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Wednesday, January 31, 2018


The gathering Summer Stormy

by digby

The LA Times noticed a little pattern I haven't seen before:

Some details of Daniels' recollections in the In Touch Weekly interview appear to corroborate allegations of Summer Zervos, an Orange County woman who has sued Trump. She charged that he tried to force himself on her at the Beverly Hills Hotel in 2007, and then lied about it.
Daniels, in the In Touch transcript, and Zervos, in court documents, each said that Trump invited them to dinner, asked them to meet at his hotel room, ordered room service rather than going to a restaurant and tried to initiate sex in the room. Daniels said they had sex​​​; Zervos said she spurned Trump's advances.

Both also recalled specifically visiting Trump's suite in a bungalow at the Beverly Hills Hotel.
Zervos, a onetime contestant on Trump's reality TV show "The Apprentice," alleged a few weeks before Trump was elected president that he tried to sexually assault her in the bungalow. She was one of the women who went public with accusations of sexual misconduct by Trump in the days after disclosure of an "Access Hollywood" recording of him saying that he got away with grabbing women's genitals without their consent because he was a celebrity.
Trump charged repeatedly in the campaign's final weeks that Zervos and the other women were lying. He threatened to sue them after the election but has not followed through.
Zervos sued Trump a few days before his inauguration, saying he defamed her and the other women he branded as liars. Trump denies sexually assaulting Zervos and has asked a judge to dismiss the case.



Be kind ... please rewind

by Dennis Hartley

In lieu of ingesting some undoubtedly ill-advised form of self-medication, I kept my hands busy via furtive live Tweeting during President Donald J. Trump’s first State of the Union address last night. I concluded with this somewhat glum observation:

In an effort to cheer myself up this morning, I thought I’d mosey over to the War Room, see what’s going on there, and stumbled across a post I wrote last August, marking the 72nd anniversary of the Hiroshima bombing, In the preface to the piece, I wrote:
Every January, the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists gives the human race its annual physical, to determine the official time on the Doomsday Clock (with midnight representing Armageddon). This past January, they moved the hands 30 seconds closer
“This already-threatening world situation was the backdrop for a rise in strident nationalism worldwide in 2016, including in a US presidential campaign during which the eventual victor, Donald Trump, made disturbing comments about the use and proliferation of nuclear weapons. […]
It is [now] two and a half minutes to midnight. The board’s decision to move the clock less than a full minute—something it has never before done—reflects a simple reality: As this statement is issued, Donald Trump has been the US president only a matter of days.” 
I needn’t remind you that 6 months on, Donald J. Trump continues to be President of the United States. Like the scientists said: The clock ticks. Global danger looms. And the Master of 3am Tweets has those nuclear codes. 
Good times.

Well, here we one year later at the end of January 2018, and bang on time (bad choice of words?)…The Bulletin of Atomic Scientists has handed down their latest edict on the state of the Doomsday Clock.The news is not good:
The year just past proved perilous and chaotic, a year in which many of the risks foreshadowed in our last Clock statement came into full relief. In 2017, we saw reckless language in the nuclear realm heat up already dangerous situations and re-learned that minimizing evidence-based assessments regarding climate and other global challenges does not lead to better public policies 
Although the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists focuses on nuclear risk, climate change, and emerging technologies, the nuclear landscape takes center stage in this year’s Clock statement. Major nuclear actors are on the cusp of a new arms race, one that will be very expensive and will increase the likelihood of accidents and misperceptions [sic] . Across the globe, nuclear weapons are poised to become more rather than less usable because of nations’ investments in their nuclear arsenals. This is a concern that the Bulletin has been highlighting for some time, but momentum toward this new reality is increasing.Oh, god.
To call the world nuclear situation dire is to understate the danger—and its immediacy. […] 
The Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists Science and Security Board believes the perilous world security situation just described would, in itself, justify moving the minute hand of the Doomsday Clock closer to midnight. 
But there has also been a breakdown in the international order that has been dangerously exacerbated by recent US actions. In 2017, the United States backed away from its long-standing leadership role in the world, reducing its commitment to seek common ground and undermining the overall effort toward solving pressing global governance challenges. Neither allies nor adversaries have been able to reliably predict US actions—or understand when US pronouncements are real, and when they are mere rhetoric. International diplomacy has been reduced to name-calling, giving it a surreal sense of unreality that makes the world security situation ever more threatening.
Holy shitsnacks. So what time is it now…exactly?
Because of the extraordinary danger of the current moment, the Science and Security Board today moves the minute hand of the Doomsday Clock 30 seconds closer to catastrophe. It is now two minutes to midnight—the closest the Clock has ever been to Doomsday, and as close as it was in 1953, at the height of the Cold War. 

The Science and Security Board hopes this resetting of the Clock will be interpreted exactly as it is meant—as an urgent warning of global danger. The time for world leaders to address looming nuclear danger and the continuing march of climate change is long past. The time for the citizens of the world to demand such action is now:


#What they said.

In the meantime, please enjoy this relaxing music.


Their master whistled and they came running

by digby

Trump last night:

My duty, and the sacred duty of every elected official in this chamber, is to defend Americans — to protect their safety, their families, their communities, and their right to the American Dream.

Because Americans are dreamers too.

It was a creepy line. But Trump has objected in the past to using the name "dreamers" to describe these people. He thinks that it should be reserved for "real Americans."

Think Progress notes:

The line mirrored Trump’s language last September when he announced he would rescind the DACA program that provided legal protection for undocumented immigrants brought to the United States as children, a group known as Dreamers. “[Y]oung Americans have dreams too,” Trump said.

The argument for DACA and the Dream Act, which would give a similar group permanent legal status, is that Dreamers are Americans. They had no choice in the decision to come to the United States, they grew up here and, in many cases, they have no connection to any other country. But Trump’s turn of phrase turns this concept on its head and pits “Americans” against “Dreamers.”

It was a message that was quickly embraced by white nationalists, who paired the phrase with stock photos of white people. Prominent white nationalist Richard Spencer, for instance, posted this image on Twitter during Trump’s speech:

It was celebrated in a similar way on GAB, a social network that caters to white nationalists.

Former KKK grand wizard David Duke thanked Trump for including the line in his speech.

The exact turn of phrase — “Americans are dreamers too” — appears to be have been popularized by Laura Ingraham, a Fox News host and immigration hardliner. She used the phrase to defend Trump’s decision to cancel DACA on September 5, arguing that Dreamers should not be eligible for work permits and raising the specter of “crowded schools.”

But the use of the phrase pre-dates Ingraham. It was embraced at a grassroots level by anti-immigrant racists online early in the Trump presidency.

Ttump's racist supporters heard their leader's whistle loud and clear last night.



"Oh, don’t worry, 100 percent”

by digby

If you hear anyone saying that the White House is deliberating about whether to release the memo, they are lying:

Wray and Rosenstein went to the White House on Monday night to beg them not to release it. The next night he said this.

Maybe he'll change his mind. But as of last night he was crystal clear about what he wants.


