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Sunday, September 22, 2019

Another fine mess he's gotten us into

by digby

Trump likes to say that it's stupid for any president to be "predictable," apparently thinking that a superpower being incoherent and erratic makes the world respect your leadership. But when he says he "cocked and loaded" in one breath and then pretends he just wants peace in our time, it actually has the effect of giving hostile nations an excuse to "defend" themselves against his threats knowing that he's really a paper tiger.

David Ignatius breaks down what's happening with Iran and this is the conclusion:

for Trump, this is a self-inflicted wound. As the confrontation escalates, it’s important to remember that it was entirely unnecessary.

Trump chose to abandon the 2015 Iran nuclear agreement, against the advice of most of his allies and many of his senior aides, and despite Iran’s compliance with the deal. He apparently wanted a bigger, better deal that would outdo President Barack Obama’s version. And he seemed certain that if he applied “maximum pressure” through economic sanctions, Iran would come to the table.

Instead, starting in May, Iran launched an escalating campaign against Saudi and UAE oil targets. With Trump’s blessing, the United States adopted a low-key response. Even after Iran shot down a U.S. surveillance drone in June, Trump personally decided against a military response.

Some national security officials worried that this reticence might weaken deterrence, but Trump wanted to avoid war. He understood that another major conflict in the Middle East would be a political disaster, especially in defense of a Saudi Arabia that’s unpopular with many in Congress.

Trump has continued to seek talks with Iran, despite warnings from some analysts that Iran’s supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, would refuse. Trump encouraged mediation efforts by Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe and French President Emmanuel Macron, but those were spurned by Tehran, as was Trump’s suggestion of a meeting this month in New York with Iranian President Hassan Rouhani.

Against a cocky Iran, the Trump administration continues its relatively soft line. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said this week that last Saturday’s attacks were an “act of war.” But Thursday, he blandly countered Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif’s threat of “all-out war” against any retaliation with the assurance that his goal was “achieving peace and peaceful resolution.”

The Iran confrontation converges on three painful realities: Iran is now a full-fledged menace to security and oil shipments in the region; any military action against Iran must include some Saudi forces for it to be politically acceptable in the United States; Saudis and Emiratis, seeing anew their vulnerability, are wary of open conflict.

This dangerous chain of events was predictable — and indeed, predicted. Now Trump must decide whether to fight a war he and the country don’t want, or to accommodate an Iran whose truculence he helped create. Welcome to the Middle East, Mr. President.

So far, we have managed by hook or by crook to avoid major casualties as a result of his ineptitude. (That's not to say that far too many Afghans, Syrians, Yemenis and others haven't been caught in the crossfire in conflicts for which we are at least partially responsible these past few years.) But one can easily imagine when Trump's ignorant chickens will come home to roost. All it will take is someone's miscalculation for this whole thing to go sideways in the worst way imaginable.

Trump's confession

by digby

Here it is:
“The conversation I had was largely congratulatory, was largely corruption, all of the corruption taking place. It was largely the fact that we don’t want our people, like Vice President Biden and his son, creating to the corruption already in the Ukraine.”
I suppose members of his brainwashed his cult might buy his insistence that this isn't clear cut evidence of Trump attempting to conspire with the Ukrainian government to smear his political rival, but no normal sentient person would, particularly with all the other evidence of his lunatic henchman Rudy Giuliani making it very clear what they were up to.


The nightmare political scenario of the future

by digby

Farhad Manjoo of the NY Times infiltrates my nightmares. He pictures the natural heir to Trumpism and it's much worse than Trump:
Come, take a stroll with me through my recurrent nightmare: It’s the sweltering summer of 2029, and the man in charge is Tucker Carlson — that is, President Tucker Carlson, the one-time Fox News talker turned righteous, white nationalist economic populist, now in his triumphant second term, after having defeated the incumbent Joseph “Recession Joe” Biden back in 2024.

