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Denofcinema.com: Saturday Night at the Movies by Dennis Hartley review archive

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Saturday, September 21, 2019

Saturday Night at the Movies

Where the deer and The Meat Puppets play: "Desolation Center" (***)

By Dennis Hartley

“If people stand in a circle long enough, they'll eventually begin to dance.”

- George Carlin

From sacrificed spearheads to Burning Man, the one constant for humankind is the need for ritual. Ceremonies, whether somber or exultant, reinforce our sense of group identity.

In short, you gotta fight for your right to party. Even if it’s in the middle of the desert:
The promoter of an event set up around the “Storm Area 51” internet craze in the remote Nevada desert pulled the plug due to low attendance, but the host of a festival for several thousand people in the tiny town of Rachel said her show would go on.

“Area 51 Basecamp” organizer Keith Wright said that after drawing just 500 attendees at a Friday event planned for 5,000 at the Alien Research Center souvenir shop in Hiko, he had to pull the plug.

“We put on a safe event for the people that showed up,” Wright said. “But we had to make the decision today because it costs tens of thousands of dollars to staff each day.

“It was a gamble financially. We lost.”

Several dozen campers still at the site could stay until Sunday, he added.

In Rachel, Little A’Le’Inn owner Connie West said she was sad to hear the Hiko festival didn’t succeed. In a voice hoarse from stress and lack of sleep, she said a noon-to-midnight slate of “Alienstock” event musical entertainment would continue for the several thousand revelers camping on her property and nearby federal land. 
“This is the most fabulous time,” West said. “I’m just so grateful that people came. This is their event as much as it is mine.”

Lincoln county sheriff Kerry Lee said it was “pretty calm” early on Saturday in Rachel and Hiko. In Nye county, Sheriff Sharon Wehrly said no one showed up at a main entrance and an auxiliary gate at the once-secret Area 51 US air force facility.

Wehrly revised to 100 each the number of people who appeared at each of those gates early on Friday near Amargosa Valley, a 90-minute drive west of Las Vegas.

Lee, about a two-hour drive north of Las Vegas, said revelers gathered until about 4am at two gates between Hiko and Rachel, and said about 20 people broke from among revelers and “acted like they were going to storm but stopped short”. 
Lee and Wright reported one arrest, for disorderly conduct, at the “Area 51 Basecamp” event.

Earlier, officials reported five arrests, including one man treated for dehydration by festival medics in Rachel.

Lee said a man reported missing on Friday morning after heading Thursday from a festival campground in Hiko toward an Area 51 gate was found safe in the evening.

The mood among the assembled remained mostly harmless. While costumed space aliens were a common and sometimes hilarious sight in events that began on Thursday, no one had reported seeing actual extraterrestrials or UFOs.

“Mostly harmless”. LOL. Somewhere out there in the ether, Douglas Adams is spinning.

The “Storm Area 51” meme may have fired the imaginations of millions earlier this week, but by Friday night it fizzed into several hundred disappointed people, standing in a circle somewhere in the middle of the Nevada desert…who eventually began to dance.

I only bring this up because I watched a documentary Friday night that oddly mirrors the Area 51 gathering. While there’s naught to do with UFOs or government cover-ups, Stuart Swezey’s Desolation Center does involve rituals, desert gatherings…and dancing.

Swezey, a scenester in the early 80s L.A. punk explosion, founded “Desolation Center”, a performance venue with no fixed geographical address. Desolation Center was an umbrella Swezey used for a series of guerilla music and art performances he organized in warehouses, lofts, and rehearsal spaces (think of it as a pre-internet “flash mob” concept).

According to one of the interviewees in the film, one of the main “inspirations” for the clandestine events was notoriously fascistic Chief of the L.A.P.D. Daryl Gates. Gates was no friend to the burgeoning punk scene; he deployed his officers to shut down club shows and generally harass punk fans whenever possible (never mind that despite the “in your face” posturing of the music and fashion, most of the kids were just having harmless fun).

Eventually, Swezey get the bright idea that if he staged his events out of town…like way out of town where Jesus lost his shoes, the performers and the audience would be free, free to ride without getting hassled by The Man. So it was that in April of 1983, he approached the LA band Savage Republic about doing a show in a dry lakebed near Joshua Tree. They were in. Once he talked The Minutemen into coming aboard, “The Mojave Exodus” was on. Swezey hand-crafted 250 cardboard tickets ($12.50 admission).

He distributed the tickets to record stores around LA; to his surprise they sold out. Using the money, he rented 3 school buses, a PA and a generator. In the film, Mariska Leyssius (a member of the band Psi Com) recalls how she assisted Swezey in organizing the event, as well as helpfully advising ticket holders to “keep your drugs and liquor below the line of the window” of the bus, in case they ran into cops during the road trip to the event site.

The event was a smashing success for all concerned, even if it failed to set the world on fire. The film documents The Mojave Exodus, as well as its follow-up, “The Mojave Auszug”, which took place in an isolated spot near Mecca, California in March of 1984.

The German influence was the result of a sabbatical Swezey had taken to explore the scene in Berlin, where he befriended the experimental industrial band Einstürzende Neubauten, who ended up headlining that second event. In addition to musicians, a small group of performance artists known collectively as Survival Research Lab also appeared. Aptly named, their act included blowing up refrigerators and shooting objects with a Gatling gun (have I mentioned none of these desert events involved obtaining a permit?).

The recollections by participants are alternately hilarious and harrowing (let’s just say there was some acid). My eyes did start to glaze over when the anecdotes became tantamount to getting cornered Monday morning by a co-worker who insists on sharing details of how fucked-up he got at that party Saturday night, but for the most part it’s a fascinating look at a little-known chapter in alternative culture history. The film also connects the dots between these obscure little desert bacchanals and the massive like-minded festivals we have nowadays like Burning Man, Lollapalooza, and Coachella.

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President Blabby no longer believes he has to restrain himself in any way

by digby

I am at the point at which I often put on the closed captions when he comes on because the sound of his voice triggers overwhelming anger and anxiety in me. But I have felt recently as if I'm being tortured more than usual.

And no, I don't think it's all because the "adults in the room" have all been disposed of. It's because he realizes that he can say and do anything and nobody will even try to stop him. His gambit with Ukraine happened after the Mueller testimony. He is liberated:

For better or worse, we're getting more Donald Trump these days.

If you feel like you are hearing the President's voice all the time, you are not imagining things. Trump is talking and tweeting more in 2019 than he did in 2018 -- which was, in turn, far more talking and tweeting than he did in 2017.

Trump has been posting more of his own tweets and more retweets of others. His campaign rallies have been longer. He has spent more time talking to reporters before his helicopter and plane flights. And he is just talking more in general -- about 25 minutes a week more on camera this year than through the same time last year.

