Friday, February 8, 2019

Justice Roberts Has A Moment

From the Washington Post:

Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr. joined with the Supreme Court’s liberals Thursday night to block a Louisiana law that opponents say would close most of the state’s abortion clinics and leave it with only one doctor eligible to perform the procedure.

The justices may yet consider whether the 2014 law — requiring doctors at abortion clinics to have admitting privileges at nearby hospitals — unduly burdens women’s access to abortion. The Louisiana law has never been enforced, and the Supreme Court in 2016 found a nearly identical Texas law to be unconstitutional.

This is not a ruling on the case itself.  It is just a block on the law taking effect while it works its way through the courts.  But it’s a hopeful sign that the hard-core right wing majority may not be so hard core and may not be a majority.

It’s interesting to note that Chief Justice Roberts has come down on the side of sanity in a few recent rulings, including keeping Obamacare intact.  That does not relieve him of the odious rulings he’s sided with such as the decimation of voting rights (“Racism?  What racism?”) in Shelby County v. Holder and the granting of First Amendment protections to a checkbook in Citizens United, nor his dissent on same-sex marriage, but this ruling, for now, indicates there may be some hopeful signs that he’s not a complete dick when it comes to basic constitutional protections.

Thursday, February 7, 2019

Deficit Deficit

Well, of course.

It wasn’t long ago that Republicans were hair-on-fire obsessed with the deficit and the nation’s multi-trillion-dollar debt. Though the purpose of the Tea Party “movement” was always a bit murky, it was ostensibly about the right’s overwhelming anxiety about the United States’ fiscal imbalance. The irony of these Republicans’ concerns went largely overlooked.

After all, as a percentage of the economy, Ronald Reagan was responsible for some of the largest deficits in American history. After the deficit disappeared entirely under Bill Clinton, George W. Bush added trillions to the debt.

It was in 2003 when then-Vice President Dick Cheney declared that “deficits don’t matter.”

After Barack Obama shaved a trillion dollars off the deficit in his first seven years, the deficit is soaring again under Donald Trump – and Cheney’s adage is back as a governing principle.

First, let me correct the record.  The Tea Party “movement” was about a bunch of old white people who were adamantly opposed to the idea of a black man as president.  Period.  The End.  They disguised it rather clumsily by saying they were opposed to the deficit, but that was pure racist bullshit and everyone knew it.

That said, however, the Republicans have always been against the deficit as long as a Democrat was in the White House, and they carried on about it when they found themselves out of office and leaving their mess for someone else to clean up.  They campaigned to get back in office so they could run up the deficit again on weapons or border walls or whatever the boogedy-boogedy scare-the-base theme was in a particular election cycle: Communism, abortions, or gays living their lives.

Everybody knew the Trump tax cuts would explode the deficit and blame it on the last guy, and when the Democrats win back the White House they’ll be blamed for bringing it back under control because that’s how this stupid shit works.

It’s On

From the Washington Post:

Trump called Democratic investigations into his administration and business “ridiculous” and “presidential harassment.” House Speaker Nancy Pelosi in turn accused the president of delivering an “all-out threat” to lawmakers sworn to provide a check and balance on his power.

The oversight wars officially kicked into high gear this week as House Democrats began investigating the Trump administration in earnest. With Thursday hearings scheduled on presidential tax returns and family separations at the Mexican border, and a Friday session to question acting attorney general Matthew G. Whitaker, the lights are about to shine brightly on a president who has, until now, faced little examination from a Republican Congress.

But Democrats are moving carefully after spending weeks forming their committees, hiring staff and laying the groundwork for coming probes — mindful that Trump is eager to turn their investigations into a political boomerang as his critics demand swift action to uncover various alleged misdeeds.

In his State of the Union address Tuesday, Trump lambasted “ridiculous partisan investigations” and built a case that undue Democratic oversight would impede progress for the American people.

“If there is going to be peace and legislation, there cannot be war and investigation,” he said. “It just doesn’t work that way.”

Pelosi (D-Calif.) reacted sharply to Trump’s insinuation that there could be no progress on legislation while lawmakers pry open the doors of his administration.

“Presidents should not bring threats to the floor of the House,” she said. “It’s not investigation; it’s oversight. It’s our congressional responsibility, and if we didn’t do it, we would be delinquent in our duties.”

Translation: Oh, yeah, it does work that way, and if the evidence leads to it, we’re gonna nail your ass.

