Wednesday, May 31, 2017


Here's something Rush Limbaugh said on his show yesterday:
I don’t understand how people don’t get that it’s not just the Democrats in Washington that are roadblocking Trump....

Mitch McConnell says he can’t see a way to getting 50 votes for the House Obamacare repeal bill? Now, stop and think here, folks....

I saw a Wall Street Journal story about how the Republicans in the House, they just can’t! It’s just impossible. They’re pulling their hair out. They don’t know what to do. They just can’t find a way to cut any taxes. Because every time they cut a tax over here, they have to find a way to make the money up over there, and they just can’t. They’re looking at all these various tax cuts proposals and they said, “I — I — I don’t know how we’re gonna pay for all this.”

So the Republican Party, which is ostensibly the party of the president — and they owe their majority to him, particularly the Senate — are roadblocking Donald Trump more than the Democrats are, because the Democrats cannot. The Democrats don’t have the votes in the House to stop Trump. The Democrats don’t have the votes in the Senate to stop Trump, although there is the 60-vote cloture requirement. It’s not the Democrats standing up and saying, “We are not gonna help. We’re gonna stand in the way of any foolish tax cut you propose.”

It’s the Republicans standing up and saying, “I just don’t see how we’re — there’s no room here. I don’t know how we’re gonna lower rates when you have this exemption over here and you have this exemption there.” And I just read this stuff and I shake my head. They don’t want to cut taxes. Either they don’t want to cut taxes institutionally, they don’t want to cut taxes economically, or they just don’t want to do the heavy lifting. I don’t know what it is. My guess is they don’t want to help Trump....

They just don’t see how they can do it. It’s incredible. It really is incredible. Because, of course, there’s a way. They just don’t want to do it. I think it’s all establishment, all the time anti-Trump, throw the media in there as well.
I'm delighted that Limbaugh is saying this. I hope he says something like this every day from now until November 2018.

If Democrats regain control of the House, greater Democratic turnout probably won't be the only reason. It will require depressed Republican turnout as well -- and Limbaugh is doing a bang-up job of depressing the party's voters right now.

Limbaugh still praises Trump:
But even in the middle of this I can tell you almost assuredly that Trump is not off his game. He’s not despondent. He’s not sitting there worried about why all these people hate him. He’s not worried about all that. He’s just head down and moving ahead full speed as he can, not reacting or responding to all this stuff in the media, except when he tweets.
We'll deal with 2020 when it arrives, but for 2018, the notion that the president is a bold and capable change agent who's being impeded by establishment hacks in his own party's congressional delegation is a great Republican media message -- for the Democrats. Keep it up, Rush. And Republicans, please just keep failing to enact your agenda. We appreciate it.


Least surprising news of the year:
President Trump has made his decision to withdraw from the Paris climate accord, according to two sources with direct knowledge of the decision. Details on how the withdrawal will be executed are being worked out by a small team including EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt. They're deciding on whether to initiate a full, formal withdrawal — which could take 3 years — or exit the underlying United Nations climate change treaty, which would be faster but more extreme.
But ... but ... Ivanka! She's so green! What about her vast influence on her dad? Why didn't she prevail in the end?

Here's a Twitter exchange between Axios's Jonathan Swan, who broke the story of the pullout, and a snarky Democratic strategist:

Well, maybe -- but it makes no difference in the end. In fact, if a New York Times story is accurate, the debate within the White House was already so far to the right that an Ivanka victory would have been all but meaningless:
For a president not steeped in policy intricacies, the decision is vexing. On both sides are voices he profoundly respects: chief executives of some of the world’s largest companies urging him to remain part of the accord and ardent conservatives like Stephen K. Bannon, his chief strategist, and Scott Pruitt, his Environmental Protection Agency administrator, tugging him toward a withdrawal from the 195-country agreement.

Exxon Mobil’s chief executive, Darren W. Woods, wrote recently that remaining in the agreement would be prudent, part of a nearly united corporate front. Within the administration, Gary D. Cohn, the director of the National Economic Council; the president’s daughter Ivanka Trump; and his secretary of state, Rex W. Tillerson, say the United States can remain a party to the accord even as the administration moves to eviscerate the Obama-era climate policies that would have allowed the United States to meet its pollution-reduction targets under the agreement.
(Emphasis added.)

In other words, the "liberal" position in the Trump White House -- the one favored by Ivanka -- was that the U.S. should remain a party to the accord even as the Trump administration carried out policies that thoroughly undermined it. The Times story makes clear that this was the option favored by Ivanka's husband:
... Jared Kushner, a senior adviser in the White House, also favors staying as long as doing so does not legally limit the steps Mr. Trump is taking to move away from the restrictive environmental standards President Barack Obama put in place.
And yet reporters will still tell you that the president isn't really a Republican, that he has no fixed ideology, and that someday we may wake up and find him turning into Barack Obama or FDR on some issue.

This will never happen. Whatever Trump's politics might have been twenty or thirty years ago, he's a creature of Fox News now. He follows only 45 Twitter accounts, but of those, 10 are Fox-related accounts. He's a conservative Republican. His deviations from conservative Republican orthodoxy are, with very few exceptions, based in paleoconservative white nationalist Republicanism of the Pat Buchanan variety. Maybe he'll toss paid leave into his budget as a sop to his daughter, but on everything else, he'll never govern like a Democrat, and he'll rarely govern even as a Republican moderate. He relishes the Fox/GOP permanent war against the Democratic Party and liberalism. He'll never give that up.

Tuesday, May 30, 2017


National Review's Kevin D. Williamson doesn't think it's fair that we're giving Tiger Woods a hard time for being caught under the influence of four prescription drugs, including Vicodin, while at the wheel of his Mercedes. (Woods apparently drank no alcohol before the incident.) In Williamson's view, it's hard out here for a rich athlete -- especially one past his prime:
Having a life that is focused on the One Big Thing is fine when you are at the apex of your career, when the money just keeps coming in and the magical bubble of fame protects you from all manner of consequence.

