Browsing the archives for the Trump Maladministration category.


Not Settling for Crumbs

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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

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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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Barbara Bush, 1925-2018

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Trump Maladministration

For the record.

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Good Guys/Bad Guys

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Trump Maladministration

One of the fascinating aspects of our current outrageously convoluted concurrence of scandals it is the way that it confounds sorting many of the players into good guys and bad guys, as we humans tend to want to do.

Take James Comey, for example. Over the past couple of days a number of lefty-leaning commentators have written that Comey is no hero. See:

Adam Serwer, The Atlantic, “James Comey Is No Hero.”

Charles Pierce, Esquire, “James Comey Is No Hero.”

Alex Ward, Vox, “Why James Comey isn’t the hero you think he is.”

Ryan Cooper, The Week, “James Comey Is Not a Hero.”

And so on and so on. Cooper provides the clearest explanation:

Let us recall Comey’s last-minute intervention in the 2016 election, when he loudly announced the reopening of the FBI investigation into Hillary Clinton’s emails on Oct. 28, then quietly closed it again after a few days. So far as anyone can tell, it directly caused a sharp decline in her poll numbers, and quite possibly may have tipped the election outcome on its own. (Of course, only Clinton’s extraordinarily unpopularity allowed the election to be close enough to tip in the first place.)

This was in direct violation of FBI rules on public statements about ongoing investigations. For very obvious reasons (which Comey unquestionably understood), national law enforcement must tread with extreme caution when it comes to investigations of political candidates. Claims that a candidate is corrupt is towards the top of the list of how authoritarian governments undermine fair elections.

Let us also recall what Comey did not say: that the Trump campaign was also under FBI investigation at that same moment — and for possibly colluding with a hostile foreign power, something that is considerably worse than violating government rules about proper email management. He left a New York Times story relating false claims of anonymous FBI sources that the agency saw no connection between Russia and Trump stand without correction.

In short: During the 2016 election, James Comey in his capacity as FBI director behaved as a committed and highly effective partisan of Donald Trump.

As I understand it, Comey’s explanation is that he presumed Clinton would win, and he wanted to inoculate the FBI from any accusations that the Bureau helped her win. But at the very least he should have been more forthcoming that the Trump campaign also was under investigation. But now Comey is on the front lines against Trump. He was the one factor outside of Clinton’s control that probably did cost her the election, but now he’s on “our” side. And, believe me, I’m not suggesting we should ask him to leave. If he can help bring down Trump, let him do it. Just don’t put him on a pedestal.

(And, before moving on from the damn emails, let us lay some blame on Hillary Clinton also. She may not have done anything criminal, but she herself mishandled the email situation from the beginning, starting with not notifying the State Department that she was setting up her own server and then mixing up government and personal emails in the same account. And then she let the situation fester way too long without addressing it more forthrightly. As Matt Yglesias wrote, it was a bullshit story, but Clinton allowed it to become a bullshit story.)

And then there are the #NeverTrump conservatives. It’s a bit disconcerting to find myself agreeing with the likes of Max Boot and Jennifer Rubin, after their years of knee-jerk support for the Right. I assume that if America survives Trump, at some point in the future I’ll find myself calling Boot, Rubin et al. idiots once again. We’ll see. Fortunately, Jonah Goldberg is still an obvious idiot, even if he dislikes Trump; this keeps me grounded. (But see also this interview of Rubin in Politico.  It appears scales have fallen from eyes.)

Charles Pierce wrote,

I am told regularly by people I admire and respect to hold my cynical tongue about all the career conservatives and television flotsam from the late and unlamented Avignon Presidency who now are all over the airwaves deploring the terrible things being done to the Republic by the president* and his dwindling band of loyalists down at Camp Runamuck. Be nice, I am told. These are valuable allies.

Try not to say so loudly that, as soon as the Republican Party casts off the First Millstone, these people all will be right back to promoting the ideas and the policies that made him possible in the first place—voodoo economics, wars of choice based on deceit, ticking-bomb excuses for torture, and night sweats over the impending rise of the liberal power elite. Keep that stuff to yourself, they say.

