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Wednesday, May 22, 2019

Justin Amash, the One True Tea Partyer

by digby

Long ago and far away there once was a political movement called "The Tea Party." Modeling themselves on the American revolutionaries who protested the tax on tea by the English king, millions of Americans came together to protest what they saw as an assault on the United States Constitution: the election of Barack Obama. By tax day in 2009, just three months after Obama's inauguration, the Wall Street Journal reported:
The protests began with bloggers in Seattle, Wash., who organized a demonstration on Feb. 16. As word of this spread, rallies in Denver and Mesa, Ariz., were quickly organized for the next day. Then came CNBC talker Rick Santelli’s Feb. 19 “rant heard round the world” in which he called for a “Chicago tea party” on July Fourth. The tea-party moniker stuck, but angry taxpayers weren’t willing to wait until July. Soon, tea-party protests were appearing in one city after another, drawing at first hundreds, and then thousands, to marches in cities from Orlando to Kansas City to Cincinnati.
The "rant heard round the world" was an angry commentary over an announced homeowner relief program in the midst of the worst financial crisis since the Great Depression. Santelli railed on TV that "bailing out" homeowners defrauded by banks would promote "bad behavior" — by the "loser" homeowners, not the banks. From there the Tea Party became a full-fledged movement that organized itself around low taxes, opposition to health care reform and (supposedly) protection of the Constitution.

They wore Revolutionary War costumes with white wigs and tricorner hats to their rallies. They waved both the American flag and the Gadsden flag ("Don't Tread on Me") and carried pocket Constitutions as if it was the Bible. NPR attended a Tea Party meeting in Virginia in 2010 and spoke to some of the activists:
Karen Cole says she carries a copy in her purse. "The Democrats are eviscerating our Constitution," she says. Her friend Betty Anne Olsen agrees. "This current administration is trashing our Constitution; they couldn't care less about the values. They're breaking the laws." And how does she know that? "I do not study the Constitution, no, but I'm well aware of my history," Olsen says. "I'm well aware of how this country was founded, and I'm well aware of what has happened to it in current years."
This was only 10 years ago, but it seems like a lifetime. A lot has happened since then and we are in a different political world. But for a time the Tea Party was the most active mass movement in American politics and its influence on the Republican Party cannot be overstated. In 2010 they threw the Democrats out of power in Congress in a massive midterm wave election, sending a group of hardcore right-wingers to Washington. They even took out a few Republican moderates just to show they could and basically held the threat of primaries over anyone in the GOP who didn't toe the line.

In the House these Tea Party politicians formed themselves into the Freedom Caucus, presenting themselves as purists who were deeply committed to a strict adherence to small government principles and the Constitution. Some of the founding members are still in the House, such as Mark Meadows of North Carolina (leader of the Freedom Caucus) and Jim Jordan of Ohio (ranking member of the Oversight Committee). Others have moved up, like Ron DeSantis, who was elected governor of Florida last year, and Mick Mulvaney of South Carolina, who now serves as White House chief of staff.

And there is Rep. Justin Amash of Michigan, one of the Freedom Caucus founders most ecstatically endorsed year after year by Tea Party groups:
Tea Party Express is endorsing Rep. Justin Amash for reelection to the U.S. House of Representatives. Justin Amash is an active leader in Congress working to create real solutions. But most of all he strives to protect our foundation in freedom and his work is not finished. “I follow a set of principles, I follow the Constitution,” Amash once explained to the NY Times. “And that’s what I base my votes on."
As it turns out, Amash is literally the only member of the Freedom Caucus who took any of that stuff seriously. The rest have become the most sycophantic of Donald Trump's toadies, acting as his most loyal henchmen. Their dedication to the Constitution and fiscal rectitude seems to have evaporated on the day Barack Obama left office. The Tea Party itself has morphed into the Donald Trump base, gleefully abandoning all the principles it claimed to hold dear and instead cheering on Trump's endless betrayal of constitutional principles.

Amash, on the other hand, seems to have believed what he said. He took to Twitter over the weekend, becoming the first major elected Republican to have the guts to state the obvious. He had read the Mueller report and recognized that President Trump has committed impeachable offenses. Anyone who has read it and acting in good faith would say the same thing but so far Amash stands alone among Republican members of Congress.

His fellow Republicans are not happy about it. Trump called Amash a "loser" and a "lightweight." Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., said, “I don’t think anybody is going to follow his lead." House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy declared that Amash was "just looking for attention" and is "out of step with America." Amash's longtime buddies in the Freedom Caucus formally condemned him on Monday night.

I don't agree with most of Amash's libertarian philosophy. But he is a champion of civil liberties and a harsh critic of government surveillance overreach. I've often admired his willingness to stand up to his party on those issues in the past, and it's telling that he never signed onto their "deep state" conspiracy theory to protect Donald Trump. Given Amash's record, if there was the slightest granule of plausibility to those theories, he'd be on board. Now he's gone further and called for the president's impeachment, based on the fact that Trump committed crimes while in office, a genuine affront to the constitutional order.

In each of these cases, Amash is acting on principle and his critics in his own party are rank hypocrites, particularly the ones who came into office riding that Tea Party wave a decade ago. I wish I agreed with some observers that this is a break in the GOP logjam and more Republicans will be joining him. But that's not likely. The Tea Party unseated most of the sensible people in the Republican Party and replaced them with the exactly the kind of authoritarian followers the authors of the Constitution were trying to prevent from wielding power. It appears that Amash is the only one of them who's ever read it.



Improving lives and shaving margins

by Tom Sullivan

Arthur, Nebraska

The last time Democrats flipped a congressional seat in this largely rural district, they lost the reddest large county by just over 3,000 votes. "Losing" in that heavily Republican county by only ten percent was itself a huge victory. Sometimes winning is just about shaving the margins.

A friend (a former Republican) asked for messaging advice at a fundraiser over the weekend. When canvassing in such places, not for particular candidates but for voter engagement, what should volunteers say when asked what Democrats stand for?

A poll last fall by National Public Radio (NPR) and the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation found 55 percent of rural Americans rated their local economy only fair or poor. A follow-up poll just released examined economic insecurity and health:

Several findings stand out: A substantial number (40%) of rural Americans struggle with routine medical bills, food and housing. And about half (49%) say they could not afford to pay an unexpected $1,000 expense of any type.

One-quarter of respondents (26%) said they have not been able to get health care when they needed it at some point in recent years. That's despite the fact that nearly 9 in 10 (87%) have health insurance of some sort — a level of coverage that is higher now than a decade ago, in large part owing to the Affordable Care Act and the expansion of Medicaid in many states.
The Affordable Care Act when combined with the Medicare expansion brought health care access to many who previously had none. But it is still not enough:
Of those not able to get health care when they needed it, the poll found that 45% could not afford it, 23% said the health care location was too far or difficult to get to, and 22% could not get an appointment during the hours needed.

