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Wednesday, January 23, 2019

What Kamala Harris can learn from watching Madam Secretary

by Spocko

In the last week Kamala Harris, Kirsten Gillibrand, and Tulsi Gabbard announced 2020 presidential runs. Tonight Harris will be on the Rachel Maddow Show to talk about what she wants to accomplish.

Right now all the candidates are putting out their messages. As Michael Brooks of The Majority Report put it, they are "cutting a lane for themselves" in the primary.  (We used to call it their core brand proposition, but that's so 2000 and late.)
Here's a New York Times summary story on who has announced they will run and who might run.

The Times summary has the conventional wisdom on each candidate and their signature issues.  For example: Warren, middle class under attack from big corporations and Wall Street's influence on politics;  Sanders, “Medicare for All,” and free college tuition.

But what I didn't see in any summaries or signature issues were candidates' views on National Security. This issue is critical and must be addressed because the United States spends an estimated $1.2 trillion per year on defense.  

Pentagon spending now consumes nearly 70 percent of the discretionary federal budget.
Even if we just count direct US military spending, the figures are enormous. At $610 billion in 2017, US military spending accounted for more than a third of the world total. This dwarfs the $294 billion spent by our potential adversaries—Russia spent $66 billion; China, $228 billion.

From Progressives Need a New Way to Talk About National Security , by Joe Cirincione and Guy T. Saperstein

Now is the time for democratic candidates to get this and start talking about better ways for the country to use that money.  Will Harris talk about this?  Gillibrand and Gabbard didn't. Maybe someone like Washington Governor Jay Inslee will bring it up.

What all Democratic candidates need to know is that the polling shows that the voters would rather money go to infrastructure and social programs than policing the world. 

But of course the Military Industrial Complex won't let go of any money without a fight. Last week's Madam Secretary, Strategic Ambiguity, was a great illustration of how defense contractors will lie, cheat, steal, threaten and scare people into voting for weapon systems that are inadequate, aren't wanted or needed, and make us less safe.

My favorite scene from the episode is this short clip. 

The Madam Secretary writers, Barbara Hall and Matt Ward, explain the issue and put Presidential Candidate Elisabeth McCord in the position of pointing out the problems with the whole system while the Secretary of Defense and the President explain that yes, a defense contractor can "shake them down."

My favorite line in the clip is when the secretary of defense defends the fighter jet and the shakedown for more money by saying, "Cost overruns are a feature of defense contracts."

In this next clip the head of the group within the state department who works with the military on allocation for defense spending explains how untrammeled corporate greed distorts our foreign policy.

Show Me The Brightest Timeline

Madam Secretary shows viewers possible solutions and what the characters are up against. If Elizabeth is going to fight the Military Industrial Complex when she is President, she needs to realize she will be attacked, both behind the scenes and in public.

If President McCord cuts funds for a jet fighter 200 people making the wing fluid delivery system for the jets in a congressional district in North Dakota are going to need jobs. What can they do instead? Fluid delivery systems for commercial jets? High speed rail? Solar heating and cooling systems?

President Elisabeth McCord needs to have a vision that acknowledges the current national security budget and a way to redirect it to positive things.

Maybe she makes a Climate Change Service Corp to deal with emergencies and a cabinet post to prepare and manage climate disasters. 

The Madam Secretary writers showed that Eisenhower predicted and understood the problem.  The interstate highway system had long straight stretches so that the military could land a bomber on them if necessary. Probably not going to happen, but it helped justify the money for the interstate under "National Security".

The Climate Race Is Like The Space Race 
Johnson split up jobs for the space program for political power. The "Space Race" against the Russians provided an urgency that going to the moon for scientific and exploration purposes didn't.

We need infrastructure hardening and replacement in communities around the country right now.
Maybe President McCord rebuilds the Civil Defense system. Our enemy is Severe Weather. Having  severe weather as the enemy helps deal with the issue of climate change and could provide the kind of jobs that defense contractors have now.

President McCord could SAY we must prepare cities in case they will be being hit by a nuke from Russia or North Korea. That is probably not going to happen, but it is an excuse to prepare us for being hit by the equivalent of 10,000 nuclear bombs from a hurricane. (Link Scientific America article on the power of hurricanes.)
The 2010 demolition of Savannah River Site's K-reactor cooling tower.DOE

President McCord could SAY she is worried about Terrorists bombing our nuclear power plants and chemical plants, so we need to harden them. That is possible but a rare event, however it is an excuse to prepare them for the more likely events, hurricanes, floods and tornadoes.

She would need people to design, develop and implement emergency power grids and communications systems. Remember Puerto Rico? We needed this last year. Coastal communities need hardened seawalls, inland cities need strengthened levees.

Photo: Erika P. Rodriguez 

President McCord could SAY we don't want hackers from China or Russia to take down our power grid and communication systems, so we must spend money creating distributed and redundant systems. That work prepares us for what really takes down our power grids and communications systems, severe weather.

The reality in America today is that all communities could benefit from better power grids and communication systems in the event of emergencies, it doesn't just have to help the "coastal elites."

In our current political situation when you say, "National Security" the money is allocated with no questions asked, no audits demanded. That should change. Until then President McCord could still use that model to get money.  She just needs to change what national security includes.

Fiction has the power to show us what is possible. In the end the President fought the defense contractor to a draw, but Secretary McCord vowed to do better when she is President McCord.

I think she will. Elisabeth McCord 2020

No big speech?! Whaaa!

by digby

Trump continues to believe that the Speaker of the House is a presidential employee. She is not:

President Trump said he would look for alternative venues for his State of the Union address on Tuesday, appearing to capitulate after Speaker Nancy Pelosi again told him she would not invite him to deliver it at the House until the government reopens.

The decision came after a tit-for-tat between Mr. Trump and Ms. Pelosi over the State of the Union address. Mr. Trump told Ms. Pelosi on Wednesday that he would deliver the speech in the Capitol next week as originally scheduled. Ms. Pelosi fired back that he was not welcome unless the government was fully open.

It had concluded, at least by late afternoon, with Mr. Trump declaring at the White House, “The State of the Union has been canceled by Nancy Pelosi because she doesn’t want to hear the truth.”

Ms. Pelosi had invited Mr. Trump to deliver the speech in a letter on Jan. 3. But on Jan. 16, she warned that there were security concerns about the president’s coming to Capitol Hill because of the partial government shutdown, which began about a month ago.

[Democratic leaders said they were prepared to match the amount requested by President Trump, but only if the money was used for security measures like drones and refitted ports of entry — not a wall.]

On Wednesday, Mr. Trump responded, sending Ms. Pelosi a letter in which he said that he had checked — and that there were no such concerns from the Secret Service.

“Therefore, I will be honoring your invitation, and fulfilling my Constitutional duty, to deliver important information to the people and Congress of the United States of America regarding the State of our Union,” the president wrote.

“It would be so very sad for our Country if the State of the Union were not delivered on time, on schedule, and very importantly, on location!” he wrote.

Within hours, Ms. Pelosi fired back with a letter of her own, telling the president she would not pass a resolution authorizing him to come until the government has reopened. “Again, I look forward to welcoming you to the House on a mutually agreeable date for this address when government has been opened,” she wrote.

Back at the White House, Mr. Trump appeared to have gotten the message, saying he would explore alternatives.

