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Thursday, April 27, 2017

He can't negotiate his way out of a paper bag

by digby

Ryan Lizza at the New Yorker breaks down Trump's backtrack on the border wall and concludes with this:

From a policy perspective, Trump’s reversal is welcome. There is no credible evidence that a twenty-two-hundred-mile physical wall is the best use of federal funds to deter unauthorized border crossings—never mind the message that a giant wall would send to the rest of the world. The members of Congress who know the issue the best think it’s a bad idea. The Wall Street Journal recently reported, “Not a single member of Congress who represents the territory on the southwest border said they support President Donald Trump’s request for $1.4 billion to begin construction of his promised wall.” And if Trump’s retreat from insisting on wall money helps keep the government open, he should be applauded for being flexible.

But, from a political perspective, Trump has given members of Congress another reason not to trust his word. He promised a health-care bill that would cover everyone, settled for one that would have kicked twenty-four million people off insurance, and then watched helplessly as the bill floundered. He promised a trillion-dollar infrastructure package that hasn’t materialized. And now the wall, Trump’s signature proposal on the campaign, has been shelved. This last point risks angering even Trump’s base supporters—Rush Limbaugh declared that he was “very, very troubled” by the news.

There are lots of reasons for Trump’s lack of legislative victories so far. His White House is ideologically divided, as are Republicans in Congress. Democrats have uniformly opposed his initiatives and Trump has done nothing to try to woo them, even though he will need at least some Democratic votes in the Senate to pass any meaningful measures.

But the biggest problem is Trump himself. The man who wrote “The Art of the Deal” is a terrible negotiator.

If nothing else has become obvious in the past three months, everyone should at least have been schooled about this particular bragging point. His endless self-promotion as the world's greatest negotiator was one hundred percent prime grade bullshit. When he gets involved he actually destroys whatever chances there were for a deal. And that's a blessing since every one of his promises, as well as Paul Ryan's, are daft. If they can keep him away from existing agreements with foreign countries we might come out of this alive.

Take a few minutes to watch this nonsense from the campaign trail on his powers of negotiation and ask yourself why anyone ever believed it:

Unless they're buying favors the rich don't want anything to do with the Trump brand

by digby

If you're wondering why the Trumps are now looking to do deals in places like Oklahoma and Texas, this might explain it:

President Donald Trump’s election may have all the diplomats clamoring to stay at his Washington, D.C., hotel, but his controversial campaign’s harsh rhetoric and administration’s agenda have made many potential customers uneasy about giving their business to Trump’s properties. Residents of Manhattan’s Trump Place successfully changed their property’s name, two celebrity chefs famously backed out of D.C.’s Trump International Hotel and others were unwilling to replace them, and Trump’s new line of hotels won’t bear his name. Then last December, a month after three NBA teams announced they wouldn’t stay at his hotels, members of the Cleveland Cavaliers (including Black Lives Matter supporter LeBron James) refused to stay at the Trump Soho. Now, that hotel’s restaurant operator, Koi, an international chainlet of sushi spots for beautiful people, is shuttering its outpost there. But this isn’t a closing as usual. It’s collateral damage from the rise of Trump.

“Obviously, the restaurant is closing because business is down. I don’t think anyone would volunteer to close a business if they were making money,” Suzanne Chou, Koi Group’s general counsel, says with a laugh. “Beyond that, I would prefer not to speculate as to why, but obviously since the election it’s gone down.”


“Before Trump won we were doing great. There were a lot of people we had, our regulars, who’d go to the hotel but are not affiliated with Trump,” says Jonathan Grullon, a busser and host who has worked at the restaurant for a year and a half. “And they were saying if he wins, we are not coming here anymore.”

Ricardo Aca, who worked at the restaurant for four years until this February, concurs, noting twice that “the Kardashians stopped coming.” Following the election, Aca says that business dipped so much that he had to take a second part-time job while he was still working there. As a server in the hotel’s Koi-managed lounge, he saw his hourly earnings fall from about $20 to $15 an hour. And Grullon says he’s making almost $200 dollars less each week and that he, too, has had to get a second job.

According to Grullon, Koi now has just ten service employees, including those in the kitchen. Some staff started walking away once business evaporated, and now that news of the closing is public, more have started to leave. The dining room is often 30 to 40 percent full and never gets past 50 to 60 percent capacity. During lunch, they’ll serve fewer than 30 people in a restaurant that can seat 140.

“We’ve been getting cut all the time. There is no reason for us to be there,” Grullon says. “They say they’re going to close June 18, but I think it’s going to be sooner.”

So much for job creating.

As I wrote earlier, the boys and Ivanka are very worried about this. Their brand is seriously damaged for anyone who isn't trying to buy favors from the president. And that world is pretty small, certainly too small to support an empire.

But they have a lot of experience hawking cheap gaudy consumer items to poor people so they should be ok in the end as long as Trump's voter base stays with him. But their high end businesses may just be taking a fatal hit.

Update: Their cheap consumer goods are too:
On Monday, it was reported that Ivanka Trump apparel was being sold with an “Adrienne Vittadini Studio” label in the US discount chain Stein Mart. The company that makes Trump’s clothes under licence, G-III, then admitted it had been responsible for relabelling the items. 
So now even the people who paid to use Ivanka Trump’s name are secretly removing it? Yes, although we don’t know why. Apparently, it is common to remove or replace labels on high-end fashion items that don’t sell, in order to prevent the brand being seen in discount stores.
Her goods have always been in discount stores. (I know this because I shop in them.) The only reason they would do this is because her stuff isn't even selling there.


The oversight committee watchdogs are on the case

by digby

You may believe that congressional oversight has gone lax now that Trump is in the White House, but you should think again:
The private internet company hired by former secretary of state Hillary Clinton to maintain her private email server has been obstructing a congressional investigation into its actions for more than a year, prompting a leading lawmakers to refer the case to the Trump administration’s Department of Justice for criminal prosecution.

Rep. Lamar Smith (R., Texas), chairman of the House Science, Space, and Technology Committee, has asked the DOJ to prosecute Platte River Networks CEO Treve Suazo for obstructing a congressional investigation into his company’s role in providing security for Clinton’s home brewed email server, which became the subject of widespread debate following revelations that it had multiple security vulnerabilities.

Smith, whose committee has jurisdiction over the investigation, said the Congress would not tolerate Platte River's failure to comply with the investigation.

"The Committee is referring Mr. Treve Suazo, CEO of Platte River Networks, to the Department of Justice for prosecution under federal laws pertaining to failing to produce subpoenaed documents, making false statements to Congress regarding possession of documents, and obstructing Congress," Smith said in a statement.

"Platte River Networks, a company hired by former Secretary Hillary Clinton, has deliberately withheld requested materials from the Committee and refused to comply with lawfully issued subpoenas," Smith alleged. "With a new administration in place, I am hopeful that the Department of Justice will appropriately respond to the referral.  We cannot allow companies with valuable information to stonewall us in our oversight efforts."

Senior congressional aides apprised of the situation said their investigation shows there is mounting evidence there were "pretty serious cyber security concerns" with Clinton’s server.

They're not going to let anyone get away with such grave threats to our national security, nosirree. They are ON IT.

They don't seem to be interested in the cybersecurity issue of the Russian hacking of the presidential campaign, however, which seems odd.

One member of the committee weighed in last fall on that:

Republican Rep. Dana Rohrabacher said Thursday that it was “terrific” that voters got more truthful information about Hillary Clinton’s presidential campaign, regardless of whether the hackers were Russian.

“The hackers, whether or not they’re Russian hackers, I don’t know,” the California congressman said. “I know the CIA and the FBI disagree as to who the hackers are. But whether they’re Russian hackers or any other hackers, the only information that we were getting from hackers was accurate information, was truthful. And that’s not gonna turn the tide. If the American people have been given more truthful information, that’s terrific.”

