Browsing the blog archives for February, 2018.


Trump Is For and Against Arming Teachers

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Trump Maladministration

Over the past several hours Trump have gone through several cycles of recommending school teachers be armed and then denying that he said school teachers should be armed. But sometimes he has made both claims in the same interview, so the “two Trump” theory doesn’t explain this. Split personality?

For example, on CNN yesterday he said this:

“If you had a teacher who was adept with the firearm, they could end the attack very quickly,” he said, stating that schools could arm up to 20% of their teachers to stop “maniacs” who may try and attack them.
“This would be obviously only for people who were very adept at handling a gun, and it would be, it’s called concealed carry, where a teacher would have a concealed gun on them. They’d go for special training and they would be there and you would no longer have a gun-free zone,” Trump said. “Gun-free zone to a maniac — because they’re all cowards — a gun-free zone is ‘let’s go in and let’s attack because bullets aren’t coming back at us.’ “

Most mass shooters commit suicide as soon as police close in, so the idea that fear of being shot might deter them seems … illogical. But let’s go on. After headlines broke out saying that Trump advocated arming teachers, he threw a fit.

That tweet was followed by these:

So now there are headlines all over the place saying that Trump proposed giving teachers guns and also denies proposing giving teachers guns. Yes, this is not leadership.

The “let’s arm teachers” proposal has been Out There for several years, and so far 18 states have acted on it. Educators are solidly against it. Seems to me that keeping loaded firearms in classrooms poses a greater danger to students than school shooters. It’s also the case that if shooters presume the teacher might be armed, teacher would be shot first.

Education groups argue that schools should instead invest in more school resource officers — trained law enforcement officers who can more effectively respond in a crisis. They believe that having guns in a classroom makes that classroom less safe and that having teachers potentially carrying guns will only make a school shooting more confusing for police trying to stop it.

“There is not a schools person I know who would make this case in any credible manner,” said Randi Weingarten, president of the American Federation of Teachers. “Anyone who suggests this has no real understanding of what goes on in schools, or worse doesn’t care, and is more focused on the needs of gun manufacturers and the NRA than of children.”

“You’re asking the teacher to have the presence of mind to not only do what her instincts compel her to do, but then find her loaded handgun and get in position … and be a good enough shot — in the middle of all of this — so that she can be the marksperson who then maims or kills the intruder with the rifle,” Weingarten said. “That may work on a movie, but in real life that is not a situation that most people will — even those who have been trained — will be able to do.”

Yep, pretty much.

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On the Right, the Only Good Shooting Victim Is a Dead Shooting Victim

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The Parkland High School students who are organizing to do something about gun violence are now the victims of a right-wing smear campaign.

David Hogg, a student journalist who interviewed students on lockdown during the shooting, made several TV appearances demanding leaders take action. Another student, Emma Gonzalez, called out the National Rifle Association (NRA) and the legislators who do its bidding. Melissa Falkowski, a teacher at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School, went on CNN calling on Congress to do more to “to end gun violence, to keep our kids safe.” Lori Alhadeff, whose 14-year-old daughter was killed, screamed at President Trump on CNN to “do something.” Student survivors are organizing a march on Washington D.C..

And now, Parkland survivors are targets for fake news campaigns, conspiracy theories, harassment and doxxing. Conspiracy theorist Alex Jones has already suggested that the entire shooting is a false flag, which implies that all of the survivors are actors in an elaborate hoax. As survivors speak up, there are already attempts to attack and discredit them individually.

Survivor David Hogg has been the target of conspiracy theories since he began speaking out. The day after the shooting, one far-right account noted in a since-deleted tweet that Hogg was suspicious for speaking so eloquently.

Yes, in Trumpworld, being able to speak in complete sentences makes you a suspect. Do go to the link and scroll down to see the sick stuff being repeated about these students.

See also:

Former Rep. Jack Kingston (R-GA) has joined a growing far-right smear campaign against the students who survived last week’s massacre in a Parkland, Florida high school. …

…Kingston attacked the students as mere stooges for “left-wing groups who have an agenda” during an appearance on CNN Tuesday morning. Kingston added he believed George Soros was actually orchestrating the students’ activism.