Like Trump, President Carlson spends his first term refashioning America along racial lines. But unlike Trump, whose one term is now regarded by much of the right as a best-forgotten political disaster, Carlson advances an ethnonationalist populism that succeeds in a wild, frightening fashion. His secret: competence, a commitment to true political realignment, and a brutal online political machine that represents the full flowering of the tactics and ideology first displayed during 2014’s Gamergate movement.

Where Trump was a chaotic, undisciplined narcissist, the Carlson who wins in 2024 is a canny political strategist who makes good on Trump’s forgotten promise to embrace anti-corporate economic policies. On paper, parts of Carlson’s agenda seem ripped from the former liberal firebrand Sen. Elizabeth Warren (now in exile in Toronto): His chief enemies are Google, Amazon, Apple, Facebook and Microsoft, the megacorporations owned and staffed by wealthy liberals.

It’s a winning electoral formula: A large minority of Americans are willing to forgive Carlson’s authoritarian, nativist impulses if they see it as part of a war against the out-of-touch, culture-destroying corporations that are automating our jobs; killing every other industry; and exercising complete control over what we watch, read, listen to, buy and believe. And in America, thanks to the Electoral College, winning over a large minority is good enough to regularly win the presidency.

Obviously I am making all of this up. But my premonition is based on months of research — this is what you might call an educated nightmare. My education: Carlson’s own nightly Fox News show, which I’ve been watching obsessively since January. I began tuning in because Carlson — who, with nearly three million viewers a night, is the second most popular host on cable, after Sean Hannity — has become one of the most fascinatingly terrifying men in conservative media.

There are two things that terrify and fascinate me about Carlson. First, unlike most Republican lawmakers today, Carlson is sketching an economic vision of a post-Trump America that departs in key ways from Trumpism, especially in its muscular anti-corporate, populist zeal.

In January, in a commentary that went viral on the right, Carlson excoriated American political leaders for their commitment to empty capitalism: “For our ruling class, more investment banking is always the answer,” he said. “They teach us it’s more virtuous to devote your life to some soulless corporation than it is to raise your own kids.”

He regularly criticizes the tech giants, whom he argues are censoring his and his followers’ views. But he also hates corporations more generally for what he calls their attempts to influence culture and politics (including by boycotting his show): His critics, he said in May, “believe democracy is when a tiny group of rich people imposes its values on everyone else by force."

In June, Carlson praised Elizabeth Warren’s plan for “economic patriotism”: “Many of Warren’s policy prescriptions make obvious sense,” he said, wondering why Republicans, including Trump, didn’t join her vision. “What if the Republican leadership here in Washington had bothered to learn the lessons of the 2016 election?”

The second thing that scares me about Carlson is his racism, which is both more extreme and more cannily packaged for a digital audience than is Trump’s.

While Trump is a creature of cable television, Carlson’s segments look like extended YouTube clips, and they’re designed to play to an audience that is extremely online. His critics and white supremacists themselves point out that, more than anyone else on television, Carlson functions as a kind of laundromat for white identity movements: Several times a week, he’ll lift ideas, story lines and troll-based narratives directly from the fetid swamp of online hatred. Then he’ll clean these theories up and wrap them in a bow for his mainstream audience, usually to advance an overarching idea that he mentions constantly: that, thanks to an “invasion” of immigrants, white people in America and Europe face economic and cultural calamity, and that the political, corporate and media establishments are abetting their destruction.

“No one covers white identity more consistently than Tucker,” said Madeline Peltz, who watches Carlson’s show every night as a researcher for Media Matters for America, a liberal advocacy group that tracks conservative outlets. “I cannot remember a single episode in the last two years that didn’t include these ideas.”

I’d known all this before I started watching, but actually watching blew my mind: Carlson’s propaganda was so constant, and the sleight of hand with which he inserted barely sanitized racist theories into his broadcast so swift, that I began to see the outlines of my nightmare — that Trump was only a prelude, and that even if he loses next year, someone far more sophisticated than our current president could come along to push digitally mediated politics in an even darker direction.

