Monday, July 23, 2018

…And We’re Back To The “Big Hoax” Again

From the Washington Post:

After a week of tortuous statements, walk-backs and clarifications on whether he believes the U.S. intelligence community’s conclusion that Russia interfered in the 2016 presidential campaign, President Trump appeared to have come full circle on Sunday night, dismissing the issue as “all a big hoax.”

In an evening tweet shortly after taking off for Washington following a weekend spent at his golf club in New Jersey, Trump questioned why President Barack Obama did not inform his campaign or the public about alleged Russian interference before Election Day.

“So President Obama knew about Russia before the Election,” Trump said. “Why didn’t he do something about it? Why didn’t he tell our campaign?”

Trump then went on to answer his own questions: “Because it is all a big hoax, that’s why, and he thought Crooked Hillary was going to win!!!”

I’ll say this much for him, he’s consistent in his flip-flopping.

What’s going to be fun to watch — and at this stage that’s about all this is worth now: entertainment value — will be how the White House staff, especially Sara Huckabee Sanders and her team, manage to get through this latest twitterpation with a straight face.  People are going to tune in just to watch.

I was going to say that if they had an ounce of integrity or self-respect they would quit their jobs and go back to doing whatever it was they were before, but the good ships of Integrity and Self-Respect sailed long, long ago.  In fact, they had to prove they had none before they took the job.

Thursday, July 19, 2018

Tragic Flaw

From the New York Times:

Two weeks before his inauguration, Donald J. Trump was shown highly classified intelligence indicating that President Vladimir V. Putin of Russia had personally ordered complex cyberattacks to sway the 2016 American election.

The evidence included texts and emails from Russian military officers and information gleaned from a top-secret source close to Mr. Putin, who had described to the C.I.A. how the Kremlin decided to execute its campaign of hacking and disinformation.

Mr. Trump sounded grudgingly convinced, according to several people who attended the intelligence briefing. But ever since, Mr. Trump has tried to cloud the very clear findings that he received on Jan. 6, 2017, which his own intelligence leaders have unanimously endorsed.

That’s why the whole Helsinki news conference and the aftermath of what he said or didn’t say and later doubled down on his double-negativity is so ridiculous.  He’s known all along the Russians were involved and yet he’s still going around acting like nothing happened.

What he’s been telling himself and anyone who would listen is that THERE WAS NO COLUSION [sic] and that it’s all made up just to get back at him for beating Hillary Clinton and, by the way, gaming the system to get himself some huge tax cuts so his businesses would make money and prevent yet another bankruptcy.

But now the shit is really hitting the fan.  What started out as a lark, a diversion, something to attract more attention to feed his ego and boost his revenues has turned into a disaster of epic proportions with lives at stake and centuries-old alliances around the world being strained because he thought, hey, what could possibly go wrong?

In classic tragedies, the main tragic figure realizes — always too late — what has brought them to ruin, and the whole point of the drama is to see them come to terms with it and try to either end it or make amends.  But that relies on them having some sort of moral core of humanity and awareness of their flaw and the damage they have caused.  The problem with Trump is that it’s highly unlikely that such noble introspection is forthcoming, so we’re probably never going to see it happen.  It may not matter if justice prevails, but that’s a thin reed on which to hang our hopes.  But it may be the only hope we have.

Wednesday, July 18, 2018

Double Negative

Washington Post:

At the Helsinki news conference, during a disjointed soliloquy about a Democratic National Committee computer server, Trump referred to Director of National Intelligence Daniel Coats and the findings of Russian interference in the election: “With that being said, all I can do is ask the question. My people came to me, Dan Coats came to me and some others, they said they think it’s Russia. I have President Putin; he just said it’s not Russia. I will say this: I don’t see any reason why it would be.”

Then at the White House on Tuesday, Trump asserted that he had misspoken by saying “would” instead of “wouldn’t.”

“The sentence should have been, ‘I don’t see any reason why it wouldn’t be Russia.’ Sort of a double negative,” Trump told reporters.

I wouldn’t not say that the man is a treasonous liar.

If you watch the video of him giving this explanation, he has all the body language of a kid being forced to apologize for doing something rotten that he clearly intended to do.  And clearly his handlers or somebody tried to get him to walk the whole thing back but the best that they could get out of him was that he bungled his syntax and used a double negative.  And he clearly has no idea what a double negative is.  As one commentator noted, he speaks English like it’s his second language taught to him by someone who learned English last week.

Trump’s biggest regret from the whole thing will turn out to be that he had to make this statement.  He meant what he originally said, and even with this new non-apology explanation he’s couching it with winks and nudges.  In his mind, the press conference didn’t make him look weak, but this forced statement does, and he’s only doing it so it’s on the record when he’s on trial in the Senate.

Tuesday, July 17, 2018

Been Here Before

Forty-four years ago today — July 17, 1974 — I emerged from the wilderness of the Uintah Mountains of Utah after completing a six-week wilderness course through the National Outdoor Leadership School.  I had not heard a news broadcast or read a paper since June 10, and the first thing I read was that the Watergate scandal was reaching its peak with the House Judiciary Committee about to release its evidence against President Nixon.

My timing was exquisite.  Things had been pretty much on hold while I was in the wilderness, but within two weeks the committee would vote out the articles of impeachment, and within three weeks the smoking gun tapes would be released and Nixon would resign.  It was like they waited for me to get back to watch this moment of history.

Back then all we had were three national TV networks and dead-tree press, but events moved along swiftly, frantically, and it all coalesced into the end of one era and the wistful start of another where we all believed The System Worked and American democracy and our Constitution could withstand the assault of criminal activity on the part of the president.

Since yesterday I’ve had this sense that we’re approaching the same kind of peak in the arch of this drama.  Evidence is piling up, the outrage meter is pegged, and while there are the defenders of Trump who, by the way, are fully confident that they won’t be held accountable for defending him, the drip of the eroding facts against the wall of ignorance and denial is becoming a stream, and the stream will become a flow, and soon it will begin to take things down and wash them away, leaving little behind but exposed truths.

It’s not going to happen suddenly like it did in July and August of 1974.  For one thing, Richard Nixon had a sense of history and awareness of what his actions could do to the nation.  Not that he really cared, but at least he knew.  Trump has no such awareness.  He couldn’t name his predecessors beyond the black guy he’s trying to erase from history, and he doesn’t give a shit about what he’s done or is doing to the office he holds.  (Nixon, too, had revenge in his heart.  He was obsessed with showing up the Kennedys, who were everything he was not and fed his jealousy to Iago-like levels.  But at least he didn’t sell out to a foreign adversary to win.)  Trump’s supporters and defenders are in it purely for their own benefit and his coattails; if going on Fox and saying nice things about him improves their standing with the base, they’d do it if they are standing next to Satan himself.  (The same was true of the Republicans who finally marched to the White House in 1974 to tell Nixon to quit.  They didn’t care about him; they were staring down the barrel of the mid-terms and saw their future in peril.)  Trump is in this purely for his own gain, his own ego, his own sense of avenging for having been mocked and scorned by people he desperately wants to like him and who never will.  What we saw yesterday in Helsinki was nothing surprising.  It was the outward exposure of the inside of what really drives him.  It was raw, it was ugly, but it was real.  Finally.

What happens now is up to us.  That will be the real test.  Will we allow this to continue, letting what happened yesterday become a part of the news cycle, a remember-when moment like mass shootings that give us a momentary pause and then get back to whatever it was we were paying attention to before?  Or is this like July 1974 when, at long last, it began to come apart so we could put it back together again?

We got it right the last time.

Thursday, July 12, 2018

Time To Wake Up

David Corn in Mother Jones on how Trump and Putin basically stole America while we slept through it.

