Saturday, March 31, 2018

Scott Pruitt's Corruption of the EPA Might Be the Worst of the Trump Effect

Scott Pruitt's living arrangement can only be considered classic corruption, deserving (in any rational, moral administration) of termination, even legal actions. In Trumpworld? Who knows, and that's an ominous result of the overall corruption Trump seems to relish.

We are and should be moving away from coal. Trumpworld wants it back. Why?

Paul Krugman presents all we need to know in a Twitter thread:

Thursday, March 29, 2018

Trump Can't Find a Lawyer? It's Because He Can't Tell the Truth.

Donald Trump is coming up on the moment when he has to talk to Robert Mueller. If he can't pack some truth for the trip, he's fried, seriously fried. Lying to Mueller has been more than one man's Waterloo.

Trump is always needing to reinforce, for his base, the notion that he's delivering on his promises. (That's why he's started trade wars by putting tariffs in place, only to roll them back when the shit hits the international fan. Real tough guy!) So he's "tough" on trade like he promised.

Congress, though, even a Republican-controlled Congress, won't give him the border wall he promised Mexico would pay for. But, goddamit, he's getting his wall after all! Or maybe not
The project, which started in 2009, will replace a 2.25-mile section in the California-Mexico border wall, according to a statement last month from US Customs and Border Protection.

The original wall in that section, built in the 1990s, had been built from recycled metal scraps and old landing mat materials, the agency said.

"Although the existing wall has proven effective at deterring unlawful cross border activity, smuggling organizations damaged and breached this outdated version of a border wall several hundred times during the last two years," CBP said.

The project will replace the old wall with a 30-foot-high, bollard-style structure.
Great. Not only is it an old wall built during the Obama years, it's been breached so many times it's laughable. But it'll be a GREAT WALL! For his base, at least.

He can't even brag about his wall without constructing a large fraud -- mostly because nobody's building a goddam wall for him. Congress won't give him the money. So he resorts to, well, his usual tactics. He'd better not try that with Mueller. Any lawyer worth is salt is pretty sure Trump can't help himself. Why should they believe otherwise? Hence, no legal team worth a damn. Pity.

Monday, March 26, 2018

Why Bolton and Trump Will Fail at Their Alt-Diplomacy

The Bobsey Twins of America First Militarism are bound to fail because their tough-guy diplomacy is beyond ham-fisted.

When all options are on the table, you need to use all options.

This is not original thinking in that I gleaned it from two articles I just read, but alarm bells did go off when I grasped the implications. On the Twitter, Ross Douthat pointed to a Reuters bit that had John Bolton schooling Trump on required parameters to a North Korea meeting, at this point tentatively scheduled for May. Bolton went on Radio Free Asia to pontificate:
WASHINGTON (Reuters) - John Bolton, U.S. President Donald Trump’s new national security adviser, said Trump should insist that any meeting he holds with North Korea’s leader must be focused squarely on how to eliminate that country’s nuclear weapons program as quickly as possible.
Bolton, a hawk who Trump named on Thursday to replace H.R. McMaster in the key security role, told Radio Free Asia on Monday that discussions at the proposed summit with Kim Jong Un should be similar to those that led to components of Libya’s nuclear program being shipped to the United States in 2004.
Great. Bolton chooses an Asian venue to tell Kim he'll insist on a Libya-style solution -- in which, years later, Qaddafi is pulled from a culvert and ends up beaten to death by the side of the road. Yeah, Kim's totally going for that offer.

Then, in the next article I read, we've got Vox pointing out the implications of Trump pulling out of the Iran deal:
What does Donald Trump’s stance on the Iran deal have to do with his relationship with North Korea? It turns out, quite a lot.

That’s because the president’s desire to pull out of a historic nuclear deal with Iran could likely hurt his chances of reaching a significant weapons agreement with Pyongyang.

There’s a simple reason why, experts tell me: If Trump backtracks on America’s promises to Tehran, then North Korean leader Kim Jong Un has no reason to trust Trump during negotiations about Pyongyang’s nuclear and missile programs.
Game, set, match. What's worse is that the next review of the Iran deal is set for May (the U.S. revisits the deal every 90 days to check if Iran is complying), ostensibly the month the North Korean talks are set, although Kim hasn't actually signals it's on. I guess this is supposed to be set up by the South Koreans, or something.

So, here's the deal. Bolton wants a pre-condition that North Korea will end its nuclear program in order to meet, and Trump is set, at Bolton's encouragement, to pull out of the Iran nuclear deal just as the two sides are scheduled to meet. Why, then, would Kim agree to anything? So he can agree to something you can't trust the Americans to uphold, or agree to something that ends with him dead in a ditch?

