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Sunday, May 26, 2019

So you think Trump is a one-off?

by digby

Think again:

That is not some fringe-dwelling fever swamp extremist. It's Liz Cheney, one of the Great Female Hopes of the Republican Party, daughter of the former VP and a member in good standing of what was once known as the Republican establishment.

She said this on ABC, not Fox. It is being mainstreamed by the mainstream media. This is real.


Identity politics for me but not for thee

by digby

Helaine Olen in the Washington Post mused about the CAP conference last week which emphasized diversity and inclusion as an organizing principle, and where Stacy Abrams said boldly that "identity politics" is nothing to be ashamed of. Olen notes something about this particular argument (usually framed on the right as playing some sort of "card" and on the left as a distraction from the all-important class divide)that should not be overlooked if you want to understand all this:

[I]t occurred to me that too many of us think about identity politics in too narrow a way. It could be said the Trump administration is playing the most nasty form of identify politics of them all. Trump officials are then gaslighting everyone else for the sin of simply seeking equal rights.

At the CAP conference, the evidence for this came up again and again. When the subject of the new law in Alabama that would effectively ban almost all abortions came up, Rep. Katie Porter (D-Calif.) minced no words. “It is an attack on women’s lived lives,” she said. “Oppression,” she called it.

Tom Steyer — featured on a panel about climate change, not impeachment — pointed out that global warming often impacts poorer people harder than wealthy ones. There is a very inaccurate vision of who cares about the environment in America, Steyer said. In polling, Latinos are the group most likely to say they are concerned about the issue.

And then there is economics, whether it be the high cost of child care frequently forcing one parent — who usually happens to be female — out of the workforce, or African Americans possessing significantly less net worth than white households.

This is all the result of identity politics, but a form that goes mostly unrecognized and unacknowledged. A minority with power and money — white men, mostly wealthy, often religious or pretending to be so — has controlled societal and political norms so effectively that when those left outside simply insist on their rights, they are viewed as angry, resentful, demanding and divisive. When “identity politics” is practiced in such a way that it allows a small group to access and maintain power, it gets labeled as “norms" and treated as simply the way the world works.

The left pushes identity politics so we can one day live in a world where none of us need to do that. The right does it so a small stratum of the population can retain money and power. One way we can fight back is by calling what they are doing by its rightful name.

Ask yourself how many profiles have been done on the 2016 Hillary voters as compared to the Trump voters to see just how lop-sided this argument really is.

You thought it was fiction?

by digby

Check out this lunacy:
Prominent figures on the Christian right in the US ranging from religious magazines to authors to elected politicians have warned that the fight over abortion rights could lead to a new civil war.

Though such dire predictions are not necessarily new on the extreme right wing in the US, the passing of a wave of hardline anti-abortion laws in numerous states this year appears to have amped up the conspiracy-minded predictions that depict abortion squarely as a root cause of a coming conflict.

Republican lawmakers such as Ohio’s Candice Keller have openly speculatedthat the divide over abortion rights might lead to civil war. Last month, Keller drew explicit comparisons with the antebellum situation over slavery, telling the Guardian: “Whether this ever leads to a tragedy, like it did before with our civil war, I can’t say.”

Earlier this month, the Guardian revealed that the Washington state republican legislator Matt Shea had also speculated about civil war, and the “Balkanization” of America, predicting that Christians would retreat to “zones of freedom” such as the inland Pacific north-west, where Shea is campaigning for a new state to break away from Washington.

Asked on a podcast if the two halves of the country could remain together, Shea said: “I don’t think we can, again, because you have half that want to follow the Lord and righteousness and half that don’t, and I don’t know how that can stand.”

Shea has introduced a bill – unlikely to pass – which would criminalize abortion in the state.

Along with legislators, the notion of a civil war over abortion has been finding traction in the media organs of the Christian right.

In the past year, Charisma magazine, the leading media voice of Pentecostal and charismatic Christians, has run at least half a dozen articles contemplating the possibility of an imminent civil war in America. One recent article profiles pastor, broadcaster and author Michael L Brown, who blames a “coming civil war” on “militant abortionists”.

Brown told Charisma: “A civil war is coming to America, only this time, it will be abortion, rather than slavery, that divides the nation”.

An upcoming book from Brown also warns that abortion is among the signs that “the demonic spirit of Jezebel is powerful in America”. In another column this month Brown wrote: “A civil war is certain. The only thing to be determined is how bloody it will be.”

This year the Christian televangelist Rick Joyner has, on his ministry’s website and other Christian right outlets, been offering detailed descriptions of a civil war he believes to be coming on the basis of his own prophetic dream.

Abortion is one of the key reasons he thinks that war is imminent.

Joyner also turned to Charisma magazine at one point to describe a dream, which he says he had late last year. “We are already in the first stages of the Second American Revolutionary/Civil War,” he wrote. “In the dream, I saw that we had already crossed that line and it is now upon us, so we must change our strategy from trying to avoid it to winning it.”

André Gagné is an associate professor of theology at Concordia University in Montreal, who researches the religious right. He says that while Charisma magazine may be unfamiliar to secular and liberal Americans, it is “absolutely representative” of charismatic and Pentecostal Christians on abortion, and as such speaks for “millions of people”.

He says that the idea that abortion may lead to civil war has percolated for some time on the Christian right. Gagné says that the Christian right’s fight against abortion is driven by real belief, and real fear.

“The Christian right believes that if they don’t engage politically, and try to influence social issues, God will judge America, and he will judge them,” Gagne said.

But is the possibility of an abortion-centred civil war likely?

Journalist Robert Evans hosts the breakout podcast It Could Happen Here, which canvases scenarios for a new American civil war.

He said that the Christian right “generate a lot of the extremist language in mainstream politics”, but that “there’s more talk about violent insurrection from the white nationalist right than the Christian right, because there’s less faith in politics”.

For now, as demonstrated by the abortion bills passed in several states in an apparent attempt to get a case to the supreme court and overturn abortion rights nationally, the Christian right is reaping dividends from engaging with the political process.

But, Evans notes, the danger may come if “they see victory slip from their grasp”.

And unlike the fractious and small subcultures of the racist far right, “the Christian right is really good at keeping people working together for years at a time”.
Keep in mind, that these are the most dedicated members of Trump's cult:
Trump consistently does better with regular churchgoing white Evangelicals than with less observant members of this group (70 percent of weekly churchgoers approve of Trump’s job performance, versus 65 percent of others). This finding suggests that MAGA people aren’t just a bunch of rednecks who identify as Evangelical but are as heathenish as Trump in their actual belief systems and conduct. The same is true, interestingly enough, of another relatively pro-Trump religious demographic, white Catholics. Being churchy and being Trumpy seem to go hand in hand (not so much, however, with white mainline Protestants, an at-best-lukewarm group for Trump)...