Alex Leary, Tampa Bay Times, “Parkland students come under attack for their outspokenness: Critics begin to question their motives.”

This is just sick. But so usual.

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David Brooks: Still Clueless After All These Years

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Trump Maladministration

David Brooks’s latest column advises us gun control advocates that we’ll make better progress toward enacting gun control laws if we stopped being so mean to gun-rights people.

This has been an emotional week. We greet tragedies like the school shooting in Florida with shock, sadness, mourning and grief that turns into indignation and rage. The anger inevitably gets directed at the N.R.A., those who support gun rights, and the politicians who refuse to do anything while children die.

Many of us walked this emotional path. But we may end up doing more harm than good. If there’s one thing we’ve learned, it is that guns have become a cultural flash point in a nation that is unequal and divided. The people who defend gun rights believe that snobbish elites look down on their morals and want to destroy their culture. If we end up telling such people that they and their guns are despicable, they will just despise us back and dig in their heels.

So if you want to stop school shootings it’s not enough just to vent and march. It’s necessary to let people from Red America lead the way, and to show respect to gun owners at all points. There has to be trust and respect first. Then we can strike a compromise on guns as guns, and not some sacred cross in the culture war.

Like the gun owners of Red America haven’t been having their way at every turn for the past several decades; like the gun owners of Red America haven’t put us all on notice that if we so much as make buying guns the least bit inconvenient they’ll use us for target practice; like the Democratic Party for years pretty much even stopped talking about gun control because they’re afraid of the wrath of the NRA?

Let us take a few moment for group incoherent blubbering.

Update: I just found this at Vox:

Over the past few decades, gun ownership in the US has evolved from a practical issue for rural homeowners and hunters to a kind of gesture of tribal solidarity, an act of defiance toward Obama, the left, and all the changes they represent. The gun lobby has become more hardened and uncompromising, pushing guns into schoolschurches, and universities.

This has taken place in the context of a broader and deeper polarization of the country, as Red America and Blue America have become more ideologically homogeneous and distant from one another. The two sides are now composed of people who quite literally think and feel differently — and are less and less able to communicate. The gun issue is a salient example, but far from the only one.

This suggests that if the status quo on guns in the US is to change, it will be through overwhelming political force, not through evidence and argument. Guns have now ascended to the level of worldview and identity, areas largely beyond the reach of persuasion.

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Manafort May Be the Key

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Jeremy Stahl wrote at Slate:

The Russians appeared to start to develop a deeper sophistication around U.S. politics in the spring and summer of 2016. This coincided with the same brief period that Manafort was in charge of the Trump campaign. The Russian efforts included purchasing political ads for Trump and against Clinton on social media starting in April, staging pro-Trump rallies and false flag “pro-Hillary” events starting in June, and doing the sort of low stakes political dirty tricks that have been a mainstay of the Republican Party for decades.

For his part, former CIA Director John Brennan speculated on Friday that it would emerge that U.S. persons had actively conspired with the Russians. “While some may have been unwitting, I do think that some individuals maybe were knowledgeable about what they were doing and basically strayed from what they should have been doing,” he told MSNBC.

 If you missed Franklin Foer’s profile of Manafort in The Atlantic, do read it. It’s fascinating. This includes some details on Rick Gates, who has been one of Manafort’s sidekicks for several years. Manafort is an amoral sleazebag of the first order who has sucked up a mega-fortune for himself by out-sleazing other sleazebags, and it’s a wonder to me some mobster didn’t put a hit out on him years ago.
Reports that Bob Mueller has pressured Gates to flip on Manafort has upped the ante in the Trump-Russia investigation. The Guardian reports today:
The Guardian reported in December that the FBI asked officials in Cyprus for financial information about FBME, a defunct bank used by wealthy Russians that has been accused of serving as a money launderer by US financial regulators. FBME has denied all allegations of wrongdoing.

Manafort served relatively briefly as Trump’s campaign manager. He resigned from the campaign in August 2016 following media reports that raised questions about his former work as a lobbyist for pro-Kremlin forces. On the day he resigned, Manafort opened a shell company that received $13m in loans from two businesses with ties to Trump, according to media reports.

