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Friday, October 18, 2019

"There are exactly two possible explanations for the shameful performance the world witnessed on Monday"

by digby

James Fallows is not a hysterical blogger. But he's not pulling any punches:

There are exactly two possible explanations for the shameful performance the world witnessed on Monday, from a serving American president.

Either Donald Trump is flat-out an agent of Russian interests—maybe witting, maybe unwitting, from fear of blackmail, in hope of future deals, out of manly respect for Vladimir Putin, out of gratitude for Russia’s help during the election, out of pathetic inability to see beyond his 306 electoral votes. Whatever the exact mixture of motives might be, it doesn’t really matter.

Or he is so profoundly ignorant, insecure, and narcissistic that he did not realize that, at every step, he was advancing the line that Putin hoped he would advance, and the line that the American intelligence, defense, and law-enforcement agencies most dreaded.

Conscious tool. Useful idiot. Those are the choices, though both are possibly true, so that the main question is the proportions.

Whatever the balance of motivations, what mattered was that Trump’s answers during his joint press conference with the Russian president were indistinguishable from Putin’s, starting with the fundamental claim that Putin’s assurances about interference in U.S. democracy (“He was incredibly strong and confident in his denial”) deserved belief over those of his own Department of Justice (“I think the probe is a disaster for our country”).

I am old enough to remember Lyndon Johnson and Richard Nixon telling lies on TV, about Vietnam in both cases, and Watergate for Nixon. I remember the travails and deceptions of Bill Clinton, and of George W. Bush in the buildup to the disastrous Iraq War.

But never before have I seen an American president consistently, repeatedly, publicly, and shockingly advance the interests of another country over those of his own government and people.

Trump manifestly cannot help himself. This is who he is.

I hear pooh-poohing of this obvious observation from people on the right and also the left. It is impossible to ignore it at this point. Indeed, it's verging on delusional.

He goes on to indict Trump's accomplices in the Senate which is correct. So far, with the exception of a few stray comments and speech or two on the floor, they have refused to do their duty. They are betraying their country too.

Young Republicans starting to peel off

by digby

If the GOP cares at all about their future they should take a hard look at this:

While majorities of Republicans and Republican leaners across all age categories disapprove of the impeachment inquiry, there is more support for the inquiry among young Republicans (30% of those younger than 30) than those 65 and older.

That's from the new Pew Poll which finds this astonishing number:

Pew also found that 54% approve of the impeachment proceedings so of those folks apparently don't care, which is something. (And frankly, every time I hear Democrats saying that voters don't care about all this and only want to talk about their own pocketbooks, they reinforce that notion.)

That 30% of young GOP voters could end up being a big problem. Even young Republicans are idealists. If they leave over Trump many of them won't go back. And the Republicans aren't getting very many coverts these days.

A little crack in the wall?

by digby

My Salon column this morning:

It feels as though every week during the Trump administration is a year and every year a decade. Every day there is a crisis or an outrage or a revelation that takes your breath away. But the underlying dynamics always seem to be the same no matter what. The press reports the story, the Democrats get outraged, the pundits analyze it, the president rages and then Fox and the Republicans all line up like a  bunch of robots and salute smartly and we reset until the next crisis, outrage or revelation. It's an exhausting cycle that never seems to get anywhere and it's bred a fatalistic response in many of us: "nothing matters."

But this past week is the first time I've thought that we might have seen something truly fundamental shift.  A cascade of recent and current National Security Counsel and State Department officials have now defied White House orders and given sworn testimony to congressional investigators which charge that Trump and his lawyer Rudy Giuliani were running a shadow foreign policy that was at odds with the stated administration policy and US interests and aimed solely at securing personal political benefit for Trump. The whistleblower was right.

On Thursday, Acting Chief of Staff Mick Mulvaney held a rare press briefing in the White House and admitted that the president had, in fact, demanded a quid pro quo for military aid to Ukraine, astonishing everyone including the White House which quickly had him run out and declare that he didn't actually say what he said. (Hey, it's worked for Trump so far.)

Mulvaney obviously thought he was being clever by copping to Trump withholding military aid until they agreed to investigate this bogus "DNC 2016 election interference" because it's looking into the past rather than the future as with the Biden investigation demand. They all seem to be unable to grasp that asking foreign governments to manufacture dirt on your domestic political opponents in exchange for American aid no matter how you slice it.  Their inane "mirror-Mueller" probe seeking to exonerate Russia for its activity in 2016 by proving they were framed by the Deep State, the DNC and Hillary Clinton is not only absurd, it's extremely suspicious.

Let's just say that Mulvaney's explanations didn't help his or the president's cause:

Meanwhile, even congressional Republicans have been agitated by the president's seemingly abrupt decision to greenlight a Turkish invasion of northern Syria last Friday night, paving the way for ethnic cleansing of US allies and creating an opportunity for ISIS to regenerate.  The normally enthusiastic Trump bootlicker Senator Lindsey Graham, R-SC, was beside himself as the week wore on even claiming that Trump would have blood on his hands and proclaiming it the worst decision of his presidency. Mitt Romney, R-Ut,  spoke out as well as did Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell. Others tip-toed around the issue by tepidly voicing some concern rather than their usual full-throated endorsement of Donald Trump's genius, obviously waiting to see which way the wind was blowing. Nonetheless, the Senate prepared to pass a sanctions bill against Turkey on a bipartisan basis and the House passed a resolution condemning the abrupt withdrawal of US troops, 354 to 60, with the full support of Democrats and 129 Republicans. That's right, two-thirds of House Republicans joined that vote.

That is unusual, to say the least, particularly since the House is in the midst of a dramatic process that will, in all likelihood,  result in the impeachment of this president. The votes weren't specific to that charge but the fact that they happened at this moment is a sign that his power over them may be diminishing.

Trump flailed about all week using the same gambit he tried with the notorious Ukraine phone call: "you can believe me or you can believe your lyin' eyes." In this case, he had circulated an official White House announcement declaring the troop withdrawal and blessing the invasion and days later he was saying that he never did any such thing.