If Trump doesn't win in 2020, one can imagine this group losing its grip and just going for it.


And yet, they work for him

by digby

And with rare exceptions, they refuse to go on the record with what they know.

Remember when Donald Trump flipped out on Jim Acosta and then directed an intern to yank away the microphone from him? Or when the White House revoked Jim Acosta's credentials? Well, things are not going to get any better after Acosta's book drops on June 11th, if some of the quotes coming out are true. 
The Guardian is reporting that in the book, aptly titled "The Enemy of the People", CNN chief White House correspondent Jim Acosta shares some pretty disturbing stories about a dysfunctional and chaotic White House. In one weird story, Trump had Hope Hicks call Acosta to praise him for being “very professional today” and said that, "Jim gets it". 
Just prior to that totally random phone call, Trump had publicly called Acosta "fake news" and "very fake news". 
In public, clearly, Trump likes to push the wildly popular term "fake news" while privately complimenting the very reporters he bashed. Unprofessional and disgraceful. 
In another section which will shock no one, Acosta recounts a conversation with a senior White House official who told him bluntly: “The president’s insane.” In another part, Acosta states that a “former White House national security official” told him that they were not sure whether Trump had been been “compromised” by Russia.
I suspect Acosta will be banned when this book comes out. 


President Trump is on a state visit to Japan

by digby

This is what he's accomplished so far:

You can't make this stuff up. The president of the United States on a state visit to Japan takes the side of the North Korean dictator (and existential threat to Japan, by the way) and also says that both Kim Jong Un and Japanese leaders are hostile to the Democratic Party.

This isn't ok, it really isn't. I know he's a clown and we are supposed to take these tweets with a grain of salt. But that would be a mistake. Trump is being played from all sides on the global stage and it's making all of us less safe.



Still a boys club

by Tom Sullivan

Still image from Greg Murphy campaign video.

Democrats sent nearly 40 women to Congress in last fall's elections. Republicans, only four. That's quite a ratio.

The Hill reports:

Democrats are again looking to put Republicans on the defensive in 2020 after a string of GOP legislatures passed a number of actions restricting abortions, including in Alabama where the procedure was banned under almost all circumstances.

It is a lesson that Republicans have absorbed this year, as they look to prove they are a big tent party and look to dispel the notion it’s the party of old white men.
They will have to work harder to prove themselves in North Carolina.

Special elections this summer in North Carolina will fill two additional vacant House seats. One is the infamous "do-over" election ordered after election fraud tainted results in NC-9 and the state Board of Elections refused to certify results. The other is a special election in NC-3 to fill the vacancy created by the death in February of Republican Walter Jones.

Among the over two dozen Republicans vying for those seats in the spring primaries, only one woman has a shot at advancing to the general elections on September 10.

Leigh Brown is not her. People in Washington, D.C. who encouraged the realtor to jump into the NC-9 primary (Brown lives in NC-8) were gone when it came time to campaign.

“That's a little frustrating to have initial conversations and then follow up and be ghosted,” Brown told Politico:
GOP consultants and candidates acknowledge their recruitment and resources lag far behind Democrats. And no centralized group exists to provide hiring advice, social media guidance, press training, or messaging tactics to candidates. Democrats, on the other hand, have the behemoth EMILY’s List network, as well as groups focused on recruiting immigrants, women of color, female veterans and more.
Rep. Elise Stefanik (R-N.Y.) refocused her leadership PAC (E-PAC) this year on electing more Republican women. Stefanik and a new super PAC "Winning for Women" turned their eyes to pediatrician Joan Perry in NC-3 after Brown finished a distant fourth in NC-9 to state senator Dan Bishop of "bathroom bill" fame. Bishop faces Democrat Dan McCready on September 10.

Perry herself finished seven points behind Greg Murphy, a urologic surgeon, in a field of 17 Republicans vying for the Jones seat. Both live in NC-3; only half of the GOP candidates in the NC-9 primary did. The two anti-abortion physicians facing each other in the July 9 runoff will try to out-Trump each other.

On that score, Murphy is already ahead. House Freedom Caucus chair Mark Meadows (NC-11) has endorsed Murphy, as has "Women for Trump." The runoff winner will face Democrat Allen Thomas, the former mayor of Greenville, NC, on September 10. Donald Trump won NC-3 by nearly 24 points.

Even as Republicans promote their efforts to attract women (as stories in Politico and The Hill show), those efforts appear disjointed, if not half-hearted, despite party boasts of how many female and minority candidates it is wooing:
Yet according to recent data collected by The Associated Press, just 38 of 172 declared Republican House challengers for the 2020 elections were women, or around 1 in 5. That compares with 84 of 222 declared House Democratic challengers, nearly 2 in 5.
Meanwhile, over half of Democrats' 2018 freshman class in the House are women.

Saturday, May 25, 2019

Saturday Night at the Movies

SIFF-ting through cinema, Pt. 2

By Dennis Hartley

The Seattle International Film Festival
is in full swing, so this week I’m continuing to share film reviews. SIFF is showing 410 films over 25 days. Navigating such an event is no easy task, even for a dedicated buff (ow, my ass). Yet, I trudge on (cue the world’s tiniest violin). Hopefully, some of these films will be coming soon to a theater near you…

Enormous: The Gorge Story (USA) – The Gorge is big. You just won't believe how vastly, hugely, mind-bogglingly big it is. I mean, you may think it's a long way down the road to the mall, but that's just peanuts to the Gorge (with apologies to Douglas Adams). I refer to Washington State’s Columbia Gorge, 140 miles from Seattle. For music fans, the Gorge has become synonymous with memorable concert experiences. This amiable doc traces its transformation from a homemade stage built in the 80s to accommodate a wine-tasting to a now legendary music mecca. Employees, fans and artists (Dave Matthews, Mike McCready, Steve Miller, John Oates, Jason Mraz, et.al.) share favorite memories.

Rating: *** (Plays May 25 & 28)

Storm in My Heart (USA/Scotland) – Remember when some stoner discovered that if you sync up the “Dark Side of the Moon” album with The Wizard of Oz…magic happened? This is a similar concept. It’s tough to pigeonhole this “video essay” by obsessive cineaste and film maker Mark Cousins (The Story of Film, The Eyes of Orson Welles). I’d call it more of “an experiment”. Anyway, his premise: Actresses Susan Hayward and Lena Horne were born on the same day in Brooklyn. Both ended up with storied careers. However, as Horne was African-American and Hayward was white, their trajectories were decidedly different. Simultaneously running Horne’s 1943 musical Stormy Weather alongside Hayward’s 1953 film With a Song in My Heart, Cousins hopes viewers gain insight regarding racism in Hollywood. I tried, believe me. Aside from a few interestingly synchronous moments, I’m afraid that he did a complete flyover on me.

