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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

The only thing I’d be impartial about is what prison this guy goes to. -- Prospective Juror, Martin Shkreli trial ...

... Harper's republishes some of the jury selection proceedings in the Martin Shkreli case.

Vanity Fair: "... Michiko Kakutani, The New York Times chief book reviewer and Pulitzer Prize winner, who has been, by a wide margin, the most powerful book critic in the English-speaking world, is stepping down.... Kakutani said that she could neither confirm nor comment. But sources familiar with her decision, which comes a year after the Times restructured its books coverage, told me that last year’s election had triggered a desire to branch out and write more essays about culture and politics in Trump’s America."

... Washington Post: "... investigators believe they have discovered the 'smoking gun' that would support a decades-old theory that [Amelia] Earhart and her navigator, Fred Noonan, were captured by the Japanese: a newly unearthed photograph from the National Archives that purportedly shows Earhart and Noonan — and their plane — on an atoll in the Marshall Islands.... Gary Tarpinian,  executive producer of the History documentary, told the Today show that they believe the Koshu, the Japanese merchant ship in the photo, took Earhart to Saipan, where she died in Japanese custody."

Summer Beach Reading. James Hohmann of the Washington Post suggests Al Franken's Giant of the Senate. Hohmann's column hits some of the highlights. CW: Let us be thankful that Donald Trump is incapable of learning the lessons Franken learned from his team. If Trump were half as bright as Franken, he would be a succesful president & very effective dictator.

Politico: "MSNBC has parted ways with anchor Greta Van Susteren after just six months on air, as her show failed to live up to the network's ratings expectations. An MSNBC executive said the decision to remove the former Fox News host was purely for business reasons, based on ratings."

Click on the picture to see larger image.... AP: "... Donald Trump and first lady Melania Trump were among the guests as Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin (mih-NOO’-shin’s) married a Scottish actress. Mnuchin exchanged vows Saturday night with Louise Linton at the Andrew W. Mellon Auditorium in Washington. Mrs. Trump wore a pink blush dress."

New Yorker: "In a paper in the journal Nature, an international team of researchers announced that they have pushed back the date of the earliest human remains to three hundred thousand years ago. And the specimens in question were found not in East Africa, which has become synonymous with a sort of paleoanthropological Garden of Eden, but clear on the other side of the continent — and the Sahara — in Morocco."

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."

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."

Constant Comments

Thursday
Mar232017

The Commentariat -- March 23, 2017

Late Morning/Afternoon Update:

Oops! Mike DeBonis, et al., of the Washington Post: "House leaders postponed a vote Thursday on their plan to overhaul the nation's health-care system, as they and President Trump struggled to meet demands of conservative lawmakers who said they could not support the bill. House Republicans planned to meet behind closed doors later Thursday to figure out their next steps. Leaders have told the rank and file to be available Friday in the event a vote can be scheduled then." -- CW

Linda Qiu of the New York Times: "In an interview with Time magazine on Wednesday, President Trump cited The New York Times as evidence of his claim, made in a series of Twitter posts on March 4, that President Barack Obama had wiretapped his phones in Trump Tower during the 2016 presidential campaign." Qui, in detail, eviscerates each of the claims Trump made about the Times story, even citing an outside media critic -- Jay Rosen -- who said, "The bald assertion that Obama had Trump wiretapped is nowhere supported by the story. That is fiction." "When asked if The Times article could give Mr. Trump a false impression that Mr. Obama wiretapped him, Mr. Rosen said, 'It does not. No one reading it in good faith would say that.'" ...

     ... CW: Here's how it works. (1) Trump sees a word in a story and picks out some words around it to read (without moving his lips -- big mistake). (2) He decides what the story says based on the short string of words he chooses. (3) That string of words may or may not represent the gist of the story. (4) What he decides is fixed forever; it will never change, even if you later put the same story in front of him and bid him to move his lips as he reads. (5) He insists to his dying day the story said what he first decided it said. (6) Anyone who claims otherwise is a liar or a hater or a fake. Or some other bad word in his limited vocabulary.

Ellen Mitchell of the Hill: "The head of U.S. European Command on Thursday said President Trump's proposed cuts to the State Department would make his job more difficult in the face of an increasing Russian threat. 'I rely heavily on our relationships with the other agencies in our government,' Army Gen. Curtis Scaparrotti, who also serves as NATO's supreme allied commander in Europe, told the Senate Armed Services Committee." -- CW

Rachel Bade & Josh Dawsey of Politico: "... Donald Trump and conservative House Freedom Caucus members failed to strike a deal on the GOP Obamacare replacement Thursday, endangering the prospects of passage and all but assuring any immediate vote on the measure would fail. Negotiations between Trump and the arch-conservatives opponents of the bill reached at least a temporary standstill after Freedom Caucus members were told recent concessions to the far-right were a final offer. The group rejected that, wanting more. Trump's inability to clinch an agreement means that Speaker Paul Ryan does not likely have the votes needed to pass the measure.... A vote is expected Thursday night. It was not immediately clear whether Ryan would pull the bill or postpone a vote and continue to scramble for votes if it remains short of passage." -- CW ...

... Louis Nelson of Politico: "White House press secretary Sean Spicer said he still expects a House vote late Thursday on legislation to repeal and replace Obamacare, even as Republican Party leaders struggle to shore up enough support for the bill. Despite the last-minute scramble, Spicer remained confident that GOP leaders would find the votes, telling reporters, 'It's going to pass. So that's it.' Echoing statements he made a day earlier, the press secretary said there is no plan B should the health care bill fail in the House." -- CW

Karoun Demirjian & Ellen Nakashima of the Washington Post: "House Intelligence Committee Democrats said Chairman Devin Nunes (R-Calif.) apologized to them Thursday during a closed-door meeting for his handling of revelations about surveillance that potentially could have been collected about President Trump and his associates during the transition period. Nunes's apology was 'generic,' Rep. Jackie Speier (D-Calif.), a member of the Intelligence Committee, said on CNN, adding that it was 'not clear' precisely which actions his apology covered.... The California Republican also promised colleagues that they would see the documents in question on Friday, which is when Nunes is expecting the NSA, CIA and FBI to respond to a request for a full list of names of people whose identities were disclosed through 'incidental collection'...." -- CW

Dan Bilefsky, et al., of the New York Times: "The Islamic State claimed responsibility on Thursday for the deadly attack outside the British Parliament, as Prime Minister Theresa May described the assailant as a British-born man whom the country's domestic intelligence agency had investigated for connections to violent extremism. The London police identified him on Thursday afternoon as Khalid Masood, 52, who had a long criminal history but no terrorism convictions. He had been living recently around Birmingham, England, where the vehicle used in the attack was rented. The police released few other details about him." -- CW

Kelsey Sutton of Politico: "Former President Barack Obama, who has remained on the sidelines for much of the contentious debate surrounding the Trump administration's plan to repeal and replace the Affordable Care Act, urged lawmakers Thursday to preserve and build on his signature legislative achievement. The lengthy statement, released on the seventh anniversary of the passage of the bill -- and on the same day that House members are set to vote on its repeal -- celebrated the merits of Obamacare and described the legislation as a watershed moment in determining that health care was 'not just a privilege for a few, but a right for everybody.'" -- CW

Ed O'Keefe, et al., of the Washington Post: "As the Senate Judiciary Committee was hearing from witnesses for and against Judge Neil Gorsuch, his Supreme Court nomination was delivered a critical blow: Senate Minority Leader Charles E. Schumer (D-N.Y.) said he would join with other Democrats in filibustering Gorsuch -- a move that would require at least 60 senators to vote to end debate on the nomination. Republicans have vowed to change Senate procedures if Democrats do so to quickly confirm Gorsuch -- but Schumer suggested they should focus instead on Trump's nominee. 'If this nominee cannot earn 60 votes -- a bar met by each of President Obama's nominees, and George Bush's last two nominees -- the answer isn't to change the rules. It's to change the nominee,' he said." -- CW

Isabel Kershner, et al., of the New York Times: "The police on Thursday arrested an Israeli teenager who holds American citizenship in connection with waves of threats to Jewish institutions, including community centers in the United States, law enforcement officials said. A spokesman for the police here, Micky Rosenfeld, said the suspect, from the Ashkelon area of southern Israel, had also made threats to institutions in Australia and New Zealand, as well as to at least one commercial airline flight, forcing an emergency landing.... Thursday's arrest appeared to be a turning point after months of investigation and waves of turmoil and panic as Jewish community centers across the United States reported more than 100 bomb threats since the beginning of the year.... It was not immediately clear how many of the calls investigators had traced to the teenager." -- CW

*****

Vikram Dodd, et al., of the Guardian: "Five people died after a single terrorist attacked Westminster, stabbing a police officer to death as he tried to storm parliament, and killing three members of the public as he careered through the heart of the capital in a 4x4 vehicle. The attacker was among those killed and at least 40 other civilians were wounded in the first mass casualty terrorist attack on Britain in over a decade. The Commons and Lords were locked down for several hours because of fears of further attacks.... People fled for their lives as a Hyundai 4x4 driven by the terrorist at about 2.40pm indiscriminately ran into people on Westminster Bridge. The use of the vehicle to attack civilians was a direct copy of an Islamic State tactic used previously with murderous effect in Nice and Berlin. The vehicle then careered off the road on to pavement a few metres away from Big Ben and the attacker tried to storm parliament armed with a knife.... The Met's head of counter-terrorism, Mark Rowley, said the motivation of the attacker was assumed to be 'Islamist related' and he had tried to enter parliament but had been stopped." -- CW ...

... Laura Spark-Smith, et al., of CNN: "... Prime Minister Theresa May revealed the attacker was British born and once investigated for extremism. May told MPs that the attacker was known to police, but did not identify him. She said he was a 'peripheral figure.'" -- CW ...

... Karla Adam, et al., of the Washington Post: "British police have arrested eight people in their ongoing investigation into an attack 'inspired by international terrorism' in central London that left four dead and dozens injured. The police have said they believe they knew who the attacker was, but have not yet revealed his name. But they did say they searched six locations, including in Birmingham and London." -- CW ...

... The Guardian's liveblog is here. ...

... Sam Levin of the Guardian: "Donald Trump Jr is facing a backlash for criticizing London mayor Sadiq Khan with a scornful tweet sent hours after an attack at the Houses of Parliament left five dead.... The US president's eldest son tweeted a link to a September 2016 story in the Independent, which quoted Khan saying terror attacks were 'part and parcel of living in a big city', and 'I want to be reassured that every single agency and individual involved in protecting our city has the resources and expertise they need to respond in the event that London is attacked.' 'You have to be kidding me?!' Trump Jr tweeted, quoting the headline: 'Terror attacks are part of living in big city, says London Mayor Sadiq Khan'.... Khan’s actual response to the attack on Wednesday ... was: 'Londoners will never be cowed by terrorism.'... Later on Wednesday Trump Jr wrote in an email to the New York Times: 'I'm not going to comment on every tweet I send.'" ...

     ... CW: Somehow I have a feeling that if Khan's name were, say, Boris Johnson, Junior would not have attacked him with an out-of-context citation. As Ken W. wrote in yesterday's thread, "For some reason the word 'chip' comes to mind." Thanks to Gloria for the link.


"I'm President and You're Not." Time: "President Trump spoke with Time Washington Bureau Chief Michael Scherer on March 22 for a cover story about the way he has handled truth and falsehood in his career. [Here] is a transcript of the exchange, with some minor edits. The transcript does not include requests he made of his staff during the interview, or a comment he made after asking to go off the record." CW: I didn't read what Trump said, because I'm not all that interested in reading his lies about lies. ...

    ... Louis Nelson of Politico provides context for Trump's claims in the raw Scherer interview. -- CW ...

     ... UPDATE: Here's Scherer's cover piece. -- CW ...

... Graydon Carter of Vanity Fair: "It can reasonably be said that our dear leader is now the most ridiculed man on the planet. In fact, he may well be the most ridiculed man in history. For a preening narcissist who takes himself terribly seriously, being the butt of the joke heard round the world has got to hurt.... Trump may be a joke, but the chaos and destructive forces around him are not.... The self-lauded Trump brand may well wind up as toxic as the once self-lauded brand of another New York-Palm Beach family: the Madoffs."...