Contrary to what Rohrabacher said, US intelligence agencies have near uniform consensus blaming Russia for hacks during the presidential campaign into the Democratic National Committee and Hillary Clinton’s campaign chairman John Podesta. As CNN has reported, the disagreement between the FBI and CIA is over whether the Russians’ specific goal was to get Donald Trump elected, not as the lawmaker says over who is behind the cyber attack. Since that was reported earlier this month, Democrats and many Republicans, led by senators Lindsey Graham and John McCain, have called for an investigation into Russian interference in the election. Trump, meanwhile, has said he does not believe the intelligence agencies that Russia was trying to help him win the White House.

In the interview on the John and Ken Show on 640 KFI California radio, Rohrabacher expressed skepticism that the hackers were Russian but praised them for doing better investigative journalism during the campaign than the American media.

He said, “It was truthful and in fact, whoever the hackers were, who could’ve been our hackers or Russian hackers or whoever, they were doing more investigative journalism into the corruption and arrogance of the liberal Democratic campaign for president than any of the national media, who were just hellbent to try to destroy Don Trump. That’s all they focused on.”

Rohrabacher, who is the chairman of the House subcommittee on Europe and Eurasia, has made headlines in recent months for his affinity for Russian president Vladimir Putin. In an interview earlier this month with Yahoo News anchor Bianna Golodryga, Rohrabacher said that the anchor’s claim that Russia was a human rights abuser was “baloney,” then accused her of bias because she was a political refugee from the former Soviet republic of Moldova.

In Thursday’s radio interview, Rohrabacher recounted a story of how he once played American football, went to a pub, and then arm-wrestled Putin while Putin was an official in the city of St. Petersburg. Putin won the arm-wrestling match, Rohrabacher said.

Trump's a big Rhorabacher fan. He invited him to the White House after he saw Rohrabacher defend him on Fox News.

“I kind of pooh-poohed the experience stuff when I first got here. But this shit is hard.”

by digby

Dear God, we are doomed. Politico has published an article on "The Education of Donald Trump" and it is really alarming. It's not just him. It's the whole White House:
It was classic Trump: Confident, hyperbolic and insistent on asserting control.

But interviews with nearly two dozen aides, allies, and others close to the president paint a different picture – one of a White House on a collision course between Trump’s fixed habits and his growing realization that this job is harder than he imagined when he won the election on Nov. 8.

So far, Trump has led a White House gripped by paranoia and insecurity, paralyzed by internal jockeying for power. Mistrust between aides runs so deep that many now employ their own personal P.R. advisers — in part to ensure their own narratives get out. Trump himself has been deeply engaged with media figures, even huddling in the Oval Office with Matt Drudge.

Trump remains reliant as ever on his children and longtime friends for counsel. White House staff have learned to cater to the president’s image obsession by presenting decisions in terms of how they’ll play in the press. Among his first reads in the morning is still the New York Post. When Trump feels like playing golf, he does — at courses he owns. When Trump feels like eating out, he does — at hotels with his name on the outside.

As president, Trump has repeatedly reminded his audiences, both public and private, about his longshot electoral victory. That unexpected win gave him and his closest advisers the false sense that governing would be as easy to master as running a successful campaign turned out to be. It was a rookie mistake. From the indignity of judges halting multiple executive orders on immigration-related matters—most recently this week—to his responses to repeated episodes of North Korean belligerence, it’s all been more complicated than Trump had been prepared to believe...

As he sat in the Oval Office last week, Trump seemed to concede that even having risen to fame through real estate and entertainment, the presidency represented something very different.

“Making business decisions and buying buildings don’t involve heart,” he said. “This involves heart. These are heavy decisions.”

Fergawdsakes! This is infuriating. What in the hell qualifies him for the job then? Or any of them?
When Donald Trump gets angry, he fumes. “You can’t make them happy,” he said. “These people want more and more.”

He was complaining to friends that he had negotiated for weeks with Freedom Caucus members and he couldn’t believe the group was still against the health care legislation. Trump and his advisers were buzzing about making an enemies list and wanted to force a vote. But it was Trump, a man who hates to show weakness, who had to blink. As support flagged, the bill was shelved.

“I kind of pooh-poohed the experience stuff when I first got here,” one White House official said of these early months. “But this shit is hard.”

Maybe we should have hired someone for the job who has done something notable other than grab women by the pussy, hawk cheap consumer goods and say "you're fired" on TV. Just a thought.

And it's going to get worse:

The [health care] defeat represented an early inflection point for a president who is openly more transactional than ideological. More than anything, it reinforced the president’s conviction that he could only trust the tight circle of people closest to him.

Now, Trump is forging ahead alone on taxes, rolling out a dramatic package of tax cuts on Wednesday without input from Hill leaders. “We aren’t listening to anyone else on taxes,” said one senior administration official, referring to Ryan. “It’s our plan.”

Yeah, that's already going well. Their "plan" (such as it is) explicitly focuses on giving people like Donald Trump and his kids massive tax breaks. That's a really excellent political strategy.

The problem,of course, is him. He's an incompetent imbecile with a monumental ego and they can't change him at this late date. The man is 70 and he's been dancing away from abject failure his whole life. It's all he knows:

As Trump is beginning to better understand the challenges—and the limits—of the presidency, his aides are understanding better how to manage perhaps the most improvisational and free-wheeling president in history. “If you’re an adviser to him, your job is to help him at the margins,” said one Trump confidante. “To talk him out of doing crazy things.”

Interviews with White House officials, friends of Trump, veterans of his campaign and lawmakers paint a picture of a White House that has been slow to adapt to the demands of the most powerful office on earth.

“Everyone is concerned that things are not running that well,” said one senior official. “There should be more structure in place so we know who is working on what and who is responsible for what, instead of everyone freelancing on everything.”

But they’re learning. One key development: White House aides have figured out that it’s best not to present Trump with too many competing options when it comes to matters of policy or strategy. Instead, the way to win Trump over, they say, is to present him a single preferred course of action and then walk him through what the outcome could be – and especially how it will play in the press.

“You don’t walk in with a traditional presentation, like a binder or a PowerPoint. He doesn’t care. He doesn’t consume information that way,” said one senior administration official. “You go in and tell him the pros and cons, and what the media coverage is going to be like.”

Downplaying the downside risk of a decision can win out in the short term. But the risk is a presidential dressing-down—delivered in a yell. “You don’t want to be the person who sold him on something that turned out to be a bad idea,” the person said.

Advisers have tried to curtail Trump’s idle hours, hoping to prevent him from watching cable news or calling old friends and then tweeting about it. That only works during the workday, though—Trump’s evenings and weekends have remained largely his own.

“It’s not like the White House doesn’t have a plan to fill his time productively but at the end of the day he’s in charge of his schedule,” said one person close to the White House. “He does not like being managed.”

He also doesn’t like managing—or, rather, doesn’t mind stoking competition among his staffers. While his predecessor was known as “no-drama Obama,” Trump has presided over a series of melodramas involving his top aides, including Priebus, Bannon, counselor Kellyanne Conway and economic adviser Gary Cohn.

“He has always been a guy who loves the idea of being a royal surrounded by a court,” said Michael D’Antonio, one of Trump’s biographers.

He's obsessed with the media and it pretty much determines how he sees the world. Nothing else really penetrates. He's got a very important new adviser too:

Trump continues to crave attention and approval from news media figures. Trump huddled in the Oval Office with Matt Drudge, the reclusive operator of the influential Drudge Report, to talk about his administration and the site. Drudge and Kushner have also begun to communicate frequently, said people familiar with the conversations. Drudge, whose visits to the White House haven’t previously been reported, didn’t respond to a request for comment.