Manafort also had business ties to Oleg Deripaska, a Russian oligarch who is close to the Russian president, Vladimir Putin.

On Friday, new court documents filed by prosecutors alleged that bail documents submitted by Manafort had revealed new alleged criminal conduct involving bank fraud. Prosecutors said that Manafort had obtained a mortgage on a property using fake profit and loss statements, which overstated his income by millions of dollars.

Obviously, Mueller is squeezing Manafort to flip on Trump, and I’ll bet he’ll succeed. If the Russian mob doesn’t get to him first, anyway.

Trump seems to know the walls are closing in:

President Trump lashed out with fresh anger about the intensifying Russia probe over the weekend, accusing Democrats of enabling a foreign adversary to interfere in the 2016 election and attacking the FBI as well as his own national security adviser.

In a defiant and error-laden tweetstorm that was remarkable even by his own combative standards, Trump stewed aloud about the latest indictments brought by special counsel Robert S. Mueller III against Russians for their elaborate campaign to denigrate the Democratic presidential nominee, Hillary Clinton, and push voters toward Trump.

See also:

President Trump began the weekend believing that something good had just happened to him. An indictment leveled against 13 Russians for interfering with the 2016 election had not accused him or anyone around him of wrongdoing. “No collusion” was his refrain.

But once ensconced at his Florida estate on Friday, Mr. Trump, facing long hours indoors as he avoided breezy rounds of golf after last week’s school shooting a few miles away, began watching TV.

The president’s mood began to darken as it became clearer to him that some commentators were portraying the indictment as nothing for him to celebrate, according to three people with knowledge of his reaction. Those commentators called it proof that he had not won the election on his own, a particularly galling, if not completely accurate, charge for a president long concerned about his legitimacy.

Many people have pointed out that the indictments announced Friday pretty much invalidates the infamous Nunes memo. Jennifer Rubin:

Republicans’ clumsy efforts to attack the FISA warrant for Carter Page or to smear Comey don’t matter. House Intelligence Chairman Devin Nunes’s (R-Calif.) plots and antics and concocted memo are irrelevant. The investigation, at least a good deal of it, rests on facts that are unknown to the House Republicans and are beyond dispute. No Republican is going to stand up to say the indictment is a “hoax” or the allegations against these 13 Russians are “fake.” …

Indeed, Republicans look precisely like the “unwitting” operatives in the indictment who reportedly lent assistance to the Russian operatives. Republicans’ efforts to distract and distort the growing body of evidence make them unwitting (we hope) pawns in the Russians’ efforts to deny their role. (If House Speaker Paul D. Ryan has any political survival skills, now would be a good time for him to yank Nunes off the Intelligence Committee.) And incidentally, Democrats might want to forget about their counter-memo now that the GOP and Nunes have been utterly discredited. They don’t need to stab a corpse.

Trump is so obviously guilty of something that even the terminally clueless Thomas Friedman is connecting the dots:

President Trump is either totally compromised by the Russians or is a towering fool, or both, but either way he has shown himself unwilling or unable to defend America against a Russian campaign to divide and undermine our democracy.

That is, either Trump’s real estate empire has taken large amounts of money from shady oligarchs linked to the Kremlin — so much that they literally own him; or rumors are true that he engaged in sexual misbehavior while he was in Moscow running the Miss Universe contest, which Russian intelligence has on tape and he doesn’t want released; or Trump actually believes Russian President Vladimir Putin when he says he is innocent of intervening in our elections — over the explicit findings of Trump’s own C.I.A., N.S.A. and F.B.I. chiefs.

In sum, Trump is either hiding something so threatening to himself, or he’s criminally incompetent to be commander in chief. It is impossible yet to say which explanation for his behavior is true, but it seems highly likely that one of these scenarios explains Trump’s refusal to respond to Russia’s direct attack on our system — a quiescence that is simply unprecedented for any U.S. president in history. Russia is not our friend. It has acted in a hostile manner. And Trump keeps ignoring it all.

And Manafort could be the key to unraveling the whole mess.  See also “Could Paul Manafort Bring Down the Whole Trump Family” by Bob Dreyfuss, from August 2017.

