Thursday, March 5, 2020

And He Kidnapped The Lindbergh Baby

Via C&L: Trump Blames Obama For His Botched COVID-19 Response.

Nothing really surprises me any more.  Nothing he has ever done is his fault.  Ever.

What I find ironic to the degree that Shakespeare or Sophocles would love is that Trump, a pathological germophobe, is having to deal with a crisis brought on by germs and spread by close human contact.  Not only does he not know how to deal with it because he doesn’t know how to run a government, it’s the kind of crisis that isn’t wrought by terrorists or a bunch of plotting hackers.  It’s brought on by a sneeze and there’s no effective vaccine for it.  It must be driving him into full-tilt panic mode.

He also had to really reach to find some way to blame it on President Obama when it was his administration that has been cutting CDC funding for global health security, most likely on his theory that who cares what happens in shithole countries, anyway?  Let ’em die.

I’m waiting for him to blame the attack on Pearl Harbor on Obama.  After all, wasn’t he born in Hawaii?  Oh, wait…

Bonus Track: Trump’s little minion, Rep. Matt Gaetz (R-FL sigh), goes full middle-school fool with a gas mask on the floor of the House.  Well, as one Twitter post noted, as long as he’s wearing the mask, he can’t talk.

Sunday, February 16, 2020

Sunday Reading

Trump Generating Hate — An extensive report in the Washington Post on how Trump’s rhetoric is infecting schools and kids.

Two kindergartners in Utah told a Latino boy that President Trump would send him back to Mexico, and teenagers in Maine sneered “Ban Muslims” at a classmate wearing a hijab. In Tennessee, a group of middle-schoolers linked arms, imitating the president’s proposed border wall as they refused to let nonwhite students pass. In Ohio, another group of middle-schoolers surrounded a mixed-race sixth-grader and, as she confided to her mother, told the girl: “This is Trump country.”

Since Trump’s rise to the nation’s highest office, his inflammatory language — often condemned as racist and xenophobic — has seeped into schools across America. Many bullies now target other children differently than they used to, with kids as young as 6 mimicking the president’s insults and the cruel way he delivers them.

Trump’s words, those chanted by his followers at campaign rallies and even his last name have been wielded by students and school staff members to harass children more than 300 times since the start of 2016, a Washington Post review of 28,000 news stories found. At least three-quarters of the attacks were directed at kids who are Hispanic, black or Muslim, according to the analysis. Students have also been victimized because they support the president — more than 45 times during the same period.

Although many hateful episodes garnered coverage just after the election, The Post found that Trump-connected persecution of children has never stopped. Even without the huge total from November 2016, an average of nearly two incidents per school week have been publicly reported over the past four years. Still, because so much of the bullying never appears in the news, The Post’s figure represents a small fraction of the actual total. It also doesn’t include the thousands of slurs, swastikas and racial epithets that aren’t directly linked to Trump but that the president’s detractors argue his behavior has exacerbated.

“It’s gotten way worse since Trump got elected,” said Ashanty Bonilla, 17, a Mexican American high school junior in Idaho who faced so much ridicule from classmates last year that she transferred. “They hear it. They think it’s okay. The president says it. . . . Why can’t they?”

Asked about Trump’s effect on student behavior, White House press secretary Stephanie Grisham noted that first lady Melania Trump — whose “Be Best” campaign denounces online harassment — had encouraged kids worldwide to treat one another with respect.

“She knows that bullying is a universal problem for children that will be difficult to stop in its entirety,” Grisham wrote in an email, “but Mrs. Trump will continue her work on behalf of the next generation despite the media’s appetite to blame her for actions and situations outside of her control.”

Most schools don’t track the Trump bullying phenomenon, and researchers didn’t ask about it in a federal survey of 6,100 students in 2017, the most recent year with available data. One in five of those children, ages 12 to 18, reported being bullied at school, a rate unchanged since the previous count in 2015.

However, a 2016 online survey of over 10,000 kindergarten through 12th-grade educators by the Southern Poverty Law Center found that more than 2,500 “described specific incidents of bigotry and harassment that can be directly traced to election rhetoric,” although the overwhelming majority never made the news. In 476 cases, offenders used the phrase “build the wall.” In 672, they mentioned deportation.

For Cielo Castor, who is Mexican American, the experience at Kamiakin High in Kennewick, Wash., was searing. The day after the election, a friend told Cielo, then a sophomore, that he was glad Trump won because Mexicans were stealing American jobs. A year later, when the president was mentioned during her American literature course, she said she didn’t support him and a classmate who did refused to sit next to her.

“‘I don’t want to be around her,’ ” Cielo recalled him announcing as he opted for the floor instead.

Then, on “America night” at a football game in October 2018 during Cielo’s senior year, schoolmates in the student section unfurled a “Make America Great Again” flag. Led by the boy who wouldn’t sit beside Cielo, the teenagers began to chant: “Build — the — wall!”

Horrified, she confronted the instigator.

“You can’t be doing that,” Cielo told him.

He ignored her, she recalled, and the teenagers around him booed her. A cheerleading coach was the lone adult who tried to make them stop.

After a photo of the teenagers with the flag appeared on social media, news about what had happened infuriated many of the school’s Latinos, who made up about a quarter of the 1,700-member student body. Cielo, then 17, hoped school officials would address the tension. When they didn’t, she attended that Wednesday’s school board meeting.

“I don’t feel cared for,” she told the members, crying.

A day later, the superintendent consoled her and the principal asked how he could help, recalled Cielo, now a college freshman. Afterward, school staff members addressed every class, but Hispanic students were still so angry that they organized a walkout.

Some students heckled the protesters, waving MAGA caps at them. At the end of the day, Cielo left the school with a white friend who’d attended the protest; they passed an underclassman she didn’t know.

“Look,” the boy said, “it’s one of those f—ing Mexicans.”

She heard that school administrators — who declined to be interviewed for this article — suspended the teenager who had led the chant, but she doubts he has changed.

Reached on Instagram, the teenager refused to talk about what happened, writing in a message that he didn’t want to discuss the incident “because it is in the past and everyone has moved on from it.” At the end, he added a sign-off: “Trump 2020.”

This is just an excerpt from the story; there’s many examples of how minority students who are singled out, and not just by other kids.  Teachers with pro-Trump sentiments are picking on kids.  Some are being fired or disciplined, but it still goes on.

Trump Unleashed — David Corn in Mother Jones.

Through the Trump Era, it’s been fashionable for some of his critics—especially on Twitter—to assail his actions as the coming of kleptocracy, autocracy, authoritarianism, and, yes, fascism to the United States. Recently, in an airport, an elderly women stopped me to say that she survived the Holocaust in a camp and now fears she is experiencing what her mother went through eighty-five years ago as the catastrophe approached in Germany. I tried to persuade her that as bad as things are now, there remains institutions, organizations, and millions of people who will not accept what is happening to the nation’s democratic institutions and who can oppose a complete power-grab from Trump and his cult (a.k.a. the Republican Party).

I still believe that. But Trump’s hostile take-over of the Justice Department this week is yet another sign that the task of countering Trump’s extremism is becoming both harder and more crucial.

By now, you know the basics: After the Justice Department requested a seven-to-nine years sentence for Roger Stone, a longtime Trump intimate who was convicted of lying to Congress and witness-tampering (to protect Trump in the Russia scandal), Trump tweet-whined that this sentence would be too harsh, and the DoJ dutifully rescinded it. Four federal prosecutors, apparently in protest, withdrew from the Stone case, with one quitting the department. Then Trump attacked the federal judge handling the case. Still on the rampage the next day, Trump—again in a tweet—threatened to withhold assistance for New York State if it did not smother investigations related to Trump.

On Thursday afternoon, Attorney General Bill Barr seemed to rebuke Trump by saying he would not “be bullied or influenced by anybody,” including the president. But Barr has already done so much of Trump’s bidding—undermining the Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s report, opening investigations that appeared designed to unearth information that support Trump’s favorite conspiracy theories—his declaration of independence was too late, if not ludicrous.

With the impeachment behind him, Trump has been acting like Michael Corleone on steroids, intent on settling all the “family business.” He sacked impeachment witnesses Lt. Col. Alexander Vindman and Ambassador Gordon Sondland. Next he moved onto the Justice Department and the judiciary. At the same time, Barr set up a special “intake” channel at the department for Trump’s henchman Rudy Giuliani to feed rumors, dirt, and supposed leads about Trump’s rivals.