But when the One Big Thing is gone, there is a double loss — the thing that defined your life is now in the past, and, at the very moment when your income and public profile both are likely to be heading south, you face the real crisis: You have done something extraordinary, but it is finished, and now you do not know what to do. The lucky ones have great marriages and happy families, faith, community, and friendship to take the place of being in the movies or playing basketball. The ones who don’t have that will try to fill up the great empty hole in the middle of their lives with other things: alcohol, drugs, sexual promiscuity, recklessness in personal and public affairs, including financial ones....

We love a celebrity comeuppance. This is in part an ugly species of envy....
Cut the guy a break! He's not a god anymore and it hurts!

I shouldn't mock Williamson. I think there's a bit of truth to what he says. But I see that when he's writing about people who aren't rich, his message is: Suck it up and come to terms with the breaks life has dealt you, and don't expect much sympathy from society:

Here's Williamson last fall, writing about people who don't have the money or talent of Tiger Woods:
Whoever wins the election on Tuesday, conservatives will be in our customary unhappy position: explaining to people who are unhappy with the state of their lives that there is not really very much that we can do for them, because they are adult human beings with particular responsibilities of their own rather than livestock or pets to be cared for out of self-interest or sentimentality....

A great deal of what happens in your life is going to be determined by factors beyond your immediate control. You have certain natural gifts and talents, and those are not going to change very much no matter what you do. You can develop them, but there are real limits on that development. It isn’t true that anyone can become a concert pianist or a chess grandmaster or a Fortune 500 CEO if only he wants it enough and is willing to put in the work. You do have to want it, and you do have to put in the work, but those are necessary, not sufficient, conditions. If you were going to dance with the Bolshoi or play in the NFL, you’d probably know it by now.

Beyond your own endowments, a great deal of your happiness and advancement in life is going to be influenced in one way or another by the family in which you are raised....

None of that is fair. But most of the unfairness — the vast majority of it — is working in your favor. Modern human beings have existed for about 200,000 years, and you, as a 21st-century American, are a member of a blessed minority....

Poverty of the sort that existed in the United States less than a century ago has been all but extinguished....

I myself recently was criticized as personifying an “unfeeling” conservatism; if by “unfeeling” we mean “unsentimental,” then I do hope so.... This is the way things are. It is not the case that you are on your own — we have families, and communities, and social-welfare programs that ensure you aren’t — but that you are your own, an autonomous individual with responsibility for, and to, himself.
If you're poor and downtrodden, you need a kick in the ass to remind you that you're ultimately responsible for your own well-being. Yes, you'd have a better life if you had extraordinary talent or a strong, supportive family, but if it's obvious that you don't, it's high time you grew up and learned to live with that fact.

But if you used to have extraordinary talent, Williamson is ready to shed tears for you. It's okay if you screw up. You were an ubermensch, and if, sadly, you're not one of "the lucky ones" who "have great marriages and happy families, faith, community, and friendship to take the place of" success, then Williamson's tears will be copious, and he'll set out to shame anyone who criticizes you. Because, yes, Americans need to learn personal responsibility ... just not elite Americans.


There's a lot of this going around. Hot Air's Jazz Shaw, responding to Williamson's piece on Woods, tells us that what Woods did is no big deal:
In the end, what did Tiger Woods really do? Even in the worst case scenario where the original [drunk-driving] suspicions were true, he would have been one more guy who exercised bad judgement and got behind the wheel after drinking too much. Not admirable and potentially a danger to others in his community, but even that would have been a tiny story which impacts almost nobody in the larger scheme of things.
Right, because driving under the influence kills only 28 people a day in America. Nothing to see here. Move along.

And we also have today's David Brooks column about Jared Kushner:
Jared Kushner deserves a bit of sympathy. All his life he’s been serving his father or father-in-law. All his career he’s been thrust into roles he’s not ready for. His background has ill prepared him for national government. Now he is in a realm where his instincts seem to lead him astray and where there’s a chance he will end up in disgrace and possibly under indictment.
I can't top Yastreblyansky's hilarious takedown of this column, so I'll confine myself to Brooks's first paragraph: Kushner deserves sympathy? For being "thrust into roles he’s not ready for"? Who held a gun to his head and forced him to join his father-in-law's administration? Eric and Donald Jr. didn't. Tiffany didn't. Melania doesn't even live in the White House.

Jared Kushner owes Trump nothing. He wasn't "thrust into" this situation -- he freely chose it. I'd have no sympathy for him even if he weren't a stone-hearted skinflint landlord and, in all likelihood, a guy who sought to sell out his country for money -- the latter not because his "instincts seemed to lead him astray" but because he as an adult with free will apparently chose to engage in illegal behavior. But I forgot -- we're not supposed to hold rich people accountable for their actions.


Hi, I'm back. Great work again from Yastreblyansky and the New York Crank -- thank you again.

I come back to this story from The Washington Post
In Trump’s White House, aides serve a president who demands absolute loyalty — but who doesn’t always offer it in return. Trump prefers a management style in which even compliments can come laced with a bite, and where enduring snubs and belittling jokes, even in public, is part of the job.
The lead example is Trump's decision to omit Sean Spicer from the group that met with Pope Francis, even though Spicer is a devout Catholic who "was giddy at the thought of meeting" the pontiff. (News reports said that Spicer's presence would have violated Trump's "family-first rule," but "family" in this case included the likes of Keith Schiller, the former Trump bodyguard who delivered the letter firing James Comey to FBI headquarters, and who has become a trusted Trump consigliere. He's not family, at least in the literal sense of the word.)

More on Trump's snubs and slights:
Trump sometimes refers to his 45-year-old chief of staff, Reince Priebus, as “Reince-y,” a diminutive nickname that some aides and outside rivals recount with gleeful relish.

