Monday, July 16, 2018

Mr. Trump is Not Authorized to Speak For the Trump Administration, part 42

Art by Jim Cooke via the late lamented Gawker, March 2016, from a lovely and prophetic Ashley Feinberg piece.

Kenneth Adelman, of all people, Ronald Reagan's UN ambassador and lead arms control negotiator and, as I just learned, author of Shakespeare in Charge: The Bard's Guide to Leading and Succeeding on the Business Stage—but also a Republican who managed to denounce the Iraq invasion by 2006 and vote for Obama in 2008—showed up on both NPR and BBC this morning to provide some advance panditry on the Trump-Putin summit or whatever it is.

He said something I thought was kind of interesting: NPR's interviewer, Noel King, was confronting him with the line that the Trump administration had after all been very tough on the Putin regime, sanctioning them in various ways, and Adelman just said no; the US government did that stuff—I guess he meant primarily Secretary Mattis and the Congressional leadership—and he welcomed it, but Trump himself wasn't working in the interests of the US government, but his own, the political interest of satisfying his base. He could have gone further, I think, and said that Trump has worked consistently against the US government on the Russia issue, trying to stop the sanctions or counter them in any way he can, and he could have suggested that Trump works in his financial interests too, funneling taxpayer money into his businesses and continuing to look for opportunities: I'm absolutely convinced he hasn't given up on the idea of that Trump Tower Moscow. What else could he have meant in that bizarre pair of tweets?

He wasn't suggesting the "great city of Moscow" could be presented to the US as some kind of colony, he was suggesting it might be turned over directly to him, and while it was what he calls "joking", even a Trumpian joke has to sit in some view of reality. What else could he have been imagining "giving him Moscow" would entail other than a hotel-and-condo license? You might think he wouldn't dare to say such a thing in public, but I think it wouldn't bother his base at all—they'd congratulate him! What a dealmaker! And when the media complains, you see, he can't follow the ethical arguments; he hasn't got any room in his brain for somebody thinking "Trump is corrupt" (fake news!). The only criticism he can directly imagine in advance is somebody belittling the size of his hands or of one of his deals.

But the point I thought Adelman was hinting at was something I've long thought myself; that Trump isn't, in a sense, even in the government, or at least really doesn't think of himself that way. That explains another strange tweet:

Writers have generally interpreted this as a dig at Obama, which it is, but it's also aimed at right now, at the people in Congress and the defense and intelligence agencies who are doing more or less what Obama would wish them to do, and the Department of Justice pursuing the investigation of the Russian cyberattack on the US election process. Trump may be the president of the United States, but he regards the government as his enemy, like Mao Zedong on the verge of the Great Proletarian Cultural Revolution. He may well be right, in a sense; slavish as his government generally seems, Mao's was even more slavish than that, and yet he worked to destroy it for ten years.

Trump certainly can't command the kind of backing Mao had, but our government isn't very well equipped to withstand him. Let's see if we can't give him a real enemy in November.

Cross-posted at The Rectification of Names.

Specific Chemical Materials

Is David Sanger of the New York Times playing a Michael Gordon/Judith Miller role in building up a case for hostility to Iran? Massive story in which Sanger shares a byline with the Yedioth Ahronoth analyst Ronen Bergman, reporting Israel's raid last January of an Iranian storage facility stealing documents from 2003, which Prime Minister Netanyahu himself reported last April as part of his personal effort to push Emperor Trump into abandoning the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action on Iran's nuclear activities, which paid off a few days later when Trump indeed left. The documents reveal that the Iran nuclear weapons program was more advanced in 2003 than somebody or other thought it was, though it's also clear that Iran totally dismantled it that year, as they claimed.

Why is The Times reporting it now, six months after the raid and three months after the news? Because the Israeli government invited them over for a junket, pumped up with thrilling detail about the bravura of Mossad in the break-in:
TEL AVIV — The Mossad agents moving in on a warehouse in a drab commercial district of Tehran knew exactly how much time they had to disable the alarms, break through two doors, cut through dozens of giant safes and get out of the city with a half-ton of secret materials: six hours and 29 minutes.
The morning shift of Iranian guards would arrive around 7 a.m., a year of surveillance of the warehouse by the Israeli spy agency had revealed, and the agents were under orders to leave before 5 a.m. to have enough time to escape. Once the Iranian custodians arrived, it would be instantly clear that someone had stolen much of the country’s clandestine nuclear archive, documenting years of work on atomic weapons, warhead designs and production plans.
The agents arrived that night, Jan. 31, with torches that burned at least 3,600 degrees, hot enough, as they knew from intelligence collected during the planning of the operation, to cut through the 32 Iranian-made safes. But they left many untouched, going first for the ones containing the black binders, which contained the most critical designs.
Photo credited to Mossad, via New York Times. Actually Mossad didn't take the picture, they merely pulled it out of a safe they cracked.
It was the breathlessness of that "at least 3,600 degrees" that caught me up. Under the picture of a monstrous gray vat of some kind fed by yellow pipes at the Parchin military site, for a second I thought it was the temperature of something that might have been going on in there (it wasn't—the thing was for "neutron experiments", Sanger explains, helpfully noting that "Nuclear explosions start when fast-moving particles known as neutrons split atoms of nuclear fuel in two, producing chain reactions that release more neutrons and enormous bursts of energy").

The answer to the rhetorical question is no, Sanger is no Judith Miller. He knows there's no news in the story—Iran had a very thorough research program from the late 1980s which would likely have led to the production of real nuclear weapons if they hadn't given it up 15 years ago—and makes no effort to hide it, although you have to read all the way down to get a clear picture of how trivial it is. There's even a rare reference to the fact that Israel "has its own undeclared nuclear program", though no clarification that that means an arsenal of between 80 and 400 real bombs.