As the pressure mounted, Trump got more and more frantic, holding rambling incoherent press avails, finally culminating in a White House meeting with House Speaker Nancy Pelosi D-Ca,  and Minority Leader Chuck Schumer,D-NY, in which he suffered a serious meltdown. He insulted Pelosi to her face causing the Democratic leaders to leave the meeting. The White House circulated an unhinged, juvenile threatening letter Trump had sent to Turkish President Erdogan three days after his assent to their invasion plan, obviously trying to back peddle in the face of the Republicans balking, which was later reported to have landed in the rubbish bin beneath Erdogan's desk.

It's become clear even to many of his allies on Capitol Hill that this decision was a sign of either dangerous impulsiveness, possible corruption or both. As with the Ukraine mess, Trump carried out this policy in defiance of his national security and foreign policy expert's advice and for inscrutable reasons. His decision-making has always been erratic but the consequences are becoming deadly.

As part of the pretense that he hadn't given Erdogan the go-ahead, Trump sent Vice President Mike Pence and Secretary of State Mike Pompeo to Turkey to "negotiate." They announced a short "cease-fire" in order to ethnically cleanse a portion of Northern Syria and announced they would reverse all sanctions and called it a breakthrough.

According to the  Washington Post  Turkish officials were happily surprised to learn they would get everything they wanted without having to give anything up at all:
The request for a temporary cease-fire seemed to be “face-saving, for the U.S. side,” the official said. “It was as easy a negotiation as we’ve ever had,” the official said.
The president was very pleased as well:

This is a great day for civilization. I am proud of the United States for sticking by me in following a necessary, but somewhat unconventional, path. People have been trying to make this “Deal” for many years. Millions of lives will be saved. Congratulations to ALL!
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) October 17, 2019

And as if to emphasize once more that he doesn't give a flying Florida flamingo about anything resembling reality anymore, he had his henchman Mulvaney announce that they had searched high and low for appropriate venues for next year's G7 meeting and had determined that the only possible place to have it would be at Trump's Doral golf club in Miami. He's not really even trying to hide his intentions anymore:

All of this adds up to a dawning recognition among Trump's allies that he's adopting some kind of YOLO attitude that he's just going to do whatever he wants and damn the consequences. His pronouncements are becoming even more grandiose than before and he apparently thinks he has the power to literally shape reality simply by saying what he wants to be true. For the first time it feels as if some of them are starting to realize just how dangerous that can be.

The Media's Latest GOP Voice of Reason...Isn't 

by tristero

The mainstream media is still seeking that mythical savior, the Reasonable Republican — and Mitt Romney looks like the Hollywood version of deep seriousness: strong jaw, elegantly grayed hair, and as white as it gets. And of course Romney is also male-iciously male to boot. There's just one little problem:

Romney votes Trump nearly 80% of the time. Romney's no voice of reason. He's a rightwing elitist nutjob who, let's not forget, blithely wrote off 47% of American voters as not worth his attention.

The Guardrails 

by tristero

They're deserting what appears to be a sinking ship. And we're starting to see the outline of an excuse from those who have jumped overboard. The rough outline goes like this:

"I did what I could to save the country from Trump and I could only do that from the inside."


They weren't mitigating the damage. At worst they were enabling and covering it up. At best, they were merely stretching out the amount of time that Trump got away with it in order to advance their own (usually ethically dubious) agendas.

In other words, there were never any "guardrails around the Trump presidency." There were only grifters.

Sure, the quip Mattis's speechwriter wrote about bone spurs is amusing. But it doesn't let him off the hook. He's as morally culpable as Barr, Miller, Mnuchin, Mulvaney, Pence, and the rest of the Whole Sick Crew:
Thomas M. Nichols, a professor at the U.S. Naval War College in Rhode Island, said he did not think the speech was an occasion for laughter. 
“I don’t think anyone should be chuckling at Mattis’s brush off of Trump’s insult,” he wrote on Twitter. “It’s his facile way of dodging the reality that he knows a lot about what happened in this White House, including what are now obviously impeachable acts directly related to his time as SECDEF.”
That is exactly right. And by the way, being a serially bad judge of character — the only conceivable (and feeble) excuse for Mattis's agreeing to serve on the Board of Theranos and in Trump's cabinet — does not absolve Mattis his responsibility to come forward about any wrongdoing he witnessed or possibly partook in.



Pax Ameri-con-a

by Tom Sullivan

Remodeled Syrian naval base at Tartus now serves Russian nuclear subs and other surface ships.

It is as if Russian President Vladimir Putin tasked Donald J. Trump with unwinding 75 years of western diplomacy in four years and Trump piped up, "I'll do it in under three." And actually delivered.

Trump has dumped on NATO, bailed on trade agreements and climate accords, abandoned allies, and conceded whatever moral high ground the U.S. had left after George W. Bush invaded the wrong country, tortured prisoners, and further destabilized the Middle East to impress his father. Trump has done it in record time. It's what happens when an insecure, autocrat-curious con man takes control of a superpower.

Now after undermining Ukraine's territorial security in favor of Russian expansionism, he has handed Russia a greater foothold on NATO's eastern doorstep in northern Syria and strengthened Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s Russian-backed government. Access to Syrian harbors already has helped Russia expand its naval presence in the Mediterranean that shrank after the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991.

"We got exactly what we wanted," a senior Turkish official told CNN after meeting with Vice President Mike Pence on Thursday:

Pence just announced that the US and Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan had agreed to a ceasefire in the Turkish military offensive into Syria. Pence said the Turkish operation would end when the YPG forces complete the withdrawal.

The senior Turkish official told CNN the “terrorists” would withdraw from the “safe zone” within five days and that Turkey would enforce the area after that. He also told CNN the “military operation paid off."

Erdoğan is scheduled to meet with President Vladimir Putin in Sochi, Russia, around the time the ceasefire would go into effect.
As Trump declared his foreign policy debacle brilliant, America's erstwhile Kurdish allies against ISIS would have 120 hours to ethnically cleanse themselves from territory Turkey wanted. For its part, Turkey rejected the ceasefire framing. This was merely a pause in its advance and not an actual ceasefire. Shelling continues.