... During an Oval Office meeting about trouble spots abroad, a relatively junior foreign policy staff member prepared to take a seat on the periphery as the president’s top aides, including chief strategist Stephen K. Bannon, surrounded him in chairs around the Resolute desk. But the president soon ordered up a change, said someone who witnessed the moment, telling Bannon to give up his seat for the junior staff member and relegating his top strategist to the couch.

More recently, during a lunch with ambassadors from countries on the U.N. Security Council, Trump jokingly polled those in the room on whether they thought U.N. Ambassador Nikki Haley, seated directly to his right, was doing a good job. “How do you all like Nikki? ” he asked, as she looked on. “Otherwise, she can easily be replaced.”
The Post story quotes a Trump ally:
“I think it’s more New York swagger than he’s trying to belittle them,” said Christopher Ruddy, the chief executive of Newsmax, a conservative media company, and a longtime friend of Trump’s.
"New York swagger"? Nahh. I think this approach to staff relations is more about age than geography, as this spring 2016 segment from Stephen Colbert's show suggests:

Trump's a middle-school bully. It's obvious.

We also get the media's go-to media explanation for all of Trump's bizarre management practices:
Trump’s management style — whether good-natured ribbing or withering comments, depending on one’s perspective — dates to his days as a Manhattan real estate developer, when he enjoyed operating in an environment of competing factions.
Yes -- he likes to have factions fighting with one another. But in an atmosphere of combat, isn't there a strong likelihood that some staffers will feel they're at war with the guy at the top? Especially if he regularly humiliates them?

That wasn't a problem in Trump's businesses -- he could compel employees to sign non-disclosure agreements and, in the event of violations, threaten to ruin their lives with lawsuits. But he can't do that now. So the incessant leaking from the Trump White House should be no surprise.

Monday, May 29, 2017

Memorial Day

Some Memorial Day music, by Roger Sessions (1971), to Whitman's poem:

And I saw askant the armies, 
I saw as in noiseless dreams hundreds of battle-flags, 
Borne through the smoke of the battles and pierc’d with missiles I saw them, 
And carried hither and yon through the smoke, and torn and bloody, 
And at last but a few shreds left on the staffs, (and all in silence,) 
And the staffs all splinter’d and broken. 

I saw battle-corpses, myriads of them, 
And the white skeletons of young men, I saw them, 
I saw the debris and debris of all the slain soldiers of the war, 
But I saw they were not as was thought, 
They themselves were fully at rest, they suffer’d not, 
The living remain’d and suffer’d, the mother suffer’d, 
And the wife and the child and the musing comrade suffer’d, 
And the armies that remain’d suffer’d. 

Passing the visions, passing the night, 
Passing, unloosing the hold of my comrades’ hands, 
Passing the song of the hermit bird and the tallying song of my soul, 
Victorious song, death’s outlet song, yet varying ever-altering song, 
As low and wailing, yet clear the notes, rising and falling, flooding the night, 
Sadly sinking and fainting, as warning and warning, and yet again bursting with joy, 
Covering the earth and filling the spread of the heaven, 
As that powerful psalm in the night I heard from recesses, 
Passing, I leave thee lilac with heart-shaped leaves, 
I leave thee there in the door-yard, blooming, returning with spring.... 

Cross-posted at The Rectification of Names.

Modest Proposal

Pope Francis "appearing to make amends" with President Trump. with two unidentified Spanish princesses visiting from 1957.
Washington Post's "The Fix" may be even dumber without Chris Cillizza than with him, as Armando points out:


Borchers explains, for one thing,

It's getting ridiculous

Image via Indocop.

So they're not leaks coming out of the White House? Or the reporters are in the White House when they make them up?

I love the thought that he might have already completed his investigation. Like they got the entire staff together in some Trump hotel ballroom and said, "OK, who's leaking? If you've been leaking stuff to the media raise your hand." And when nobody's hand went up Trump was like, "OK, that settles that. No leakers, the press must be making shit up."

Seriously, though, what happened to the investigation?

(Another long read here...)

Sunday, May 28, 2017

It gets worse

Via Erik Wemple, Washington Post, March 28.

Donald Trump, in his press conference (the only formal press conference he has held during his presidency, that's a rate so far of 0.25 press conferences per month, compared to 1.71 for Barack Obama, 2.18 for George W. Bush, and so on, cutting in half the previous record low set by Ronald Reagan at 0.48, I just had to mention that) of February 16, following up on the Times story of February 14 in which it was asserted that the FBI was examining a history of "repeated contacts" between some unknown number of Trump people and Russian intelligence other than General Flynn, including, according to the Times from other reporting, his old friend and fellow Roy Cohn disciple Roger Stone, and Carter Page, the only person Trump had been able to name as one of his foreign policy advisers—"Carter Page, PhD!"—in an interview of March 2016 with the Washington Post—after dismissing Page as "a very low-level member of I think a committee for a short period of time—I don't think I ever met him":
The other person [Stone?] said he never spoke to Russia; never received a call. Look at his phone records, et cetera, et cetera [uh, I think that's what the FBI has been doing]. And the other person [Manafort], people knew that he represented various countries, but I don't think he represented Russia, but knew that he represented various countries. That's what he does. I mean, people know that.
That's Mr. Manafort, who's -- by the way, who's by the way a respected man. He's a respected man. But I think he represented the Ukraine or Ukraine government or somebody, but everybody -- people knew that. Everybody knew that.
On the other hand, we learned a few weeks later that Oleg Deripaska, a Russian citizen, member of the Putin inner circle, aluminum magnate, reputed organized-crime figure of the 1990s (he denies that strenuously) which has prevented him from getting a visa to visit the United States for most of the past 25 years or so, though, and probably considerably richer than Donald J. Trump (estimated net worth US$5.3 billion), had apparently paid Paul Manafort $10 million a year between 2006 and 2009 or later for services not specified in the AP story of last March, but we were told that Manafort's pitch letter of 2005 seemed to think he was offering to work with the Russian state:
“We are now of the belief that this model can greatly benefit the Putin Government if employed at the correct levels with the appropriate commitment to success,” Manafort wrote in the 2005 memo to Deripaska. The effort, Manafort wrote, “will be offering a great service that can re-focus, both internally and externally, the policies of the Putin government.” 