Dee Davis, president and founder of the Center for Rural Strategies in Whitesburg, Ky., says poverty and ill health are endemic where he lives. "People in this congressional district have the shortest life span in the United States; we also are the poorest," Davis says. "We're poor and we're sicker."
What's more, a second NPR report finds that of respondents who reported they could not get needed health care, one quarter said their communities were too remote from the nearest clinic:
Rural hospitals are in decline. Over 100 have closed since 2010 and hundreds more are vulnerable. As of December 2018, there were more than 7,000 areas in the U.S. with health professional shortages, nearly 60 percent of which were in rural areas.
Dave Mosely writes that 21 percent of the nation's rural hospitals risk closure, and nearly half of rural hospitals in Alabama, Mississippi, and Alaska. The study by Navigant finds this amounts to "about 430 hospitals in 43 states that collectively provide care for millions of Americans and employ more than 150,000 people." Lack of access and/or time and long distances involved to reach them can prove deadly.

The Tennessean inadvertently identifies why this is happening across the country (emphasis mine):
The closure of a local hospital is a very real possibility for the people of Greeneville, a hardscrabble Appalachian community of 15,000 about an hour east of Knoxville. The facilities here, Laughlin Memorial Hospital and Takoma Regional Hospital, have been half-empty and losing money at least four years in a row. New owners recently fused Laughlin and Takoma in a desperate effort to become profitable, and officials admit that both hospitals were likely to close in a few years without intervention.
For-profit health care is why. The United States operates hundreds of overseas military bases and thousands of installations on every continent except Antarctica. Getting accurate counts and costs is problematic. Like rural hospitals, most of them are out of sight and mind. All of them exist to protect American lives and interests. None of them are expected to operate at a profit. Yet somehow, they manage.

NPR reports the U.S. has approximately 1,860 rural hospitals.

What do Democrats stand for? Health care as available and no-deductible as our military, for one. Hospitals not required to operate at a profit need not close. Costs need not spiral out of control. This country's archaic system of for-profit health care drives both. Obamacare was step one in remedying that. Step two must be some variety of universal care with no out-of-pocket cost and care accessible to rural as well as to urban communities.

The NPR polling also finds financial insecurity impacts many in rural America. Unexpected expenses of $1,000 or more for health care or a car repair send many families into a tailspin:
Overall, nearly half (49%) said they wouldn't be able to afford that. And more than 6 in 10 rural black and Latinx Americans said they would have a problem paying that off (blacks, 68%; Latinx, 62%), compared with 45% of rural whites.
Lack of economic opportunity coexists with lack of health care availability:
In areas where higher-speed Internet access is available, people are turning to telehealth instead of going to a doctor or clinic. But broadband access is a perennial issue in many parts of rural America, with 1 in 5 (21%) saying that accessing high-speed Internet is a problem for their family. Among those who do use the Internet, a majority say they do so to obtain health information (68%).
What do Democrats stand for? Broadband expansion on the scale of rural electrification as an engine of economic development in rural America. Plus, as a support for thinly available health care, at least until they can deliver health care as universal as telephone and electrical service.

One of the NC state representatives at last weekend's fundraiser was introduced as Representative Broadband. He gets it.

But the broader problem of financial stability involves addressing the wage gap and economic inequality.

Electing candidates focused on addressing that systemic problem rather than on finding ways to assign blame to voters for it might help.

When knocking those doors, I recommended listening first and talking later. Ask about people's financial and health care concerns and insecurities. It is not stepping on any candidate's message to suggest Democrats want, first, to perfect Obamacare or truly replace the current system with something available and accessible to everyone everywhere, and second, to work toward shrinking the wage/wealth gap that has left them feeling as though they serve the economy instead of the other way around.

Tuesday, May 21, 2019

Trump continues to screw his base and they love every minute of it

by digby

The farmers are facing devastation:

Republican Sen. Jerry Moran of Kansas raised dire concerns over the Trump administration’s intensifying tariff war with China, warning Department of Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue on Monday that the impact on American farmers could prove devastating.

In a letter to Perdue, the lawmaker contended that the back-and-forth levying of tariffs threatens “to cause long term damage to U.S. agriculture.”

“Kansas farmers and ranchers understand the need to hold China accountable for bad behavior on trade,” he wrote. “Yet, net farm income has fallen by 50% since 2013 and the trade war has pushed commodity prices down even further. Many farmers and ranchers are on the verge of financial collapse.”

Earlier this month, trade negotiations between the U.S. and China collapsed, prompting tensions to escalate further following more than a year of tit-for-tat tariffs.

Less than two weeks ago, the U.S. hit $200 billion worth of Chinese goods with tariffs ranging from 25% to 10%. China retaliated days later with plans to slap new tariffs of between 25% to 5% on about $60 billion of U.S. products.

Though President Donald Trump has falsely claimed that the tariffs he’s imposed are being paid by the Chinese themselves, White House chief economic adviser Larry Kudlow acknowledged last week that American consumers and businesses will have to foot the bill.

On Wednesday, Purdue announced that an estimated $20 billion in trade assistance would be given to farmers to help ease their strain, similar to last year’s $12 billion in relief. But Moran argued that isn’t a sustainable solution, noting that producers have been told not to expect further payouts.

“This inherent unpredictability of ad hoc disaster assistance underlies the strong preference of farmers and ranchers for markets to sell their livestock and crops instead of government payments,” he said.

They are losing their markets every single day this continues. Other countries will find other suppliers and they will just stick with them long after Trump's mindless tariff obsession is done. Anyone who has ever sold things understands that losing customers for a period of time is a very bad thing. They may very well not come back.

Nonetheless, polls are showing that these rural farmers still love Trump and think he's a genius who knows best. This is a cult-like level of loyalty.

He's already as unpopular as Nixon was 6 months into the Watergate hearings

by digby

It's driving me nuts that we have to keep making this point, but we do. Here's historian Kevin Kruse doing it succinctly on twitter:

House Democrats are worried about possible political blowback from an impeachment inquiry into a president whose crimes have already been laid out in detail by others and who currently has a pathetic 38% approval.

For comparison, Nixon had just been re-elected in a landslide and stood at 65% approval when Democrats launched the Senate Watergate inquiry in February 1973.

The full airing of evidence and testimony against Nixon quickly eroded his support, bringing it to 39% in July 1973.

It's idiotic to think that Trump is currently too strong to launch formal impeachment proceedings or, short of that, a committee to air the evidence and testimony against him.

It's even more idiotic to assume that once that process begins, it'll somehow drive his numbers *up*
This fear that Trump is some kind of wizard who will be able to parlay impeachment into a big victory is irrational. Yes, Clinton was popular when he was impeached. But he started out with a nearly 60% approval rating!!! And the impeachment charges were over a consensual, if inappropriate, sexual affair!!! 

This president's crimes are real and they are serious. They involve him breaking the law to cover up for his campaign's welcome acceptance of Russian sabotage of his rival's campaign. The only reason that welcoming acceptance isn't explicitly illegal is because nobody in their right mind ever thought a candidate for president of the United States would ever do such a thing.

The details in the report are shocking and they need to be seen coming from the mouths of the Trump intimates who testified about them in order for the country to understand just how outrageous his behavior really was. 