Both Boot and Rubin played their part in creating the Right-Wing Neverland of alt-truth that allowed Trump to run for the presidency without having to make sense or answer for his own sordid “business” background. Jonathan Chait wrote,

What implications might be drawn from the implacable support of the party base for the manifestly incompetent, scandal-ridden party leader? One might entertain the conclusion that no combination of facts and logic can dislodge the Republican base from its tribal loyalties. This interpretation could be supported by such evidence as the fondness of Republicans for birtherism, their distrust of climate science, and so on. Perhaps the Republican base as currently constituted is hopelessly immune to reason and a reasonable person such as Brooks should instead refocus his political energies on curtailing its political power.

Maybe somebody should send Brooks the quiz for conservatives in Charles Pierce’s post. Sample question: “Please provide an example of how you pushed back against the entire Swift Boating of Kerry. Did any of you upbraid the people who were peddling Purple Heart Band-Aids at the 2004 Republican Convention?” Do read it all.

Something else to read: Nancy LeTourneau, “What Was Speaker Paul Ryan Doing in Prague Three Weeks Ago?

To be honest, I have no idea what any of this means. But it is important to keep in mind that Ryan is better known for his ideological commitment to Ayn Rand economics than as a foreign policy expert. It sure looks like he knows that the whole Trump-Russia conspiracy is about to blow up and, as a final act, positioned himself for a 2020 presidential run as the non-Trump candidate. I’ll admit that is pure speculation on my part, so what do you make of all of this? Could it all be just one gigantic coincidence?

Finally, what’s up with the Sean Hannity-Michael Cohen thing? Why did Cohen’s lawyers make a big bleeping deal about keeping the “third client” anonymous, but then they blurted it out in open court? And then Hannity couldn’t deny being Cohen’s client forcefully enough. But then, he said Cohen was advising him on real estate. Cohen is not a real estate lawyer. Cohen is, however, involved in big real estate deals in a non-lawyer capacity. One might assume Hannity was up to something involving Cohen he doesn’t want the world to know about, wouldn’t one?

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Ooo, Somebody’s Scared

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Trump Maladministration

Yesterday three lawyers working for Trump sent a letter to Judge Kimba Wood,  Senior Judge of the United States District Court for the Southern District of New York, asking that Trump be allowed to review all the documents seized from Michael Cohen before criminal investigators see it.

(If the name “Kimba Wood” sounds familiar, she was nominated to be U.S. Attorney General by Bill Clinton in 1993. Her name was withdrawn because of the nannygate thing, even thought she hadn’t done anything illegal, or anything that a lot of the Republicans in Congress hadn’t done, I’m sure. If she ever wanted to get revenge on the Right for that mess, now’s her chance. She is the judge who sentenced Michael Milken to ten years in prison. I also see in her bio that she originally was nominated to the SDNY court by Ronald Reagan on the recommendation of  Senator Al D’Amato, however. Make of that what you will. )

Judge Wood is scheduled to have a hearing this afternoon for the purpose of ascertaining that Cohen actually works as a lawyer. There’s some question whether he has had anything resembling a “law practice” for several years, in which case any pretense at privilege would go up in smoke.

The stuff seized in the raid last week is supposed to next go to a “taint team,” prosecutors who are not part of the investigation into Cohen, review all the material and eliminate anything that might be covered by lawyer privilege. Trump’s lawyers are trying to stop that, however.

“The president objects to the government’s proposal to use a ‘taint team’ of prosecutors from the very office that is investigating this matter to conduct the initial privilege review of documents seized from the President’s personal attorney, Michael Cohen,’’ Hendon’s letter said.

She added that “the president respectfully requests” that the judge issue an order barring the taint team from conducting an initial review of the seized material and require the government to turn over a copy of that material to Cohen’s lawyers.

Then, the president wants the court to direct Cohen “to identify to the president all seized materials that relate to him in any way and to provide a copy of those materials to him and his counsel,” according to the letter. Any disputes about what material was or wasn’t covered by the attorney-client privilege would then be decided by a judge, under the president’s proposal.

Considering that the FBI apparently seized a truckload of stuff, this kind of review could drag on for years. I hope Judge Wood just says no.

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Trump’s Breaking Point?