     ... CW: Quite a good read. Besides the substance, there are passages like this: "Besides, vintage Trump is not going anywhere anytime soon. A couple of weeks earlier, during a visit by the Japanese prime minister, Shinzō Abe, the president told an acquaintance that he was obsessed with the translator's breasts -- although he expressed this in his own, fragrant fashion."


** The Russia Connection, Ctd. Today's Bombshell Report. Pamela Brown
, et al., of CNN: "The FBI has information that indicates associates of ...Donald Trump communicated with suspected Russian operatives to possibly coordinate the release of information damaging to Hillary Clinton's campaign, US officials told CNN. This is partly what FBI Director James Comey was referring to when he made a bombshell announcement Monday before Congress that the FBI is investigating the Trump campaign's ties to Russia, according to one source. The FBI is now reviewing that information, which includes human intelligence, travel, business and phone records and accounts of in-person meetings, according to those U.S. officials.... Officials cautioned that the information was not conclusive and that the investigation is ongoing. In his statement on Monday Comey said the FBI began looking into possible coordination between Trump campaign associates and suspected Russian operatives because the bureau had gathered 'a credible allegation of wrongdoing or reasonable basis to believe an American may be acting as an agent of a foreign power.'" -- CW ...

... Juan Cole: "... the evidence trail leading to Russia is getting deeper and the Trump administration has no idea what to do about it." -- CW ...

     ... Alex Shephard of the New Republic: "While [the CNN report] is a very big deal indeed, the report is thin on actual details and heavily caveated.... Even a vague report like this is a very bad omen for the future of the Trump presidency. At the very least, it's hard not to see this leak as being retaliation for Nunes's weird and unethical freelancing earlier in the day [see links to reports on Nunes below]. Russia is, as Nunes put it, 'a big gray cloud' over the administration. This report only makes that cloud bigger and grayer." -- CW ...

... Stephanie Kirchgaessner of the Guardian: "Wilbur Ross, the Trump administration's new commerce secretary, presided over a deal with a Russian businessman with ties to Vladimir Putin while serving in his previous role as vice-chairman of the Bank of Cyprus. The transaction raises questions about Ross's tenure at the Cypriot bank and his ties to politically connected Russian oligarchs.... In 2015, while he served as vice-chairman of the Bank of Cyprus, the bank's Russia-based businesses were sold to a Russian banker and consultant, Artem Avetisyan, who had ties to both the Russian president and Russia's largest bank, Sberbank. At the time, Sberbank was under US and EU sanctions following Russia's annexation of Crimea. Avetisyan had earlier been selected by Putin to head a new business branch of the Russian president's strategic initiative agency, which was tasked with improving business and government ties." -- CW ...

... David Graham of the Atlantic: "Adam Schiff, the ranking Democrat on the House intelligence committee, said MSNBC Wednesday afternoon that there is evidence that is 'not circumstantial' of collusion between the Trump campaign and the Russian government.... As Wednesday draws to a close, the top Republican and Democrat on the committee investigating Russian collusion have erupted into a round of bitter recriminations." -- CW ...

... Kevin Drum: "Meanwhile, Devin Nunes is pretending to be shocked that the NSA does stuff that everyone on the planet knows the NSA does. I can only assume he was hoping to distract everyone from what's really going on, the way Trump does with his tweets. But Trump is a master, and Nunes is apparently an idiot. His attempt at misdirection was so barefaced and hamhanded that he probably just made things worse." -- CW ...

... CW: But hey, guess what the NYT & the WashPo decided should be among their top stories:

... Greg Miller, et al., of the Washington Post: "The chairman of the House Intelligence Committee on Wednesday accused U.S. spy agencies of abusing their surveillance powers by gathering and sharing information about President Trump and his transition team, an unproven charge that was quickly embraced by the White House but threatened to derail the committee's investigation of possible Trump campaign ties to Russia. Rep. Devin Nunes (R-Calif.), one of Trump's closest allies on Capitol Hill, said he was alarmed after seeing intelligence reports disseminated after the Nov. 8 election that made references to U.S. citizens affiliated with Trump, and possibly the president-elect himself. He appeared to be referring to relatively routine cases of surveillance on foreign individuals in which they communicated with or mentioned Americans.... Nunes's refusal to disclose how he had obtained the documents and his unusual handling of the material -- which he withheld from other committee members even while rushing to present it to the White House -- were interpreted by some as a sign that his discovery was engineered to help the White House.... Nunes's White House visit was denounced by Democrats as a partisan move that severely damaged the prospects of the committee carrying out an impartial probe. Rep. Adam B. Schiff (D-Calif.), the ranking Democrat on the House Intelligence Committee, said that Nunes's action 'casts quite a profound cloud over our ability to do the work,' and he called for the formation of an independent commission." -- CW ...

... Matthew Rosenberg, et al., of the New York Times: "... on Wednesday, [President] Trump got an assist from a powerful House Republican who said the president or his closest associates may have been 'incidentally' swept up in foreign surveillance by American spy agencies. Representative Devin Nunes of California, the Republican chairman of the House Intelligence Committee, introduced the new claim into the deepening controversy over Russian meddling in the 2016 election. Yet Mr. Nunes also told reporters on Wednesday that he had no evidence to support Mr. Trump's claim that he was directly or personally wiretapped. Democrats quickly denounced the disclosure and said it bolstered the need for an independent investigation to replace the House inquiry being led by Mr. Nunes. Mr. Trump responded positively to Mr. Nunes's remarks. 'I very much appreciated the fact that they found what they found,' the president told reporters at the White House, evidently referring to sources Mr. Nunes said he would not name. Mr. Trump said he felt vindicated, up to a point. 'I somewhat do,' he said." -- CW ...

... Paulina Ferozi of the Hill: "White House director of social media Dan Scavino blasted Sen. Jeff Flake (R-Ariz.) in a tweet late Wednesday night, calling the Republican senator a 'hater.' Citing reports that Flake was 'troubled' by the Wednesday actions of House Intelligence Chairman Devin Nunes (R-Calif.), Scavino tweeted, 'Is hater Jeff Flake a Republican?'" -- CW ...

... The Russia Connection, Ctd. Jeff Horwitz & Chad Day of the AP: "... Donald Trump's former campaign chairman, Paul Manafort, secretly worked for a Russian billionaire to advance the interests of Russian President Vladimir Putin a decade ago and proposed an ambitious political strategy to undermine anti-Russian opposition across former Soviet republics, The Associated Press has learned. The work appears to contradict assertions by the Trump administration and Manafort himself that he never worked for Russian interests. Manafort proposed in a confidential strategy plan as early as June 2005 that he would influence politics, business dealings and news coverage inside the United States, Europe and the former Soviet republics to benefit the Putin government, even as U.S.-Russia relations under Republican President George W. Bush grew worse.... In a statement to the AP, Manafort confirmed that he worked for [Russian aluminum magnate Oleg] Deripaska in various countries but said the work was being unfairly cast as 'inappropriate or nefarious' as part of a 'smear campaign.'" -- CW (Also linked yesterday.) ...

... Aidan Quigley of Politico: "... Sean Spicer attacked former President Bill Clinton and former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton in response to a report raising concerns about former Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort's connections to Russia. 'So an individual ... who worked with a Russian entity a decade ago is subject to rampant media speculation all day long, even though the Clintons had more extensive ties,' Spicer said, as he attempted to characterize a double standard. Manafort had allegedly designed a plan to advance the interests for Russian President Vladimir Putin and undermine anti-Russian opposition in Eastern Europe while working for a Russian billionaire, the Associated Press reported on Wednesday. Spicer cited a deal he said the United States made when Clinton was secretary of state that gave Russia one-fifth of the U.S. uranium reserve. He said after this deal was made, former president Clinton gave a paid speech to a bank connected with the deal, for which Putin called and thanked him for. He also said Tony Podesta, a Clinton campaign fundraiser and brother of Clinton campaign chairman John Podesta, lobbied against sanctions for Russia's largest bank last year. He also said John Podesta sat on the board of a Russia-based energy company." -- CW ...

... MEANWHILE, Spicey doesn't know if Trump hired any Russian spies, but he can assure us that if there are foreign spies running around the White House, they filled out their paperwork. ...

... Nicholas Kristof: "I've been speaking to intelligence experts, Americans and foreigners alike, and they mostly (but not entirely) believe there was Trump-Russia cooperation of some kind.... I'm also told (not by a Democrat!) that there's a persuasive piece of intelligence on ties between Russia and a member of the Trump team that isn't yet public. The most likely scenario for collusion seems fuzzier and less transactional than many Democrats anticipate.... The Russians for years had influence over Donald Trump because of their investments with him, and he was by nature inclined to admire Vladimir Putin as a strongman ruler. Meanwhile, Trump had in his orbit a number of people with Moscow ties, including Paul Manafort, who practically bleeds borscht." -- CW ...

... Tom Hamburger of the Washington Post: "The White House on Wednesday sought to again distance itself from President Trump's former campaign chairman, Paul Manafort, who is under increasing scrutiny over his connections to Russian business interests. But even as Trump officials downplay Manafort's role, his decade-long business associate Rick Gates remains entrenched in the president's operation. Gates is one of four people leading a Trump-blessed group that defends the president's agenda. As recently as last week, he was at the White House to meet with officials as part of that work. Through Manafort, Gates is tied to many of the same business titans from Ukraine and Russia, including Oleg Deripaska, a Russian oligarch with strong ties to Russian President Vladimir Putin." -- CW ...

... Daniel Kurtz-Phelan in New York: "In an important sense, Putin has already won ... [by] discrediting American democracy at home and hobbling American leadership abroad. Already, the Trump administration has remained conspicuously silent on matters of human rights and democracy. It has proposed a budget that would destroy the instruments of American diplomacy that Putin fears and despises most.... It has started gratuitous spats with two of America's closest allies, worked to undermine the European Union, and called into question the American commitment to NATO, with Secretary of State Rex Tillerson making the unprecedented decision to skip the first major alliance meeting of his tenure. It has launched a public attack on the intelligence agencies that the government will have to rely on in a moment of crisis. Most of all, the scandal around Russian meddling has presented a vivid picture of American democracy in disarray -- and never more so than during Monday's hearings. Republican committee members ranted about the leaks that had brought conspicuous lies by members of Trump's team to public attention and had little to say about the lies themselves -- or the idea that a foreign power tried to turn an American presidential election." -- CW

Jim Fallows of the Atlantic: "Something has happened to every new president, and something will happen to Donald Trump. It is inevitable. And when that something occurs, it is also inevitable that his administration will need to say, Trust us on this.... The inevitability of this moment, when a new president says Trust me, is why so many veteran officials have warned about Donald Trump's habit of incessantly telling instantly disprovable lies.... If an administration will lie about facts where the contradictory evidence is in plain sight, how can we possibly believe them on anything else?... After what he has said about crowd size, about wiretapping, about birtherism, about what James Comey was testifying (even as the rest of the world could watch it on TV), no sane person can assume that Donald Trump is operating in that same realm of knowable fact. The instant skepticism about the laptop ban is the first case showing why that matters: He needs us to trust him, and we can't." ...

     ... CW BYT: Fallows has much more on the (Muslim) laptop ban, with links to a number of stories that explore it.

It's All About Donald. Darren Samuelsohn of Politico: "... Trump has been especially good news for the industries in which he has a personal interest: real estate, construction, entertainment, hospitality, gambling and, of course, golf. Since taking office in January, Trump has made moves -- from rolling back water quality permits to signaling big changes on overtime pay and internet betting -- that benefit the fields he knows best. And his former peers -- partners and competitors alike -- are finding familiar faces in Trump's White House and Cabinet agencies, who have the power to make even more of their wish lists come true. High on Trump's list of early executive orders was one signed in February that begins reversing an Obama-era rule that gave federal protection to rivers, streams and wetlands -- a big win for golf course owners and superintendents...." -- CW

What a Dummy. Dana Milbank: "Seeking and winning the presidency has been a magical voyage of discovery for Donald Trump. Tuesday night, he divulged a most remarkable finding: Abraham Lincoln was -- are you sitting down for this? -- a Republican. 'Most people don't even know he was a Republican,' Trump told a group of Republicans. 'Right? Does anyone know? A lot of people don't know that.'... Beyond this Lincoln revelation, Trump has happened upon many other things that people didn't know. Such as the complexity of health care: 'Nobody knew health care could be so complicated,' he said recently. And the existence of abolitionist Frederick Douglass, who died in 1895: 'Frederick Douglass is an example of somebody who's done an amazing job and is being recognized more and more, I notice.' Later, touring the new African American history museum in Washington, Trump discovered that slavery was bad." Read on for more amazing Trump discoveries. -- CW ...

