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Sunday, November 17, 2019

"I love waterboarding --- and worse!" --- Donald J. Trump

by digby

Ths is who we are

Tell the Mad King what he wants to hear:
Last May, then-White House counsel Don McGahn wanted to withdraw Gina Haspel's nomination for CIA director. McGahn told colleagues that Haspel's role in the CIA's controversial "enhanced interrogation" program could kill her in her Senate confirmation.
Driving the news: President Trump disagreed. Trump actually liked this aspect of Haspel's resume, according to three sources who spoke to the president at the time. In fact, Trump told aides that Haspel's support for "torture" or "waterboarding" (Trump uses these words interchangeably in his private conversations) was an asset, not a liability.

Trump told advisers that he asked Haspel her opinion on whether waterboarding works. In Trump's telling, Haspel replied to him that she was "100%" sure it works, a source who spoke to Trump about it told me.

"He seemed impressed with how sure she was about something so controversial," the source said. "That she did not bat an eye, did not sugarcoat it, that it works. When it comes to national security, she does not hesitate."

A CIA spokesperson declined to comment for this story, but pointed Axios to a section of Haspel's confirmation testimony in which she said the CIA "learned some tough lessons from that experience" interrogating suspected terrorists after 9/11.

"Having served in that tumultuous time," Haspel told Congress, "I can offer you my personal commitment, clearly and without reservation, that under my leadership, on my watch, CIA will not restart a detention and interrogation program."

The White House and McGahn did not respond to requests for comment.

Why it matters: Trump has held the same views about war crimes and torture for years — and being commander in chief has not changed him. He believes that previous presidents have been far too eager to send Americans to war, but that once they've been deployed, these soldiers should be free to treat enemies brutally.

Trump's views on this subject flared up again last week. He clashed with Pentagon brass when he cleared three soldiers who have been accused or convicted of war crimes.

Pentagon leaders had privately argued that the president's intervention in these cases would undercut the code of military justice. 
Trump has told advisers that the U.S. military became too politically correct under President Obama and that he wanted to unleash them to fight with "toughness," without these burdensome rules of engagement.

Trump's immutable views on this subject have put him at odds with Pentagon leadership more than once. From the outset, Trump disagreed with former Defense Secretary James Mattis over the effectiveness of waterboarding.

Former chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Gen. Martin Dempsey, captured the widespread concerns in a tweet earlier this year: "Absent evidence of innocence or injustice the wholesale pardon of US servicemembers accused of war crimes signals our troops and allies that we don't take the Law of Armed Conflict seriously. Bad message. Bad precedent. Abdication of moral responsibility. Risk to us.

I have said this before but it bears repeating. If hypocrisy is the tribute vice pays to virtue we have to at least give the war criminals of the Bush administration a tiny bit of credit for pretending to care about war crimes and lying about doing it. It's doesn't excuse them, of course. We know what they did. But their hypocrisy and lying did, at least, preserve the notion that the US --- the most powerful military superpower the world has ever known --- cared about international law, morality, ethics and its own troops.

Trump has shown the whole world that we are a rogue nation, as dangerous as any nation in history, liable to kill vast numbers, torture and maim because we clearly believe in nothing but dominance. We always had problems.l This has made it worse. And I can't imagine what it will take to restore even the pretense of morality. That's a dangerous place for a country to be. We aren't alone in this world.


WWBD? (What Will Bolton Do?)

by digby

Remember when Bolton said that he knows about other meetings that nobody else was aware of? Well:

John R. Bolton, President Trump’s national security adviser, met privately with the president in August as part of a bid to persuade Mr. Trump to release $391 million in security assistance to Ukraine, a senior National Security Council aide told House impeachment investigators last month.

The meeting, which has not been previously reported, came as Mr. Bolton sought to marshal Mr. Trump’s cabinet secretaries and top national security advisers to convince the president that it was in the United States’ best interest to unfreeze the funds to help Ukraine defend itself against Russia. But Mr. Bolton emerged with Mr. Trump unmoved, and instructed the aide to look for new opportunities to get those officials in front of Mr. Trump.

“The extent of my recollection is that Ambassador Bolton simply said he wasn’t ready to do it,” said the aide, Timothy Morrison, referring to Mr. Trump, according to a transcript of his testimony released by House Democrats on Saturday.

Mr. Bolton, who left the White House in September, has emerged over weeks of interviews as perhaps the single most important witness who has evaded House Democrats as they build a case that Mr. Trump abused the powers of the presidency by withholding vital military assistance and a coveted White House meeting from Ukraine until it delivered investigations he wanted. The new disclosure only makes clearer the significance of his potential testimony.

I would bet that wasn't the only meeting.

Bolton is playing his own game and I'd imagine it is 100% self-serving. However, it's hard to know exactly what he might think that is. Is he calculating that the hawkish foreign policy he's always stood for will reassert itself once Trump is gone and he'll be the guy who kept the flame alive during the dark years? Or maybe he just wants to sell books so he won't say anything until it's out. I honestly don't know what he's up to.

But this testimony shows that when he said there other meetings, he wasn't lying.

Senator Johnson for the defense

by digby

The Republicans are forced to send out the dumbest US Senator to make the case for Donald Trump, I guess because he's so clueless he doesn't know when he's making a fool of himself --- a requirement in the current situation. I wonder if they plan on making him one of the president's defenders in the Senate trial.

Here is Senator Ron Johnson on Meet the Press this morning. It's almost painful to watch:


And joining me now, two senators who traveled together to Ukraine in September, spoke to President Zelenskiy about the withheld security assistance. It's Democrat Chris Murphy of Connecticut and Republican Ron Johnson of Wisconsin. Senator Johnson, I'm going to begin with you. You're join us from -- I know you’re in your home there in Oshkosh. So, Senator, welcome back to Meet the Press. Let me just start with your reaction to what the president tweeted about Ambassador Yovanovitch on Friday.


Good morning, Chuck. Well, you know, I thought it was kind of interesting when President Trump was leaving the White House, going to Atlanta, and people were talking about his behavior. He said, "You know, my behavior is caused by, by you. You know, the constant torment, I mean, the investigations." So, you know, listen, I would prefer he not, you know, provide that type of tweet, but you know, my concern -- and let me start out with something else here, Chuck, because I don't want to argue every point. Something we agree on. As Americans, we all share the same goal. We want a safe, prosperous, secure America. We're compassionate. We compare about each other. And generally, generally, we solve our political differences at the ballot box, not in the streets or through impeachment. I think that is really -- as we talked the other day, that's the divide that is tearing this country apart and that's what I'm primarily concerned about.

Lugubrious nonsense coming from a Trump supporter. Blaming the other side for "tormenting" the monstrous freak in the White House --- a man who just this week pardoned war criminals and sat in the oval office with the dictator to whom he just gave permission to invade another country and ethnically cleanse America's allies.

Can't we all get along?


I want to get into a little bit of the specifics, so I'm going to get you to react to something that the ambassador said about -- particularly about what Rudy Giuliani was doing. Take a listen to her testimony.



I obviously don't dispute that the president has the right to withdraw an ambassador at any time, for any reason, but what I do wonder is why it was necessary to smear my reputation.



That's a fair question for her to ask.