But I can't help being reminded of my days as a magazine editor in Southeast Asia, where some cosmetics company would round up all us "lifestyle journalists" for an occasion in a hotel function room in which some flack in a lab coat would introduce us to a product that would prevent wrinkling around the eyes—"These are specific chemical materials!"—and maybe a glass of  Champagne afterwards and we'd dutifully write up our little paragraphs on it for our next issues in which the company would run an ad (what the hell, they ran an ad in every issue anyway). If you ask why The Times is running the article, the answer is clear that it's because Israel invited them to. There's nothing corrupt about that! Reporting is acquiring information that somebody wants you to have, after all. But at best there's something profoundly lazy about The Times allowing itself to be used this way, not evidently wondering, and at worse, much worse than that.

Cross-posted at The Rectification of Names.

Sunday, July 15, 2018

Literary Corner: England, My England!

Trump's redecoration of Air Force One, as reported by conservativefighters.com (update: fake, this is a known bad source).

In his interview with the so-called newspaper The Sun (via CNN) the other day, Emperor Trump was musing on how England doesn't seem to be England any more, at least toponymically: "You don't hear the word 'England' as much as you should. I miss the name England. I think England is a beautiful name. And you don't hear it very much anymore. But (the football team at the World Cup is) playing as 'England'. That's very interesting. That's good." Apparently not aware that Scotland, Wales, and Northern Ireland field teams (none of which made it to the Round of 36, like the US, this year) as well. Then, during his exclusive tarmac interview aboard a grounded Air Force One with the hack Piers Morgan for the Daily Mail,
Under the TV are three digital clocks. They permanently display the same three times – Washington DC, local time and time in the next destination [I assume the displays of the local time and next destination are not permanent but change, in fact, as the location and intinerary of the plane change]. To the right of the TV was a brown leather sofa. Two hi-tech phones were behind it.
‘Can I pick one up and call someone?’ I asked, reaching down to phone Lord Sugar and boast about where I was.
‘NO!!!!!’ exclaimed another aide. ‘Do NOT touch those phones… please. Thank you, sir.’
The President’s staff all exude an air of delightfully polite menace. Next to the phones was a black leather bound menu containing that night’s culinary fare [as opposed presumably to the entertainment options and the locations of the emergency exits].
as Trump worked to slide away from revealing that he doesn't have any idea what Britain's industrial products might be, in advance of making a trade agreement with that ancient and distinguished country in which the United States might replace the European Single Market in Britain's economy, he got into toponymy again, but that turned out to be a dangerous subject too:


A Lot of People Don't Know That
by Donald J. Trump
TRUMP:
We would make a great deal
with the United Kingdom
because they have product
that we like.
I mean they have a lot of great product.
They make phenomenal things, you know,
and you have different names—
you can say “England”, you can say “UK”,
you can say “United Kingdom”
so many different—
you know you have, you have so many
different names—Great Britain. I always say:
“Which one do you prefer? Great Britain?"
You understand what I’m saying?
MORGAN:
You know Great Britain and the United Kingdom
aren’t exactly the same thing?
TRUMP:
Right, yeah. You know I know,
but a lot of people don’t know that.
But you have lots of different names.
The fact is you make great product,
you make great things. Even your farm product
is so fantastic.
Note the exquisite job Morgan does of pulling Trump back from suggesting that England and the United Kingdom are the same thing, which Trump in fact believes, and how Trump falls happily into the game: he doesn't even know what Morgan has just saved him from, but he's telling the audience he knows more about it than they do. "A lot of people don't know that." And then it occurs to him that some of the principal products of Britain are probably agricultural in nature—perhaps he noticed some fields, surrounded by hedgerows, as he flew in across the Home Counties—and he gratefully comes to a rhetorical landing.


Cross-posted at The Rectification of Names.

Saturday, July 14, 2018

Nothing is easier than getting an indictment


Trying to imagine how an investigation team that had a bunch of flashy assertions with no evidence managed to compose a couple of paragraphs like these from the indictment (from the money laundering count 10):
59. ...To further avoid creating a centralized paper trail of all of their purchases, the Conspirators purchased infrastructure using hundreds of different email accounts, in some cases using a new account for each purchase. The Conspirators used fictitious names and addresses in order to obscure their identities and their links to Russia and the Russian government. For example, the dcleaks.com domain was registered and paid for using the fictitious name “Carrie Feehan” and an address in New York. In some cases, as part of the payment process, the Conspirators provided vendors with nonsensical addresses such as “usa Denver AZ,”'“gfhgh ghfhgfh fdgfdg WA,” and “1 2 dwd District of Columbia.” 
60. The Conspirators used several dedicated email accounts to track basic bitcoin transaction information and to facilitate bitcoin payments to vendors. One of these dedicated accounts, registered with the username “gfadel47,” received hundreds of bitcoin payment requests from approximately 100 different email accounts. For example, on or about February 1, 2016, the gfadel47 account received the instruction to “[p]lease send exactly 0.026043 bitcoin to” a certain thirty-four character bitcoin address. Shortly thereafter, a transaction matching those exact instructions was added to the Blockchain.
Like this?
AGENT 1: Say guys, I'll bet those conspirators used bitcoin accounts to pay for their nefarious activities!
AGENT 2: How many?
AGENT 1: Oh, hundreds probably. The more they had the harder it would be to tell they were working for GRU, which they probably were. They'd use fictitious names, like dcleaks could be registered to "Carrie Feehan", and nonsensical addresses such as  “usa Denver AZ”, “gfhgh ghfhgfh fdgfdg WA”, and “1 2 dwd District of Columbia”. Just talking off the top of my head.
AGENT 2: Christ I'm high. That's nuts. Let's tell Mueller to put those in the indictment, because any grand jury would think it's real evidence, although you just made it up.
But I'm finding it a lot easier to imagine the investigators, who are cyber investigators and not authors of technofiction, just had every single one of those bitcoin addresses and the whole account records, and showed them all to the grand jury. And maybe Greenwald hasn't had a chance to look at the indictment yet.