The White House did not respond to our request for an explanation, but it's not hard to see what's going on. The increases have come as Trump has rid himself of most of the advisers who reportedly tried to constrain his impulses, like chief of staff John Kelly and defense secretary James Mattis, and as he has appeared to become even more comfortable behaving as he wishes. This is Trump unleashed.

All of the data below is courtesy of Bill Frischling of Factba.se, an indispensable website that tracks Trump's every utterance.

Trump has averaged about 83 tweets per week in weeks beginning in 2019 -- a 43% increase from 2018, when he posted about 58 tweets per week, and a 91% increase from 2017, when he posted about 44 per week.

There has been an even more dramatic spike in Trump's retweets, though he acknowledged in early 2018 that "when you do those retweets, they can cause problems." He has averaged about 38 retweets a week so far this year, up a whopping 326% from about nine tweets a week in 2018 and six tweets per week in 2017.

Longer rallies

In 2017, Trump's rally speeches averaged just under an hour, at about 59 minutes. Last year, that increased to an average of about 1 hour, 5 minutes. So far this year, Trump's rally speeches have averaged about 1 hour, 22 minutes, a 26% increase from 2018.

What's more, seven of the 10 longest rally speeches of Trump's presidency have come in 2019. That is especially notable because Trump has had only 11 rallies in 2019.

In other words: seven of Trump's 11 rallies this year have made his top 10 — compared to just three of the 56 rallies he had in 2017 and 2018.

Trump's three longest rallies have all come since mid-July: his rally in New Mexico on Monday (1 hour, 35 minutes); his rally in North Carolina in July (just over 1 hour, 31 minutes); his rally in New Hampshire in August (just under 1 hour, 31 minutes).

We should note that some of Trump's 2018 rallies were shortened by travel requirements: he had multi-rally, multi-state weeks during the midterm campaign, so he couldn't linger too long in one place. Regardless, the 2019 increase is significant.

"Chopper talk" runs longer

Trump has lengthened his interactions with journalists before or after his flights on Marine One or Air Force One. Most of these exchanges have happened before he boarded Marine One, prompting CBS late-night host Stephen Colbert to label them "chopper talk."

In 2018, Trump's pre-flight or post-flight exchanges averaged 7 minutes, 5 seconds. So far this year, they have averaged 12 minutes, 37 seconds, a 78% increase.

A spike in camera time

Trump is just talking more, period.

Through the second week of September, Trump averaged about 2 hours, 37 minutes per week of on-camera speaking in 2019. (That excludes, for example, newspaper interviews that weren't videotaped.)
That works out to about 25 minutes more talking per week compared to the same time last year, a 19% increase, and 55 minutes more talking per week from the same time in 2017, a 54% increase.
There's one caveat here. If you compare how much Trump talked for the full year of 2018 to his average week so far in 2019, he's actually down four minutes this year from last -- from about 2 hours, 41 minutes to about 2 hours, 37 minutes.

But comparing all of 2018 to the first 9.5 months of 2019 is not an apples-to-apples comparison: Trump's 2018 average was skewed upward by his frenetic midterms campaigning in October and November of that year, when he held 26 rallies in just over a month.

More talking, more lying

Trump has spoken more during a period in which his White House has been speaking less, having ended the tradition of daily briefings from the press secretary.

It's important not to mistake Trump's own accessibility for transparency. As we documented in August, his lengthy exchanges with reporters in July and August were littered with dozens of false claims.

In general, there has been a strong correlation between how much Trump talks and how many false claims he makes. As his speaking time has increased over time, the frequency of his dishonesty has generally increased with it.

One way to visualize all this: it took Trump 343 days to make his first 1,000 false claims as president -- then just 197 days to make his second 1,000, just 93 days to make his third 1,000, and just 75 days to make his fourth 1,000, Toronto Star editor Ed Tubb found when we worked for that newspaper. Trump then slowed a little after the midterms, taking 125 days to make his fifth 1,000.

The paradigmatic case for impeachment

by digby

I'm sure we'll one day hear the whole story of George and Kellyanne Conway and I'm sure they'll somehow end up being Village heroes despite the fact that Kellyanne is daily enabling this lunacy. (Why is Trump ok with her husband's public hostility, I wonder?)

Nonetheless, there is some utility in husband George teaming up with Neal Katyal to call for impeachment. 

Among the most delicate choices the framers made in drafting the Constitution was how to deal with a president who puts himself above the law. To address that problem, they chose the mechanism of impeachment and removal from office. And they provided that this remedy could be used when a president commits “Treason, Bribery, or other high Crimes and Misdemeanors.”

That last phrase — “high Crimes and Misdemeanors” — was a historical term of art, derived from impeachments in the British Parliament. When the framers put it into the Constitution, they didn’t discuss it much, because no doubt they knew what it meant. It meant, as Alexander Hamilton later phrased it, “the abuse or violation of some public trust.”

Simply put, the framers viewed the president as a fiduciary, the government of the United States as a sacred trust and the people of the United States as the beneficiaries of that trust. Through the Constitution, the framers imposed upon the president the duty and obligation to “take Care that the Laws be faithfully executed” and made him swear an oath that he would fulfill that duty of faithful execution. They believed that a president would break his oath if he engaged in self-dealing — if he used his powers to put his own interests above the nation’s. That would be the paradigmatic case for impeachment.

That’s exactly what appears to be at issue today. A whistleblower in U.S. intelligence lodged a complaint with the intelligence community’s inspector general so alarming that he labeled it of “urgent concern” and alerted the Office of the Director of National Intelligence. Though the details remain secret, apparently this much can be gleaned: The complaint is against the president. It concerns a “promise” that the president made, in at least one phone call, with a foreign leader. And it involves Ukraine and possible interference with the next presidential election. The complaint is being brazenly suppressed by the Justice Department — in defiance of a whistleblower law that says, without exception, the complaint “shall” be turned over to Congress.

We also know this: As he admitted Thursday night on CNN, the president’s personal lawyer, Rudolph W. Giuliani, has been trying to persuade the Ukrainian government to investigate, among other things, one of Trump’s potential Democratic opponents, former vice president Joe Biden, and Biden’s son Hunter about the latter’s involvement with a Ukrainian gas company.

Trump held up the delivery of $250 million in military assistance to Ukraine, which is under constant threat from neighboring Russia. He had a phone conversation on July 25 with President Volodymyr Zelensky of Ukraine. According to the Ukrainian government, the call included a discussion of Ukraine’s need to “complete investigation of corruption cases, which inhibited the interaction between Ukraine and the USA.”

So it appears that the president might have used his official powers — in particular, perhaps the threat of withholding a quarter-billion dollars in military aid — to leverage a foreign government into helping him defeat a potential political opponent in the United States.