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Jared and Ivanka Are Buried in Debt

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Let this soak in: Politico reported last week that the debt Jared and Ivanka were carrying on one Visa card dropped from a range of $100,001 to $250,000 down to a range of $50,001 to $100,000. “However, in revisions to the form before it was formally certified by the Office of Government Ethics on Dec. 26, the outstanding debt for the three credit lines was raised to the higher level.”

That’s credit card debt, people. Average interest rates on credit cards is about 15 percent right now, and of course plebians like us pay a lot more, like 20-something percent. People who run up credit card debt like that have financial issues, somehow. Maybe what they call a “cash flow” problem.

This week, we learned that “Jared and Ivanka have gone from cumulative debt of somewhere between $19 million and $98 million to a range of $31 million to $155 million in the last year alone.” And here I would have been telling them they’d better be saving their money, because once the Trump Administration finally goes down their earning opportunities are going to go down with it.

We learned this week that along with his much amended security clearance forms, Jared recently has been correcting his financial disclosure forms.

Jared Kushner quietly filed an addendum to his personal financial disclosure adding even more previously undisclosed business interests in recent weeks — and may have even more to disclose, according to real estate documents shared with TPM.

Kushner, President Trump’s son-in-law and a top adviser, wrote a letter to White House Deputy Counsel Stefan Passantino dated Jan. 3, 2018 adding a number of additional business interests that had not previously been on his personal financial disclosure form.

That letter, which has not been previously reported, corrects and adds new corporate positions and details of his companies’ structures that he legally was required to disclose, in a seeming attempt to square his filing with spouse Ivanka Trump’s as well as clean up some previously overlooked items.

Also, too:

According to a separate recent update from Ivanka Trump, Kushner appears to have taken out millions more in loans in recent months, a sign that his business may be on the rocks. The couple are currently battling a lawsuit filed in December that accuses them of illegally omitting information for 32 other companies, raising the possibility of hidden conflicts of interest.

Somehow, all those “business interests” must not be generating what we call “income.”

Now, let’s talk about Jared’s lack of a security clearance. Jennifer Rubin wrote,

Kushner met with Sergey Kislyak, the Russian ambassador, to discuss a secret back channel and with the head of a sanctioned Russian bank, VneshEconomBank (VEB). (“The conversation is curious not only because it represents a top Trump official secretly meeting with an arm of the Russian government, but also because accounts of the meeting differ in important ways,” The Atlantic’s David Graham noted at the time. “Kushner says he attended the meeting in his capacity as an adviser to President-elect Trump. But VEB says that the meeting concerned Kushner’s family real-estate business.”) And he was present at the now-infamous June 2016 meeting at Trump Tower attended by a Kremlin-connected lawyer.

Kushner’s financial problems make these contacts all the more troubling. As he was racking up debt, Fordham Law School professor Jed Shugerman tells me, Kushner “also just coincidentally was setting up secret lines to the Kremlin and was meeting with (Russian President Vladmir) Putin’s banker a month after the election. And he just coincidentally was meeting with Russians offering dirt in Trump Tower during the election.” He explains, “Kushner’s massive debts are an important piece of the entire Russia conspiracy on some of the parties’ motives (Kushner, former national security adviser Michael Flynn and Trump) for such inexplicable behavior and such risk-taking.”

And here is what we call the very obvious “bottom line.”

In sum, Kushner has huge and growing debt, many suspicious Russian contacts and a close relationship (perhaps second only to Ivanka’s) with Trump. “The more money Kushner owes, especially to lenders or guarantors who do not have America’s best interests at heart, the more he and his father-in-law the president are subject to compromising pressures at best and outright blackmail at worst,” constitutional lawyer Larry Tribe tells me. “The fact that Kushner, without full security clearance, is permitted to peruse the president’s daily briefing, containing the most secret information that exists, makes all of Kushner’s financial obligations and debts urgent threats to our national security. This situation is unconscionable.”

Does anyone seriously think that Trump and the Kushners are above compromising American interests to make some money on the side? Of course they aren’t.

