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Friday, May 26, 2017

Friday Night Soother

by digby

I'm exhausted so I'm just going to give you a sweet little video of a monkey and his best friend to make you smile a little bit:

We all have to stick together. Enjoy your evening.
Good old Manafort

by digby

Don't forget. Manafort picked Pence

He's always lurking somewhere in the background isn't he?
Months after the FBI began examining Paul Manafort as part of a probe into ties between President Donald Trump’s team and Russia, Manafort called Trump’s chief of staff, Reince Priebus, to push back against the mounting controversy, according to four people familiar with the call. 
It was about a week before Trump’s inauguration, and Manafort wanted to brief Trump’s team on alleged inaccuracies in a recently released dossier of memos written by a former British spy for Trump’s opponents that alleged compromising ties among Russia, Trump and Trump’s associates, including Manafort.

“On the day that the dossier came out in the press, Paul called Reince, as a responsible ally of the president would do, and said this story about me is garbage, and a bunch of the other stuff in there seems implausible,” said a person close to Manafort. 
Manafort had been forced to resign as Trump’s campaign chairman five months earlier amid scrutiny of his work for Kremlin-aligned politicians and businessmen in Eastern Europe. But he had continued talking to various members of Trump’s team and had even had at least two conversations with Trump, according to people close to Manafort or Trump. 
While the people say the conversations were mostly of a political or, in some cases, personal nature, the conversation with Priebus, described by the four people familiar with it, was related to the scandal now consuming Manafort and the Trump presidency. 
It suggests that Manafort recognized months ago the potentially serious problems posed by the investigation, even as Trump himself continues to publicly dismiss it as a politically motivated witch hunt while predicting it won’t find anything compromising. 
The discussion also could provide fodder for an expanding line of inquiry for both the FBI and congressional investigators. They’ve increasingly focused on the Trump team’s handling of the investigations, including evolving explanations from the White House, and the president’s unsuccessful efforts to get the FBI to drop part of the investigation, followed by his firing of FBI Director James Comey. All that has led to claims that the president and his team may have opened themselves to obstruction of justice charges.
Why in the hell would the Trump campaign continue to have contact with this guy after it was revealed he was under investigation for his Russian ties?  Were they really this dumb?

Yes, apparently they were. Never mind.

You've got to love this part:

Manafort discussed with other Trump allies the possibility of launching a countervailing investigation into efforts by Ukrainian government officials who allegedly worked in conjunction with allies of Trump’s Democratic rival Hillary Clinton to damage Trump’s campaign, according to the operative. The operative added that Manafort saw such an investigation as a way to distract attention from the parallel FBI and congressional Russia probes.

Priebus and the White House press office declined to comment, as did the Ukrainian presidential administration, though it previously challenged the notion it meddled in the U.S. presidential election.

Priebus did, however, alert Trump to the conversation with Manafort, according to the operative familiar with the conversation and a person close to Trump.

Apparently even Trump didn't go for that one, at least not publicly. He continues to portray the whole thing as a nefarious plot by Crooked Hillary. Ukrainians don't get big cheers at his rallies.


"A full-fledged assault on truth and reason"

by digby

The media is giving Clinton the usual rasher of shit for saying this even though it's obviously true. I mean, consider the news today that Comey knew that the memo alleging collusion between Loretta Lynch and the Clinton campaign was a Russian fake but he used it as an excuse anyway because he was afraid it would come out anyway and shake people's confidence in the electoral system and the Department of Justice. This was why he felt the need to inject himself in the election in July by holding that first press conference calling Clinton reckless.

Yes, that gives me a headache too. But it shows how successful this election interference really was.

And keep in mind that Trump and the Russians didn't invent it. The Republicans have been at this for a long time, aided and abetted by the political media:

It's the full manifestation of Cokie's Law: it doesn't matter if it's true or not. It's out there.

QOTD: Texas Governor Greg Abbott

by digby

They're just going for it:
After signing a bill to reduce handgun license fees on Friday, Texas Gov. Greg Abbott (R) fired some shots at an indoor shooting range. 
He then held up his target sheet and quipped, “I’m gonna carry this around in case I see any reporters,” according to the Texas Tribune.

Remember when they were all "Je Suis Charlie" condemning attacks on free speech?

Yeah, I do too.

The Trump voters are running the world

by digby

Watching CNN today I learned that Donald Trump's cretinous behavior in Europe is to be expected because a lot of Americans really hate those cheese-eating elitists who are condescending toward Republican presidents, especially when they want to invade foreign countries that haven't attacked us. Apparently, they are supposed to accept whatever the US dishes out and say thank you because Republicans proudly elect idiots to run the world's only superpower these days and that's just the way it is.

Here's an analysis from the real world:

When President Trump spoke to NATO members for the first time on Thursday he failed to say the one thing Europeans were waiting to hear. He never mentioned America’s unwavering commitment to Article 5 of the NATO Treaty, which states that an attack on one is an attack on all. Twitter erupted in a storm of outrage and, for at least a few hours, #NATO was trending. Sean Spicer, responding to the criticism, stressed that even though the president didn’t say it outright, he is “fully committed” to NATO and Article 5.

Spicer’s logic? Trump’s mere presence at the dedication ceremony at the new NATO HQ was evidence enough. For folks that don’t track NATO issues on a day-to-day basis (and that’s most people), the president’s omission may not seem like a big deal. But Trump’s refusal to repeat what so many members of his own Cabinet have already stated — including his vice president — was a significant blow to the transatlantic relationship and could have lasting consequences.

Why were Europeans so eager to hear Trump utter the words “Article 5”? It was just last summer when Trump, in an interview with the New York Times, alluded to the fact that the United States could make its commitment to Article 5 conditional on whether the country in question was spending enough on defense. That sent a shiver down the spines of many NATO allies as they imagined calling Washington in a crisis — only to be asked first asked whether they had met the 2 percent target. (For many, the answer would be no.) Throughout the campaign, Trump also called the alliance “obsolete” (before he said it was “no longer” obsolete) and has repeatedly claimed — falsely — that NATO allies owe the United States vast sums of money.

But as wrong as Trump has been about NATO over the last two years, Europeans have known that he’s been right about one thing: allies need to invest more in their own national defense. That’s the irony of yesterday’s tragic episode. Europe came to the NATO Summit this week ready to meet the president halfway. They know the parade of secretaries of defense and past presidents that have urged them to do more were right. Many allies have even worked to accelerate their plans to reach the 2 percent target in an attempt to give the alliance and the new U.S. president a solid win. But in order to convince their publics to support those costly defense investments, they needed some reassurance from Trump in return. Now that he’s failed to provide that reassurance, Trump himself may have just hindered his ability to move the needle.

Adding insult to injury, Trump also failed to say anything of substance about Russia, the future of sanctions, or enhanced deterrence measures across Central and Eastern Europe.

Adding insult to injury, Trump also failed to say anything of substance about Russia, the future of sanctions, or enhanced deterrence measures across Central and Eastern Europe. Silence on those issues has generated even more anxiety and forced Europeans to draw their own conclusions. Paired with the omission on Article 5, some allies are already assuming that the United States won’t come to their aid if Russia does something rash on their territory or in their neighborhood. Moscow literally could not have asked for a better outcome since its longstanding goal has been to undermine NATO, U.S. credibility, and transatlantic unity.