If Trump did that, it would be the ultimate impeachable act. Trump has already done more than enough to warrant impeachment and removal with his relentless attempts, on multiple fronts, to sabotage the counterintelligence and criminal investigation by then-special counsel Robert S. Mueller III and to conceal evidence of those attempts. The president’s efforts were impeachable because, in committing those obstructive acts, he put his personal interests above the nation’s: He tried to stop an investigation into whether a hostile foreign power, Russia, tried to interfere with our democracy — simply because he seemed to find it personally embarrassing. Trump breached his duty of faithful execution to the nation not only because he likely broke the law but also because, through his disregard for the law, he put his self-interest first.

The current whistleblowing allegations, however, are even worse. Unlike the allegations of conspiracy with Russia before the 2016 election, these concern Trump’s actions as president, not as a private citizen, and his exercise of presidential powers over foreign policy with Ukraine. Moreover, with Russia, at least there was an attempt to get the facts through the Mueller investigation; here the White House is trying to shut down the entire inquiry from the start — depriving not just the American people, but even congressional intelligence committees, of necessary information.

It is high time for Congress to do its duty, in the manner the framers intended. Given how Trump seems ever bent on putting himself above the law, something like what might have happened between him and Ukraine — abusing presidential authority for personal benefit — was almost inevitable. Yet if that is what occurred, part of the responsibility lies with Congress, which has failed to act on the blatant obstruction that Mueller detailed months ago.

Congressional procrastination has probably emboldened Trump, and it risks emboldening future presidents who might turn out to be of his sorry ilk. To borrow John Dean’s haunting Watergate-era metaphor once again, there is a cancer on the presidency, and cancers, if not removed, only grow. Congress bears the duty to use the tools provided by the Constitution to remove that cancer now, before it’s too late. As Elbridge Gerry put it at the 1787 Constitutional Convention in Philadelphia, “A good magistrate will not fear [impeachments]. A bad one ought to be kept in fear of them.” By now, Congress should know which one Trump is.

If this doesn't do it, I suspect he truly believes that he literally could shoot someone on 5th Avenue and the Democrats wouldn't do anything about it.

Imagine if the worst happens and he "manages" to eke out a victory in 2020.  That's what he's committing impeachable offenses right now to engineer.

One lone Fox News commentator tells the truth

by digby

John Amato caught the one Fox News apostate telling the real story. Do any of them hear him?
Shepard Smith began his Fox News program by blistering Rudy Giuliani and Donald Trump over their calls to investigate the Biden family.

Before William Barr came along, Trump and his bagmen tried to hide their dealings with foreign governments who they tasked with doing the wet-work they need against his political rivals, but now it's all out in the open.

Smith said, "President Trump says it doesn't matter if he talked to the president of Ukraine about investigating Joe Biden. A whistleblower reportedly says the president made a promise to a foreign leader. A watch dog calls it of urgent concern, but Congress is still trying to find out what the whistle-blower knows."

He continued, "A report from the Ukrainian government reads in part, Donald Trump is convinced that the new Ukrainian government will be able to quickly improve images of Ukraine, complete investigation of corruption cases which inhibited the interaction between the Ukraine and the USA."

Smith reported that all the indications are the whistle-blower's complaints stem from Trump's direct conversation with the president of the Ukraine.

Smith then played video of Rudy Giuliani admitting vociferously that they wanted the Ukraine government to investigate the Bidens at Trump's behest.

After the crazed interview of Rudy finished, Smith said, "The subject matter about which they were speaking is a debunked conspiracy theory."

In roughly 3 minutes Shepard Smith encapsulated the entire conspiracy between Trump, Rudy Giuliani and the Ukrainian government.

And it's one in which impeachment proceedings should begin immediately if the evidence tells us this is what happened.

That's how you put a bow on a story, Shep.

Indeed. I wonder what the Trump cult thinks when the see this?  Does it cause any cognitive dissonance? Are they uncomfortable with it? I don't know. But at least some of Trump's ecstatic followers are hearing this. If they were the flag-waving patriots they like to think they are, they'd be at least a little bit disturbed to hear it.


They pay cash

by digby

While we were all talking about Ukraine, this happened too:

President Trump has approved the deployment of additional U.S. troops and air defense assets to Saudi Arabia, in a muted military response to last week’s attack on Saudi oil facilities.

At a news conference late Friday following a White House meeting with Trump, Defense Secretary Mark T. Esper emphasized that the deployments were defensive in nature, and in response to requests from Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates to help protect “critical infrastructure” from further attacks by Iran.

Recall this from Trump a couple of weeks ago:

We have to sit down with the Saudis and work something out. And the Saudis want very much for us to protect them, but I say, well, we have to work. That was an attack on Saudi Arabia, and that wasn’t an attack on us.

But we would certainly help them. They’ve been a great ally. They spend $400 billion in our country over the last number of years. Four hundred billion dollars. That’s a million and a half jobs. And they’re not ones that, unlike some countries, where they want terms; they want terms and conditions. They want to say, “Can we borrow the money at zero percent for the next 400 years?” No. No. Saudi Arabia pays cash. They’ve helped us out from the standpoint of jobs and all of the other things. And they’ve actually helped us.
His childlike understanding of global politics is entirely based upon his experience as a money launderer.

Oh, and when he says "they pay cash" he's talking about all the money they have paid him personally over the years --- including during  his time as president.

Also, Trump Hotel.

Trump’s financial dealings with Saudi Arabia have been anything but small change. In 2001, he sold the entire 45th floor of Trump Tower to the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia for $4.5 million. The fact that Trump is the 45th president serves as further proof that the universe has a gruesome sense of humor.

“The five apartments included 10 bedrooms and 13 bathrooms at the time of the sale,” reports The New York Daily News, “and had yearly common charges of $85,585 for building amenities, documents obtained by the Daily News show. If those common charges remain the same, Trump was paid at least $5.7 million by the Saudi government since 2001.” In 2008, that entire 45th floor of Trump Tower, according to the Daily News, “became part of the Saudi Mission to the United Nations.”

Shorter version: The government of Saudi Arabia is literally living in Trump’s house today, right now, and is paying him for the privilege.

Now he's sending them some troops. They get what they pay for.

*And note that when Trump makes that (wildly exaggerated) claim at his rally in the video above all his little ans laugh and think he's very clever.  They have no problem with it.

Seeing Trump through a foreigner's eyes

by digby

For whatever reason, I have never lost the feeling of shock and disbelief that someone as illiterate and incoherent as Trump could be president. But there has been substantial normalization among the American press where we can often see an "oh that's just Trump being Trump" attitude.

Here's how it looks to a reporter who isn't subjected to him unfiltered every single day:

As a regular news reader I thought I was across the eccentricities of the US president. Most mornings in Australia begin with news from America – the bid to buy Greenland, adjustments to a weather map hand-drawn with a Sharpie or another self-aggrandising tweet. Our headlines and news bulletins, like headlines and news bulletins everywhere, are full of Trump.