From the Trump-Doesn't-Know-He's-a-Public-Figure File. Ashley Cullins of the Hollywood Reporter: "Lucy, the 17-year-old behind kittenfeed.com, tells The Hollywood Reporter she's received a cease and desist letter [from an attorney for the Trump Organization] over the site -- which allows users to virtually scratch at four photos of Trump's head using a cat's paws. The website launched in February, and within its first few weeks only had about 1,200 visitors.... The San Francisco-based teen developed the site for fun while applying for web developer jobs. The original domain name was trumpscratch.com, but she changed it after receiving a March 1 cease and desist letter from The Trump Organization. The letter claims her site infringed on the 'internationally known and famous' Trump trademark. She says she received another letter after the domain name change because her site still linked to an anti-Trump shirt that is available for purchase on Amazon. Lucy removed that link, and hasn't heard anything from the campaign since." Thanks to Akhilleus for the lead. CW: This is bullying a kid, pure and simple. "Trumpscratch" is not a trademark violation any more than is a headline that reads "Trump wins presidential election." Neither is linking to another site, no matter what the content of that site. Everything about Trump is disgusting.

Drew Harwell & Amy Brittain of the Washington Post: "The U.S. Secret Service requested $60 million in additional funding for the next year, offering the most precise estimate yet of the escalating costs for travel and protection resulting from the unusually complicated lifestyle of the Trump family, according to internal agency documents reviewed by The Washington Post. Nearly half of the additional money, $26.8 million, would pay to protect President Trump's family and private home in New York's Trump Tower, the documents show, while $33 million would be spent on travel costs incurred by 'the president, vice president and other visiting heads of state.'" -- CW (Also linked yesterday afternoon.) ...

... Alex Johnson & Kristen Welker of NBC News: "In what could have been its easiest arrest ever, the Secret Service found a woman dangling by her shoelaces from the White House fence after she tried to jump it Tuesday night, authorities said Wednesday. Marci Anderson Wahl, of Everett, Washington, pleaded not guilty and was released on a misdemeanor charge of unlawful entry Wednesday in D.C. Superior Court, according to court records." CW: Just another dimwit who doesn't belong in the White House.

Annals of "Journalism," Ha Ha Ha. Don't Steal This Book. Dylan Byers of CNN: "... Donald Trump had a private dinner with NBC News senior political analyst Mark Halperin last week, sources with knowledge of the meeting told CNNMoney. The dinner, which took place in the White House residence, came as Halperin and his co-author John Heilemann are at work on a book about Trump and the 2016 campaign. The sources also said President Trump has given senior advisers the go-ahead to speak with Halperin for the book.... The Washington Post's Dana Milbank has called Halperin a 'lap dog' for ignoring 'that much of what Trump has done is a threat to democratic institutions,' while The Daily Beast faulted him for 'soft coverage of Trump' after he asked 'truly laughable questions' in an interview." -- CW

Cornering Rex. Matthew Pennington of the AP: "The head of NATO said Wednesday he is certain a semiannual meeting of the alliance's foreign ministers can be rescheduled so Secretary of State Rex Tillerson can attend. U.S. officials said this week that Tillerson was planning to skip next month's meeting in Brussels. Shortly after, he plans to visit Moscow. The decisions led some European officials to worry about the Trump administration's commitment to the alliance. NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg told The Associated Press in an interview that he met with Tillerson Wednesday and they agreed to have their staffs work out an alternative schedule that works for all 28 members of the security alliance." -- CW ...

... Dedicated Public Servants, Trump Edition. Pranshu Rathi of the International Business Times, via Rawstory: "Rex Tillerson did not want the job of secretary of state and was convinced to take up the mantle on the insistence of his wife, he said, according to an interview published in an Independent Journal Review (IJR), the only media outlet that was given access to Tillerson during his recent Asia trip.... 'I didn't want this job. I didn't seek this job,' Tillerson said in an IJR interview conducted on his official plane during the three-nation Asia trip. When asked why he had accepted the job, he replied saying that his wife (Renda St. Clair) 'told me I'm supposed to do this.'" --safari

Yamiche Alcindor of the New York Times: "President Trump's second pick to lead the Labor Department told senators on Wednesday that he would not allow partisan political considerations or conservative ideologues to shape his department, pushing back against accusations by Democrats that he had looked away as subordinates at the Justice Department stacked his office with ideological allies during the George W. Bush administration. R. Alexander Acosta, the nominee for labor secretary, also defended his decision as the United States attorney in Southern Florida to offer a lenient plea deal to a wealthy New Yorker accused of paying underage girls for sexual acts.... Senator Patty Murray of Washington, the ranking Democrat on the committee..., and other Democrats pointed to a 2008 report by the Justice Department's in-house investigator, which found that under Mr. Acosta his office had violated federal law and department policies by weighing political affiliations in hiring and assessing employees.... Mr. Acosta had a lengthy discussion with Senator Tim Kaine, Democrat of Virginia, on what critics said was the lenient plea deal given to Jeffrey E. Epstein, a wealthy financier accused of paying underage girls for sexual massages. Mr. Acosta defended the deal and said it was offered based on the evidence. Mr. Epstein, he noted, was required to register as a sex offender. Mr. Acosta also seemed to question Mr. Trump's proposal to cut the Labor Department's budget by 21 percent, saying he opposed across-the-board cuts as well as targeting specific programs." -- CW

Lachlan Markay of the Daily Beast: Mike Flynn, "the White House's former top national security official, did not sign an ethics pledge ostensibly required of all Trump administration appointees barring them from ethically questionable lobbying activities, The Daily Beast has learned.... The pledge, imposed by executive order a week after ... Donald Trump took office, bars all federal appointees from lobbying their former colleagues for five years after leaving the administration and bans them from lobbying on behalf of foreign governments for life.... 'Gen. Flynn never had the opportunity to sign Trump's ethics pledge, but he plans to abide by its terms, [Flynn's spokesman] told The Daily Beast." -- CW (Also linked yesterday afternoon.)


Adam Liptak & Matt Flegenheimer
of the New York Times: "In his final day of questioning at his Supreme Court confirmation hearings, Judge Neil M. Gorsuch continued to answer with practiced generalities on Wednesday, frustrating Democrats who seemed unable to rattle him or pin him down.... After trying over a span of 20 hours over two days, Democrats were not able to move Judge Gorsuch off script. Instead, interest in the hearing seemed to wane, and many in the Capitol came to view a confirmation as inevitable.... Most Supreme Court nominees are fairly reticent, but Democrats said Judge Gorsuch outdid the last two Republican appointees, Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr. and Justice Samuel A. Alito Jr." -- CW ...

... Robert Barnes, et al., of the Washington Post: "Democratic senators pressed Judge Neil Gorsuch Wednesday to explain his views on issues such as the Constitution's 'emoluments clause' and the notion of 'high crimes and misdemeanors,' questions designed to more aggressively probe his independence from President Trump. Gorsuch ... declined to answer several questions from Sen. Patrick J. Leahy (D-Vt.) on legal concepts Trump's critics have accused the president of violating." -- CW (Also linked yesterday.) ...

... Adam Liptak, et al., of the New York Times are live-updating the Gorsuch confirmation hearings. "Judge Neil M. Gorsuch faced tough questions from Senator Dianne Feinstein about his role in approving harsh interrogation techniques during his time as a lawyer in the administration of President George W. Bush." -- CW (Also linked yesterday afternoon.) ...

... "While Gorsuch Was Testifying, the Supreme Court Unanimously Said He Was Wrong." Ian Millhiser of Think Progress: "About 40 minutes after Supreme Court nominee Neil Gorsuch began his second day of testimony before the Senate Judiciary Committee, all eight of the justices he hopes to join said a major disability decision Gorsuch wrote in 2008 was wrong. Both the Supreme Court's decision and Gorsuch's 2008 opinion involved the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA), which requires that public school systems which take certain federal funds provide a 'free appropriate public education' to certain students with disabilities.... Shortly after the Supreme Court's Endrew F. decision came down, Sen. Dick Durbin (D-IL) asked Gorsuch about his now-discredited decision. Gorsuch defended his approach in Luke P., claiming that he was 'bound by circuit precedent.' But Gorsuch is not correct." Thanks to James S. for the link. ...

     ... CW: This is the second instance I've seen in which Gorsuch added a word (or two) to the central tenet of a prior decision to (1) change its meaning, then to (2) claim he was bound by the precedent set by the (now altered) decision in the first case. Thus, he sort of gaslights prior decisions -- "It's what they said" -- to arrive at opinions that fit his ideology. Most of us have been on the receiving end (and some of us on the giving end) of a twisted-words argument; it's unfair and, if you're the receiver, infuriating. Now think of a Supreme Court "justice" who does this out of habit to arrive at opinions that affects thousands or millions of lives, perhaps forever. ...

... E.J. Dionne: "With a shrewdly calculated innocence, Judge Neil Gorsuch told a big fat lie at his confirmation hearing on Tuesday. Because it was a lie everyone expected, nobody called it that. 'There's no such thing as a Republican judge or a Democratic* judge, Gorsuch said. Gorsuch, the amiable veteran of many Republican campaigns, is well-placed to know how serious a fib that was. As Sen. Al Franken (D-Minn.) noted, President Trump's nominee for Merrick Garland's Supreme Court seat actually received a citation for helping win confirmation for Republican-appointed judges." ...

     * As Akhilleus noted in yesterday's thread, Gorsuch did not say "Democratic judge"; he said "Democrat judge." Using "Democrat" as an adjective is a ubiquitous Republican pejorative. ...

     ... Justin Bank of FactCheck.org (Dec. 2007): "In August 2006, Hendrik Hertzberg traced this Republican usage, which he termed a 'slur' on his party, back to the 1940s. He says it was used by opponents to needle the powerful Pendergast organization in Kansas City, which backed Harry Truman. He also says it was used often by the late Sen. Joseph McCarthy." --CW


Mike DeBonis
, et al., of the Washington Post: "The Republican health-care overhaul spearheaded by House Speaker Paul D. Ryan (Wis.) and backed by President Trump hung in the balance Wednesday, as the White House signaled at the 11th hour a willingness to rework the measure to mollify conservatives. After insisting for weeks that the changes sought by hard-right members would render the bill unable to pass the Senate, White House officials and GOP House leaders appeared to shift their thinking — and opponents agreed to keep working on a deal with the goal of holding a floor vote in the House by Thursday night. Rep. Mark Meadows (R-N.C.), chairman of the conservative House Freedom Caucus, said he had taken personal calls Wednesday from Trump seeking a resolution, although he said no formal offer had been extended by the White House." -- CW ...

... Peter Sullivan & Scott Wong of the Hill: "Freedom Caucus Chairman Mark Meadows (R-N.C.) said Wednesday night he and President Trump have come to an 'agreement in principle' on a plan to repeal and replace ObamaCare, just one day before a historic House vote on the bill.... The round-the-clock negotiations between the White House, Speaker Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) and the ultraconservative Freedom Caucus have centered on adding to the bill a repeal of ObamaCare's 'essential health benefits,' as well as other insurance regulations in Title I of the existing health law. But those changes have now alienated some centrist Republicans.... After [a Wednesday night] meeting [with House leadership], one of the leaders of the centrist Tuesday Group, Rep. Charlie Dent (R-Pa.), announced he was opposed to the legislation, warning that the bill would cause too many Americans to lose insurance coverage." -- CW ...