In a touching bit of irony, Bush speechwriter Micheal Gerson laments the "global implications of having a president who is ignorant of history, driven by impulse, immune to advice and dead to the romance of American ideals." He writes in the Washington Post:
The betrayal of the Kurds has damaged President Trump so badly — including among Republican legislators — because it so perfectly captures the essence of his approach to foreign affairs. There is the devaluing and abandonment of traditional friends (the Kurds are “not angels” and “didn’t help us with Normandy”). There is the surrender to strongmen (granting Turkey’s Recep Tayyip Erdogan a free hand in Syria, and ceding Russia’s Vladimir Putin a broader role in the Middle East). There is the absurdly contracted definition of U.S. interests (events in Syria are unimportant because they are not on “our border”). There are the blustery threats to cover his humiliation (the U.S. will “swiftly destroy” Turkey’s economy with sanctions). And there is the inevitable and delusional pronouncement of success (the debacle was “strategically brilliant”).

This set of urges and instincts is leaving its mark on U.S. influence. Trump’s bumbling retreat from alliances, from responsibility and from basic sanity has sown discord in Europe and has created new playgrounds for Russian meddling. It has also left a vacuum of influence in the Pacific that is being filled by China. The damage to U.S. interests is considerable and growing.

The cost of betraying a friend in battle — particularly to appease an authoritarian thug — is clear. It makes every friend and ally less likely to trust the United States. But what gets less attention is the cost of betraying American principles, particularly on human dignity. When Trump leaves the Kurds to ethnic cleansing, or is dismissive of the rights of protesters in Hong Kong, he is not only dishonoring national principles. He is forfeiting a decisive American advantage.
"Trump’s amoral foreign policy is a source of shame — and a source of danger," Gerson boldly concludes without calling boldly for a swift end to Trump's tenure in the White House.

Trump's stay could be over in short order if Republicans in Congress put their votes overwhelmingly behind it for the good of their country. But that likely will mean the collapse of Republican power in Washington if not in many states as well. That collapse bothers them more than the collapse of their country's international influence.

They could lose in 2020 with some modicum of dignity intact, having shaken off Trump's spell, but like opioids, political power is addicting too. Republicans have not yet hit rock-bottom. At this rate, America may get there before they do.

Thursday, October 17, 2019

In case you were wondering what in the hell happened in Turkey...

by digby

Spencer Ackerman has the low down on "the deal":

Last month, at the United Nations, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan waved a map of northeastern Syria before the world’s dignitaries. His point was to demand U.S.-backed Kurdish fighters, whom Washington had relied upon to fight the so-called Islamic State, get out. His subtext was that he was ready to violently extend the Turkish border southward, seizing Syrian territory.

In Ankara on Thursday, Vice President Mike Pence gave Erdoğan everything the Turks wanted in the long-telegraphed war Erdoğan launched following a green light from President Donald Trump during a now-infamous Oct. 6 phone call. The U.S. did not even get the status quo ante.

The Turks did not agree to withdraw from Syrian territory. They agreed to a ceasefire, Pence announced. Over the next five days, the Kurdish forces that the U.S. abandoned are to withdraw approximately 20 miles south. In exchange, the Trump administration agreed not to implement new sanctions—Sens. Lindsey Graham and Chris Van Hollen introduced a new sanctions package as Pence briefed reporters—and, should the Turkish ceasefire hold, will lift those the administration placed on Turkey after Trump’s greenlight drew widespread backlash.

“It’s a ratification of what Donald Trump told the Turks they could do,” assessed Aaron Stein, the director of the Middle East program at the Foreign Policy Research Institute.

A Turkish official told Middle East Eye, “We got exactly what we wanted out of the meeting.” Erdoğan’s foreign minister, Mevlut Cavusoglu, even boasted that Turkey had agreed to do no more than “pause” its war for the five agreed-upon days. “We will only stop the operation if our conditions are met,” Cavusoglu said.

Pence said he and the other members of the high-level U.S. delegation in Ankara, which included Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and new national security adviser Robert O’Brien, had a brief to deliver no more than a ceasefire. “This will serve the interests of the Kurdish population in Syria,” Pence insisted, crediting the agreement to “President Trump and President Erdoğan.”

Ackerman has a lot more on how they got to this and how thoroughly Trump and his enablers have sold out their allies for reasons nobody understands. I recommend you read the whole thing.

Meanwhile, here's our lunatic president:


What are these emoluments you speak of?

by digby

You've heard by now that in the middle of an impeachment and foreign policy crisis, our psycho president announced that he had decided to hold the G7 next summer at his wholly-owned golf club in Florida, opening him up to more charges of graft and corruption.

Oh boy:

Paul Waldman reports:
It’s unlikely that the Senate will remove President Trump from office if or when he’s impeached, but the president isn’t taking any chances: He’s going to squeeze every last dime he can out of the presidency while he still has the opportunity.

Which is why the White House just announced that it has awarded the privilege of hosting next year’s Group of Seven summit of world leaders to the Trump Doral golf course in Miami.

As Post reporters Toluse Olorunnipa,David Fahrenthold and Jonathan O’Connell note, “That decision is without precedent in modern American history: The president used his public office to direct a massive contract to himself.”

Acting chief of staff Mick Mulvaney came before reporters Thursday and said — remarkably, with a straight face — that Trump’s resort was chosen solely because it is “the best physical facility for this meeting.” It’s pure coincidence that it just happens to be owned by Trump.

What’s more, when Mulvaney was asked if the White House would share documents illuminating the decision, he said no: “If you want to see our paper on how we did this, the answer is absolutely not."

Trump’s blithe flaunting of this corruption, in the midst of a deepening impeachment inquiry — along with Mulvaney’s middle finger to basic accountability — may help build the case for his ultimate impeachment.

How Democrats can respond

In an interview, Rep. Jamie B. Raskin (D-Md.), a member of the Oversight and Judiciary committees, laid out a process by which Democrats might bear down harder on this latest corrupt misconduct.

Raskin told us he’s been discussing with other Democrats the prospect of holding a House vote on a resolution disapproving of Trump’s decision on Doral, as well as of his continued violation of the Constitution’s emoluments clauses via his acceptance of untold sums from foreign officials and governments, and the U.S. government.