The memo's purpose is now clear. Trump wants to fire Rosenstein.

by digby

As I mentioned in my Salon piece this morning, this was already rumored but now we know for sure:

The FBI said it is gravely concerned about House Republicans’ memo alleging the bureau abused its surveillance powers. The memo is expected to be released publicly soon. In a statement released Wednesday, a bureau spokesperson questioned the memo’s accuracy.

“With regard to the House Intelligence Committee’s memorandum, the FBI was provided a limited opportunity to review this memo the day before the committee voted to release it. As expressed during our initial review, we have grave concerns about material omissions of fact that fundamentally impact the memo’s accuracy,” the spokesperson said.

“The FBI takes seriously its obligations to the FISA Court and its compliance with procedures overseen by career professionals in the Department of Justice and the FBI,” the spokesperson continued. “We are committed to working with the appropriate oversight entities to ensure the continuing integrity of the FISA process.”

The memo reportedly alleges Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein withheld information from the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court about the FBI's request to renew for a warrant to spy on Trump campaign aide Carter Page.

Keep in mind that Carter Page has been on the FBI's counter-intelligence radar since 2013, long before Trump announced for president. The suspicions about him are not based on politics. They are based upon the fact that actual Russian spies were found to have attempted to recruit him way back when. He got onto the Trump campaign in 2016 and it's entirely possible that he's continuing to do the work they've been observing him do for the past five years.

I don't know why Rosenstein signed the FISA memo to continue the surveillance on Page last year. But he had years and years of evidence going back before Trump to back up the suspicion that something was going on with him and the Russians. Contrary to the crazed GOP staffers insistence, he didn't need the Steele dossier to make the case and everyone who knows this process says that no judge would approve a warrant based solely on that in any case.

I have to say that this fixation on the dossier is really getting weird. Why they keep harping on something that only makes everyone think of Trump being compromised by Russian agents for cavorting with prostitutes is beyond me. Obviously, the dossier has much more than that that may be the real reason they need to discredit it, particularly the money laundering implications. But from a public relations standpoint it's insane to keep bringing it up.

FBI director Wray has now weighed in heavily against the release of the memo. I don't expect that will stop Trump. He was assuring everyone at the SOTU last night that he was going to release the memo. This probably means he's going to fire Rosenstein.

And then we really do have a constitutional crisis on our hands.



All That Frightens 

by tristero

I think Michelle Goldberg understands exactly which part of the SOTU is the most laden with existential peril:

According to The Washington Post, the nomination of Victor D. Cha, a hawkish veteran of the George W. Bush administration, was very close to being sent to the Senate, but was derailed when Cha privately expressed reservations about a preventive American strike on North Korea. The Financial Times reported that Cha was asked if he was “prepared to help manage the evacuation of American citizens from South Korea,” which would be necessary in the event of an American bombing. This is terrifying, because it suggests that Trump is serious about starting a war. 
Indeed, Cha himself seems frightened; just before the State of the Union started, he published an op-ed in The Washington Post arguing against a preventive attack. Apparently assuming that some readers would be indifferent to millions of potential Korean deaths, Cha emphasized that many Americans would also die in a military confrontation. “To be clear: The president would be putting at risk an American population the size of a medium-size U.S. city — Pittsburgh, say, or Cincinnati — on the assumption that a crazy and undeterrable dictator will be rationally cowed by a demonstration of U.S. kinetic power,” he wrote. 
Cha’s warning made Trump’s State of the Union bellicosity toward North Korea particularly frightening. More than an hour into an interminable speech, Trump said, “North Korea’s reckless pursuit of nuclear missiles could very soon threaten our homeland.” He added: “Past experience has taught us that complacency and concessions only invite aggression and provocation. I will not repeat the mistakes of past administrations that got us into this very dangerous position.”
This is sheer insanity, on so many levels. Any attack on North Korea (even with conventional weapons initially ) would likely turn nuclear. And to get a sense of what that means, I strongly suggest reading The Doomsday Machine by Daniel Ellsberg.

Trust me, you do not want nuclear war. And trust me, you do not want Donald Trump or Michael Pence starting one. You may survive if they start one, but you will envy those who didn't.

The Trump cult in full effect at the SOTU

by digby

I wrote about the speech for Salon today.
Trump’s speech wasn’t the scary part. All the Republican groveling was:

I waited for TV pundits to declare the "pivot" and proclaim Donald Trump to be our one true president after Tuesday night's lengthy State of the Union address. But with the exception of Fox News State TV, most were less effusive than the last time he addressed a joint session of Congress. That's not to say that nobody was impressed. Some people were evidently nearly brought to tears:

Tonight, I owe Donald Trump an apology. Tonight, I was moved and inspired. Tonight, I have hope and faith in America again.

It may go away tomorrow…
But tonight, America is great again. #SOTU
7:35 PM - Jan 30, 2018
6,8136,813 Replies
Twitter Ads info and privacy

By now most Americans take what Trump says with a grain of wait-and-see salt. There's never been a president in history for whom words matter less. Nonetheless, it's worth reflecting on a few of the ideas in the speech, just to remind ourselves of his main objectives.

Trump is not a bipartisan leader. After a year, that should be more than obvious. He is the most divisive president in modern memory in both style and substance. His speech did nothing to change that. He claimed to offer "an open hand to work with Americans of both parties," but it's as clear as ever that he means to use that hand to slap down his opponents and caress his supporters.

Trump's main issue was the same as the one he ran on in 2016: immigration. And he has not softened his stance or his rhetoric at all. In fact, he has become even more xenophobic and is now pushing major curbs on legal immigration, which was not a central theme until recently. He paints legal as well as illegal immigrants as dangerous criminals and promises to end the long-standing policy of family unification. Immigrants actually commit crimes at a dramatically lower rate than native-born citizens, but Trump never lets facts get in the way of a good, lurid tale about how foreigners are ruining America.

Most depressingly, he framed the plight of the Dreamers as competitors with working-class (white) America, declaring "Americans are dreamers too." It's not the first time he's made clear that he doesn't like immigrants using that term because in his mind it's reserved for deserving Americans, but it was still jarring to hear all those Republicans shriek in ecstasy when he said it.

Naturally the president praised law enforcement, which had to be the weirdest moment of the night, considering the atmospherics that had engulfed Washington for the previous two days. After all, this is a president deeply implicated in a growing scandal whose party has declared a crusade against the FBI and the Department of Justice. It was surreal enough to watch Donald Trump deliver a State of the Union speech. To have him do it under the cloud of suspicion stemming from a counterintelligence investigation into his campaign and a subsequent coverup was downright disorienting.

It's not the first time a president has had to deliver a State of the Union in the midst of a roiling scandal, of course. Bill Clinton delivered his 1998 State of the Union as the Monica Lewinsky details were first being splashed all over the media. Richard Nixon delivered his 1974 address in the middle of the Watergate scandal, about six months before he resigned. Clinton's approval rating climbed as the pursuit heated up, mostly because Americans could see that the Republicans were using a trivial matter for political ends and most people didn't like it. It didn't work that way for Nixon: The steady drip, drip, drip of revelations were already taking their toll by the time he gave that last State of the Union speech, and things never got any better. Trump's approval rating has been between 35 and 40 percent most of the year, the lowest for any first-year president on record.

