Friday, October 12, 2018

A Murder In Istanbul

The Turks have the tapes that lead to the conclusion that the Saudis did it.  From the Washington Post:

The Turkish government has told U.S. officials that it has audio and video recordings that prove Washington Post columnist Jamal Khashoggi was killed inside the Saudi Consulate in Istanbul this month, according to U.S. and Turkish officials.

The recordings show that a Saudi security team detained Khashoggi in the consulate after he walked in Oct. 2 to obtain an official document before his upcoming wedding, then killed him and dismembered his body, the officials said.

The audio recording in particular provides some of the most persuasive and gruesome evidence that the Saudi team is responsible for Khashoggi’s death, the officials said.

“The voice recording from inside the embassy lays out what happened to Jamal after he entered,” said one person with knowledge of the recording who, like others, spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss highly sensitive intelligence.

“You can hear his voice and the voices of men speaking Arabic,” this person said. “You can hear how he was interrogated, tortured and then murdered.”

A second person briefed on the recording said men could be heard beating Khashoggi.

So far the response from the Trump administration has been a shrug and pre-recorded concern:

During a bill signing Thursday in the Oval Office, President Trump called Khashoggi’s suspected killing “a terrible thing,” but stopped short of assigning blame.

“We’re looking at it very strongly,” Trump said. “We’ll be having a report out soon. We’re working with Turkey, we’re working with Saudi Arabia. What happened is a terrible thing, assuming that happened. I mean, maybe we’ll be pleasantly surprised, but somehow I tend to doubt it.”

That’s because oil and power trump everything.

Wednesday, October 10, 2018

Random Thought

I’m slightly amused by all the guessing about why Nikki Haley resigned her post as UN ambassador and what she’ll do now — run for president?  When? — and even more slightly amused by the speculation that Ivanka would or could get the job.

Whoever it is will be appointed by Trump and therefore will be just another sycophant or nationalist, so it really doesn’t matter.  We might as well argue who was the better Darrin on “Bewitched.”  Either way, you end up with a Dick.

Friday, October 5, 2018

Down To The Wire

There will be a vote at 10:30 a.m. in the Senate for cloture on the Kavanaugh nomination, which means that if there are enough Republicans to vote yes — assuming no Democrats do — the Senate will then move forward with the confirmation vote on Saturday.

According to Adam L. Silverman at Balloon Juice, as of last night it was still a near thing whether or not there were enough votes for cloture.  At least one Republican will not be there on Saturday because of a family wedding, and wavering Democrats — the ones who are up for reelection in red states such as South Dakota and Indiana — are making their intentions known, however cautiously.

I’m thinking — and it’s based purely on history and age-old cynicism — that we will be will-o’-the-wisp hopeful that the Senate will not confirm him because of some kind of “Mr. Smith Goes to Washington” bravery from a few Republicans who would rather stand for decency than poll numbers.  But we know how this movie ends; if you’re over 30 you saw how it went with Clarence Thomas in 1991, and I’m yet to be convinced that we, and especially the old-boys club in the Senate, have evolved beyond that time.  I’ve also yet to see anyone of substance call out the Republicans for their rank hypocrisy in demanding due process for Brett Kavanaugh — innocent until proven guilty! — but chanted “Lock her up!” at Hillary Clinton and now Prof. Blasey Ford.

Their motives, by the way, are not to put just this one man on the court.  As far as his judicial rulings go and his history on the bench, he’s one of many conservative judges to pick from, and if for some reason Brett Kavanaugh doesn’t make it there will be plenty more for Trump to choose from, if he hasn’t already.  But with the slim possibility of the Senate flipping and the attitude of the GOP leadership being what it is, it’s more about sticking it to the Democrats than it is about the future of the Supreme Court.  They’re still pissed off that America elected a black man twice as president when everyone knows that the White House belongs to the rich white guys, not the descendants of the slaves who built it.  This is their continuing middle finger to the rest of us, including old white guys like me who happen to believe that everyone is entitled to a place at the table, not just the dudes and bros who puke beer, grope women, and go to Yale because, hey, it’s what’s expected.  It’s the continuing reinforcement of the idea that the Republicans don’t govern, they rule.

So I’m not holding out a lot of hope that there will be profiles in courage emerging from the Senate today or tomorrow.  I hope I’m wrong, but then, hope is my greatest weakness.

Thursday, October 4, 2018

This Vicious Buffoon

Charles P. Pierce:

Everyone who does not agree with me is a traitor and a scoundrel.

—HRH George III, King of Great Britain and Ireland

This video should be the only news from now until Election Day, and probably beyond that, all the way to the next Election Day in 2020 as well.