Instead of inspiring the alliance to move ahead with much-needed reforms and turn its attention to the many threats NATO allies face on both sides of the Atlantic, Trump did the exact opposite. He fueled uncertainty and insecurity, which will serve as an obstacle to transatlantic cooperation in the years ahead. Why, allies are already asking themselves, should we make politically difficult decisions to invest in our defense when it’s unclear whether the United States has our back? Trump could have cleared that up with a single sentence yesterday.

Instead, he and a few ill-informed, inexperienced, and short-sighted members of his team opted for petulance and arrogance — a decision that plays well with Trump’s base but won’t serve them well with America’s closest allies.

This is a very delicate moment. After two worldwide conflagrations in 30 years Europe and Japan more or less disarmed and for more than half a century the Europeans have depended upon the US security umbrella. But twice now in the last 16 years we've elected unqualified leadership through dubious electoral processes. Under the first a group of ideologues used that immense power to destabilize the middle east at the worst possible time. Now, with this neo-fascist buffoon who seems to be tilting toward Russia for obscure reasons they are understandably getting very, very nervous. As should we all. So, it's likely they are going to arm up. So are a lot of others. And it looks as though we're going to help some of them by "making good deals" for arms manufacturers.

What could go wrong?


"You illegal?"

by digby

Maybe we could require undocumented immigrants to wear some kind of insignia on their clothes to make it easier to identify them when they get hit by a truck. Why should police even have to ask?
Everything was recorded on the body cameras of the police who responded to the accident.

Marcos Antonio Huete, a 31-year-old Honduran immigrant, was lying on a sidewalk next to his bicycle after being hit April 27 by a GMC Sierra pickup truck on his way to work in Key West in the Florida Keys.

"You illegal? Are you a legal citizen or no? Speak English? You got ID? Passport, visa, or what? a Monroe County sheriff asked Huete insistently, according to the video.

Still on the ground, Huete answers with monosyllables before using a cell phone to call his sister, who arrived at the scene soon after.

Lea este articulo en español

Hours after the accident Huete left hospital on crutches and was sent to the Krome Detention Center near Miami, where he has spent almost a month in detention pending possible deportation.

According to his sister, Olga Huete, after he was discharged from the hospital a police officer told them to return to the scene of the accident. "He did not tell us why, but we went back because my brother had not done anything. We had no reason to flee."

Fined and detained by the Border Patrol

Once there, he says he was fined $75 by a Florida Department of Highway Safety and Motor Vehicles (FHP) officer for causing the accident. The incident report accuses Huete of obstructing/hindering traffic and listed his injury severity as "possible."

Huete allegedly "darted out in front" of the pickup as it turned right across a marked crosswalk striking the rear tire of Huete's bicycle. The officer decided that the driver, a 45-year-old Key West woman, was not at fault.

Then Border Patrol agents showed up and asked to see Huete's papers, suspecting him of being undocumented.

Olga Huete says that while they don't have papers, she is outraged by what she called the lack of justice in blaming her brother after he was the victim. She said the woman driving the pickup was allowed to drive away "as if it was nothing."

"The fact that we do not have papers does not mean that we do not have rights," she said.

In a statement to Univision, the Border Patrol said that FHP communicated with its agents "to assist in the identification of the subject (Huete)." However, he says that such communication between the agencies is "rare."
It's rare. But it's getting less rare every day.

The media's role in the incipient fascism

by digby

Brian Beutler's piece on the violence against a reporter in Montana discusses how the media dealt with it and it pulls no punches:
In a healthier political culture, the condemnation would have been nearly unanimous, and the context of the incident would not have been a matter of controversy. What we witnessed instead was a political media—confronted with a one-sided assault on its most basic freedom—rendered by its own constructs largely incapable of identifying the threat with any precision.

Before he became president of the United States, Donald Trump toured the country encouraging violence against protesters and whipping up animosity toward the press. Earlier this month, Trump’s Health and Human Services secretary, Tom Price, sicced police on a reporter who was trying to ask him a question in the West Virginia state capitol on account of the fact that he didn’t recognize the reporter as an attendee of a press conference, then praised the police for their diligence. Last week, the FCC’s security detail manhandled a tech reporter at the National Press Club.

Republicans know in theory how to get their hackles up over political violence directed at reporters, because in January 2010, when an aide to Massachusetts Attorney General Martha Coakley pushed a conservative reporter (then helped him up, and apologized for his behavior) Republicans tried to end his career in public service.

Their tacit acceptance of a culture of antagonism and violence directed at the press suggests at least that the party’s values have changed.

Set aside for a moment the fact that it is within the power of all Republican elites to disavow candidates who abandon basic civic duties, or to endorse their opponents. At his weekly Capitol briefing, House Speaker Paul Ryan demurred that “if [Gianforte] wins, he’s been chosen by the people of Montana,” a tautological evasion of the fact that he intends to welcome Gianforte into the House GOP conference and support him in future elections.

The press is perfectly well equipped, and equally within the bounds of good practice, to close ranks around Jacobs, hound Gianforte, demand contrition, mark him for extraordinary scrutiny. It is much less well equipped to address the threat at its root.

Republican-condoned violence against media has thrust the media’s capacity for self-preservation into conflict with its cult of performed even-handedness and performed even-handedness is winning.

All the more because of Gianforte’s victory, conservative candidates across the country know they can abuse reporters, lie about it, use political violence to raise money, and find safe harbor in the Republican cloakrooms of the United States Capitol. Yet taking all of this in, the NBC News political cheat sheet First Read lamented that the “body slam of [a] reporter is another sign of America’s broken politics.” That conclusion isn’t wrong, much as the broken wing of an airplane might send the whole vessel into a spiral dive, and, in surveying the wreckage, one could accurately exclaim that “the plane broke.”

I don’t know if Republicans broke American politics or if Republican politics is broken and endangering the whole political system, but it can’t be fixed so long as political elites can’t acknowledge or understand what the source of the failure is. Responding to a moldy sack of protoplasm who writes for the Daily Caller, CNN editor Chris Cillizza leapt to Jacobs’s defense.

This is attitudinally correct, but his incredulousness belies a misunderstanding of movement conservatism and the media outlets that the movement has spawned. With exceptions, they do not conceive of themselves as playing on the same turf, let alone by the same rules, as establishment news organizations and liberal media outlets. The fact that Republicans are defending Gianforte and conservative journalists piled on Jacobs isn’t confusing or an outgrowth of “broken politics,” but the inevitable consequence of virulent illiberalism in the American right.

On Thursday morning, the anti-Trump Republican strategist Rick Wilson wrote a bracing denunciation of those on the right who defended the assault of a reporter—though one seemingly premised on the belief that the “cultural collapse of the GOP into the Trump Troll Party” might be reversed through reason. In truth, everything that’s happened in the past year or so has conditioned conservatives to believe they will face no consequences for poor or unprincipled behavior. They write off the accurate assessments of anti-Trump Republicans like Steve Schmidt or Democrats like Senator Brian Schatz as the impotent complaints of political losers, knowing that the public will learn about the assault of a reporter as an essentially partisan spat and that centrist pundits, out of fear of bad-faith accusations of bias, will blame on broken politics instead of defending their own .