And this is why Trump is going off like he’s got something to hide.  From the Daily Beast:

The House Intelligence Committee’s investigation into President Trump’s ties to Russia is officially back. And under the panel’s new Democratic management, it’s beyond supersized.

In its first official business meeting of the new Congress on Wednesday—facilitated by the House Republican leadership’s somewhat belated announcement of GOP membership on the committee—the much-watched House panel voted to re-establish an inquiry into what now might be called Collusion-Plus.

It’s about as different as possible from the committee’s previous investigative incarnation under Republican management, which last year released a report absolving the president and his campaign of any culpability in Russian manipulation of the 2016 election and turned its ire on those within the Justice Department and FBI investigating Trump.

Democratic committee chairman Adam Schiff (D-CA) has made no secret of his emphasis on going after financial ties between Trump and Russia and subpoenaing documents thus far untouched by the panel. And on Wednesday, the committee voted to execute another long-standing priority of Schiff’s: giving Special Counsel Robert Mueller the transcripts of all witnesses before the House probe. Misleading the committee and its Senate counterpart has already led to indictments of former Trump advisers Michael Cohen and Roger Stone—and they may not have been the only ones to give false or incomplete testimony.

For those of us of a certain age and who watched Watergate unfold like one of those huge corpse flowers that stink like rotting flesh when they bloom, this news is taking us back to the the days when Congress began to really look into what was going on.  The outcry then, as now, was “PARTISANSHIP!”, which is the default for everybody who is being investigated by Congress.

Well, of course.  What did you expect?  That’s why the voters elected to put the Democrats in office back in November.  They — we — wanted to change how things were being — or more accurately — not being done.  That’s how it works.  That’s why we have elections.  And elections have consequences.

Trump was saying Tuesday night that as long as Congress is investigating him, there will be no cooperation from the White House, which presumably means he won’t sign any legislation passed by Congress.  Fine.  Rep. Schiff’s committee doesn’t need new legislation to investigate him; neither does Robert Mueller.  And if Trump decides to shut down the government because of the investigation, they can add that on to the articles of impeachment or the justification in the letter removing him from office under Amendment 25.

Wednesday, February 6, 2019

That’s A Wrap

Since I was asleep moments after 9 p.m. last night, I missed all the talk.  According to press reports, Trump went on and on until after 10:30 p.m.  Here’s some reactions.

Josh Marshall:

All things considered, for Trump, this struck me as a fairly anodyne speech. It was fairly long for a State of the Union address. Trump hit his key bloodthirsty points, portraying undocumented immigrants as a tide of murderers threatening the country. He bragged on his supposed accomplishments – some real, most pretended. But overall, it tended to emphasize national unity, regardless of how empty that charge may be coming from what is certainly the most intentionally divisive President in modern American history. He even had some genuinely touching moments, such as the stories at the end of the liberation of the Dachau concentration camp, with US soldiers who were the liberators and inmates who were there that day.

[…]

It was a rather sedate speech for Trump. But in so many ways its themes were unmoored from his actual presidency which has been built on defiance and confrontation.

Matthew Yglesias:

Trump does not have any big ideas or grand transformative vision. His administration is essentially a three-legged stool. On the first leg, the slow but steady improvement in economic conditions that happened during Barack Obama’s final six years in office has continued through Trump’s first two. On the second leg, he’s turned over essentially every government agency to business interests who enjoy lax regulation and thus ensure he and his party remain well-funded. On the third, he has anti-immigrant demagoguery to blame for every problem under the sun.

There are no real ideas here to tackle the escalating costs of health care, higher education, housing, and child care. No interest in economic inequality, no real thought about foreign policy, and basically no real energy or sense of purpose. Trump’s key idea was that to maintain peace and prosperity, Congress needs to abdicate its oversight responsibilities and let him be as corrupt as he wants. That’s all he’s left with — a vague hope that the economy holds up and nobody catches him with his hand in the cookie jar. But the investigations are going to happen, and they’re going to be fascinating.

Trump himself, meanwhile, is just dull now.

Based on these and other reactions, including this (“BOR-ing!”) from Jennifer Rubin, supposedly a conservative, it sounds like Trump is just tired of the whole shtick and is subconsciously looking for a way to get out, gracefully or otherwise.  So now what?  Not run in 2020?  Let the Mueller investigation pile up and bury him?  Just quit and retreat to Mar-a-Lago?

None of those would be a surprise, and frankly, I don’t care how he goes as long as he goes.