As Raskin noted, if the House passes such a resolution, and Trump continues down this course — as he will surely do — the House would have made its opposition crystal clear. The emoluments clause permits presidents to accept such emoluments only if Congress approves them, and here the direct opposite would have happened.

At that point, Raskin argued, Democrats would have strong grounds to consider making this latest corruption — and the broader emoluments violations — part of their ongoing impeachment inquiry and potentially grounds for an appropriate article of impeachment as well.

Raskin pointed out that the G-7 corruption and the ongoing Ukraine scandal — in which Trump is pressuring a foreign government to help him rig the next U.S. election on his behalf — have a connecting thread.

“The president’s conversion of his public office into an instrument of private profit and political reelection is the cardinal sin of his presidency,” Raskin told us. “The government is not the president’s private property. The emoluments clauses are essential to framing the high crimes and misdemeanors of the president.”

“It’s hard for me to imagine a comprehensive impeachment resolution that does not refer to the president’s repeated and continuing violations,” Raskin continued. “The get-rich-quick scheme that the president has cooked up with the G-7 and Doral has the kind of alarming public clarity that the Ukraine shakedown does. The president is essentially writing his own impeachment articles.”
Waldman goes on to point out all the other violations of the emoluments clause, the promotional appearances at his properties, the foreign pay to play at his hotels, the endless, overwhelming graft.
Some of this is legally questionable; all of it is unethical, and the G-7 caper may be the most unethical action yet.

And while Trump waxes about how spectacular and convenient Doral is, G-7 summits are usually held in more isolated locations where establishing security for a collection of many of the world’s most important leaders is less of a challenge.

Doral, furthermore, has been described as run-down; the resort’s revenues are down, and a G-7 meeting could be just the ticket to give it publicity.

But all the money Trump ends up reaping from this scheme may help lead to his impeachment. Surely he views the trade-off as well worth it.
They must take up this emoluments stuff. A president blatantly using the office for his own financial benefit like this may be the crudest example of our descent into banana republicanism but it's extremely important that they take a stand. It's the best way to set us up for the necessary reforms that are required to stop this descent into oligarchy.

h/t to Spocko for the Youtube mashup.


He's dragging his accomplices down with him

by digby

Oh, lookie here:

The most vulnerable Republican senators are not improving their standing in their home states ahead of a tough 2020 election cycle, while the field of potential Democratic challengers took shape and began to flex its muscle.

According to Morning Consult’s latest quarterly Senator Approval Rankings based on nearly 534,000 responses from registered voters collected July 1 through Sept. 30, Republicans representing Colorado, Arizona, North Carolina, Maine and Iowa all saw their net approval — the share of voters who approve of a senator’s job performance minus the share who disapprove — decline between the second and third quarters of 2019.

Amazing how that works. Once the House took decisive steps and the public realized this was serious, voters start to pay attention and when they do, they see what's going on. And they are starting to look at his enablers.

The best way out of this for everyone is that Trump resigns. Mitch wouldn't have to force his Senators to take the tough vote and they get that potted plant Pence, who will probably lose, but will potentially preserve the Senate.

The problem is that the only way Trump will resign is if he's blackmailed into it. And it's hard to imagine there's anything out there that would be so bad it would persuade his cult to betray him if they find out what it is. Honestly, after all he's done, I can't imagine what it would be.

Unless he succeeds in stealing the election in 2020 (a serious possibility) he will probably not survive. The question is whether or not those Senators are willing to go down with his ship. I seriously doubt that Trump's foreign friends will put in the same effort to help them. Why would they? He's the great prize.


All roads lead to Putin

by digby

Yep. It's finally become inescapable, even to people like myself who were just as willing to assume that Trump is an unfit ignoramus who didn't know what he was doing. I wrote this on Monday in my Salon column:

The consensus is that Trump "impulsively" told Erdogan to go ahead and invade Syria and said the U.S. would not object. (Since Turkey has 50 American nuclear bomb sites on its territory, Erdogan probably figured Trump wouldn't say such a thing if he didn't mean it.) It's also possible that Trump wanted to keep Turkey happy since he has two Trump Towers in Istanbul and several other active business ventures that require Erdogan's cooperation. But it's impossible to ignore the fact that while every single Trump foreign policy bungle can be attributed to his ignorance, narcissism or corruption, for some reason they always seem to accrue to the benefit of Vladimir Putin.

They all can't be a coincidence.


Somebody's making some dubious trades on Trump chaos

by digby

I've wondered whether anyone was making money on Trump's imbecility. He does spend a lot of time on the phone ...

In the last 10 minutes of trading at the Chicago Mercantile Exchange on Friday, September 13, someone got very lucky. That’s when he or she, or a group of people, sold short 120,000 “S&P e-minis”—electronically traded futures contracts linked to the Standard & Poor’s 500 stock index—when the index was trading around 3010. The time was 3:50 p.m. in New York; it was nearing midnight in Tehran. A few hours later, drones attacked a large swath of Saudi Arabia’s oil infrastructure, choking off production in the country and sending oil prices soaring. By the time the CME next opened, for pretrading on Sunday night, the S&P index had fallen 30 points, giving that very fortunate trader, or traders, a quick $180 million profit.

It was not an isolated occurrence. Three days earlier, in the last 10 minutes of trading, someone bought 82,000 S&P e-minis when the index was trading at 2969. That was nearly 4 a.m. on September 11 in Beijing, where a few hours later, the Chinese government announced that it would lift tariffs on a range of American-made products. As has been the typical reaction in the U.S. stock markets as the trade war with China chugs on without any perceptible logic, when the news about a potential resolution of it seems positive, stock markets go up, and when the news about the trade war appears negative, they go down.

The news was viewed positively. The S&P index moved swiftly on September 11 to 2996, up nearly 30 points. That same day, President Donald Trump said he would postpone tariffs on some Chinese goods, and the S&P index moved to 3016, or up 47 points since the fortunate person bought the 82,000 e-minis just before the market closed on September 10. Since a one-point movement, up or down, in an e-mini contract is worth $50, a 47-point movement up in a day was worth $2,350 per contract. If you were the lucky one who bought the 82,000 e-mini contracts, well, then you were sitting on a one-day profit of roughly $190 million.