If Democrats believe what's in the report they shouldn't be afraid of impeachment hearings. The Starr report and the Clinton impeachment served to show the American people that the Republicans were a bunch of obsessives who'd been investigating for 6 years and came up with zilch until Monica Lewinsky.

The Mueller Report is not the Starr Report. It's serious and the president's actions are blatantly criminal. The Dems should have nothing to fear about making that clear to the American people ... unless, of course, they believe Americans are so self-centered that they literally don't care about their country or its future. It sometimes sounds as if that's what they think. And I think it's wrong.

The new Q poll has Trump at 38%

by digby

And his disapproval is at 57%. Two weeks ago it was at 41%. Only 31% say they will definitely vote for him to 54% who say they would definitely not vote for him.

I'm not surprised that 54% say they definitely won't vote for him. That tracks with his disapproval rate almost from the beginning. It's that 31% that I find interesting. I would have thought that would track with his approval rating over time too which is usually somewhere around 40%.

This was interesting too and important to keep in mind.

Only Biden has a positive approval rating at the moment. But as Josh Marshal says, "for most of these Democrats it’s that most haven’t heard enough to make a judgement either way. So what you’re seeing here is to a significant extent confirmed GOP partisans knowing to hate them just on the basis of their party with others not having a clear opinion."

Nonetheless, it's important to remember that presidential elections come down to a choice between two people (or voting 3rd party as a protest vote.) We're a long way from knowing what that choice is going to be and how the American people will receive it.

QOTD: Susan Collins

by digby

She's very confused about all this:

"Abortion remains a very contentious issue in the country, and people have heartfelt views on both sides of the issue.

I’m not sure exactly why we're seeing this happen, but most of the laws are not as extreme as Alabama’s.

Alabama seems to have gone further than any other state.”

I don't suppose it's because they got their right-wing majority on the Supreme Court is it Susan? That, unlike you, everyone in the country understood that Brett Kavanaugh was lying to your face about "observing precedent" and would strike down Roe the firstchance he got?

And, by the way, moving the goal posts by saying that not all the laws being passed in the states are quite as bad as Alabama's isn't going to work. All the laws they're passing are an affront to women's status as free and equal human beings. And Collins can thank herself for all of it. She stood on the floor of the Senate and gave her big important speech for Kavanaugh --- and everyone in the nation could see was a green light to outlaw Roe.


Uh oh. Is Mueller going to be Trump's savior?

by digby

I hope this is a strategic move
by the Mueller team in order to assure the public that they are reluctant participants in the partisan wars in order to preserve their credibility. If not, and they really don't think this president should be impeached and fail to see how important it is that Mueller himself be the one to testify publicly in front of the whole country --- well then we are well and truly fucked:

Special counsel Robert Mueller's team has expressed reluctance to him testifying publicly in front of the House Judiciary Committee, according to sources familiar with the matter.

The special counsel's team has expressed the notion that Mueller does not want to appear political after staying behind the scenes for two years and not speaking as he conducted his investigation into President Donald Trump. One option is to have him testify behind closed doors, but sources caution numerous options are being considered in the negotiations between the committee and the special counsel's team.
Justice officials are generally supportive of how the special counsel's team is proceeding with negotiations. As Attorney General Bill Barr told The Wall Street Journal last week: "It's Bob's call whether he wants to testify."

Special counsel spokesman Peter Carr and the Justice Department declined to comment on the current status of negotiations.
House Judiciary Chairman Jerry Nadler, a New York Democrat, has repeatedly said that Mueller must appear publicly, and he will subpoena Mueller if necessary.

"Eventually we will hear from Mueller because ... we will subpoena him if we have to," Nadler told CNN earlier this month. "I certainly hope it doesn't come to the, to our necessity to subpoena him," he added.

Rep. Doug Collins, the top Republican on the Judiciary Committee, suggested at Tuesday's hearing, a meeting where former White House counsel Don McGahn did not appear after being subpoenaed, that Democrats appeared to have a lack of urgency scheduling Mueller's testimony.

"We've subpoenaed the documents, we've subpoenaed the underlying documents, we've subpoenaed stuff that we can't get, but the one thing that we seem to avoid is Mr. Mueller himself, the one who wrote it," Collins said. "We've asked since April about Mr. Mueller coming. But every time we seem to get close to Mueller, Mueller just gets pushed on a little bit. Haven't seen a subpoena here, and this is what's really amazing -- we'll get back to subpoenas in a moment -- but just think about that. You wanted the work of the author, but you don't want to talk to the author."

After the hearing, Collins would not say whether he'd support a subpoena for Mueller's testimony.

Separately, Nadler told CNN's Chris Cuomo on Monday he doesn't know what's keeping Mueller as an employee of the Justice Department, suggesting he was "more subject to their discipline" than he would be as a private citizen. "The report is finished. I don't know why he is still there," Nadler said.

Mueller has been seen arriving for work almost every morning since the report was released in April.

Again, this may or may not be true. And if it is, it may be a strategy.

But its also true that Barr and Mueller grew out of the same political petrie dish. Maybe when push comes to shove, Mueller just can't separate himself from his homies.


Trump's war criminal muse

by digby

I mentioned this is passing in my piece
about the war criminal pardons the other day. I had no idea how much influence this psycho has but it is ... problematic:

If the president pardons U.S. servicemen accused and convicted of war crimes, you can thank one of Donald Trump’s favorite cable-news hosts.

Over the weekend, news broke that President Trump is preparing to pardon several U.S. servicemen involved in high-profile cases of gunning down civilians or killing detainees, with the White House having already ordered that the necessary paperwork be drawn up ahead of the coming Memorial Day. The news came roughly two months after Trump publicly intervened in what he called “restrictive” confinement conditions of one of the alleged war criminals.

At the heart of both these moves has been a months-long lobbying campaign by Pete Hegseth, a Fox & Friends co-host and a buddy and informal adviser of the president’s.

Since as early as January, Hegseth has repeatedly pressed the president to support the accused and convicted servicemen. Among those Hegseth—himself an Iraq War veteran and formerly the head of the conservative group Concerned Veterans for America—has advocated for is Special Operations Chief Edward Gallagher, a Navy SEAL platoon leader set to stand trial on May 28 for allegedly shooting civilians, including a school-age girl, and knifing to death a captured ISIS fighter receiving medical treatment in Iraq in 2017.

According to three people with knowledge of the situation, Hegseth had multiple private conversations on the topic with President Trump over the past four-and-a-half months, with Gallagher’s case among those he pushed. The Fox & Friends host repeatedly told Trump that the process had been “very unfair” to Gallagher, two of these sources tell The Daily Beast. Hegseth pushed the president not only to publicly help Gallagher, but since at least March has specifically advised Trump to pardon him and the other men, the sources said.

The lobbying appears to have been persuasive. The president went to bat for Gallagher on Twitter in March. And in recent weeks, Trump has at least once described the way Gallagher has been treated as “total bullshit,” according to a source with direct knowledge of the comment. With the possibility of a pardon to come, Hegseth’s behind-the-scenes work also underscores how heavily the president has relied on Fox News stars not just for support and messaging assistance but for actual counsel on policy.

