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Sunday, November 19, 2017


Uranium scandal 101

by digby

Joe Conason took on the thankless task of explaining why the "Uranium One" psuedo-scandal is total nonsense. He does a good job of it:

As special counsel Robert Mueller prepared to indict two of the President's top former aides last month, and began to subpoena information from the White House, his campaign and members of his family about possible collusion with Russia, Donald Trump issued a tweet that bordered on hysteria:

"The Dems are using this terrible (and bad for our country) Witch Hunt for evil politics, but the R's are now fighting back like never before. There is so much GUILT by Democrats/Clinton, and now the facts are pouring out. DO SOMETHING!"

Responding to that presidential scream, Republicans on Capitol Hill, right-wing media outlets and Attorney General Jeff Sessions are doing something. Working together, they have revived the discredited "Russian uranium" accusations against Bill and Hillary Clinton, as well as the foundation that bears their names.

Their unsubtle purpose is to distract public and press attention from the ongoing probe of connections between Trump and the Kremlin with a conspiracy theory that envelops the Clintons, the Obama administration, the FBI, and Mueller himself — all with the aim of discrediting the investigation of Trump.

It is an implausible tale, full of logical inconsistencies and false assertions, that dates back to 2015, when Steve Bannon was head of Breitbart News and also ran a small Florida nonprofit called the Government Accountability Institute.

Looking ahead to Hillary Clinton's likely nomination for President on the Democratic ticket, Bannon and author Peter Schweizer had put together a book called "Clinton Cash: The Untold Story of How and Why Foreign Governments and Businesses Helped Make Bill and Hillary Rich," which charged that the former President and his wife had benefited from corrupt deals involving their foundation.

The book was a tendentious work, replete with errors and omissions, but it benefited from a pre-publication bonanza when the New York Times publicized one of its most sensational charges on the paper of record's front page. For reasons best known to its editors, the Times agreed to an "exclusive deal" with Schweizer that led to a 4,400-word front-page article with the vague but suggestive headline "Cash Flowed to Clinton Foundation Amid Russian Uranium Deal." The story hinted at serious wrongdoing with implications for national security.

These were the dots connected:

Through a complex series of business deals, Russia had obtained control of a portion of U.S. uranium reserves, using a Vancouver-based company called Uranium One. Some of the Canadian investors who profited from the sale of Uranium One to Rosatom, the Russian state-owned atomic energy corporation, had given millions of dollars to the Clinton Foundation.

Russia's acquisition of American uranium had been approved by the State Department while Hillary Clinton served as Secretary of State. And Bill Clinton had received a $500,000 fee for a speech delivered in Moscow at a bank that had some connection with Uranium One.

What weakened that apparently damning story was a single big flaw: Hillary Clinton never had the sole authority to sign off on the sale of Uranium One to the Russians, but held only a single seat on a government panel that included members from nine agencies, the Committee on Foreign Investment in the United States.

That committee had voted unanimously in favor of the deal, which had also required and obtained the approval of the Nuclear Regulatory Commission and the state of Texas, then governed by Republican Rick Perry (later chosen by Trump to serve as secretary of energy).

Although "Clinton Cash" attributed a "central role" to Hillary, she hadn't participated at all in the Uranium One decision. According to the assistant secretary of state who represented her on the inter-agency panel, "Mrs. Clinton never intervened with me on any CFIUS matter."

Knowledgeable observers of CFIUS say that its decisions are dominated by the Pentagon and the Treasury Department, which chairs the committee, not by State.

And those nine agencies had approved the sale of the remainder of Uranium One to the Russians in 2013, again unanimously, several months after Hillary Clinton had left government. That sale also required additional approvals from the Nuclear Regulatory Commission and Canadian regulators.

So neither of the Clintons could have been bribed to approve Uranium One, because they had nothing to sell. And Frank Giustra, the billionaire Canadian mining investor who was by far the biggest foundation donor connected with Uranium One, had divested his holdings in the company years before it was sold.

Lame as it was, however, the Uranium One story helped launch "Clinton Cash" onto the bestseller lists and stoked the Hillary-hating narrative of the Trump campaign. After Trump's election victory the story faded — until its recent reappearance on in right-wing media outlets like Fox News, Sinclair Broadcasting and, of course, the presidential Twitter feed, as a cudgel against Mueller and his probe of Russian interference in the 2016 campaign.

Now, it is hyped by Fox talking heads as "the biggest scandal of the century," which former Trump aide Sebastian Gorka says should send Hillary Clinton to the electric chair like Julius and Ethel Rosenberg, the Soviet spies who stole American atomic secrets.

But in order to discredit Mueller, right-wing journalists have expanded the initial version into an even more convoluted and mysterious tale.

Unfortunately, there's more. It's what Roger Stone and David Bossie call "the bank shot" to use this trumped up story to discredit Robert Mueller who was the FBI Director at the time. But in order to follow this convoluted bullshit tale, you should probably read it. This whole mess is only going to get worse. They cannot govern. This is what they do.

That hilarious chart at the top is not a joke. It was prepared by Louis Gohmert, the stupidest man in the House, to "explain" the scandal. In case you don't find it to be obvious, here's Stephen Colbert to explain it all to you:

Cleared up? I thought so ...



What exactly were Trump and Flynn up to anyway?

by digby

I'm fascinated by this latest twist in the Mueller investigation about Trump, Flynn and the 15 million dollar kidnapping plot. Trump obviously knew about it and tried to get Comey to go easy on his pal anyway. But what if he actually ok'd it? It sure seems to be something he'd think was so much winning...

When President Donald Trump allegedly tried to stop the FBI investigation of his national security adviser, retired Lt. Gen. Michael Flynn, was Trump aware of Flynn’s meetings with Turkish officials? If so, it could significantly increase the president’s exposure to political liability and legal wrongdoing involving obstruction of justice.

A crucial part of the timeline is the reported efforts of the White House to stop the investigation of Flynn in late March.

On Valentine’s Day, the president asked FBI Director James Comey if he could see his “way clear to letting this go, to letting Flynn go,” according to Comey’s congressional testimony and contemporaneous notes (Trump has denied this, but Donald Trump Jr. has essentially confirmed it). What would Trump have wanted Comey to let go exactly? So far the media has focused on federal investigators’ probe at the time into whether Flynn lied to the FBI. But at the same time there was also a federal investigation into Flynn’s work on behalf of Turkey—and the White House knew about it. We also now know that on Sept. 19, 2016, and in mid-December, Flynn reportedly met with senior Turkish officials, and is alleged to have discussed the prospect of kidnapping and secretly removing a U.S. resident, cleric Fethullah
Gülen, from the United States into Turkey’s custody. If Trump knew about the Turkey meetings—or what might have been discussed—at the time of the Feb. 14 exchange with Comey, that would raise a “different order of problem for the president,” Ben Wittes exclaimed on Lawfare’s podcast. Wittes is right.

Here are a number of data points on the timeline, as well as statements provided to Just Security by former CIA Director James Woolsey’s spokesperson, that might clarify what the White House knew and when it knew it.

It is not only important to understand what the president knew on Feb. 14, but also what he became aware of in the weeks and months afterward. That’s because Trump reportedly took additional steps to try to stop the investigation of Flynn following the Oval Office meeting with Comey. A crucial part of the timeline, for example, is the reported efforts of the White House to stop the investigation of Flynn in late March 2017 and the revelation of Flynn’s September 2016 meeting with Turkish officials around that same time.

Even if the president had no knowledge of the potential kidnapping meetings, if he tried to obstruct the federal investigation into Flynn’s work as an agent of a foreign government (Turkey), it would significantly raise the prospect of legal and political liability beyond his potential liability for obstructing the Russia-related investigation.