All this is crooked and horrific. Trump is rigging the justice system, trashing norms that have been in place for decades, and attacking the notion that the rule of law is essential for democratic governance. Early in his presidency, facing the Russia investigation being run by the FBI, Trump exclaimed, “Where is my Roy Cohn?” He was referring to the thuggish mob lawyer who had been red-baiting Sen. Joe McCarthy’s chief hatchet-man years before becoming a mentor and consigliere for the young Trump. Though Trump placed Barr, his own lapdog, in charge of the Justice Department last year, Trump has become his own Roy Cohn, consolidating power and seeking vengeance. And extracting revenge has long been one of Trump’s primary psychological motivations, as I first explained before he was elected president.

But this crusade of revenge does more than just feed Trump’s dark soul. It undermines the safeguards that are supposed to thwart despotic power. During the impeachment trial, Trump’s celebrity lawyer Alan Dershowitz essentially argued that Trump, as president, can get away with any act of corruption that is not a clear violation of federal criminal law. This view is far outside the mainstream of constitutional law, and under it, Trump could, say, pardon the Russian hackers who have been indicted for attacking the 2016 election (to help Trump), signal to them they should stage a repeat in 2020, and still be invulnerable to impeachment. With his unfounded contention, Dershowitz was establishing the theoretical foundation for Trumpism. With these outrageous actions since impeachment, Trump has aimed to fully implement it. The Justice Department, c’est moi. 

The Trumpficiation of this crucial part of the executive branch is a literally an abomination of justice in all these individual instances. But Trump’s war on the department and his long-running assault on the FBI (which is part of it) does more than effect the particular cases and matters he targets. It intimidates the whole system.

Imagine an FBI agent, or a Justice Department prosecutor, or an investigator at the Securities and Exchange Commission, or an IRS agent, or a Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives official, or you-get-the-picture, who comes across possible wrongdoing that involves Trump, a Trump family member, a Trump company, a Trump business associate, a Trump donor, or a Trump political ally. How much guts would it take for someone in this position that to investigate the matter? How much courage would it take for that person’s supervisors to approve such an investigation? The investigators and the entire agency could face the wrath of a rage-filled president. He could start tweeting about the officers and officials involved. Maybe use their names.Put them in the spotlight. And Fox News, other rightwing media outlets, and an army of trolls would follow suit, digging up dirt on these government officials, looking not only to discredit them but to destroy them.

Who needs that shit? Who can survive it? Anyone in this position only need to think for a moment about FBI officials Peter Strzok and Lisa Page—or to consider the prosecutors in the Stone case. You devote time and energy to doing a tough job, and you end up at best overruled and at the worst pilloried on national television and placed in the line of fire. Your career could be at risk. Your reputation could be shredded. You could receive death threats. Just for doing your job.

As it happened, while I was inline to buy a sandwich for lunch today, two Treasury Department employees said hello to me. One was involved in an office that works with investigations. When I noted my concern that these extreme Trump moves could paralyze people in various federal agencies, one of them said, “Man, that’s the whole damn point. You think we all don’t get it?”

Look at the whistleblower who first raised questions about Trump’s attempt to pressure the Ukrainian president to initiate political investigations that benefit Trump. The president and his devotees in Congress and the media mounted a blitzkrieg against this CIA analyst who had followed appropriate procedure and privately reported his concerns to the intelligence community’s inspector general. The whistleblower was crucified by GOPers at the House impeachment hearings. During the impeachment trial, Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.), looking to suck up to Trump, displayed a poster with the supposed name of the whistleblower. Trump has repeatedly tweeted about the whistleblower. And the whistleblower and his lawyers have received death threats.

The message to other would-be whistleblowers who might reveal improbity or corruption within the Trump administration: If you say anything, your life could become hell. Hell, your life could be in peril.

This is the real danger. Trump is not merely interfering in a few incidents that directly interest him. He is creating an environment in which he and his cronies and associates are above and beyond the reach of the law. He has turned the Justice Department into a subsidiary of his political operation. Not only does this protect Trump, it makes it harder for the department to perform other necessary functions.

Barr has placed a welcome sign on his department’s door for foreign governments and intelligence services to intervene in US politics by shoving disinformation into the investigative system of the United States. It’s simple: Slip Giuliani a phony document or a compromised source; he hands that bad information to the Justice Department; and US officials have to spend time and resources chasing the false lead. And here’s the bonus: Someone at the department could leak to the media that it is examining a report that a Democratic candidate once took illegal funds from a Chinese source—whether or not that report has any legitimacy—and, presto, Fox News has an exclusive. Russia, if you’re listening….

These are difficult times. Disinformation is a threat to the fabric of American democracy. Trust in government is low. One party has traded checks and balances for tax cuts and judges. For some, the right to vote is under siege. Trump and his enablers have wrought a slow-burn crisis of democracy. They have perverted the basic foundation taught in every high school civics course: this is a government of laws, not of men and women. (Are there still civics courses?) For Trump, this is a government of Trump, for Trump, and by Trump. And his GOP handmaids and tens of millions of Americans are just fine with it.

Roger Stone is a political sleazebag who for decades has proudly engaged in dirty tricks and slime-ball actions to win elections. He is facing prison time for lying to cover up Trump misconduct in the Russia scandal. (Information produced during Stone’s trial suggested that Trump lied to Mueller, which could be a crime.) But Stone is small potatoes compared to Trump’s overall aim: The president seeks the total sublimation of the Justice Department and the whole US government to his will. If he pulls this off, it will be one more reason for that survivor I met, and anyone else who cares about preserving the rule of law and democratic values, to worry.

Doonesbury — What?

Friday, February 7, 2020

Around The Bend

Charlie Pierce on yesterday’s victory lap:

As you undoubtedly know by now, El Caudillo del Mar-a-Lago’s wounded musk-ox bellowing at the National Prayer Breakfast on Thursday morning was only an undercard attraction on the bill of CrazySlam ’20. The main event came later, in the East Room of the White House, where the president* put on a performance that should have had copies of the 25th Amendment inscribed on tablets of gold falling from the sky around him.

His trolley went around the bend and off the tracks. His sanity had expired and met its maker. It has ceased to be. It was a stiff. Bereft of life, it rests in peace. It’s kicked the bucket, rung down the curtain, and joined the bleeding choir invisible. But, alas, this is not yet an ex-administration*, and it still derives its only energy from the incredibly toxic stew of vengeful rage and inflamed victimhood that is the only sign of sentient life in the brain of its president*. A sample follows:

And this is really not a news conference, it’s not a speech, it’s not anything, it’s just we’re sort of — it’s a celebration because we have something that just worked out. It worked out. We went through hell unfairly. Did nothing wrong. Did nothing wrong. I’ve done things wrong in my life, I will admit. Not purposely, but I’ve done things wrong. But this is what the end result is. We can take that home, honey, maybe we’ll frame it. It’s the only good headline I’ve had in the Washington Post. Every paper is the same, does anybody have them, because they’re all like that and I appreciate that. Some of the people here have been incredible warriors, they’re warriors. And there’s nothing from a legal standpoint. This is a political thing, and every time I say this is unfair, let’s go to court, they say, sir, you can’t go to court, this is politics. And we were treated unbelievably unfairly, and you have to understand we first went through Russia, Russia, Russia. It was all bullshit.

We had a rough campaign. It was nasty. It was one of the nastiest, they say. Andrew Jackson was the nastiest campaign but we topped it. It was nasty in both the primaries and the election. We thought after the election, it would stop, but it didn’t stop. It just started. Tremendous corruption. Tremendous corruption. So we had a campaign. Little did we know we were running against some very, very bad and evil people with fake dossiers, with all of these horrible, dirty cops that took these dossiers and did bad things. They knew all about it. The FISA courts should be ashamed of themselves. It’s a very tough thing.

So I always say they’re lousy politicians, but they do two things. They’re vicious and mean. Vicious. Adam Schiff is a vicious, horrible person. Nancy Pelosi is a horrible person. And she wanted to impeach a long time ago when she said, I pray for the president. She doesn’t pray. She may pray but she prays for the opposite. But I doubt she prays at all. These are vicious people.

