Browsing the blog archives for May, 2017.


How Not to Heal the Nation’s Wounds, Kathy Griffin Edition

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Trump Maladministration

Comedian Kathy Griffin posed with what looks like the severed head of Donald Trump. Although some are defending this as “performance art,” I say it was a boneheaded thing to do, and I won’t be sorry if she loses work because of it.

Suggesting violence toward a real, living person is stupid and reckless. “It was just a joke” is no excuse. It was wrong, and not funny, when Ann Coulter said “We need somebody to put rat poisoning in Justice Stevens’ creme brulee.” It was wrong when righties burned President Obama in effigy and erected billboards suggesting he should be lynched.  Stooping to the Right’s level accomplishes nothing.

Here’s a post I wrote back in 2007 about humor as aggression. In it, I wrote that political art should be judged by the point it makes. Is the point true? Or is it just about mocking someone the artist doesn’t like? What point is Griffin making other than “I want Donald Trump dead”? There are copious things about Trump that are worthy of being mocked; why stoop to this?

I don’t like him, either, but I don’t want him dead. I want him investigated; I want his transgressions exposed; I want him out of office. If his maladministration is soundly ridiculed along the way, fine by me. But no, I don’t wish any physical harm to him. Maybe I’ve been a Buddhist for too long, but that’s how I feel.

Adding more hate and aggression into our political discourse accomplishes nothing. Roger Cohen wrote yesterday,

Tens of millions of Trump opponents cannot communicate with tens of millions of his supporters. There is no viable vocabulary. There is no shared reality.

This is the chasm to which Fox News, Republican debunking of reason and science, herd-reinforcing social media algorithms, liberal arrogance, rightist bigotry, and an economy of growing inequality have ushered us.

It’s perhaps the most important problem confronting the United States, because the end point of hardening fracture and mutual incomprehension is violence — like last week’s fatal stabbing of two men by a Muslim-insulting white supremacist on a Portland commuter train.

America is full of enraged people just looking for an excuse to act out their rage. Feeding the rage is irresponsible. Political expression that expresses nothing but hate or a wish for violence is self-indulgent and stupid.

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Trump Scandal Train Is Out of Control

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Trump Maladministration

It’s almost not worth blogging the Trump-Russia scandal, because as soon as I have an angle to blog about a new story comes out that changes things. Watergate oozed along at a snail’s pace; this story moves at light speed.

In more or less reverse order — the most recent headline is that Trump’s personal lawyer has refused requests from both the House and Senate investigations for more information.

President Donald Trump’s longtime ally and personal attorney, Michael Cohen, has refused congressional requests to provide “information and testimony” pertinent to their investigations into Russia’s interference in the 2016 election, ABC News reported Tuesday.

“I declined the invitation to participate as the request was poorly phrased, overly broad and not capable of being answered,” Cohen told ABC via email of the requests for his contacts with Kremlin-linked officials.

Josh Marshall says that the investigators’ interest in Michael Cohen is “very bad news for Donald Trump.”

In simple terms, whatever happened during the 2016 campaign, if I wanted to understand Donald Trump’s ties to Russia, the countries of the former Soviet Union and money from those countries and emigres from those countries, there’s no single person I’d want to look at more closely than Michael Cohen.

Read the article for all the ways Cohen has been a significant link between Trump and Russia. He’ll get a subpoena eventually.

Earlier today, CNN reported that Russians had bragged about owning Trump:

Russian government officials discussed having potentially “derogatory” information about then-presidential candidate Donald Trump and some of his top aides in conversations intercepted by US intelligence during the 2016 election, according to two former intelligence officials and a congressional source.

One source described the information as financial in nature and said the discussion centered on whether the Russians had leverage over Trump’s inner circle. The source said the intercepted communications suggested to US intelligence that Russians believed “they had the ability to influence the administration through the derogatory information.”
Intelligence officials caution that this might be part of a disinformation campaign.
In Jared Kushner news, yesterday the New York Times reported this —

Jared Kushner, the president’s son-in-law and senior adviser, was looking for a direct line to President Vladimir V. Putin of Russia — a search that in mid-December found him in a room with a Russian banker whose financial institution was deeply intertwined with Russian intelligence, and remains under sanction by the United States.