“She’s afraid of the super-left Democrats, the radical Democrats. What’s going on in that party is shocking,” he said. He called her refusal “a great blotch on the great country we all love.”

Mr. Trump’s announcement that he would come to the Capitol despite Ms. Pelosi’s concerns seemed meant to put the Democratic leadership on the spot. Republican leaders in Congress piled on. The House Republican leader, Kevin McCarthy of California, released a video on Twitter of him signing the resolution formally inviting the president to the House.

“Retweet if you agree that the State of the Union should proceed as planned,” he wrote.

He put out a tweet. Seriously.

Anyway, none of that worked. Obviously. So they're looking for a different venue. Hannity has offered up his show. Sounds good.


Nice little family you have here

by digby

Before they came up with the game show format of The Apprentice, Trump said he didn't want to do a reality show because:
“I don’t want to have cameras all over my office, dealing with contractors, politicians, mobsters, and everyone else I have to deal with in my business. You know, mobsters don’t like, as they’re talking to me, having cameras all over the room. It would play well on television, but it doesn’t play well with them.”

Just saying... we knew he was a snake before we let him in.

Will he wag this dog?

by digby

I have a bad feeling about this:

Remember this?

Donald Trump repeatedly raised the possibility of invading Venezuela in talks with his top aides at the White House, according to a new report.

Trump brought up the subject of an invasion in public in August last year, saying: “We have many options for Venezuela, including a possible military option, if necessary.” But the president’s musings about the possibility of a US invasion were more extensive and persistent than that public declaration, according to the Associated Press.

The previous day Trump reportedly took his top officials by surprise in an Oval Office meeting, asking why the US could not intervene to remove the government of Nicolás Maduro on the grounds that Venezuela’s political and economic unraveling represented a threat to the region.

Quoting an unnamed senior administration official, the AP report said the suggestion stunned those present at the meeting, which included the then national security adviser, HR McMaster, and secretary of state, Rex Tillerson. Both have since left the administration.

The administration officials are said to have taken turns in trying to talk him out of the idea, pointing out that any such military action would alienate Latin American allies who had supported the US policy of punitive sanctions on the Maduro regime.

Their arguments do not seem to have dissuaded the president.

A grim-faced Tillerson stood alongside Trump the next day at his New Jersey golf course at Bedminster as the president warmed to his theme.

“We have many options for Venezuela, this is our neighbour,” Trump said.

“We’re all over the world and we have troops all over the world in places that are very, very far away, Venezuela is not very far away and the people are suffering and dying. We have many options for Venezuela including a possible military option if necessary.”

The White House announced later it had refused to take a call from Maduro. The Venezuelan defence minister, Vladimir Padrino, described Trump’s threat as an “act of craziness” and “supreme extremism”.

In the weeks that followed, Trump remained preoccupied with the idea of an invasion, according to AP. Shortly after the Bedminister remarks, he raised the issue with the Colombian president, Juan Manuel Santos, and then brought it up again at that year’s UN general assembly in September, at a private dinner with allied Latin American states.

At that dinner, Trump made clear he was ignoring the advice of his aides.

“My staff told me not to say this,” Trump said and then asked the other leaders at the table in turn, if they were sure they didn’t want a military solution.

McMaster finally succeeding in persuading Trump of the dangers of an invasion, the report said, and the president’s interest in the notion subsided.

What reason would he give? Well... Venezuela has a lot of oil:


QOTD: Kellyanne Conway

by digby

“I think fundamentally [Pelosi] is someone who doesn’t always have control of her temper about the President, but she often doesn’t have control of her own chamber. I think she’s afraid that many people are not going to show up, and that’s embarrassing to her.”

Lol. Temper? I'll just throw one little example out:

British Prime Minister Theresa May was calling to celebrate the Republican Party’s wins in the midterm elections — never mind that Democrats seized control of the House — but her appeal to the American president’s vanity was met with an ornery outburst. Trump berated May for Britain not doing enough, in his assessment, to contain Iran. He questioned her over Brexit and complained about the trade deals he sees as unfair with European countries. May has endured Trump’s churlish temper before, but still her aides were shaken by his especially foul mood, according to U.S. and European officials briefed on the conversation.

During his 43-hour stay in Paris, Trump brooded over the Florida recounts and sulked over key races being called for Democrats in the midterm elections that he had claimed as a “big victory.” He erupted at his staff over media coverage of his decision to skip a ceremony honoring the military sacrifice of World War I. The president also was angry and resentful over French President Emmanuel Macron’s public rebuke of rising nationalism, which Trump considered a personal attack. And that was after his difficult meeting with Macron, where officials said little progress was made as Trump again brought up his frustrations over trade and Iran.

Here's some twitter tantrums from just the last few days:

“Nancy Pelosi and some of the Democrats turned down my offer yesterday before I even got up to speak,” Trump wrote on Twitter. “They don’t see crime & drugs, they only see 2020 – which they are not going to win. Best economy! They should do the right thing for the Country & allow people to go back to work.”

“Nancy Pelosi has behaved so irrationally & has gone so far to the left that she has now officially become a Radical Democrat. She is so petrified of the ‘lefties’ in her party that she has lost control,” he said in a posting. “And by the way, clean up the streets in San Francisco, they are disgusting!”

But sure, try to compare Pelosi to the Toddler in Chief. It's sure to get all the misogynists in the Trump coalition all excited. That's Kellyanne's job.
I won't even dignify the "cpntrol of her own chamber" business. Considering the out of controldumpster fire of the White House, it's cleear they've decided once again on the "I know you are but what am I strategy.


Witness tampering works

by digby

Sure, this is fine:

Michael Cohen is postponing his scheduled February 7 testimony before the House Oversight Committee, citing “threats against his family” from President Trump and his allies, Cohen’s lawyer announced Wednesday.

“Due to ongoing threats against his family from President Trump and Mr. Giuliani, as recently as this weekend, as well as Mr. Cohen’s continued cooperation with ongoing investigations, by advice of counsel, Mr. Cohen’s appearance will be postponed to a later date,” Cohen representative Lanny Davis said in a statement. “Mr. Cohen wishes to thank Chairman Cummings for allowing him to appear before the House Oversight Committee and looks forward to testifying at the appropriate time.”

According to MSNBC Cohen's wife and his father-in-law are afraid for their personal safety.

That's cool. I'd imagine the president of the United States knows a lot of things about a lot of people. And he's clearly not afraid to threaten them publicly and obviously. His cult knows exactly what he wants. I'd be scared too.

Update: This is the recent Giuliani threat:
TAPPER: OK. But let me ask you a question.

You're talking about these threats that the president did not commit, and as to why that would be inappropriate, but the president has not done that.

The president is repeatedly calling publicly, on Judge Jeanine's show, on Twitter, he is repeatedly calling for an investigation into Michael Cohen's father-in-law ahead of Michael Cohen's testimony before Congress.

By your own definition, isn't that obstruction...

GIULIANI: No, it's defending himself.

TAPPER: ... or attempting to intimidate a witness?


Now, if you -- if you made that obstruction, I can't defend anybody.

TAPPER: To say...


GIULIANI: You're telling me...

TAPPER: ... this guy is testifying against me, his father-in-law should be...

(CROSSTALK) GIULIANI: No, wait, now. Wait, wait. Jake, Jake, we are so -- we are so distorting the system of justice just to get Donald Trump, it's going to hurt us so much.

TAPPER: So, it's OK to go after the father-in-law?