And the Republicans, all of them, sitting there like brain-dead fish all schooled in one spot, applauding on cue, accepting the president*’s sourball compliments as though they were being blessed from Above. (There was one particularly weird passage when he congratulated Rep. Steve Scalise for surviving his gunshot wounds and then went into how lousy a second-baseman Scalise is and expressed amazement that Scalise’s wife was upset that Scalise had been shot. “He was not going to make it. I said, she loves you. Why? Because she was devastated. A lot of wives wouldn’t give a damn.” Ask the man who knows, I guess.)

I have resisted using the word “cult” to describe where the Republican party is at right now because I think it absolves too many of the people that made something like Trumpism inevitable. But, Lord above, we’re looking at a battalion of drill-thralls now, with no minds of their own and no souls to speak of.

Wow, if this is what he’s like when he wins, I can’t wait to see what he’s like when he loses.

Wednesday, January 15, 2020

Imagine Jerry Lewis As The Godfather

Via the Washington Post:

New materials released by House Democrats appear to show Ukraine’s top prosecutor offering an associate of President Trump’s personal attorney, Rudolph W. Giuliani, damaging information related to former vice president Joe Biden if the Trump administration recalled the U.S. ambassador to Ukraine.

The text messages and documents provided to Congress by former Giuliani associate Lev Parnas also show that before the ambassador, Marie Yovanovitch, was removed from her post, a Parnas associate now running for Congress sent menacing text messages suggesting that he had Yovanovitch under surveillance in Ukraine. A lawyer for Yovanovitch said Tuesday that the episode should be investigated.

The cache of materials released by House investigators late Tuesday exposed a number of previously unknown details about efforts by Giuliani and his associates to obtain material in Ukraine that would undermine Trump’s Democratic opponents.

Their emergence on the eve of the Senate impeachment trial spurred Democrats to renew calls for the White House to turn over documents related to the Ukraine pressure campaign that it has refused to share with Congress.

Yeah, you read that right.  They were hatching a scheme to take out the ambassador.

This all sounds like a very bad mix of drunken spitballing at a writers’ room conference between the team at “Scooby-Doo,” rejections from Rocky and Bullwinkle, and going through the trash looking for the next blockbuster from David Spade or Tom Arnold.  No, this does not rise to the level of Monty Python or Mel Brooks.

Tuesday, December 31, 2019

Looking Back/Looking Forward

Time for my annual recap and predictions for the coming year.  Let’s see how I did a year ago.

Barring natural causes or intervention from an outside force, Trump will still be in office on December 31, 2019. There is no way he will leave voluntarily and even with the House of Representatives in Democratic control and articles of impeachment being drafted they will not get to the Senate floor because the Republicans are either too afraid to rile up the base or they’re too enamored of their own grip on power to care about the government being headed by a poor imitation of a tin-pot banana republic authoritarian douche-canoe.

That was an easy A.  As of today, the articles of impeachment are still with the House as Speaker Pelosi holds on to them.

The Mueller Report will be released to Congress and even though it’s supposed to be classified it will be leaked with great fanfare and pundit predictions of the end of the Trump administration with calls for frog-marching him and his minions out of the West Wing. Despite that, see above.

I get a C on that.  There were no leaks and the Mueller report was too nuanced for the punditry to read it and spit out sound bites.  The unintended consequence, though, was that the day after Mr. Mueller testified before Congress, Trump picked up the phone and placed an overseas call to Ukraine.

There will be no wall. There never will be. Immigration will still be a triggering issue as even more refugees die in U.S. custody.

That was a gimme.

There will be no meaningful changes to gun laws even if the NRA goes broke. There will be more mass shootings, thoughts and prayers will be offered, and we’ll be told yet again that now is not the time to talk about it.

Another gimme, more’s the pity.

Obamacare will survive its latest challenge because the ruling by the judge in Texas declaring the entire law unconstitutional will be tossed and turned into a case study in law schools everywhere on the topic of exasperatingly stupid reasoning.

Roe vs. Wade will still stand.

With the Democrats in control of the House, the government will be in permanent gridlock even after they work out some sort of deal to end the current shutdown over the mythological wall.  House Speaker Nancy Pelosi will become the Willie Horton for the GOP base and blamed for everything from budget deficits to the toast falling butter-side down.

An A- on these three.  As of today, Obamacare is still in place but the Supreme Court is sniffing around the whack-ass lower court ruling, so see below, and the same goes for Roe v. Wade.  The House has passed over 250 bills and sent them on to the Senate, but Mitch McConnell has not touched them, and won’t.

We will have a pretty good idea who the Democratic front-runner will be in 2020. I think Sen. Elizabeth Warren’s chances are still good (she announced her exploratory committee as I was writing this), as are Sen. Kamala Harris’s, and don’t count out Sen. Sherrod Brown of Ohio, but who knew that Beto O’Rourke, a charismatic loser in the Texas senate race, would raise a lot of hopes? That said, fifteen years ago when I started this blog, Howard Dean looked like the guy who was going to beat George W. Bush.

A big old red F on that one.

The economy will continue with its wild gyrations, pretty much following the gyrations of the mood of Trump and his thumb-driven Twitter-fed economic exhortations. The tax cuts and the tariffs will land on the backs of the people who provide the income to the government and the deficit will soon be out there beyond the Tesla in outer space. But unlike that Martian-bound convertible, the economy will come crashing back to Earth (probably about the time I retire in August) and Trump will blame everyone else.

That’s a C.  It hasn’t happened yet, but with the deficit doubling since Trump took office, something will have to give.  The question was — and remains — when will it?

There will be a natural event that will convince even skeptics that climate change and sea level rise is real and happening. Unfortunately, nothing will be done about it even if lots of lives are lost because [spoiler alert] nothing ever is done.

That’s an A.  It’s already happening.

I’m going out on a limb here with foreign affairs predictions, but I have a feeling that Brexit will end up in the dustbin of history.

Another big old red F, right up there with the Dolphins and the Lions ending up in the Superbowl in 2020.

Personally, this will be a transition year.  My retirement from Miami-Dade County Public Schools occurs officially on August 31, 2019, and I’m already actively looking for something both meaningful and income-producing to do after that.  (E-mail me for a copy of my resume; nothing ventured, nothing sprained.)  My play “Can’t Live Without You” opens at the Willow Theatre in Boca Raton, Florida, for a two-week run on March 30, and I’m planning on returning to the William Inge Theatre Festival for the 28th time, either with a play or most assuredly with a scholarly paper.  I have my bid in for a variety of other theatre events and productions; I think I’m getting the hang of this playwriting thing.

Things went pretty much as planned this year.  I retired on August 31 and started my new part-time jobs the next week.  The run of “Can’t Live Without You” was great, and I had a very busy year in getting plays done and conferences attended and new friends made from Miami to Alaska.

On to the predictions:

  • Trump will survive impeachment.  The fix is in.  Revelations about his corruption will keep on coming, and yet the Republicans will cower with him.  It will be his big campaign rallying point.
  • I have no idea who the Democratic Party will nominate for president, and neither do you, but whoever it is will beat Trump in November despite the best efforts of the Kremlin.  I hope it is by such a margin that even Fox News will call it a blowout.  Trump will scream and carry on about it being rigged, but by this time in 2020, he’ll be doing everything he can to trash the place on the way out the door with pardons and lame-duck appointments of Nazi sympathizers and pedophiles.  (If I’m wrong on this and Trump is reelected, I’m moving to Montserrat.  It’s safer to live on an island with an active volcano.)
  • Obamacare will survive in the Supreme Court but by a 5-4 ruling.
  • There will be more restrictions placed on reproductive rights, but Roe v. Wade will not be struck down.
  • The Democrats will take back the Senate by one seat and all that bottled-up legislation will finally get through in time for the House, still under Nancy Pelosi, to pass them all again and get them signed by the new president.
  • The economic bubble will burst, the trade deals with China and Europe will screw over the American consumer, and it’s going to look like one of those 19,000 piece domino videos.  Trump and Fox will blame the Democrats for the monster deficit and carry on about how we need to cut more taxes and destroy Social Security and Medicare to save them.
  • Even with the Democrats taking over in 2020, they won’t be in office until January 2021, so I’ll save predictions for what they’ll come up with in terms of health care, gun safety, and climate change until this time next year, assuming my house in the suburbs of Miami at 10 feet above sea level is still on dry land.
  • As for me, my playwriting and productions thereof will continue.  I’m planning on my 29th trip to the Inge Festival in May and hope to be invited back to Alaska in June.  As I’m writing this, the novel that I started twenty-five years ago tomorrow is on the glide path to land by the time I go back to work next week.  I can predict that it will never be published because I never meant it to be.
  • As for hopes for the new year, I hope for continued good health and fortune for my friends and family.  I can’t ask for more than that.