Several senior administration aides said Trump loves nothing more than talking to reporters – no matter what he says about the “failing” New York Times or CNN – and he often seems personally stung by negative coverage, cursing and yelling at the TV. Kushner, too, sometimes calls TV personalities and executives, in particular MSNBC host Joe Scarborough, according to people close to the Trump son-in-law. (It didn’t go unnoticed in the West Wing that, at the height of the Kushner-Bannon war, the Drudge Report and Scarborough’s Morning Joe had an anti-Bannon flair to their coverage.)

If the goal of most administrations has been to set the media agenda for the day, it’s often the reverse in Trump’s White House, where what the president hears on the cable morning gabfests on Fox News, MSNBC and CNN can redirect his attention, schedule and agenda. The three TVs in the chief-of-staff's office sometimes dictate the 8 a.m. meeting – and are always turned on to cable news, West Wing officials say.

This is so pernicious. As someone who has to watch all this crap let's just say that it will warp your thinking. You have to read. A lot. You simply cannot understand reality if you depend on cable news, particularly Fox.

Relying on Drudge is actually very smart of Kushner. Drudge is a wingnut. Back during the campaign I wrote about how the beltway media also still follow him like the pied piper. There's big money in it. He was instrumental in inflicting as much damage to Clinton as possible, giving big links and exposure to the mainstream media's obsessive coverage of her emails and her health. If they can find the right formula for Drudge to guide the media to their side, it could be very useful. They need a Democrat to torture, unfortunately, and that's tough right now since Republicans have the whole thing. But if anyone can figure out how to manipulate the press it's Drudge. He rules their world.

And yes, he is full of shit:

The fact that 100 days, as a marker, has no legal or actual significance outside the media has not seemed to matter to Trump. While he has publicly derided the deadline as “ridiculous” on Twitter, he has decidedly reshuffled his schedule, priorities and agenda in the last two weeks to notch political points, knowing the deadline would get inordinate media coverage.

He has repeatedly pressed aides to have a health care vote before Saturday. He surprised his own staff by promising a tax reform plan by this week and urged them to round out his list of accomplishments. He has maintained an aggressive calendar, wooing conservative outlets and traditional reporters alike.

He told aides this week needed to be a busy one — just as he told them after his inauguration.

In days 1 through 10, it was executive orders on a federal hiring freeze, abortions abroad, withdrawing from an Asian trade deal and the explosive immigration order barring immigrants from certain Muslim-majority countries. He got into a diplomatic row with Australia, one of America’s closest allies. The immigration order sparked international protests and was stopped in court. Trump later told advisers he regretted how it was handled.

In days 90 through 100, it was a flurry of executive orders. He got into a diplomatic row with Canada, one of America’s closest allies, threatening a trade war. He moved toward unwinding NAFTA. “There is no way we can do everything he wants to do this week,” one senior official said.

Trump is a guy of action. He likes to move,” said Chris Ruddy, a close friend. “He doesn’t necessarily worry about all the collateral damage or the consequences.”

Just what we need in a Commander in Chief.

Read the whole thing. There's actually a whole lot more and it's all terrifying. It's actually worse than I thought.

The country may be going to hell but the Trump family grift is going better than ever

by digby

In an apparent attempt to fool people into thinking his first 100 days have been wildly successful, President Donald Trump is engaging in a flurry of activity this week. Evidently he hopes that will serve as a proxy for accomplishment.

He has started a trade war with Canada, chatted up astronauts and talked about sending Americans to Mars, signaled that he plans to withdraw from the North American Free Trade Agreement and then changed his mind in that same day, offered up some talking points that he called a tax plan, piled the entire U.S. Senate into buses and summoned them to the White House for a briefing on North Korea (later described by one senator as “a dog and pony show“) and jump-started the doomed Obamacare repeal zombie. And in the middle of all this he weirdly punted on his biggest campaign promise, the “big, beautiful wall.” Trump may not have been productive, but he’s been busy.

The tax proposal is the most interesting because it’s a revealing illustration of Trump’s self-serving White House grift, which carries on regardless of anything else that’s happening in this administration. It’s basically a blueprint for massive profits for himself and his children. Naturally enough, Trump has proposed eliminating the estate tax because it’s so unfair that Ivanka and the boys should have to pay taxes on their immense windfall when their daddy passes on. But that’s just the beginning, as The New York Times reported:

Beyond cutting the tax rate to 15 percent for large corporations, which now pay a rate of 35 percent, Mr. Trump also wants that rate for a broad range of firms known as pass-through entities — including hedge funds, real estate concerns like Mr. Trump’s and large partnerships — that currently pay taxes at individual rates, which top off at 39.6 percent

After presenting this wish list to the press, Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin declared that Trump had no plans to ever release his tax returns because he has been more transparent than any president before him. So they will not be voluntarily produced, period. Mnuchin also acknowledged that a scheme such as the one the administration is proposing for pass-through companies like Trump’s could potentially be used as a tax shelter but assured everyone that it would not be used as a loophole, whatever that means.

The Trump family's massive grift: Who cares about policy? As a business and branding venture, this presidency is going swell

One cannot help but recall this exchange about Trump’s tax returns in a presidential debate just six months ago:

Hillary Clinton: The only years that anybody’s ever seen were a couple of years when he had to turn them over to state authorities when he was trying to get a casino license, and they showed he didn’t pay any federal income tax.

Donald Trump: That makes me smart.
You have to give him credit. Becoming president, refusing to divest yourself of your business or reveal your conflicts of interest and then proposing gigantic tax cuts that will directly benefit you and your family is actually pretty smart. It should be illegal, but it has never previously occurred to anyone that a president could be so shameless or that the American people simply wouldn’t care.

The family is also using the presidency to advance its “brand” and fill its coffers. The Associated Press reported this week that Trump’s sons, Donald Jr. and Eric, have devised a new business strategy to take advantage of their dad’s popularity in certain states now that the international business schemes have come under more scrutiny. Donald Trump Jr. said the plans will still go through but they’ll be delayed for a few years and “there is an optical component that has to be taken into account.” The New York Times reported a few days ago that this was the main reason Jared Kushner and Ivanka Trump have taken a leading role in the White House:
Several administration officials and people close to the family said the couple’s move against [Steve] Bannon was motivated less by interest in shaping any particular policy than by addressing what they view as an embarrassing string of failures that may damage [Ivanka’s] father personally, as well as the Trump family brand.
What’s the point of all this if they can’t cash in on all the promises, favors, graft and payola?

As Ivanka and Jared work the angles from inside the White House, Donald Jr. and Eric are working them in Trump country, looking for properties in places where they can parlay the presidency into big bucks for the family. According to the AP:

Among the possible locations being considered: Texas, parts of the South, and perhaps the nation’s capital, where the hotel would exist with the Trump luxury property in the former home of the Old Post Office not far from the White House. The company is also in the very early stages of considering a three-star hotel chain.

Experts quoted in the article said this didn’t seem to present any ethical problems. In fact, one said that while “questions can be raised” about some of the company’s behavior, a pitch in Trump-friendly states seems like “a reasonable business strategy.” I guess there’s no chance of people trying to buy favors from the government with sweetheart deals for the family business. And there’s certainly no chance that the president would be in a position to offer favors to state and local leaders to ensure that certain favors would flow to the Trump organization. It’s perfectly fine.

In fact, Trump is already arranging for some new development possibilities, as USA Today reported:
President Trump [signed] an executive order Wednesday calling into question the future of dozens of national monuments proclaimed by the last three presidents to set aside millions of acres from development.

Trump’s executive order takes aim at 21 years of proclamations beginning in 1996.