Reviewing this timeline, the mounting evidence of Flynn having been a paid foreign agent for Turkey seems likely to have figured into Trump’s calculus in relieving him of duty. The White House knew of the threatening nature of an active federal investigation of Flynn’s work on behalf of Turkey when the president allegedly asked Comey to “let Flynn go” on Feb. 14. Finally, the information contained in Flynn’s filing as a foreign agent in early March was likely on the minds of White House senior officials when they reportedly attempted to get top intelligence officials to intervene with Comey to drop the Flynn investigation that month.

These claims may sound strong when stacked together. But they are also each qualified and relatively modest all things considered. That’s because we don’t know the full picture. Even if Flynn’s foreign agent filings were on senior officials’ minds, they may have acted for other reasons, for example. And when they reportedly asked top intelligence officials to get Comey to halt the Flynn investigation, maybe they limited their inquiry to the Russia-related part. All that said, there’s a mountain of information here that raise serious questions and lend circumstantial support to our conclusions.

This seems like Trump all the way down to me. Flynn is crazy and Trump believed that as president he was immune from all laws. (He still thinks that if the president does it it's not illegal when it comes to outright corruption.) I find it entirely plausible that he thought this was an awesome plan and told Flynn to go for it.


Update on Church Shooter: No Charges, Keeps Gun and Carry Permit

by Spocko
TELLICO PLAINS, Tenn. — An 81-year-old man who accidentally shot his wife and himself at church while showing off his gun won't face charges or lose his carry permit, police said Friday.

Wayne Reid shot himself in the hand and his 80-year-old wife, Kathy, through the abdomen around 1 p.m. ET Thursday while showing off his Ruger pistol to a fellow parishioner at First United Methodist Church.
"As far as I know, he'll get to keep it," police Chief Russ Parks said of the firearm. "No one who was in the church is wishing to press charges, and we in the police department think they've suffered enough." USA Today
After a church shooting congregations talk about what should be done to prepare. They talk about the benefits and costs of various responses.

Congregations in different parts of the country choose different solutions. For example, The River at Tampa Bay Church,  choose to be heavily armed.

If you are a member of a church discussing the issue this week, you should look at all the costs and benefits of various responses. In addition to talking to experts in safety and security, you should contact your insurance agent AND your legal counsel.

I've been contacting insurance companies this week wondering what they recommend to congregations. Off duty police? Licensed private security? Their own security force composed of people with concealed guns?

I've asked them how they calculate the risks and then the premium costs for the different configurations.

In the meantime I've been looking at other costs. I don't know all the details of Wayne Reid's case in Tennessee. Maybe he's a super rich guy with great insurance, but I wonder:
  • Who pays for that 50 mile helicopter flight to Knoxville for his wife?  The average patient bill from Air Methods, according to an analysis of national research in Consumer Reports, rose from $13,000 in 2007 to $50,000 in 2016.  (Tennessean )

    If they are on Medicare, how much of this flight is covered? 
  • Did the man have extra insurance because he is carrying a concealed weapon in public? Doubtful. Remember, gun owners aren't required to have any liability insurance.
  • Does the Church have liability coverage? 
Maybe the entire community is fine with absorbing the medical costs instead of putting the financial responsibility back on the man who brought his gun to church, or on the church that decided to allow this person, with his level of training, in the church while carrying a gun.

Praise the Lord and pass the collection plate!


Bannon made him do it

by digby

This isn't an uncommon rap in politics but it's fatuous no matter who gives it. Here's Steve Bannon preparing to lose --- and saying that he's actually winning because he "forced" the people he challenged to reckon with his big swinging movement. It's the wingnut version of win-win.

Stephen Bannon, the executive chairman of Breitbart News and former White House chief strategist, said that Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) is "picking up his game" amid threats to his power posed by the "insurgency movement" led by President Trump.

In an interview with radio host John Catsimatidis that aired Sunday, Bannon blasted McConnell for what he described as lackluster support for Trump's agenda, but noted that the majority leader has worked more aggressively in recent weeks to confirm judicial nominees, pass a budget and push forward a tax-reform plan.

"Now that he's afraid, now that he sees that the grass-roots movement — whether it's in Alabama or Arizona or Tennessee or Mississippi — is going to replace his cronies like [Sens.] Jeff Flake [R-Ariz.] and Bob Corker [R-Tenn.], now he's scared, and now he's trying to move more federal judges through the system and really trying to cleave to President Trump's plan," Bannon said.

Bannon, who left his White House post in August, has railed against McConnell — and the GOP establishment more broadly — vowing to oust him as majority leader and install lawmakers more closely aligned with Trump's brand of conservatism.

Movements can change a party, obviously. Trumpism isn't one them unless you believe that massive tax cuts for the rich have become a GOP priority because Trump is more openly cretinous and incompetent than any other president in history. That's what he's brought to the table, nothing else. Old Mitch is just doing what they would have done if Jeb Bush or John McCain were president. Trumpism had nothing to do with it.


So Nobly Advanced ....

By Dennis Hartley

On this date in 1863, President Lincoln delivered his Gettysburg address, which opens with: “Fourscore and seven years ago our fathers brought forth on this continent, a new nation, conceived in Liberty, and dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal.” Earlier today, channeling the spirit of this rich tradition of presidential eloquence, our current commander-in-chief Donald Trump tweeted:

I’m sorry, memory fails … what was that Civil War all about again?



QOTD: Dr Nobody

by digby

“I never thought I’d be quoted as looking like villains from the 'James Bond' [movies]. I guess I should take that as a compliment that I look like a villain in a great, successful 'James Bond' movie,” Mnuchin said on “Fox News Sunday."


Inside the dossier

by digby

The Guardian's Luke Harding has written a book about how Trump walked into Putin’s web. This long read about "the inside story of how a former British spy was hired to investigate Russia’s influence on Trump – and uncovered explosive evidence that Moscow had been cultivating Trump for years" is well worth your time.

Here is an excerpt about the dossier:

After Trump became the presumptive nominee in May 2016, Singer’s involvement ended and senior Democrats seeking to elect Hillary Clinton took over the Trump contract. The new client was the Democratic National Committee. A lawyer working for Clinton’s campaign, Marc E Elias, retained Fusion and received its reports. The world of private investigation was a morally ambiguous one – a sort of open market in dirt. Information on Trump was of no further use to Republicans, but it could be of value to Democrats, Trump’s next set of opponents.

Before this, in early spring 2016, Simpson approached Steele, his friend and colleague. Steele began to scrutinise Paul Manafort, who would soon become Trump’s new campaign manager. From April, Steele investigated Trump on behalf of the DNC, Fusion’s anonymous client. All Steele knew at first was that the client was a law firm. He had no idea what he would find. He later told David Corn, Washington editor of the magazine Mother Jones: “It started off as a fairly general inquiry.” Trump’s organisation owned luxury hotels around the world. Trump had, as far back as 1987, sought to do real estate deals in Moscow. One obvious question for him, Steele said, was: “Are there business ties to Russia?”

Paul Manafort, who Steele started investigating in spring 2016. Last month Manafort was indicted on 12 charges including conspiracy against the United States.
Paul Manafort, who Steele started investigating in spring 2016. Last month Manafort was indicted on 12 charges including conspiracy against the United States. Photograph: Matt Rourke/AP
Over time, Steele had built up a network of sources. He was protective of them: who they were he would never say. It could be someone well-known – a foreign government official or diplomat with access to secret material. Or it could be someone obscure – a lowly chambermaid cleaning the penthouse suite and emptying the bins in a five-star hotel.