Federal and congressional investigators are now examining what exactly Mr. Kushner and the Russian banker, Sergey N. Gorkov, wanted from each other. The banker is a close associate of Mr. Putin, but he has not been known to play a diplomatic role for the Russian leader. That has raised questions about why he was meeting with Mr. Kushner at a crucial moment in the presidential transition, according to current and former officials familiar with the investigations.

 Last week Matt Yglesias wrote a must-read guide to Jared Kushner’s, um, problems. There’s definitely something there. But not only is Kushner not being relieved of security clearance, we find he gets his own briefings. This may be because the so-called president isn’t able to understand intelligence briefings, even after they’ve been reduced to graphics. ” … there are signs that the president may not be retaining all the intelligence he is presented, fully absorbing its nuance, or respecting the sensitivities of the information and how it was gathered,” WaPo reports.
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Why Does Trump Hate Europe?

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Trump Maladministration

Many could not help but notice how the so-called president was all smiles with the Saudis and all scowls in Europe. Why so nasty with the Europeans?

Notice that Josh Marshall wrote this before the news about Jared Kushner broke yesterday.

President Trump’s visit to Brussels/Europe wasn’t just another grab bag of impulsive aggression and gaffes. It wasn’t scattershot. It was quite clearly focused on destabilizing and perhaps eviscerating the NATO Alliance and somewhat secondarily, but relatedly, the European Union. This has been the strategic goal of Russia and before it the Soviet Union for decades. The sum total of everything that happened on this trip casts the entire Trump/Russia story in a decidedly more ominous light.

And the light was already quite ominous.

This is a significant point, I think:

On virtually every other issue he is almost infinitely malleable and susceptible to blandishments and praise. Except this one. Here he remains fixed on True North.

Remember, we went through the NATO Thing when Angela Merkel allegedly set him straight about his nutty idea that Germany owed NATO dues to the U.S. Trump appeared to soften his anti-NATO position, for a time. This happened just as The Atlantic was publishing a major feature called “Trump’s Plan to End Europe,” by David Frum. The Atlantic added a disclaimer to the article, but frankly, they needn’t have bothered. In Brussels this week Trump gave an ungracious speech, scolding allies for being cheapskates and refusing to explicitly reaffirm Article 5 of NATO’s founding treaty, which states that an attack on any member is an attack on all. Trump is the only U.S. president since NATO was founded who has not clearly stated commitment to Article 5.

Frum pointed out that Trump has surrounded himself with anti-European Union ideologues, such as Steve Bannon.  (I saw a PBS program on Bannon last week. Bannon strikes me as a man of mediocre intellect and with an adolescent’s simplistic view of the world, who has nevertheless set himself up as an “expert” because he is so supremely sure of himself, and because as a white man he gets benefits of doubts. Watching it made me think of the Kevin Klein character from A Fish Called Wanda. Except Bannon isn’t funny.) And that reminded me of something I quoted earlier this week by Josh Marshall:

Trump used a very high profile and public moment to chastise our NATO allies for not paying enough for their own defense and actually owing the US vast sums of money. As I explained below, this is demonstrably false, both in a general and specific sense. Beyond the inaccuracy, Trump’s comments clearly envision a transformed and debilitated NATO, one that is one half protection racket, one half high-dollar membership golf resort. You pay your dues or you’re out. It’s a service, not a commitment.

Trump also declined to pledge his support for Article 5 of the North Atlantic Treaty, the provision that commits all members states – but most importantly the US – to defend members who are attacked. Article 5 isn’t a key part of NATO. It’s the cornerstone. In many respects it is NATO.

Meanwhile, a report in der Spiegel suggests Trump viciously attacked German and its export practices in a meeting of NATO/EU leaders. His team also created confusion among their EU interlocutors by appearing not to understand that EU member states only make trade deals as a group. It’s a bit hard to decipher precisely what was being discussed here. Was this really a misunderstanding or a bullheaded effort to make a point?

See also an article Anne Applebaum wrote back in July 2016:

Russia is clearly participating in the Trump campaign. The theft of material from the Democratic National Committee a few weeks ago was the work of Russian hackers. Russian state media and social media, together with a host of fake websites and Twitter accounts with Russian origins, actively support Trump and are contributing to some of the hysteria on the Internet. I’m not arguing that any of this has been decisive. But whatever resources Putin wagered on Trump, they are paying off.