In 1938, Winston Churchill published a collection of his speeches warning that his homeland was not adequately contending with the threat posed by Nazi Germany. The title: “While England Slept.” Eighty years later, a similar observation can be rendered concerning the United States. Much of the political and media elite and the citizenry seem to be sleepwalking past a horrific and fundamental fact: The current president of the United States has helped to cover up a serious attack on the nation. This profound act of betrayal has gone unpunished and, in many quarters, unnoticed, even as it continues. With Donald Trump about to meet Vladimir Putin on Monday—rewarding the thuggish authoritarian Russian leader with a grand summit in Helsinki—this is an appropriate moment to remember that their dark bromance involves a mutual stonewalling of wrongdoing.

Apparently if it doesn’t involve a missing white woman or a kitten down a well, the attention of America cannot be drawn. It’s no surprise that the Russians figured this out; they’ve had that number for a very long time.  Far longer than Trump’s been on the scene; even far longer than the time of the Red Scare, which I think they must have come up with on their own just to see how easy it was to provoke us into doing truly horrific things to ourselves.

The goal isn’t, as we were warned in the 1950’s by McCarthy and his commie-hunters, to take over America.  This isn’t some kind of “Red Dawn” invasion plan.  That’s way too expensive and besides, once they’ve conquered us, they’d have to run the place and that’s just too much trouble.  What they want — what any adversary would want — is to get us to be compliant, or at least uninterested, in what they want.  I’m pretty sure they don’t want global domination; again, too much responsibility.  They just want to be able to do whatever they want without interference from the U.S. or NATO or any other collection of busybodies.  And they know they have to be subtle about it, using methods that appear harmless but actually get their mark to play along until they have them locked up.  It’s like e-mail scams; it all seems perfectly innocent: click on this link to update your banking information; click here to see free porn; “I’m a widow of a Nigerian general; help me hide my millions$.”  Those things work; if they didn’t we still wouldn’t be getting them.

So Trump is probably right when he claims there was NO COLLUSION between the Russians and his campaign.  At least none that he was aware of.  The Russians, just like the guy betting you $20 for a friendly game of three-card monte, aren’t going to walk up and say, “Hey, I’ll get you elected president.”  They already know how to work this pigeon: make him look elsewhere.

Trump with the rest of NATO leaders, 7/11/18

Corn concludes:

So as Trump prepares (yeah, right) for his sit-down with Putin—which is expected to include a private one-on-one with no aides present—much of the nation has lost sight of the big story. With Trump’s repeated cries of “witch hunt” and his lapdog Republicans slavishly concocting false narratives to cover for the boss, they have managed to convince Trump’s tribalized Fox-fed followers there is nothing to see here. And for many others, the scandal is not presented or viewed as the original sin and paramount controversy of the scandal-ridden Trump presidency.

It may be ineffective or counterproductive to shout out each day, “Where’s the outrage?” Yet the public record remains: Trump and Putin have jointly worked to disappear perhaps the greatest crime ever committed against American democracy and their respective complicity in this villainy. And it is crucial for the Republic that they not succeed.

We can’t hit the snooze button on this.

Friday, June 29, 2018

Job Evaluation And Review Time

Trump is going to have a summit with Vladimir Putin on July 16 in Finland.  I’m sure he’ll do the requisite sucking up to the boss that all good and loyal employees do.

In the past few weeks alone, Mr. Trump has called for Russia to be readmitted to the Group of 7 industrial powers, suggested it has a legitimate claim to Crimea because a lot of Russian speakers live there and continued sowing doubts about whether Moscow meddled in the 2016 presidential election — or if it did, whether the sabotage actually benefited Hillary Clinton.

In Singapore, Mr. Trump emerged from a lunch of sweet and sour crispy pork with Mr. Kim to declare he had solved the nuclear crisis with North Korea, even though the North conceded nothing on its weapons and missile programs. Mr. Trump also canceled joint military exercises with South Korea, a concession long sought by Pyongyang.

It has become a recurring motif for Mr. Trump as a statesman: In November, he lavished praise on President Xi Jinping of China after a one-on-one meeting in Beijing, during which Mr. Xi offered no concrete concession on trade — an issue that matters more to Mr. Trump than almost any other.

What these three leaders have in common is that they are autocrats, whom Mr. Trump admires and believes he can win over with a brand of personal diplomacy that dispenses with briefing papers or talking points and relies instead on a combination of flattery, cajolery and improvisation.

“Trump sees a good meeting as a positive diplomatic achievement,” said Michael McFaul, a former American ambassador to Moscow. “That’s wrong. Good meetings are a means to an end.”

I wouldn’t be surprised if he showed up with a box of candy and a stripper.

Sunday, June 24, 2018

Sunday Reading

We Can See Clearly Now — Charles P. Pierce on the waking up of America to what it did to itself.

Optimism may be illusory, but it’s all we have at this point, so, when it stirs, anywhere, it’s worthy of nurture and support. Over the past week, ever since the administration*’s crimes against humanity along the southern border were revealed, there became an edge to the political opposition that has not been there through all the marches and the rhetoric that have attended this government since the president* was inaugurated. Up until now, all of the #Resistance has contained a barely acknowledged undercurrent of futility. It was not that the opposition was empty. It was that it generally broke like a wave on a seawall when it collided with the immutable fact that the president*’s party controlled every lever of political power at the federal level, as well as a great number of them out in the states, too.

The week just passed has changed the calculations. The images from the border, and the White House’s fatheaded trolling of the situation, seems to have shaken up everyone in Washington to the point at which alliances are more fluid than they have been since January of 2017. There seems little doubt that the Republicans in the House of Representatives are riven with ideological chaos, struck numb by the basic conundrum of modern conservatism: When your whole political identity is defined by the proposition that government is not the solution, but, rather, the problem, you don’t know how to operate it when fortune and gerrymandering hand you the wheel.

You can fake it pretty convincingly, doing the bidding of your donor class and knuckling the powerless and making a nice living for yourself, as long as events pursue a fairly predictable course for which there are familiar precedents in your experience. You can even see the setbacks coming from around the corner. Even your defeats are predictable and, thus, explainable—or, at least, spinnable. Can’t repeal Obamacare? RINOs like John McCain!

The problem arises when something unpredictable happens, and the government you control has to be fast on its feet, and you don’t know how that really works. A hurricane and a flood drowns New Orleans, and the luxury horse-show official you put in charge of the country’s emergency management system—because who cares, right?—finds that he’s really not up to the job. Or, suddenly, you find that, no matter how hot the emotions run at your rallies or how brightly your favorite TV network polishes your apple, or how hard you pitch the snake oil that got you elected, the country will not stand for being complicit in the kidnapping and caging of children. The pictures begin to pile up. The mirror in which the country prefers to see itself cracks into a million sharp shards that begin to cut your political life away.

You can feel the difference in the air. The members of the governing party, uneasy about the prospects for this year’s midterms anyway, are fairly trembling at the moment, seeing in their mind’s eyes a hundred 30-second spots of weeping toddlers behind chain-link walls. The president* has gone completely incoherent, standing firm until he doesn’t, looking for help in the Congress that he’ll never get, and reversing himself so swiftly on his one signature issue that he’s probably screwed himself up to the ankles in the floor of the Oval Office. By Friday afternoon, he was back on the electric Twitter machine, yapping about the Democrats and “their phony stories of sadness and grief.” And a hundred Republican candidates dive back behind the couch.

The country’s head is clearing. The country’s vision is coming back into focus and it can see for the first time the length and breadth of the damage it has done to itself. The country is hearing the voices that the cacophony of fear and anger had drowned out for almost three years. The spell, such as it was, and in most places, may be wearing off at last. The hallucinatory effect of a reality-show presidency* is dispersing like a foul, smoky mist over a muddy battlefield.

The migrant crisis is going to go down through history as one of the most destructive series of own-goals in the history of American politics. The establishment of the “zero-tolerance” policy made the child-nabbing inevitable. The president*’s own rhetoric—indeed, the raison d’etre of his entire campaign—trapped him into at first defending the indefensible and then abandoning what was perhaps the only consistent policy idea he ever had—outside of enriching himself and his family, that is. Then the cameras began to roll, and the nation’s gorge began to rise, and the president* couldn’t stand the pressure that was mounting around him. Of course, because he knows nothing about anything, including how to actually be president*, he bungled even his own abject surrender. He’s spent the days since signing his executive order railing against what he felt compelled to do and arguing against himself and losing anyway.