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Trump Maladministration

What everyone seems to be reading this weekend: Adam Davidson, “Michael Cohen and the End Stage of the Trump Presidency.” Youn will want to read this all the way through. “There are lots of details and surprises to come, but the endgame of this Presidency seems as clear now as those of Iraq and the financial crisis did months before they unfolded,” Davidson writes. Here’s just a bit:

I am unaware of anybody who has taken a serious look at Trump’s business who doesn’t believe that there is a high likelihood of rampant criminality. In Azerbaijan, he did business with a likely money launderer for Iran’s Revolutionary Guard. In the Republic of Georgia, he partnered with a group that was being investigated for a possible role in the largest known bank-fraud and money-laundering case in history. In Indonesia, his development partner is “knee-deep in dirty politics”; there are criminal investigations of his deals in Brazil; the F.B.I. is reportedly looking into his daughter Ivanka’s role in the Trump hotel in Vancouver, for which she worked with a Malaysian family that has admitted to financial fraud. Back home, Donald, Jr., and Ivanka were investigated for financial crimes associated with the Trump hotel in SoHo—an investigation that was halted suspiciously. His Taj Mahal casino received what was then the largest fine in history for money-laundering violations.

The counter-argument, which Davidson addresses, is that Trump’s followers know him to be a ruthless, whatever-it-takes kind of guy, and that’s why they like him. Reports of criminal behavior in business will no more phase them than reports of his rampant promiscuity. Davidson argues that these people haven’t yet been exposed to the depths of Trump’s sleaziness. They still think of him as an actual businessman who became rich through his own shrewdness. When they find out he never was a businessman, really, but just a crook/media personality, they are likely to change their minds.

Sure, many people have a vague sense of Trump’s shadiness, but once the full details are better known and digested, a fundamentally different narrative about Trump will become commonplace.

The narrative that will become widely understood is that Donald Trump did not sit atop a global empire. He was not an intuitive genius and tough guy who created billions of dollars of wealth through fearlessness. He had a small, sad operation, mostly run by his two oldest children and Michael Cohen, a lousy lawyer who barely keeps up the pretenses of lawyering and who now faces an avalanche of charges, from taxicab-backed bank fraud to money laundering and campaign-finance violations.

Cohen, Donald, Jr., and Ivanka monetized their willingness to sign contracts with people rejected by all sensible partners. Even in this, the Trump Organization left money on the table, taking a million dollars here, five million there, even though the service they provided—giving branding legitimacy to blatantly sketchy projects—was worth far more. It was not a company that built value over decades, accumulating assets and leveraging wealth. It burned through whatever good will and brand value it established as quickly as possible, then moved on to the next scheme.

I believe this is true. The question is, how long will it take? Six months? A year? A decade?

I remember lots of people supporting Nixon nearly up to the bitter end. But Nixon became persona non grata everywhere pretty quickly. Eventually even people who cheered on the Iraq War came to realize it was a massive clusterbleep. Unfortunately, it’s probably the case that things have to get worse before people are ready to wake up. Fortunately, it’s a near certainty things will get worse, because Trump is in charge and he’s an incompetent moron.

Now, skip over to David Atkins at Washington Monthly. “It’s Too Late for Trump To Stop the Investigations,” he writes.

With the joint cooperation of both federal and state investigators in pursuing the president’s long-time consigliere Michael Cohen, even successfully muzzling Mueller may well have little effect. Not only would the probe continue at the federal level regardless of a change in leadership, more importantly the state-level investigations would proceed at full pace as well.

The raid by the Southern District New York on Michael Cohen’s residences and office looks more and more significant, and there’s not a damn thing Trump can do to stop it.

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Syria: One and Done, and Nothing Really Changes

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Trump Maladministration

Before we go on to Syria — does anyone remember Trump’s big announcement last August that he was calling for a troop increase in Afghanistan?

President Trump outlined a revised vision for the U.S. war in Afghanistan on Monday, pledging to end a strategy of “nation-building” and instead institute a policy aimed more squarely at addressing the terrorist threat that emanates from the region. …

… But Trump provided few specifics about his policy and how much the U.S. military commitment in the region would increase as a result, insisting that conditions on the ground would determine troop levels and strategy.