GIULIANI: Now -- now, of course it is, if the father-in-law is a criminal.

And the Southern District of New York, in the plea, wanted him to go to jail and said he's lying. They don't buy the special counsel's approach. They say he's lying because he's holding back information that is far more damaging than the lies that he is sharing with them now.

Now, what is that information about?


GIULIANI: It's about his father-in-law. We talked about Ukrainians. His father-in-law is a Ukrainian.

TAPPER: That's not a crime.

GIULIANI: His father-in-law has millions and millions -- of course it's not. I'm telling you, he comes from the Ukraine.

This reason that is important is, he may have ties to something called organized crime.

TAPPER: Because he's Ukrainian?

GIULIANI: Michael Cohen is refusing -- well, there's an organized crime group in Ukraine, organized crime group in Russia.

TAPPER: Organized crime everywhere, organized crime in Brooklyn, organized crime in the Bronx.

I mean, you know, that -- that -- I think that's making the leap.


GIULIANI: Oh, well, that's OK. He can have ties to organized crime. They can have bank fraud. That's just fine.

When somebody testifies against your client, you go out, and you look at what's wrong with them. Why are they doing it, if they're not telling the truth?


GIULIANI: He's not -- he's doing it because he's afraid to testify against his father-in-law, because the repercussions for that will be far worse than the repercussions for lying here...

TAPPER: I think... 
GIULIANI: ... because now he gets applauded in New York, where the crazy anti-Trumpers applaud for him.


TAPPER: So, I think...

GIULIANI: He goes and testifies -- he goes and testifies against some people -- let me finish.


GIULIANI: He goes and testifies against some people that are possibly in organized crime, they ain't going to be applauding for him when he goes into a restaurant in Brighton Beach, Brooklyn, believe me.

TAPPER: I think...

GIULIANI: I did this for 15 years of my life.
That's the lawyer for the President of the United States.

Don't back down. This is another assault on democracy.

by digby

Via Vox:

The Politico/Morning Consult poll finds that a majority of voters — 54 percent — blame Trump and congressional Republicans for the shutdown, compared to 35 percent who blame Democrats.

In a statement, Tyler Sinclair, Morning Consult’s vice president, said, “As the government shutdown enters its second month, President Trump continues to carry the bulk of the blame among voters for the stalemate. ... In this week’s poll nearly half of voters (49 percent) say the president is responsible — up 6 points since the shutdown began. At the same time, 35 percent of voters blame congressional Democrats, up 4 points, while 4 percent of voters blame congressional Republicans, down 3 points.”

The second poll, conducted by CBS News, finds that 71 percent of Americans “don’t think the issue of a border wall is worth a government shutdown, which they say is now having a negative impact on the country.”

I'm hearing from anchors on all the cable news shows that people are suffering so it's time for the Democrats to fold. After all, the president is holding his breath until he turns blue and is clearly ready to do it until doomsday so they might as well accept that they have to capitulate to him.

On the other hand, Ben Wikler of Move On says he's hearing there is a remote chance that enough Republican Senators will sign on to a clean Continuing Resolution (one withou the wall) tomorrow that they might be able to force the situation. They are calling for people to get in touch with their Senators:

Today may be the day to weight in. The heat is on the Republicans far more than the Democrats and it's important not to let the media hector the Democrats into weakening. Trump is doing a dominance play --- insisting that he will win no matter how much chaos and pain he causes millions of people. It's what his base loves and it's all he knows. If it wasn't he would take the easy way out and declare an emergency and throw it to the courts. He might not get his wall but he could easily spin it as a strong move. Instead he's insisting on playing chicken because he believes that unless he puts Nancy Pelosi in her place, he will have lost face.

The Republicans can't be allowed to use these extreme measures to enact policies that are disapproved of by the majority of the country. It's another assault on democracy. If the Democrats don't stand against these actions we are well and truly screwed.

The wall is just a symbol for their bigotry

by digby

My Salon column this morning:

Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi has been roundly criticized on the right for saying that Trump's wall is immoral as a reason for refusing to capitulate to his demands.She's been saying it for some time, but was taken to task most recently when she said, "a wall is an immorality. It’s not who we are as a nation."

President Trump issued the most puerile response, naturally:

Setting aside the nonsense about tearing down the existing fencing, the last part of his comment about "strangers" flowing into the country is actually important. These two comments from the Democratic and Republican leaders are an excellent illustration of the underlying dynamics of this border wall fight. When Senator Lindsey Graham R-SC said the other day that the wall had become a metaphor for border security he was half right. It's become a metaphor for the political divide.

Polling from the Public Religion Research Institute (PRRI) reveals that the wall represents something very different to those who support it and those who don't, and what it means goes right to the heart of how these different Americans see themselves, their future and their country.

According to the polling, among all Americans, 58 percent oppose building a wall between the U.S. and Mexico, compared to 41 percent who favor the policy. White Americans without a four-year college degree favor this policy 55 percent vs. 35 percent.  And 55 percent of white men favor the wall, compared to 42 percent of white women. (These numbers closely align with other polls from CNN, the Pew Research Center, Quinnipiac and ABC/Washington Post) That breaks down to 80 percent of Republicans in favor of building a wall along the border, 80 percent of Democrats oppose and 62 percent of Independents oppose.

But the wall is a symbol for something much more fundamental. CNN's Ron Brownstein wrote a comprehensive analysis of these findings which back up his central thesis of a nation divided between what he calls the Republican "coalition of restoration" vs the Democratic "coalition of transformation." He writes:
In this sharply divided political alignment, the wall looms as a concrete (literally, in earlier versions of Trump's plan) manifestation of deeper views about whether these changes are rejuvenating the country or threatening its traditions.
You won't be surprised to learn that the PRRI poll shows that wall supporters are just as hostile to legal immigration as they are to undocumented immigrants who cross the border illegally. Or that they are upset when they are exposed to people who don't speak English and believe they are threatening our traditional values. So all this folderol about "border security" isn't really about crime. It's just about keeping foreigners out of the country.

These folks have similar attitudes about race and gender too. Wall supporters see no problems with systemic racism or police violence, and in fact believe that whites are more discriminated against than African-Americans. They don't believe feminism reflects what most women believe, and a majority of them think men are just as discriminated against as women.

Wall opponents believe the opposite on all those issues. Indeed, it appears that one can fairly well determine what a person's values and beliefs about what America stands for simply by asking their position on the wall.

Starting to feel the heat over the government shutdown from Republicans, President Trump gave a desultory speech over the weekend in which he pretended to offer a compromise on the government shutdown. This would allow DACA recipients as well as immigrants with Temporary Protected Status, or TPS, a three-year reprieve in exchange for a bunch of money to put even more equipment, people and other resources on the border -- as well as, of course, the $5.7 billion Trump is demanding for his wall. Considering that he's the one who withdrew the protections for the DACA and TPS immigrants in the first place, it took some nerve for him to "offer" to allow them to stay in the country temporarily. No one has ever accused Donald Trump of not having chutzpah.

When the White House finally released its full plan on Monday, of course, it turned out to be yet another bait and switch.