Deripaska is suing the AP over the story, but not denying any of the facts: only the "implications" and "false impressions" it conveys, that Deripaska was paying Manafort on the Russian government's behalf or, furthermore, that this work was connected with the Trump campaign (unlikely, since it's not suggested anywhere that he was paying Manafort at the time the campaign got started in 2015), or that he might have some connection with thefts of Ukrainian property around the time the extraordinarily corrupt pro-Russian President Viktor Yanukovych fled to Russia in 2014 (same thing; it was Yanukovych himself who was Manafort's relevant client and, obviously, the thief—the Ukrainian public prosecutor's current estimate is that Yanukovych and his thugs stole some $40 billion from the Ukrainian government over a two-and-a-half-year period).

Also in March, Deripaska published an ad in the Wall Street Journal and Washington Post with an "official statement" (as if he were some kind of government unto himself, see above) in which he repeated his denial and demanded an apology from the AP and also said he was "ready to take part in any hearings conducted in the US Congress on this subject", but it now turns out he wasn't quite ready, as we learned from yesterday's Times:

Mr. Deripaska, an aluminum magnate who is a member of the inner circle of the Russian president, Vladimir V. Putin, recently offered to cooperate with congressional intelligence committees in exchange for a grant of full immunity, according to three congressional officials, speaking on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to discuss the issue publicly. But the Senate and House panels turned him down because of concerns that immunity agreements create complications for federal criminal investigators, the officials said.
That doesn't mean he committed a crime in connection with the Trump campaign, we must hasten to say. But it certainly does mean he and Manafort have been lying to the papers about whether he has any connection to the Trump campaign at all, or he wouldn't have anything worth offering in exchange for that immunity. He definitely has something to testify about.

As to Trump, I think this is one case in which he is not lying, not that what he's saying is true but that he doesn't have any idea whether it is or not. He is becoming increasingly irrelevant to his own administration, as the courts reject the few ideas he's been able to personally put across, as Congressional Republicans try to pass an Obamacare repeal that violates all the conditions he told the public he would insist on, and his own budget director Mick Mulvaney proposes a budget in his name that breaks numerous promises, and in both cases he shows no sign of knowing that (presumably Fox News is careful not to mention it ever, just in case he's watching). I think his especially erratic behavior over the past two weeks, starting with the Comey firing and that Lavrov-Kislyak meeting in the Oval'noy Kabinet, where he looked really very ill, puffy and vacant like a sober Boris Yeltsin, suggests he's too tired and frightened to function at all. There's a danger of dictatorship, as the last Soviet foreign minister Eduard Shevarnadze used to say, but now as then it's hard to say who the dictator might turn out to be. It won't be Donald J. Trump.

Cross-posted at The Rectification of Names.

Nostalgie de la boue: Donald Trump, Harry S. Truman, and the curious case of the eight-ulcer music critic

“Nostalgie de la boue” is one of those oddball idioms whose precise definition can distract an otherwise unoccupied mind longer than an aimless wallow through Facebook.

It translates from the French as “nostalgia for the mud,” and usually refers, according to Webster, to an “attraction to what is crude, depraved or degrading.” Or according to  the author Thomas Wolfe as…well, it’s a long story.

Regardless of the lexicographer you choose to swing with, the phrase is clearly applicable to Donald Trump. 


-Donald grabbing the genitalia of strange, or perhaps not-so-strange women. 

-Donald Trump engaging in various forms of pissing contests, whether those take the shape of arguing about the length of his fingers as they relate to another organ, or, as alleged, relating to some depraved behavior with hookers in a Moscow hotel room. 

-Or Donald Trump wallowing in deep swamps of self-pity, as when he declares himself to be the victim of a witch hunt, and further declares himself to be the most “unfairly” hounded president in history.

If you are fed up with the almost daily splatter of mud, flop sweat, and tears from this presidency, you might want to refer back to an incident that, by comparison, seems a bit quaint. However, it was marked by language that was shocking at the time, but richer in vocabulary and imagery than our current President seems competent of ever evoking.

I’m referring to an angry letter to a music critic, written in 1950 by then-President Harry S. Truman.

Truman, with the perspective of more than three generations, was a pretty good president from a family of more or less mediocre amateur musicians, including himself. 

Truman was an unremarkable pianist. His daughter, Margaret, was an unremarkable singer. Given some orchestral backup, the likely assistance of a recording studio engineer, and a good night, she could whip out a soprano rendition that would neither have you standing in the aisles of La Scala crying bravo, nor cringing as if you’d just heard a long piece of chalk screeching across a blackboard. She was no Maria Callas, but neither was she a Florence Foster Jenkins. Here is an example of Margaret Truman giving it her all:

In December of 1950, Margaret Truman had neither a good night nor a recording engineer to repair the damage. A live concert performance had been arranged for her in Constitution Hall, and the Washington Post sent along a music critic, Paul Hume, who evidently didn’t much like what he heard. He wrote:
Miss Truman is a unique American phenomenon with a pleasant voice of little size and fair quality  (she) cannot sing very well  is flat a good deal of the time, more last night than at any time we have heard her in past years  has not improved in the years we have heard her  (and) still cannot sing with anything approaching professional finish.
That, President Truman concluded. was…well, in the language of Donald Trump it would be “really unfair, the most unfair concert review in history.” But we are talking about a president who possessed a far richer talent for expository writing. He was able to craft an elaborately colorful insult from his resentment — an insult employing less whining and a far greater degree of linguistic precision than Donald Trump will ever be capable of producing. 