For even if Trump never becomes president, his candidacy has already achieved two extremely important Russian foreign policy goals: to weaken the moral influence of the United States by undermining its reputation as a stable democracy, and to destroy its power by wrecking its relationships with its allies. Toward these ends, Trump has begun repeating arguments identical to those used on Russian state television. These range from doubts about the sovereignty of Ukraine — earlier this week, Trump’s campaign team helped alter the Republican party platform to remove support for Ukraine — to doubts about U.S. leadership of the democratic world. The United States has its own “mess” to worry about, Trump told the New York Times on Wednesday: It shouldn’t stand up for democracy abroad. In the same interview, he also cast doubt on the fundamental basis of transatlantic stability, NATO’s Article 5 guarantee: If Russia invades, he said, he’d have to think first before defending U.S. allies.

Putin wants Europe undermined. A suspicious person might think Trump is working for Putin.

 

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The Pre-Memorial Day Weekend Trumpbomb

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Trump Maladministration

I swear, I can’t keep up. If I did nothing but post on the latest scandalous thing out of Washington, I couldn’t keep up.’

WaPo reporters Ellen Nakashima, Adam Entous and Greg Miller report that Jared Kushner tried to set up a secret communications backchannel between the Trump transition team and the Kremlin.

It appears that Kushner wanted to block any monitoring of Trump’s activities by U.S. intelligence. Russian intelligence monitoring was, however, okay.

Jared Kushner and Russia’s ambassador to Washington discussed the possibility of setting up a secret and secure communications channel between Trump’s transition team and the Kremlin, using Russian diplomatic facilities in an apparent move to shield their pre-inauguration discussions from monitoring, according to U.S. officials briefed on intelligence reports.

Ambassador Sergey Kislyak reported to his superiors in Moscow that Kushner, son-in-law and confidant to then-President-elect Trump, made the proposal during a meeting on Dec. 1 or 2 at Trump Tower, according to intercepts of Russian communications that were reviewed by U.S. officials. Kislyak said Kushner suggested using Russian diplomatic facilities in the United States for the communications.

The meeting also was attended by Michael Flynn, Trump’s first national security adviser.

Note that Reuters independently came up with the same story.

WaPo also quotes U.S. intelligence officials saying that Kushner’s request “seems extremely naive or absolutely crazy.” Dear little Jared is in way over his head, my dears, as is his father in law.

Intercepts of Russian communications show Ambassador Sergey Kislyak said Kushner suggested setting up the secure backchannel and even proposed using communications equipment in stateside Russian diplomatic facilities, according to the report, which cited anonymous U.S. officials briefed on the intercepts.

Kislyak was taken aback by Kushner’s proposal to use Russian equipment, according to the Washington Post, and reported it to his superiors in Moscow in intercepted communications that U.S. officials later reviewed.

I have disliked Jared Kushner ever since he bought the once-great New York Observer and turned it into a glorified shopper/gossip rag for the Upper East Side. Everything about him screams privilege. Like his father in law, he’s been sheltered from ever learning his own limits.

Amber Phillips writes for WaPo:

Secret back channels. Meeting with the Russians. Forgetting to disclose your meetings with the Russians. (Kushner is just one of several current and former Trump campaign officials who held meetings with the Russians, then forgot to share those meetings.)

If the Trump campaign did not work with Russia to try to influence the election, they certainly had a lot of interactions with the Russians that they didn’t want the U.S. government and/or the public to know about.

Which raises the question: What reason would Kushner have to keep talks secret from the U.S. government, when his father-in-law was a month away from being the head of the U.S. government?

Well, yeah, that sums it up pretty well. Matt Ford and Adam Serwer, in The Atlantic, add.

The potential security implications of Kushner’s reported proposal, experts said, are significant.

“Both Flynn and Kushner are extremely naive if they think a covert communications channel can be set up at Russian diplomatic facilities in the U.S. without the FBI finding out,” said David Gomez, a former FBI agent and a fellow at George Washington University’s Center for Cyber and Homeland Security.

“It is inconceivable that a White House official who had done this, not at the president’s direction, would continue to work there,” said Hennessey. “What happens to Kushner now will be incredibly revealing about the extent to which political accountability and the rule of law continue to apply in the White House.”

In other words, if Kushner isn’t suspended from his position over the weekend … well, I’d be really surprised if he is. The concepts of “integrity” or “honor” or even “covering your ass” seem unknown to Trump and his tribe.

