But the tsunami of untruths just keeps looming larger and larger.

As of April 27, including the president’s rally in Green Bay, Wis., the tally in our database stands at 10,111 claims in 828 days.

In recent days, the president demonstrated why he so quickly has piled up the claims. There was a 45-minute telephone interview with Sean Hannity of Fox News on April 25: 45 claims. There was an eight-minute gaggle with reporters the morning of April 26: eight claims. There was a speech to the National Rifle Association: 24 claims. There was 19-minute interview with radio host Mark Levin: 17 claims. And, finally, there was the campaign rally on April 27: 61 claims.

The president’s constant Twitter barrage also adds to his totals. All told, the president racked up 171 false or misleading claims in just three days, April 25-27. That’s more than he made in any single month in the first five months of his presidency.

About one-fifth of the president’s claims are about immigration issues, a percentage that has grown since the government shutdown over funding for his promised border wall. In fact, his most repeated claim — 160 times — is that his border wall is being built. Congress balked at funding the concrete wall he envisioned, and so he has tried to pitch bollard fencing and repairs of existing barriers as “a wall.”

Trump’s penchant for repeating false claims is demonstrated by the fact that The Fact Checker database has recorded nearly 300 instances when the president has repeated a variation of the same claim at least three times. He also now has earned 21 “Bottomless Pinocchios,” claims that have earned Three or Four Pinocchios and which have been repeated at least 20 times.

I take that back.  It’s not amazing.  It’s worse.  It’s the new normal.

As Digby reminds us, when Bill Clinton lied on TV about not having sexual relations with that woman, we got speech after high-dudgeoned speech from the Republicans about how character counts and how can we explain this to the children and he must be impeached.  So here we are twenty years later and not only are those same people (hi, Lindsey Graham) shrugging it off, they’re actually defending the lies and the perpetrator of them.

Friday, April 26, 2019

America Does Not Negotiate With Terrorists

We just pay them the ransom they demand.

North Korea issued a $2 million bill for the hospital care of comatose American Otto Warmbier, insisting that a U.S. official sign a pledge to pay it before being allowed to fly the University of Virginia student home from Pyongyang in 2017.

The presentation of the invoice — not previously disclosed by U.S. or North Korean officials — was extraordinarily brazen even for a regime known for its aggressive tactics.

But the main U.S. envoy sent to retrieve Warmbier signed an agreement to pay the medical bill on instructions passed down from President Trump, according to two people familiar with the situation. They spoke on the condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to discuss the matter publicly.

The bill went to the Treasury Department, where it remained — unpaid — throughout 2017, the people said. However, it is unclear whether the Trump administration later paid the bill, or whether it came up during preparations for Trump’s two summits with Kim Jong Un.

The White House declined to comment. “We do not comment on hostage negotiations, which is why they have been so successful during this administration,” White House press secretary ­Sarah Sanders wrote in an email.

If Barack Obama had done something even close to that, the right-wing and Fox News would have had him impeached by sundown.  But apparently this is how the Art of the Deal works: send us a bill and we’ll talk.

I wonder how much money we’ve paid to the widows of Nigerian princes.

Wednesday, April 24, 2019

Twitter Tantrum

Via C&L:

True narcissists can never stop bragging about themselves.

Trump lives on Twitter and brags about his Twitter success, yet now he’s complaining that the social networking platform is targeting him and his followers.

He’s losing followers.  It happens when you come across as borderline insane; people slowly walk away from you like they do when they hear someone muttering about the voices in their head while standing on the subway platform.  So he blames it on some vast conspiracy by the folks at Twitter to silence him to the point that he calls in the CEO of Twitter to complain.

Yesterday morning in the same time frame that the only people up are insomniac cat burglars and blogger, he tweeted over 50 rants about everything from Mueller to taunting Joe Scarborough to why doesn’t Gene Shalit comb his hair.  (Okay, I made that last one up, but you get the idea.)

In all, Trump tweeted or retweeted more than 50 times in a 24-hour period.

The media was the primary target of Trump’s ire Tuesday morning, as he complained that he is subject to an unprecedented level of press scrutiny and lashed out at outlets from The New York Times to morning cable news shows while also taking shots at individual personalities.

In normal times with normal people and normal people keeping an eye on things, this would be the time to call the doctor and prescribe a nice vacation in a place where nice people will take care of you and you can watch TV in the day room and play cards under the watchful eye of Nurse Ratched.

But as we all know, these are not normal times.