As a political reporter for most of the last 30 years I have also endured many long and rambling political press conferences with Australian prime ministers and world leaders.

But watching a full presidential Trump press conference while visiting the US this week I realised how much the reporting of Trump necessarily edits and parses his words, to force it into sequential paragraphs or impose meaning where it is difficult to detect.

The press conference I tuned into by chance from my New York hotel room was held in Otay Mesa, California, and concerned a renovated section of the wall on the Mexican border.

I joined as the president was explaining at length how powerful the concrete was. Very powerful, it turns out. It was unlike any wall ever built, incorporating the most advanced “concrete technology”. It was so exceptional that would-be wall-builders from three unnamed countries had visited to learn from it.

There were inner tubes in the wall that were also filled with concrete, poured in via funnels, and also “rebars” so the wall would withstand anyone attempting to cut through it with a blowtorch.

The wall went very deep and could not be burrowed under. Prototypes had been tested by 20 “world-class mountain climbers – That’s all they do, they love to climb mountains”, who had been unable to scale it.

It was also “wired, so that we will know if somebody is trying to break through”, although one of the attending officials declined a presidential invitation to discuss this wiring further, saying, “Sir, there could be some merit in not discussing it”, which the president said was a “very good answer”.

The wall was “amazing”, “world class”, “virtually impenetrable” and also “a good, strong rust colour” that could later be painted. It was designed to absorb heat, so it was “hot enough to fry an egg on”. There were no eggs to hand, but the president did sign his name on it and spoke for so long the TV feed eventually cut away, promising to return if news was ever made.

In writing about this not-especially-important or unusual press conference I’ve run into what US reporters must encounter every day

He did, at one point, concede that would-be immigrants, unable to scale, burrow, blow torch or risk being burned, could always walk around the incomplete structure, but that would require them walking a long way. This seemed to me to be an important point, but the monologue quickly returned to the concrete.

In writing about this not-especially-important or unusual press conference I’ve run into what US reporters must encounter every day. I’ve edited skittering, half-finished sentences to present them in some kind of consequential order and repeated remarks that made little sense.

In most circumstances, presenting information in as intelligible a form as possible is what we are trained for. But the shock I felt hearing half an hour of unfiltered meanderings from the president of the United States made me wonder whether the editing does our readers a disservice.

I’ve read so many stories about his bluster and boasting and ill-founded attacks, I’ve listened to speeches and hours of analysis, and yet I was still taken back by just how disjointed and meandering the unedited president could sound. Here he was trying to land the message that he had delivered at least something towards one of his biggest campaign promises and sounding like a construction manager with some long-winded and badly improvised sales lines.

I’d understood the dilemma of normalising Trump’s ideas and policies – the racism, misogyny and demonisation of the free press. But watching just one press conference from Otay Mesa helped me understand how the process of reporting about this president can mask and normalise his full and alarming incoherence.

• Lenore Taylor is the editor of Guardian Australia.

Yes, he isn't just a person of terrible character. He's really, really dumb as well.



The children are the adults now

by Tom Sullivan

Friday was not a good day for "industrial breadwinner masculinity" built upon exploiting and subduing the natural world. The kids won't have it anymore. They staged massive protests in 150 countries against their elders' refusal to take action to address the climate crisis. #ClimateStrike

This movement stirred up a lot of press coverage (below). Greta Thunberg, the 16-year-old Swedish climate activist, last year began spending Fridays protesting alone outside the Swedish Parliament before others finally joined her. Now she's now inspired a global movement. There is a clear urgency among these young protesters. One-and-done protests make headlines. Persistent disruption makes change. Can we keep protests going every Friday?

"Adults keep saying we owe it to the young people to give them hope," Thunberg told the World Economic Forum in January. "But I don’t want your hope, I don’t want you to be hopeful. I want you to panic, I want you to feel the fear I feel every day."

Franklin Foer shares how the climate crisis has effected his daughter:

My 14-year-old daughter has been inspired by Thunberg to strike today, skipping classes to head to protests in downtown Washington, D.C. She has also suffered bouts of anxiety, and I long to build a seawall that can protect her from her fears. But her example, and Thunberg’s doomsaying, have made me realize that my parental desire to calm is the stuff of childish fantasy; anxiety is the mature response. To protect our children, we need to embrace their despair.
They seem to mean it. But to move entrenched economic powers, they'll need to be relentless.

Friday, September 20, 2019

Friday Night Soother

by digby

These are the most magnificent sentient creatures. We must protect them.

These organizations are working to help and protect these elephants, and you can support their efforts to keep this species from going extinct.

Wildlife Conservation Society
WildAid's "Be Ivory Free" campaign
Save the Elephants - Elephant Crisis Fund
Elephants Without Borders
African Wildlife Foundation
International Elephant Foundation - Mounted Horse Patrol


The Ukrainians have his number

by digby


Ukraine is ready to investigate the connections Joe Biden’s son Hunter had with the Ukrainian natural gas company Burisma Holdings, according to Anton Geraschenko, a senior adviser to the country’s interior minister who would oversee such an inquiry.

Geraschenko told The Daily Beast in an exclusive interview that “as soon as there is an official request" Ukraine will look into the case, but “currently there is no open investigation.”

“Clearly,” said Geraschenko, “Trump is now looking for kompromat to discredit his opponent Biden, to take revenge for his friend Paul Manafort, who is serving seven years in prison.” Among the counts on which Manafort was convicted: tax evasion. “We do not investigate Biden in Ukraine, since we have not received a single official request to do so,” said Geraschenko.

His remarks last week came amid widespread speculation that U.S. President Donald Trump had made vital U.S. military aid for Ukraine contingent on such an inquiry, but had tried to do so informally through unofficial representatives, including his lawyer, Rudy Giuliani, and Giuliani’s adviser on Ukraine, Sam Kislin.

YOu just have to laugh.

But I wouldn't be surprised if Bill Barr says that it's perfectly reasonable to open this investigation and he sends and "official" request. They aren't even trying to hide their corruption now. They are just daring anyone to try and stop them.

By the way, some of this is obviously designed to make it possible to pardon Manafort by churning the waters. I'll be shocked if he doesn't do it.

Whistleblowers multiplying and yet nothing happens

by digby

Apparently, there's a whole lot of possible wrongdoing in the IC these days:
The number of complaints made to a confidential hotline designed to allow the reporting of waste, fraud and abuse in the intelligence community has skyrocketed since Donald Trump took office, government records show.

According to the latest public report by the Inspector General of the Intelligence Community, the hotline received 563 contacts last year, up from 251 in 2016 and 369 in 2017.

The numbers for the latest fiscal year are on pace to be even higher: There were 297 complaints in just the first six months — from October 2018 through last March, according to the report.