Rating: ** (North American Premiere; Plays May 28)

Emma Peeters (Belgium/Canada) – Maybe it’s coincidence, but what with the popularity of the HBO series Barry and this new black comedy from Belgian-American writer-director Nicole Palo, it appears acting class satires with dark undercurrents are now a thing. As she careens toward her 35th birthday, wannabe thespian Emma (Monia Chakri, in a winning performance) decides that she’s had it with failed auditions and slogging through a humiliating day job. She’s convinced herself that 35 is the “expiry” date for actresses anyway. So, she prepares for a major change…into the afterlife. Unexpectedly lightened by her decision, she cheerfully begins to check off her bucket list, giving away possessions, and making her own funeral arrangements. However, when she develops an unforeseen relationship with a lonely young funeral director, her future is uncertain, and the end may not be near. A funny-sad romantic romp in the vein of Harold and Maude.

Rating: *** (Plays May 28, 29, & 31)

The Hitch-Hiker (USA) – 46% of this year’s SIFF selections are by female directors, as are 56% of the 2019 competition films (ratios which should be industry-wide, not relegated to the festival circuit). As part of this emphasis, SIFF is presenting two restored gems from pioneering actor-director Ida Lupino. This 1953 film noir is not only a tough, taut nail-biter, but one of the first “killer on the road” thrillers (a precursor to The Hitcher, Freeway, Kalifornia, etc.). Lupino co-wrote the tight script with Collier Young. They adapted from a story by Daniel Mainwearing that was based on a real-life highway killer’s spree. Edmond O’Brien and Frank Lovejoy play buddies taking a road trip to Mexico for some fishing. When they pick a stranded motorist (veteran noir heavy William Talman), their trip turns into a nightmare Essentially a chamber piece, with excellent performances from the three leads (Talman is genuinely creepy and menacing).

Rating: ***½ (Special revival presentation; Plays May 29 only)

Eastern Memories (Finland) – Using excerpts from 100 year-old journals by Finnish linguist G.J. Ramstedt as a narrative, directors Niklas Kullstrom and Martti Kaartinen retrace his experiences in two countries. He was sent to Mongolia to study and compile a written record of the language, then was later assigned to a diplomatic post in Japan-where he studied the Korean language (I know-a little confusing). While his studies were primarily academic, his journals reflected a more subjective take on the geography and people of the respective countries. The directors juxtapose Ramstedt’s century-old musings with modern travelogues of the locations he wrote about. Despite the intriguing premise, the film is deadly dull in execution-not helped by dry and perfunctory narration.

Rating: ** (Plays May 29)

Miles Davis: The Birth of the Cool (USA) – Few artists are as synonymous with “cool” as innovative musician-arranger-band leader Miles Davis. That’s not to say he didn’t encounter some sour notes during his ascent to the pantheon of jazz (like unresolved issues from growing up in the shadow of domestic violence, and traumatic run-ins with racism-even at the height of fame). Sadly, as you learn while watching Stanley Nelson’s slick and engrossing documentary, much of the dissonance in Davis’ life journey was of his own making (substance abuse, his mercurial nature). Such is the dichotomy of genius.

Rating: **** (Plays May 29 & May 31)

Fantastic Planet (France) – Director Rene Laloux’s imaginative 1973 animated fantasy (originally La planete sauvage) is about a race of mini-humans called Oms, who live on a distant planet and have been enslaved (or viewed and treated as dangerous pests) for generations by big, brainy, blue aliens called the Draags. We follow the saga of Terr, an Om who has been adopted as a house pet by a Draag youngster. Equal parts Spartacus, Planet of the Apes, and that night in the dorm you took too many mushrooms, it’s at once unnerving and mind-blowing. SIFF is adding a unique twist: Seattle DJ “NicFit” will provide a live, “carefully curated soundtrack” of Flaming Lips tracks as accompaniment.

Rating: **** (Special event presentation; Plays May 30 only)

Raise Hell: The Life & Times of Molly Ivins (USA) – Janice Engel profiles the late, great political columnist and liberal icon Molly Ivins, who suffered no fools gladly on either side of the aisle. Engel digs beneath Ivins’ bigger-than-life public personae, revealing an individual who grew up in red state Texas as a shy outsider. Self-conscious about her physicality (towering over her classmates at 6 feet by age 12), she learned how to neutralize the inevitable teasing with her fierce intelligence and wit (I find interesting parallels with Janis Joplin’s formative Texas years). Her political awakening also came early (to the chagrin of her conservative oilman father). The archival clips of Ivins imparting her incomparable wit and wisdom are gold; although I was left wishing Engel had included more (and I am dying to know what Ivins would say about you-know-who).

Rating: ***½ (Plays May 31 & June 1)

The Legend of the Stardust Brothers (Japan) – Billed as “a lost gem of 1980s Japanese cinema”, this alleged cult film is an example of why some lost gems are perhaps best-left “lost” (you know…like Bilbo’s goddam ring). Then again, perhaps I wasn’t in the right mood (or under the influence of the right “enhancement”) to experience the sway it apparently holds over some midnight movie enthusiasts. Granted, there are moments of campy fun in this tale of a new wave duo’s rise and fall, but overall it’s a psychedelic train wreck. The original songs are gratingly awful…kind of a deal breaker for a musical.

Rating: ** (Special revival presentation; Plays May 31, June 2 & 3)

This is Not Berlin (Mexico) – Less Than Zero meets SLC Punk…in the ‘burbs of Mexico City. Set circa 1985, writer-director-musician Hari Sama’s semi-autobiographical drama is an ensemble piece reminiscent of the work of outsider filmmakers like Gregg Araki, Gus Van Sant and Larry Clark. The central character is 17 year-old Carlos (Xabiani Ponce de León), a shy and nerdy misfit who has an artistic (and sexual) awakening once taken under the wing of the owner of an avant-garde nightclub. Intense, uninhibited, and pulsating with energy throughout. Sama coaxes fearless performances from all the actors.

Rating: **** (Plays June 2 & 6)

Previous posts with related themes:

2019 SIFF Preview
More reviews at Den of Cinema
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Game of Jones

by digby

If you're a Game of Thrones fan and you're looking for some belly laughs, look no further:

Maybe the Dems should try this approach

by digby

It's honest:

A showdown between Barr and the IC? I doubt it.

by digby

Natasha Bertrand at Politico reports:

President Donald Trump’s declassification order Thursday night has set up a showdown between his own Justice Department and the intelligence community that could trigger resignations and threaten the CIA’s ability to conduct its core business — managing secret intelligence and sources.

Trump’s order directed intelligence agencies to fully comply with Attorney General William Barr’s look at “surveillance activities” during the 2016 election — a probe that Trump’s allies see as a necessary check on government overreach but that critics lambaste as an attempt to create the impression of scandal. Numerous former intelligence officials called the move “unprecedented,” saying it grants the attorney general sweeping powers over the nation’s secrets, subverts the intelligence community and raises troubling legal questions.