That is, the level of detail in this indictment is such that you can't help feeling they know everything about, at least, what was being done by foreign actors, including but not limited to these 12 GRU officers who masqueraded as "Guccifer 2.0" and "dcleaks.com". About Americans, it's not likely they know that much unless they had really credible evidence of criminal activity to take in to the cyber investigation. One of the biggest stories in this whole mess ought to be, in the end, how the safeguards against abuse of American citizens imposed on the NSA after 2006 have really tended to work—the marketing and training materials mostly from before 2006 unearthed by Edward Snowden and endlessly publicized by Glenn Greenwald don't actually make the point Greenwald was trying to make them make. As I was saying almost exactly four years ago, before anybody but a lunatic could have conceived of an actual Trump presidency,
As ever, I think the NSA surveillance is (1) probably unnecessary and would be better dropped, (2) not as harmful to the public as feared, and (3) a very unfortunate distraction from the very serious abuses of the Border Patrol, ICE, FBI, and CIA Ops division, making the dudebros at their keyboards feel like upscale victims while overwhelmingly poor people of color suffer real physical invasions of privacy and unlawful arrest and detention and sometimes torture; and stupidly focusing rage on President Obama, who is (perhaps not very effectively) trying to make things somewhat better.
I was wrong to doubt that the work they could do could be as important as what they've been doing for the past two years.

But finally, the caution issued by Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein regarding the actual hacking and money laundering conspiracies stealing computer files from the Clinton campaign and the Democratic National Committee and delivering them to WikiLeaks
The conspirators corresponded with several Americans during the course of the conspiracy through the internet. There’s no allegation in this indictment that the Americans knew they were corresponding with Russian intelligence officers.... 
and the hacking of state election authorities and personnel in several states which allowed them to obtain complete records for 500,000 voters in one state (I'm guessing Florida)
There’s no allegation in this indictment that any American citizen committed a crime. There’s no allegation that the conspiracy changed the vote count or affected any election result.
don't mean Americans beyond Papadopoulos, Flynn, and Gates aren't going to get cited very soon for their work with the conspiracies, in particular those Americans who began to get involved in the scheme around the time of the Trump Tower meeting of 9 June 2016 or the Republican National Convention in Cleveland in July. Including Paul Manafort, who was at the heart of both of these.

Cross-posted at The Rectification of Names.

Friday, July 13, 2018

GONE AGAIN

Okay, this time I'm taking a real vacation -- I'll be away for a week or so. I'll be back on Sunday, July 22. There will be posts, however, from some of your favorite substitute bloggers, so stop by.

SURELY TRUMP WON'T...! (OF COURSE HE WILL)

In the aftermath of Robert Mueller's indictment of twelve Russians on charges of hacking Democratic servers (as well one state board of elections) and disseminating the stolen information (to a congressional candidate in addition to Wikileaks), I can understand why Chuck Schumer and Nancy Pelosi would raise questions about the president's upcoming confab with Vladimir Putin:
“These indictments are further proof of what everyone but the president seems to understand: President Putin is an adversary who interfered in our elections to help President Trump win,” Schumer said in his statement.

“President Trump should cancel his meeting with Vladimir Putin until Russia takes demonstrable and transparent steps to prove that they won’t interfere in future elections,” Schumer added. “Glad-handing with Vladimir Putin on the heels of these indictments would be an insult to our democracy.”

House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) sent out a statement shortly after, saying that while Trump should still attend the summit, he “must demand and secure a real, concrete and comprehensive agreement that the Russians will cease their ongoing attacks on our democracy.”
I assume they don't expect their advice to be heeded. I assume they know they're just laying down markers.

But what's up with these clowns?



Paid political analysts really believe there's a chance Trump won't meet with Putin? Seriously? Digby's absolutely right -- Trump will hug him the way he hugs U.S. flags, then he'll tell us that he asked Putin very nicely and Putin swore on his mother's grave that it's all fake news. And since no one in Trump's base is going to sit down and read the entire indictment (for Pete's sake, it's 29 pages long!), they'll just believe it's Deep State disinformation invented out of whole cloth. Seriously, pundits: How appalling does Trump's behavior have to be before you realize that appalling is the baseline, not the deviation?

NATIONAL REVIEW'S MONA CHAREN SEES THE THAI CAVE RESCUE AND THINKS ABOUT ... ABORTION

What did you think about when you learned that the boy's soccer team in Thailand had been rescued from the cave? At National Review, Mona Charen reveals that she thought about abortion:
Twelve boys and their adult coach trapped in a dank, oxygen-deprived cave in Thailand riveted the world’s attention for two weeks. Why, people ask at times like this, are we so focused on these individuals when half a million Rohingya refugee children are in danger of starving on the Bangladesh border, or when 400,000 Yemeni children are severely undernourished?

The answer is drama. We saw images of these particular boys crouched in that cave. We learned of the long odds against a successful rescue — their debilitated health after so many days without food and water, the sharp rocks, narrow passages, and nearly complete darkness of the cave, and waters that challenged even experienced divers (as the death of a Thai Navy seal underscored). Some of the boys didn’t even know how to swim, far less scuba dive....

Something similar is happening with regard to the way we see unborn babies. When Roe v. Wade was decided in 1973, ultrasound technology was not in common use. By the end of the 20th century, most pregnant women were having at least one scan.

... try telling the besotted parents who glimpse a smile on a sonogram that it means nothing. That’s the way we’re wired. Ultrasound is like those cameras in the cave. It reveals the humanity of those inside a dark, inaccessible place.
Yes, Mona, and yet despite all those ultrasounds these days, Americans still support abortion rights. Gallup tells us this:
As the U.S. Senate prepares to hold confirmation hearings for Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh, the public is strongly opposed to any attempts to overturn Roe v. Wade, the landmark 1973 ruling that made abortion legal nationwide. Currently, 64% of Americans believe Roe v. Wade should stand, while 28% would like to see it overturned.
Oh, but National Review's Michael New assures us that Americans don't really support Roe -- pay no attention to what they actually tell pollsters:
One key talking point among many abortion-rights groups is that Roe is a decision that enjoys broad public support and should be considered settled. Indeed, a flurry of polls released in recent days by NBC News/Survey Monkey, Kaiser Family Foundation, and Quinnipiac University all purportedly find that over 60 percent of respondents support Roe v. Wade.