The report doesn't describe the complaints or tally how many of those rose to the level of an "urgent concern"—a category of serious complaints that must be turned over to Congress. Officials involved in the process say that designation is rare.

With the new DNI sharing these complaints with Trump's top henchman, Bill Barr,  and the White House whenever he wants to this seems like it might be a risky move. I'd be surprised if the numbers don't drop precipitously after this latest assault on the notion of executive accountability for anything. Who knows if these people will follow the whistleblower laws?

And anyway we all know they are all just Deep State Hillary Clinton stooges who are out to get the president. The only people who are telling the truth are those who are defending him in all circumstances.


This observation by Politico spells it out pretty well

by digby

This piece is called "How Trump has handcuffed Washington" notes this salient fact:
DEMOCRATS decline to impeach the president because, in part, they’re worried about a sliver of members of Congress who have slivers of their constituencies who might or might not be offended by impeachment proceedings.
We are looking at a situation in which certain freshman Democrats are being encouraged by leadership to stand their ground against impeachment no matter what is revealed about the president because as that arch quote points out "a sliver" of their constituencies might (or might not) be offended. This is distorting the process.

Last night we learned that the president is trying to sabotage the 2020 election by extorting a foreign power to smear one of his rivals. There's nothing new about that. He was happy as a lark when Russia did it in 2016 and has suffered no consequences for doing it. Of course he's out there soliciting similar help from friends and foes alike. He considers this normal politics. He's said as much.

Some people might think that using millions of taxpayer dollars to extort foreign governments to do his campaign's dirty work is just a teensy bit beyond the pale and maybe worth taking a risky vote on in those districts with a sliver of possible Trump voters.  After all, if the Republicans can use the power of the presidency to steal elections they probably won't be able to keep their seats anyway. It seems like a risk worth taking.


Just Wait 

by tristero

It's not merely that American democracy has collapsed. It's that the very concept of an American democracy in the ways we understood it when I was growing up is now unthinkable.

With this and this, every last delusion that moderates held about Trump has been punctured. The gloves are starting to come off. (That's right: up until now, I think we've been enjoying the halcyon years of the Trump presidency. He's now beginning to get serious.)

Meanwhile, in response, Pelosi and Schumer have offered Trump a nice, cute photo-op on guns.  If we still had even the shards of a real democracy left, they would be immediately laughed at and driven out of office.

This may seem a bit much, I know, but barring some kind of intervention from the all-knowing Flying Spaghetti Monster, the next year will demonstrate even to the most "moderate" among us that I'm not hyperventilating. I hope to be proven wrong, but I don't see how.

"It was actually a beautiful conversation"

by digby

My Salon column this morning:

Back in August, a lot of us were wondering what in the world was going on when President Trump suddenly decided to withhold $250 million in military aid to Ukraine. The understandable knee-jerk assumption was that Trump was once again currying favor with Russian President Vladimir Putin, particularly since he'd apparently just spent hours at the G7 meeting in France hectoring the other leaders to allow Russia back into the group. Politico reported that a senior administration figure characterized the reported slow-walking as a "review" to ensure that the money was being spent in "the best interest of the United States."

That was an odd way of putting it, to say the least. Even the Trump administration had never come right out and said that Russian aggression against Ukraine was good for America, which would be one way to interpret the withdrawal of this support. Nonetheless, it's always fair to speculate that anything Trump does with respect to Russia is somehow related to his inexplicable need to please Putin, regardless of how pathetic and bizarre it appears to everyone else on the planet.

But there was something else going on at exactly the same time that seemed at least as possible as a motivation. I noted it here after reading this CNN story about Rudy Giuliani, the president's personal lawyer, speaking with a Ukrainian official about allegations that former Vice President Joe Biden had been involved in the dismissal of a prosecutor in Ukraine who was investigating Biden's son Hunter. Giuliani had previously canceled a trip to Kyiv to press the Ukrainians to reopen the Biden investigation, after he got harsh pushback for interfering in in a foreign government's internal business. This latest story indicated that he was still on the case, and the big news at the time was that the State Department had helped set up the meeting, which seemed wildly inappropriate.

It appeared possible that Trump's overwrought defenses of Putin and his sudden withholding of $250 million in aid could be seen as an inducement (if not outright extortion) directed at new Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky, in hopes of a criminal case against one of Trump's main rivals in the 2020 campaign.

On Sept. 5, the Washington Post published an editorial that spelled it out explicitly:
[W]e’re reliably told that the president has a second and more venal agenda: He is attempting to force Mr. Zelensky to intervene in the 2020 U.S. presidential election by launching an investigation of the leading Democratic candidate, Joe Biden. Mr. Trump is not just soliciting Ukraine’s help with his presidential campaign; he is using U.S. military aid the country desperately needs in an attempt to extort it.
A week or so later it was reported that House Intelligence Committee chair Adam Schiff, D-Calif., had issued a subpoena to Joseph Maguire, the acting director of national intelligence, which indicated that an urgent whistleblower complaint from the intelligence community was being withheld from Congress. I don't think many of us connected all the dots at that time, but on Thursday the picture started to come into focus.

Ever since Schiff sent this subpoena, this mystery has been at the top of the news. The daily drip has revealed that the whistleblower was someone high up in the administration connected to the intelligence community, and it ultimately became clear that the person implicated in wrongdoing being reported was the president himself.

We learned that the intelligence community's inspector general, Michael Atkinson, had found the whistleblower's complaint both "credible" and "urgent," but had been thwarted by Maguire from reporting the alleged wrongdoing to Congress as the law requires.

Later still, we learned that Maguire had consulted with the White House and Attorney General Bill Barr, who told him that this complaint did not fall under the relevant statute because it wasn't strictly an intelligence matter, and instructed him not to share the information with members of Congress. The word "privilege" came up again and again.

In other words, Trump's henchmen had circled the wagons once again around the president, conjuring up yet another excuse as to why they are not required to cooperate with congressional oversight or any form of accountability. But the details are getting out anyway, as they should have known they would.

The Washington Post reports that this whistleblower's urgent report was about Ukraine. It appears highly probable that it regarded the alleged extortion of Zelensky's government in hopes of digging dirt on Joe Biden for Trump's electoral benefit. We don't know the details, but it seems pretty clear that Giuliani has been working this for some time and that Trump himself is personally involved.

If there was any lingering doubt, all you had to do was observe Rudy Giuliani on television and social media last night. During a wild appearance with Chris Cuomo on CNN, Giuliani first denied it all and then admitted it, in an exchange reminiscent of the famous Jack Nicholson scene in "A Few Good Men":

Then he went one step further and also pretty much admitted that the president had extorted the Ukrainian government:

I won't go into the conspiracy theory he is referencing here. Hunter Biden has undeniably been involved in some dubious business, but the timeline of this particular complaint doesn't make sense, and there's no evidence that this desperate attempt to create a BizarroWorld scandal that mirrors the Russia investigation has any merit.

