Wednesday, January 15, 2020

Historical Perspective

In a fit of gallows humor during the last election-induced panic about undocumented immigrants, I remember suggesting that the Trump people were taking bids on boxcars to ship them out, reminiscent of a certain period in the 20th century.

Turns out it wasn’t a joke.

Stephen Miller also shared an article from extremist-friendly conspiracy website WorldNetDaily arguing that immigrants should be shipped out the country on trains as a scare tactic.

Not so funny any more.

Imagine Jerry Lewis As The Godfather

Via the Washington Post:

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sunday, January 12, 2020

Sunday Reading

The Real Backstory — John Cassidy in The New Yorker.

The Trump-Iran story continues to develop in alarming ways. On Thursday, reports that Western governments believe Iranian military forces mistakenly shot down a Ukrainian passenger jet, killing a hundred and seventy-six passengers and crew members, produced a predictably divided reaction. “Innocent civilians are now dead because they were caught in the middle of an unnecessary and unwanted military tit for tat,” Pete Buttigieg, the Democratic Presidential candidate, said, on Twitter, immediately drawing cries of outrage from Trump supporters who insisted that Iran was entirely responsible. Iran’s government dismissed the reports as disinformation. But, if it does turn out that the Iranian military made a terrible blunder amid the frightening escalation in long-running tensions between Tehran and the Trump Administration, it will be ever more imperative to get a full account, not only of that blunder but also of the escalation.

On that subject, more disturbing details are emerging by the day. The picture we are getting is of the Secretary of State, Mike Pompeo, and Vice-President Mike Pence both egging on an impetuous President to launch the January 2nd drone attack that killed the Iranian military commander Qassem Suleimani at Baghdad International Airport. None of Trump’s other senior political or military advisers, meanwhile, appear to have urged restraint, despite the near-certainty that the move would inflame the entire Middle East and provoke reprisals. Any deliberative policymaking process appears to have been replaced by a combination of belligerence, toadyism, and saluting the Commander-in-Chief.

In the aftermath of Suleimani’s death, members of the Trump Administration claimed that Suleimani, who held great sway over Iran’s regular and irregular forces, was plotting an imminent attack that could have killed hundreds of American service members. Pompeo said, “We had deep intelligence indicating there was active plotting to put American lives at risk.” Trump told reporters at the White House on Thursday, “We did it because they were looking to blow up our embassy.”

The Administration didn’t present any evidence to back up these assertions. On Wednesday, when it finally briefed Republican legislators about the rationale for the Suleimani killing, two senators—Mike Lee, of Utah, and Rand Paul, of Kentucky—walked out of the meeting and publicly trashed the material that had been presented. “I didn’t learn anything in the hearing that I hadn’t seen in a newspaper already,” Paul told reporters. “None of it was overwhelming that X was going to happen.” Lee was even more scathing. Outraged by suggestions from the briefers that Republican senators would be “emboldening Iran” if they even debated the wisdom of further U.S. military actions, Lee called the session “probably the worst briefing I have seen, at least on a military issue, in the nine years I’ve served in the United States Senate.”

Meanwhile, Pence fell back on an old evasive tactic: claiming that the Administration did have real and convincing intelligence to justify the missile strike, but saying that it was too sensitive to be revealed, even in a private briefing on Capitol Hill. “We’re simply not able to share with every member of the House and Senate the intelligence that supported the President’s decision to take out Qassem Suleimani,” Pence told Fox News. “I can assure your viewers that there was—there was a threat of an imminent attack.”

Detailed reports from a number of different media outlets, as well as statements by Iraqi officials, tell a very different story. Just two days after the strike, the Times’ Rukmini Callimachi, in a Twitter thread, cited sources, “including two US officials who had intelligence briefings after the strike on Suleimani,” who said the evidence of an imminent attack was “razor thin.” In the Times itself, a tick-tock account of the decision to kill Suleimani quoted a U.S. official who described the Iranian’s visit to Damascus and Baghdad over the New Year as “business as usual.” Last weekend, Adel Abdul Mahdi, the Prime Minister of Iraq, told the parliament in Baghdad that Suleimani was scheduled to meet him on the day he was assassinated, adding that the general was bringing a response to efforts to mediate the showdown between Riyadh and Tehran. “He came to deliver me a message from Iran responding to the message we delivered from Saudi Arabia to Iran,” Mahdi said.

Pompeo subsequently mocked this claim, saying, “We’ve heard these same lies before.” The fact that Suleimani was met at the Baghdad airport by the head of the pro-Iranian militias inside Iraq, Abu Mahdi al-Muhandis, who was also killed by the missile attack, suggests that he may have had other reasons for his visit. But, eight days later, it remains true that the Trump Administration hasn’t provided any evidence that a large-scale attack was imminent. By the time Suleimani arrived in the Iraqi capital, the violent protests outside the American Embassy had ended, and Iraqi forces had re-secured the heavily fortified Green Zone, within which the Embassy is located.