This video captures perfectly where we are as a nation at this moment in history. It shows with startling clarity the end result of civic disengagement and democratic apathy. It shows without question that we have allowed our republic to fall into the hands of a sociopath whose feeling for his fellow human beings can be measured against a poker chip. It shows beyond a shadow of a doubt that the better angels of our nation have been sold out to anger, and greed, and stone hatred. It shows precisely the depths to which our fellow citizens will follow this bag of old and rancid sins. Some of those citizens know better. Some of them don’t. All of them are dangerous blockheads.

Look at the man behind the seal of the President of the United States, mocking the recollections of a survivor of sexual assault. In my life, I have watched John Kennedy talk on television about missiles in Cuba. I saw Lyndon Johnson look Richard Russell squarely in the eye and and say, “And we shall overcome.” I saw Richard Nixon resign and Gerald Ford tell the Congress that our long national nightmare was over. I saw Jimmy Carter talk about malaise and Ronald Reagan talk about a shining city on a hill. I saw George H.W. Bush deliver the eulogy for the Soviet bloc, and Bill Clinton comfort the survivors of Timothy McVeigh’s madness in Oklahoma City. I saw George W. Bush struggle to make sense of it all on September 11, 2001, and I saw Barack Obama sing “Amazing Grace” in the wounded sanctuary of Mother Emanuel Church in Charleston, South Carolina.

These were the presidents of my lifetime. These were not perfect men. They were not perfect presidents, god knows. Not one of them was that. But they approached the job, and they took to the podium, with all the gravitas they could muster as appropriate to the job. They tried, at least, to reach for something in the presidency that was beyond their grasp as ordinary human beings. They were not all ennobled by the attempt, but they tried nonetheless.

And comes now this hopeless, vicious buffoon, and the audience of equally hopeless and vicious buffoons who laughed and cheered when he made sport of a woman whose lasting memory of the trauma she suffered is the laughter of the perpetrators. Now he comes, a man swathed in scandal, with no interest beyond what he can put in his pocket and what he can put over on a universe of suckers, and he does something like this while occupying an office that we gave him, and while endowed with a public trust that he dishonors every day he wakes up in the White House.

The scion of a multigenerational criminal enterprise, the parameters of which we are only now beginning to comprehend. A vessel for all the worst elements of the American condition. And a cheap, soulless bully besides.

We have had good presidents and bad—a Buchanan is followed by a Lincoln who is followed by an Andrew Johnson, and so forth. But we never have had such a cheap counterfeit of a president* as currently occupies the office. We have had presidents who have been the worthy targets of scalding scorn, but James Callender went after giants. We never have had a president* so completely deserving of scorn and yet so small in the office that it almost seems a waste of time and energy to summon up the requisite contempt.

Watch him make fun of the woman again. Watch how a republic dies in the empty eyes of an empty man who feels nothing but his own imaginary greatness, and who cannot find in himself the decency simply to shut the fuck up even when it is in his best interest to do so. Presidents don’t have to be heroes to be good presidents. They just have to realize that their humanity is our common humanity, and that their political commonwealth is our political commonwealth, too.

Watch him again, behind the seal of the President of the United States. Isn’t he a funny man? Isn’t what happened to that lady hilarious? Watch the assembled morons cheer. This is the only story now.

Amen.

Wednesday, October 3, 2018

Filthy Rich

We knew the “self-made billionaire” line was bullshit, and now the New York Times has the background to prove that Trump’s wealth was accumulated by inheriting it from his tax-cheating and law-breaking father.

Trump participated in dubious tax schemes during the 1990s, including instances of outright fraud, that greatly increased the fortune he received from his parents, an investigation by The New York Times has found.

Mr. Trump won the presidency proclaiming himself a self-made billionaire, and he has long insisted that his father, the legendary New York City builder Fred C. Trump, provided almost no financial help.

But The Times’s investigation, based on a vast trove of confidential tax returns and financial records, reveals that Mr. Trump received the equivalent today of at least $413 million from his father’s real estate empire, starting when he was a toddler and continuing to this day.

Much of this money came to Mr. Trump because he helped his parents dodge taxes. He and his siblings set up a sham corporation to disguise millions of dollars in gifts from their parents, records and interviews show. Records indicate that Mr. Trump helped his father take improper tax deductions worth millions more. He also helped formulate a strategy to undervalue his parents’ real estate holdings by hundreds of millions of dollars on tax returns, sharply reducing the tax bill when those properties were transferred to him and his siblings.

These maneuvers met with little resistance from the Internal Revenue Service, The Times found. The president’s parents, Fred and Mary Trump, transferred well over $1 billion in wealth to their children, which could have produced a tax bill of at least $550 million under the 55 percent tax rate then imposed on gifts and inheritances.

