Tuesday, May 22, 2018

In The Nixonian Moment

Stop waiting for the constitutional crisis that President Trump is sure to provoke. It’s here.

On Sunday, via Twitter, Trump demanded that the Justice Department concoct a transparently political investigation, with the aim of smearing veteran professionals at Justice and the FBI and also throwing mud at the previous administration. Trump’s only rational goal is casting doubt on the probe by special counsel Robert S. Mueller III, which appears to be closing in. 
Trump’s power play is a gross misuse of his presidential authority and a dangerous departure from long-standing norms. Strongmen such as Russia’s Vladimir Putin use their justice systems to punish enemies and deflect attention from their own crimes. Presidents of the United States do not — or did not, until Sunday’s tweet
“I hereby demand, and will do so officially tomorrow, that the Department of Justice look into whether or not the FBI/DOJ infiltrated or surveilled the Trump Campaign for Political Purposes — and if any such demands or requests were made by people within the Obama Administration!”

Rather than push back and defend the rule of law, Justice tried to mollify the president by at least appearing to give him what he wants. The Republican leadership in Congress has been silent as a mouse. This is how uncrossable lines are crossed.

And it gets worse, not only did Trump meet with Deputy AG Rod Rosenstein and FBI Director Chris Wray to directly order something be done about the investigation into his own campaign, he basically ordered that the FBI and DoJ turn over information on the investigation to Republicans in Congress.

The White House brokered an agreement on Monday with intelligence and law enforcement officials that will allow Republican congressional leaders to view some of the most highly classified information related to the Russia investigation, administration officials said. 
For months, a small group of lawmakers close to Mr. Trump have been in a pitched fight with the Justice Department over access to some of its most delicate case files, including documents detailing the scope of the Russia investigation by Robert S. Mueller III, the special counsel. 
They have trained their focus most recently on access to documents and information related to a secret informant used by F.B.I. agents to gather information from Trump associates who were overseas during the 2016 presidential campaign. Representative Devin Nunes, Republican of California and the House Intelligence Committee chairman, has threatened to hold Rod J. Rosenstein, the deputy attorney general who is overseeing the Russia inquiry, in contempt of Congress or to try to impeach him if he does not hand over the material. 
Until Monday, intelligence and law enforcement officials had strenuously resisted both demands, saying that the information was highly sensitive and that it was not appropriate to turn over the unredacted material to Congress, where they fear it could potentially become public or be used to undermine Mr. Mueller’s inquiry. They raised some of their concerns in a letter and then in a face-to-face meeting two weeks ago with Mr. Nunes.

It was not clear after Monday’s meeting how much of that information will now be shared with lawmakers and in what form, or who it will be shared with and in what venue. Democrats have typically been given the same access as their Republican counterparts to delicate files related to the case, but officials on Capitol Hill said they had been given few firm details on the apparent agreement.
White House officials said they expect the disclosure to happen quickly, most likely before the end of the week.

This is flat-out banana republic time, guys.  All I can say is I hope that Rosenstein playing along is a sign of his confidence in how ironclad the Mueller probe is, because we already know Rep. Devin Nunes will leak anything and everything he's shown.

The real problem is WH Chief of Staff John Kelly getting to see all this information.  That's basically letting the mafia don's consigliere sit in on the case meeting between the RICO unit and the DA.  It's full-on nuts, and Republicans are going along with it.

These are dark times this week.  I expect they will only get far worse.

Never Saw Gorsuch A Mess

And we have our first major Supreme Court decision authored by Justice Merrick Garland Neil Gorsuch and it's a doozy, one that essentially ends employee class-action suits and as Think Progress's Ian Millhiser explains, basically legalizes employer wage theft.

The Supreme Court held on Monday that employers can force their employees to sign away many of their rights to sue their employers. As a practical matter, Monday’s decision in Epic Systems v. Lewis will enable employers to engage in small-scale wage theft with impunity, so long as they spread the impact of this theft among many employees. 
Neil Gorsuch, who occupies the seat that Senate Republicans held open for a year until Donald Trump could fill it, wrote the Court’s 5-4 decision. The Court split along party lines. 
Epic Systems involves three consolidated cases, each involving employment contracts cutting off employees’ rights to sue their employer in a court of law. In at least one of these cases, the employees were required to sign away these rights as a condition of starting their job. In another, existing workers were told to sign away their rights if they wanted to keep working. 
Each contract contained two provisions, a “forced arbitration” provision, which requires legal disputes between the employer and the employee to be resolved by a private arbitrator and not by a real court; and a provision prohibiting employees from bringing class actions against the employer. 
Writing with his trademarked smugness, Gorsuch presents Epic Systems as a simple application of a legal text. “The parties before us contracted for arbitration,” he writes. “They proceeded to specify the rules that would govern their arbitrations, indicating their intention to use individualized rather than class or collective action procedures. And this much the Arbitration Act seems to protect pretty absolutely.”

And of course, the real losers here are women and workers of color suffering from corporate wage theft.