Normally an intelligence officer would debrief sources directly, but since Steele could no longer visit Russia, this had to be done by others, or in third countries. There were intermediaries, subsources, operators – a sensitive chain. Only one of Steele’s sources on Trump knew of Steele. Steele put out his Trump-Russia query and waited for answers. His sources started reporting back. The information was astonishing; “hair-raising”. As he told friends: “For anyone who reads it, this is a life-changing experience.”

Steele had stumbled upon a well-advanced conspiracy that went beyond anything he had discovered with Litvinenko or Fifa. It was the boldest plot yet. It involved the Kremlin and Trump. Their relationship, Steele’s sources claimed, went back a long way. For at least the past five years, Russian intelligence had been secretly cultivating Trump. This operation had succeeded beyond Moscow’s wildest expectations. Not only had Trump upended political debate in the US – raining chaos wherever he went and winning the nomination – but it was just possible that he might become the next president. This opened all sorts of intriguing options for Putin.

In June 2016, Steele typed up his first memo. He sent it to Fusion. It arrived via enciphered mail. The headline read: US Presidential Election: Republican Candidate Donald Trump’s Activities in Russia and Compromising Relationship with the Kremlin. Its text began: “Russian regime has been cultivating, supporting and assisting TRUMP for at least 5 years. Aim, endorsed by PUTIN, has been to encourage splits and divisions in the western alliance.”

“So far TRUMP has declined various sweetener real estate business deals, offered him in Russia to further the Kremlin’s cultivation of him. However he and his inner circle have accepted a regular flow of intelligence from the Kremlin, including on his Democratic and other political rivals.

“Former top Russian intelligence officer claims FSB has compromised TRUMP through his activities in Moscow sufficiently to be able to blackmail him. According to several knowledgeable sources, his conduct in Moscow has included perverted sexual acts which have been arranged/monitored by the FSB.

“A dossier of compromising material on Hillary CLINTON has been collated by the Russian Intelligence Services over many years and mainly comprises bugged conversations she had on various visits to Russia and intercepted phone calls rather than any embarrassing conduct. The dossier is controlled by Kremlin spokesman, PESKOV, directly on Putin’s orders. However, it has not yet been distributed abroad, including to TRUMP. Russian intentions for its deployment still unclear.”

The memo was sensational. There would be others, 16 in all, sent to Fusion between June and early November 2016.

Vanity Fair noticed one particular little bread crumb:

In December of last year, Steele informed Luke Harding, a journalist for the Guardian, that “the contracts for the hotel deals and land deals” between Trump and individuals with the Kremlin ties warrant investigation. “Check their values against the money Trump secured via loans,” the former spy said, according to a conversation detailed in Harding’s new book, Collusion: Secret Meetings, Dirty Money, and How Russia Helped Donald Trump Win. “The difference is what’s important.”

According to his book, Steele did not elaborate on this point to Harding, but his implication was clear: it’s possible that Trump was indebted to Russian interests when he descended Trump Tower’s golden escalator to declare his candidacy. After the real-estate mogul suffered a series of bankruptcies related to the 2008 financial crisis, traditional banks became reluctant to loan him money—a reality he has acknowledged in past interviews. As a result, the Trump Organization reportedly became increasingly reliant on foreign investors, notably Russian ones. As Donald Trump Jr. famously said in 2008, “Russians make up a pretty disproportionate cross section of a lot of our assets. We see a lot of money pouring in from Russia.”

The significance of such transactions is not lost on Special Counsel Robert Mueller. Citing a person familiar with the F.B.I. probe, Bloomberg reported in July that Mueller’s team is investigating a series of deals Trump struck, including the Trump Organization’s failed SoHo development that involved Russian nationals, the 2013 Miss Universe pageant in Moscow, and the president’s sale of a Palm Beach estate in 2008. All three deals have drawn scrutiny for their ties to Russian interests; as Craig Unger outlined for the Hive, the 2014 Trump SoHo development is likely of interest to Mueller thanks to the involvement of Felix Sater—a Moscow-born, Russian-American businessman who did time for stabbing a man in the face with a margarita glass—and the now-defunct company he worked for, the Bayrock Group. Similarly, Russian developer Aras Agalarov, whose son Emin helped broker the controversial Trump Tower meeting last June between Donald Trump Jr. and Russian lawyer Natalia Veselnitskaya, paid $20 million to bring Miss Universe to Moscow. And Russian fertilizer magnate Dmitry Rybolovlev bought the Florida mansion for a staggering sum of $95 million in 2008—despite Trump having paid just $41 million for the property four years prior.

Trump has cautioned that he would view any attempt by Mueller to dig into his past business deals as out of bounds. But the former F.B.I. director has a broad mandate from the D.O.J. to investigate “any links and/or coordination between the Russian government and individuals associated with the campaign” and “any matters that arose or may arise directly from the investigation”—suggesting that Trump’s deals with Russians fall under Mueller’s purview. Nor is Mueller’s tack in following the money limited to Trump. The indictments the special prosecutor brought against former Trump campaign manager Paul Manafort and his deputy and longtime business associate Rick Gates included conspiracy to launder money and seven counts of improper foreign banking and financial reporting. (Both Manafort and Gate have denied the charges.)

Since media outlets published the Steele dossier last January, Republican lawmakers and conservative pundits alike have sought to discredit it. In recent weeks, Trumpworld has latched onto the revelation that the Democratic National Committee and the Clinton campaign indirectly bankrolled Steele’s investigative work—which he conducted for Washington-based intelligence firm Fusion G.P.S.—through the law firm Perkins Coie. They have argued that the dossier’s origins not only make it invalid, but are indicative of a larger anti-Trump conspiracy. Steele, however, stands by his work. While the former MI6 agent acknowledged that no piece of intelligence is 100 percent airtight, Harding noted that Steele told friends he believes the 16 memos he delivered to Fusion to be “70 to 90 percent accurate.”

MSNBC is reporting that Rob Goldstone, the publicist who set up the Trump Tower meeting and helped arrange the Miss Universe pageant in Moscow in 2013 is going to be speaking with Mueller soon. I'd imagine he'll be quite the interesting witness.



More greatness to come

by Tom Sullivan

Graphic: Vox.

Maybe we should go back and try government of, by, and for people again. Regular people. Not billionaires. Not artificial persons that, by human design, operate at the level of appetite and instinct. Just a suggestion.

Because — hang onto your wallets — the Republican tax "cut" passed the House and is headed for a vote in the Senate after Thanksgiving. If you are not uneasy, you should be. Whatever happens. Likely, the GOP tax plan is headed into territory Republicans plowed earlier in the year with their attempts to repeal the Affordable Care Act, a.k.a., Obamacare. That's both in terms of prospects for the tax bill's failure and because Republicans are trying for the nth time to repeal Obamacare.

By knocking out one of the legs of the three-legged stool that holds up the ACA, they hope to engineer its collapse. By eliminating the individual mandate that supports eliminating the pre-existing conditions disqualifier and holds down the cost of sliding-scale health care subsidies that make the insurance affordable (in theory), premiums will rise and millions will lose coverage.

A small price to pay, they believe, for lowering the corporate tax rate and delivering on tax cuts.

"The numbers are in and it’s clear: this tax bill helps the rich and hurts everybody else," Adam Davidson writes at The New Yorker. Run by the chairs of the House Ways and Means Committee and the Senate Finance Committee, the U.S. Congress Joint Committee on Taxation report on the bill's impacts paint it, says Davidson, "much like a teaser rate on a new credit card." There will be an immediate payoff for the middle class for the first few years, but those payoffs erode quickly for those below median income.

By 2021, those making between twenty thousand and thirty thousand dollars a year are paying considerably more in taxes, those between thirty thousand and two hundred thousand see their benefit shrinking, and those making more start to see their taxes falling. By 2027, every income level below seventy-five thousand dollars a year sees a tax increase, while everybody above that level sees a continued decrease, with the greatest cut in taxes accruing to those making more than a million dollars a year.
Or you could believe Senate Finance Chair Sen. Orrin Hatch (R-UT). He comes from poor people.