The Trumps paid a total of $52.2 million, or about 5 percent, tax records show.

No wonder he never wanted to release his taxes.  Not that we’d find out that his family was ripping off the government — that’s everyone’s secret dream — but that he didn’t do a damn thing to earn his money and just sat there and let it roll in.

So what if he lived off Fred’s money?  Lots of presidents have been set for life from the time they were born, including FDR, JFK, and the Bushes, just to name a few.  It never seemed to bother them that they were to the manor born.  The big difference, though, between Trump and the rest of the rich is that he wants everyone to think he did it all by himself.  The rags-to-riches story, or so the thinking must go, is that it’s somehow more “‘Murican” if you started out with nothing — just a million or so inherited from daddy — and through hard work and smart deals you made your fortune.  But with his fragile ego — and the rest of it — he just had to live a lie and make up all this bullshit so he’ll seem more genuine to the base.

We all knew he was a con.  Now we have the proof.  The sad thing is that the base — the ones he tried to con — will think he’s some kind of hero for ripping off the guvamint.

Tuesday, October 2, 2018

Going After Women

Freud would have a field day with this.

Trump was noticeably quick to cut off, interrupt or scold female reporters who asked him questions about his Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh during a press conference Monday in the Rose Garden.

Before ABC’s Cecilia Vega had a chance to raise her question about Kavanaugh, Trump was immediately combative. After calling on Vega to ask a question, he joked that she was not expecting to get called on.

“She’s shocked that I picked her, she’s in a state of shock,” Trump said. Vega waited to be handed the microphone, and either said “I’m not — thank you, Mr. President” or “I’m not thinking, Mr. President” as she stood up and glanced at her notes. Trump clearly thought she said the latter.

“It’s okay, I know you’re not thinking, you never do,” he said.

“I’m sorry?” Vega said, before Trump prodded her to ask her question, which was about the White House limiting the scope of the FBI investigation into Kavanaugh. Trump then steamrolled her, asking, “what does that have to do with trade?”

He refused to take any questions about Kavanaugh until he spoke more about the new trade deal between the U.S., Canada and Mexico.

Moments later, Trump scolded CNN’s Kaitlan Collins for attempting to ask a question about the limited scope of the probe. The two sparred briefly, before Collins’ line of questioning was cut off and she was forced to hand the microphone to another reporter who had questions about Trump’s new trade agreement.

“Don’t do that, that’s not nice,” he said.

Trump eventually took both Vega’s and Collins’ questions about Kavanaugh and the FBI probe into allegations of sexual assault against him, but interrupted Collins when he thought her turn was over.

“You’ve had enough,” he said.

While their questions weren’t about Kavanaugh, Trump was brusque with two other female reporters during the presser on Monday.

One woman asked him to clarify the comments he had made about Democrats not being “angels.”

“No, I think I’ll save it for a book like everybody else and I’ll write it, okay? I’m not giving it to you,” he said.

Trump also asked cut off another female reporter who asked him about the failure to follow through with a ban on bump stocks.

“No, you’re wrong about that,” he said.

We’ve always known that Trump has a problem with women being anything other than subservient or his target for sexual gratification, but after last Thursday when Prof. Christine Blasey Ford gave testimony in a calm and measured manner as compared to the dramatics and high dudgeon of Judge Kavanaugh, it’s obvious he’s taking out his frustration on women.  They’re ruining his nice he-men women-are-chattel club!

Polling indicates that women voters are going to return the favor in droves next month, and if he has to run against a woman for re-election, he’s going to be even worse than he is now, which is saying something.

Trump is not the only one attacking women.  Sen Tom Cotton (R-AR) — whose name evokes a character from “The Hobbit” — has issues with them as demonstrated by his concern-trolling for Prof. Ford.  Jennifer Rubin in the Washington Post:

Right-wing male politicians such as Sen. Tom Cotton (R-Ark.) have the audacity to declare that Ford has been victimized … by Democrats. (Maybe ask her?) Even if you thought that, why would anyone say such a stunningly condescending thing? Telling someone who has said she is the victim of a sexual assault whom she should and should not hold responsible for her pain represents a new low in Senate Republicans’ twisted exercise in blame-shifting.

This will leave a mark.

Monday, October 1, 2018

Sham Wow

If you believe the FBI investigation into allegations against Brett Kavanaugh isn’t a sham, well, buddy, have I got some real estate just west of here for you.

The FBI has received no new instructions from the White House about how to proceed with its weeklong investigation of sexual misconduct allegations against Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh, a senior U.S. official and another source familiar with the matter tell NBC News.