A week earlier, three minutes before the CME closed on September 3, someone bought 55,000 e-mini contracts, with the index at about 2906. At around 9 p.m. in New York—9 a.m. in Hong Kong—the market started moving and kept rallying for the next six hours or so, reaching 2936. Around 2 p.m. in Hong Kong—2 a.m. in New York—Carrie Lam, the Hong Kong leader, announced that she would be withdrawing the controversial extradition bill that had been roiling the city in protest for months. Whoever bought those e-mini contracts a few hours earlier made a killing: a cool $82.5 million profit.

But these wins were peanuts compared to the money made by a trader, or group of traders, who bought 420,000 September e-minis in the last 30 minutes of trading on June 28. That was some 40% of the day’s trading volume in September e-minis—making it a trade that could not easily be ignored. By then, President Trump was already in Osaka, Japan—14 hours ahead of Chicago—and on his way to a roughly hour-long meeting with China’s President Xi Jinping as part of the G20 summit. On Saturday in Osaka, after the market had closed in Chicago, Trump emerged from his meeting with Xi and announced that the intermittent trade talks were “back on track.” The following week was a good one in the stock market, thanks to the Trump announcement. On Thursday, June 27, the S&P 500 index stood at about 2915; a week or so later, it was just below 3000, a gain of 84 points, or $4,200 per e-mini contract. Whoever bought the 420,000 e-minis on June 28 had made a handsome profit of nearly $1.8 billion.

Traders in the Chicago pits have been watching these kinds of wagers with an increasing mixture of shock and awe since the start of the Trump presidency. They are used to rapid fluctuations in the S&P 500 index; volatility is common, of course. But the precision and timing of these trades, and the vast amount of money being made as a result of them, make the traders wonder if all this is on the level. Are the people behind these trades incredibly lucky, or do they have access to information that other people don’t have about, say, Trump’s or Beijing’s latest thinking on the trade war or any other of a number of ways that Trump is able to move the markets through his tweeting or slips of the tongue? Essentially, do they have inside information?

Theoretically, market regulators are supposed to be keeping an eye on big trades such as these, to try to figure out whether they are just happy coincidences or whether there is something more nefarious afoot. And they say they do. But calls to the Chicago Mercantile Exchange, where the trades takes place, the Securities and Exchange Commission, which regulates the equity markets, and to the Commodity Futures Trading Commission, which regulates futures contracts, such as e-minis, were answered in different ways. Christopher Carofine, at the SEC, declined to comment. The CFTC did not respond to my inquiries, while a spokeswoman for the CME says the trades in question did not originate from a single source and they were of no concern.

There is no way for another trader, let alone an outsider such as me, to know who is making these trades. But regulators know or can find out. One longtime CME trader who has been watching with disgust says he’s never seen anything quite like these trades, not at least since al-Qaida cashed in before initiating the September 11 attacks. “There is definite hanky-panky going on, to the world’s financial markets’ detriment,” he says. “This is abysmal.”

In the case of Trump, market manipulation also yields political dividends. Perhaps the most obvious example dates to late August, when Trump, desperate to reignite trade talks with China, boasted during the G7 summit that his counterparts in Beijing had come back to the table. “We’ve gotten two calls—very, very good calls,” he told reporters. “They mean business.” The market rose more than 900 points over the next few days. But a spokesperson for the Chinese foreign ministry said he was not aware of any such calls. An editor at the Global Times, the state-controlled newspaper, tweeted that he knew of no calls made in the days leading up to the G7 meeting and that “China won’t cave to US pressure.” Two U.S government officials later told CNN that Trump misspoke and “conflated” comments from China’s Vice Premier Liu He with direct communication from the Chinese. According to CNN, the officials said Trump was “eager to project optimism that might boost markets.”

Indeed, this single Trump lie briefly inflated domestic markets by hundreds of billions of dollars. “What this describes is, quite literally, market manipulation that constitutes criminal violations of the Securities Exchange Act of 1934,” commented George Conway, the conservative attorney and Trump critic.

Whether Conway is right or wrong is a matter of legal opinion, but given how fishy and coincidental the trading in e-minis seems to be these days, the SEC or CFTC would be doing a great service (and their job) for the American people by investigating who is behind these lucrative trades, and what they knew before they placed them. At the moment, what we’re getting from them is an indifferent shrug.

Federal regulators might start here: In the last 10 minutes of trading on Friday, August 23, as the markets were roiling in the face of more bad trade news, someone bought 386,000 September e-minis. Three days later, Trump lied about getting a call from China to restart the trade talks, and the S&P 500 index shot up nearly 80 points. The potential profit on the trade was more than $1.5 billion.

I don't know enough about trading to make a judgment as to whether this makes sense. The reporter, William Cohen, is legit however so, I'd assume he knows what he's talking about.

But let's just say that considering Trump's history and criminal proclivities, it's highly likely somebody made a profit once he figured out that his ravings could move the market. Certainly some of the "friends" he routinely talks to did. Even if he isn't doing it on purpose (although he certainly could be) his phone pals have certainly figured it out.

This is a man who gives the Russians highly classified information to impress them in the oval office. Of course, he's even more indiscrete with his buddies.

And who knows? he might even be just smart enough to share information with someone who can place those trades for him and his family.

Who's your mommy, Trump?

by digby

That's the Speaker's new twitter page. Lol.

The White House released the picture yesterday thinking that it said something bad about Nancy Pelosi.

She had said after the meeting that Trump had a "meltdown" and reports were that he'd called her a third rate politician and babble inanely about communists etc. She walked out and rightly so.


As Michaelangelo Signoreli tweeted:

Seriously, Trump's reaction is the most glaring example of "I know you are but what am I" that I have ever seen in my life.

Via Crooks and Liars, here's Lawrence O'Donnell paying tribute last night:

Well, you've never seen anything like it and I've never seen anything like it and I've been in the room where it happened many, many times. But I never saw anyone in that room do what Nancy Pelosi did today when she literally stood up to the President of the United States. And because Donald Trump has the weakest mind in the history of the American presidency, he released the photograph of that moment captured perfectly by a White House photographer.
We would not have that photograph if Donald Trump had not made the profoundly stupid mistake of tweeting it. And that photograph, thanks to Donald Trump, will now become the single-most important and indelible photographic image of the Trump presidency. It tells the story of the Trump presidency better than any other photograph.