See also “Jared Kushner May Soon Be Working at TGI Fridays — If They’ll Have Him.”

When Jared Kushner and Ivanka Trump accepted jobs as senior advisers to the president (a.k.a. “Dad”), they allegedly saw the gigs as stepping stones that would one day lead to a scenario in which one of them was president. But if the events of the past week (not to mention the past 15 months!) are any indication, political ascendance is not exactly in the cards for these two. Ivanka, of course, has her #WomenWhoWork hashtag to fall back on. Jared’s prospects, sadly, look less bright. His safety net—Kushner Cos.’s real-estate empire—is rapidly filling with holes, thanks in part to his own industry know-how, which could be charitably described as somewhat lacking.

Remember, neither Jared nor Ivanka have ever actually held jobs.

Speaking of security clearance — let’s look up the food chain a bit to Trump himself. Jonathan Chait writes that there’s a real possibility Trump is being blackmailed by Russia now.

Ronan Farrow’s new story shows that Trump habitually pays for sex. He had an affair with former Playboy Playmate Karen McDougal, and offered her money after sex, which she turned down. At another point in the story, he offered adult entertainer Jessica Drake $10,000 for “her company.”

Farrow’s reporting also implies, without quite establishing as an absolute certainty, that Trump maintained a system for silencing his sexual partners. A network of sleazy operators, sometimes working in conjunction with National Enquirer publisher David Pecker, Trump’s close friend, would pay off women to prevent their stories from seeing the light of day. In any case, previous reporting by The Wall Street Journal has already established that Trump’s personal lawyer, Michael Cohen, paid at least one of his former mistresses to stay quiet.

So, we know Trump habitually pays for sex, and we also know he is willing to pay to keep embarrassing secrets from going public. That is to say, these secrets could be leveraged against him.

This renders the sleazier allegations from the Steele Dossier a lot more credible, Chait writes. Of course, even if they aren’t true, there’s a huge possibility that Trump has financial secrets Putin knows about and America doesn’t.

But I bet Bob Mueller will sniff them out, if he hasn’t already …

But certainly the Russian blackmail theory explains why Trump steadfastly refuses to do anything about Russia. See “Trump’s Conspicuous Silence Leaves a Struggle Against Russia Without a Leader.”

See also “Mueller levels new claim of bank fraud against Manafort.”

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Kill the Chicago Myth

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Trump Maladministration
I’m already seeing the gun nuts trot out the old myth that Chicago has the nation’s strictest gun control laws and the highest rates of gun violence. Neither statement is true.
 
Chicago used to have stricter gun control laws, but its 1982 ban on handguns was struck down by the courts in 2010. Illinois’s concealed carry ban was struck down two years later, and this applied to Chicago as well. Now its gun control laws are pretty standard, for the U.S.
 

Chicago does not have the strictest gun laws in the country. It’s time for gun lovers to stop spreading that lie.

A decade ago that was indeed a title Chicago wore proudly. We were the only major city that still had an ordinance banning residents from keeping a handgun in their home.

The handgun ban made us the primary target of the National Rifle Association and the Second Amendment Foundation, and in 2010 the U.S. Supreme Court forced Chicago to fall into line with the rest of the country.

Since then, the courts have peeled off so many layers of our once stellar gun ordinance that it’s barely recognizable. We’re still maneuvering to keep gun stores and shooting ranges from opening in the city limits. But the courts have ruled against us on that, too, so we know it’s just a matter of time.

So much for the nation’s strictest gun control laws (I believe that honor actually goes to New York City, which also has a much lower rate of gun violence than most other U.S. major cities).
 
But what about Chicago’s awful gun violence rate? Chicago has a lot of gun violence, that’s true. And if you look at raw numbers, Chicago does have more shooting victims than other cities. But Chicago also has more people than most other cities. When you look at the data adjusted for population — killings per 100,000 residents — a different story unfolds, and Chicago falls way down the list. For many years the honor of most gun killings per capita has been held by New Orleans. I understand St. Louis is currently #2, having overtaken Detroit in recent years. Then we’ve got Baltimore, Oakland, Kansas City, Cincinnati, Cleveland, Atlanta, Philadelphia, Memphis, Buffalo, District of Columbia, Stockton, Miami, Milwaukee, and Pittsburgh. Then comes Chicago. New York — you know, the place that really does have tough gun control laws — isn’t in the top 20 at all.
 