According to the sources, the president’s Saturday night tweet saying he wants the FBI to interview whoever agents deem appropriate has not changed the limits imposed by the White House counsel’s office on the FBI investigation — including a specific witness list that does not include Julie Swetnick, who has accused Kavanaugh of sexual misconduct in high school.

Also not on the list, the sources say, are former classmates who have contradicted Kavanaugh’s account of his college alcohol consumption, instead describing him as a frequent, heavy drinker. The FBI is also not authorized to interview high school classmates who could shed light on what some people have called untruths in Kavanaugh’s Senate Judiciary Committee testimony about alleged sexual references in his high school yearbook.

So basically the White House is doing what they do best: obstructing justice while saying they’re open to any and all investigations.  It’s all bullshit and they know it.

What I find impressive is that they can pull off this and expect — even count on — the rest of us to nod and say, “Oh, okay.”  That takes chutzpah; something never in short supply with these people.

Wednesday, September 26, 2018

Laughed Out Loud

Via the Washington Post:

Trump has long argued that the United States has been taken advantage of by other nations — a “laughing stock to the entire World,” he said on Twitter in 2014 — and his political rise was based on the premise that he had the strength and resolve to change that.

But at the U.N. General Assembly on Tuesday, Trump got a comeuppance on the world’s biggest stage. Delivering a speech that aimed to establish U.S. “sovereignty” over the whims and needs of other nations, the president’s triumphant moment was marred in the first minute when he was met by laughter — at his expense.

The embarrassing exchange came when Trump boasted that his administration had accomplished more over two years than “almost any administration” in American history, eliciting audible guffaws in the cavernous chamber hall.

The president appeared startled. “Didn’t expect that reaction,” he said, “but that’s okay.”

Members of the audience chuckled again — perhaps this time in sympathy.

[…]

“The world just laughed @realDonaldTrump,” comedian Wanda Sykes tweeted. Referring to the famed theater in Harlem in which the audience boos and heckles bad performers offstage, she added, “Stay tuned, they might go full ‘Showtime at the Apollo’ on him.”

By the afternoon, Trump was projecting an air of nonchalance, telling reporters that his boast in the speech “was meant to get some laughter.” But most observers weren’t buying it from a president who seldom laughs at himself and whose default expression is an unsparing glare.

I’ve said it many, many times: the only way to bring this clown down is to drown him out with mockery and laughter.  It’s been a proven method all the way from the Greeks through Shakespeare to Mel Brooks.

Bonus: the real “Hail to the Chief.”

Friday, September 14, 2018

The Self-Made Man

Trump claims the death toll of 3,000 — more than the number of deaths from the September 11, 2001 attacks — from Hurricane Maria in Puerto Rico last year is fake and “done by the Democrats in order to make me look as bad as possible…”

No, actually, he’s doing a great job of making himself look bad all by himself.

The more disturbing aspect of this is that this is now what passes for normal.

Thursday, September 13, 2018

That Won’t Be The Worst Of It

There is nothing to stop Hurricane Florence — or any other storm, for that matter — so the best we can do is be fully prepared and safe.  What happens after, however, is completely in our hands and those of the people we’ve chosen to run things, and that’s where the real disaster can happen.

Given the current administration’s down-is-up view of how they handled things with Hurricane Maria and the fact that there’s a runway full of bottled water in Puerto Rico waiting to be distributed a year later, the people who will be impacted by Hurricane Florence had better know that they are in for a long and strenuous struggle when the winds and rains have ended.  It will be just the start.

Meanwhile, the money set aside for FEMA has been rerouted to ICE because brown people seeking asylum are a much larger danger to America than a Category 3 hurricane.

WASHINGTON — The Trump administration took nearly $10 million from the Federal Emergency Management Agency’s budget this summer to help boost U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement, according to budget documents shared with USA TODAY.

The revelation, just ahead of Hurricane Florence’s expected landfall in North and South Carolina, was found by Sen. Jeff Merkley, D-Ore., who first shared the documents live on MSNBC late Tuesday.

He told USA TODAY that after the devastation of last year’s storms, including hurricanes Maria, Harvey and Irma, FEMA should have the funds it needs to be prepared for another disastrous hurricane season.

“It’s almost guaranteed to happen again, so this is just incredibly irresponsible,” Merkley said.

The budgeting document, titled “Department of Homeland Security FY 2018 transfer and reprogramming notifications,” lists $9,755,303 taken from FEMA’s budget, about .9 percent of the agency’s listed overall budget, and given to support ICE.

Heckuva job, there.

Thursday, September 6, 2018

From The Resistance

You’ve heard about it, maybe even read parts of it.  Without further ado, the New York Times anonymous op-ed from someone within the Trump White House.

President Trump is facing a test to his presidency unlike any faced by a modern American leader.