“There’s nothing CIA or NSA, for example, guards more jealously than sources and methods,” said Larry Pfeiffer, a 32-year intelligence veteran who served as the chief of staff to CIA Director Michael Hayden. “It is not hyperbole to say that lives are at stake.”

“I doubt any of the [CIA directors] or [directors of national intelligence] that I worked with would have sat by silently if their president contemplated or made such a decision,” added Pfeiffer, who also served as senior director of the White House Situation Room.

It’s the latest chapter in Trump’s rocky relationship with his own intelligence community. During the election, Trump cast doubt on Russia’s role in hacking Hillary Clinton’s campaign. As president, Trump has publicly disagreed with his own intelligence agencies on North Korea’s nuclear ambitions, the threat posed by the Islamic State, the situation in Afghanistan and whether the Saudi crown prince ordered the murder of journalist Jamal Khashoggi.

The two sides have usually papered over their differences, but national security veterans said this time might be different.

“I could see something of a showdown happening here, where the CIA says, ‘We’re not comfortable with the declassification of this material and we won’t provide it without the assurance that you won’t declassify it,’” said a former senior Justice Department official who served under both Trump and President Barack Obama, and requested anonymity to discuss the directive more freely. “They feel that these are their sources, their connections.” (more at the link...)

There was a time when I might have believed that. But we've seen that any intelligence and law enforcement employee who even expresses a suspicion that Trump and his henchmen might not be on the up and up are summarily dispatched and now they are talking about putting them in jail. There has been very little of that in recent days as a result. So, I don't expect any of them to stand up to Barr who is clearly doing Trump's bidding.

There are probably some different motives. Some are probably sincere Trump fans and would like to see him bring the hammer down on any liberal symps. Others are concerned for their careers and still others may believe that they will know when to make that move for the good of the country but it just isn't the time.

Whatever the reason, I don't expect anyone to stand up. Robert Mueller doesn't want to testify publicly because he doesn't want to play politics. Even he doesn't see the seriousness of what's happening so I can't imagine that anyone in the IC would. Sure they'll be unhappy about losing their sources, but they are keeping their powder dry for a time when it's really important. And then it will be too late.

The whole point of Trump and Barr's crusade to "investigate the investigators" is to shut these people down. I expect it will work.

The IC and the DOJ aren't going to save the country from Trump and the reckless GOP. It's up to the Democrats.

A "legislative graveyard"

by digby

Unlike the House, the Senate isn't bothering to pass legislation. Apparently, Mitch McConnell figures that legislation that the House won't pass and trump won't sign if they did isn't something that will help him keep the Senate in 2020. Speaker Pelosi thinks otherwise and believes that the House should focus all its energy on passing such legislation rather than impeaching the president, apparently assuming that is the key to keeping the majority.

If the Dems keep the House and the GOP keeps the Senate I suppose they'll both say they were proven right. But under the current polarized politics, unless a party wins the trifecta none of that matters.

The Democrats need to save the country and the one thing that matters more than anything else is getting the nuclear codes out of the hands of that criminal freak in the White House. Without that, we're lost. We're just lost.

Senators are growing increasingly frustrated as legislative activity has slowed to a crawl during the first half of the year.

The Senate voted on two bills Thursday, breaking a nearly two-month drought during which Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) has focused instead on judicial nominations, his top priority.

The lack of floor action has left lawmakers publicly complaining, even though the high-profile feuding between President Trump and congressional Democrats makes it highly unlikely that large-scale bipartisan legislation will succeed heading into the 2020 elections.

Tensions boiled over onto the Senate floor this week when Sen. John Kennedy (R-La.) knocked the slow start to the new Congress, characterizing lawmakers as having done “nothing, zilch, zero, nada.”

“I’m not saying we haven’t done anything. We have confirmed some very important nominees to the Trump administration, long overdue,” Kennedy said. “I’m saying we need to do more.”

Asked how he felt about the pace of legislation in the Senate this year, Sen. Ron Johnson (R-Wis.) shot back: “What legislation?”

“So it’s pretty slow, isn’t it?” he asked.

Before Thursday, when the chamber passed bills addressing robocalls and disaster relief, the Senate’s previous roll-call vote on legislation was April 1, when senators rejected disaster aid proposals. And the most recent bill passed via roll call was in mid-March, when senators voted for a resolution to nix Trump’s emergency declaration for the U.S.-Mexico border.

Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) said the inability to get legislation through the Senate was “frustrating,” but he argued that major agenda-setting bills were difficult without unified control of Congress.

“I’m not sure what we can do about it except to wait to hopefully take back the House one day,” Rubio said.

Of the 17 bills that have been signed into law so far this year, only two were substantial enough to require roll-call votes in the Senate. Both measures — a government funding deal and a lands package — were holdovers from the previous Congress.

Sen. John Thune (S.D.), the No. 2 Senate Republican, acknowledged there were some frustrations within the caucus, which he described as being filled with “Type A” personalities, but said confirming nominees is a priority held by all Republican senators, who changed the rules to speed up most of Trump’s picks.

“Our members — these are people who are Type A personalities, in most cases, to get to the Senate — they want to get things done. We all do,” Thune said. “There’s stuff out there to do. And our members ... appreciate the fact that we continue to process judges.”

McConnell, when asked about the chance for bipartisan deals, said Congress would likely be sending fewer bills to Trump’s desk in an era of divided government.

“The House will be sending us a lot of bills that we are not likely to take up. We're probably going to be sending them a lot of bills that they're not going to take up,” McConnell told reporters during a press conference earlier this year.

Senate Republicans aren’t the only ones who are publicly airing their grievances over the inability to get major bills moving.

Trump and White House officials have argued that House Democrats haven’t accomplished anything since they took over in January. White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders told CNN on Thursday that Democrats have “yet to accomplish a single thing” and that Congress this year hasn’t passed legislation that will “change the course of the country.”

Her comments came after Trump walked out of a meeting Wednesday with Senate Minority Leader Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.) and Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.), throwing a curveball into the chances of reaching a deal on infrastructure or a budget caps agreement and complicating Trump’s goal of getting a new trade agreement through Congress.

Thune, asked about Sanders’s comments, added that the “reality you deal with is if you want to see something become law it’s going to be something that enjoys pretty broad bipartisan support.”

“I don’t know what she’s talking about in terms of big, consequential legislation. They haven’t been able to get their act together on what they want to propose in terms of infrastructure. I don’t think they have their own health care plan,” Thune said. “But we can kind of know what the traffic will bear in the Senate, and have a pretty good idea about what it will bear in the House.”

Republicans argue that there’s still time to increase the pace of legislation after a slow start to the year, which began amid a partial government shutdown that stretched on for a record 35 days. Before the Senate left town for the Memorial Day break, McConnell teed up a vote on a budget proposal from Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.), along with more nominations.

