Browsing the blog archives for April, 2018.


National News Media: We Need Rottweilers, Not Lapdogs

Trump Maladministration

This morning I caught a bit of Megyn Kelly on the teevee, and while I was stumbling frantically to find the remote and change the channel, I realized she was complaining about how that awful Michelle Wolf had disrespected journalists.

Somehow, I don’t think that’s the problem.

Media elite who complain about Michelle Wolf are like people sitting in a burning house and complaining that the smoke is staining the wallpaper.

While the much-maligned nerd prom was going on, the POTUS was not there. He was giving a rally in Michigan in which he told his adoring, gun-worshiping followers that Democrats don’t care about the military, crime, or secure borders. He threw red meat at the frenzied crowd in the form of demonizing senators Debbie Stabenow and Jon Tester plus the usual Emmanuel Goldsteins — Hillary Clinton, James Comey and everyone in the news media. I don’t have a transcript, but according to CNN, Trump actually told the crowd that the news media “hates your guts.”

And media elite are pissed at Wolf? They are defending Aunt Lydia … I mean, Sarah Sanders? What is wrong with them?

Here are a couple of articles to read together. One is by Frank Rich at New York. Rich is blasting the New York elite who enabled Donald Trump via a retrospective on Roy Cohn. Rich’s basic point is that the elite and connected of New York, both Democrat and Republican, are more connected (and indebted) to each other than to the rest of the country. They indulged and protected Roy Cohn in his day, and they indulged and protected Trump.

The Booman makes a similar point about the Washington media. It begins:

Your required reading this morning is a column Sally Quinn wrote hack in November 1998 about how the Washington elite was coping with the unfolding l’affaire Lewinsky. You should read it this morning even if you’ve read it many times before. Once you do, its relevancy will be apparent to you.

Quinn’s point was that Washington insiders, both Democrat and Republican, are a community that cares more about their own than they care about the rest of the country. The Booman continues,

… whatever faults President Trump may have and however deceitful and contemptuous his press secretary may be, they are citizens of The Village and there are limits on how much disrespect you can show them.

By taking some personal shots at Huckabee Sanders, Michelle Wolf caused a defensive reflex. In part, the correspondents are afraid that if the Trump administration doesn’t see a tweet in their feed in defense of Huckabee Sanders that there will be negative repercussions for their access. But it’s also just a standard part of this ritual. The comedian arrives, insults people primarily by telling the truth about them, then the media criticize the comedian for being impolite and not all that funny. They usually don’t express outrage about the shots that were aimed at them because that would draw more attention to those criticisms. Instead, they deflect people’s focus onto how the president or members of his administration were mistreated.

A lot has changed since Sally Quinn wrote that piece in 1998. For one, the Village had higher standards back then. They expected more from their president than tawdry furtive Oval Office blow jobs from unpaid interns. At this point, that kind of behavior would be a welcome improvement. Bush’s failures and Trump’s presidency have beaten them down.

But their world still revolves around 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue, and they still want to maintain a certain majesty to the place bolstered by myths they feel morally and patriotically bound to concoct and promulgate. They know it’s a sham and that they deserve criticism for it, which is why they keep going back to Nerd Prom every year to get their dose of abuse.

While they were listening to Michelle Wolf tell them what shits they are last night in Washington DC, the president was telling them what shits they are in Washington Township in Michigan.

That they’re responding by defending the president’s press secretary shows less sense of self-awareness and preservation than Patty Hearst demonstrated during her Symbionese crime spree.

Trump is expected to address the NRA national convention in Dallas this week, where he will no doubt pump up the crowd with more hate speech. The snowflakes in the Washington media elite might want to start wearing bullet proof vests.

Update: Erik Wemple, The president is seeking to destroy journalism. Now let’s debate dinner entertainment!

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Michelle Wolf and the White House Correspondent’s Dinner

Trump Maladministration

I’ll give her a B. No one has ever surpassed the monologue by Stephen Colbert of a few years ago. But Wolf got off some good lines.

Favorite lines:

It is kind of crazy that the Trump campaign was in contact with Russia when the Hillary campaign wasn’t even in contact with Michigan. It’s a direct flight; it’s so close.

Of course, Trump isn’t here, if you haven’t noticed. He’s not here. And I know, I know, I would drag him here myself. But it turns out the president of the United States is the one p—y you’re not allowed to grab.

Republicans are easy to make fun of. It’s like shooting fish in a Chris Christie. But I also want to make fun of Democrats. Democrats are harder to make fun of because you guys don’t do anything.

People think you might flip the House and Senate this November, but you guys always find a way to mess it up. You’re somehow going to lose by 12 points to a guy named Jeff Pedophile Nazi Doctor. Oh, he’s a doctor?

We should definitely talk about the women in the Trump administration. There’s Kellyanne Conway. Man, she has the perfect last name for what she does: Conway. It’s like if my name was Michelle Jokes Frizzy Hair Small T–s.

You guys gotta stop putting Kellyanne on your shows. All she does is lie. If you don’t give her a platform, she has nowhere to lie. It’s like that old saying: If a tree falls in the woods, how do we get Kellyanne under that tree?

Incidentally, a tree falls in the woods is Scott Pruitt’s definition of porn. Yeah, we all have our kinks.

