What About that Putin-Trump Presser, Eh?

Trump Maladministration

Possibly the dumbest reaction I’ve seen so far of today’s Trump debacle is from Ross Douthat.

While much of the world sputters in outrage and astonishment at Trump’s performance today, others of us are saying yeah, we told you so. He’s a stooge.

Jonathan Swan at Axios:

“I just have no words. As press in this room, we are all sitting in here speechless and stunned. Trump cast doubt over the U.S. intelligence community and endorsed Putin’s denial. Trump was given an opportunity to denounce the meddling and he didn’t; he just pivoted to lines about the missing server and Hillary’s emails. While Putin spoke forcefully, lying, Trump nodded along. There’s no way of sugar coating or spinning this.”

Jonathan Chait, At Summit With Russia, Trump Betrays His Country in Plain Sight

Standing next to Vladimir Putin, after a meeting Putin had requested, President Trump was asked by a reporter if he believed the findings of his own intelligence agencies that Russia had interfered in the 2016 election. He began by floating unfounded accusations that the FBI had ignored his opponent’s misdeeds. Then he proceeded to express his doubts. “All I can do is ask the question,” said Trump. “My people came to me, Dan Coats came to me, they said they think it’s Russia. I have President Putin, he just said it’s not Russia. I’ll say this: I don’t see any reason why it would be.”

Trump told the world he trusts the denial of Russian dictator Vladimir Putin — the very man who did the deed! — over his own government’s intelligence. Trump can’t think of a reason why Putin would have interfered in the election. The fact that Russia has interfered in multiple elections, the fact its propaganda arm had broadcast its preference for Trump, the fact American intelligence concluded Russia intervened, that Robert Mueller has produced multiple indictments detailing evidence of this interference, all mean less to him than Putin’s say-so. Putin admitted at this press conference he wanted Trump to win.

Eric Levitz, Trump Endorses Putin Proposal to Have Russian Operatives Work on Mueller Probe

At the press conference hours later, Trump was asked whether he held “Russia at all accountable” for tensions between Moscow and Washington — and if so, to specify what precisely he held Putin responsible for.

“We have both made some mistakes,” Trump replied. But instead of naming a single, specific mistake that Russia had made (like, say, invading Crimea, or meddling in American and European elections, or, ostensibly, making a habit of launching botched assassination attempts with Soviet-era nerve agents on the streets of the United Kingdom), the president focused on the great mistake that America had made — when it chose to investigate Russian interference in the 2016 election.

“The probe is a disaster for our country,” Trump said. “I think it’s kept us apart, it’s kept us separated. There was no collusion at all. Everybody knows it.”

And yeah, Trump thinks this is a swell idea:

Trump went on to endorse Putin’s idea for how that probe should operate going forward: Russian law enforcement would agree to interrogate the 12 Russians that Mueller had indicted — and allow members of his team to observe those interrogations — in exchange for the United States agreeing to interrogate American intelligence officials whom the Kremlin has accused of committing crimes against Russia (with Russian law enforcement in the room).

Here’s a portion of the actual transcript:

A question for each president; President Trump, you first.

Just now, President Putin denied having anything to do with the election interference in 2016. Every U.S. intelligence agency has concluded that Russia did.

What — who — my first question for you, sir, is who do you believe?

My second question is would you now, with the whole world watching, tell President Putin, would you denounce what happened in 2016 and would you warn him to never do it again?

TRUMP: So let me just say that we have two thoughts. You have groups that are wondering why the FBI never took the server — haven’t they taken the server. Why was the FBI told to leave the office of the Democratic National Committee?

I’ve been wondering that, I’ve been asking that for months and months and I’ve been tweeting it out and calling it out on social media. Where is the server? I want to know where is the server and what is the server saying?

With that being said, all I can do is ask the question. My people came to me, Dan Coates came to me and some others, they said they think it’s Russia. I have President Putin; he just said it’s not Russia.

I will say this: I don’t see any reason why it would be. But I really do want to see the server.

But I have — I have confidence in both parties. I — I really believe that this will probably go on for a while, but I don’t think it can go on without finding out what happened to the server. What happened to the servers of the Pakistani gentleman that worked on the DNC? Where are those servers? They’re missing; where are they? What happened to Hillary Clinton’s e-mails? 33,000 e-mails gone — just gone. I think in Russia they wouldn’t be gone so easily. I think it’s a disgrace that we can’t get Hillary Clinton’s 33,000 e-mails.

So I have great confidence in my intelligence people, but I will tell you that President Putin was extremely strong and powerful in his denial today.

And what he did is an incredible offer. He offered to have the people working on the case come and work with their investigators with respect to the 12 people. I think that’s an incredible offer. OK?

The DNC servers were never missing, and I would point out that whatever might have been in Hillary Clinton’s emails doesn’t excuse Trump’s failure to defend the United States.

Paul Waldman, For Republicans, Russian sabotage of our elections is no big deal:

When it comes to Republicans, we’re faced with two related issues. First, there are members of their party who actively benefited from Russian manipulation of our election, and even sought out help that turned out to come from Russia, whether they fully understood it at the time. Second, much of the rest of their party is now arguing that it’s really no big deal if the Russians manipulate American elections, so long as the GOP is the one that benefits.