These polls are all misleading for several reasons. First, a significant number of Americans are unfamiliar with the Roe v. Wade decision. A Pew Research Center poll taken in 2013 found that only 62 percent of respondents were aware that Roe v. Wade dealt with abortion. Seventeen percent thought Roe v. Wade dealt with some other public-policy issue and 20 percent were unfamiliar with the decision.
Except that the polls cited by New specifically refer to Roe as an abortion decision. NBC:
Thinking about the U.S. Supreme Court, do you want the next justice to be someone who will vote to uphold Roe vs. Wade, the decision that legalized abortion, or vote to overturn Roe vs. Wade?
Kaiser:
As you may know, the 1973 Supreme Court Case Roe v. Wade established a woman constitutional right to have an abortion. Would you like to see the Supreme Court overturn its Roe v. Wade decision, or not?
Quinnipiac:
In general, do you agree or disagree with the 1973 Roe v. Wade Supreme Court decision that established a woman's right to an abortion?
And the Gallup poll I quoted above:
Would you like to see the Supreme Court overturn its 1973 Roe v. Wade decision concerning abortion, or not?
But that doesn't matter, New insists, because this is all about nuance.
... it should come as no surprise that since 1973 supporters of legal abortion have tried to make a concerted effort to convince the Supreme Court that Roe v. Wade enjoys very broad public support. However, a closer look at the survey data indicates that is not the case. Incremental pro-life laws, such as limits on late-term abortions, have always been broadly supported.
But if Roe is overturned, it won't be overturned so that states can pass "incremental pro-life laws." It will be overturned so that they can ban abortion outright. (They're already passing what New would consider "incremental" laws, laws that make abortion all but illegal in many states, sometimes with pushback from the courts, sometimes not.)

Oh, but we've been assured that Brett Kavanaugh won't be the fifth vote to overturn Roe anyway -- Charen and New's National Review colleague Andrew McCarthy swears he won't. Yet, oddly, it keeps coming up, as if these folks know something they're not telling us.

Thursday, July 12, 2018

YOU CAN GO LOW OR GO HIGH, BUT WHEN YOU CAN, GO RIGHTEOUS

If you haven't seen this, from today's House hearing, just sit back and enjoy.



More:
The embattled F.B.I. agent who oversaw the opening of the Russia investigation mounted an aggressive personal defense on Thursday, rejecting accusations that he let his private political views bias his official actions....

“Let me be clear, unequivocally and under oath: not once in my 26 years of defending my nation did my personal opinions impact any official action I took,” the agent, Peter Strzok, was to tell House lawmakers investigating what they say is evidence of rampant bias at the top levels of the F.B.I.

In his first public comments, he concluded his prepared remarks with a pointed broadside against his antagonizers.

“I understand we are living in a political era in which insults and insinuation often drown out honesty and integrity,” Mr. Strzok planned to say, continuing: “I have the utmost respect for Congress’s oversight role, but I truly believe that today’s hearing is just another victory notch in Putin’s belt and another milestone in our enemies’ campaign to tear America apart.”
We've heard a lot in recent weeks about whether it's appropriate for opponents of President Trump (and the party that enables him) to maintain "civility." Should we refrain from confronting presidential aides in restaurants? Should we avoid saying "Fuck Trump"?

Also, a few months ago, longtime Hillary Clinton adviser Philippe Reines told us that candidates who want to beat Trump in 2020 should be prepared to go as low as he does. Some of Reines's advice:
● Go high when you can. But when he goes low, take advantage of the kneeling to knock his block off.

● Don’t apologize. Ever. Not over money you took from Harvey Weinstein. Not even for attacking the pope. In fact, proactively attack the pope. Your kid is a shoplifter? You’re proud of them for exposing inadequate security....

● Don’t hire anyone who says they’d rather lose than stoop to his level. If you say it, get out of the way for someone living in the real world.
That's the dichotomy in the minds of most liberals and leftists: politeness vs. insolence. Keep it civil or get down in the gutter. Whichever you think is the most appropriate course of action, you probably think those are the only two choices.

But sometimes there's a third choice: righteous indignation. That's what Strzok delivered today. When you respond to Republicans this way, you're in their faces, but you're not challenging order and propriety, you're making a serious claim to represent those things. You're saying that you stand for civility and your adversaries don't.

Not everyone has a status in life that allows for this option. Strzok is a career FBI agent. That gives him an opening. But the point is that he took it. He was unashamed and unbowed.

Opponents of Trump and the Republicans should keep this approach in mind. To be forceful, you don't always have to be uncivil. You can also, in civil but forceful language, accuse the other side of being a threat to civilization.

THE ART OF SELF-AGGRANDIZEMENT

As I type this, Mara Liasson is on NPR saying that President Trump's impromptu news conference in Brussels this morning is the president finally "taking yes for an answer." In Brussels he'd suggested that he might pull out of NATO, but now he was saying positive things about NATO. Trump is claiming credit for a defense spending increase that NATO had already agreed to before he was elected (although it might now take place slightly faster than planned).

This is really the Art of the Deal -- Trump makes a lot of very hostile noises, violating all the normal rules of decorum, and then gets ... more or less what anyone else could have gotten using more conventional dealmaking techniques. But it appears as if his tantrum made all the difference. What he wants is for his observers to believe that no one can shake things up and make things happen the way he can.

The early saber-rattling in response to Kim Jong-un's provocations worked more or less the same way. Trump said hostile things, then decided he liked Kim when a summit was proposed. Trump has gotten nothing out of the deal that benefits America or the world, but he got what he wanted personally, which is the sense that he got in Kim's face and is now on the verge of a denuclearization breakthrough as a result (even though he obviously isn't).

It's all for domestic consumption. It's all an effort to win the adulation of his base. (The same is true for Trump in Brussels right now. Notice that his news conference today took place just as Americans were waking up and turning on Fox and Friends or Good Morning America or Morning Joe.)

Kim, at least, got something out of Trump's histrionics -- he now has a legitimacy he didn't have before. By contrast, the other NATO nations this week were just Trump's foils. They were Margaret Dumont, while Trump was a humorless Groucho Marx riding roughshod over them. No one tried to parry him or say he was acting like a brat.

