The Wires

Public Service Announcement

Safety/Irony Alert. CNBC (December 25): Your new home security system may be an open invitation to hackers to make you, and perhaps many others, unsafe.” -- CW

Washington Post: "Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus took a final, bittersweet bow Sunday, staging its last three shows [in Uniondale, N.Y.,] after 146 years of entertaining American audiences with gravity-defying trapeze stunts, comically clumsy clowns and trained tigers." -- CW 

Guardian: "Pippa Middleton [sister of Kate Middleton, Duchess of Cambridge --] has married James Matthews in what has been called the society wedding of the year, in front of royalty, family and friends." -- CW

Politico's Late Nite Jokes:

CW: No idea why the picture is teeny-tiny.

Washington Post: "Two months before Monday’s [May 8] announcement that Sinclair Broadcast Group would pay $3.9 billion for Tribune Media and add to its dominance as the nation’s largest owner of local TV stations, a top executive at Sinclair beamed a short commentary piece to many of the company’s 173 stations.In the segment, which looks like it belongs in a newscast, Sinclair vice president for news Scott Livingston stands before a wall of video monitors and warns that 'some members of the national media are using their platforms to push their own personal bias and agenda to control exactly what people think.' He accuses the national media of publishing 'fake news stories' — a direct echo of President Trump’s frequent complaint — and then asks viewers to visit the station’s website to share 'content concerns.' The piece was a 'must-run,' meaning news directors and station managers from Baltimore to Seattle had to find room for it.... While partisan coverage is a familiar staple of cable networks — Fox News on the right, MSNBC on the left — it remains mostly unheard of in broadcast TV, where it has generally been accepted that public airwaves should be used in the difficult-to-define public interest.” -- CW 

CNN: "21st Century Fox and the private equity firm Blackstone are in talks to launch a bid for Tribune Media, one of the nation's largest television broadcasting companies, a source with knowledge of the matter said Sunday. The deal currently under discussion would see Blackstone and Rupert Murdoch's 21st Century Fox forming a joint venture. Blackstone would provide the cash for the acquisition while Fox would add all its owned-and-operated television stations to the joint venture." -- CW 

New York Times: "Prehistoric humans — perhaps Neanderthals or another lost species — occupied what is now California some 130,000 years ago, a team of scientists reported on Wednesday. The bold and fiercely disputed claim, published in the journal Nature, is based on a study of mastodon bones discovered near San Diego. If the scientists are right, they would significantly alter our understanding of how humans spread around the planet." -- CW 

If you're curious as to how realistic the New York City apartments of TV sitcom characters are -- in terms of what the characters could reasonably afford -- the Washington Post checks out several of the hovels & dream rentals of a number of shows. Kinda fun. CW: My husband & I (he paid the rent) had a fairly spacious two-bedroom with a galley kitchen (dishwasher included!) & dining room plus teensy closets on Washington Square in the 1980s & '90s. NYU owned the building & helped considerably with the rent.

Politico: "Comedian Hasan Minhaj will be this year's entertainer for the White House Correspondents' Dinner later this month, the association's president announced on Tuesday. Minhaj is a stand up comedian and senior correspondent on 'The Daily Show,' where he has performed caustic bits on ... Donald Trump, liberals and others in between. Minhaj has Washington experience already, having performed as host of last year's Radio and Television Correspondents' Association Dinner." -- CW 

AFP: "After months of uncertainty and controversy, Bob Dylan finally accepted the 2016 Nobel Prize in literature at a jovial, champagne-laced ceremony on Saturday, [April 1,] the Swedish Academy announced. The academy, which awards the coveted prize, ended prolonged speculation as to whether the 75-year-old troubadour would use a concert stopover in Stockholm to accept the gold medal and diploma awarded to him back in October." -- CW 

 


The Hill: "Arnold Schwarzeneggar says his first season as host of NBC's 'Celebrity Apprentice' is also his last. In remarks Friday, the former California governor cited President Trump, who has repeatedly mocked the ratings of his reality TV replacement, as his reason. 'Even if asked [to do it again] I would decline,' Schwarzenegger told Empire magazine.... 'With Trump being involved in the show people have a bad taste and don’t want to participate as a spectator or sponsor or in any other way support the show. It’s a very divisive period right now and I think the show got caught up in all that division.'" -- CW 

New York Times: "Penguin Random House will publish coming books by former President Barack Obama and the former first lady Michelle Obama, the publishing company announced Tuesday night, concluding a heated auction among multiple publishers. The terms of the agreement were not disclosed, but publishing industry executives with knowledge of the bidding process said it probably stretched well into eight figures." -- CW ...

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Thursday
Mar022017

The Commentariat -- March 3, 2017

Karoun Demirjian, et al., of the Washington Post: "Attorney General Jeff Sessions said Thursday he will recuse himself from any investigations related to the 2016 presidential campaign, which would include any Russian interference in the electoral process. Speaking at a hastily-called press conference at the Justice Department, Sessions said he had met with department ethics officials soon after being sworn in last month to evaluate the rules and cases in which he might have a conflict. 'They said that since I had involvement with the campaign, I should not be involved in any campaign investigation,' Sessions said. He added that he concurred with their assessment, and would thus recuse himself from any existing or future investigation involving Trump's campaign." ...

     ... CW: AND to show you how screwed up the Trump administration is, the SCROTUS appeared to know NOTHING about Sessions' plan to recuse himself, something Sessions claimed had been in the works for weeks: "Speaking aboard the aircraft carrier USS Gerald Ford in Newport News, Va., Trump told reporters that he was not aware of Sessions's contact with the Russian ambassador. Trump also said that Sessions 'probably' testified truthfully during his confirmation hearing last month before the Senate Judiciary Committee. Asked earlier Thursday whether Sessions should recuse himself, Trump added: 'I don't think so.'" IMO, that is not Sessions being an "independent" AG; it's an administration where the right hand doesn't know what the left hand is doing. ...

... Ed Kilgore: "While Sessions constantly denied he had done anything wrong, he did at the very end of his press conference allow that he should have probably mentioned the meetings when Al Franken asked him at the confirmation hearing about contacts with Russians. His explanation for not doing so was that he was 'taken aback' by this line of questioning. To hear Sessions talk now, the idea of Russians interfering with the presidential election on Trump's behalf was a new one to him.... Since Hillary Clinton made global headlines by accusing the Russians of interference immediately before the September meeting, this hardly seems credible. But that's his story and he's sticking to it.... Once again, he's splitting hairs like a shady lawyer instead of living up to his responsibilities as chief law-enforcement officer of the United States." -- CW ...

... Margaret Hartmann: "The thrust of Attorney General Jeff Sessions' explanation of why he told the Senate he didn't have communications with the Russians despite meeting Russian ambassador Sergey Kislyak twice in 2016 is that he was referring to his role as a Trump campaign surrogate, not a U.S. senator.... Sessions' first meeting with Kislyak was an informal discussion at a Heritage Foundation event on the sidelines of the Republican National Convention in July. The Journal reports that Sessions paid for the trip out of his own campaign funds, rather than money that would cover his travel as a member of the Senate Armed Services Committee. Sessions, who was chairman of Trump's National Security Advisory Committee at the time, also made comments related to the Trump campaign during the event." CW: So, um, not exactly as part of your Senate job, Beauregard, you sniveling liar. ...

... Bridgette Dunlap of Rolling Stone: "Sessions' violation of his ethical obligations as a lawyer make him unfit to serve as attorney general. Some commentators are alleging that Sessions committed perjury, but because the crime entails intentional deception, an investigation would be necessary to convict him.... But whether it can be proven Sessions committed perjury isn't the test -- the rules of professional responsibility for lawyers set higher standards for their conduct. Under the relevant rule on 'maintaining the integrity of the profession' in Alabama, where Sessions is barred, 'dishonesty, fraud, deceit or misrepresentation' and other 'conduct that is prejudicial to the administration of justice' constitute professional misconduct." -- CW ...

... Charles Pierce: "Despite Sessions' hedging, this is still something of a big, honking deal. The Attorney General of the United States has conflicted himself out of serious investigations of serious wrongdoing. And, in his press conference, Sessions piled up enough repetitions of everyone's favorite phrase -- 'I don't recall' -- to send anyone's gobbledegook indicator into the red zone.... The fact remains that none of this happens if Sessions doesn't get caught in a barefaced non-fact during his confirmation process.... It probably would have been a good idea for all concerned to take Coretta Scott King seriously." -- CW ...

... Evan Perez, et al., of CNN: "Sergey Kislyak, the Russian ambassador, is considered by US intelligence to be one of Russia's top spies and spy-recruiters in Washington, according to current and former senior US government officials. Russian officials dispute this characterization." -- CW ...

... Jordan Fabian of the Hill: "The White House is dismissing calls for Attorney General Jeff Sessions to recuse himself from an investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 election. 'There's nothing to recuse himself,' White House press secretary Sean Spicer said in an interview with Fox News that aired late Thursday morning." CW: Obviously, Trump needs Jeffy to run interference for him on the Russia connection. Trump probably thinks it's a good thing that Beauregard himself is implicated. -- CW (Also linked yesterday afternoon.) ...

... Words of the Weasel. Kyle Cheney of Politico: "House Speaker Paul Ryan said Thursday that he accepts Attorney General Jeff Sessions' promise to recuse himself if necessary from any federal probe of Russian meddling in the 2016 election. 'I think he answered that question this morning which is, if he himself is the subject of an investigation, of course he would,' Ryan said at a Capitol Hill press conference. His remarks come a day after news reports indicated Sessions met twice with the Russian ambassador in 2016, despite comments to the contrary he made under oath during his confirmation hearing. Ryan also echoed House Intelligence Committee Chairman Devin Nunes, who has cast doubt on reports that ... Donald Trump's campaign aides were in contact with Russian officials while Moscow was engaged in a hacking and misinformation campaign.... Congress has 'seen no evidence ... that anybody in the Trump campaign or the Trump team was involved in this,' Ryan said." (Also linked yesterday afternoon.) ...

     ... CW: That would be because GOP stooge Jim Comey is withholding the info from Congress. Wagons circled. ...

... Nolan McCaskill of Politico: "The top Democrat on the House Intelligence Committee on Thursday accused FBI Director James Comey of withholding crucial information about its probe into Russian interference in the election. 'I would say at this point we know less than a fraction of what the FBI knows,' Rep. Adam Schiff (D-Calif.) told reporters after a briefing with Comey. 'I appreciate we had a long briefing and testimony from the director today, but in order for us to do our investigation in a thorough and credible way, we're gonna need the FBI to fully cooperate, to be willing to tell us the length and breadth of any counterintelligence investigations they are conducting,' Schiff said. 'At this point, the director was not willing to do that.'" -- CW (Also linked yesterday afternoon.) ...

We're Gonna Getcha, Getcha, Getcha, if You Don't Watch Out. Look, I'm sure some of you are in contact with the Russian embassy, so be careful what you ask for here because if we start getting transcripts of any of you or any other Americans talking to the press, then we can -- do you want us to conduct an investigation on you or other Americans because you were talking to the Russian embassy? I just think we need to be careful. -- Rep. Devin Nunes (R-Ca.), Chair of the House Intelligence Committee, to reporters

... Kasie Hunt & Ken Dilanian of NBC News: "The Senate Intelligence Committee is considering seeking testimony from the former British spy who alleged in a dossier that the Trump campaign engaged in a 'well-developed conspiracy of cooperation' with the Russian government as Russia sought to help Trump win the election, according to two sources familiar with the matter. Christopher Steele's ... 35-page dossier, a version of which has been posted online, is an amalgam of salacious and explosive claims about Trump, none of which have been publicly proven. But the FBI considered Steele credible enough that it was willing to pay him in October to continue looking into Trump's Russian ties, NBC News has reported. The arrangement fell through after Steele became frustrated with the FBI." -- CW ...