Carlson — who talks often with Trump, and was reportedly instrumental in advising Trump against attacking Iran in June — recently disclaimed any interest in running for president. He has been a nimble shape-shifter over the course of his career (a decade ago, he was a libertarian), so it’s possible that his latest critiques of capitalism are just an act.

But he may also have noticed that there are lots of conservative voters in America who don’t care for the Republican Party’s giveaways to corporations. Hence the outlines of a political vision: Carlson is aiming to mix a lefty-sounding economic agenda with a white nationalist-inspired cultural agenda — and to muddy the marriage by arguing that his and his followers’ ideas are being stifled by the tech giants that he’s fighting.

This is Carlson’s entire schtick. He uses the cover of capitalist hardship to advance theories of white oppression, often while summoning further harassment of his critics. He’s taking it to television, five nights a week. And where it ends up could be hellish.

I've been writing this for a while. Carlson represents something very threatening to our system. Very. But Manjoo fails to make the important connection that explains where Carlson sits in the political ecosystem. I wrote this back in Februar, and this in June  about Carlson's sneaky patriarchal neo-fascism. This was the latest, from about a month ago:

Carlson, Bannon and Orbán sittin' in a tree

by digby

My Salon column this morning:

After several days of controversy over his insistence that white supremacy in America is a hoax, Fox News superstar Tucker Carlson is tired. He announced on Wednesday night that he'd be going fishing for a few days. Fox News insists that this was a scheduled vacation but as CNN's Oliver Darcy notes, Fox News hosts who start dumpster fires often "take a few days off" when advertisers' customers feel they've gone too far and the boys in the boardroom start to feel too much heat. In the case of Bill O'Reilly, he abruptly went away on "vacation" one day and never returned.

It's unknown whether Carlson will be back next week. According to the Hollywood Reporter, after he said last December that immigrants made America "dirtier" he lost 26 sponsors. They speculate that he won't lose his job over this latest controversy because his show now depends upon smaller direct-marketing companies which are unlikely to flee. We'll know soon enough.

But it's possible that part of the reason he was sent off to the woods is something that goes beyond his insistence that White Supremacy is a hoax. As much as people are rightly laying responsibility for much of the philosophy and rhetoric that clearly motivated the El Paso killer at the feet of the president, it's important to remember where Trump gets many of his talking points: Fox News.

Anyone who has tuned into their evening lineup over the past couple of years knows that the language in the shooter's online screed could have come from the mouths of any number of the network's stars. But the only one who has been spouting the specific ideological mix that motivated the killer is Tucker Carlson.

Media Matters cataloged some of the xenophobic and racist rhetoric of the most vociferous anti-immigrant pundits on Fox News:

And USA Today analyzed the president's speeches since 2017 and found that he has "used the words 'predator,' 'invasion,' 'alien,' 'killer,' 'criminal' and 'animal' at his rallies while discussing immigration more than 500 times. But for all of the degrading language he's deployed against immigrants and people of color, Trump has failed to adopt a very specific term that seemed defined the thesis of the El Paso shooter's screed: "replacement." However, if you watched that video above, you'll have noticed that it's used frequently on Fox News, particularly by Carlson.

It stands to reason that Trump wouldn't have picked that up. It's much too cerebral for him. After all, he didn't understand that when the Charlottesville Nazis chanted "Jews will not replace us" they were talking about his own beloved daughter and son-in-law. He has no intellectual understanding of the white supremacist movement. He's simply an old-school racist without any need for an underlying philosophy to justify it.

But the "Great Replacement" theory is a big deal among white nationalists worldwide. Essentially it comes down to two intersecting ideas. They believe that "the west" is threatened by immigrants from non-white countries resulting in white people being "replaced." And the whole thing is part of a secret Jewish conspiracy to rule a one-race world. The Fox News "mainstream" American version doesn't fully embrace the second idea, at least not publicly. But they are all-in on the first one, cleverly couching it in partisan political terms as a Democratic Party strategy to deny Republicans (who are, as we all know, nearly all white) their God-given right to be a majority of this country.