As Spencer Ackerman and Scott Bixby of the Daily Beast explain it, this proposal would balloon the ICE budget, with at least $1 billion more than previously allotted, along with an additional 2,000 agents. But that's not the worst of it. The proposal severely limits legal immigration while increasing detention and deportation. Worst of all, it eviscerates the asylum protections for refugees, taking particular aim at Central American children, pretty much making it impossible for them to seek safety in the United States. According to Ackerman and Bixby:
The bill’s stipulations include the “Central American Minors Protection Act of 2019,” which would create a “new system” for seeking asylum promised by President Donald Trump in a 20-minute speech outlining the proposal. That act would legally bar minors hailing from El Salvador, Guatemala or Honduras from applying for asylum inside the United States, and instead require them to apply at “a Designated Application Processing Center in Central America.”
Remember, the young people in question are fleeing their home countries because they are in mortal danger. As Jonathan Ryan, executive director of the Refugee and Immigrant Center for Education and Legal Services (RAICES) told the Daily Beast, “The first and most critical step in not dying in a house that’s on fire is to get out of the house.”

The proposal is contradictory and logically absurd, filled with Catch-22s that would leave a bunch of kids stranded at the border for months. It also eliminates judicial review, leaving all decisions in the hands of the Director of Homeland Security, whose job under the Trump administration seems to be completely focused on punishing children who cross the Mexican border.

The Democrats have rejected this proposal for obvious reasons. The "deal" to reopen the government is getting more unacceptable to them by the day. It didn't take a genius to see that if they believe the wall is an immorality, doubling down on the cruelty toward Central American children seeking protection and refuge in was not an effective way sweeten the deal.

As we can see in those PRRI poll results, this isn't really about a wall for anybody. Since the supporters only represent 40 percent of the population, if they want to prevail they have to force their worldview on the majority against its will. Holding the government hostage to the point of pain for millions of Americans -- in order to inflict pain on vulnerable refugees and immigrants -- is an exercise of power to prove just whose country this is. That too is an immorality.




by Tom Sullivan

Wednesday at noon EST, a coalition of federal workers and labor groups plans to protest the ongoing partial government shutdown.

The month-long Trump government shutdown over border wall funding continues to wear on affected federal employees working without pay, as well as on contractors not working at all.

The FBI Agents Association (FBIAA) held a press conference Tuesday to roll out its new report. "Voices from the Field" examines how the partial shutdown affects not only FBI families but agency operations.

"For FBI Agents, financial security is national security," FBIAA President Tom O’Connor told reporters.

"I have to put the pervs on standby,” one agent complains in the report. Cases ranging from stopping child exploitation to interdicting gun runners are on hold, as are grand jury subpoenas slowed by lack of staff to process them.

Coast Guard Commandant Adm. Karl Schultz on Tuesday posted a video to the service's Twitter account slamming the stresses the government shutdown has placed on his command.

Without assigning blame, Schultz told his team:
"We're five plus weeks into the anxiety and stress of this government lapse and your non-pay," he told Coast Guard members, who work for the unfunded Department of Homeland Security. "You as members of the armed forces should not be expected to shoulder this burden," and while the "outpouring of support from local communities across the nation" has been heartening, "ultimately, I find it unacceptable that Coast Guard men and women have to rely on food pantries and donations to get through day-to-day life as service members."
On Capitol Hill, lawmakers in the Senate are not feeling enough stress. House Democrats are collecting Trump Shutdown Stories from workers and families impacted by the shutdown in an effort to pressure Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) into holding votes on any of multiple, House-passed bills for re-opening the government.

The "compromise" proposal McConnell instead proposes bringing to a vote on Thursday is a sham, writes Greg Sargent:
It has been so loaded up with poison pills that it looks as if it was deliberately constructed to make it impossible for Democrats to support.

If so, that would be perfectly in keeping with the M.O. that we’ve already seen from top adviser Stephen Miller, who appears devoted to scuttling any and all policies that could actually prompt compromises but which don’t endeavor to reduce the total number of immigrants in the United States to as low a figure as possible.
Sargent calls its provisions "utter nonsense on just about every level" and worse for asylum seekers, as it is meant to be. It creates a new system for Central American migrant children to apply for asylum exclusively "at soon-to-be-created application centers in Central America," closing off the normal process of presenting oneself to authorities on U.S. soil.
But that belies the deeper significance of this change. According to Philip Wolgin, the managing director for immigration policy at the Center for American Progress, by foreclosing the option of applying in the United States, it would gut the basic values at the core of our asylum program — values in keeping with international human rights norms holding that if people who had good reason to flee horrible civil conditions at home present themselves at borders and appeal for refuge, they have the right to have their claims heard.
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) issued a statement about the shutdown impasse on Tuesday:
“On Thursday, the Senate will have the opportunity to put a bipartisan bill on the President’s desk to re-open government and end this senseless shutdown.

“Families across the nation have been suffering under the shutdown for more than a month. There is no excuse for Senate Republicans not to pass this legislation, which contains the funding proposal that they have already supported.

“Senate Republicans need to re-open government, not continue their complicity in the Trump Shutdown with a vote for the President’s unacceptable border and immigration schemes that only increase the chaos and suffering at the border.”
The Senate is the bottleneck. McConnell has retreated behind closed doors to avoid public opprobrium and pressure from the federal employees surrounding him. You can still turn up the heat on him via your own senators through tomorrow morning, especially if they are from McConnell's party.

Light 'em up.

Tuesday, January 22, 2019

I think Trump has found his new theme song

by digby

I've always thought his favorite "Can't Always Get What You Want", while accurate, didn't really reflect his greatness. This is better:

Trump Tower Moscow? Never heard of it.

by digby

Last night Don Jr was on Laura Ingraham's show. He said this about the Trump Tower Moscow deal:
"But the reality is this wasn't a deal — we don't know the developer. We don't know the site. We don't know anything about it. 

Ultimately, it was Michael Cohen essentially trying to get a deal done. You know, he was there for a long time. He wasn't exactly a deal guy. He didn’t bring too many to the table. So, I don't think anyone took it all that seriously."

Giuliani as wellt:
On Monday, his lawyer, Rudy Giuliani, said “the proposal was in the earliest stage,” and he went on to tell the New Yorker that “no plans were ever made. There were no drafts. Nothing in the file.”

This is not true:

The plan was dazzling: a glass skyscraper that would stretch higher than any other building in Europe, offering ultra-luxury residences and hotel rooms and bearing a famous name. Trump Tower Moscow, conceived as a partnership between Donald Trump’s company and a Russian real estate developer, looked likely to yield profits in excess of $300 million.

[H]undreds of pages of business documents, emails, text messages, and architectural plans, obtained by BuzzFeed News over a year of reporting, tell a very different story. Trump Tower Moscow was a richly imagined vision of upscale splendor on the banks of the Moscow River. Two years later, a vision had emerged. 
Trump Tower Moscow was to be much more than just another upscale apartment building. It was to be a vast — and vastly lucrative — undertaking that would elevate the Russian capital’s skyline and extend the perimeter of the New York developer’s influence.

By September 2015, a New York architect had completed plans for a bold glass obelisk 100 stories high, to be topped by a gleaming, cut-diamond–like shape emblazoned on multiple sides with the Trump logo.

“The building design you sent over is very interesting,” the Russian real estate developer Andrey Rozov wrote to Cohen in September 2015, “and will be an architectural and luxury triumph. I believe the tallest building in Europe should be in Moscow, and I am prepared to build it.”
The top residence of the Moscow tower, enjoying a view without equal in all the continent, was to be a gleaming penthouse, the most luxurious property in a seriously luxurious building.