It’s not just that the special counsel looms large. Or that the country is bitterly divided over Mr. Trump’s leadership. Or even that his party might well lose the House to an opposition hellbent on his downfall.

The dilemma — which he does not fully grasp — is that many of the senior officials in his own administration are working diligently from within to frustrate parts of his agenda and his worst inclinations.

I would know. I am one of them.

To be clear, ours is not the popular “resistance” of the left. We want the administration to succeed and think that many of its policies have already made America safer and more prosperous.

But we believe our first duty is to this country, and the president continues to act in a manner that is detrimental to the health of our republic.

That is why many Trump appointees have vowed to do what we can to preserve our democratic institutions while thwarting Mr. Trump’s more misguided impulses until he is out of office.

The root of the problem is the president’s amorality. Anyone who works with him knows he is not moored to any discernible first principles that guide his decision making.

Although he was elected as a Republican, the president shows little affinity for ideals long espoused by conservatives: free minds, free markets and free people. At best, he has invoked these ideals in scripted settings. At worst, he has attacked them outright.

In addition to his mass-marketing of the notion that the press is the “enemy of the people,” President Trump’s impulses are generally anti-trade and anti-democratic.

Don’t get me wrong. There are bright spots that the near-ceaseless negative coverage of the administration fails to capture: effective deregulation, historic tax reform, a more robust military and more.

But these successes have come despite — not because of — the president’s leadership style, which is impetuous, adversarial, petty and ineffective.

From the White House to executive branch departments and agencies, senior officials will privately admit their daily disbelief at the commander in chief’s comments and actions. Most are working to insulate their operations from his whims.

Meetings with him veer off topic and off the rails, he engages in repetitive rants, and his impulsiveness results in half-baked, ill-informed and occasionally reckless decisions that have to be walked back.

“There is literally no telling whether he might change his mind from one minute to the next,” a top official complained to me recently, exasperated by an Oval Office meeting at which the president flip-flopped on a major policy decision he’d made only a week earlier.

The erratic behavior would be more concerning if it weren’t for unsung heroes in and around the White House. Some of his aides have been cast as villains by the media. But in private, they have gone to great lengths to keep bad decisions contained to the West Wing, though they are clearly not always successful.

It may be cold comfort in this chaotic era, but Americans should know that there are adults in the room. We fully recognize what is happening. And we are trying to do what’s right even when Donald Trump won’t.

The result is a two-track presidency.

Take foreign policy: In public and in private, President Trump shows a preference for autocrats and dictators, such as President Vladimir Putin of Russia and North Korea’s leader, Kim Jong-un, and displays little genuine appreciation for the ties that bind us to allied, like-minded nations.

Astute observers have noted, though, that the rest of the administration is operating on another track, one where countries like Russia are called out for meddling and punished accordingly, and where allies around the world are engaged as peers rather than ridiculed as rivals.

On Russia, for instance, the president was reluctant to expel so many of Mr. Putin’s spies as punishment for the poisoning of a former Russian spy in Britain. He complained for weeks about senior staff members letting him get boxed into further confrontation with Russia, and he expressed frustration that the United States continued to impose sanctions on the country for its malign behavior. But his national security team knew better — such actions had to be taken, to hold Moscow accountable.

This isn’t the work of the so-called deep state. It’s the work of the steady state.

Given the instability many witnessed, there were early whispers within the cabinet of invoking the 25th Amendment, which would start a complex process for removing the president. But no one wanted to precipitate a constitutional crisis. So we will do what we can to steer the administration in the right direction until — one way or another — it’s over.

The bigger concern is not what Mr. Trump has done to the presidency but rather what we as a nation have allowed him to do to us. We have sunk low with him and allowed our discourse to be stripped of civility.

Senator John McCain put it best in his farewell letter. All Americans should heed his words and break free of the tribalism trap, with the high aim of uniting through our shared values and love of this great nation.

We may no longer have Senator McCain. But we will always have his example — a lodestar for restoring honor to public life and our national dialogue. Mr. Trump may fear such honorable men, but we should revere them.

There is a quiet resistance within the administration of people choosing to put country first. But the real difference will be made by everyday citizens rising above politics, reaching across the aisle and resolving to shed the labels in favor of a single one: Americans.

The writer is a senior official in the Trump administration.

As mind-blowing as this is, I’d be even more amazed if this resulted in anything more than the current stream of breathless breaking news from the cable channels.

Because it’s anonymous and from within the administration, this is only going to prove to the Trumpistas and the base that there is indeed a conspiracy within the White House — call it Deep State, call it Qanon, call it your Aunt Mathilda’s dentures picking up signals from Mars — to thwart their Dear Leader from accomplishing the mission sent down from Jesus H. Christ and the guardian angels.