Who knows, maybe the Trump Organization can build some three-star hotels in soon-to-be-privatized national monuments and turn them into monuments to President Trump. If the family can spread some money around to help Dad politically and make the whole gaggle even richer than they already are, Donald Trump will be successful on his own terms regardless of what the pollsters and pundits have to say about it. Who cares about the first 100 days? It’s the first billion dollars that matters.


How dare those liberals disrespect broads like that

by digby

Jesse Waters is Bill O'Reilly's heir apparent at Fox News. He was groomed by the man himself. And he learned well:

"It’s funny. The left says they really respect women and then when given an opportunity to respect a woman like that they boo and hiss … so I don’t really get what’s going on here, but I really liked how she was speaking into that microphone,” Watters said.

Watters gestured with his hand toward his mouth as he made the remark and then grinned at his co-hosts.

They've told him to take a few days off.

You have to love the fact that this guy was lecturing about how the left is hypocritical about respecting women for booing Ivanka and in the same breath said this. It's not just misogyny although it is that. It's the right's patented "I know you are but what am I" junior high level snottiness that Watters so perfectly epitomizes. This style of politics is a true trademark of the right.

The interesting thing is that the Fox audience is made up of white, male, conservative, senior citizens who apparently never grew up. And they run the world. Explains a lot.

Word salad strategery

by digby

That one-page list of tax cut talking points may not have been too well thought out:
Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin today told ABC News chief anchor George Stephanopoulos that he couldn’t say how Donald Trump's sweeping tax overhaul plan would affect the president personally, while also declining to guarantee that middle-class families wouldn't pay more under the proposal.

"I can't make any guarantees until this thing is done and it’s on the president's desk. But I can tell you, that’s our number one objective in this," Mnuchin said on "Good Morning America."
It's hard to know what he to meant by that but let's just say that it's inevitable that "middle class families" will end up paying more so that the wealthy can pay less. We already know that they want to stick it to middle class people who have to buy health insurance in the private market. And somebody's got to pay for that massive military build up.

Still, it's interesting that they decided it was a good idea to put out a sheet of paper with a vague blueprint laying out tax cuts for Donald Trump and his family that makes it clear they didn't give a second thought to the question of how it would affect the average working family. I assume they thought this would be popular.

And it undoubtedly will be popular with Trump's base once the right wing media tells them to believe him or believe their eyes. Greg Sargent reported today:

With the White House visibly agitated by the possibility of brutally negative coverage of President Trump’s tenure thus far, he has insisted that the press is misrepresenting his record, while also vastly inflating it himself — thus preparing his voters to dismiss everything they are being told about his historic lack of accomplishments.

A new Post-ABC News poll suggests that this may be working for Trump. It finds that enormous majorities of his voters believe the news media regularly publishes false stories. Even bigger majorities of them believe the news media’s falsehoods are a bigger problem than Trump’s falsehoods are, while only small fractions think Trump tells falsehoods or that his lies are the greater problem. Just look at these findings, which I pulled from the crosstabs:

80 percent of Trump voters think it’s a bigger problem that news organizations produce false stories, while only 3 percent of them think it’s a bigger problem that Trump makes false claims. (Among Republicans overall, this is 69-14.)
Only 17 percent of Trump voters think Trump regularly makes false claims, while 76 percent of Trump voters think he doesn’t. (Among Republicans overall, this is 31-65.) 
By contrast, 78 percent of Trump voters think that news organizations regularly produce false claims, while only 19 percent of them think otherwise. (Among Republicans overall, this is 70-27.) 
Meanwhile, 84 percent of Trump voters think he’s keeping most of his major campaign promises, while only 4 percent think he isn’t, and 89 percent of them think he’s honest and trustworthy.

The question is whether those things are related: Amid increased press scrutiny of Trump’s falsehoods and failings, do Trump’s assaults on the media — and the related widespread belief among Trump voters that the media regularly produces false stories — further bond them to Trump and make them more likely to believe he’s succeeding?

It’s possible. Note this finding from another new poll of Trump voters, this one from the University of Virginia Center for Politics Poll:
Nearly nine in 10 respondents (88%) said that media criticism of Trump reinforces that the president is on the right track, and the same percentage agreed with Trump’s assertion that the press is “the enemy of the American people.” 
The lies that tumble from Trump himself are unprecedented in scope, audacity and frequency. The Post fact-checking team had documented more than 400 false or misleading statements as of Day 91 of his presidency. Other administration members have taken their cues from this, particularly press secretary Sean Spicer, who set the tone early on by lying about Trump’s inaugural crowd sizes and accusing the press of falsely diminishing them. Yet to Trump voters, not only does this reality not exist at all; such critical media scrutiny of him and his administration is a sign that he’s doing something right — that he’s on their side, and the news media is the enemy.

Trump has understood this better than anyone from the beginning:


Voting Rights Jeopardy

by Tom Sullivan

"Alex, I'll take Voting Irregularities for $100."
It's the solution to dead people voting.
"What is Voter ID?"

That is the conservatively correct response to every voting irregularity in the category. Dated voter rolls. Felons voting. Clerical errors. Registration errors. Non-citizens voting. Double voting. Machine tampering. Ballot box stuffing. Absentee ballot fraud (a big one). The entire gamut of election irregularities. For voter fraud vigilantes, one non-solution fits all and puts the voting rights of millions of legal voters in jeopardy in pursuit of the ever-elusive, voter imposter. Why is that?

Right-wing media has been flogging the results of an audit of the 2016 election released last week by the North Carolina State Board of Elections (NCSBE). Misrepresenting those results helps sell one single product that won't prevent the overwhelming majority of suspected ineligible votes. On Fox & Friends Sunday April 23, guest J. Christian Adams declared, "The system is broken and needs work."

Yet the Charlotte Observer Editorial Board concludes:

On Friday, the State Board of Elections released the results of an extensive, objective audit of the 2016 election. It found that 4,769,640 votes were cast in November and that one (1) would probably have been avoided with a voter ID law. One out of nearly 4.8 million.
Let that sink in. In fact, the audit identified 508 suspected cases of inelligible votes. Offsetting those (highlight in the original), "A provisional ballot audit resulted in 428 ballots of eligible voters being counted that would not otherwise have counted." (They won't be celebrating that on Fox News.) But before we get to the details, the Republican-led NCSBE is careful not to mischaracterize what the votes flagged as worthy of investigation represent (highlight in the original):
This agency strongly cautions readers not to refer to each of these cases as “voter fraud.” As stated earlier, “ineligible voters casting ballots” may be the result of unintentional or intentional conduct. Fraud, in most cases, is an intent crime that requires prosecutors to show that the voter knowingly committed a crime.

The evidence suggests that participation by ineligible voters is neither rampant nor non-existent in North Carolina. Our audits suggest that in the 2016 general election, approximately 0.01% of ballots were cast by ineligible voters. Most incidents are isolated and uncoordinated, and detecting technical violations does not always prove purposefully unlawful conduct. Our work indicates that ineligible voters are not isolated to one political party or any geographical region of the state.
Contrary to the alarmism on the right about election integrity, a 0.01% error rate would indicate a system that works pretty well, well below the defect rate for consumer electronics, actually. The Observer continues:
About 87 percent of those (441) were felons who voted. State law prohibits felons from voting until their sentence is fully served, including probation and parole. It is believed that many of the felons who voted did not realize they could not vote while on probation.

The probe found 41 non-citizens, from 28 countries, voted. All were here legally, but were not eligible to vote. The audit also found 24 cases of double-voting and two cases of voter impersonation (one by mail and one in person).

The two impersonation cases have been referred to prosecutors. They involve ballots by persons voting the preferences of recently deceased members of the family. (Both were Republicans.) The in-person case is the one identified out of 4.8 million that might have been stopped by a photo ID law.