And today we got the extraordinary spectacle of the president of the United States standing alongside the Russian dictator, saying he takes that dictator at his word and belittling the investigation into Russia’s attack on American democracy. Which led the former director of the CIA to tweet this:

Oh, and this happened yesterday:

A Russian woman with close ties to the National Rifle Association was arrested Sunday and charged with “conspiracy to act as an agent of a foreign government,” according to a criminal complaint unsealed Monday.

Mariia Butina is accused of acting as an unregistered agent on Russia’s behalf between 2015 and 2017, in collaboration with “others known and unknown, including an official of the Russian Federation,” according to the complaint.

Butina is a former assistant of Alexander Torshin, a top official at the Russian Central Bank who is reportedly under investigation by the FBI for channeling money to the NRA to benefit Trump’s 2016 campaign. The pair have been under scrutiny by journalists and investigators for months, thanks to a bombshell January report in McClatchy that first revealed the FBI’s financial probe.

Butina and Torshin have close ties to the NRA, which is not named in the criminal complaint or supporting affidavit but is referred to as a “Gun Rights Organization.”

David Ignatius wrote this yesterday:

In putting all the detail into the indictment, Mueller was giving Russian intelligence a hint of how much America can see. But this public disclosure may mask much deeper capabilities — perhaps a capacity to expose many more layers of GRU military-intelligence operations and those by the Russian civilian spy services, the FSB and the SVR. American intelligence agencies rarely tip their hand this way by disclosing so much in an indictment; clearly they did so here to send messages.

Explains one former CIA officer: “Given that we clearly had so much of the Russian internal communication and cyber footprints, they must be asking what else do we have? Do we have communications between the units and more senior officers in the GRU? With the General Staff? With the Kremlin? With Putin? Probably not the latter directly, but the Russians are very bureaucratic and it’s hard for me to imagine there is not a clear trail of higher level approvals, progress reports, etc.”

Friday’s indictment is a legal document. But it’s also a shot across the Kremlin’s bow. The message is: If you don’t stop cyber-operations against the United States, we have the detailed information to identify and disrupt your intelligence services, officers, sources and methods. Mueller isn’t asking Russia to stop; he’s warning them of the consequences of going forward.

A lot of people have been assuming that Trump pooh-poohs allegations of Russian interference in the election because he fears it makes his administration seem illegitimate. After today I don’t see how anyone can assume that Trump wasn’t just plain compromised all along. Today was a big, fat, public quid pro quo.

Back to Ignatius:

The indictment also sends a message to President Trump and members of his entourage who are potential targets of Mueller’s probe: Here’s a hint of what we know; how much are you willing to wager that we don’t know a lot more about Russian contacts and collusion? For example, the indictment is a proffer of Mueller’s information about contacts between GRU cut-out “Guccifer 2.0” and Roger Stone, Trump’s friend and adviser. What else does Mueller have? …

… And here’s a spooky final question: How much has the intelligence community told Trump about its operations against Russia? If you were one of the American intelligence officers who helped gather the information that’s included in Friday’s indictment, what would you think about the fact that Trump has asked for a private meeting first with Putin?

And, of course, we don’t know what Trump and Putin said to each other behind closed doors today.

See also Charles Pierce, The Crisis Is Upon Us.

Update: John McCain’s finest hour?

U.S. Senator John McCain (R-AZ), Chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee, released the following statement today on President Trump’s meeting and press conference with Vladimir Putin in Helsinki:

“Today’s press conference in Helsinki was one of the most disgraceful performances by an American president in memory. The damage inflicted by President Trump’s naiveté, egotism, false equivalence, and sympathy for autocrats is difficult to calculate. But it is clear that the summit in Helsinki was a tragic mistake.

“President Trump proved not only unable, but unwilling to stand up to Putin. He and Putin seemed to be speaking from the same script as the president made a conscious choice to defend a tyrant against the fair questions of a free press, and to grant Putin an uncontested platform to spew propaganda and lies to the world.

“It is tempting to describe the press conference as a pathetic rout – as an illustration of the perils of under-preparation and inexperience. But these were not the errant tweets of a novice politician. These were the deliberate choices of a president who seems determined to realize his delusions of a warm relationship with Putin’s regime without any regard for the true nature of his rule, his violent disregard for the sovereignty of his neighbors, his complicity in the slaughter of the Syrian people, his violation of international treaties, and his assault on democratic institutions throughout the world.

“Coming close on the heels of President Trump’s bombastic and erratic conduct towards our closest friends and allies in Brussels and Britain, today’s press conference marks a recent low point in the history of the American Presidency. That the president was attended in Helsinki by a team of competent and patriotic advisors makes his blunders and capitulations all the more painful and inexplicable.

“No prior president has ever abased himself more abjectly before a tyrant. Not only did President Trump fail to speak the truth about an adversary; but speaking for America to the world, our president failed to defend all that makes us who we are—a republic of free people dedicated to the cause of liberty at home and abroad. American presidents must be the champions of that cause if it is to succeed. Americans are waiting and hoping for President Trump to embrace that sacred responsibility. One can only hope they are not waiting totally in vain.”