That’s the optimism, and it may, in fact, be illusory, but the power balance in our politics seemed to shift this week. Terrible policies are still coming from the various agencies. Scott Pruitt remains a grifter of nearly inhuman proportions, and a vandal besides. Neil Gorsuch continues to prove himself to be the reliable conservative hack for whom the Republicans stole a Supreme Court seat. But the crisis at the border is a leg-hold trap for all of them. There’s no way for them to keep faith with themselves and get out from under the humanitarian disaster they concocted. One day, maybe, brave Guatemalan mothers and their very brave children may be said to have saved the American Republic from slow-motion and giddy suicide. Some even may be our fellow citizens by then, and we should remember to thank them.

Vamos Á Comer — Helen Rosner in The New Yorker on the absurdity of Kristjen Nielsen dining in a Mexican restaurant.

In September of 2016, in the run-up to the Presidential election, Marco Gutierrez, a founder of the online activist group Latinos for Trump, appeared on MSNBC to discuss what he saw as a looming immigration threat at America’s southern border. “My culture is a very dominant culture,” Gutierrez, who was born in Mexico, said. “And it’s imposing and it’s causing problems. If you don’t do something about it, you’re going to have taco trucks on every corner.” Gutierrez meant this as a warning, a dire vision of what the future would look like were Donald Trump to fail in his Presidential bid. But Hillary Clinton’s supporters quickly reclaimed the idea as a welcome, and appetizing, possibility. At a campaign stop, Clinton said, “I personally think a taco truck on every corner sounds absolutely delicious.”

Last year, C.H.D. Expert, a hospitality-industry analysis firm, identified Mexican restaurants as the second most popular kind of dining establishment in the nation, and estimated that they make up about nine per cent of the half million or so restaurants in the United States—more than the total number of pizzerias. Countless additional restaurants bear signs of Mexico’s culinary influence: you can find fajitas at Chili’s, guacamole and chips at the Cheesecake Factory, churros at Disney World, quesadillas repurposed into burger buns at Applebee’s, margaritas at LongHorn Steakhouse, Baja-style fish tacos at hipster brunch spots, and nachos at every sports arena in America. Even the ubiquitous Caesar salad is Mexican—it was invented at a restaurant in Tijuana. In many respects, you might say, Mexican food is American food.

So it may have been pure statistical inevitability that caused Kirstjen Nielsen, the Secretary of Homeland Security, to eat at a Mexican restaurant this week, in the midst of the nightmarish crisis at the border caused by the Trump Administration’s family-separation policy. On Wednesday evening, Nielsen arrived at MXDC Cocina Mexicana, a restaurant in Washington, D.C., that promises “classic Mexican cuisine with a modern touch.” It seemed almost unbelievable, on the day we heard a wrenching audio recording of migrant children crying out for their parents, that Nielsen, the chief enforcer of the Administration’s immigration policy, could be out in the world having dinner in a neighborhood restaurant like a normal person, let alone enjoying food from the very region the policy targets. As Nielsen and a dining companion sat in the restaurant for what a D.H.S. spokesperson later described as a “work dinner,” she was recognized by a patron at a nearby table, who covertly snapped a photograph, and sent it to friends in the hopes of inspiring a protest.

In short order, a cadre of demonstrators from the D.C. branch of the Democratic Socialists of America filed into the restaurant and stood between the tables adjacent to Nielsen’s. “How can you enjoy a Mexican dinner as you’re deporting and imprisoning tens of thousands of people who come here seeking asylum?” one shouted, before leading the crowd in a rumbling chant of “Shame! Shame!” “In a Mexican restaurant, of all places,” another cried. “The fucking gall!” In the blurry darkness of a video from inside the restaurant, posted to Facebook Live, Nielsen and her dining companion appear to be sharing an order of guacamole. The protest went on for more than twenty minutes, while Nielsen—shielded by two Secret Service agents—kept her head ducked low.

Some observers suggested that Nielsen’s decision to dine at a Mexican restaurant seemed like an intentional provocation, a trollish act consistent with the ethos of spite and petulance that guides much of what happens inside the Trump Administration. (See, too: Melania Trump’s Zara jacket, or Ivanka Trump’s smiling Instagram of her son.) This suspicion was compounded when, the day after Nielsen’s meal, it was revealed that Stephen Miller—the senior White House adviser responsible for the Trump Administration’s “zero-tolerance” immigration policy—had dined on Sunday night at Espita Mezcaleria, a buzzy Mexican spot in Washington’s hip Shaw neighborhood that, according to The Washingtonian, serves the best chips and salsa in town. (The New York Post reported that a customer at the restaurant, spotting Miller, cried out, “Whoever thought we’d be in a restaurant with a real-life fascist begging [for] money for new cages?”) In the midst of the Presidential campaign, which he kicked off by asserting that Mexican immigrants are rapists, Donald Trump celebrated Cinco de Mayo by tweeting a photo that showed him grinning and giving the thumbs-up in front of a tortilla bowl, with the caption “I love Hispanics!” Perhaps Miller, known for his smug embrace of xenophobic politics, was making a similarly sneering gesture.

MXDC is a slick, anodyne restaurant, one of a half-dozen or so East Coast establishments affiliated with the celebrity chef Todd English, who rose to fame in the nineties making Italian food in Boston. Neither English nor the restaurant’s owner, nor the bulk of its clientele, is Latino, but—as in so many restaurants in America—most of the staff is. Indeed, Nielsen and Miller would have been hard-pressed to find any restaurant, serving any kind of food, that didn’t rely on the labor of the same individuals their immigration policies seek to expel at all costs. Latino workers are the backbone of the restaurant world, at bistros, pizzerias, sushi counters, and rotisseries across the country—many of them are Central American, like the majority of the migrant families being torn apart in recent weeks. (And, it’s worth noting, many of those workers are undocumented: the hospitality sector is one of the largest employers of undocumented labor in the country.)

To many people—the protesters and hecklers, the demonstrators gathered in front of ICE and D.H.S. offices across the country during the past week, the horrified parents watching the news and holding their children close—it seems impossible that Nielsen and Miller could miss the through line that connects this Administration’s cruel, dehumanizing policies toward Latino migrants and the real lives of Latino people who already live and work in this country. It seems as if it would require high-wire moral acrobatics, Jedi-level compartmentalization, to enjoy the fruits of Latin American culture, and labor, at this time. But for many other Americans, including those leading our government, there is a simple, reflexive disconnect between cultural product and cultural producer, between policy and people. “Everyone hates Mexicans, but everyone at the same time loves Mexican food,” the Mexican-American writer Gustavo Arellano told the Huffington Post, in 2016. “When they’re eating it, they’re able to disassociate it from the people who made it, or who picked it or slaughtered those cows.” Shortly after Marco Gutierrez issued his taco-truck warning, a Bay Area online magazine asked him what sort of food establishment he would be happy to see on every American corner. “Uhh . . . Probably taco trucks,” he said. “What?!” the interviewer responded. “Yeah,” he said. “Taco trucks are fine with me.”

Doonesbury — Cruel Shot.

Friday, May 25, 2018

Of Course They Did

Former Director of National Intelligence James Clapper is out with a book that answers the question about Russian influence in the 2016 election.

“Of course the Russian efforts affected the outcome. Surprising even themselves, they swung the election to a Trump win. To conclude otherwise stretches logic, common sense, and credulity to the breaking point. Less than eighty thousand votes in three key states swung the election. I have no doubt that more votes than that were influenced by this massive effort by the Russians.”

Was there active collusion between the Trump campaign — or the candidate himself — and Russian proxies or agents? Clapper does not go that far because he doesn’t have proof. But what he calls Trump’s “aggressive indifference” to the intelligence community’s detailed presentation of Russian activities is, in his view, damning enough. “Allegations of collusion and the results of the election were secondary to the profound threat Russia posed — and poses — to our system,” Clapper writes, and he does a fair job explaining why.