... Karoun Demirjian, et al., of the Washington Post: "Top Republicans said Thursday that Attorney General Jeff Sessions should recuse himself from federal investigations of whether Russia interfered in the 2016 presidential election. House Oversight and Government Reform Committee Chairman Jason Chaffetz (R-Utah) tweeted early Thursday that 'AG Sessions should clarify his testimony and recuse himself.' Later, Sen. Rob Portman (R-Ohio) said in a statement, 'Jeff Sessions is a former colleague and a friend, but I think it would be best for him and for the country to recuse himself from the DOJ Russia probe.' House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) also initially said during an appearance on MSNBC's 'Morning Joe' that Sessions should bow out.... But McCarthy later said his comment had been misinterpreted, telling Fox News' 'Fox and Friends,' 'I'm not calling on him to recuse himself. I was asked on "Morning Joe," if he needs to recuse himself as going forward....'" CW: McCarthy has learned his weasel words from Paul Ryan. (Also linked yesterday.) ...

... Eric Levitz of New York: "Chuck Schumer is trying to get his buddy fired. On Thursday morning, the Senate Minority Leader called for Jeff Sessions to resign...." -- CW

... Richard Painter, in a New York Times op-ed: Sessions' lying under oath to Congress is "a bombshell of a story. And it's one with a clear and disturbing precedent. In 1972 Richard G. Kleindienst, the acting attorney general, appeared before the Senate Judiciary Committee in a confirmation hearing on his nomination by President Richard Nixon to be attorney general.... Democratic senators ... asked Kleindienst several times if he had ever spoken with anyone at the White House about [an] I.T.T. [anti-trust] case. He said he had not. That wasn't true. Later, after Kleindienst was confirmed as attorney general, the special prosecutor, Leon Jaworski, and his team uncovered an Oval Office tape recording of a phone call in which Nixon told Kleindiesnt to drop the I.T.T. case.... Jaworski ... filed criminal charges against Kleindienst, who was forced to resign as attorney general. Eventually Kleindienst pleaded guilty to failure to provide accurate information to Congress, a misdemeanor, for conduct that many observers believed amounted to perjury.... In 1972, any federal employee who provided such inaccurate information under oath about communications with the Russians would have been fired and had his or her security clearances revoked immediately, and probably also would have been criminally prosecuted.... President Trump has already fired his national security adviser, Michael Flynn, for misleading Vice President Pence about his conversations with the Russians. Misleading the United States Senate in testimony under oath is at least as serious. We do not yet know all the facts, but we know enough to see that Attorney General Sessions has to go as well." -- CW (Also linked yesterday afternoon.) ...

... Here's a little more from Margaret Hartmann on a WSJ story, first posted Wednesday evening: "The Wall Street Journal also revealed that U.S. intelligence agencies examined contacts between [AG Jeff] Sessions and Russian officials as part of the investigation into the Trump team's possible Russia ties. It's unclear what the probe discovered, or if it's ongoing. The FBI answers to the attorney general, and a source said the investigation into Sessions left the agency 'wringing its hands.'" -- CW (Also linked yesterday afternoon.) ...

... Matt Zapotosky & Mark Berman of the Washington Post: Here are "six times Jeff Sessions talked about perjury, access and recusal -- when it involved the Clintons." -- CW ...

... Adam Serwer of the Atlantic suggests Sessions had a good reason for lying to Sen. Franken: "Had Sessions's response to Franken contained the same qualifications as his statement Wednesday night, the next questions would have been about the circumstances in which Sessions met with Russian officials.... [His answer] would have provoked further controversy regarding a negative story the Trump administration was desperate to tamp down: The extent of the Trump campaign's contacts with the Russian government. Sessions's blanket denial put an end to that line of questioning -- a denial that was freely offered by Sessions himself, not directly in response to Franken's query.... If Sessions does ultimately recuse himself, though, it will only be because he withheld pertinent information that has now become public knowledge. That's a remarkable standard for the top law-enforcement official in the country to set." -- CW (Also linked yesterday.) ...

... The Russia Connection -- All the President's Men. Michael Schmidt, et al., of the New York Times: "Michael T. Flynn, then Donald J. Trump's incoming national security adviser, had a previously undisclosed meeting with the Russian ambassador in December to 'establish a line of communication' between the new administration and the Russian government, the White House said on Thursday. Jared Kushner, Mr. Trump's son-in-law and now a senior adviser, also participated in the meeting at Trump Tower with Mr. Flynn and Sergey I. Kislyak, the Russian ambassador. But among Mr. Trump's inner circle, it is Mr. Flynn who appears to have been the main interlocutor with the Russian envoy -- the two were in contact during the campaign and the transition, Mr. Kislyak and current and former American officials have said.... The meeting in December came at a crucial time, just as the Obama White House was preparing to sanction Russia and publicly make its case that Moscow had interfered with the 2016 election. What is now becoming clear is that the incoming Trump administration was simultaneously striking a conciliatory pose toward Moscow in a series of meetings and phone calls involving Mr. Kislyak." -- CW ...

... AND Steve Reilly of USA Today: "Attorney General Jeff Sessions is not the only member of President Trump's campaign who spoke to Russian Ambassador Sergey Kislyak at a diplomacy conference connected to the Republican National Convention in July. At least two more members of the Trump campaign's national security officials also spoke with Kislyak at the event, and several more Trump national security advisers were in attendance. It's unknown what the Trump campaign officials who spoke with the ambassador -- J.D. Gordon and Carter Page -- discussed with him.... The newly-revealed communications further contradict months of repeated denials by Trump officials that his campaign had contact with officials representing the Russian government." -- CW ...

... John Kelly & Steve Reilly of USA Today: "President Trump, and his presidential campaign, have issued at least 20 denials of campaign officials' communications with and connections with Russian officials. Here's a listing of their denials beginning over the summer." The reporters list the denials, which are, of course, lies. -- CW ...

... What-all happened while Kevin Drum was at lunch. -- CW ...

... MEANWHILE. The Russia Connection, Junior Edition. Mark Hensch of the Hill: "President Trump's eldest son may have profited off an appearance at an event last fall hosted by a couple aligned with the Russian government on Syria, according to new reporting.Trump's private talks with the pro-Russia figures on Oct. 11 in Paris were reported in November, though new details about the meeting have since emerged. Donald Trump Jr. was likely paid $50,000 for addressing the dinner at the Ritz Hotel in Paris, The Wall Street Journal reported Thursday. Trump was a guest of the Center of Political and Foreign Affairs, whose president Fabien Baussart and Syrian-born wife Randa Kassis have cooperated with Russia on ending the Syrian civil war, U.S., Arab and European officials told the newspaper." -- CW (Also linked yesterday afternoon.)

Trump Dresses up in Commander-in-Chief Outfit. Philip Rucker of the Washington Post: " President Trump helicoptered onto a hulking, gleaming aircraft carrier [berthed at Newport News, Va.,] Thursday to rally momentum for his ambitious call for a major hike in military spending. Speaking aboard the USS Gerald R. Ford -- which will become the Navy's newest nuclear-powered warship, celebrated by Trump as 'a monument of American might' -- the president vowed to reinvest billions of dollars in new vessels, fighter jets and other weapons of war to modernize what he has long decried as a depleted defense fleet." -- CW ...

... David Smith of the Guardian: "After touring the USS Gerald R Ford..., Trump, with the jacket over his shirt and tie, told crew members: 'You know what, they just gave me this beautiful jacket. They said, "Here Mr President, please take this home." I said, "Let me wear it," and then they gave me the beautiful hat and I said, "You know, maybe I'll do that". We have a great "Make America great again" hat but I said, "This is a special day, we're wearing this, right?"'" -- CW 

Cynthia McFadden, et al., of NBC News: "The Pentagon says Navy SEALs scooped up laptops, hard drives and cell phones in last month's Yemen raid, but multiple U.S. officials told NBC News that none of the intelligence gleaned from the operation so far has proven actionable or vital -- contrary to what President Trump said in his speech to Congress Tuesday. In a dramatic moment before a joint session of Congress, Trump introduced Carryn Owens, the widow of Senior Chief William 'Ryan' Owens, the SEAL who lost his life in the Jan. 29 operation. Tears streamed down the widow's face as the president praised her husband. 'I just spoke to General (James) Mattis,' Trump said..., 'who reconfirmed that, and I quote, "Ryan was a part of a highly successful raid that generated large amounts of vital intelligence that will lead to many more victories in the future against our enemies."'" -- CW

Tim Egan: "In stepping on American values, Trump has prompted people to find out more about those values, and ultimately to defend them. The high to his low is an unexpected renaissance." -- CW

Tony Cook of the Indianapolis Star, in USA Today: "... Mike Pence routinely used a private email account to conduct public business as governor of Indiana, at times discussing sensitive matters and homeland security issues. Emails released to The Indianapolis Star ... in response to a public records request show Pence communicated via his personal AOL account with top advisers on topics ranging from security gates at the governor's residence to the state's response to terror attacks across the globe. In one email, Pence's top state homeland security adviser relayed an update from the FBI regarding the arrests of several men on federal terror-related charges. Cybersecurity experts say the emails raise concerns about whether such sensitive information was adequately protected from hackers.... In fact, Pence's personal account was hacked last summer." Emphasis added. CW: Gosh, shouldn't we "lock him up," Donaldo? ...

... Pence's Personal AOL(!) Account Contained Docs So Sensitive Only Hackers Can See Them. Aaron Rupar of Think Progress: "But Pence attacked Clinton for her emails anyway, and applauded FBI Director James Comey for reigniting the controversy surrounding them in the campaign's final days.... During a Meet the Press appearance in September, Pence criticized Clinton for using a private server to keep emails away from the public while he was doing the exact same thing.... Pence's successor, Gov. Eric Holbomb (R), withheld others from release [to the Indy Star] because 'they are deliberative or advisory, confidential under rules adopted by the Indiana Supreme Court or the work product of an attorney,' the Star reports. In other words, they shouldn't have been in his private email account in the first place." -- CW

Another Trump Cabinet Member Lied in His Confirmation Hearing. Steven Mufson of the Washington Post: "A liberal environmental group and several Democratic senators are demanding a review of the personal email account of Scott Pruitt, the administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency, after he said during confirmation hearings that he never used that account for official business as Oklahoma state attorney general.... Yet several of Pruitt's official emails, released in a lawsuit in Oklahoma, were copied to his personal email -- an Apple account that was partially blacked out before being released. 'Lo and behold, the documents Scott Pruitt wanted to keep hidden have confirmed our suspicion that he used his personal email address to conduct official state business and that he was not honest with the Senate about this during his confirmation process,' said Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse (D-R.I.)." -- CW ...

... Lies & the Lying Liars -- It Starts at the Top. Paul Krugman: "... Sessions ... is joined in the cabinet by Scott Pruitt, the Environmental Protection Agency administrator, who lied to Congress about his use of a private email account; Tom Price, the secretary of health and human services, who lied about a sweetheart deal to purchase stock in a biotechnology company at a discount; and Steven Mnuchin, the Treasury secretary, who falsely told Congress that his financial firm didn't engage in 'robo-signing' of foreclosure documents, seizing homes without proper consideration. And they would have served with Michael Flynn as national security adviser, but for the fact that Mr. Flynn was forced out after the press discovered that, like Mr. Sessions, he had lied about contacts with the Russian ambassador. At this point it's easier to list the Trump officials who haven't been caught lying under oath than those who have. This is not an accident.... Spin ... has been replaced by an era of raw, shameless dishonesty." -- CW

Steven Mufson: "Former Texas governor Rick Perry won confirmation Thursday as President Trump's energy secretary. Now comes the hard part. The Senate voted 62 to 37 Thursday afternoon to confirm Perry as energy secretary, brushing aside his onetime vow to abolish the department. The genial Republican drew less fire from Democrats during his confirmation process than other Trump nominees, but Perry now faces many of the same tough issues over regulations, the department's activities to slow climate change and potentially deep cuts in manpower and spending." -- CW

Jose DelReal of the Washington Post: "Retired neurosurgeon Ben Carson was confirmed Thursday as secretary of the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, bringing into President Trump's Cabinet a Washington outsider with no prior government experience and a staunchly conservative view of public assistance. Support for Carson's confirmation came down largely along party lines -- 58-41 -- highlighting the intense partisan and ideological conflicts in Washington and around Trump's agenda." -- CW (Also linked yesterday afternoon.)