Hegseth, whom Trump had previously considered for senior posts in his administration, hasn’t been alone in pushing Gallagher’s case to Trump. He’s worked privately with like-minded political figures, such as Rep. Duncan Hunter (R-CA), one of the knowledgeable sources said.

Hunter, a former Marine who served in Iraq and Afghanistan, has become one of the most vocal advocates on Capitol Hill for Gallagher and other servicemen accused of war crimes. His Twitter feed is a stream of attempts to turn Gallagher into a conservative hero, along with links to his appearances with Hegseth and other right-wing media personalities to make the case for Gallagher, and photos of his meetings to check up on the Navy SEAL and his family.

Several other lawmakers close to the president have joined along. Rep. Matt Gaetz (R-FL), a Trump confidant, co-signed a letter to the White House with Hunter in January urging the president to dismiss the charges against the SEAL chief. In March, Rep. Ralph Norman (R-SC) tweeted that he had spoken directly on the issue with Trump and thanked him for moving Gallagher to “less restrictive confinement.”

On May 8, Hunter convened a press conference on Capitol Hill after inviting his colleagues to review what he claimed was “smoking gun” video proof of Gallagher’s innocence. Hunter and fellow lawmakers said the footage—reportedly assembled from helmet cameras belonging to other members of Gallagher’s platoon—showed Gallagher tending to the wounds of a teenage Islamic State fighter. The SEAL chief is facing criminal charges based on allegations from his own men that he knifed that wounded fighter to death, posed with his corpse, and then threatened anyone who complained, in addition to accusations that he would open fire on unarmed civilians.

Gallagher’s attorney told the military news outlet Task & Purpose that a judge allowed him to show the helmet footage to lawmakers, but not to members of the media. Hunter’s office declined to comment for this story.

As of press time, the White House didn’t respond to messages seeking comment. Hegseth and Fox News, for their part, did not respond to The Daily Beast’s requests for comment either.

Unable to sign his name to a congressional letter, Hegseth has instead used his perch on Fox News to push Gallagher’s case and those of other accused vets. And he’s done it all without appearing to have ever disclosed that he was advising Trump on such matters, according to a Daily Beast review of the footage.

Hegseth and his Fox & Friends colleagues have interviewed the families of Gallagher and Maj. Mathew Golsteyn—who was charged with murdering an Afghan male detainee and burying the body rather than releasing him in 2010—often pleading with Trump to pardon the men. “These guys make tough calls in moments for most people have never been a part of in their life,” Hegseth said to Gallagher’s brother Sean in February, “and then folks in suits in Washington, D.C., they throw paper at them and accuse them of things.”

In April, Hegseth interviewed Don Brown, a defense lawyer for 1st Lt. Clint Lorance, who was convicted in 2013 of ordering the murder of two Afghan civilians who his own soldiers said posed no threat. “Mr. President, you have the greatest signature of all presidents who I have ever seen historically,” Brown begged, claiming that, as commander-in-chief, Trump has the power to “disallow” the sentence against his client. “Clint is guilty of nothing except for being a red-blooded American patriot who put his lives on the line for his country.”

In December, Hegseth floated the idea of pardoning Gallagher, saying on-air that “guys like these can be pardoned.”

On Sunday, Hegseth said on Fox & Friends Weekend that he “can’t stand” news outlets referring to the charges against Gallagher as war crimes. “These are men who went into the most dangerous places on earth with a job to defend us and made tough calls on a moment’s notice,” he said. “They’re not war criminals, they’re warriors.” In fact, he has dismissed the soldiers’ alleged crimes as simply having made “tough calls” on at least eight separate occasions this year.

Ultimately, Hegseth said on Sunday, Trump pardoning Lorance, Gallagher, Golsteyn, and others would be “heartening for guys like me and others in the service” who want a president “defending the war fighter.”

War fighter = war criminal.

Those who have talked to Hegseth tell The Daily Beast that he strongly views current rules of engagement as too restrictive, and that that restrictive nature sets U.S. troops up for failure and to be unfairly branded as criminals or monsters in combat zones.

But not every “war fighter” in the service is eager to declare solidarity with the likes of Gallagher or Golsteyn. A former Special Forces soldier familiar with the incident said the rules of engagement are valuable and Golsteyn broke them. “[T]he idea [that] he is a Green Beret hero when he murdered a dude in cold blood and hid the evidence is not what we do,” the soldier said. “He is giving the regiment a bad name… People like him make people mistrust us.”

Another Special Forces soldier who served with the same Fort Bragg-based unit as Golsteyn told The Daily Beast that if prosecutors prove Golsteyn and Gallagher did what they were accused of, they are murderers.

“We have a set of principles,” the Green Beret said. “That is what separates us. Neither one of the guys weren't aware of the consequences of their actions.”

He continued, “Geneva Conventions provide us with ample opportunity to get rid of the enemy. They were well aware their [alleged] actions were illegal… Rules of Engagement isn’t based in philosophy, it’s based on law, which they both knew. The character of the individuals allegedly killed doesn’t change the Rules of Engagement.”

Those concerns haven’t stopped prominent figures in the Trump orbit, chief among them Hegseth, from whispering in the president’s ear about how he should support these men. And it hasn’t stopped the president from reacting favorably to their efforts.

“At the request of many, I will be reviewing the case of a ‘U.S. Military hero,’ Major Matt Golsteyn, who is charged with murder. He could face the death penalty from our own government after he admitted to killing a Terrorist bomb maker while overseas,” Trump posted to Twitter on December 16.

Fox News is running the country.



Trump's betting on simple math

by Tom Sullivan

Donald Trump's administration suffered yet another in its ongoing string of court losses on Monday. In a 41-page ruling, U.S. District Court Judge Amit Mehta declared Trump's effort to block a congressional subpoena for records from his accounting firm was without merit:

In addition to upholding the House Oversight and Reform Committee’s subpoena to accounting firm Mazars USA for eight years of Trump’s financial records, Mehta took the extra step of denying the president’s request for a stay pending appeal.

Jay Sekulow, one of the president’s personal attorneys, said: “We will be filing a timely notice of appeal to the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals.”
That would be the same Jay Sekulow former Trump personal attorney Michael Cohen implicated along with the sitting president in possible obstruction of justice and suborning his perjury, according to a transcript of Cohen's testimony before the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence released Monday. But I digress.

Sweeping aside the administration's assertion it is immune from congressional oversight, Mehta wrote:
According to the Oversight Committee, it believes that the requested records will aid its consideration of strengthening ethics and disclosure laws, as well as amending the penalties for violating such laws. The Committee also says that the records will assist in monitoring the President’s compliance with the Foreign Emoluments Clauses. These are facially valid legislative purposes, and it is not for the court to question whether the Committee’s actions are truly motivated by political considerations. Accordingly, the court will enter judgment in favor of the Oversight Committee.
The sitting president insisted he would appeal and called the ruling "crazy," adding, “We think it’s totally the wrong decision by, obviously, an Obama-appointed judge.”

Leading the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals to which Trump will appeal is Judge Merrick Garland. But I digress.