And it's all an act, as a Washington Post story posted yesterday made clear:
Behind closed doors, Trump was cordial and even magnanimous at times with his European counterparts, according to officials who interacted with him. And at dinner, where the leaders mingled as an acrobatic dancer performed, floating in the air, Trump said it was “a very good day at NATO.”

Publicly, however, Trump bristled and bickered, interrupted and impeded — making clear to the world he is impatient and annoyed with an alliance that he says takes advantage of the United States.

“Everything in the room was fine,” Dalia Grybauskaite, the president of Lithuania, said in an interview. But outside the room, she said, Trump was less productive, with his “outspoken rhetoric.”

During a closed-door working session of all the leaders, Trump was relatively reserved, according to attendees. He repeated the same arguments he made earlier in public that NATO member states needed to up their defense spending and that Germany is too dependent on Russia for natural gas. But he also stressed the common security threats all NATO allies face, according to a senior diplomat who was in the meeting.

“This is Trump’s strategy,” said the diplomat, who spoke on the condition of anonymity to candidly recount the private meeting. “He raises the stakes, then he calms things down.”
Right, and it has one aim: to make Trump appear dominant. The Europeans have no counter-strategy, any more than Trump's 2016 primary challengers did. He made them squirm, and he did the same to the Europeans in Brussels. You can't let him get away with that.

Wednesday, July 11, 2018

TRUMP ISN'T FIRING MUELLER, KELLY, OR NATO -- WHY?

President Trump is doing a tremendous amount of damage to U.S. alliances, but as New York magazine's Heather Hurlburt notes, he's not doing as much damage as he could:
... NATO was still able to put out a unanimous communique calling on Russia to demonstrate “compliance with international law and its international obligations and responsibilities.” And it started a training program for post-ISIS Iraq. So, no, Trump didn’t destroy the Atlantic Alliance at the summit. He is not going to come home and attempt to withdraw from the treaty that commits the U.S. to the defense of its European allies, and vice versa. With all due respect to pre-trip headlines, that was never the plan.

Let’s look at the pattern here: Trump announced that the U.S. was withdrawing from the Paris climate accord — but that doesn’t take effect until 2020. He said he would pull out of NAFTA — and we’re still waiting on that one. He described the Group of Seven major industrial powers as useless without Russia — and yet he is still happy to show up at the summit and throw Starbursts at Merkel. He threatened to quit the World Trade Organization — but really he’s just complaining other countries don’t live by its rules.
Hurlburt's theory is that Trump doesn't want to risk open opposition from Republicans in Congress:
The two pacts he has bothered to walk away from are the Trans-Pacific Partnership trade deal and the seven-party “Iran deal” formerly blocking Tehran’s progress toward a nuclear weapon. What did those two agreements have in common? They were brand-spanking-new Obama projects, not ensconced in years of policy-making tradition. His base was already against them, and both deals could be voided without doing much of anything, or asking congressional Republicans to do much of anything.

Trump is not going to do his opponents within the GOP the favor of giving them an issue on which they have a fighting chance to prevail.
This is the same argument often made for why Trump hasn't given us a full-blown Saturday Night Massacre -- Republicans in Congress have accommodated Trump's every whim until now, but if he fires Bob Mueller they're really gonna get mad!

I don't know what congressional Republicans would do if Trump tried to withdraw from NATO (though I'm quite certain they'd let him can Mueller) -- but in both cases, Trump may believe he's at risk.

In the foreign policy realm, Trump's handler, Vladimir Putin, might be encouraging him to destroy the West in a stepwise manner -- go this far for now, but no further.

Or maybe, in both foreign and domestic affairs, Trump would rather fight than win. When he holds his regular campaign rallies, he clearly delights in having enemies who still seem powerful -- Mueller, NATO, the G-7. He likes telling the crowds that he's thriving even though he's under siege. They eat that up.

Or maybe he can't bring himself to fire NATO any more than he can bring himself to fire John Kelly. (A source recently told Vanity Fair's Gabriel Sherman that Trump wants Kelly gone but is "too chickenshit" to fire him.)

It's widely known that Trump likes bullying people but doesn't like firing them. Is that what he's doing to NATO?

ONE REASON JIM JORDAN ISN'T MARK FOLEY IS THAT IT'S THE TRUMP ERA NOW

Josh Marshall is watching the Jim Jordan story unfold, and his thoughts go back to 2006:
Something is brewing on Capitol Hill that has an eerie resemblance to another set of events that happened just about 12 years ago as Washington hurtled toward the 2006 midterm election. In September 2006, ABC News first reported that Congressman Mark Foley (R-FL) had exchanged sexually explicit text messages with underage male congressional pages. Later it was reported that after turning 18 at least two pages had had sexual encounters with Foley. Foley resigned from Congress....

At the time, Foley’s scandal did not affect him alone. Despite initial denials, multiple members of the House GOP leadership knew at least some details of the scandal in 2005 and possibly as early as 2003 but apparently took no action.
In 2018, Republicans in Congress seem united in their support for Jordan, who hasn't been accused of inappropriate behavior himself but who, according to the multiple witnesses, turned a blind eye to sexual abuse on the part of Richard Strauss, the wrestling team doctor at Ohio State, where Jordan was a coach.

Marshall writes:
It seems quite possible that Jordan could have weathered the storm and put the story behind him if on the first reports he would have said some version of this: “I did hear stories about Dr. Strauss and I didn’t take them as seriously as I should. I was much younger. But I failed those kids and I deeply regret it.” ...

But that ship has sailed. Jordan has repeatedly and emphatically denied everything. He’s called all the accusers liars, even as it becomes more and more obvious that Jordan is lying....

Now his colleagues ... have bought into his deception and made it their own....

It will only get worse. The investigations will continue. More information will emerge. Jordan’s lies will become more preposterous. And all of his colleagues, having knowingly vouched for his lies, will be along with him for the ride. Though the specific facts are different, it all bears a striking similarity to the events of 12 years ago: power so seemingly unchallengeable that it fears no backlash and no consequences.
But Jordan won't have to resign the way Foley did, as long as no one credibly testifies that he participated in the abuse. This is not 2006. This is the Trump era.