Since the massacre last weekend some people on the right have been saying the shooter couldn't really be considered a person of the right because he criticized corporations and had concerns about the environment. They must not have been paying attention to Tucker Carlson. Of all the Fox News personalities who harp on immigration, he is the one with the most sophisticated white nationalist ideology. His ideas fall much more in line with the new strain of right-wing "populism" of Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orbán and former Trump adviser Steve Bannon than David Duke (although the latter is a big fan.)

In a nutshell, they see anti-corporatism and environmentalism as necessary to save Western civilization, not because corporations are sucking the life from working people and killing the planet but because corporations and climate change are creating conditions that make brown and back people migrate to countries with predominantly white populations. And among the "ecofascist" alt-right and the neo-Nazis, environmentalism is based upon reverence for "the land of your people" which explains the Charlottesville marchers chanting the Nazi slogan "Blood and Soil." Carlson hasn't gone that far but these people are all walking in the same direction.

At the recent National Conservatism Conference, Carlson gave the keynote speech in which he made it clear that he believes the future of the Republican Party lies in adopting his right-wing populist agenda as a way to gain support for anti-immigration policies. He's quite clever about it. He rails against the corporations for kowtowing to leftist advocacy:
Somewhere in the late 1990s, corporate America realized this. They learned that if they did the bidding of the left on social issues, they would get a pass on everything else. They could freeze wages. They could destroy the environment. They could strangle free speech. They can eliminate privacy. In general, they could make public life much worse.
And his agenda to have women leave the workforce and stay home to have more children is presented as an anti-corporate, big-government benefit proposed by Elizabeth Warren to allow women to throw off the yoke of corporate tyranny. In reality, it's yet another Orbán policy designed to boost the native population so that immigrant labor is no longer necessary. We know this because Carlson has said as much:
[Y]ou are saying our low birthrates are a justification for immigration. I'm saying our low birthrates are a tragedy that say something awful about the economy and the selfish stupidity of our leaders. I'm not demonizing anybody. I'm not against the immigrants. I'm just, I'm for the Americans. Nobody cares about them. It's like, shut up, you're dying, we're gonna replace you.
There have been no confirmed reports that the El Paso killer ever watched Fox News. Most young people don't. And there is plenty of access to this extremist ideology online. But had he tuned in on any given night to Tucker Carlson's show he could have heard all of the ideas he said in his screed were motivation for his deadly acts. Carlson has been mainstreaming that killer's ideology for years now. The results speak for themselves:


Plus ça change, plus c'est la même chose ...

by digby

Oh look. From July 1973:


Yes, he wants to be a dictator. He says so.

by digby

Mark Follman at Mother Jones asks
if Trump wants to be a dictator. I think that's obvious. The only question is if his enablers will help him do it. (One suspects that the most autocratic among them would hope for a more discisplined neo-fascist --- and the party hs plenty of them among the young turks like Hawler and Cotton.)

Anyway, here's the essay:

It began the day he was sworn in, with his vow to end “American carnage”—a direct echo of his autocratic pronouncement when accepting the Republican nomination that “I alone can fix it.” Donald Trump has chipped away at the pillars of democracy ever since. According to a new report from Freedom House, an independent watchdog group that has monitored democracy globally for decades, “The past year brought further, faster erosion of America’s own democratic standards than at any other time in memory.” The nation’s core institutions, the report says, have been “attacked by an administration that rejects established norms of ethical conduct across many fields of activity.”

In his first year as president, Trump often appeared driven by his urges for self-aggrandizement, self-enrichment, and revenge against anyone and everyone he perceived to be his political enemies—targets to be punched 10 times harder or screwed 15 times harder than they’ve punched or screwed him. He has used the presidential platform to taunt and threaten, going after federal judges, members of Congress, law enforcement leaders, celebrities, professional athletes, private citizens, and, of course, his greatest bête noire: the “Fake News” media, which he has blasted hundreds of times since taking office.