A show-stopping apartment like that could have been marketed for $50 million. But as BuzzFeed News reported in November, Trump’s fixers planned not to sell it — but to give it away free, to none other than Vladimir Putin himself. Two US law enforcement officials confirmed that Cohen discussed the idea with an aide to Putin’s press secretary.

The hope was that the lavish gift would help grease the wheels, and in the process entice more Russian elites to move in. “My idea was to give a $50 million penthouse to Putin and charge $250 million more for the rest of the units,” Felix Sater told BuzzFeed News in November. “All the oligarchs would line up to live in the same building as Putin.”

The idea that Michael Cohen not only did the deal on his own, but actually drew up architectural plans without Trump's input --- while Trump was inexplicably licking Putin's boots with energetic gusto --- just doesn't seem realistic, does it?

In fact, it's utterly ridiculous. The Moscow Tower was Trump's holy grail for decades. And he's a control freak who didn't even allow anyone but himself to sign checks in the Trump Organization. Please.

*I would love to know someday just what Felix Sater meant when he said this deal could "get our boy elected president."  Maybe that 50 million dollar "gift" ?.

America's shooting gallery

by digby

And here I thought that the answer for gun violence was to have a lot more guns around:

The number of homicides committed using guns has gone up by nearly a third nationwide in recent years, according to new data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

The CDC found a 31 percent increase in homicides involving firearms from 2014 to 2016. In 2014, 11,008 homicides involved a gun. The number rose to 14,415 by 2016, the CDC team said.

Guns were by far the most common weapon used in homicides, the CDC team found.
Daniel Webster, a gun policy expert at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health, said one surprising factor behind the recent increase in gun killings is the outcry against police killings of unarmed people.

Gun deaths went up in Baltimore, he said, alongside the unrest that followed the 2015 death of Freddie Gray in police custody. Police pulled back from much of the day-in, day-out patrolling they had been doing in many parts of the city. “That kind of policing activity dropped substantially,” Webster said.

“Policing was preoccupied with quelling the riots. There is evidence of a pullback of general policing activities by Baltimore police,” Webster, who wrote a detailed report on the effect in January, told NBC News.

“When you add a breakdown in trust between communities and police, I think that is a recipe for more violence.”

Webster also noted that more states had loosened rules on gun ownership and the carrying of guns at around the same time that firearms homicide rates went up.

Yeah, I'd guess that might have had something to do with it too.

By the way, the Supremes agreed to hear a new gun rights case today:

In an ominous sign for potential victims of gun violence, the Supreme Court announced on Tuesday that it will hear New York State Rifle & Pistol Association Inc. v. City of New York, a challenge to New York City’s gun licensing regime.

It’s the first Second Amendment case the Supreme Court will hear since 2010, and only the second such case since 2008’s District of Columbia v. Heller, which held for the first time in American history that the Second Amendment protects an individual right to bear arms. It’s also the first Second Amendment case since Brett Kavanaugh, who penned a starkly pro-gun dissent as a lower court judge, took over from the more moderate Justice Anthony Kennedy.

And the Court’s decision to hear New York State Rifle should trouble gun violence advocates for another reason. The case involves such a minor and incidental burden on gun rights that it is unclear why the Court would pick this case as their first foray into Second Amendment litigation in nearly a decade. If the Court sides with the plaintiffs in this case, that would suggest that many gun laws must fall in this decision’s wake.

New York law requires handgun owners to obtain a license to possess such a gun, and it provides for two different kinds of licenses. A “carry” license permits individuals to carry a handgun for “target practice, hunting, or self-defense.” Meanwhile, a “premises” license permits individuals to “have and possess in his dwelling” a handgun, but they can only take the gun outside of the home for limited purposes. In New York City, that includes bringing the gun to seven different firing ranges where the gun owner may practice shooting.

The individual plaintiffs in this case, each of whom have premises licenses, do not challenge this overarching regime. Instead, they raise an exceedingly narrow grievance. As the appeals court explained, each of them “seek to transport their handguns to shooting ranges and competitions outside New York City.” One of them is also wealthy enough to own two homes. Yet he objects to the fact that he must buy a second gun if he wishes to keep a firearm in each residence, rather than being permitted to transport one gun between the homes.

Yet, the fact that New York State Rifle is not a grand showdown over some massively important gun rights question should trouble supporters of gun regulation far more than if this case struck at the heart of the Second Amendment. Though the Supreme Court has not heard a Second Amendment case in nearly a decade, nearly all federal appeals courts agree on a broad framework that should apply in such cases. As ThinkProgress explained last summer,

Under this framework, “severe burdens on core Second Amendment rights” are subject to a test known as “strict scrutiny,” the most demanding test courts typically apply in constitutional cases. Meanwhile, “less onerous laws, or laws that govern conduct outside of the Second Amendment’s ‘core,’” are more likely to survive judicial review.

Thus, laws that impose major burdens on gun owners are especially likely to fall, while more incidental burdens will typically be upheld. And the specific burden at issue in New York State Rifle is hardly an attack on “core Second Amendment rights.”
New York State Rifle in other words, is a huge case because it concerns a tiny issue. If the Supreme Court is willing to declare that even very minor burdens on gun owners violate the Constitution, then it is unclear what can still be done to prevent gun violence.

Sounds great.

QOTD: John Kerry

by digby

Asked what message he has for President Trump, former Secretary of State John Kerry told those listening at a CNBC Davos World Economic Forum panel that the president should "resign."
QUESTION: If you had Donald Trump sitting across from you, what would your message to him be?

JOHN KERRY: I can't play that -- just -- I would, but I know that you see, that he doesn't take any of this seriously. 
QUESTION: So what would your message be?

KERRY: Resign.

It is the only sane answer.
Steve Mnuchin, Trump's poodle?

by digby

This story hasn't gotten much coverage in all the recent din, but it seems to me that it's pretty important:
When the Trump administration announced last month that it was lifting sanctions against a trio of companies controlled by an influential Russian oligarch, it cast the move as tough on Russia and on the oligarch, arguing that he had to make painful concessions to get the sanctions lifted.

But a binding confidential document signed by both sides suggests that the agreement the administration negotiated with the companies controlled by the oligarch, Oleg V. Deripaska, may have been less punitive than advertised.

The deal contains provisions that free him from hundreds of millions of dollars in debt while leaving him and his allies with majority ownership of his most important company, the document shows.

With the special counsel’s investigation into Russia’s role in the 2016 election continuing to shadow President Trump, the administration’s decision to lift sanctions on Mr. Deripaska’s companies has become a political flash point. House Democrats won widespread Republican support last week for their efforts to block the sanctions relief deal. Democratic hopes of blocking the administration’s decision have been stifled by the Republican-controlled Senate.

The Treasury Department announced the sanctions last April against Mr. Deripaska, six other Russian oligarchs and their companies, including Mr. Deripaska’s aluminum giant, Rusal, as well as the holding company that owns it, EN+, and another company it controls, EuroSibEnergo. Like other oligarchs, Mr. Deripaska is closely allied with the Kremlin.

The sanctions were in retaliation for “a range of malign activity around the globe” by Russia, Steven Mnuchin, the Treasury secretary, said at the time.