And, of course, we have Sarah Huckabee Sanders. We’re graced with Sarah’s presence tonight. I have to say I’m a little star-struck. I love you as Aunt Lydia in “The Handmaid’s Tale.”

Mike Pence, if you haven’t seen it, you would love it.

Every time Sarah steps up to the podium, I get excited because I’m not really sure what we’re going to get: you know, a press briefing, a bunch of lies or divided into softball teams. “It’s shirts and skins, and this time, don’t be such a little b—-, Jim Acosta.”

And I’m never really sure what to call Sarah Huckabee Sanders. You know, is it Sarah Sanders? Is Sarah Huckabee Sanders? Is it Cousin Huckabee? Is it Auntie Huckabee Sanders? Like, what’s Uncle Tom but for white women who disappoint other white women? Oh, I know: Aunt Coulter.

We’ve got our friends at CNN here. Welcome, guys, it’s great to have you. You guys love breaking news, and you did it. You broke it. Good work.

The most useful information on CNN is when Anthony Bourdain tells me where to eat noodles.

Fox News is here. So, you know what that means, ladies: Cover your drinks. Seriously.

Trump is so broke.

[AUDIENCE: How broke is he?]

He grabs p—ies ’cause he thinks there might be loose change in them.

Here is Colbert’s alternative reality video:

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RIP RedState

Trump Maladministration

I don’t know if this is a harbinger of anything, but there was a mass firing at RedState early today. A few writers are staying on, but many if not most have been flushed. The site’s owners, Salem Media, apparently made the decision on whom to keep and whom to toss based on two criteria: How much money the writer is making for the site (based on that writer’s page views and contract), and how loyal the writer is to Trump. Salem says it made decisions based purely on profits. RedState founder Erick Erickson, who left the site awhile back, despairs it will now be mostly clickbait.

Salem Media does a lot of conservative Christian broadcasting and publishing and also owns other right wing websites like HotAir, TownHall, Twitchy and Human Events. The people at HotAir and TownHall are likely a tad nervous.

On another cheerful note, things are looking dark for Milo Yiannopoulos.

Running out of money and down on his luck, right-wing provocateur Milo Yiannopoulos laid off the small staff of Milo Entertainment Inc. earlier this month, according to three people familiar with the situation.

Yiannopoulos’ company has fallen on hard times ever since his former patrons, Robert and Rebekah Mercer, severed their financial backing last year.

According to the sources, Yiannopoulos had been expecting to instead receive significant financial backing from the banking heir and cryptocurrency billionaire Matthew Mellon. But those hopes were dashed with Mellon’s unexpected death from an apparent drug overdose on April 16.

Now, if only something would happen to James O’Keefe …

 

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Trump’s Unhinged Phone Call and Other News

Trump Maladministration

Lots of news today. Bill Cosby was found guilty, finally. You’ve heard that Ronny Jackson withdrew as nominee to head the VA; no surprise there.  Mike Pompeo has been confirmed as SecState. Judge Kimba Wood has appointed a special master, former federal prosecutor Barbara Jones, to review which of Michael Cohen’s seized documents can be used by current federal prosecutors. There’s supposed to be a hearing on the Michael Cohen matter going on right now, in which Trump’s attorneys are asking that their boss be allowed to review materials also. No resolution on that yet. Cohen, meanwhile, has said he will take the Fifth.

This morning the Creature called in to Fox and Friends. I want to thank Aaron Blake at WaPo for providing an annotated transcript of the whole thing. He let us know that he got Melania a freaking card for her birthday. He’s very busy, you know. This is followed by several paragraphs of free-association ranting that make little sense. And it grew more unhinged as it got closer to what’s really bothering him — James Comey and the Mueller investigation.

He went on and on about Comey leaking classified information; to this day, nobody’s demonstrated that anything Comey leaked was classified at all.  Trump now says he never claimed he didn’t stay overnight in Moscow in 2013; this is a couple of days after headlines said the claim was bogus.

On the same day his attorneys went to federal court to argue that Cohen’s documents shouldn’t be released to prosecutors until Trump has reviewed them, Trump said Cohen’s businesses had nothing to do with him. (Update: Now I see that federal prosecutors have already used Trump’s words from this morning against him.)

But the complete meltdown came at the end.

KILMEADE: But does it make you want to talk to Mueller and put an end to it? Does it make you want to talk to him because that’s what Rudy Giuliani —

TRUMP: Well, if I can. The problem is that it’s such a — it’s such — if you take a look they’re so conflicted. The people that are doing the investigation — you have 13 people that are Democrats. You have Hillary Clinton people. You have people that worked on Hillary Clinton’s foundation. They’re all — I don’t mean Democrats, I mean like the real deal. And then you look at the phony Lisa Page and Strzok and the memos back and forth, and the FBI. And by the way, you take a poll at the FBI. I love the FBI, the FBI loves me.  But the top people in the FBI, headed by Comey, were crooked. You look at McCabe where he takes $700,000 from somebody supporting Hillary Clinton. He takes $700,000 for his wife’s campaign. And by the way, didn’t even spend that money. They kept some of it because under that law you’re — he took seven. He took $700,000 from a group headed by Terry McAuliffe who was under investigation by McCabe and the FBI and that investigation disappeared. He took $700,000. And you look at the corruption at the top of the FBI. It’s a disgrace. And our Justice Department, which I try and stay away from, but at some point I won’t.

