Browsing the archives for the Trump Maladministration category.

Today’s Swamp News

Trump Maladministration

New York Attorney General Barbara Underwood got the Trump Foundation to agree to dissolve itself as of immediately. I doubt it had a choice.

New York Times:

The attorney general, Barbara Underwood, accused the foundation of “a shocking pattern of illegality” that was “willful and repeated” and included unlawfully coordinating with Mr. Trump’s 2016 presidential campaign.

“This amounted to the Trump Foundation functioning as little more than a checkbook to serve Mr. Trump’s business and political interests,” Ms. Underwood said.

The closure of the foundation is a milestone in the investigation. But the broader lawsuit, which also seeks millions in restitution and penalties and a bar on President Trump and his three oldest children from serving on the boards of other New York charities, is proceeding.

From the Attorney General’s statement:

“Our petition detailed a shocking pattern of illegality involving the Trump Foundation – including unlawful coordination with the Trump presidential campaign, repeated and willful self-dealing, and much more. This amounted to the Trump Foundation functioning as little more than a checkbook to serve Mr. Trump’s business and political interests.

“Today’s stipulation accomplishes a key piece of the relief sought in our lawsuit earlier this year. Under the terms, the Trump Foundation can only dissolve under judicial supervision – and it can only distribute its remaining charitable assets to reputable organizations approved by my office.

“This is an important victory for the rule of law, making clear that there is one set of rules for everyone. We’ll continue to move our suit forward to ensure that the Trump Foundation and its directors are held to account for their clear and repeated violations of state and federal law.”

Here’s the dissolution order. Whatever money was in the Foundation as of this morning is lost to the Trumps.  This may account for why Trump was having a major tweet tantrum this morning.  The White House is also making noises about backing down on the border wall. This comes after three days of relentless ridicule of Stephen Miller’s hair.

Meanwhile, the Michael Flynn sentence hearing is still going on. It doesn’t appear to be going well for Flynn.

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Is a Realignment Coming?

Trump Maladministration

Here are two articles to read together. The first is Jonathan Chait, I Have Seen the Future of a Republican Party That Is No Longer Insane. Please do read this all the way through; I found it fascinating. It begins,

This week, the Niskanen Center, a libertarian-leaning Washington think tank, held a conference on the future of the Republican Party, called “Starting Over: The Center-Right After Trump.” In my one opportunity to offer a comment, I helpfully suggested that the Republican Party as currently constituted needed (this is a direct quote) “to die in a fire.” The surprising thing is that many of the attendees in the room, including people who work at the Niskanen Center itself, told me afterward that they agree.

The most encouraging part of this article is not just that this group has rejected the current Republican but has also challenged current libertarian orthodoxy. In particular, they realized by looking at real-world data and experience that the doctrine that free markets and less government regulation lead to greater personal freedom for everybody simply isn’t true. All that stuff leads to is income inequality, which in turn destroys democratic government and eats away at personal freedom for the not-rich.

Instead, they have tried to map out a program for maximizing human freedom that follows the facts. This week, following its conference, the Niskanen Center published its manifesto, signed by four of its senior staff. Titled “The Center Can Hold: Public Policy for an Age of Extremes,” it synthesizes two years of heresies into an impressively coherent approach to governing.

Unsurprisingly, what they end up with is something that looks a lot like where the “centrists” of the Democratic Party are now.

The Niskanen Center is not playing the influence game, jostling to bring a slogan or campaign plank to the attention of the next Republican candidate. It is operating from the starting point of what a well-functioning right-of-center party ought to stand for, rather than how the current one can be tweaked.

The pathological character of the Republican Party is the most important problem in American politics. It has taken decades to develop to its current deformed state, and will not be solved quickly. There is no way to imagine the current incarnation of the GOP getting to the place Niskanen envisions any time soon. Niskanen’s manifesto contains multiple points of overlap with the prevailing orientation of the Democratic Party, and almost none with the prevailing orientation of the Republican Party. One can imagine a future in which the Democrats move toward socialism, opening a void in the center for the ideas espoused by Niskanen to take hold in something that perhaps shares the name, but otherwise none of the important ideological traits, of today’s Republican Party.

The Democrats, meanwhile, are famously split between the “centrists” and the “progressives.” This takes us to the other piece, by Elizabeth Bruenig, My advice to progressives: Don’t back down.