Also, more details are emerging about the roles played by Pompeo and Pence in the decision to assassinate Suleimani. Pompeo and Pence “were two of the most hawkish voices arguing for a response to Iranian aggression, according to administration officials,” the Times reported, a couple of days after Suleimani’s death. “Mr. Pence’s office helped run herd on meetings and conference calls held by officials in the run-up to the strike.”

On Sunday, the Washington Post, citing a senior U.S official, reported that “Pompeo first spoke with Trump about killing Suleimani months ago … but neither the president nor Pentagon officials were willing to countenance such an operation.” On Thursday, CNN’s Nicole Gaouette and Jamie Gangel reported that “Pompeo was a driving force behind President Donald Trump’s decision to kill” the Iranian general. The CNN story said that Pompeo, who was the director of the Central Intelligence Agency under Trump before he moved to the State Department, viewed Suleimani as the mastermind of myriad operations targeting Americans and U.S interests. It also quoted an unnamed source close to Pompeo, who recalled the Secretary of State telling friends, “I will not retire from public service until Suleimani is off the battlefield.”

We are also learning more about the roles that other senior members of the Administration played in the process that led to the drone attack on Suleimani, including Gina Haspel, the current director of the C.I.A. “In the days before General Suleimani’s death, Ms. Haspel had advised Mr. Trump that the threat the Iranian general presented was greater than the threat of Iran’s response if he was killed,” the Times reported on Wednesday. “Indeed, Ms. Haspel had predicted the most likely response would be a missile strike from Iran to bases where American troops were deployed, the very situation that appeared to be playing out on Tuesday afternoon.”

On Thursday, the Wall Street Journal, in yet another lengthy account of the Administration’s decision-making, reported that all of Trump’s top advisers, including “new Secretary of Defense Mark Esper, new chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Mark Milley and new national security adviser Robert O’Brien … backed the president’s decision to kill the top Iranian military commander and moved swiftly to carry it out. The new team was cohesive and less inclined than its predecessors to push back against the president’s wishes, according to administration officials and others consulted by the White House.”

Not that Trump needed much encouragement, it seems. “In the five days prior to launching a strike that killed Iran’s most important military leader, Donald Trump roamed the halls of Mar-a-Lago, his private resort in Florida, and started dropping hints to close associates and club-goers that something huge was coming,” the Daily Beast reported, quoting unnamed people who had been at Trump’s resort over the New Year. “He kept saying, ‘You’ll see,’ one of the sources recalled, describing a conversation with Trump days before Thursday’s strike.” We did see, of course, and the reverberations are far from over.

Tucker Carlson Is Still A Jerk — Frank Bruni in the New York Times.

Suddenly you’re digging him. At least a little bit. I know, I’ve seen the tweets, read the commentary, heard the chatter, detected the barely suppressed cheer: Hurrah for Tucker Carlson. If only we had more brave, principled Republicans like him.

Right out of the gate, he protested President Trump’s decision to kill Qassim Suleimani, the Iranian military commander, noting that it didn’t square with the president’s determination not to get bogged down in the Middle East and warning of the possibility and horror of full-blown war. Your pulse quickened. You perked up.

He sounded that same alarm on his next show and the show after that. Every night at 8 p.m., he worried about the bellicose itch of our leaders. When all around him on Fox News were playing their usual roles (indeed, his usual role) as masseurs for the president’s tender ego, he administered slaps, hard ones, the kind that leave angry red handprints. Ouch — and don’t stop.

You rejoiced. It’s one thing when Democrats challenge what looks like a rush to war by a Republican president. It’s another when typically fawning members of his own party do.

And while Carlson was hardly alone in his rebellion — three House Republicans voted with Democrats to check the president’s war-waging authority and, over in the Senate, Mike Lee and Rand Paul raised a dissident ruckus — no one else had his ardor, his articulateness, his megaphone.

Carlson to the rescue!

Oh, please.

The fascination with him is itself fascinating, for many reasons. Can you recall a modern president before Trump whose moods and movements could be reflected and predicted simply by watching one news organization and, for that matter, just a few of its offerings? In lieu of a normally functioning White House communications department or a press secretary who holds actual press briefings (what a thought!), we have “Fox & Friends” in the morning and Carlson’s and Sean Hannity’s shows in the evening.

They don’t chronicle this presidency. They shape it, not just in terms of the volume of their applause for Trump, who craves the loudest possible clapping, but in terms of actual interactions. Carlson — like Hannity and another Fox fixture, Lou Dobbs — has in fact advised him behind the scenes.