Nancy Pelosi immediately placed that photograph on her Twitter page and she will never replace it with a better photograph. It is the perfect portrait of the child president, the Trump face is full of the confusion and fear of a 4-year-old boy being rebuked by an adult in the room full of adults who know he shouldn't be there

50 years from now, schoolchildren studying American history will come upon this photograph and they will instantly know who was in charge in that room. The adult standing and pointing at the pained face across the table. Historians will recognize that when Nancy Pelosi stood up to that president today, she wasn't just standing up for herself and for Congress.


That picture brings another one to mind:



Rep. Elijah Cummings dies at 68

by Tom Sullivan

Rep. Elijah Cummings (D-Md.), chairman of the Committee on Oversight and Reform

Rep. Elijah Cummings, son of sharecroppers, proud resident of inner-city Baltimore, has died in Baltimore. First elected to Congress in 1996, Cummings rose to chair the House Committee on Oversight and Reform. He was 68.

Cummings did not return to work this week after a medical procedure. His office attributed his death at a Johns Hopkins Hospital hospice care facility to "complications concerning longstanding health challenges." In recent months, Cummings used a wheelchair and a walker.

Cummings led one of the three House committees charged with pursuing the impeachment inquiry of the president.

AP reports:

In a statement, his widow, Maya Rockeymoore Cummings, chairwoman of Maryland’s Democratic Party, said “Congressman Cummings was an honorable man who proudly served his district and the nation with dignity, integrity, compassion and humility. He worked until his last breath because he believed our democracy was the highest and best expression of our collective humanity and that our nation’s diversity was our promise, not our problem.”
In dramatic closing remarks after Michael Cohen's testimony before his committee in February, Cummings empathized with Cohen's pain in going to prison and the pain it brought his family. He invited Cohen to ask himself not "Why did it happen to me?" but "Why did it happen for me?" Cummings offered hope that Cohen's troubles would make this country better and Michael Cohen a better man.

"We are better than this! ... As a country, we are so much better than this," Cummings insisted.

"The one meeting I had with President Trump, I said to him, 'The greatest gift that you and I, Mr. President, can give to our children is making sure that we give them a democracy that is intact.'"

"When we're dancing with the angels," Cummings continued, "the question will be asked: In 2019, what did we do to make sure we kept our democracy intact? Did we stand on the sidelines and say nothing?"

Cummings called out critics for saying this was the committee's first hearing. The committee had already addressed prescription drugs, voting rights and corruption in government.

"Come on now! We can do co more than one thing. And we have got to get back to normal."

I remember normal. Vaguely.

Wednesday, October 16, 2019

Just a Reminder 

by tristero

That seriously disturbed man who just had a meltdown? He can, on a whim, order nuclear strikes anywhere.

Every moment that man is president is a moment during which all life on earth hangs by a thread.
Today's batshit performances

by digby

There's a whole lot of crazy going on in Trump's head right now. Here are some highlights:


Foreign Policy chaos

by digby

Trump's foreign policy blunders go much further than Ukraine or Syria:
The uproar in Washington over President Trump’s corruption in Ukraine and malfeasance in Syria has obscured a broader story. In little more than a month, virtually every other foreign policy initiative the Trump administration has pursued has imploded — thanks mostly to the president’s increasingly unhinged behavior.

The unraveling started on Sept. 7, when Trump abruptly announced that he had canceled a previously undisclosed summit with the Afghan Taliban due to be held the next day at Camp David, and shelved a draft peace deal that a State Department special envoy had spent a year negotiating. The immediate result was a spike in violence in Afghanistan — and at least the temporary shelving of Trump’s ambition to pull U.S. troops out of the country before the 2020 election.

A week later, Trump’s “maximum pressure” campaign against Iran came undone. Following an Iranian-sponsored attack on a Saudi oil complex, Trump ruled out a military response; instead, he told French President Emmanuel Macron that he was open to a plan to meet Iranian President Hassan Rouhani at the United Nations and lift sanctions on his government in return for negotiations. The gambit failed: Rouhani left Trump waiting on a phone line. But Saudi Arabia got the message: Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman has asked Iraq and Pakistan to broker a de-escalation with Tehran

Just two weeks after the Iran debacle, Trump saw his nuclear negotiations with North Korea crumble — again. At a meeting in Stockholm, Kim Jong Un’s delegation rejected a U.S. proposal for an incremental deal — a far cry from the total disarmament Trump once sought — and walked away, refusing to agree to a date for future talks. Trump’s hopes for a Nobel Prize-securing breakthrough in 2020 now look vanishingly small.

All that led up to Trump’s Oct. 6 phone call with Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, in which he blindsided the Pentagon by facilitating a Turkish invasion of northern Syria. The most likely result, in addition to the betrayal of the Kurdish allies who fought with American troops for the past four years, will be the revival of the Islamic State, whose destruction was Trump’s most tangible foreign policy accomplishment.

Is there anything left to the “America First” agenda? Not really. The attempt to oust the socialist government of Venezuela flopped back in April. The plan for the “ultimate deal” between Israelis and Palestinians has never been released, and Trump’s point man on that project, Jason Greenblatt, announced his departure last month.

True, Trump is still pressing his trade war with China and announced a partial deal on Friday. But most tariffs remain in place and the easy victory over Beijing he once promised is nowhere in sight.

This is the place in the column where I am supposed to identify the common thread that explains all these disasters. Only there isn’t one, other than Trump’s mounting erraticism. His explanation for pulling the plug on the U.S. mission in Syria — where just 1,000 U.S. troops were ensuring that Islamic State stayed down, while thwarting Russian and Iranian ambitions — is that he was determined to stop “endless wars.” But the deal he nixed in Afghanistan would have brought far more American soldiers home — 5,000 right away, and up to 15,000 by Election Day. The only explanation Trump offered for squelching it was that the insurgents had staged an attack that killed an American soldier — a strange reason for not ending an 18-year-old war.