Sure it is. And again, I have no problem with the ambassador. She hosted me when I was over -- made one of my trips over there. But you know, one thing I want to point out is the damage that is being done to our country through this entire impeachment process. You know, it's going to be very difficult for future presidents to have a candid conversation with a world leader because now we've set the precedent of leaking transcripts. It’s going -- you know, the weakening of executive privilege is not good. And by the way, those individuals that leaked this, you know, if their interest was a stronger relationship with Ukraine, they didn't accomplish it. Having this all come out into public has weakened that relationship, has exposed things that didn't need to be exposed. You know, when I was in Ukraine with Senator Murphy, one of the points I was trying to make is, as we left that meeting, let's try and minimize this. Let's talk about this is a timing difference in terms of funding. Senator Murphy's on the Appropriations Committee. We will restore the funding. I came back and I talked to Senator Durbin. He offered an amendment. That same day, the funding was released. So, this would have been far better off if we would have just taken care of this behind the scenes. We have two branches of government.
Right. We must cover up the president's crimes for the good of the country. Unless, of course, it involves fellatio.

Most people wanted to support Ukraine. We were trying to convince President Trump. And so, the whole -- I mean, again, I listened to the Washington Post article lionizing this whistleblower. Listen, if the whistleblower's goal is to improve our relationship with Ukraine, he utterly --


Let me ask you --


-- or she utterly failed. And again, if they consider that's part of --
Ukraine would have been so much better off if only they'd been allowed to be Trump's puppet in sabotaging the 2020 election and letting Russia off the hook for what they did in 2016. Maybe they could have framed some innocent people for the crime and held a big public hanging. That would have made Trump and Putin very happy. And that's really all that matters, isn't it?

Let me pick up on what you said there about all this going public because you actually raise an interesting question about this. Why was the president so insistent that President Zelenskiy had to be public about announcing an investigation? And I ask that because, you know, one of the foundations of due process in this country is actually not to publicly announce who you're investigating, because you may be investigating somebody who's innocent. And yet the president wanted Ukraine to violate one of our great protections in the rule of law and publicly announce an investigation regardless of whether there's guilt or not. Why did he want to go public?


I'm not sure that's the case. I certainly understand that President Trump wanted to find out what was happening in 2016 and what -- you know, how did this false narrative about Russian collusion with his campaign occur. That, I know, because that's from my first-hand testimony. What I also know is when I, when I sprung that on President Trump in my August 31st phone call, he completely denied there was any kind of, any kind of arrangement that Ukraine had to do something before he'd release that funding. And this is what has not been reported from that phone call. At the tail end -- It was a pretty long phone call. We talked about a bunch of other things, but at the very end he wrapped it up by saying, "You know, Ron, I've got a hurricane I have to deal with, but I hear what you're saying. We're reviewing this. I think you're going to like my decision." So, he was already leaning toward providing that funding on August 31st. My guess is that this never would have been exposed, that funding would have been restored, and our relationship with Ukraine would be far better off than it is today.

"How did this false narrative about Russian collusion occur." That's Bill Barr bullshit and there is no guarantee that Barr and his accomplices in the DOJ aren't working right now on their end of the conspiracy to put some people on trial for this. It is one of the most dangerous possibilities we face here. So far there is little evidence that Barr's DOJ is going to resist this authoritarian turn.

Anyway, despite all the evidence we've seen from numerous witnesses inside the administration, they persist in saying that the facts are not the facts. Johnson is so stupid I'm not sure he can comprehend them. But its pretty clear that Republican voters wouldn't care even if it were true. 

If only everyone would just shut up about Trump's crimes all that would have happened is Biden and the Democrats would have been unjustly smeared and Russia would be happy. Why oh why can't people see that that is the right way to have handled this?

Did I mention that he was very dumb?

Again, you seem to say --you seem to blame this on everybody but the president. It was the president's actions --


No, I'm not blaming anybody, Chuck.


Well, you are. You're blaming everybody else for the reason we're in this situation, other than the president. Isn't the president's own behavior, which raised all of these yellow and red flags, isn't that why we're here?


Again, I'm sympathetic with President Trump, as he's been tormented from the day after he was -- the election. You know, a quick, little quote from the lawyer of the whistleblower. This is ten days after his inauguration, “who has started the first of many steps, rebellion, impeachment will follow ultimately.” Now, if this whistleblower was, you know, to be lionized by the Washington Post, maybe we ought to take a look at, you know, who he hired. You know, he could have hired an unbiased officer of the court. He -- instead, he hired Mark Zaid, who said, "Coup has started, first of many steps, impeachment will follow ultimately." Now --  
And that's not an unbiased officer of the court. So, there's something going on here, Chuck. That's my point.
Again with the poor, poor Trumpie and his tormenters. He can't help but commit crimes over and over and over again. He's just so upset.

By the way, the whistleblower didn't hire Zaid. The whistleblower's lawyer did. And anyway, they' re defense lawyers fergawdsakes. They are not required to be unbiased! Not that it matters. For some reason, Republicans believe that the only people allowed to be involved in anything to do with Trump must be members of the Trump cult. We know this because anyone who isn't is called a partisan hack or a "Never-Trumper" which is akin to being a traitor to America. Why they think that's convincing to anyone but themselves remains a mystery.


Well, let me ask --


Something is going on --


I feel like --


It's dividing this country. Go ahead.
Says the sanctimonious Trump defender with a straight face.

Todd comes up with a zinger here. Good for him:

Let me ask you this. No, let me ask you this. You brought up -- you're the one that brought up this idea that impeachment was something that the left wanted to do immediately. I'm going to quote from you, sir. November 1st, 2016, you're asked about Hillary Clinton and you said this before the election, "She purposely circumvented the law. This was willful concealment and destruction. I would say, yes, high crime or misdemeanor." You were talking about impeachment before that election with Hillary Clinton. How should I not -- how should viewers not look at what you're doing here and you're just reacting as a partisan, that if Trump were a Democrat you'd be ready to convict him?


First of all, understand, that's before an election. I'm trying to hammer out the political differences before an election. And by the way, I completely agree with that. I mean, I -- we'd been investigating the whole Hillary Clinton email scandal -- the exoneration of her. You know, that was not an investigation to really dig out the truth. It was --


So, you think it was legit to advocate impeachment before the election -- you're criticizing Democrats for advocating --


I never --


-- impeachment days after the inauguration.


You'd have to listen to what the question was. I don't think I said impeachment right there at all, Chuck. So, again, no, I was just pointing out what Hillary Clinton had done and I was hoping that people would not elect her, and they didn't. And that's probably, I think, one of the main reasons that she was not elected is what she did with that private server --


All right.


-- which was completely intentional. I mean, it baffles me that she was not indicted, quite honestly. But now that we know, based on the Strzok-Page texts, which I know I'm not supposed to bring up --

I don't think I have to explain why that is such a sophistry. He used the term "high crimes and misdemeanors" which only applied to impeachment.

This man is a US Senator, speaking for the president of the United States. He's very rich and successful proving, once and for all, that assuming intelligence based upon that criteria is a grave mistake.


Let me ask you this last question--


But I mean that’s -- you know, that's a problem.


-- about partisanship. Why shouldn't, why shouldn’t viewers assume that you're looking at President Trump through a Republican lens here because you were already much tougher, ready to go to, ready to go to impeachment on Hillary Clinton with no evidence that anything that happened with that server somehow got into foreigners' hands, when we actually had evidence regarding what happened at the DNC?