It’s understandable why Trump would display “aggressive indifference” to the Russian activities: it was his magnificent gloriousness and broad appeal to the masses that won the election, see.  Anything else calls into question his legitimacy, and worse, it would be an admission that he was just a pawn in Putin’s attempt to get back at the U.S. for all their meddling in Russia and their proxies during the Cold War.  Putin didn’t want Trump to necessarily win; he just wanted us to lose.

Thursday, May 24, 2018

No Show

The North Korea summit is off.

“I feel it is inappropriate, at this time, to have this long-planned meeting,” President Trump wrote to Kim in a letter released by the White House.

The summit had been planned for June 12 in Singapore.

Gee, what a shock.  Trump and the gang have done everything to provoke a nasty response from Kim Jong-un, and now he — Trump — is blaming it all on him for reacting.

Wednesday, May 23, 2018

But His iPhone

One of the reasons Hillary Clinton lost the election was because Trump and his orcosphere were able to raise a stink about her private e-mail server.  It could have been hacked, they cried, and foreign governments could have learned State Department secrets.  Augh!

So it comes as no surprise whatsoever that Trump himself is playing with cyber-fire because he’s not following White House protocol with his own cell phone.  Oh, yes, he uses one, don’tchaknow.

Trump uses a White House cellphone that isn’t equipped with sophisticated security features designed to shield his communications, according to two senior administration officials — a departure from the practice of his predecessors that potentially exposes him to hacking or surveillance.

The president, who relies on cellphones to reach his friends and millions of Twitter followers, has rebuffed staff efforts to strengthen security around his phone use, according to the administration officials.

The president uses at least two iPhones, according to one of the officials. The phones — one capable only of making calls, the other equipped only with the Twitter app and preloaded with a handful of news sites — are issued by White House Information Technology and the White House Communications Agency, an office staffed by military personnel that oversees White House telecommunications.

While aides have urged the president to swap out the Twitter phone on a monthly basis, Trump has resisted their entreaties, telling them it was “too inconvenient,” the same administration official said.

The president has gone as long as five months without having the phone checked by security experts. It is unclear how often Trump’s call-capable phones, which are essentially used as burner phones, are swapped out.

Rest assured, some foreign entity has already hacked his phone; probably turned on the camera and microphone, maybe even played a few games of Candy Crush.  So the security of the nation is on the line, so to speak, because this flaming hypocrite finds it “too inconvenient” to follow the rules.

By the way, there’s a story in the Boston Globe that Trump’s aides rough up his Twitter feeds with typos and grammatical errors so that he sounds like one of the commenters on a long blog thread at Fox News.

Presidential speechwriters have always sought to channel their bosses’ style and cadence, but Trump’s team is blazing new ground with its approach to his favorite means of instant communication. Some staff members even relish the scoldings Trump gets from elites shocked by the Trumpian language they strive to imitate, believing that debates over presidential typos fortify the belief within his base that he has the common touch.

Or, as John Aravosis notes, people get paid to make Trump look stupid.

Tuesday, May 22, 2018

There’s Only One Scandal

Adam Serwer in The Atlantic posits that all the garbage we’re being treated to by Trump amounts to just one truth:

There are not many Trump scandals. There is one Trump scandal. Singular: the corruption of the American government by the president and his associates, who are using their official power for personal and financial gain rather than for the welfare of the American people, and their attempts to shield that corruption from political consequences, public scrutiny, or legal accountability.

When you put it that way, it’s not that hard to understand, and all of the links are there, from the Russians to the hush money for affairs to the pressure on the Justice Department to Middle East billionaires buying into his properties to curry favor and so on and so forth.  The details are important, but they can also be confusing and lead to a network of rabbit holes that would make the New York subway system look simple.  All you have to understand is that Trump’s goal in becoming president was to tap into the biggest license to print money for himself and his minions.  That’s it.

But her e-mails.

Sunday, May 20, 2018

Sunday Reading

Clean Up Job — Charles P. Pierce on how to pick up after Trump.

On Monday, at the Center For American Progress’s annual Ideas hootenanny, Sally Yates made a point that has stayed with me all week as the deep, underground web of corruption in this administration* expanded to almost every point of the political compass. It is almost impossible to keep track these days. It’s almost impossible to keep from tangling the various strands of it: Michael Cohen’s alleged dealings with the Qataris, Jared Kushner’s alleged dealings with the Qataris, Michael Cohen’s alleged dealings with Stormy Daniels, Paul Manafort’s alleged dealings with various Volga Bagmen, and who knows what all else is under there.

Anyway, Yates asked the assembled: What is going to happen when this administration is finally, blessedly over? It is a very good question and there is no very good answer to it. Nobody knows how many people, if any, are going to be convicted when all this shakes out, let alone how many of them actually might go to jail. Can we recover from the common high-end venality while simultaneously putting the political norms back in place? Can we reform the global damage done to American credibility while simultaneously getting back to sensible financial and environmental regulations? Is it possible to get the country back to normal on 10 levels at once?

I am not as optimistic as I once was.

First, a lot of the damage has been done through the enactment of policies that conservative Republicans have been slavering for over the past 50 years. They are one aging heartbeat away from finally having a solid majority on the Supreme Court, and the president* has been salting young Federalist Society bots throughout the federal judicial system. Further, before there ever was a President* Trump, Mitch McConnell demonstrated that Democratic presidents were not entitled to fill Supreme Court vacancies that occur on their watch. Under the glare of all the nonsense, conservative Republicans have achieved a lot of what they’ve been trying to do since Ronald Reagan stepped onto the Capitol rostrum in 1981.

Second, and as important, if this president* leaves office at any point prior to the end of his second term, I fear that the reaction among his supporters is liable to be loud and violent. They’re already primed, by the president* and by his pet media, to believe almost anything as long as it demonstrated that They, The Deep State are conducting a slow-motion coup. (The latest fever dream is that the Obama administration planted an FBI mole in the Trump campaign so as to throw the election to Hillary Rodham Clinton. That’s only been flying around for a couple weeks and I guarantee you that it’s already set in concrete out there.) The president* is not likely to sprout a conscience any time soon. There is no way that this can end well.

This is serious business, and the time to start thinking about it is now. It’s possible that this administration* will collapse all at once. It is also possible that we’ll be reading early morning tweets well into 2024. The elevation of Donald Trump caught the institutions of government by surprise. That’s bad enough. It’s important that the end of him does not do the same thing.

Fake Nobel — Andy Borowitz.

WASHINGTON (The Borowitz Report)—Donald J. Trump has ordered a replica of the Nobel Peace Prize and is displaying it prominently on his desk in the Oval Office, the White House confirmed on Wednesday.

The replica of the Nobel medallion is mounted on what the White House described as a “tasteful black-velvet background” with an engraved plaque reading, “Donald J. Trump, 2018 Winner.”

At the daily White House briefing, the press secretary, Sarah Huckabee Sanders, said that Trump “took the initiative” to award himself the Peace Prize rather than “waiting around” for the Nobel committee, in Oslo, to bestow it on him.

“What with his successes in Syria, Iran, North Korea, and whatnot, the President already knows he’s a lock for the Nobel,” she said. “It’s just a formality at this point.”

The fake Nobel was first spotted by Henry Klugian, a student who was on a White House tour with his seventh-grade class from Bethesda, Maryland.

“I thought it was kind of weird that he’d have something like that made up for himself, but whatever,” he said.

Doonesbury — Every dollar helps.

Thursday, May 17, 2018

Footnote To History

Oh, THAT $130,000.

In new financial-disclosure documents, President Trump reported reimbursing his personal lawyer, Michael Cohen, more than $100,000 last year — an apparent reference to the $130,000 that Cohen paid just before the 2016 election, to ensure the silence of an adult-film actress who claimed she’d had an affair with Trump.

