Saturday, May 26, 2018

When Trump Speaks or Writes, Figure Out the Lies First. Then Call It Like It Is.

We've spent days letting Trump control the agenda with his daily splash of lies. It has to stop.

Paul Waldman gets it:
You may have noticed that today’s news is not dominated by the blockbuster revelations of what members of Congress learned yesterday when they met with Justice Department officials to review information about the FBI’s counterintelligence investigation into Russian meddling in the 2016 election, specifically the bureau’s use of a confidential informant who contacted Trump campaign officials after learning of suspicious links involving Russia.

Why is it that the results of that highly unusual meeting (two meetings, actually) are not splashed across every front page and dominating every minute of cable news today? Because the whole thing was a farce, and it didn’t give Republicans what they were hoping for.

This reveals the absurd pattern we’ve fallen into. It goes like this: President Trump makes a ridiculous accusation that almost everyone immediately understands to be false. Then we in the media, because it’s the president, treat that accusation as though it’s something that has to be taken seriously. Then governmental resources are mustered to deal with the accusation. Then Republicans try to twist the mobilization of those resources to give them the answer they’re seeking. But because it’s all based on a lie, they fail once Democrats force some measure of truth to be revealed.
This pattern has to stop. When Trump lies, just report the lie. Then follow up with "We have no reason to take Trump seriously." The press must not say things like "Trump claims [fill in lie]..." followed by reaction around the political sphere. Just say, "There he goes again. We cannot follow up on lies. We await a factual statement on the matter."

Thursday, May 17, 2018

The Irrationality of Trump's Racism in One Graph

Though Trump apologists are falling over each other to defend or explain his "They're animals!" comment about immigrants, what defeats them before they even venture a word is Trump's history of racist remarks, from his Obama birtherism to his speech announcing his run for the presidency.

The truth of this covers more than New York, it covers all immigrant populations across America. Immigrants simply commit less crime that the native-born.

Face it, between Trump's anti-immigrant rhetoric and his shithole-countries remark -- not to mention his wistful call for more Norwegians -- we can only find proof of Trump's blatant racism. If that weren't enough, just recall to mind his Charlottesville "good people on both sides" statement.

Thanks to Paul Krugman for the graph.

Monday, May 14, 2018

John Kelly Doesn't Get What It Means to Be an Immigrant

A quick look at Kelly's bio reveals he's Irish-Italian from Boston. If anyone should get what it means to be from an immigrant family, he should. Yet he is displaying a total ignorance of his ancestry and that of so many different American immigrants throughout history.

The definition of a racist might be one who cultivates his ignorance of race
in order to appear rational while explaining why certain population groups
are sub-standard. If so, John Kelly meets that definition.

The Trump administration has practically defined its core belief as "dark skin means rapists, drug dealers, and 'not their best people.'" After all, why don't more Norwegians come here? Why do they have to come from "shithole countries?"

John Kelly, who tries to look rational even as he describes an African-American congresswoman as "an empty barrel" while lying through his teeth about some of her clearly impressive acts. He can't help himself is my guess. Growing up in Boston might make you "Boston Strong," but it clearly also can make you "Boston Racist." Kelly is living proof. Reference the busing riots of yesteryear if you need explanation.

Comes his ridiculous, recent statement on immigration:
The vast majority of the people that move illegally into United States are not bad people. They’re not criminals. They’re not MS-13. Some of them are not. But they’re also not people that would easily assimilate into the United States into our modern society. They’re overwhelmingly rural people in the countries they come from – fourth, fifth, sixth grade educations are kind of the norm. They don’t speak English, obviously that’s a big thing. They don’t speak English. They don’t integrate well.
I don't need to know the particulars of his own ancestry other than the countries his people flowed from to know that his Irish and Italian roots had a fucking boatload of rural people among them, most of which had little need of or access to education to plant and harvest their fields. Even if they came from cities, few had any education. The educated and successful had little reason to leave.

I've been to both Ireland and Scotland and seen up close the land from which my people sprang. I actually have spoken to many of my paternal grandmother's Scottish kin and learned that the Wallaces were drainers. "Oh, aye, Chairlie's a drainer like most Wallaces about." Turns out there's too much water, not too little, around Luthermuir, Aberdeenshire, and draining the land for agriculture was necessary. Who knew?