So, I guess what I suggest, Chuck, is I got a letter last night from Representatives Jordan and Nunes asking for basically my telling of events. I'll be working on that today. So, I will lay out what I know in terms of this and --


So, are you going to testify?


-- to a certain extent, some of my perspective. Now, you know, they're not going to call me because certainly Adam Schiff wouldn't want to be called by the Senate. There’s going to be a separation there. But I think I will reply to that and I'll supply my telling of events, which is difficult to do in eight or ten minutes on a show like this.


Fair enough.


But Chuck, going back to -- we are a divided nation. I am highly concerned about that. I know you are as well.




We need to start understanding the other person's perspective, and that's what's not happening right now.
I think we understand your perspective Senator. You are a very stupid Trump sycophant whose brain is rotted by Fox News.  The division isn't caused by people being mean to poor Donald Trump. It's caused by a Republican party that has gone insane and a corrupt, venal president so far in over his head that he is being manipulated by the worst people in the world. 

Negative partisanship

by digby

What that term refers to is when a voters in a party are as, or more, motivated by antipathy toward the other side as they are by positive feelings about their own side. I'd say that accurately describes our current situation. Even Trump's cult loves him because he gives voice to their hatred for people who aren't like them. Democrats just hate him. 

Anyway, here's a fun prediction about 2020 based upon the theory that this is what's driving national politics:
In July of 2018, my innovative forecasting model raised eyebrows by predicting some four months before the midterm election that Democrats would pick up 42 seats in the House of Representatives. In hindsight, that may not seem such a bold prediction, but when my forecast was released, election Twitter was still having a robust debate as to whether the Blue Wave would be large enough for Democrats to pick up the 23 seats they needed to take control of the House of Representatives and return the Speaker’s gavel to Nancy Pelosi. 
Based on its 2018 performance, my model, and the theory that structures it, seem well poised to tackle the 2020 presidential election – 16 months out.

Before revealing what my model has to say about 2020, I note one very important point of methodology. To construct predicted two-party vote shares for the Democratic Party’s nominee in each state, I use the best turnout estimate available for each state in 2018 for the Democrats. This is important because it allows me to capture the turnout surge we also saw among Republicans in 2018. Although I predicted an enormous surge in turnout among Democrats and Democrat-leaning Independents, the size of the corresponding surge among Republicans surprised me somewhat. I predicted the surge of Democratic turnout via negative partisanship, activated by the tangible threat of living under a unified government controlled entirely by Donald Trump. 
What I did not anticipate was that, at least among Republicans, a threat response can be artificially generated at a mass scale and at a time when a party’s voters should be placated. Despite controlling the White House and both chambers of Congress in 2018, turnout surged nearly as much among Republicans, leading to the highest overall midterm turnout rates we have seen since 1914. Overall turnout ended up at a whopping 50.4%, tempting many analysts afterward to conduct comparisons between 2016 and 2018, a presidential-to-midterm comparison that is usually apparently absurd. Trump and the RNC accomplished this by running a base-centric mobilization campaign focused largely on stoking fear of immigration; a strategy they will replicate for 2020 while adding socialism into the mix. 
Because my 2020 model relies on the 2018 vote to estimate the 2020 vote, it is naturally designed to account for this unexpected bipartisan turnout surge. As such, my expectation is the 2020 model will be better than the 2018 model, which was built with Virginia’s one-sided Democratic turnout surge as a turnout guide.
So, with no further ado:

If you click the link you can see how each state votes and her long explanation of methodology.
Barring a shock to the system, Democrats recapture the presidency. The leaking of the Trump campaign’s internal polling has somewhat softened the blow of this forecast, as that polling reaffirms what my model already knew: Trump’s 2016 path to the White House, which was the political equivalent of getting dealt a Royal Flush in poker, is probably not replicable in 2020 with an agitated Democratic electorate. And that is really bad news for Donald Trump because the Blue Wall of the Midwest was then, and is now, the ONLY viable path for Trump to win the White House.

Why is Trump in so much trouble in the Midwest? First, and probably most important, is the profound misunderstanding by, well, almost everyone, as to how he won Michigan, Wisconsin, and Pennsylvania in the first place. Ask anyone, and they will describe Trump’s 2016 Midwestern triumph as a product of white, working class voters swinging away from the Democrats based on the appeal of Trump’s economic populist messaging. Some will point to survey data of disaffected Obama-to-Trump voters and even Sanders-to-Trump voters as evidence that this populist appeal was the decisive factor. And this is sort of true. In Ohio, Trump managed the rare feat of cracking 50%. Elsewhere, that explanation runs into empirical problems when one digs into the data. Start with the numerical fact that Trump “won” Pennsylvania, Wisconsin, and Michigan with 47.22%, 48.18%, and 47.5% of the vote, respectively, after five times the normal number in those states cast their ballots for an option other than Trump or Clinton. This, combined with the depressed turnout of African Americans (targeted with suppression materials by the Russians) and left-leaning Independents turned off by Clinton (targeted with defection materials by the Russians) allowed Trump to pull off an improbable victory, one that will be hard to replicate in today’s less nitpicky atmosphere. Yet, the media (and the voting public) has turned Trump’s 2016 win into a mythic legend of invincibility. The complacent electorate of 2016, who were convinced Trump would never be president, has been replaced with the terrified electorate of 2020, who are convinced he’s the Terminator and can’t be stopped. Under my model, that distinction is not only important, it is everything.

I have no idea if she is right except that I do think if you look around the country you see two very motivated bases. So far, what we are seeing on these off-year election says that in a war of attrition like this, there are more Democrats.

But it will be a fight. A truly ugly, horrific fight.


The Big Grift 

by tristero

Hoo boy, if Democrats don't make this one of the cornerstone issues of 2020, they're idiots:
In the 2017 fiscal year, FedEx owed more than $1.5 billion in taxes. The next year, it owed nothing. What changed was the Trump administration’s tax cut — for which the company had lobbied hard. 
The public face of its lobbying effort, which included a tax proposal of its own, was FedEx’s founder and chief executive, Frederick Smith, who repeatedly took to the airwaves to champion the power of tax cuts. “If you make the United States a better place to invest, there is no question in my mind that we would see a renaissance of capital investment,,,” 
Nearly two years after the tax law passed, the windfall to corporations like FedEx is becoming clear. A New York Times analysis of data compiled by Capital IQ shows no statistically meaningful relationship between the size of the tax cut that companies and industries received and the investments they made. If anything, the companies that received the biggest tax cuts increased their capital investment by less, on average, than companies that got smaller cuts.

"Trump's playing you for a sucker. Tell, me, you work hard, in construction. How much did Trump cut your taxes? $150 a year, maybe? Well, he cut FedEx's taxes by $1.5 billion a year. You think it's fair you should pay taxes and they don't? You gonna let Trump get away with letting these fuckers pay no fucking taxes at all?"



Cult of executive authority

by Tom Sullivan

Attorney by day, amateur physicist by night, Attorney General William P. Barr proves the existence of parallel universes by living in one.

Barr visited the high temple of royalist sentiment Friday night to deliver a speech to the Federalist Society, Petri dish for the unitary executive theory and conservative judicial nominees of the caliber of Justice Brett Kavanaugh. You'll find the text (handily) on his department's web page.

Barr advocated for an imperial presidency, arguing, as reported by Business Insider, "for why the chief executive of the country is protected from laws that apply to every other citizen — a legal theory known as unitary executive theory that former Vice President Dick Cheney used as a justification for many executive actions following 9/11."