The other teaser — that cutting corporate tax cuts somehow will trickle down to the little people — flies in the face not just of history (Republicans have tried this before more than once), but of well-established corporate behavior. Players with any shame would not go out in public and peddle this with a straight face. Which would not include White House economic advisor Gary Cohn Gary Cohn, formerly with Goldman Sachs, who embarrassed himself trying before a roomful of CEOs last week.

Kimberly Clausing, an economist at Reed College, spoke to NPR's Elise Hu last week on the non-effects of tax cuts on job and wage growth:
KIMBERLY CLAUSING: A lot of what's holding back investment right now has nothing to do with a scarcity of after-tax profits. In fact, if you look at multinational firms, most of them have record-high after-tax profits compared to earlier years or earlier decades. Instead, what seems to be holding back investment is lack of good investment opportunities.

So for instance, if the middle class is struggling, that gives you fewer items that you could sell to the middle class and then less incentive to invest in factories to make those items. So I think most companies are not so much wanting for funds but wanting for things to invest in.
That is, demand drives the economy, not supply. Put more money in workers' hands, not through tax cuts, but through paychecks, and the economy will expand. Implementing a $15 minimum wage was supposed to hurt Seattle's small businesses. But at least its restaurant scene is booming. Chef Edouardo Jordan cannot think of expanding because of a labor shortage. Rents in downtown Seattle are climbing, too. But, The Stranger's Charles Mudede comments snideley, you won't find academic studies "about how rising commercial rents are hurting Seattle's economy."

Clausing commented on Cohn-ish trickle-down boosters behind the “Tax Cuts And Jobs Act”:
CLAUSING: I think what's interesting here is that if you look at the people who are marketing this tax plan, they're often marketing it as if it will help workers through a sort of a trickle-down mechanism. But if you went straight to the workers instead and gave them benefits from the tax cut - whatever tax cut you're going to have - that's I think more likely to trickle up and help corporate America by giving the middle class more money to spend on goods and services and by making those investments worthy opportunities for firms.
"It’s a Ponzi scheme,” one Wall Street executive told Vanity Fair's William D. Cohen, who writes:
Executives know there’s no mechanism in the G.O.P. tax plan to reward them for passing those savings along to their employees, who Paul Ryan has estimated would get an average $4,000 raise (over a decade) as a result of corporate largesse. The labor market has tightened considerably—the unemployment rate is at a 15-year low—and the stock market is starting to level off. The word on the street, though, isn’t that higher corporate profits will lead to higher wages; rather, it’s all about buybacks: Goldman says stock buybacks will hit $590 billion in 2018, while Merrill Lynch predicts half of all repatriated cash would go to buybacks or acquisitions. It’s a sugar high that might extend the market rally temporarily, but will deepen the rot in our economic cavity.
“Will this be the first tax cut in American history that actually results in a recession?” Cohen's executive asked. Eliminating deductibility of state and local taxes (including property taxes) isn't just a direct transfer of wealth to red states that voted for the sitting president, and a way to punish states that didn't. It could drive down real estate values by 10 to 17 percent, wiping out a massive amount of homeowner equity, depress consumer spending, and trigger a recession, Cohen warns.

Just the greatness voters wanted.

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Saturday, November 18, 2017


But he plays one on TV-Bill Nye: Science Guy (***)

By Dennis Hartley

In a nonsensical world such as ours, it somehow makes perfect sense that it took a Cornell-educated Boeing engineer-turned late night TV sketch comic-turned-goofy kid’s science show host to become logic’s ultimate champion in the sometimes downright insane public debate amongst (alleged) adults regarding human-caused global warming.

Such is the long strange trip of one Bill Nye, aka “The Science Guy”, recounted in a new “warts and all” documentary from co-directors David Alvarado and Jason Sussberg called (wait for it) Bill Nye: Science Guy. While the filmmakers’ non-linear structure (which vacillates abruptly between eco-doc, non-chronological biography and NOVA-style science lesson) takes acclimation, there does seem to be a method to the madness.

Is there “madness” behind Nye’s transition from the bubbly “Science Guy” persona to the relatively more glum-faced crusader we have seen in more recent years taking the science deniers to task? Even the film’s subject himself is unsure of exactly “who” he is at times; as revealed in a fascinating segment where Nye is interviewed by neuroscientist Heather Berlin, who is conducting a study on the effects of celebrity and fame on the brain and the psyche. She sees in Nye “a great test case” with which to explore her thesis. After admitting that the pressures of fame have made him “close [himself] off” to a certain extent in his public and personal life, Nye begins to act and look palpably uncomfortable.

As if to further assure us of no hagiographic intent, the film makers allow some of their subject’s former TV collaborators to dish some passive-aggressive disgruntlement that suggests Nye’s desire for fame and fortune (in the early days, at least) may have trumped any altruistic intentions to bring science to the masses. That said, there are still a number of admirers like Neil deGrasse Tyson on camera to praise Nye and his accomplishments.

My favorite part is where Nye goes to Kentucky for a public debate with anti-evolutionist Ken Ham. Nye first takes us along on a tour of Ham’s Creation Museum, where he finds one particular exhibit suggesting dinosaurs and humans co-existed at the same time to be “very troubling”. Luckily, for viewers like myself who are fully ready at this point to begin hurling objects at the screen, an antidote is administered soon thereafter with a shift back to reality (and sanity) when Nye attends the National Science Teacher’s Conference.

There are also some genuinely touching moments, like during a family visit, when Nye reveals that his brother and sister struggle with Ataxia, a rare neurological disease that affects balance and gait. While it is a hereditary affliction in his family (his father had it), Nye has never shown any signs of having the affliction himself. Consequently, he admits to suffering from a kind of “survivor’s guilt”, which has haunted him all of his adult life.
Another chunk is devoted to examining Nye’s current “day job” as CEO of The Planetary Society, which was co-founded by his mentor Carl Sagan (Sagan’s widow Ann Druyan, who co-wrote the original 1980 PBS series Cosmos and is the creator-producer-writer of the 2014 sequel Cosmos: A Spacetime Odyssey, also makes an appearance in the film).

While they may not have crafted a definitive portrait of Nye, the filmmakers do manage to pass on his “Science Guy” persona’s infectious enthusiasm for the joy of discovery. And it did leave me with the comforting thought that he’s one of the good ones who are out there, holding up the line of defense against blind superstition and purposeful disinformation. In light of the current state of our union, we need all the help we can get.

Previous posts with related themes:

Greedy Lying Bastards
Carbon Nation
Chasing Ice

More reviews at Den of Cinema
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--Dennis Hartley

They finally got Clinton to resign

by digby

Hillary Clinton, that is:


Where did the Pizzagate conspiracy come from?

by digby

This is the best article I've read about the propaganda/fake news phenomenon I've seen yet. It attempts to unravel the inane Pizzagate conspiracy and it's fascinating. The article talks about the first twitter message about the conspiracy and traces it back to a right wing nut in Joplin Missouri who unconvincingly claims her account was hacked. She's a piece of work but it's pretty clear that the whole thing didn't originate with her.

That's where the story really begins:

On a pair of anonymous message boards, we found several possible seeds of Pizzagate. On July 2nd, 2016, someone calling himself FBIAnon, who claimed to be a "high-level analyst and strategist" for the bureau, hosted an Ask Me Anything forum on 4chan. He claimed to be leaking government secrets – á la Edward Snowden – out of a love for country, but it wasn't always clear which country he meant. At various times, he wrote, "Russia is more a paragon of freedom and nationalism than any other country" and "We are the aggressors against Russia." FBIAnon's secrets were about the Department of Justice's inquiry into the Clinton Foundation, which federal prosecutors never formalized. "Dig deep," he wrote. "Bill and Hillary love foreign donors so much. They get paid in children as well as money."