David Dayen in the Intercept: "Critics are charging that billionaire investor Carl Icahn has used his position as Donald Trump's deregulatory czar to strong-arm the ethanol lobby into agreeing to a change that will save one of Icahn's companies $200 million a year. If so, this would be the most obvious example yet of crony capitalism in the Trump era.... Because Icahn was a 'special adviser' to the president with no formal White House position, the administration said he did not have to divest from any of his prodigious financial holdings. At the time, observers noted that Icahn would have a perfect opportunity to advise on deregulatory actions that would line his own pockets. Tyson Slocum, director of the Energy Program at Public Citizen, said that is exactly what has come to pass. 'There's no question that Icahn is playing a very big role here,' he said. 'People need to call it what it is, the administration manipulating the system.'" Dayen explains the details, and wow! they sure look good for Icahn. -- CW

"Basement Room" v. "Backroom." Jonathan Chait: "[Tuesday], House Speaker Paul Ryan boasted that his party would follow a deliberate, transparent process to repeal and replace Obamacare.... 'We're not hatching some bill in a backroom and plopping it on the American people's front door.' [Wednesday], House Republicans made it known that they will release their plan tomorrow and that it will only be made available to House Republicans. Representative Chris Collins tells the Washington Examiner the plan 'would be made available Thursday morning to Republicans in a basement room of an office building that adjoins the Capitol.' It is not clear what distinction Ryan draws between a 'backroom' and a 'basement room' only members of his party may access. The reason Republicans want to keep their plan hidden is fairly obvious. It would leave millions of Americans who currently have insurance unable to afford coverage." -- CW (Also linked yesterday afternoon.) ...

... SO THEN Sen. Rand Paul (RTP-Ky.) staged a protest/circus in a tiny anteroom to the backroom. Dave Weigel of the Washington Post: "Paul, who has introduced his own ACA replacement bill with the backing of the House Freedom Caucus, used his visit to H157 to brand the meeting as a violation of the Republican Party's promises. 'In my state, in Kentucky, it's illegal to do this,' he said, gesturing to the door he wasn't allowed to walk through. 'This is being presented as if it were a national secret, as if this were a plot to invade another country.'" Later, Steny Hoyer showed up to talk to a bust of Abe Lincoln, & Paul Ryan issued some weasel words because that's his function.

Elise Foley & Dana Liebelson of the Huffington Post: "A 22-year-old undocumented immigrant arrested by Immigration and Customs Enforcement arrested by Immigration and Customs Enforcement in Jackson, Mississippi, on Wednesday after speaking to the media about her family's detention is set to be deported without a court hearing, her attorney said on Thursday. Daniela Vargas, who came to the U.S. from Argentina when she was 7 years old, previously had a work permit and deportation reprieve under the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, or DACA. Her DACA status expired last November, and because she was saving money for the renewal -- which costs $495 -- her new application wasn't received until Feb. 10. On Wednesday, a spokesman for ICE said Vargas would go through court proceedings to determine whether she is eligible for some type of relief.... But Abby Peterson, Vargas' attorney, said ICE agents told her on Thursday that they would instead pursue immediate deportation without a court hearing or bond...." -- CW

Wednesday
Mar012017

The Commentariat -- March 2, 2017

Late Morning Update:

Nolan McCaskill of Politico: "The top Democrat on the House Intelligence Committee on Thursday accused FBI Director James Comey of withholding crucial information about its probe into Russian interference in the election. 'I would say at this point we know less than a fraction of what the FBI knows,' Rep. Adam Schiff (D-Calif.) told reporters after a briefing with Comey. 'I appreciate we had a long briefing and testimony from the director today, but in order for us to do our investigation in a thorough and credible way, we're gonna need the FBI to fully cooperate, to be willing to tell us the length and breadth of any counterintelligence investigations they are conducting,' Schiff said. 'At this point, the director was not willing to do that.'" -- CW ...

... Words of the Weasel. Kyle Cheney of Politico: "House Speaker Paul Ryan said Thursday that he accepts Attorney General Jeff Sessions' promise to recuse himself if necessary from any federal probe of Russian meddling in the 2016 election. 'I think he answered that question this morning which is, if he himself is the subject of an investigation, of course he would,' Ryan said at a Capitol Hill press conference. His remarks come a day after news reports indicated Sessions met twice with the Russian ambassador in 2016, despite comments to the contrary he made under oath during his confirmation hearing. Ryan also echoed House Intelligence Committee Chairman Devin Nunes, who has cast doubt on reports that ... Donald Trump's campaign aides were in contact with Russian officials while Moscow was engaged in a hacking and misinformation campaign.... Congress has 'seen no evidence ... that anybody in the Trump campaign or the Trump team was involved in this,' Ryan said." ...

     ... CW: Right. Because GOP stooge Jim Comey is withholding the info from Congress. Wagons circled. ...

... MEANWHILE. The Russia Connection, Junior Edition. Mark Hensch of the Hill: "President Trump's eldest son may have profited off an appearance at an event last fall hosted by a couple aligned with the Russian government on Syria, according to new reporting.Trump's private talks with the pro-Russia figures on Oct. 11 in Paris were reported in November, though new details about the meeting have since emerged. Donald Trump Jr. was likely paid $50,000 for addressing the dinner at the Ritz Hotel in Paris, The Wall Street Journal reported Thursday. Trump was a guest of the Center of Political and Foreign Affairs, whose president Fabien Baussart and Syrian-born wife Randa Kassis have cooperated with Russia on ending the Syrian civil war, U.S., Arab and European officials told the newspaper." -- CW ...

... Richard Painter, in a New York Times op-ed: Sessions' lying under oath to Congress is "a bombshell of a story. And it's one with a clear and disturbing precedent. In 1972 Richard G. Kleindienst, the acting attorney general, appeared before the Senate Judiciary Committee in a confirmation hearing on his nomination by President Richard Nixon to be attorney general.... Democratic senators ... asked Kleindienst several times if he had ever spoken with anyone at the White House about [an] I.T.T. [anti-trust] case. He said he had not. That wasn't true. Later, after Kleindienst was confirmed as attorney general, the special prosecutor, Leon Jaworski, and his team uncovered an Oval Office tape recording of a phone call in which Nixon told Kleindiesnt to drop the I.T.T. case.... Jaworski ... filed criminal charges against Kleindienst, who was forced to resign as attorney general. Eventually Kleindienst pleaded guilty to failure to provide accurate information to Congress, a misdemeanor, for conduct that many observers believed amounted to perjury.... In 1972, any federal employee who provided such inaccurate information under oath about communications with the Russians would have been fired and had his or her security clearances revoked immediately, and probably also would have been criminally prosecuted.... President Trump has already fired his national security adviser, Michael Flynn, for misleading Vice President Pence about his conversations with the Russians. Misleading the United States Senate in testimony under oath is at least as serious. We do not yet know all the facts, but we know enough to see that Attorney General Sessions has to go as well." -- CW ...

... Jordan Fabian of the Hill: "The White House is dismissing calls for Attorney General Jeff Sessions to recuse himself from an investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 election. 'There's nothing to recuse himself,' White House press secretary Sean Spicer said in an interview with Fox News that aired late Thursday morning." CW: Obviously, Trump needs Jeffy to run interference for him on the Russia connection. Trump probably thinks it's a good thing that Beauregard himself is implicated. -- CW ...

... Karoun Demirjian, et al., of the Washington Post: "Top Republicans said Thursday that Attorney General Jeff Sessions should recuse himself from federal investigations of whether Russia interfered in the 2016 presidential election. House Oversight and Government Reform Committee Chairman Jason Chaffetz (R-Utah) tweeted early Thursday that 'AG Sessions should clarify his testimony and recuse himself.' Later, Sen. Rob Portman (R-Ohio) said in a statement, 'Jeff Sessions is a former colleague and a friend, but I think it would be best for him and for the country to recuse himself from the DOJ Russia probe.' House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) also initially said during an appearance on MSNBC's 'Morning Joe' that Sessions should bow out.... But McCarthy later said his comment had been misinterpreted, telling Fox News' 'Fox and Friends,' 'I'm not calling on him to recuse himself. I was asked on "Morning Joe," if he needs to recuse himself as going forward....'" CW: McCarthy has sure learned his weasel words from Paul Ryan.

Adam Serwer of the Atlantic suggests Sessions had a good reason for lying to Sen. Franken: "Had Sessions's response to Franken contained the same qualifications as his statement Wednesday night, the next questions would have been about the circumstances in which Sessions met with Russian officials.... [His answer] would have provoked further controversy regarding a negative story the Trump administration was desperate to tamp down: The extent of the Trump campaign's contacts with the Russian government. Sessions's blanket denial put an end to that line of questioning -- a denial that was freely offered by Sessions himself, not directly in response to Franken's query.... If Sessions does ultimately recuse himself, though, it will only be because he withheld pertinent information that has now become public knowledge. That's a remarkable standard for the top law-enforcement official in the country to set." -- CW ...

... Here's a little more from Margaret Hartmann on the WSJ story: "The Wall Street Journal also revealed that U.S. intelligence agencies examined contacts between Sessions and Russian officials as part of the investigation into the Trump team's possible Russia ties. It's unclear what the probe discovered, or if it's ongoing. The FBI answers to the attorney general, and a source said the investigation into Sessions left the agency 'wringing its hands.'" -- CW

Jose DelReal of the Washington Post: "Retired neurosurgeon Ben Carson was confirmed Thursday as secretary of the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, bringing into President Trump's Cabinet a Washington outsider with no prior government experience and a staunchly conservative view of public assistance. Support for Carson's confirmation came down largely along party lines -- 58-41 -- highlighting the intense partisan and ideological conflicts in Washington and around Trump's agenda." -- CW

"Basement Room" v. "Backroom." Jonathan Chait: "[Tuesday], House Speaker Paul Ryan boasted that his party would follow a deliberate, transparent process to repeal and replace Obamacare.... 'We're not hatching some bill in a backroom and plopping it on the American people's front door.' [Wednesday], House Republicans made it known that they will release their plan tomorrow and that it will only be made available to House Republicans. Representative Chris Collins tells the Washington Examiner the plan 'would be made available Thursday morning to Republicans in a basement room of an office building that adjoins the Capitol.' It is not clear what distinction Ryan draws between a 'backroom' and a 'basement room' only members of his party may access. The reason Republicans want to keep their plan hidden is fairly obvious. It would leave millions of Americans who currently have insurance unable to afford coverage." -- CW

*****

The Russia Connection, Ctd. Matthew Rosenberg, et al., of the New York Times: "In the Obama administration's last days, some White House officials scrambled to spread information about Russian efforts to undermine the presidential election -- and about possible contacts between associates of ... Donald J. Trump and Russians -- across the government.... American allies, including the British and the Dutch, had provided information describing meetings in European cities between Russian officials -- and others close to ... Vladimir V. Putin -- and associates of President-elect Trump, according to three former American officials.... Separately, American intelligence agencies had intercepted communications of Russian officials, some of them within the Kremlin, discussing contacts with Mr. Trump's associates. Then and now, Mr. Trump has denied that his campaign had any contact with Russian officials, and at one point he openly suggested that American spy agencies had cooked up intelligence suggesting that the Russian government had tried to meddle in the presidential election.... At the Obama White House, Mr. Trump's statements stoked fears among some that intelligence could be covered up or destroyed -- or its sources exposed -- once power changed hands. What followed was a push to preserve the intelligence.... Former senior Obama administration officials said that none of the efforts were directed by Mr. Obama." -- CW ...