Monday, April 22, 2019

Friday, April 19, 2019

From Here On Out

Susan B. Glasser in The New Yorker:

In the most memorable scene in the most anticipated government report in recent history, the special counsel, Robert Mueller, takes us inside the Oval Office on May 17, 2017. President Trump, having fired the F.B.I. director in an apparent effort to shut down the investigation of him and his 2016 campaign, was in the middle of interviewing candidates for the new vacancy. Attorney General Jeff Sessions, who had recused himself from overseeing the Russia investigation, much to the President’s fury, stepped out of the room to take a phone call. He returned with bad news: his deputy, Rod Rosenstein, had appointed Mueller to be a special counsel and conduct an independent investigation. Russiagate would live on. Trump “slumped” over in his chair, according to the report. “Oh, my God, this is the end of my Presidency,” he said. “I’m fucked.”

For now, at least, it appears that he was wrong. The appointment of Mueller did not lead to the end of Trump’s Presidency. Not yet, and probably not ever. The release of the special counsel’s report, on Thursday, showed that Mueller did not turn up conclusive evidence of a conspiracy between the Trump campaign and the Russians who interfered in the 2016 election to boost Trump’s candidacy. But the report’s belated publication, almost four weeks to the day after Mueller submitted it to Attorney General William Barr, is hardly the “complete and total exoneration” that Trump initially claimed it was and that Barr misleadingly and incompletely portrayed to the country. We knew that wasn’t the case the minute Trump said it.

What we didn’t know until Thursday, when we finally saw the four-hundred-and-forty-eight-page document, is how much evidence Mueller had amassed about the President, panicked and in crisis mode, trying to shut down and block the investigation. The report documents ten different incidents that raise questions about the President’s behavior. Was it obstruction of justice? The Mueller report concluded (albeit in legalistic and unclear language) that that is a matter for Congress to decide. And Congress, as a matter of political calculation and senatorial math, remains unlikely to pursue the question to its bitter end.

Whatever happens, and for however long the Trump regime lasts, be it until 2021 or 2025, it will be scarred, tarred, and broken by the Mueller report, redacted or not, or whether or not it winds up as a series on Netflix.  History will prove that how Trump got to office and how he dealt with the aftereffects will overshadow and skew anything he does, and just as Watergate will forever be the tagline and epitaph for Richard Nixon, not to mention the people who worked with and for him, the story of Russian meddling and how the Trump regime responded to it will be the first line in its obituary.

And it’s all his own doing.  The only reason he’s not under indictment for collusion is that his campaign couldn’t get their act together to do it right.  As for obstruction of justice, it’s certainly not for the lack of trying.

So despite all the crowing and calls to move on from the base and the Wormtongues at Fox, Trump called it: he’s fucked.

Tuesday, April 16, 2019

Quick Work

It has to be a record.

The Interior Department’s internal watchdog has opened an investigation into ethics complaints against the agency’s newly installed secretary, David Bernhardt.

Mr. Bernhardt, a former lobbyist for the oil and agribusiness industries, was confirmed by the Senate last week to head the agency, which oversees the nation’s 500 million acres of public land and vast coastal waters. He has played a central role in writing policies designed to advance President Trump’s policy of “energy dominance” and expanding fossil fuel exploration. He has been dogged by allegations of ethics violations since joining the Trump administration as the Interior Department’s deputy secretary in 2017.

He was confirmed by the Senate on Thursday, April 11 and under investigation by Monday, April 15.

Next time just to save the work, not to mention the catering bill, they should announce the replacement at the swearing-in.

Monday, April 8, 2019

Acting Out

Trump fired DHS Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen yesterday.

Kirstjen Nielsen, the homeland security secretary, resigned on Sunday after meeting with President Trump, ending a tumultuous tenure in charge of the border security agency that had made her the target of the president’s criticism.

“I have determined that it is the right time for me to step aside,” Ms. Nielsen said in a resignation letter. “I hope that the next secretary will have the support of Congress and the courts in fixing the laws which have impeded our ability to fully secure America’s borders and which have contributed to discord in our nation’s discourse.”

Ms. Nielsen had requested the meeting to plan “a way forward” at the border, in part thinking she could have a reasoned conversation with Mr. Trump about the role, according to three people familiar with the meeting. She came prepared with a list of things that needed to change to improve the relationship with the president.

Mr. Trump in recent weeks had asked Ms. Nielsen to close the ports of entry along the border and to stop accepting asylum seekers, which Ms. Nielsen found ineffective and inappropriate. While the 30-minute meeting was cordial, Mr. Trump was determined to ask for her resignation. After the meeting, she submitted it.