What sticks in my head most vividly is a conversation I overheard the next day, in which some locals were telling each other with some excitement that Trump was going to bring back the draft. They were anticipating a major military action in Afghanistan. And I’m thinking, seriously? This is nothing but the usual blah blah blah. In a couple of weeks nobody will remember anything about it. And I was right. There was a modest increase in troops, btw, that nobody seems to have noticed.

This morning I saw someone on social media declaring that we were back at war, and I’m thinking, probably not. It’s not clear to me that yesterday’s strike on Syria was any different from other strikes on Syria. This is just what we do in the absence of having a plan; we periodically fire missiles at Syria.

Krishnadev Calamur writes at the Atlantic:

It was a dramatic action at the end of a dramatic few days. But we’ve seen a version of this before. What’s different about these strikes, Trump said: “We are prepared to sustain this response until the Syrian regime stops its use of prohibited chemical agents.” And, as Dunford pointed out later, while the previous strike hit one facility, this one struck three. And while the last one was unilateral, this one involved the British and the French.

But, as was the case with the last strike, we won’t immediately know how effective Friday’s strikes were in stopping further chemical attacks—or what will happen should Russia intervene militarily.

This year’s Syria air strike was bigger than last year’s Syria air strike, but I’m not seeing anyone who thinks it will make any long-term difference. The goal seems to have been to make a show of doing something without doing so much something that there would be any retaliation. Trump may have said that he is “prepared to sustain” whatever you want to call yesterday’s strikes, but Secretary of Defense James Mattis said this was a “one-time shot.” It appears Trump’s administration pays less and less attention to Trump. It’s the only way it can function at all.

Just as a sign of how bleeped this all is, Trump actually tweeted “mission accomplished!” this morning. I’m not kidding.

Lives lost, families blown apart. But we have cool missiles!

Most of the smart people are saying that the “result” is that Assad has won. Krishnadev Calamur concluded,

Any damage sustained to Syrian military facilities can be repaired by Assad’s benefactors, Russia and Iran. Assad has all but won the conflict at a great cost: More than 500,000 people have been killed, the war has created more than 5 million refugees, and entire cities have been flattened. Unless the U.S. supplements Friday’s actions with a broader military role in Syria—one that neither the president nor the American public has the appetite for—Assad will not only remain in power, but also retain his ability to target his people.

Juan Cole:

In our age of politics as reality show, where we have hired the star of NBC’s “Apprentice” to play president (apparently in large part because he is both consistently awful and highly entertaining at once), even geopolitics is done for show.

The United States, France and the UK lost the Syrian War to Russia and Iran. It is all over but the shouting. They had hoped that the al-Assad regime, which had been a thorn in their sides for decades, would be overthrown. It isn’t an ignoble hope. It is a horrible, Stalinist regime with massive amounts of blood on its hands. But the reasons for which Washington, Paris and London wanted it gone were not necessarily noble ones. Syria is among the last states to reject Israel. Its secular elites reached out, isolated after the end of the Cold War, to Iran for support. Its system does not accommodate the Western corporate take-over of the country’s economy. Overthrowing countries that buck the neoliberal, barracuda capitalist Washington consensus and challenge the neocolonial order in the Middle East (with the assumption of Israeli hegemony in the Levant) is a no-brainer for the North Atlantic powers. …

… The missile attacks are for domestic politics, and perhaps to some extent a demonstration of political will to Russia and Iran. As military history they are a footnote.

Those who argue that they were necessary to show resistance to the use of chemical weapons are missing some things. The West backed Saddam Hussein’s use of chem in the Iraq-Iran War. It is hard to see why killing children with chlorine differs from the point of view of the children from killing them with bombs. Military action should be taken in accordance with international law. And, deploying missile strikes ineffectually renders them less effective politically down the road.

These strikes are like when a fistfight breaks out on the reality show Big Brother. The show will go on next week.