Mehta's ruling came hours after Trump blocked former White House counsel Don McGahn from testifying before Congress. McGahn, a key witness in the Mueller investigation, was expected to testify to his own statements already published in the publicly available Muller report. The sitting president fears McGahn's televised testimony could negatively impact public opinion on impeachment. Trump insists the investigation exonerated him of all wrongdoing. (It did not.)

As a private citizen McGahn, is not obligated to obey the White House directive nor the Office of Legal Counsel memo drafted to support the president's demand. But McGahn will accede to the president's instructions, his attorney wrote in a letter obtained by the Washington Post.

Trump continues to stonewall all inquiries no matter how much he loses in court. The bad habits of a lifetime of using the "simple math" of the cost of lawsuits to stiff small businesses he's cheated will not work with federal courts or with Congress.

Not that he won't try. Unlike cheated contractors, Congress may not run out of money to fight Trump in court (nor tire of beating him repeatedly). Trump is betting again on simple math, on Congress running out of time ahead of the 2020 election. That is, unless more Democrats like Rhode Island congressman David Cicilline run out of patience first.

Monday, May 20, 2019

Border Patrol culture is sick

by digby

I'm going to guess this fine fellow is looking at a big fat pardon:

In November 2017, U.S. Border Patrol Agent Matthew Bowen fumed about the humane treatment his agency was expected to give migrants who had illegally crossed into the country.

“PLEASE let us take the gloves off trump!” he texted another agent who, at the time, was facing criminal charges for shooting an unarmed Mexican teenager through the border fence. Migrants, Bowen suggested, are “disgusting subhuman s--- unworthy of being kindling for a fire.”

Less than two weeks later, prosecutors say, Bowen hit one such migrant with his truck, coming inches away from running the man over — and then lied about the incident in a report.

The texts came to light in filings last month in U.S. District Court in Tucson as Bowen’s attorney fought to suppress a flurry of messages in which the agent used slurs and made light of violence by agents. But Bowen’s views are hardly extraordinary, argued his attorney, Sean Chapman. Rather, his sentiments are “commonplace throughout the Border Patrol’s Tucson Sector,” Chapman wrote, adding that such messages are “part of the agency’s culture.”

Chapman later clarified in an email to The Washington Post that he intended that argument only to apply to one particular term Bowen regularly used in texts: “tonk,” which some agents claim is an innocent acronym, the Arizona Republic reported, and others say is a slur derived from the sound of hitting an immigrant on the head with a flashlight.

The Tucson Sector of the Border Patrol didn’t immediately return a message about the texts, though it noted to the Arizona Daily Star on Sunday that agents are “held to the highest standards, and any action of misconduct within our ranks will not be tolerated.”

[Breaking point: Five hours of the migrant crush in Texas]

The inflammatory messages are the latest public relations challenge for an overwhelmed agency facing a massive wave of asylum seekers at the southern border and regular allegations from immigration and civil rights groups of abusive behavior toward migrants.

In the dozens of texts introduced in an April 4 filing, Bowen uses racial slurs and insults like “s---bags” to refer to migrants.

In one text exchange, an unnamed agent asked Bowen, “Did you gas hiscorpse (sic) or just use regular peanut oil while tazing?? For a frying effect.” Bowen responded: “Guats are best made crispy, with olive oil from their native pais,” using the Spanish word for “country” that doubles as an insult toward Guatemalans, the Daily Star reported. In another text, he refers to “mindless murdering savages.”

The criminal case against Bowen dates to the morning of Dec. 3, 2017, when a U.S. Customs and Border Protection camera operator spotted a 23-year-old Guatemalan man named Antolin Lopez Aguilar, who was suspected of jumping the border fence in Nogales, according to a federal indictment. As Lopez sprinted to a nearby gas station, Bowen and two other agents responded in separate vehicles.

While one agent hopped out and found Lopez hiding under a semi-truck, Bowen circled the station in his Border Patrol-issued Ford F-150. When the migrant tried to run back toward the border, prosecutors say, Bowen “accelerated aggressively” in his truck. He hit Lopez twice from behind, knocking him down the second time and screeching to a stop “within inches” of running him over, according to the feds. Lopez was treated at the hospital for abrasions and later sentenced to 30 days in federal prison for illegally entering the country, the Republic reported.

Prosecutors say Bowen later filed a false report about what happened that morning. In text messages included in the court filing, he repeatedly complains about facing scrutiny over the incident.

“I bumped a guat with a truck while driving about 7 mph,” he wrote in one text. “No injury at all and tonk refused medical.”

In another, he wrote that “If I had to tackle the tonk I would still be doing memos,” adding, “I wonder how they expect us to apprehend wild . . . runners who don’t want to be apprehended?'

One day after the incident, he texted with Agent Lonnie Swartz, who would later be acquitted of manslaughter for firing 10 rounds into an unarmed Mexican teen as agents were being hit by rocks thrown across the border. He texted Swartz that the incident was “just a little push with a ford bumper.”

Prosecutors have argued in court filings that the texts show that Bowen had “great disdain” for the migrants he policed at the border, the Daily Star reported. But Chapman countered: “How Mr. Bowen referred to aliens in specific text does not aid the jury in determining whether he, on this occasion, set out to use excessive force to apprehend the alleged victim.”

Bowen has pleaded not guilty to charges of deprivation of rights under color of law and falsification of records in a federal investigation. Chapman didn’t immediately respond to a message from The Washington Post.

Bowen, who was hired in 2008, was put on indefinite leave without pay after his charges were filed in May 2018. His trial is scheduled to start on Aug. 13.

It seems there are whole lot of racist psychopaths in uniform in this country. Somehow that doesn't make me feel safe. I can't imagine what racial and ethnic minorities must feel. It's horrifying.

He really can shoot someone on 5th Avenue and not lose any voters

by digby

TPM reports:

Sen. Chris Coons (D-DE) alluded on Monday morning that Rep. Justin Amash (R-MI) might not be the only Republican who thinks President Trump engaged in conduct that was “borderline or actually illegal.”

During an interview with CNN, Coons said he was “surprised” at Amash for “saying publicly what I think many are thinking privately.” Coons then raised the prospect that he’s had “conversations” with Republicans about their true thoughts on the report.

“Those who have read the Mueller report cannot avoid the conclusion that the President and some of his absolutely core advisers engaged in profoundly disappointing, reprehensible conduct that would rise to the level of an obstruction of justice charge if he were anyone other than the president of the United States,” he said.

“You don’t think Republicans are thinking that privately do you?” CNN’s Alisyn Camerota asked.

“Yes,” he said.

“What makes you say that?” she prodded.

“Conversations. …. There are very few who would be willing to say publicly that this conduct is reprehensible for a president,” he said, clarifying that there’s a “big difference” between believing something is “borderline or actually illegal” and saying they would vote to impeach the president.

“I have not spoken to a single Republican senator who would vote to remove the president,” he said. “Many privately expressed concerns about what was revealed in the Mueller report in part because of the gap between what Attorney General Barr characterized as being in the Mueller report and what was actually in the Mueller report for those who have taken the time to read through it.”

There's a difference between a president acting in ways that are "borderline if actually illegal" and actually doing something about it. In other words, if a Republican president is a criminal, they're fine with it. Obviously, they would be completely apeshit, if a Democrat did what Trump has done.