The move comes just two days after Mr. Trump, who has repeatedly expressed anger at a rise in migrants at the southwestern border, withdrew his nominee to run Immigration and Customs Enforcement because he wanted the agency to go in a “tougher” direction.

[…]

The president said in a tweet that Kevin McAleenan, the commissioner of Customs and Border Protection, would take over as the acting replacement for Ms. Nielsen, who became the sixth secretary to lead the agency in late 2017. But by law, the under secretary for management, Claire Grady, who is currently serving as acting deputy secretary, is next in line to be acting secretary. The White House will have to fire her to make Mr. McAleenan acting secretary, people familiar with the transition said. Ms. Grady has told colleagues that she has no intention of resigning to make way for Mr. McAleenan.

We now have an acting Secretary of Defense, Interior, and DHS, not to mention all the other unfilled positions at various levels of government that haven’t been confirmed by the Senate.  They’ve got more people in “acting” positions in government than the cattle call for the national tour of “Cats.”

Wednesday, April 3, 2019

Orange Is The New What?

Trump wants to go after people who want to release the full Mueller report despite the fact that on several occasions has said he’s fine with letting the public see it.  Maybe that’s because someone read him the part that doesn’t exonerate him from obstructing justice, or maybe he’s just forgotten that he said he was fine with it in the first place.

He’s determined to find out the oranges of the investigation, too.

Aside from the fact that he mangles words, sentences, syntax, and cannot seem to keep a clear thought trail in his head for more than a few seconds, to label a legitimate investigation as “treasonous” run by very bad people is just plain deranged.  I’m willing to bet that there are any number of neurologists who are reviewing these tapes with a clinical perspective and wondering who to contact in the White House to warn them that there might be a problem.

Tuesday, April 2, 2019

About What You’d Expect

Aside from the fact that the White House’s attitude about security clearances is on the same level as Trump’s self-control on Twitter, they are retaliating against Tricia Newbold, the whistle-blower at the White House Personnel Security Office, for telling Congress that a number of high-level appointees flunked their background checks.

Ms. Newbold, who has a rare form of dwarfism, also accused Mr. Kline, the former director of personnel security, of retaliating against her when she repeatedly pointed out to him that actions he was taking, including overriding recommendations to issue clearances to two senior officials, were violating protocol. Ms. Newbold said that Mr. Kline oversaw a workplace where files — including extensive and sensitive background check documents — were not secured properly, and stopped the performing of credit checks for potential employees. She told the House committee that she had “never seen our office so ill-staffed and with such lack of experience.”

Last fall, Ms. Newbold filed a complaint with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, accusing Mr. Kline of moving office files to a shelf several feet above her, deliberately out of her reach, beginning in December 2017. That month, she hired Mr. Passman, her lawyer.

“As little as I am, I’m willing to fight and stand up for what I know is right, and they’ve always respected that about me,” Ms. Newbold told the House committee last week. “It’s humiliating to not be able to independently work and do the job that you need.”

In January, Ms. Newbold was suspended for two weeks without pay after NBC News reported that Mr. Kline had approved a security clearance for Mr. Kushner despite staff objections. The office’s new director, Crede Bailey, said at the time that Ms. Newbold had refused to “support new procedures your supervisor implemented.”

Within the past two weeks, Mr. Passman said she was also removed from her supervisory role at work. On Monday, the White House did not immediately respond to a request for comment about whether she could expect to continue in her job. In the evening, Ms. Newbold’s lawyer said she had gone back to work without incident.

Frankly, I’m impressed that so far Trump hasn’t come out with some kind of flagrant mockery of Ms. Newbold and her disability; it’s not like he’s never done that before, and it’s about at his level of maturity.  But the kind of workplace harassment she’s been subjected to is about on the level of what you would expect from the people who think it’s an honor to work for such a venial and petty autocrat.

Wednesday, March 13, 2019

Tuesday, March 12, 2019

Goading Him

I can’t help but think Nancy Pelosi is doing some jujitsu here.

I’m not for impeachment. This is news. I’m going to give you some news right now because I haven’t said this to any press person before. But since you asked, and I’ve been thinking about this: Impeachment is so divisive to the country that unless there’s something so compelling and overwhelming and bipartisan, I don’t think we should go down that path, because it divides the country. And he’s just not worth it.

It’s the last sentence that nails it.  She’s basically telling the world — and Trump — that he’s small potatoes and she’s got more important things to worry about, like, oh, repealing daylight saving time or ordering something from Amazon.