... The Russia Connection, Ctd. Jefferson Beauregard Sessions III Edition. Adam Entous, et al., of the Washington Post: "Then-Sen. Jeff Sessions (R-Ala.) spoke twice last year with Russia's ambassador to the United States, Justice Department officials said, encounters he did not disclose when asked about possible contacts between members of President Trump's campaign and representatives of Moscow during Sessions's confirmation hearing to become attorney general. One of the meetings was a private conversation between Sessions and Russian Ambassador Sergey Kislyak that took place in September in the senator's office, at the height of what U.S. intelligence officials say was a Russian cyber campaign to upend the U.S. presidential race.... As attorney general, Sessions oversees the Justice Department and the FBI, which have been leading investigations into Russian meddling and any links to Trump's associates. He has so far resisted calls to recuse himself.... At his Jan. 10 Judiciary Committee confirmation hearing, Sessions was asked by Sen. Al Franken, a Minnesota Democrat, what he would do if he learned of any evidence that anyone affiliated with the Trump campaign communicated with the Russian government in the course of the 2016 campaign. 'I'm not aware of any of those activities,' he responded. He added: 'I have been called a surrogate at a time or two in that campaign and I did not have communications with the Russians.'" Emphasis added. -- CW ...

At the moment, Sessions is leading an investigation into himself -- Judd Legum March 2, 2017, in a tweet

But to be Scrupulously Fair, Sessions's perjury wasn't about something serious like a blowjob, so it would be completely principled for Republicans to ignore it. -- Scott Lemieux in LG&$ ...

... Rebecca Morin of Politico: "Sen. Lindsey Graham said Wednesday that Attorney General Jeff Sessions should recuse himself from any investigation into contacts between the Trump campaign and Russia -- and called for a special prosecutor if there's any evidence of wrongdoing.... Graham addressed the issue of recusal after the Washington Post reported that Sessions spoke twice with Russia's ambassador to the United States last year." -- CW ...

... Jason Easley of Politicus USA: "After The Washington Post reported that Sessions at multiple meetings with representatives from Moscow while a member of the Trump campaign, and then lied about it under oath during his confirmation hearing to Attorney General,The Wall Street Journal followed up by reporting that Sessions is under federal investigation." CW: I am linking Easley's post only to make you aware of the WSJ story, which I can't access even thru Google. Easley is a pretty excitable liberal, so ignore his enthusiastic predictions of Sessions' downfall. ...

... Charlie Savage of the New York Times: "Democrats escalated their demands late Wednesday that Attorney General Jeff Sessions recuse himself from overseeing an investigation into contacts between the Trump campaign and the Russian government after a disclosure that Mr. Sessions himself spoke with the Russian ambassador last year, seemingly contradicting his testimony at his confirmation hearing. And some Democrats went further, suggesting that Mr. Sessions had perjured himself and demanding that he resign.... But the Trump administration rejected the accusations as partisan attacks, and Mr. Sessions said in a statement issued shortly before midnight that he had not addressed election matters with the ambassador, Sergey I. Kislyak. 'I never met with any Russian officials to discuss issues of the campaign,' Mr. Sessions said. 'I have no idea what this allegation is about. It is false.'" -- CW ...

... Brooke Seipel of the Hill: "House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi called on Attorney General Jeff Sessions to immediately resign following revelations that he spoke to the Russian ambassador to the United States during President Trump's campaign. 'Jeff Sessions lied under oath during his confirmation hearing before the Senate. Under penalty of perjury, he told the Senate Judiciary Committee, "I have been called a surrogate at a time or two in that campaign and I did not have communications with the Russians." We now know that statement is false,' Pelosi said in a statement. 'Now, after lying under oath to Congress about his own communications with the Russians, the Attorney General must resign. Sessions is not fit to serve as the top law enforcement officer of our country and must resign.'" -- CW ...

... Brooke Seipel: "Richard Painter, the former White House ethics lawyer to President George W. Bush from 2005 to 2007, blasted Attorney General Jeff Sessions after it was reported that he spoke with the Russian ambassador while Trump was on the campaign trail.... 'Misleading the Senate in sworn testimony about one own contacts with the Russians is a good way to go to jail,' Painter tweeted." -- CW

Gail Collins IDs three Donald Trumps. The one standing before the joint session was SNORT -- Somewhat Normal Republican Trump. ...

... Softer Bigotry & Low Expectations. Glenn Thrush & Maggie Haberman of the New York Times: Trump's speech "does not represent a pivot, it is not a fundamental change of approach, and it does not mean that Mr. Trump plans to abandon his tweet-first-and-ask-questions-later style. But it is a recognition by the White House, from Mr. Trump on down, that what it had been doing was not quite working and that a softer sales tactic was needed to sell the same hard-edge populist agenda he campaigned on, people close to Mr. Trump said." -- CW ...

... ** Adele Stan of the American Prospect: "On Tuesday night, President Trump defied critics by proving he could read a teleprompter. In Trump's hands, any evolution toward mastery of that skill could prove as dangerous as the improvisational oratorical bullying for which he is better known, for Trump's reading style renders the articulation of evil into a banal-sounding sing-song celebration of resentment, greed, grief, and death.... With his speech, Trump again called for the deportation of millions of Americans, falsely claimed that only immigrants who committed crimes were being thrown out of the United States, promised a massive increase in military spending, and exploited the pain of a family grieving the loss of Chief Petty Officer William Ryan Owens, Navy SEAL, in a raid gone awry in Yemen...." -- CW ...

... Missy Ryan & Thomas Gibbons-Neff of the Washington Post: "President Trump paid tribute to the fallen SEAL on Tuesday night in his address to a joint session of Congress, singling out [Ryan] Owens's widow, Carryn, in a sharply emotional episode that juxtaposed the president's assertions about the success of the raid with his apparent attempts to distance himself from the criticism it has generated. According to current and former officials, the discussions leading up to the Jan. 29 raid, intended as the first step in a major expansion of U.S. counterterrorism operations in Yemen, marked a departure from the more hands-on, deliberative process used by the previous administration." -- CW

Linda Greenhouse: "So the Trump administration is putting the welcome mat back out for private prisons, just as candidate Donald Trump said he would do, reversing the Obama administration's policy of phasing them out for federal prisoners. It's no wonder that shares in some of the nation's biggest for-profit prison companies soared by double digits the day after the presidential election, making them among the biggest winners in the immediate postelection rally. A decision on Feb. 21 by the federal appeals court in Chicago came just in time to remind us that privatization is a really bad idea. The United States Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit reversed a federal district judge's dismissal and sent back for trial a case with the most appalling facts, brought by a dead prisoner's mother against the company to which the Indiana Department of Corrections had outsourced its inmates' medical care." CW: Indiana = mike pence.

Matt Zapotosky & Abigail Hauslohner of the Washington Post: "President Trump's new executive order on immigration will not include a blanket ban on citizens from Iraq, among a host of other revisions meant to allay legal and diplomatic concerns.... The White House late Tuesday scrapped plans for Trump to sign a revised travel ban Wednesday afternoon, a person familiar with the matter said, marking the third time the administration has put off the matter since the president said that dangerous people might enter the country without a prohibition in place.... The president has insisted that the ban is necessary for national security reasons. He wrote on Twitter that, because a federal judge in Washington state had ordered it frozen, 'many very bad and dangerous people may be pouring into our country.' He also suggested that if something were to happen, the court system would be to blame." ...

     ... CW: As CNN & other outlets have reported, the White House delayed Trump's signing the ban so the SCROTUS can take a victory lap for his newly-mastered skill at reading a rehearsed speech from teleprompters without breaking into an insane rant. How many terrorists will "pour in" as Trump basks in the Cillizza sunlight? See also safari's comment in yesterday's thread. ...

... Ed Kilgore: "If the ban could be put off until a day without competing media narratives, it can probably be put off until it undergoes judicial review." -- CW ...

... SCROTUS to Save Us from Flying Pigs, Bigfoot. Andrew Rosenthal of the New York Times: "At one point [during Trump's joint session speech], Republican lawmakers in the chamber leapt to their feet, cheering in sycophantic approval, when Trump announced that he was going to put an end to the 'uncontrolled entry' into the United States of people 'from places where proper vetting cannot occur.' This is a classic Trumpian stunt, inventing a problem and then promising to fix it. There is no free access for refugees to this country -- it takes about two years to clear the vetting process -- and none of the fatal terrorist attacks in the United States since 9/11 have been committed by people from the seven countries Trump targeted with his anti-Muslim visa ban. If Trump did nothing about immigration, he could cross 'uncontrolled entry' off his list because it's not happening and it never has. Under Trump's leadership, there won't be any flying pigs, either, and Bigfoot will finally be prevented from tracking his muddy footprints through the Capitol Rotunda." -- CW ...

... Peter Beinart of the Atlantic: In his Tuesday speech, Trump "called for the Department of Homeland Security to create an office focused on the victims of immigrant crime. And in a January 25 executive order, he instructed the Homeland Security Secretary to 'make public a comprehensive list of criminal actions committed by aliens.' Trump's allies may believe that sneaking into the United States, or using a fake social security number to get a job, predisposes people to rob, rape, or kill. But the evidence does not bear this out. So if Trump's goal is increasing public safety, publishing a list of crimes committed by unauthorized immigrants is ... like publishing a list of crimes committed by people with red-hair. If, however, Trump's goal is stigmatizing a vulnerable class of people, then publicizing their crimes -- and their crimes alone -- makes sense. It's been a tactic bigots have used more than a century. Using crime to incite hatred has a long history in the United States.... Trump is scapegoating in the classic sense. He's taking the sin of crime and associating it with one, already stigmatized, group, thus allowing native-born Americans to consider themselves pure." -- CW ...

     ... CW: Trump's scapegoating is something we have to fight every day. White people or Christians will never blame "white people" or "Christians" when a nominal Christian white person commits a horrific crime, but they sure will blame minorities when a minority individual commits a crime. Just today (Tuesday) I had to chastise my white neighbor for blaming Hispanics in general for one case of local breaking & entering. Of course I was right polite about it, assuming merciless ridicule is right polite. ...

... Sarah Posner, in a Washington Post op-ed: "... on Wednesday..., one of President Trump's top advisers [Sebastian Gorka] refused to say whether the president believes Islam is a religion.... Gorka belongs to a school of Islamophobes who have long cast Islam as totalitarian -- as a political ideology, rather than a religion.... The Islamophobic camp is already demonstrating it has more influence over Trump than [national security advisor H.R.] McMaster. As Gorka proudly pointed out to [NPR's Steve] Inskeep, the president used the phrase 'radical Islamic terrorism' [-- which McMaster thinks is wrong --] in Tuesday night's speech. What's more, top Trump strategist Stephen K. Bannon is also in this camp.... Gorka's refusal to say whether Trump sees Islam as a religion is alarming. It suggests that, despite efforts by McMaster to moderate the administration's tone, it's more likely that things are going to get a lot worse." -- CW ...