Hence the rapt reaction to Carlson’s antiwar jeremiads. They may well matter.

Also, those of us who regard Trump as a menace can be so eager — too eager — to welcome newcomers to our shores that we overlook the polluted seas they sailed to get there. In a recent moment on the ABC talk show “The View” that was awkward at best, Joy Behar announced excitedly that the prominent white nationalist Richard Spencer had just disavowed Trump because of Iran.

Carlson, mind you, has not disavowed Trump. In fact he performed semantic acrobatics to denounce America’s military maneuvers against Iran without precisely blaming Trump. Those slaps I mentioned landed more forcefully on the administration in general than on the man-child at its apex, who is, in Carlson’s tortured rendition, a gullible marionette, his strings pulled by inveterate, habitual warmongers. If these profiteering elites would just let Trump be Trump and train his wrath on Mexicans instead of Iranians, a great presidency would get its groove back.

During his Tuesday show, Carlson performed political jujitsu and held two of the president’s principal Democratic adversaries responsible for exacerbated tensions with Iran. Referring to the Washington establishment and singling out Nancy Pelosi and Chuck Schumer, he said, “These are people who have been basically advocating for a kind of war against Iran for an awfully long time.”

“It’s infuriating,” he added. “It’s because of Schumer and Pelosi and people like them that we got into Iraq in the first place.”

Come again? A Republican president, George W. Bush, urged and oversaw the invasion of Iraq, and while Schumer authorized it, Pelosi voted against it, as did many more Democrats than Republicans.

And Carlson’s portrait of Trump as puppet contradicts reporting from The Times and other news organizations that some Pentagon officials were stunned when the president ordered the strike against Suleimani, a measure more extreme than other options presented to him.

Carlson remains true to Carlson: selective with facts, slanted with truths and — this is the most important part — committed to his vision of America as a land imperiled by nefarious Democrats and the dark-skinned invaders they would open the gates to if not for sentries like him and Trump.

As Matt Gertz of Media Matters perceptively noted, Carlson’s antiwar stance “is not a break from his past support for Trump or his channeling of white nationalist tropes, but a direct a result of both.” Gertz explained that in the mind-set of Carlson and many of his fans on the far right, energy spent on missions in another hemisphere is energy not spent on our southern border. It’s no accident that, in regard to the Middle East, he and Spencer are on the same page.

Following Suleimani’s death, Carlson asked his audience, “Why are we continuing to ignore the decline of our own country in favor of jumping into another quagmire?”

Carlson is defined not by a bold willingness to check Trump’s excesses or ugliest impulses but by his indulgence — no, his fervent encouragement — of those impulses as they pertain to racism and immigration. On those fronts, Carlson himself grows ever uglier, as my colleague Farhad Manjoo and others have noted. It’s why many sponsors have defected from Carlson’s show.

Carlson repeatedly uses variations of the word “invasion” to characterize migrants from Central America. He insists that “white supremacy” is a fiction, a hoax. He has used language that buys into and promotes “replacement theory” — a far-right fixation on the idea that declining birthrates among whites will cause a nonwhite takeover — and recently castigated immigrants for litter along the Potomac River.

Just last month he gave precious time on his show to an obscure Republican congressional candidate in North Carolina, Pete D’Abrosca, who has warned white Americans that they’re “being replaced by third world peasants.” D’Abrosca has also bragged of his support from the “groyper army,” a far-right group with more than a whiff of anti-Semitism.

Is Carlson himself abetting hatred of Jews? In a rare point of agreement, some Jews and white nationalists believe so, pointing to an on-air rant last month in which he bashed a Jewish billionaire, Paul Singer, by comparing him unfavorably with Henry Ford, who owned a newspaper that ran a lengthy series alleging a Jewish plot to dominate the world.

“The Fox News host goes full anti-Semite,” wrote Tablet, a Jewish publication, while Mike Enoch, who rallied with the neo-Nazis in Charlottesville, Va., said on his podcast, “If you didn’t catch the German shepherd whistles where he praised Henry Ford and then went into a diatribe of a Jewish financier, you know, I don’t know what universe you’re existing in.”

So that’s some of what Carlson was up to just before he turned his attention to Iran.

How warm and fuzzy are you feeling toward him now?

In other words, he’s Pat Buchanan without the charm.

Doonesbury — Having the vapors.

Friday, January 10, 2020

Nothing Of Consequence

Phfftt.

Via the Washington Post:

A Justice Department inquiry launched more than two years ago to mollify conservatives clamoring for more investigations of Hillary Clinton has effectively ended with no tangible results, and current and former law enforcement officials said they never expected the effort to produce much of anything.