... Jennifer Steinhauer of the New York Times: "Speaker Paul D. Ryan said Wednesday that he was confident the House would pass the [healthcare destruction] bill. But as of late Wednesday, roughly 30 Republicans had said they either would vote against the measure or had not made up their minds. That left the bill's sponsors short of the 216 votes needed, and on Wednesday night Mr. Ryan scheduled a meeting in the Capitol to try to win over skeptics." -- CW ...

... Ezra Klein: If the bill doesn't pass, "a major reason will be that President Trump's closing argument was weak. As my colleague Andrew Prokop noted, Trump's final pitch 'doesn’t include anything even remotely resembling an affirmative case for the actual bill House Republicans have to vote on.' This may be because Trump doesn’t actually understand the bill they're voting on. But lacking a persuasive case to make on the merits, Trump has defaulted to an unpersuasive case on the politics.... Trump has been telling Republicans that they’ll have 'a political problem' if they don't pass the AHCA. 'Many of you will lose in 2018' if the bill fails, he said. At times, he's resorted to explicit threats -- 'I'm gonna come after you,' he told Rep. Mark Meadows.... The American Health Care Act isn't Obamacare, of course — but the particular ways in which it is not Obamacare look worse, not better, for Republicans." -- CW ...

... Koch Boys to Spend Millions to Kill off Poor People. Theodore Schleifer of CNN: "In a last-minute effort to sink the Republican health care bill, a powerful network of conservative donors said Wednesday it would create a new fund for Republican 2018 reelection races -- but they'll only open it up to GOPers who vote against the bill. The advocacy groups helmed by Charles and David Koch have unveiled a new pool of money for advertisements, field programs and mailings that would exclude those who vote for the health care bill they oppose on Thursday. The effort, which they described as worth millions of dollars, is an explicit warning to on-the-fence Republicans from one of the most influential players in electoral politics not to cross them.The Koch-aligned networks oppose the bill because they think it does not do enough to scale back former President Barack Obama's health care policies." -- CW ...

... What's the Problem? DonTCare/CAHCA Already Gives a Fabulous Break to Kochs, Trump, et al. Dylan Matthews of Vox: "The typical family making less than $10,000 will lose $1,420 if the Republican health care plan passes, a cut that amounts to almost one-third of their income. Meanwhile, the average family making $200,000 or more would gain $5,640, according to a new analysis from the Tax Policy Center and the Urban Institute's Health Policy Center.... People making more than $1 million a year would get an average tax cut of $51,410." CW: From my quick scan of the report, the researchers don't calculate the tax benefits going to billionaires like the Kochs & Trump, but it's probably fair to assume they would receive far in excess of $50K. Yet that's not good enough for these greedy bastards. ...

... Christina Cauterucci of Slate: "On Monday night, Paul Ryan attempted to lure more of his far-right Republican compadres on board with the GOP&'s proposed health care plan with a set of changes to the bill. The so-called 'manager's amendment' makes the American Health Care Act a significantly more conservative proposal that would mean severe cuts to coverage for the poorest Americans. The worst provision in the manager's amendment is a Medicaid work requirement that would allow states to revoke Medicaid coverage from new mothers who haven't found a job within two months after giving birth.... Cutting off health benefits from a mother in the first several weeks of her infant's life sets both the mother and the infant up for a cascading set of impediments to physical and financial health." -- CW ...

... Paul Waldman: "... when it comes to compassion, the only question the GOP argues about is precisely how little of it they want to display. With complete control of the federal government, Republicans are being as cruel as they want to be. And oh boy, do they want to be cruel.... Beneath [their] proposals ... is a particular view of poor people, one that drips with contempt. It sees them not as those who have had hard lives or encountered some bad luck or who could use help, but people who are fundamentally lazy and trying to scam the system.... And the White House is eager to help; its proposed budget would slash nearly every program in sight that actually helps people.... All this is accompanied, of course, by the Republicans' eternal desire to cut taxes on the wealthy." -- CW ...

     ... CW: My favorites are Republicans like U.S. Rep. Roger Marshall (Kansas), an OB-GYN, who abuse Biblical passages to "justify" their efforts to stiff the poor. Marshall used Matthew 26:11, where Jesus says, "The poor will always be with us" to argue that "the Medicaid population" didn't really want to be healthy or to have healthcare insurance. "... the full quotation from Deuteronomy," as Matthew Loftus writes in the linked story, "that Jesus is citing here goes on to say that because there will always be poor people in the land, the Israelites should always be generous and open-handed with their neighbors."

Tuesday
Mar212017

The Commentariat -- March 22, 2017

Drew Harwell & Amy Brittain of the Washington Post: "The U.S. Secret Service requested $60 million in additional funding for the next year, offering the most precise estimate yet of the escalating costs for travel and protection resulting from the unusually complicated lifestyle of the Trump family, according to internal agency documents reviewed by The Washington Post. Nearly half of the additional money, $26.8 million, would pay to protect President Trump's family and private home in New York's Trump Tower, the documents show, while $33 million would be spent on travel costs incurred by 'the president, vice president and other visiting heads of state.'" -- CW

The Russia Connection, Ctd. Jeff Horwitz & Chad Day of the AP: "... Donald Trump's former campaign chairman, Paul Manafort, secretly worked for a Russian billionaire to advance the interests of Russian President Vladimir Putin a decade ago and proposed an ambitious political strategy to undermine anti-Russian opposition across former Soviet republics, The Associated Press has learned. The work appears to contradict assertions by the Trump administration and Manafort himself that he never worked for Russian interests. Manafort proposed in a confidential strategy plan as early as June 2005 that he would influence politics, business dealings and news coverage inside the United States, Europe and the former Soviet republics to benefit the Putin government, even as U.S.-Russia relations under Republican President George W. Bush grew worse.... In a statement to the AP, Manafort confirmed that he worked for [Russian aluminum magnate Oleg] Deripaska in various countries but said the work was being unfairly cast as 'inappropriate or nefarious' as part of a 'smear campaign.'" -- CW

Lachlan Markay of the Daily Beast: Mike Flynn, "the White House's former top national security official, did not sign an ethics pledge ostensibly required of all Trump administration appointees barring them from ethically questionable lobbying activities, The Daily Beast has learned.... The pledge, imposed by executive order a week after ... Donald Trump took office, bars all federal appointees from lobbying their former colleagues for five years after leaving the administration and bans them from lobbying on behalf of foreign governments for life.... 'Gen. Flynn never had the opportunity to sign Trump's ethics pledge, but he plans to abide by its terms, [Flynn's spokesman] told The Daily Beast." -- CW

Robert Barnes, et al., of the Washington Post: "Democratic senators pressed Judge Neil Gorsuch Wednesday to explain his views on issues such as the Constitution's 'emoluments clause' and the notion of 'high crimes and misdemeanors,' questions designed to more aggressively probe his independence from President Trump. Gorsuch ... declined to answer several questions from Sen. Patrick J. Leahy (D-Vt.) on legal concepts Trump's critics have accused the president of violating." -- CW ...

... Adam Liptak, et al., of the New York Times are live-updating the Gorsuch confirmation hearings. "Judge Neil M. Gorsuch faced tough questions from Senator Dianne Feinstein about his role in approving harsh interrogation techniques during his time as a lawyer in the administration of President George W. Bush." -- CW

Karla Adam & Rick Noack of the Washington Post: "An alleged assailant was shot by police outside Britain's Parliament compound Wednesday, a lawmaker said, placing the building on lockdown in what authorities initially treated as a 'terrorist incident.' Full details of the incident were not immediately clear. Separately, a car struck pedestrians at a nearby bridge, leading investigators to explore whether it was part of a coordinated action." -- CW ...

... The Guardian is updating developments here. -- CW

*****

The New York Times has posted a new story by Steve Eder & Ben Protess on "the Turkish Trump," linked below.

Thomas Kaplan & Robert Pear of the New York Times: "President Trump offered a closing argument on Tuesday to on-the-fence lawmakers, warning House Republicans that they risked losing re-election next year if they failed to get behind legislation to repeal and replace the Affordable Care Act.... Mr. Trump also singled out Representative Mark Meadows, Republican of North Carolina and the chairman of the House Freedom Caucus, a group of conservatives that has resisted the House plan. [Rep. Harold] Rogers [Ky.] said Mr. Trump told Mr. Meadows that he was coming after him. The president 'was kidding around -- I think,' Mr. Rogers said.... 'He made it very clear he's all-in on this legislation,' said Representative Kevin Brady, the Texas Republican who is chairman of the Ways and Means Committee.... On the eve of Mr. Trump's visit to Capitol Hill, House leaders released a set of revisions to their bill, including a provision sought by Republicans from upstate New York that would shift CW ...

... Shane Goldmacher of Politico: "Donald Trump didn't have to issue his threat seriously -- 'I'm gonna come after you,' he said jokingly Tuesday to a ringleader of House GOP hard-liners opposing his health care bill -- to be taken seriously by the 200 Republicans gathered in the Capitol basement. For a president with a penchant for vengeance -- who named 'an eye for an eye' as his favorite biblical passage, who banned media outlets from campaign events when he didn't approve of their coverage, who after the election ousted a GOP state chairman whom he viewed as disloyal, who just last week reminded a GOP governor who hadn't endorsed him that 'I never forget' -- the roll-call vote on the Republican health care plan, expected Thursday, will be the first accounting of who's with him and who's against him on Capitol Hill.... The president may be ideologically flexible, even to the point of disinterest, on the particulars of the health care legislation. But Trump's been clear and consistent about one message: He wants it done." -- CW ...

... Mike DeBonis, et al., of the Washington Post: "... more than two dozen GOP lawmakers remained firmly opposed to the legislation amid the high-stakes persuasion campaign led by Trump and House Speaker Paul D. Ryan (R-Wis.) -- more than enough to block the bill ahead of a planned Thursday vote.... The holdouts are mainly hard-line conservatives who believe the bill ... does not do nearly enough to undo the Affordable Care Act passed by Democrats in 2010. But they also include moderates who fear the bill will imperil their constituents, and their party's prospects at the ballot box.... Several Republicans privately said Tuesday that the Thursday vote could be postponed if leaders are unable to secure enough firm votes for passage beforehand." -- CW ...

... Jonathan Chait: "President Trump can barely muster any enthusiasm at all for the bill. His public defenses are vague and grudging, and he is reportedly even less keen in private. 'He is tired of seeing it criticized on TV,' one source tells Politico. What fires up Trump's passion is not the bill itself, but the prospect of winning. 'A loss is not acceptable, folks,' he reportedly told a caucus meeting. Rather than advocate for the alleged benefits of the bill -- if anybody even alleges them any more -- Republicans have staked their case on a series of reasons unrelated to its direct effects on the health-care system: 1. They promised.... 2. Losing will embolden our enemies.... 3. But think of the tax cuts!... 4. We'll lose Congress if we fail." -- CW ...

... Scott Lemieux in LG&$: "And you have to admit [ Trump's] political analysis is pretty shrewd: "'If we get this done, and tax reform, he believes we pick up 10 seats in the Senate and we add to our majority in the House,' said Rep. Chris Collins (R-N.Y.), the first member of Congress who endorsed Trump's presidential bid. 'If we don't get it done, we lose the House and the Senate.'" Sure, seems plausible that passing a massively unpopular bill will be worth +10 in the Senate for the in party." -- CW: Unfortunately, the boys in the clown car are completely unaware that von Clownstick is just talking out of his (tinfoil) hat.

The Most Irresponsible U.S. President in History. Coral Davenport of the New York Times: "President Trump is poised in the coming days to announce his plans to dismantle the centerpiece of President Barack Obama's climate change legacy, while also gutting several smaller but significant policies aimed at curbing global warming. The moves are intended to send an unmistakable signal to the nation and the world that Mr. Trump intends to follow through on his campaign vows to rip apart every element of what the president has called Mr. Obama's 'stupid' policies to address climate change. The timing and exact form of the announcement remain unsettled, however." -- CW...

...Joe Romm of ThinkProgress: "Gallup reported this week that President Donald Trump's disapproval rating have hit a record high of 58 percent. Those who approve of the job Trump is doing hit a record low of 37 percent. Meanwhile, Gallup reported a few days earlier that more Americans than ever 'are concerned about global warming, believe it is occurring, consider it a serious threat, and say it is caused by human activity.'.... The number of Americans who worried a 'great deal' about global warming was up 8 percentage points to 45 percent  -- an all-time high." --safari...