The events of the past couple of weeks, from the news that Trump had ordered the firing of special counsel Robert Mueller last summer to the reports of White House pressure on the Justice Department to "purge" career employees and the abrupt departure of deputy FBI director Andrew McCabe, indicate that we have moved into a critical new phase. Yesterday, House Intelligence Committee chairman Rep. Devin Nunes, R-Calif., refused to say whether or not he had worked with the White House to prepare the famous "memo" which, according to The Washington Post, Trump wants to release as soon as his national security team looks it over. (This wouldn't be the first time Nunes has compromised his oversight duties by colluding with the White House.)

Trump's reason for wanting the memo released is that he believes it may provide grounds for him to fire another Justice Department official, Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein, who oversees Mueller. Rosenstein himself, along with FBI Director Christopher Wray, went to the White House personally on Monday, reportedly to appeal to Chief of Staff John Kelly to persuade the president not to release the memo for national security reasons. Any bets as to how that's going to go?

Nobody will be talking about what Trump said last night, after today. It was just one more in a series of bad speeches filled with boasts, threats and empty promises. What people will be talking about for some time to come, however, is the rapturous support he got from his own party. Presidents are always well-received by their own team at speeches to a joint session of Congress. But last night felt different. It was febrile and overstimulated, scary in its intensity.

Perhaps the best way to fully understand that feeling is to read what future EPA administrator Scott Pruitt said about Trump in 2016:
I think he has tendencies that we see in emerging countries around the world where -- he goes to the disaffected, those individuals. And says, "Look, you give me power and I will give voice to your concerns." . . . I believe that Donald Trump in the White House would be more abusive to the Constitution than Barack Obama -- and that's saying a lot.
Pruitt issued a statement this week after being reminded of those comments:
After meeting him, and now having the honor of working for him, it is abundantly clear that President Trump is the most consequential leader of our time. No one has done more to advance the rule of law than President Trump. The president has liberated our country from the political class and given America back to the people.
That evolution from conservative skeptic to flamboyant sycophant is representative of the evolution of the entire party. There is much about the Republican Party in this era that isn't new. This is. It's what potentially gives Donald Trump the power to engineer a true constitutional crisis and get away with it. He doesn't have a majority of the country behind him, but he doesn't need it. He has a cabinet full of yes men and a servile majority in Congress. They are happy to do his bidding.


What the transcripts won't show

by Tom Sullivan

When President Trump was not applauding his own lines during his State of the Union speech, or suggesting that immigrants, even the children, are murderous criminals, he was taunting Democrats, gesturing like a conductor for them to stand and applaud him. That won't show up in the transcripts.

The first half of the speech was fairly conventional boilerplate: how well the economy is faring under his administration and the president taking credit for things he did not do.

But his tone and body language stiffened once he began fear-mongering about murderous immigrant and non-immigrant foreigners. The swagger and "Mussolini chin jut" (Dennis Hartley) appeared. Phrases such as "extinguish ISIS from the face of the Earth" and promises to keep open detention facilities at Guantánamo Bay and the thought of meting out punishment drew applause from Republicans. But Trump seemed to enjoy the prospect of sending more ISIS and al-Qa’ida fighters there, going off-script to add, "and in many cases, for them it will now be Guantánamo Bay."

Trump was not limiting his list of enemies to terrorists and Latino immigrants, through. Commenting on his decision to recognize Jerusalem as Israel's capitol, he called out those countries (128 of them) who voted against the decision in the United Nations General Assembly:
In 2016, American taxpayers generously sent those same countries more than $20 billion in aid.

That is why, tonight, I am asking Congress to pass legislation to help ensure American foreign assistance dollars always serve American interests and only go to friends of America, not enemies of America.
"Not enemies of America" does not seem to be in the as-written speech. Trump last night publicly declared most of the world — and most of NATO — America's enemies.

Congressman Luis Gutierrez of Illinois issued this jab in response:
Even though I disagreed with almost everything he said, for Trump, the speech was clear and well-delivered. Whoever translated it for him from Russian did a good job.

I am still hopeful, but I don’t see this Congress and this President coming to an agreement that prevents the deportation of the Dreamers. The White House agenda is to gut legal immigration in exchange for allowing some of the Dreamers to live here. For those of us who support legal immigration, and that’s most Democrats and many Republicans, it won’t fly. And the Dreamers themselves have said they do not want legal status if it comes at the expense of others who will suffer more as part of the bargain. The speech did nothing to bring the pro- and anti-immigrant sides closer together.

I was hoping for some sort of apology on Puerto Rico, but I heard nothing. Puerto Rico is a metaphor for how this President sees all Latinos and people of color: he does not see us as his equals and he does not see us as fellow human beings. If you look at how the President has treated Puerto Rico, you have to conclude that he just doesn’t care and probably thinks of Puerto Rico as just another shithole country.

I was born in 1953 in the U.S. when separate but equal was the law of the land. I am proud of the progress the United States has made as a nation on issues of race, gender, sexual orientation, disabilities, and many other areas where we have advanced. I was hoping to get through my life without having to witness an outwardly, explicitly racist American President, but my luck ran out.
In the official Democratic response, Massachusetts Congressman Joseph P. Kennedy III (why not a woman?) offered a speech of values, but clearly defining the divide between Trump's vision and Democrats':
It would be easy to dismiss the past year as chaos. Partisanship. Politics.

But it’s far bigger than that. This administration isn’t just targeting the laws that protect us — they are targeting the very idea that we are all worthy of protection.

For them, dignity isn’t something you’re born with but something you measure.

By your net worth, your celebrity, your headlines, your crowd size.

Not to mention, the gender of your spouse. The country of your birth. The color of your skin. The God of your prayers.

Their record is a rebuke of our highest American ideal: the belief that we are all worthy, we are all equal and we all count. In the eyes of our law and our leaders, our God and our government.
It was a good speech. Uplifting. A speech more Democrats ought to be able to deliver off the cuff instead of falling into policy-speak.

Kennedy's characterization also had the virtue of being right. Trump and his enablers don't believe in equality except as a marketing tool. And easy or not, his last year has been chaos. "Chaos is a really useful word for Trump's first year. Dems'd be good to incorporate it," tweeted Marcy Wheeler.

They would also be well-served by losing their nostalgia for resurrecting long-gone political dynasties. The party needs not just fresher faces, but fresher ideas.

* * * * * * * *

Request a copy of For The Win, my county-level election mechanics primer, at tom.bluecentury at gmail.