Kelly, you prick, I did. I've also been all around Galway, Ireland where that side of the family came from, and there were more sheep there than you could shake a stick at, and it was one of the hardest hit areas during the Great Potato Famine. I doubt my kin spent many years in a schoolroom or reading books. Play a fiddle, now that might be a different story. Within two generations, though, my family was producing doctors, lawyers, teachers, writers, and, yes, musicians.

John Kelly's world view, like that of most around Trump, is dependent on some people being inferior. Kelly needs that to feel good about himself. In that, he channels Trump. What pure dicks.

Saturday, May 12, 2018

Fourth Circuit Rules Electronic Devices Searches at Border Are Unconstitutional.

This is great news. So many illegal searches, now over.

No more unwarranted snooping.

This is good news for a change. Confiscation and forensic searches of electronic devices at U.S. borders are out.
The ruling in U.S. v. Kolsuz is the first federal appellate case after the Supreme Court’s seminal decision in Riley v. California (2014) to hold that certain border device searches require individualized suspicion that the traveler is involved in criminal wrongdoing. Two other federal appellate opinions this year—from the Fifth Circuit and Eleventh Circuit—included strong analyses by judges who similarly questioned suspicionless border device searches.
Good. A step in the right direction.

Anne Applebaum Weighs In: America IS Losing Hegemony with Trump's Moves

As sometimes happens, I have "original thoughts," only to find out I'm channeling the experts. Nice feeling while it lasted

Leading NATO has let us lead "the free world," as Applebaum says, "on the cheap."

Here's her piece this morning on vanishing hegemony:
Above all, it depended on an American willingness to invest: in diplomacy, in military power — but above all in alliances. By forging mutually advantageous agreements with Germans or South Koreans, the United States had far greater influence than it would have had otherwise. By creating and then expanding NATO, by maintaining troops in South Korea and Japan, the United States kept parts of Europe and Asia free to choose democracy, and open for commerce and trade. Everywhere else, agreements and partnerships as well as money and armies gave the United States an outsize voice in trade and commerce, as well as matters of war and peace.
President Trump knows no history and does not have any idea how the United States became an “essential” country, let alone a superpower. But he seems to believe that he can maintain that status, and even increase it, without making investments — diplomatic, military or monetary — at all. This week, the outline of what this means — call it “hegemony on the cheap” — suddenly came into sharp focus.
The sharp focus is on Trump blowing stuff up, mostly out of ignorance.

What Trump Has Done to Our Carefully Crafted Hegemony

Blown it up is what.

Donald Trump, thinking through shit. This might take a while (if we're lucky).

I've spent my life with baby boomers. We have one thing in common. We've only known a world that America clearly has led, shaped by our victory in WWII, dominated by fidelity to our European allies in the West through NATO (driven by the Cold War) and our allies in the East, Japan and S. Korea (driven by concerns of eventual Chinese hegemony).

So Trump comes in with his America First nationalism and blows up all the relationships. After the smoke clears, we'll see a diminished America, no matter how tough Trump thought he was being. Make no mistake, we will pay a price.

Trump's Drug Plan Blames "Big Government" and Protects Big Pharma. Surprise, Surprise.

On the Destroy-the-Obama-Legacy front, Donald Trump is keeping promises left and right, no matter how destructive his policies are. On the promises that would help real people -- whoever they are -- no so much.

Traders were cautious on health stocks, then Trump spoke, people panicked,
then they figured out what he said, leading to the super spike of relief.

You've got to hand it to Donald Trump, he knows how to obscure his broken promises. Saying “Today, my administration is launching the most sweeping action in history to lower the price of prescription drugs for the American people,” without batting an eye and then adopting a plan that does next to nothing to fix drug prices is quite a trick. if you wonder what Wall Street thought of it, look at the chart above. If you wonder what Big Pharma thought of it look below.

The dip before he spoke? The same. The bit of dread as he spoke? The same. The spike of relief after analysts figured out "big whoop?" Yep. Man of the people, all right.