We already knew that if a Republican president is an unfit, imbecile completely in over his head they are fine with it, so I suppose this isn't that different.

Maybe I'm being too Pollyannaish but I honestly don't think Democrats would go along with their president being this bad in every way. Tribalism might make them excuse some of this behavior but I can't believe they'd let all of this go unchallenged. After all, when Clinton was accused of having unauthorized fellatio, they took to the floor and denounced him as the worst role model in history and refused to vote for impeachment only because the charges were so trivial didn't rise to the level of high crimes and misdemeanors, which was the correct decision. It was a ridiculous set-up, unworthy of the US Congress and everyone knew it.

In this case we have mountains of evidence that the president, his family and his cronies welcomed the sabotage of his opponent by Russian agents, that he tried repeatedly to cover it up, that he's making money hand over fist from the presidency, that he's a complete ignoramus about policy and the only thing that's saved us from a major international (so far) is the fact that he hasn't provoked a mistake by a hostile power or his subordinates aren't following through on his orders.

It's a total catastrophe. And the Republicans in congress are accomplices.

Kris Kobach is a little prince

by digby

This guy is a real piece of work. So naturally he's in line for a big job in the Trump administration:

Access to a government jet 24 hours a day. An office in the West Wing, plus guaranteed weekends off for family time. And an assurance of being made secretary of homeland security by November.

Those were among a list of 10 conditions that Kris Kobach, the former Kansas secretary of state, has given to the White House if he is to become the administration’s “immigration czar,” a job President Trump has been looking to create to coordinate immigration policy across government agencies. The list was described by three people familiar with it.

Mr. Kobach, who once served as an adviser to the hard-line immigration Sheriff Joe Arpaio and helped write an Arizona law requiring local officials to verify the citizenship of anyone they had “reasonable suspicion” to believe was an unauthorized immigrant, said he would need to be the main television spokesman for the Trump administration on immigration policy. And he said he wanted a guarantee that cabinet secretaries whose portfolios relate to immigration would defer to him, with the president mediating disputes if need be.

The list was submitted by Mr. Kobach in recent weeks as he discussed his interest in the job. Other conditions included having a staff of seven reporting to him, “walk in” privileges to the Oval Office, a security detail if deemed necessary and the title of assistant to the president.

He would need access to the jet, he said, for weekly visits to the border and travel back to Kansas on the weekends. The existence of the list has become known among officials in the Trump administration, some of whom were taken aback by what they regard as its presumptuousness.

Taken aback? Lol. Why? Kobach just looks around the Trump administration and figures he deserves a taste of all that wealth and power. Why shouldn't he?

"I don't want some female who wants her agenda"

by digby

The NY Times checks in with the most important people in the whole world and guess what? They still love them some Trump:

What I want from a president is the rest of the world to look at him and go, ‘Don’t mess with that guy, he will get even,’” Mr. Franks said one morning in the Yankee Kitchen in Vienna Township, Ohio. “I don’t want kinder, gentler. I don’t want some female that wants her agenda.”

Surprised? I'm not.

Matt Borges, a former chairman of the Ohio Republican Party, said a fundamental demographic realignment has taken place under Mr. Trump. “We’ve traded off suburban Republicans who may never find their way back to the party for that white working-class traditional Democratic voter, who has been more and more alienated from their party’s rhetoric,” he said. “Is this a long-term gain for Republicans here? Yes.”

About 40 percent of the union autoworkers at the General Motors plant in Lordstown, Ohio, voted for Mr. Trump, which was twice the support for Republican presidential candidates in the past, said Tim O’Hara, vice president of United Auto Workers Local 1112, which represents the factory.

He said very few were abandoning the president, even after the plant, which made the Chevy Cruze, laid off thousands of workers in three waves since Mr. Trump’s election. At a rally in Youngstown in 2017, the president promised the jobs in shuttered factories “are all coming back,’’ urging, “Don’t move, don’t sell your houses.’’

Mr. O’Hara advised Democratic presidential candidates not to waste breath trying to win back union voters who supported Mr. Trump.

“I don’t think those Trump people are going to flip back, even if it’s Joe Biden, who has a lot of support in this area,” he said. “I think they’re dug in on Trump. Whatever happens, they’re going to go down with the ship with him.”

These are not the kind of people to admit they were wrong. They are the same people, after all, who would rather forego benefits for themselves and their families than allow racial minorities to have them as well. They are a large subculture of Americans that goes all the way back to the beginning. It is xenophobic, nationalistic, overwhelmingly white and extremely defensive about its culture, demanding that they be allowed to dominate no matter how many others disagree with them.  It used to be concentrated in one region but it's now dispersed throughout the exurbs and rural areas of America.

That is not to say that all the people in those areas fell that way. There's this report today as well:
Donald Trump’s aides and allies are moving aggressively to shore up his support in three Rust Belt states that propelled him to the presidency — but where his own polling shows him in trouble heading into 2020.

Trump will travel to Pennsylvania Monday for a rally that comes after recent visits to Wisconsin and Michigan, two other states at the center of his reelection strategy. Those appearances are just the most public display of his team’s efforts to fortify his standing.

Behind the scenes, they've rushed to the aid of languishing state Republican Party machines and have raised concerns that a potential GOP Senate candidate in Michigan could hurt the president’s prospects there. They are also scrutinizing the map for opportunities to fire up his base in the trio of states.

The moves come at a time of growing anxiety over the geographic linchpin of his 2020 hopes. The Trump campaign recently completed a 17-state polling project that concluded the president trails Joe Biden in Pennsylvania, Wisconsin and Michigan, according to two people briefed on the results. America First Action, the principal pro-Trump super PAC, is expected to conduct its own polling and focus groups in Pennsylvania and Michigan later this summer.

He only won in those states by 77,000 votes. Any erosion is bad news for him even if the vast majority of his supporters still worship him.

So, all is not lost. But it's going to be a battle. These people are not living in the same reality that we are.


Somebody seems a little agitated

by digby

I wonder why?

I  could be wrong but that sounds downright incoherent.

A view from the battlefield on those pardons

by digby

Following up on my post below about the war criminals, here's an opinion of Trump's plan to pardon war criminals from an Iraq war veteran:

In early 2003, as a cavalry officer, I stood in front of my scout platoon at dusk after a long day preparing to deploy to Iraq. I spoke with them about the law of war and how they should treat civilians when we got into theater. It wasn’t a long conversation, but I felt that giving clear guidance about what was acceptable — and not acceptable — was important. They should treat the civilians as they would neighbors, I told them. Soldiers take most seriously the things their leadership makes most serious.
In at least three instances, then, our commander in chief appears to have preferred to overlook serious war crimes in favor of a warped notion of patriotism and heroism. Trump subscribes to a “bad things happen in war” mentality — odd for a man who actively avoided military service.

This attitude is incredibly dangerous. It doesn’t just undermine the enforcement of military justice; it also sends a message to our armed forces about just what kind of conduct the United States takes seriously.