Epic Systems means that employers who cheat a single employee out of a great deal of money will probably be held accountable for their actions — though it is worth noting that arbitrators are more likely to favor employers than courts of law, and that they typically award less money to employees when those employees do prevail. The biggest losers under Epic Systems, however, will be the victims of widespread, but small-scale, wage theft. 
The lesson for employers, in other words, is to go ahead and cheat your workers. Just make sure you spread the theft widely among as many employees as possible, and that you don’t take too much from any one person.

Your employer is now free to force you to sign away your rights to class-action lawsuits -- and a host of other protections -- as a direct result of this decision.  You'd better believe your boss is coming up with a way to do just that, if they haven't already.

But her emails, they told us.


Monday, May 21, 2018

Last Call For Mine Craft

Word out of West Virginia is that convicted mine safety scofflaw Don Blankenship isn't done with his Senate run after losing the GOP primary to AG Patrick Morissey earlier this month, a possible third-party run could split the vote and allow Democratic Sen. Joe Manchin to stay in Congress.

West Virginia coal baron and former prisoner Don Blankenship announced on Monday that he plans to launch a long-shot third-party Senate bid after finishing a distant third in this month’s Republican primary. 
Blankenship said he would run in the general election as the Constitution Party nominee. But he would need to overcome a “sore loser” law in West Virginia that prevents failed candidates in a main-party primary from refiling to run in the general election under another party’s banner.

Blankenship said he’s prepared to challenge that law in court if needed. If he’s successful, his move that could hurt the GOP’s prospects of unseating Democratic incumbent Joe Manchin in November. 
“It is especially appropriate for me to be nominated by the Constitution Party given its staunch and uncompromising commitment to upholding the United States Constitution,” Blankenship said. 

That sore loser law makes it pretty clear that Blankenship can't actually run, but if he wants to waste millions in court on the battle and run ads attacking Morrissey, well, I'm not going to stop him, no sir.

Blankenship, who spent millions out of his own pockets to fund his Senate campaign, hinted that he was ready for a legal fight. 
“Although the establishment will likely begin their efforts against us by mounting a legal challenge to my candidacy, we are confident that — if challenged — our legal position will prevail, absent a politically motivated decision by the courts,” he said. 
The coal baron also said that the establishment was “determined to keep me — the most anti-establishment candidate in the nation — out of the United States Senate,” and that “the press and the establishment have colluded and lied to convince the public that I am a moron, a bigot, and a felon.”

It's a conspiracy, you see.  All those votes against him were a fraud or something.

Russian To Judgment, Con't

Will Bunch provides a pretty good summary of where we are on the Trump Regime's collusion front in light of this weekend's blockbuster from the NY Times.

Part 1: The Art of the Steal: With the GOP nominee behind in the polls for much of 2016, Team Trump seemed willing to listen to offers of help from any and all comers, morality or election laws notwithstanding
. In June 2016, having secured the nomination, Don Jr. gladly convened a Trump Tower confab with Russians who claimed to have dirt on Clinton. It didn’t produce any overt deal on collusion because it didn’t need to. Just days after Team Putin learned that Trump’s people were open to help and wouldn’t rat them out to the FBI, the flow of illegally hacked Democratic documents — the 21st-century version of breaking-and-entering at the Watergate — began. 
Now we know that Nader, on behalf of Saudi and UAE princes, came to Trump Tower about six weeks later with a similar deal. We don’t know to what extent, if any, that the Israeli ex-spy Zamel’s firm called Psy-Group — whose motto is “shape reality” — helped Trump. But it’s well known that Cambridge Analytica, owned by American hedge-fund billionaires Robert and Rebekah Mercer, was paid by the Trump campaign to do the same kind of psywar work. Just this week, whistleblower Christopher Wylie told a congressional committee that CA ran a voter-suppression effort aimed at convincing blacks to stay home on Nov. 8, 2016 — updating Selma for the digital age. Trump’s subsequent victory may have been the greatest moment of “shap(ing) reality” in world history.