As they say, whoever wrote this believes they can accomplish more by staying in their job and doing what they can to save the country from Trump.  There is some logic in that; as LBJ so pithily put it, it’s better to have someone inside the tent pissing out than outside pissing in.  And perhaps by providing a check, some of the other minions of Trump will be more guarded in how they support him in his flights of bizarre fancy and tangents.  It may provide some protection for the rest of us and the world when it becomes so apparent that even someone who signed on to work for Trump, knowing full well what he was like before going in, becomes so concerned that they would take this stand.  Perhaps more people in the West Wing and on Capitol Hill will realize that it’s better to take steps to keep him away from sharp objects and nuclear footballs than it is to stand outside the fence and holler.

They may be right.  If they were to quit, they’d be replaced by some sycophant who will have no qualms about fulfilling the fevered dreams of someone wanting world domination and unlimited pussy-grabbing.  But as much as I’d like to see this be the push that becomes the shove to invoking the 25th Amendment or even articles of impeachment, I have my doubts.  Until the Resistance can gain the support and the power of those who can actually do something other than write for the New York Times, as Seven of Nine would put it, resistance is futile.

Wednesday, September 5, 2018

“Fear” And Loathing

The leak of Bob Woodward’s new book “Fear” about the inner workings of the Trump White House revealed nothing that anyone who has been paying even marginal attention to how the country has been run for the last 18 months would find surprising in the least.

Woodward depicts Trump’s anger and paranoia about the Russia inquiry as unrelenting, at times paralyzing the West Wing for entire days. Learning of the appointment of Mueller in May 2017, Trump groused, “Everybody’s trying to get me”— part of a venting period that shellshocked aides compared to Richard Nixon’s final days as president.

The 448-page book was obtained by The Washington Post. Woodward, an associate editor at The Post, sought an interview with Trump through several intermediaries to no avail. The president called Woodward in early August, after the manuscript had been completed, to say he wanted to participate. The president complained that it would be a “bad book,” according to an audio recording of the conversation. Woodward replied that his work would be “tough” but factual and based on his reporting.

[…]

A central theme of the book is the stealthy machinations used by those in Trump’s inner sanctum to try to control his impulses and prevent disasters, both for the president personally and for the nation he was elected to lead.

Woodward describes “an administrative coup d’etat” and a “nervous breakdown” of the executive branch, with senior aides conspiring to pluck official papers from the president’s desk so he couldn’t see or sign them.

Again and again, Woodward recounts at length how Trump’s national security team was shaken by his lack of curiosity and knowledge about world affairs and his contempt for the mainstream perspectives of military and intelligence leaders.

At a National Security Council meeting on Jan. 19, Trump disregarded the significance of the massive U.S. military presence on the Korean Peninsula, including a special intelligence operation that allows the United States to detect a North Korean missile launch in seven seconds vs. 15 minutes from Alaska, according to Woodward. Trump questioned why the government was spending resources in the region at all.

“We’re doing this in order to prevent World War III,” Defense Secretary Jim Mattis told him.

After Trump left the meeting, Woodward recounts, “Mattis was particularly exasperated and alarmed, telling close associates that the president acted like — and had the understanding of — ‘a fifth- or sixth-grader.’ ”

What, you were expecting Lincoln’s “team of rivals” or FDR’s calm and occasionally jovial sense of duty?  We’ve known all along that Trump has all the patience and insight of a sugared-up six-year-old with a full bladder.  (Speaking as a recovering teacher of sixth graders, Secretary Mattis’s claim is misplaced.  Most if not all of the sixth-graders I taught were capable of demonstrating far more maturity and dispassionate judgment than Trump.)

The most disturbing aspect of these revelations isn’t how he operates.  It’s that no one around him, either in the West Wing or on Capitol Hill, seems inclined to step up to rein this behavior and the ensuing clusterfuck of an administration in.  What is it going to take to get someone to put the day-to-day operation of the executive branch on a path of normal behavior before it truly runs into a disaster?  Aside from the fact that the business of running the country is being thrown for a loop and displaying an amazing lack of leadership, it’s revealing to the rest of the world, including a whole lot of people and nations who wish us ill, that our nominal leader is guided by the instincts and self-control mechanisms of an alligator.  (But this is what you get when you “drain the swamp.”)

Whether it’s the cabinet or Congress, someone with a backbone and a sense of national preservation needs to step up, invoke whatever kind of authority they can muster, and stop the madness.