What he describes is a problem that's partially responsible for where we are today. I know it's hard for them to break the habit. But unless they do it this is going to continue to accelerate and it will be too late.

I guess I just don't understand why people don't find this more alarming. These things can get out of hand very quickly.

This isn't normal.


Violence by proxy

by Tom Sullivan

As this morning's headlines attest, Republican Greg Gianforte won yesterday's special congressional election in Montana. One of the noteworthy and little-noticed effects of his assault on Guardian reporter Ben Jacobs was, according to NBC, Gianforte raised $100,000 overnight online. One supporter told CNN the assault charge against Gianforte left her only "more ready to support Greg."

Gianforte is hardly alone. Donald Trump stands in for many, if not most, of his perpetually aggrieved supporters in doing and saying things to political opponents they lack either the nerve, the social permission, or the protections of great wealth to do themselves. The money and support rewards Gianforte for the vicarious satisfaction they receive from violence by proxy.

Conservative pundit Laura Ingraham mocked Jacobs for reporting the attack to the police, tweeting, "Did anyone get his lunch money stolen today and then run to tell the recess monitor?" In response, Josh Barro at Business Insider writes that calling the police "when a man grabs you by the throat and slams you to the floor ... is what an adult does in a civilized society." If we were an adult society, that is:

Yet, as Kevin Glass notes, "conservatives" in the Trump era tend to think not like adults, but high-school boys, vaunting the sort of ideal of masculinity that might be imagined by a socially maladjusted 15-year-old and tolerating in our political leaders the sort of behavior that a guidance counselor would never accept.

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.
Republican voters eat it up. Their president makes every photo op, every handshake a contest for establishing dominance. This is infantile. It isn't strength. It's overcompensation.

When asked for comment on Gianforte's assault of a reporter, many Republicans on Capitol Hill refused comment. Rep. Trent Franks (R-AZ) blamed liberals, “The left has precipitated this tense, confrontational approach throughout the country in recent months.” Rep. Duncan Hunter (R-CA) told reporters, “It’s not appropriate behavior. Unless the reporter deserved it.” Rep. Louie Gohmert (R-TX) joked that “we didn’t have a course on body slammin’ when I went to school — I missed that course.”

Rep. Mark Sanford (R-SC), surprisingly, commented on the politics of rage and Trump's hand in promoting it:

The tacit if not overt approval of violence by proxy is symptomatic of the further hollowing out of conservatism begun decades ago. Conservative politicians, pundits and celebrities once trafficked in innuendo and dog whistles. Now the nudges and winks have largely disappeared. The “kayfabe” is no longer conscious, but ingrained both in the performers and their audience. They believe their own bullshit.

Commenting on the litany of persistent conspiracy theories, columnist Michael Gerson writes that exploitation of the Seth Rich conspiracy theories in particular are "a confirmation of the right’s deformed soul." His Washington Post column continues:

The conservative mind, in some very visible cases, has become diseased. The movement has been seized by a kind of discrediting madness, in which conspiracy delusions figure prominently. Institutions and individuals that once served an important ideological role, providing a balance to media bias, are discrediting themselves in crucial ways. With the blessings of a president, they have abandoned the normal constraints of reason and compassion. They have allowed political polarization to reach their hearts, and harden them. They have allowed polarization to dominate their minds, and empty them.

Conspiracy theories often involve a kind of dehumanization. Human tragedy is made secondary — something to be exploited rather than mourned. The narrative of conspiracy takes precedence over the meaning of a life and the suffering of a family. A human being is made into an ideological prop and used on someone else’s stage. As the Rich family has attested, the pain inflicted is quite real.
They are a party gone mad, and led by a child.

Thursday, May 25, 2017

It's worse than we could have imagined

by digby

This parochial moron trying to talk Europe into pulling way from the US security umbrella. He seems to think it's supposed to be a profit center. They thought it was a way to keep the world from disintegrating into worldwide conflagration. Again.

Expectations were low for the European leg of President Trump’s first trip abroad, but it turns out they weren’t low enough.

Officials had briefed reporters that the trip’s highlight would be a speech in which Trump endorses Article 5 of the North Atlantic Treaty, which states that the NATO allies would treat an attack on one member as an attack on them all—the very essence of “collective defense.”

For most presidents, this is a rather low bar akin to the proclamation, in their annual address to Congress, that the state of the union is strong. But Donald Trump, in his brief speech on Thursday at NATO’s new headquarters, did not clear even this basic hurdle of American leadership.

European leaders had been nervous about this visit, well-aware of Trump’s repeated statements that NATO is “obsolete” and that he might not defend a NATO ally from attack if it’s fallen short of commitments on defense spending—like some Trump Tower tenant delinquent on his rent. He made most of those statements during the 2016 campaign, but even since taking office, he hadn’t clarified his stance on the alliance. Trump has said that NATO is no longer obsolete since it has now declared a policy against terrorism—for which he has taken credit—ignoring the fact that the non-American members adopted such a policy in 2002 and have since lost 1,000 troops in the war on terrorists in Afghanistan. But the allied leaders have stayed mum on this, hoping that giving Trump a rhetorical win, with an apparent nod to his wisdom, would make him a more amenable partner.

Apparently their modest hopes were overwrought. Trump began his eight-minute speech noting the two monuments in the new courtyard—shards of the Berlin Wall and the World Trade Center—as symbols of “remembrance and resolve.” He even recalled that, after the Sept. 11 attacks, the NATO allies responded swiftly by invoking Article 5, the first and so far only time any member had done so since the treaty’s signing in 1949.

But then he shifted to scolding the allies for their “chronic underpayments” on defense, noting that 23 of NATO’s 28 members have failed to meet an obligation to spend 2 percent of their GDP for their military forces. “This is not fair to the people and taxpayers of the United States,” Trump said, echoing the “America First” sentiment of his base back home, adding that these nations also “owe massive amounts of money for past years.”

Trump is hardly the first American president to call on allies to pony up more for their own defenses—President Jimmy Carter demanded that they each devote 3 percent of GDP to the military—and some allies have started spending more in part due to this recent pressure. But Trump is the first president to refrain from assuring the allies that he views the defense of Europe as a vital American interest.

His silence on this matter also puts him at odds with his secretary of defense, secretary of state, and national security adviser, who have all gone out of their way to express this commitment—reviving the question of just who controls U.S. foreign policy. Since the start of his presidency, Trump’s advisers have waged a power struggle over this issue in particular: nationalism vs. globalism, leadership of the free world vs. America First. His speech in Brussels suggests that this struggle is still raging.

Any hope people had that he would grow into the job was ill-founded. He has no capacity to grow or learn.

The word is that his military and nat-sec advisers all wanted him to confirm the US commitment to Article 5. He did not. He clearly believes that he has no loyalty to long time allies and he's just going to tear up these security alliances as easily as he plans to tear up trade agreements. He's too dim-witted to understand the ramifications and nobody can control him.