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No Manners, No Class, No Clue

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Trump Maladministration

The so-called president has managed to disgrace us all at the NATO meeting in Brussels, even after the other nations had arranged to dumb it all down to accommodate him.

For example, here is is shoving aside the Prime Minister of Montenegro so he could be on the front row of the group photo.

He refused to schmooze with the other leaders:

But, in truth, these issues were the least of his offenses. He still seems to think the other NATO countries are deadbeats, for example.

Trump used a very high profile and public moment to chastise our NATO allies for not paying enough for their own defense and actually owing the US vast sums of money. As I explained below, this is demonstrably false, both in a general and specific sense. Beyond the inaccuracy, Trump’s comments clearly envision a transformed and debilitated NATO, one that is one half protection racket, one half high-dollar membership golf resort. You pay your dues or you’re out. It’s a service, not a commitment.

Trump also declined to pledge his support for Article 5 of the North Atlantic Treaty, the provision that commits all members states – but most importantly the US – to defend members who are attacked. Article 5 isn’t a key part of NATO. It’s the cornerstone. In many respects it is NATO.

Meanwhile, a report in der Spiegel suggests Trump viciously attacked German and its export practices in a meeting of NATO/EU leaders. His team also created confusion among their EU interlocutors by appearing not to understand that EU member states only make trade deals as a group. It’s a bit hard to decipher precisely what was being discussed here. Was this really a misunderstanding or a bullheaded effort to make a point?

It’s a bullheaded effort to make a point that the Trumpettes don’t understand themselves. But the Trumpettes are hardly in a position to be lecturing anybody.

If NATO allies were nervous about the United States’ commitment to Europe’s security before, they must be fuming now. The NATO summit comes as reports surface that British police are withholding intelligence from the United States after leaks to U.S. media about the Manchester bombing investigation, and weeks after Trump revealed highly classified information to the Russians about operations against the Islamic State. For all of Trump’s fire and fury about the United States getting the raw end of the deal from NATO, from an optics standpoint, it is the United States that is looking like the irresponsible partner.

We learned just a couple of days ago that the so-called president bragged to Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte about two nuclear submarines positioned offshore of North Korea, which of course is now universal knowledge. And now Britain is furious because intelligence photos of the Manchester terrorist attack turned up in the New York Times. Britain believes the Times must have gotten those photos from the White House. The Times isn’t saying what its source was. But Trump has asked the Justice Department to investigate the “alleged” leaks, which I find amusing.

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St. Louis, History, and Confederate Monuments

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American History

Adding to New Orleans’ Mayor Mitch Landrieu’s spot-on speech on Confederate Monuments — There’s a big Confederate monument in St. Louis that the new mayor, a Democrat, wants to take down. And naturally people of St. Louis are arguing about it. I wrote a letter to the editor expressing my, um, anti-Confederate views that the St. Louis Post-Dispatch published a couple of days ago. But the Post-Dispatch word count limit didn’t let me say everything I had to say.

First, regarding St. Louis — Missouri was a state that allowed slavery, and in the 1860 elections “Breckinridge Democrats” won a majority of seats in the statehouse.  However, the state as a whole was not that keen for secession. Claiborne Fox Jackson, elected governor in 1860, ran as an anti-secession candidate and won by a comfortable margin.  But Gov. Jackson was not, in fact, anti-secession.

After he took office in January 1861, Jackson arranged for a state convention to settle the matter of whether the state would secede or remain in the Union; the convention voted for the Union, by a vote of 98-1. Jackson then declared the state would be neutral in any upcoming armed conflict, and after Ft. Sumter he refused to send state militia to Washington, as Lincoln requested.

At some point, Jackson got in touch with Jefferson Davis to plan a military secessionist coup. The first stage of this plan was to use state militia to seize the federal arsenal in St. Louis. Munitions taken by Confederates from a federal arsenal in Baton Rouge — two howitzers, two siege guns, 500 muskets, and ammunition —  were shipped by steamboat to St. Louis for this purpose, sometime about May 1, 1861.

However, the officer in charge of the St. Louis arsenal, Captain Nathaniel Lyon, had been tipped off about the movement of Confederate weapons. Lyon secretly moved most of the rifles and muskets in the arsenal across the river to Alton, Illinois. Then on May 10 he and troops under his command surrounded the militia that had been assembled just outside St. Louis in preparation for the coup. The militia surrendered.  So far, so good.