“I would expect the pace to pick up again — you have to reconstitute the committees, you have to start holding hearings, you have to draft the legislation,” Johnson said.

“The leader is definitely asking committee chairman, ‘bring me some bipartisan legislation,’” he added, referring to McConnell.

Republicans are defending 22 seats heading into the 2020 elections, compared to a dozen for Democrats. Two of those GOP seats — Colorado and Maine — are in states won by 2016 Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton.

Democrats also view states like Arizona, Georgia, Iowa and North Carolina as potential pickups.

Asked how GOP senators could run on their record if the Senate wasn’t passing much legislation, Rubio responded by saying it was a “challenge.” He predicted that “we will pass uncontroversial, bipartisan pieces of legislation ... so people can build records on that.”

Democrats, meanwhile, have rallied behind blasting McConnell for not moving more legislation, terming the Senate a “legislative graveyard.”

Schumer, in one of several instances where Democrats have dropped the phrase in recent weeks, pointed to a stalemate over the Violence Against Women Act as another example of how McConnell “has turned this chamber into a legislative graveyard.”

“Even the most commonsense bills with broad support from one end of America to the other that are passed by the House ... meet the grim fate at the hands of the Senate’s self-proclaimed ‘grim reaper,’” Schumer said.

Sen. Chris Murphy (D-Conn.), who has accused McConnell of turning the Senate into a “very expensive lunch club,” added that Democrats should highlight McConnell’s refusal to move legislation on issues like health care or gun control as they make the case for Democratic control of the Senate.

“We got to get the Senate working again,” he said. “We’ve got to be debating health care. We’ve got to be debating guns. We’ve got to be debating immigration.”

Asked about the Senate’s legislative agenda so far this year, he said: “I mean, it’s nonexistent. I can’t remember the last time I voted on an amendment on the Senate floor.”

Mitch's only job, in his mind, is to pack the courts and keep the majority. Even keeping Trump in the White House is only a lever to do those two things. Even when they had the majority, he didn't care all that much about passing any legislation that wasn't soley about reversing previous legislation. Republicans don't win by bragging about their "achievements." They win by stopping the Democrats from having any.

Impeachable offense #376

by digby

The following ran through my mind as well. If it isn't an abuse of power I don't know what is. It actually defines the term:

Long before becoming president, Donald Trump called for the jailing of his adversaries. Aided by Attorney General William Barr, he may now actually be training the full force of federal law enforcement against his enemies, real or perceived. Unlike Richard Nixon, who acted in secret, Trump is corrupting the justice system openly and publicly.

The seriousness of such a presidential abuse of power, and its potential for undermining the constitutional order, could well surpass any of the crimes detailed in the Mueller Report. Indeed, the Congress long ago recognized that such misconduct can merit impeachment.

Trump’s desire to investigate the investigators who uncovered the Russian plot to elect him president has taken on a special urgency since the release of the Mueller Report, with Trump repeatedly accusing government officials of “treason,” and the White House declaring: “This whole thing was a TAKEDOWN ATTEMPT at the President of the United States.”

On Thursday night, after Trump had spent days excoriating the purportedly “treasonous” investigators by name, he announced he had granted Barr the “full and complete authority” to declassify documents relating to the Russia probe. The White House also stated that Trump had directed intelligence agencies to “quickly and fully” cooperate with the investigation into the investigation.

It’s reminiscent of Nixon’s secret scheme to “use the available federal machinery to screw our political enemies,” as then-White House Counsel John Dean put it, by manipulating “grant availability, federal contract, litigation, prosecution, etc.” Nixon directed the IRS provide potentially damaging information against some of his enemies. Although the agency’s commissioner refused Nixon’s demand, the scheme became part of the impeachment case against Nixon, which accused him of illegally endeavoring “to obtain [information] from the Internal Revenue Service, in violation of the constitutional rights of citizens.”

While much of Nixon’s scheme was forestalled, Trump appears poised to effectuate his. Barr recently named Connecticut U.S. Attorney John Durham (best known for investigating the FBI’s corrupt relationship with Boston mobster James “Whitey” Bulger) to head up an inquiry into the “origins” of the Russia investigation. Unnamed government officials have attempted to minimize the significance of the inquiry by stating to the press that it does not currently entail the use of grand jury subpoenas, but that of course could change at any time—indeed, Senator Lindsey Graham is publicly demanding as much.

Barr, meanwhile, has become remarkably open about his intent to follow the president’s lead by making the investigators the focus of as much opprobrium as possible. In Senate testimony several weeks ago, Barr denied endorsing the president’s accusation that there was “improper surveillance”of the Trump campaign. More recently, however, he responded to a Fox News interviewer’s question whether he “smell[ed] a rat” at the FBI by stating: “I don’t know if I’d describe it as a rat. I would just say that the answers that I’m getting are not sufficient.” In the same interview, Barr emphasized that officials at the highest levels of the FBI and other agencies were involved, in a plain allusion to James Comey and the other former high-level law enforcement and intelligence officials that Trump has repeatedly excoriated.

Barr even opined that the evidence against Clinton was stronger than any potential evidence of wrongdoing by the president.

Trump’s initial target was Hillary Clinton.Trump implored Jeff Sessions (ultimately with some success) to reopen an investigation into unsubstantiated claims that she had improperly interfered in the sale of a uranium mining concern, Uranium One, to a Russian company as secretary of state. In November 2017, the New York Times’s called 10 former attorneys general, but only one responded to its question whether Sessions should accede to Trump’s loud demands: It was Barr, who said he saw no problem with the president training the sights of the Department of Justice on a political enemy, as long as it was “warrant[ed].” Barr even opined that the evidence against Clinton was stronger than any potential evidence of wrongdoing by the president, this despite the fact that the primary “evidence” for the Uranium One allegations came from a book sponsored by Steve Bannon.

Barr seemed unconcerned with the risk posed by a president employing the Justice Department as a mechanism for exacting revenge against a former electoral opponent. Indeed, Barr declared, the department would be “abdicating its responsibility” if it did not pursue Clinton as Trump desired. In a memorandum he later wrote to the DOJ officials overseeing Mueller, and shared with Trump’s defense team, before becoming attorney general, Barr asserted that there is “no limit” on the president’s authority to direct the course of law enforcement investigations, including those he is personally interested in.

In fact, Trump’s effort to undermine the legitimacy of the now-completed Russia investigation is part-and-parcel of Trump’s earlier efforts to limit and even terminate the investigation while it was ongoing, conduct that the Mueller Report identified as potential obstruction of justice, and that Trump (with Barr’s support) has asserted merely amounted to “fighting back.”

Barr suggested to the Times that there is just no problem with a president personally selecting who should or should not become the subjects of criminal investigations, as long as the facts “warrant” inquiries. But that entirely misses the point.