Part 2: Cashing in the Chips. Winning the presidency should have been its own reward, but that’s not how the childish Gambinos now in charge of a global superpower conduct their family business
. As noted above, Russian oligarchs tied to Putin funneled millions to the Trump inauguration and one firm backed by a pro-Putin billionaire hired the president’s personal lawyer and “fixer” Michael Cohen, who was peddling his access to Trump all around Washington. You also have the curious activities of Nader (a peach of a fellow who’s been convicted of both child porn and child sex-abuse charges in the past), who helped a key Trump fund-raiser, Elliott Broidy (also a convicted felon and recent deputy finance chair of the Republican National Committee), win $200 million in UAE private security contracts. If Broidy’s name sounds familiar, he’s the guy who also funneled $1.6 million through fixer Cohento win the silence of a possibly impregnated Playboy model. Broidy said he had an affair with the woman. Some speculate a different scenario. Whether wheeler-dealers like the Nader-linked, UAE-funded Broidy were backing high-ranking people in the same fashion that Cohen paid off Trump mistress Stormy Daniels should be fertile ground for special counsel Robert Mueller. 
As long as Trump and Jared Kushner continue to hold onto their business holdings while leading U.S. foreign policy, this cloud will remain. Did Trump voice support last week for ending American sanctions on the Chinese telecom company ZTE Corp. because it would benefit their U.S. subcontractors, or because a Chinese fund is investing $500 million in an Indonesia theme park that should dramatically boost the value of a related Trump Organization development? Then there’s the matter of Qatar, because in recent months it has become clear that the Gulf state is again in the Trump administration’s good graces, and the strategic alliance has been renewed as if last spring’s blowup never happened. Is that because it’s a more sensible policy — or is it because a firm called Brookfield Asset Management that is backed heavily by Qatari funds is near a deal to bail out Kushner’s 666 Fifth Ave? Is it any wonder that so many longtime key allies of the United States wonder if they can trust Trump’s America? 
Part 3:The Big Payback. It’s impossible to dispute that these countries that made offers to help Trump win the election have continuously benefited in terms of policy — beginning as early as the summer of 2016, when Trump allies changed the GOP election platform to take a less confrontational stance toward Russia in its conflict with Ukraine. The determination not to impose new sanctions on Russia or, under great pressure, to announce largely toothless penalties — despite the clear-cut evidence that Russia meddled in our election — has been a continual storyline of the Trump presidency. 
The revelations about possible Saudi and UAE meddling take things to a much higher level. The Trump administration has walked in lock-step with the Saudis and their dynamic, de facto leader Prince Mohammad bin Salman (“MBS”), supporting the young prince’s so-called reform agenda that’s involved jailing and abusing his enemiesas well as advocates for women’s rights, 2017’s move on Qatar, and his brutal military campaign in Yemen, which has caused massive civilian casualties. People are dying because of policy decisions that are tainted by Trump corruption, and it may be getting worse. The anti-Iran agenda of the Saudis, UAE and Israel (which has close personaland business ties with Kushner) has hovered over Trump’s killing of the Iran nuclear deal, which not only makes it more likely that Iran will get the bomb more quickly but has dramatically ratcheted up tensions in the powder keg region
It never should have gotten to this point. The political pundits are still busy debating whether Trump impeachment is a good fall political strategy for the Democrats or a losing hand. But things have already moved way beyond that. If we’re at the point where we can tolerate soliciting foreign governments for help in a presidential election, using stolen data, reality-bending psychological warfare and voter suppression of blacks to win, a president and his son-in-law senior adviser profiting from deals while sitting in the White House, slush funds to pay off mistresses and God knows what else, and then making life-or-death decisions based on all of these utterly corrupt things, then the United States is not a country anymore. How much worse does the worst political scandal in American history have to get before the people who actually can do something wake up and do something?

As I've said, all possible roads to remedy the Trump problem begin with a Democratic-controlled Congress, otherwise Trump will continue to be enabled and defended by Paul Ryan and Mitch McConnell.  Should Republicans keep the House, Trump will be defended by the even worse Kevin McCarthy instead of Ryan.

And as Chuck Pierce says, this is now the Constitutional Crisis Moment™ we've been dreading.

The president* has proceeded to up the ante. Over the weekend, on the electric Twitter machine, he hereby demanded that the Department of Justice launch an investigation into whether or not the Obama administration had used the FBI to submarine his campaign, a contention that would be laughable if it weren’t so serious. (It appears that, rather than be accused of political shenanigans, the Bureau kept the investigation into the Trump campaign on the down-low, a consideration that was not afforded the campaign of Hillary Rodham Clinton.) 
This outburst was clearly designed to put the DOJ, and Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein, into an impossible small-p-political position. (Rosenstein handed off the request to the DOJ’s inspector general, which was the smart rope-a-dope play under the circumstances.) More to the point, it brought the president* right to the brink of a serious constitutional cataclysm. He is hereby demanding that the DOJ conduct an investigation of a political rival for purely political purposes. This is what Nixon did. This is why John Mitchell went to federal prison. And it is right there, in the open, on the electric Twitter machine. The Watergate crowd at least had the common decency to use code names. 
Thus, the week begins ominously. We can only hope it ends the same way because, if it doesn’t, if there is not a constitutional crisis, ongoing and loud, at the end of the week, then we have determined through our system of government, and through our elected representatives, that we are willing to tolerate foreign bribes doled out to our president*’s pets, foreign sabotage of our national elections, and American foreign and domestic policy sold out to the highest grifter.

Ultimately, it's up to us to stop Trump and the GOP.  This week is now the beginning of the endgame, for better or for worse.  If, as Pierce warns, this week passes without the clarion call that something is badly wrong in our country, then we no longer have one.

There's always the very real chance that November will be far too late to do anything at this rate.  America may not survive another five months and change of Trump. The damage has already been phenomenal.  It's getting close to being fatal.

Trump took money from foreign powers to buy foreign policy in exchange for money, period.  He needs to go to prison, let alone be removed from office.  But this remains a political issue, not a criminal one.  And until that changes, Trump will remain in power.

The Dotard Strikes Back

Donald Trump doesn't like being made fun of, he has no tolerance for it, and after last week's move by North Korea to squeeze the US for more concessions on nuclear talks, Trump is finally realizing that he's been played from the beginning and is looking for a way out.

President Trump, increasingly concerned that his summit meeting in Singapore next month with North Korea’s leader could turn into a political embarrassment, has begun pressing his aides and allies about whether he should take the risk of proceeding with a historic meeting that he had leapt into accepting, according to administration and foreign officials.