It's the solution to non-citizens voting

The Board is also careful to remind readers that these are for the most part only suspected cases of “ineligible voters casting ballots." They've been flagged for further investigation. In many cases, the initial screening proves incorrect.

Investigations on non-citizen cases also have revealed the complexities of immigration law and citizenship status.

For instance, some individuals achieve citizenship as a matter of law through “derived citizenship” as the child of a naturalized citizen, though paperwork showing that changed status is only available if requested and official databases may not reflect the correct status. An Application for Certificate of Citizenship costs $1,170. Individual contact with affected registrants has also illustrated the limitations of the data. Even where data from the Division of Motor Vehicles, the U.S. Department of Homeland Security and the voter rolls matched exactly, a high proportion of flagged individuals were citizens.
And since the cases identified to date are all legal immigrants, they would already have government IDs.

It's the solution to felons voting

As in the cases of felons returning to voting before completing their parole or probation, the Board believes "education and understanding of state law appear to be the primary problem."

It's the solution to double voting

The Board rarely encounters cases of double voting, but has flagged 24 records for further investigation. If past experience is any indication, suspected double voting will turn out in a majority of cases (I wrote about one case I know personally here) to be bad data matching or clerical errors:
Detecting double voting and voter impersonation is a time-intensive process. Database matching is not enough, as administrative errors can lead to voter history being assigned to the wrong person — such as when a poll worker checks off the wrong name on the poll book. Instead, data is only the starting point for cases that ultimately involve live interviews and signature analyses. NCSBE has begun that process on possible instate double voting cases in 2016. This initial review of NC voter registration records indicates that there are a few dozen possible additional cases of double voting; however, this process is still in its preliminary stages and staff have not yet completed review of voter documents to determine whether the match was due to administrative error rather than illegal voting.
The NCSBE offers additional steps it is taking for reducing voting errors to augment deterrents already in place. They involve improved voter education, updated elections software (to check felon status at the time of registration), automated detection of transcription errors in real time, and continued use of the Interstate Crosscheck Program, among others.

But not voter ID, the all-purpose response when "election integrity" advocates play Voting Rights Jeopardy.

Wednesday, April 26, 2017

Bill O'Reilly may be gone from Fox but his id carries on

by digby

Via John Amato, I see that Fox is still inciting violence against abortion providers. Here's The Five's Greg Gutfield:

Greg Gutfield: "I have a problem with saying you’re pro-life but you respect the other side. Because that’s a PLC -- I’m a PLC, I’m a pro-life coward, which means I believe, and it’s untethered to religion, that it is killing a baby. But I’m not going to do anything about it because I realize there’s nothing I can do about it."

Kimberly Guilfoyle tried to help him out, "Well, you talk about it - You educate."

Gutfeld replied, "Yeah, but think about it. If in the 1850s there was a talk show called the Ye Olde Five Shoppe and we're sitting there and we’re going like, 'I'm against slavery, but you know, I think it's immoral, it's wrong, but there's nothing I can do about it.'"

"If you are pro-life and you believe it is murder, you should be willing to fight for it," he continued. "That’s the hypocrisy behind this whole idea is that you should be able to start a war if you believe in this that strongly, but we aren't. We aren't because we are “PLCs.” I'm a “PLC.” I'm a pro-life coward. It's what I am."

He says he's a pro-life coward because he isn't willing to start a war over it. The good news for the highly paid TV celebrity, is that some of his viewers are the kind of guys who will happily take up the cause:

A whirlwind of nothingness

by digby

Trump summoned the entire US Senate to the White House for ... nothing:

Donald Trump invited the entire Senate for a briefing at the White House on North Korea and military preparation, but only spent 14 minutes with his fellow leaders.

Based on what those senators are now telling reporters, the entire meeting seems to have been a colossal waste of time.

Sen. Richard Blumenthal (D-CT) told the Washington Post, “There was very little, if anything new” in the meeting, adding, “I remain mystified about why the entire Senate had to be taken over to the White House rather than conducting it here.”

A Democratic senator told the New York Times that, during the meeting, Trump did his “ridiculous adjective” bit, and that in response there were “about 80 sets of invisible eyes rolling.”

Sen. Bob Corker (R-TN), currently chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, had a rather lukewarm response for reporters:

CORKER: "It was an OK briefing"

Q: What do you mean, you didn't really learn much?

CORKER: "I--it was OK..."

One Republican senator told The Washington Post’s Ed O’Keefe that, when pressed for details on what U.S. policy towards North Korea is, “the briefers gave us very, very few details,” and noted that the event lacked “even straight answers on what the policy is regarding N. Korea and its testing of ICBMs.”

Another senator told the Post that he was “still unclear what kind of briefing this was,” and was not sure if it was classified or not. He also said, “It’s not like we learned some earth-shaking thing that’s going to happen tomorrow.”

It was a show. And a really stupid one since everyone came out of it and panned it.

They're really flailing. Trump's just throwing out everything he can think of to try to get himself top ratings for his first hundred days. And instead it just gets worse. This tax "plan" is some ridiculous talking points that only draw attention to his own unwillingness to release his taxes. He's even crowing about he intends to give rich people like himself the most generous tax cuts in history. He seems to be declaring a trade war with Canada and then late today they gave a statement that he plans to "withdraw" from NAFTA. That brought responses like this from his own party:

Trump in recent months has labeled NAFTA as a "one-sided deal," called it a "disaster" for the US and has argued that the deal has led to the loss of millions of US manufacturing jobs.

But many Republicans on Capitol Hill have expressed concerns about Trump's hardline on free trade deals.

Sen. John McCain on Wednesday urged Trump not to pull the US from NAFTA.

"It will devastate the economy in my state," McCain said. "I hope he doesn't do that."

If anyone thinks that imbecilic, incompetent, grifter will "renegotiate" a better plan for America's workers they need to wake the fuck up. Even if you hate NAFTA, there is no way in hell that this guy will improve it. What he actually knows about trade deals you could fit in a thimble. He will obviously make it much, much worse. Donald Trump is not a populist or a nationalist or ... anything. He's a moron who is being led around by the nose by a bunch of wingnut weirdos, Generals and Wall Street banksters.

So here we are with a guy who is desperate to "win" something so he's launched a whirlwind of airstrikes, photo-ops Executive Orders, pronouncements, tariffs and god-knows-what-else. Luckily he's such an effective manager with such clear ideas about how to accomplish his goals that he won't drop any of the balls he's throwing into the air. It's fine. Nothing to worry about.


Justice Gorsuch, please come to the white courtesy telephone.

by digby

I have to wonder if these Republican justices and judges all over he country are ok with this crude, disrespectful partisan language coming from the Department of Justice:

Today, the rule of law suffered another blow, as an unelected judge unilaterally rewrote immigration policy for our Nation. Federal law explicitly states that “a Federal, State or Local government entity or official may not prohibit, or in any way restrict, any government entity or official from sending to, or receiving from, the Immigration and Naturalization Service information regarding the citizenship or immigration status, lawful or unlawful, of any individual.” 8 U.S.C. 1373(a). That means, according to Congress, a city that prohibits its officials from providing information to federal immigration authorities -- a sanctuary city -- is violating the law. Sanctuary cities, like San Francisco, block their jails from turning over criminal aliens to Federal authorities for deportation. These cities are engaged in the dangerous and unlawful nullification of Federal law in an attempt to erase our borders.