Consciousness of guilt

by digby

Apparently, the whole White House was trying to strong arm the FBI into dropping the Russia probe. Seems they were quite worried about it. I wonder why?

President Donald Trump isn’t the only one in the White House who could be caught in a compromising position by James Comey’s secret memos. The president’s chief of staff is worried he could be soon in the crosshairs, as well.

Comey, the former FBI director who was fired earlier this month by Trump, took detailed notes of his interactions with the president and senior Trump administration officials in order to properly document conversations that were on the verge of improper.

Three White House officials told The Daily Beast that Chief of Staff Reince Priebus has privately expressed worry about a possible Comey memo specifically involving one of their reported chats, and how it might play in the press and to investigators.

“Nervous laughter,” one official succinctly characterized Priebus’ demeanor in the midst of recent revelations.

In late February—long before Trump fired Comey over the “this Russia thing”—Priebus had reportedly already acted on the president’s behalf in trying to use the FBI to quash the Trump-Russia news.

According to CNN, Priebus asked Comey and his then-top deputy, Andrew McCabe, on Feb. 15 to refute news reports about conversations between Trump campaign staff and Russian government officials. Comey and McCabe reportedly refused. The White House denied the story at the time.

That conversation happened the day after President Trump reportedly asked Comey to dial back the bureau’s investigation of retired Lt. Gen. Michael Flynn, Trump’s ousted, and preferred, national security adviser. As first reported by The New York Times, the former FBI director subsequently documented that conversation in a memo that leaked last week.

This week, The Washington Post reported Trump had been unsuccessful in persuading two of the most senior U.S. intelligence officials to publicly deny the existence of evidence linking his 2016 campaign to Russian efforts to undermine the American political process. Trump’s request was made after Comey informed the House Intelligence Committee that the FBI was investigating.

Senior Trump aides recounted to The Daily Beast the shockwaves and “sustained panic,” as one official described it, that news of the initial Comey memo sent through the administration and Trump’s political inner circle. Along with the chaos and continued frustrations that came with attempting to manage the fallout, there was an immediate unease expressed by senior staffers, including Priebus, that more damning memos could be revealed in the coming weeks, if not days.

Did it not occur to any of these people that this was wrong? Good lord, the whole crew is as dumb as their boss.

THIS is Trumpism

by digby

The beating heart of it, poisonous essence, the attitude that shapes his appeal and the beliefs of those who follow him:
Last month, the Missoulian newspaper took Gianforte to task for his attitude toward the press. At an event hosted by the Advancing Conservatism Society, an audience member reportedly said: “Our biggest enemy is the news media. How can we rein in the news media?” 
Gianforte responded by pointing at a reporter and saying: “We have someone right here. It seems like there is more of us than there is of him.” Gianforte later told the Billings Gazette that his comments were a joke.

Very funny. A month later he assaulted a reporter.

This isn't normal people. None of this is normal.

When you want the fake news to be the truth

by digby

... you'll believe it, even if you know better.

The story about James Comey believing a fake Russian document implicating Hillary Clinton in a conspiracy with Loretta Lynch, thus propelling him to hold his July press conference is just depressing. We sort of knew the outlines of this before but this Washington Post story fleshes out the details:

The Russian document cited a supposed email describing how then-Attorney General Loretta E. Lynch had privately assured someone in the Clinton campaign that the email investigation would not push too deeply into the matter. If true, the revelation of such an understanding would have undermined the integrity of the FBI’s investigation.

Current and former officials have said that Comey relied on the document in making his July decision to announce on his own, without Justice Department involvement, that the investigation was over. That public announcement — in which he criticized Clinton and made extensive comments about the evidence — set in motion a chain of other FBI moves that Democrats now say helped Trump win the presidential election.

But according to the FBI’s own assessment, the document was bad intelligence — and according to people familiar with its contents, possibly even a fake sent to confuse the bureau. The Americans mentioned in the Russian document insist they do not know each other, do not speak to each other and never had any conversations remotely like the ones described in the document. Investigators have long doubted its veracity, and by August the FBI had concluded it was unreliable.

Comey's defenders are saying this justifies his actions last summer. But honestly, the man should have known better. By October everyone at the FBI did so there was no good reason for him to do what he did to tilt the election.  But by all means lets not make a federal case out of Russian meddling because what could go wrong?

And yeah, a lot of people fell for this stuff. If my social media is any indication, they still are.

Nice little NATO you have here ...

by digby

What an asshole:

This is just embarrassing. He went to the Middle East and said not a word about human rights. Now he's in Europe basically threatening to break some legs if they don't pay the vig.

Here's the NYTimes on the talks yesterday:

President Trump, a blunt critic of the European Union during his campaign for the White House, received a chilly reception from his European counterparts on Thursday as they began meetings in Brussels, clashing over trade, climate and the best way to confront Russia.

The president’s first meeting with the Continent’s leaders began with officials from the United States and Europe saying nothing to each other. After being welcomed to Brussels, Mr. Trump said, “Thank you very much,” but he was otherwise silent as he gazed at the cameras across the room.

Donald Tusk, who represents the leaders of the bloc’s 28 member states as president of the European Council, made it clear after the morning meeting that there had been several areas of disagreement.

“Some issues remained open like climate and trade,” Mr. Tusk told reporters shortly after the meeting at European Union headquarters in Brussels. “And I am not 100 percent sure that we can say today — ‘we’ means Mr. President and myself — that we have a common position, common opinion, about Russia.”

Mr. Trump and Mr. Tusk differed over the intentions and policies of President Vladimir V. Putin of Russia, an increasing source of anxiety in Europe in light of the country’s apparent attempts to meddle in elections in Europe and the United States, and its increasingly assertive foreign policy, notably in Ukraine.

Mr. Tusk expressed a far more skeptical view of the Russians in the talks, according to a person with direct knowledge of the meeting who spoke on the condition of anonymity because the talks were held privately.

It looks like everyone can relax about this alleged "new cold war." Trump's holding fast on his high opinion of Russian leadership and policies, no matter what. Europe seems to be our new common enemy. But then this isn't really new, is it? The right has been hostile to Europe for many moons. Recall Michael Ledeen's famous essay arguing for the US to declare war on Germany and France for failing to back the invasion of Iraq. Ledeen is the co-author of Michael Flynn's book "Fear of Flight."


Trump's loose lips are changing the world and not in a good way

by digby

I wrote about his most recently revealed indiscretions for Salon this morning:

Has there ever been a more indiscreet world leader than Donald Trump? We knew in the campaign that he had a big mouth when he was caught on tape bragging about assaulting women and getting away with it, but very few people would have predicted that this propensity to discuss private matters in wildly inappropriate contexts would extend to classified intelligence.

After all, month after month he excoriated Hillary Clinton for allowing some confidential emails to be inadvertently sent over her personal email server when she was secretary of state. He said it disqualified her, in fact, and “she should not have been allowed” to run for president because of it.