Rank-and-file right-wingers have long been suspicious of the "liberal media," but in the Trump era every negative story about a conservative is believed to be a fabrication and part of a sinister plot by powerful forces. It wasn't just a a lone backer who blamed the story on the "deep state":
“Jim Jordan goes against the powerful interests at the FBI & deep state to expose them & hold them accountable for their crimes,” tweeted Mike Tokes, a founder of The New Right, a conservative political organization. “Now all of a sudden there is a concentrated smear campaign against him in a deliberate attempt to discredit his work? The American people know better.”
It was also Rush Limbaugh. Here's what Limbaugh said on the radio last Friday. The transcript is posted on Limbaugh's site under the headline "With Paul Manafort in Solitary, Deep State Targets Jim Jordan."
The latest is an attack on Jim Jordan, who is a Congressman of Ohio. The timing of this really… He used to be the wrestling coach at Ohio State — I’m sorry, The Ohio State University — and a couple of ne’er-do-wells from that way, way back, a long time ago… All of a sudden — after Jordan had the knock-down-drag-out with Rod Rosenstein and after Jordan’s reputed to be in the running for the speaker of the House position — guess who’s running the investigation into Jordan?

Perkins Coie.

Does that law firm name ring a bell? They’re the outfit that ran the Steele dossier. Perkins Coie was the cutout law firm that the Clinton campaign used to funnel money to Steele to write that phony dossier. Perkins Coie, Fusion GPS. So Perkins Coie is now conducting an investigation of Jim Jordan.
And also The American Spectator ("The Deep State Finds Its Next Target") and Gateway Pundit ("Deep State Targets Conservative Favorite Jim Jordan With Vicious Smear Campaign After Announcing Speakership Plans") and these folks:
Something about the accusation does not add up, says radio talk show host Sandy Rios, who has defended Jordan on her American Family Radio morning show.

"They don't accuse the head coach. They accuse Jim Jordan, the assistant coach," she cautions. "And the accusation is not that he knew, it's that he must have known."

The accusations against Jordan are revealing the "Deep State's" power, and its fears, on Capitol Hill, says Ohio resident Tom Zawistowski, executive director of the Portage County Tea Party.

Jordan remains a long shot to be Speaker of the House, he says, so this attack is aimed at hurting the congressman politically after his dogged pursuit of accountability at the Justice Department and the FBI.

"I think this is more about the investigations that are going on in the House," Zawistowski says. "I think that they were scared by his questions he asked [Rod] Rosenstein and [Christopher] Wray, and I think the Deep State is behind this."
And Jordan himself calls the story "fake news" -- his evidence being that reporters are actually asking people with some knowledge of Jordan to talk about him, which would seem to be the exact opposite of "fake news."



I don't think GOP voters will ever believe the accusers, no matter how many there are and how credible they seem.

Mark Foley didn't have the benefit of a conspiracy theory about the entire non-conservative press that's now universally believed on the right. Also, he was exposed in the sixth year of George W. Bush's presidency. Early in the Bush era, conservative voters might have concluded that any challenge to a Republican should be viewed with suspicion. But by year six, the general public was thoroughly disillusioned. Even some Republicans had given up on the administration. Bush's poll numbers were lower than Trump's are now, and dropping steadily.

That might eventually happen to Trump, but for now he has loyalists. They believe and echo every crazy thing he says. Jordan is very unlikely to lose favor with the GOP base, which thinks that it's categorically impossible for a Trump supporter to do anything wrong.

GUNS IN THE HANDS OF CRIMINALS AND DEMENTIA VICTIMS, BECAUSE FREEDOM

I don't know if Cody Wilson will actually achieve his stated goal of nullifying all gun laws, but, as Wired reports, the U.S. government is letting him take his best shot:
FIVE YEARS AGO, 25-year-old radical libertarian Cody Wilson stood on a remote central Texas gun range and pulled the trigger on the world’s first fully 3-D-printed gun. When, to his relief, his plastic invention fired a .380-caliber bullet into a berm of dirt without jamming or exploding in his hands, he drove back to Austin and uploaded the blueprints for the pistol to his website, Defcad. com.

He'd launched the site months earlier along with an anarchist video manifesto, declaring that gun control would never be the same in an era when anyone can download and print their own firearm with a few clicks....

The law caught up. Less than a week later, Wilson received a letter from the US State Department demanding that he take down his printable-gun blueprints or face prosecution for violating federal export controls. Under an obscure set of US regulations known as the International Trade in Arms Regulations (ITAR), Wilson was accused of exporting weapons without a license, just as if he'd shipped his plastic gun to Mexico rather than put a digital version of it on the internet. He took Defcad. com offline....
But Wilson sued -- and this year, with (perhaps not coincidentally) Donald Trump as president, the feds backed down and reached a settlement with him. Defcad. com is up and running again.
Now Wilson is making up for lost time. Later this month, he and the nonprofit he founded, Defense Distributed, are relaunching their website Defcad. com as a repository of firearm blueprints they've been privately creating and collecting, from the original one-shot 3-D-printable pistol he fired in 2013 to AR-15 frames and more exotic DIY semi-automatic weapons. The relaunched site will be open to user contributions, too; Wilson hopes it will soon serve as a searchable, user-generated database of practically any firearm imaginable.
Hey, what could go wrong?
The culture of homemade, unregulated guns it fosters could make firearms available to even those people who practically every American agrees shouldn’t possess them: felons, minors, and the mentally ill. The result could be more cases like that of John Zawahiri, an emotionally disturbed 25-year-old who went on a shooting spree in Santa Monica, California, with a homemade AR-15 in 2015, killing five people, or Kevin Neal, a Northern California man who killed five people with AR-15-style rifles—some of which were homemade—last November.
But what's more important to our dudebro hero is that every day he's a step closer to his ultimate goal.
I look down and find a granite tombstone with the words AMERICAN GUN CONTROL engraved on it. Wilson explains he has a plan to embed it in the dirt under a tree outside when he gets around to it. "It's maybe a little on the nose, but I think you get where I’m going with it," he says.