In my book “Marching Into Darkness,” I wrote about the German army’s participation in the Holocaust at the small-unit level. One conclusion was that, even given the premeditated, racist and highly ideologized environment of the Wehrmacht, the culture of each unit and the institutional leadership most directly influenced whether war crimes were committed. Murderous leaders led murderous units, I found.

Fortunately, the U.S. military does not exist in this kind of ethical quagmire. Compared with our opponents in the modern age, we have taken much more care to prosecute warfare in accordance with the laws of war. We have systems of military education that highlight our values and the law of armed conflict. And we have a military justice system that, while not perfect, prosecutes and condemns those service members who commit atrocities. In short, we have a foundation of military ethics that our combat leaders can stand on.

But what happens when that ethical foundation erodes or crumbles? There are things we can learn from the German military and the Holocaust that are relevant today — without arguing that we are Nazis. One lesson is the influence of an institution’s culture on criminal behavior during wartime. The German state intentionally created such a culture (another important distinction from the current situation). Before a German soldier set foot in the Soviet Union, he received several unmistakable clues about what behavior would be acceptable. The Commissar Order explicitly called for the summary execution of all Red Army political officers, an act that violated all laws of war, including those that Germany was party to. Also, the guidelines for German troops, disseminated the day before the invasion, stated that “this war demands ruthless and aggressive action against Bolshevik agitators, snipers, saboteurs, and Jewsand tireless elimination of any active or passive resistance.” “Passive resistance” would be interpreted liberally. Last, and most striking in light of Trump’s pardon of Behenna, was the Jurisdiction Order. Issued in May 1941 directly from Adolf Hitler, it informed troops that “for offenses committed by members of the Wehrmacht and its employees against enemy civilians, prosecution is not compulsory, not even if the offense is at the same time a military crime or violation.” Soldiers were literally told that they would not be tried for behavior that would be a crime anywhere else in Europe.

The Wehrmacht proceeded to commit some of the worst atrocities in the history of modern warfare on a scale that obviously dwarfs anything we have seen in Iraq or Afghanistan. But the underlying lessons remain valid. Murderous leaders led murderous units. Soldiers took their cues from the guidance they were given and the examples they were shown. They were often more likely to commit war crimes because of their commanders’ signaling than because of Nazi ideology. (In my research on the Wehrmacht, I also discovered the corollary to be true: Leaders opposed to criminality led units that did not commit crimes.)

Trump’s championing of war criminals as brave patriots who are simply victims of political correctness seems to push for a climate that condones unethical and criminal behavior. He appears to write off war crimes as the cost of doing business. If this is the example our military is given, we should not be surprised to see more Behennas and Gallaghers. Referring to the infamous Army “kill team” in Afghanistan in 2009-2010, a senior military official noted the importance of the brigade commander’s aggressive guidance, which rejected any attempt to “win hearts and minds.” The official observed that “clearly, the guys who were pulling the trigger are the proximate cause of the crime, but the culture itself is the enabler.”

No reasonable person would claim that Trump is Hitler or that the U.S. military is the German army in World War II. Cases like those stand out as so horrific precisely because the American military has the strong ethical foundation the Wehrmacht lacked and generally does not commit war crimes. But the dynamics of units in combat at ground level can be strikingly similar across time and space, and so we ignore historical lessons at our peril. Perhaps that’s why one case study from my research on the German army and the Holocaust forms the foundation of a training module for the U.S. military in conjunction with the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum and West Point. It is used by ROTC programs and military units across the country.

Leaders are constantly making policy, by what they do — and by what they don’t do. Trump’s posture endangers our deployed men and women by betraying the trust of host nations that we will prosecute those rare individuals who commit crimes against their people.

Sadly, Trump's decisions might actually be popular with many Americans:

Trump is not altogether alone in endorsing the criminal actions of U.S. service members: Americans tend to have a relatively high tolerance for war crimes abroad. A 2016 Red Cross report indicated that Americans "are substantially more comfortable with war crimes than are populations of other western countries like the United Kingdom, France, Switzerland, and even Russia," as The Week put it at the time. "When asked whether 'a captured enemy combatant [can] be tortured to obtain important military information,' just 30 percent of Americans said 'no,' the lowest of any country surveyed except Israel and Nigeria."

The reason for this widespread acceptance? A 2018 Clarion Project poll found that 77 percent of Americans believed U.S. service members shouldn't be prosecuted for overseas war crimes simply because "war is a stressful situation and allowances should be made."

It's not really that hard to see how we elected this immoral barbarian, is it?

Trump's heroes: war criminals

by digby

My Salon column this morning:

Nowhere is Donald Trump's imperial instinct more obvious than when it comes to the pardon power. This makes sense. The pardon power is a relic of the English monarchy, which most of the founders didn't think was necessary and didn't originally include in the Constitution. With some famous exceptions, pardons have mostly been used to show mercy. In recent years presidents have been parsimonious in handing them out, always following the rules set forth by the Department of Justice pardon office.

But the presidential pardon is a plenary power — meaning it is absolute, with no review and no limitation — which someone obviously explained to Trump early on. So he has not bothered with any guidelines or rules and has handed out pardons whenever it pleases him, mostly to friends and right-wing cause célèbre criminals. Like a mob boss he's used the pardon power as an enticement to prevent testimony against him, often in public (but as we've seen in the Mueller report, in private as well.)

But pardoning war criminals takes this imperial overreach to a new level. Early this month Trumpe pardoned a former Army lieutenant named Michael Behenna, who was convicted of the unpremeditated killing of an al-Qaida member in Iraq. Behenna's unit had lost two members from a roadside bomb and suspected the victim of being involved. They could find no evidence, and Behenna was charged with escorting the man back to his village. Instead, he stopped on the way, stripped the man naked, "interrogated" him and then executed him. He claimed self-defense but the court found him guilty and he was sentenced to 25 years in prison, later reduced to 15. He was paroled in 2014.

Behenna's family cleverly got themselves on "Fox & Friends" to pitch for a pardon, and Trump obviously saw it. When that pardon was granted, Fox News reported that the president was also “taking a broad look at veterans jailed for battlefield crimes and considering granting more of them similar relief.”

This must be one of those personal obsessions of Trump's, like designing his border wall (black, with sharp spikes) or tending to the details of the Independence Day celebration he's planning to turn into a campaign rally this year. The New York Times reported on Saturday that he has asked for the paperwork to pardon several more military convicts — on Memorial Day.

That's right, Trump plans to pardon war criminals on the national day of mourning for the war dead. The Times reports:
One request is for Special Operations Chief Edward Gallagher of the Navy SEALs, who is scheduled to stand trial in the coming weeks on charges of shooting unarmed civilians and killing an enemy captive with a knife while deployed in Iraq. The others are believed to include the case of a former Blackwater security contractor recently found guilty in the deadly 2007 shooting of dozens of unarmed Iraqis; the case of Maj. Mathew L. Golsteyn, the Army Green Beret accused of killing an unarmed Afghan in 2010; and the case of a group of Marine Corps snipers charged with urinating on the corpses of dead Taliban fighters.
Gallagher and Goldsteyn have also been championed by "Fox & Friends" host Pete Hegseth, whom Trump was once rumored to have considered to run the VA. Trump tweeted last March that he was moving Gallagher to less restrictive confinement "in honor of his service to the country." Apparently, he doesn't find Gallagher's accusers — fellow Navy Seals — to be honorable, despite the fact that they came forward at great risk to their careers to stop this murderous lunatic, who in one case was witnessed stabbing a wounded 15-year-old to death, texting photos of his kill and then holding a mock re-enlistment ceremony with the corpse. That's just for starters. This earlier story in the Times goes into grisly detail; it's not only an indictment of this madman, it's an indictment of the system that protected him for so long.