Trump told Clinton to her face that if he were president she would be in jail:

Well, Donald Trump is the president now and several different government entities are investigating his campaign and administration. And he’s been shamelessly blurting out highly sensitive intelligence to foreign adversaries, unstable tyrants and even the press without a second thought.

Trump felt the need to meet with the Russian ambassador and the foreign minister at the behest of Vladimir Putin and in the course of their conversation he bragged that he had “great intel” and proceeded to expose a foreign ally’s asset by giving them highly sensitive “code-word” intelligence without the ally’s permission. As former CIA chief John Brennan explained in testimony before Congress this week, while it’s true that a president has the authority to declassify information, he is supposed to follow protocols:

The first [protocol] is that this kind of intelligence is not shared with visiting foreign ministers or local ambassadors. It’s shared through intelligence channels. The second is that, before sharing any classified intelligence with foreign partners, it has to go back to the originating agency to ensure that revealing it won’t compromise sources, methods and future collection capabilities.

There has never been a need for a protocol to guide a proudly ignorant, inexperienced president with a pathological need to brag to everyone he meets, since nobody anticipated such a thing before. Now we know.

And nobody anticipated that this same president would visit the foreign ally he exposed and confirm to reporters from all over the world that it had been the source of that intelligence. But Trump did that too.

And while Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu put on a good face for the cameras, the effect on the relationship has been profound. After the breach was reported, BuzzFeed spoke to two Israeli intelligence officials who said that this was their worst fear confirmed. One explained, “There has to be trust for this sort of arrangement. I cannot speak for Israel’s entire security apparatus, but I would not trust a partner who shared intelligence without coordinating it with us first.”

Foreign Policy reported that the Israeli defense minister admitted that the two countries have since revised their “protocols” and when asked what they were he tartly replied, “Not everything needs to be discussed in the media; some things need to be talked about in closed rooms.” A certain president shouldn’t talk about such things in closed rooms either, since he is incapable of understanding protocols for anything.

But that wasn’t the only report we had this week of Donald Trump’s loose lips putting national security in danger. The Intercept released a transcript of the Trump’s recent phone call with Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte. (I wrote about it here.) The actual words were worse than we knew. Not only did the president effusively compliment Duterte on his murderous drug war, he also insulted former President Barack Obama for failing to be equally impressed.

The two leaders discussed the threat from North Korea, mused about the mental state of Kim Jong-un and batted around the idea that nuclear war might end up being necessary. Trump said he hoped the Chinese would take care of it but promised that if they didn’t the U.S. would. Then he shared some military secrets with a foreign leader widely seen as unbalanced and untrustworthy:

We have two submarines – the best in the world – we have two nuclear submarines – not that we want to use them at all. I’ve never seen anything like they are but we don’t have to use this but [Kim] could be crazy so we will see what happens.

According to BuzzFeed, the Pentagon was in shock:

“We never talk about subs!” three officials told BuzzFeed News, referring to the military’s belief that keeping submarines’ movements secret is key to their mission.

While the US military will frequently announce the deployment of aircraft carriers, it is far more careful when discussing the movement of nuclear submarines. Carriers are hard to miss, and that, in part, is a reason the US military deploys them. They are a physical show of force. Submarines are, at times, a furtive complement to the carriers, a hard-to-detect means of strategic deterrence.

Trump, Duterte, Kim Jong-un and nuclear weapons. What could go wrong?

There are dozens of reasons why America’s allies and adversaries alike are starting to panic a little bit about Donald Trump serving as the supposed leader of the free world. Until now, despite major misgivings, it was not entirely clear whether Trump might grow into the job or whether American institutions and expertise would be able to guide his behavior. After four months it seems clear that’s not as easy as everyone hoped.

In this context, the fact that U.S. officials apparently leaked the identity of the accused Manchester bomber to the press before U.K. authorities were ready to do so was received with sharp irritation by the British government. If this had happened under any other administration, the misunderstanding between two close allies would likely have been handled quietly. But it’s obvious that the gusher of leaks throughout the government and at high levels of the White House has other countries spooked.

Along with the president’s ongoing inability to understand and respect the seriousness of classified intelligence, this lack of trust in the United States government’s basic competence and predictability is making the world order as we’ve known it for the last 60 years suddenly feel very unstable. It will be interesting to see whether the NATO meeting being held over the next few days can provide any sense of reassurance.

It's the violent left's fault. Of course.

by digby

The party of personal responsibility:

“Of course not. It’s not appropriate behavior. Unless the reporter deserved it.” 
— Rep. Duncan Hunter (R-CA), quoted by the AP, when asked if assaulting a reporter is appropriate behavior.

This is fascism, people. I'm sorry it just is.



From weird and alarming to dangerous

by Tom Sullivan

Photo by Sebastian Bergmann via Wikimedia Commons.

The Republican candidate in today's special election for Montana's sole seat in the U.S. House of Representatives was charged last night in the misdemeanor assault of a Guardian newspaper reporter. Just after 7 p.m. Eastern Time Wednesday, reporter Ben Jacobs tweeted:

Jacobs was attempting to get Gianforte to comment on the just-released Congressional Budget Office (CBO) scoring of the Republicans' America Health Care Act (AHCA).

By the time All in with Chris Hayes reached Jacobs at the hospital, audio of the encounter had already been posted by the Guardian:

"The fish rots from the head," said a visibly shaken Jennifer Rubin after hearing the tape on All In. A conservative columnist for the Washington Post, Rubin explained that with Donald Trump's behavior towards the press — threatening to jail reporters; calling them the enemies of the people; inviting rally-goers to heckle and verbally abuse them, and offering to pay their post-assault legal fees — this is a natural outcome.

Gianforte's campaign released this statement on the incident:

The New York Times' Nick Confessore adds that Jacobs is all of "100 pounds soaking wet. Just for context when a candidate suggests Ben was 'aggressive.'"

A Fox News crew already in the room witnessed the encounter. Alicia Acuna writes that Jacobs walked into the room and approached Gianforte about the CBO score. Gianforte told him to speak with his press spokesperson, Shane Scanlon:

At that point, 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 reporter. As Gianforte moved on top of Jacobs, he began yelling something to the effect of, "I'm sick and tired of this!"

Jacobs scrambled to his knees and said something about his glasses being broken. He asked Faith, Keith and myself for our names. In shock, we did not answer. Jacobs then said he wanted the police called and went to leave. Gianforte looked at the three of us and repeatedly apologized. At that point, I told him and Scanlon, who was now present, that we needed a moment. The men then left.
The Guardian describes Gianforte as "a tech mogul who mounted an unsuccessful campaign for governor in 2016." BuzzFeed News reporter Alexis Levinson told the Guardian she overheard Gianforte's staff telling Jacobs the campaign was upset with the Guardian’s previous reporting and would have no time to talk with him:
On 28 April, Jacobs reported on Gianforte’s financial ties to Russian companies that have been sanctioned by the US. Gianforte’s wealth is estimated at between $65m and $315m.
But the CBO scoring released yesterday showed the revamped AHCA would leave 23 million more people uninsured by 2026 than if Obamacare was left in place. The night before the special election, Gianforte was not eager to go on record with a statement.