If all this pans out as the major scandal it appears to be, in a sane world it would mean the end of the Trump presidency. If it's shown that the president has extorted the leader of a foreign country to help his own re-election campaign, he isn't just committing a "High Crime," he's committing one that is explicitly named as an impeachable offense: bribery. It's right there in the Constitution. Naturally enough, Trump didn't even use his own money. He leveraged hundreds of millions of taxpayer dollars for his own corrupt purposes.

But from what we can see already from the right-wing media it's likely to be, at best, "Oops, he did it again," and at worst a defense based on the theory that Trump has total immunity from any accountability whatsoever. This is essentially Bill Barr's version of the "unitary executive" view. After all, when ABC's George Stephanopoulos asked Trump whether, after everything that has happened, he would now call the FBI if a foreign emissary were peddling information about his opponent, he only said that he might. He also said he'd take the information because everybody does it: "It's called oppo research."

He didn't mention demanding "oppo" from an ally under threat of withdrawing military defense funds. But in Trump's megalomaniacal view of his presidency, any threat to him is defined as a threat to America, giving him the inalienable right to use the full power of the U.S. government to ensure his re-election. I will be shocked if even one prominent Republican contradicts him.

Update: They're all lining up nicely so far. And I haven't seen any movement by the Democratswither. So, it looks like the Republicans are going to be able to steal the 2020 election without much fuss. Nobody cares.



He, Trump

by Tom Sullivan

Nobody could have seen this coming, right?

Attorneys working for the acting president filed a lawsuit Thursday asserting that a sitting president cannot “be investigated, indicted or otherwise subjected to the criminal process',” Period. Not by federal, state or local authorities for as long as he holds the presidency. Ponder that in all its implications.

Donald Trump's lawsuit is aimed at stopping Manhattan District Attorney Cyrus Vance from enforcing a subpoena against Trump’s accounting firm, Mazars USA, to produce eight years of his personal and corporate tax returns. Trump's attorneys argue that because the action against Mazars is an attempt "to criminally investigate a sitting President, it is unconstitutional.”

Paul Rosenzweig aided Ken Starr’s investigation of President Bill Clinton and believes this argument will fail in court. Trump's stacked courts:

“It cannot be the case that, as a matter of law, everybody associated with the president is immune from criminal investigation while he’s the president. But taken at its fullest, that’s what the president’s argument is,” Rosenzweig told VICE News.
Bess Levin of Vanity Fair elaborates on the Manhattan investigation's origins:
Vance, who agreed not to enforce the subpoena—issued to Trump’s longtime accounting firm Mazars USA—until a scheduled September 25 hearing, is investigating if executives at the Trump Organization filed false business records concerning hush money payments to adult film star Stormy Daniels and former Playboy model Karen McDougal, who both claim to have had affairs with Trump, charges he, naturally, denies. The president’s former fixer, Michael Cohen, admitted to arranging the hush money payments and released audio of him discussing the Daniels payment with Trump.
It is just the latest in a series of lawsuits Trump has filed to keep his finances secret. He has sued congressional Democrats to keep them from obtaining his tax records which, by law, the chairman of the House Tax Committee may request from the IRS for any citizen. Trump has sued the state of New York over the TRUST Act, passed this year. Upon request, the state may release tax records of New York citizens to several congressional committees. New York's records would include copies of Trump's federal returns.

The latter suit Trump filed in a District of Columbia federal court before judges Trump appointed. New York's attorneys argued this week before U.S. District Judge Carl Nichols, a Trump appointee, that the case should be dismissed. It belongs in New York's courts. The case could stretch on for months. Winning cases through “delays, evasions, and lies,” was a Roy Cohn tactic Trump has used effectively.

Democrats requested Trump's federal records in April but have yet to request records from the state of New York. Trump filed a lawsuit against New York anyway.

Trump may be an idiot, but he's an idiot with a preternatural knack for gaming the courts and dodging taxes. He and his family have done so with near-complete impunity for decades. In this fight, Democrats are but learners. Trump is the Master.

Federal prosecutors are barred from issuing an indictment of a sitting president by Department of Justice policy. Now Trump asserts presidential immunity extends to state investigations of him and of any firms with which he and his organization have done business. He is above the law. He is The Law.

The House Intelligence Committee will have to take the Trump administration to court to get access to a whistleblower complaint filed through formal channels by a U.S. intelligence official. Details are sketchy, but a "promise" made by Trump to a foreign head of state raised national security concerns. The whistleblower, Joel Mathis writes at The Week, is "officially saying the government should protect itself from the president."

By statute that “urgent concern” ought to have been transmitted to congressional intelligence committees. Trump's acting director of national intelligence, Joseph Maguire, blocked the intelligence community's inspector general from releasing the report to Congress. Congress will have to take Trump to court. Trump himself views court action the way medieval lords viewed moats and boiling oil as ways for slowing down attackers.

Mathis sums up our plight:

This complaint may also represent the federal bureaucracy's last stand against the president. Unless the House of Representatives switches course and suddenly impeaches Trump — and there is little sign of such a development — there is no one else to step forward and save America from him.
We are watching this amoral, corrupt, emotionally stunted megalomaniac turn the government of the United States into a branch of the Trump Organization. He is stepping over and through Washington bureaucracy like H.G. Wells' Martian tripods, crushing normality as he goes, stopping here and there to raise his cell phone and fire a Twitter heat ray. He has proven as impervious to our usual weapons as Democrats are to the fact their usual weapons don't work against him.

The idea we might have to wait for some political version of common bacteria to end the destruction of a republic that survived the Civil War is not at all reassuring.

Ponder again what it means that Trump believes that so long as he holds the presidency he is untouchable.

Thursday, September 19, 2019

They're not going to take your cheeseburgers. They're going to make your cheeseburgers kill you.

by digby

The Trump administration is leaving not one stone unturned:

Over a century ago, Upton Sinclair’s “The Jungle” exposed unsafe and unsanitary conditions in our nation’s slaughterhouses. Sinclair singled out breakneck line speeds as a key source of misery, noting “The main thing the men wanted was to put a stop to the habit of speeding up, they were trying their best to force a lessening of the pace, for there were some, they said, who could not keep up with it, whom it was killing.”

Sinclair’s stomach-churning account led Congress to create a new agency in charge of food safety in slaughterhouses. Among the reforms implemented were rules to slow down line speeds, so that government inspectors could ensure that diseased or feces-covered meat and poultry did not end up on consumers’ plates. Now, if the Trump administration gets its way, pork slaughterhouses will be allowed to drastically increase their line speeds, with potentially disastrous results for workers and consumers.