Those included invading Iraq using false evidence, kidnapping people off the streets of foreign cities, and torturing prisoners.

If the acting president needed a distraction from a truly terrible week, he got one.

A clip from the speech blew up social media when it surfaced:

University of Texas Law Professor Steve Vladeck provided an excerpt and this commentary:
Speaking as a scion of the party of waterboarding and systematic obstruction of justice, Barr added, "For these reasons, conservatives tend to have more scruple over their political tactics and rarely feel that the ends justify the means." In Barr's parallel universe, "rarely" means regularly.

A sampling of social media chatter from the left-of-center: The Framers, Barr argues, rejected the “checks and balances” model and invested the "Executive power" in a solitary individual. "[W]hatever the Executive powers may be," Barr claims (emphasis mine), the Framers vested supervision of them "in a single person, the President." A recent administration found that theory broad enough for a president to drive a ground war in Asia through.

I won't pretend enough historical knowledge to critique Barr's claimed underpinnings for the unitary executive theory he believes is neither “new” nor a “theory.” What I will say is it speaks to the royalist strain in the American psyche that never really vanished.

Some of America's most ardent constitution-clutchers yearn for a king, or at least for a government by hereditary royalty and landed gentry. They believe the rich are their proper rulers by genetic superiority if not by divine right.

Matt Taibbi in his snappier days (after the financial collapse and in the heyday of Glenn Beck) described the impulse in regard to protecting "job creators" from accountability for their actions:
It’s a classic peasant mentality: going into fits of groveling and bowing whenever the master’s carriage rides by, then fuming against the Turks in Crimea or the Jews in the Pale or whoever after spending fifteen hard hours in the fields. You know you’re a peasant when you worship the very people who are right now, this minute, conning you and taking your shit. Whatever the master does, you’re on board. When you get frisky, he sticks a big cross in the middle of your village, and you spend the rest of your life praying to it with big googly eyes. Or he puts out newspapers full of innuendo about this or that faraway group and you immediately salute and rush off to join the hate squad. A good peasant is loyal, simpleminded, and full of misdirected anger. And that’s what we’ve got now, a lot of misdirected anger searching around for a non-target to mis-punish… can’t be mad at AIG, can’t be mad at Citi or Goldman Sachs. The real villains have to be the anti-AIG protesters! After all, those people earned those bonuses! If ever there was a textbook case of peasant thinking, it’s struggling middle-class Americans burned up in defense of taxpayer-funded bonuses to millionaires. It’s really weird stuff. And bound to get weirder, I imagine, as this crisis gets worse and more complicated.
It did get weirder.

Saturday, November 16, 2019

Saturday Night at the Movies

It can’t happen here: The Edge of Democracy (****)

By Dennis Hartley

“That’s my man right there…love this guy…the most popular politician on Earth.” – President Obama in 2009, upon meeting then-Brazilian president Lula da Silva

“They say he’s the Donald Trump of South America…Do you believe that? And he’s happy with that. If he wasn’t, I wouldn’t like the country so much. But I like him.” – President Trump in 2019, commenting on current Brazilian president Jair Bolsonaro

Politics ain’t beanbag (as the saying goes). It can be a nasty business. Latin American politics have a particular rep for volatility; historically an ever-simmering cauldron of violent coups, brutal dictatorships, revolving door regimes and social unrest. In my 2012 review of Lula: Son of Brazil, Fabio Barreto and Marcelo Santiago’s stirring yet frustrating biopic about the former president of Brazil Luis Inacio Lula da Silva I wrote:
[…] Luis Inacio Lula da Silva’s life journey from dirt-poor shoeshine boy to benevolent world leader (he served as president from 2003-2010) seems tailor-made for the screen, with the major players in his life plucked straight out of Central Casting […] You have the Strong Saintly Mother (Gloria Pires), the Drunken Abusive Father (Milhem Cortaz), and the Childhood Sweetheart (Clio Pires, pulling double duty as The Young Wife Who Dies Tragically). […]

We watch Lula (played as an adult by Rui Ricardo Diaz) come of age; he graduates from a technical school, gets a factory job, loses a finger in a lathe mishap, and marries his childhood sweetheart. His first marriage ends tragically, after which he begins (at the encouragement of his brother and to the chagrin of his mother) to gravitate toward leftist politics. […]

By the time he becomes a union official in the late 70s, he finds himself at loggerheads with the military-controlled government of the time. After officials identify him as one of the prime movers behind a series of major work strikes, he is arrested and jailed. After prison, the increasingly politicized Lula helps create Brazil’s progressive Worker’s Party in the early 80s, and then…and then…the film ends.

Ay, there’s the rub, and the main reason why political junkies may find this slick, well-acted production inspiring on one hand, yet curiously unsatisfying on the other. […]
I found myself wondering “what happened next?!”, and asking questions like: What did he do to earn declaration as Brazil’s most beloved president, with an approval rating of 80.5% during the final months of his tenure? What inspired President Obama to greet him at the G20 summit with “That’s my man right there…love this guy…the most popular politician on Earth”? […]
The film left me hanging like a chad on a Florida ballot. But, as Fate would have it I was listening to “Democracy Now” while driving to work the other day (as progressive pinko NPR-listening Lefties often do) and lo and behold - I found out “what happened next” :
JUAN GONZÁLEZ: We begin today’s show in Brazil, where former President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva was freed from prison Friday after 580 days behind bars. Lula’s surprise release came after the Brazilian Supreme Court ruled to end the mandatory imprisonment of people convicted of crimes who are still appealing their cases. Lula has vowed to challenge Brazil’s right-wing President Jair Bolsonaro in the 2022 elections. During a rally on Friday soon after his release, Lula warned about Bolsonaro’s ties to violent militias.

LUIZ INÁCIO LULA DA SILVA: [translated] “Bolsonaro was democratically elected. We accept the result of the election. This guy has a mandate for four years. Now, he was elected to govern the Brazilian people, and not to govern the militia in Rio de Janeiro. … I want to build this country with the same happiness that we built it when we governed this country. My dream isn’t to solve my problems. Today I’m a guy that doesn’t have a job, a president without a pension, not even a television in my apartment. My life is totally blocked. The only thing I’m certain of is that I have more courage to fight than ever before.”

AMY GOODMAN: Lula was serving a 12-year sentence over a disputed corruption and money laundering conviction handed down by conservative Judge Sérgio Moro, an ally of current far-right Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro. After that, he became the justice minister. Lula has long maintained his innocence. Earlier this year, The Intercept revealed Moro aided prosecutors in their sweeping corruption investigation, known as Operation Car Wash, in an attempt to prevent Lula from running in 2018 election. This cleared the path for Bolsonaro’s victory. At the time of his imprisonment in April 2018, Lula was leading the presidential polls.
Wow. If Lula pulls it off in 2022, it would be the political comeback story of the century. But that chapter is yet to be written. The current political reality in Brazil is somewhat tenuous, precipitated in part by the ascension of the aforementioned President Bolsonaro.