The personal sanctions on Mr. Deripaska went into effect immediately, but those on his companies were delayed several times, and Mr. Mnuchin struck a conciliatory tone toward the companies. He clarified that the goalof the sanctions was “to change the behavior” of Mr. Deripaska, and “not to put Rusal out of business,” given the company’s pivotal role as a global supplier of aluminum.

Mr. Mnuchin indicated that the Treasury Department might be willing to lift the sanctions from Mr. Deripaska’s companies if he reduced his stake to less than 50 percent.

Last month, Mr. Mnuchin announced that the department had reached an agreement to lift the sanctions on Mr. Deripaska’s companies in exchange for a commitment “to significantly diminish Deripaska’s ownership and sever his control.”

The department laid out the broad contours of the agreement in a letter to Congress, which was released publicly. But the confidential document, which was not released publicly but was reviewed by The New York Times, describes the deal in considerably greater detail, including proprietary information about the corporate restructuring, much of it not previously reported.

It shows that the sanctions relief deal will allow Mr. Deripaska to wipe out potentially hundreds of millions of dollars in debt by transferring some of his shares to VTB, a Russian government-owned bank under limited United States sanctions that had lent him large sums of money.

The confidential document, titled “Terms of Removal,” also shows that the agreement would leave allies of Mr. Deripaska and the Kremlin with significant stakes in his companies. The document is signed by executives representing Mr. Deripaska’s three companies as well as the official in the Treasury Department who oversees the division that handled the negotiations.

The new information could lend ammunition to criticism that the Trump administration either knowingly let a Kremlin-allied oligarch off easy, or was outmaneuvered by a sophisticated legal and lobbying campaignfunded by his companies.

The House got a bunch of Republicans to come over to block this weird deal and the Senate got 11 Republicans to vote against it coming up just 2 shy of the 60 votes needed to break the filibuster. Nobody really understands what the big hurry to give old Oleg this big break but it's at least a little bit suspicious.

One of the theories is that Trump's sanctions on Chinese aluminum ended up hurting American industries so much that they felt they had to let up Russian aluminum, which is very convenient. There are also suggestions that Treasury was outmaneuvered by the crack Deripaska legal team. Possible, of course. Trump's team really is incompetent on every level. But it's also possible that Mnuchin ordered this because Trump told him that he wants "good relations" with Russia --- or something.

Whatever the reason, the whole thing is politically absurd considering the boiling water Trump is in at the moment. Why anyone in his orbit, much less Trump himself, would do something like this, at this time, is simply mind-boggling. But then, no matter what, he just keeps licking Putin's boots no matter how hot the water gets, raising more and more suspicions, so I guess this is just par for the course.

Don't think the wall is about race? Think again.

by digby

This is a series of tweets from Robert P. Jones from the new PRRI Poll:

“Who are we as a country? That’s the question on the table. And it’s getting fought out in this symbolic territory that symbolizes [partisans’] deepest values and conflicts with the other party.”

Don't think #TheWall is about race? [Disagree] Generations of slavery and discrimination have created conditions that make it difficult for blacks to work their way out of the lower class, among those who: 
-Favor wall: 74% 
-Oppose wall: 34%
Don't think #TheWall is about race? 2/3 [Agree] Discrimination against whites is as big a problem as discrimination against blacks and other minority groups, among those who: 
-Favor wall: 65% 
-Oppose wall: 24% 

Don't think #TheWall is about race? 1/3 [Agree] Killings of African American men by police are isolated incidents rather than broader pattern, among those who: 
-Favor wall: 75% 
-Oppose wall: 25%

This is what Pelosi means when she says the Wall is immoral.

Ron Brownstein breaks down the poll:
Opinions about the wall have become deeply interwoven with attitudes about the larger changes in culture, demography and gender relations that are reshaping American society. While Trump and congressional Democrats are mostly debating the wall on the grounds of effectiveness and efficiency, polling also suggests that for each party the barrier has become a powerful symbol of whether these underlying changes in American life should be welcomed or resisted.

"Who are we as a country? That's the question on the table," said Robert P. Jones, the founding CEO of the Public Religion Research Institute, a nonpartisan organization that studies public attitudes about religion and culture. "That's a really fundamental question. And it's getting fought out in this symbolic territory over something like a wall, which to both sides can symbolize some of their deepest values and conflicts with the other party."

The wall's symbolic resonance complicates the challenge of reaching a legislative compromise between Trump and congressional Republicans -- who are demanding funding for it as the price of reopening the federal government -- and Democrats, who not only view it as ineffective but are reluctant to validate a keystone of Trump's hardline immigration policies and what many in the party see as a symbol of racism.

During the 1970s and 1980s, political scientists and legal scholars described the battle over abortion rights as "a clash of absolutes" that crystallized the emerging cultural divide between the groups in society that welcomed more permissive attitudes toward sex and more fluid family arrangements and traditionalists led by the emerging religious right movement that mobilized in opposition to them.

In the same way, the wall may be becoming a "clash of absolutes" that crystallizes the key 21st-century cultural divide over the nation's growing ethnic and racial diversity.

"It may be the clearest and most honest debate we've had about the fault lines in the country, but only if you peel it back and recognize it's not just about" border security, said Jones. "With the shutdown and the centrality of the wall you can say at least the real issues are coming straight to the fore."

As I've written before, attitudes toward demographic, cultural and even economic change have become the central dividing line between the Republican and Democratic political coalitions.

Republicans mobilize what I've called a "coalition of restoration" revolving around the groups that express the most unease and hostility about the big changes reshaping America, especially older, blue-collar, evangelical and non-urban whites.

Democrats rely on a competing "coalition of transformation" centered on the mostly urbanized groups that are most comfortable with these changes, particularly young people (millennials and the first post-millennials, who will enter the electorate in 2020), minorities and college-educated and secular white voters, especially women.

In this sharply divided political alignment, the wall looms as a concrete (literally, in earlier versions of Trump's plan) manifestation of deeper views about whether these changes are rejuvenating the country or threatening its traditions.

Views on the wall and race relations correlate

Polling data from the Public Religion Research Institute's annual American Values Survey, conducted last fall, capture how closely attitudes about the wall track views on immigration, race and gender relations.

Overall in the survey, 41% of Americans supported building the border wall, while 58% opposed it. That's in line with an array of recent polls from CNN, the Pew Research Center, Quinnipiac and ABC/Washington Post showing support for the wall registering around 40%.

The Public Religion Research Institute poll is especially revealing because it asked opinions about the wall as part of a much broader survey examining Americans' attitudes toward a wide range of cultural and demographic changes. It found that wall supporters and opponents express virtually mirror-image views on those broader shifts, according to previously unpublished results from the poll provided to CNN.

It may be least surprising that views about the wall track with opinions about immigration's impact on American society. Wall supporters express vastly more hostile views than wall opponents about the impact not only of undocumented but also legal immigration.

In the Public Religion Research Institute survey, three-fourths of adults who support the wall say immigrants burden local communities because they use too many public services; two-thirds of wall opponents say immigrants are not an undue burden.

Two-thirds of wall supporters say it bothers them when they come into contact with immigrants who don't speak English well; three-fourths of wall opponents said it does not bother them.

Likewise, two-thirds of wall supporters say the growing number of immigrants "threatens traditional American customs and values," while four-fifths of opponents say the change instead "strengthens American society."

Over eight-in-10 wall supporters back a temporary ban on immigration from some Muslim countries, while three-fourths of wall opponents oppose a ban. And while nearly seven-in-10 wall opponents reject legislation to reduce the level of legal immigration, over eight-in-10 wall supporters want the US to accept fewer legal immigrants.