So Truman penned a letter to Hume that said
Mr. Hume: 
I've just read your lousy review of Margaret's concert. I've come to the conclusion that you are an "eight ulcer man on four ulcer pay.” 
It seems to me that you are a frustrated old man who wishes he could have been successful. When you write such poppy-cock as was in the back section of the paper you work for it shows conclusively that you're off the beam and at least four of your ulcers are at work. 
Some day I hope to meet you. When that happens you'll need a new nose, a lot of beefsteak for black eyes, and perhaps a supporter below! 
Pegler, a gutter snipe, is a gentleman alongside you. I hope you'll accept that statement as a worse insult than a reflection on your ancestry. 
Truman was referring in the last paragraph to Westbrook Pegler, a syndicated newspaper columnist who was the Bill O’Reilly of his day, but that’s another story. The upshot of this story was that Hume published the letter.  Following that, the nation for some time was scandalized — scandalized! — by this presidential indiscretion. 

I am old enough — although I was a child at the time — to remember my own parents, both of them Truman Democrats, discussing the letter in a state of near-shock. How could such terrible language come from the President of the United States?

These days we could acutely wish for such language. The daily barrage of whining befitting a wounded guttersnipe (look up the word, Donald, if you can concentrate on a dictionary long enough) will be one of the enduing trademarks of Donald Trump. He longs for the mud and the gutter. Unfortunately, he is dragging the United States down into it with him. 

Saturday, May 27, 2017

It rhymes

Jacob K. Javits Federal Building, Manhattan. The FBI Field Office is on the 23rd floor. Photo via Zimbio.

On James Comey and the Russian-produced Wasserman Schultz letter—
The Russian intelligence material related to a purported email exchange between then-Democratic National Committee Chair Debbie Wasserman Schultz and a Clinton campaign operative who suggested then-Attorney General Loretta Lynch would help quash the FBI’s investigation.
According to CNN, Comey used the purported emails in part to justify his decision to publicly announce that no charges would be brought against Clinton, in a remarkable address [on July 5] that also accused her of being “extremely careless” in how she handled classified information on her private server. Comey did not consult with Lynch beforehand, and the speech broke FBI protocol to never comment on closed cases where no charges are brought.
The Washington Post reported Wednesday that the purported emails originated from a dubiously sourced Russian intelligence document, the veracity of which was never confirmed by the FBI. Officials aware of Comey’s actions told CNN that he knew that the document was bogus, but still factored it into his handling of the case. (Talking Points Memo)
There's a weird little relationship—history not repeating itself but rhyming as they say—between that story and the one from the end of October where Comey sent a remarkable letter to House Oversight Committee chairman Jason Chaffetz to inform him "out of an abundance of caution" that the investigation wasn't in fact closed, and that the FBI was looking at some possibly fresh material, which turned out to be Anthony Weiner's laptop and emails to Hillary Clinton that Huma Abedin had downloaded there (apparently to make print copies for the boss because, sadly, Clinton, like Donald J. Trump, prefers paper)  (that beloved story is actually false; the emails were on Weiner's computer as an automatic backup arrangement with Abedin's phone; h/t Jesse in comments).

In both cases, Comey is said to be making these unusual public disclosures out of fear for his agency's and his own reputation.

(Longish read below the jump.)

Friday, May 26, 2017


I have weekend plans that will take me away from blogging, but there'll be posts here from the relief crew, so stop by. See you Tuesday.


Jonathan Swan of Axios tells us that Steve Bannon has a new mission:
Nine sources in the West Wing and within Trump's close orbit said the Russia situation is Bannon's shot at redemption. He's being described as a "wartime consigliere" relishing a fight against the "deep state," media, Democrats and investigators....

Why some Bannon allies say he's made for this crisis:

* "Steve is super savvy dealing with the media and dealing with crises," says Newsmax CEO Christopher Ruddy, a friend of Trump's.

* Bannon ... played a key role during the tensest moments of the Trump campaign (see: "Access Hollywood" tape).

* He's skilled at misdirection and deflection. Along with his street fighter ally from the campaign, David Bossie — who is now under serious consideration to join the White House communications team — Bannon deployed scorched-earth tactics against Hillary Clinton like staging the famous press conference with the women who'd accused Bill Clinton of sexual assault.
So Bannon -- who is allegedly "super savvy" -- is responsible for "misdirections" like trying to change the subject to Bill Clinton's decades-old sexual behavior after Trump's Access Hollywood tape broke. Here's my question: How effective was that misdirection effort? Apart from any Fox-addicted wingnuts you know, did you hear anyone talking about it? If so, was anyone talking about it for days and days? Whereas we all talked about the Trump "grab 'em by the pussy" tape for days and days -- longer, in fact. We're still talking about it.

My point is that Bannon might not actually change what most Americans are talking about. What he's skilled at doing is changing what right-wingers are talking about. And maybe that's worth it to Trump, because he seems to believe he can save his presidency as long as 80+ percent of Republicans still support him without question.

So if you have even a glancing exposure to right-wing media, expect to hear a lot of names that make you ask, "Isn't this person completely out of power now?" Susan Rice. Valerie Jarrett. Donna Brazile. (Why, here's a story about Donna Brazile at Joe the Plumber's website right now.) Expect even more on Seth Rich. Expect terror scares and "knockout game" scares and Black-Lives-Matter-is-going-to-kill-all-white-people scares. The Russia investigations might strike more and more pay dirt, but your right-wing relatives won't even know.


Greg Gianforte won yesterday's Montana special election. Given the large number of early votes, it's not clear how much the candidate's eleventh-hour assault of a reporter affected the race, and if it did, whether it helped him or hurt him. But Democrats certainly narrowed the gap in Montana. Here was 2016 Montana election map in the presidential race:

Now here's the map of yesterday's race (which was statewide, because Montana is a sparsely populated state and therefore has only one House member):

There's a lot more blue on the special election map. In 2012, Mitt Romney won by 13. In 2016, Trump won by 20. Gianforte won by 6. If Democrats can improve on 2016 that much in less red districts, they have a real shot at taking the House in 2018.