John Huber, the U.S. attorney in Utah, was tapped in November 2017 by then-Attorney General Jeff Sessions to look into concerns raised by President Trump and his allies in Congress that the FBI had not fully pursued cases of possible corruption at the Clinton Foundation and during Clinton’s time as secretary of state, when the U.S. government decided not to block the sale of a company called Uranium One.

[…]

The effective conclusion of his investigation, with no criminal charges or other known impacts, is likely to roil some in the GOP who had hoped the prosecutor would vindicate their long-held suspicions about a political rival. Trump, though, has largely shifted his focus to a different federal prosecutor tapped to do a separate, special investigation: U.S. attorney in Connecticut John Durham, who Attorney General William P. Barr assigned last year to explore the origins of the FBI’s 2016 probe into possible coordination between the Trump campaign and Russia.

Tuesday, December 31, 2019

Looking Back/Looking Forward

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

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

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

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

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

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

That was a gimme.

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

Another gimme, more’s the pity.

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

Roe vs. Wade will still stand.

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

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

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

A big old red F on that one.

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

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

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

That’s an A.  It’s already happening.

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

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

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

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

On to the predictions:

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

Okay, your turn.

Monday, December 16, 2019

Good For You, Hallmark

The card — oh, and so much more! — company reversed itself and reinstated advertising from Zola, a wedding planning company, that showed two women kissing.

The wedding planning company’s ads had been airing for more than a week when the Hallmark Channel said there was a problem.

The TV network known for its annual lineup of holiday movies was pulling four of six commercials depicting couples who wish they’d turned to Zola’s services for their big day. The rationale given in a Thursday email to Zola representatives was vague: “We are not allowed to accept creatives that are deemed controversial,” the note, which was shared with The Washington Post, explained.

It seemed that Hallmark had rejected only the ads that showed a lesbian couple.

The move was a victory for a conservative group that petitioned against the commercials, which called them a blow to Hallmark’s “family friendly” reputation and gathered nearly 30,000 signatures. But the decision astonished LGBTQ advocates, who viewed it as a step backward from an iconic brand amid growing representation of different sexual orientations in media. Zola announced it would stop advertising with the channel.

By Sunday night, the owner of the Hallmark Channel had backtracked and apologized for the “hurt and disappointment it has unintentionally caused.” The company said it would reinstate the commercials, work to re-partner with Zola and enlist a nonprofit’s help to improve its representation of the LGBTQ community.

“Across our brand, we will continue to look for ways to be more inclusive and celebrate our differences,” said Mike Perry, president and chief executive of Hallmark Cards, which controls Crown Media Networks, the parent company of Hallmark Channel.

This is a very nice kick in the samosas to One Million Moms, the group that petitioned against the commercials. OMM is a bunch of blue-nosed panty-sniffers who are on the prowl for anyone who they deem to be different than the bunch that gathers around someone’s kitchen table in some cul-de-sac and taking offense at everything.

Among the group’s other initiatives: urging a TV network to drop an “anti-Christian” show and encouraging Chick-fil-A to resume donations to organizations that oppose same-sex marriage.

And they’re very vocal supporters of Trump, who they seem to think is a paragon of virtue.

I’d like to think that Hallmark changed their mind because they are honestly open-minded enough to not only sell products geared to the LGBTQ community, which they do, but advertise to them as well because they believe in equality.  I suspect that’s part of it; twenty years ago I was recruited by Hallmark to write for them, and I know for a fact that they were unconcerned about me being openly if not laconically gay; the people doing the recruiting were, too.  But as with any large global corporation, what matters is the bottom line, and for every One Million Mom, there are a million LGBTQ folk out there buying their products, watching their channel, and caring enough to send the very best message back to Kansas City, where the corporate headquarters are located.  In short, money talks and OMM walks.

Thursday, December 12, 2019

How Far They’ll Go

I didn’t watch the live hearing yesterday in the Senate concerning the FBI report by the inspector general, Michael Horowitz, on his investigation into the 2016 Trump campaign.  According to Dana Milbank at the Washington Post, it was bizarre.

Mr. Horowitz said he found no evidence of political bias, but lots of procedural errors on the part of the investigators.  So therefore the Republicans proclaimed that there was tons of evidence.  They didn’t produce any, but they’re sure it’s all there and that somehow we’re all missing it.  Not only that, lack of such evidence is proof positive that there is a lot of it.

Sen. Mike Lee (R-Utah) topped them all, arguing that the failure to find political bias proved there was political bias. “Is not the lack of evidence that you’re talking about itself evidence of bias?” he asked Horowitz.

So when we get around to the trial in the Senate, rest assured that the Republicans will trot out their millinery provided by Alcoa and claim that the conspiracy is so vast and deep that only they — the ones with no evidence whatsoever — are the ones who know the real truth.