"Does Hillary have sex with kidnapped girls?" a 4channer asked.

"Yes," FBIAnon answered.

Another possible germ of Pizzagate appeared online about 10 hours before Katz posted her story on Facebook. TheeRANT describes itself as a message board for "New York City cops speaking their minds." Virtually everyone on the site uses an identity-masking screen name. Favorite topics include police body cameras (bad) and George Soros (worse). On October 29th, 2016, someone calling himself "Fatoldman" posted that he had a "hot rumor" about the FBI investigation.
"[T]he feds were forced to reopen the hillary email case [because] apparently the NYPD sex crimes unit was involved in the weiner case," Fatoldman wrote. "On his laptop they saw emails. [T]hey notified the FBI. Feds were afraid that NYPD would go public so they had to reopen or be accused of a coverup."

Someone posted the news to a law enforcement Facebook group. From there, a user called Eagle Wings (@NIVIsa4031) posted it to Twitter. Eagle Wings' profile picture shows a smiling middle-aged woman above the description "USAF Vet believes Freedom Soars." Among her more influential followers are former deputy assistant to President Trump Sebastian Gorka and former national security adviser Gen. Michael Flynn, who actually shared a separate Eagle- Wings tweet last year. Eagle Wings' enthusiastic following likely has something to do with membership in "Trumps WarRoom," a private group of online activists who share and amplify political messages. Participants told Politico's Shawn Musgrave that hundreds, perhaps even thousands, of pro-Trump rooms coalesced during the campaign. "The members aren't stereotypical trolls," Musgrave tells me. "Most are baby boomers." A lot are women from the Midwest.

But Eagle Wings is not a typical political enthusiast, says Woolley, who directs research at the Institute for the Future's Digital Intelligence Lab. She tweets too often (more than 50,000 times since November 2015) to too many followers (120,000 as of November 2017). "Without a shadow of a doubt," he says, "Eagle Wings is a highly automated account [and] part of a bot network" – a centrally controlled group of social-media accounts. To explain how they work, Ben Nimmo, a fellow at the Atlantic Council's Digital Forensic Research Lab, uses a shepherding analogy. "A message that someone or some organization wants to 'trend' is typically sent out by 'shepherd' accounts," he says, which often have large followings and are controlled by humans. The shepherds' messages are amplified by 'sheepdog' accounts, which are also run by humans but can be default-set "to boost the signal and harass critics." At times, the shepherds personally steer conversations, but they also deploy automation, using a kind of Twitter cruise control to retweet particular keywords and hashtags. Together, Nimmo says, the shepherds and sheepdogs guide a herd of bots, which "mindlessly repost content in the digital equivalent of sheep rushing in the same direction and bleating loudly."

Whether Katz repeated something a herd of bots was bleating, or repackaged tidbits found on other parts of the Internet, her Facebook post was the "human touch" that helped the fake news story go viral. The "tell," says Watts, was what happened next. Most of us post into Internet oblivion. But about 12 hours after Katz shared her story, a Twitter user named @DavidGoldbergNY tweeted a screenshot of her post, twice – adding, "I have been hearing the same thing from my NYPD buddies too. Next couple days will be -interesting!"

It's literally unbelievable and yet we know what eventually happened. Aside from that cretinous moron getting elected, some kook took his AR-15 and went to the Pizza parlor looking for Hillary Clinton's kidnapped kids and shot the lock off of a storage door.

The fact that millions of people are trafficking in theselies is a huge problem and I haven't got the faintest idea about how to fix it. People believe what they want to believe and there are some actors in this world who are ready to give them what they want in order to advance their own agenda. Indeed, a whole population has been primed by talk radio and right wing media to accept a certain kind of propaganda with no questions asked. We are all susceptible to confirmation bias but this is on a level that approaches brainwashing.It's very, very disturbing.

Read the whole thing or listen to the Reveal podcast discussing it here.



Chris Hayes lays out the sexual harassment and assault evidence against Donald Trump

by digby

It's just a helpful little reminder of all the women who came forward to accuse Donald Trump on camera:

And that doesn't even include his ex-wife who said he raped her when he was angry that the plastic surgeon she'd sent him to botched his scalp reduction hair transplant surgery in 1989.

This was all aired just a year ago. 63 million people didn't care. I doubt they care now.



Ivanka's Law is toxic

by digby

But get this:

Republicans really can't afford to give up on the tax bill, after suffering an embarrassing defeat on their health care effort. But when something is as central to their agenda as the tax rewrite, they're going to have serious headaches if they can't win more support with the public.

Uhm, maybe these serious headaches might be worse than being "embarrassed?" Like the fact that they are going to cause millions of people to pay more in taxes, critically degrade higher education and health care so that Ivanka gets a tax break? Those kind of "headaches?"

We know that their donors are demanding that they deliver and that's why they're doing this. So, let's not pretend it's anything other than that. Many of them realize that Donald Trump has destroyed their party and this is their last chance to pay back their rich benefactors and perhaps secure a future for themselves outside of politics.

This is a political crisis. But you knew that.


So him

by digby

Charles Blow found this video of Trump that illustrates his future presidency so perfectly:


When party becomes religion

by Tom Sullivan

"This is what happens when party becomes almost a religion," MSNBC's Joy Reid told Chris Hayes last night on "All In." Reid was commenting on the GOP's defense of Alabama's Roy Moore and acceptance of a Republican president with a lengthy history of sexual misconduct. "We don't care how low he takes this country, how low he takes our party," she said, or "what a scoundrel he is, what a scam artist he is, what a con man. And literally, it can be a child molester as long as it's a Republican ... Nothing comes before party ever. Ever."

The Republican Party and the country didn't sink to these depths overnight. The right has, over decades, acculturated its base to lies as one of the basic food groups. Our sitting president is simply the main course.

Fear has been a conservative staple from the early days of the Cold War, the Birchers, and before. Robert Kagan noted before the election last year how "resentment and disdain, intermingled with bits of fear, hatred and anger," the core of the now-president's message, had incubated inside the party for years.

I recounted how creepy the appearance of "Rush rooms" was in the early 1990s, and how the dittoheads at work marinated their brains in his toxic message all day, every day.

As Rush faded, Fox News ascended. Fox News has been a propaganda channel for decades now. The "Fair and Balanced" network has dropped that branding and, with few exceptions, any pretension that what it presents is news. Where once there were Rush Rooms at lunch, now every other bar, restaurant, and public space has a telescreen broadcasting the message approved by Minitrue and News Corp.

Conservative chain emails have faded as well, replaced by Facebook. Through the Cold War years, we'd been warned that the communists would try to undermine America from within using propaganda and disinformation. With the emails, fathers and uncles were trafficking in it, passing them on to family and friends as instructed at the bottom of each. What made chain emails popular was they maligned people senders hated. With forward after forward, they built a discomforting community of resentment. I have a collection:

Now, out of those 200 chain emails, maybe three or four are not outright lies, distortions, and smears. Easily debunked on Google in the time it takes to attach your email list and forward to all your friends. They are lies and, deep down, right wingers know it. Yet they pass them along dutifully, almost gleefully. They know it's wrong and they don't care.
Their purpose was to get people angry and keep them angry about real and imagined slights committed against them by political enemies. After last year's election and the revelations about Russian ads on Facebook, one wonders if some weren't once drafted in St. Petersburg. The First Amendment has been weaponized and used against us.