KILMEADE: Okay.

TRUMP: Our Justice Department should be looking at that kind of stuff, not the nonsense of collusion with Russia. There is no collusion with me —

EARHARDT: All right.

KILMEADE: All right.

TRUMP: — and Russia, and everyone knows it.

KILMEADE: Everyone. We could talk to you all day but it looks like —

TRUMP: Sure.

KILMEADE: — you have a million things to do.

TRUMP: Well, you could have —

KILMEADE: But I hope you can join us again, Mr. President.

Earlier in the interview, he had said this:

“Because of the fact that they have this witch hunt going on with people in the Justice Department that shouldn’t be there, they have a witch hunt against the president of the United States going on, I’ve taken the position – and I don’t have to take this position, and maybe I’ll change – that I will not be involved with the Justice Department.”

The Fox & Friends crew got him off that subject, but he came back to it. But, in fact, he is supposed to take the position that he has to stay out of the Justice Department, because that’s how the Justice Department is set up, to operate independently of the president’s influence. Basically, he’s on national television threatening to co-opt the Justice Department for his own political purposes — to punish his enemies and protect himself. On national television.

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What Kevin Williamson Doesn’t Get About Abortion in France

Trump Maladministration

Kevin Williamson is still miffed about being dismissed from The Atlantic almost immediately after having been hired. He was flushed from the magazine because someone unearthed a twitter exchange from 2014 in which Williamson said that abortion should be punished like any other homicide. “I have hanging more in mind,” he tweeted.

Today he writes for the Washington Post that the tweet doesn’t necessarily represent his opinion. What he proposes is that the U.S. adopt the same abortion laws as France.

France, like many European countries, takes a stricter line on abortion than does the United States: Abortion on demand is permitted only through the 12th week of pregnancy. After that, abortion is severely restricted, permitted only to prevent grave damage to the mother’s health, or in the event of severe fetal abnormalities. France is not a neo-medieval right-wing dystopia.

The law in France imposes penalties on those who perform illegal abortions, ranging from forfeiture of medical licenses for doctors to fines and, in some cases, incarceration (for providers, not for the woman obtaining the abortion) ranging from six months to 10 years. Those sanctions seem reasonable to me. Why not start there and see how it works?

Williamson leaves out some stuff. One, for French citizens abortions are entirely paid for by the French national health care system. Abortions don’t have to be delayed so that the woman can scrape up the money to pay for them, nor do they have to get on a waiting list or travel great distances to get to the one or two clinics in the state performing them.

Amanda Marcotte wrote for Slate in 2013:

Subsequently, while a lot of these nations have abortion laws that formally reflect Christian paternalism about reproduction and women’s roles, in practice, abortion is much easier to get than it is in the United States. You may have to provide a reason for your abortion in many nations, but it’s simply a formality, a box checked and not an obstacle. More importantly, the abortion providers aren’t being hounded out of existence and in many cases, the cost of the abortion is paid for by the state health care plan.  Katha Pollitt recently elaborated in The Nation:

Here’s what’s really different about Western Europe: in France, you can get an abortion at any public hospital and it’s paid for by the government. In Germany, you can get one at a hospital or a doctor’s office, and health plans will pay for it for low-income women. In Sweden, abortion is free through eighteen weeks.

Note that contraceptive services also are free for French citizens, and I doubt le Parlement français is perpetually attempting to pass laws defunding those services. There is no surer way to reduce rates of abortion in a population than use of contraceptives.

Regarding fetal abnormalities, when severe fetal abnormalities are diagnosed in France, apparently the system applies a lot of pressure on the woman to abort. Refusal to abort is considered a problem resulting from “magical thinking.” Here in the U.S., abortion rights advocates have had to fight tooth and nail to keep later medical abortions legal for those who choose them.

A 12-week  gestational limit for elective abortion is standard in most European countries, with only a couple of exceptions, and I’m not hearing a lot of complaints about it.  In theory, that ought to be workable here, too. According to the CDC, in the U.S.,

The majority of abortions in 2014 took place early in gestation:  91.5% of abortions were performed at ≤13 weeks’ gestation; a smaller number of abortions (7.2%) were performed at 14–20 weeks’ gestation, and even fewer (1.3%) were performed at ≥21 weeks’ gestation.

However, without easy access to abortion services that are convenient and free (as in paid for by tax dollars) at least to poor and middle-income women, poor women are going to be driven to do-it-yourself and back-alley abortions, which is already happening in places like Texas.

Susanna was young, single, broke and pregnant in southern Texas where, thanks to the state’s strict laws, her chances of getting a surgical abortion at a clinic were slim to none.

So she did what an estimated 100,000 women or more in Texas have done – had a self-induced abortion.

With the help of a friend, some online instructions and quick dash across the Mexican border for some pills, she addressed the issue of unwanted pregnancy in a state where women are finding abortion services too expensive and too far away.

I also propose that it’s possible recent reductions in abortion rates reported in the U.S. are partly the result of increasing do-it-yourself abortions that are off the radar.

Getting back to Williamson,

The French model does not represent an ideal final settlement. It would, in fact, leave untouched the vast majority of abortions, about 90 percent of which happen during the first trimester. It would, however, represent a welcome advance — one that would establish a post-Roe v. Wade legal framework for incremental reform. Whether to restrict abortion at the 12th week or the eighth week is a very different discussion than the one we are presently having.