Friday, August 31, 2018

Hide And Seek

Trump’s obsession with the media and what they’re reporting tells me a couple of things.  First, he isn’t in favor of the idea of a free press unless it’s saying nice things about him and bashing everyone else, and second, there must be a shitload of dirt on him somewhere and he’s freaked out about it getting into the light of day.  Given that he was able to get elected while having the Access Hollywood tape out there plus all of his on-stage antics — bashing the disabled, Gold Star parents, any woman who didn’t acknowledge his charms, and all the other flaws he waved under our noses — the true tales must be really something.

I’m not sure what kind of delusion he was under to get him to think that the press was going to fawn over him like a newborn infant, but since the only news he watches is Fox, it’s not surprising that he thinks all the other news outlets are out to get him.  Any news story that doesn’t flatter him is fake, and Google must be biased because its search algorithms only pull up stories about him that have the most hits, not the most “likes.”  That’s to be expected when your role models of leadership are Vladimir Putin and Kim Jong-un.  So when you see that freedom of the press can also mean that facts matter more than propaganda and reality means that people will call you out when you blatantly lie and have the tapes and facts to prove it, the only remedy you have to resort to are threats and tantrums.

This latest rant tells me that something big is coming, and probably soon.  Bob Woodward’s book “Fear: Trump in the White House” is due to be published in a couple of weeks and so far very little has leaked out, but the tidbits that have are enough to set people on edge and Trump on a rant.  Whether or not they contain bombshells is unknown, but that combined with the news that he and his former lawyer, Michael Cohen, tried to buy up all the dirt that the National Enquirer has on him indicates that what’s hidden would be bad news to the people who read supermarket tabloids the way stockbrokers read the Wall Street Journal: it’s their gospel.

Stay tuned.

Wednesday, August 15, 2018

Remarkable Restraint

Back in 1975 James Whitmore had a one-man show about President Truman called “Give’em Hell, Harry!” There’s a moment in the film where President Truman recalls an anecdote about his language:

Say, Rose, there’s a story going around about me these days. It says that some old party hen is supposed to have cornered Bess at some party, and said, “Mrs. Truman, isn’t there anything you can do to get the President to stop using the word ‘manure’?” And Bess is supposed to have replied, “It took me forty years to get him to use that word!”

That came to mind when reading that Trump referred to Omarosa Manigault Newman as “that dog.”  Given his attitude about women in general and African-American women in particular, I’m impressed that he didn’t come up with the more colorful and gender-specific term for “that dog.”

Monday, August 13, 2018

Insider Trading

I’m not going to read Omarosa Manigault Newman’s book on her life inside the Trump White House.  You can if you want to.

Books like that are meant to shock the reader and reveal the “true inside story,” but frankly if we’re talking about the Trump folks, all you have to do is listen to the news if you want shock, and it has nothing to do with tanning beds or Trump’s overt racism.  The way they’re dealing with voting rights, immigration, the environment, our allies, and trade is a lot more damning than what is revealed in a gossip’s tale.

Ms. Manigault Newman can write whatever she wants; it’s still a free country — for now.  And our capitalist system will reward her with its judgment through the sales of her tales; either they fly off the shelves or they’re on the $5 a copy table by Christmas.  But nothing she reveals will change anything in the Trump White House, so whatever her point was in writing it will be lost on the people she wrote about, and all we’ll be left with is that her name is the answer to a trivia question in a couple of years.

Frankly, if this book was researched, sourced, and reported to the level of something like that written by Woodward and Bernstein it still wouldn’t make a difference.  Trump and his minions will keep on doing what they do; shame and exposure actually energize them.  After all, if cabinet members and cronies can rip off the system and call in insider trading moves from the south lawn of the White House, what difference will the news that Trump uses the N-word make?

Friday, August 10, 2018

Space Farce

I’m sure there are legitimate reasons to want to come up with a way to protect our satellites and other space-borne entities, but this isn’t the way to do it.

Vice President Mike Pence promoted a proposed Space Command on Thursday as “an idea whose time has come” in comments at the Pentagon to unveil a few more details about President Trump’s plan to create another military force, this one for outer space, and for it to be in operation by 2020.

Mr. Trump’s space dreams still have to go through a divided Congress to come true, but initially reluctant Pentagon officials have lined up behind the proposal and now say that they will do what they can to bring it to fruition.

“The time has come to write the next great chapter in the history of our armed forces, to prepare for the next battlefield where America’s best and bravest will be called to deter and defeat a new generation of threats to our people, to our nation,” Mr. Pence told an audience at the Pentagon. He called for Congress to allocate an additional $8 billion for space security systems over the next five years.

Mr. Trump, for his part, posted on Twitter on Thursday: “Space Force all the way!”

And capping it off with a GOP fund-raising appeal by voting on the logo just makes it even sillier.