Mr. Trump was both surprised and angered by a statement issued on Wednesday by the North’s chief nuclear negotiator, who declared that the country would never trade away its nuclear weapons capability in exchange for economic aid, administration officials said. The statement, while a highly familiar tactic by the North, represented a jarring shift in tone after weeks of conciliatory gestures.

On Thursday and Friday, Mr. Trump peppered aides with questions about the wisdom of proceeding, and on Saturday night he called President Moon Jae-in of South Korea to ask why the North’s public statement seemed to contradict the private assurances that Mr. Moon had conveyed after he met Kim Jong-un, the 35-year-old dictator of the North, at the Demilitarized Zone in late April.

The president’s conversation with Mr. Moon, which was first reported by The Washington Post, came just three days before the South Korean leader was scheduled to arrive in Washington to meet with Mr. Trump on Tuesday. It was a sign of Mr. Trump’s discomfort, some officials speculated, that he could not wait to discuss the issue until Mr. Moon arrived for his meetings here, though there is no indication that the president is considering pulling out of the North Korea talks.

Mr. Trump’s aides have grown concerned that the president — who has said that “everyone thinks” he deserves a Nobel Peace Prize for his efforts — has signaled that he wants the summit meeting too much. The aides also worry that Mr. Kim, sensing the president’s eagerness, is prepared to offer assurances that will fade over time.

Moreover, Mr. Trump’s decision this month to withdraw from the 2015 Iran nuclear deal raises the stakes for the North Korea negotiation. If he emerges with anything less than what President Barack Obama got, which in Iran included the verified shipment of 97 percent of all nuclear material out of the country, it will be hard for Mr. Trump to convince anyone other than his base that the negotiation was a success.

This is a very polite way of saying that Trump has no idea what he's doing here, that he's in well over his head, and that when all of this is over he'll have nothing to show for it. Anyone could have told you that.

He'll be a loser and a failure. Again, common knowledge.

That's when things get ugly.  That too should come as no surprise when Trump eventually turns to military action and lashes out.

Stay tuned.


Sunday, May 20, 2018

Trump Cards, Con't

So, I've got a question about this.

Is, I dunno, "using the Oval Office to publicly demand details of an ongoing investigation into your campaign" count as obstruction of justice yet?

Asking for an orange acquaintance.

Boy Meets Girl Meets Shotgun

This week's tragic mass shooting at Sante Fe High School outside of Galveston, Texas was, at its heart, about a boy who decided that if he couldn't have the girl he wanted, that no one would ever get the chance.

As he heard the gunshots approaching down the hall Friday morning, Santa Fe High School student Abel San Miguel, 15, hid with a few classmates in the art class storage closet.

He wasn't sure if he was going to survive. Through the door, he could see the barrel of a shotgun. Then the shooter began shooting through the door, killing at least one student inside, and grazing Abel's back.

When the shooter left the room briefly, Abel and others left the closet and tried to barricade the door. But the shooter pushed it open, spotted a student he knew, and with anger said, "Surprise!" before shooting the student in the chest.

"I'm still trying to process everything," Abel said in an interview.

As more details emerged about the shooting that left 10 people dead and 13 injured at the Houston-area school, the student who authorities said confessed to the attack was being held in isolation Saturday as officials identified the victims.

The family of the 17-year-old suspect, junior Dimitrios Pagourtzis, is "as shocked and confused as anyone else by these events that occurred," according to a statement released to the media.

"We are gratified by the public comments made by other Santa Fe High School students that show Dimitri as we know him: a smart, quiet, sweet boy," the family statement said. "While we remain mostly in the dark about the specifics of yesterday's tragedy, what we have learned from media reports seems incompatible with the boy we love."

One of Pagourtzis' classmates who died in the attack, Shana Fisher, "had 4 months of problems from this boy," her mother, Sadie Rodriguez, wrote in a private message to the Los Angeles Times on Facebook. "He kept making advances on her and she repeatedly told him no."

Pagourtzis continued to get more aggressive, and she finally stood up to him and embarrassed him in class, Rodriguez said. "A week later he opens fire on everyone he didn't like," she wrote. "Shana being the first one." Rodriguez didn't say how she knew her daughter was the first victim

It's a classic story,  Boy meets girl, girl tells him no, boy decides he's not going to accept that answer because he can do whatever the hell he wants to as a white guy in Texas in the Trump era, girl resists him for months, girl finally tells him off in front of an entire class, boy decides to bring his dad's guns to school to kill her and her classmates.

This wasn't a random act, this was premeditated murder.

Another mass murder in the War on Women brought to you by the availability of guns in this country.

Sunday Long Read: The Purge, DC Edition

The New Yorker's Evan Osnos brings us this week's Sunday Long Read, where in Trump-Era Washington, expertise has become increasingly meaningless.  Only loyalty to Dear Leader Trump matters, it is literally the only consideration in the executive branch right now, and those who are not of the Church of Trump are run out of town, regardless of the work they can do. Those who worked for Obama are The Enemy, and The Enemy must be destroyed at all costs.