... Daniel Schultz of Religious Dispatches: "Gorka was a member of the Order of Vitéz, a Nazi-linked Hungarian group, and proudly displayed medals from the group at Trump's inauguration. Most relevant, though, despite disavowals of animus toward Islam, Gorka has described it more in terms of a totalitarian ideology than a complex, diverse, global religion. That assessment echoes a common view among right-wing nationalists, including administration figures like former National Security Advisor Michael Flynn and senior political advisor Steve Bannon." -- CW

Ed Pilkington & Oliver Laughland of the Guardian: "Police chiefs from across the US, including several from states that voted for Donald Trump, are resisting White House moves to force them to become more involved in deporting undocumented immigrants. In a joint letter, more than 60 law enforcement heads are appealing to Trump in all but name to soften his aggressive drive to enlist police officers in the highly contentious job of deporting millions of immigrants living without permission in the country. They object to being thrust into 'new and sometimes problematic tasks' that will undermine the balance between the local communities they serve and the federal government, and 'harm locally-based, community-oriented policing'." -- CW ...

... Few Are Safe from the Tentacles of the Trumpster. Oliver Laughland: "A young woman applying for the renewal of her Daca status was arrested and detained by immigration agents in Jackson, Mississippi, on Wednesday, shortly after she addressed a press conference in support of undocumented migrants’ rights. Daniela Vargas, a 22-year-old who came to the US as a seven-year-old child from Cordoba, Argentina, had told the rally how she dreamed of returning to college and becoming a math teacher, according to her attorneys. Shortly after the event, as she was driven along an interstate highway by a friend, she was pulled over by Immigration and Customs Agents (Ice) and arrested, said immigration attorney Nathan Elmore. Vargas had been a recipient of Barack Obama's Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (Daca) program, which allows undocumented migrants relief from deportation and education and work rights. But her Daca status had recently expired, with her attorneys lodging an unresolved renewal application in recent weeks, Elmore said." -- CW ...

...Julia Ainsley of Reuters: "President Donald Trump's promise to use existing funds to begin immediate construction of a wall on the U.S.-Mexico border has hit a financial roadblock, according to a document seen by Reuters. The rapid start of construction, promised throughout Trump's campaign and in an executive order issued in January on border security, was to be financed, according to the White House, with 'existing funds and resources' of the Department of Homeland Security. But so far, the DHS has identified only $20 million that can be re-directed to the multi-billion-dollar project, according to a document prepared by the agency and distributed to congressional budget staff last week. The document said the funds would be enough to cover a handful of contracts for wall prototypes, but not enough to begin construction of an actual barrier. This means that for the wall to move forward, the White House will need to convince Congress to appropriate funds." --safari

Don't Drink the Water. Juliet Eilperin & Brady Dennis of the Washington Post: "The White House has proposed deep cuts to the Environmental Protection Agency's budget that would reduce the agency's staff by one-fifth in the first year and eliminate dozens of programs.... The plan spells out exactly how this new approach will affect long-standing federal programs that have a direct impact on Americans' everyday lives.... Though President Trump professes to care strongly about clean air and clean water, almost no other federal department or agency is as much in the crosshairs at the moment. As a candidate, he vowed to get rid of the EPA 'in almost every form,' leaving only 'little tidbits' intact. The man he chose to lead the agency, former Oklahoma attorney general Scott Pruitt, sued it more than a dozen times in recent years, challenging its legal authority to regulate such things as mercury pollution, smog and carbon emissions from power plants. The plan reflects those past sentiments." -- CW ...

... The Pollution President, Ctd. Andrew Restuccia of Politico: "President Donald Trump is carrying out the most aggressive rollback of federal environmental rules since at least the Reagan administration. And he's just getting started. In just 40 days, Trump has made it easier for coal miners to dump their waste into West Virginia streams, ordered the repeal of Clean Water Act protections for vast stretches of wetlands, proposed massive job cuts at the Environmental Protection Agency and prepared to begin revoking the Obama administration's most ambitious climate change regulations. Trump is also expected to overturn Barack Obama's moratorium on new federal coal leases, and is considering automakers' pleas for relief from a scheduled tightening of vehicle fuel-efficiency standards. Obama's pledge to send billions of dollars to United Nations climate programs is also likely on the chopping block. And Trump hasn't ruled out withdrawing the United States from the 200-nation Paris climate agreement, a step that could undercut the international effort to confront global warming." -- CW

Matea Gold of the Washington Post: "The White House Counsel's Office has concluded that ... Kellyanne Conway acted 'inadvertently' when she endorsed Ivanka Trump's clothing line, rebuffing a recommendation by the top federal ethics official that she be disciplined for an apparent violation of federal rules. Stefan C. Passantino, who handles White House ethics issues as deputy counsel to President Trump, wrote in a letter Tuesday that his office concluded Conway was speaking in a 'light, offhand manner' when she touted the Ivanka Trump line during a Feb. 9 appearance on 'Fox & Friends.' At the time, Conway was addressing efforts by activists to persuade retailers such as Nordstrom to drop Ivanka Trump-branded items." CW: "Inadvertent"??? Conway said, "... I'm going to just, I'm going to give a free commercial here: Go buy it today, everybody. You can find it online." ...

... Who Would Have Guessed? Isaac Arnsdorf & Josh Dawsey of Politico: "... Donald Trump's team rejected a course for senior White House staff, cabinet nominees and other political appointees that would have provided training on leadership, ethics and management, according to documents obtained by Politico. The documents suggest the program could have better prepared officials for working within existing laws and executive orders, and provided guidance on how to navigate Senate confirmation for nominees and political appointees, how to deal with congressional and media scrutiny, and how to work with Congress and collaborate with agencies -- some of the same issues that have become major stumbling blocks in the early days of the administration. But the contract was never awarded because after the election the transition team shifted its priorities, according to a letter the General Services Administration sent to bidders such as the Partnership for Public Service. The program was expected to cost $1 million, the documents show." -- CW ...

... CW: The course probably had a special section on not crouching on an Oval Office couch like a sex kitten, which could have been helpful, too.

How to Win over the Ladies. Nolan McCaskill of the Hill: "A Republican congressman who is potentially eyeing a Senate run mocked Democratic women on Wednesday for wearing white at President Donald Trump's address to a joint session of Congress. Rep. Kevin Cramer of North Dakota said the 'poorly dressed' Democratic women wore 'bad-looking white pantsuits' in solidarity with failed Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton.... House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi and other Democratic women in the chamber wore white in a nod to suffragettes and as a silent protest against Trump. 'Tonight, our Democratic #WomenWearWhite in support of women's rights -- in spite of a @POTUS who doesn't!' she tweeted ahead of Trump's address Tuesday." -- CW

Beyond the Beltway

Perfecting DoubleSpeak 101. Daniel Salazar of The Wichita Eagle: "Sedgwick County [Kansas] Commissioner Richard Ranzau criticized progressives, the news media and an editorial cartoon that he said depicted a prominent Wichita lawmaker as a “female dog...Ranzau said he wanted to comment on President Trump's assertion that the news media is the 'enemy of the American people.' 'That's not exactly right.... Actually, the progressive movement is the enemy of the people,' Ranzau said during a 10-minute speech at the end of Wednesday's commission meeting. 'They have to lie, distort (and) deceive people in order to advance their agendas. They are an enemy of the truth.... He said politicians use media organizations to 'further the progressive agenda.'...'They use groups like minorities, women (and) poor people as pawns during elections to gain support,' Ranzau said. 'Then they adopt policies and do things that are contrary to their best interests.'" --safari

News Lede

Guardian: "Forces loyal to the Syrian regime have recaptured most of the city of Palmyra two months after it fell to Islamic State militants for the second time in a year. Led by Iranian-backed militias and Russian special forces, the loyalist units entered the city on Thursday, nearly three months after Isis took it over." -- CW

Tuesday
Feb282017

The Commentariat -- March 1, 2017

*****

Sean Sullivan & Abby Phillip of the Washington Post: "President Trump delivered his first address to a joint session of Congress Tuesday night, laying out the agenda for his presidency and, in broad terms, his vision for the country. Pulling from his campaign speeches and others since taking office, the president ran off a list of accomplishments since taking office and issued promises for the year ahead. Trump highlighted new lobbying restrictions, and executive orders he put in place to reduce regulations, restart halted oil and gas pipelines, and crack down on illegal immigration." -- CW ...

... The full transcript of the speech, via CNN, is here. -- CW ...

... Emily Atkin of the New Republic: "The president's tone in his first joint address to Congress on Tuesday night was certainly uncharacteristic. He was coherent. He hardly veered from his prepared remarks. He talked about 'harmony and stability.' He appeared to be wearing a properly-sized tie. Apparently, those were the only qualifications Trump had to meet to finally be considered 'effective' and 'presidential' by some of the mainstream D.C. press." -- CW ...

... A Speech about Nothing. Binyamin Appelbaum of the New York Times: "More jobs and economic growth. Less crime and poverty. New roads and bridges. 'A nation of miracles.' President Trump on Tuesday night offered a sweeping vision of the many ways in which he plans to improve the United States, but he said little about his plans for achieving those ambitious goals." -- CW ...

... There Is No Real Donald Trump. Dan Balz of the Washington Post: "In his inaugural address, Trump spoke of American carnage and as the tribune of the forgotten American. To the assembled members of Congress seated behind him that January day, he offered a rebuke and the back of his hand. On Tuesday, he made repeated appeals for national unity and cross-party cooperation. Looking out across the House chamber, he seemed to offer an open hand to the same political establishment he had pilloried just weeks ago. Trump as president must attempt a perpetual juggling act, at once capitalizing on public insecurities and stoking anti-establishment anger among those who helped carry him to the White House while sounding broader notes of optimism and playing nice with establishment Republicans, whom he needs to help enact his agenda. It is no longer a question of which is the real Donald Trump but more the question of whether he can build a successful presidency out of this split political personality." -- CW ...

... Matt Yglesias: "If you take any one moment from the Trump Show out of context, it's striking. But together, Trump's antics are now banal. He says, tweets, and does weird things. He gets attention. He pisses people off while thrilling others. Tonight, he even managed to attract attention and garner praise for slightly dialing it down. But speeches are supposed to be tools to help do the work of actually being president -- learning about the issues, making decisions about trade-offs, and collaborating to get things done. Amid the nonstop and increasingly tedious theatricality, Trump is only ever performing the role of the president; he's never doing the job." -- CW ...

... ** Jonathan Chait: "A casual listener to President Trump's speech to Congress might have the impression of a president who has endorsed a mix of raw nationalism and popular bipartisan goals.... It takes some slight familiarity with the details to recognize how hollow his offer is, and how unlikely Democrats are to take it up.... On the whole, Trump's agenda shows a president who has not departed from the plutocratic agenda that has dominated his party for a quarter-century, but only added grotesque, cruel, racist, and deeply stupid selling points. He has nothing to offer a party not enamored of the opportunity to carry out a massive and historic upward redistribution of wealth." --safari ...

... ** Frank Rich: "It was the same old Trump swill served up in perfumed linguistic packaging and presented in a far fancier setting in an effort to retool his image after more than a month of bombast, chaos, and dysfunction in his White House. The litany of promises he recited are the same ones he's made from the get-go -- the repeal and replacement of Obamacare with better health care for everyone, a massive retooling of America's infrastructure, an end to terrorism and the drug epidemic, tax cuts for everyone, a renaissance in coal mining, not to mention the Great Wall -- with no explanation of how he will achieve any of them, what they will cost, who will pay, and what's in any fine print (or even medium print). Endlessly regurgitating your campaign promises does not turn them into achievements." -- CW ...