President …who? Here’s a refresher from the New York Times, dated March 19, 2019:
President Trump hosted Jair Bolsonaro, the Brazilian president, at the White House on Tuesday, and it was something like looking in the mirror. 
Like other authoritarian leaders Mr. Trump has embraced since taking office, Mr. Bolsonaro is an echo of the American president: a brash nationalist whose populist appeal comes partly from his use of Twitter and his history of making crude statements about women, gay people and indigenous groups. 
“They say he’s the Donald Trump of South America,” Mr. Trump marveled during a speech to the Farm Bureau in January, noting that Mr. Bolsonaro had been called the “Trump of the tropics” since taking office this year. “Do you believe that? And he’s happy with that. If he wasn’t, I wouldn’t like the country so much. But I like him.”
“Something” changed in Brazil’s sociopolitical sphere in the 8 years that elapsed between 2010, when the progressive populist Lula left the presidency with an unprecedented 80.5% approval rating, and 2018, when far-right candidate Bolsonaro won the election.

In her extraordinarily intimate documentary The Edge of Democracy (now available on Netflix) Brazilian actress and filmmaker Petra Costa suggests there is something much more insidious at play in her country than a cyclical left-to-right shift. Costa’s film delves into the circumstances that led to the impeachment of former President Dilma Rousseff (Lula’s hand-picked successor) and Lula’s imprisonment (which began in April of 2018).

Costa begins with a recap of the military dictatorship in Brazil that began with a 1964 coup and effectively ended in 1989 with the first election of a president via popular vote in 29 years, then moves on to cover Lula’s 8-year tenure (2003-2010), which brought a great deal of positive social change in the country through various progressive programs.

However, the honeymoon began to sour during the presidency of Lula’s successor Dilma Rousseff. Elected in 2011, Rousseff (a former member of a leftist guerilla group that fought against the military dictatorship-which led to a 2-year imprisonment from 1970-1972 during which she endured torture) largely upheld the ideals of her predecessor, but was impeached and removed from office in 2016 as a result of the “Car Wash” scandal.

What separates this film from an informative but dry episode of “Frontline” is Costa’s deeply personal perspective. The 36 year-old director points out that she is approximately the same age as Brazil’s hard-won democracy, and makes no bones about the fact that her parents were passionate left-wing activists who openly railed against the dictatorship.

But the real coup for Costa (no pun intended) is the amazing accessibility she was given to President Rousseff and ex-President Lula during times of particularly high drama in their lives. This lends urgency and adds a “fly on the wall” element to the palace intrigue.

There is something Shakespearean about the rise and fall of the two leaders, which gives the film the feel of a byzantine political thriller. There is also a Kafkaesque element. In one scene, a visibly scandal-weary Rousseff candidly alludes to the protagonist in “The Trial” with a heavy sigh. “Do you really feel like ‘Josef K’?” someone asks. “Yes,” she replies with a sardonic chuckle, “I feel just like Josef K…but Josef K with an attorney.”

The film’s most dramatic moments derive from the footage Costa was able to get while she was essentially holed up for 3 days with Lula at a trade union hall while he vacillated over turning himself in. When Lula announces he is ready to face the music, a crowd of his supporters tries to stop him from doing so, forming a human blockade between him and the police outside the hall waiting to arrest him. As you watch Lula give an impassioned speech to his supporters (many of them in tears) to explain his decision and reassure them everything will be fine, you understand why people are so drawn to him.

This is the most powerful documentary about South American politics since Patricio Guzman’s The Battle of Chile. It is also a cautionary tale; we have more in common with Brazil than you might think. As Costa observed in an interview on “Democracy Now”:
“…Brazil has the third-largest incarcerated population in the world. It’s a huge crisis, similar to the United States. And we need an urgent judiciary — like, prison reform and judiciary reform that will make our judiciary system more efficient. I think the mistake that many people fall into is thinking that constitutional rights can be abused to have a more efficient system. The danger with that is that today Lula’s constitutional rights can be abused, tomorrow mine, tomorrow yours. And where do we stand as a democracy?”
Where do WE stand as a democracy? As politicians say, “that’s an excellent question…”

Previous posts with related themes:

On mad kings, Mueller’s report, and Altman’s Secret Honor
Michael and me in Trumpland
Fahrenheit 11/9

More reviews at Den of Cinema
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On Twitter

--- Dennis Hartley

The Cult rules

by digby

Craig Silverman, a former chief deputy district attorney in Denver and current radio host on the conservative 710 KNUS, was taken off the air midshow Saturday after replaying an old interview clip in which he expressed hesitations about President Donald Trump.

Silverman told The Denver Post in a text message that the show was cut by management as he replayed parts of a 2015 interview he conducted with Trump confidant Roger Stone. On Friday, Stone was convicted of impeding investigators in a bid to protect the president.

In the clip, Silverman told Stone that one thing that concerned him about Trump was his relationship with Roy Cohn, the president’s former personal lawyer who helped Sen. Joe McCarthy during the investigation into suspected Communists in the 1950s.

Silverman responded to state representative Dylan Roberts, an Eagle Democrat, on Twitter, saying “I cannot and will not toe strict Trump party line. I call things I see them.”

Representatives from KNUS did not immediately respond in a request for comment. Silverman’s show page appears to have been removed from the station’s website. A link to his show gives a “404 Error — NotFound.”

A Denver native, Silverman has been a lawyer in Colorado since 1981, spending 16 years in the Denver district attorney’s office, according to his biography. He is an attorney with the Springer and Steinberg law firm.

Thanks Dylan. I cannot and will not toe strict Trump party line. I call things as I see them. I see corruption and blatant dishonesty by President and his cronies. I also see bullying/smearing of American heroes w/courage to take oath and tell truth. Their bravery inspires me.

Conservative media is Trumpist to the core. There can be no deviation.

I've been saying for years that "drain the swamp" was not about corruption

by digby

To answer her question, they smear because they enjoy it. Seriously. Rudy and Hannity and Don Jr didn't have to do it last spring when they were trying to get rid of her. They like it. It gets them off.

"Drain the swamp," is not what the media says it is. I just talked about that again this week.   And after watching Trump try to intimidate witnesses in the impeachment hearings, it's become more clear than ever. Anyone in government who refuses to break the law for him is subject to having their reputations and careers destroyed with one tweet and a subsequent pile-on.

His insults toward Marie Yovanovich as she was testifying were grotesque. But as Steve M at NMMNG points out, that was just the beginning:

More intimidating, I think, was this:

The phrase “I hired Donald Trump to fire people like Yovanovitch" trended on Twitter on Friday morning as Marie Yovanovitch, former US ambassador to Ukraine, testified in front of the impeachment inquiry held by the House Intelligence Committee. And while it may have seemed like a spontaneous outcry from the president's supporters, the phrase has spread at a rate consistent with the coordinated inauthentic behavior expected from a network of bots or sock puppet accounts.... 
A representative for Twitter told BuzzFeed News that the company was looking into whether the activity was coordinated. Later in the day, several accounts in BuzzFeed News’ data set were suspended.
He points out that the law certainly seems to indicate that someone as close to the Trump administration as Junior could be seen to be obstructing justice by intimidating witnesses. After all, Yovanovich is still employed by the federal government.

But that' the least of it:

But this feels worse than witness intimidation. It seems Khmer Rouge-y: Junior and the spammers don't just seem angry at the witnesses because they've exposed Trump's misdeeds. They clearly believe that these people were worthy of being purged before Trump's inauguration, just because (in Junior's words) they're "career government bureaucrats." They regard that alone as a firing offense.