A new rule, finalized today, would reduce the number of government food safety inspectors in pork plants by 40 percent, and remove most of the remaining inspectors from production lines. In their place, a smaller number of company employees — who are not required to receive any training — would conduct the “sorting” tasks that USDA previously referred to as “inspection.” The rule would also allow companies to design their own microbiological testing programs to measure food safety, rather than requiring companies to meet the same standard.

Equally alarming, the new rule would remove all line speed limits in the plants, allowing companies to speed up their lines with abandon. With fewer government inspectors on the slaughter lines, there would be fewer trained workers watching out for consumer safety. Faster line speeds would make it harder for the limited number of remaining meat inspectors and plant workers to do their jobs.

The experience from a long-running pilot project that involved five large hog slaughterhouses offers some insight into the possible impact of such radical deregulation. Consumer groups reviewed the government’s data from the five pilot plants and other plants of comparable size. They found that the plants with fewer inspectors and faster lines had more regulatory violations than others.

Indeed, the pilot project gave no indication that allowing companies to police themselves produces safe food. Nevertheless, USDA concluded that self-policing would ensure food safety, based on a technical risk assessment that — in violation of OMB guidelines — was not peer-reviewed before USDA published its rule. Later, three of the five peer reviewers indicated that the study was fundamentally flawed. USDA has pressed forward with its rule regardless, dismissing this criticism as mere technicality.

It’s not only consumers of meat who would pay a price for this misguided and dangerous new rule. There are more than 90,000 pork slaughterhouse workers whose health and limbs are already at risk under the current line speed limit of 1,106 hogs per hour. Pork slaughterhouse workers will tell you that they can barely keep up with current line speeds. They work in noisy, slippery workplaces with large knives, hooks and bandsaws, making tens of thousands of forceful repetitive motions on each and every shift to cut and break down the hogs.

USDA is ignoring three decades of studies indicating that faster line speeds and the forceful nature of the work in meatpacking plants are the root causes of a staggeringly high rate of work-related injuries and illnesses.

This has been the most chaotic, outrageous, lawless administration in history.

But you have to admit if you are a big corporation of any kind you have to be thrilled with the rollbacks of regulation that have taken place under Trump. Combined with the court-packing to deny the ability of people to successfully sue, they are happy as can be. This has been the most comprehensive destruction of the regulatory system in history. They have taken a wrecking ball to anything that protects the environment and our health and safety. It's actually kind of awe-inspiring.


President Blabby at the Wall

by digby

As everyone wonders what in the world Trump blabbed to some foreign leader that cause the Inspector General of the DNI to term a whistleblower's complaint an urgent matter of national security, just note that he was blabbing just yesterday about the technology of his own wall because he can't stop bragging:

“Look at the inner tube to see what happens, because after the wall is up, we pour concrete and concrete goes into the tube, and in addition to that we have rebar,” Trump explained to reporters, referring to a stack of the hollow steel beams that would eventually make up the wall.

“So if you think you’re going to cut it with a blowtorch, that doesn’t work because you hit concrete,” he continued, “and if you think you’re going to go through the concrete, that doesn’t work because we have very powerful rebar inside.”

Trump also talked up the concrete filling being used for the beams, telling reporters that workers were using “a very powerful concrete.”

“And a lot of technological advances have been made with concrete,” he added. “It sounds pretty simple but it’s not. It’s a pretty powerful concrete. So you have the rebar, you have the outer crust and you have — the inside is concrete and it’s pretty amazing.”

The wall, which Trump said had been described to him as the “Rolls-Royce version” of a border barrier, had even undergone extensive testing to ensure that immigrants would be unable to scale the structure.

“We actually built prototypes and we have, I guess you could say, world-class climbers,” he said. “We had 20 mountain climbers. That’s all they do, they love to climb mountains.”

“Some of them were champions, and we gave them different prototypes of walls, and this was the one that was hardest to climb,” he continued, gesturing to the stack of beams behind him.

After allowing his acting heads of Homeland Security, Customs and Border Protection, and the Army Corps of Engineers to discuss other features of the wall, the president began to elaborate on the structure’s technological assets.

“One thing we haven’t mentioned is technology,” Trump said. “They’re wired so that we will know if somebody’s trying to break through.” He then offered the floor to Lt. Gen. Todd Semonite, acting head of the Army Corps, who quickly answered: “Sir, there could be some merit in not discussing that.”
It wouldn't surprise me if in the middle of bragging about his massive military build-up he ended up giving away the most tightly held nuclear secrets to Vladimir Putin . He literally doesn't understand why he shouldn't.

Some smart Wall Streeters don't want to kill the Golden Goose

by digby

They see the value in letting everyone share in the eggs:

Jhoana Ocampo has worked in finance for 14 years. There, she is surrounded by people who fret about what could happen to their industry should Elizabeth Warren win the presidency and implement the tough regulatory policies that are so closely associated with her candidacy. And yet, Ocampo has given $400 to the Massachusetts Democrat and plans to max out to her presidential campaign, saying that Warren's policies resonate with her more than most.

“I’m just a firm believer that we all prosper when the middle class prospers,” Ocampo, who didn’t want her employer to be named and stressed she doesn’t speak on their behalf, told The Daily Beast. “Some people just don’t have the time; frankly they might not even care to really understand what she’s talking about. It could be perceived as being extreme until you look at what the plans really say. I might work in the financial services industry but I don’t have too many friends who have $50 million in the bank.”

Ocampo has also gone to fundraisers for Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY) and South Bend Mayor Pete Buttigieg. But in Warren, she said, she saw something critically different. She’s “a very consistent advocate for the middle class,” she explained. “It was very important to me as I see that disappearing.”

Ocampo is part of what is so far a tiny, tiny minority of Warren donors in the financial industry. The senator, who has built a career warning about and legislating against the excesses of financial institutions—including crafting a consumer financial protection bureau to carry on that very mission—has reported receiving donations from only about 30 employees at the world’s top 20 investment banks.

It is a small crew composed of everyone from IT workers to risk managers at small firms and larger outfits. It’s also one that isn't quite yet comfortable trumpeting its politics. Ocampo, for starters, would only talk on the condition that her place of employment not be listed. Others declined to be named at all or declined to comment given their public-facing roles in various financial institutions.
One contributor, who shared information on the condition of anonymity, had worked in the financial industry for 20 years and had given to Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT) in his first campaign for the presidency in 2015. This time though, he has given $500 to Warren, motivated by one major reason.

“She came out first of anybody for impeachment. I think that was the number one thing,” this individual said referring to Warren’s push for the House of Representatives to begin impeachment proceedings after reading Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s report.

At the heart of Warren’s appeal among this small sect of finance industry types is a larger disgust with the current White House occupant. Many Wall Street denizens continue to support President Trump, who has slashed taxes and regulations in ways that have been highly favorable to their industry. But he is not entirely beloved. The aforementioned donor said that politics comes up often at work because of “orange Jesus,” a reference to President Trump.