Trump had already shown America who he was during the 2016 campaign, and at Mother Jones we took Maya Angelou’s advice and believed him. A few weeks into his presidency, as some entertained the illusion of Trump “pivoting” to being more presidential, we began tracking his authoritarian behavior with our “Trumpocracy” project. Sure enough, his demagoguery, lying, and disdain for the rule of law continued without fail.

To what degree that has been by design or chaotic ineptitude is up for debate. But the ominous “firehose” effect it can have on the public is well understood by scholars of modern propaganda-driven dictatorships: a process that includes distraction, confusion, further polarization, and ultimately, complacency.

Another new report assessing Trump’s first year in the White House, “The Republic at Risk,” reaffirms the importance of documenting the daily absurdities: “The turn away from democracy need not be premeditated; an incompetent leader with authoritarian tendencies can pose as much of a threat as one with a systematic plan to dismantle checks and balances.” The bipartisan joint report from Protect Democracy and Stand Up Ideas, two groups comprised of government and legal experts, further warns that if Trump were to follow the path of other emerging authoritarians, “he would first erode the norms and ideals integral to a democratic society, then move into actual institutional changes once the public is sufficiently distracted, exhausted, and cynical.”

The report breaks down the dangers into six areas: politicizing independent institutions, spreading disinformation, amassing executive power, quashing dissent, delegitimizing communities, and corrupting elections. Those categories point with alarming accuracy toward much that we’ve documented from Trump’s first 365 days in office.

Attacks on national security institutions

Following long-running calls for his 2016 political opponents to be prosecuted and jailed, Trump made a particularly disturbing statement in December, declaring in a New York Times interview that he has an “absolute right” to do whatever he wants with the federal law enforcement system. As special counsel Robert Mueller’s Russia investigation has accelerated, Trump has openly trashed the reputations of the FBI and Justice Department, even accusing a senior FBI agent of “treason.” Since June, he has repeatedly joined partisan supporters in denouncing an alleged “deep state” conspiracy against him, including his belief that “very bad and evil people” in Washington are trying to sabotage his presidency.

Endless war on the media

Where to begin? Beyond his farcical tweets about “fake news trophies” and “fake news awards,” Trump’s campaign against the free press is quite serious. He and his aides have singled out and threatened multiple journalists personally, including author Michael Wolff (“mentally deranged”), CNN’s Don Lemon (“the dumbest man on television!”), ABC News’ Brian Ross (“fraudster”), CNN’s Jim Acosta (a target of bullying tactics), ESPN’s Jemele Hill and the Washington Post’s Dave Weigel (both fingered to be fired), and others. On more than one occasion Trump has promoted social-media imagery depicting violence against CNN, including the network’s logo amid splattered blood on the sole of his shoe. And Trump’s Stalin-esque declaration just weeks into office that the media is “the enemy of the American people” has resonated with brutal regimes worldwide, which have seized the opportunity to pile on Trump’s weaponization of “fake news.”

Corrupt use of the office

On social media and in public remarks, the president has not hesitated to promote the personal financial interests of his family and partisan supporters. Beneficiaries have included Fox News’ Sean Hannity—Trump twice endorsed a film Hannity produced—and “Fox and Friends” host Brian Kilmeade, Sheriff David Clarke, Dr. Robert Jeffress, and former Trump campaign officials Corey Lewandowski and David Bossie, all of whose new books Trump specifically touted on Twitter. At an August 2017 press conference in the aftermath of neo-Nazi violence in Virginia, Trump plugged his winery in Charlottesville. And we haven’t begun to plumb the full scope of his potential ethical and financial conflicts of interest.

Read on for more about his targeting of minorities and, needless to say, his undermining of confidence in elections, which is an essay in itself. Follman concludes:

The compilation of transgressions is long, surreal, and chilling. There is no indication that any of it will stop. The authors of “The Republic at Risk” suggest there is ample cause for hope: “Even under threat,” they write, “the United States has strong and durable democratic institutions.” But they also warn that a riven, inwardly focused Congress “has largely recoiled” from the danger, an assessment that clearly rests at the feet of the party controlling both chambers. Unless and until that condition changes, Trump will no doubt continue to push the boundaries of the American presidency in dark and disturbing ways.