They want to purge everyone with expertise. They don't want to replace them with people who are similarly skilled but corrupt -- they want to replace them with unskilled hacks, or with no one at all. It's not just corruption -- it's nihilism.

And look who spewed it all over the airwaves yesterday:

In Stalin's time they called this a purge. Which is exactly what it is.

I've heard a lot over the past three years about the left being McCarthyist because they are agitated about the expansionist, interventionist behavior of Russia's hardcore authoritarian leader, Vladimir Putin. (I've never really understood this criticism since lefties have always been opposed to filthy rich, authoritarian oligarchs. It's not like Putin even pretends to be a communist.)

Anyway, this is what McCarthyism looks like, kids. And it's even worse than that. Whereas the McCarthy witch hunt was ostensibly ideologically based (a bad thing, of course) this is based entirely on the cult of personality around this moronic barbarian who got into the White House on a fluke. There literally is no reason for this except blind devotion to his authoritarian stupidity and a hatred for anyone who opposes him.

I wrote this a while back about Trump's definition of "drain the swamp":

I will Make Our Government Honest Again -- believe me. But first, I'm going to have to #DrainTheSwamp in DC. https://t.co/m1lMAQPnIb

— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) October 18, 2016

His "ethics reform" plan was:
First: I am going to re-institute a 5-year ban on all executive branch officials lobbying the government for 5 years after they leave government service. I am going to ask Congress to pass this ban into law so that it cannot be lifted by executive order.

Second: I am going to ask Congress to institute its own 5-year ban on lobbying by former members of Congress and their staffs.

Third: I am going to expand the definition of lobbyist so we close all the loopholes that former government officials use by labeling themselves consultants and advisors when we all know they are lobbyists.

Fourth: I am going to issue a lifetime ban against senior executive branch officials lobbying on behalf of a foreign government.

Fifth: I am going to ask Congress to pass a campaign finance reform that prevents registered foreign lobbyists from raising money in American elections.
His personal lawyer Michael Cohen obviously didn't read the third item on that memo. And it's interesting that someone in Trump's campaign thought it was important to pretend they cred about foreigners raising money in elections.

That tweet came on the heels of the first time Trump used the phrase "drain the swamp" in the 2016 campaign which was very late in the game, just three weeks from election day. Although he had said earlier that “nobody knows the system better than me, which is why I alone can fix it” he didn't really run explicitly as a political reformer.

But as Newsweek reported, in October his message changed:

Trump promised to “drain the swamp” at a rally that day [October 17, 2016] in Green Bay, Wisconsin, the first time he did so during the campaign. He did it the next day, October 18, in Colorado Springs, Colorado. In Fletcher, North Carolina, he called Clinton “the most corrupt person ever to seek the office of the Presidency.”
One week later, former FBI Director James Comey announced that the FBI had found emails from Clinton on former congressman Anthony Weiner's laptop and Trump ran with it:
Hillary Clinton's corruption is on a scale we have never seen before," he said in New Hampshire. Later, in Maine, he said Clinton’s use of a private email server—which Comey had already decreed did not merit criminal charges—was the “biggest scandal since Watergate.”
The reason to bring this up isn't to point out Trump's hypocrisy which is shooting fish in a barrel. The fact is that despite his tiresome repetition of the slogan "drain the swamp" since the election it wasn't one of Trump's signature chants like "lock her up" or "build that wall." It was something of an afterthought, a sort of extension of his claims that the system was "rigged" against him to steal the election. As the various investigations into his nefarious doings unfold it is obvious that it was another projection of his own foibles on to his opponents.

Nonetheless, it is an article off faith among many of the chattering classes that he ran as a reformer of the system who promised to clean up Washington. But the Trump administration's approach to dealing with the institutions of government is much more old fashioned. They are simply governing by way of personal loyalty and fealty to the president rather than expertise, experience or seniority. It's a spoils system, and it's not a very efficient one.

This article by Evan Osnos in the New Yorker about the way the razing of the federal workforce at all levels is an eye opener:
Across the government, more than half of the six hundred and fifty-six most critical positions are still unfilled. “We’ve never seen vacancies at this scale,” Max Stier, the president and C.E.O. of the Partnership for Public Service, a nonpartisan group that works to make the government more effective, said. “Not anything close.”

Some of the vacancies are deliberate. As a candidate, Trump promised to “cut so much your head will spin.” Amid a strong economy, large numbers of employees are opting to leave the government rather than serve it. In Trump’s first nine months, more than seventy-nine thousand full-time workers quit or retired—a forty-two-per-cent increase over that period in Obama’s Presidency. To Trump and his allies, the departures have been liberating, a purge of obstructionists. “The President now has people around him who aren’t trying to subvert him,” Michael Caputo, a senior campaign adviser, told me. “The more real Trump supporters who pop up in the White House phone book, the better off our nation will be.”
If they cannot find a Trump loyalist to fill a position they simply leave it empty.

Trump's definition of "populism" is unique. Osnos writes:
In the 2013 novel “A Delicate Truth,” John le Carré presents the “deep state” as a moneyed, cultured élite—the “non-governmental insiders from banking, industry, and commerce” whose access to information allows them to rule in secret. Trump’s conception is quite different. A real-estate baron, with the wealthiest Cabinet in U.S. history, Trump is at peace with the plutocracy but at war with the clerks—the apparatchiks who, he claims, are seeking to nullify the election by denying the prerogatives of his Administration.

And by "bureaucracy" he means law enforcement, the state department, intelligence community and common bureaucrats who enforce regulations and monitor compliance with the law along with anyone else Trump and his henchmen see as enemies of the state. Even the usual suspects at the conservative think tanks who usually have the inside track on jobs in a new Republican administration (or, as with Iraq, a new occupied country) have been mainly shut out because so many candidates were on record being critical of Trump, which meant hiring them was out of the question.

Many people claim that underneath the bluster, Donald Trump is just another Republican who happens to have a big mouth and likes to use twitter. But while he was made possible by the modern conservative movement and a political system that enabled such a man to become president, he is, nonetheless, sui generis. This razing of federal government institutions nothing we've ever seen before.

The story Osnos tells about the elimination of experts and the deliberate erasure of institutional memory in department after department is chilling. It will be very difficult, if not impossible, to replace these people even after Trump is gone. His lasting legacy may be the destruction of the federal government as we know it.

The second most dangerous man in America

by digby

He doesn't make even a pretense of being rational. The Federalist Society gave him a standing ovation.

Read all about your lunatic Attorney General who can be counted on to put everything he's got into ensuring that Donald Trump is never brought to justice and his critics are harassed, intimidated, purged and possibly prosecuted.

This man is just as dangerous as Trump.

It really wasn't hard to see this coming ...

Here's the full video in case you need to get your blood pumping today:

They got Roger Stone

by digby

I thought this twitter thread by Roger Stone documentary biographer succinctly captures the import of the Stone verdict.

I have a lot of thoughts about Roger's conviction and this thread won't do them justice. But let me try.
It's hard having spent 5 1/2 years and hundreds upon hundreds of hours with Roger not to feel compassion for him at this, the worst moment in his life. Above all, I feel sorry for his wife, daughter and family. They don't deserve to suffer for Roger's downfall. 

That being said, Roger's conviction today was completely of his own making. This was not the deep state taking him down. This was the very easiest possible case for the prosecution to prove because Roger put all of his threats and lies in writing. 