... John Cassidy of the New Yorker: "Eyeing these Christians [i.e., on-air pundit-journalists] offering praise to the lion that is out to devour them, Slate's Jacob Weisberg remarked on Twitter, 'Enemies of the people giving Trump positive reviews for not sounding like a ranting dictator.' It certainly seemed that way. If there was anything fresh about what Trump said to Congress, it was largely stylistic. He didn't pivot, he merely pirouetted, and then he dug into the same political ground he has already claimed." -- CW ...

... Jeet Heer of the New Republic: "In truth, Trump jammed together two speeches -- one offering promise of a tolerant and unifying president, the other engaging in the usual fear-mongering and racial demagoguery. In the darker parts of the speech, Trump reprised the 'American carnage' of his inaugural address. He again falsely portrayed America as a nation going to hell in a hand basket, where crime is soaring, everyone is out of work, and the government is more interest in a globalist agenda than its own people.... Any attention to his words makes clear that an extremely disturbing, distorted vision of America still defines this presidency." -- CW ...

... Ed Kilgore: "... Donald Trump gave a pretty good speech to a joint session of Congress tonight. He followed the script, and threw in some unexpected rhetorical flourishes like a shout-out to civil rights and outrage about anti-Semitic incidents at the very beginning. But if one of its main functions was to give confused congressional Republicans some clear direction on the big agenda items that are about to be fulfilled or squandered, it was a total washout." --CW ...

... It's All about Trump. Brian Beutler: "Trump could have offered his congressional foot soldiers moral support and guidance. Instead he gave an address crafted almost entirely with his own immediate political fortunes in mind. In the most superficial sense, Trump met his objective.... Trump peppered his remarks with a more balanced mix of banal platitudes, lies, and characteristically offensive agitation than marked his inaugural address and other speeches -- aimed more squarely at lazy pundits [CW: here's looking at you, Chris Cillizza] primed to celebrate Trump's latest 'pivot' than at insecure members of the Republican congressional conferences." -- CW ...

... Lies & the Lying Liar. Glenn Kessler & Michelle Lee of the Washington Post: "An address to Congress is such an important speech that presidents generally are careful not to stretch the truth. The '16 words' in George W. Bush's 2003 State of the Union address that falsely claimed Iraq's Saddam Hussein sought uranium from Africa led to significant turmoil in the administration, including the criminal conviction of a top aide. President Trump's maiden address to Congress was notable because it was filled with numerous inaccuracies. In fact, many of the president's false claims are old favorites that he trots out on a regular, almost daily basis. Here's a roundup of 13 of the more notable claims, in the order in which the president made them." -- CW ...

... Michelle Goldberg of Slate: "If Trump were capable of shame, [Navy SEAL Ryan] Owens' death should shame him. Instead, in his first major address since the inauguration, he turned Owens sobbing, bereaved widow into a prop. As Carryn Owens stood next to Ivanka Trump..., [Donald] Trump ad-libbed, 'And Ryan is looking down, right now, you know that, and he's very happy, because I think he just broke a record.' In other words, Owens' death had a happy ending because a lot of people clapped at Trump's big speech.... The calls for bipartisanship with which Trump ended his speech weren't a gesture of outreach but a demand for submission. No matter what the Beltway media says, Democrats should resist. No matter how great a marketer he is, Trump still defiles everything he touches." -- CW ...

... Jason Rezaian of the Washington Post, who was imprisoned in Iran for practicing journalism, attended the joint session. "At times, [Trump] spoke in tones that often did not reflect the actions of his first weeks in office, adding to what was already a jarring experience for me.... But then I would hear again the strains that reminded me of so many speeches delivered by authoritarian leaders." Rezaian is hopeful that Americans won't let Trump destroy democracy. -- CW

... New York Times reporters conducted "live analysis" of Donald Trump's speech to a joint session of Congress. CW: You could watch/listen to the speech on the page, but I thought it a far, far better thing to keep the mute firmly in place.

Say What??? Julie Davis, et al., of the New York Times: "President Trump, signaling a potential major shift in policy, told news anchors on Tuesday that he is open to a broad immigration overhaul that would grant legal status to millions of undocumented immigrants who have not committed serious crimes.... The idea is a sharp break from the broad crackdown on undocumented immigrants that Mr. Trump has taken in his first weeks in office and the hardline positions embraced by his core supporters that helped sweep him into the White House. The president hinted at the reversal just hours before he was to deliver his first address to Congress, although it was not clear whether he would mention it in his speech.... [Trump] signed an executive order last month directing the deportation of any undocumented immigrant who has committed a crime -- whether or not they have been charged -- or falsified any document. The standard could apply to virtually any one of the estimated 11 million people in the country illegally." CW: Whatever that slimy bastard is up to, this is some head fake. ...

     ... CW Update: As I wrote, a head-fake. Michael Shear of the New York Times: "Hours before the speech, Mr. Trump told reporters that 'the time is right for an immigration bill as long as there is compromise on both sides.' But he made only a glancing reference to that assertion as he faced lawmakers, raising skepticism.... In the short space of a few hours, Mr. Trump veered back and forth on the immigration issue, sparking breaking news reports and incredulous postings on Twitter as he signaled moderation, then used his address to reassert his commitment to deportations, muse about changes to a 'merit based' legal immigration system, and express hope for cooperation among the long-warring political parties. In the speech, Mr. Trump repeated the harsh language that he used on the campaign trail, saying that success will not come to America 'in an environment of lawless chaos.'" Reminds me of the wise guys in the movies who pretend they'll be nice to their victim, right before they shiv him. DiJiT is a nasty piece of work. ...

... Democracy Now! interviews Prof. Francisco Balderrama to put Drumpf's deportation desires into perspectives by revisiting the 1930s. --safari

Margaret Hartmann of New York: "In his speech to Congress on Tuesday night, President Trump defended his travel ban, and said his administration has been 'working on improved vetting procedures, and we will shortly take new steps to keep our nation safe -- and to keep out those who would do us harm.' The new executive order was expected on Wednesday, but now it won;t be issued until the end of the week.... Late on Tuesday night, multiple outlets reported that the White House decided to hold off on issuing the new executive order after seeing the positive reviews for Trump's impersonation of a competent president. A senior administration official told CNN that they don't want to undercut coverage of the president's speech. 'We want the (executive order) to have its own 'moment,'" the official said." --safari

They [the media] shouldn't be allowed to use sources unless they use somebody's name. Let their name be put out there. A source says that Donald Trump is a horrible, horrible human being -- let them say it to my face. Let there be no more sources. -- Donald Trump, at CPAC, way last Friday ...

... IOKIYTrump. Steven Perlberg & Adrian Carrasquillo of BuzzFeed: "Donald Trump on Friday railed against the media's use of anonymous sources in stories. Four days later, he was one. In a private meeting with national news anchors ahead of his address to Congress Tuesday night, Trump went on background with reporters as a 'senior administration official' to discuss issues like immigration, telling attendees that it was time for a legislative compromise from both parties.... Citing attendees at the meeting, Trump was the one to make that remark, among others attributed to the official.... Tuesday's meeting comes during weeks of blistering media criticisms from Trump, who in a speech at CPAC on Friday said that some media outlets 'make up sources' and have 'very dishonest people.'" -- CW

About That "Golden Rain" Dossier. Tom Hamburger & Rosalind Helderman: "The former British spy who authored a controversial dossier on behalf of Donald Trump's political opponents alleging ties between Trump and Russia reached an agreement with the FBI a few weeks before the election for the bureau to pay him to continue his work, according to several people familiar with the arrangement. The agreement to compensate former MI6 agent Christopher Steele came as U.S. intelligence agencies reached a consensus that the Russians had interfered in the presidential election by orchestrating hacks of Democratic Party email accounts. While Trump has derided the dossier as 'fake news' compiled by his political opponents, the FBI's arrangement with Steele shows that the bureau considered him credible and found his information, while unproved, to be worthy of further investigation. Ultimately, the FBI did not pay Steele. Communications between the bureau and the former spy were interrupted as Steele's now-famous dossier became the subject of news stories, congressional inquiries and presidential denials.... Steele was familiar to the FBI, in part because the bureau had previously hired him to help a U.S. inquiry into alleged corruption in the world soccer organization FIFA." ...

... The Russian Connection, Ctd. David Corn of Mother Jones: "Last week, news broke that the Senate intelligence committee ... launched [an] investigation of both the Russian hacking of the 2016 campaign and contacts between Donald Trump associates and Russia. [B]oth investigations are proceeding behind a thick veil of secrecy, and there is no way to tell if the Republicans leading these efforts are mounting serious endeavors committed to unearthing facts that might be inconvenient, embarrassing, delegitimizing, or worse for Trump and his White House. So the question remains: Can these committees be trusted to get the job done?" The article goes in to the nitty-gritty details to see how likely they'll produce actual investigations. --safari ...

... Kyle Cheney of Politico: "Congressional Republicans killed a Democratic measure Tuesday to pressure the Trump administration to turn over documents detailing President Donald Trump's ties to Russia, as well as conflicts of interest stemming from his business empire. The measure, known as a 'resolution of inquiry,' was defeated on an 18-16 party-line vote. The resolution would have requested that the Department of Justice provide Congress with 'any document, record, memo, correspondence or other communication' related to 'criminal or counterintelligence investigations' involving Trump or his White House staff.'" --safari

BuzzFeed on Facebook: "Asked about the recent wave of anti-Semitic attacks and threats across the nation, President Trump on Tuesday told a group of state attorneys general that 'sometimes it's the reverse,' Pennsylvania Attorney General Josh Shapiro said of Trump's comments in his and other officials' meeting with the president. 'He just said, "Sometimes it's the reverse, to make people -- or to make others -- look bad," and he used the word "reverse" I would say two to three times in his comments,' Shapiro said. 'He did correctly say at the top that it was reprehensible.'" -- CW ...

... Aaron Blake of the Washington Post: "President Trump seemed to suggest Tuesday that the recent bomb threats and vandalism at Jewish community centers and cemeteries across the country might be false flags, according to a Democratic attorney general who met with him. And Trump's comments came the same day that one of his top advisers suggested the culprits could be Democrats. It wouldn't be the first time Trump went down this road." -- CW ...

... digby points out that Trump advisor Anthony 'the Mooch' Scaramucci implied in a tweet Tuesday morning that the vandals attacking Jewish cemeteries may be Democratic provocateurs, not anti-Semites. So there's the source of Trump's suggestion that it is not "his people" who are breaking Jewish tombstones. -- CW

The Buck Stops ... Someplace Else. Max Shuman of TPM: "... Donald Trump seemed to shirk his own responsibilities as commander in chief Tuesday, saying that military leaders called for a ground raid in Yemen five days after his inauguration that resulted in the death of a Navy SEAL. 'This was a mission that was started before I got here. This was something they wanted to do,' Trump said of the raid in an interview with 'Fox and Friends' Tuesday. 'They came to see me, they explained what they wanted to do ― the generals ― who are very respected, my generals are the most respected that we've had in many decades, I believe. And they lost Ryan.' He added later: 'This was something that they were looking at for a long time doing, and according to Gen. Mattis, it was a very successful mission. They got tremendous amounts of information.'... The New York Times reported that Trump approved the raid over dinner with Defense Secretary James Mattis and Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Joseph Dunford. Reuters, citing U.S. military officials, reported that 'Trump approved his first covert counterterrorism operation without sufficient intelligence, ground support or adequate backup preparations.'" -- CW ...