Perhaps Gianforte is that rare conservative with anger-management issues. Or perhaps Gianforte's internal polling is not as favorable as he'd like. Wednesday morning brought news of upsets for Republican candidates in state legislative races in New York and New Hampshire. In the Georgia 6th District special election for congress next month, polling shows Democrat Jon Ossoff leading his Republican opponent by seven points, and the Atlanta Journal-Constitution reported yesterday that 5,500 new voters have registered ahead of the June 20 election, rarely good news for Republicans.

Then again, half the ballots have already cast for the election in Montana. If Gianforte has a lead going into the election today, many voters won't be able to change their minds as three of the state's newspapers did last night in rescinding their Gianforte endorsements.

Jeet Heer at the New Republic writes that Gianforte has joked to a Christian group about beating up reporters (something Gianforte apologized for). But Heer observes:
What’s more worrisome than Gianforte is that the Republican Party has created an entire partisan infrastructure that is so heavily indoctrinated, they will defend a candidate no matter what. We’ve already seen the GOP base turn a blind eye to, or even applaud, Donald Trump’s hostility toward the press. But such nasty, unacceptable behavior goes well beyond Trump and his supporters, and will play a role in American politics for years to come.
We have seen some strange day in the last couple of weeks. When do days like this go from registering as weird and alarming to dangerous?
The New York Times reports that if convicted, Gianforte "faces up to a $500 fine, or six months in jail, or both." Don't expect a censure from a Republican House.

Wednesday, May 24, 2017

Pic o' The Week

by digby

This just ... oh dear:


The president's American Carnage budget increases his own

by digby

Trump's draconian budget hellscape, that slashes funding for the disabled and the elderly in nursing homes so they can be "freed" to go out and earn a living again, oddly includes lots of increases for the White House and the president's own needs:

The cuts to some parts of the federal budget would be severe under Trump’s proposal. The Department of Labor’s budget would drop 19.8 percent. The Department of the Interior would get cut by 10.9 percent. The Environmental Protection Agency loses more than 30 percent of its entire budget in the Trump document—all in the name of fiscal discipline and balancing the federal budget within the next 10 years.

But Trump’s budget does not include any cuts for the executive office of the president, including the roughly 450 people on the White House staff, nor for the multimillion dollar operating budgets at the White House residence or at the Naval Observatory, where Vice President Mike Pence lives.

Trump also chose to fully fund or increase funding for the eight advisory councils that report to him through the Executive Office of the President, including the Council of Economic Advisers, the National Security Council, the U.S. Trade Representative, and the Council on Environmental Quality.

Mulvaney’s agency, the Office of Management and Budget, even gets a 7.7 percent increase in the White House budget request. The extra $8 million would mostly go to pay for an additional 30 full-time staff positions, which would put the total number of staff at OMB at 495. Neither the White House nor the OMB responded to inquiries about why the extra personnel would be necessary, but a senior House staffer familiar with the OMB request confirmed that the agency has asked for more money and additional staff.

Elsewhere in the budget, Trump also requests $60 million, in part to hire more Secret Service agents, who guard him and his family, as well as the multiple Trump residences outside of Washington that have to be secured at all times. The Washington Post reported that the Secret Service had asked for the extra money in March.

There's also talk of Trump raising money to pay for his personal lawyers fighting the Russia investigations for him. He will not spend a dime of his own money for anything and is actually costing the taxpayers vast sums for the protection of his properties all over the world. What a sweet scam.

Stan Collender writes:
While it might work as a campaign event, the Trump 2018 budget flops big time as a real policy proposal and practical guide for Congress. Its economics are pie-in-the-sky, its numbers are speculative at best, and its spending cut proposals are unlikely to ever be considered seriously.
But it’s also not clear whether the Trump budget will actually work as a political rallying cry.

Although the administration will try to emphasize the big picture proposals — the wall, the Pentagon, the projected surplus — many of the individual plans such as the cuts in Medicaid and the Social Security disability program break promises the president made during the campaign. Many of the smaller Trump-proposed spending cuts will be felt by his supporters as well, and congressional Democrats are certain to make political life miserable for any Republicans who support them. 
It didn’t take long for the Trump 2018 budget to disappear inside the Beltway. Less than two days after the details emerged, congressional Republicans had all but stopped talking about it. With the president overseas and not part of the rollout, and no one but Mulvaney promoting it, the budget seemed destined to vanish by the end of the week.
That will make the Trump 2018 budget one of the biggest and most rapid failures in recent American history.

The immovable base gets wobbly

Nate Silver makes a helpful observation about Trump's allegedly immovable base:

A widely held tenet of the current conventional wisdom is that while President Trump might not be popular overall, he has a high floor on his support. Trump’s sizable and enthusiastic base — perhaps 35 to 40 percent of the country — won’t abandon him any time soon, the theory goes, and they don’t necessarily care about some of the controversies that the “mainstream media” treats as game-changing developments.

It’s an entirely reasonable theory. We live in a highly partisan epoch, and voters are usually loyal to politicians from their party. Trump endured a lot of turbulence in the general election but stuck it out to win the Electoral College. The media doesn’t always guess right about which stories will resonate with voters.

But the theory isn’t supported by the evidence. To the contrary, Trump’s base seems to be eroding. There’s been a considerable decline in the number of Americans who strongly approve of Trump, from a peak of around 30 percent in February to just 21 or 22 percent of the electorate now. (The decline in Trump’s strong approval ratings is larger than the overall decline in his approval ratings, in fact.) Far from having unconditional love from his base, Trump has already lost almost a third of his strong support. And voters who strongly disapprove of Trump outnumber those who strongly approve of him by about a 2-to-1 ratio, which could presage an “enthusiasm gap” that works against Trump at the midterms. The data suggests, in particular, that the GOP’s initial attempt (and failure) in March to pass its unpopular health care bill may have cost Trump with his core supporters.

This will be read as people coming to understand that he was breaking his promise to help the white working class and so they abandoned him. But the truth is that these folks didn't abandon him. They just moved from "strongly support" to somewhat support.

If I had to guess, I'd say that at least a few of his "strong" supporters realized that the health care debacle showed that his much hyped "skill" as a negotiator was bullshit. He revealed himself to be stupid, naive, clumsy and inept in that moment and perhaps all the stories they'd heard about him being a con-artist always one step ahead of the law and his multiple bankruptcies and his idiotic rhetoric wasn't all partisan nonsense but rather a true picture of a man who had no qualifications for this big job.

The "strongly disapprove" numbers have been growing too but for different reasons:

The number of Americans who strongly disapprove of Trump has sharply risen since early in his term, meanwhile, from the mid-30s in early February to 44.1 percent as of Tuesday. In most surveys, Trump’s strongly disapprove rating exceeds his overall approval rating, in fact.

The bulk of the increase in Trump’s strong disapproval ratings came early in his term, over the course of late January and early February. It’s possible that this was partly a reaction to Trump’s initial travel ban on immigrants from seven predominantly Muslim countries, which was the biggest news of Trump’s first few weeks in office. But presidential disapproval often rises in the first month or so of a president’s tenure as voters who initially give a new president the benefit of the doubt find things to dislike in his performance.