Already we see the problem. He and the rest of the Fetus People — so called because their brains are undeveloped — will not rest until that limit is pushed down from 12 weeks to 8 weeks to 6 weeks — a lot of women don’t know they are pregnant at six weeks — to maybe below that. If they can get it under ten days, they’ll have closed the window before a pregnancy can be diagnosed.

And, of course, abortions will need to be paid by taxpayer dollars and available in all communities, not just in one clinic per state that is surrounded by mobs of brain-eating anti-choice zombies.

Abortion is an absolute evil

Forcing a woman to go through pregnancy and childbirth against her will is an absolute evil.

The question for abortion opponents is this: Shall we act on our desire to punish, or on our desire to stop the killing? These desires do not necessarily lead in the same direction.

Well, yes, and this is something I’ve trying to explain to Fetus People for decades now. I am not alone. We know how to reduce abortion rates. The way is to make birth control readily available and to persuade people to actually practice it. Criminalizing abortions, however, does not reduce abortions at all. If anything, nations that criminalize abortions often see higher rates of abortion than countries that keep it legal.

In a new study published Wednesday, researchers from the World Health Organization and the Guttmacher Institute examine abortion and contraceptive access throughout the world. The report, in the British medical journal The Lancet, highlights major disparities in trends for women in wealthier nations compared with those in poorer countries.

The researchers looked at country data on abortion prevalence, contraceptive use by method, and unmet need for contraception in order to analyze trends across every major region and subregion between 1990 and 2014. They came to several illuminating conclusions:

Strict abortion restrictions didn’t necessarily lead to a significant decrease in the rate of abortion: For example, the study’s authors note that across the 53 countries where abortion is completely illegal or only permitted to save a woman’s life, the rate of abortions is 37 per 1,000 women. In the countries where abortion is legal, the rate is 34 abortions per 1,000 women. That’s in part because women living in countries with more restrictive abortion laws are also more likely to have an unmet need for contraception. “This adds to the incidence of abortion in countries with restrictive laws,” the Guttmacher Institute’s Dr. Gilda Sedgh, the lead author of the study, said in a statement.  …

… “The obvious interpretation is that criminalising abortion does not prevent it but, rather, drives women to seek illegal services or methods,” wrote Diana Greene Foster, a professor at the University of California, San Francisco, in a commentary responding to The Lancet study.

But Greene Foster also points out in her commentary that some of these findings don’t provide the full picture. “This simple story overlooks the many women who, in the absence of safe legal services, carry unwanted pregnancies to term,” she writes. “As a consequence of increased rates of unintended pregnancy and unsafe abortion, such women face an increased risk of maternal mortality and bear children that they are not ready to care for and often cannot afford.”

See also:

New Study: Anti-Abortion Laws Don’t Reduce Abortion Rates. Contraception Does.

Making Abortion Illegal Does Not Reduce Number of Women Having Terminations, Study Concludes

Banning Abortion Doesn’t Actually Reduce Abortion Rates at All

And, finally,

Amid new talk of criminalizing abortion, research shows the dangers of making it illegal for women (Washington Post, April 5, 2018)

The idea of criminalizing abortions is not new, but a push has emerged recently among some antiabortion advocates for enacting strict penalties against women who have the procedure, and not just doctors and clinics that provide abortions.

Research over the past decade, however, casts significant doubt on whether criminalizing abortion would reduce abortion rates. And data from countries where abortion is outlawed suggests it could have serious consequences on women’s health and safety….

…The study revealed that abortion rates had fallen significantly in the past 14 years in developed countries where laws tended to be more lax, but largely stayed the same in poorer countries with more restrictive laws. The study’s authors concluded this was likely because the countries with the most rules against abortion also tended to offer less access to modern contraception, sex education and family-planning services.

“The evidence is clear that the most effective way to reduce abortion rates is to prevent unintended pregnancies through modern contraceptives,” said Heather Boonstra, public policy director at the Guttmacher Institute. …

… The other key data point that has emerged from research over the years is the relationship between abortion laws and safety: In countries where abortion is most restricted, the procedure is much more dangerous for women.

In a report last year, the World Health Organization found that in countries where abortion is completely banned or permitted only to save the woman’s life or health, 1 in 4 abortions was safe. By comparison, in countries where abortion is legal, nearly 9 in 10 abortions were performed safely. The WHO researchers found that 45 percent of abortions worldwide were unsafe, endangering about 25 million women each year.

Laws against abortion have additional consequences for women. In El Salvador, for example, abortion is illegal with no exceptions. Women found guilty of getting an abortion can face years in prison. In February, one Salvadoran woman who had spent almost 11 years in prison was freed after the Supreme Court commuted her sentence. Suicide is the leading cause of death among pregnant teenagers in that country. [emphasis added]

So there we are. And none of this information is really new. The World Health Organization study being discussed in the articles above is from last year, but if you look you can find other studies by many other organizations going back more than a decade — probably a couple of decades — saying the same thing. Criminalizing abortion doesn’t stop it. Punishing women and their doctors doesn’t stop it. Nothing actually stops it — there have always been abortions, throughout human history — but rates can be dramatically reduced if sexually active people have easy access to contraceptives and actually use them. That’s a big reason why some portions of of western Europe (where abortion is legal) consistently have had the lowest abortion rates on the planet for many years — these places also have the highest rates of contraceptive use, including among teenagers.