I don't think so. Way to go, Monsters of War™.

Tuesday, March 20, 2018

Arm Teachers. That Will Fix Everything.

We are insane.

Uh, could it possibly be the guns? And, hey, why not universal concealed carry?! (They want it in the omnibus budget bill on Friday.)

Thursday, March 15, 2018

Trump Says So Many Ridiculous Things, It's Hard to Keep Track

In a speech to donors, Donald Trump admits to lying to Trudeau. And that's not the worst thing in the speech.

The master deal maker can't be trusted. Who, now, will make a deal? No one.

Much has been made of Donald Trump making stuff up in a conversation on trade with Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau. Aside from admitting to lying, there's something deeply pathetic about the whole business. Not only does Trudeau know that Trump's full of shit, he also knows that Trump can't win in a negotiation about NAFTA, primarily because he's revealed that he has a losing hand. The U.S. has a trade surplus with Canada!

And that's not even the worst thing in the now-infamous donor speech. Here, buried in an article about it, Trump threatens to blow up our mutual defense deal with South Korea, over what? Naturally, trade:
Trump also implied during the speech that he could pull U.S. troops stationed in South Korea if he didn’t strike a trade deal favorable to the U.S. with the country, the newspaper reported.
“We have a very big trade deficit with them, and we protect them. We lose money on trade, and we lose money on the military,” Trump said. "We have right now 32,000 soldiers between North and South Korea. Let’s see what happens.”
Let's get this straight: Trump has just agreed to meet with Kim Jong-un to, possibly, negotiate a deal on denuclearization, and as they ramp up for the meeting, Trump announces that he'd consider pulling our forces out of South Korea if it doesn't reduce our trade deficit. I can hear Kim yucking it up across the DMZ.

Trump and The Art of the Deal? More like The Art of the WTF.

Wednesday, March 14, 2018

John McCain, Victim of Torture, Hints He Will Lead the Charge Against Confirming "Ms. Torture."

More than a decade ago, the public editor for NPR explained why she was dropping "torture" as a term and substituting "enhanced interrogation." (Her rationale was that we didn't know what defined torture.) A long-time contributor, I haven't given NPR a dime since. We know what torture is, and Gina Haspel enabled it, directed it, then covered it up.

John McCain's less than stellar medical care in captivity was a form of torture.

It's gratifying that Rand Paul has already announced his vehement opposition to Gina Haspel for CIA Director. John McCain hasn't stated opposition but has declared what he needs to see from her even to consider a "yes" vote:
The torture of detainees in U.S. custody during the last decade was one of the darkest chapters in American history. Ms. Haspel needs to explain the nature and extent of her involvement in the CIA’s interrogation program during the confirmation process. I know the Senate will do its job in examining Ms. Haspel’s record as well as her beliefs about torture and her approach to current law.
Such a statement invites those on the Senate Intelligence Committee to offer no quarter to Ms. Haspel in her confirmation hearing. Will she get by? Should she even be considered in light of her horrendous career as a mocking, almost celebratory practitioner of torture?
One declassified cable, among scores obtained by the American Civil Liberties Union in a lawsuit against the architects of the “enhanced interrogation” techniques, says that chief of base [Haspel, in Thailand,] and another senior counterterrorism official on scene had the sole authority power to halt the questioning.

She never did so, records show, watching as Zubaydah vomited, passed out and urinated on himself while shackled. During one waterboarding session, Zubaydah lost consciousness and bubbles began gurgling from his mouth. Medical personnel on the scene had to revive him. Haspel allowed the most brutal interrogations by the CIA to continue for nearly three weeks even though, as the cables sent from Thailand to the agency’s headquarters repeatedly stated, “subject has not provided any new threat information or elaborated on any old threat information.”

At one point, Haspel spoke directly with Zubaydah, accusing him of faking symptoms of physical distress and psychological breakdown. In a scene described in a book written by one of the interrogators, the chief of base came to his cell and “congratulated him on the fine quality of his acting.” According to the book, the chief of base, who was identified only by title, said: “Good job! I like the way you’re drooling; it adds realism. I’m almost buying it. You wouldn’t think a grown man would do that.”
Gruesome. Do you want someone like this in charge of the CIA, an institution that has operated black sites and black ops around the globe for decades? The answer can only be a loud no. Write your senator.

Note. When NPR disavows that position and apologizes, I'll gladly start contributing again.

Tuesday, March 13, 2018

Trump's Grotesque Choice of a Grotesque Human to Run the CIA

He chooses someone who hates the environment to run the EPA. He chooses someone who hates public schools to run the Department of Education, and someone who hates the poor and is against public housing to head Housing and Urban Development. Now to run the CIA? Someone who believes in torture and has the record to prove it.