Trump is pure ego and telling him he’s just not worth it will piss him off more than if she raised a huge stink and threatened him with impeachment.  But this is tantamount to ignoring him, and he can’t stand that.  “Oh, yeah!?  I’ll show you I’m worth it!”

This is also a message to the more restive members of the Democratic caucus: cool it, people; he’s digging his own grave and all we have to do is stand by and watch.

Wednesday, February 27, 2019

Live From Capitol Hill

The breaking news banners will be out in force today on cable TV as Michael Cohen, Trump’s former consigliere, goes to Congress to tell his side of the Trump saga.

Cohen, who said in court last year that he once worked to cover up Trump’s “dirty deeds,” will return to the Hill on Wednesday, where those familiar with his testimony say he is expected to describe personal, behind-the-scenes encounters that portray Trump as a lying racist and provide what Cohen’s supporters say they believe is evidence that Trump broke the law after he was sworn in.

But Cohen — who was convicted of lying to Congress and whose allies have been known to exaggerate or misstate the information he possesses — will have to withstand attacks on his credibility. The strength and reliability of his anticipated claims about the president’s possible wrongdoing could not immediately be ascertained.

The Republicans will go after him for lying because, of course, Republicans cannot tolerate lying, exaggeration, or false statements ever at all from anyone no way no how.  So there.

Cohen is expected to describe to lawmakers what he views as Trump’s “lies, racism and cheating,” both as president and in private business, and will describe “personal, behind-the-scenes” interactions he witnessed, a person familiar with the matter said. Perhaps more explosively, he is expected to provide accounts of possible criminal conduct that occurred while Trump was in office, according to two people familiar with his testimony.

It was not immediately clear what those accounts or alleged conduct might be, though one of the people familiar said it had to do with the hush-money payments Cohen helped arrange to buy the silence of women who alleged having affairs with Trump years ago, before he became president. That person said Cohen will provide lawmakers an exhibit to support his assertion; another person said he would provide “very specific details” about the payments, some of which have not been made public.

As sordid and shocking as Mr. Cohen’s revelations about Trump and his dealings may be, it is safe to say that no matter what he says it will not move the needle on the GOP base’s love for Trump one micron.  In fact, it may even harden their support for him because the Deep State and those people (and you know who they are) have had it in for Trump ever since he fleeced his first tenant back in the ’70’s.  And while there may be private misgivings bordering on panic on the Republican side because clearly their president is out of his mind and out of control, they still want their job in Washington because it’s a lot easier — and more lucrative — to say you’re representing your district back in Ohio or Montana or Alabama than it is to actually have to live there and make an honest living.

As for the base itself, they honestly don’t give a shit whether or not Trump lied, cheated, or is a racist because to a lot of them, those are qualities a real man must have to get ahead in this world dominated by political correctness and minorities suddenly having the same rights as everyone else.  (Paying off a porn star?  If only!)  And even if they had any moral qualms about his character, it’s the results that matter according to one billboard seen on I-95 in Broward County, Florida, that thanked Trump for making America First!  So what if the tax cut was basically a Ponzi scheme (Oh, you thought you were getting a big refund? Oops) and the tariffs against the Chinese ripped the bottom out of the agricultural market and the tirade against immigrants left crops rotting in the field and lawns in Beverly Hills unmowed?  What about Hillary’s e-mails?

So, yeah, get the popcorn and enjoy the show, but remember that even when John Dean told the truth about Richard Nixon’s complicity in Watergate in June 1973, it still took another fourteen months for the chickens to really come home to roost, and only then when the Republicans realized that it was their asses on the line if he stayed in office.

Monday, February 25, 2019

Catching Up

I’ve been away all weekend and so there’s a lot of things that went on that I am now catching up on.  Such as:

Robert Kraft, the owner of the New England Patriots got busted for solicitation at a strip mall (so to speak) “massage” parlor in Jupiter (nowhere near Miami) Florida.  He’s not the victim.  The women being trapped and trafficked in the joint are.

Trump is taking over the Washington, D.C. 4th of July celebration as his own orgy, taking his cue from his BFF KJU of North Korea;

Trump Jr. put out a self-aggrandizing tweet about possibly running for president in 2024;

Roger Stone, who is G. Gordon Liddy to Trump if Liddy were played by any one of the Three Stooges, got slapped down by the judge overseeing his case but still can’t keep his clods in line;

“Green Book” won the Oscar as best picture of 2018.  Haven’t seen it yet.

What else did I miss?