The information was included as a footnote in the 92-page form filed with the Office of Government Ethics. The ethics agency said it had concluded Trump should list a debt to Cohen in the “liabilities” section of his financial statement. It also notified the Justice Department, which enforces a law against willfully omitting information from these forms.

Hey, when you’re a multi-gazillionaire with ex-wives and one-nighters to pay off, things slip through the cracks.

Friday, April 20, 2018

Happy Friday

Hey, we made it to the end of the week and we’re still here.

I see that Trump has hired Rudy Giuliani to handle his legal problems and “negotiate an end” to the Mueller probe.  Is he talking about a plea bargain?  Getting a nickel at Sing Sing?

In other news, former FBI director James Comey was on Rachel Maddow last night and didn’t reveal a whole lot other than to comment on the heavily-redacted memos he kept on his contacts with Trump and others.  Some of the notes are unintentionally funny, including one where Trump was worried about his then-national security advisor Michael Flynn: “The guy has serious judgment issues.”  Oh really.

Meanwhile, the summit between Trump and North Korea’s Kim Jung-un may be a logistic nightmare because there isn’t a plane in the North Korean fleet that can make the trip.

If you’ve been following the continuing saga of EPA chief Scott Pruitt and his spendthrift ways, the latest bit is that like Webster’s dictionary, he was Morocco-bound (thank you, Hope and Crosby) last December and not necessarily on EPA business.  In fact, he was lobbying for U.S. natural gas exports, which isn’t something the EPA does, and he and his crew spent upwards of $40,000 including hotels and meals in Paris.  And yet he can’t get fired, probably because he’s basically emulating his boss.

Oh, you want some Friday Catblogging?  Okay.  This one’s about me packing for my own road trip next week.

I’m heading for Ohio, then Missouri and catching up with old friends and dissertation subjects.

Tuesday, April 17, 2018

It’s A Privilege

You don’t have to be a lawyer to understand the concept of attorney-client privilege.  Watching a few episodes of “Law & Order” reruns will give you the basics: what you communicate to your attorney is secret, and your attorney can be disbarred for breaking it.  There are exceptions, of course, but by and large it’s pretty sacrosanct.

There is one important caveat: the privilege can only be invoked if the attorney is actually representing you.  So I don’t know how Sean Hannity, the blowtorch blowhard on Fox News and the Wormtongue to Trump, can claim attorney-client privilege with Michael Cohen out of one side of his mouth and vehemently deny that Michael Cohen is his lawyer out of the other.

The fact that Mr. Cohen is also Trump’s lawyer makes it interesting because of the “Law & Order”-style dramatic reveal in the courtroom.  But in the overall scheme of things, it makes you wonder what the big deal is all about; lots of lawyers have a wide spectrum of clients and they aren’t all connected to each other.  Heck, my own attorney represented Tony Bosch, the Dr. Feel-Good who juiced up A-Rod, and you don’t see me running around with 19-inch biceps and playing for the Yankees.  So why is Sean Hannity so freaked out by this reveal and claiming a privilege?

Maybe it’s because Michael Cohen only has three clients; the other one besides Trump is Elliott Broidy, the recently-resigned RNC finance chair.  And maybe there’s more to this relationship between Hannity and Trump and Cohen than just sharing a lawyer.  Which brings up the fact that attorney-client privilege goes out the window if the attorney is actively engaged with the client in the furtherance of a crime.

Sunday, April 15, 2018

Sunday Reading

Michael Cohen and The End Stage of the Trump Presidency — Adam Davidson in The New Yorker.

Photograph by Yana Paskova / Getty

…This is the week we know, with increasing certainty, that we are entering the last phase of the Trump Presidency. This doesn’t feel like a prophecy; it feels like a simple statement of the apparent truth. I know dozens of reporters and other investigators who have studied Donald Trump and his business and political ties. Some have been skeptical of the idea that President Trump himself knowingly colluded with Russian officials. It seems not at all Trumpian to participate in a complex plan with a long-term, uncertain payoff. Collusion is an imprecise word, but it does seem close to certain that his son Donald, Jr., and several people who worked for him colluded with people close to the Kremlin; it is up to prosecutors and then the courts to figure out if this was illegal or merely deceitful. We may have a hard time finding out what President Trump himself knew and approved.

However, I am unaware of anybody who has taken a serious look at Trump’s business who doesn’t believe that there is a high likelihood of rampant criminality. In Azerbaijan, he did business with a likely money launderer for Iran’s Revolutionary Guard. In the Republic of Georgia, he partnered with a group that was being investigated for a possible role in the largest known bank-fraud and money-laundering case in history. In Indonesia, his development partner is “knee-deep in dirty politics”; there are criminal investigations of his deals in Brazil; the F.B.I. is reportedly looking into his daughter Ivanka’s role in the Trump hotel in Vancouver, for which she worked with a Malaysian family that has admitted to financial fraud. Back home, Donald, Jr., and Ivanka were investigated for financial crimes associated with the Trump hotel in SoHo—an investigation that was halted suspiciously. His Taj Mahal casino received what was then the largest fine in history for money-laundering violations.

Listing all the financial misconduct can be overwhelming and tedious. I have limited myself to some of the deals over the past decade, thus ignoring Trump’s long history of links to New York Mafia figures and other financial irregularities. It has become commonplace to say that enough was known about Trump’s shady business before he was elected; his followers voted for him precisely because they liked that he was someone willing to do whatever it takes to succeed, and they also believe that all rich businesspeople have to do shady things from time to time. In this way of thinking, any new information about his corrupt past has no political salience. Those who hate Trump already think he’s a crook; those who love him don’t care.

I believe this assessment is wrong. Sure, many people have a vague sense of Trump’s shadiness, but once the full details are better known and digested, a fundamentally different narrative about Trump will become commonplace. Remember: we knew a lot about problems in Iraq in May, 2003. Americans saw TV footage of looting and heard reports of U.S. forces struggling to gain control of the entire country. We had plenty of reporting, throughout 2007, about various minor financial problems. Somehow, though, these specific details failed to impress upon most Americans the over-all picture. It took a long time for the nation to accept that these were not minor aberrations but, rather, signs of fundamental crisis. Sadly, things had to get much worse before Americans came to see that our occupation of Iraq was disastrous and, a few years later, that our financial system was in tatters.

The narrative that will become widely understood is that Donald Trump did not sit atop a global empire. He was not an intuitive genius and tough guy who created billions of dollars of wealth through fearlessness. He had a small, sad operation, mostly run by his two oldest children and Michael Cohen, a lousy lawyer who barely keeps up the pretenses of lawyering and who now faces an avalanche of charges, from taxicab-backed bank fraud to money laundering and campaign-finance violations.

Cohen, Donald, Jr., and Ivanka monetized their willingness to sign contracts with people rejected by all sensible partners. Even in this, the Trump Organization left money on the table, taking a million dollars here, five million there, even though the service they provided—giving branding legitimacy to blatantly sketchy projects—was worth far more. It was not a company that built value over decades, accumulating assets and leveraging wealth. It burned through whatever good will and brand value it established as quickly as possible, then moved on to the next scheme.

There are important legal questions that remain. How much did Donald Trump and his children know about the criminality of their partners? How explicit were they in agreeing to put a shiny gold brand on top of corrupt deals? The answers to these questions will play a role in determining whether they go to jail and, if so, for how long.

There is no longer one major investigation into Donald Trump, focussed solely on collusion with Russia. There are now at least two, including a thorough review of Cohen’s correspondence. The information in his office and hotel room will likely make clear precisely how much the Trump family knew. What we already know is disturbing, and it is hard to imagine that the information prosecutors will soon learn will do anything but worsen the picture.

Of course Trump is raging and furious and terrified. Prosecutors are now looking at his core. Cohen was the key intermediary between the Trump family and its partners around the world; he was chief consigliere and dealmaker throughout its period of expansion into global partnerships with sketchy oligarchs. He wasn’t a slick politico who showed up for a few months. He knows everything, he recorded much of it, and now prosecutors will know it, too. It seems inevitable that much will be made public. We don’t know when. We don’t know the precise path the next few months will take. There will be resistance and denial and counterattacks. But it seems likely that, when we look back on this week, we will see it as a turning point. We are now in the end stages of the Trump Presidency.