Okay, your turn.

Sunday, December 22, 2019

Sunday Reading

The Eclipse of Reason — David Remnick in The New Yorker.

The shock of Donald Trump’s election, in November, 2016, obscured a tragedy of equal moment—the eclipse of reason, fact, and ethical judgment in the Republican Party.

Twenty-one years ago, during the impeachment of Bill Clinton, there were numerous Democratic lawmakers who lambasted him for his trespasses; five voted against him. Clinton, for his part, apologized to the American people before the House voted on his fate. “What I want the American people to know, what I want the Congress to know, is that I am profoundly sorry for all I have done wrong in words and deeds,” he said. “I never should have misled the country, the Congress, my friends or my family. Quite simply, I gave in to my shame.”

Clinton had lied about sex. That was the root of the accusations against him. Trump, with the help of Rudy Giuliani and others, attempted to withhold hundreds of millions of dollars in military assistance to Ukraine, an ally under assault from Russia, as a way to extract a crude and distinctly personal political favor. Was this not a far graver offense? And yet everyone knew that there was never the remotest chance of hearing a word of contrition from Trump—and that from the Republican Party there would be no self-questioning, no doubt. Tribalism—and the demands of Trumpism—would not permit it.

There was a time, not so long ago, when Lindsey Graham recognized, and said publicly, that Trump was “unfit for office”—and when Mitch McConnell, Marco Rubio, Susan Collins, Cory Gardner, and so many other Republicans in Congress recognized Trump for the moral vacuum that he is. Mick Mulvaney, Trump’s acting chief of staff, once called Trump “a terrible human being.” Rick Perry, his Secretary of Energy, saw him as a “barking carnival act” and deemed his candidacy “a cancer on conservatism.” Ted Cruz called him a “pathological liar” and “utterly immoral.” They used to care. But things have changed.

At the same time, nearly every loyalist who leaves the Trump White House—James Mattis, Gary Cohn, H. R. McMaster, John Kelly, Rex Tillerson, et al.—comes clean, on or off the record, about despising Trump. They describe in detail the President’s countless acts of duplicity and incompetence. Only fearful, humiliated ex-Trumpers in need of campaign support, such as Jeff Sessions, who is again running for the Senate in Alabama, abase themselves and speak of his virtue. Nikki Haley, who seems intent on being Trump’s successor (or perhaps Mike Pence’s replacement on the ticket), refers to Trump as “great to work with” and “truthful”; in 2016, she said that he was “everything a governor doesn’t want in a President.”

In other words, when it comes to Trump, everyone knows. As the Republican caucus members fell into line on Wednesday, they revealed themselves. No one defended Trump on the merits, on the facts—not with any conviction or coherence. Who came to praise his character or values? No one. Instead, there were only counter-accusations, smoke-bomb diversions about procedure, ill will, and even talk of the President’s martyrdom. Barry Loudermilk, a Georgia Republican with a name fit for Mencken, was distinguished in his metaphors, yet hardly eccentric among his caucus, when he said, “Before you take this historic vote today, one week before Christmas, keep this in mind: when Jesus was falsely accused of treason, Pontius Pilate gave Jesus the opportunity to face his accusers. During that sham trial, Pontius Pilate afforded more rights to Jesus than Democrats have afforded this President in this process.” Democrats, in fact, had offered the President the chance to defend himself, but he had declined to do so. His “defense” was to hold back as much evidence and as many witnesses as he could.

No one marshalled any evidence to dispute that the President had dispatched Giuliani and others to assist him in manipulating and muscling the Ukrainian government into doing him a “favor.” No one denied with any conviction that Trump had asked for foreign help in 2016 (“Russia, if you’re listening…”) and was looking for it this time around, too. Not only had Trump not apologized or denied it, he doubled down. Hadn’t he asked the Chinese, in October, to carry out an investigation of the Bidens right there on the White House lawn?

Republican members may sincerely admire the judges whom the President has appointed, the tax cuts for the wealthy that he has supported, and the ad-libbed trade war that he has waged. But they also know that Trump is, as Adam Schiff put it in the most eloquent speech of the day, a cheat. On July 24th, Trump watched as the special counsel Robert Mueller testified, damningly but ineffectively, in Congress. On July 25th he called the Ukrainian President, Volodymyr Zelensky, and asked for his “favor.” On July 26th, he called his million-dollar campaign donor and Ambassador to the European Union, Gordon Sondland, at a restaurant in Kyiv, to make sure that the Ukrainians were going to do it—that they were going to investigate the Bidens, on his behalf. He didn’t care about corruption in Ukraine, or the war Russia was waging against Ukraine. He cared only about “big stuff,” as Sondland put it. He cared about himself. And he was willing to extort an ally to get what he desired.

On Wednesday evening, the commentators on television solemnly invoked the Constitution, the Federalist Papers, Alexander Hamilton, history. Everyone went full-on Jon Meacham.

But Trump made it plain that he would not nod to any sense of grace or occasion. During his impeachment crisis, President Andrew Johnson was quick to the bottle and revealed, in many speeches, a deep streak of self-pity. “Who has borne more than I?” he asked an audience in Cleveland, in 1866. Trump is certainly as thin-skinned as Johnson was. Consult his Twitter feed. And yet just around the moment when the House passed the first article of impeachment, Trump was trying his best to do a rhetorical devil-may-care act at a rally in Battle Creek, Michigan, asserting that real Air Force pilots were more handsome than the “Top Gun”-era Tom Cruise. He improvised. He did shtick. He threw out one random insult and Dada observation after another. He talked about Beto O’Rourke. (Remember Beto O’Rourke?) He talked about showers. He talked about sinks. He talked about many other things. He performed as if none of what was happening in Washington mattered. He was now impeached for abuse of power and obstruction of Congress, but he felt safe. He had his party. He had Fox News and his Twitter followers. He had his base. He could not be touched. “It’s impeachment lite,” he told the crowd. “I don’t know about you, but I’m having a good time.”

God Bless Us, Everyone! — Charles P. Pierce.

As you may have noticed, the shebeen has been disarranged for the past couple of weeks. The sudden intervention of an automobile into my affairs—and, it must be said, into my lower back—has kept me watching the considerable landfill of recent news from the sidelines—often, I must admit, severely hopped up on goofballs, as Joe Friday would have said. (I got a small glimpse of the opioid crisis from the inside and, let me tell you, the other day, the oxy was whispering to me the way Richard Pryor’s crack pipe used to talk to him. Motherfcker is strong, Jack.)

I am one lucky motherfcker, I’ll tell you that. If I had bounced another foot, I would have bounced into oncoming traffic, which would have complicated matters considerably. My head landed hard, but it landed in a snowbank, which not only cushioned the blow but slowed the bleeding. I was one lucky motherfcker because of the people who surrounded me while I was on the road. The first-aid worker who was first on the scene and called my wife. The nurse who had just come off an overnight shift and who apparently left all the fcks she had to give back in her work locker. Some idiot started honking his horn to get around the scene, and she took a bit of time out to yell, in a wicked pissah Boston accent, “Will you shut the fuck up, you arsehole!” at him. Nurses, man. They could take over the world in an hour.

I am one lucky motherfcker because of the people at The Brigham who worked on me. The ER doctors and nurses, many of whom I will never recognize again because I only saw them upside down. They kept me calm and comfortable while they inspected, detected, neglected, and rejected every part of me. Of course, my family, who went to DefCon 1 immediately. My wife and daughter beat me to the Brigham and, when I began to get agitated, as is my wont in any medical situation including reruns of MASH, my daughter booted up the Charlie Brown Christmas soundtrack on her phone and put it next to my ear. Worked as well as the Toradol did. (Hi again, Toradol!) I am one lucky motherfcker.