Tuesday, January 30, 2018


Ok, a little bit of good news

by digby

A whole lot of people in this country aren't buying the snake oil Trump and his henchmen are selling:

Trump averaged 50% or higher approval in 12 states in total, primarily in the states where he received the most votes in the 2016 election. In addition to West Virginia, the states where at least half the respondents approved of Trump included several western states (Wyoming, Idaho, Montana and Alaska), several southern states (Oklahoma, Alabama, Kentucky, Tennessee and Arkansas) and two Midwestern states (North and South Dakota).

Trump earned between 40% and 49% approval -- above his national average -- in 20 states. These were predominantly in the Midwest and South, and included several of the key rustbelt states that were critical to his 2016 victory: Ohio, Pennsylvania, Wisconsin and Michigan.

Fewer than 40% of respondents approved of Trump in the remaining 18 states, 14 of which are located in the East and West -- his worst performing regions in the election. In addition to Vermont, his ratings were particularly low -- below 30% -- in Massachusetts (27%), California (29%) and Hawaii (29%). Maryland, New York, Connecticut and Rhode Island round out the states where fewer than one-third of the respondents approved.

He's got a bit problem and not just in the blue states (although he's doing so badly that the GOP in those states should be really worried.) He's at 39% disapproval and 54% disapproval in Texas.

This election could be our last chance. I'm not being hyperbolic. These Republicans have all decided to throw in their lot with this cretinous, authoritarian imbecile. Unless they pay a price there may be no going back.



When do the full Nuremberg rallies start?

by digby

I think we're moving into a new phase. And it's not good:

"You can't overstate how important the tax bill was," said Chris Ruddy, the CEO of Newsmax Media and a Trump friend.

It not only will accelerate growth, it gives the president a sales pitch about leadership that he has and will take on the road all year, especially because he adores flying on Air Force One. "He loves all the pomp and circumstance and the salutes," said another friend.

But the confidence also comes from darker places: From a tighter feedback loop of loyal aides who survived the temper tantrums and firings of the first year; from the kind of self-delusion that only a master salesman is capable of (salesmen are the most gullible customers); and from a year of successfully dominating the news and changing the rules to suit his cut-throat, disruptive methods. [aka: authoritarian tyranny]

There is more of that disruption ahead.

Sources say that Trump has adopted a two-track strategy to deal with the Mueller investigation.

One is an un-Trumpian passivity and trust. He keeps telling some in his circle that Mueller — any day now — will tell him he is off the hook for any charge of collusion with the Russians or obstruction of justice.

But Trump — who trusts no one, or at least no one for long — has now decided that he must have an alternative strategy that does not involve having Justice Department officials fire Mueller.

"I think he's been convinced that firing Mueller would not only create a firestorm, it would play right into Mueller's hands," said another friend, "because it would give Mueller the moral high ground."

Instead, as is now becoming plain, the Trump strategy is to discredit the investigation and the FBI without officially removing the leadership. Trump is even talking to friends about the possibility of asking Attorney General Jeff Sessions to consider prosecuting Mueller and his team.

"Here's how it would work: 'We're sorry, Mr. Mueller, you won't be able to run the federal grand jury today because he has to go testify to another federal grand jury,'" said one Trump adviser.

Sure, that's fine. The president is talking about instructing his Attorney General to prosecute the special prosecutor who is investigating him.

And lest you think that the Republican majority will stop it before it gets to that:
Mitch McConnell 1/30/2018:

"2017 was the best year for conservatives in the 30 years that I've been here. The best year on all fronts."

So ... fasten your seatbelts. They're all in.



QOTD: Eric Swalwell

by digby

On Morning Joe, today:

They essentially have put out a book review on a book that Devin Nunes himself has not read, and they say the book is full of lies. That's the position they're going to put the American people in...The memo goes to great length, asserts inaccuracies to discredit Robert Mueller and his team... I'm afraid [Republicans] will have poisoned the well of public sentiment as Robert Mueller continues to do his work, and if he reaches further indictments, the public sentiment will have been tainted because of a one-sided memo. The full picture isn't seen. I'm confident if the full picture would be seen it would be laughable. The intent is to protect the president, at the risk of torching the FBI building...

The State of our Union is lawless -- lawless as the president tries to remove Bob Mueller through tactics like this; lawless as his aides in Congress seek to help him; and lawless as ... he has failed to impose the sanctions against Russia that Congress passed.

I don't know what's in the memo but let's just say I don't have a lot of faith in the judgement of Devin Nunes and the boys.

I also don't have any faith in the fatuous and self-serving Speaker of the House who gave a speech this morning telling everyone that this memo has nothing to do with the Mueller investigation which is like saying the sun has nothing to do with daylight.

It's insulting that he would even say such a stupid ignorant thing. As if we're supposed to believe that Trump and his henchment are only concerned about the integrity of the FISA process --- the same henchment by the way, who all voted to extend thew powers of the NSA to spy on average Americans. It's just Dear Leader and his pals they want to protect.

Cruel and inhuman
by digby

And people keep telling me that these assholes don't actually want mass deportation and their malevolent racist voters aren't looking forward to watching young Latinos having their lives destroyed. Read this and tell me they don't get off on the prospect of seeing them suffer:

I doubt they will do this. But only because it will step on Dear Leader's speech.

They're not even trying to hide it anymore
by digby

Courtesy Daily Beast

The Trump administration has decided not to enforce the Russian sanctions required by law (passed by overwhelming majorities in both houses and Trump only reluctantly signed because they had the votes to override him.) This was done because the congress wanted to codify some kind of punishment for the Russian interference in the election in 2016.  Now the Trump administration claims these sanctions aren't necessary and they've decided not to impose them. Well ok then. The GOP congress doesn't give a damn.

Another requirement of that law was similarly disregarded:
For months, Russian higher-ups had been shaken by the prospect of being named by the U.S. as a close confidant of Russian President Vladimir Putin. As stipulated by the unwieldy 2017 Countering America’s Adversaries Through Sanctions Act (CAATSA), the Trump administration had some 180 days to detail those voices who held sway with the Kremlin – and who would suddenly face the prospect of individual sanctions. And all of them, according to the Moscow Times, were “doing everything possible to keep their names off the list.”

The deadline for the White House’s findings came yesterday – as did, late at night, the administration’s final list of politicians, oligarchs, and industrialists deemed of importance.

But instead of any concern rippling through Moscow, there now seems, at first blush, a sense of relief. Because while there are some 114 officials and 96 business figures named, it appears that the administration put little research into their list, and effectively outsourced their work to both Forbes and the Kremlin website.

According to the released list – a separate, related memo remains classified – U.S. officials determined who would be on the list “based on objective criteria related to individuals’ official position in the case of senior political figures, or a net worth of $1 billion or more for oligarchs.” But as a Treasury Department official told BuzzFeed, the unclassified list stemmed directly from Forbes’ ranking of the richest businessmen in Russia. And per the Washington Post, the list of officials “appears copy-pasted from … the Kremlin directory of officials available on its English-language website.”
Sure. This is just normal behavior for an administration under suspicion of having been in cahoots with Russia to win the election in 2016.

Trump's CIA Director said yesterday that they expect the Russians to intervene in the 2016 election. The administration and Republicans in congress are working overtime to ensure that nobody stops them.