When not absorbed in hopes of re-creating the Obama era, Democrats mainly seem intent on beating Trump, with little comment or insight, at least so far, on what they will do with power once they have it. (After I questioned in my last column whether O’Rourke has demonstrated serious commitment to progressive values, some readers responded by arguing they’re glad he hasn’t — that Democrats need to run an Obama-style centrist to win back conservatives who might otherwise favor Trump. “A too-progressive Democratic nominee in 2020,” one reader wrote, “would be a gift to President Trump.”) Likewise, at a recent event in New York, former FBI director James B. Comey implored Democrats to put aside their political projects in favor of an all-consuming focus on simply beating Trump . “I understand the Democrats have important debates now over who their candidate should be,” Comey said, “but they have to win. They have to win.”

Presidential elections provide an opportunity for parties to identify and rally around their principles — and even to radically reshape them. If all the Democrats can manage is to hark back to the past and focus on winning for its own sake, they’re missing an opportunity to lay out a blueprint for the future. I don’t think that putting forth progressive priorities is incompatible with beating Trump; in fact, I think that having a clear and persuasive vision of what a better America can look like is likely to be more attractive to voters than promising them something vaguely like the past. One of the political lessons of recent years is that history is never over. The future is waiting, if we want to build it.

This lays bare the frustration a lot of us have had with the Democratic Party for many years. Going back to the heyday of Ronald Reagan, and arguably to George McGovern’s loss to Richard Nixon, they have adopted the strategy that they must water down or just plain ignore the policies pushed by their base in order to appeal to swing voters in the “center,” even as the “center” moves further and further Right. Now we’ve got a Democratic establishment that is pretty much in the same place that Eisenhower-era Republicans used to be. Meanwhile, the young folks especially are trying to push the party Left, to make it a party that is able to address real-world social and economic issues with big policies that, you know, do stuff.

So much of centrist-Democrat fantasizing about 2020 already seems aimed at repeating a golden past. Consider the groundswell of interest in Beto O’Rourke, the Texas congressman who narrowly lost his recent Senate race against Sen. Ted Cruz. For Democrats excited about O’Rourke, his primary draw is his similarity to Barack Obama — both in form and content. O’Rourke has held conversations with the former president about a possible run, to build on a belief that O’Rourke, as my colleague Matt Viser described it, is “capable of the same kind of inspirational campaign that caught fire in the 2008 presidential election.”

But Obama’s2008 inspiration campaign caught fire because it promised a return to the can-do legacy of FDR and JFK. Yes we can! But in the end, Obama’s admnistration was much more cautious and way less audacious than the one he promised. He might very well have lost to Romney in 2012 had Romney not reminded too many people of their bosses.

And IMO the centrists are utterly and absolutely wrong that only more centrism can beat Trump, especially considering that it was a candidate who represented the center of centrism that lost to him. The centrists seem to think that because Trump beat the Mighty Hillary he must be some kind of invincible juggernaut, in spite of his consistently low approval ratings. The terrible irony is that Trump was a weak and unpopular candidate in 2016; he won mostly because the out-of-touch Dems brilliantly managed to nominate someone even weaker and even more unpopular.

And as far as government is concerned, we’ve got a majority party that can’t accomplish anything because most of its members are opposed to the idea of government, and an alternative party so afraid of sticking its neck out on bold policies nobody knows what it stands for. And they’re both too influenced by money, of course.

So the question is, is a realignment coming within a few years? If the extreme Right continues to self-destruct, could we be left with a realignment in which center-right Repubicans and “centrist” Democrats align on one side, and progressives/social democrats align on the other side?

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Republicans: Hoist by Their Own Petard?

Trump Maladministration

Democrats are famous for forming circular firing squads, but I’m not sure there’s a name for the exercised in self-destruction Republicans have been engaged in this year. The closest I can come is Shakespeare’s “hoist with his own petard,” which apparently refers to a bomb-maker being blown up by his own bomb.

The latest bomb is that a federal judge in Texas just ruled the entire Affordable Care Act unconstitutional. There was a time that the entire Republican party would be celebrating that result. Now they’re probably quietly hoping the Supreme Court will save their asses and toss out the lower court decision.

Eztra Klein writes,

The Texas ruling finding the Affordable Care Act unconstitutional is ludicrous in its reasoning and unlikely to survive appeal. It argues, in short, that since Congress removed the penalty from the individual mandate, the individual mandate is no longer a tax; because the individual mandate is not a tax, it is no longer constitutional; and if the mandate is no longer constitutional, the entire law must be judged unconstitutional.