Aside from the fact that Congress would have to vote on it and that weaponizing outer space would violate a number of treaties that the U.S. has signed (not that that would stop Trump), it would be a lot easier and more efficient if they just let NASA and the United States Air Force do their job rather than start up a whole new branch of the military-industrial complex.

I’m pretty sure that this is just another “Oh, look at the kitty!” moment for Trump and his team.  The Mueller investigation is getting intense for them, Paul Manafort is in the dock, Democrats are building up for a blue wave in November, and congressmen and cabinet members are finding out that grifting has its downsides.  No wonder launching ourselves into outer space to take on the Romulans is sounding like a nice diversion.

But I don’t think this is what Sir Patrick Stewart had in mind when he signed up for a reboot of his role as Captain Jean-Luc Picard.

“Please don’t make it so.”

Thursday, August 9, 2018

The Best People

Rep. Chris Collins (R-NY), the first member of Congress to endorse Trump for president, is under arrest for insider trading.

Here’s what’s laid out in complaints from the Securities and Exchange Commission and the US Attorney for the Southern District of New York (Collins has pleaded not guilty):

Collins sits on the board of Innate Immunotherapeutics, an Australian biopharmaceutical company in which he is also the largest shareholder.

On June 22, 2017, Collins learned that Innate’s main drug had failed clinical trials, a grave outcome for Innate’s financial condition.

Literally seconds after learning this news, Collins contacted his son, Cameron, who at the time owned 2% of Innate.

Over the following four days, Cameron Collins and several other associates of the Collinses proceeded to liquidate their positions in Innate before the public announcement of the drug failure on June 26, after which the stock fell 92%. They saved approximately $750,000 by selling before the announcement.

Innate is not an especially large company. As a result, per the SEC: “The sales by Cameron Collins, his girlfriend, and her parents, including Stephen Zarsky, made up more than 53% of the stock’s trading volume [on June 23] and exceeded Innate’s 15-day average trading volume by more than 1,454%.”

Erik Loomis at LGM wonders why Collins wasn’t appointed to Trump’s cabinet.

Maybe because his grifting was small potatoes compared to Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross.

It is difficult to imagine the possibility that a man like Ross, who Forbes estimates is worth some $700 million, might steal a few million from one of his business partners. Unless you have heard enough stories about Ross. Two former WL Ross colleagues remember the commerce secretary taking handfuls of Sweet’N Low packets from a nearby restaurant, so he didn’t have to go out and buy some for himself. One says workers at his house in the Hamptons used to call the office, claiming Ross had not paid them for their work. Another two people said Ross once pledged $1 million to a charity, then never paid. A commerce official called the tales “petty nonsense,” and added that Ross does not put sweetener in his coffee.

There are bigger allegations. Over several months, in speaking with 21 people who know Ross, Forbes uncovered a pattern: Many of those who worked directly with him claim that Ross wrongly siphoned or outright stole a few million here and a few million there, huge amounts for most but not necessarily for the commerce secretary. At least if you consider them individually. But all told, these allegations—which sparked lawsuits, reimbursements and an SEC fine—come to more than $120 million. If even half of the accusations are legitimate, the current United States secretary of commerce could rank among the biggest grifters in American history.

That’s how you get to be in the Cabinet.

Monday, August 6, 2018

Deal Or No Deal

Booman is feeling magnanimous.

Would you approve a deal that immunized all members of the Trump family from prosecution in return for President Trump’s voluntary resignation?

I definitely would if it did not include the president himself. I’d let him save his children though.

Not unless the entire cabinet, including the vice president, went as well.  Mike Pence is Torquemada without the charm and the rest of them are grifters and toadies.  Wait until after the mid-terms and there’s a Democratic House and we’ll talk.

I’d also include a provision that the immediate Trump family go into exile and sign a gag order.

Wednesday, July 25, 2018

$12 Billion Solution

Trump is telling the agricultural community that he’s authorizing the Department of Agriculture to release $12 billion in emergency funds to make up for the losses caused by the tariffs he’s imposed on countries that import our agricultural products.

In other words, the arsonist is showing up in time to help the firefighters put out the blaze that he started.

And I’m sure that all the hard-core conservatives in Congress who believe that government hand-outs are the worst thing in the world and a slippery slope to socialism and state-run collectivism will rise up as one and proclaim that the free market is the American way and if the farmers can’t cut it, well, that’s a tough row to hoe.  Yeah, right.  It’ll be interesting to see how many of them who support this bail-out were totally against President Obama’s help to the automobile industry.

This is a $12 billion solution to a political problem.  The tariffs are hitting the people who who voted for Trump in the first place and he’s out to protect not them but himself.  After all, as we’ve seen — and heard on tape — Trump is always willing to pay someone off to get himself out of a mess that he caused.

Tuesday, July 24, 2018