Every new President disturbs the disposition of power in Washington. Stars fade. Political appointees arrive, assuming control of a bureaucracy that encompasses 2.8 million civilian employees, across two hundred and fifty agencies—from Forest Service smoke jumpers in Alaska to C.I.A. code-breakers in Virginia. “It’s like taking over two hundred and fifty private corporations at one time,” David Lewis, the chair of the political-science department at Vanderbilt University, told me.

Typically, an incoming President seeks to charm, co-opt, and, when necessary, coerce the federal workforce into executing his vision. But Trump got to Washington by promising to unmake the political ecosystem, eradicating the existing species and populating it anew. This project has gone by various names: Stephen Bannon, the campaign chief, called it the “deconstruction of the administrative state”—the undoing of regulations, pacts, and taxes that he believed constrain American power. In Presidential tweets and on Fox News, the mission is described as a war on the “deep state,” the permanent power √©lite. Nancy McEldowney, who retired last July after thirty years in the Foreign Service, told me, “In the anatomy of a hostile takeover and occupation, there are textbook elements—you decapitate the leadership, you compartmentalize the power centers, you engender fear and suspicion. They did all those things.”

This idea, more than any other, has defined the Administration, which has greeted the federal government not as a machine that could implement its vision but as a vanquished foe. To control it, Trump would need the right help. “I’m going to surround myself only with the best and most serious people,” he said, during the campaign. “We want top-of-the-line professionals.”

Every President expects devotion. Lyndon Johnson wished for an aide who would “kiss my ass in Macy’s window at high noon and tell me it smells like roses. I want his pecker in my pocket.” But Trump has elevated loyalty to the primary consideration. Since he has no fixed ideology, the White House cannot screen for ideas, so it seeks a more personal form of devotion. Kellyanne Conway, one of his most dedicated attendants, refers reverently to the “October 8th coalition,” the campaign stalwarts who remained at Trump’s side while the world listened to a recording of him boasting about grabbing women by the genitals.

Over time, Trump has rid himself of questioners. He dismissed James Comey, the head of the F.B.I., and then Andrew McCabe, his acting replacement. Gary Cohn, the head of the National Economic Council, resigned early this March, after months of private resistance to Trump’s plan for sweeping trade tariffs. A week later, Tillerson was fired by tweet, receiving notice by phone while he was on the toilet. Nine days after that, the national-security adviser, H. R. McMaster, who had pressed the President to maintain the nuclear deal with Iran, was asked to go, followed quickly by David Shulkin, the head of Veterans Affairs. John Kelly, the once assertive chief of staff, has lost control of access to the Oval Office and of the President’s phone calls; Trump has resumed using his personal cell phone for late-night calls to such confidants as Sean Hannity, of Fox News, who is known in the capital as his “unofficial chief of staff.”

In Washington, where only four per cent of residents voted for Trump, the President hews to a narrow patch of trusted terrain: he rarely ventures beyond his home, his hotel, his golf course, and his plane, taking Air Force One to Mar-a-Lago and to occasional appearances before devoted supporters. He has yet to attend a performance at the Kennedy Center or dine in a restaurant that is not on his own property. As a candidate, Trump rarely went a week without calling a news conference. But in office, as he contends with increasingly intense investigations, he has taken to answering only scattered questions, usually alongside visiting heads of state. He has now gone more than four hundred days without a solo press conference. (Obama held eleven in his first year.)

A culture of fealty compounds itself; conformists thrive, and dissenters depart or refuse to join. By May, the President was surrounded by advisers in name only, who competed to be the most explicitly quiescent. Peter Navarro, the head of the White House National Trade Council, told an interviewer, “My function, really, as an economist is to try to provide the underlying analytics that confirm his intuition. And his intuition is always right in these matters.” Jeff Sessions, the Attorney General, remained in office despite the President’s descriptions of him as “weak,” “disgraceful,” and an “idiot.” Sessions has been forgiving, telling a radio show in his home state of Alabama, “That’s just his style. He says what’s on his mind at the time.” Trump has turned, more than ever, to those he knows, often to their detriment. On a whim, he nominated his White House physician, Ronny Jackson, to head the Department of Veterans Affairs. The White House reportedly had not bothered to vet Jackson, leaving it to Congress to discover allegations that he drank on the job and dispensed medication so freely that he had acquired the nickname Candyman. Jackson, who denied these allegations, withdrew his nomination, his reputation wrecked.

After sixteen months, Trump is on his third national-security adviser and his sixth communications director. Across the government, more than half of the six hundred and fifty-six most critical positions are still unfilled. “We’ve never seen vacancies at this scale,” Max Stier, the president and C.E.O. of the Partnership for Public Service, a nonpartisan group that works to make the government more effective, said. “Not anything close.”

Some of the vacancies are deliberate. As a candidate, Trump promised to “cut so much your head will spin.” Amid a strong economy, large numbers of employees are opting to leave the government rather than serve it. In Trump’s first nine months, more than seventy-nine thousand full-time workers quit or retired—a forty-two-per-cent increase over that period in Obama’s Presidency. To Trump and his allies, the departures have been liberating, a purge of obstructionists. “The President now has people around him who aren’t trying to subvert him,” Michael Caputo, a senior campaign adviser, told me. “The more real Trump supporters who pop up in the White House phone book, the better off our nation will be.”