To do anything else would be, of course, immodest. As Judge Reed O’Connor writes, courts “are not tasked with, nor are they suited to, policymaking.” Yes, he is literally writing that as he tries to overturn Obamacare with a stroke of his pen. You can almost hear the “lol” he must’ve deleted from the first draft.

“If you were ever tempted to think that right-wing judges weren’t activist — that they were only ‘enforcing the Constitution’ or ‘reading the statute’ — this will persuade you to knock it off,” wrote law professor Nicholas Bagley. “This is insanity in print, and it will not stand up on appeal.”

Well, on a sane planet it would not stand up on appeal. In a nation that would put Beer Bong Bret on the Supreme Court, who knows?

This was, of course, the ruling on the lawsuit brought by a number of right-wing state secretaries of state to end the ACA, which at the time must have seemed like clever politics. Now, not so much. Along with Trump’s border policies, health care was one of the issues that got House Republicans killed in the suburbs. “Hoise by their own petard” sounds about right.

 Imagine a world where Judge O’Connor’s ruling is upheld. In that world, a Republican judge cuts tens of millions of people off health insurance mere weeks after Republicans lost a midterm election for merely trying to cut those people off health insurance. The aftermath of that would be a political massacre for the GOP, and a straightforward mandate for Democrats to rebuild the health system along the lines they prefer.

Preexisting conditions, anyone? Colby Itkowitz writes for WaPo,

The big question facing Republicans tonight is whether they will support legislation ensuring people with preexisting conditions continue to receive equitable health insurance coverage. Throughout the campaign, Democrats pointed out the hypocrisy of Republicans supporting the lawsuit while also telling voters preexisting conditions protections would be preserved. The problem with that promise is that Congress has not put in place any safeguards or contingencies for those protections in the event the law gets overturned.

I can’t find it now, but before the midterms one Republican idea I heard about to encourage insurance companies to sell policies to pre-existing conditions is to allow them to deny coverage for the pre-existing condition but cover everything else. Yeah, that’s work. And there’s this one:

Hawley says everyone would get insurance at roughly the same price with the same coverage. He goes on to say: “The federal government would then pay for insurance costs that exceed, say, $10,000. And the insurers, in turn, would be required to give most of the premiums they collect from these patients to the government.”

The Hawley campaign says that means the federal government would pay premium costs “above a certain threshold” for patients with pre-existing conditions. It says that will keep premium costs low.

But that also means insurance companies would be getting a taxpayer-financed federal subsidy to cover those patients. Hawley’s answer? Require insurers to send premiums back to Washington.

I’m not the sharpest tack in the box when it comes to numbers, but … that makes no sense to me. Does it make sense to you? Why is it not just saying that sicker people will be paying their premiums to the government which then would pay them to the insurance company? What would that accomplish? How does that keep cost down?

The quick-and-easier solution to the demise of the ACA would be to allow people with preexisting conditions and who are turned down for insurance to buy into the Medicare program or be covered under Medicaid. Nice way to expand the idea of Medicare for all, seems to me. Republicans won’t support that, though.

After all these years, it’s obvious Republicans will never, ever come up with a health care plan that does want they want health care to do — allow the health care and health insurance industries to price gouge and deny coverage to maximize their profits while also satisfying voters they are getting a good deal. Ain’t ever gonna happen. No way, no how.

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The End of an Era?

Trump Maladministration

Have we seen the last House investigation of Hillary Clinton? The final Clinton hearing scheduled in the current House blew up in everyone’s faces yesterday, and it’s hard to believe there will be any more until such time as Republicans become House majority again. So, let me tentatively say, possibly.  Of course, there’s still the Senate.

Nancy LeTourneau explains what happened yesterday.

Hillary Clinton haters were all a-flutter about the prospect of “explosive” information being revealed at Thursday’s hearing on the Clinton Foundation as the last hurrah from Rep. Mark Meadow’s (R-NC) chairmanship of the House Oversight Committee.

What could go wrong?

The first blow to their expectations came when U.S. Attorney John Huber, who was tasked by former Attorney General Sessions to investigate all of the anti-FBI conspiracy theories germinated by right wingers, announced that he would be a no-show.

One suspect U.S. Attorney Huber had a clue what might happen and didn’t want to be there.

The eagerly anticipated stars of the show were two guys often called “bounty hunters,” John Moynihan and Larry Doyle. Moynihan and Doyle — sounds like an old vaudeville act — claim to have spent the last three years doing an intensive forensic financial analysis of the Clinton Foundation.