They're not even trying anymore. It's just all out in the open. As long as they benefit it will continue.


The State of the Union is Chaotic

by digby

I wrote about all the Russia craziness for Salon today:

Generally speaking, in the days before a president's annual State of the Union address, the media turn themselves into psychics and fortune tellers, spending hours on end predicting what he's going to say and how the country is going to receive it while ignoring most other news. Once you see a speech "countdown clock" appear in the corner of the TV screen, you can be sure that the commentary will be exceedingly tedious until it runs out.

The White House usually tries to build excitement by leaking tidbits about the speech and the attendees and focusing attention on the president's agenda. Naturally, this White House has opted for chaos instead. Officials have made a tepid effort to claim that President Trump will "pivot" to a big bipartisan pitch, but at this point nobody believes a word he says, so a speech isn't going to get him anywhere. Anyway, the president and the House Republicans couldn't stop inappropriately meddling in the Russia investigation long enough to get through his big day, so the whole exercise was pointless.

As we know, Trump has been fighting the investigation from the beginning, aiming his ire both publicly and privately at top members of the FBI and the Department of Justice. He and his supporters in right-wing media have decided that these career law enforcement and counterintelligence officials eagerly helped Hillary Clinton evade justice for her myriad crimes and then attempted to wreak vengeance on Trump for being the greatest candidate ever and thwarting their nefarious plans by cooking up the bogus Russia scandal to make it look like he hadn't really won the election. This plan included intelligence agencies from a number of foreign countries and members of the mainstream media who have been peddling their fake news to advance the storyline.

In order to "prove" all this, they are throwing spaghetti at the walls, and this week at least one strand stuck. It was reported a few weeks ago that Andrew McCabe, the embattled deputy director of the FBI, was planning to retire. It was abruptly announced on Monday that he was leaving immediately. After the news last week that, at Trump's behest, Attorney General Jeff Sessions had been pressuring FBI Director Christopher Wray to "purge" the agency of McCabe and other top officials Trump believed were among the plotters -- and Wray was described as heroically threatening to quit if he didn't have total independence -- this came as a bit of a surprise. It's unclear what role Wray played in all this, but we know that he and Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein both went to the White House on Monday.

We do know that Donald Trump deeply loathes McCabe on a personal level, however. NBC News has reported that the president hit the roof when he saw video of former FBI Director James Comey getting on a government plane in California, after Comey found out from watching TV news that he'd been fired. Trump demanded to know if McCabe had authorized the flight. When the deputy director responded that he hadn't but would have done so if asked, Trump got very angry and supposedly said, "Why don't you ask your wife what it's like to be a loser?"

He was referring to Jill McCabe, who had run for political office in Virginia as a Democrat and accepted a donation from a PAC controlled by then-Gov. Terry McAuliffe, a Clinton ally. Her campaign had nothing to do with the FBI, and that happened before Andrew McCabe had any involvement with the Clinton investigation, but never mind. It was enough to make McCabe look like an obvious plant, in Trump's eyes.

Meanwhile, over in the House of Representatives, the president's loyal GOP manservants on the Intelligence Committee have voted to release the infamous "memo," while refusing to release the Democratic counter-memo at the same time. Chairman Devin Nunes, R-Calif., wrote the GOP document, which purportedly shows that Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein signed off on a FISA warrant last spring to continue the surveillance of former Trump campaign adviser Carter Page. According to rumor, Republicans have cherry-picked evidence to make it appear that investigators depended exclusively or primarily on the notorious "Steele dossier," while many observers insist that no judge would ever have approved the warrant if that were so. Keep in mind that Page has been a suspected Russian agent (or stooge) since 2013, long before he came into Trump's orbit.

This particular drama is going to play out over the next few days. Trump has the final word on whether the memo can be released but has already signaled that it should be. What everyone's asking today is where all these machinations are leading. Quite likely the administration is systematically maneuvering for the dismissal or reassignment of Rod Rosenstein so Trump and Sessions can install their own henchman to oversee the Mueller probe. The idea is that they could slow it down or limit its scope by keeping Mueller from investigating areas the president wants to keep hidden.

Of course, Richard Nixon thought he had done that too when he reluctantly named a conservative Republican named Leon Jaworski as special prosecutor in the wake of the outcry over his firing of Archibald Cox during the Watergate scandal. Jaworski was skeptical of the investigation at first, but when he saw all the evidence he was appalled. There's no guarantee that the person Trump chooses will be "loyal" to him rather than the Constitution.

But on Monday night on Chris Hayes' MSNBC show, Frank Figliuzzi, who was chief of counterintelligence at the FBI under Mueller, floated another intriguing theory. He thinks this flurry of activity might also be to give Trump a rationale not to be interviewed in the Mueller probe, which people around the president see as maximally dangerous, since Trump is an inveterate liar and may not be able to stop himself from committing perjury. Figliuzzi suggested that would mean Mueller would seek a grand jury subpoena of the president, which would not be unprecedented but would probably be challenged in court.

So far the courts have maintained independence in dealing with the Trump administration's contempt for the rule of law. But there hasn't yet been a high-stakes political showdown in the Supreme Court. There was a time when people relied on the high court as the ultimate neutral arbiter of such partisan disputes, but after Bush vs. Gore we can have no more illusions about that. In fact, the Supreme Court's conservative majority provides role models for what Republicans are doing today. When push comes to shove, it's always party first, country second.


Haggling over the price

by Tom Sullivan

Sport (Harvey Keitel) haggling over price in Taxi Driver.

The president should require all his staff, departmental and congressional enablers to make public obeisance — kiss his ring, kowtow, whatever. Americans would have a public record of who among them has decided they no longer want a republic. Royalists want a monarch.

It is what President Trump wants, clearly, and he has clumsily set about extracting informal fealty oaths from those below him. Publicizing the process would separate the vassals from patriots. We will have established what kind of men and women they are. Indeed, we have already established that about many of Trump's men. Let us move on to inquiring of their price.

His move to oust FBI Deputy Director Andrew McCabe on Monday is not an attempt to curtail inquiry into what kind of a man Trump is. Trump has made that abundantly clear.

After he had fired James Comey, Trump saw TV coverage of Comey boarding an FBI plane for his return to Washington from Los Angeles. He called the acting director McCabe to find out who authorized the flight:

McCabe told the president he hadn’t been asked to authorize Comey’s flight, but if anyone had asked, he would have approved it, three people familiar with the call recounted to NBC News.

The president was silent for a moment and then turned on McCabe, suggesting he ask his wife how it feels to be a loser — an apparent reference to a failed campaign for state office in Virginia that McCabe’s wife made in 2015.

McCabe replied, “OK, sir.” Trump then hung up the phone.
Nor is Trump's move on McCabe an attempt to stop Special Counsel Robert Mueller from establishing guilt (of something), but to stop investigation into what Trump's price was. The great unanswered question Mueller has yet to reveal is What is Trump so desperately hiding?