...Joe Romm: "The premise of President Donald Trump's plan to kill the Environmental Protection Agency's carbon pollution standards is that restricting CO2 hurts the economy. But Trump's oft-repeated claim that EPA standards kill jobs is bogus. 'Global energy-related carbon dioxide emissions were flat for a third straight year in 2016 even as the global economy grew,' the International Energy Agency reported Friday, 'signaling a continuing decoupling of emissions and economic activity.' In fact, while CO2 emissions were flat, the global economy grew 3.1 percent." --safari ...

     ... CW: I think Trump's original campaign slogan was "America First, Kill the Planet Second." Some MadMan must have nixed it.

Glenn Thrush of the New York Times: "Hours after Mr. Trump's nominee for the Supreme Court declared during Senate confirmation hearings that he was 'disheartened' about Mr. Trump's unrestrained attacks on the judicial branch, the president was at it again, calling out the federal judges who have halted his second executive order banning travel from certain predominantly Muslim nations. 'Somebody said I should not criticize judges. O.K. I'll criticize judges,' Mr. Trump said on Tuesday night at a fund-raising dinner for the National Republican Congressional Committee -- reiterating his pique at a federal court judge in Hawaii who last week placed a stay on his second travel order." -- CW

NEW. "The Turkish Trump." Steve Eder & Ben Protess of the New York Times: The Trump Organization, "now largely run by Mr. Trump's eldest sons, Eric and Donald Jr., has been pursuing a downtown Dallas hotel project with a real estate firm that has deep Turkish roots.... An examination by The New York Times ... found that Alterra Worldwide, the real estate firm that would own the hotel and be partners with the Trumps, has business ties in Russia, Kazakhstan and at least two dozen other countries. Ordinarily, such international experience would be a selling point for the firm, but it is a complicating factor when dealing with Mr. Trump's company, where concerns already have been raised internally about some of Alterra's foreign connections.... [Yusuf Sarimsakci, the] ... brother and longtime business partner [of Alterra's president, Mukemmel Sarimsakci,] has helped oversee numerous developments around the world, including the Ritz-Carlton in Moscow near the Kremlin, the hotel where Mr. Trump stayed in 2013 while his Miss Universe pageant came to town." CW: So maybe Yusef there was the guy who installed the videocams in Trump's suite. As you read the story, you'll see that Mukemmel has nearly as much difficulty telling the truth as Trump does.

Andrew Kaczynski of CNN: "A local news station in Louisville, Kentucky, announced on air Monday that the White House made it clear prior to an interview that ... Donald Trump wouldn't answer questions on Russia or wiretapping. WDRB interviewed the President after his event in Louisville on Monday evening." -- CW

Susan Rice in a Washington Post op-ed: "Last week, the British intelligence agency GCHQ took the rare step of debunking as 'utterly ridiculous' the Trump administration's insinuation that Britain spied on Donald Trump during the 2016 campaign. On Monday, FBI Director James B. Comey testified plainly that 'I have no information that supports' President Trump's accusations that his predecessor ordered the 'wires tapped' at Trump Tower. These false statements from the White House are part of a disturbing pattern of behavior that poses real and potentially profound dangers to U.S. national security. The foundation of the United States' unrivaled global leadership ... is ... grounded in the perception that the United States is steady, rational and fact-based. To lead effectively, the United States must maintain respect and trust. So, when a White House deliberately dissembles and serially contorts the facts, its actions pose a serious risk to America's global leadership, among friends and adversaries alike." -- CW ...

... Will Bredderman of the New York Observer: "GOP Congressman Peter King of Long Island called upon ... Donald Trump to rescind his recent social media assertions that former President Barack Obama bugged his phone lines during last year's election cycle -- warning that a failure to recant the comments could badly shake American confidence in the veracity of their commander-in-chief's word, and create a dangerous situation in the event of a actual national security disaster." CW: The New York Observer is owned by Jared Kushner's family trust. Jared, who was the paper's publisher, transferred ownership to the family when he became an adviser to Trump. ...

... "Fake President." Tom Boggioni of the Raw Story: "In an unusually harsh piece in the Wall Street Journal published Tuesday night, the conservative paper equated Donald Trump's obsession with the idea that he was wiretapped by ex-President Barack Obama to a drunk with 'an empty gin bottle.' According to the Journal, Trump is in danger of becoming a 'Fake president,' due to his promotion of what turns out to be 'fake news,' seriously damaging his credibility." ... safari/CW ...

... Ryan Lizza of the New Yorker: "... the top people around Trump may have no idea how much exposure the President has on the issue of Russian collusion. Two hours after [a] White House official confidently predicted Comey would vindicate the Administration, Comey did the opposite...." -- CW ...

... Leah McElrath of Shareblue: "Donald Trump and the GOP repeatedly declared that Hillary Clinton should not be president because of an FBI investigation into her email practices. Now that James Comey has revealed an investigation exists into the possibility of collusion between Trump's campaign and the Russian government, we should hold the Trump administration and the GOP to their words that an FBI investigation into a president is a disqualifying event.... Through January 2017, Trump said Clinton should not have even been able to run because of the FBI investigation: 'What are Hillary Clinton's people complaining about with respect to the F.B.I. Based on the information they had she should never... -- Donald J. Trump January 13, 2017... ... have been allowed to run -- guilty as hell. They were VERY nice to her. She lost because she campaigned in the wrong states -- no enthusiasm!'" Emphasis added. See also Chuck Schumer's remarks on the Senate floor re: the confirmation of Neil Gorsuch, linked story & embedded video below. -- CW ...

... Brian Ross & Matthew Mosk of ABC News: "There, indeed, was an FBI wiretap involving Russians at Trump Tower. But it was not placed at the behest of Barack Obama, and the target was not the Trump campaign of 2016. For two years ending in 2013, the FBI had a court-approved warrant to eavesdrop on a sophisticated Russian organized crime money-laundering network that operated out of unit 63A in Trump Tower in New York.... The Trump building was home to one of the top men in the alleged ring, Vadim Trincher, who pleaded guilty to racketeering and received a five-year prison term.... Seven months after [an] April 2013 indictment and after Interpol issued a red notice for [Alimzhan] Tokhtakhounov, he appeared near Donald Trump in the VIP section of the Miss Universe pageant in Moscow.... Some of the Russian mafia figures worked out of unit 63A in the iconic skyscraper -- just three floors below Trump's penthouse residence -- running what prosecutors called an 'international money-laundering, sports gambling and extortion ring.'" -- CW ...

... Steve M. has much more on the Russian mobsters running their ops out of Trump Tower (and elsewhere). Hmmm. And Preet Bharara, whom Jeff Sessions just fired, was the U.S. attorney who filed the indictment against the mobsters. ...

... Josh Marshall: "When you start piecing together the Trump story, basically everywhere you look, whether it's residents in his Trump-branded buildings, or his business associates or investors in his projects, Trump is - there's simply no other way to put it - tied up with it not just Russians but in many cases Russians tied to the criminal underworld and money laundering.... [Trump] is a guy who almost lost everything and then clawed his way back with a lot of pretty unsavory money. Look at Trump, any of his business partnerships and really anything else and you keep finding Russians with tons of money and frequent attention from the FBI." -- CW ...

... Dylan Byers of CNN: "Sean Spicer ... has lost his credibility. This week, White House reporters and journalists who had previously defended Spicer's credibility ... said Spicer had sacrificed that credibility by insinuating that former President Obama had used British intelligence to spy on Trump, and by stating that Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort had a 'very limited role' in Trump's campaign. 'He's venturing into Baghdad Bob territory,' one White House reporter said, referring to the Saddam Hussein spokesperson known for his vociferous denials of what to everyone else was reality. These reporters join a chorus of critics ... who have previously told CNN that Spicer sacrificed his credibility at his first briefing, when he made the demonstrably false claim that Trump's inauguration audience was 'the largest audience to witness an inauguration' both 'in person and around the globe.'... On Monday, Spicer shred whatever credibility he may have had left with his remark about Manafort.... Spicer's claim was not spin. It was a falsehood. And Spicer knew it was a falsehood when he said it, because he had previously acknowledged that Manafort was 'in charge' of Trump's campaign." -- CW

Trump's Traitors. Jeff Horowitz and Chad Day 0of the AP: "President Donald Trump's former campaign chairman, Paul Manafort, secretly worked for a Russian billionaire to advance the interests of Russian President Vladimir Putin a decade ago and proposed an ambitious political strategy to undermine anti-Russian opposition across former Soviet republics, The Associated Press has learned. The work appears to contradict assertions by the Trump administration and Manafort himself that he never worked for Russian interests. Manafort proposed in a confidential strategy plan as early as June 2005 that he would influence politics, business dealings and news coverage inside the United States, Europe and the former Soviet republics to benefit the Putin government, even as U.S.-Russia relations under Republican President George W. Bush grew worse...Manafort's plans were laid out in documents obtained by the AP that included strategy memoranda and records showing international wire transfers for millions of dollars. How much work Manafort performed under the contract was unclear." Read on. --safari...

...Peter Stone & Greg Gordon of McClatchy News: "Federal investigators are examining whether far-right news sites played any role last year in a Russian cyber operation that dramatically widened the reach of news stories -- some fictional -- that favored Donald Trump’s presidential bid, two people familiar with the inquiry say. Operatives for Russia appear to have strategically timed the computer commands, known as 'bots,' to blitz social media with links to the pro-Trump stories at times when the billionaire businessman was on the defensive in his race against Democrat Hillary Clinton, these sources said. The bots' end products were largely millions of Twitter and Facebook posts carrying links to stories on conservative internet sites such as Breitbart News and InfoWars, as well as on the Kremlin-backed RT News and Sputnik News, the sources said.... Investigators examining the bot attacks are exploring whether the far-right news operations took any actions to assist Russia's operatives." --safari...

...Rachel Maddow has more crucial info. on the impending Information Warfare. --safari

 

Marc Fisher of the Washington Post: "President Trump called Jeffrey Epstein a 'terrific guy' back in 2002, saying that 'he's a lot of fun to be with. It is even said that he likes beautiful women as much as I do, and many of them are on the younger side.' Now, Trump is on the witness list in a Florida court battle over how federal prosecutors handled allegations that Epstein, 64, sexually abused more han 40 minor girls, most of them between the ages of 13 and 17. The lawsuit questions why Trump's nominee for labor secretary, former Miami U.S. attorney Alexander Acosta, whose confirmation hearing is scheduled to begin Wednesday, cut a non-prosecution deal with Epstein a decade ago rather than pursuing a federal indictment that Acosta's staff had advocated.... Federal prosecutors detailed their findings in an 82-page prosecution memo and a 53-page indictment, but Epstein was never indicted. In 2007, Acosta signed a non-prosecution deal in which he agreed not to pursue federal charges against Epstein or four women who the government said procured girls for him. In exchange, Epstein agreed to plead guilty to a solicitation charge in state court, accept a 13-month sentence, register as a sex offender and pay restitution to the victims identified in the federal investigation.... But Epstein's unusually light punishment -- he was facing up to a life sentence had he been convicted on federal charges -- has raised questions about how Acosta handled the case.... Trump banned Epstein from his Mar-a-Lago Club in Palm Beach 'because Epstein sexually assaulted an underage girl at the club,' Bradley Edwards, an attorney who represents three of the young women, said in court documents." CW: Should be an uplifting confirmation hearing. ...

... Julia Horowitz of CNN: "President Trump's first pick to lead the Labor Department was forced to bail last month. Now he's lost his old job, too. CKE Restaurants, which owns the Hardee's and Carl's Jr. fast food chains, announced Tuesday that KFC executive Jason Marker will replace Andrew Puzder as chief executive in April.... It's not clear whether Puzder will get a golden parachute." Puzder claimed his ouster was all part of his "plan for succession," but if that's so, it appears he kept his spokesman in the dark about it. CW: Too bad he wont' have to take one of those low-wage jobs at Hardee's to make ends meet, then get "automated out" into the street.