John Moynihan and Larry Doyle testified that the foundation had violated its tax status, co-mingled funds with personal use and engaged in pay-to-play while Hillary Clinton was secretary of state. But as even Alana Goodman of the Washington Examiner reported, the hearing eventually blew up over their refusal to turn over their 6,000 page written report to the committee.

Moynihan and Doyle, maybe.

Why? Because the whole point of this exercise was for Moynihan and Doyle to make a lot of money.

While I wouldn’t doubt that there is some dark money behind their efforts, the real payoff they’re hoping for stems from the fact that they filed their claims with the IRS. That’s because a whistleblower program “pays those who expose any form of tax underpayment. In cases that exceed $2 million, the Office pays 15-30% of unpaid taxes, fines, and interest collected.” According to Doyle’s testimony, they believe that the Clinton Foundation owes at minimum $400 million in taxes, which would net them between $60-120 million for their efforts. That provides both the motivation for their findings as well as their reason for not wanting to turn their evidence over to the committee—they want to protect their investment.

The IRS so far has denied their claims, but Moynihan and Doyle are holding out hope and might eventually file a civil suit against the IRS to collect the money.

However, the committee had some parts of the report. They had gotten it from John Solomon, a “journalist” with a long history of skewing stories to support right-wing agendas.

So in other words, while the “whistleblowers” refused to give their written findings to the committee, they had obviously been willing to share them with a reporter who has been spinning conspiracy theories about the Clinton Foundation for years. We know that is the case because Solomon wrote an article based on their documents a full week before the hearing.

You know me to not be an unabashed supporter of Hillary Clinton, and if someone ever does dig up actual dirt on her I’m not going to faint away in shock. But I have always doubted the Clintons played fast and loose with Foundation money, if only because it would be really hard for managers of a 501(c)(3) nonprofit to get away with much without getting caught, seems to me. Especially when there is so much money and interest in finding dirt on that particular nonprofit.

In Trump scandal news, ProPublica has evidence that Trump’s inauguration committee way overpaid the Trump Organization for rooms, meals and event space at the company’s Washington hotel, and that this was Ivanka’s doing.

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Today’s Nooz

Trump Maladministration

Item One: Marina Butina “pleaded guilty Thursday to conspiring with a senior Russian official to infiltrate the conservative movement in the United States as an agent for the Kremlin from 2015 until her arrest in July 2017.”

Butina admitted to working with an American political operative and under the direction of a former Russian senator and deputy governor of Russia’s central bank to forge bonds with officials at the National Rifle Association, conservative leaders, and 2016 U.S. presidential candidates, including Donald Trump, whose rise to the Oval Office she presciently predicted to her Russian contact.

“Guilty,” Butina said with a light accent in entering her plea with U.S. District Judge Tanya S. Chutkan at a hearing Thursday morning in federal court in Washington.

As part of her plea, Butina admitted seeking to establish and use “unofficial lines of communication with Americans having influence over U.S. politics” for the benefit of the Russian government, through a person fitting the description of sanctioned Russian central banker Alexander Torshin, prosecutor Erik Kenerson said.

Item Two: The Daily Beast reports that Robert Mueller is looking at connections between Trump and the Middle East.  “In court filings that are set to drop in early 2019, prosecutors will begin to unveil Middle Eastern countries’ attempts to influence American politics, three sources familiar with this side of the probe told The Daily Beast.”

I think there’s a large probability that we’re going to learn Trump’s foreign policy is based entirely on being obsequitous to people (Russians, Saudis) to whom he personally owes money and favors, and being an asshole to everyone else.

Item Three: Speaking of asshole, Trump cancels White House holiday party for the press.

Item Four: Young people are bailing out of conservative evangelicalism. Evangelicalism may cease to be a political factor by 2024.

Item Five: How the National Enquirer broke up with President Trump.

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Trump Is Betting His Administration on the Stupid Wall

Trump Maladministration

The more I think about the smackdown on the oval office yesterday, the more I believe there’s no way Trump can get any kind of win out of this.

He’s not going to get the $5 billion for the wall. Pelosi says he doesn’t even have the votes on the House now, never mind next year, and she would know. On the other hand, Juliegrace Brufke reports for The Hill that House Republicans are considering putting the $5 billion up for a vote. The idea is that if it passes in the House it would somehow “put pressure” on Senate Democrats to vote for it. But I don’t see where the “pressure” would come from. Nobody is up for election anytime soon, and it would be hugely unpopular with the Democratic base.