So why are we still talking about this? Oh, I remember. Williamson and the rest of the Fetus People really just want to punish women.

Anyway — so the deal is, call off the zombies. Make abortion and contraceptives free as part of a taxpayer-funded national health service, and enable abortions to be performed in any hospital or doctor’s office. And then we can talk about lowering the gestational age, but not below 12 weeks. And then we’ll be just like France.

Update: From Scott Lemieux at Lawyers, Guns and Money:

OK, sure, let’s try France’s abortion regime! I’m glad to see Williamson endorsing free abortions being made available to women at any hospital, and making first trimester abortions unregulated!

We’ve been through this before on multiple occasions , but this move of abstracting one particular formal aspect of a European abortion law while ignoring the broader political and cultural context is useless and misleading argument. (Cf. also “Singapore uses private savings accounts!”) A 12-week limit obviously functions very differently in a country where free safe abortions are easily available and a country where many states are making it enormously difficult for many women to obtain abortions. And how often are women who ask for abortions after 12 weeks in France actually denied them?

I don’t know the answer to that last question, but a couple of weeks’ gestation are easy to fudge. And, of course, if abortion is a “homicide” at 13 weeks, why isn’t it one at 12 weeks? What has changed (nothing medically significant)? Seriously we could talk about an earlier gestational age for elective abortion than the current 23-24 weeks, but there’s no compromise that will satisfy the zombies. So there’s no point.

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We Need to Update the Peter Principle

Trump Maladministration

Most of y’all will remember the Peter Principle, which says that people in a hierarchy tend to rise to their level of incompetence. In my experience this usually only applies to men, as women are less likely even to be promoted to take advantage of their fullest potential, but let’s go on … I am seeing a variation of the Peter Principle, which says that people in public life rise to the level at which their character flaws are exposed.

For example, Josh Marshall writes about White House doctor Ronny Jackson

It was universally agreed when President Trump nominated him, apparently with no vetting or preparation, that Ronny Jackson was woefully unqualified to serve as Secretary of Veterans Affairs. But he also appeared to be widely respected as the White House doctor who has served not only President Trump but also President Obama. Now accusations are emerging of excessive drinking, creating a hostile work environment and ‘improperly dispensing’ medication.

It’s not sure where these accusations are coming from, and it’s possible they aren’t true. But Josh Marshall points out that being nominated to head the VA was possibly the worst thing that ever happened to Jackson. If he has any sense, he’ll withdraw his name from nomination before something is exposed that costs him the White House job, and maybe his medical license.

And then, take Sean Hannity. Please.

 

The Guardian is reporting that Hannity is connected to fraudulent real estate deals

Sean Hannity’s real estate venture bought houses through a property dealer who was involved in a criminal conspiracy to fraudulently obtain foreclosed homes, according to records reviewed by the Guardian.

In 2012, a shell company linked to the Fox News host bought 11 homes in Georgia that had been purchased by the dealer, Jeff Brock, following foreclosures. Brock transferred the properties to corporate vehicles that sold them on to the Hannity-linked company at a profit.

Brock pleaded guilty in 2016 to federal charges of bank fraud and conspiracy for his role in an operation to rig foreclosure auctions between 2007 and 2012. He was sentenced to six months in prison and had to pay more than $166,000 in fines and restitution.

Some of the houses sold on to the Hannity-linked firm in 2012 had been acquired by Brock from banks later named by prosecutors among his victims. But the justice department declined to identify specific properties sold in the rigged auctions. Hannity has not been accused of any wrongdoing and there is no evidence he was aware that Brock was involved in fraud.

If Hannity hadn’t become an unofficial part of the Trump Administration and connected to Michael Cohen, I doubt anyone would have bothered to sniff around in his real estate empire. It may be Hannity isn’t guilty of anything, but this ought to put a dent in his “champion of the little guy” act.

The Biggest Loser in the bunch could well be Trump himself. Much of his sleazebag background has been in the public record for a long time, but nobody really cared as long as he was more or less an entertainer on the teevee. But now that he’s POTUS, he can’t stop people from following dots. And it’s not just the Mueller investigation. The latest little tidbit is that he’s been lying about a trip to Moscow in 2013. Bloomberg reports,

President Donald Trump twice gave James Comey an alibi for why a salacious report about the 2013 Miss Universe pageant in Moscow couldn’t be true: He never even spent the night in Russia during that trip, Trump told the former FBI director, according to Comey’s memos about the conversations.

Yet the broad timeline of Trump’s stay, stretching from Friday, Nov. 8, 2013, through the following Sunday morning, has been widely reported. And it’s substantiated by social media posts that show he slept in Moscow the night before the Miss Universe contest.

Now, flight records obtained by Bloomberg provide fresh details. Combined with existing accounts and Trump’s own social-media posts, they capture two days that, nearly five years later, loom large in the controversy engulfing the White House and at the heart of the Comey memos, which the Justice Department turned over last week to Congress.

Per Comey’s book (which I haven’t read), I understand Trump was obsessed with quashing reports about what he might have done involving activities with hookers during that trip. But if he’d never been elected POTUS, the public never would have cared. Now it’s a big bleeping deal.

And the moral is, if you’ve got something to hide, keep your head down.