Starting with James Comey's firing, Trump and his vassals have undertaken a slow-motion purge of Justice officials and a propaganda campaign against the FBI. Slowly, he is sweeping away nonbelievers who stand between him and his goal of quashing Mueller's Russia investigation. Forcing out McCabe puts Trump one domino closer to accomplishing that. Paul Waldman fleshes out why:
And here's something you might have missed: When Comey began taking detailed notes about his meetings with Trump and sharing information about Trump's behavior with colleagues so a contemporaneous record of Trump's appalling behavior could be established, one of the people he reached out to was, you guessed it, Andrew McCabe. You might have missed it, but I'll bet President Trump didn't.

But wait, there's more. You may have heard about the secret memo that Trump lickspittle and House Intelligence Committee chair Rep. Devin Nunes (R-Calif.) has been circulating among his Republican colleagues, supposedly showing anti-Trump bias at the FBI. The New York Times reports that it singles out Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein for approving the continuation of surveillance of former Trump adviser Carter Page, whom law enforcement and intelligence officials suspect may have been acting as an agent of the Russian government. "The reference to Mr. Rosenstein's actions in the memo," the Times notes, "indicates that Republicans may be moving to seize on his role as they seek to undermine the [Russia] inquiry."
Because only Rosenstein can fire Mueller.

Release of the Nunes memo is designed to give Trump the pretext he wants to order Attorney General Jeff Session to fire Rosenstein. He could gun him down in the middle of 5th Avenue and his cultish base would applaud. Trump stopped short last year when Don McGahn, the White House counsel, threatened to quit rather than carry out an order to instruct Justice to fire Mueller.

But this isn't the Bush-Cheney White House. There will be no dramatic hospital showdown where the White House backs down from doing something illegal because a group of top Justice officials threaten to resign. Team Trump's response would be good riddance. Revoke their pensions.

The Tony Perkins Caucus has demonstrated there is no bottom to what they'll do in his service. They might as well formalize it for the cameras, declare their fealty on their knees, and drop the affectations of republicanism.

Incidentally, "Mess of pottage" is now a favorite dish with House Republicans eating at the Longworth Cafeteria. With Senate Republicans eating in Dirksen too.

* * * * * * * *

Request a copy of For The Win, my county-level election mechanics primer, at tom.bluecentury at gmail.

Monday, January 29, 2018



by digby

The 20 week abortion ban failed in the Senate today. But it's hard to believe that it even came this close:

There's a reason why these bills don't make it: because one third of American women have had an abortion and it's a vitally necessary procedure for women's equality and freedom.

Here are a couple ore of those amazing first person stories from Bill Moyers and company:

No Choice: Lynne Hanley from BillMoyers.com on Vimeo.

When Lynne Hanley was studying English at Cornell, she fell in love. When she tried to get contraception, she was told she had to be married to get it. After she realized she was pregnant, she went to a local doctor who lectured her, telling her she would be punished if she tried to end her pregnancy. This is her story.

No Choice: Valerie Peterson from BillMoyers.com on Vimeo.

When Valerie Peterson became pregnant with her third child, her doctor told her the child wasn’t developing properly. The grim diagnosis meant Valerie had a choice to make. She could carry the pregnancy to term and deliver a stillborn baby, or she could have an abortion. Living in Texas, Valerie faced access and scheduling restrictions that made her decision to end the pregnancy much more difficult than she anticipated. This is her story.

So much for that recusal
by digby

Obviously, that concept is no longer operative. The presidents henchmen are all working with him, recusal or not:

President Donald Trump’s frustrations with the Russia investigation boiled over on Air Force One last week when he learned that a top Justice Department official had warned against releasing a memo that could undercut the probe, according to four people with knowledge of the matter.

Trump erupted in anger while traveling to Davos after learning that Associate Attorney General Stephen Boyd warned that it would be “extraordinarily reckless” to release a classified memo written by House Republican staffers. The memo outlines alleged misdeeds at the FBI and Justice Department related to the Russia investigation.

For Trump, the letter was yet another example of the Justice Department undermining him and stymieing Republican efforts to expose what the president sees as the politically motivated agenda behind Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s probe.

Trump’s outburst capped a week where Trump and senior White House officials personally reproached Attorney General Jeff Sessions and asked White House Chief of Staff John Kelly to speak to others -- episodes that illustrate Trump’s preoccupation with the Justice Department, according to two of the people.

Trump warned Sessions and others they need to excel at their jobs or go down as the worst in history, the two people said.

The incidents -- and the extraordinary level of Trump’s personal involvement with Justice Department officials on the matter -- are the latest signs of the growing pressure on Trump as a federal investigation into him, his campaign and his administration stretches into its second year.

Trump met with Sessions and FBI Director Christopher Wray at the White House last Monday to discuss missing text messages sent between two FBI agents who had expressed anti-Trump views. One of the agents later left his investigation and Mueller removed the other after learning of the texts.

Kelly held separate meetings or phone calls with senior Justice Department officials last Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday to convey Trump’s displeasure and lecture them on the White House’s expectations, according to the people. Kelly has taken to ending such conversations with a disclaimer that the White House isn’t expecting officials to do anything illegal or unethical.

After Trump’s strong reaction on Air Force One over the Boyd letter, White House officials, including Kelly, sprang into action again, lashing Justice Department officials Thursday over the decision to send the letter, according to the people. Sarah Isgur Flores, director of public affairs at the Department of Justice, declined to comment.
Several people close to Trump insist he isn’t preparing to fire Wray, Sessions or other senior officials. But the Justice Department’s decision to send the Boyd letter to the House Intelligence Committee last week has intensified Trump’s concern that his own department is undercutting him, several people familiar with the matter said.

The president is frustrated that Justice Department officials keep getting involved in issues related to the probe when they don’t need to, leading him to wonder if anyone was trying to protect people implicated in the GOP memo, according to one person familiar with the matter.

Kelly called Sessions directly to complain about the letter, and several other White House officials chided officials at Justice as well. Sessions was also at the White House Monday for an immigration meeting and for a discussion Tuesday of the department’s goals for the coming months.

It appears that the White House leaked this because they are under the impression that the president meeting privately with the allegedly recused Attorney General and the new FBI director is a good thing and that having the Chief of Staff call Justice Department officials to tell them the White House was angry and had expectations but ended them with a "disclaimer" saying they don't expect them (the DOJ!!!) to break the law.

These people are unbelievable. And yet, I will not surprised if they succeed. Much of the security of our government depends upon a president and his appointees having some respect for the rule of law and if he doesn't then the congress has to step in.

That's not looking good at the moment. Devin Nunes and Matt Gaetz are in charge. And they are more than willing to win by any means necessary.



Good God what an asshole

by digby

This jackass is so ugly in so many ways. This is just another one, but man ...

The day after President Donald Trump fired James Comey, he became so furious watching television footage of the ousted FBI director boarding a government-funded plane from Los Angeles back to Washington, D.C. that he called the bureau’s acting director, Andrew McCabe, to vent, according to multiple people familiar with the phone call.