Once again, a single district judge -- this time in San Francisco -- has ignored Federal immigration law to set a new immigration policy for the entire country. This decision occurred in the same sanctuary city that released the 5-time deported illegal immigrant who gunned down innocent Kate Steinle in her father's arms. San Francisco, and cities like it, are putting the well-being of criminal aliens before the safety of our citizens, and those city officials who authored these policies have the blood of dead Americans on their hands. This San Francisco judge's erroneous ruling is a gift to the criminal gang and cartel element in our country, empowering the worst kind of human trafficking and sex trafficking, and putting thousands of innocent lives at risk.

This case is yet one more example of egregious overreach by a single, unelected district judge. Today’s ruling undermines faith in our legal system and raises serious questions about circuit shopping. But we are confident we will ultimately prevail in the Supreme Court, just as we will prevail in our lawful efforts to impose immigration restrictions necessary to keep terrorists out of the United States.

In the meantime, we will pursue all legal remedies to the sanctuary city threat that imperils our citizens, and continue our efforts to ramp up enforcement to remove the criminal and gang element from our country. Ultimately, this is a fight between sovereignty and open borders, between the rule of law and lawlessness, and between hardworking Americans and those who would undermine their safety and freedom.
Apparently, they really think that the system by which laws are challenged in this country is illegitimate. District Court judges have no authority to rule on any order proposed by Donald Trump but it's unclear what they think should be done about this. Either they believe the judiciary should have no power to question the president, which means we really are living in a police state, or they want to change the way it works so that only certain judges are allowed to do it. Clearly, they can't have a Mexican heritage or belong to the 9th circuit or live in Hawaii or San Francisco.

Perhaps the most likely answer is that only judges who agree with the president are legitimate. And frankly, that what I expect from Donald Trump. It's rather unnerving to see such an authoritarian official statement by the Department of Justice, however. Even anodyne norms of respectable bureaucratic speech are now being thrown out the window. Breitbart has taken over the Justice Department.


DHS must have thought better of the first acronym: VERMIN

by digby

They really missed the boat with their acronym though. This one is much more to the point:

Violent Evil Rapist Mexican Immigrants No! aka: VERMIN

Here's a little reminder of some unfortunate historical precedents for this:

Adolf Hitler also published a list of crimes committed by groups he didn’t like: 

There's a reason Trump's opponents are so worried. This strategy — one designed to single out a particular group of people, suggesting that there's something particularly sinister about how they behave — was employed to great effect by Adolf Hitler and his allies. In the 1930s, the Nazis used a similar tactic to stir up anger and hatred toward Jews. Professor Richard Weikart of California State University explained that Nazi leaders used different kinds of communication tools to sell the message that “Jews are criminal by disposition,” as a 1943 Nazi directive to the German press put it. “The Jews are not a nation like other nations but bearers of hereditary criminality,” the order said. Germany, in other words, was out of control, and only Nazi anti-Semitic policies could “restore order.”

To spread these ideas, there were books (like the pamphlet pictured above) and films that portrayed Jews as subhuman. “The Eternal Jew,” released in 1940, depicted Jews as wandering cultural parasites, consumed by sex and money. Newspapers such as Der Stürmer printed anti-Semitic cartoons regularly. “By the late 1930s, the increasingly fanatical tone of Nazi propaganda reflected the growing radicalization of the regime's anti-Semitic policies,” the BBC explained. “The Jewish stereotypes shown in such propaganda served to reinforce anxieties about modern developments in political and economic life, without bothering to question the reality of the Jewish role in German society.”

You'll notice that the VOICE acronym doesn't say anything about immigrants being illegal. Neither does Trump's order.

GOP sneaks Obamacare regulations in their plan. But only for themselves

by digby

Vox has the goods:

House Republicans appear to have included a provision that exempts Members of Congress and their staff from their latest health care plan.

The new Republican amendment, introduced Tuesday night, would allow states to waive out of Obamacare’s ban on pre-existing conditions. This means that insurers could once again, under certain circumstances, charge sick people higher premiums than healthy people.

Republican legislators liked this policy well enough to offer it in a new amendment. They do not, however, seem to like it enough to have it apply to themselves and their staff. A spokesperson for Rep. Tom MacArthur (R-N.J.) who authored this amendment confirmed this was the case: members of Congress and their staff would get the guarantee of keeping this Obamacare regulations. Health law expert Tim Jost flagged me to this particular issue.

A bit of background is helpful here. Obamacare requires all members of Congress and their staff to purchase coverage on the individual market, just like Obamacare enrollees. The politics of that plank were simple enough, meant to demonstrate that if the coverage in this law were good enough for Americans than it should be good enough for their representations in Washington.

That’s been happening for the past four years now. Fast-forward to this new amendment, which would allow states to waive out of key Obamacare protections like the ban on pre-existing conditions or the requirement to cover things like maternity care and mental health services.

If Congressional aides lived in a state that decided to waive these protections, the aides who were sick could be vulnerable to higher premiums than the aides that are healthy. Their benefits package could get skimpier as Obamacare’s essential health benefits requirement may no longer apply either.

This apparently does not sound appealing because the Republican amendment includes the members of Congress and their staff as a protected group who cannot be affected by this amendment.

They're special, vital people who need those protections. The rest of us don't. We're expendable.

This is a very revealing moment and one which would be nice to see blown up in the media. It's so hard for anything specific to penetrate that it's difficult to make that happen. But it is a powerful illustration that Republicans know exactly what their plan is going to do to people.


by digby

There is a lot of grassroots energy resisting the Trump administration but I thought I'd just post this for you, in case you were wondering what the liberal professional constitution and ethical watchdogs are doing in the face of the most blatantly corrupt administration in history:
Donald Trump won the presidency back in November, but for many liberal organizations, the battle continues. A loose network of lawyers and watchdogs has dug in to scrutinize issues involving the Trump administration's ethics and transparency.

Key topics include: the conflicts between Trump's business interests and his presidential duties; the constitutional questions raised by his foreign profits; and the performance of his appointees, many of whom now run agencies overseeing the industries they themselves came from.

The groups feel their work is essential, given that Trump's Republican Party controls both the House and Senate. So far, Republican lawmakers have made oversight of the executive branch's ethics a low priority. A central figure in the opposition network is Fred Wertheimer, of the research and strategy group Democracy 21. He says: "The common understanding in the watchdog community is that we're going to have to hold the Trump administration responsible, because no one else is going to do it."

Below is a list of some of the most active groups.

ACLU (American Civil Liberties Union)

Filed Freedom of Information Act requests for records on possible conflicts of interest and emoluments (gifts or payments from foreign, state or local governments or officials). Seeking perjury investigation of Attorney General Jeff Sessions after he failed to disclose meetings with a Russian official during confirmation hearing to be attorney general.


The ACLU brings legal savvy and grass-roots clout to the ethics coalition. But it's busy battling Trump on other fronts as well, such as the travel and refugee bans and deportation of unauthorized immigrants.

American Oversight

Files FOIA requests at federal agencies so it can monitor their activities. The Audit The Wall project intends to examine plans, contracts and construction of the Southern border wall. With the Environmental Working Group, examining FOIA'd records on EPA administrator's decision to reverse a ban on the pesticide chlorpyrifos.


A new group of lawyers, including some who worked at agencies in the Obama administration.

Brennan Center For Justice

Analyzes laws and standards that keep a president or appointee from profiting on the presidency. Research expected to lead to FOIAs, possibly litigation.


Named for progressive Supreme Court Justice William Brennan Jr. and based at NYU Law School, this legal think tank digs into issues ranging from campaign finance and voter ID to mass incarceration in American prisons and the constitutional rights of detainees held at Guantánamo Bay.

Campaign for Accountability

Petitioned to unseal divorce records of Trump's first nominee for labor secretary, Andrew Puzder, who later withdrew. Filed ethics complaint against Republican congressional aides who worked for the Trump transition team.