Friday, May 11, 2018

America's Loss of Standing in the World, Let Me Count the Ways

Sure, we peaked in WWII, though the Korean War was an effort to unsplit a country, and Vietnam was a disastrous opposite effort. Still, we've spent decades creating moral, ethical, democratic, scientific, and, yes, financial leadership. We were at the helm of the financial world, and our dollar became the de facto world currency. All of that is threatened.

Imagine how dangerous he'd be if he knew what he was doing. (Hard to imagine.)

Read this piece on what else Trump is squandering with his violation of the Iran agreement.
Prior to, well, yesterday, the US could claim a moral high ground. Its extraterritorial financial control might be objectionable, yes, but absent some coordinating mechanism like that, there would always be a competitive race among politicians and bankers to allow themselves to be persuaded that Mexican drug lords are just legitimate businessmen from a hardscrabble country and why should the Iranians be prevented from getting nukes when the world winks at the Israelis? The US may not be the ideal global financial policeman, but like every other kind of global policeman that it is, it may be better than no policeman at all.
However, now, specifically with respect to its enforcement of financial sanctions on an apparently compliant Iran, it is the United States that seems, even among its Western partners, to be the rogue state in need of policing. However begrudging European acquiescence to extraterritorial US sanctions may have been two days ago, it is more begrudging today.

NASA to End Space Tracking of Greenhouse Gases

If we don't know the how-much and the where of carbon emissions, we can't track various countries' output of these gas. I guess that's the point. How much more of this can we take?

This is horrendous in a lot of ways. It fits right in with the way the Trump GOP is squandering our standing in the world. Now we are more anti-science and pro-pollution:
The Trump administration has quietly eliminated funding for NASA’s research program that tracks greenhouse gases around the world.
According to Science, the Carbon Monitoring System (CMS) tracks the world’s flow of carbon dioxide from space. Such a system is critical to monitoring any improvements — or failures — in attempts to cut the pollution linked to climate change.
NASA spokesman Steve Cole told the magazine that the program was canceled due to ”budget constraints and higher priorities within the science budget.” Usually, Congress battles such cuts, but this time, there was simply no mention of the program’s $10 million annual budget in the White House budget.
Although existing grants will finish, Cole said, no new projects will be undertaken. NASA’s budget report for fiscal year 2019 assumes the “termination” of CMS.
Watching our step-by-step degradation is beyond disheartening.

All-White Military Wives -- from our 40% Black Military -- Invited to Spouses Day at White House

Okay, maybe I see one Asian in there? Also, no male spouses? What, did Mike Pence get the nod as planner? This deserves a holy fuck.

Absolutely contemptible. But, should I say, absolutely par for the course?

Note. Apparently the odds of this happening by chance are lower than a trillion to one. (Thanks Ronald Klain)

Super Double Note. Someone spotted Ivanka Trump in there. What? Is it product placement?

Thursday, May 10, 2018

The Republican Party Is So (Russian) Mobbed Up. Can We Survive as a Country?

Read and weep. We're getting a window into how Michael Cohen worked, but this stuff has been going on -- and known -- for quite a while.

From Ruth May's Dallas Morning News article from six months ago:
As Special Counsel Robert Mueller's team probes deeper into potential collusion between Trump officials and representatives of the Russian government, investigators are taking a closer look at political contributions made by U.S. citizens with close ties to Russia.
Buried in the campaign finance reports available to the public are some troubling connections between a group of wealthy donors with ties to Russia and their political contributions to President Donald Trump and a number of top Republican leaders. And thanks to changes in campaign finance laws, the political contributions are legal. We have allowed our campaign finance laws to become a strategic threat to our country.
The only good news is that Mueller has been on this for quite a while. No wonder the Republican Party is trying to shut him down. Big-ass gravy train, among other things.

A few weeks ago Mueller diverted a side thread of his investigation to the Southern District of New York in order to more directly go after Michael Cohen. Now, with what's coming out, it's obvious why, and also obvious why Trump is more nervous about this side investigation that the main one. Or is this the main one now? Hmm.

The question now may not be how mobbed up Donald Trump is. The question might be how mobbed up the Republican Party is, and is their patent disregard of the continuing Russian meddling a sign that they want the meddling to continue on their behalf? Double hmm.