And I would be surprised if it passed in the House. Last year when Trump was in a better position to make demands, House Republicans danced around an all-out funding of the wall. Many of them were just plain averse to voting for any kind of spending increase for any reason. See also Jonathan Bernstein from December 4:

In fact, what’s much more likely is that most House and Senate Republicans have no interest in taking on this battle at all right now. After all, voters just rejected their party after an election in which the president’s closing argument centered on the border. And Trump’s clout with Congress is at an all-time low. Even if the leadership wanted the confrontation, Trump wouldn’t be able to help assemble a winning coalition.

If they didn’t want to fund the wall then, why would House Republicans fund it now? Especially after most of the dust has cleared from the midterms, it’s pretty certain that Trump’s anti-immigration rhetoric had a lot to do with the GOP’s historic loss in the House. See Greg Sargent on that point.  Although some Republicans are still in denial, at least some of them realize that hating on immigrants is not the banner they want to march under in 2020.

However, they might pass a House bill to give Trump some cover, knowing that it needs 60 votes to pass in the Senate and won’t get them. That still leaves us with a December 21 deadline for stopping a government shutdown.

What if Congress passes some kind of bill that keeps government open but doesn’t fund the wall? Trump can either sign it — losing face as he does so — or veto it. Yesterday he took ownership of the subsequent shutdown, and that will be thrown in his face very day the shutdown continues. Back to Bernstein, which again was written a few days ago —

If Republicans do choose to shut down the government on Dec. 21, Democrats will only have to wait 13 days until the new Congress convenes and they move into the House majority.  Even if public opinion turns against the Democrats, which seems highly unlikely given that the wall is unpopular, the party surely could remain unified enough to drag things out that long and reap the increased leverage they would have beginning on Jan. 3. Especially since Democrats would be in the position of supporting any additional temporary measure to keep the government open while negotiations continued.

In other words, if they want to try to use a shutdown to force Democrats to go along with funding Trump’s wall, every day they wait makes their position a little weaker. I have no idea whether Trump realizes that or not, but two other GOP leaders most certainly do: Majority Leader Mitch McConnell and outgoing Speaker Paul Ryan.

I don’t see any way that Trump won’t come out of this even more damaged than he is already.

Ezra Klein writes that Trump doesn’t really want the wall, or else he would have offered something for it.

But Trump isn’t offering a deal, and he isn’t constructing the kind of process where anyone might offer him a deal. Instead, he’s looking for a photo op. He’s looking for a clip of himself he can see played, and praised, on Fox & Friends.

Some on the Right actually thought Trump “won” whatever that was in the Oval Office yesterday. The Gateway Pundit crew was pumped about it, I understand. But with people this stupid, all Trump would have to do is sign an appropriations bill and tell them it funds the wall, even if it doesn’t, and they’ll be perfectly fine with that. And that’s what I suspect he will do. But you never know.

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Trump Is Up Against the Wall

Trump Maladministration

You must watch this.

May I add that I love Pence sitting there looking like he wishes he were anywhere else.

This live television, um, meeting was a train wreck. I don’t know whose idea it was to air it live; I suspect the White House. Pelosi kept saying that they needed to be negotiating privately and not on live television. And I suspect much robust fact checking is going on right now and will be available in an hour or two.

This is about the infamous Wall. Trump kept saying that a “tremendous” amount of the wall has already been built, one of his frequent lies that caused Glenn Kessler at WaPo to create a new rating — the Bottomless Pinnochio. He waved a couple of pieces of paper around and claimed they said that the wall, where it exists, is totally effective. I’m sure that’s being fact checked as well.

Basically, he simultaneously claimed his wall has already been proved to be a “tremendous” success and that he has accomplished border security, but that nasty bad terrorists are still pouring in so he needs a bunch of billion dollars to build a wall.

The discussion went nowhere because Trump conflates “border security” with “wall.” Only a wall will do. Chuck and Nancy both said that there could be a border security bill passsed right now with plenty of votes in the House and Senate; there was no need to shut down the government over it. But he wasn’t going to get the whatever billion he’s asking for to build the wall that he says is already tremendously built.

Trump said he’d be proud to shut down the government to get his wall.

In a testy Oval Office exchange with the two top congressional Democrats, Rep. Nancy Pelosi and Sen. Chuck Schumer, President Trump made clear he would be “proud” to shut down the government in less than two weeks if he doesn’t get funding for his border wall.

“I’ll be the one to shut it down. I will take the mantle. And I will shut it down for border security,” Trump told House and Senate Democratic leaders as Vice President Pence sat by stoically.