Thursday, December 5, 2019

Law Schooling

Yesterday’s House Judiciary Committee hearing was as expected: boisterous and boorish on the part of the Republican shills, who displayed not only their fealty to Trump; they also showed how little they paid attention in law school.  They got schooled by one of the witnesses.  And how.

Charles P. Pierce:

I don’t mean to diminish the gold-standard, A-level Founders porn with which the nation was gifted on Wednesday. I am a ridiculous nerd for such stuff, and not even the woebegone visage of Jonathan Turley, who’s seeing all those juicy Clinton impeachment TV appearances coming back for him like the visitation of the spirits at Scrooge’s place, can take the smile off my face.

But the best practical argument made in the context of 2019 politics came from Professor Pamela Karlan, who announced her presence with authority by clapping back ferociously on Rep. Doug Collins, the bellowing bullshit auctioneer from Georgia. Because he apparently believes that everyone is as deeply afflicted by deliberate ignorance as he is, Collins snarked about how none of the expert witnesses possibly could have read all 300 pages of the House Intelligence Committee’s damning report by the time they came to testify. To which Professor Karlan replied:

Here, Mr. Collins I would like to say to you, sir, that I read transcripts of every one of the witnesses who appeared in the live hearing because I would not speak about these things without reviewing the facts. So I’m insulted by the suggestion that as a law professor I don’t care about those facts.

I do not envy those of Professor Karlan’s students who show up unprepared for class.

I didn’t stick around for the whole mess yesterday, but last evening as I was driving I heard one nitwit — Rep. Stubey, I think was his name — carry on about how Trump was denied his Sixth Amendment rights to confront his witness and how unfair it all was because he was being railroaded and tried and convicted. Well, A) the hearing was not a trial, and B) the Sixth Amendment applies only to criminal trials. Impeachment and removal is not a criminal trial. Trump may well have committed criminal acts, but he’s not going to be tried for those; he’s being removed from office. The criminal cases will come after, and no, double jeopardy will not be attached because a conviction in the Senate is the outcome of being voted out of office based on the articles of impeachment, not the actual criminal act itself. That’s for the Southern District of New York to do.

In my non-law-school way of thinking, the closest comparison impeachment comes to is a really drawn-out job termination hearing. If you suck at your job, you get evaluated, and then they fire you. If the reason for your termination was embezzlement or giving trade secrets to your competitor, you lose your job. If the company decides to report you to the authorities for your criminal act, that’s another matter. That’s pretty much what happens with impeachment. Trump’s life and liberty are not at stake; his job is in jeopardy, and there’s no constitutional guarantee to protect that.

If I were the law schools where some of these Republican minions got their degree, I’d take a close look at the poor examples of jurisprudence they turned out and think about getting their diplomas back.

Wednesday, December 4, 2019

Live Feed — Here Comes The Judiciary

The impeachment saga moves to the House Judiciary Committee today.  The Washington Post says the Republicans are getting “ready to rumble.”

Defenders of President Trump often describe the impeachment inquiry as a “circus.”

But after the partisan theatrics expected during Wednesday’s first hearing in the House Judiciary Committee, they might need a stronger word.

When Chairman Jerrold Nadler (D-N.Y.) gavels the room to order at 10 a.m., some of Capitol Hill’s most aggressive and colorful characters — Republicans and Democrats — will be seated on the dais, ready to inject new friction and hostility into the second phase of the inquiry.

There could be disruptions from Rep. Matt Gaetz (R-Fla.), the Fox News favorite who led a conservative revolt against impeachment in mid-October by storming the secure room where depositions were taking place.

There could be conspiracy theories from Rep. Louie Gohmert (R-Tex.), who nearly named the intelligence community whistleblower during a recent speech on the House floor.

And there could be antics from Rep. Steve Cohen (D-Tenn.), a vocal Trump critic who brought a bucket of fried chicken to a hearing in May to highlight the absence of Attorney General William P. Barr, who was scheduled to testify.

Add to these another 38 lawmakers — many Trump loyalists or pro-impeachment Democrats ready to do battle — and you have a potentially explosive mix of personalities whose excesses could dominate the proceedings.

“It’s a bunch of brawlers sometimes on the Judiciary Committee, so it should get pretty hot under the collar as we go along,” said Rep. Andy Biggs (R-Ariz.), a member of the panel, during an interview on Fox News’s “Sunday Morning Futures.”

“I don’t think things have been done the way they’ve been done in the past . . . so it causes some rancor and it should be much more feisty, I would say, than the Intel Committee was,” he said.

The reason for this expected response is rather obvious: they have no reasonable defense of Trump and his corruption, so they’re doing everything they can to distract the attention away from it short of releasing a flock of pigeons and running a stampede of goats through the hearing room.  And I wouldn’t put that past them, either.