And then there were the ward nurses and the nurses aides and the various types of orderlies and technician. At one point or another, I was shuffled around the hospital hallways by a man from Ethiopia, two people from Haiti, and a woman from the Democratic Republic of the Congo. Americans all, dammit. Let me tell you about Myosha. Her parents brought her from Haiti when she was very small and now she’s in high school. She works six days a week hauling the likes of me around on gurneys, and she was taking me down to get yet another X-ray when I asked her what she wanted to do when she graduated. She wants to be a physician’s assistant, Myosha told me, and she wants to work in the ER Trauma unit. That’s tough work, I told her. I was just there. Yes, she told me, and that’s where people need help the most. She was disappointed because she’d learned that morning that she wouldn’t have to work on Christmas Day. “I wanted to work that day,” she told me. “with the old people in the hospital, because they have nobody with them and it is Christmas.” Honest to god, if she’d sprouted wings and flown me down the hall, I wouldn’t have been shocked at all.

I have heard from so many people, even some of them who have felt the kick of the shebeen’s poitin straight, no chaser. Joe Scarborough shouted me out on TV; that one had me wondering whether or not it was the goofballs, I admit. My direct-messages on the electric Twitter machine included old sportswriting pals and people I’d worked with at all my various stops. (One former colleague assured me that we could commit a federal narcotics crime and get away with it.) I heard from the longform brigade, one and all, and from athletes and coaches, pols and pundits and TV stars, and even from one presidential candidate, who shall remain anonymous. I heard from all corners of the blogosphere.

And, best of all, of course, I heard from the longtime denizens of the shebeen, many of whom are now paying a cover charge for the two-drink minimum, and I thank you all for that again. What I’m saying is that, along with a look into the opioid crisis, I got a deep vision of the simple fact that there is still a lot of good in this erratic, carbon-based lifeform that we are. Generally, at this time of year, I quote from A Christmas Carol the rebuttal that Scrooge’s nephew, Fred, throws back at the wretched, covetous old sinner in reply to the very first “Bah, Humbug” that the old man utters. (By the way, ACC was first published in London on this week in 1831. I learned this on the intertoobz because what in the hell else did I have to do.) But we’re going a little deeper into the text this year, I think, to our first visit to the home of the Cratchits. Scrooge and the Spirit of Christmas Present are invisible in the corner of the little hovel when Bob and Tim come back from church.

“And how did little Tim behave?” asked Mrs. Cratchit, when she had rallied Bob on his credulity, and Bob had hugged his daughter to his heart’s content. “As good as gold,” said Bob, “and better. Somehow he gets thoughtful, sitting by himself so much, and thinks the strangest things you ever heard. He told me, coming home, that he hoped the people saw him in the church, because he was a cripple, and it might be pleasant to them to remember upon Christmas Day, who made lame beggars walk, and blind men see.”

These are the some of the things I thought while I was lying alone, in the street and in the hospital. We are all lucky motherfckers, the lot of us, even if sometimes, we can’t quite see it. I hear the mail thump. Christmas cards!

Nope. Another inescapable milestone on the road to recovery.

Letters from personal-injury attorneys.

God bless us all, everyone.

Doonesbury — Holy smokes!

Thursday, December 5, 2019

Poor Baby

The other kids teased him behind his back so he flounced home.

Trump arrived in London Monday evening planning to tout a foreign policy accomplishment his presidential campaign wants him to run on: successfully pressuring allies to pay more toward the costs of running NATO.

Less than 48 hours later — after he was put on the defensive in front of the cameras and then was the subject of gossip at a private reception of world leaders, a moment caught in a viral video — Mr. Trump canceled a planned news conference before heading back to Washington earlier than planned.

The timing was not perfect. Mr. Trump had hoped the 70th anniversary celebration of NATO might provide a flattering stage and a triumphant narrative, even as Democrats on Capitol Hill on Wednesday trotted out sober legal scholars to testify at the House Judiciary Committee’s first public impeachment hearing.

But instead of creating a split screen, Mr. Trump failed to produce the statesmanlike narrative his campaign had hoped for. The result was he appeared boxed in both at home and abroad, ultimately overshadowed by diplomatic dynamics that put him on his back foot.

They laughed even more when he left.

But Trump got his revenge by taking it out on — of course — poor people.

The Trump administration, brushing aside tens of thousands of protest letters, gave final approval on Wednesday to a rule that will remove nearly 700,000 people from the federal food-stamp program by strictly enforcing federal work requirements.

The rule, which was proposed by the Agriculture Department in February, would press states to carry out work requirements for able-bodied adults without children that governors have routinely been allowed to waive, especially for areas in economic distress. The economy has improved under the Trump administration, the department argued, and assistance to unemployed, able-bodied adults was no longer necessary in a strong job market.

That’ll show those meanies in France and Canada.  So there.

HT to Anne Laurie at Balloon Juice.

Tuesday, November 26, 2019

A Fine Judge Of Character

The White House had a little presser when they brought Conan the Army dog that was part of the raid that killed Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi.  Check out the body language on Trump, Conan, and the First Lady.

Trump is notoriously anti-dog; Melania looks like she’s trying out for the part of Cruella De Vil on the road tour of “101 Dalmatians,” and Conan is desperately waiting to get the hell out of there.

Dogs are excellent judges of character.  They know instinctively and very quickly who likes them and who doesn’t, and once they’ve made up their mind, there’s not much you can do about it.

Good dog.

Monday, November 25, 2019

Military Imprecision

Everything I know about how justice works in the military comes from fiction (“The Caine Mutiny”) or watching TV (“NCIS” and the short-lived “The Code”).  So don’t expect me to unravel or explain what happened this weekend in the Navy with the resignation/firing of the Secretary of the Navy (SECNAV) Richard Spencer by Secretary of Defense Mark Esper.  For that, we have the expertise of Adam L. Silverman at Balloon Juice.

The story is too complicated to detail here — that’s why I linked to the piece — but suffice it to say that Trump’s pardoning of Navy SEAL Eddie Gallagher for his alleged war crimes and then going on Fox News and talking about it kicked over the trash can within the Pentagon and made the chain of command look like something out of a bad production of Gilbert and Sullivan.

I cannot express not only how irregular what I’ve just recounted is, but how BATSHIT FUCKING INSANE it is as well! Serving US military personnel, and to a lesser extent DOD and the Service civilians (civil servants) do not speak to and/or engage with the news media unless it has been approved by the Public Affairs Officer at their command. And they certainly don’t go on a cable news talk show program and publicly accuse their commanding officers of being derelict in their duty and insubordinate. If you were wondering if Gallagher was a disciplinary problem waiting to happen and a real impediment to good order and discipline, wonder no more. What he did this morning should dispel any doubt. And if you were Gallagher and trying to show the review board and the commanding admiral that you weren’t either or both of these things, going on Fox & Friends Weekend and making these statements is a really stupid way to demonstrate that you’re not a problem child and a shitbird.

And it’s only Monday.

Monday, November 18, 2019

In Perfect Health

The twitter machine was all abuzz on Saturday when Trump went to Walter Reed for what the White House is claiming was a “stage” of his annual physical and there’s nothing at all to report, and rumors that he had “chest pains” is a plot by Adam Schiff and Nancy Pelosi to undermine his god-given task of making America something something.

I’m a huge fan of the film “Dave” in which a president, who’s a philanderer and a shitty husband, is replaced by a look-alike good guy (Kevin Kline) who rights wrongs and treats the First Lady (Sigourney Weaver) like a lady.  While I don’t think this White House is capable of pulling off such a ruse (for one thing, they’d have to get Alec Baldwin to portray Trump, and they don’t pay scale), it would not surprise me in the least that Trump had a more serious issue than just a preliminary check-up for his annual physical, and I wouldn’t put it past this White House to try to emulate another Hollywood blockbuster: “Weekend at Bernie’s.”

Lowering The Barr

Via the New York Times:

Attorney General William P. Barr on Friday vigorously defended President Trump’s use of executive authority and suggested that House Democrats were subverting the will of voters by exploring whether to remove the president from office for abusing his power.

Mr. Trump campaigned on a vow to upend Washington, and voters were aware of his agenda when they elected him president, Mr. Barr said.

“While the president has certainly thrown out the traditional Beltway playbook and punctilio, he was up front about what he wanted to do and the people decided they wanted him to serve as president,” Mr. Barr said in a speech at a conference hosted by the Federalist Society, a conservative legal group influential in Republican politics.