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Christianity Is a Fast-Food Restaurant Chain, and Other Nonsense

Trump Maladministration

Some pathetic, whiny dweeb named Douglas MacKinnon asks, “How long will I be allowed to remain a Christian?

With each passing month, that shocking question becomes more relevant and even more disturbing.

To say that Christians and Christianity are under a withering and brutal attack in certain areas of the world would be an understatement.

In various parts of the Middle East, there is a genocidal cleansing of Christians being carried out. Women, men, and their young children are being slaughtered because of their faith and world leaders and most of the media turn their backs in bored indifference.

Here in the United States, Christians and Christianity are mocked, belittled, smeared and attacked by some on a daily basis. This is a bigoted practice that is not only increasing exponentially, but is being encouraged and sanctioned by a number on the left.

There is indeed real oppression of Christians going on in the Middle East. And in various parts of the world there is real oppression of Muslims, of Jews, of Buddhists, of people of many religions. It’s not just Christians. But Christians never notice what’s going on with the other religions.

However, there is no oppression of Christians in the United States. Not even close. Pushing back against oppression by people who self-identify as Christians is not oppression of Christians.

The prevailing view in much of the media is that Christianity is aligned with Republicans, conservatives, or the views of President Trump – and therefore must be diminished and made suspect.

No, not Christianity. Just white evangelicals. See Ed Kilgore, “Nobody Likes Trump Except White Evangelicals.”

The New Yorker just described the opening of a few Chick-fil-A restaurants in New York City as “Pervasive Christian traditionalism,” and a “Creepy infiltration of New York City.”

Christianity is an “infiltration” to some on the left.

Christianity is not a fast-food restaurant chain. But let’s look at what the New Yorker said.

… the brand’s arrival here feels like an infiltration, in no small part because of its pervasive Christian traditionalism. Its headquarters, in Atlanta, are adorned with Bible verses and a statue of Jesus washing a disciple’s feet. Its stores close on Sundays. Its C.E.O., Dan Cathy, has been accused of bigotry for using the company’s charitable wing to fund anti-gay causes, including groups that oppose same-sex marriage. “We’re inviting God’s judgment on our nation,” he once said, “when we shake our fist at him and say, ‘We know better than you as to what constitutes a marriage.’ ” The company has since reaffirmed its intention to “treat every person with honor, dignity and respect,” but it has quietly continued to donate to anti-L.G.B.T. groups.

Clue, Mr. MacKinnon. It’s not Chick-fil-A’s association with the Sermon on the Mount that is causing the problem.

In college, they now teach about the evils of “Christian Privilege.”

A shame MacKinnon missed that.

In name, on the crucifix, and in art, Jesus Christ is desecrated in the most twisted and obscene of ways. In movies, on television and online, Christians are portrayed in the most dishonest, prejudiced and insulting of ways.

Especially on the Christian Broadcasting Network, she snarked. Seriously, I’m not seeing an uptick of people poking fun at Jesus.

Across the country, Christian colleges are under constant assault from “social justice warriors” seeking to strip their accreditation and put them out of business.

The only example of such a thing that I could find by googling is a 2014 article from the National Catholic Register, which worried that some colleges might lose accreditation if they didn’t stop discriminating against homosexual students. Are we seeing a pattern here?

Christian groups on campus are at times being persecuted, their offices and handouts vandalized, with members even being physically assaulted.

I could find no news stories, even old ones, claiming such a thing.

In a nation that is still majority Christian, those who follow the faith have been litigated or brow-beaten into being fearful to utter the words “Merry Christmas,” or to display a Nativity scene celebrating the one and only reason there is a Christmas Day.

Another bogus claim. Christian churches and individual Christians can put all the nativity scenes they want on their own property. The issue is whether they can be placed on public property. See above about the evils of “Christian Privilege.” And I’ve yet to find an actual verifiable example of anybody being punished for saying “Merry Christmas.”

MacKinnon goes on and on, making whiny claims of persecution that he appears to be hauling out of his ass. If we ever want to put together a public display of “Why Right-Wing Christians Are Annoying and Why People Don’t Like Them,” I propose putting MacKinnon on a pedestal in the middle of the exhibit.

MacKinnon: We don’t dislike you because of your faith; we dislike you because you’re a whiny intolerant asshole. 

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Republicans Step on a Rake

Trump Maladministration

Apparently Republicans were eager to release the Comey memos because they believed it would reveal that Comey had leaked classified information. The Creature continued to believe that after the Republicans made the memos public.

However, people who don’t work for Fox News and who have combed through the memos are not finding the classified information that Comey allegedly leaked. Jeremy Stahl explains how the belief in the leaked classified memos comes from sloppy Fox News reporting, not the memos themselves.

See also Greg Sargent, The leaked Comey memos just blew up in Trump’s face.

When you cut through all the noise, what they really reveal is a senior law enforcement official struggling to figure out in real time how to handle efforts by the president to turn him into a loyalist devoted to carrying out his political will in wildly inappropriate fashion. Comey’s memos recount in new detail that Trump repeatedly demanded his loyalty and that Trump pressed him to drop his probe into his then-national security adviser Michael Flynn.

Weirdly, Trump and his minions are claiming the memos prove “no collusion” and “no obstruction.” Um, no, they don’t.