Roger's crimes were completely unnecessary and served no purpose other than to puff up and protect his relationship with Trump. He didn't lie to Congress for any logical reason and it was utterly nonsensical for him to threaten Randy Credico. 

As @dandoesdocs, @dylan_bank and I showed in our film, Roger has a long history of being his own worst enemy. The crimes that led to his conviction are the most stunning example of all of Roger's tendancy to self-destruct. No one brought Roger's downfall upon him but himself. 

Roger's career has thrived in part because of his galling hubris. And as anyone who has studied Greek tragedy knows, hubris catches up with everyone in the end. 

There is something strikingly anti-climactic about Roger going down because of these specific crimes, which, compared to the magnitude of the irreparable damage he has done to our democracy, are rather small bore. 

Roger's conviction on these charges is the equivalent of Al Capone going down for tax evasion. 

Roger was integral in creating the K Street Swamp, opening the floodgates for unlimited money to destroy our politics, poisoning our discourse with negative advertising, undermining faith in our electoral system, and weaponizing the media to spread disinformation. 

Roger played a major role in breaking our political system in America and because it is now so broken is a large part of the reason that he was never held accountable for the structural damage he has done to it. 

There was a part of me that thought, even in the face of such a powerful case, that Roger would somehow escape in the end and get the last, nefarious laugh. Perhaps Trump will pardon him and that will still be the case. 

It's important to note that Roger's crimes were motivated in large part because of his desire to remain important in Trump's eyes during the campaign and then to remain loyal to President Trump, clearly to Roger's own disastrous detriment. 

One would think that Trump would reward Roger for his decades of undying loyalty by granting him a pardon. But there is certainly ample reason to doubt that this will be the case.
mentions I wonder how much faith Roger puts in Trump's loyalty. My guess is not a lot. 

The x factor here is what does Roger know about Trump that can damage Trump at this point. Few people know the dark shadows of Trump's pre-Presidential life better than Roger. But is there anything Roger knows that is so problematic that Trump fears it coming out? 

I suspect that the answer to this question will determine whether Stone gets a presidential pardon, not his decades of loyalty to Trump. 

To discover more about Roger's singular life and the chilling effect he's had upon your life, watch #GetMeRogerStone on Netflix, which I co-directed with @dandoesdocs and @dylan_bank.

I don't believe in karma generally but in this case it's hard not to.


Trump's Double Oh Zeroes

by digby

People ...

Among the many guests who had their pictures taken with President Donald Trump at the White House's annual Hanukkah party last year were two Soviet-born businessmen from Florida, Lev  Parnas and Igor  Fruman. 

In the picture, which Parnas posted on social media, he and Fruman are seen smiling alongside Trump, Vice President Mike Pence and Rudy Giuliani, the President's personal lawyer.

At one point during the party that night, Parnas and Fruman slipped out of a large reception room packed with hundreds of Trump donors to have a private meeting with the President and Giuliani, according to two acquaintances in whom Parnas confided right after the meeting.

Word of the encounter in the White House last December, which has not been previously reported, is further indication that Trump knew Parnas and Fruman, despite Trump publicly stating that he did not on the day after the two men were arrested at Dulles International Airport last month.

Eventually, according to what Parnas told his confidants, the topic turned to Ukraine that night. According to those two confidants, Parnas said that "the big guy," as he sometimes referred to the President in conversation, talked about tasking him and Fruman with what Parnas described as "a secret mission" to pressure the Ukrainian government to investigate Joe Biden and his son Hunter.
"James Bond mission"

In the days immediately following the meeting, Parnas insinuated to the two people he confided in that he clearly believed he'd been given a special assignment by the President; like some sort of "James Bond mission," according to one of the people.

To Parnas, the chain of command was clear: Giuliani would issue the President's directives while Parnas, who speaks fluent Russian, would be an on-the-ground investigator alongside Fruman, who has numerous business contacts in Ukraine.

"Parnas viewed the assignment as a great crusade," says one of the people in whom Parnas confided. "He believed he was doing the right thing for Trump."

The White House did not respond to repeated requests for comment to a series of questions regarding the meeting and Trump's relationship with Parnas and Fruman.

Giuliani, through his lawyer, Robert Costello, denies that any private meeting took place that night at the White House, saying it was a mere handshake and photo opportunity. Costello also rejects Parnas' claims of being put on a "James Bond" style mission, saying that Parnas is "no Sean Connery," and that he suffers from "delusions of grandeur."

Joseph A. Bondy, a lawyer for Parnas, told CNN, "Mr. Parnas at all times believed that he was acting only on behalf of the President, as directed by his personal attorney, Rudy Giuliani, and never on behalf of any Ukrainian officials."

A lawyer for Fruman declined to comment for this article.

In the past, Giuliani has been circumspect about how he became associated with Parnas and Fruman. In previous conversations with CNN, Giuliani has refused to identify his contact, saying simply that a "well-known investigator" connected him with Parnas.

Ken McCallion, a former federal prosecutor with numerous high-level clients in Ukraine, including former and current government officials, told CNN that he's heard a similar story about the Hanukkah party encounter. Parnas told some of McCallion's clients and contacts in Ukraine about the encounter. "Parnas told everyone in Ukraine about the White House meeting. He was adamant he was 'their guy' -- that they chose him to be their ambassador in Ukraine," McCallion said.

And in February this year, according to a report in the Wall Street Journal, Parnas and Fruman met with the Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko and then Prosecutor General Yuriy Lutsenko. During that meeting, they extended Poroshenko an invitation for a State dinner at the White House, if he would commit to publicly opening investigations in Ukraine.

The December meeting at the White House is not the first report of Parnas and the President discussing Ukraine. The Washington Post has reported that in April 2018 at a small fundraising dinner in a suite at the Trump International Hotel in Washington, Parnas told Trump that the US ambassador to Ukraine, Marie Yovanovitch, was unfriendly to him and his interests. Trump, according to the Post report, which cited people familiar with Parnas' account of the event, suggested that Yovanovitch should be fired.

A year later in May 2019, Yovanovitch was recalled from her post.

Thee's more. A whole lot more.

If you have wondered how it is that Putin, Erdogan, Sisi, Orban, MBS etc find it so easy to manipulate Trump, this proves once again that it's exactly what it seems to be. He's dumb as a post.


Roger Cohen's Faulty Logic 

by tristero

Roger Cohen says the way to beat the "brute" — ie., Trump — is for Democrats to convince "sane, moderate Republicans" to vote for a Democratic candidate, He has in mind a Democrat (sic) like Bloomberg or, in a real pinch, Biden.

As an example of the type of voter he has in mind, Cohen found a white, retired 78-year-old pharmaceutical executive and Republican politician who voted for Trump because: (1) the fellow did not like the "scheming" Clintons; (2) he did not like the way the media mocked Trump during the primaries.

Those are not sane reasons to vote for anyone, let alone Donald Trump. Reason #1 is delusional: the Clintons are schemers, compared to Trump???? Reason #2 is simply a vindictive, self-destructive non-sequitur,

This very same exemplar of a sane maoderate the Dems should appeal to also admires Trump  for (1) his energy; (2) his trade war with China;  (3) his tax cuts that benefit corporations; and (4) Trump's "revitalizing impact on American ambition,"

At least two of these reasons (1 and 4) are objectively nuts. The other two are (in addition to being not entirely rational) hard right/libertarian obsessions. .