Mr. Trump’s opponents “essentially see themselves as engaged in a war to cripple by any means necessary a duly elected government,” Mr. Barr added.

His forceful defense of the president came after some of Mr. Trump’s allies have in recent weeks accused Mr. Barr of failing to vociferously back the president. Mr. Trump was said to be frustrated that Mr. Barr urged him to release a reconstructed transcript of the July call with President Volodymyr Zelensky of Ukraine at the center of the impeachment case. The president also wanted Mr. Barr to hold a news conference to say the president had violated no laws, only to have Mr. Barr rebuff the request. Mr. Trump has denied that account.

Speaking for an hour at the upscale Mayflower Hotel a few blocks from the White House, Mr. Barr hit back at the president’s critics on an array of fronts as he argued that Mr. Trump, in his capacity as president, has not overstepped his authority.

While Mr. Barr never uttered the word impeachment, he castigated those he sees as stalling Mr. Trump’s agenda. He defended the president’s right to set policies, steer the country’s diplomatic and military relations and keep executive branch conversations confidential from congressional oversight.

“In waging a scorched-earth, no-holds-barred war against this administration, it is the left that is engaged in shredding norms and undermining the rule of law,” Mr. Barr said.

He noted that opponents labeled themselves “the resistance” immediately after Mr. Trump was elected and accused them of “using every tool and maneuver to sabotage the functioning of the executive branch and his administration.

“Resistance is the language used to describe insurgency against rule imposed by an occupying military power,” Mr. Barr said. He added that it connotes that the government is not legitimate. “This is a very dangerous and indeed incendiary notion.”

This is both hilarious and troubling at the same time; a common reaction to most of the antics of the current administration.  While they reek of rank hypocrisy — carrying on about how “resistance” to Trump is somehow undemocratic while forgetting how they supported the Tea Party antics and right-wing nutsery against President Obama — Mr. Barr, who has been Attorney General before in comparatively normal times, seems to forget that the job of being Trump’s personal lawyer is already taken by Rudy Giuliani, and he’s doing a bang-up job at that.  Unless, of course, Trump is putting the squeeze on him to support him regardless of the fact that the Attorney General is supposed to work for us, not him.  That would explain, perhaps, why Mr. Barr delivered a speech that, as Charlie Pierce remarked, would have been “best delivered while wearing a uniform and mirrored shades, and while standing on a balcony.”

Thursday, October 31, 2019

“Who Says I’m Dumb?”

Trump says that if he wanted to commit impeachable offenses, he’s smart enough, by golly.

As Donald Trump gets dragged deeper, and deeper, and deeper into his Ukraine scandal and the impeachment inquiry accelerates toward a likely House vote before the year’s end, the president is increasingly insistent that, if he wanted to commit a crime, he wouldn’t be stupid enough to get caught.

At other times, Trump has privately avowed that if he wanted to commit the crimes or outrageous actions he’s accused of, he’d be smart enough to do it—and that people should stop saying he’s too dumb or incompetent to do crimes.

Last week, the editorial board of The Wall Street Journal launched a novel defense of Trump, who Democratic lawmakers allege—as Capitol Hill testimony from senior administration officials suggests—attempted to force the Ukrainian government to investigate former Vice President Joe Biden, a top political rival of Trump’s, in exchange for military aid that was being held up. The newspaper’s esteemed board argued that any talk of impeaching Trump is silly, in large part, because this president is likely too bumbling to execute that kind of scandalous quid pro quo.

“Intriguingly, Mr. [Bill] Taylor says in his statement that many people in the administration opposed the [Rudy] Giuliani effort, including some in senior positions at the White House,” the editorial board wrote. “This matters because it may turn out that while Mr. Trump wanted a quid-pro-quo policy ultimatum toward Ukraine, he was too inept to execute it. Impeachment for incompetence would disqualify most of the government, and most presidents at some point or another in office.”

Trump, a routine morning reader and skimmer of several newspapers’ print editions, saw this editorial—which was obviously meant to defend him—last week. And the president promptly began complaining about it to some of those close to him.

“[The president] mentioned he had seen it and then he started saying things like, ‘What are they talking about, if I wanted to do quid pro quo, I would’ve done the damn quid pro quo,’ and… then defended his intelligence and then talked about how ‘perfect’ the call [with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky] was,” said a source familiar with Trump’s reaction to the Journal editorial. Another person familiar with the president’s comments on the matter corroborated the account.

“He was clearly unhappy. He did not like the word ‘inept,’” the first source added.

Okay, then how about “thick”? “Doltish”? “Numbskull”? “Inadept”? “Unapt”? “Incompetent”? “Loser”?

Proving once again that stupid people don’t know they’re stupid because if they did know they were stupid they wouldn’t be stupid in the first place.

Tuesday, October 29, 2019

Richly Deserved

Via Charles P. Pierce: Trump got a chorus of Bronx cheers and catcalls Sunday night when he showed up at the World Series.  Let the pearl-clutching begin.

I never have seen a politician yet who wasn’t booed if he or she showed up at the ballpark. But, I have to admit, the reception given to El Caudillo del Mar-a-Lago at the World Series on Monday night in Washington, D.C., was a remarkable exercise of the First Amendment right to deliver the ol’ bazoo. And the “Lock him up!” chant was a sauce for the goose moment to end all sauce for the goose moments. Nobody who sat through the orgy of unbridled hate in Cleveland in 2016 could see it as anything but a comeuppance richly deserved.

But the Civility Police never sleep. By Monday morning, a panel convened on Morning Joe was deploring the whole scene, and Democratic Senator Chris Coons of Delaware had found something to meep about on CNN.

“I have a hard time with the idea of a crowd on a globally televised sporting event chanting ‘lock him up’ about our President. I frankly think the office of the President deserves respect, even when the actions of our President at times don’t,” Coons told CNN’s John Berman on “New Day.” He continued: “I certainly hope that we won’t hear ‘lock him up’ chants at Democratic rallies or at our convention. I think that’s one of the most regrettable, even at times despicable, actions by candidate Trump when he was running for president in 2016.”

That was the election that Going Low won and Going High lost.

This was 12 hours after he greeted Sunday morning by treating some heroic work by the U.S. military—and by the Kurdish forces he’d sold out a week earlier—as though those troops were his own personal button men. For that, I would argue, he at least deserved the same reception at the ballpark as a shortstop does when he boots three easy grounders in an inning, or as a manager does who leaves a reliever in one pitch too many. And, as for “Lock him up,” well, since he still uses the original chant as a highlight at every stop in his traveling wankfests, I’d say it’s well inbounds at least until the country is rid of him and the posse of fools he brought to the game with him.

But Coons’s argument is one I’ve heard all too often in my lifetime, very often as a dodge for inexcusable conduct and outright crimes. “Respect for the office” is a self-governing citizen’s sin of idolatry. In that context, the Presidency is a graven image. Why should I respect the office of the president when the occupant so clearly doesn’t? Why should I respect the office of the president when it serves as a clubhouse for cheap crooks and mountebanks? Guns don’t kill people, we hear after every mass shooting, only people kill people. So, The Presidency doesn’t commit crimes, only presidents do?

In my lifetime alone, from The Office of the Presidency, I have seen mass murder from the skies, torture, the overthrow of governments, burglaries and the cover-up of same, the selling of missiles to a terrorist state and the cover-up of same, the arming of distant murderers, and that was all before this president* even got there—and even he, with his exceedingly dim wits, saw the potential for high crimes that long had become inherent in the office.

So, no, I don’t Respect The Office any more (or less) than I respect the Congress or the federal judiciary or the Department of Agriculture, for all that. Right now, all over the world, from Lebanon to Chile, hundreds of thousands of people are in the streets demanding a voice in their governments. Capital cities are being shut down. And we’re all supposed to be alarmed that a renegade president* got heckled at a baseball game? For a country founded through acts of unruly dissent, that’s as mild as milk.

So there, Joe and Mika.

Tuesday, October 22, 2019

Never His Fault

I’ll say this about Trump: he’s consistent.  Nothing bad that happens to him is his fault, and he takes credit for things he has no right to do.  Just take a look at this series of quotes from his press opportunity during yesterday’s cabinet meeting:

Trump predictably went on a rant about the whistleblower at the heart of the House impeachment probe into Trump’s Ukraine scheme.