Greg Stohr & Laura Litvan of Bloomberg: "U.S. Supreme Court nominee Neil Gorsuch said Tuesday he wouldn't hesitate to rule against Donald Trump if the law required it. He also told senators he made no promises to Trump about how he would decide any case, even though the president briefly mentioned abortion when the two met.... Gorsuch said he 'would have walked out the door' if Trump had asked him specifically to vote to overturn the Roe v. Wade abortion-rights ruling.... Answering questions in a marathon session Tuesday before the Senate Judiciary Committee, Gorsuch defended his decade-long record on a federal appeals court and vowed to follow the law no matter who is involved in an issue. 'Nobody is above the law in this country, and that includes the president of the United States,' the nominee said as Vermont Democrat Patrick Leahy asked about court review of presidents' national security decisions. Gorsuch refused to say whether he would uphold Trump's ban on travel from six mostly Muslim nations...." ...

     ... CW: Why, Gorsuch appears to be a man possessed of the highest moral principles and he looks like a handsome, graying actor who would play a wise, incorruptible judge on the teevee. (On the latter point, if you were wondering why Trump picked Gorsuch over the others on his list of horribles, there's your answer.) Well, just to be sure, let's check some other reports on how Tuesday's hearing went. ...

What's the largest trout you’ve ever caught? -- Sen. Jeff Flake (R-Ariz.) "questioning" Supreme Court nominee Neil Gorsuch ...

... Robert Barnes & Ed O'Keefe of the Washington Post: "Judge Neil Gorsuch stressed his independence and defended the integrity of the federal judiciary Tuesday as the Senate hearings on his Supreme Court nomination turned on the search for his judicial philosophy and what one senator called 'the elephant in the room' -- President Trump.... The Columbia-Oxford-Harvard graduate employed a homespun tone -- 'gosh,' 'golly' and 'nope' punctuated his answers. Corny dad jokes fell flat, especially with the Democratic senators. They pressed him on abortion, gun rights, privacy and the protracted 2000 presidential campaign recount. As other Supreme Court nominees have, Gorsuch explained that it would be improper to give his views on cases that might come before him or to grade decisions made in the past. He had a tense encounter with Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse (D-R.I.), who sparred with him on issues of campaign finance and 'dark money,' including a $10 million campaign by the group Judicial Crisis Network to advocate for Gorsuch's confirmation.... Republican senators did little more than set Gorsuch up to display an encyclopedic knowledge of the Constitution and Supreme Court precedent, and to allow him to stress his roots as an outdoorsy Westerner." -- CW ...

... Emily Crockett of Vox: "During his confirmation hearing Tuesday... Neil Gorsuch denied allegations by two of his former law students that he made sexist remarks about women in the workplace. A former student said Gorsuch said in a legal ethics class that 'many' women lawyers lie about whether they plan to have children to abuse maternity benefits -- and that their companies should ask about such plans to protect themselves.... Gorsuch ... said that instead he was asking for a show of hands to make the opposite point: that many women are often asked 'inappropriate' questions about their family planning in a professional context." When Sen. Dick Durbin (D-Ill.) asked Gorsuch if he agreed with the EEOC's guidelines that asking a woman about family plans was "pregnancy discrimination," Gorsuch replied, 'Senator, there's a lot of words there." -- CW ...

... CW: See also commentary on the hearing in yesterday's thread. Whitehouse, a former prosecutor, is good. Franken, who is not a lawyer, is just good. I have liked both of these guys for higher office for some time. ...

... Matt Flegenheimer, et al., of the New York Times: "Here are some highlights from Day 2 of the Supreme Court confirmation hearing for Judge Neil M. Gorsuch[.]" -- CW ...

I had a career in identifying absurdity, and it makes me question your judgment. -- Sen. Al Franken, to Judge Gorsuch ...

... Jed Shugerman in Slate: "Gorsuch's opinion in what's known as the 'frozen trucker' case ... demonstrates an arrogant and cold judicial personality. I have read very few modern opinions that were more callously written than Gorsuch's TransAm dissent.... His lack of self-awareness of his theory's flaw [-- his theory being that judges should not show 'Chevron deference' to agency interpretations of law --] plus his acerbic dismissiveness of real-world conflicts are not a good sign that he has the appropriate judicial temperament for the Supreme Court." ...

     ... CW: All you need do is watch Gorsuch's smug non-answers to Franken's questions to know this guy is not qualified to decide whether or not you should choose the red or the blue dress, much less to rule on anything of importance to actual living beings. Jeff Flake should be more concerned about what a cold fish Gorsuch is than about the size of the fish he caught. ...

... Ari Berman of the Nation: "... we know enough about Gorsuch to surmise that he was nominated by Donald Trump to be a smooth-talking advocate on the bench for a far right ideology. He was hand-picked by the Federalist Society and the Heritage Foundation. He has close ties to a conservative billionaire and has praised one of the GOP's most notorious voter suppression advocates. He's criticized liberals for challenging gay marriage bans in the courts. In the Bush Administration, he praised the Guantanamo prison and defended harsh anti-terror policies. As a judge, he joined the Hobby Lobby decision restricting a woman's right to choose and ruled against a truck driver who abandoned his trailer in subzero temperatures after it broke down. He's consistently favored corporate power and corporate influence in the political process. In fact, a review of his opinions suggests he will be more conservative than Roberts and Alito, second only to Justice Thomas. -- CW ...

... New York Times investigative reporter Eric Lipton dives deep into the conservative push to drastically reshape America's court system. Check it out. --safari

... Video embedded yesterday afternoon. Here's a related print story by Lipton and Jeremy Peters print story, dated March 18. -- CW ...

... Dahlia Lithwick of Slate: "Senate Republicans have so mastered the art of outsize umbrage that at Monday's hearing for Judge Merrick Garland Neil Gorsuch, to fill a Supreme Court seat they themselves blocked and obstructed for over a year, the one note of agreement they sounded was an angry one. They are angry that Democrats believe an Obama nominee should have been afforded the courtesy of a hearing and a vote. They are angry that their nominee -- who was picked by the president with promises about how he would vote in abortion and gun cases -- will surely be asked about how he will vote in abortion and gun cases. But mostly they are really just incredibly steamed that Senate Democrats are even a little bit mad. Because anger is sort of the Republicans' thing." -- CW ...

... Garrett Epps of the Atlantic: "Of course, Gorsuch himself did nothing before the election to become a political candidate. But when the White House called him to come for an interview, he came. He accepted a nomination doubly tainted -- by the crude power-play against Garland and by the loud proclamation that a Trump appointee would vote as Trump promised he would." -- CW ...

... Charles Pierce wrote a couple of good posts on Gorsuch, the man and the meaning. -- CW ...

... Elana Schor of Politico: "Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer called for a delay of Supreme Court nominee Neil Gorsuch's confirmation Tuesday given the ongoing FBI investigation into potential collusion between President Donald Trump's campaign and Russian officials. 'You can bet, if the shoe were on the other foot and a Democratic president was under investigation by the FBI, the Republicans would be howling at the moon about filling a Supreme Court seat in such circumstances,' Schumer said on the floor. His call was later echoed by Massachusetts Democratic Sen. Elizabeth Warren.... The emerging Democratic demand is highly unlikely to gain traction with Senate GOP leaders, who are planning a vote on Gorsuch early next month. But the move illustrates Schumer's interest in using the stain of an FBI probe to undercut the rest of Trump's agenda and echoes entreaties by liberal groups that have pressured Democrats to filibuster Gorsuch." -- CW ...

Few Regrets. Trump Voters Still Flat-out Stupid. Eric Plutzer & Michael Berkman of the Washington Post: "Respondents [to a WashPo poll] were presented with the same choices -- Trump, Clinton, Stein, Johnson, someone else, or not vote at all. Of the 339 poll participants who originally voted for Trump, only 12 (3½ percent) said they would do something different." -- CW

Beyond the Beltway

It seems to me that virtually every case of voter fraud I can remember in my lifetime was committed by Democrats. -- Steven Curtis, in a 42-minute segment on his radio show titled "Voter Fraud and Other Democratic Misbehaviors," ca. October 2016 (Thanks to Patrick for the link.) ...

... ** Blair Miller of Denver 7/ABC: "The former chairman of the Colorado Republican Party is charged with forgery and voter fraud for allegedly forging his wife’s mail-in ballot from last year's election, according to court records and sources. Steven Curtis was the chairman of the state party from 1997 to 1999. He was charged Feb. 1 with one count of forgery of a public record, a fifth-degree felony, and an elections mail-in ballot offense, a misdemeanor.... Curtis was most-recently back in the Colorado political spectrum in 2011, when he oversaw the advisory board for the Denver Tea Party Patriots. The Colorado Secretary of State's Office says this is the only voter fraud case that has ended in charges stemming from last year's election." ...

     ... CW: In case you didn't notice, none of the GOP voter suppression laws would have prevented the type of fraud Curtis allegedly committed.

Chris Dixon & Kevin Sack of the New York Times: "Joseph C. Meek Jr., a friend of Dylann S. Roof’s who spent time with him in the weeks before nine people were killed at the Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church here, was sentenced Tuesday to 27 months in prison for hampering and misleading the federal authorities in the aftermath of Mr. Roof's racist massacre.... During a night of drinking and drug use about a week before the shootings, Mr. Roof told Mr. Meek that he wanted to kill black people at a historic African Methodist Episcopal church in Charleston in order to start a race riot, according to F.B.I. summaries of interviews with him. Mr. Meek was concerned enough to hide Mr. Roof's handgun after he fell asleep but later returned it and did not report the threat to law enforcement." -- CW

Way Beyond

BBC: "The British government has announced a cabin baggage ban on laptops on direct passenger flights to the UK from Turkey, Lebanon, Jordan, Egypt, Tunisia and Saudi Arabia. The ban, which also applies to tablets and DVD players, follows a similar US move affecting eight countries.... Any affected device, including e-readers and games consoles, will need to be placed into hold luggage." CW: I didn't get this yesterday, and I don't get it today. What difference does it make to a mad bomber whether he blows up the plane with a bomb in the cabin or with a bomb in the hold? ...

... Kaveh Waddell of the Atlantic interviews security expert Justin Kelley, who says, "... I think this specific ban was driven by specific intelligence that they've gathered." -- CW

Tuesday
Mar212017

Four Guys and a DonTCare Bill

Jonathan Chait's post on the incredible disappearing CAHCA is a must-read:

The most significant development to come out of the last week is that Republicans no longer defend the American Health Care Act. When confronted with the fact that his plan would make counties that supported him far worse off, Trump acknowledged, 'Oh, I know.' Paul Ryan, appearing on Fox News Sunday, echoed Trump. 'We do believe we need to add some additional assistance to people in those older cohorts,' he told Chris Wallace. 'We believe we should have more assistance, and that’s what we are looking at.' Secretary of Health and Human Services Tom Price told CNN, 'This is not the plan.' By 'this,' Price meant the plan that the White House and Republican leadership had claimed as its plan.... So, like every Republican alternative to Obamacare, this one has vaporized upon contact with the real world.

BUT the most revelatory passage is this one:

One Republican member of Congress hilariously stated that he would vote for the plan on the basis of unspecified assurances from Trump to eliminate features that would punish older, poorer Americans. “The President listened to the fact that a 64-year-old person living near the poverty line was going to see their insurance premiums go up from $1700 to $14,600 per year,” said Alabama representative Robert Aderholt. 'The President looked me in the eye and said, "These are my people and I will not let them down. We will fix this for them.’”

You can read Aderholt's full statement, dated March 17, here. It's short.

Chait portrays Aderholt as "hilariously" gullible, and that is true. But Aderholt is still a better representative of the people than are Trump and Ryan and was former Rep. Price. Unlike Trump -- who certainly was dissembling when he told Tucker Carlson he knew the bill was hurting "his people" -- Aderholt took the time to find out at least some of the effects of the bill. And unlike Ryan, who publicly pretended he didn't know what insurance was, and Tom Price, whose feint is to devolve "insurance" into "access to insurance" (or in Ryan-speak, "freedom"), Aderholt was at least concerned that his older constituents would lose their health insurance because they would not be able to afford it under CAHCA/DonTCare. Yo, Tom and Paul, if you can't afford something, you do not have "access" to it and you do not have the "freedom" to choose whether or not to buy it.