St. Louis was one of the few parts of Missouri that had voted for Lincoln in 1860, and this was largely because the city had been just about taken over by German immigrants. (These included Adolphus Busch, currently being featured in Budweiser ads, who arrived in 1857; Eberhard Anheuser had arrived in 1842.) The Germans were anti-slavery and pro-Union to the hilt. What we might call the native-born population of St. Louis were of mixed opinions on secession and slavery. But in St. Louis, a lot of pro-secession sentiment was mixed together with anti-German nativism, and there were hard feelings going both ways.

It so happens that Lyon’s troops were mostly German immigrants. As the federal troops marched state militia through St. Louis, secessionists lined the streets, jeering the “Dutch” and throwing rocks and dirt. At some point, somebody fired a gun. And then more people, including the federal troops, fired guns. Several people, mostly civilians, were killed. And several days of violent riots followed. But St. Louis remained a Union stronghold ever after.

On May 11, Gov. Jackson appointed Sterling Price to be Major General of the Missouri State Guard. Officially, Jackson was still posing as “neutral” — neither pro nor anti Union — but he sent dispatches to the Confederacy saying that if Confederates invaded, the Missouri State Guard would help them “liberate” St. Louis.  Missouri Lt. Governor Thomas C. Reynolds actually traveled to Richmond to request an invasion.

By June, Captain Lyon had been promoted to Brigadier General. Lyon marched troops to Jefferson City, the state capit0l, arriving June 13. Jackson and most of the “Breckinridge Democrats” fled to Boonville, Missouri, to continue to try to flip the state to the Confederacy. At one point Jackson actually led state militia against Union troops.

In July, the convention that had voted against secession met again and declared that the governor’s office had been voided. A new governor was appointed. And, in fact, the state government was such a mess that much of the state was under martial law for much of the war, which didn’t turn out well, either. But that’s another story.

Jackson and the renegade state officials met in Neosho, Missouri, in August, and voted an ordinance of secession; shortly after that the Confederacy recognized Missouri as its 12tth state. However, as the enormous majority of the state was under Union control, that gesture was meaningless.

In 1864, Sterling Price led Confederate troops toward St. Louis with the intention to invade it, but he didn’t get very close. The Confederates were stopped near Ironton by troops commanded by Gen. Thomas Ewing, who was General Sherman’s brother in law, and by locals who were what was left of the Ironton militia unit. The latter included some of my kinfolk, according to family lore.

Base of the Confederate Memorial in St. Louis after recent, um, renovation. Reuters photo.

Anyway, all this history rather begs the question of what a Confederate monument is doing in St. Louis.

The monument itself, erected by the Daughters of the Confederacy in 1914, was designed deliberately to be innocuous. It bears no Confederate battle flags or likenesses of famous generals. Instead, under an angel representing “the spirit of the Confederacy” are generic (but heroic!) figures that are supposed to be sending a youth off to war. Whether there were any St. Louis Confederate regiments I do not know, and the monument doesn’t tell us.

(The Missouri Daughters of the Confederacy were big on planting innocuous monuments around the state. There used to be a big, granite rock on the University of Missouri–Columbia campus when I was a student there. The rock bore a plaque dedicating the rock to the Confederacy, courtesy of the Daughters. It was a huge object of contention, and the thing was removed to parts unknown about 1974, a year after I graduated. I doubt that anyone misses it now.)

As far as St. Louis is concerned, a more appropriate monument to the spirit of the Confederacy would have featured a snake hiding in grass, or maybe a weasel. The Missouri Confederates were not a heroic crew, in particular the psychopathic “bushwhackers” such as William Quantrille and “Bloody Bill” Anderson. I notice there are no heroic monuments to those guys.

In 1860, about 114,000 persons were enslaved in Missouri, mostly on farms. I don’t know of any monuments to them, either.

The truth is, the enormous majority of Confederate monuments in the United States have little to do with history. They do not mark a place where any particular thing happened. They don’t teach us anything about the history of The Late Unpleasantness.  They are totems of white supremacy, period.

Even when a monument has some legitimate reason for being, if you look into the monument’s history, white supremacy tends to be lurking there. For example, there’s a statue of Confederate Gen. Thomas “Stonewall” Jackson on the Bull Run/Manassas battlefield, now a national park. The statue occupies the spot where Jackson’s regiment was said to be holding against a Union assault, and some other general is said to have rallied his troops by saying “There stands Jackson like a stone wall.” It’s a bit of actual Americana, in other words, so arguably the monument has some justification for being there. But when the statue was dedicated in 1940, the governor of Virginia actually said that the statue of Jackson honors “one of the greatest soldiers of the Anglo-Saxon race.” Argh.