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Not Settling for Crumbs

Trump Maladministration

I want to add just a few more thoughts to yesterday’s post on the Republican tax cuts and why they are unpopular. Paul Krugman points out that the Bush tax cuts, which similarly gave a lot of money to the rich and cranked up the budget deficit, were popular. “Distributionally, the two tax cuts were broadly similar – as I said, big stuff for the rich, plus what amount to loss leaders for the middle class,” Krugman writes.

[The] answer might be that the Bush tax cut was pushed through in a very different fiscal environment. Readers of a certain age may recall that when Bush ran in 2000, the U.S. actually had a budget surplus – which he claimed simply to be giving back to voters. But during the Obama years voters were subjected to constant scare talk about deficits and debt – some from centrist scolds, some from the very Republicans who rammed through their tax cut. This may have made voters more aware of the downside to big tax cuts for the rich, even if they got a bit themselves.

It’s really truly not 2001 any more. The economy had been, relatively speaking, pretty sweet in the late 1990s. It was the Age of Complacency. When George W. Bush talked about giving the budget surplus back to taxpayers, many people obviously assumed “budget surplus” meant there were piles of extra money in Washington somewhere that the government didn’t need, which of course isn’t how these things work.  But remember back in the earlier 1990s when Ross Perot got everybody worked up about the deficit? Look at what has happened since:

Source: https://www.usgovernmentspending.com/spending_chart_1960_2021USb_XXs2li111mcn_G0f

Anyway, much has happened since George W. Bush became president, and I’m not just talking about terrorist attacks. A lot of people never really recovered from the financial meltdown in 2008. That episode also showed America that the big shots in Washington and on Wall Street can’t be trusted. The rising tide they created for themselves was made of the tears and sweat of working people, who didn’t benefit, but who paid the price when it all tumbled down. Meanwhile we’re in a country made of crumbling infrastructure, and with major cities deprived of safe drinking water, and with shrinking social programs, and too many people still doing without secure housing and decent health care, and there’s never enough money to fix that.  But the rich get richer, and there’s always plenty of money for wars and parades and whatever ridiculous thing Scott Pruitt is doing.

Today, thanks to the tax cuts, big banks are reporting record profits. Few of us will benefit. And I think most people realize that, including even most Trump voters.

Martin Longman writes that pollsters have found people believe the tax breaks were just to reward Republican donors. Here he quotes the pollsters’ report:

One key difference the research found is voters are more receptive to the argument that Republicans are likelier to use government to personally enrich themselves and their wealthy donors. “They actually don’t think the tax plan was done for policy reasons,” Pollock said. “They don’t even think it was done for ideological reasons. They think it was done for purely dirty campaign reasons.”

That’s because it was. Voters didn’t see that in 2001, but they understand it now. And maybe we’ve finally reached the point that Republicans cannot continue to skate on the illusory promise of prosperity through tax cuts. They’ve pulled that trick too many times; people see the scam.

But I’m not letting Democrats off the hook. Assuming the blue tide is real and the Dems take back the House and, maybe, the Senate this fall, the Dems can’t fall back into being the party of meaningless tweaks and Republican Lite. They have to be seen actually passing legislation that will benefit people, even if a Republican president vetoes it. And the problem with the Democrats is that a big chunk of the party is still complacent and still afraid that bold progressive initiatives will drive away the mythical center. Meanwhile, they take the votes of struggling minorities for granted, because hey — we’re not as bad as Republicans.

Thomas Edsall has an interesting column up

Last week, in an essay for CityLab, Richard Florida, a professor of urban planning at the University of Toronto, described how housing costs are driving the growing division between upwardly and downwardly mobile populations within Democratic ranks:

The rise in housing inequality brings us face to face with a central paradox of today’s increasingly urbanized form of capitalism. The clustering of talent, industry, investment, and other economic assets in small parts of cities and metropolitan areas is at once the main engine of economic growth and the biggest driver of inequality. The ability to buy and own housing, much more than income or any other source of wealth, is a significant factor in the growing divides between the economy’s winners and losers.

Allies on Election Day, the two wings of the Democratic Party are growing further estranged in other aspects of their lives, driven apart by the movement of advantaged and disadvantaged populations within and between cities. These demographic patterns exacerbate intraparty tensions.

In brief: High-income urban professionals have plenty of money and are often oblivious to the hardships faced by others living in the same city. This is true of high-income urban professionals who call themselves “liberals” and are consistent Democratic voters.

Edsall links to this essay by Dani Rodrik, an economist at Harvard, who lays out the problem in stark terms. He addresses the rise of right-wing authoritarian faux populism in western democracies.

Why were democratic political systems not responsive early enough to the grievances that autocratic populists have successfully exploited – inequality and economic anxiety, decline of perceived social status, the chasm between elites and ordinary citizens? Had political parties, particularly of the center left, pursued a bolder agenda, perhaps the rise of right-wing, nativist political movements might have been averted.

And why didn’t the Left respond?

After the supply-side shocks of the 1970s dissolved the Keynesian consensus of the postwar era, and progressive taxation and the European welfare state had gone out of fashion, the vacuum was filled by market fundamentalism (also called neoliberalism) of the type championed by Reagan and Margaret Thatcher. The new wave also appeared to have caught the electorate’s imagination.