Mr. “And when you're a star, they let you do it” is simply a walking, talking, tweeting version of the conservative chain email. His fans don't care if what he says is true so long as he attacks the people they hate and gives them approval to do the same.

David Brooks argued the other day that "naked liberalism" has undermined the social contract. He defines naked liberalism as an assumption shared by both right and left that "if you give people freedom they will use it to care for their neighbors, to have civil conversations, to form opinions after examining the evidence." The right wants to maximize economic choice while the left hopes to maximize lifestyle choice (in which Brooks glosses over both positions). This position, "all freedom and no covenant," he believes, maximizes personal freedom while undercutting the bonds that hold a society together:
Freedom without covenant becomes selfishness. And that’s what we see at the top of society, in our politics and the financial crisis. Freedom without connection becomes alienation. And that’s what we see at the bottom of society — frayed communities, broken families, opiate addiction. Freedom without a unifying national narrative becomes distrust, polarization and permanent political war.
Or worse. "[P]eople will prefer fascism to isolation, authoritarianism to moral anarchy." In pursuing individual and economic freedom, we have sacrificed the bonds that held human society together for millennia. "Congressional Republicans think a successful tax bill will thwart populism," he writes. "Mainstream Democrats think the alienation problem will go away if we redistribute the crumbs a bit more widely." These band-aids aren't likely to hold back the erosion.

People under 40 get that these aren't solutions, Brooks writes. I must agree. Steve Bannon wants to tear down the entire edifice and start from scratch, an answer not so different from one we heard from certain quarters on the left last fall. So far, Democrats haven't offered a more compelling, healing narrative.

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Friday, November 17, 2017


Friday Night Soother: Bearcats!

by digby

Perth Zoo is celebrating the birth of the first Binturong cubs in the Zoo’s 119-year history.

Two cubs, a male and a female, were born September 6 to mother, Selasa, and father, Rabu. The parents arrived at the Zoo from Singapore Zoological Gardens, in 2016, to establish a Perth Zoo Binturong family.

Perth Zoo Keeper, Marty Boland, said, “It’s very exciting to welcome two rare Binturong cubs, less than 12 months after their parent’s arrival in Australia.”

“Binturongs are capable of delaying their pregnancy after mating until they feel the environmental conditions are favourable. So, it’s great to see that Selasa is feeling secure and content here in WA!”

“She is a first time Mum, but has been lovingly tending to her offspring in the nest box and also allowing us to photograph the cubs’ progression. She’s even trusted us to handle her cubs to quickly weigh them.”

“They tip the scales just over one kilogram, a good weight for Binturong infants,” said Marty.

The new arrivals recently opened their eyes, and they are beginning to take in the world around them. Zoo Keepers expect they will start exploring their exhibit in coming weeks and become more visible to the public.

Marty continued, “Visitors who are unsure of where to catch a glimpse of the Binturong family may smell them first. They are famous for their strong odor, which is often likened to popcorn!”

The Binturong (Arctictis binturong), also known as a Bearcat, is a viverrid that is native to South and Southeast Asia.

Binturongs are omnivorous, feeding on small mammals, birds, fish, earthworms, insects and fruits.

The estrous period of the Binturong is 81 days, with a gestation of 91 days. The average age of sexual maturation is 30.4 months for females and 27.7 months for males. The Binturong is one of approximately 100 species of mammal believed by many experts to be capable of embryonic diapause, or delayed implantation, which allows the female of the species to time parturition to coincide with favorable environmental conditions. Typical litters consist of two offspring, but up to six may occur.

It is uncommon in much of its range, and has been assessed and classified as “Vulnerable” on the IUCN Red List due to a declining population trend that is estimated at more than 30% over the last three decades. The main threat to the species is severe destruction of habitats in their native parts of the world.

Those wanting to help save Binturong from extinction are encouraged to “adopt” one of Perth Zoo’s cubs. Zoo adoption packages ensure more funds are poured into giving wildlife a chance of survival. More information can be found at: www.perthzoo.com.au


Oh God

by digby

Politico says that we should all enjoy November because December is going to be a living hell:

DECEMBER is going to be really, really, really brutal. Spending caps deal. Government funding. Potential legislation to deal with the expiration of DACA. Action to prop up the health care law. And now, we hear that THE DEBT CEILING could be part of the mix in the final month of the year, as well. Treasury says Congress has until January to lift the debt limit, but some say if Congress is going to slap together a big package, the debt limit might as well be included. No one really wants to raise the debt limit in an election year, anyway. But the negotiations have to be going really well for the debt limit to be included. It's not a must-pass at the end of the year, and it could just as easily slip to 2018. In other words, Republicans tell us they won't let the debt limit be a bargaining chip for Democrats who are trying to get a DACA deal.

WE ALSO HEAR Congress will pass a short-term government funding bill in time for the Dec. 8 deadline, kicking the deadline toward the end of the month in time for a large spending deal. OH YEAH -- THE WHITE HOUSE has made it clear they want tax reform done in December as well. Whoever wins the Alabama Senate race will join the chamber toward the end of December, too. THIS COULD EASILY BE the most consequential legislative month in years.

And that's just the legislative stuff. We've also got Roy Moore and whatever freakshow Donald Trump puts on on a daily basis.

I'm so tired.



Jared needs some Gingko

by digby

Jared has a real memory problem. Seriously. A bad one. He should have some tests. But not by this guy:

Mother Jones reports:

Jared Kushner, President Donald Trump’s son-in-law and senior adviser, was aware of a “Russian backdoor overture and dinner invite” but failed to provide that information to the Senate Judiciary Committee, the leaders of that committee said in a letter Thursday to Kushner’s lawyer. The reported overture is one of multiple revelations about Trump campaign contacts with Russia that Sens. Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa) and Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) disclosed in their letter accusing Kushner of improperly withholding information about the communications.

The letter marks the resumption of a joint Russia investigation led by Grassley and Feinstein. The two senators had stopped cooperating last month due to a disagreement about the scope of the probe.

The senators said they know Kushner withheld the information because people questioned separately by the committee disclosed emails detailing contacts with Russia on which Kushner was copied. “Other parties have produced documents concerning a ‘Russian backdoor overture and dinner invite’ that Kushner forwarded to others,” the senators wrote. Kushner is one of several Trump associates who reportedly had multiple contacts with Russians during the 2016 presidential campaign and subsequent transition period. Those include a November 16, 2016, meeting in which Kushner reportedly requested Russian ambassador Sergey Kislyak’s help in setting up back-channel communications between Trump and the Kremlin. Kushner claims that he was responding to Kislyak’s request to set up a secure line to convey sensitive information on Syria. It is not clear if that meeting represented the “overture and dinner invite” the senators cited or if the overture is a newly disclosed contact between the Trump camp and Russia

Grassley and Feinstein also said that their committee has obtained communications, on which Kushner was copied, with Sergey Millian, a Belarusian-American businessman with multiple ties to Trump and his campaign. Millian, the president of the Russian-American Chamber of Commerce in the United States and the owner of a translation service, once described himself as the Trump Organization’s “exclusive broker” helping Russians buying apartments in Trump buildings. Millian is also reportedly one of the key sources whose claims about Russian attempts to cultivate Trump were cited in the set of memos compiled by former British intelligence agent Christopher Steele. The Washington Post has reported that Millian last year told associates he was in touch with George Papadopolous, the Trump campaign foreign policy adviser who has pleaded guilty to lying to FBI agents about his contacts with Russians. Papadopolous and Millian were Facebook friends, the Post noted.


We are insanely stupid

by digby

No civilization where this happens can be expected to survive. It's people are just too stupid:

A man accidentally shot himself and his wife at an East Tennessee church on Thursday while he was showing off his gun during a discussion on recent church shootings, police said.