Wednesday, May 9, 2018

The Unified Theory of Trump Stormy Scandals and Foreign Policy. Yes, They're Connected!

No, this is not ridiculous. It's exactly the way this shit works with Trump. His messes are his whole mess. We just get to live with it.

Yes, Russian sanctions and the Iran deal-breaking are connected to
Stormy via Cohen. Who would have thought such a thing? Er, Avenatti.

Okay, for the grand Unified Field Theory of Trump's Stormy Daniels Foreign Policy:
  • Trump and his lackies going back as far as 2015 with Michael Flynn, Vladimir Putin and Russian oligarchs have been playing footsies, always about playing ball vis a vis sanctions and other quid pro quo arrangements.
  • There were multiple tracks, but one of them turns out to be payments by Viktor Vekselberg -- partly on behalf of Oleg Deripaska -- to the same LLC set up to funnel money to Stormy Daniels. The "quo" is the slow walking of sanctions that would affect the money interests of both oligarchs, who have close ties to Putin. In fact, both a set of sanctions by Barack Obama to punish Russia for dirty campaign tricks and sanctions later passed by Congress have not taken full effect, with both Steve Mnuchin and Wilbur Ross playing their parts.
  • So, Daniels was paid off, in effect, with money paid for having the sanctions delayed.
  • There is very much more to this, as payments from drug company Novartis and AT&T have flowed into the same LLC account set up by Michael Cohen. So stay tuned on that one, but it sure sounds like pay-to-play to me.
  • From a Slate piece on this: "The Steele Dossier alleged that Russians had made a deal with Trump associates for the Russians to sell Rosneft, the massive state energy company, and use the commissions to give Trump associates payments under the radar, in return for lifting or softening sanctions. The Rosneft sale went through in December 2016, a month after the election, coinciding with Jared Kushner, Michael Flynn, and Carter Page’s various alleged communicatio, ns with Russians. Just eight days before this oil megadeal, Flynn and Kushner met Russian Ambassador Sergey Kislyak at Trump Tower, and Kushner reportedly proposed a secret communication link with the Kremlin through the Russian embassy. Then, a few days after the Rosneft deal, Kushner met Sergey Gorkov, chair of Russia’s government-owned VE Bank (VEB) and Putin’s close confidant."
  • So, yet another crazy piece of the "dodgy" dossier is proven true. (Pee tape, anyone?)
  • Connection to Iran? With the Iran deal, Trump has produced a mirror image: When the clearly dirty-dealing Russians are rewarded by cancelling or delaying sanctions, even though they do harm to the U.S., the Iranians are punished by having their sanctions re-instituted, even though they are in compliance.
By the way, there's one more late-breaking element. We know that the only other client Michael Cohen could claim to have to the court -- other than Trump and Sean Hannity (and that's just "advice on real estate deals") -- is Elliott Broidy, a Republican fundraiser. Apparently Cohen helped arrange a payoff of $1.6 million for Broidy to yet another Playboy Playmate, Shera Bechard, who got pregnant and had an abortion. But here's the funny part: According to records, the Broidy payoff was, just as with both Stormy Daniels and Karen McDougal, arranged between Michael Cohen and attorney Keith Davidson ostensibly representing the women, and the Broidy payoff also used the Stormy NDA as a template right up to and including the fake names David Dennison and Peggy Peterson and paid through the same entity, Essential Consulting LLC that was used to pay off Stormy.

Now, please tell me why it's not obvious that both payoffs were on behalf of Donald Trump, and that for some reason Elliot Broidy didn't mind stepping up and taking the fall -- and the heat -- for Donald Trump. Was it to bury the abortion? Was it also a pay-to-play move by Broidy who had a number of foreign deals he needed help with? John Campos of New York Magazine thinks so. What a mess, and it's only going to get messier.

Note. Don't forget that Michael Cohen is mobbed up with both Russian and Ukrainian interests in a number of ways: he's married into it, he was raised around them via his uncle, and he owned, co-owned, managed, and traded taxi medallions with them.

Sunday, May 6, 2018

Withering Fact: Poor Are Born Poor, Rich Are Born Rich

For your entertainment, enjoy this graph showing the percent of inherited wealth in Europe's big three:

Translation: In France, UK, and Germany, among the wealthy, over half are born that way. Share of inherited wealth in the U.S. is as much as 45%.