Charles P. Pierce:

The Democratic report is an outright burial job. The president* tried to extort an agreement out of the government of Ukraine to help him ratfck the 2020 election. All the receipts are there, in four-part harmony and full orchestration, with circles and arrows and paragraphs on the back explaining how they all would be used as evidence against a renegade presidency.

In dealing with reports such as the one released on Tuesday, it is always important to remember the ARF Principle: Always Read Footnotes. For example, heres a piquant bit of information that you would miss if you abandoned the ARF Principle. Rep. Devin Nunes, Republican of California, ranking member of the House Intelligence committee and former White House lawn ornament, is all over this report. Calls between Nunes and John Solomon, the enormously useful reporter formerly working at The Hill, are featured. These are the people the president* left on the beach. And this is the true bottom line.

This will be all over the TV today because they love to put on the shouting matches; it’s great for ratings and the stakes are higher than the showcases on “The Price Is Right.”

Tuesday, November 26, 2019

The Chosen What

Funny, he doesn’t look holy:

Outgoing Secretary of Energy Rick Perry revealed in an interview over the weekend that he believes President Donald Trump is “the chosen one” who was “sent by God” to lead us.

The former Governor of Texas sat down with Fox News, portions of the interview aired this weekend on Fox & Friends.

“God’s used imperfect people all through history,” Perry said, naming several Biblical figures. “King David wasn’t perfect, Saul wasn’t perfect, Solomon wasn’t perfect.”

He added: “And I actually gave the president a little-one pager on those Old Testament kings about a month ago and I shared it with him. I said, ‘Mr. President, I know there are people that say you said you were the chosen one and I said, ‘You were.’ I said, ‘If you’re a believing Christian, you understand God’s plan for the people who rule and judge over us on this planet in our government.’”

And if you’re a believing Christian, you’d also know when you’re being lied to and your wife and daughter wouldn’t be safe around this psycho.

If Rick Perry really believed that Trump is the chosen one, why is he quitting his job and getting out of town one step ahead of the process server who’s waving subpoenas from Congress and various other courts?

Tuesday, November 19, 2019

Eating Their Own

Not that I pay a lot of attention to right-wingnuts and their peccadilloes, but via those who do, Michelle Malkin has been fired over her support of a Holocaust denier.

A conservative group cut ties with right-wing columnist Michelle Malkin on Sunday over her support for an anti-Semitic internet personality, ramping up a growing conservative civil war centered on college campuses.

Malkin’s firing from Young America’s Foundation, whose speakers bureau had booked Malkin for speeches across the country for the past 17 years, marks the latest battle between supporters of Holocaust denier Nick Fuentes and more establishment conservative figures.

“Michelle Malkin in no longer part of YAF’s campus lecture program,” a YAF spokesman said in an email to The Daily Beast.
Malkin didn’t respond to a request for comment.

Hard out there for a pimp, eh?

Monday, November 18, 2019

Lowering The Barr

Via the New York Times:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Wednesday, November 13, 2019

Nazi Boy

Gee, what a surprise.

In the lead-up to the 2016 election, White House senior adviser Stephen Miller sought to promote white nationalism, far-right extremist ideas and anti-immigrant rhetoric through the conservative site Breitbart, according to a report released Tuesday by the Southern Poverty Law Center.

The report is the first installment in a series that draws on more than 900 emails that Miller sent to a Breitbart writer over a 15-month period between 2015 and 2016 and were given to the SPLC. The report describes Miller’s emails as overwhelmingly focused on race and immigration and characterizes him as obsessed with ideas such as “white genocide” (a conspiracy theory associated with white supremacists) and sharply curbing nonwhite immigration.

In the wake of the news Tuesday, at least one member of Congress, Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y.), called for Miller to resign.

Miller did not respond to a request for comment Tuesday. White House press secretary Stephanie Grisham said via email that she had not seen the report but called the SPLC “an utterly-discredited, long-debunked far-left smear organization.”

“They are beneath public discussion, even in The Washington Post,” Grisham said of the civil rights nonprofit.

Among the more damning email exchanges highlighted in the SPLC report is one that shows Miller directing a Breitbart reporter to aggregate stories from the white-supremacist journal American Renaissance, or “AmRen,” for stories that emphasize crimes committed by immigrants and nonwhites. In another, Miller is apparently upset that Amazon removed Confederate battle flag merchandise from its marketplace in the wake of the 2015 Charleston church massacre; others reportedly show him promoting “The Camp of the Saints,” a racist French novel popular among white nationalists. (Amazon chief executive Jeff Bezos owns The Post.)

SPLC’s report indicates Miller was widely successful in molding the race- and immigration-focused stories that appeared on Breitbart. It repeatedly details how an email from Miller corresponded to a related article later appearing on the site.