Doonesbury — Now you see him…

Sunday, April 8, 2018

Sunday Reading

Corruption, Thy Name Is Trump — Jonathan Chait in New York magazine.

“My whole life I’ve been greedy, greedy, greedy,” declared Donald Trump during the 2016 campaign. “I’ve grabbed all the money I could get. I’m so greedy. But now I want to be greedy for the United States.” To the extent that Trump’s candidacy offered any positive appeal, as opposed to simple loathing for his opponent, this was it. He was a brilliant businessman, or at least starred in a television show as one, and he would set aside his lifelong pursuit of wealth to selflessly serve the greater good. This was the promise that pried just enough Obama voters away from Hillary Clinton in just enough upper-Midwest states to clinch the Electoral College.

Since Trump took office, his pledge to ignore his own interests has been almost forgotten, lost in a disorienting hurricane of endless news. It is not just a morbid joke but a legitimate problem for the opposition that all the bad news about Trump keeps getting obscured by other bad news about Trump. Perhaps the extraordinary civic unrest his presidency has provoked will be enough to give Democrats a historic win in the midterms this fall, but it is easy to be worried. Trump’s approval rating hovers in the low 40s: lower than the average of any other president, yes, but seemingly impervious to an onslaught of scandals that would have sunk any other president, and within spitting range of reelectability.

As the races pick up in earnest, some kind of narrative focus is going to be necessary to frame the case against Trump. Here, what appears to be an embarrassment of riches for Democrats may in fact be a collection of distractions. It is depressingly likely that several of Trump’s most outrageous characteristics will fail to move the needle in the states and districts where the needle needs moving. His racism and misogyny motivate the Democratic base, but both were perfectly apparent in 2016 and did not dissuade enough voters to abandon him.
The Russia scandal is substantively important, but it is also convoluted and abstract and removed from any immediate impact on voters’ lived experience. The reports of Trump’s affair with Stormy Daniels, even the possibility of hired goons to keep her quiet, is not exactly a disillusioning experience for voters who harbored few illusions to begin with.

But they did harbor one. Trump’s core proposition to the public was a business deal: If he became president, he would work to make them rich. Of course, the fact that Trump was able to reduce the presidency to such a crass exchange, forsaking such niceties as simple decency and respect for the rule of law, exposed terrifying weaknesses in the fabric of American democracy. But the shortest path to resolving this crisis is first to remove Trump’s party — and it is Trump’s party — from full control of the government in 2018, and then to remove Trump from the White House in 2020. The clearest way to do that is to demonstrate that Trump is failing to uphold his end of the deal. After all, the students at Trump University once constituted some of the biggest Trump fans in America. Until they realized Trump had conned them. Then they sued to get their money back.

Historically, corruption — specifically, the use of power for personal gain — has played a central and even dominant role in American political discourse. In the 1870s, revelations that public officials were caught lining their pockets with millions of dollars from alcohol taxes (the Whiskey Ring) and inflated railroad costs (Crédit Mobilier) exploded into spectacular scandals. One of the triumphs of the Progressive Era was establishing rules and norms of professionalism in government so that public officials would not be tempted to sell their favors. The far more petty corruption cases of the 20th century still roused public rage. Harry Truman was famously scorned in his time, owing to penny-ante scandals, one of which involved an aide’s acceptance of some freezers. Dwight Eisenhower’s chief of staff had to resign after he accepted a vicuña coat; George H.W. Bush’s chief of staff, John Sununu, resigned in disgrace after using military aircraft for personal and political trips. There is a reason Trump labeled his opponent “Crooked Hillary,” and it stems from a law of American politics Democrats would be wise to remember: To be out for yourself is probably the single most disqualifying flaw a politician can have.

“Why shouldn’t the president surround himself with successful people?” argued Larry Kudlow, now Trump’s primary economic adviser, in 2016. “Wealthy folks have no need to steal or engage in corruption.” The administration seems to have set out to refute this generous assumption. The sheer breadth of direct self-enrichment Trump has unleashed in office defies the most cynical predictions. It may not be a surprise that he continues to hold on to his business empire and uses his power in office to direct profits its way, from overseas building deals down to printing the presidential seal on golf markers at the course near Mar-a-Lago. It is certainly not a surprise that Trump has refused to disclose his tax returns. What’s truly shocking is how much petty graft has sprung up across his administration. Trump’s Cabinet members and other senior officials have been living in style at taxpayer expense, indulging in lavish travel for personal reasons (including a trip to Fort Knox to witness the solar eclipse) and designing their offices with $31,000 dining sets and $139,000 doors. Not since the Harding administration, and probably the Gilded Age, has the presidency conducted itself in so venal a fashion.

It is hardly a coincidence that so many greedy people have filled the administration’s ranks. Trump’s ostentatious crudeness and misogyny are a kind of human-resources strategy. Radiating personal and professional sleaze lets him quickly and easily identify individuals who have any kind of public ethics and to sort them out. (James Comey’s accounts of his interactions with the president depict Trump probing for some vein of corruptibility in the FBI director; when he came up empty, he fired him.) Trump is legitimately excellent at cultivating an inner circle unburdened by legal or moral scruples. These are the only kind of people who want to work for Trump, and the only kind Trump wants to work for him.

It should take very little work — and be a very big priority — for Democratic candidates to stitch all the administration’s misdeeds together into a tale of unchecked greed. For all the mystery still surrounding the Russia investigation, for instance, it is already clear that the narrative revolves around a lust (and desperation) for money. Having burned enough American banks throughout his career that he could not obtain capital through conventional, legitimate channels, Trump turned to Russian sources, who typically have an ulterior political motive. Just what these various sources got in return for their investment in Trump is a matter for Robert Mueller’s investigators to determine. But Trump’s interest in them is perfectly obvious.

Trump’s campaign followed his patented human-resources strategy, filling its ranks with other rapacious and financially precarious men. Paul Manafort was deeply in debt to a Russian oligarch when he popped up on Trump’s doorstep. Michael Flynn was selling his credentials to Russian and Turkish dictators while advising Trump. Jared Kushner was flailing about in an effort to make good on a massive loan he took out on a white-elephant Manhattan building and seems to have used his access to Trump to leverage potential investors who might bail him out. Even as he has wielded enormous influence, Kushner has been unable to obtain a top-secret security clearance, because he may be vulnerable to foreign influence.

The virtue of bribery is a subject of genuine conviction for Trump, whose entrée to politics came via transactional relationships with New York politicians as well as Mafia figures. Trump once called the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act, which bars American corporations from engaging in bribery, a “ridiculous” and “horrible” law. Enforcement of this law has plummeted under his administration.

Trump’s vision of an economy run by tight circles of politically connected oligarchs has reshaped America’s standing in the world. The same effect that applies at the personal level with Trump has appeared at the level of the nation-state. Small-d democratic leaders have recoiled from the Trump administration, while autocrats have embraced him. Similarly, the president and his inner circle feel most comfortable in the company of the wealthy and corrupt. They have built closer ties to Russia, the Gulf States, and China, all of which are ruled by oligarchs who recognize in Trump a like-minded soul. They share the belief that — to revise a favorite Trump saying — if you don’t steal, you don’t have a country.

An easy fatalism about all this corruption has gained wide circulation. It was known about Trump all along and his voters signed up for it anyway, so nothing matters, right? In fact, Trump’s behavior runs directly contrary to his most important promises. “Draining the swamp” was not supposed to mean simply kicking out Democrats and competent public officials. He made speeches promising good-government reforms: a ban on lobbying by former members of Congress and stricter rules on what lobbying meant; campaign-finance reform to prevent foreign companies from raising money for American candidates; a ban on lobbying by former senior government officials on behalf of foreign governments.