As the nation recognized during the Watergate era, if the president employs the apparatus of the federal government to single out and punish political or personal enemies by making them the focus of law enforcement investigations, the perception (and the reality) of fairness on which our justice system depends will be gravely endangered.

I think I have always found the weird bloodlust around the "lock her up" chants one of the most disturbing demonstrations of the Trump cult. The febrile energy freaks me out. I can see that if given the chance these people wouldn't be any more civilized than the more primitive societies that stone or behead people. The president of the United States encouraging it is profoundly disturbing and should be condemned with as much institutional power as can be mustered. This is beyond mere political demagoguery. It's mob boss behavior.


The rule of law is failing

by Tom Sullivan

Still image from White House Down (2013)

The White House resists document releases to House investigations on the premise Congress has no “legitimate legislative purpose” in requesting them. So far, the administration's court battles have the primary effect of delaying rather than stopping the release of records requested by half a dozen House committees investigating the sitting president's financial history for foreign influence, etc. The administration's failures this week in court to block release Trump financial records suggest Speaker Nancy Pelosi's go-slow approach to opening impeachment hearings will eventually pry loose information necessary to move House inquiries forward.

Eventually. Or perhaps, eventually?

One of the principle arguments against the go-slow approach is impeachment hearings give the House additional leverage for prying loose documents it does not have now. Experts disagree on that. Lawfare explains, "Historically, the initiation of impeachment proceedings has had implications for the way the judiciary committee obtains relevant material. But broader changes in congressional rules and procedures in recent years mean that today’s judiciary committee may not need the same kind of special powers it was granted as part of previous impeachment inquiries."

Rules that existed during the Nixon and Clinton impeachments have "evolved," allowing committees investigative leeway now they did not have then, Lawfare argues.

Brian Beutler writes at Crooked Media:

By Thursday night, all the dangerous shortcomings of the slow-going approach had reasserted themselves. And they suggest not that the normal oversight process will be sufficient to protect the rule of law, but that the institutional guardrails surrounding the rule of law are faltering all at once, and more aggressively than at any time since Trump won the presidency.
Beutler refers to the announcement that Donald Trump has granted Attorney General William Barr sweeping authorities to declassify intelligence information regarding the about the opening of the Russia investigation:
“In a corrupt act of political retribution, our president has ordered his utterly compliant attorney general to root out Deep State demons that exist only in the unhinged mind of our nation's leader,” Gene Rossi, a former federal prosecutor, told Newsweek.
Beutler argues impeachment would give House Judiciary Committee Chairman Jerrold Nadler a "forceful legal argument" for obtaining "all the testimony and documentation he needs" for removing Trump from office.
If "the institutional guardrails surrounding the rule of law are faltering all at once," there is no reason to believe rules governing impeachment that once held will be any more sturdy. What discussions of process and precedent miss (in this non-lawyer's eyes) is the fundamental bad faith of any argument put forward by this feral administration and its enablers. Team Trump is committed to no fact, no argument, no principle beyond the first news cycle in which any fail to provide the president cover. Relying on traditional rules of law to rein in a lawless administration seems folly.

If the administration's “legitimate legislative purpose” argument fails, then Hydra-like, other more faithless ones will replace it, if not outright defiance of the law, Congress, and the courts. Those who place their faith in opening a formal impeachment inquiry are no more clear-eyed than defenders of Pelosi's go-slow approach and of the "defeat him in 2020" strategy.

Trump has always behaved as a law unto himself. His refusal to release documents legally requested by Congress will not be reversed by court orders, nor by whimsical additional congressional powers granted by placing "impeachment" before the titles of ongoing committee investigations. What this aberrant administration has revealed are fundamental weaknesses in the design of the republic that lay hidden so long as those running it respected rules. Trump does not. Trump is fundamentally a coward and a bully:
The first rule of bullies is that they are drawn to perceived weakness. No bully wants to try to pick on someone bigger and stronger than they are — they want to terrorize weak and helpless people who won't fight back. The point is the psychological satisfaction of easy domination, not brawling for its own sake. Indeed, most bullies are not actually very good at fighting, and will fold immediately if faced with a real physical confrontation.
There may soon be a time to take to the streets. Until then, oh-so-smart progressives had best display talent for out-of-the-box thinking. Playing by the rules will not stop an administration that defies them all.

Friday, May 24, 2019

Friday Night Soother

by digby

It's been one of those weeks. I think we need some baby otters, don't you?

The ability to swim is something that otter pups do not possess when they’re born. “Otters are such graceful, agile swimmers but it doesn’t come naturally to them. They’re born helpless and blind, so pups need swimming lessons by their mom,” explained DeBo. “It’s dunkin’ otter time as the mom grabs the pups by the scruff of their necks and dunks them in and out of the water. It may look scary but the moms know what they’re doing and otter pups are very buoyant,” explained DeBo.

Once the pups demonstrate they can swim, Valkyrie and her pups will be given access to the public outdoor habitat, where the pups can learn to swim safely in the deep pool and navigate the terrain.

The father, Ziggy, is currently separated and can be seen in the Northern Trail habitat with the zoo’s other river otter, a 21-year-old male named Duncan.

Valkyrie and Ziggy were introduced to each other in 2015 under a breeding recommendation through the Association of Zoos & Aquariums’ Otter Species Survival Plan, a conservation breeding program across accredited zoos and aquariums to help ensure a healthy, self-sustaining population of otters.

North American River Otters (Lontra canadensis) are semi-aquatic members of the weasel family. Their habitat ranges over most of North America in coastal areas, estuaries, freshwater lakes, streams and rivers; they can be found in water systems all over Washington State. River Otters consume a wide variety of prey such as fish, crayfish, amphibians and birds. At the top of the food chain, River Otters are an excellent reflection of the health of local ecosystems.

All otter species are considered threatened, while five of the 13 species are endangered due to water pollution, overfishing of commercial stock and habitat destruction. To help Woodland Park Zoo contribute information to sustainable breeding, husbandry and public awareness of the River Otter, fans can adopt the species through the zoo’s ZooParent program. For more information, see Woodland Park Zoo’s website: www.zoo.org

In addition to River Otters, the award-winning Northern Trail habitat is home to Grizzlies, Elk, Gray Wolves, Mountain Goats and Steller’s Sea Eagles. The Northern Trail will be reimagined through the lens of the Pacific Northwest’s exceptional ecosystem and will open in 2020 as Living Northwest. Funds raised through the Living Northwest Initiative will create a new exhibit experience that will be a revitalization of the Northern Trail and will become a hub for engaging zoo guests and community members around discovery, species recovery, human-wildlife coexistence, and saving the wildlife and ecosystems right here at home for the benefit of every species.

To donate to the Living Northwest Initiative, visit www.zoo.org/donate.