So please, people, every time you see somebody spread the lie about Chicago gun laws and gun violence, set them straight. Thanks much.
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New Indictments from Mueller

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Trump Maladministration

While we were mourning the deaths in Florida, the Bob Mueller investigation has continued. So far we don’t know if anything the Russians did had any effect, and there’s no new word about hacking. But there’s no question the Russians were doing something. Here is some Hot news :

A federal grand jury has indicted 13 Russian nationals and three Russian entities for alleged interference in the 2016 presidential elections, during which they boosted the candidacy of Donald Trump, special counsel Robert Mueller‘s office said Friday.

The indictment says that a Russian organization called the Internet Research Agency sought to wage “information warfare” against the United States by using fictitious American personas and social media platforms and other Internet-based media.

The Russians posed as Americans to troll social media, buy advertising and hold rallies. Some of the Russians posed as Black Lives Matter. They also promoted Jill Stein. You do remember Stein.

One of the defendants is  Yevgeniy Prigozhin, who is profiled in the New York Times:

Despite his humble, troubled youth, Mr. Prigozhin became one of Russia’s richest men, joining a charmed circle whose members often share one particular attribute: their proximity to President Vladimir V. Putin. The small club of loyalists who gain Mr. Putin’s trust often feast, as Mr. Prigozhin has, on enormous state contracts. In return, they are expected to provide other, darker services to the Kremlin as needed.

On Friday, Mr. Prigozhin was one of 13 Russians indicted by the United States special counsel, Robert S. Mueller III, for interfering in the American election.

According to the indictment, Mr. Prigozhin, 56, controlled the entity that financed the troll factory, known as the Internet Research Agency. He has denied involvement.

I understand there’s no indication in the indictments that any U.S. person knew what was going on. However,

In August 2016, Russian operatives communicated with Trump campaign staff in Florida through their “@donaldtrump.com” email addresses to coordinate a series of pro-Trump rallies in the state, according to Mueller, and then bought advertisements on social media to promote the events.

Also, too,

Former Trump campaign adviser Rick Gates is finalizing a plea deal with special counsel Robert Mueller’s office, indicating he’s poised to cooperate in the investigation, according to sources familiar with the case.

Gates has already spoken to Mueller’s team about his case and has been in plea negotiations for about a month. He’s had what criminal lawyers call a “Queen for a Day” interview, in which a defendant answers any questions from the prosecutors’ team, including about his own case and other potential criminal activity he witnessed.
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A Hard Rain Is Gonna Fall

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Trump Maladministration

I created this meme this morning.

This is what it comes down to, as far as I’m concerned: We can either continue to put up with gun nuts and cater to gun fetish culture, or we can stop mass shootings at schools. But we can’t do both. So what’s it gonna be?

Let us not lose sight of the fact that the FBI is investigating the NRA for allegedly funneling money from Russia into Donald Trump’s campaign. The NRA needs to go.

I have written a lot in the past about what I think needs to be done. Needless to say, the NRA wouldn’t like it. See especially:

Know Your Gunz

Why an Assault Weapons Ban Is Not Going to Help

Back to the Old Mental Illness Dodge

See also What Explains U.S. Mass Shootings? International Comparisons Suggest an Answer at the New York Times.

Parkland shooter Nikolas Cruz belonged to a white supremacist group. Of course he did.  It’s a syndrome.

There’s a guy on the teevee right now talking about “mental health issue.” It’s not a “mental health issue.”  Most mass shooters have no definable mental illness. Mass shooters tend to be hotheads, but they aren’t hearing voices. Yes they may be “troubled,” but there are plenty of “troubled” people running around loose in other countries. The difference is that in those other countries it is much more difficult for them to get their hands on semiautomatic weapons. And that’s the only difference.

Now the guy on the teevee is saying we need to monitor social media. So are we going to investigate every hotheaded jerk who posts violent images on Instagram? Seriously?