Upward mobility? Meritocracy? Not so much. This also explains a more recent phenomenon: The rich go to college, and the not-so-rich go into debt.

When I went to college, I emerged with less than 4 grand in debt. Same school, same percentages today? I'd have finished college owing 80 grand. I shudder...

Thursday, May 3, 2018

Holy Corruption Charges, Batman! Did Giuliani Just Admit Cohen Is Trump's Bagman?

Does anyone remember how Nixon's campaign committee -- run by his Attorney General -- had bagmen that took payoffs, in cash, to phone booths? I do.

Michael, didn't count on Rudy yapping, did you? Get measured for a jumpsuit.

Josh Marshall lets us know how it works in the Cohen/Trump case:
So now we have Giuliani confirming that this is exactly how Trump and Cohen operated. Hush money to Stormy Daniels is one thing and certainly raises potential serious campaign finance violations, but she is not a public official. What I find most significant about Rudy’s admission is what it says about the nature of the relationship between Trump and Cohen and how it suggests an M.O. for other more serious crimes.
Trump is a major real estate developer in NY who has openly bragged about his ability to cut through red tape and get politicians in his pocket. We now have serious SDNY public corruption prosecutors and FBI agents in possession of a massive amount of electronic data from his bagman. They likely already have all of his financial records as well. And Rudy has now given them the roadmap for how Trump may have laundered bribes through Cohen as purported legal fees or retainer payments. Every invoice Cohen has ever issued to Trump is suspect. Every corrupt payment Cohen has ever made or facilitated to building inspectors, councilmen, pornstars, or whomever can potentially be tied back to Trump. In addition, I suspect Trump and his kids had a false sense of comfort that their communications with Cohen would be privileged. I am convinced this is why Trump and his family are freaking out about the Cohen raid and the possibility he could flip. The SDNY is sitting on the mother lode of evidence and Rudy has given them the connection between purported legal fees and payments by Cohen to third parties.
Yep, sounds like a bagman to me. Also, if Cohen received payments from Trump, plus an extra taste, plus money for taxes (as Rudy makes out), and then he didn't declare the transactions in his 2017 taxes, someone is screwed. Did Trump declare it? Oh, right, he's delayed his tax filings. Hmm.

Senior Editor at Gets All Classy about Stormy.

Oh man.

 People told me people on the right pimp people on the left to get a rise out of them. Now I see what they mean. But, seriously, dude, get some help.

Sometimes They're Just Past Their Prime. Can the Country Afford it?

There's little question now that Trump's recent addition to his "legal team" (deserves to be in quotes), Rudy Giuliani, made a few gaffes in an outing on Hannity and a morning follow-up on Fox&Friends. Talking Points Memo's Josh Marshall sums it up.

Oh, Rudy, how much did you screw up? Let me count the ways...

Here's Josh:
I think it’s quite possible that it was the President’s legal team’s plan to eventually claim Cohen had in some way been reimbursed for paying $130,000 to Stormy Daniels. But it’s clear to me that Giuliani did not plan to do it this way or do this at all. For starters, it does not put his client in a better legal position. If anything it takes a possible FEC violation by Michael Cohen and creates a false report violation by Donald Trump. It also throws into question whether Cohen was actually performing legal duties at all (nominal attorney fees are now described as loan repayments and not for legal work). Most directly, it makes a number of previous claims by Trump and Cohen into lies.
My best guess is that Guiliani and Trump and other members of the legal team had discussed this story (true or not) as a way to escape a claimed FEC violation. They did so with what appears to have been a fairly limited understanding of campaign finance law. But they thought it was a good idea. Giuliani then meandered his way into floating it during his interview with Sean Hannity. Note how he immediately fixes on the point that this solves the campaign finance problem (even though it appears not to). He’s adamant and cocky about it. He is then caught off guard when Hannity – himself caught off guard and scrambling in response to the initial claim – reminds him that the story is that Trump never knew anything about the Daniels deal at all and did not know where the money was from.
In any case, people often imagine there are plans when there are no plans. Or they think that when there’s an intricate argument it must show a plan and perhaps a good one. The reality is that sometimes you have no good plan because you, in fact, have no good options. You’re stuck. Put more coarsely, sometimes you’re just fucked. What you have are a half dozen brainstorms cooked up by a group of old men in a room used to bending reality to their purposes when something goes wrong. That’s much more difficult on a national stage in front of intense scrutiny. That’s what happened last night. Rudy Giuliani is far, far past his prime, used to the accommodating hothouse world of Fox News cronies and cash and carry deal-making in his law firm gigs. This was as sloppy as it looked and did his client no favors.
It's sad, and that would be it, if it weren't so dangerous to the country. And it's not over.