Some of the people defending the monument in St. Louis argue that it has artistic value. They like looking at it, they say. Fine; they are free to raise money and buy the damn thing, and then they can move it to private property and look at it all they like. I say the same thing about the other Confederate monuments as well, since (again) few of them mark a place where any historical thing happened. There must be a really rich pro-Confederate guy some place who will buy them up and move them to his estate. Maybe he can open a theme park. Just get them off public property.

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Is Jared Kushner the Real Weakest Link?

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Trump Maladministration

Michael Flynn is refusing to honor a Senate subpoena and is pleading the Fifth, a whole lot of news sources are saying. One suspects Flynn is guilty of something. One also suspects the “something” could implicate the Trump Administration.  Trump’s association with Flynn could bring him down, yet. Whatever he’s hiding from the Senate likely will come out eventually. (Do read this Politico piece on Robert Mueller; it will make you feel better.)

However, there’s someone else is the Trump Administration being looked at. There are credible reports that a senior White House adviser close to the so-called president has become a “person of interest” to the Justice Department. And there’s a lot of speculation that PoI is Jared Kushner.

Now WaPo and other sources are reporting that Kushner has kept 90 percent of his real estate holdings, which likely puts him at odds with ethics rules.

Kushner, 36, who is emerging as a singularly powerful figure in the Trump White House, is keeping nearly 90 percent of his vast real estate holdings even after resigning from the family business and pledging a clear divide between his private interests and public duties.

The value of his retained real estate interests is between $132 million and $407 million and could leave him in a position to financially benefit from his family’s business. …

… It is not clear from Kushner’s financial filings whether any of his holdings might intersect with his broad and evolving responsibilities in the White House. This week, Kushner has been close by the president during the administration’s first international trip, with stops in Saudi Arabia, Israel, the Vatican, Belgium and Italy.

Kushner rejected a request by The Washington Post to review his ethics agreement with the White House, which would lay out the topics that he has pledged to avoid because of concerns about conflicts of interest. White House officials have said that it is a long-standing policy for the agreements to remain confidential.

Let’s review some other recent Jared Kushner news —

March 27: Senate Committee to Question Jared Kushner Over Meetings With Russians.

March 28: Russian banker who met with Jared Kushner has ties to Putin

April 6: Kushner Omitted Meeting With Russians on Security Clearance Forms

Given the Kushner family history as a pack of opportunistic grifters, odds are very long that baby-faced Jared couldn’t pass an ethics whiff test in a Chanel No. 5 factory.

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Today’s Trump News: Selling Out Human Rights and Coal Miners

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Trump Maladministration

The news from the tRumpus foreign tour, first stop, Saudi Arabia:

President Trump made a splashy debut on the world stage here Saturday, ushering in a new era in U.S.-Saudi Arabian relations by signing a joint “strategic vision” that includes $110 billion in American arms sales and other new investments that the administration said would bring hundreds of thousands of jobs.

Hundreds of thousands of jobs? That’s a lot of arms sales. But there’s more …

In addition to the security agreements, Jubeir said, U.S. business leaders here at an economic forum designed to coincide with Trump’s visit signed deals potentially worth more than $200 billion over the next 10 years.

Executives from a number of major U.S. companies unveiled investment partnerships with the Saudis, including Blackstone, a private-equity giant that announced a $40 billion infrastructure fund. Stephen A. Schwarzman, Blackstone’s chairman and chief executive, is close to Trump and leads the White House’s economic advisory council of CEO’s.

Jubeir also praised ExxonMobil, the energy behemoth that Tillerson ran until retiring to join the administration, as “the largest investor” in Saudi Arabia.

So this is really about oil? This is from Arab News:

Energy — one of Saudi Arabia’s strongest sectors — witnessed a number of announcements with a combined $22 billion worth of new deals signed during the forum by Saudi and American executives in the oil and gas industry.

A major funding boost for the largest oil refinery in the US was among a number of announcements in refining and petrochemicals signed on Saturday at the forum.

Saudi Aramco-owned Motiva Enterprises announced a landmark investment in the US totaling $12 billion with a likely additional investment of $18 billion by 2023.