Here's an adorable sea otter bonus:


What's illegal for Assange should be illegal for Trump too, no?

by digby

Emptywheel makes a good point about Trump and Assange:

[I]t’s ... worth looking at the abundant evidence that Trump wasn’t joking about his request that Russians find Hillary’s emails, particularly now that, with the superseding Julian Assange indictment, Trump’s DOJ considers the theft of documents in response to someone wishing they’ll be stolen tantamount to complicity in that theft.

Immediately after Trump asked Russia to find Hillary’s emails, the Mueller Report describes, he started asking Mike Flynn to go find them.
After candidate Trump stated on July 27, 2016, that he hoped Russia would “find the 30,000 emails that are missing,” Trump asked individuals affiliated with his Campaign to find the deleted Clinton emails.264 Michael Flynn-who would later serve as National Security Advisor in the Trump Administration- recalled that Trump made this request repeatedly, and Flynn subsequently contacted multiple people in an effort to obtain the emails.265

Heavily redacted passages also tie the request to Roger Stone to find out what WikiLeaks started around the same time.

Earlier the report quotes Gates describing how “frustrated” Trump was that the emails had not been found.

Gates recalled candidate Trump being generally frustrated that the Clinton emails had not been found. 196

A passage describing Trump’s motive for obstructing justice from Volume II refers back to these passages, describing Trump’s awareness of something about the hack-and-leak even while public reports tied the hacks to Russia, and in turn tying that to Roger Stone’s efforts to reach out to WikiLeaks.

Stone’s indictment describes how, days before that press conference, “a senior Trump Campaign official was directed” (probably a reference to Manafort’s request to Gates) to ask him to find out about upcoming releases, which is what led Stone to start pushing Jerome Corsi to find out what was coming.
Mike Flynn, Rick Gates, and Paul Manafort all testified how serious Trump was about finding these emails. And while Stone would probably lie about the content of his calls with the candidate, there are two witnesses (Michael Cohen and Gates) to Stone’s calls with him on the topic.

This was Trump’s wish list, just the same as WikiLeaks had a wish list that DOJ is now using to charge Julian Assange with Espionage.

If a wish list is enough to get Assange charged with conspiring to steal the documents on the wish list, then DOJ should treat Trump’s wish list for stolen documents with equal gravity.

I'm going to guess that's not going to happen. But it's a good point.

He knows he's calling for the death penalty

by digby

If he didn't know before, he knew after the reporter asked him this question. And he didn't miss a beat:

No president before him would have even thrown that word around about former FBI officials. Obviously, even if they did commit a crime, they'd have to have been working on behalf of Al Qaeda (and because there has been no formal declaration of war, even that wouldn't apply) for it to be treason. But Trump is saying that anyone who investigated him attempted "a coup" which in Trump's America would be treason.

That's certainly how kings and dictators see such things which is what Trump thinks he is:
President Donald Trump on Sunday night retweeted conservative religious leader Jerry Falwell Jr., who said the president should have two years added to his first term “as pay back for time stolen by this corrupt failed coup,” referencing Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s lengthy investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 election.

While the move would be an unconstitutional power grab, Falwell referred to the extension of the president’s term as a form of “reparations,” a troublesome nod to current ongoing discussions within the Democratic Party about whether the U.S. government should pay reparations to the descendants of formerly enslaved people.

Trump then went on a tweet storm of his own, arguing that “they have stolen two years of my (our) Presidency.” In a follow up tweet, the president added, “The Witch Hunt is over but we will never forget.”

This is not the first time Trump has referenced extending his presidential term, leaving some concerned that he would not voluntarily give up the White House if he lost the 2020 election.

Since 2016, Trump has repeatedly claimed that the election was rigged against him, and that there was widespread voter fraud.

Trump joked last month about extending his presidency, after he received an award at an event for the Wounded Warrior Project. The event was held the same day Mueller’s report was released to the public.

“Well, this is really beautiful,” Trump said. “This will find a permanent place, at least for six years, in the Oval Office. Is that okay?”

He continued: “I was going to joke, General, and say at least for 10 or 14 years, but we would cause bedlam if I said that, so we’ll say six.”

The president made similar comments last year in a speech to Republican donors at Mar-A-Lago, where he praised Chinese President Xi Jinping for consolidating his power and doing away with term limits.

“He’s now president for life. President for life. And he’s great,” Trump said. “I think it’s great. Maybe we’ll give that a shot someday.”

In a recent interview with The New York Times, Democratic House Speaker Nancy Pelosi said she didn’t trust Trump to respect the results of the upcoming election if he lost, unless a Democratic candidate won by an overwhelming majority. Pelosi argued, for this reason, the party should embrace centrist politics going into 2020, as some Democrats are leaning further left.

But Pelosi isn’t the only one who has expressed this concern.

Michael Cohen, the president’s former personal lawyer of 10 years, told the House oversight committee earlier this year that he worries “there will never be a peaceful transition of power” if Trump loses in 2020.

Just last week he said this:

American presidents don't "joke" about that sort of thing over and over and over again.

Trump repeats things for a reason... so it sounds normal after a while.


Your tax dollars at work

by digby

I guess we know what Sarah Huckabee Sanders is doing with her time these days:

That is the official White House twitter feed.

Speaking of tax dollars:
In August of 2016, Donald Trump stood before an audience in northern Virginia and made a casual, but firm promise. As president, he said, “I’m going to be working for you. I’m not going to have time to play golf.”

It’s not the most significant broken promise of Trump’s presidency, but it might be the most brazen. Trump incessantly bashed Barack Obama for golfing and repeatedly pledged that he’d be too busy cutting deals on behalf of the American people to find his way onto a course.

But Trump’s a pathological liar, so it’s little surprise that he broke this promise less than two weeks into his presidency. And now, more than two years later, he’s played golf many dozens of times and racked up a taxpayer tab of more than $100 million, according to a new analysis from HuffPost.

U.S. taxpayers have spent $81 million for the president’s two dozen trips to Florida, according to a HuffPost analysis. They spent $17 million for his 15 trips to New Jersey, another $1 million so he could visit his resort in Los Angeles and at least $3 million for his two days in Scotland last summer ― $1.3 million of which went just for rental cars for the massive entourage that accompanies a president abroad.

The $102 million total is an insignificant part of the federal budget, but it’s much more than some other budget items that Trump has complained about:

The $102 million total to date spent on Trump’s presidential golfing represents 255 times the annual presidential salary he volunteered not to take. It is more than three times the cost of special counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation that Trump continually complains about. It would fund for six years the Special Olympics program that Trump’s proposed budget had originally cut to save money.

The number is only growing. Trump is traveling to Ireland next month to play golf at his course in Doonbeg, a trip that HuffPost says will cost “several million dollars” all by itself.

It's also important to note that much of that money goes directly into his own pockets. Nice little scam he has going.