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About the New Indictments

Trump Maladministration

Just saw this on my Facebook feed:

The Lawfare blog:

The timing of the indictment given the upcoming Helsinki summit is a powerful show of strength by federal law enforcement. Let’s presume that Mueller did not time this indictment to precede the summit by way of embarrassing Trump on the international stage. It is enough to note that he also did not hold off on the indictment for a few days by way of sparing Trump embarrassment—and that Rosenstein did not force him to. Indeed, Rosenstein said at his press conference that it is “important for the president to know what information was uncovered because he has to make very important decisions for the country” and therefore “he needs to know what evidence there is of foreign election interference.” But of course Rosenstein and Mueller did not just let Trump know. They also let the world know, which has the effect—intended or not—of boxing in the president as he meets with an adversary national leader.

Put less delicately: Rosenstein has informed the president, and the world, before Trump talks to Putin one-on-one that his own Justice Department is prepared to prove beyond a reasonable doubt, in public, using admissible evidence, that the president of the Russian Federation has been lying to Trump about Russian non-involvement in the 2016 election hacking.

Of course, a normal U.S. president probably would have called off the scheduled summit with the Russian president. You know, the summit in which only translators will be present so that nobody can know what Trump and Putin say to each other. That summit.  Trump’s only response so far has been to blame the hacking on Barack Obama.

Among other details you might not have heard, Maryland learned this week that its voter registration platform belongs to a Russian oligarch.

Speaking of Russian oligarchs, don’t miss the New Yorker article by Adam Davidson on Trump’s Scottish golf course, which is losing him tons of money:

This property has not received the attention it deserves. It is, by far, the biggest investment the Trump Organization has made in years. It is so much bigger than his other recent projects that it would not be unreasonable to describe the Trump Organization as, at its core, a manager of a money-losing Scottish golf course that is kept afloat with funds from licensing fees and decades-old real-estate projects.  …

… Using what appears to be more than half of the company’s available cash to purchase Trump Turnberry makes no obvious sense for any business person, but especially for Donald Trump. It is a bizarre, confounding move that raises questions about the central nature of his business during the years in which he prepared for and then executed his Presidential campaign.

The question about this and other Trump properties: “There simply isn’t enough money coming into Trump’s known business to cover the massive outlay he spent on Turnberry,” Davidson writes. So where did this money come from? If you keep reading, you will notice the word laundering does turn up quite a bit. See also “Trump’s Mystery Money.”

By all appearances, Trump is Putin’s tool.

See also:

The nation’s top intelligence officer said on Friday that the persistent danger of Russian cyberattacks today was akin to the warnings the United States had of stepped-up terror threats ahead of the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks.

That note of alarm sounded by Dan Coats, the director of national intelligence, came on the same day that 12 Russian agents were indictedon charges of hacking the Democratic National Committee and Hillary Clinton’s presidential campaign. Mr. Coats said those indictments illustrated Moscow’s continuing strategy to undermine the United States’ democracy and erode its institutions.

“The warning lights are blinking red again,” Mr. Coats said as he cautioned of cyberthreats. “Today, the digital infrastructure that serves this country is literally under attack.”

What’s the Trump Administration doing to protect the voting system? Nothing at all, that I’ve heard.

Also:

In total, Friday’s announcement brought the count for Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s team to 191 criminal charges against 32 people and three Russian companies, including Trump’s former campaign head, Paul Manafort; Manafort’s assistant, Rick Gates; his former national security adviser, Michael Flynn; a foreign policy advisor, George Papadopoulos; and 25 Russian nationals. (In an investigation delegated at least in part by Mueller’s office to federal prosecutors in New York, FBI agents also raided the offices of Trump’s longtime attorney, Michael Cohen, who has not been charged with anything so far.)

The end game, of course, is to weaken the U.S. and the European alliances. And it’s all going according to plan so far. See Amy Zegart, “The Self-Inflicted Demise of American Power” at The Atlantic.

Many experts believe the chief challenge of managing President Trump’s foreign policy is keeping Trump on message. They’re wrong. Trump isn’t misspeaking when he ignores his talking points, insults allies, or congratulates Putin on winning a sham election. He’s not veering off script when he declares that North Korea is no longer a nuclear threat just because Kim Jong Un posed for a photo in Singapore. Trump is actually on message nearly every day and in every tweet. It’s just not a message that most serious national-security experts want to hear. Deep in the recesses of our brains, we experts just cannot believe that an American president would pursue so many profoundly shortsighted policies—or that he would actually believe he’s doing a good job.

Trump has a foreign-policy doctrine, all right. He’s been advancing it with remarkable speed, skill, and consistency. Its effect can be summed up in one neat slogan: Make America Weak Again.

He’s going a heck of a job, folks.

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Happy Friday the 13th

Trump Maladministration

Cartoon by Bob Rogers before he was fired from the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette for being critical of Donald Trump.

What a day! The Creature makes a complete ass of himself in Britain, and then Bob Mueller indicts 12 Russians for hacking Democrats during the 2016 election campaigns.