The rant got a little less predictable when Trump bizarrely suggested House Intelligence Committee Chair Adam Schiff (D-CA) was the informant in the whistleblower’s complaint.

“Maybe the informant was Schiff. It could be shifty Schiff,” the President said. “In my opinion, it’s possibly Schiff.”

[…]

As he was complaining about how the impeachment inquiry was distracting him from staying out of wars, Trump suddenly decided mid-sentence that he might go to war after all.

“In the midst of [the inquiry], I’m trying to get out of wars,” Trump said, immediately followed up by: “We may have to get in wars, too. We may have to get in wars.”

“We’re better prepared than we’ve ever been,” he continued. “If Iran does something, they’ll be hit like they’ve never been hit before. We have things that we’re looking at.”

[…]

Trump also spent several minutes moaning about being forced to cancel his plan to host next year’s G-7 summit at his Florida resort, claiming that using the resort for the summit would not serve to promote his businesses.

“Then they say ,’Oh, but you’ll get promotion,’” Trump said of his critics. “Who cares? You don’t think I get enough promotion? I get more promotion than any human being that’s ever lived.”

“I don’t need the promotion,” he insisted.

He also derided critics for bringing up “this phony Emoluments clause.”

[…]

Trump repeatedly attacked Democrats during the presser, but he did praise them for one thing: Staying united with each other, unlike a certain someone in his own party.

“They’re vicious and they stick together,” he said. “They don’t have Mitt Romney in their midst.”

[…]

Trump, ever obsessed with his rally crowd sizes and applause, brought up the two topics that apparently earned him “the largest cheers” at his rally in Dallas last week.

“My largest cheer that night was two things: We’re building the wall, that’s number one,” Trump bragged. “And number two, probably tied for number one, was we’re bringing our soldiers back home.”

[…]

Near the end of the pool spray, Trump grumbled about the “never-Trumpers” in his party.

“Those people might be worse than the Democrats,” Trump said. “The never-Trumpers.”

“The good news is they’re dying off fast,” he added. “They’re on artificial respiration, I think.”

Yeah, about that “phony Emoluments clause”?  It’s about as real as the ones about impeachment.

Thursday, October 17, 2019

For All To See

Everybody loses their shit every now and then.  If you’re in a very high-profile job with urgent matters coming at you in every direction and everyone expects you to make very tough decisions, you’re going to let off steam.  But you don’t do it in front of people who will walk outside and tell a gaggle of reporters that they just saw someone turn into a six-year-old brat in front of them.  You keep it together until the doors are closed and there’s no one who can hear you.

Not this guy.

Trump faced off against both parties in Congress on Wednesday in an extraordinary confrontation over his decision to abandon America’s Kurdish allies as the vast majority of House Republicans joined Democrats to condemn his policy in an overwhelming vote.

Mr. Trump found himself increasingly isolated after withdrawing troops from Syria and clearing the way for a Turkish offensive against Kurds who had fought alongside the United States. The president all but washed his hands of the conflict, saying that it “has nothing to do with us,” generating withering criticism from Republicans and leading to a stormy clash with Speaker Nancy Pelosi.

Bereft of supporters and under pressure from an impeachment inquiry, Mr. Trump spent much of the day defending his decision and lashing out against rivals. He dismissed the Kurds, who until last week shared outposts with American soldiers, saying they were “no angels” and fought for money. And he berated Ms. Pelosi as a “third-grade politician” or “third-rate politician,” depending on the version, prompting Democrats to walk out of a White House meeting.

“I think now we have to pray for his health,” Ms. Pelosi told reporters afterward. “This was a very serious meltdown on the part of the president.” She said Mr. Trump seemed “very shaken up” by the cascade of criticism.

Mr. Trump said it was the other way around. “Nancy Pelosi needs help fast!” he wrote on Twitter. “She had a total meltdown in the White House today. It was very sad to watch. Pray for her, she is a very sick person!”

Yeah, that last little bit of projection shows that he’s got all the tantrum moves down pat.

This will either be another bit of evidence at his impeachment trial or the invocation of the 25th Amendment.

Friday, October 11, 2019

Rudy’s Buddies

This impeachment inquiry is providing some great comic relief.

Rudy Giuliani lunched with two associates at the Trump International Hotel in Washington on Wednesday just hours before the duo was arrested at a Washington-area airport, according to the Wall Street Journal.

Lev Parnas and Igor Fruman are business associates of Giuliani who had been working with the former New York mayor on his efforts to dig up dirt in Ukraine on former Vice President Joe Biden. A person who saw the trio eating at the Trump hotel spoke to the Journal for the story.

Parnas and Fruman were arrested at Dulles International Airport in northern Virginia on Wednesday and on Thursday were indicted for allegedly funneling foreign money into US elections. A law enforcement source told CNN they were booked on a flight to Frankfurt, Germany, to connect to another flight.

Giuliani declined to comment to CNN on the report.

Parnas and Fruman are two of four men who were indicted on Thursday. Andrey Kukushkin has been arrested and is expected to appear in court Thursday in the Northern District of California, according to the Manhattan US Attorney’s office. The fourth man, David Correia, hasn’t been arrested. All four are US citizens, according to the indictment.

When asked, Trump denied knowing either Parnas and Fruman, but a little digging came up with some lovely photos of Mr. Fruman’s dinner at the White House back in May.

And the one-way tickets to Vienna?  Oh, they’re going to take in some opera at the Wiener Staatsoper. And bring back some strudel.

Thursday, October 10, 2019

More From The Stable Floor

Sheesh.

Trump said Wednesday that it would be “easy” for the United States to form new alliances if Syrian Kurds leave the fight against the Islamic State to fend off a Turkish attack, noting that “they didn’t help us in the Second World War, they didn’t help us in Normandy” and were only interested in fighting for “their land.”

“With all of that being said, we like the Kurds,” he said in response to questions about Turkey’s incursion into Syria.

He got this talking point from some right-wing nutjob.  Who needs the State Department when you’ve got the blogosphere?

For more background on the history of the Kurds and our constant betrayal of them, read this post by Adam L. Silverman.

Tuesday, October 8, 2019

Sunday, October 6, 2019

Sunday Reading

The Smoking Arsenal — Charles P. Pierce.

What the hell do we call this? The smoking arsenal?

The release of a motherlode of criminal evidence in the form of texts between various inmates at Camp Runamuck, all of which concerns the president*’s attempt to extort Ukraine into helping him ratfck the 2020 election, establishes the guilt of the president* beyond the shadow of a doubt. In the released material, you can see a whole brigade of hapless functionaries stumbling from one crime to another, fully aware that they are doing so, and concocting strategies on the fly to carry out the president*’s criminal orders. You read for yourself how they all ended up toadying to Rudy Giuliani’s insane “mission” to Kiev. It’s like reading a John Le Carré novel starring the Marx Brothers.

The simple politics of the release is pure genius. On Thursday, former envoy to Ukraine Kurt Volker briefed House investigators on the matter. Around midday, presidential* lawn ornaments Rep. Jim Jordan and Rep. Mark Meadows threw themselves at a microphone to deliver the Nothing To See Here party line. Then, the texts were released and now every single Republican in the Congress looks like a fool or a crook. There’s no third alternative.

But the politics of it are a lesser concern. The conduct revealed in the texts is as subversive as anything undertaken by any KGB operative in the high days of the Cold War. The president* set the government of the United States against itself, and he used a vulnerable ally to do so. He could have travelled the world shooting our ambassadors personally and done less damage. Nobody will trust American diplomats again for a very long time, nor should they. From NBC News:

In fact, the only U.S. official included in the text messages who pushes back is a career diplomat, William Taylor, who became the top U.S. diplomat in Ukraine after Trump pulled Ambassador Marie Yovanovitch out of her post earlier this year. Yovanovitch’s ouster has become another topic of key interest to Democratic lawmakers in their impeachment inquiry.

“Are we now saying that security assistance and WH meeting are conditioned on investigations?” Taylor wrote, using an acronym for the White House, after Trump canceled a planned meeting with Zelenskiy in Poland. A week later, he told Sondland: “As I said on the phone, I think it’s crazy to withhold security assistance for help with a political campaign.” Sondland, several hours later, pushed back, telling Taylor that Trump “has been crystal clear, no quid pro quos of any kind.” He suggests they stop discussing the matter via text message.