Not only has Trump made no effort to raise ethical standards but he and his administration have flamboyantly violated the existing guidelines. Lobbyists are seeded in every agency, “regulating” their former employers and designing rules that favor bosses over employees and business owners over consumers. The problem of former government officials’ being paid by foreign governments has been superseded by the far larger problem of current government officials’ being paid by foreign governments.

Small episodes of corruption can play an outsize role in American politics, since the human scale of petty self-dealing is often easy to understand. And in Trump’s case, the smaller and larger scandals reinforce each other. Why is Trump giving rich people and corporations a huge tax cut? Why has he been threatening to take away your health insurance? Why is he letting Wall Street and Big Oil write their own rules? Above all, if Trump supposedly believed that “if I become president, I couldn’t care less about my company — it’s peanuts,” why are his children still running it? For the same reason he has let his Cabinet secretaries run up large travel expenses, and why his son-in-law met with oligarchs in China and the Gulf States whose money he was trying to get his hands on.

Even the strong economy does not mean Democrats have no way to attack Trump’s economic management. After all, the reason public opinion about the economy improved almost immediately after his election is that the Republican message machine stopped bad-mouthing the recovery and instead rebranded the same conditions as a fabulous new era of prosperity. Rather than sit back and allow Trump to take credit for a recovery he inherited, Democrats can press the point that he and his allies are doing little more than skimming off the top of it.

Somebody persuaded corporations, fattened by a trillion-dollar tax windfall, to publicize the same raises and bonuses they had been handing out for years as a special dividend of the Trump tax cuts. If Democrats win control of a chamber of Congress and thus the ability to hold hearings, they should investigate whatever coordination yielded this nexus of self-interest. A Democratic House or Senate could also compel disclosure of Trump’s tax returns, and both the documents themselves and any drama surrounding them would attract more attention to the administration’s commitment to self-enrichment.

But that can happen only if the Democrats win the midterms, and the best way to do that is to tell a very simple story. Trump represented himself as a rich man feared by the business elite. He had spent much of his life buying off politicians and exploiting the system, so he knew how the system worked and could exploit that knowledge on behalf of the people. In fact, his experiences with bribery opened his eyes to what further extortion might be possible. Trump was never looking to blow up the system. He was simply casing the joint.

Mr. Popularity — John Nichols in The Nation on Trump’s delusions.

Trump is so out of touch with reality that he thinks he is popular.

He’s not. And Americans, no matter what their partisanship, no matter what their ideology, should be worried that their president is lying not just to them but to himself.

Trump has been obsessed in recent days by a Rasmussen Reports daily presidential tracking poll that was published April 4. It put his approval rating at 51 percent. “Still Rising: Rasmussen Poll Shows Donald Trump Approval Ratings Now at 51 Percent,” Trump tweeted on Wednesday, as part of a pattern of tweets claiming that he’s experiencing a popularity surge.

Appearing Friday morning on the Trump-approving Bernie & Sid Show on New York’s WABC radio show—”we both think you’re doing a terrific job…”—the president claimed he was on a roll. “A poll just came out now, Rasmussen, it’s now 51,” chirped the president. “And they say that it’s 51, but add another 7 or 8 points to it. That’s somewhat embarrassing for me to tell you because they don’t want to talk about it, but when they get into the [voting] booth they’re going to vote for Trump.”

Rasmussen, a polling firm that has consistently found higher numbers for Trump than other survey research operations, did put the president at 51 on Wednesday. But Thursday’s Rasmussen daily tracking poll had the president’s approval rating falling to 47 percent, with 51 percent of those polled expressing disapproval. On Friday, when Trump was saying “it’s now 51,” his Rasmussen approval rating was actually 47 percent, while his disapproval number had risen to 52 percent.

In other words, the survey firm that the president has been busy thanking for doing “honest polling” is telling us that his approval rating has gone down in a week that saw talk of a “trade war” with China and mounting calls for the removal of scandal-plagued Environmental Protection Agency chief Scott Pruitt.

But it’s actually much worse than that for Trump. Rasmussen is just one pollster. All the rest of the recent polls from major survey research groups show Trump with a double-digit polling deficit. Some have his approval rating falling into the 30s. The Real Clear Politics average of recent polls provides the clearest picture: As of Friday morning, Trump’s approval rating was at 41.5 percent. His disapproval rating was at 54.6 percent. That’s a 13.1 percent deficit.

That’s also well below the level of support Trump got when he lost—let’s reemphasize: lost—the popular vote in 2016. In that year’s presidential race, Trump secured 46.1 percent of the vote to 48.2 percent for Democrat Hillary Clinton. Clinton received almost 3 million more votes than Trump, and that was after she faced an onslaught of criticism and attacks during the 2016 campaign.

Trump could never accept those numbers. He has made wild claims about voter fraud and promoted other electoral fantasies in attempts to explain his failure to appeal to the vast majority of voters. And he never acknowledges—no matter how his numbers compared with Clinton’s in the popular vote—that the overall portion of the 2016 American electorate that chose someone other than Trump for the presidency was 54 percent.

Why should Americans worry that their president keeps deceiving himself—and his fellow Republicans, in Congress and in the states where GOP-backed candidates are being rejected with growing frequency—about these approval ratings?

Because this is a president who, we are told, trusts his instincts. If Trump really believes his approach to governing is popular, if he really imagines that his popularity is “still rising,” he is more likely to keep doing what he is doing.

The fact is that Trump’s instincts are wrong, as are his policies. They are not making him more popular. He may experience temporary fluctuations in his approval ratings, but they are never great—or even all that good. In fact, when it comes to approval ratings, it certainly looks like Trump’s best days were back in November of 2016, when he was on the losing end of a 54-46 measure of popular sentiment.

The Smells of Home — Sofija Stefanovic in The New York Times about sense memory recall.

When I was 5, the night before we left Yugoslavia and a few years before that country embarked on the Balkan wars and eventually dissolved, my mother put me to bed. Before starting on the hour of lullabies I demanded, out of nowhere she said, “The smells of your childhood will always stay with you and will make you remember home.”

“But what if you were born in a garbage bin?” I said.

“Then the smell of garbage will always remind you of home,” she said, and her eyes filled with tears, making me (incorrectly) assume that she’d been born in a garbage bin herself and was getting emotional about it.

Though I didn’t think much of it at the time, my mother was right about the smells. It is well documented that our senses can cause an involuntary flooding of memory. Some call it the “Proust phenomenon,” after the scene in “In Search of Lost Time” when a character’s childhood comes back to him simply from tasting a madeleine biscuit soaked in tea.

To me, the Belgrade of my childhood smelled like the Marlboro cigarettes my mother smoked — even while I was in utero (it was the ’80s) — and the perfume my aunt wore and chestnuts roasting in the winter, which sellers scooped into a paper cone and we ate on our way to my grandma’s place.

But I didn’t think about those smells as being special, because I had never not smelled them. We hadn’t yet moved to Australia, with its clean air, eucalyptus trees and suburban lawns, where the Southern Cross constellation hung above us, far from our family and the small gray sky of my hometown. I didn’t know that I would miss the smells, or rather, that I wouldn’t realize I missed the smells, and their associated memories, until I experienced them again.

It’s only now, as an adult living in New York, that I have my own Proustian moments. On a cold day smelling of snow, I sometimes get a whiff of urine in a doorway, and that olfactory cocktail reminds me of our building on the Boulevard of Revolution, with its green door, where my family lived when I was small. Men used to relieve themselves in the doorways there, just as they do here.

Behind the green door was an old foyer, and if you were walking down the stairs, you had to push a button each time you arrived on a new floor because the light was on a timer that went out. Out the back of that building I played with other kids. Stray kittens would appear near the caretaker’s toolshed and we’d argue over them, tugging them out of one another’s grasps, except when it was snowing and the kittens huddled under the shed and we’d make snowmen instead.

All those memories from a stinky doorway.