Let’s start with the hack. Well, no, let’s start with the House. Politico is reporting that House Republicans are pushing to impeach Rod Rosenstein.

House conservatives are preparing a new push to oust Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein, according to three conservative Capitol Hill sources — putting the finishing touches on an impeachment filing even as Rosenstein announced the indictment of 12 Russian intelligence officers for interfering in the 2016 election.

House Freedom Caucus Chairman Mark Meadows, in fact, had the impeachment document on the floor of the House at the very moment that Rosenstein spoke to reporters and TV cameras Friday. …

… Conservative sources say they could file the impeachment document as soon as Monday, as Meadows and Freedom Caucus founder Jim Jordan (R-Ohio) look to build Republican support in the House. One source cautioned, however, that the timing was still fluid.

After the spectacle Jordon et al. made of themselves yesterday you would think they’d all be a bit more humble, especially since somebody who is probably in the House now is in big trouble

A congressional candidate requested and received documents allegedly stolen from Democratic Party entities by Russian intelligence operatives during the 2016 election, a federal indictment filed Friday alleged.

The indictment brought by special counsel Robert Mueller alleges that the unidentified candidate made the electronic request on Aug. 15, 2016, and in return received “stolen documents related to the candidate’s opponent.”

Oh,  my, I wonder who that is? And there’s more.

The indictment also mentions “Guccifer 2.0” sending documents to a “then-registered state lobbyist and online source of political news” and to a reporter in August of 2016.

The lobbyist received 2.5 gigabytes of data stolen from the DCCC, according to the indictment, including “donor records and personal identifying information for more than 2,0000 Democratic donors.”

The details about this interaction align with the account of Aaron Nevins, a Florida-based Republican political operative who admitted to asking “Guccifer 2.0” for any stolen documents relevant to his state. Nevins told the Wall Street Journal that he received details about the Democrats’ get-out-the-vote strategy in Florida and other swing state, and posted it on his blog, HelloFLA.com, under a pseudonym.

“Guccifer 2.0” subsequently flagged the blog post to Trump ally Roger Stone, who said he did not share the stolen data with anyone.

And in a wonderfully juicy concidence, the Russians made their first attempt at hacking Hillary Clinton’s email server on the same day that Trump famously said “Russia, if you’re listening, I hope you’re able to find the 30,000 emails that are missing.” I guess they were listening.

In Britain (not “England,” Donald) The Creature denied trashing Prime Minister May even after the Sun posted the recording of the interview in which he trashed her. Smooth.

See also Charles Pierce, This Ongoing National Disgrace Is Perfectly Fine with Republicans in Congress. See also Boris Johnson, Donald Trump and the Rise of Radical Incompetence.

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Caligula 2.0

Trump Maladministration

I haven’t been watching the Peter Strzok hearing, but it sounds something like a ccross between a bad high school debate tournament and a demolition derby, with elements of the Battle of Agincourt thrown in.

It’s said a high point of the day was Louie Gohmert accusing Strzok of lying to his wife. This made me wonder if we could put House Republicans to work cross-examining every man in America who has lied to his wife. This would include each other. It would keep them too busy to do anything else. Oh, well.

Do read Paul Waldman, The Peter Strzok fiasco wrecks the GOP’s bogus conspiracy theory

You don’t have to like Peter Strzok, or James B. Comey, or Robert Mueller, or anyone else involved in these various investigations. But you have to ask, and you have to keep asking: What do Republicans think the FBI actually did to effectuate this anti-Trump conspiracy they say existed to deny him the presidency? Because the facts, here on Planet Earth, show that they did what they were supposed to do: They began an investigation into this profound threat to American democracy, but kept quiet about it so it wouldn’t affect the election.

Especially in contrast to how Clinton was treated, that was either an extraordinary gift to Trump, or it was them doing their jobs precisely how they should have. But it can’t be anything else.

Basically, we’re in Caligula territory, folks.

 

Having stunk up the NATO summit, The Creature trotted out today and declared that he had convinced European allies to boost defense spending beyond previous targets. The European allies prompty declared they had agreed to no such thing. The Creature also boasted about receiving a “nice letter” from Kim Jong Un. But Kim is apparently having great fun making Trump look like a fool. Today the North Korean delegation stood up American counterparts at a scheduled meeting about remains of American war dead.

Well, so much for the winning. See Paul Glastris, “Winning Is Not Enough.”

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The Dada President

Trump Maladministration

So this morning I wake up and check the news, and I see that today The Creature is ranting that Germany is “captive to Russia.”

“Germany, as far as I’m concerned, is captive to Russia because it’s getting so much of its energy from Russia,” Trump told NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg, in a fiery on-camera exchange that was among the harshest in the history of the post-World War II alliance.

“We have to talk about the billions and billions of dollars that’s being paid to the country we’re supposed to be protecting you against,” Trump said, referring to European purchases of Russian natural gas.

This is the same guy who is planning a one-on-one meeting with Vladimir Putin with only translators present. This is the same guy who, just a few days ago, delivered a signature unhinged rally speech that in which he pounded allies, Democrats and some Republicans with demented hate speech and then declared that Putin is just a regular guy. “He’s fine. We’re all fine. We’re people.”