It’s worth reading Juan Cole all the way through; he explains what’s actually going on better than most of the big media outlets. And for all the chest-thumping going on in Washington, the more telling news is this:

Moscow met the limited American-led airstrikes against Syria before dawn on Saturday with plenty of bluster and heated rhetoric, starting with an uncharacteristically quick response from President Vladimir V. Putin condemning the attack and accusing the United States of aggravating the humanitarian situation.

But there was also a palpable sense of relief.

The sun was barely up before the Defense Ministry, not famous for speedy reactions, pumped out a statement underscoring that none of the thousands of Russian troops garrisoned in Syria had been threatened by the American, British and French attack and that none of its air defense systems had been mobilized.

This just in: Pro-Assad official says targeted bases were evacuated on Russian warning. Of course they were.

Right now my email in box is clogged with messages from various groups asking me to help stop Trump’s illegal strikes in Syria (by sending them money). I suspect the strikes are over already — for a while, anyway. Until next time somebody decides we have to Do Something about Assad.

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Bye, Paul Ryan

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Trump Maladministration

Several news outlets are reporting that Paul Ryan will announce today that he is not seeking re-election and will retire from the House.

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Citizen Cohen

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Trump Maladministration

Trump supporters are whining that Michael Cohen is being treated like a mob lawyer. Yeah, he is, isn’t he? And probably for good reason.

Several op eds and analyses say it is extraordinarily difficult to get a search warrant on records from a lawyer unless there is really, really, really solid evidence that said lawyer is engaged in criminal activity. And there would have to be good reason to think that a subpoena wouldn’t do.

Whatever evidence federal prosecutors have collected concerning Michael Cohen, President Trump’s longtime attorney, it is most likely extraordinarily strong.

Before federal agents raided Cohen’s home, hotel room, and office Monday afternoon, they would have had to convince high-ranking officials at the Department of Justice and a federal judge that a search warrant was necessary to obtain the evidence sought.

“Doing a search warrant rather than a subpoena suggests the investigators thought Cohen, if given a subpoena, would possibly destroy evidence or withhold key evidence, particularly if it were incriminating,” Clinton Watts, a former FBI agent and a senior fellow at the Foreign Policy Research Institute, said.

So, yes, raiding rather than subpoena-ing is what is done with mob lawyers who are thought to be themselves engaged in ongoing criminal activity. It would not be done if the lawyer were only representing someone thought to be guilty of ongoing criminal activity.

If Cohen were being raided only for material related to the Stormy Daniels payoff, it could be argued that he hadn’t been acting as Trump’s lawyer, since Trump himself said he didn’t know anything about it. But even then I don’t think they would have raided Cohen if they didn’t think he himself had reason to hide something pretty consequential from the law. Whether that “something” also incriminates Trump is not something we can know, yet.

Several news outlets are reporting this morning that yesterday’s raid was looking for information on payments to women, not just Stormy Daniels. But many people are skeptical that’s all the raid was about. As Josh Marshall wrote, what we know about the payment to Stormy Daniels and probably other women doesn’t rise to the level of gravity “to merit this kind of action.”

CNN is reporting that the FBI also sought information relating to Cohen’s ownership of taxi medallions. There have been rumors that Cohen’s taxi business is somehow connected to the Russian mob and various criminal activities. So maybe Cohen literally is a mob lawyer. But I can’t find anything more than rumors. There’s also talk of bank fraud, which might relate to where Cohen got the money to pay off Daniels et al., and campaign finance violations, which might relate to seeing the payoff money as campaign contributions, which I understand is a stretch.

ABC is reporting that the warrant was not sought by the U.S. Attorney from the Southern District of New York, Geoffrey Berman, because Berman (a Trump appointee who was interviewed by Trump for the job) actually is recused from the Michael Cohen investigation. The raid was handled by other people in Berman’s office and approved by a judge.

Now, why did Mueller hand off this investigation to the Justice Department and the Southern District of New York? It might really be that what Cohen is suspected of doing really isn’t related to Trump or the Trump campaign. But let’s assume that isn’t it.

Jed Shugerman writes at Slate,

Why might this U.S. attorney’s office have been involved? One answer is the most basic: a raid of at least two locations simultaneously—office and hotel—requires a lot of bodies and coordination. If you need that many FBI agents, you already need to coordinate with the local office for it to go smoothly. Former prosecutors say that Mueller might have referred this raid to the Southern District for logistical reasons alone. But he still chose to refer the investigation to this U.S. attorney’s office rather than simply use their logistical support.