Tuesday, February 5, 2019

The Big Parade

One of the first lies told by the Trump folks after he was sworn in was that his inauguration was the biggest and the bestest EVER and that more people watched it, saw it, and were there to make history.  So there.

Well, that may have been bullshit (and it was proven so in minutes), but there were some other things going on that made it unique.

Via ABC News (note: auto-start video):

Prosecutors in New York’s Southern District have subpoenaed documents from President Donald Trump’s inauguration committee, sources with direct knowledge told ABC News, indicating that even as the special counsel probe appears to be nearing an end, another investigation that could hamstring the president and his lawyers is widening.

The subpoena from the Southern District, which came from its public corruption section, is the latest activity focusing on Trump’s political fundraising both before and immediately after the 2016 election.

“We have just received a subpoena for documents. While we are still reviewing the subpoena, it is our intention to cooperate with the inquiry,” a spokesperson for the inauguration told ABC News.

Prosecutors are seeking documents and records related to the committee’s donors to the massive inauguration fund, according to sources familiar with the request. Prosecutors also are seeking information on attendees to the events surrounding the inauguration, including benefits to top-level donors such as photo opportunities with Trump, sources said.

Michael Cohen, Trump’s former personal attorney, has been interviewed extensively by prosecutors in the Southern District office. Longtime family accountant and Trump Organization Chief Financial Officer Allen Weisselberg has agreed to cooperate, though the extent of his help is unknown.

The Trump family business also has been in contact with prosecutors, but sources familiar with those discussions would not spell out the specific topics covered.

Those involved in discussions surrounding the inaugural fund, a nonprofit tasked with organizing festivities surrounding the president’s swearing-in, declined to detail specific questions from investigators. Trump’s inaugural fund raised $107 million — the most in modern history.

“This is why I’ve been saying for months that the Southern District of New York investigation presents a much more serious threat to the administration, potentially, than what Bob Mueller is doing,” said former federal prosecutor and ABC News contributor Gov. Chris Christie.

A spokesperson for the Southern District of New York declined to comment.

It would be ironic on a Greek tragedy/O. Henry level if the thing that finally brings Trump down is the crime and corruption behind the big event that celebrated his entry into office, and the next parade that we get to watch for him is his cronies being marched into court in those bright orange outfits.

Ten Better Things

Rather than watch Trump bloviate in front of Congress tonight, here’s a list of things you can do instead.

  1. Read a book.
  2. Clean out the grease trap in the kitchen sink.
  3. Get a parakeet.
  4. Give that parakeet a karma transplant.
  5. Give a bath to a bobcat.
  6. Binge-watch “My Mother the Car.”
  7. Teach your children the theme song from “Gilligan’s Island.”
  8. Count the number of meals served on “Downton Abbey.”
  9. Dive headfirst into your own vomit.
  10. Run up an alley and holler “fish!”

All of these will be more enlightening.

Monday, February 4, 2019

If He Goes, So Should They

I don’t know if Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam will resign — the Washington Post is hinting at an unscheduled staff meeting this morning, so there’s that — and I am having trouble with him having trouble getting his story straight on the thirty-five-year-old yearbook picture.

But one thing I’m sure of is that any Republican that demands he quit should also insist on the resignation of Rep. Steve King of Iowa who displayed a Confederate flag on his desk and unapologetically defended being a white nationalist, or, for that matter, Sen. Mitch McConnell, who posed for a photo in front of a Confederate flag.  And while we’re at it, anyone in the GOP who still wonders about Barack Obama’s citizenship or blames the victims when a black man is shot by police for a busted taillight.

We’ll see what Gov. Northam will do to make amends, but he’s not alone in the room.

The Long Game

Rather than watch the football game, I turned on TCM at 4:30 and, for the first time since I saw it in a movie theatre in 1965, I watched “Doctor Zhivago,” three and a half hours of long, silent wide-screen shots of the Russian steppes punctuated now and then with longing looks between Omar Sharif and Julie Christie and the occasional World War I battle and the Russian Revolution.  The actual story itself could have been narrated and shown in about twenty minutes.

I hear the football game wasn’t much more interesting.  Then again, the movie was presented without commercial interruption.

Part-Time Job

Axios got Trump’s daily schedule going back to the mid-terms.  He spends most of his day watching TV and talking on the phone with friends.

A White House source has leaked nearly every day of President Trump’s private schedule for the past three months.

Why it matters: This unusually voluminous leak gives us unprecedented visibility into how this president spends his days. The schedules, which cover nearly every working day since the midterms, show that Trump has spent around 60% of his scheduled time over the past 3 months in unstructured “Executive Time.”