(See Jonathan Chait, “Trump Is Training His Base to Hate NATO and Like Putin.”)

There are reasons to be concerned about the Russian-German pipeline, which has been in the works for several years. (See “The Russian pipeline to Germany that Trump is so mad about, explained.”) There are means of addressing those concerns that rise above the level of playground insults, however.

Related: “Good Work, Republicans” at Talking Points Memo.

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Brett Kavanaugh Explained

Trump Maladministration

Kavanaugh is a right-wing hack whose opinions on cases depend less on “settled law” than on whether the plaintiffs are Republicans or Democrats.

Although it’s been widely reported that he thinks presidents should be immune from pesky things like subpoenas and prosecutorial scrutiny, he held a different opinion back when he was helping Ken Starr investigate Bill Clinton. Josh Marshall:

Kavanaugh was a young legal gun (early 30s) on one of the most thoroughly corrupt and brazenly partisan investigations in American history, the do-over Independent Counsel investigation which Ken Starr ran for most of the 1990s, investigating almost every aspect of Bill Clinton’s time in office and the decades which preceded his presidency. Kavanaugh, in addition to being part of the investigation, was also a or the principal author of the notorious Starr Report, a voluminous and gratuitous play-by-play narration of the Clinton-Lewinsky Affair and a brief for impeachment.

In that document, Kavanaugh argued for a comically broad theory of what constituted obstruction of justice and impeachable offenses. He suggested that Clinton’s efforts to delay being interviewed by the Independent Counsel amounted to obstruction of justice and that lying to his staff and the American people were impeachable offenses. Needless to say, by this standard, President Trump commits numerous impeachable offenses every single day.

But of course, his supporters say, he is more mature now.

Many commentators are now arguing that the youthful Kavanaugh had one view while the more seasoned District Court Judge saw the matter differently a decade later. Please. Kavanaugh showed a judicious flexibility to allow his views to evolve as they were applied to either Democrats or Republicans, to political foes or friends. There is nothing more pressing and relevant in this political moment than the President’s subservience to the rule of law. Kavanaugh has been all over the map on that question, depending on whether the President was a Republican or Democrat. That all needs to be sorted out before he becomes the deciding vote on whether President needs to answer to the law.

Democrats must pound Kavanaugh with this in the Senate hearings. If they don’t … well, then, there’s no point to them, is there?

It should go without saying that Kavanaugh is entirely on board with Citizens United jurisprudence, weaponizing the Court against organized labor and finally overturning Roe v Wade in its entirety. But we should not overlook his focused opposition to the Affordable Care Act and the way he is likely to use his power on the Court to further gut the law and send us back to the era of no coverage for pre-existing conditions.

Susan Collins has said that she would be loathe to vote for nominee who would overturn Roe, but of course they’re not supposed to directly ask nominees if they would overturn Roe, because somebody made up that rule sometime and they all abide by it. But Kavanaugh has history.

In a high-profile case involving abortion late last year, Kavanaugh wrote in dissent of a decision from the DC Circuit’s full bench to permit a 17-year-old undocumented immigrant to seek an abortion while in federal custody.

The Trump administration had denied the teen’s request, saying it did not want to be “facilitating” abortions for unaccompanied minors. Kavanaugh argued that the majority “badly erred” in their decision to allow the process anyway.

He characterized the ruling as creating a new right for undocumented immigrant minors in US custody to receive “immediate abortion on demand.”

Kavanaugh, along with two GOP-appointed colleagues wrote: “The Government has permissible interests in favoring fetal life, protecting the best interests of a minor, and refraining from facilitating abortion,” adding that the decision was “a radical extension of the Supreme Court’s abortion jurisprudence.”

This previous case may indicate how he could rule in future cases involving abortion.

May indicate? It’s a freaking 90-f00t-high flashing neon sign saying that he’ll vote against reproductive rights at every opportunity.  They might as well put the statue of Justice Taney back on the lawn in Maryland if crap like Kavanaugh  is sitting on the Court.

Statue of Roger B. Taney being removed from Maryland state house, August 2017

The New York Times editorial board:

Senate Democrats need to use the confirmation process to explain to Americans how their Constitution is about to be hijacked by a small group of conservative radicals well funded by ideological and corporate interests, and what that means in terms of the rights they will lose and the laws that will be invalidated over the next several decades.

We’re witnessing right now a global movement against the idea of liberal democracy and, in places like Hungary and Poland, its grounding in an independent judiciary. Mr. Trump and Senate Republicans appear happy to ride this wave to unlimited power. They will almost certainly win this latest battle, but it’s a victory that will come at great cost to the nation, and to the court’s remaining legitimacy.

Americans who care about the court’s future and its role in the American system of government need to turn to the political process to restore the protections the new majority will take away, and to create an environment where radical judges can’t be nominated or confirmed. As those tireless conservative activists would be the first to tell you, winning the future depends on deliberate, long-term organizing in the present, even when — especially when — things appear most bleak.

It would take a miracle to keep this creep off the Court, but at least I want to see Democrats make an all-out fight of it.