I'm reminded on Twitter that Gianforte has an illustrious Republican predecessor:

Yes, that happened:
Pearson became a target of McCarthy and his threats after writing repeatedly and critically about the senator’s bullying tactics, his tax troubles, and his thinly documented allegations about subversives in government....

In December 1950, a 27-year-old socialite named Louise Tinsley (“Tinnie”) Steinman invited Pearson and McCarthy to join her guests at dinner at the Sulgrave. She seated the men at the same table and they traded barbs and insults throughout the evening....

At the Sulgrave, McCarthy repeatedly warned Pearson that he planned to attack the columnist in a speech in the Senate. Pearson in turn chided McCarthy on his tax troubles in Wisconsin.

As the evening ended, McCarthy confronted Pearson in the Sulgrave’s coat check room. Accounts differ about what happened.

Pearson said McCarthy pinned his arms to one side and kneed him twice in the groin. McCarthy said he slapped Pearson, hard, with his open hand. A third account, offered by a radio broadcaster friendly to McCarthy, said the senator slugged Pearson, a blow so powerful that it lifted Pearson three feet into the air.

Richard Nixon, who had recently been sworn in as a U.S. Senator and who was guest at Tinnie Steinman’s party, intervened and broke up the encounter. Nixon, in his memoir RN, said Pearson “grabbed his coat and ran from the room. McCarthy said, ‘You shouldn’t have stopped me, Dick.'” ...

In his 1999 book, Joseph McCarthy: Reexamining the Life and Legacy of America’s Most Hated Senator, a revisionist treatment of McCarthy, Arthur Herman wrote of the encounter:

“If some were horrified and disgusted with what McCarthy had done, many were not,” given the many enemies that Pearson had made.
A few days later, the senator attacked Pearson on the Senate floor.
From the libel-proof confines of the Senate floor, McCarthy delivered a vicious speech denouncing his nemesis as the “diabolically” clever “voice of international communism,” a “prostitute of journalism,” and a “Moscow-directed character assassin.”
Pearson sued McCarthy for, among other things, libel and assault. McCarthy won that round: He called for a boycott of the company that sponsored Pearson's radio show -- which then dropped its sponsorship.

McCarthy won reelection in 1952. The next year, he became chairman of the Senate's Permanent Subcommittee on Investigations.

Assaulting a journalist didn't do much harm to Joe McCarthy. It won't hurt Greg Gianforte.

Thursday, May 25, 2017


The Republican Party is the party of Greg Gianforte, who body-slammed a reporter for asking a question. It's the party whose voters have embraced Sheriff David Clarke, who summoned five cops and a police dog to detain a man who literally did nothing but glower at him on an airplane. And it's the party of Donald Trump, who thinks it's classy to shove the Montenegrin prime minister out of the way so he can be in the front row in a group photo.

Josh Barro has a take on this:
Republicans are a party that now celebrates the bully who steals lunch money because, hey, at least he's not the nerd who gets his lunch money stolen.

A party for the sort of men who call themselves "alpha males" without irony or accuracy. A party for the sort of women who think it's cool and strong when men get into bar fights.

A party that celebrates not just cruelty, but juvenile cruelty.
Why the admiration for this behavior. Why, particularly, the admiration for Trump?
Well, one reason is that many men in America right now have little to offer women. They do not live up to either to the old, chauvinistic standards for adult men or the new, egalitarian ones. They want what Trump has — the women, the money, the brass-plated apartment — without having to do better or be better to get it.

They think they'd be better off under a return to high-school norms, where men could "be men" but really be boys, and gain status through cruel dominance plays without bearing any real-life responsibilities.
But we know that while Trump may have found found a fan base in the white working class, he did better among wealthier Americans than among poorer ones. Many of his supporters aren't the folks who fell through the cracks -- they're the relatively comfortable neighbors of the downtrodden. And some are just plain old-fashioned suburban Republicans.

I remember high school. It wasn't just that the jocks wanted status and all the good stuff that comes with it -- they were incensed when uncool people were happy at all, or got any attention, even niche attention. Football was important enough that the team was seen as the embodiment of the school, but that wasn't enough glory -- if the drama weirdos put on a play once or twice a year, the jocks would tear the posters down, hating the fact that people who didn't work as hard as they did to avoid uncoolness could possibly have a little enjoyment, even if only our parents showed up to watch the plays.

The GOP is like that now. If you're a suburban white flag-waver, even if you have a nice life, it angers you that people who aren't like you -- non-whites, non-straights, liberals, feminist women, non-Fox journalists, people who enjoy non-meat-and-potatoes culture -- are also thriving. Even if you've had all the pie you want, it's infuriating that such vermin get any pie. And if they start asserting themselves, well, that's just flat-out intolerable.

That's one of our two major political parties right now: a party whose members are furious at having to share any of the good stuff with anyone they find distasteful.


At Axios, Mike Allen reports:
West Wing officials are prepping for a years-long war with investigators and the bureaucracy, with plans to beef up legal, surrogate, communications and rapid-response teams as part of a "new normal" for President Trump — besieged.

"The White House is embracing the fight, which is going to last as long as Donald Trump is president," said a Trump ally familiar with the preparations. "We're getting street fighters ready to go." ...

* What's next: Proposed war-room org charts have been prepared, and final decisions on the structure will be made after Trump returns this weekend.

* Jonathan Swan hears that comms/rapid response structures are being considered for both inside the White House and on the outside.
This is where the Trumpers think they need to staff up. Meanwhile, in the parts of government where work is actually supposed to get done...

For example:

Well, the Trump presidency is all about Trump, isn't it? Trump cares only about self-aggrandizement, not about any policy goals. So these staffing priorities make perfect sense.

Wednesday, May 24, 2017


I'd love to believe that this will be a game-changer in Democrat Rob Quist's favor, but I have serious doubts:
The Republican candidate for Montana’s congressional seat slammed a Guardian reporter to the floor on the eve of the state’s special election, breaking his glasses and shouting, “Get the hell out of here.”