“You cannot escape it because there’s so much shit in the news on a daily basis that it has to come up at least once a day,” this donor said. Though the donor had given to Warren, he said he would be supportive of any Democratic nominee and surmised that former Vice President Joe Biden would not end up winning the nomination, despite his early lead in the polls. No one else with whom this person directly works has openly supported another Democratic candidate so far but the donor joked that he was waiting to get turned into human resources for the amount of time Trump comes up with some coworkers who back the president.

These people are in the minority to be sure. But they are the smart ones. The "let them eat cake" attitude of Wall Street, the selfish, short-term thinking and total lack of big-picture understanding of our society and culture shows them to be fools, just as they were back in 2008 when their world came crashing down. They should be backing Warren's reforms. It's in their interest to redistribute wealth to make a stable society.

Our society is anything but stable and it's getting worse every day. Backing this grotesquely divisive imbecile is a terrible mistake. They will not escape the ramifications of that any more than the rest of us will.


QOTD: Pompeo

by digby

Brian Stelter's newsletter reported this amazing little piece of new:
Speaking to reporters Wednesday off-camera while en route to Saudi Arabia, Mike Pompeo offered up some advice to reporters: When reporting, make sure you label those who regularly lie as liars. Yes, I am not making this up. The exchange was about reporting on the Houthis, but one can imagine the principle should naturally be extrapolated elsewhere. 
Here's exactly what Pompeo said: “Whenever you report about them, and you say, ‘The Houthis said,’ you should say ‘The well known frequently lying Houthis have said the following.’ This is important because you ought not report them as if these truth-tellers, as if these are people who aren’t completely under the boot of the Iranians and who would not, at the direction of the Iranians, lay claim to attacks that they did not engage in. Which clearly was the case here. So there you go, whenever you say Houthis, you should begin with, ‘the well-known, frequently known to lie Houthis,’ and then you can write whatever it is they say. And that’d be good reporting (laughter) and I know you care deeply about that good reporting.” 
Natural question: Does this recommendation about prominently labeling liars as "liars" apply to any, say, US politicians?
Not even a hint of self-awareness in any of that.

Remember also that Pompeo is a hardcore Iran hawk and Trump is an imbecile.


"Foreign corruption inducing treason was the core impeachable offense in the eyes of the authors of the Constitution"

by digby

This bit of history relayed by David Frum is unfortunately very relevant today:

On the 20th of July 1787, Gouverneur Morris rose inside the stiflingly hot Independence Hall, in Philadelphia, to explain why he had changed his mind and now favored including a power of impeachment in the constitutional text.

Until that point, he and others had feared that an impeachment power would leave the president too dependent on Congress. He had thought that the prospect of reelection defeat would offer a sufficient control on presidential wrongdoing.

But the arguments of other delegates had convinced him—and particularly an example from then-recent British history. A century earlier, Great Britain had been ruled by a king named Charles II. King Charles was the son of Charles I, the king whose head was cut off during the English Civil War. Restored to the throne, Charles II learned to tiptoe carefully around his dangerous subjects. But there was a problem: Charles wanted more money than Parliament willingly offered him. His solution? He reached out to an old friend and patron: the king of France, Louis XIV.

Louis had sheltered Charles during exile. He knew that Charles had converted to Catholicism—a secret that could have cost Charles his throne and possibly his life if his own people had known it. Louis had no parliament of his own to worry about. He paid Charles an annual subsidy to cover Charles’s fiscal shortfall. In return, he asked Charles to hand over a British base on French soil—and to stay neutral in the war Louis was about to launch against the Protestant Netherlands.

These treasons would emerge into daylight after the overthrow of Charles’s brother and the Stuart dynasty in 1688. For the men of 1787, these events of the century before their own felt as vivid and central as the civil-rights era of the mid-20th century seems to us nearing the middle of the 21st.

So Gouverneur Morris said, according to notes taken by James Madison:

He was now sensible of the necessity of impeachments, if the Executive was to continue for any time in office. Our Executive was not like a Magistrate having a life interest, much less like one having an hereditary interest in his office. He may be bribed by a greater interest to betray his trust; and no one would say that we ought to expose ourselves to the danger of seeing the first Magistrate in foreign pay without being able to guard agst it by displacing him. One would think the King of England well secured agst bribery. He has as it were a fee simple in the whole Kingdom. Yet Charles II was bribed by Louis XIV. The Executive ought therefore to be impeachable for treachery; Corrupting his electors, and incapacity were other causes of impeachment. For the latter he should be punished not as a man, but as an officer, and punished only by degradation from his office. This Magistrate is not the King but the prime-Minister. The people are the King. When we make him amenable to Justice however we should take care to provide some mode that will not make him dependent on the Legislature.

Foreign corruption inducing treason was the core impeachable offense in the eyes of the authors of the Constitution.

Which is why a whistle-blower report filed with the inspector general for the intelligence community, reportedly concerning an improper “promise” by President Donald Trump to a foreign leader, has jolted Congress.

Earlier in the constitutional debates—back when he still opposed an impeachment provision—Morris argued that a corrupt or treasonable president “can do no criminal act without Coadjutors who may be punished.” Trump is surrounded by coadjutors, yet so far all are acting with impunity, joined now by the acting director of national intelligence, Joseph Maguire, who is withholding from Congress the apparently explosive information.

Trump has been engaged in improper contacts with foreign governments for years, and built deep business relationships with foreign nationals. Russian assistance helped elect him. Money from wealthy Russians reportedly helped keep his businesses alive from 2006 to 2016. Since 2016, more and more foreign money has flowed Trump’s way. Trump literally has a hotel open on Pennsylvania Avenue to accept payments—there’s a big carpet in front, his name on the door, nothing even remotely clandestine about the flow of corruption. That corruption seeks returns. Again and again, Trump has acted in ways that align with the interests of foreign states, raising questions about his motives.

Exactly what was promised in this particular conversation, and to whom, America and the world wait to hear. Perhaps there exists a reasonable explanation for a conversation that the Trump administration is trying hard to keep from public view. But the basic grammar of all Trump scandals has been visible from the beginning: many secrets, no mysteries.

Trump finally tweeted about this asking if anyone thinks he's dumb enough to speak inappropriately on the phone to foreign leaders. The question answers itself. And it is possible that whever it was that Trump promised was something he thought was totaly appropriate --- like giving out the names of spies in Russia, for instance. I could easily see it. He thought Putin's idea to create a joint cyber-security force was terrific.

He's a dotard. So it's thoroughly possible that he's just too dumb to know that he was selling out the country. There is no dotard exception to the impeachment clause. Indeed, it may be more important to get rid of someone that stupid.

And yes, it's equally possible that this was some kind of corrupt promise to a foreign leader. He is a criminal, after all.