A small D.C. nonprofit working to "expose misconduct and malfeasance in public life," focusing mainly on state governments.

Campaign Legal Center

Analyzes and challenges administration actions on ethics, conflict of interest issues; researches long-term solutions.


Legal and advocacy group specializing in ethics and election laws: ballot access, campaign finance, political advertising, voting rights, redistricting and related issues. President is former Federal Election Commission Chair (and Stephen Colbert lawyer) Trevor Potter.

Center for American Progress

Monitors U.S. enforcement of Foreign Corrupt Practices Act, which controls overseas conduct of American corporations. Tracks lawmakers' letters to White House concerning ethics issues, and administration responses. Researches and publishes reports on Trump conflicts of interest.


The think tank most closely aligned with the Democratic Party establishment; it has expertise in a vast array of issues from governmental to social, plus media, grass-roots and social media operations.

Center for Media and Democracy

Litigating to uncover EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt's email traffic with energy companies, from his time as Oklahoma attorney general. Examining disclosures of Trump agency appointees for potential ethics concerns.


Progressive watchdog group in Madison, Wis.; used leaked documents in high-profile investigations of Koch political network and corporate legislative group American Legislative Exchange Council.

Common Cause

Called on Attorney General Jeff Sessions to resign over untruthful answers in his confirmation hearing. Urged Senate to delay confirmation of EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt, saying he withheld documents revealing corporate influence in his decisions as Oklahoma attorney general.


"Good government" lobbying and grass-roots group with a record reaching back to 1970. Active on voting rights, gerrymandering, other democracy issues. Was a key force in passage of 2002 McCain-Feingold law, other campaign finance and ethics laws.

Constitutional Accountability Center

Researching U.S. Constitution provisions on foreign and domestic emoluments, to shape legal action by other groups.


Primary mission is to promote progressive "textualist" interpretations of the Constitution, versus conservative "originalism."

CREW (Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington)

One of several hubs of the network. Sued President Trump on his first full workday, alleging that Trump profited by taking payments from foreign diplomats and others at his hotels and golf courses, violating the Constitution's emoluments clause.


If the Trump ethics network has stars, they are CREW's Norm Eisen, former ethics counsel for Obama's White House, and Richard Painter, who did that job under President George W. Bush.

Demand Progress

Tracking White House activities, including disclosure reports of presidential appointees, nondisclosure of visitor logs, lobbying at Office of Management and Budget.


A digital-democracy group that claims 2 million grass-roots supporters.

Democracy 21

Another hub of the network. Works with CREW on emoluments. Urged New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman to investigate the Trump Organization as a possible conduit of foreign emoluments. In letters to administration officials, lays out arguments to comply with ethics laws — e.g., why Ivanka Trump couldn't do her White House job as a volunteer.


Headed by Fred Wertheimer, one of the progressive movement's leading strategists on ethics and campaign finance laws since the 1980s.

Every Voice

Uses email, social media to mobilize a large grass-roots base to sign petitions, call lawmakers, go to demonstrations on Trump ethics issues and accountability.


Advocacy group for tougher campaign finance laws, now has branched out to support challenges on Trump ethics. Also active on state issues.

Free Speech For People

Called on New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman to revoke the state's corporate charter for the Trump Organization, alleging the company has long engaged in illegal conduct.


FSFP, based in Amherst, Mass., began as a vehicle to fight the Supreme Court's Citizens United ruling. Unlike most groups battling the Trump administration, it explicitly calls for Trump's impeachment.

Government Accountability Project

"Know Your Rights" campaign aims to raise federal employees' awareness of legal protections against reprisals from superiors, celebrate "the role of truth and truth-telling" and encourage potential possible whistleblowers.


Since 1977, helping governmental and corporate whistleblowers with strategic support and high-profile litigation.

Issue One

Renewed a push for stronger ethics laws, including more power for the Office of Government Ethics, which oversees compliance with disclosure and conflict of interest laws in the executive branch. Would protect OGE director from being dismissed without cause.


Issue One's primary goal is a reform package that includes more transparency of political money, increased political participation, stronger ethics enforcement. Emphasizes bipartisanship.

People for the American Way

Looks into possible implications of ethics problems and conflicts of interest. Steers its grass-roots supporters to activities held by allied groups.


Founded in 1981 to counter the emerging religious right; has diversified in its mission while maintaining one of the progressive movement's largest grass-roots networks.

POGO (Project on Government Oversight)

Another hub. Works with Capitol Hill oversight committees and agency inspectors general and conducts its own investigations. Advises federal employees on legal rights, job protections and whistleblowing. Updating its handbook for federal workers, The Art of Anonymous Activism.


Not your usual Washington nonprofit, POGO works down in the gears of governing. Has ties to Republican and Democratic investigators on Capitol Hill, trains Hill staff in how to do oversight of executive branch. Founded in 1981 as a watchdog on Pentagon spending.

Public Citizen

Also a hub. Has taken action on White House counselor Kellyanne Conway's violation of ethics rules, presidential adviser Carl Icahn's potential conflicts of interest. Sued Trump over executive order to undo existing regulations. Chronicles corporate influence with website corporatecabinet.org.


The network's most diversified group with its own litigation team, grass-roots network, plus staff experts in the hot-button issues: ethics, financial policy, environment, trade, health care. Founded in 1971 by consumer activist Ralph Nader.

Sunlight Foundation

Monitors government websites to detect and catalog information that is deleted. Tracks open-government practices and FOIA compliance in Trump administration.


Created in 2006 to increase disclosure of governmental and political records and make government more transparent. Pushed for enactment of FOIA Improvement Act, which establishes a presumption of openness for data.

United To Protect Democracy

Examines constitutional and legal concerns stemming from White House and agency actions — e.g., legal justification for Syria missile strikes, political hiring for attorney positions in DOJ civil rights division.


New group created by lawyers from the Obama White House.

His corruption is being normalized so quickly that it's already obvious that many of the issue that would have initiated massive scandals and investigations are already being ignored.And the congressional oversight is a joke.  But there are professionals out there trying to keep track, if only for the record. And that's something.

The good news is that the Villagers are working night and day to keep Chelsea Clinton in her place so you can at least rest easy about that.


Belief is truth

by Tom Sullivan

Photo by Christopher Daniels via Creative Commons.

Sociologist Nick Rogers just introduced me (via the New York Times) to a term I'd never heard. I'd never heard it because it is slang used by professional wrestlers. He uses it to explain why listeners eat it up when Alex Jones rants that the Sandy Hook massacre was staged by the government or that Hillary Clinton runs a child sex ring out of a pizza parlor. It explains why no amount of fact-checking or voter education will correct their misapprehension.

The word is “kayfabe.” Oxford added it to the dictionary in 2015:

Syllabification: kay·fabe
Pronunciation: /’ka?fab/


1. (In professional wrestling) the fact or convention of presenting staged performances as genuine or authentic:
“a masterful job of blending kayfabe and reality”
“he’s not someone who can break kayfabe and talk about the business”
Oxford believes the term originated in American traveling carnivals. (You see where this is going, right?)

Rogers writes:
Although the etymology of the word is a matter of debate, for at least 50 years “kayfabe” has referred to the unspoken contract between wrestlers and spectators: We’ll present you something clearly fake under the insistence that it’s real, and you will experience genuine emotion. Neither party acknowledges the bargain, or else the magic is ruined.

To a wrestling audience, the fake and the real coexist peacefully. If you ask a fan whether a match or backstage brawl was scripted, the question will seem irrelevant. You may as well ask a roller-coaster enthusiast whether he knows he’s not really on a runaway mine car. The artifice is not only understood but appreciated: The performer cares enough about the viewer’s emotions to want to influence them. Kayfabe isn’t about factual verifiability; it’s about emotional fidelity.
Alex Jones gets that. Ann Coulter gets that. Donald “truthful hyperbole” Trump gets that. Hollywood gets that every time it presents a multi-million dollar kayfabe that allows paying customers for two hours to immerse themselves in an alternate reality in which good triumphs, hope returns, the music swells, and you walk out of darkness back into the light. Horror fans pay good money for a good, safe scare. Trump rallies are free.