...Kimberly Dozier of The Daily Beast: "The White House is considering delegating more authority to the Pentagon to greenlight anti-terrorist operations like the SEAL Team 6 raid in Yemen that cost the life of a Navy SEAL, to step up the war on the so-called Islamic State, multiple U.S. officials tell The Daily Beast. President Donald Trump has signaled that he wants his defense secretary, retired Marine Gen. Jim Mattis, to have a freer hand to launch time-sensitive missions quickly, ending what U.S. officials say could be a long approval process under President Barack Obama that critics claimed stalled some missions by hours or days." --safari

"Viewpoint Discrimination." Adam Liptak of the New York Times: "A ruling issued on Monday by a federal judge in Manhattan, in a case brought by a freelance journalist without a lawyer, may interest the White House. The judge said that the New York Police Department may have violated the First Amendment by revoking the press credentials of the journalist, Jason B. Nicholas. The ruling was preliminary, and the Police Department said it had legitimate reasons for its actions. But Judge J. Paul Oetken's decision was timely, following as it did the exclusion of several news organizations from a Friday briefing at the White House. 'It has been held impermissible,' Judge Oetken wrote, 'to exclude a single television news network from live coverage of mayoral candidates' headquarters and to withhold White House press passes in a content-based or arbitrary fashion.' Last Friday's developments at the White House crossed that legal line, said Jameel Jaffer, the director of the Knight First Amendment Institute at Columbia University. 'That was unconstitutional,' he said. 'If you exclude reporters from briefings that they otherwise have a right to attend because you don't like their reporting, then you have engaged in viewpoint discrimination.' Viewpoint discrimination by the government in a public forum is almost always unconstitutional." -- CW

Betsy DeVos said HBCUs were about school choice. As if white/colored water fountains were about beverage options. -- Resist Dystopia (@AynAyahSteenkur) February 28, 2017, tweet

... Danielle Douglas-Gabriel & Tracy Jan of the Washington Post: "Many advocates of historically black colleges and universities were apoplectic after Education Secretary Betsy DeVos called the group of schools forged at the height of racial segregation 'pioneers' of 'school choice.' DeVos issued a statement Monday evening after a meeting with HBCU leaders, praising their schools for identifying 'a system that wasn't working' and taking it 'upon themselves to provide the solution' from the outset of their founding." -- CW ...

... Yamiche Alcindor of the New York Times: "Facing a fierce backlash after she called historically black colleges and universities 'real pioneers' of school choice, Betsy DeVos ... spent Tuesday afternoon backtracking on the controversial statement and highlighting the institutions' roots in racism and segregation. Ms. DeVos, in a series of Twitter posts on Tuesday and in remarks at a luncheon with presidents from some of the schools, repeatedly acknowledged that the schools were not created simply to give African-American students more choices but because black students across the country were not allowed into segregated white schools. The controversy is the latest gaffe for Ms. DeVos, who has had a rough start.... On Twitter, hundreds of angry users accused her of ignoring the fact that many of the schools were founded because black students were not allowed to attend segregated white schools, not because education pioneers wanted to give African-Americans more options in higher education. Many accused her of using the nation's history of segregation to advance a contemporary political agenda." CW: See also commentary in yesterday's thread.

Swamp Woman. Patrick Malone & Jeffrey Smith in The Daily Beast: "[Trump has] designated as the new Air Force secretary a former New Mexico Congresswoman, Heather Wilson, who's a veteran of wheeling and dealing in Washington on behalf of private defense industry clients that paid her lucrative consulting fees. Just a day after she left Congress in 2009, Wilson went to work as a 'strategic adviser' for Sandia Corporation in Albuquerque, which runs a laboratory that helps design and manufacture America's nuclear weapons and is a subsidiary of defense giant Lockheed Martin.... But federal auditors at the Energy Department and one of its subsidiary agencies quickly grew alarmed because Wilson refused to account for how she was spending any of her time, even while accepting $20,000 monthly from the national labs.... The Justice probe concluded that the payments to Wilson were part of an improper effort by the Lockheed subsidiary to bill the government for money spent lobbying the government for more business..But now, if Wilson is confirmed, she'll be responsible for overseeing the Air Force's voluminous interactions with Lockheed -- the same firm that paid her $226,378 for two years of 'strategic advising.'" --safari

Amy Brittain & Jonathan O'Connell of the Washington Post: "... Trump-branded properties around the world are ... becoming symbols of the U.S. president -- and, in some cases, staging areas for locals to express their feelings about his views on immigration, trade and other matters. Trump has retained his ownership stake in the company. In Dubai, government officials joined Trump's adult sons, Donald Trump Jr. and Eric Trump, on Feb. 18 for a red-carpet party toasting the opening of a glitzy new Trump-branded golf course. But in Vancouver[, B.C., Canada], where more than 40 percent of residents are immigrants, the Trump family got the cold shoulder [when they arrived to celebrate the opening of a Trump International Hotel & Tower]. Protesters gathered Tuesday outside the tower from 9 a.m. through the evening hours, when they expected partiers to arrive for a V.I.P. reception. Meanwhile, the mayor [Kerry Jang] and others here have escalated their calls for the project's developer, Joo Kim Tiah, the 37-year-old son of one of Malaysia's wealthiest businessmen, to remove Trump's name from the building." -- CW

Brad Plumer of Vox: "... ultimately, Congress will have the final say over any budget. And key Senate Republicans are already skeptical of Trump's outline. Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-SC) told NBC that the reported State Department cuts were 'dead on arrival.'" -- CW

"Your Boyfriend Is a Jerk." Dana Bash of CNN: "House Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi is telling her rank-and-file members that she is confident a good portion of ... Donald Trump's voters will eventually turn on him -- and Democrats just have to wait it out.... 'The way I told my members: It's like telling your friend the guy she's dating is a jerk. You can't tell her that. She has to find out for herself. You can give her clues and then eventually one thing will lead to another, she'll come to her conclusion. But if you tell her right up front, you'll lose a friend. So we're not interested in losing any friends. Let them find out,' Pelosi recounted during a small briefing for reporters in her Capitol suite Tuesday." -- CW

Beyond the Beltway

Mark Berman of the Washington Post: "Authorities are now investigating a shooting in Kansas that killed one Indian man and wounded another as a hate crime, the FBI said Tuesday. The shooting last week sparked unease in Kansas and across the globe, after witnesses said that the accused gunman had told the two men to 'get out of my country' before opening fire. While President Trump has been criticized for not speaking out on the shooting in Olathe, Kan., following the FBI's announcement Tuesday, the White House called the attack 'an act of racially motivated hatred.'" -- CW

Monday
Feb272017

The Commentariat -- February 28, 2017

James Downie of the Washington Post: "The only ... reason for [Tom] Perez's entry [into the race for Democratic National Committee chair] and victory was simple: In defeating [Keith] Ellison, the establishment wanted to rebuke the progressive wing and retain control of the party. Therein lies Perez';s -- and the party's -- biggest problem. The Democratic Party needs the progressive wing's energy and new ideas if it is to recover.... The party establishment doesn't want to admit its failings.... Clearly a new approach is needed, particularly in terms of increasing turnout and pushing policies that motivate a larger number of voters to be enthusiastic about the party. Rescuing the Democrats from this deep hole requires grass-roots energy -- energy that clearly is most prevalent in the more liberal wing of the party, as seen in the surprisingly successful campaign of Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.)." -- CW

Heather Caygle of Politico: "House Democrats are seizing on President Donald Trump's first major speech to Congress Tuesday as an opportunity to troll the new president in prime time. Many of the same Democrats who boycotted Trump's inauguration are choosing not to skip his first address to Congress as president, instead opting to bring guests directly affected by the administration's controversial policies on immigration and refugees and Republican attempts to repeal Obamacare. 'It's my hope that gallery is going to look like America,' said Rep. Jim Langevin (D-R.I.), who is leading an effort to have his colleagues bring diverse guests Tuesday and will be joined by Rhode Island Dr. Ehsun Mirza, a Muslim-American born in Pakistan. 'It's another reminder to the president that he's not the arbiter of patriotism.' The effort is designed to put a human face on Trump's immigration and refugee policies -- and perhaps steal a bit of the spotlight from the president's big speech. Though it's unlikely to resonate much beyond Tuesday night, members said doing something is better than nothing." -- CW ...

... Shane Goldmacher of Politico: "... with Trump's first prime-time address Tuesday to the nation and Congress, [the White House hopes] to reframe Trump's turbulent first 40 days neatly into the context of promises made, promises kept.... But Trump will step onto the dais Tuesday night with historically weak approval ratings for a new president, battling leaks both from within and about the White House and a heavy chip on his shoulder about media coverage of his early presidency that he has decried repeatedly as 'fake news.'" -- CW

... Seung Min Kim of Politico: "... Donald Trump's highly-anticipated first address to Congress on Tuesday will detail an 'optimistic vision' for the nation that vows to push a 'bold agenda' on tax and regulatory overhauls, reforms in the workplace and a promise to 'sav[e] American families from the disaster of Obamacare.' That's according to a list of 11 key bullet points outlining Trump's speech from the White House that was obtained by Politico in advance of the address. In it, Trump will also paint his agenda with broad, unifying tones, saying he will 'invite Americans of all backgrounds to come together in the service of a stronger, brighter future for our nation.'" -- CW

... Jennifer Steinhauer of the New York Times: "Mr. Trump's budget blueprint -- which is expected to be central to his address to Congress on Tuesday night -- sets up a striking clash with the House speaker, Paul D. Ryan, who has made a career out of pressing difficult truths on federal spending. For years, Mr. Ryan has maintained that to tame the budget deficit without tax increases and prevent draconian cuts to federal programs, Congress must be willing to change, and cut, the programs that spend the most money -- Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid. But Mr. Trump, in a dogged effort to fulfill his campaign promises, has turned that logic on its head in the budget outline he is expected to present to Congress this week. That blueprint would make good on his promise to increase spending on the military and law enforcement by $100 billion over the next 18 months. And it would extract all of the savings he can from the one part of the budget already most squeezed, domestic discretionary spending, potentially decimating programs in education, poverty alleviation, science and health." -- CW: "Difficult truths," my ass. Steinhauer has KoolAid all over her face.

... Stan Collander of Forbes: "The White House either hasn't thought through what it's going to take to put the just-announced Trump spending plans in place, or doesn't really care. The bottom line is that the president and OMB Director Mick Mulvaney may have to violate their oaths of office by breaking federal law to do what the administration wants to do on federal spending.... Trump's unacknowledged problem is that Congress and the president don't have the legal authority to do what he is proposing by cutting domestic spending to pay for an increase in security spending. The Budget Control Act of 2011 established annual caps for each category and prohibited offsetting increases in one by reducing spending in the other. That is exactly what Trump is proposing to do." -- CW

... Kevin Drum: "The real question is whether Trump's $54 billion increase can get through Congress. Normally, Republicans would pass it via reconciliation and they wouldn't need any Democratic votes. However, this increase would blow past the sequester limits put in place in 2013, and this can only be done via regular order. That means Republicans need at least eight Democratic votes in the Senate to overcome a filibuster. Normally, they could probably get that. But if they try to balance this $54 billion increase with a $54 billion cut to the EPA and safety net programs, there are very few Democrats who will play ball." -- CW

Juliet Eilperin & Abby Phillip of the Washington Post: "President Trump on Tuesday will instruct the Environmental Protection Agency and Army Corps of Engineers to 'review and reconsider' a 2015 rule known as the Waters of the United States rule, according to a senior official, a move that could ultimately make it easier for agricultural and development interests to drain wetlands and small streams. The official, who spoke on the condition of anonymity because the executive order had not yet been signed, said the directive aimed to address the concerns of about 30 states and an array of business interests that have criticized the previous administration for overreaching. The final outcome of Trump's order could have tremendous implications for the agricultural, real estate, gravel, sand and ranching sectors, as well as a critical habitat for aquatic species and migratory birds." CW: This makes a story safari linked Sunday on the worldwide effects of sand mining mighty timely. Probably Scott Pruitt read the story & is all concerned.