It is estimated the deal will create approximately 2,500 additional jobs in the short term and a further 12,000 by 2023.

Announcing the deal at the Saudi-US CEO Forum, Amin Nasser, president and CEO of Saudi Aramco, said: “Today we are investing in long-term job creation and the future of the refining industry in the United States, and we are delivering on Vision 2030 to expand the US-Saudi partnership,” he said. “The message is clear: the longstanding bonds between our two countries are reinforced by both the value and scale of today’s agreement.”

First off, somebody should tell the coal miners in Kentucky and West Virginia that Trump just sold them down the river. In the short term, anyway, this investment promises to be the final nail in the coffin of the coal industry, seems to me. Coal technology won’t be able to compete.

But in the long term — I guess this means we’re not trying to phase out fossil fuels, huh? Wrong move.

I’m not happy about the arms part of the deal, either. Brian Schatz writes at Mother Jones:

As Donald Trump heads to Riyadh today on his first international trip as president, he brings with him a gift: a massive arms deal reportedly worth more than $100 billion for Saudi Arabia. According to Reuters, the deal is specifically being developed to coincide with the visit, where he will meet with Saudi leaders and discuss the war in Yemen. And its success seems to be crucial to the president, whose son-in-law Jared Kushner has personally intervened in the deal’s development. According to the New York Times, earlier this month, in the middle of a meeting with high-level Saudi delegates, Kushner greased the gears by calling Lockheed Martin chief Marilyn A. Hewson and asking her to cut the price on a sophisticated missile defense system.

Yep; Jared Kushner personally intervened to be sure the Arabs could get a better deal. Such a guy.

Other details of the package, though, have been somewhat shrouded in mystery—Congress, which will have to approve any new arms deal, has to yet to be notified of specific offerings—but it is said to include planes, armored vehicles, warships, and, perhaps most notably, precision-guided bombs.

It’s that last detail in particular that is making many in Washington sweat. The Obama administration inked arms deals with the kingdom worth more than $100 billion over two terms, but it changed course in its last months. As Mother Jones has regularly reported, the Saudi-led war against the Houthi armed group in Yemen has been fueled in part by American weapons, intelligence, and aerial refueling, and it has repeatedly hit civilian targets, including schools, marketplaces, weddings, hospitals, and places of worship. Civilian deaths are estimated to have reached 10,000, with 40,000 injured. In response, the Obama White House suspended a sale of precision-guided bombs to the country in December.

In lifting the suspension, Trump essentially is signalling the world that we’re okay with whatever Saudi Arabia does. Trump’s deal is going to face a big fight in the Senate, Brian Schatz writes. Even a number of Republicans have been appalled at what the Saudis have done in Yemen. Some are saying the sale would violate both the Arms Export Control Act and the Foreign Assistance Act, although of course no one in the Trump Administration would care about those things.

See also Trump may be helping to create a famine in Yemen. Congress could stop him.

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Today’s Woopsies

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Trump Maladministration

The so-called president is on his way to foreign places, where he will no doubt say really stupid things and continue to be an embarrassment to the nation. But until that happens, here are some other facepalm-worthy news items.

You remember a few days ago, when the House passed (with much fanfare but no Democratic votes) a health care act that was intended to repeal and replace the Affordable Care Act? And how Republicans, including the so-called president, celebrated and said See? We can accomplish stuff after all! It’s a win!

Well, maybe not. The bill never went to the Senate. It may never go to the Senate. The House may have to do it over.

Bloomberg News:

House Speaker Paul Ryan hasn’t yet sent the bill to the Senate because there’s a chance that parts of it may need to be redone, depending on how the Congressional Budget Office estimates its effects. House leaders want to make sure the bill conforms with Senate rules for reconciliation, a mechanism that allows Senate Republicans to pass the bill with a simple majority.

Republicans had rushed to vote on the health bill so the Senate could get a quick start on it, even before the CBO had finished analyzing a series of last-minute changes. The CBO is expected to release an updated estimate next week.

In order to qualify as a reconciliation bill, a bill has to slice at least $2 billion off the federal budget. Otherwise, it has to go to the Senate as a regular bill, which makes it subject to filibuster.

We’re learning more about this week’s Big Woopsie — Trump’s meeting with Russian officials in the Oval Office. The New York Times has learned that Trump bragged to the Russians that firing FBI Director Comey had taken the pressure off.