No, people we need to make it a lot harder for people to get their hands on semiautomatic guns. And we need to start shaming gun nuts at every opportunity. They are pathetic excuses for human beings; their proclivities are not to be tolerated.

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White House Lied About Porter’s Security Clearance, and Other Insecurity News

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Trump Maladministration

The White House claimed that Rob Porter’s background check was still pending when he was ousted last week. Today FBI Director Christopher Wray let it be known the FBI had completed Porter’s background check in July.

“What I can tell you is that the FBI submitted a partial report on the investigation in question in March, and then a completed background investigation in late July,” he said, noting that the FBI “followed the established protocol” with Porter.

“Soon thereafter we received requests for follow-up inquiry and we did the follow-up and provided that information in November. And then we administratively closed the file in January,” he continued. “And then earlier this month we received some additional information and we passed that on as well.”

White House spokesperson Raj Shah told “Fox & Friends” on Tuesday, describing the White House’s position, that Porter’s background check “had not been completed yet. It was still in the investigative process and had yet to be adjudicated. So prior to an adjudication, the White House is not going to step into the middle of a process and short circuit it.”

The FBI, however, doesn’t give security clearances.

People familiar with the process for obtaining clearance said the FBI does not make any final decisions or recommendations and that the White House, specifically the counsel’s office and the security office, would have been heavily involved in deciding whether to grant Porter clearance.

Porter is among multiple West Wing aides still working on interim clearances, according to administration officials. …

… At Tuesday’s hearing, director of National Intelligence Dan Coats said that people with temporary security clearance should get only limited access to sensitive, classified information, calling the process “broken.” Coats did not mention any individuals.

“Sometimes it is necessary to have some type of preliminary clearance in order to fill a slot, but … access has to be limited in terms of the kinds of information they can be in a position to receive or not receive,” Coats said. “It needs to be reformed.”

So, this security clearance screwup is entirely the White House’s screwup.

Daniel Coats, the director of national intelligence, addressed the situation with Russian interference with elections.

“There should be no doubt that Russia perceives its past efforts” to disrupt the 2016 presidential campaign “as a success,” and it “views the 2018 midterm elections” as another opportunity to conduct an attack, said Coats.

His assessment was echoed by all five other intelligence agency heads present at the hearing, including CIA Director Mike Pompeo, who two weeks ago stated publicly he had “every expectation” that Russia will try to influence the coming elections.

Sen. Mark R. Warner commented,

“What we are seeing is a continuous assault by Russia to target and undermine our democratic institutions, and they are going to keep coming at us.”

“Despite all of this, the president inconceivably continues to deny the threat posed by Russia,” Warner continued. “He didn’t increase sanctions on Russia when he had a chance to do so. He hasn’t even tweeted a single concern. This threat demands a whole-of-government response, and that needs to start with leadership at the top.”

See also Why there’s so much chaos in the Trump administration by Ezra Klein.

Update: Since this morning, Sarah Sanders has been reduced to admitting she doesn’t know what the bleep is going on (“Obviously the press team’s not going to be as read-in, maybe, as some other elements, at a given moment, on a variety of topics.”) Axios reports that John Kelly is becoming more isolated. Nobody is saying whether Trump knew that Porter was a bad security risk, or not.

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Trump’s Infrastructure Plan: Sell off the Infrastructure

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No. Just no.

The Trump administration is making a push to sell off federal assets as part of its infrastructure plan released Monday.

Among the targets: Reagan National and Dulles International airports and two major parkways serving the Washington region, as well as power assets around the country, according to a copy of the proposal.

Power transmission assets from the Tennessee Valley Authority; the Southwestern Power Administration, which sells power in Arkansas, Kansas, Louisiana, Missouri, Oklahoma, and Texas; the Western Area Power Administration; and the Bonneville Power Administration, covering the Pacific northwest, were cited for potential divestiture. The Washington Aqueduct, which supplies drinking water in D.C. and Northern Virginia, also is on the list.

This isn’t fixing; it’s dumping.

“The Federal Government owns and operates certain infrastructure that would be more appropriately owned by State, local, or private entities,” the Trump plan says. It calls for giving federal agencies “authority to divest of Federal assets where the agencies can demonstrate an increase in value from the sale would optimize the taxpayer value.”