Ben Jacobs, a Guardian political reporter, was asking Greg Gianforte, a tech millionaire running for the seat vacated by Ryan Zinke, about the Republican healthcare plan when the candidate allegedly “body-slammed” the reporter.

“He took me to the ground,” Jacobs said by phone from the back of an ambulance. “I think he wailed on me once or twice ... He got on me and I think he hit me ... This is the strangest thing that has ever happened to me in reporting on politics.”

Fox News reporter Alicia Alcuna, field producer Faith Mangan and photographer Keith Railey witnessed the incident, according to an account published by After Jacobs asked Gianforte his question, Alcuna wrote, “Gianforte grabbed Jacobs by the neck with both hands and slammed him into the ground behind him.

“Faith, Keith and I watched in disbelief as Gianforte then began punching the man, as he moved on top the reporter and began yelling something to the effect of ‘I’m sick and tired of this!’ ...
This should be disqualifying, but ask yourself: If Donald Trump did something like this during his campaign, would it have hurt him? If anything, I think it would it would have impressed the sorts of voters who were Trump supporters or even just open to Trump. The message of the GOP is that forces hostile to the party -- who, by definition, include all non-conservative journalists -- are figures of pure evil who deserve any harm that comes to them. Trump regularly urged the crowds at his rallies to express hatred for the press. And Gianforte is a Trump supporter, running in a district (the entire state of Montana) where Trump won by a sizable margin.

I worry that this will increase Gianforte's vote total. In red America in 2017, I seriously don't believe it will hurt him, regrettably.


UPDATE: We've seen a similar situation in recent years, and Republican voters were totally cool with it. It happened in January 2014, Michael Grimm, a congressman from Staten Island, New York City's most Republican borough, was questioned by a local TV reporter. This happened:

Embattled New York Republican Rep. Michael Grimm threatened to "break" a NY1 reporter and throw him off a balcony after President Obama's State of the Union address Tuesday night....

"Let me be clear to you, you ever do that to me again I'll throw you off this f-----g balcony,” Grimm said...

“No, no, you're not man enough, you're not man enough. I'll break you in half. Like a boy” ...
Ten months later, Grimm -- already plagued by multiple scandals -- won reelection by double digits. He resigned from Congress a month later, but only after pleading guilty to felony tax evasion charges. The following May, a Republican won the special election to replace Grimm, and he continues to hold the seat.

So, no, thuggish behavior toward reporters doesn't seem to hurt Republicans at the ballot box.


You probably know about this:
Pope Francis joined an international chorus urging Donald Trump to meet U.S. commitments on climate change in talks at the Vatican Wednesday.

Francis gave the U.S. president a copy of his 2015 encyclical calling for urgent, drastic cuts in fossil-fuel emissions after a half-hour meeting in his private study.

Francis’s choice of gift suggests he is adding his voice to those pressing Trump not to renege on the Paris accord, which is the cornerstone of global efforts to limit climate change.....

“Thank you, thank you,” Trump told Francis as they shook hands after the meeting. “I won’t forget what you said.”
Charlie Pierce called this "some expert trolling" on the pope's part. Dave Weigel called it "trolling of biblical proportions."

I'm not so sure. Apart from the obvious point that Trump is unlikely to read the encyclical because he's no fan of reading, the meeting with the pope reminds me of the week during the transition when Trump met with Al Gore and Leonardo DiCaprio to discuss climate issues -- after which Trump chose climate change denier Scott Pruitt to head the EPA. I'm also thinking of the staged humiliation of Mitt Romney, which preceded Trump's pick of Rex Tillerson for the secretary of state position.

Trump rarely has the courage to challenge critics face-to-face. He seems to prefer the stab in the back. And while I know he's been put on a cable news starvation diet during this trip, sooner or later he's likely to find out that the pope's has been making his discomfort with Trump obvious:

The pope put in a good word for the planet when talking to Trump -- but I think that might be precisely why Trump will ultimately decide to back out of the Paris accord.


If President Trump's overseas trip is less of a sustained pratfall than you expected, a Politico story by Annie Karni offers an explanation:
For four straight days, President Donald Trump did not live-tweet the cable shows. He didn’t mention his unlikely electoral win. And in visits to two countries where he was greeted with great fanfare, he never once complained about being treated unfairly.

Trump’s relatively successful swing through the Middle East was due to the fact that, for the most part, he didn’t get in his own way. It was also the result of months of careful planning. A decision was made early on to visit a part of the world where Trump is venerated and feared, and to pack his schedule so that he mostly stayed on message and, according to one aide, “didn’t have time to tweet.”
As Jason Easley writes:
... what the intentional scheduling of Trump’s time points to is that the President Of The United States can’t be treated like an adult. He has to be managed like a small child. If the President is left alone with time on his hands, he is going to grab his phone and start blasting out insane tweets.
So who are the supernannies who got Trump to behave? Karni has the names:
... a key factor was the role played by Dina Powell, H.R. McMaster and Jared Kushner, who brought a combination of government experience and understanding that Trump wanted to get some negotiated wins on the board.
It makes sense that the national security adviser would be deeply involved -- that would happen in a normal administration. And Kushner's involvement is unsurprising because, well, he's involved in everything (and also because, as Karni notes, he has ties to the Saudis). But let's focus on Dina Powell:
Trump also depended on Powell, the deputy national security adviser for strategy, to help spearhead the visit. An Egyptian-born fluent-Arabic speaker who served in the George W. Bush administration, Powell came with important contacts in the Arab world....

Powell, according to an administration official, was also instrumental in helping to craft the language Trump used in his Sunday speech on Islam, with a particular interest in his use of language about women’s rights.
Yeah, I thought the speech -- which I've seen ascribed to angry young man Stephen Miller -- seemed less snarly than Miller's usual work, such as Trump's convention speech and inaugural address. Now the reasonable tone makes sense.
Powell and McMaster coordinated with the Defense Department to firm up the $110 billion U.S.-Saudi weapons deal in time for Trump to announce it over the weekend....