For me, the Belgrade of today is not home. We left there a long time ago, and I rarely visit. When I do, I often get lost, and the slang of young people is unfamiliar. It is not the home I remember when my senses are triggered (like when I try the Israeli peanut snack Bamba, which is uncannily similar to the Yugo Smoki I grew up on). The more time I spend with my memories, the more I augment them, my fantasy Belgrade becoming more beautiful than it ever was.

The United States is a nation of immigrants (still), and New York City is brimming with them. People who have been parted from the smells and tastes of their homes, who I assume are, like me, jolted back when a long-forgotten piece of music blares from a passing car, or a childhood spice enters their nostrils on a windy street in Queens. Do their memories make them feel nostalgia, or love, or are they ambivalent, terrified, heartbroken?

My son was born in New York City a few months ago. Based on the sensations of our block, he may well feel at home smelling a garbage bin. He might also remember the smell of the cinema near our apartment: popcorn and synthetic butter. The sound of his mother humming a Yugo-rock tune. Will these sensations, of the only home he has known, ever stand out to him as something to be missed?

If we go back to Australia (I’m not sure what the final straw will be — health care, education, immigration policy, gun laws), my son will be left with memories waiting to be sparked like a match. And then, the sound of a siren might take him back to our East Village block, where I pushed him in a stroller, picking up dog poop and balancing a coffee that I spilled on myself, and then cursed over and over. Maybe the smell of a dog’s breath will remind him of the couch he had to share with poodles while his parents shouted at the news, or the dog run with its squirrels and cobbles.

As stimuli fly at my baby — I watch him turn his head when he hears someone shouting, at the smell of laundry coming from a grating — I wonder what version of home he’s creating for himself. Which memories will my son carry of the city where he lived when he was born? And will he be like me, and many others who have moved, carrying certain baggage wherever he goes?

I remember my mother’s comment about how the smells of my childhood would remind me of home, and home, I now know, is a place that exists not on a map but in my mind, ready to appear in its full, smelly glory at any moment.

Doonesbury — Quick results.

Thursday, April 5, 2018

He Can’t Send In The Marines

Trump promised to send in the military to guard the U.S. border.

Speaking at a lunch with Baltic leaders, Trump said he’s been discussing the idea with his Defense Secretary, Jim Mattis.

“We’re going to be doing things militarily. Until we can have a wall and proper security, we’re going to be guarding our border with the military,” he said, calling the measure a “big step.”

Sounds tough, but basically he can’t.  Well, he can, but all the military can do is support the Border Patrol.  The Posse Comitatus Act prevents the military from doing anything that resembles police action.  So all this talk about “doing things militarily” is just more Trump wanking.

(By the way, the history of the Act is a study in political bargaining.  In exchange for getting the federal troops out of the South during Reconstruction, the Electoral College delivered the White House to Rutherford B. Hayes over the popular vote winner Samuel Tilden in the election of 1876.)

Thursday, March 29, 2018

Begging Your Pardon

Via the New York Times:

A lawyer for President Trump broached the idea of Mr. Trump’s pardoning two of his former top advisers, Michael T. Flynn and Paul Manafort, with their lawyers last year, according to three people with knowledge of the discussions.

The discussions came as the special counsel was building cases against both men, and they raise questions about whether the lawyer, John Dowd, who resigned last week, was offering pardons to influence their decisions about whether to plead guilty and cooperate in the investigation.

The talks suggest that Mr. Trump’s lawyers were concerned about what Mr. Flynn and Mr. Manafort might reveal were they to cut a deal with the special counsel, Robert S. Mueller III, in exchange for leniency. Mr. Mueller’s team could investigate the prospect that Mr. Dowd made pardon offers to thwart the inquiry, although legal experts are divided about whether such offers might constitute obstruction of justice.

Mr. Dowd’s conversation with Mr. Flynn’s lawyer, Robert K. Kelner, occurred sometime after Mr. Dowd took over last summer as the president’s personal lawyer, at a time when a grand jury was hearing evidence against Mr. Flynn on a range of potential crimes. Mr. Flynn, who served as Mr. Trump’s first national security adviser, agreed in late November to cooperate with the special counsel’s investigation. He pleaded guilty in December to lying to the F.B.I. about his conversations with the Russian ambassador and received favorable sentencing terms.

Mr. Dowd has said privately that he did not know why Mr. Flynn had accepted a plea, according to one of the people. He said he had told Mr. Kelner that the president had long believed that the case against Mr. Flynn was flimsy and was prepared to pardon him, the person said.

The pardon discussion with Mr. Manafort’s attorney, Reginald J. Brown, came before his client was indicted in October on charges of money laundering and other financial crimes. Mr. Manafort, the former chairman of Mr. Trump’s presidential campaign, has pleaded not guilty and has told others he is not interested in a pardon because he believes he has done nothing wrong and the government overstepped its authority. Mr. Brown is no longer his lawyer.

It is unclear whether Mr. Dowd discussed the pardons with Mr. Trump before bringing them up with the other lawyers.

Mr. Dowd, who was hired last year to defend the president during the Mueller inquiry, took the lead in dealing directly with Mr. Flynn’s and Mr. Manafort’s lawyers, according to two people familiar with how the legal team operated.

Obstruction of justice?  Coercion?  Desperation?  Rank stupidity?  Or all three?

Tuesday, March 27, 2018

No One Will Touch Him

Big surprise: Trump can’t find a lawyer.

David Corn in Mother Jones:

On Sunday, President Donald Trump reacted to news reports that he was having trouble recruiting lawyers for his legal team. “Many lawyers and top law firms want to represent me in the Russia case…don’t believe the Fake News narrative that it is hard to find a lawyer who wants to take this on. Fame & fortune will NEVER be turned down by a lawyer, though some are conflicted,” he tweeted. “Problem is that a new….lawyer or law firm will take months to get up to speed (if for no other reason than they can bill more), which is unfair to our great country – and I am very happy with my existing team.”

But it might be true that there is little demand for Trump as a legal client.

On Monday, I bumped into GOP super-lawyer Ted Olson. Last week, the Washington Postreported that Trump’s legal crew had asked Olson if he would join its ranks. His law firm quickly shot down the possibility of Olson riding to Trump’s rescue, noting that there were too many potential conflicts of interest. Then attention turned toward Joe diGenova and Victoria Toensing, lawyers and conservative Fox-favorite conspiracy theorists who are former Justice Department officials. It was announced that they would be joining Team Trump. Two days later they were un-announced.

I asked Olson about being recruited for Trump’s squad. He rolled his eyes, suggesting that this was never going to happen and that it was not just a matter of conflicts. (Though a conservative stalwart, Olson has in recent years enhanced his reputation by becoming a forceful advocate for gay marriage. Associating with Trump could well tarnish that shine.)

So this didn’t get too far? I queried. Olson shrugged in an I’m-not-getting-into-details way. “Who knows how these trial balloons happen?” he said, in a manner that definitely suggested he knows how they happen. He then joked, “Joe [diGenova] lasted longer. At least two days.”

So is Trump going to have trouble finding attorneys? Olson shrugged again. “Let me ask this a different way,” I said. “In the last few days has any lawyer come up to you and said, ‘I’m willing to work for Trump?’”

Without hesitation, Olson said, “No.” Not at all? “Not at all.”

Washington, I noted, is full of Republican lawyers who generally do not mind being in the middle of headline-generating scandals and earning a bit of notice. Olson laughed: “That’s right.” And not one of them had contacted him to say he or she was willing to sign up? “No,” he repeated.

Trump seems to believe he’s a hot ticket for DC’s top legal talent. The word on the street is different.

What self-respecting attorney would want to touch this hot mess?  He violates two basic tenets of attorney-client relationships: he doesn’t tell the truth and he ignores their advice.  Oh, and he has a reputation for not paying their bills.

Of course Trump has to have a lawyer.  As we’ve learned over the last fifty years of watching every cop show, a perp has the right to an attorney.  It’s a constitutional right.  So it’s entirely possible that when they frog-march Trump out of West Wing, he’s going to end up with some public defender who drew the short straw.