Trump’s reversal on Iran was even more startling. For two years he had ramped up pressure on Tehran: While his top aides talked about regime change, Trump threatened “the official end of Iran” if it mounted a military challenge. Yet when the Iranians started striking targets in the Persian Gulf, the only casualty of Trump’s response was his hawkish national security adviser, John Bolton, who had pushed him toward war. Now he appears desperate in his eagerness to open negotiations.

Of course, there’s reason for relief about some of Trump’s broken policies. The confrontation with Iran was unnecessary, and war in the Persian Gulf would be a catastrophe. The Taliban deal would have betrayed an Afghan government in which the United States has invested two decades and hundreds of billions of dollars.

But the carnage of Trump’s foreign policy likely isn’t over yet. Kim Jong Un has set a year-end deadline for getting what he wants from Trump — an end to sanctions — after which North Korea could return to testing nuclear warheads or intercontinental missiles. Iran may carry out further strikes in the Persian Gulf to try to force Trump to lift sanctions. And the Islamic State will probably regain its footing in eastern Syria. All that may not be as threatening to Trump as an impeachment vote. But it could do a lot of damage to U.S. national interests.
This is going to get worse.

Trump threatens whistleblowers and witnesses, isn't that a crime? #AskPreet Bharara

By Spocko
"He should not have to worry that the leader of the free world, the commander in chief goes on television and suggests maybe execution is the right consequence for his playing by the rules and doing the right thing as an exercise of conscience. It's extraordinary and it's an abomination really." - Preet Bharara 

Back in September I asked Former US Attorney, SDNY Preet Bharara this question here on Hullabaloo, How will the WH mob avoid prosecution for witness tampering?

He and Anne talked about it in the October 1 Cafe Insider episode. Preet, calling Trump's threat to the whistle blower "an abomination." Anne was disgusted by it, saying, that is what dictators do. ( Here's a longer audio link on whistle blower from the show, 2 minutes 23 seconds.)

But what I really want to know, from former US Attorneys who know politics is, "Will Trump be charged for threatening the whistle blower and witnesses?"

I want someone to answer questions like:
Does the witness tampering statue apply to whistleblowers?  What about the others in government who gave the whistle blower information?

I sent Preet this letter below and I even left a voicemail message asking the question. I'm not looking for just a legal response.  I see how Trump works. Threatening people is what he does. And I think he'll get away with it using all his tricks and legal dodges.

I want someone to look at Trump's methods as a whole and say, "Yes, this is a crime. Here is what it will take to prosecute him on this crime, in a world where Bill Barr is in charge of the Department of Justice. Here is what it would take politically to charge him. Here is what it would take to educate the public that even though the threatening of the witnesses happens publicly on TV and Twitter, it is still a crime."

Below I point out HOW Trump will try to do it, how he will try to normalize what he does and ask what we can do about it.

I'm very much interested in how powerful people intimidate others and what it takes to withstand them. I want to know methods the less powerful can use to fight the effectively. Then I want to see examples of the people making those threats suffering negative consequences for using them.

Anne Milgram  @AnneMilgram and Preet Bharara @PreetBharara 
NOW the detailed questions. Because you are lawyers I threw some links to the statute, but since you talk about politics I have some questions about the realities of making charges. I've heard former US Attorney Barbara McQuade @BarbMcQuade answer some of these on Rachael Maddow, but I want to hear your thoughts.

I've seen the right wing media spin the President's threats as no big deal, just "tough talk" I have a few questions:
  • Are threats to witnesses from elected officials protected under the 1st Amendment?
  • If the threat is public and didn't work, because the person testified, does that mean that the treat was legal?
  • Can the person who did the threatening be charged with breaking the law?
  • Can the person who was threatened sue the person(s) who threatened them in a civil case for damages?
(It looks like witnesses can sue for being harassed. Would this apply to the President after he was out of office? Does it apply to Senators and Congress people? (1737. 18 U.S.C.1514, (CIVIL ACTION TO ENJOIN THE OBSTRUCTION OF JUSTICE ) Link to Justice Dept.)
  • If a witness or whistle blower WANTED to charge Trump and others for witness tampering, which department would they take it to? Specifically, where would the whistleblowers' lawyer,@AndrewBakaj report threats to?
  • Who decides to prosecute?
  • What kind of evidence do prosecutors need to make the charges stick?
I looked at the Justice Department statues on tampering with witnesses and informants and it seems to cover a number of proceedings.
It applies to proceedings before Congress, executive departments, and administrative agencies, and to civil and criminal judicial proceedings, including grand jury proceedings.
I  also looked at who it applies to:
Section 1512 protects potential as well as actual witnesses. With the addition of the words "any person," it is clear that a witness is "one who knew or was expected to know material facts and was expected to testify to them before pending judicial proceedings."
I've seen that lawyers try to dismiss or invalidate charges of threatening witnesses.Based on what we know about Trump and his defenses, I count at least eight ways he will avoid the charge and run out the clock. Here's my list, are there others? How do prosecutors get around these?
  1. He did not "knowingly" and "intentionally" mean to intimidate any person with his tweets and comment. They will say he was just commenting on history and how we dealt with spies in the old days.
  2. He was joking. He has a history of making hyperbolic threats. 
  3. He has no obligation to be honest to the public or the press (The Corey Lewandowski defense)  
  4. He did not make this statement while under oath.
  5. He was actually fulfilling his oath of office, "defending the Constitution of the United States against all enemies, foreign and domestic" because he believes the whistle blower and certain witnesses are enemies of the United States of which he is the duly elected leader
  6. His "general state of mind, commonly referred to as "general intent" was not corrupt.
  7. His comments did not rise to the level of a "true threat"  Elonis v. United States, 575 U.S. (2015).
  8. People in business use comments like this to others as part of normal "deal making" and "negotiations" the whistler blower and witnesses are over reacting.
 BTW I like this comment from an analysis of the case: "The more imaginative types of witness tampering as well as forms of tampering defying enumeration were still prohibited by the omnibus provision of § 1503. United States v. Lester, 749 F.2d 1288 (9th Cir. 1984)."
I would like you and Anne to discuss the legal tricks, word choices and questions about intent that will be used by Trump to avoid being charged with witness tampering. Avoiding being charged with crimes is one way the President wins politically. Delaying testimony by threatening witnesses is another.