“I just fired the head of the F.B.I. He was crazy, a real nut job,” Mr. Trump said, according to the document, which was read to The New York Times by an American official. “I faced great pressure because of Russia. That’s taken off.”

Mr. Trump added, “I’m not under investigation.”

Guess again, sweetums.

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This Could Take Awhile

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Trump Maladministration

At WaPo, on the naming of  Robert S. Mueller as special counsel by Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein:

Rosentein’s order charges Mueller with investigating “any links and/or coordination between the Russian government and individuals associated with the campaign of President Donald Trump,” as well as “any matters that arose or may arise directly from the investigation.” Mueller is also empowered to probe possible attempts to stymie his investigation. That language gives him leeway to interpret his mandate broadly if he chooses. It also might mean he goes after people who leaked classified information related to the bureau’s Russia investigation. He can continue his work however long he wants, and he is broadly “authorized to prosecute federal crimes arising from the investigation.”

— That means this could last for years – potentially through the president’s 2020 reelection campaign.

We can discuss what should happen until we are blue; what’s going to happen is what’s going to happen. The wheels are in motion; the game is afoot; etc. If Mueller is the tough and honest guy everyone says he is, then I trust many things will come to light.  And I suspect those “many things” will go way beyond a mere attempt to interfere with the 2016 election. The election issue is the least of what might have been going on.

Original photo by Evan Guest, flickr.com

 

Here is the latest, from Josh Marshall:

Reuters says that Mike Flynn and other Trump campaign officials were in contact with Russian government officials at least 18 times between April and November of last year.

McClatchy reports that shortly before President Trump’s inauguration, Mike Flynn effectively killed a military operation against ISIS that would have used Kurdish paramilitaries. The plan was later revived after Flynn’s ouster. But his decision delayed it for months. Any US operations with the Kurds would be firmly against the wishes of Turkey. This was while Flynn was working on behalf of the Republic of Turkey as an unregistered foreign agent.

The Timesreports that on January 4th, Flynn notified Trump Transition lawyer and now White House Counsel Donald McGahn that he was being investigated for his undeclared lobbying work on behalf of Turkey.

And that’s just the stuff about Flynn and Turkey. See also Report: Russian bank whose CEO met secretly with Jared Kushner helped finance Trump’s Toronto hotel. And I still say there’s something going on with Trump and the Russian mob.

Josh also says,

Vice President Mike Pence is often portrayed as Trump’s squeaky clean, perhaps goofy second, ready to take over if the avalanche of scandal overwhelms Trump. As I noted earlier this week, this is far from the case. Pence has managed to get implicated in most if not all of the big scandals – that just hasn’t gotten a lot of attention yet.

There’s a lot of arguing that we can’t get rid of Trump because then we’ll end up with President Pence, which could be worse.  I’m inclined to think that if Mueller’s investigation brings Trump down, Pence would go down with him.

But that’s in the event of a standard (if such a thing could be called standard) impeachment process. Trump clearly is not a stable person. And that brings us to the 25th Amendment:

The 25th amendment describes a process by which a president may give away power owing to his or her own disability, and a separate process by which power may be taken from a president owing to disability or inability.

The key players in the second case are the vice-president and the top 15 members of the cabinet. If the former and a majority of the latter decide the president is “unable to discharge the powers and duties of his office”, they submit that information in writing to the House speaker (currently Paul Ryan) and Senate president pro tempore (currently the Utah Republican senator Orrin Hatch) and just like that, the vice-president would be acting president.

The president may challenge such a decision, at which point a two-thirds majority in both chambers of Congress would be required to stop the president from regaining power.

I can easily imagine Republicans in Washington preferring this option to watching both Trump and Pence being ground to bits by endless investigation. And if Trump’s behavior grows increasingly bizarre, as I expect it will, watch out for this. I’m sure the Republican establishment would rather cut Trump off at the knees and have Pence in the White House than endure a Whitewater-type investigation dragging their own party through the mud. The investigations would continue, but much of the heat would be removed from the Republican Party — unless Pence becomes a target, too.

I’d want congressional Dems to block Trump from being removed this way. Don’t let ’em off easy.

The other possibility is that Trump will leave the White House voluntarily, whether horizontally or vertically (someone with his ego is unlikely to be able to face the ignominity of being perpwalked out of the White House). Again, that would not necessarily be the end of  the political fallout.

So, hang on to your butts.

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