Trump also floated a plan to have the military build the wall, an idea even Republicans are squeamish about.

This just up at the New York Times, regarding using the military to build the wall (emphasis added:

It was not clear what Mr. Trump was referring to. American troops he dispatched to the border on the eve of midterm congressional elections as part of what the president called an effort to head off a migrant “invasion” have put up concertina wire along existing fences and barriers, but the administration has yet to spend much of the $1.3 billion Congress approved for border security last year. Under restrictions put in place by Congress, none of that money could be used to construct a new, concrete wall of the sort the president has said is vital.

The president does not have the legal authority to spend money appropriated for one purpose on another task, such as wall-building.

There’s going to be some interesting fallout over this. Meanwhile, it’s been announced that John Kelly will stay on as chief of staff until well into January because they don’t have another candidate for the job. So much winning.

Update: Here’s another bit debunked:

President Donald Trump on Tuesday cited the recent apprehension of ten suspected terrorists to bolster his case for building a wall along the southern border, implying that a porous border with Mexico is leaving the country vulnerable to national security threats.

But the Department of Homeland Security, which oversees security and law enforcement at U.S. borders and ports of entry, was unable to provide data to directly substantiate that claim.



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Wackjobs In the News

Trump Maladministration

Here are a couple of news stories about conspiracy theories to read together.

David Atkins writes that the Q-Anon conspiracy theory is still going strong and destroying families:

When Reddit banned the subreddits dedicated to the conspiracy theory, much of the online activity shifted to other forums such as Voat, a website that imitates Reddit’s structure and has become a festering hotbed of racism, anti-semitism, and sexism after earning a reputation as a refuge for all those with far-right views too repellent even for Reddit.

Even a quick look at the Q-Anon community on Voat is enough to paint a portrait of families torn apart, relationships destroyed and people spiraling into mental illness.

This is followed by selections from a Q-Anon thread in which proselytizing of the Q-Anon cause is referred to as “red-pilling.” People describe trying to “red pill” their children, their parents, their spouses. Most of the time it doesn’t appear to be going well. Q-Anon believers also tend to be anti-vaxxers who think that flu shots can kill you, and in fact reducing the population is their real purpose.

At Rolling Stone, Andy Kroll writes about the aftermath of Pizzagate. It’s a wonder no one has been killed in that one.

Two years ago this month, Pizzagate reached its grim apex when a 28-year-old man stormed into Comet Ping Pong with a revolver and an AR-15 on a mission to save the “children.” Edgar Maddison Welch had binge-watched YouTube videos about Pizzagate and tried to recruit friends for his rescue mission. “Raiding a pedo ring, possibly sacraficing [sic] the lives of a few for the lives of many,” he texted one friend a few days before he got in his Prius and drove from his home in North Carolina to Washington. Customers and employees fled the restaurant as Welch fired several rounds into a locked closet full of computer gear, searching for the infamous child sex dungeon in Comet’s basement, which he never found — not least because the pizzeria doesn’t even have a basement. No one was hurt, and Welch surrendered to the police, hands on his head, in broad daylight in the street outside of Comet. He was later sentenced to four years in federal prison.

Even after the arrest, Pizzagate lived on. The day after Welch stalked into Comet, Michael Flynn, Jr., the son of Trump’s first national security adviser, tweeted: “Until #Pizzagate proven to be false, it’ll remain a story.” An Economist/YouGov poll in late December 2016 found that 46 percent of Trump voters and 17 percent of Clinton voters thought Pizzagate was real. A few months later, a small rally of Pizzagate believers took place outside the White House. Protesters have stood outside Comet carrying blown-up photos of Alefantis’ [Comet Ping Pong owner] god-daughter taken from his social media accounts. Strangers online have threatened to torture, rape and kill him.

I’ve read a lot of articles in popular magazines about why people cling to conspiracy theories, and I don’t think any explain it. Note that I’m not talking about the guy who thinks that there was a lone gunman on the grassy knoll because all his friends say so, but who has never really thought about it much. We all believe at least some things that aren’t true without it doing any harm. I’m talking about the hard-core fanatics who are obsessed with a particular theory and can’t let go of it even in the face of big-time debunking.

For example, this was in Psychology Today:

FFor one thing, conspiracy theories help us cope with distressing events and make sense out of them. Conspiracies assure us that bad things don’t just happen randomly. Conspiracies tell us that someone out there is accountable, however unwittingly or secretly or incomprehensibly, so it’s possible to stop these people and punish them and in due course let everyone else re-establish control over their own lives. Conspiracies also remind us that we shouldn’t blame ourselves for our predicaments; it’s not our fault, it’s them! In these ways, believing in conspiracies serves many of the same self-protective functions as scapegoating.