Wednesday, May 2, 2018

We Already Know How to Solve Most Problems. Why Don't We Do It?

We've already a head start with Social Security (expand it!), Medicare and VA healthcare system (expand it to everyone, who doesn't deserve it?), and the general aspects of unemployment insurance, food stamps, TANF, and child tax credits (expand them all or fold into a guaranteed minimum income equal to a combination of the components). Why don't we? If everyone paid what they could afford, then everyone would be okay, right? Oh, I get it: Conservatives will have none of it.

Danish fathers still don't take enough advantage of paid paternity leave, study says.
But the Danish system beats the hell out of the U.S., where we have none.

It's always confounded me that Americans don't seem to want what's in front of their faces, and that's more of the social programs already proven to work.

But Paul Krugman knows. He's generally on point on most socio-political economic questions. We don't need new ideas:
I’m not saying that politicians shouldn’t be open to new thinking and evidence about policy. But a political party isn’t like Apple, which needs to keep coming up with glitzier products to stay ahead of Android. There are huge problems with U.S. policy on many fronts, but very few of these problems come from lack of good new ideas. They come, instead, from failure to act on what we already know – and, for the most part, have known for a long time.

Let me give two big examples: access to health care and environmental protection.

On health care, we know perfectly well how to provide more or less universal access, because every other advanced country does it.

How can a nation provide universal access to health care? There are actually three ways. You can have direct provision by a government health system, like Britain’s NHS; you can have a single-payer system of government health insurance, like Canada (or Medicare here); or you can use a combination of regulation, mandates, and subsidies to prod the private sector into covering everyone, like Switzerland.

And all three systems work! True, you can have trouble if the funding is inadequate or the rules aren’t effectively enforced, but that’s true of any policy. Universal health care is a solved problem. We don’t need new ideas to achieve that goal here – in fact, we got about halfway there under Obama, and all we need to finish the job is a progressive president and a progressive majority in Congress.

What about protecting the environment? I guess you can make the case that there were important new ideas in the 1980s. Until then, environmental policy consisted almost entirely of top-down regulation. Economists had known for generations that there was a case for exploiting market forces via things like emission taxes or tradable emission permits, but these first made it into the world of political reality with the Bush-era emissions-trading scheme used to control acid rain.
That's exactly right. We know how to do these basic things, and we only need the correct political environment in which to accomplish them and expand upon them.

A commenter on his article puts it all together so very well:
Moving past the two Republican crimes against American humanity of the greatest 'free-market' healthcare rip-off in the world at an obscene 17% of GDP and the Trump-Pruitt Environmental Pollution Agency, let's give full credit to the primary Republican crime against American humanity: the branding, marketing and force-feeding of 'supply-side' economics strychnine to 320 million.

This incredible economic fraud and Big Lie is simply a form of economic torture and sadism, an enshrined misanthropic assault on virtually every building block of this democratic republic that has decimated the election process, destroyed national infrastructure, trashed public education, made a Reverse Robin souffle of the tax code, and pervertedly turned public goods like national defense, prisons, healthcare, and the the environment into private profit centers for vulture capitalists.

Supply-side economics is a Republican fraud.

Demand-side economics is what powers healthy economies; Keynesian economics is what works well, not right-wing cuckoo Robber Baron economics.

Higher worker wages, strong worker unions, high consumer spending and increased government spending leads to business expansion resulting in greater employment opportunities.

Higher wages and higher levels of employment create a multiplier effect that further stimulates aggregate demand leading to greater economic growth.

Bring back Keynesian economics.
And dump Republican Reverse Robin Hood national-train-robbery economics.
About right.