That certainly sounds legitimate to me. Sondland is Gordon Sondland, the U.S. ambassador to the European Union. Now, Ukraine is not a member of the European Union. So what, you may wonder, is Sondland’s dog in this fight. Clearly, he was one of the White House messenger boys in the extortion and bribery plot that was unfolding all around West Asia. And the conspicuous “no quid pro quo,” followed immediately by a suggestion that they no longer put these perfectly innocent requests into writing, would be comic if the stakes weren’t so very high. From The New York Times:

Mr. Volker told the House investigators that the Ukrainians had earlier proposed language promising a statement on fighting corruption that did not specifically mention Burisma and 2016. When Mr. Giuliani was shown that original language, Mr. Volker told the House, he indicated to Mr. Volker that it was not sufficient and said the Ukrainians should be asked for specific public commitments to investigate Burisma and 2016.

By Mr. Volker’s account, according to the person familiar with his testimony, he was eventually told by Mr. Yermak that the Ukrainian government could not agree to the language being sought by Mr. Giuliani. Mr. Volker told Mr. Yermak that he was right, and the idea was dropped, according to the account Mr. Volker provided the House.

I have no sympathy for any of these people, and neither should you. They sold their souls to a crook and a charlatan who may well be half-mad into the bargain. They sold out the diplomatic status of the country in service to a lunatic conspiracy theory that was the obsession of a president* who believes anything his favorite TV commentators tell him. They sold out an embattled ally in order to aid in the reelection of a president* against whom this country may not survive in recognizable form.

On Thursday, just as the current storm was rising, the president* tweeted of his “absolute right” to conduct foreign policy in this manner. No president has an “absolute right” to do fck-all. The longer this man is allowed to infect this republic, the more it will change into something very different. He cannot be allowed to remain in office and, god help us, he cannot be reelected. That would be the end of things.

Glamour and Substance — Nichelle Gainer has an appreciation of Diahann Carroll.

I am an ’80s kid. I grew up in a New Jersey suburb that, to my mind’s eye, bore more than a passing resemblance to the fictional town in “Stranger Things.” While I enjoyed shows like “Square Pegs” and movies like “The Breakfast Club,” I was perplexed by how homogeneous they were, especially since my high school had nearly an even balance of black and white kids.

That’s where Jet magazine came in. At that time, black faces were still rare enough on the big and small screens that the publication printed out a listing of every black performer appearing on American television that week. Thanks to those listings, I discovered a magnetic performance by one of my favorite stars Diahann Carroll, who died this week at 84.

It was from the NBC TV movie “Sister, Sister,” which first aired in 1982. Written by Maya Angelou, the story follows three very different siblings and their struggle to heal old wounds and sell their family home following the death of their mother. In one of my favorite scenes, two of the sisters (played by Ms. Carroll and Rosalind Cash) confront each other about long-held secrets and their screaming match turns to blows. It is glorious and satisfying — a “cat fight” that would make the “Dynasty” divas Dominique Devereaux and Alexis Carrington applaud in respect.

Even when she was sparring onscreen, Ms. Carroll’s class and elegance went unquestioned, but early in her career, the public perception of her commitment to issues affecting black Americans was another matter. Like many black stars in the ’60s and ’70s, her personal and professional moves were scrutinized relentlessly. She wore clothes by white designers, married white men and, to the untrained eye, appeared to live in a mostly white world, seemingly oblivious to “real” problems. Her character on “Julia” was a single mother, and aside from the occasional guest star the show lacked a consistent black father figure.

Yet Ms. Carroll is also the same star who testified before Adam Clayton Powell Jr. about the lack of opportunities for black performers and held a fund-raiser in her home for the 1972 Democratic presidential candidate, Shirley Chisholm. She never allowed public perception to dictate the choices she made.

It is crucial to remember her substance. Her educated and well-spoken character Julia Baker, the first black professional woman depicted in an American TV series, stood in stark contrast to the subservient roles typically reserved for black characters. Ms. Carroll was keenly aware of the responsibility she bore in this role and was strategic in how she handled the press at a time when riots in black neighborhoods in major cities across the country were not infrequent. She refused to do any interviews for “Julia” without “racial quotes” being read back to her.

She once said of a “well-meaning” reporter: “He was not aware that a little word here and a little word there could kill me.”

She added, “I told him I think everything going on in the black community now has a more positive feeling than before. He wanted me to say that a certain element was detrimental and I wouldn’t.”

She rebuffed those who felt she lacked social awareness. “I was not ignorant about the issues of civil rights in this country, or my place as a national celebrity who could voice opinions to help make changes,” she wrote in her 2008 memoir “The Legs Are the Last to Go.” She would point to the efforts she made in supporting the Student Nonviolence Coordinating Committee and the Black Panthers.

Beyond the checklist of history-making “firsts,” she was savvy throughout her career, navigating the minefields of racism and sexism with an aplomb that seemed effortless. She attended charm school, modeled for Ebony magazine as a teenager and transformed her glitzy look from her early days as a Las Vegas nightclub performer to the softer, housewife chic that would be more “relatable” to “Julia” television audiences who needed to be spoon fed images of a black woman who did not fit a stereotype.

She often told the story of her first meeting with Richard Rodgers, who created her Tony-winning role in “No Strings.”

“The day that he asked me to join him for lunch before he left for Europe, I thought it was very important that I startle him when I arrived at the restaurant,” she recalled in 1998. “I think that business of overwhelming people with your presence, and your grooming — it’s not part of today. It’s not important today. I cannot tell you what it meant then. I was dressed in Givenchy from head to toe. It meant a great deal during an interview.”

Sometimes, she deglamorized herself, as she did in her Oscar-nominated role as a poor mother of six in the 1974 film, “Claudine,” or as a fortune teller in the 1997 film, “Eve’s Bayou.”

Ms. Carroll’s career and life were long enough for her to bear witness to the fruits of her labor. Black performers of her generation were accustomed to the pressures of navigating rarefied spaces in Hollywood, and so it was no surprise that she said she was proud to see so many young black people behind the scenes on the set of “A Different World” and was “choked up” as she watched Shonda Rhimes call the shots on the set of “Grey’s Anatomy” nearly a decade later.

“Some people come of age as teenagers, I came of age as a senior citizen,” she wrote in her memoir. Sometimes we forget that even timeless legends don’t see themselves the way that we do. Diahann Carroll not only embodied glamour, she expanded its very definition with her bold choices while never attempting to hide herself behind a perfect image. I will forever be in awe.

Photo: NBCU Photo Bank, via Getty Images.

Doonesbury — Pick a fact!  (Click on the picture to embiggen.)

Thursday, October 3, 2019

If He Goes, Everybody Goes

Trump does not do a solo.

Trump repeatedly involved Vice President Pence in efforts to exert pressure on the leader of Ukraine at a time when the president was using other channels to solicit information that he hoped would be damaging to a Democratic rival, current and former U.S. officials said.

Trump instructed Pence not to attend the inauguration of Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky in May — an event White House officials had pushed to put on the vice president’s calendar — when Ukraine’s new leader was seeking recognition and support from Washington, the officials said.

Months later, the president used Pence to tell Zelensky that U.S. aid was still being withheld while demanding more aggressive action on corruption, officials said. At that time — following Trump’s July 25 phone call with Zelenksy — the Ukrainians probably understood action on corruption to include the investigation of former vice president Joe Biden and his son Hunter Biden.

I really doubt that Trump was thinking that if he got caught, impeached, and convicted, he’d make sure to take his veep with him, knowing that the next in line for the presidency would be the Speaker of the House, Nancy Pelosi, followed by the President Pro Tempore of the Senate, Charles Grassley, before it reverted back to the cabinet in order of the creation of the department.  Trump has no idea how that works; he probably thinks he can hand it off to Ivanka.  Involving the vice president wasn’t strategy or a part of the cover-up; it’s the way he does business.  He staffs the knucklehead and gritty work to minions and then takes credit for the outcome if it’s good and has a scapegoat if it blows up in his face, which this Ukraine mess is surely doing, with cheese.  That’s a part of the art of the deal.

Based on what we saw yesterday in the rant-fest of a press conference, Trump is ready to scorch the earth and leave no one behind to pick up the wounded or the bodies.