Trump has gotten away with threatening people his entire life, with Bill Barr, his Attorney General on his side, will he get away with it this time too? 

Live Long And Prosper


Cross Posted to Spocko's Brain 

Huckleberry's profile in courage

by digby

John McCain is so proud of the son he never had ...


And more:

And more:

He also said today that Trump will have blood on his hands if an American is killed by ISIS.

He already has lots of Kurdish blood on his hands but I guess that doesn't matter. I do wonder if Trump's cult will give a damn about American soldiers being killed.

Frankly, I doubt it. Everything they ever said they cared about has been refuted by their support of this monster. They literally don't care about anything but owning the libs, keeping women in their places and hating on foreigners and black and brown Americans. As long as Trump keeps doing that they will love him. Everything else is just collateral damage and of no concern to them.


The Trump spawn are even more shameless than their daddy

by digby

My Salon column this morning:

Former Vice President Joe Biden's son Hunter appeared on Good Morning America yesterday and when asked if he thought foreign companies and investment banks would have hired him if his name wasn't Biden he said "probably not." He is correct. The younger Biden had little to no experience in the businesses for which he was paid big salaries. He was hired because he is the son of a powerful person, clearly in hopes that they would have some influence with the father and impress their customers with the fact that they were so close to someone with influence.

That reeks of class privilege and it is incredibly common in American business and politics. I don't think I have ever worked anywhere in my life where cronyism/nepotism and influence-peddling wasn't present in some form or another. Hiring some neer-do-well relative is one of the ways rich and powerful people scratch each other's backs --- and, not incidentally, insure that this quasi-aristocracy of the one percent is perpetuated. If anything, what's uncommon is for some scion of the powerful to openly admit that the reason he got the job was because of his name. Usually, they fatuously insist their "success" is due to their own unique genius and talent. (I'm looking at you Donald Trump.)

It was interesting to see the reactions of some of the famous scions of right-wing politicians weigh in on Hunter Biden's appearance. For instance, Rand Paul, the son of Ron Paul, GOP congressman from Texas and two-time presidential candidate, told MSNBC that Hunter Biden should be officially investigated. When anchor Stephanie Ruhle pointed out that there are numerous offspring of powerful people working in the administration, Paul, the great libertarian, excused this nepotism because the children weren't getting rich. When Ruhle pressed him about the Trump family Paul suddenly reversed course saying, “If we want to go down the road of the politics of self-destruction of everybody, criminalize all politicians on both sides of the aisle and go after their family, we can do that." He then suggested it was "holier-than-thou" to even ask the question, since both sides do it.

Hunter Biden will be sure to call him as a character witness if the Trump DOJ follows through on an investigation, as has been rumored.

The late Senator John McCain's daughter Meghan McCain, of "The View" thought Hunter Biden didn't come off too well and was foolish to have admitted that his last name had landed him his well-paid employment. No word on what her husband Ben Domenech, founder of the conservative political web site "The Federalist" and son of the Trump administration's Undersecretary of the Interior, Douglas Domenech, had to say about it.

One of the most aggressive critics of the Biden family nepotism was Republican National Committee Chairwoman Ronna McDaniel who tweeted: “Hunter Biden got $50K a month from a Ukrainian energy company, despite having ZERO experience in energy. His justification? That he was also on the board of Amtrak–more obvious nepotism. If that’s not the swamp, I don’t know what is!”

You may recall that Ronna McDaniel changed her name when she took this big job at the RNC after Trump's inauguration. Before that she was better known as Ronna Romney McDaniel, the niece of Senator Mitt Romney and granddaughter of former Michigan Governor George Romney. When it comes to nepotism, she knows whereof she speaks.

Naturally,  it was the Trump spawn that really hit the ball out of the park.

Big brother Don Junior couldn't resist tweeting about Hunter Biden's interview:

Apparently, he believes that like his father (also the scion of a wealthy man) he is a very stable genius who got where he is purely by dint of his enormous talent.

A few days ago he told Sean Hannity  "if I went to China and I did that... and I came back with $1.50—not $1.5 billion—$1.50, we would solve the media problem because their heads would explode, there'd be no fake news media left."

Eric was on with Laura Ingraham recently and also had some strong opinions on the matter:

He even wrote a whiny op-ed for The Hill in which he declared that Hunter Biden was being let off easy:
If the situation were reversed, I would have been front page news in every newspaper, online publication, and cable news outlet for the rest of my life. Reporters would be camping outside of my door, my family would have been picked apart, my name would have been smeared in the news every single week, and my father arguably would not even be president of the United States today
As former Bush administration official David Frum said on MSNBC's AM Joy last weekend, ”When you see poor Eric and poor Don Jr., you realize there are bivalves with more self-awareness than the Trump children."

It's been nearly impossible to get the House to take up the president's criminality and abuse of power so it's highly unlikely that anyone will ever officially investigate the influence peddling, bribery, nepotism and overall corruption of the Trump family during this presidency. But it is unprecedented.

Ivanka Trump and her husband Jared Kushner take no salaries, mainly because it was the only way they could get around the nepotism rules for White House staff. But they are both still raking in tens of millions of dollars every year from their businesses, many of which are clear conflicts of interest with the work they are doing for the White House. Kushner, in particular, has huge financial conflicts in countries he deals with for the White House. Ivanka shuttered the fashion business but continues to get trademarks from China for some reason and works on issues that impact the Trump Organization from which she still profits.

The boys, who were to run the business while Dad and Ivanka did the politics, were supposed to eschew any "new deals" but of course they've done plenty. They've sold a lot of real estate to people with good reason to curry favor with their father. They've been feted and pampered by rich sheiks and government leaders and shady businessmen all over the world, many of whom are quite open about their desire to gain access and influence with the president --- who is also benefitting financially from all of this.

Here's one from just last month:

Only a first family that would openly engage in this level of nepotism, cronyism, influence-peddling and corruption would have the chutzpah to rail against Hunter Biden and whine that he's being treated with kid gloves. In other words, only the Trumps would do that.