Meanwhile, the share of Americans who somewhat disapprove of Trump has been small and fairly steady throughout his term, usually averaging around 10 or 11 percent. It was 11.6 percent as of Tuesday.

Silver puts this into some useful perspective:

During last year’s presidential primaries, Trump received about 14 million votes out of a total of 62 million cast between the two parties, which works out to 23 percent of the total. So perhaps it’s not a coincidence that 20 to 25 percent of the country still strongly supports Trump; they were with him from the start.

But 20 to 25 percent isn’t all that large a base — obviously not enough to win general elections on its own. Instead, Trump won the White House because most Republicans who initially supported another GOP candidate in the primary wound up backing him in the November election. Trump has always had his share of reluctant supporters, and their ranks have been growing as the number of strong supporters has decreased. If those reluctant Trump supporters shift to being reluctant opponents instead, he’ll be in a lot of trouble,3 with consequences ranging from a midterm wave against Republicans to an increased likelihood of impeachment.

So while there’s risk to Democrats in underestimating Trump’s resiliency, there’s an equal or perhaps greater risk to Republicans in thinking Trump’s immune from political gravity.

Let's hope so.

Lewandowski and Bossie to the rescue?

by digby

I wrote about the latest rumors of a White House rescue operation for Salon today:

President Donald Trump’s excellent overseas adventure continued on Tuesday, with the leader of the free world leaving a high school yearbook-style note at Israel’s Holocaust memorial, Yad Vashem, complete with adorable exclamation point using a circle instead of a period. (He would have used a heart but he was trying to be dignified.) But the day’s big news happened back in Washington.

Former CIA chief John Brennan testified before Congress and further confirmed that the entire intelligence community’s hair had been on fire since last summer over the Russian connection. The director of national intelligence, Dan Coats, also testified and refused to deny reports that the president had called him up and asked him to declare Trump’s innocence. Most observers think that if it didn’t happen, Coats would have felt free to say so.

And the administration finally released its budget, which immediately blew up like the Hindenburg (as I predicted). Even conservatives were a little shocked at the sheer scope of the barbarity and callousness. Its architect, budget director Mick Mulvaney, seemed to be struggling to repress maniacal laughter, but that’s about all we heard from anyone in the administration. Naturally, House Speaker Paul Ryan said it was “right on target,” further cementing his growing reputation as the world’s greatest suck-up.

The biggest news is that somebody finally convinced Trump that he is in need of outside legal counsel, aside from former New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani and Judge Jeanine Pirro. One might have thought it would be wise to select someone with Washington experience who understands both the legal and political aspects of presidential scandals, but that’s not how Trump works. According to Politico, he has hired his own longtime lawyer, Marc Kasowitz, rather than someone who might not understand that Trump only wants to hear what he wants to hear. (An added bonus is that Kasowitz also represents Russia’s largest bank, so he knows the terrain.)

The administration seems to understand that it should create a “war room” in order to concentrate the scandal management in one place instead of sucking in everyone in the White House at each new turn. But if people in the GOP hierarchy thought Trump might be getting serious about hiring some professionals to handle that, they should probably think again. Apparently Trump plans to house this operation outside the White House and, according to Politico, he wants to bring back his original campaign manager Corey Lewandowski, along with his deputy campaign manager, David Bossie, to run it.

It’s not unusual when an administration finds itself becoming engulfed in controversy to bring in someone to help put out the flames. Usually that person is someone with management experience and a sterling reputation, an individual who is respected by both sides of the aisle and beloved by the mainstream media. The point is to show that the White House is serious about fixing the problem, even if it hasn’t got a clue about how to do that. Think of David Gergen being called into President Bill Clinton’s administration in its early days or former Sen. Howard Baker during the waning days of the Reagan administration, as these presidents confronted consuming scandals. Lewandowski and Bossie are not in the same category.

According to CNN, despite the fact that even Jared Kushner and Ivanka Trump don’t like him, Lewandowski still has the president’s trust. He’s a thuggish sort best remembered for roughing up protesters and assaulting reporters, so that makes sense. Lewandowski was finally let go after losing a power struggle with the short-lived second campaign manager Paul Manafort, who is now very much in the doghouse over his obvious ties to Russia. Trump probably remembers those early days of the campaign as his glory days, and thinks Lewandowski has a special talent that can help him weather the storms. But Lewandowski is a D.C. novice who couldn’t even get his attempt to cash in as a lobbyist off the ground. It’s unlikely that he has the skills required to deal with something as serious as this Russia investigation.

Bossie, on the other hand, is a longtime GOP insider who has a couple of decades of experience in working more or less behind the scenes both for his own dirt-digging opposition research organization Citizens United (yes, that Citizens United) as a congressional investigator and a producer of conservative propaganda films.

How that experience translates into crisis management for Trump remains a little obscure. Bossie is obviously savvy about how to pump up a scandal so perhaps the idea is that he will know how to take the air out of one as well, but in this case that’s a tall order. More likely he’s going to be tasked with distraction and deflection.

Bossie built his reputation and his career as a professional character assassin of the Clintons and he’s done well at it. He was undoubtedly very useful to Trump in helping him identify various buttons to push. One can see the echoes of his work (and, for all we know, its direct application) in the latest phony Clinton conspiracy, the ongoing Seth Rich saga, which has the right-wing media in a full-blown frenzy. Although Fox News has now retracted its original story on Rich’s murder, both former House Speaker Newt Gingrich and Fox News’ Sean Hannity are still hysterically flogging this outrageous conspiracy theory. It has all the hallmarks of a Bossie-style hit although the inane Pizzagate conspiracy spread by the likes of former national security adviser Michael Flynn proves that dirty tricks can be done just as well by amateurs.

Hannity has said he believes the Rich story exonerates Trump because it suggests that it wasn’t the Russians who hacked the Democratic National Committee. (The fact that the Democrats’ congressional campaign and Hillary Clinton’s campaign chair John Podesta were also hacked is just left dangling out there.) So one can see the outlines of a desperate attempt to prove Trump’s innocence. Smearing Hillary Clinton seems like something Trump would define as “crisis management” — he always goes on offense when he’s under pressure.

It’s predictable enough that the hard-core Republican base would swallow this, hook, line and sinker. It always has done so before. But this type of thing won’t help convince members of the wider public any any more than it did during the first go-round with the Clintons in the 1990s. And back then Republicans largely had the mainstream media on their side, eager for any juicy morsel of gossip about the Clintons. If Hillary Clinton were president, there can be no doubt the media would be right there begging for whatever Bossie and his ilk could feed them. But Trump is in the White House and there is no faux Clinton scandal on Earth that can beat the lunacy that comes out of the White House and this president’s mouth every single day.

Trump’s overlapping scandals are as far-reaching and outrageous as the Republicans always tried to portray the Clinton scandals to be. Bossie’s tawdry character assassinations are revealed for the cheap stunts they are in comparison with the real thing.