They're all barbarians now

by digby

The GOP has always had a very high tolerance for snotty assholes. (c.f. Newt) But since Trump it's become a positive embrace.  Here's proof:

Just hours after having multiple senior aides vouch for his calm state of mind after House Speaker Nancy Pelosi accused him of a temper tantrum, President Trump took to Twitter late Thursday to push an edited video of the top Democrat supposedly “stammering” through a news conference, jumping on a conspiracy-theory bandwagon that had been raging on social media throughout the day.

The video, which was first aired by the Fox Business Network and appeared to have been cleverly edited to make Pelosi's speech seem impaired, came after several doctored videos purporting to show a “drunk” Pelosi slurring her words spread like wildfire on social media, all while Trump tried to convince the public that Pelosi was not to be taken seriously because she is “crazy” and “a mess.”

Even Fox News reported that the videos were doctored, but that didn't stop Trump lawyer Rudy Giuliani from tweeting out a link to one of the already debunked videos late Thursday.

“What is wrong with Nancy Pelosi?” Giuliani wrote. “Her speech pattern is bizarre.” He later deleted the tweet, but the flames of the “Pelosi-can-barely-string-a-sentence-together, she-must-be-senile-or-drunk” hoax that apparently originated among Trump supporters had already been fanned, and Fox, predictably, was to thank for keeping the whole thing going.

Frequent Fox Business guest Ed Rollins on Thursday backed up the president’s earlier assertion that Pelosi is a “mess,” citing the edited video as evidence that the speaker is inarticulate and therefore unwell. Prior to Rollins’ remarks, guest host Gregg Jarrett had played a highly edited and manipulated clip of Pelosi speaking earlier in the day that made it appear that she stammered and struggled through a press conference.

Notably, the clip repeatedly replays Pelosi saying the number three while holding up two fingers, something Jarrett mocked immediately afterward.

Fox issued a statement after the segment defending the video.

“The FOX Business segment featuring clips from Speaker Pelosi’s speech today did not slow down any aspect of her address,” the network said.

Meanwhile, Rollins and Jarrett weren’t the only ones implying that Pelosi didn’t have all her mental faculties during Thursday’s Lou Dobbs Tonight broadcast. Pugnacious former Trump campaign manager Corey Lewandowski seemingly referenced the doctored videos while criticizing Pelosi’s remarks about Trump’s current mental fitness.

“Can you imagine, for one second if that was a Republican question Nancy Pelosi is mental fitness?” Lewandowski exclaimed. “The way she slurs and repeats herself. They would be called racist, misogynist, xenophobic and every other word possible.”

Trump quickly fed Fox's claims back out to the Twitterverse, seizing on the network's coverage to lend some legitimacy to the whole thing. “Nancy Pelosi should not be out there doing the kinds of things she is doing,” the president tweeted, quoting Rollins. “She will diminish herself and her membership. She cannot put a subject with a predicate in the same sentence. What’s going on?”

Trump captioned the tweeted video: “PELOSI STAMMERS THROUGH NEWS CONFERENCE.”

During the 2016 presidential election, then-candidate Trump and his allies relentlessly courted in unsubstantiated conspiracy theories about Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton's mental and physical health. Those theories only gained more steam after she nearly passed out at a 9/11 memorial from what was later diagnosed as walking pneumonia.

Giuliani later told a Washington Post reporter that he'd deleted the tweet but that he noticed a mental decline. Then today he posted this:

I won't say it, but you are thinking it I'm sure ...

This whole thing is a strategy. It's not just off-the-cuff nastiness. It's exactly what they did in 2016. And, by the way, that particular smear was amplified by  the Russian bots --- and when Clinton got pneumonia, the mainstream press went to town on it too. "She doesn't have the strength and stamina to be president" was something they bought into as well, if only subliminally.

That's what "sleepy Joe Biden" is all about too. Trump is an idiot but he's got an instinct for this sort of juvenile insult that appeals to wingnuts --- and, sadly, the media.


I've written before about Trump's obvious sensitivity on this issue. His father had Alzheimer's Disease and I think he's probably terrified that he's got it too. If he doesn't have symptoms then he should probably stop acting like a fool and making everyone think he does. If he does have symptoms then he shouldn't run again.

Barr takes the wheel. The entire IC is now on notice: Trump is untouchable.

by digby

The Attorney General hobnobbing with political operatives at Trump's slush fund hotel.  Sure. Fine.

As you know, William Barr has been fighting with the congress, even courting a contempt citation, over his unwillingness to give them an unredacted version of the Mueller Report. He says there is sensitive Grand Jury testimony and classified information that he just cannot release, even to the people clearly entitled to receive it.  And yesterday, his DOJ issued a superseding indictment against Julian Assange on charges including the Espionage Act, one of which is for publishing classified information, a charge that has national security journalists freaking out since this is unprecedented and will likely put them and their publications at risk. 

So, one would assume from these two acts that the Barr DOJ is going to be extremely hardcore when it comes to classified information.

And they will.

Except when it comes to protecting Donald Trump. Last night the president tweeted out that he had given Barr the blanket authority to access and declassify all classified information the government has, across all agencies, in his apparently massive "investigation of the investigators."

The man who issued a misleading political press release of the Mueller Report in order to spin it more positively for the president has been given carte blanche to access and selectively release classified documents. Knowing what he is --- a political hack on a crusade to turn the presidency into a monarchy, punish Trump's enemies and save his presidency --- this is a very, very dangerous development. This man has zero integrity. None.

Barr has been given maximum authority to override the heads of all the Intelligence services and other agencies in this process. Does anyone think he won't? Does anyone believe that he will not selectively choose to declassify documents and refuse to declassify any that would be exculpatory or add necessary context? Of course not. He showed what he was capable of with the infamous "Barr Letter." And if the other agency chiefs object, there's nothing they can do about it. Barr has the sole power to do this.

It's pretty clear that Trump wants to find out everything the intelligence agencies know about his relationship with Putin. The New York Times had this chilling nugget:
One official, who spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss classified matters, said previously that Mr. Barr wanted to know more about what foreign assets the C.I.A. had in Russia in 2016 and what those informants were telling the agency about how President Vladimir V. Putin of Russia sought to meddle in the 2016 election.
Barr has the power to declassify all of that which is deeply concerning, but even if he doesn't, he will no doubt tell Trump everything he learns putting the entire intelligence apparatus in Russia at risk. Trump is completely untrustworthy, as we know.

Finally, it's important to keep in mind that much of this is designed to take the heat off of Trump going into 2020. The word has gone forth that if anyone in the Intelligence agencies and the FBI see something untoward about Trump's dealings, regardless of the seriousness, they are to look the other way if they care about their careers. I'm sure most of them understand that by now, but going after Comey, McCabe, Strzok and Page by name, in public, as the president and his henchmen are doing --- along with giving Barr this tremendous power to persecute people in the government ---- sends a very strong message that no one is safe.  Trump has free rein. Or should I say, "free reign."

This is a very bad development.