I don’t even know what that last sentence means.  What it says to me is that Trump’s going to have a fire sale to benefit his corporate buddies, who will charge us citizen-rubes more in tolls and fees than we are paying in taxes for the same thing.

Some state officials said they were uncertain about how their residents would benefit from such a proposal. Federal assets come with crucial federal dollars that could not easily be replaced, officials said.

The states probably don’t want this stuff and don’t have the resources to take care of them. Or else, state taxes would have to go up.

The whole point of the plan is to pretend you’re doing something about infrastructure without spending any money.

The first thing you need to know about Donald Trump’s $1.5 trillion infrastructure plan is that it is, in fact, a $200 billion infrastructure plan. For those keeping score at home, it’s $200 billion from Washington and another $1.3 trillion dollars of state, local, and private money to be determined at a later date.

It comes out to $20 billion a year, over 10 years—a modest increase in the federal outlay for building projects. The government routinely spends several times that amount on this stuff: In 2014, for example, Washington spent $96 billion on transportation and water alone. Trump wants this new money to cover those projects—plus rural broadband and power, Superfund sites, and perhaps even commercial space travel.

About that $200 billion, though. It’s not being funded by, say, finally raising the federal gas tax. (That levy hasn’t changed in more than two decades, and it falls far short of paying for the Highway Trust Fund.) Instead, the plan depends on shifting the money from other parts of the government—including the departments charged with funding transportation and water projects. In Trump’s budget, which was also released today, the discretionary budget for the Department of Transportation falls by $3.7 billion; the EPA’s is cut by $2.8 billion. More broadly, the Center for American Progress says it has counted $281 billion in infrastructure cuts in the budget—making the two proposals a net negative for infrastructure spending.

The particular details of how Trump is proposing to parcel out the money are, however, basically irrelevant because of the White House’s stance on financing the program. …
…The really big question about Trump and infrastructure, ever since he won the election, is whether he actually wants to get something done on this or if it was just a campaign line. This proposal answers that question pretty definitively — by mashing up Trump’s vague rhetoric with his staff’s conventional hard-right politics, they’ve landed on a formula with no bipartisan appeal and no actual path forward.
Speaking of infrastructure, what’s up with Amtrak? There have been a string of passenger rail accidents with fatalities lately. Not that Trump noticed, but I have seen these things on the teevee.
Politico reports that the head of the acting chief of the Federal Railroad Administration resigned over the weekend because running railroads was getting in the way of his day job:

A top official charged with overseeing the safety of the nation’s railroads has resigned “effective immediately,” the Department of Transportation said Saturday after POLITICO raised questions about whether he was simultaneously working as a public relations consultant in Mississippi.

The news comes at a time of strain for the Federal Railroad Administration, which hasn’t had a permanent leader for more than a year while it investigates a string of fatal train crashes and deals with a rising trend of rail-related deaths.

Heath Hall became the Federal Railroad Administration’s acting chief after being appointed deputy administrator in June. But he subsequently appeared at least twice in local media reports last summer as a sheriff’s department spokesman in Madison County, Mississippi, where he has long run a public relations and political consulting firm.

The firm also continued to receive payments from the county for its services from July through December, despite Hall’s pledge in a federal ethics form that the business would be “dormant” while he worked at DOT. And Tiffany Lindemann, a former FRA public affairs official who left the agency in September, told POLITICO this week that she had fielded at least three requests from a Mississippi television journalist seeking to speak with Hall during the summer.

This was during a period when Hall was in charge of an agency with a $1.7 billion budget, overseeing the safety of 760 railroads, a multibillion-dollar freight rail industry and the safety of millions of passengers.

Hall has been on an extended leave of absence since last month due to what the FRA has described as a family emergency. But DOT officials said Saturday, after reviewing POLITICO’s latest questions, that his departure is now permanent.

This guy wasn’t supposed to be running railroads, anyway. A vote on Trump’s nominee, Ron Batory, has been held up by Chuck Schumer, who is holding out for federal money for a massive rail project in and around New York City.
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