Philip Rucker of the Washington Post: "In an interview Monday with Fox News Channel, Trump said that he believes his predecessor is helping to organize the protests [against him]. "I think that President Obama is behind it because his people certainly are behind it,' Trump said. 'In terms of him being behind things, that's politics. It will probably continue.'... In the interview, Trump offered high marks for his accomplishments in the White House.... 'In terms of messaging, I would give myself a C or a C plus,' Trump said. 'In terms of achievement, I think I'd give myself an A. Because I think I've done great things, but I don't think I have -- I and my people, I don't think we've explained it well enough to the American public.'" -- CW

I have to tell you, it's an unbelievably complex subject. Nobody knew that health care could be so complicated. -- Rip Van Trumple, at the National Governors Association, Monday

See yesterday's Comments, near end of thread. -- Constant Weader

... Jonathan Chait: "To win support from voters, [Trump] promised 'terrific' insurance that would 'take care of everybody.' But to remain acceptable to Republican elites, he avoided embracing any policies that would violate party dogma against tax increases. The actual details of his health-care plan..., to the extent they existed at all..., consisted mainly of warmed-over conservative platitudes that would mostly resemble the old, pre-Obamacare system and do little or nothing to cover the uninsurable. Trump held together the contradiction by simply pretending the solution would reveal itself over time and would be extremely easy. Quite likely Trump believed this himself -- as a committed nonreader, and a narcissistic devotee of his own negotiating prowess, he surely believed that he could broker a deal.... The only thing that held Trump's position together was a refusal to engage with the substance of the issue, and a magical belief that it could all be waved away. At best, he will keep either his promise to the Republican elite or his promise to the electorate. At worst he will keep neither. His offhand comment that the issue is hard is a window into the mind of a man who realizes the jig is almost up." -- CW ...

     ... CW: On health care, as on many issues, Trump has two fallback positions: (1) ignorance -- who had any idea national healthcare was complicated? -- and (2) malevolent indifference -- blame it on Obama & Democrats. As digby notes, "He's a truly malevolent human being. Don't underestimate his willingness to inflict pain and horror upon others." ...

... He Never Knew WTF He Was Doing. Michael Kruse in Politico Magazine: "... while smart, experienced political professionals have called the start to the Trump presidency unprecedented in the annals of the office, it is not unprecedented in the annals of Trump. Trump has managed in the Oval Office in Washington pretty much exactly the way he managed on Fifth Avenue in New York, say people who worked for him at different points over the last 45 years as well as writers of the best, most thoroughly reported Trump biographies. In recent interviews, they recounted a shrewd, slipshod, charming, vengeful, thin-skinned, belligerent, hard-charging manager who was an impulsive hirer and a reluctant firer and surrounded himself with a small cadre of ardent loyalists; who solicited their advice but almost always ultimately went with his gut and did what he wanted; who kept his door open and expected others to do the same not because of a desire for transparency but due to his own insecurities and distrusting disposition; who fostered a frenetic, internally competitive, around-the-clock, stressful, wearying work environment in which he was a demanding, disorienting mixture of hands-on and hands-off -- a hesitant delegator and an intermittent micromanager who favored fast-twitch wins over long-term follow-through, promotion over process and intuition over deliberation." -- CW

Trump & Sessions Endorse Suppressing Democratic Votes. Manny Fernandez & Eric Lichtblau of the New York Times: "The Justice Department on Monday dropped a crucial objection to Texas' strict voter-identification law, signaling a significant change from the Obama administration on voting-rights issues. The Republican-led Texas Legislature passed one of the toughest voter ID laws in the country in 2011, requiring voters to show a driver's license, passport or other government-issued photo ID before casting a ballot. The Obama administration's Justice Department sued Texas to block the law in 2013 and scored a major victory last year after a federal appeals court ruled that the law needed to be softened because it discriminated against minority voters who lacked the required IDs.... The Justice Department under President Trump and Attorney General Jeff Sessions told a judge on Monday that it was withdrawing its claim that Texas enacted the law with a discriminatory intent." -- CW

Abby Phillip of the Washington Post: "Asked [on the 'Today' show] about Trump's claim that the media is the 'enemy of the people,' [former President George W.] Bush warned that an independent press is essential to democracy and that denouncing the press at home makes it difficult for the United States to preach democratic values abroad. 'I consider the media to be indispensable to democracy,' Bush said. 'We need an independent media to hold people like me to account. Power can be very addictive and it can be corrosive and it's important for the media to call to account people who abuse power, whether it be here or elsewhere,' he added. Bush noted that during his presidency, he sought to persuade people like Russian President Vladimir Putin to respect a free press." CW: I don't doubt that Dubya is super-relieved to no longer be the worst U.S. president of the 21st century. (Also linked yesterday afternoon.)

Karoun Demirjian of the Washington Post: "House Intelligence Committee Chairman Devin Nunes denied on Monday morning that there was any evidence from the intelligence community of contacts between Trump campaign officials and Russian operatives.... Nunes contended there was no need at this time for a special prosecutor to investigate allegations of contact between Russian officials and Trump campaign aides. Instead, the Republican said that the 'major crimes' that have been committed are leaking to the news media on the subject of Russia, as well as other accounts of what should be confidential dealings with the Trump White House...." -- CW (Also linked yesterday afternoon.) ...

QUESTION: But did President-elect Trump at the time of the transition team tell Flynn to talk to the Russian ambassador?

NUNES: Look, I find that -- I would find that hard to believe because they were so busy, and I think these conversations were all very short.

CW Translation: Trump could not have given Flynn any instructions about anything because Trump was busy tweeting about his electoral victory.

Cynthia McFadden, et al., of NBC News: "Last month's deadly commando raid in Yemen, which cost the lives of a U.S. Navy SEAL and a number of children, has so far yielded no significant intelligence, U.S. officials told NBC News. Although Pentagon officials have said the raid produced 'actionable intelligence,' senior officials who spoke to NBC News said they were unaware of any, even as the father of the dead SEAL questioned the premise of the raid in an interview with the Miami Herald published Sunday." -- CW

Alan Rappeport of the New York Times: "The Senate confirmed Wilbur L. Ross, the billionaire investor, as commerce secretary on Monday, installing a key leader for the Trump administration's plans to overhaul trade deals such as the North American Free Trade Agreement. By a vote of 72 to 27, the Senate confirmed Mr. Ross, who has already been advising President Trump on economic policy and helping him to craft ways to rewrite the tax code. A renegotiation of Nafta is expected to be Mr. Ross's top priority when he takes over the job. During his confirmation hearing in January, he warned that 'all aspects' of the agreement between the United States and its northern and southern neighbors are on the table. With the confirmation of Mr. Ross, the most important members of Mr. Trump's economic team are in place just in time for looming fights over the budget, health care and tax legislation." -- CW...

...The Russian Connection, Ctd. Rachel Maddow connects Wilbur Ross to Donald Trump and Russian oligarchs. Watch til the end to see how the pieces are slowly falling together. --safari...

...The Russian Connection, Ctd. Josh Marshall of TPM: "Yesterday we noted that renegade Ukrainian MPAndrii Artemenko says he's known[Trump lawyer Michael] Cohen for years. They first met when Cohen was setting up that ethanol business with family in Ukraine.... We also noted that in addition to Artemenko and the ethanol business, Cohen seems to have a lot of business and personal ties to Ukraine. Almost everywhere you look actually. Well, it turns out there's more...Before Cohen hooked up with Trump (circa 2006-07), Cohen made a lot of money in the New York City taxi business...[H]is business partner was a law client named Simon Garber, who the Journal describes as a "Ukrainian-born taxi baron."...About the same time Cohen set up another business with two other Ukrainian immigrants, Arkady Vaygensberg and Leonid Tatarchuk...This was MLA Cruises, a Florida company which took patrons on cruises outside US territorial waters to gamble. Cohen was CEO. MLA Cruises collapsed in a welter of lawsuits mainly targeting Vaygensberg and Tatarchuk.... More to come, I assure you." --safari ...

...The Russian Connection, Ctd. Kenneth Vogal, et al. of Politico: "Paul Manafort's family expressed misgivings about the political consultant's work for both Russia-aligned Ukrainian strongman Viktor Yanukovych and Donald Trump,according to text messages allegedly hacked from one of his daughters' phones. The texts, posted on a darknet website run by a hacktivist collective, appear to show Manafort's family fretting about the ethics, safety and consequences of his work for Yanukovych...In an interview on Monday, Manafort acknowledged that his daughter Andrea had been hacked and corroborated the authenticity of at least some of the texts between him and her, but declined to comment on most of them." --safari...

...The Russian Connection, Ctd. Evan Osnos, et al., of the New Yorker have a long read on Trump, Putin, and the New Cold War. Thanks to PD. Pepe for the link. --safari

Drew Harwell of the Washington Post: "Hundreds of former employees of Sterling Jewelers, the multibillion-dollar conglomerate behind Jared the Galleria of Jewelry and Kay Jewelers, claim that its chief executive and other company leaders presided over a corporate culture that fostered rampant sexual harassment and discrimination, according to arbitration documents obtained by The Washington Post. Declarations from roughly 250 women and men who worked at Sterling, filed as part of a private class-action arbitration case, allege that female employees at the company throughout the late 1990s and 2000s were routinely groped, demeaned and urged to sexually cater to their bosses to stay employed. Sterling disputes the allegations. The arbitration was first filed in 2008 by more than a dozen women.... The class-action case, still unresolved, now includes 69,000 women who are current and former employees of Sterling, which operates about 1,500 stores across the country. Most of the sworn statements were written years ago, but the employees' attorneys were only granted permission to release them publicly Sunday...." -- CW

Sam Levin of the Guardian: "A female engineer at Tesla has accused Elon Musk's car company of ignoring her complaints of 'pervasive harassment', paying her a lower salary than men doing the same work, promoting less qualified men over her and retaliating against her for raising concerns. The allegations of AJ Vandermeyden, who still works at the celebrated electric car manufacturer, paint a picture of a hostile work environment dominated by men where inappropriate sexual behavior is tolerated and women face numerous barriers to advance their careers." -- CW

Damian Carrington & Jelmer Mommers of the Guardian: "The oil giant Shell issued a stark warning of the catastrophic risks of climate change more than a quarter of century ago in a prescient 1991 film that has been rediscovered. However, since then the company has invested heavily in highly polluting oil reserves and helped lobby against climate action, leading to accusations that Shell knew the grave risks of global warming but did not act accordingly." -- CW

Beyond the Beltway

Horrors of "Sand Mining", Part II: The Mafias. Vince Beiser of the Guardian: "[There is] an unlikely substance that is fast becoming one of the 21st century's most important commodities: sand...It's an industry worth hundreds of billions of dollars annually. Pulling all of that sand out of the ground, however, takes a severe toll on the environment...In response, authorities are trying to regulate the manner and location of extraction. In turn, it has spawned a global boom in illegal sand mining.... Every year criminal gangs across the world dig up countless tonnes of sand to sell on the black market.... Like any big-money black market, the sand trade is inciting violence." See yesterday's link about sand mining in general if you missed it. --safari

Camila Domonoske of NPR: "A 19-year-old white man [John R. K. Howard] accused of kicking a coat hanger up the rectum of a mentally disabled black teammate received no jail time at his sentencing on Friday.... He was sentenced to probation and community service, and his conviction might be entirely dismissed at a later date.... Howard, who pleaded guilty to felony injury of a child, had originally been charged with sexual assault. But prosecutors later decided that, while they were confident they could prove Howard kicked the coat hanger into his teammate's rectum, the act did not constitute a sex crime.... In addition to the criminal cases at the state level, the mentally disabled young man's parents are also pursuing a federal civil case, which is still ongoing. 'The truth will come out,' the family's attorney in that case said, according to The Guardian." --safari