Elder members of First United Methodist Church in Tellico Plains were cleaning up about 1 p.m. after enjoying a luncheon held to celebrate Thanksgiving. They began talking about guns in churches, according to Tellico Plains Police Chief Russ Parks.

A man in his 80s pulled out a .380 caliber Ruger handgun and said, "I carry my handgun everywhere," according to Parks.

He removed the magazine, cleared the chamber, and showed the gun to some of the men in the church. He put the magazine back in, apparently loaded a round in the chamber, and returned the gun to its holster, Parks said.

"Somebody else walked up and said, 'Can I see it?' " Parks said. "He pulled it back out and said, 'With this loaded indicator, I can tell that it’s not loaded.' "

He pulled the trigger.

"Evidently he just forgot that he re-chambered the weapon," Parks said.

The gun was lying on its side on a table. The bullet sliced the palm of the man's upward-facing hand, then entered the left side of his wife's abdomen and exited the right side, Parks said.

Both the husband and wife, who is also in her 80s, were flown to the University of Tennessee Medical Center with injuries that police said didn't appear to be life-threatening. Their names had not been released as of Thursday evening.

Charges will not be filed, Parks said.

It's hard to believe a bullet in the abdomen isn't life-threatening to a woman in her 80s but that's good news.

Meanwhile, it great that this man will be allowed to keep his guns. What could go wrong?



Sherrod Brown takes Hatch downtown

by digby

Sherrod Brown really upset Orrin Hatch last night when he correctly described the tax plan as a giveaway to the rich. Hatch, a millionaire, says that he comes from "the poor" and he resents the implication.

The truth hurts:

Greg Sargent explains:

Late last night, just before the Finance Committee passed the Senate’s version of the tax bill slashing taxes on corporations and the rich, a remarkable moment unfolded that perfectly captured the GOP’s whole handling of the tax debate — in all its dishonesty, misdirection and bottomless bad faith.

Sen. Sherrod Brown (D-Ohio) engaged in extended sparring with committee chairman Orrin G. Hatch (R-Utah) over who would benefit from the Senate bill, with Brown insisting that it fundamentally represents a tax cut for the rich and not the middle class. This drew an enraged response from Hatch, even though Brown’s argument was 100 percent correct:

Senate Finance Committee Chairman Orrin G. Hatch (R-Utah) and Sen. Sherrod Brown (D-Ohio) had a tense exchange during a markup of the GOP tax bill on Nov. 16. (Senate Finance Committee)
Brown’s reference to an amendment offered by Sen. Ron Wyden (D-Ore.) at the beginning of the exchange is crucial to what transpired. That amendment would undo the tax cuts on corporations if wages don’t grow. The Senate bill would cut the corporate tax rate from 35 percent to 20 percent — permanently — and one of President Trump’s and the GOP’s chief stated rationales is that the move will unleash massive wage growth. The amendment called the GOP’s bluff for messaging purposes.

And it worked. Indeed, Brown’s questioning of this Republican argument is exactly what ticked Hatch off. Brown claimed that “this tax cut really is not for the middle class, it’s for the rich,” and that the GOP argument about tax cuts on corporations leading to higher wages is just a “good selling point.” Brown pointed out: “Companies don’t just give away higher wages just because they have more money. Corporations are sitting on a lot of money now. They’re sitting on a lot of profits now. I don’t see wages going up. Just spare us the bank shots.”

All this made Hatch angry. “I come from the poor people,” Hatch said. “And I’ve been here working my whole stinkin’ career for people who don’t have a chance. And I really resent anybody saying that I’m just doing this for the rich. Give me a break. I think you guys overplay that all the time, and it gets old. And frankly, you ought to quit it.” When Brown pushed back by suggesting that previous tax cuts for the rich haven’t produced the results Republicans are once again predicting, Hatch silenced him.

Now, Hatch was probably angered by the questioning of his motive — the idea that Republicans are disingenuously packaging a tax cut for the wealthy and corporations as a tax cut for the middle class. But whatever is in Hatch’s heart, this is exactly what the Senate bill does. It front-loads the benefits for non-wealthy people by making its various tax preferences and its cuts to individual income tax rates temporary and subject to expiration while making the corporate rate cuts permanent. It also ties tax brackets to an alternative inflation measure in a way that will result in out-year tax increases for everyone but the top 1 percent. The nonpartisan Joint Committee on Taxation has concluded that in 2027, most poor and working-class people will see a tax hike, while upper-income earners (who benefit from corporate tax cuts) continue to pay less.

Hatch, as other Republicans, claims to have “no intention” of raising taxes on lower-income people, meaning Congress will renew their tax cuts later. The suggestion otherwise got Hatch angry. But there is zero guarantee that this will happen, and indeed, this claim actually ratifies the objections of Brown and Democrats. It reveals in a backdoor way that the whole reason for making all these provisions temporary is to pay for permanent tax cuts on corporations, which is necessary to comply with the procedural need to avoid raising the deficit later. Indeed, the bill’s repeal of the individual mandate is also designed to cut health spending on less-fortunate people precisely to fund those corporate tax cuts — which shows, as Brian Beutler points out, that this bill partly represents another version of the massively regressive Obamacare repeal efforts that have already been defeated, this one just in a new packaging of grift.

As it happens, there is good reason to doubt Hatch’s motives — or, at least, those of the GOP more broadly. Multiple Republicans have admitted on the record that if Republicans don’t pass these tax cuts, their donors will stop giving them money. If Republicans wanted to cut taxes for the middle class, they could cut taxes for the middle class and remain within deficit and procedural constraints by limiting the bill’s massive giveaway to their corporate donors, which would not necessitate hiking middle-class taxes later. Yet Republicans aren’t doing that. Hatch claimed that pointing this out “gets old.” But this week’s Quinnipiac poll finds that Americans say by 59 percent to 33 percent that the GOP plan favors the rich at the expense of the middle class, which means they are on to the GOP game.

Click over to read the rest. This bill is an atrocity. The donors want it and the people hate it.



Bannon vs Rove

by digby

I wrote about Bannon and Rove for Salon this morning:

It had been reported all week that President Trump wasn't going to comment personally on the underage dating and sexual assault scandal whirling around Alabama Republican Senate candidate Roy Moore because he knew it would raise the issue of his own sordid history. Trump refused to take questions about it from reporters and let his press secretary say only that the White House found the complaints "troubling" but planned to let the people of Alabama decide what to do about it.

But obviously he was watching Sean Hannity late at night, as he is wont to do, and his uncontrollable, juvenile compulsions finally won out. The need to insult Sen. Al Franken was too overwhelming and he had to take to Twitter to let it out:

Trump may not realize that the Alabama election isn't for another four weeks and he's likely to be grilled about his own "issues" every time he faces the press. And he has another little problem that he may not have counted on. The team at Breitbart News is not happy with the fact that the first daughter said that there was "a special place in hell" for people who do what Moore is accused of doing. This was Breitbart editor Alex Marlow on a talk radio program:

Caller: Well, when Donald was being accused of these things where there was definitely more proof and more opportunity, where was she then? But now she's all outraged by Roy Moore. I don't know why she just doesn't keep quiet. 
Marlow: Right, especially when there's been so many allegations against President Trump, I don't know why the daughter of President Trump who has been accused by [attorney] Gloria Allred and some dozen, maybe two dozen, women over the years doing something inappropriate, and nothing's ever come of that. So why does Ivanka want to continue to pile on? I don't know. I think that she just loves getting her name out there in the headline and they can put more photos up. So that's her M.O.
Roy Moore is of course being backed by Breitbart's executive editor, the former Trump campaign manager and senior policy adviser Steve Bannon.