  • We’ve published every page of the leaked schedules in a piece that accompanies this item. To protect our source, we retyped the schedules in the same format that West Wing staff receives them.

What the schedules show: Trump, an early riser, usually spends the first 5 hours of the day in Executive Time. Each day’s schedule places Trump in “Location: Oval Office” from 8 to 11 a.m.

  • But Trump, who often wakes before 6 a.m., is never in the Oval during those hours, according to six sources with direct knowledge.
  • Instead, he spends his mornings in the residence, watching TV, reading the papers, and responding to what he sees and reads by phoning aides, members of Congress, friends, administration officials and informal advisers.

In other words, he has the work habits of a teenager without a job.

According to his wormtongue, Sarah Huckabee Sanders:

“President Trump has a different leadership style than his predecessors and the results speak for themselves.”

Yeah, okay, who wants to hit that one out of the park?

Sunday, February 3, 2019

Sunday Reading

Meet Sherrod Brown — John Nichols in The Nation.

Ohio Senator Sherrod Brown is exploring a presidential bid that would frame his progressive-populist politics around a “Dignity of Work” message that seeks to unite working-class voters of all backgrounds in the sort of coalition that he had maintained in Republican-leaning Ohio. There’s appeal in the Midwestern Democrat’s overt challenge to President Trump’s claim to the mantle of populism, especially when Brown complains that

Trump has used his phony populism to divide Americans demonize immigrants. He uses his phony populism to distract from the fact that he has used the White House to enrich billionaires like himself. Real populism is not racist. Real populism is not anti-Semitic. Real populists don’t engage in hate speech and don’t rip babies from families at the border. Real populists don’t insult people’s intelligence by lying.

There’s skepticism about whether Brown has the name recognition and the base, outside of his native Ohio and perhaps a few other states, to compete in a Democratic race that is likely to be packed with higher-profile contenders, including Elizabeth Warren and Kamala Harris. There’s also at least some skepticism about whether provoking a wrestling match between progressive populism and right-wing populism makes sense as a 2020 strategy. Brown will explore these questions in visits to caucus and primary states in coming weeks, and pundits will ponder his potential bid.

There is more to Sherrod Brown than the shorthand profile of a Democratic senator who swept to reelection in 2018 in a state that voted for Donald Trump in 2016.

As a member of the House in the 1990s and 2000s, he was an essential opponent of the North American Trade Agreement and a host of other trade deals that he argued would be disastrous for American manufacturing and the communities it has sustained. With Elizabeth Warren, Brown has for many years been at the forefront of legislative and popular crusades to address the abuses of the big banks and Wall Street. Brown was an early and energetic foe of the Iraq War, and for decades has been an outspoken advocate for diplomacy and enlightened internationalism. He voted in the fall of 2001 against the USA Patriot Act, joining Wisconsin Senator Russ Feingold, Sanders, and a handful of others in courageous defense of civil liberties. And he was the first member of the Senate to announce opposition to Donald Trump’s nomination of Jeff Sessions to serve as attorney general—speaking up because, Brown said, “The U.S. Attorney General’s job is to enforce laws that protect the rights of every American. I have serious concerns that Senator Sessions’ record on civil rights is at direct odds with the task of promoting justice and equality for all, and I cannot support his nomination.”

The Ohioan focused his objection on concerns that Sessions, who had a record of threatening voting rights in Alabama, could not be counted on to restore the full protections of the Voting Rights Act of 1965. This was not a new issue for Brown.

The senator has been one of the country’s most consistent champions of voting rights since he served as Ohio’s elected secretary of state from 1983 to 1991. In that position he earned national headlines for his aggressive efforts to promote high-turnout elections. Still in his late 20s when he was elected, Brown crisscrossed the state as an evangelist for voter registration. He and his team set up voter-registration sites in high schools, food banks, and Bureau of Motor Vehicles facilities.

Brown even convinced McDonald’s to print voter registration forms on the liners of the trays Ohioans used to carry their food from the counter to the table, so that “you could order a Big Mac and fill out a voter registration form.”

“You could see voter registration cards with ketchup and mustard on them,” Brown recalled years later, “and we accepted them.”

As a member of the US House and now as a senator, Brown has regularly used his elections expertise to shred Republican lies about rampant “voter fraud.” When Trump started making claims about “millions of people who voted illegally” in the 2016 election, Brown demanded that the president-elect “retract your false statements.”