Powell and McMaster together led the NSC’s interagency process for planning the trip....
Okay, okay -- I got it. A lot of this was Powell's doing. And it's gone -- by Trump standards -- surprisingly smoothly.

So you know what happens next, right?

When Trump gets back to Washington, it's possible that Powell will be given greater responsibility for virtually everything. Recall that Powell, a former Goldman Sachs executive, was originally hired as a White House economic adviser (and as an aide to Ivanka Trump and Kushner). Only later did she also become a foreign policy aide.

If Trump feels that this trip went well, he might conclude that the people who made that success possible should have all the responsibility going forward. (Steve Bannon and Reince Priebus were sent home early from the trip. We're being told that the early departures were always planned, and that Bannon and Priebus are needed back home to deal with Trump's D.C. struggles. But who knows?)

But ultimately, Trump's favorites are always required to do something impossible. Rush a terrible health care bill through Congress by an arbitrary deadline. Defend Mike Flynn when he's about to be fired. That sort of thing. And when they fail -- because Trump himself has created a situation in which only failure is possible -- the president gets angry and the favorite is sent to the doghouse.

If Powell's star is really rising, this could well be her fate. But hey, she signed on for this.

Tuesday, May 23, 2017


Margaret Sullivan, The Washington Post's media columnist, is right to upset about these developments:
Infowars, that cesspool of destructive conspiracy theories, on Monday received a temporary credential to attend White House press briefings....

In the past, please recall, what constituted “news” at Infowars included the following: that 9/11 was planned and executed by the U.S. government; that President Obama was not an American citizen; and that the massacre of small children at Connecticut’s Sandy Hook Elementary School was a hoax carried out by actors.

Infowars’ inclusion (even if only temporarily) in the White House press corps is disgusting.

But no more disgusting than the lies that Fox News continues to spread about Seth Rich, a 27-year-old man who was shot dead last summer in Washington.

To hear Fox’s Sean Hannity tell it, this was an inside job by the Democratic National Committee, where Rich worked: retribution by the Hillary Clinton camp for his sharing insider emails with WikiLeaks.

The theory has been thoroughly debunked by Oliver Darcy at CNN among others, and Rich’s family has demanded that Fox retract and apologize. To the reported embarrassment of its own staff, Fox hasn’t done the right thing.

Quite the opposite, in fact: Former House speaker and Trump insider Newt Gingrich used Fox’s national platform Sunday to spread the lies further....

Decent people should shun both Hannity and Gingrich.
Decent people should do more than that. In the case of InfoWars, the rest of the White House press corps should simply walk out of any press briefing attended by the organization's correspondent -- who, I gather, is this guy:

You remember Jerome Corsi, right? His books include Where's the Birth Certificate? and the John Kerry Swift Boat hit job Unfit for Command -- and he's also told readers of World Net Daily that Barack Obama had a secret gay life in Chicago and wears a wedding ring that bears the inscription "There is no God except Allah" in Arabic. Seriously, White House correspondents: If he's in the briefing room, you should leave -- and if the boycott has to last weeks or months, so be it.

Which probably should have been the reaction to Fox News sometime in the past twenty years, but that ship has sailed. For now, it's time for a Sleeping Giants-style boycott targeting Hannity's advertisers. And if some Bernie-or-Busters don't want to participate, well, this one is open to anyone in the center or right who's disgusted by Hannity's conspiracy-mongering. (Some of you conservatives are disgusted ... aren't you?)

As for Gingrich: His wife is the president's nominee to be ambassador to the Vatican. If (as I assume) no Republican senator is willing to vote against her confirmation, then some Democratic senator should put a hold on her nomination.

I got pushback when I said this on Twitter over the weekend:

I understand the argument. But Newt and Callista are not merely spouses -- they're professional collaborators. From the website of Gingrich Productions:
Together, Newt and Callista host and produce historical and public policy documentaries, write books and newsletters, give speeches, record audio books, produce photographic essays, and make television and radio appearances. Gingrich Productions also offers strategic planning, consulting, and training for organizations seeking to solve public policy concerns. We have unique strengths and experience in health, learning, national security, and politics. We also help develop messaging with an emphasis on earned and social media.
In the dissemination of political messages, they're partners. If they disagree on any issue, they've never said so. So unless Callista specifically denounces her husband's baseless and cynical conspiracy-mongering, she doesn't deserve a full Senate vote, much less an ambassadorship.


I'm horrified by the Manchester attack, for which ISIS is now claiming responsibility.

For a while, I thought I understood the logic of this strategy: Use spectacularly successful acts of violence to inspire young, alienated Muslims so they'll sign up to join the fight to sustain the caliphate, and hope that the attacks motivate non-Muslim nations to crack down on Muslim residents, in order to eliminate a "grayzone" of peaceful coexistence and inspire even more recruits.

But ISIS has been losing territory in Iraq and Syria, and we've been hearing that an increase in terrorist attacks is a strategy shift in response to failures on the battlefield. In other words, terrorism isn't helping to staff a successful army -- it's a distraction from that army's failings. And this is happening even as there appear to be limits to the Western backlash against Muslims: white nationalists have fallen short in elections in France, the Netherlands, and elsewhere, while even Donald Trump has tempered his language on Islam.

So I don't see the logic anymore. At this point, it seems as if terrorist attacks attacks in the West aren't part of a grand strategy to advance ISIS's brand of Islam -- they're an end in themselves. The point of the terrorism seems to be ... just to kill people. The aftermath is always the same: Communities come together; there's anger at Muslims, but there are also kind words:

So what's being accomplished? Either ISIS and its acolytes still believe that the strategy is working, despite evidence to the contrary, or ... they're just angry young men who revel in the idea of doing harm to other people, especially when they're being told that what's being done is virtuous. It seems to me that the terrorism is now the point. The perpetrators (and cheering fans, some of whom will be future perpetrators) may talk of the attacks as steps on the path to a grand utopia, but I think they're just getting off on the violence.