****

That's the future, because freedom. Meanwhile, USA Today reports that gun owners of the past are holding on to their guns long after they're able to make sound judgments about using them:
A four-month Kaiser Health News investigation uncovered dozens of cases across the USA in which people with dementia used guns to kill or injure themselves or others.

From news reports, court records, hospital data and public death records, KHN found 15 homicides and more than 60 suicides since 2012, although there are probably many more. The shooters often acted during bouts of confusion, paranoia, delusion or aggression –common symptoms of dementia. They killed people closest to them – their caretaker, wife, son or daughter. They shot at people they happened to encounter – a mailman, a police officer, a train conductor. At least four men with dementia who brandished guns were fatally shot by police. In cases where charges were brought, many assailants were deemed incompetent to stand trial.
The stories are terrible:
With a bullet in her gut, her voice choked with pain, Dee Hill pleaded with the 911 dispatcher for help.

“My husband accidentally shot me,” Hill, 75, of The Dalles, Oregon, groaned during the call May 16, 2015. “In the stomach, and he can’t talk, please …”

Less than 4 feet away, Hill’s husband, Darrell, a former police chief and two-term county sheriff, sat in his wheelchair with a discharged Glock handgun on the table in front of him, unaware that he’d nearly killed his wife of almost 57 years.

The 76-year-old lawman had been diagnosed two years earlier with a form of rapidly progressive dementia, a disease that quickly stripped him of reasoning and memory.

“He didn’t understand,” said Dee, who needed 30 pints of blood, three surgeries and seven weeks in the hospital to survive her injuries.
But it's America, and guns are sacred.
Dee Hill had ignored her husband’s demands and sold Darrell’s car when it became too dangerous for him to drive. Guns were another matter.

“He was just almost obsessive about seeing his guns,” Dee said. He worried that the weapons were dirty, that they weren’t being maintained. Though she’d locked them in a vault in the carport, she relented after Darrell asked repeatedly to check on the guns he’d carried every day of his nearly 50-year law enforcement career.

She intended to briefly show him two of his six firearms, the Glock handgun and a Smith & Wesson .357 Magnum revolver. After he saw the weapons, Darrell accidentally knocked the empty pouch that had held the revolver to the floor. When Dee bent to pick it up, he somehow grabbed the Glock and fired.

“My concern [had been] that someone was going to get hurt,” she said. “I didn’t in my wildest dreams think it was going to be me.”
And gun absolutists, echoing Cody Wilson, imply that there can be no restrictions whatsoever on firearm ownership.
Arthur Przebinda, who represents the group Doctors for Responsible Gun Ownership, said researchers raising the issue want to curtail gun rights guaranteed by the U.S. Constitution, and are “seeking ways to disarm as many people as possible.” ...

Critics of gun restrictions such as Przebinda argued that the essential difference between driving and guns is that one is a privilege and the other is a protected constitutional right.

“The two are not the same,” he said. “You do not have a right to conveyance. You have a right to self-defense, you have a right to protecting your home and your family that’s intrinsic to you as a human being.”

He balked at any formal assessment of firearm use among people with dementia, saying it could lead to “a totalitarian system that decides when you can have rights and when you cannot.”
This is America, where
Only five states have laws allowing families to petition a court to temporarily seize weapons from people who exhibit dangerous behavior.
The American gun-rights regime is like capitalism: We believe we have to defer to it. We forget that it exists to serve us. Not even the right-leaning Supreme Court has argued that gun rights are absolute (though that may change with a court system fully remade by Donald Trump and Leonard Leo). For now, we're behaving as if the right to own a gun irresponsibly is sacrosanct.

Tuesday, July 10, 2018

IS THE RIGHT-WING DISAPPOINTMENT WITH KAVANAUGH REAL OR FAKE?

Some people on the right seem let down by President Trump's Supreme Court pick. Fox's Judge Nap, for instance:
Fox News senior judicial analyst Andrew Napolitano said Tuesday he was "disappointed" in President Trump nominating Brett Kavanaugh to the Supreme Court, calling the 53-year-old federal appeals court judge "the heart and soul of the D.C. establishment.” ...

"I’m disappointed in the president because this is not the type of person that he said he would pick. Justice [Neil] Gorsuch was," Napolitano, a former judge, said on "Fox & Friends" when asked by co-host Pete Hesgeth if Kavanaugh was a so-called "swamp pick."

"This person is at the heart and soul of the D.C. establishment against whom the president railed," he added.
And Tony Perkins, speaking on Fox:
Family Research Council President Tony Perkins was critical of President Trump's nomination of Brett Kavanaugh to the Supreme Court, calling the pick "safe." ...

"I'm actually a little surprised," Perkins said on "Fox News @ Night." "I thought the president would want a bigger fight."

Trump and his administration have done a great job of choosing people who abide by the Constitution, Perkins said, but added that he hoped Trump would "go a little stronger" with a choice like Amy Coney Barrett.
Rick Santorum is deeply disappointed:
Former Pennsylvania Sen. Rick Santorum, a social conservative and strong pro-life advocate, expressed a similar sentiment on CNN after Trump's announcement Monday night, arguing that Trump has not energized his base with the selection.

"He is from Washington. He is the establishment pick. He is the Bush pick," Santorum told host Chris Cuomo, adding he does not see the nomination as a "game changer."

"It just seems like Trump, in this case, just bowed to the elite in Washington, and I think that's going to rub a lot of people the wrong way."
As is this guy:
Conservative legal strategist Matthew Laroisere on Tuesday referred to President Trump's Supreme Court nominee, Brett Kavanaugh, as "milquetoast."

“We’re hearing a lot of talk, a lot of saber rattling saying this is an extremely conservative pick that is the second most conservative judge on the bench. It’s actually not true. The guy’s pretty milquetoast. He’s pretty average in terms of a conservative judge,” Laroisere, who is a legal associate at the Cato Institute, told Hill.TV's Buck Sexton and Krystal Ball on “Rising.”
Is this disgust real or fake? Maybe it's the latter:



Are they trying to fool us into believing that they see him as less than ideal so we won't fight him very hard? Maybe. But I think they have a taste for blood, and they were hoping for more.