But views about the wall also closely correlate with attitudes about race relations.

In the Public Religion Research Institute survey, three-fourths of wall supporters said recent police killings of African-Americans were "isolated incidents" rather than "part of a broader pattern of how police treat" blacks. However, almost three-fourths of wall opponents saw a broader pattern.

Almost exactly three-fourths of wall supporters rejected the idea that "generations of slavery and discrimination have created conditions that make it difficult for blacks to work their way out of the lower class." Nearly two-thirds of wall opponents agreed with that statement.

Perhaps most dramatically, almost two-thirds of wall supporters said discrimination against whites is now as big a problem as discrimination against minorities. Three-fourths of wall opponents rejected that view.

The gulf between wall supporters and opponents extends even to views about changing relations between men and women. Nearly two-thirds of wall opponents say the feminist movement accurately reflects the views of most women. Nearly two-thirds of wall supporters say it does not.

Just over three-fifths of wall opponents say the #metoo movement has helped "address sexual harassment and assault in the workplace"; less than half as many wall opponents agree. One in three wall supporters say the movement has "led to the unfair treatment of men"; only one-in-11 wall opponents agree.

On the broadest measure of gender relations, just 25% of wall opponents believe discrimination against men is now as great a problem as discrimination against women, while 74% reject that view. By a 54% to 45% majority, wall supporters say men do face as much discrimination as women.

On the most sweeping measures, wall opponents express enormous anxiety about the direction of social change in the country, while supporters are much more optimistic.

When reminded that the Census Bureau projects that racial minorities will compose a majority of the nation's population by around 2045, fully 82% of wall opponents said the effect of the change will be mostly positive, while only 16% believed it will be negative. Wall supporters took a very different view: 58% expected the changes to trigger mostly negative impacts, while just 38% expected positive change.

Three-fourths of wall supporters agreed that the "American way of life needs to be protected from foreign influence." Almost two-thirds of wall opponents disagreed.

Perhaps most tellingly, the two sides produced almost exactly inverse responses on a summary question that collects attitudes on all the changes remaking American life. Fully 59% of wall supporters agreed that "things have changed so much that I often feel like a stranger in my own country." An identical 59% of wall opponents disagreed with that sentiment.

The problem is that in this "clash of absolutes," the wall has acquired such symbolic power for each side that it would require enormous dexterity to craft a solution that allows both sides to insist they have held firm.

In particular, as Jones notes, for Trump the wall has become the physical embodiment of his core promise: to make America great again by reversing the economic, cultural and demographic changes that his supporters believe have marginalized them.

"The way that Trump has talked about himself, even in the campaign, is as a kind of wall," Jones said. "All this talk that, 'I'm the only one who can stop the changes you don't like,' 'I am the only thing standing between you and hordes of people on the border,' 'I am the only one who can roll back the clock. ... I am the thing standing between you and chaos.' That's what walls symbolize.
And let's not forget that he's nothing but a cheap con-man who is using their prejudice and intolerance for his own purposes which aren't even ideological. He is a racist and xenophobe but mainly he's using them to feed the yawning maw of his ego and set himself up for more riches. That doesn't mean these people really don't feel the way they feel. But Trump has done something special for them. He's made them feel proud of their bigotry.

Clinton? Trump? What's the Diff, Really? 

by tristero

Back in '16, I had several super-smart, super-progressive friends actually say that to me. Sometimes, I was so flabbergasted that I could barely sputter a reply. And because they were far more reasonable creatures than me (in Franklin's sense), I never could convince them otherwise.

Well, as if anyone actually needed another data point, here's the diff. Really.

Seriously, my dear friends, what on earth were you thinking? Because lemme tell you, the Trump Supreme Court is just getting started.

All your base (are) belong to us

by Tom Sullivan

Does gigantism precede extinction, or rarity, as Darwin postulated? Think Progress takes note of a study Oxfam released Monday on global inequality. The wealth of the world's 26 top billionaires now equals that of the bottom half of the population of the planet:

Billionaires have increased their wealth by 12 percent this year, the report states, while at the same time the wealth of the poorest half of the world has fallen by 11 percent.

This consolidation is happening at a rapid rate even for the billionaire class, which according to the report has doubled in size since the 2008 financial crisis. In 2016, 61 billionaires controlled half of the world’s wealth, then in 2017 that number was 43, before becoming 26 in 2018.
With all the hard work bootstrap billionaires are doing to earn that, how do they find time to speak with their yacht schedulers?

This widening economic divide is fueling authoritarianism, Oxfam warns:
Rather than working to heal the divide between rich and poor, some leaders are instead seeking to vilify immigrants, other ethnic groups, other nations, women and people in poverty. In more unequal countries, trust is lower and crime higher. Unequal societies are more stressed, less happy and have higher levels of mental illness.
Venture capitalist Nick Hanauer is famous for his almost-banned TED talk and his caution to "Fellow Zillionaires" that pitchforks are coming for them. Hanauer is still warning of the toxicity of widening inequality. In the forward to the report, he writes:
Only a society that seeks to include all its people in the economy can succeed in the long term. To build such a society, the wealthiest should pay their fair share of tax – and as this year’s Oxfam report demonstrates, right now they are doing the opposite. Top rates of tax on the wealthiest people and corporations are lower than they have been for decades. Unprecedented levels of tax avoidance and evasion ensure that the super-rich pay even less.

There can be no moral justification for this behaviour beyond the discredited neoliberal dogma that if everyone maximizes their selfishness, the world will somehow be a better place. It has no economic justification, either. In fact, it is economically self-defeating, as the ordinary people who drive a prosperous economy are instead impoverished in favour of the bank accounts of billionaires. I have absolutely no doubt in my mind that the richest in our society can and should pay a lot more tax to help build a more equal society and prosperous economy.
"Public Good Or Private Wealth?" offers three sets of recommendations for reducing the wealth gap "between rich and poor and between women and men" and creating what it calls a "Human Economy."

Steep declines in global tax rates since the 1970s have accelerated inequality. The productivity-pay gap in the U.S. has grown as well. Americans feel it.

From "The Productivity–Pay Gap" by EPI, August 2018.

Think Progress continues:

In July a report from the Economic Policy Institute (EPI) revealed that in 2015 the top one percent of families took home an average of 26.3 times the amount the bottom 99 percent took.

The EPI report added that between 2009 and 2015, the income for the top one percent grew faster than everyone else’s in 43 states, as well as the District of Columbia. Despite President Donald Trump’s continued boasts of a soaring stock market, the EPI report revealed that median wages have grown only 0.2 percent in the last year.
Market consolidation and aggregation of wealth and political power in the hands of a few is becoming a proximate threat to the republic. Democracy hangs in the balance.

Sen. Elizabeth Warren is not the only member of Congress who gets that. A growing number of Americans do.

Monday, January 21, 2019

The chyron presidency

by digby

This is what happens when you have a president who is so in over his head that the only way he can survive is by watching cable news 24/7:

For all his media bashing, President Trump sees the White House as the greatest show on Earth and obsesses over the staging — micromanaging his own lighting and constantly consuming the coverage of himself as if it were sports highlights.

Why it matters: We learn in a forthcoming book by campaign confidant Cliff Sims ("Team of Vipers," out Jan. 29) that this fixation extends to the chyrons — the all-caps text at the bottom of the screen.