If nothing else he has exposed the weaknesses in our system as no other president has done. The level of reform required to fix these problems and create kind of faith in the integrity of our government is going to be massive. As I said, it's not just Trump you have to keep your eyes. His enablers are even more dangerous if we allow him to get away with all this.


Running the military like a business. How much are the Saudis paying?

by Spocko

The Sunday morning shows are targeted at the beltway insiders and lobbyists. Especially military lobbyists. Military contractors are their primary sponsors. It would be fun if the hosts asked questions that would make the sponsors happy, like:

 "How big is the Saudi protection contract? How long will it last? Which branch will make the most money?" 

U.S. anti-missile weapons, such as the Patriot air defense system pictured here, are being deployed to Saudi Arabia in the wake of an attack that’s been blamed on Iran. (Sebastian Apel / U.S. Department of Defense)
We always hear that Trump thinks of things transactionally. So he will think of the Saudi protection contract as a "new business" contract that he got for the Pentagon. He expects the Pentagon will make money off the deal, after all, "They pay cash!"

With the recent deal that let him move money from military programs to The Wall, Trump can now see the military budget as just one big pool of money--that he just added to by signing a long term protection contract with "The Kingdom"

Trump will now expect the generals and the contractors to be grateful to him. He's a good earner for them. The Wall money, from the military budget, is now rightfully his. After all, he got them the big contract. When he didn't go after MBS for the murder of Khashoggi, he was protecting a huge revenue stream to the military.

When the Pentagon makes money, Trump expects to get some of that money.  (I believe in the mob world they call that "kicking up" or "getting a taste." All my mob knowledge comes from the Sopranos, so I could be wrong on the lingo.)  Trump already got cash with Saudi hotel stays and their purchase of the 45th floor of his building.

What this means is that Fox News Sunday @FoxNewsSunday with Chris Wallace should be asking about the size of the deals and how long they will last, because the Pentagon is now a subcontractor for Trump, who is working for the Saudis. This would make Trump happy. And that is the job of Fox media, making Trump happy.

The other morning show are supposed to keep the military sponsors happy. No anti-war talk! When was the last time you saw a peace activist on the morning shows?

Final thoughts: 
I wonder if the Saudis put out an RFP on the protection contract? Wouldn't that be fascinating to see? 

(Did Erik Prince bid on this?  Was the US military the low bid?)

I'd love  to see it broken down by line items, like those crazy hospital bills in our for profit Healthcare system.

  • X drones plus support team of 22 people each. 19 million each. 
  • Y satellite time $59,000 an hour 24 hours for 7 days. 
  • Z planes flying over Yemen 59 million each. NOTE: Fill up with gas at an airport close to  Trump properties $11 million dollars per quarter. 

To help Americans oppose wars, we often talk about the people who might die, the "boots on the ground."  I wonder how much do mercenary outfits charge when one of their people is killed? More or less that the US military?

When US military die working on the  Saudi's oil protection contract, do the generals say to their families, "It was nothing personal, it's just business."?



Fool me twice?

by Tom Sullivan

Image via Third Way

Third Way and I finally agree on something.

The center-left think tank has released a report examining 99 Democratic-held House districts where turnout there could determine the winner of the 2020 presidential contest. From moderate Ron Kind (Wis.) to first-term liberal Rashida Tlaib (Mich.), Democratic performance in these districts can make the difference in whether Donald Trump or the Democratic nominee wins the White House. Turnout in key districts could also be determinative in 2020 Senate races, the Washington Post's Paul Kane explains:

Kind, for example, sits in a district that flipped from supporting Barack Obama in 2012 to backing Donald Trump in 2016, a year in which Wisconsin narrowly sided with the GOP nominee. And poor turnout in Tlaib’s hometown helped Trump put Michigan in his win column.