Donald Trump's aggressive campaign against all governing norms -- and Mitch McConnell's as well -- have led right-wingers to believe that every confrontation can lead to the maximum amount of liberal ownage. Here was a golden opportunity to inflict maximum pain on the libs, and Trump went for ... only a moderate amount of pain. It's not fair!

They're going to get everything they want from Kavanaugh -- but they wanted it to feel like a beatdown right now. So disappointing.

IF ROE IS KILLED WITHOUT BEING OVERTURNED, WON'T THE RELIGIOUS RIGHT STILL WANT IT FINISHED OFF?

Scott Lemieux thinks the Supreme Court will effectively kill Roe v. Wade, but possibly not overturn it, at least at first.
It is true, as far as it goes, that Chief Justice John Roberts’ court is unlikely to overturn the Roe v. Wade ruling before the 2020 elections. But the Supreme Court can nonetheless allow states to effectively ban abortion without explicitly overruling Roe. Many states have already successfully experimented with regulations that target abortion clinics, making it difficult or impossible from them to operate. Six states have only one remaining abortion clinic in part because of the oppressive regulatory framework.

In its 2016 decision in Whole Woman’s Health, the Supreme Court struck down a particularly harsh Texas law that would have required a majority of the state’s abortion clinics to close although there was no reason to believe that any of them were unsafe. It is virtually certain that the post-Kennedy court would have upheld the same law or even a more draconian version. And whether the opinion makes it explicit or not, this would be the de facto end of Roe v. Wade....

The slow strangling of Roe v. Wade could be a win-win for Republicans: a woman’s right to obtain an abortion essentially eliminated in many states, while Roe theoretically remains good law.
Slate's Mark Joseph Stern imagines a similar scenario:
And that is how the Supreme Court will, in all probability, kill off Roe. A conservative state will pass a draconian anti-abortion restriction—one that shutters all abortion clinics, perhaps, or outlaws abortion after a fetal “heartbeat” is detected. With Kavanaugh providing the decisive fifth vote, the court will rule that the state law does not pose an “undue burden” to abortion access; after all, the government has an interest in “favoring fetal life,” and women who truly want an abortion can go to another state. The majority may not admit what it is doing. But in practice, it will be overturning Roe.

[Brett] Kavanaugh is the ideal candidate to cast that fifth vote and even write the opinion. He has already proved that he can pretend to adhere to Roe while hollowing out its core holding.
The religious right will cheer this decision, but abortion will still be legal in solidly blue states. Will the fundamentalists declare victory and go home? I don't see it. They'll redirect their energy toward the states, especially swing states in the Rust Belt where power regularly shifts from Democrats to Republicans and back again. In Michigan, Wisconsin, Pennsylvania, and Ohio, abortion might be legal for four or eight years at a time and then illegal in subsequent administrations. Abortion might be the #1 issue in state campaigns for years to come.

But meanwhile, the religious right will continue to pursue a nationwide ban on abortion. Will the Republican Party want to fight for that, especially if the effective end of Roe has enraged not just liberals voters but many moderates?

I don't think the GOP will be able to jettison the anti-abortion absolutists -- Donald Trump needed them in order to win, and that will be true for future Republicans. But by then it will obvious what it means to ally with these people -- abortion effectively illegal in nearly half the states and under threat everywhere else. Is that when being anti-abortion will finally become a national liability for the GOP? Or will it be like the GOP stance on guns -- it leads to an outcome much of America hates, but it's not enough to inspire revulsion against the party?

CALL THE RIGHT-WING LEGAL ESTABLISHMENT WHAT IT IS: A POLITICAL MACHINE

In The New York Times, Peter Baker writes this about the right-wing legal army that gave us Brett Kavanaugh:
Since the 1980s, a network of activists and organizations has worked assiduously to reach this point, determined to avoid the disappointment they felt after Republican appointees like Earl Warren, William J. Brennan Jr., David H. Souter, Sandra Day O’Connor and Justice Kennedy proved more moderate or liberal once they joined the court.

... groups like the Federalist Society, the Heritage Foundation, the Judicial Crisis Network, the Judicial Action Group and [the] Committee for Justice have for years sought to develop a new generation of younger legal conservatives who would go into government and fill out lower levels of the judiciary.

... “You’re simply not going to get Souters anymore because no one will come up who nobody’s interacted with,” said Steven Teles, a professor at Johns Hopkins University and the author of “The Rise of the Conservative Legal Movement: The Battle for Control of the Law.”
No one will come up who nobody’s interacted with. That reminds me of a famous anecdote from Abner Mikva, a legislator and judge from Chicago who was a mentor to Barack Obama:
[Mikva's] first taste of Chicago politics, as he recounted in a taped oral history of the city, came when he walked into the headquarters of the Eighth Ward Regular Democratic Organization to volunteer:

“Who sent you?” the committeeman asked.

“Nobody,” he replied.

“Well,” the committeeman said, “We don’t want nobody nobody sent.”
That was what the right-wing legal establishment said to Donald Trump when he was running for president, and Trump has done as he was told: When it comes to judges, we don't want nobody nobody sent. We do the sending.

The Federalist Society is a political machine. Nobody calls it that because we think of political machines as local and Democratic, operations run by men who are "elites" (they're "bosses") even though they're crude. The right-wing bosses aren't crude -- they're extremely civil -- and they're nationwide, and also unswervingly Republican. But it's still machine politics.

Bob Casey gets it:
The idea that Mr. Trump would pick from a list developed by conservatives has inflamed some Democrats, including Senator Bob Casey of Pennsylvania, who declared that he would vote against Mr. Trump’s nominee even before the choice was announced Monday night.

“Any judge on this list is fruit of a corrupt process straight from the D.C. swamp,” Mr. Casey said in a statement.
Exactly. No machine judges. Drain the swamp.