"He could be crazy so we'll see what happens"

by digby

I wrote about President Trump's latest phone call with the psychopathic leader of the Philippines, Rodrigo Duterte right after it happened last month:

A coupla' brutal demagogues sittin' around talkin'

by digby

I wrote about the Duterte invitation for Salon this morning:

A few weeks ago, the Pulitzer Prize for breaking news photography was awarded to a freelance photojournalist named Daniel Berehulak for a multimedia report published in the New York Times last December called “They Are Slaughtering Us Like Animals.” It documented the deaths of 57 homicide victims in the Philippine government’s brutal campaign against drug users and dealers. The photographer had this comment upon winning the prize:

The story is indeed important. Those photographs document the grotesque campaign of terror in the Philippines, which experts believe has left more than 7,000 people dead in less than a year from extrajudicial killings at the hands of police and vigilantes.

The Philippines is currently run by President Rodrigo Duterte, who won the election last June after in his final campaign speech, “Forget the laws on human rights, if I make it to the presidential palace, I will do just what I did as mayor [of the coastal city of Davao]. You drug pushers, hold-up men and do-nothings, you better go out because I’d kill you.” He kept to his word, telling his police forces the day after he was sworn in, “Do your duty, and in the process, [if] you kill 1,000 persons, I will protect you.” Last September, he proudly compared himself to Adolf Hitler:
Hitler massacred 3 million Jews. Now there is 3 million, what is it, 3 million drug addicts [in the Philippines], there are. I’d be happy to slaughter them. At least if Germany had Hitler, the Philippines would have [me]. You know, my victims, I would like to be all criminals, to finish the problem of my country and save the next generation from perdition.
Duterte admitted to being a murderer, and not in the abstract sense of being a leader who orders killing by others. He says he has personally pulled the trigger. As the New York Times reported last December:
“I killed about three of them because there were three of them,” Mr. Duterte told reporters at a news conference in Manila, the capital. “I don’t really know how many bullets from my gun went inside their bodies.”

“It happened. I cannot lie about it,” he said in English. 
The remarks followed comments he made on Monday, when he told business leaders that as mayor, he had patrolled the streets on a motorcycle and killed criminal suspects in order to set an example to his police officers.
None of that stopped President-elect Donald Trump from chatting up Duterte after the election, telling him that he was going about his war on drugs “the right way.” And last Saturday night the White House released a statement that they two men had had another “very friendly conversation,” in which they’d talked about regional security and “discussed the fact that the Philippine government is fighting very hard to rid its country of drugs.” (That’s one way of putting it.) It said that “President Trump enjoyed the conversation and looks forward to visiting the Philippines in November” for the East Asia Summit meeting.

Then the statement said that Trump had invited the admitted murderer and Hitler admirer, Rodrigo Duterte, to the White House. 
According to the New York Times, White House aides were “slack-jawed” at the invitation and both the State Department and National Security Council were expected to object internally. The call was simply supposed to be part of a hand-holding exercise for Asian nations whose leaders were feeling neglected by Trump’s single-minded focus on China, Japan and North Korea.

Reince Priebus tried to clean it up on ABC’s “This Week,” saying that Trump was rounding up support against North Korea. That might make some sense if it weren’t for the fact that Manila is 1,700 miles south of Pyongyang, and the Philippine navy can hardly defend its own coastline. North Korea has never shown any interest in the Philippines and it’s fairly obvious that Donald Trump couldn’t find either country on a map without color coding and multiple guesses.

No, Trump was making pro-forma calls they told him to make and simply hit it off with the violent, authoritarian president of the Philippines. He’s had similarly “warm” conversations and meetings with the autocratic leaders of Egypt and Turkey and, as he did on the campaign trail, he continues to praise Kim Jong-un for being a very impressive young man. Everyone knows in what high regard he holds Vladimir Putin.

Trump is a natural authoritarian and is drawn to others like him. It’s obvious that he has little respect for constitutional principles. This weekend alone he has indicated that he wants to consolidate his power because he thinks the system is archaic and needs to be changed for the good of the country. His chief of staff said twice on Sunday that the Trump administration is “looking at” changing the First Amendment. Since he has put Jeff Sessions — a ruthless, doctrinaire drug warrior — in charge of federal law enforcement, it’s possible that Trump’s compliments on Duterte’s brutal tactics might be more of a consultation about best methods and practices.

Even setting aside the president’s autocratic temperament, he is also still involved in his family business. One cannot discount the fact that all the despots he has cultivated are leaders in countries in which he either has ongoing deals or whose bankers are rumored to have business with him. (We don’t know the specifics, because Trump has refused to reveal the extent of his business ties or divest himself of them.)

Time magazine put together a handy map of all the deals that are public knowledge, and the locations include Egypt, Turkey and Russia, as well as other nations in Russia’s economic orbit. But the deal with the Philippines is very big and very current:

Trump Tower Manila is the most advanced of a series of Trump-branded buildings planned by property magnate Jose E.B. Antonio (though it remains under construction today, with scaffolding up, exposed pipes and breeze blocks stacked outside). Just before Trump’s election, the Philippines appointed Antonio as its special envoy to the U.S.

For multiple, overlapping ideological and financial reasons the president of the the United States has seen fit to invite a confessed murderer and brutal tyrant to the White House. That should alarm every one of us.

The Intercept got a copy of the transcript of the actual call and it's worse than we knew. Here's President Trump:
“I just wanted to congratulate you because I am hearing of the unbelievable job on the drug problem. Many countries have the problem, we have a problem, but what a great job you are doing and I just wanted to call and tell you that.”
“This is the scourge of my nation now and I have to do something to preserve the Filipino nation.” 
"I understand that and fully understand that and I think we had a previous president who did not understand that, but I understand that and we have spoken about this before."
They went on to talk about the threat of North Korea as if they had no more knowledge of the situation than two random fellows sitting at the end of bar in Poughkeepsie:

“We can’t let a madman with nuclear weapons let on the loose like that. We have a lot of firepower, more than he has times 20, but we don’t want to use it,” Trump told Duterte. (In fact, the U.S. has 6,800 nuclear warheads and North Korea is thought to have about 10.) “You will be in good shape,” he added.

“We have a lot of firepower over there. We have two submarines — the best in the world — we have two nuclear submarines — not that we want to use them at all,” Trump said. “I’ve never seen anything like they are, but we don’t have to use this, but he could be crazy so we will see what happens.”

During the call, Trump echoed his publicly stated position that he wants China to take the lead in addressing potential threats from North Korea. “I hope China solves the problem. They really have the means because a great degree of their stuff come [sic] through China,” Trump said. “But if China doesn’t do it, we will do it.”

Duterte then volunteered to call Chinese President Xi Jinping, adding, “The other option is a nuclear blast which is not good for everybody.” Both leaders expressed a preference for avoiding a nuclear confrontation, but nonetheless, Joe Cirincione, president of the Ploughshares Fund and a leading expert on nuclear weapons, was alarmed by the exchange.

“Trump has a disturbing tendency to talk very cavalierly about nuclear weapons — as if he is an impulse away from using them,” Cirincione said. “He doesn’t seem to understand the vast destructive nature of these weapons and the line he would be crossing by using them.”
I don't know what to say anymore. Anyone who thinks this is just a political game and that Trump is not a uniquely dangerous president needs to think again.