Hence, Rogers writes:
Ask an average Trump supporter whether he or she thinks the president actually plans to build a giant wall and have Mexico pay for it, and you might get an answer that boils down to, “I don’t think so, but I believe so.” That’s kayfabe. Chants of “Build the Wall” aren’t about erecting a structure; they’re about how cathartic it feels, in the moment, to yell with venom against a common enemy.
Push audiences only so far and it's entertainment, spectacle. Push them too far and you have a violent mob. In wrestling, the American hero taking on the "foreign menace" is a staple; the Iron Sheik or Ivan ‘The Russian Bear’ Koloff, for example. At Trump rallies, the "foreign" menace is Hillary Clinton. ("Lock her up!") Barack Hussein Obama is still the foreign menace.

In certain Christian circles, it's just not church without a preacher who can whip up a congregation until they feel the holy spirit and a cathartic release. Today's radio carnies have harnessed daily spectacles in the tradition of the evangelical altar call. Ostensibly to spread the conservative gospel, they provide fans with their daily fixes, a kind of "two minutes hate" that lasts three hours at a stretch. Good for your daily vent at the Other and good for selling penis pills and incontinence treatments. The rules of kayfabe are that no one acknowledges the line between sincerity and salesmanship.

Kayfabe, Rogers insists, is not satire. Satire involves a nod and a wink that the audience is in on the joke. Kayfabe is just the opposite:
Kayfabe isn’t merely a suspension of disbelief, it is philosophy about truth itself. It rests on the assumption that feelings are inherently more trustworthy than facts.
That feels about right. Of course, it does. Truthiness satirizes kayfabe. But kayfabe packs more emotional punch. And that's what fans return for each week.

Back when professional wrestling was more of a local auditorium and high school gymnasium event, I went once for the hell of it. But what I recall more from the days of "Nature Boy" Rick Flair is from a coffee table book of black and white photos of Greenville, SC from the 1970s when this happened. The image burned into my brain is of an older woman at Monday Night Wrestling, standing at ringside screaming and shaking her fist, the gold cross on her chest blazing as the flash caught her. They pay money for that experience. They know it's fake and they don't care. And they'll vote for it. Donald Trump knows. He used to own a piece of WWE.

"Don't make them feel dumb for spending their money to see you." Al Snow Explains "Kayfabe" to trainees.

Tuesday, April 25, 2017

About that Russian thing

by digby

The White House is refusing to cooperate with the congressional probe into the Flynn matter and it's very odd unless they have something to hide, don't you think? It's not like the guy still works there.

Anyway, it is probably a good thing if it pushed congress to appoint and independent commission since neither the tainted House probes or the slow-walking Senate probe are going to get the job done.

The people are already behind it:
Nearly three-quarters of Americans say they want an independent, non-partisan commission instead of Congress to investigate Russia's involvement in the 2016 election, according to the latest NBC News/Wall Street Journal poll.
Seventy-three percent of respondents prefer the independent investigation, versus 16 percent who pick Congress. 
Still, a majority of Americans — 54 percent — believe that Congress should investigate whether there was contact between the Russian government and the Trump campaign, which is essentially unchanged from February's NBC/WSJ poll.
But they don't have much faith in the outcome:

There's good reason for this. The congress is investigating very haphazardly. Richard Burr, the chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee was a member of the Trump transition and he talks a good game but he's doing as little as possible so I wouldn't get my hopes up:
The Senate’s main investigation into allegations of Russian meddling in the 2016 U.S. presidential election is equipped with a much smaller staff than previous high-profile intelligence and scandal probes in Congress, which could potentially affect its progress, according to sources and a Reuters review of public records.

With only seven staff members initially assigned to the Senate Intelligence Committee’s three-month-old investigation, progress has been sluggish and minimal, said two sources with direct knowledge of the matter, who requested anonymity.

A committee aide, also speaking on condition of anonymity, said two more staff members were being added and a few others were involved less formally.

“We need to pick up the pace,” Senator Martin Heinrich, a committee Democrat, told Reuters on Monday. “It is incumbent on us to have the resources to do this right and expeditiously, and I think we need additional staff.”

While some directly involved in the investigation disputed characterizations of the probe as off track, the appearance of a weak Senate investigation could renew calls by some Democrats and other Trump critics for a commission independent of the Republican-led Congress to investigate the allegations.

The intelligence committees of the Senate and House of Representatives have taken the lead in Congress in examining whether Russia tried to influence the election in Republican Trump’s favor, mostly by hacking Democratic operatives’ emails and releasing embarrassing information, or possibly by colluding with Trump associates. Russia has denied such meddling.

With the House intelligence panel’s investigation for weeks stymied by partisan squabbles, the Senate committee’s parallel probe had appeared to be the more serious of the two, with Republican Chairman Richard Burr and top Democrat Mark Warner promising a thorough and bipartisan effort.

Burr, a member of Congress since 1995, last month called the Russia probe one of the biggest investigations undertaken in Congress during his tenure.

Previous investigations of national security matters have been much larger in terms of staffing than the one Burr is overseeing, according to a review of official reports produced by those inquiries, which traditionally name every staff member involved.

A House committee formed to investigate the 2012 attacks on a U.S. diplomatic mission in Benghazi, Libya, that killed four Americans had 46 staffers and eight interns.

The Senate Intelligence Committee’s years-long study of the CIA’s “enhanced” interrogation techniques during President George W. Bush’s administration had 20 staff members, according to the panel’s official report.

A special commission separate from Congress that reviewed the intelligence that wrongly concluded former Iraqi President Saddam Hussein possessed weapons of mass destruction ahead of the 2003 invasion of Iraq involved 88 staffers.

A special Senate committee’s 1970s investigation into Watergate-era surveillance practices tapped 133 staffers.

A joint House-Senate probe of the 1980s Iran-Contra affair during Ronald Reagan’s presidency involving secret sales of arms to Iran to try to win the release of American hostages, with proceeds going to Nicaraguan rebels, had 181 staffers.

Spokeswomen for Burr and for Warner declined to comment on the staffing levels.

The listed sizes of various investigations may be an imperfect comparison because not all staffers listed may have actually had a substantial role, congressional sources said. Investigations often grow in size over time, and a committee aide said the panel had secured $1.2 million in additional funding for the Russia election investigation.

But the numbers are still broadly “relevant as indicators of a commitment to an investigation,” said Steven Aftergood, a secrecy expert with the Federation of American Scientists.

“For this investigation to be successful, the committee must recognize the enormity of the job and provide the resources to tackle it,” Senator Ron Wyden, another committee Democrat, said in a statement.

Wyden sent a letter last month to Burr and Warner requesting that the probe include a thorough review of any financial ties between Russia and Trump and his associates.

None of the staffers possess substantial investigative experience or a background in Russian affairs, two of the sources said.

Apparently interference into American elections is no big deal to the Republican party. Well, as long as the Russians are trying to help them win. I guess they feel they're kindred spirits, which they are: authoritarian kleptocrats are the new right. So, it makes sense.

By the way, this piece by NBC from last week about that weird RT dinner is interesting. Flynn and Jill Stein were the American stars seated right there at the big table with President Putin for the event. Flynn was very enthusiastic.

This new story about Flynn's Turkish connection is also startling. It turns out the Turkish contact is also heavily connected to Russia. What in the hell was he thinking?