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Trump: International Man of Derp

Trump Maladministration

We’re about to suffer more international embarassment as the Great Orange Moron lumbers off to Europe to visit the UK, attend a NATO summit and meet with his master, Vladimir Putin, for further instructions.

Regarding Putin, see Will Trump Be Meeting With His Counterpart — Or His Handler?

He leaves for the NATO summit tomorrow, and already today he is badmouthing U.S. allies.

“The United States is spending far more on NATO than any other Country. This is not fair, nor is it acceptable,” Trump tweeted a day before departing on a seven-day European trip to Belgium, the United Kingdom and Finland. “While these countries have been increasing their contributions since I took office, they must do much more.”

Trump singled out Germany, which spent an estimated 1.24 percent of its 2017 economic output on defense, according to the latest figures from NATO. Comparably, the United States spent an estimated 3.57 percent.

And he connected the issue to his protectionist trade policies, noting that the European Union has a trade surplus with the United States.

Josh Marshall:

Most people have a general sense that Trump doesn’t seem to grasp how an alliance works, that it’s not meant to function as a protection racket. But the actual details are both sillier and more significant than it may seem on the surface.

Let’s discuss first how NATO’s funding works.

The actual NATO budget is quite small – a $1.4 billion military budget and a $250 million civilian budget. The US pays a relatively modest part of that total, about 22%. The percentage is based on a formula which includes the size of each member state’s economy. This mainly goes to pay for the NATO headquarters in Belgium and the quite thin military infrastructure which coordinates and integrates the various member country militaries which make up the alliance. That’s it. The whole thing is budgeted at less than $2 billion. The percentage the US pays is reasonable, relative to the size of the US economy and no one is in arrears.

What seems to have stuck in The Moron’s tiny brain is that the U.S. spends a much bigger percentage of its GDP than any other country on military stuff. But that was our choice. Nobody forced us to do it. Josh Marshall points out that The Moron’s complaints might make sense if he were calling for a reduction of the U.S. military budget, and he wanted other NATO countries to step up and take over functions the U.S. military is doing now. But Trump isn’t doing that. In fact, he has bragged about increasing military spending. So what’s his issue?

All of this leads to a couple possible conclusions. One is that President Trump, at a very basic level, doesn’t understand how the US military or the US military budget works. The changes Trump is demanding in European military spending are ones that cannot have any impact on US military spending because he wants to spend well over the current rates that interlock with current NATO member state spending levels. They can make NATO work better, create militaries that are more useful for the dominant force, the US military, to work with. (Again, Bush and Obama both pressed for this.) But they can’t save money. The more obvious conclusion is that, for whatever reasons, President Trump is hostile to the very concept of our primary alliances in Europe and Northeast Asia, in which we do pay substantial sums to be the guarantor of security in those regions. He simply hasn’t reconciled that with his braggadocious clamoring for higher military spending which, whether he knows it or not, assume those continuing commitments.

Trump has made noises about withdrawing U.S. troops from Europe and Asia. There are reasonable arguments for doing that, but Trump isn’t making those arguments. His rhetoric suggests that he thinks these overseas deployments are purely for the benefit of other nations and have nothing to do with U.S. interests.

Meanwhile, the trade war heats up. Greg Sargent doesn’t think Trump is going to back down.

Given how often he preens about his “toughness” toward China before roaring, worshipful rally crowds, it’s hard to see how he’ll back down, no matter what the consequences. …

…This morning, Politico reports on the backstory leading up to Trump’s trade war. Trump has been ranting for decades about other countries “ripping off” the United States on trade. Now that hostilities are escalating, Politico notes that Trump has “no clear exit strategy and no explicit plans to negotiate new rules of the road with China, leaving the global trade community and financial markets wracked with uncertainty.” But Trump loyalists say he’s playing a long game and won’t buckle. As Stephen K. Bannon puts it, Trump “has preached a confrontation with China for 30 years,” making this a “huge moment” that pits “Trump against all of Wall Street.”

Greg Sargent reiterates that the Hurt is mostly going to fall on his voters, not on Wall Street. The Brookings Institution evaluated China’s tariffs and figured out how they would affect counties that voted for Trump versus counties that voted for Clinton.

Greg Sargent continues,

Nearly two-thirds of the jobs in industries targeted by China’s tariffs — a total of more than 1 million jobs — are in more than 2,100 counties that voted for Trump. By contrast, barely more than one-third of the jobs in China-targeted industries — just over half a million — are in the counties that voted for Clinton. (This is based on 2017 county/employment data.) This doesn’t mean those jobs will definitely be lost; it means that they are in industries that are getting caught up in Trump’s trade war, making them vulnerable, depending on what happens.

This is even more remarkable when you consider that Trump voters tend to live in places with lower population density and reduced economic opportunity to begin with, while Clinton voters are concentrated in cities. As the headline to Sargent’s post says, Trump’s delusions about about to blow up in his voters’ faces.

Meanwhile, as Trump prepares to visit the UK on Thursday, there are real questions whether Theresa May’s government will last that long. And last week it appeared North Korea already was backpedaling on its non-agreement and prepared to throw Trump and Mike Pompeo under the bus. This was expected, but not quite this soon.