Even as Kind, 56, and Tlaib, 43, presumably cruise to reelection next year, the margins they run up might prove decisive to their states’ critical total of 26 electoral votes. They have the potential to help boost, or deflate, the 2020 Democratic presidential nominee, a sign of how Democrats need to push to get every vote possible next year.
Third Way ranked the congressional districts based on five factors: 2018 House Flip (43 seats), 2018 Close Call (win margin in single-digits - 40 seats), Trump District (with Democratic incumbent - 31 seats), 2020 Presidential Battlegrounds (70 seats), and 2020 Senate Battlegrounds (39 seats).

Kane continues:
Down in North Carolina, Rep. G.K. Butterfield (D) has easily won for 15 years, but the former chairman of the Congressional Black Caucus has a district that might be key to tipping the state’s 15 electoral votes to Democrats.

Perhaps more importantly, Butterfield could help the Democratic nominee for the Senate race against Sen. Thom Tillis (R), a contest that could serve as a tipping point for control of the Senate.
"The point of this analysis is not to say that only 99 Members or districts are important, concludes study author David de la Fuente. "But it does show that in the vast majority of Democratic-held House seats, one can turn a blue place bluer, but it wouldn’t accomplish much either there or statewide when it comes to helping Democrats gain power."

I might argue with the selection of ranking criteria, but we agree on the importance of district races. Congressional districts, however, are not the only ones that matter for Democrats gaining power. State-level power is also on the line in 2020 and for the next decade.

Too many voters view elections through the lens of statewide races – for president, for governor, for Senate. Those campaigns set the agenda and budgets for get out the vote efforts. Statewide candidates seek votes in bulk and concentrate their resources in places where they can easily find them: big, blue cities. That's where the national campaigns focus their efforts in battleground states.

But while running up the score in metro areas may help statewide candidates, it doesn’t win extra seats in state legislatures. Democrats don’t just need votes in bulk, they need them out where state House and Senate seats are drawn. Picking up seats outside Democrat-friendly population centers will determine control of 2021 redistricting in most states. Those of us who dream of ending gerrymanders that result in "Democrats winning more votes [and] Republicans holding more seats" are painfully aware of the damage the Republicans' 2010 Redistricting Majority Project (REDMAP) wrought across the country.

David Daley explained their 2010 strategy for micro-targeting state legislative districts:
The party would target control of state legislative chambers that either party held by five or fewer seats. They’d double down on states where the governor had veto power over the maps. And there would be plenty of money to fund key campaigns, upgrade technology, recruit and train candidates — and then to guarantee that every state legislature had a redistricting lawyer and litigator.
Republicans began fundraising for the effort in early 2008, documents reveal.

Even with REDMAP architect Thomas Hofeller, lately of North Carolina, gone to his reward, there will be a 2020 version of REDMAP in play. The unpopularity of the enfant terrible currently mismanaging the executive branch may dampen its impact some, but Democrats fixated on defeating Trump cannot afford to be blind-sided again. Should Trump look like a sinking ship next year, Republicans won't abandon him. They'll double down on holding onto power where they gained it in 2010 – in the states.

Saturday, September 21, 2019

Saturday Night at the Movies

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

By Dennis Hartley

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

- George Carlin

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

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

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

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

“It was a gamble financially. We lost.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

by digby

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Longer rallies

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

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

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

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

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

"Chopper talk" runs longer

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

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

A spike in camera time

Trump is just talking more, period.

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

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

More talking, more lying

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

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

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

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

The paradigmatic case for impeachment

by digby

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

One lone Fox News commentator tells the truth

by digby

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


They pay cash

by digby

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

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

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

Recall this from Trump a couple of weeks ago:

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

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

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

Also, Trump Hotel.

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

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

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

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

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

Seeing Trump through a foreigner's eyes

by digby

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

• Lenore Taylor is the editor of Guardian Australia.

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