Americans are inured to the personnel drama in the White House—the factions and flameouts and new blood and walking wounded. But the larger drama, Stier said, is unfolding “below the waterline,” far from the cameras and the West Wing, among little-known deputies and officers in the working ranks of government. A senior Administration official called them the “next-level-down guys.” These are the foot soldiers in the war over the “deep state.” “They’re not talked about,” he said. “But they’re huge.”

Expect more of this as the weeks continue on, a government full of people who would be the kind of people who would willingly work for a man like Donald Trump.  The damage will take decades to fix from this regime, if we're ever allowed to fix it.

Saturday, May 19, 2018

Last Call For That's Real White Of You, Con't

I understand that "My dad will disown me if I marry you" is a story as old as time and not every parent is going to give their blessing to their children when they get hitched to somebody they dislike, that trope is prominently featured in half the catalogue of Brit Lit and at least partially responsible for about a quarter of wars stretching back to the Bronze Age.

But apparently we're still playing this particular game in America in 2018.

Vickers “Vic” Cunningham, a former criminal district judge now in a Republican runoff for Dallas County commissioner, acknowledged Friday that he set up a living trust with a clause rewarding his children if they marry a white person.

Cunningham spoke to The Dallas Morning News about the trust after his estranged brother, Bill Cunningham, came to the paper earlier this week saying his brother had been a lifelong racist.

Vic Cunningham denied harboring racial bigotry but did confirm one of his brother’s primary allegations — that his trust includes a stipulation intended to discourage a child from marrying a person of another race or of the same sex.
“I strongly support traditional family values,” Cunningham said. “If you marry a person of the opposite sex that’s Caucasian, that’s Christian, they will get a distribution.”

Cunningham said his views on interracial marriage have evolved since he created the trust in 2010. He said he has accepted his son’s relationship with a woman of Vietnamese origin, though he said he couldn't change the terms of his trust.

However, a former political aide of Cunningham's described him making repeated racist statements. A text message from Cunningham’s son showed concern that his father would not accept his relationship with an Asian woman. And in a recorded conversation, Cunningham’s mother, Mina Cunningham, acknowledged her son had been a longtime bigot.

Bill Cunningham brought the allegations to The NewsMonday, shortly after he said Vic Cunningham arrived at his home and threatened him and his husband, who is black, and referred to his husband repeatedly as “your boy.”

“His views and his actions are disqualifying for anyone to hold public office in 2018,” said Bill Cunningham, 50. “It frightens me to death to think of people in power who could hurt people.”

Now this is clearly a fight between two brothers over the family money, and there's still no law that mandates you can't be racist asshole, but this man is running for public office, and voters should weigh in on that.

Of course it's entirely possible that voters will approve of it.

That's the real problem, isn't it?

Russian To Judgment, Con't

 Former Blackwater CEO Erik Prince has long been a subject of ZVTS (a primer on the private mercenary kingmaker and long-time GOP donor is here) and he's definitely mixed up in the Trump/Russia affair.

Not that this wasn't already all but assured, but one more piece of the Prince puzzle just fell into place today: the NY Times now places Prince and Nader at Trump Tower meeting with Don Jr. months before the 2016 election, along with an Israeli social media specialist.

Erik Prince, the private security contractor and the former head of Blackwater, arranged the meeting, which took place on Aug. 3, 2016. The emissary, George Nader, told Donald Trump Jr. that the crown princes who led Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates were eager to help his father win election as president. The social media specialist, Joel Zamel, extolled his company’s ability to give an edge to a political campaign; by that time, the firm had already drawn up a multimillion-dollar proposal for a social media manipulation effort to help elect Mr. Trump.

The company, which employed several Israeli former intelligence officers, specialized in collecting information and shaping opinion through social media.

It is unclear whether such a proposal was executed, and the details of who commissioned it remain in dispute. But Donald Trump Jr. responded approvingly, according to a person with knowledge of the meeting, and after those initial offers of help, Mr. Nader was quickly embraced as a close ally by Trump campaign advisers — meeting frequently with Jared Kushner, Mr. Trump’s son-in-law, and Michael T. Flynn, who became the president’s first national security adviser. At the time, Mr. Nader was also promoting a secret plan to use private contractors to destabilize Iran, the regional nemesis of Saudi Arabia and the Emirates.

It's the Grand Unifying Theory for Cartoon Supervillains, folks!  We've got it all: Prince, Nader, Israeli social media manipulation, Iranian destabilization, the Russians, and a whole lot more!

After Mr. Trump was elected, Mr. Nader paid Mr. Zamel a large sum of money, described by one associate as up to $2 million. There are conflicting accounts of the reason for the payment, but among other things, a company linked to Mr. Zamel provided Mr. Nader with an elaborate presentation about the significance of social media campaigning to Mr. Trump’s victory.

The meetings, which have not been reported previously, are the first indication that countries other than Russia may have offered assistance to the Trump campaign in the months before the presidential election. The interactions are a focus of the investigation by Robert S. Mueller III, the special counsel, who was originally tasked with examining possible Trump campaign coordination with Russia in the election.