What else might this move tell us about Robert Mueller’s thinking? First, remember that Mueller has learned that Trump has already tried to fire him, and the person who reportedlystopped him—White House counsel Don McGahn—is rumored to be on his way out of the administration.

The Post is reporting that the subject of the Cohen warrant was an investigation into possible bank fraud, wire fraud, and campaign finance violations, possibly related to a hush money contract with adult film performer Stormy Daniels. Mueller probably could have made a claim that Cohen already fell under his jurisdiction, which is to investigate Russian election interference, links between the Trump campaign and Russia, and “any matters that arose or may arise directly from the investigation.” But it has been reported that Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein made the call to involve the U.S. attorney, and perhaps Rosenstein made a strategic calculation about Trump, or they agreed together. It seems, though, that both men know they need to spread Mueller’s work around as a hedge against his firing, and maybe even to try to deter Trump from firing him.

In other words, in order to shut down the investigation Trump would have to not just stop Mueller’s investigation, he’d also have to move against the Southern District of New York.

Republicans are warning Trump not to fire Mueller. Whether there is anything that can be done to protect Mueller is a matter of dispute.  But it’s not hard to imagine that Republicans in Congress really don’t want to deal with the fallout of another Saturday Night Massacre. Especially not in a midterm year.

Meanwhile, Mueller himself is making other news.

The special counsel is investigating a payment made to President Trump’s foundation by a Ukrainian steel magnate for a talk during the campaign, according to three people briefed on the matter, as part of a broader examination of streams of foreign money to Mr. Trump and his associates in the years leading up to the election.

Investigators subpoenaed the Trump Organization this year for an array of records about business with foreign nationals. In response, the company handed over documents about a $150,000 donation that the Ukrainian billionaire, Victor Pinchuk, made in September 2015 to the Donald J. Trump Foundation in exchange for a 20-minute appearance by hMr. Trump that month through a video link to a conference in Kiev.

Michael D. Cohen, the president’s personal lawyer whose office and hotel room were raided on Monday in an apparently unrelated case, solicited the donation.

Oh, my. And did any of that $150,000 find its way into the Trump campaign, I wonder? Trump has already been caught using his “foundation” as a slush fund for self-dealing (which is something he’s accused Hillary Clinton of doing, without evidence).

Mr. Mueller has also examined a deal Mr. Cohen was putting together with Mr. Trump to build a Trump Tower in Moscow. Mr. Trump said last summer that Mr. Mueller should not look at his or his family’s finances beyond issues related directly to Russia.

But the special counsel’s investigators have questioned witnesses about whether money from the Persian Gulf had been used to finance Mr. Trump’s political efforts and asked for information on Mr. Pinchuk.

So, Cohen could have lots of information on Trump that is very incriminating, indeed.

Here’s a rundown of Trump associates who are under investigation, under indictment, or have already pleaded guilty.

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Michael Cohen Gets Searched and Seized

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Trump Maladministration

Lots of juicy news is breaking about Trump’s lawyer, Michael Cohen. Today the FBI raided Cohen’s Manhattan law offices and his hotel suite in the Loews Regency on Park Avenue. Cohen’s attorney said in a statement. “I have been advised by federal prosecutors that the New York action is, in part, a referral by the Office of Special Counsel, Robert Mueller.”

Word is that Cohen is being investigated for possible bank fraud and campaign finance violations, and the records seized included those pertaining to the payoff to Stormy Daniels. That sound you hear is coming from Daniels’ attorney, Michael Avenatti, who is whooping it up. According to WaPo,

Among the documents seized were privileged communications between Cohen and his clients — including those with Trump, according to a person familiar with the investigators’ work. Investigators took Cohen’s computer, phone and personal financial records as part of the search of his office at Rockefeller Center, the person said.

Good times.

Update: Just heard on NBC that Rod Rosenstein signed off on the raids, and Trump just called the Mueller investigation “an attack on our country.” Will Trump be restrained from firing Rosenstein and Mueller?

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