Okay, but that explaination doesn’t satisfactorily account for this:

It [Pizzagate] appears to have begun with a 2008 email included in the WikiLeaks dump in which Alefantis asked Podesta if he would give a speech at an Obama fundraiser at Comet. From there, the trolls began mining every detail they could find about Alefantis and Comet, quickly concocting a parallel theory that said Alefantis, Podesta and Clinton ran a child sex-trafficking ring. Self-styled investigators claimed that symbols on Comet’s iconic sign (which had previously been used by a D.C. liquor store that had since closed) were linked to satanic rituals. They said a photo of an empty walk-in refrigerator was evidence of a secret kill room.

The above paragraph is not describing a reasonably common if irrational cognitive defense mechanism against the bad, scary world. That shit above is just plain crazy.

Crawling into some academic sites that let you read abstracts but keep full articles behind a paywall, I take it some recent research has linked “schizotypy” with conspiracy theorizing. Here’s a blog post written by some guy who had access to the full articles.

Schizotypy is associated with the belief in conspiracy theories, according to new research published in the journal Psychiatry Research.

“My main research interest is in schizotypy. Schizotypy is a personality organisation that can be seen as risk factor for schizophrenia-spectrum disorders,” explained study author David Barron of  Perdana University. “However, with the concept of schizophrenia breaking down, psychologists, such as myself, are increasingly investigating schizotypy.”

“Schizotypic traits have a similar pattern to that of schizophrenia; that is, deficits in cognition, socio-emotional function, and behaviour. While these tend not meet the clinical threshold, and at some level represent a healthy personality make-up, they can be rather extreme and become a severe problem.” …

… The researchers found that there was a direct link between facets of schizotypy and belief in conspiracy theories. Those who scored high on measures of “Odd Beliefs and Magical Thinking” and “Ideas of Reference” were more likely to believe in conspiracy theories, such as the theory that U.S. agencies intentionally created the AIDS epidemic.

Magical Thinking refers to seeing causal relationships between events where none exists, while Ideas of Reference refers to interpreting innocuous events as highly personally significant.

Of course, it isn’t just that someone struggles with logic. For someone to be an obsessed and unshakable QAnon or Pizzagate or anti-vaxx or 911 Truth believer, one would have to harbor a huge, aching, deep-seated psychological need to believe such things. It would be like walking around with a hole in your psyche the size of the Grand Canyon that can only be filled with Crazy. And, IMO, that ought to meet some kind of clinical threshold, seems to me.

Social media, I fear, enables positive feedback loops that reinforce such wackjobbery and sucks susceptible people into the Crazy, deeper and deeper. And I have no idea what to do about that.

Elsewhere: The stock market people are nervous.

Stocks on Wall Street clawed their way back from losses Monday, in another volatile session that highlighted investors’ unease about the global economy and corporate profits.

The S&P 500 ended 0.18 percent higher, after having dropped more than 1.5 percent. Markets in Europe and Asia ended their trading sessions lower.

Sometimes I think there must be very wealthy people who throw money at the S&P 500 to prop it up when it looks like it’s about to spiral down a hole. But maybe I’m imaginging things.

Accused Russian spy Maria Butina appears to have reached a deal with federal prosecutors to dish on the National Rifle Association, but that isn’t certain yet.

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A Conspiracy So Immense

Trump Maladministration

My brain is tired. Between writing the book and trying to keep up with the latest Mueller investigation news, my brain is telling me it wants to spend about three days binge-watching episodes of “Gunsmoke.” I will slog on as best I can. However, I do want to register a complaint that the mess surrounding Trump is making Watergate look simple.

One thing I believe I understand is that the investigation has Trump dead to rights on campaign finance violations. This is from Lawfare:

In short, the Department of Justice, speaking through the acting U.S. attorney for the Southern District of New York, is alleging that the president of the United States coordinated and directed a surrogate to commit a campaign finance violation punishable with time in prison. While the filing does not specify that the president “knowingly and willfully” violated the law, as is required by the statute, this is the first time that the government has alleged in its own voice that President Trump is personally involved in what it considers to be federal offenses.