Instead of developing a credible alternative, politicians of the center left  into the new disposition. Clinton’s New Democrats and Tony Blair’s New Labour acted as cheerleaders for globalization. The French socialists inexplicably became advocates of freeing up controls on international capital movements. Their only difference from the right was the sweeteners they promised in the form of more spending on social programs and education – which rarely became a reality.

The French economist Thomas Piketty has recently documented an interesting transformation in the social base of left-wing parties. Until the late 1960s, the poor generally voted for parties of the left, while the wealthy voted for the right. Since then, left-wing parties have been increasingly captured by the well-educated elite, whom Piketty calls the “Brahmin Left,” to distinguish them from the “Merchant” class whose members still vote for right-wing parties. Piketty argues that this bifurcation of the elite has insulated the political system from redistributive demands. The Brahmin Left is not friendly to redistribution, because it believes in meritocracy – a world in which effort gets rewarded and low incomes are more likely to be the result of insufficient effort than poor luck.

This is exactly what’s going on in the Democratic Party. In 2016 the Brahmin Left backed Hillary Clinton and could not for the life of them see why she was not a palatable candidate to most of the country, including working-class and young people of all races. The Brahmins are very proud of their support for civil rights for minorities, as they should be, but utterly oblivious to the way the system that benefits them is shafting everybody else. And this took us to the stupid post-2016 election squabbles about whether the Democratic Party should abandon civil rights in favor of economic issues, as if there was a reason the party couldn’t support both.

Trust in government has generally been declining in the US since the 1960s, with some ups and downs. There are similar trends in many European countries as well, especially in southern Europe. This suggests that progressive politicians who envisage an active government role in reshaping economic opportunities face an uphill battle in winning over the electorate. The fear of losing that battle may explain the timidity of the left’s response.

I’d say the real reason is that too many influential Democrats have their heads up their asses. My fear is that Democratic victories this December will translate into more Democratic complacency and inertia. People have seen through that scam, too. They are not willing to settle for crumbs any more. The party that really gets that will be in a great position to dominate American politics for a generation. The sad thing is, I don’t think either one really does.

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Republicans Don’t Understand Why People Don’t Like Them

Trump Maladministration

There’s a story in the right-wing Washington Examiner saying that Republicans are alarmed that their tax cuts aren’t more popular.

In a fresh NBC News/Wall Street Journal survey conducted jointly by Democratic and Republican pollsters, the law was underwater: 27 percent approved, 36 percent disapproved. Those results track with private data Republicans have monitored, sparking anxiety about their chances of surviving a tough November election with their House majority intact.

“Republicans have a lot of work in front of them to make sure people understand the benefits of the tax bill, and nobody is going to be driving this but them. They need to understand that it’s not just — we’ve done this, let’s go on to the next thing,” said David Winston, a GOP pollster who advises House and Senate Republicans.

“The signature achievement for Congressional Republicans for this Congress will have been the tax bill — no matter what else they do,” he added.

They are blaming Trump for being off message.

“People aren’t talking about it enough, and when people aren’t talking about it enough, that’s a problem,” Ohio Rep. Steve Stivers, chairman of the National Republican Congressional Committee, said Tuesday, of the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act. “Our guys need to be talking about the tax bill more; that’s one of the things that I talked about in conference this morning.”

However, a poll taken in March found that 52 percent of working adults say they aren’t seeing any increase in their paychecks, which may tell us something about why talking about the tax cuts isn’t going to help. The tax bill doesn’t seem to be winning hearts and minds; a Gallup poll found 39 percent approval for it in February and April. No change.

Last February the Koch Brothers put a bunch of money into television ads aimed at Claire McCaskill for not voting for the tax increase. Here’s one, featuring a nice white family who have a very nice home. I saw a few of them, and then they stopped running. I suspect they weren’t moving the needle.

Last month Eric Levitz wrote that the tax cut bill was more popular in January, right after it passed, and then fell in popularity in February, which was when people were supposed to start seeing more money in their paychecks.

Republicans could blame the public for its ignorance on this front. Or, they could also blame themselves for giving massive tax breaks to the wealthy, and “so small they could be erased by your rising health-insurance premiums” tax breaks to working people.

The New York Times, also last month:

At Slyder’s Tavern, Matt Kazee, a machinist, drank a couple of beers as he waited for burgers to take home for dinner. His tab was about equal to the increase in his take-home pay after President Trump’s tax cut found its way into the nation’s paychecks.

“I have seen a little uptick in my paycheck, about what I expected, about 30 bucks,” said Mr. Kazee, who voted for President Barack Obama in 2008 before backing Mr. Trump in the 2016 election. “It felt to me about like where things were 15 years ago.”

His underwhelmed reaction was not what Republicans had in mind. The white working-class voters in the industrial Midwest who helped put Mr. Trump in the White House are now seeing the extra cash from the tax cut, the president’s signature domestic policy achievement and the foundation for Republican election hopes in November.

But the result has hardly been a windfall, economically or politically. Other workers described their increase as enough for a week’s worth of gas or a couple of gallons of milk, with an additional $40 in a paycheck every two weeks on the high side to $2 a week on the low. Few are complaining, but the working class here is not feeling flush with newfound wealth.

Republicans really thought that throwing a few bucks at the little people would hand them the midterms on a plate. Remember Paul Ryan’s tweet about the secretary who got a whole additional $1.50 a week? It’s kind of hard to fake being a populist when you are clueless about the people.

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