I am determined to not watch Trump’s Supreme Court Pick Reveal show tonight. I’ll deal with whatever atrocity he has chosen tomorrow.

See also Paul Waldman, “The Liberal Backlash Is Coming.”

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Trump vs. Mother’s Milk, and Other Atrocities

Trump Maladministration

Did you know the U.S. is now officially, on the record, opposed to encouraging breast feeding?

A resolution to encourage breast-feeding was expected to be approved quickly and easily by the hundreds of government delegates who gathered this spring in Geneva for the United Nations-affiliated World Health Assembly.

Based on decades of research, the resolution says that mother’s milk is healthiest for children and countries should strive to limit the inaccurate or misleading marketing of breast milk substitutes.

Then the United States delegation, embracing the interests of infant formula manufacturers, upended the deliberations.

American officials sought to water down the resolution by removing language that called on governments to “protect, promote and support breast-feeding” and another passage that called on policymakers to restrict the promotion of food products that many experts say can have deleterious effects on young children.

The basic scam is that formula corporations give new mothers bottles and samples of formula and sell them on the “superiority” of formula over breast milk. Often the sales reps pose as nurses and other medical professionals. In third world countries this has tragic consequences, as parents don’t always have access to clean water often dilute the formula to reduce cost. Here’s an 2012 expose from Business Insider on the baby formula scam, which says that millions of babies around the globe have died or suffered malnutrition so that formula corporations can make money. See also How formula milk firms target mothers who can least afford it.

Back to what went on in the UN:

When that failed, they turned to threats, according to diplomats and government officials who took part in the discussions. Ecuador, which had planned to introduce the measure, was the first to find itself in the cross hairs.

The Americans were blunt: If Ecuador refused to drop the resolution, Washington would unleash punishing trade measures and withdraw crucial military aid. The Ecuadorean government quickly acquiesced.

The showdown over the issue was recounted by more than a dozen participants from several countries, many of whom requested anonymity because they feared retaliation from the United States.

Health advocates scrambled to find another sponsor for the resolution, but at least a dozen countries, most of them poor nations in Africa and Latin America, backed off, citing fears of retaliation, according to officials from Uruguay, Mexico and the United States.

It’s not like American companies have a lock on the baby formula market. The worst offenders in the baby formula scam are Nestle (Swiss), Danone (French), and two U.S. companies, Mead Johnson and Abbott. This is just demented.

But that’s just one atrocity. See also:

Health Insurers Warn of Market Turmoil as Trump Suspends Billions in Payments

The Trump administration said Saturday that it was suspending a program that pays billions of dollars to insurers to stabilize health insurance markets under the Affordable Care Act, a freeze that could increase uncertainty in the markets and drive up premiums this fall.

Trump is bent on wrecking NATO. Prepare for catastrophe.

The fear is not only that Mr. Trump will spoil the “unity” of the summit with harangues before flying to Helsinki for a far friendlier meeting with Russian President Vladi­mir Putin. It is that, having shrugged off the strong support for NATO among his national security team, he is bent on wrecking a multilateral organization he regards as obsolete and a means for European nations to freeload at the expense of the United States.

Trump administration says it CAN’T meet July 26 deadline to reunite families separated at the border

Obviously, they never had a plan for reuniting families. See also Kids as young as 1 in US court, awaiting reunion with family.

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Oh, What a Lovely Trade War

Trump Maladministration

Tighten those belts, folks. The trade war officially began yesterday.  Martin Longman calls July 6, 2018 “a day that will live in infamy.” Catchy. Martin Longman continues,

Of course, the retaliatory tariffs are designed to do the most damage to Trump’s base thereby dividing the Republicans and eroding Trump’s position. Europe went after Kentucky bourbon and Harley-Davidson in a clear message to Mitch McConnell and Paul Ryan. China is going after pork and soybeans as well as the automotive industry that is as important these days in Alabama, Tennessee and Indiana as it is in Michigan. In any case, those are all state that voted for Trump.

It’s hard to say how people will react. Will they really treat a trade war like a shooting war and rally around the president and the flag? That might happen. On the other hand, maybe a lot of people will turn on the president and his party when they feel a very direct sting from his policies.

Today, many eyes are on Iowa. Ed Kilgore writes,

Now maybe something will soon happen to mitigate the damage. But it’s also entirely possible that [Iowa Gov.] Terry Branstad has about as much control over collateral damage to Iowa from Trump’s trade policies as you or I have, and that all those confident assurances Iowans were receiving from Washington were just Trumpian hype associated with the belief that Beijing would fold its hand, leaving POTUS as the undisputed master of global commerce. The grim reality is otherwise. China buys at least 60 percent of the Iowa soybean crop. The pain will only get worse if harvest time comes along with the trade war still raging, and there’s no particular reason to think it will be quickly resolved.

Tom Philpott writes at Mother Jones that prices for the two biggest crops in the U.S., corn and soybeans, began falling in May.

After putting its trade beef with China on hold for a few weeks, the administration suddenly reiterated its tariff threats, and added Mexico, Canada, and the European Union to the mix. China is by far the biggest buyer of exported US soybeans; Mexico holds that position for corn.