And it does not hold back in describing the magnitude of those offenses. The memo states that Cohen’s actions, “struck a blow to one of the core goals of the federal campaign finance laws: transparency. While many Americans who desired a particular outcome to the election knocked on doors, toiled at phone banks, or found any number of other legal ways to make their voices heard, Cohen sought to influence the election from the shadows.” His sentence “should reflect the seriousness of Cohen’s brazen violations of the election laws and attempt to counter the public cynicism that may arise when individuals like Cohen act as if the political process belongs to the rich and powerful.”

Even David French at National Review admits that it’s unlikely prosecutors would have made such strong statements about the POTUS without corrorating evidence that supports Cohen’s testimony.

We also have more hints at connections between the Trump campaign and Russia, although nothing new that clearly incriminates Trump. Marcy Wheeler explains what Manafort lied about, which is interesting. But there are so many connections between Trump’s associates and Russians, both the Russian government and the Russian mob. And that’s where my brain freezes.




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On the Brink

Trump Maladministration

I think financial journalists and fashion writers are the same people. The S&P 500 appear to be tottering on the brink of an abyss, and the financial press is full of stories about “Five Surprising Stocks to Buy Now!” written with the same breathless optimism as articles promoting fashion — “Five Makeup Essentials to Make You Look Ten Years Younger!” “Dress Like a Star With Glitter, Bedsheets and Safety Pins!” Whatever.

The more serious stock market people are alarmed that they are getting mixed messages from the White House. Larry Kudlow says one thing; Peter Navarro, who seems to have ten different jobs, says another.

Kudlow told CNBC on Friday that the trade talks with China are “extremely promising.”

Kudlow, director of Trump’s National Economic Council, said that Trump has indicated he might be willing to extend the 90-day negotiating window if there’s “good, solid movement and good action.”

Navarro, the trade hawk of the White House, struck a different tone on CNN. Asked whether the administration would walk away if issues with China are not resolved within 90 days, Navarro suggested Trump would “simply raise” existing tariffs on $200 billion worth of Chinese goods.

If China fails to change its ways on trade, “we have a president that’s going to stand up to that for once,” Navarro said.

Navarro also championed the nearly $12 billion that the United States has raised from tariffs, even though that money is being mostly paid by American consumers and businesses.

Of course, the real problem is that there’s nobody at the helm. Well, there’s Trump, but he has no idea what he’s doing. Paul Krugman writes,

Unfortunately, he really, really doesn’t know what he’s doing. On trade, he’s a rebel without a clue.

Even as he declared himself Tariff Man, Trump revealed that he doesn’t understand how tariffs work. No, they aren’t taxes on foreigners, they’re taxes on our own consumers.

When trying to make deals, he seems to care only about whether he can claim a “win,” not about substance. He has been touting the “U.S. Mexico Canada Trade Agreement” as a repudiation of NAFTA, when it’s actually just a fairly minor modification. (Nancy Pelosi calls it “the trade agreement formerly known as Prince.”)

Most important, his inability to do international diplomacy, which we’ve seen on many fronts, carries over to trade talks. Remember, he claimed to have “solved” the North Korean nuclear crisis, but Kim Jong-un is still expanding his ballistic missile capacity. Well, last weekend he claimed to have reached a major trade understanding with China; but as J.P. Morgan soon reported in a note to its clients, his claims “seem if not completely fabricated then grossly exaggerated.”

Markets plunged earlier this week as investors realized that they’d been had.

Of course, allowing oneself to be “had” by the likes of Trump suggests one wasn’t too smart to begin with. Michelle Obama said recently that the Masters of the Universe types really aren’t all that smart, and I believe her.

Elsewhere: Rex Tillerson made some candid remarks about his time in the Trump Administration recently. Naturally The Creature had to weigh in.

The above is a genuine tweet by the allegedly adult POTUS. I pulled it off his Twitter page personally.

Forbes has an in-depth look at How Donald Trump Shifted $1.1M Of Campaign-Donor Money Into His Business.

The appointee to become U.S. ambassador to the United Nations is a former Fox News reader who not that long ago cited D-Day as a high point in U.S.-German relations.

Update: Neil Irwin of the New York Times notes stock market volatility and wonders why it took so long for the money people to get nervous.

First, why is this happening when the economy is so strong? TheNovember jobs numbers released Friday showed the unemployment rate remains at a rock-bottom 3.7 percent amid healthy job creation, just the latest piece of economic data to come in relatively strong.

Second, what took so long? Why are markets just now recognizing the risks the economy faces in 2019, which have been obvious for months to anyone paying attention?

My answer is that most of these people don’t want to face the obvious. They want to believe everything will be fine.

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