Mr. Nader is cooperating with the inquiry, and investigators have questioned numerous witnesses in Washington, New York, Atlanta, Tel Aviv and elsewhere about what foreign help may have been pledged or accepted, and about whether any such assistance was coordinated with Russia, according to witnesses and others with knowledge of the interviews.

The interviews, some in recent weeks, are further evidence that special counsel’s investigation remains in an intense phase even as Mr. Trump’s lawyers are publicly calling for Mr. Mueller to bring it to a close.

It is illegal for foreign governments or individuals to be involved in American elections, and it is unclear what — if any — direct assistance Saudi Arabia and the Emirates may have provided. But two people familiar with the meetings said that Trump campaign officials did not appear bothered by the idea of cooperation with foreigners.
So this brings up an excellent point.  It wasn't just Putin who wanted to see Trump win.  The Trump campaign was open for business, and Israel, Saudi Arabia, the UAE, Russia, and possibly more foreign influences knew that Trump was open to the highest bidder.  And they took them up on the offer.

This is huge, of course.

Mueller knows all about it.

These guys are screwed.

Stay tuned.

The Authoritarian Check Is In The Mail

Once again for the cheap seats: the primary motivating factor in Donald Trump's daily decision-making is punishing those who slight him, real or perceived, and in 2018 that means using the power of the federal government to try to destroy his critics.

President Trump has personally pushed U.S. Postmaster General Megan Brennan to double the rate the Postal Service charges Amazon.com and other firms to ship packages, according to three people familiar with their conversations, a dramatic move that probably would cost these companies billions of dollars
Brennan has so far resisted Trump’s demand, explaining in multiple conversations occurring this year and last that these arrangements are bound by contracts and must be reviewed by a regulatory commission, the three people said. She has told the president that the Amazon relationship is beneficial for the Postal Service and gave him a set of slides that showed the variety of companies, in addition to Amazon, that also partner for deliveries. 
Despite these presentations, Trump has continued to level criticism at Amazon. And last month, his critiques culminated in the signing of an executive order mandating a government review of the financially strapped Postal Service that could lead to major changes in the way it charges Amazon and others for package delivery. 
Few U.S. companies have drawn Trump’s ire as much as Amazon, which has rapidly grown to be the second-largest U.S. company in terms of market capitalization. For more than three years, Trump has fumed publicly and privately about the giant commerce and services company and its founder Jeffrey P. Bezos, who is also the owner of The Washington Post
Trump alleges that Amazon is being subsidized by the Postal Service. He has also accused The Post as being Amazon’s “chief lobbyist” as well as a tax shelter — false charges. He says Amazon uses these advantages to push bricks-and-mortar companies out of business. Some administration officials say several of Trump’s attacks aimed at Amazon have come in response to articles in The Post that he didn’t like. 
The three people familiar with these exchanges spoke on the condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to discuss the White House’s internal deliberations.
Brennan and Trump have met at the White House about the matter several times, beginning in 2017, and most recently four months ago, the three people said. The meetings have never appeared on Trump’s public schedule. Brennan has spent her career at the Postal Service, starting 32 years ago as a letter carrier. In 2014, the Postal Service’s Board of Governors voted to appoint her as postmaster general. 
Clouding the matter even further, Trump’s aides have also disagreed internally about whether Amazon is paying enough to the Postal Service, with some believing the giant commerce company should be paying more, while others believe that if it weren’t for Amazon, the Postal Service might be out of business, according to the three people. 
Trump has met with at least three groups of senior advisers to discuss Amazon’s business practices, probing issues such as whether they pay the appropriate amount of taxes or underpay the Postal Service, according to the three people.

These groups include Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin, then-National Economic Council Director Gary Cohn and Domestic Policy Council Director Andrew Bremberg. Bremberg has served as a key liaison with Brennan.

Openly seeking to harm a business like this, even as one as big and as detrimental to the world as Amazon, is a textbook authoritarian move.  And we're supposed to be grateful for the people keeping Trump's rage in check, when the real issue is if there was any justice in the world, Trump would probably be sharing a cell with Jeff Bezos anyway.

It's hard to root for either side.

But this is America, as Childish Gambino says.

The Tyrant Needs A New Foil

The constant Trump search for the new bad guy du jour continues as the regime needs a new foe to scream about to the GOP base.  After all, the perpetual poutrage machine has to be fed continuously, lest it turn on its masters.  With former FBI Director James Comey and former Deputy Director McCabe gone, the quest for firing Special Counsel Robert Mueller and Deputy AG Rod Rosenstein needs a new "corrupt Obama FBI" target, and the geniuses at the White House think they have their scapegoat.

If they knew who they were, that is.