Has Bannon decided that MAGA belongs to him now? According to this fascinating piece in the New Yorker by Susan B. Glasser, Bannon's battle against the establishment is very personal and is not entirely motivated by his apocalyptic vision of impending chaos but something much more prosaic: a need to defeat the man who held his position in the previous Republican administration, Karl Rove.

I was unaware that Bannon was so competitive with Rove but according to Glasser's article there's so much bad blood there that Bannon decided to take on an incumbent Republican congressman in North Carolina solely because Rove knew the guy and gave a speech on his behalf. It's the only House race in which Bannon has endorsed a primary challenger.

Breitbart published a story in which it called the incumbent, Rep. Robert Pittenger, a tool of the “Karl Rove-backed elites” who had “sold out his district.” But Pittenger is actually a hardcore Trump supporter who's voted with the president 96 percent of the time. He told Glasser, “I’ve never met Steve Bannon, but it seems to be a game. There’s all kinds of games up there in Washington.” Pittenger and Rove both said that they'd known each other for a long time and that Rove was simply doing a solid for a friend.

One can understand why Bannon wouldn't like Rove, who has been very critical of both Bannon and Trump in his Wall Street Journal columns and told Glasser that they knew nothing about electoral strategy and had no idea how to win races around the country, much less upend the establishment, as Bannon has vowed to do. Rove is probably right about that. The Trump operation, both inside and outside the White House, is a mess.

Until 2016, Steve Bannon was running his upstart web site, and that no doubt burns Rove, a political junkie who has spent a lifetime studying political history and the minutiae of electoral strategy, and worked in the political trenches for decades before he made it to the White House. Of course, that's exactly what Bannon loathes about Rove, believing that he's a dinosaur with nothing to offer the revolutionary new politics he and Donald Trump have created.

It's interesting, however, how much the two men actually have in common. Both are autodidacts who think of themselves as strategic and tactical geniuses. Rove may seem like a staid elder statesman compared to Bannon, a self-styled "Leninist" and agent of chaos, but Rove was just as grandiose in his thinking when he came to Washington 17 years ago. He believes in realignment theory and thought that Bush's hanging-chad victory in the 2000 election was the beginning of a major shift, led by him, to GOP dominance for the foreseeable future.

Bannon believes in a bizarre prophecy of "four turnings," in which world events unfold in predictable cycles of roughly 80 years each that can be divided into four chapters, or turnings: growth, maturation, entropy and destruction. Under this nutbar theory, it's been 80 years since fall came, in the form of the Great Depression and World War II, and now winter is upon us.

Both of these guys have way too much faith in their own insights and abilities. This article by Joshua Green in the Atlantic about Rove at the end of Bush's second term should serve as a cautionary tale for Bannon. The arrogant, "go-it-alone" strategy in which the White House and its allies don't bother with politics and simply depend on dominance didn't work for Bush, who ended his disastrous reign having diminished the Republican Party to such a degree that it enabled the man whom he holds in total contempt to become its leader. All the mistakes that Trump and Bannon are making today were first made, if in less crude and obvious fashion, by the Bush administration.

Rove should be a bit more humble and Bannon should be a bit less smug. Neither one of them is nearly as smart as they think they are. And both of the men who employed them are even worse. Bush left the Middle East in ruins and presided over an epic financial crisis. Trump is busy finishing the job in the rest of the world and is turning the United States into a banana republic. Spare us any more of these "geniuses." They're killing us.



Breitbart picks Moore over Trump

by digby

From Media Matters we find the editor of Breitbart slagging Ivanka for calling out Roy Moore --- because of her father:

ALEX MARLOW: Ivanka [Trump] made a very strange statement because she came out, with guns ablazing saying there's a special place in hell for child predators and that she believes the accusers. But she also -- she didn't say that Roy Moore needs to step aside. So, she didn't do that, because President Trump hasn't called for that. So, I'm guessing she's going to take some heat from the left also. So again, were we really dying for Ivanka's opinion on this? Can we not get Ivanka's opinion on some of these things? Can she just go work on her tax thing that she's working on and just leave us alone? But Mike, go ahead.

CALLER: Well, when Donald was being accused of these things where there was definitely more proof and more opportunity, where was she then? But now she's all outraged by Roy Moore. I don't know why she just doesn't keep quiet.

MARLOW: Right, especially when there's been so many allegations against President Trump, I don't know why the daughter of President Trump who has been accused by [attorney] Gloria Allred and some dozen, maybe two dozen, women over the years doing something inappropriate, and nothing's ever come of that. So why does Ivanka want to continue to pile on? I don't know. I think that she just loves getting her name out there in the headline and they can put more photos up. So that's her ammo.

Oh my ...


Men behaving badly

by Tom Sullivan

Day off the Dead art by José Guadalupe Posada.

"Testosterone poisoning" has been a joke for some time now. But it's no joke to women harmed by it. This summer, Roger Ailes got the boot at Fox News for a lengthy history of sexual harassment. Then the Harvey Weinstein story broke in October and #MeToo became a phenomenon. With stories of Roy Moore and teenage girls threatening his Senate bid and shaking up the GOP caucus in Washington, it seems we are on the cusp of a cultural shift a long time in coming. Women feel empowered, finally, to bring their stories out of the shadows in the way cell phone videos made visible police violence against black Americans. So many skeletons.

But the cultural moment has had that knife-edge quality that hinted it might tip from healthy reckoning to moral panic. Erin Gloria Ryan writes at Daily Beast that radio host Leeann Tweeden's story about Al Franken (and his public apology) feels like the first, while a second allegation agsinst Franken worries her for different reasons.

Former KSFO conservative talk host Melanie Morgan now alleges she was "stalked and harassed" by Franken who, she says, called her several times to continue a policy debate they'd begun on Bill Maher’s “Politically Incorrect.”

Ryan writes:

Even giving Morgan the extremely generous benefit of the doubt, it’s hard to pretend what she alleges Franken did is the same thing as what Tweeden’s picture shows Franken actually doing. Nor is what Tweeden’s picture shows, horrible as it is, the same as what somebody like Roger Ailes or Bill Clinton did.

Which gets to a problem. Right now, the court of public opinion is faced with the awkward task of assigning degrees of severity to sexual misconduct, because, while they all cause harm, they don’t all cause the same amount of harm and thus don’t merit the same punishment. Furthermore, punishment varies by the power the offender wields. A senator, for example, should have a much higher moral threshold than, say, a comedian. Writing in The New Yorker this week, Masha Gessen treads lightly in making this point, warning that the #MeToo moment could devolve into “sex panic” if we’re not careful. “The distinctions between rape and coercion are meaningful, in the way it is meaningful to distinguish between, say, murder and battery,” Gessen writes.
It's just that Morgan's account "reeks of naked political opportunism, of weaponizing victimhood in a way that is so morally bankrupt that it threatens to derail the entire #MeToo conversation," Ryan writes. Brian Beutler, she adds, days ago expressed similar reservations about how the “believe Women” movement might get derailed by Breitbart, which has already dispatched journalist/hit men to Alabama to discredit Moore's accusers:
Unfolding against the backdrop of the post-Weinstein revolution, the Moore scandal exposes the conservative propaganda machine in the ugliest and most discrediting possible fashion. But these cultural changes are all but destined to collide with one another in the opposite direction, in a way that exploits both the beneficence of the “believe women” campaign, and the even-handedness of the mainstream media. It is a collision we as a political culture are not equipped to handle, the consequences of which are almost too awful to contemplate.
That's why this all seems so perilous. We are on the cusp of a cultural shift that revanchist forces would just as soon kill. Skeletons love their closets.

Fox News on Wednesday banned Kiss frontman Gene Simmons from its building and network for life for behaving like Gene Simmons, so there's that.

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Request a copy of For The Win, my county-level election mechanics primer, at tom.bluecentury at gmail.