In short, Cohen has found not a "sane, moderate Republican" but merely one more wooly-brained hardliner with pretensions of thoughtfulness who, given the chance, would gladly vote for a Ted Cruz over any Democrat, including Bloomberg or Biden.

If this is a "sane, moderate Republican," I see no point whatsoever in Democrats trying to appeal to such people.

Why it was necessary to smear her

by Tom Sullivan

Testimony Friday by former ambassador Marie Yovanovitch was dramatic and powerful, and made more so by the acting president's attack on her in real time via Twitter.

Donald Trump sent a signal to Yovanovitch and to follow-up witnesses in these hearings that they might expect a similar digital broadside from the most powerful insecure man in the world. Former independent counsel Ken Starr described Trump's action as "extraordinarily poor judgment" and "quite injurious." Even Chris Wallace of Trump-friendly Fox News observed, "It does raise the possibility of witness intimidation or witness tampering as a new charge here."

Trump removed Yovanovitch as ambassador to Ukraine earlier this year after what she described as a "campaign of disinformation" against her by his personal attorney Rudy Giuliani, Giuliani's associates, and former conservative opinion contributor John Solomon.

Yovanovitch refuted under oath accusations she had bad-mouthed Trump to embassy officials and circulated a "do not prosecute" list to Yuriy Lutsenko, the former prosecutor general of Ukraine. "These attacks were being repeated by the president himself and his son," she said.

While Trump's real-time attack on Yovanovitch drew the most attention Friday, a moment later in the hearing seemed to me more indelible.

Trump's defenders on Capitol Hill repeated Trump's assertion Friday that ambassadors serve at the pleasure of the president and can be removed at any time. At the end of his questioning, Rep. Brad Wenstrup (R-Ohio) repeated the observation that any president has "the right to make his own foreign policy" and his own decisions, President Trump included.

At the end of Wenstrup's time, Yovanovitch asked to make her own observation about the president's prerogatives:
"What I'd like to say is, while I obviously don't dispute that the President has the right to withdraw an ambassador at any time for any reason, but what I do wonder is why it was necessary to smear my reputation ... falsely?"

A therapist friend once spoke of an encounter with a man at her condo association meeting. She stood up to raise a question about some detail in changes to the association rules under discussion. Out of nowhere, this man got up and launched into a personal attack on her. Had she not read the memo? Was it not clear to her? Etc., etc.

When he finished, she looked him coolly in the eye and asked, "Do you have a need to have an argument with me tonight?"

He shriveled, sat down, and the meeting continued.

Notice that Trump had not felt the need to give career diplomats William Taylor and George Kent the same treatment on Wednesday. But Yovanovich, a woman, a smart, accomplished one at that, was a target of opportunity to be put in her place. Somewhere under his heel.

Why was it necessary to smear her instead of simply dismissing her? Because even as President of the United States Trump is a small-minded man of low intelligence with an inferiority complex the size of Manhattan. He self-medicates his insecurity by demeaning everyone around him, or by browbeating them into demeaning themselves. (See: Republican congressional caucus.) Capable women threaten him. As a misogynist too, naturally he felt a need to smear her.

In Friday's Twitter feed, I noticed someone from another country, I think, using Adam Serwer's "cruelty is the point" to describe Trump's actions. That understanding has gone global.

Blogger Susie Madrak (help her out here, please) observed:
I hope Democrats turn that 30-second Yovanovitch clip into a 2020 campaign ad. Women all across the country need to see it. Over and over and over.

Friday, November 15, 2019

Friday Night Soother

by digby

They're cute. Really ...:)

Popular Mechanic:

When the video first hit the internet in 2017, multiple sources reported that construction workers stumbled across the scraggly birds, known as eastern barn owls, at a site in Visakhapatnam, capital of the south-eastern Indian state of Andhra Pradesh. With renewed interest in the monster birds, Popular Mechanics reached out to ornithologist Kevin McGowan of the Cornell Lab of Ornithology to find out what makes them look so sinister.

“Baby barn owls are some of the freakiest-looking creatures on Earth,” McGowan says. “They start off looking kind of freaky and they stay that way until they get fully feathered.”

But what makes these particular owl chicks look so strange? Why do we have such a visceral reaction to them? And will we ever be able to sleep at night again?

First, Those Feathers!


McGowan suspects the barn owl chicks in the video were probably between two and three weeks old, so they don’t have the full-grown owl feathers we’re used to seeing.

“These baby barn owls, they have a lot of dense down [feathers] on them, which makes them look white,” McGowan says. They’re working on developing muscles and growing other parts of their bodies before they devote energy to forming the body, or contour feathers for which owls are known.

“There are basically two ways that birds grow up,” says McGowan. Some birds, like ducks and chicks, come out of the shell with fluffy down feathers. Most birds, he says, don’t have much in the way of the feathers when they crack open their shells. They may have a bit of the soft downy plumage, but they largely look like embryos and accumulate body feathers over time.

And once they do grow feathers, they molt.

That Face!


“Their faces are so freaky, too,” McGowan says. Most people would be right to assume that owls would have a round, spherical face, but they have a flat skull, which is compressed on the side. If you look closely at a barn owl’s face, you’ll notice it’s divided in half.

Barn owls have excellent hearing, and their entire face, McGowan says, is constructed not unlike a giant set of ears, built for funneling sound into their aural opening.

The owl’s eyes tell an incredible evolutionary tale, too. Most prey animals—think other sparrows, deer, and rabbits—have eyes on the side of their head so they can easily swing their neck around and spot whoever is hunting them. Predators, on the other hand—think jaguars, owls, and, yes, humans—have eyes on the front of their head.

“That really comes out with those freaky little youngsters,” says McGowan. “Their eyes just aren’t where you think they ought to be.” Owls swivel their necks because they can’t move their eyes inside their eye sockets.

That Posture!


Posture is key. The owls are standing there with their wings down to their sides, which makes them look a bit like humanoid creatures. “We’re not used to seeing birds in that way,” says McGowan. “They look exactly like the monsters that people create in science fiction.” If you’re picturing the aliens from Close Encounters of the Third Kind, Star Wars, or Star Trek, you’re not too far off. Many of them have human-like qualities.

McGowan says these particular birds look startled, so they’re likely backed away from the observer (understandable). “Owls do have very long legs,” he says. “They do look much more upright than I would expect. Most of the time, you can expect to find owls perched on a branch, sitting on their chest or hunched down on their feather-obscured legs.”

Those Creeps!


McGowan says there’s evidence to suggest our earliest ghost stories may have been inspired by the silent fliers. Barn owls, which have bright-white bellies, are notoriously good at soaring silently through the air, flapping their wings without a sound. Imagine seeing their beady eyes and wide stretch of white plumage flying out of a darkened barn or cemetery crypt.

“You can easily see why people thought that the places were haunted,” McGowan says.

The Takeaway

Barn owls are incredible creatures—they’re one of a handful of land-based birds that can be found on six of the seven continents. (Some races of barn owl, like those found in the northeastern part of the U.S., are endangered, according to Cornell Lab’s website.) They love to hide and nest in the rafters of barns and other abandoned buildings, typically hunt mice and other small rodents, and are known for their shrill screech—seriously, it’s terrifying.

But they aren’t aliens and they aren’t ghosts. Maybe they’re just like us: looking for love, rodents, and a beautiful, rustic barn to settle down in somewhere upstate.