There’s all sorts of psychology to explain why a Jewish guy would go all in with white supremacist bullshit, but the scary thing is that this little twerp has the ear of Trump and has been dictating immigration policy since the beginning.  Very fine people on both sides, you know.

[Mocked-up photo via Balloon Juice.]

Friday, October 25, 2019

Matt And The Freudian Slipper

Rep. Matt Gaetz (R-FL, more’s the pity) compares his storming of the SCIF in the Capitol with a really homoerotic movie.

Thursday, October 24, 2019

Flailing

Via the Washington Post:

Republicans’ defense of President Trump grew more frantic and disjointed Wednesday, with House members storming a closed-door meeting, delaying the testimony of an impeachment witness as the GOP grappled with a growing abuse-of-power scandal centered on the president.

A group of Trump’s congressional allies escalated their complaints about the impeachment inquiry by barging into a secure facility on Capitol Hill where a Pentagon official was to testify before the House Intelligence Committee.

Their intrusion, which caused the testimony to be delayed for about five hours over security concerns, came a day after the top U.S. diplomat in Ukraine testified under oath that the White House had threatened to withhold military aid unless the Ukrainian government announced investigations for Trump’s political benefit.

It’s not only desperate, but it has the added bonus of being egged on by Trump, and since they were trying to disrupt an evidentiary hearing, piles on the obstruction of justice charges.  Or, put another way: he committed impeachable offenses in his attempt to subvert his impeachment.  (But then, when your lawyers argue in court that you could literally get away with murder, what’s the big deal?)

More on the security concerns from Adam L. Silverman at Balloon Juice:

These morons, in an attempt to create a spectacle that will take over the news cycle about impeachment so that the majority of the public that isn’t paying close attention at all times just throws its hands up in disgust, didn’t just force entry into the House of Representatives’ Secure Compartmented Information Facility (SCIF), they brought their unsecured cell phones with them. Moreover, they then took imagery with those phones – pictures and/or videos – of classified spaces and, potentially, any classified information that had been taken out in advance of the deposition and was in public view for those members of the House, Republicans and Democrats alike, who actually had the need to know to access it today. And then they started texting and tweeting and emailing that out. On unsecured devices and unsecured and non-governmental networks! This required, as was reported, the SCIF to be closed once they finished their pizza, Chick Fil-A, their stunt and finally gave up and left, so it could be swept and resecured before the delayed deposition could finally take place. What Congressman Gaetz, Congressman Scalise who is the #2 Republican in the House/Republican House Caucus, and their 28 or so colleagues did wasn’t just a stupid stunt, it was a major security violation.

How major? Off the top of my head the number of Federal felonies committed by Gaetz and his colleagues is:

  1. Forced entry into a SCIF
  2. Criminal trespass in a SCIF
  3. Bringing unsecured electronic devices into a SCIF
  4. Taking imagery – pictures and video – of classified spaces and materials on unsecured devices
  5. Transmitting imagery – pictures and video – of classified spaces and materials on unsecured devices to unsecured devices through a variety of unsecured platforms (texting, tweeting, emailing, etc)

It has now been reported that Congressman Thompson (D-MS), the chair of the House Homeland Security Committee, has asked the House Sergeant of Arms to take action against Gaetz and his colleagues.

Rep, Matt Gaetz (R-FL, of course) is in the running against Rep. Louie Gohmert (R-TX) to the the stupidest person ever elected to Congress.

Is it any wonder why all of a sudden Sen. Mitch McConnell (R-KY), the Senate Majority Leader, has no idea what Trump is talking about in connection with Ukraine, his phone call with President Zelensky, or if he could pick Trump out of a line-up.  McConnell, who has his own re-election to worry about, is not about to expose himself to any chance he’ll be dragged down with Trump.

Things are going to get even more wild as we head to the end of the year.  Fasten your seat belt and get the popcorn.

Wednesday, October 23, 2019

All He Wrote

Ambassador William Taylor spent nearly nine hours in closed session with the House committee yesterday.  His opening statement can be read here, and you can download it here.

From the Washington Post:

America’s top diplomat in Ukraine delivered a forceful blow to President Trump’s account of his “perfect” dealings with that nation, telling lawmakers Tuesday that the White House had threatened to withdraw much-needed military aid unless Kyiv announced investigations for Trump’s political benefit.

The explosive, closed-door testimony from acting ambassador William B. Taylor Jr. undermined Trump’s insistence that he never pressured Ukrainian officials in a potentially improper “quid pro quo.” It also offered House investigators an expansive road map to what Taylor called a “highly irregular” channel of shadow diplomacy toward Ukraine that lies at the heart of the impeachment inquiry.