Trump demanded to know why Comey was allowed to fly on an FBI plane after he had been fired, these people said. McCabe told the president he hadn’t been asked to authorize Comey’s flight, but if anyone had asked, he would have approved it, three people familiar with the call recounted to NBC News.

The president was silent for a moment and then turned on McCabe, suggesting he ask his wife how it feels to be a loser — an apparent reference to a failed campaign for state office in Virginia that McCabe’s wife made in 2015.

McCabe replied: “OK, sir.” Trump then hung up the phone.

Yes, we know Trump had a problem with McCabe's wife. But seriously, who over the age of 8 years old would say "ask your wife what it's like to be a loser?" My God.

McCabe is going to be free to speak now. I wonder if Trump realizes this.


The Purge continues apace
by digby

Always projection. Always.

Congressman Ted Lieu:
As a Member of the House Judiciary Committee, I read the partisan, classified Nunes House Intel memo. I can't talk about it. However, here's an analogy.

Remember Geraldo Rivera and the infamous Mystery of Al Capone's Vaults? It's like that, but Geraldo Rivera has more integrity.
They are setting up the firing of Rosenstein as part of their "purge." They will probably get away with it. The question will be if the people they replace them with are Trump gangsters or honest citizens.
A secret, highly contentious Republican memo reveals that Deputy Attorney General Rod J. Rosenstein approved an application to extend surveillance of a former Trump campaign associate shortly after taking office last spring, according to three people familiar with it.

The renewal shows that the Justice Department under President Trump saw reason to believe that the associate, Carter Page, was acting as a Russian agent. But the reference to Mr. Rosenstein’s actions in the memo — a much-disputed document that paints the investigation into Russian election meddling as tainted from the start — indicates that Republicans may be moving to seize on his role as they seek to undermine the inquiry.

The memo’s primary contention is that F.B.I. and Justice Department officials failed to adequately explain to an intelligence court judge in initially seeking a warrant for surveillance of Mr. Page that they were relying in part on research by an investigator, Christopher Steele, that had been financed by the Democratic National Committee and Hillary Clinton’s presidential campaign.

Democrats who have read the document say Republicans have cherry-picked facts to create a misleading and dangerous narrative. But in their efforts to discredit the inquiry, Republicans could potentially use Mr. Rosenstein’s decision to approve the renewal to suggest that he failed to properly vet a highly sensitive application for a warrant to spy on Mr. Page, who served as a Trump foreign policy adviser until September 2016.

A handful of senior Justice Department officials can approve an application to the secret surveillance court, but in practice that responsibility often falls to the deputy attorney general. No information has publicly emerged that the Justice Department or the F.B.I. did anything improper while seeking the surveillance warrant involving Mr. Page.

Mr. Trump has long been mistrustful of Mr. Rosenstein, the Justice Department’s No. 2 official, who appointed the special counsel, Robert S. Mueller III, and now oversees his investigation into Mr. Trump’s campaign and possible obstruction of justice by the president. Mr. Trump considered firing Mr. Rosenstein last summer. Instead, he ordered Mr. Mueller to be fired, then backed down after the White House counsel refused to carry out the order, The New York Times reported last week.

Mr. Trump is now again telling associates that he is frustrated with Mr. Rosenstein, according to one official familiar with the conversations.

Sean Hannity, the Fox News host, who is close to Mr. Trump and House Republicans, signaled interest in Mr. Rosenstein this month as news of the memo’s existence first circulated, asking on air if Mr. Rosenstein had played a role in extending the surveillance. “I’m very interested about Rod Rosenstein in all of this,” he said.

I think it's obvious what's going on. But I would just remind people of what happened after Nixon fired Cox and hired a hard right Texas prosecutor named Leon Jaworski who by all accounts went into it thinking the president was being railroaded. I wrote about how that went in this column for Salon a month or so ago. Here's the relevant piece of it:

Nixon ended up having to appoint another special prosecutor and picked a conservative Texan, Leon Jaworski, who was predisposed to give the president the benefit of the doubt. But after refusing to appeal the case to the Supreme Court, Nixon finally gave up the tapes. When Jaworski heard him talking to John Dean, he said, "can you believe the president of the United States coaching a witness on how to evade the truth?"

That's when the prosecutors got their indictments of the presidents' men and delivered their case to the House committee considering impeachment.

Watching Trump and knowing how often he lies, it seems inevitable that there have been more than a few such moments for Mueller in reading some of those emails and listening to testimony from people around the president. The difference is that Nixon had an understanding of the necessity of maintaining stability in the system, even as he abused it terribly. Trump doesn't even know what the system is and his lawyers don't seem to have much of a grasp of it either. So far, Republicans in Congress are completely unwilling to do their duty.

I don't know what the replacements for Rosenstein, McCabe and the rest of the "purged" members of the DOJ might think of the evidence when they see it. But it's always possible that whoever it is might just respect the constitution and the rule of law and recognize this Geraldo Rivera put-up job for what it is. Or not. But the way it's going it appears we're going to find out.

Trump is purging the department of anyone who worked on the Clinton email case so that he can instruct his henchmen to lock her up. Nothing will thrill his base more than deporting Mexicans, building a wall --- and putting that woman in her place at long last. It is the essence of his re-election strategy.

The other part of the purge is to get rid of Mueller however he can. Since firing him outright would upset some Republicans, they are going about it in a more roundabout way. They want to replace his boss with someone who can rein in the investigation and also, hopefully, keep the White House apprised of all developments so they can get ahead of the cover up.

Trump wants his Roy Cohn and he's going to keep firing people until he gets him.


The creatures from the fever swamp are busy

by digby

So Andrew McCabe has stepped down and the whole world is acting as thought it's the biggest news since Pearl Harbor. But the reality is that we already knew this. It was announced last year that he would be stepping down. Unfortunately it appears that the mainstream media has been seduced by this wingnut madness:

An “alt-right”-affiliated outlet and fake news purveyors are pushing a highly dubious conspiracy theory from a fringe blog that acting FBI Director Andrew McCabe is a “ringleader” in a plot against President Donald Trump.
Big League Politics, a fringe blog founded by former Daily Caller writer Patrick Howley, cited an “inside source” to claim that McCabe was the “ringleader” behind a collaboration “against” Trump by McCabe, former FBI Director James Comey, and Russia probe special counsel Robert Mueller. According to Howley, the source also called the three men “creatures of the swamp.” The blog also employs “alt-right” figure Cassandra Fairbanks, and it previously helped revive a fringe smear that Comey was biased in his investigation into former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s email server due to his brother’s supposed connections to the Clintons. The McCabe article has drawn slightly more than 100 Facebook engagements so far, according to social media analytics website BuzzSumo. 
Soon after it was published, the report was picked up by “alt-right”-affiliated blog The Gateway Pundit, which wrote that the revelations showed that Mueller is “in bed” with McCabe and Comey, that the three are working to “undermine” Trump, and that McCabe is the “real treat” of this “swamp fiasco.” Though The Gateway Pundit regularly pushes false stories, Fox News and Trump have regularly cited its content, the White House has given its correspondent press credentials, and the site is currently trying to get congressional press credentials. The Gateway Pundit’s McCabe article has received at least 6,200 Facebook engagements, according to BuzzSumo. 
Thanks to the Gateway Pundit article, fake news purveyors then spread this dubious claim. Before It’s Newswrote that the report meant “FBI directors past and present apparently have it in for” Trump, and The Political Insider said that it showed “the deep state is preparing for war.” Mad World News and Washington Feedwrote that McCabe was “execut[ing]” Comey’s “treacherous” “backup plan” and that Trump needs to “get rid of” these “deep state hacks.” Freedom Daily called the report a “bombshell” that showed a “treasonous plot” that “shady” McCabe was “execut[ing]," and that Trump needed to “act quickly” to “get rid of” him. The Political Insider, Mad World News, and Freedom Daily articles have received at least 2,000, 1,600, and 5,500 Facebook engagements, respectively, according to BuzzSumo. 
The “alt-right”/fake news ecosystem pushing this dubious new charge has essentially been a propagandamachine for Trump, and the network continues to target Comey and Mueller as they become potential threats to the president. Mueller is leading the investigation into possible collusion between Russia and the Trump campaign in the 2016 election, and Comey has testified that he believes Trump fired him due to the probe. The new claim also comes as Trump tweeted that he is “being investigated for firing the FBI Director by the man who told me to fire the FBI Director” and that he is the target of a “witch hunt.”

They've always done this. Whitewater and Paula Jones travel office and birtherism and the IRS scandal and the rest were all hatched by right wing media and carried forward by partisan gangsters in the congress. Today they have a much more efficient media eco-system (and may even be helped by foreign agents) to effect these smear campaigns. But it always starts in the fever swamps just like this.



Fascist creep

by digby

I wrote about the creeping authoritarianism of the Trump administration for Salon this morning:

Last week we learned that months ago President Trump ordered his White House counsel, Don McGahn, to fire Special Counsel Robert Mueller. McGahn said he would quit rather than carry out the order, and Trump backed down. Since then there has been a lot of discussion about the president's pattern of obstructing the Russia investigation and his persistent lying and interference. There seems to be a consensus that over the course of the last few months Trump has shown an alarming propensity to abuse his power, but it's still unclear whether there is a clear case that he broke the law. If it can be proven that he has abused his power or broken the law, the one remedy everyone can agree upon -- as with any president -- is impeachment.

Because the Republican majority in Congress is acting as Trump's accomplices rather than a co-equal branch of government with oversight responsibility and an obligation to defend the Constitution, however, impeachment is highly unlikely. The GOP caucus in both houses is barely keeping up the pretense of investigating Russian interference in the election, and one group of powerful members is trying to create an alternative scandal, accusing top officials at the FBI and the Department of Justice of conspiring to help Hillary Clinton's campaign and destroy the Trump administration. According to The Washington Post, Trump himself has been pushing this operation, telling Chief of Staff John Kelly and supposedly recused Attorney General Jeff Sessions to aid in the effort.

Today those of us who consider ourselves civil libertarians find ourselves in the unusual position of defending law enforcement institutions about which we have deep skepticism, due to their secretiveness and the tremendous power they hold over average Americans. But in this case they're the ones under assault by a rogue group of equally powerful lawmakers and the president of the United States. These elected officials are deeply authoritarian by instinct, ideology and temperament. They are clearly using their authority to undermine the rule of law and democratic norms and practices, not uphold them.

This president and his henchmen could create an authoritarian regime within the rough boundaries of the Constitution and the imprimatur of democratic legitimacy. It would hardly be unprecedented. It's the way it happens in the modern world. Political scientists Steven Levitsky and Daniel Ziblatt have written a new book, "How Democracies Die," which surveys how democratic nations can slide into authoritarianism when they lose their willingness to live by two specific norms: mutual toleration and forbearance.

The first is the belief that the opposition is operating in good faith and with a common love of country. The other is the forbearance not to push the boundaries of power, something that all the players in our system have more of than the law can possibly constrain on its own. The authors describe how other democracies like Chile became authoritarian when these basic principles were stripped away.

In their view, America is in danger of going down that road, having weakened its system going back to the 1980s, when the back-benchers of the Republican Party, led by Newt Gingrich, began to attack democratic norms that had been in place since the end of the Civil War -- the last time American democracy went sideways.

They describe the current polarization of the two parties as part of a societal and cultural split, rather than an ideological division.

In this article in The New York Times, Levitsky and Ziblatt note that 50 years ago, only 5 percent of Americans said they'd be unhappy if their child married someone of the opposite political party. Today, 33 percent of Democrats and a whopping 49 percent of Republicans say they would be displeased with that eventuality. An equal number of Republicans say they are afraid of Democrats, while 55 percent of Democrats feel that way about Republicans. It's fairly obvious that this is about race, secularism and modernity. Both parties used to be predominantly white and now we have one that is almost entirely white and Christian, while the other is a diverse and largely secular mixture of religions, races and ethnicities.

The authors point out the nub of the problem:
White Christians are not just any group: They are a once-dominant majority in decline. When a dominant group’s social status is threatened, racial and cultural differences can be perceived as existential and irreconcilable. The resulting polarization preceded (indeed, made possible) the Trump presidency, and it is likely to persist after it.

Conservative politicians like Gingrich, Dick Cheney and more recently Paul Ryan and Mitch McConnell, started to abandon democratic norms a long time ago, starting with the slash-and-burn politics of the '90s and through the Bush and Obama years. They eventually evolved into something more closely resembling an organized gang dedicated to protecting their turf by any means necessary than a recognizable American political party. Today, Newt Gingrich, a former Speaker of the House of Representatives, says:

Of course the president ought to be able to expect loyalty. He is the chosen president of the United States by the American people, and he is the chief executive. If they’re not loyal to him, who the hell are they supposed to be loyal to?

Every American used to know that the answer to that was "the Constitution and the rule of law."

Trump knows nothing of norms and wouldn't understand the concepts of toleration and forbearance. He is a primitive creature trying to survive, and he will use whatever means at his disposal unless someone can convince him that it's more dangerous to use it than not to. Even then, he sees himself as a risk-taker and could very well decide that it's worth gambling everything to stay in the game. There's every reason to believe that his party will back him up.

So far, Trump's administration has been a chaotic mess, and for the most part, the institutions are holding, even if they are starting to fray at the seams. But authoritarianism can happen by accident as much as design. As Jeet Heer writes in this piece in the New Republic, precisely because Trump "is a weak president who doesn’t know how to achieve his agenda, he’s given to strident rhetoric attacking the legitimacy of his political foes and the institutions that stand in his way."

Every such attack undermines the stability of our democratic system, giving succor to those who are anxious to use the opening for their own gain and emboldening those who applauded the dark American world Trump promised back on the campaign trail. It's entirely possible that we are sliding backwards into a new authoritarian system one tweet at a time without even knowing it.