Republicans hate government. They hate it because it is a giant insurance policy. Insurance is the central purpose of government and has been since prehistoric times when tribes formed to protect each other from outside enemies and, surely in many cases, to aid individual members of the tribe. Not all of the members were warriors and not all were caregivers or shelter-builders. The warriors and caregivers, etc., provided the tribe's safety net because those were necessary functions to protect themselves and perpetuate the tribe. Today, defense -- the military -- is a form of insurance against outsiders. Regulations and law enforcemnt are forms of insurance against bad actors within. Social services are forms of insurance to see individual members of a society through hard times. Public schools and universities are forms of insurance to help ensure the society continues to thrive in future generations. Ditto public contributions to science and the arts.

During the presidential campaign, Donald Trump promised voters he would not only provide that wide range of public insurance policies to ordinary Americans, he would make that insurance so much better. But everything he has done in office -- everything -- has proved that this was the central lie of his campaign. His real plan clearly was to do the opposite -- the only "help" he has offered is to people like himself: wealthy, selfish, dishonest SOBs. In that regard, he is nothing but a GOP lemming, a reverse Robin Hood, taking from the poor and middle class to give to the rich. I don't know if he does that because he is monumentally stupid and ignorant or because he deeply hates the "losers" in his vaunted "under-educated" base as much as he does people of color and women. It doesn't matter. The whole lot of elected Republicans hates the public insurance that is that government is designed to provide. Republicans' instinct is not to govern but to dismantle government.

Congressional Republicans are scrambling now because the CBO and news reports have exposed their lies about their health insurance "replacement" bill, a bill Ryan said had to be passed without changes. Now, with the bill in jeopardy, he promises to change it to do more for older Americans. Trump, too, has waffled on changes to the bill, initially saying he was behind it as it stood, then promising to renegotiate it in order to buy Congressional votes. Those GOP members of Congress, like Rep. Aderholt, who opposed the bill are waffling, too. We are going to lose ObamaCare. We are going to get DonTCare, and it is going to be terrible. It is going to be terrible because Republicans don't think the government should do the job of protecting its citizens. Republicans, in short, are worse than cavemen.

Monday
Mar202017

The Commentariat -- March 21, 2017

Afternoon Update:

New York Times investigative reporter Eric Lipton dives deep into the conservative push to drastically reshape America's court system. Check it out. --safari

CW: There's a new link below on the smarmy Ms. Betsy under the heading "The Most Unethical Administration Ever, Ctd."

.....

Matt Apuzzo, et al., of the New York Times: "The F.B.I. director, James B. Comey, took the extraordinary step on Monday of announcing that the F.B.I. is investigating whether members of President Trump's campaign colluded with Russia to influence the 2016 election. Mr. Comey's remarks before the House Intelligence Committee created a treacherous political moment for Mr. Trump, who has insisted that 'Russia is fake news' that was cooked up by his political opponents to undermine his presidency. Mr. Comey placed a criminal investigation at the doorstep of the White House and said agents would pursue it 'no matter how long that takes.' Mr. Comey also dismissed Mr. Trump's claim that he was wiretapped by his predecessor during the campaign, a sensational but unfounded accusation that has served as a distraction in the public debate over Russian election interference." -- CW ...

... The Washington Post story, by Ellen Nakashima & others, is here. "Under questioning from the top Democrat on the panel, Rep. Adam Schiff (Calif.), Comey said no president could order such surveillance. He added the Justice Department had asked him to also tell the committee that that agency has no such information, either.... Just hours before the start of the hearing, Trump posted a series of tweets claiming Democrats 'made up' the allegations of Russian contacts in an attempt to discredit the GOP during the presidential campaign. Trump also urged federal investigators to shift their focus to probe disclosures of classified material." The Post has live video of the hearing. -- CW (Also linked yesterday.) ...

... David Leonhardt of the New York Times: "The ninth week of Donald Trump's presidency began with the F.B.I. director calling him a liar.... The current president of the United States ... lies in ways that no American politician ever has before. He has lied about -- among many other things -- Obama's birthplace, John F. Kennedy's assassination, Sept. 11, the Iraq War, ISIS, NATO, military veterans, Mexican immigrants, Muslim immigrants, anti-Semitic attacks, the unemployment rate, the murder rate, the Electoral College, voter fraud and his groping of women.... Trump sets out to deceive people.... Russia's interference in the 2016 presidential campaign was an attack on the United States.... Yet now it has become the subject of an escalating series of lies by the president and the people who work for him[.]... A few hours [after Comey's testimony]..., Sean Spicer went before the cameras and lied about the closeness between Trump and various aides who have documented Russian ties." -- CW ...

"What Investigation? G.O.P. Responds to F.B.I. Inquiry by Changing Subject." Michael Shear of the New York Times: "The headline from Capitol Hill on Monday was bracing: confirmation of a criminal investigation into connections between associates of a sitting president and Russian operatives during a presidential election. But the response from Republicans was almost as striking: During hours of testimony in which James B. Comey, the F.B.I. director, acknowledged the inquiry, they shrugged off its implications and instead offered a coordinated effort to defend President Trump by demanding a focus on leaks to news organizations.... The political strategy appears clear: Republicans are betting that they can deflect attention from the investigation into the president's campaign advisers by insisting that more needs to be done to prevent the leaking of classified material. Again and again on Monday, the president's allies urged Mr. Comey and Adm. Michael S. Rogers, the director of the National Security Agency, to answer for the illegal dissemination of information to reporters." ...

     ... CW: Shear has been faithful to the he-said/she-said school of reporting, so it's striking that even he noticed the GOP feint.

... Adam Schiff laid out non-classified evidence of the relationships between Trump associates and Russian operatives:

... John Cassidy of the New Yorker has more on Comey's responses to Congressional questions. -- CW ...

... Zack Beauchamp of Vox: "Put this all together and two things become clear. First, an unknown number of Trump campaign operatives and Trump-adjacent people were in touch with agents of the Russian government. Second, the Trump camp had no problem with Russian interference in the election, and at times seemed to welcome it. What we don't know is whether there's a connection between those two things -- that is, whether the Trump camp knew about the Russian hack while it was ongoing or worked with the Kremlin to weaponize it." -- CW ...

... Jennifer Williams of Vox: "It's official: Each of ... Donald Trump's claims about President Obama wiretapping him during the presidential election has now been officially debunked, under oath, by FBI Director James Comey and National Security Agency Director Adm. Mike Rogers.... Comey also officially stated on the record that the FBI is in fact currently investigating links between Trump allies and Russia. That directly undercut Trump's longstanding claims that any talk of Russian involvement in the election was a story ginned up by Democrats for political gain or to excuse Hillary Clinton's loss in 2016. Trump repeated that defense this morning just a short time before two of America's top law enforcement and intelligence officials shot it down." -- CW...

...Keepin' 'em Stupid.Aaron Rupar of ThinkProgress: "On Monday morning  --  hours ahead of the House Intelligence Committee hearing where FBI Director James Comey disclosed that President Trump is under FBI investigation -- Trump's favorite morning morning show framed the whole question of Trump's ties to Russia as a nothingburger that American families don't care about. On Tuesday morning, Fox & Friends was back at it, informing viewers who missed a hearing during which we learned that the president is under investigation that they 'didn't miss much.'" --safari...

... Philip Rucker & Ashley Parker of the Washington Post: "On the 60th day of his presidency came the hardest truth for Donald Trump. He was wrong.... Trump did not merely allege that former president Barack Obama ordered surveillance on Trump Tower, of course. He asserted it as fact, and then reasserted it, and then insisted that forthcoming evidence would prove him right.... Questions about Russia have hung over Trump for months, but the president always has dismissed them as 'fake news.' That became much harder Monday after the FBI director proclaimed the Russia probe to be anything but fake.... The Comey episode threatens to damage Trump's credibility not only with voters, but also with lawmakers of his own party.... Furthermore, the FBI's far-reaching Russia investigation shows no sign of concluding soon and is all but certain to remain a distraction for the White House...." -- CW ...

... Glenn Kessler of the Washington Post: "With the House Intelligence Committee on Monday prepared to hold hearings on Russian influence in the 2016 election, the president issued tweets that did not hold up well as the testimony unfolded.... The president's tweets throughout the day were misleading, inaccurate or simply false. The gravity of the disclosures might have called for a more restrained response, as the White House's well of credibility is only so deep. But the president chose another approach -- which clearly backfired, tweet after tweet." -- CW

...Serial liar exposed for his lies, lies again to get debunked live.... Or, likely he's legitimately insane (see today's comments) --safari

... Shane Goldmacher & Matthew Nussbaum of Politico: "The White House tried to downplay Comey’s testimony, as Trump escaped to Louisville[, Kentucky,] for a rally where he won a thunderous reception from an adoring crowd that cared not about whatever had been said on Capitol Hill earlier in the day." CW: Evidently, his handlers thinks the best way to keep the SCROTUS from losing it is to distract him with pretty, shiny things -- like an "adoring crowd." How pathetic is it when even his staff knows the boss can't handle the truth? ...

... Glenn Thrush & Maggie Haberman of the New York Times: "President Trump began Monday as he has started so many other presidential mornings -- by unleashing a blistering Twitter attack on critics who suggested his 2016 campaign colluded with the Russians. By the afternoon the director of the F.B.I., James B. Comey, had systematically demolished his arguments in a remarkable public takedown of a sitting president. Even a close ally of Mr. Trump, Representative Devin Nunes, Republican of California and the House Intelligence Committee chairman, conceded that 'a gray cloud' of suspicion now hung over the White House by the end of the day's hearings.... But it's the obsessiveness and ferocity of Mr. Trump's pushback against the Russian allegations, often untethered from fact or tact, that is making an uncertain situation worse. Mr. Trump's allies have begun to wonder if his need for self-expression, often on social media, will exceed his instinct for self-preservation, with disastrous results both for the president and for a party whose fate is now tightly tied to his." -- CW ...

... Ed Kilgore: "No misadventure for the Trump White House is complete, it seems, without something unintentionally humorous from Press Secretary Sean Spicer that underlines it, tops it, or distracts from it. Today ... reporters peppered Spicer with various names, notably the much-discussed Russophiliac Paul Manafort. Spicer didn’t quite say: 'Manafort? Who is that?' but came close:

I think that when you read a lot of this activity about associates, there is a fine line between people who want to be part of something that they never had an official role and in people who actually played a role in the campaign or transition. Obviously there has been some discussion of Paul Manafort, who played a very limited role for a very limited amount of time.

... Wait, wait, Ed. You haven't heard from Kellyanne yet! Mark Hensch of the Hill: "White House counselor Kellyanne Conway says the real story from FBI Director James Comey's Tuesday testimony is that vote totals were not hacked during last year's election...." CW: How terrible that the mainstream "fake news" reports put this detail way down the page or nowhere at all. Conway blamed "Democrats and many of their friends" for spreading the false story that Russians hacked voter machines.

... Russell Berman of the Atlantic: "'By your announcement today, there is now a cloud that undermines our system,' Representative Michael Turner, an Ohio Republican, pointedly told the FBI director. Under questioning, Comey said that the FBI began the investigation in late July. That disclosure will likely inflame Democratic criticism that Comey chose to publicly discuss the bureau's inquiry into Hillary Clinton's emails during the closing days of the 2016 election but did not reveal it was also investigating the Trump campaign and Russian meddling. Comey's confirmation of an ongoing investigation was just one of several statements that amounted to an extraordinary rebuke of a president who has the power to remove him from office.... Representative Jim Himes of Connecticut [asked] Comey and Rogers about a tweet Trump had sent while they were testifying that asserted, 'The NSA and FBI tell Congress that Russia did not influence electoral process.'... Comey refuted that one, too. 'It certainly wasn't our intention to say that today, because we have no information on that subject,' he said." -- CW ...

... Evan Osnos of the New Yorker: "For the White House, which in recent weeks has urged intelligence and law-enforcement officials to parrot its skepticism about the 'Russian story,' Comey's public acknowledgement of the probe makes it all but impossible to meddle again without risking serious political and legal consequences." CW P.S. Love the grainy B&W photos of Comey & Rogers posted with the New Yorker stories. ...