The current slide comes at a precipitous time for US farmers. They have about 179 million acres of the two crops growing in their fields—a combined land mass equal to nearly two Californias, and just 1 percent less than last year’s plantings. To make a profit on these crops, farmers will have to make at least $4 per bushel on corn and $10.05 on soybeans for the 2018 harvest, a University of Illinois analysis found. Currently, the two commodities fetch $3.43 and $8.40, respectively.

Lots of stories note that farmers in South America are planting lots of soybeans in hopes of selling them to China. North American farmers could permanently lose major markets.

There is talk of a big bailout for agriculture if the damage is as bad as it looks.

But Trump, who has attacked Harley-Davidson for plans to move some production to its overseas plants to avoid retaliatory European tariffs, is looking to save “my farmers” from the trade war he launched. Rural support was critical to his presidential victory. Unhappy farmers could spell trouble for midterm elections.

Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue said last month at a Chicago convention that the Commodity Credit Corporation is a “tool” he’s considering to comply with Trump’s instructions to “craft a strategy to support our farmers against retaliatory tariffs. The program, which was started to help farmers during the Great Depression, allows the Agriculture Department to borrow as much as $30 billion from the U.S. Treasury that could be used to buy crops from farmers that would go unsold in a trade war.

However, politicians on both sides of the aisle express unhappiness at a bailout. And they doubt even $50 billion would be enough.

Salt Lake Tribune

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What’d I Miss?

Trump Maladministration

Done traveling. Scott Prutt being replaced by an oil industry lobbyist. Not exactly progress.

This time last year, Andrew Wheeler was a registered lobbyist working for the interests of one of the country’s largest coal-mining companies and a major uranium mining companyStarting Monday, he’s expected to become the acting administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency, where he’s been deputy administrator since April. …

…But while Pruitt’s ethics problems compounded during his time in office, Wheeler’s potential conflicts of interest are embedded in his résumé. And he’s emblematic of a sort of political dynamic that has come under increased scrutiny in the last decade — a reverse revolving door, through which lobbyists and consultants join the government and regulate the people who used to be their co-workers. …

…Pruitt’s philosophy of narrow EPA powers and state-led environmental regulation was certainly friendly to the oil and gas industry, but he was not formerly employed by it. His lapses have largely come in the form of ethical pratfalls, banana peels that he put on the floor and slipped on in the course of duty. Wheeler’s potential to favor former clients, in contrast, is a part of him. …

…Meanwhile, according to an investigation published in March 2018, the Associated Press tracked 59 EPA administration staffers that had been hired under Trump and found that about a third had been lobbyists or lawyers for fossil fuel producers, chemical companies or other corporate clients. In June 2017, Public Citizen analyzed the backgrounds of 115 Trump nominees to sub-Cabinet roles; 25 were current or former lobbyists or corporate consultants, 26 were corporate lawyers, and 29 were current or former corporate executives. Not all of those people were being hired to regulate the industries they’d recently left, but some were.

Pruitt is profoundly screwy. No halfway intelligent person would have behaved as he did at the EPA who was not pschologically miswired, through and through. Just a couple of days ago reports came out that Pruitt had gone directly to Trump and asked for Jeff Sessions’s attorney general job. That’s more than plain chutzpah.

And then there’s this:

The Trump administration is suppressing an Environmental Protection Agency report that warns that most Americans inhale enough formaldehyde vapor in the course of daily life to put them at risk of developing leukemia and other ailments, a current and a former agency official told POLITICO.

The warnings are contained in a draft health assessment EPA scientists completed just before Donald Trump became president, according to theofficials. They saidtop advisers to departing Administrator Scott Pruittare delaying its release as part of acampaign to undermine the agency’s independent research into the health risks of toxic chemicals.

Andrew Wheeler, the No. 2 official at EPA who will be the agency’s new acting chief as of Monday, also has a history with the chemical. He was staff director for the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee in 2004, when his boss, then-Chairman Jim Inhofe (R-Okla.), sought to delay an earlier iteration of the formaldehyde assessment.

Kinda warms your heart, huh? Or maybe that burn you feel is something else.

Also, too, just reported by the Los Angeles Times:

The worst of this week’s heat wave hit Friday, bringing record-breaking temperatures, at least two brush fires and a good bit of misery to Southern California.

Even before noon, several places broke heat records for the day, including downtown Los Angeles, which hit 95 degrees, Burbank and Van Nuys. The San Diego County community of Ramona reached its highest recorded temperature — 112 degrees — by 11 a.m., according to the National Weather Service.

It’s expected to get hotter in the afternoon, with the National Weather Service forecasting the high in downtown L.A. to reach 106, shattering the July 6 record of 94 degrees. In Woodland Hills, where the temperature hit 110 before noon, could peak at a scorching 117 degrees. Forecasters expect a record-breaking 115 degrees in Van Nuys and 106 in Long Beach.

See also Red-hot planet: All-time heat records have been set all over the world during the past week.

And we’ve got an oil lobbyist in charge of the environment. Grand.

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