In a November, 2016, letter to Trump, Brown wrote:

As Secretary of State of Ohio for eight years, I know there are few things more important than the integrity of our electoral system. Your choice to spread false conspiracy theories and to claim millions of fraudulent votes is not only unbecoming of a gracious winner, it is downright dangerous to our democracy.

There is no evidence—zero—of any large-scale voter fraud in the United States. Not in this election and not in any presidential election in recent memory.

Peddling this nonsense and stoking these fears undermine our system of government—and your own election, damaging the public’s faith in our democracy. You won the Electoral College. That is a fact, and you are the President-elect. It is also a fact, however, that Hillary Clinton won the popular vote by more than 2 million votes.

Hillary Clinton’s popular vote victory margin is larger than John Kennedy’s over Richard Nixon, it’s larger than Richard Nixon’s over Hubert Humphrey, and it’s larger than Jimmy Carter’s over Gerald Ford. This was far from a landslide victory, and the only way to bring the country together and move forward is to reach across the aisle and work together.

Two years later, as Georgia’s mangled 2018 election stirred a national outcry, the senator pointed to problems with the counting of votes in the closely contested gubernatorial race between Democrat Stacey Abrams and the Republican who oversaw the election (as Georgia’s secretary of state) and eventually prevailed, Brian Kemp. “If Stacey Abrams doesn’t win in Georgia,” Brown declared, “they stole it.”

Speaking of Republican efforts to restrict voting rights, Brown employs the confident language of a former top election official in one of the key battleground states in the country. “They can’t win elections fairly; they win elections by redistricting and reapportionment and voter suppression,” he told a recent National Action Network meeting, where he complained about “all the ways that they try to scare people, particularly people of color, how they make it hard for people on college campuses [to vote], especially community colleges where there are more low-income people and more people of color.”

“We know those despicable laws are often aimed that way,” he concluded.

Brown brings a populist commitment to the fight for voting rights. He is not cautious about speaking up, or about stirring things up. The senator’s “bottom line,” which he has stated for a very long time, speaks to that commitment: “We should be making it easier—not harder—to vote.”

I Like Sports — Ethan Kuperberg in The New Yorker.

I like sports! I like the sport where the ball goes in the big hole and the sport where the ball goes in the little hole. My favorite sport is the one where the two groups push each other on the grass—I like to eat snacks while watching that sport.

When I watch sports, I usually make a secret wish for one group to be better at sports than the other group. And I prefer that my friends have the same secret wish as me. If you have a different wish, well, get ready for an argument. It might be a fun argument, and it might not be!

My favorite thing about sports is that they give me an acceptable way to express my feelings in a patriarchal culture that views expressions of male emotion as weak. For example, if my favorite sports group doesn’t put the ball in the hole enough, I’m allowed to be sad in front of my friends. Nobody knows that I’m really thinking about Sarah or my dad.

And if my favorite group puts the ball in the hole a lot, I’m allowed to hug my friends and tell them that I love them! Since I usually feel scared to outwardly display affection toward the people who make me feel safe, it’s sort of a win-win.

I also like the costumes that the sports players wear. Sometimes, when I am watching sports with my friends, we dress up in the same costumes! It’s fun to act like we are the people playing the sports, even though we’re just using our imaginations.

Another thing I like about sports? The people are real. It’s not like when you watch a movie, and the person you’re watching is actually pretending to be someone else. That’s fake. How about you try being yourself for a change, Sarah?

I like talking about sports. It’s fun to decide which players are the best at putting the ball in the hole. I like it when my friends agree with me (“This sports player is the best”). But every once in a while a friend will disagree (“No, that sports player is best!”). It sounds silly, but we get into real fights.

One of my favorite sports players is LeBron James. I like LeBron James because he takes good care of his team—it’s almost like his team is his family. And a dad should never leave his family. That’s just not right.

Did you know that the ancient Greeks also had sports? They called it the Olympics. I wonder what they made the balls out of back then and what their commercials were for. Probably olives.

The last thing I like about sports is that they never end. Sports can’t end, because when the players stop being good, they are replaced by other players who are still good. A lot of other things end, like movies, or regular communication with family members.

So give me a ball, of any size, and a target or a hole, and a group of sports players, and a second group, and a stadium, and cameras, and referees, and broadcast it straight into my living-room television, because I’m a sports guy through and through! But I don’t love sports. Sports aren’t my dad.

[Photo by Getty]

Doonesbury — Celebrity shout-out.

Saturday, February 2, 2019

Friday, February 1, 2019