Sims describes Trump as he watches TV in his private dining room off the Oval:

"He consumed TV like the late Roger Ebert must have watched movies. ... He commented on the sets, the graphics, the wardrobe choices, the lighting, and just about every other visual component of a broadcast. Sure, he liked to hear pundits saying nice things about him or White House officials defending him from attacks, but everything came back to how does it look?

With that in mind, the most Trumpian tactic the comms team employed was arguing with TV networks about the 'chyrons,' the words displayed at the bottom of the screen that act as headlines for whatever the commentators are discussing.

'People watch TV on mute,' the President told me, 'so it’s those words, those sometimes beautiful, sometimes nasty little words that matter.' ...

When the President would deliver a speech somewhere outside of D.C., the research team would take screenshots of all the chyrons that aired while he was speaking. Then, adding those images to headlines and tweets from influential reporters and pundits, they would race to print out a packet before Trump made it back to the White House.

The goal was for Sarah or Hope or me — or whoever hadn’t traveled with him — to meet him on the ground floor of the residence and hand him the packet to review mere moments after Marine One landed on the South Lawn."

Since Axios revealed the first excerpt from Sims' book, there has been rising curiosity and anxiety inside the White House.

"Team of Vipers" includes behind-the-scenes revelations — some comical, some troubling — about a range of Trump insiders, including some still in the West Wing.

A publishing source said Sims and others involved in the book have been peppered with incoming queries from aides who want to know how they’re portrayed. “They know he has the goods,” the source said.

The book is chockablock with glimpses of a world where Trump sees himself as star, writer, producer, director, audience and critic — all at once:

"'The graphics on Fox are the absolute worst — are you looking at this?' he said at one point. 'CNN and MSNBC are both so much better. I hate to say it — honestly, I really hate to say it — but MSNBC has the best graphics. Fox is the best — they have the best talent. I mean, look at the rest of these people. They can’t believe what’s happening right now. But Fox’s graphics are terrible. They’ve got to do something about it.'"

Interesting that he just knows they are there to properly serve him. He's right, of course.


Oh my God. More from the book:
President Trump watched on television, increasingly angry as House Speaker Paul D. Ryan criticized his handling of the deadly white supremacist rally in Charlottesville. He held the remote control “like a pistol” and yelled for an assistant to get the Republican leader on the phone.

“Paul, do you know why Democrats have been kicking your a-- for decades? Because they know a little word called ‘loyalty,’ ” Trump told Ryan, then a Wisconsin congressman. “Why do you think Nancy [Pelosi] has held on this long? Have you seen her? She’s a disaster. Every time she opens her mouth another Republican gets elected. But they stick with her . . . Why can’t you be loyal to your president, Paul?”

The tormenting continued. Trump recalled Ryan distancing himself from Trump in October 2016, in the days after the “Access Hollywood” video in which he bragged of fondling women first surfaced in The Washington Post.

“I remember being in Wisconsin and your own people were booing you,” Trump told him, according to former West Wing communications aide Cliff Sims. “You were out there dying like a dog, Paul. Like a dog! And what’d I do? I saved your a--.”

The browbeating of the top Republican on Capitol Hill was one of the vivid snapshots of life inside the Trump White House told by one of its original inhabitants, Cliff Sims, in his 384-page tell-all, “Team of Vipers,” which goes on sale next week and was obtained in advance by The Post. The White House did not respond to a request for comment.

Sims, who enjoyed uncommon personal access to Trump, recounts expletive-filled scenes of chaos, dysfunction and duplicity among the president, his family members and administration officials.

Unlike memoirs of other Trump officials, Sims’s book is neither a sycophantic portrayal of the president nor a blistering account written to settle scores. The author presents himself as a true believer in Trump and his agenda, and even writes whimsically of the president, but still is critical of him, especially his morality. Sims also finds fault in himself, a rarity in Trump World, writing that at times he was “selfish,” “nakedly ambitious” and “a coward.”

The author reconstructs in comic detail the Trump team’s first day at work, when the president sat in the residence raging about news coverage of the relatively small size of his inauguration crowds, and White House press secretary Sean Spicer scrambled to address it.

Spicer had worked the team “into a frenzy,” and it fell to Sims to write the script for his first statement to the media. Nervously chewing gum, Spicer dictated “a torrent of expletives with a few salient points scattered in between.” At one point, Sims’s computer crashed and he lost the draft, so it had to be rewritten. And in their rush to satisfy the impatient president, nobody checked the facts. Spicer, he writes, was “walking into his own execution.”

“It’s impossible to deny how absolutely out of control the White House staff — again, myself included — was at times,” Sims writes. The book’s scenes are consistent with news reporting at the time from inside the White House.

Sims depicts Trump as deeply suspicious of his own staff. He recalls a private huddle in which he and Keith Schiller, the president’s longtime bodyguard and confidant, helped Trump draw up an enemies list with a Sharpie on White House stationery. “We’re going to get rid of all the snakes, even the bottom-feeders,” Trump told them.

White House Chief of Staff John F. Kelly told the staff that he viewed his job as serving the “country first, POTUS second,” which Sims interpreted as potentially hostile to Trump’s agenda.

Sims recounts that Kelly once confided to him in a moment of exasperation: “This is the worst [expletive] job I’ve ever had. People apparently think that I care when they write that I might be fired. If that ever happened, it would be the best day I’ve had since I walked into this place.”

A conservative media figure in Alabama, Sims came to work on Trump’s 2016 campaign and cultivated a personal relationship with the candidate-turned-president. Sims writes rich, extended dialogue from his conversations with Trump and others in the administration.

As White House director of message strategy, Sims regularly met Trump at the private elevator of the residence and accompanied him to video tapings — carrying a can of Tresemmé Tres Two hair spray, extra hold, for the boss. At one such taping, about an hour after Trump had tweeted that he saw MSNBC host Mika Brzezinski “bleeding badly from a facelift,” the president sought feedback from Sims and Spicer.

“They’re going to say it’s not presidential,” Trump said, referring to the media. “But you know what? It’s modern-day presidential.” The president then raged about the “Morning Joe” program on which Brzezinski appears and instructed Spicer, “Don’t you dare say I watch that show.”
At times, Trump evinced less rage than a lack of interest. Sims recounts one time when Ryan was in the Oval Office explaining the ins and outs of the Republican health-care bill to the president. As Ryan droned on for 15 minutes, Trump sipped on a glass of Diet Coke, peered out at the Rose Garden, stared aimlessly at the walls and, finally, walked out.

Ryan kept talking as the president wandered down the hall to his private dining room, where he flicked on his giant flat-screen TV. Apparently, he had had enough of Ryan’s talk. It fell to Vice President Pence to retrieve Trump and convince him to return to the Oval Office so they could continue their strategy session.

Sims reconstructs moments of crisis for the West Wing communications team in play-by-play detail, including the domestic abuse allegations against former staff secretary Rob Porter and the firing of James B. Comey as FBI director.

He paints Spicer, counselor Kellyanne Conway and communications adviser Mercedes Schlapp in an especially negative light, calling Conway “the American Sniper of West Wing marksmen” and describing her agenda as “survival over all others, including the president.”
Read it all. It's just ... wow.

Paul Ryan was the Speaker of the House. I assume Trump treats them all that way. And they come back for more. Very impressive.