President Trump’s allies are waging an increasingly aggressive campaign to undercut the Russia investigation by exposing the role of a top-secret FBI source. The effort reached new heights Thursday as Trump alleged that an informant had improperly spied on his 2016 campaign and predicted that the ensuing scandal would be “bigger than Watergate!” 
The extraordinary push begun by a cadre of Trump boosters on Capitol Hill now has champions across the GOP and throughout conservative media — and, as of Thursday, the first anniversary of Robert S. Mueller III’s appointment as special counsel, bears the imprimatur of the president. 
The dispute pits Trump and the Republican chairman of the House Intelligence Committee against the Justice Department and intelligence agencies, whose leaders warn that publicly identifying the confidential source would put lives in danger and imperil other operations. 
The stakes are so high that the FBI has been working over the past two weeks to mitigate the potential damage if the source’s identity is revealed, according to several people familiar with the matter. The bureau is taking steps to protect other live investigations that the person has worked on and is trying to lessen any danger to associates if the informant’s identity becomes known, said these people, who spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss sensitive intelligence operations. 
Trump reacted on Twitter on Thursday to recent news reports that there was a top-secret source providing intelligence to the FBI as it began its investigation into Russia’s interference in the election process.

“Wow, word seems to be coming out that the Obama FBI ‘SPIED ON THE TRUMP CAMPAIGN WITH AN EMBEDDED INFORMANT,’ ” Trump tweeted. He added, “If so, this is bigger than Watergate!”

It's all breathless stupidity, but it's red meat to the grinder.  Even Trump's supporters say that Mueller should be allowed to finish his investigation (because they've been told for years that you can't trust a president, you know).  So, the only way forward for Team Tangerine is to try to muddy the waters and escape in the confusion. Greg Sargent explains:

The explicitly, openly stated motive for doing this is to create a rationale for Trump to either try to close down Mueller’s investigation by removing him, or to fire Rosenstein, which would allow Trump to install a loyalist to oversee and dramatically limit the probe’s scope. A replacement for Rosenstein could also do a lot more to keep Mueller’s findings under wraps. 
Soon enough, we may find out the truth about this alleged informant. But here’s what we know so far: Career intelligence officials believe what House Republicans are now doing could imperil lives and compromise ongoing intelligence investigations, harming our national security. 
Now, surely House Republicans would respond that in saying this, intelligence officials are merely trying to resist legitimate oversight into their activities. But here’s what we also know at this point: Previous efforts by Nunes and his fellow House GOP travelers to exercise such oversight have proved to be thoroughly bogus.

The Nunes memo was supposed to reveal dark new details about the genesis of the probe that would undercut its legitimacy. It ended up doing the opposite. The final House Intelligence Committee report concluded that Russia didn’t interfere in the election for the purpose of helping Trump. But the Democratic response revealed that Republicans didn’t take key investigative steps that could have fleshed out what Trump knew about the Trump Tower meeting and when. And the House GOP conclusion was undercut by Republicans on the Senate Intelligence Committee, which concluded that the intelligence services’ original assessment — that Russia favored Trump — was correct, boosting their credibility.

It won't work, but there's always a lot of damage Trump can do on the way out.

Friday, May 18, 2018

Last Call For Animal Farm

Paul Ryan's plan to wreck SNAP and gut food assistance for women and children in the yearly farm bill ran into an insurmountable force on Friday, that force being Ryan's own party, who went into full revolt basically because the hardliners didn't get their vote on immigration mass deportation .

House conservatives tanked a GOP farm bill on Friday over an intra-party feud over immigration, delivering a stunning blow to Republican leaders as they try to find a path forward on immigration. 
In a 198-213 vote, GOP conservatives essentially joined Democrats in rejecting the measure, which would have introduced tougher work requirements for the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program [SNAP] that were a priority for Speaker Paul Ryan (R-Wis.). 
The whip count remained in question in the hours leading up to the dramatic vote, despite GOP leaders expressing confidence just minutes before hand that they would have enough support to pass the bill.

Ryan and other GOP leaders frantically tried to flip members of the House Freedom Caucus from no to yes during the amendment vote series leading up to final passage.
At one point, Rep. Patrick McHenry (R-N.C.), a chief deputy whip, was seen working Rep. Dave Brat (R-Va.) while Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) was locked in an intense conversation with Rep. Jody Hice (R-Ga.)

Ryan, McCarthy and Majority Whip Steve Scalise (R-La.) huddled with House Freedom Caucus leader Mark Meadows (R-N.C.) and Reps. Jim Jordan (R-Ohio) and Scott Perry (R-Pa.) earlier as lawmakers voted on amendments to the bill. 
Leadership made an offer to the Freedom Caucus that they could pick any date they wanted in June for a floor vote on a hardline immigration bill crafted by Judiciary Chairman Bob Goodlatte (R-Va.), according to a source familiar with the discussion.
In the end it, it wasn’t enough. Meadows said his members needed more of a commitment from leadership on the Goodlatte bill.

House Republicans desperately want to save their jobs by putting an immigration bill in front of the Senate and forcing Senate Republicans to save them, so the Freedom Caucus is now apparently ready to scuttle the farm bill in order to get their way. 

I've talked about how horrible the Goodlatte immigration bill is before, and it's essentially the end of legal immigration as well as setting the stage for mass deportations of undocumented immigrants.  The House passing it would be pretty lethal to Senate Republicans, and they know it.

But not passing a farm bill would be worse (and the Freedom Caucus can blame Democrats, they figure.)  We'll see who wins, but no matter what, Americans lose.

We can fix that in November.
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