In a 15-page opening statement, obtained by The Washington Post, Taylor repeatedly expressed his shock and bewilderment as he watched U.S. policy toward Ukraine get overtaken by Trump’s demand that newly elected president Volodymyr Zelensky “go to a microphone and say he is opening investigations of [Democratic presidential candidate Joe] Biden and 2016 election interference.”

“ ‘Everything’ was dependent on such an announcement, including security assistance,” Taylor said he was told by Gordon Sondland, U.S. ambassador to the European Union.

A seasoned diplomat, Army veteran and meticulous note taker, Taylor told lawmakers that former national security adviser John Bolton and other officials from the Pentagon, the State Department and the CIA tried unsuccessfully to get a meeting with Trump to persuade him to release the money — nearly $400 million intended to help Ukraine defend itself against Russia.

But Trump’s hold on the aid extended well into September, and Taylor said he found himself considering resignation. “I could not and would not defend such a policy,” Taylor said.

The blockbuster testimony came hours after Trump escalated his attack on the impeachment inquiry, tweeting that it was a “lynching” and drawing swift condemnation from Democrats and some Republicans for equating the constitutional process with the barbaric killing of African Americans.

Cue up the attacks from the White House and let slip the lapdogs of toadyism to try to discredit Amb. Taylor — “Okay, who’s gonna believe a seasoned veteran and career diplomat over a sleazy real estate grifter?” — and then claim that because Ukraine finally got the money, there was no quid pro quo.  Yeah, no; if you walk into a bank and pass the teller a note demanding cash and they arrest you before you actually get the loot, you’re still guilty of attempted robbery.

So, Amb. Taylor’s statement has basically corroborated the testimony of Trump and the rough transcript he released of the call to President Zelensky and supports the conclusion of acting Chief of Staff Mick Mulvaney.  All that’s left now is to watch and be entertained by the Republicans trying to explain it all away and figure out a way to save their own asses after defending the indefensible.  At some point they have to decide it’s us or him, and when they do, it’s won’t be pretty for Trump.  One can only hope.

As for the “lynching” comment, that was purely aimed at the base of the party (like this fine example) who have been so put-upon for the insufferable oppression they’ve been under for not being able to use certain words and the utter shame of having to share a lunch counter with someone who doesn’t look like them.  Oh, the humanity.

Tuesday, October 15, 2019

Annals Of Irony — Part Infinity

Hey, remember how when there was a mass shooting — yes, there have been so many — the gun nuts blamed violent videos for causing people to grab their AR-15’s and commit slaughter?  Something should be done about that.

Via the New York Times:

The creator of a gruesome video that showed a fake President Trump killing journalists and political opponents and that was played at a meeting of a pro-Trump group over the weekend is part of a loose network of right-wing provocateurs with a direct line to the White House.

The unidentified creator of the video operates under the name “The GeekzTeam” and has proclaimed on Twitter to be a “red blooded American with ZERO tolerance for the liberal agenda.” Like many such amateur agitators, the GeekzTeam specializes in creating pro-Trump internet content, often by remixing the president’s image into clips from popular movies and television shows.

Another of the provocateurs, Logan Cook, who often has posted videos on MemeWorld, his website, participated in a social media summit at the White House in July and took his children to meet the president in the Oval Office, accompanied by Dan Scavino, the White House social media director.

But background checks and banning certain weapons would be an assault on our liberties.

As If To Prove The Point

Yesterday’s post about the inability of conservatives and Trumpers to use humor was made glaringly clear by the Trump campaign’s tweet to Elizabeth Warren.

Unless you think this is their idea of punching up and admitting that Sen. Warren is superior than they are. Otherwise, as Digby notes, let’s all freak out about how mean she was to the God-fearing Jesus-shouters who have an unnatural obsession with other people’s private lives and how it might ruin her chances for winning over the MAGAnauts.

Thursday, October 10, 2019

The Little Twerp Is Back

Ralph Reed, the flaming hypocrite of “Christian” family values, is peddling a new screed that instructs all true believers to back Trump because… oh, who cares.  He’s never been anything more than just a grifter and a con man who’s gotten by on his quickly-fading rent-boyish charm who, instead of selling Earth Shoes or swampland in Collier County, Florida, happened on the flocks of pigeons who will gladly fork over their savings for his brand of Jesus.

This little twerp made his name screaming about Bill Clinton’s penis and is now telling us that pussy-grabbing is “low priority” because he thinks he’s getting what he wants from Trump.  Apparently he’s crafty enough to sell this to the foolish and the weak, but not smart enough to know that Trump will use him like he has everyone else and then never look back.

He’s got nothing to do with god or Christianity.  He and Trump deserve each other.

More From The Stable Floor

Sheesh.

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

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

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

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