New CIA chief was the head of a major torture black site.

Gina Haspel might just have won the trifecta: She directed a torture program, directed its coverup, and now, as her reward, gets to run the whole CIA. Bad mujer for the win.
As Miller put it, she was “directly involved in its controversial interrogation program” and had an “extensive role” in torturing detainees. Even more troubling, she “had run a secret prison in Thailand” — part of the CIA’s network of “black sites” — “where two detainees were subjected to waterboarding and other harsh techniques.” The Senate Intelligence Committee’s report on torture also detailed the central role she played in the particularly gruesome torture of detainee Abu Zubaydah.

Beyond all that, she played a vital role in the destruction of interrogation videotapes that showed the torture of detainees both at the black site she ran and other secret agency locations. The concealment of those interrogation tapes, which violated multiple court orders as well as the demands of the 9/11 commission and the advice of White House lawyers, was condemned as “obstruction” by commission chairs Lee Hamilton and Thomas Keane. A special prosecutor and grand jury investigated those actions but ultimately chose not to prosecute.

The name of that CIA official whose torture activities the Post described is Gina Haspel. Today, as BuzzFeed’s Jason Leopold noted, CIA Director Mike Pompeo announced that Haspel was selected by Trump to be deputy director of the CIA.

This should not come as much of a surprise given that Pompeo himself has said he is open to resurrecting Bush-era torture techniques...
Fucking unbelievable, unless of course you've been following Donald Trump's appointments. He has only one question.

"Are they horrible?"

"Yes, Mr. President."

Great! They're in."

Saturday, March 10, 2018

Amid the Trump Mania, Progress Happens below the Radar

Donald Trump is a boulder careening through American life. We can only hope the damage is short-lived. Meanwhile, we make progress in surprising ways, much of which is unseen but healthy.

It's good that incarceration rates are drifting slightly down for whites. It's even better to see more movement downward for blacks and Hispanics. Parity anytime soon? No, but progress nonetheless.

Saturday, March 3, 2018

Trump's Tariffs: When Weird-Ass Policy Meets "Unglued"

Donald Trump is finally showing why presidentin' for your Fox-News-educated-and-sustained base leads to horrendously bad governing. Did he just throw steel and aluminum tariffs out there during a temper tantrum?

How do you put this wack genie back in the bottle? What if the answer is you can't?

Donald Trump has in recent weeks showed us a pattern -- of what former president George W. Bush might have called presidentin' -- that involves throwing a White House meeting for senators or cabinet secretaries and tossing ideas for governing around like they were so many frisbees in the park on a Saturday afternoon. Then, over the next few days he returns to his "normal" self that essentially conforms to the hyper-conservative conventions that pass for "normal" these days.

And everybody involved in policy, be it Mitch McConnell, Paul Ryan, the Heritage Foundation, or the NRA, breathes a collective sigh of relief, warily noting that the all-over-the-policy-map guy is again sane enough to be the blue meanie du jour that they usually count on.

This time, though, on tariffs, Trump has indeed gone off the policy rails, catching everybody off guard. And, NBC News reports, it was because he was, at that moment, unglued:
WASHINGTON — With global markets shaken by President Donald Trump's surprise decision to impose strict tariffs on steel and aluminum imports, the president went into battle mode on Friday: "Trade wars are good, and easy to win," he wrote on Twitter.
But the public show of confidence belies the fact that Trump's policy maneuver, which may ultimately harm U.S. companies and American consumers, was announced without any internal review by government lawyers or his own staff, according to a review of an internal White House document.
According to two officials, Trump's decision to launch a potential trade war was born out of anger at other simmering issues and the result of a broken internal process that has failed to deliver him consensus views that represent the best advice of his team.
On Wednesday evening, the president became "unglued," in the words of one official familiar with the president's state of mind.
Alrighty then, at least now we know. Trump is capable of governing by toddler-style tantrum.

In his defense, there are at least two advisers, Peter Navarro and Wilbur Ross who support his protectionist moves, even if they're based on faulty thinking, described by Matthew Yglesias as an accounting error. (Read that link, don't want to go into it here.)

However, most of Trump's economic team are horrified by Trump's action.

Indeed. What remains to be seen -- and there are a number of people praying for it -- is whether or not Trump can "pull a Trump" and change his mind a few days later about this tariff thing. After all, they don't take effect until they are officially crafted and announced, as proposed, next week. Will Trump return to his senses on Monday?

Could be, let's hope so. Trouble is, with a new week, we have to hold our collective breath, worrying what he'll fuck up next.