Trump has previously called Golsteyn, who admitted to the summary execution of an unarmed Afghan, a "U.S. military hero" after seeing him on "Fox & Friends" as well. The Marine snipers, who were court-martialed for urinating on Taliban soldiers, were represented by former Trump attorney John Dowd and the former Blackwater contractor, Nick Slatten, is connected to Trump crony Erik Prince (the brother of Education Secretary Betsy DeVos).

People who have been paying attention undoubtedly knew that these would be crimes for which Trump would be thrilled to issue a pardon. After all, he ran as a big fan of torture and war crimes in the 2016 campaign.

Trump repeatedly proclaimed that he loved waterboarding, and promised to do "a lot more than that" as president. He insisted that torture works, adding that "if it doesn't work they deserve it anyway for what they do to us.” He hinted broadly that he would even consider beheading, because his entire "strategy" to combat ISIS was to be even more brutal than they were.

Trump also promised to "go after" the wives and families of terrorist suspects saying, "I guess your definition of what I’d do, I’m going to leave that to your imagination." He often repeated a tall tale about Gen. John J. Pershing summarily executing Muslim insurgents during the Spanish-American War:
He took 50 bullets, and he dipped them in pig’s blood. And he had his men load his rifles and he lined up the 50 people, and they shot 49 of those people. And the 50th person he said "You go back to your people and you tell them what happened." And for 25 years there wasn’t a problem, OK?
This is completely untrue. As this detailed exploration by Snopes makes clear, Pershing committed no mass executions in the Philippines and tried to minimize casualties among the Muslim rebels. Apocryphal tales about the "pig's blood" incident began to circulate about 20 years later, but they did not involve Pershing and there's no evidence such a thing ever happened.

In a Republican primary debate on March 3, 2016, Trump was asked “If you were president of United States, and the military declined to carry out an illegal order, what would you do?” He replied:
They won’t refuse. Believe me . . . When you look at the Middle East, they’re chopping off heads. They’re chopping off the heads of Christians and anybody else that happens to be in the way . . . and now they’re asking about waterboarding. I said it’s fine and if they want to go stronger, I’d go stronger. Because that’s the way I feel. I’m a leader. I’m a leader. I’ve never had any problem leading people. If I say "Do it," they’re going to do it.
War crimes were as fundamental to Trump's appeal as the degradation of Latino immigrants and Muslim refugees. Pardoning those who committed the crimes he explicitly endorsed on the campaign trail is just fulfilling one of his most important campaign promises. War criminals are his heroes. Now he wants to honor them on Memorial Day. I have to admit that as cynical as I am about Donald Trump, I didn't see that one coming.


The first thing we do, let's kill all the government experts

by Tom Sullivan

That famous Shakespeare line about lawyers is typically construed as a slur against the legal profession. In the context of “Henry VI, Part 2,” the line spoken by Dick the Butcher, a member of Jack Cade's uprising, is open to several interpretations, including one offered by Supreme Court Justice John Paul Stevens in a case footnote. Stevens wrote, "Shakespeare insightfully realized that disposing of lawyers is a step in the direction of a totalitarian form of government."

Killing off the lawyers meant upending the rule of law. Replacing civil servants with for-profit consultants opens government to plunder.

Now "$44 billion over budget and 13 years behind schedule," California's bullet train project went off the rails after an army of consultants convinced the state it could save money by hiring them rather than assembling an in-house team of hundreds of engineers and rail experts. What resulted instead was "awesome delays and cost bloat," The Week's Ryan Cooper writes:

This demonstrates a fundamental problem with modern American governance — lack of basic state capacity. A government must have in-house expertise if it is to undertake difficult, complicated projects. The first step to getting some is to stop this reliance on private companies to do the state's job for it.
Management of the Texas Permanent School Fund, for example. For 165 years state employees oversaw it. Twenty-five years ago, the state turned it over to consulting firms and, Cooper writes, "The result was a giant increase in fees, worse fund performance, less money for students, and what looks like naked corruption, with billions of fund money reportedly invested in well-connected companies."

Stories of such failures are everywhere. Water privatization. Highway construction. Charter schools. Private equity firms taking over military parts suppliers.

Cooper continues:
At any rate, the ideology behind the consulting boom is classic neoliberalism — an ingrained belief that society must subordinate itself to the self-regulating market, and that government functions should be outsourced or privatized wherever possible. The results speak for themselves.

Now, in theory there is nothing wrong in principle with government hiring private firms for certain tasks. Other countries do it all the time — hiring engineering companies to design projects, construction firms to build them, and so on. Indeed, the U.S. itself did this at a vast scale in the 1930s with the Public Works Administration, which hired private companies to build high-quality projects across the nation, like the Grand Coulee Dam and the Lincoln Tunnel.

But the state must still keep a tight grip on those firms, providing clear guidance and strong oversight to make sure the jobs are done properly and at a decent price — and often, it makes perfect sense for the state to just do the project itself. Conversely, as we see today, if government is inept, ignorant, or timid, consultants and contractors will simply line their own pockets and turn in shoddy, overpriced work.
Michael Lewis in his book "The Fifth Risk" describes Donald Trump's as embodying that trend. The government manages a portfolio of risks that requires "mission-driven" careerists, experts with a dedication to the work, not to making big money from it. Donald Trump's administration came to Washington to upend that system. Not to improve it, but to exploit it for profit. They abandoned data collection on anything Trumpers opposed, the New York Times review explained, "like climate change or food safety regulations, or that they didn’t care about, like poverty, or stuff that they assumed were government boondoggles, which was most everything not involving the Pentagon."

The Trump administration refuses to listen to in-house experts. Trump installed unqualified cronies with no commitment to managing the people's business. Or else he left posts unfilled. Nearly 20 percent of the top 6,000 civil servants left in the first year under Donald Trump, Lewis says [timestamp 7:30].

But "classic neoliberalism," as Cooper puts it, affects not only government but private industry. A consultant in private industry for decades, I have watched cost- and staff-cutting at Fortune 500 and global firms over time result in the near-lobotomizing of their in-house expertise. This leaves them little expertise in managing company core functions and reliant on people like me to know their business for them.

Putting under-experienced personnel in charge of massive capital projects in itself results in delays, cost overruns, and shoddy work. This leaves us with having to teach clients' own staff both what they need to know and what they don't know they don't know ... if they will listen. That's why for years my cocktail party reply to the question, "So, what is it you do?" has been that clients pay a lot of money to ignore what I tell them.

Now a know-nothing client like that is in charge of running the country. The results are predictable.