... Brooke Seipel of the Hill: "The former White House council to Richard Nixon who was charged for helping cover up Watergate says he thinks President Trump's White House is 'in cover-up mode.'... [John] Dean said the White House's decision to distance itself from the testimony signals a 'cover-up.' 'There's just never been any question in my mind about that. I've been inside a cover-up. I know how they look and feel. And every signal they're sending is: "we're covering this thing up",' Dean said. 'Experienced investigators know this. They know how people react when they're being pursued, and this White House is not showing their innocence, they're showing how damn guilty they are, is what we're seeing.'" CW: You might want to watch the Chris Hayes segment that is embedded in Seipel's report. A clip of Dean's 1973 testimony before the Senate Watergate committee sounds just like what we've already seen in the Trump administration. ...

... Gabriel Debenedetti of Politico: "Former top officials for Hillary Clinton's campaign vented their frustration with both FBI Director James Comey and congressional Republicans on Monday as he testified on Capitol Hill." -- CW ...

... Amie Parnes of the Hill: Robbie Mook, "Hillary Clinton's former campaign manager, said Monday that President Trump's campaign aides should be 'prosecuted for treason' if an FBI investigation proves they coordinated with Russia in the presidential campaign." -- CW ...

... Annals of "Journalism," Ctd. Stephen Battaglio of the Los Angeles Times: "Fox News senior judicial analyst Judge Andrew Napolitano is being kept off the air indefinitely amid the controversy over his unverified claims that British intelligence wiretapped Trump Tower at the behest of former President Obama.... Napolitano said on one program that 'Fox News has spoken to intelligence community members who believe that surveillance did occur, that it was done by British intelligence.'... [He made the allegation on-air several times.] 'By bypassing all American intelligence services, Obama would have had access to what he wanted with no Obama administration fingerprints,' Napolitano wrote in a column on FoxNews.com.... People familiar with the situation ... said Napolitano is not expected to be on Fox News Channel any time in the near future." ...

     ... CW: If Fox "News" fires the perps every time Trump repeats one of their lies, there won't be anyone left on-air except Shepard Smith.

Lori Aratani of the Washington Post: "Passengers traveling to the United States from 10 airports in eight Muslim-majority countries will be prohibited from bringing laptops, tablets and other portable electronic devices on board with them when they fly, according to new rules set to go into effect Tuesday. Fliers can still travel with these items, but they must be packed in their checked baggage. The ban will remain in place indefinitely, federal officials said. Senior administration officials said the rules were prompted by 'evaluated intelligence' that terrorists continue to target commercial aviation by 'smuggling explosives in portable electronic devices.' 'Based on this information, Secretary of Homeland Security John Kelly and Transportation Security Administration acting administrator Huban Gowadia have determined it is necessary to enhance security procedures for passengers at certain last-point-of-departure airports to the United States,' officials said late Monday." -- CW

Arshad Mohammed & John Walcott of Reuters: "U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson plans to skip a meeting with NATO foreign ministers next month in order to stay home for a visit by China's president and will go to Russia later in April, U.S. officials said on Monday, disclosing an itinerary that allies may see as giving Moscow priority over them." -- CW

Matt Flegenheimer of the New York Times: "Judge Neil M. Gorsuch presented himself on Monday as a creature of consensus during a sharply partisan Supreme Court confirmation hearing, clouded throughout by the bitter nomination fight that preceded it over the past year. Democrats, seething from the hearing's opening moments, made clear that they would not let the public forget about Judge Merrick B. Garland, President Barack Obama's nominee last year, whom Republicans refused to even consider at a hearing, saying the seat should be filled by the winner of the presidential election. But when it was his turn, Judge Gorsuch reached often for comity during a well-practiced 16-minute speech, insisting that he favored no party above the law and appearing to brace for attacks from critics who have said his rulings tilt toward corporate interests." -- CW ...

... CW P.S. It turns out Gorsuch did not found a fascism club when he was a student at Georgetown Prep, even though his yearbook says he did. That was just a funny, funny joke. ...

... Matt Flegenheimer & others at the NYT report on highlights of the Gorsuch hearing.

The Most Unethical White House Ever, Ctd. Rachel Abrams of the New York Times: "What role Ivanka Trump plays in her father's White House is among the pressing questions at the intersection of politics and business under the Trump administration.... Now, she also works out of a West Wing office and is in the process of getting a security clearance and government-issued devices. To address those concerns, Ms. Trump handed over day-to-day control of her company to her top executive, Abigail Klem, and transferred its assets to a new trust overseen by relatives of her husband. But details of the arrangement, which have not been disclosed, indicate how much power Ms. Trump continues to hold over the brand that bears her name." Abrams reports some of the details. Ivanka can pretty much do what she wants because everything is "voluntary." P.S. The article includes a lovely picture of Ivanka chatting up Angela Merkel during a White House meeting last Friday. -- CW ...

... Annie Karni of Politico: "In everything but name, [Ivanka] Trump is settling in as what appears to be a full-time staffer in her father's administration, with a broad and growing portfolio -- except she is not being sworn in, will hold no official position and is not pocketing a salary, her attorney said. Trump's role, according to her attorney Jamie Gorelick, will be to serve as the president's 'eyes and ears' while providing broad-ranging advice, not just limited to women's empowerment issues. Last week, for instance, Trump raised eyebrows when she was seated next to Angela Merkel for the German chancellor's first official visit to Trump's White House.... Ethics watchdogs immediately questioned whether she is going far enough to eliminate conflicts of interest, especially because she will not be automatically subjected to certain ethics rules while serving as a de facto White House adviser." -- CW ...

... NEW. The Most Unethical Administration Ever, Ctd. Friends with Benefits. Shahien Nasiripour of Bloomberg: "Americans who default on some of their federal student loans are likely to pay more after Education Secretary Betsy DeVos reversed an Obama administration directive limiting some fees.... The reversal [announced last Thursday] is almost certain to hand United Student Aid Funds Inc., the nation's largest guaranty agency, a victory in its two-year legal battle against her department. The fees could translate into an additional $15 million in annual revenue for the company, filings in a related lawsuit suggest. Until Jan. 1, United Student Aid Funds was led by Bill Hansen, who served as Deputy Secretary of Education under President George W. Bush. His son, Taylor Hansen, a former for-profit college lobbyist, was until three days ago one of the few DeVos advisers with professional experience in higher education. The younger Hansen resigned from the Education Department on Friday.... U.S. Senator Elizabeth Warren ... [said]: 'There's no question' that Taylor Hansen's family ties posed a conflict of interest." -- CW

Mike DeBonis of the Washington Post: "House Republican leaders, racing toward a planned Thursday vote on their proposed health-care overhaul, unveiled changes to the legislation late Monday that they think will win over enough members to secure its passage.... Some of the changes unveiled Monday were made to placate conservatives, such as accelerating the expiration of the ACA's taxes and further restricting the federal Medicaid program. But a major push was made to win moderate votes, including a maneuver that House leaders said would allow the Senate to beef up tax credits for older Americans who could see major increases in premiums under the GOP plan.... Opponents of the bill -- Republicans and Democrats alike -- called the deal a sordid giveaway on social media networks Monday night. Many compared it to the state-specific deals that were cut to pass the Affordable Care Act in 2009 and 2010 and panned by Republicans.... Trump is expected to press for the bill's passage in a Tuesday morning meeting with Republican lawmakers." -- CW ...

... Steve M. cites a Politico report that characterizes the Mar-a-Lago CAHCA meetings this last weekend as being conducted by Trump staffers while Trump himself "seem[]ed more interested in discussing other things." Steve: "He's not doing any of the dealmaking at all. The world's greatest dealmaker is leaving the making of deals to others.... He's not making deals because he can't -- he's never bothered to develop a grasp of ordinary politics and he's never bothered to absorb the details of the health care bill he's championing.... Yet whatever happens with the bill, his fans will continue to believe that he's almost supernaturally gifted in this area." CW: So maybe in his meeting today with GOP members of Congress he'll talk about his golf game and how his daughter was a hit with Angela (soft "g") Merkel. The "dealmaking" may consist of promising the fellas a ride on AF1. And, hey, it could work. ...

... Jennifer Haberkorn of Politico: "House Freedom Caucus Chairman Mark Meadows said Monday night that Republican leaders are successfully picking off its members on Obamacare repeal -- a sign that the repeal bill may get enough support on the House floor Thursday. The hard-line conservative coalition won't take an official position against the bill even though they didn't get what it wanted in negotiations, he said. That could make it easier for members to break away. He backed off earlier claims that there would be 40 'no' votes against the repeal effort.... The negotiations for now are over, he said." -- CW ...

... Matt Fuller of the Huffington Post with a quite different take on Meadows' remarks: "As House Republicans scramble for votes on their health care overhaul, GOP leaders are betting that a visit from ... Donald Trump on Tuesday will help close the deal on the legislation ― and House Freedom Caucus leaders are swearing it will not. Freedom Caucus Chairman Mark Meadows (R-N.C.) emerged from the group's weekly meeting late Monday night to tell reporters he was confident House leaders did not have the votes to pass their Affordable Care Act rewrite and that, even with pressure from Trump, conservatives would not waver." -- CW ...

... Shane Goldmacher: "On the precipice of the meatiest legislative fight of his young presidency, Donald Trump is increasingly talking about health care like the vegetables of his agenda -- the thing he must begrudgingly finish in order to get to what he really wants: tax cuts, trade deals and infrastructure. At a rally ... in Louisville, [Kentucky,] Trump time and again framed the passage of a repeal and replacement plan for President Obama's namesake health care law as a necessary step to achieve the rest of his ambitious agenda." CW: Have I mentioned that Trump doesn't give a rat's ass whether or not he lets you die? But tax cuts for himself? That's important. ...

... Besides, Goldmacher's report must be wrong because... Mallory Shelbourne of the Hill: "President Trump's focus is on getting an ObamaCare replacement bill done..., Kellyanne Conway said Tuesday." -- CW

AND, on the lighter side, Lee Moran of the Huffington Post: "Arnold Schwarzenegger took aim at President Donald Trump's low approval ratings on Tuesday as the duo's Twitter beef rumbled on. 'Oh, Donald, the ratings are in, and you got swamped,' the former California governor said in a video he posted online. 'Wow. Now you're in the 30s?' 'But what do you expect?' Schwarzenegger added. 'I mean when you take away after-school programs for children and Meals on Wheels for the poor people, that's not what you call "making America great again." Come on!'" -- CW

Like many of us, Frank Rich has "no sympathy for the hillbilly." Thanks to MAG for the link. He explains himself, in detail. -- CW (Also linked yesterday afternoon.)

Beyond the Beltway

Jessica Elgot of the Guardian: British Prime Minister "Theresa May will trigger article 50, the formal mechanism for starting negotiations for Britain to leave the European Union, on Wednesday 29 March, the prime minister's spokesman has confirmed. The UK's permanent representative to the European Union, Sir Tim Barrow, notified the EU on Monday morning that a letter should be expected on that date. The move will put the UK on course to leave the EU on the same date in 2019." -- CW (Also linked yesterday afternoon.)

Capitalism is Awesome, Ctd. Luke Harding, et al., of the Guardian: "Britain’s high street banks processed nearly $740m from a vast money-laundering operation run by Russian criminals with links to the Russian government and the KGB, the Guardian can reveal. HSBC, the Royal Bank of Scotland, Lloyds, Barclays and Coutts are among 17 banks based in the UK, or with branches here, that are facing questions over what they knew about the international scheme and why they did not turn away suspicious money transfers. Documents seen by the Guardian show that at least $20bn appears to have been moved out of Russia during a four-year period between 2010 and 2014. The true figure could be $80bn, detectives believe. One senior figure involved in the inquiry said the money from Russia was 'obviously either stolen or with criminal origin'. Investigators are still trying to identify some of the wealthy and politically influential Russians behind the operation, known as 'the Global Laundromat'." --safari: With the potential puny fines dwarfing the massive gains, what major bank doesn't launder dirty money, really?

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