The Republican Tax Bill: Screw You

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Trump Maladministration

So, no surprise, the Republican tax bill rolled out yesterday would benefit the wealthy, hurt the middle class and poor, and increase the deficit. What else is new?

The New York Times has a list of deductions that would be eliminated by the tax bill. These include out-of-pocket medical expenses (a biggie for me, as I am old and poor) or losses like your house burning down. Seriously. On the other hand, embryos would be eligible for tax-advantaged 529 college savings plans.

Some business organizations are already coming out against the bill because of the loss of deductions. The National Federation of Independent Business complained that the bill favors big business and leaves out small businesses. The National Association of Home Builders is up in arms because it puts limits on deductions of mortgage payments.

And then there’s this, in which Stephen Curry is called out in the bill because Trump is feuding with him.

The bill is a nasty piece of work, and the vote on it is going to be close. As with the health care bills, if Senate Democrats hang together there’s a chance it will fail to pass. However, that may be a bigger “if” than with health care.

 

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The Hillary Victory Fund: Vindication

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Trump Maladministration

Or, how Donna Brazile (of all people) threw Hillary Clinton under the bus …

Remember all those blog posts I wrote about the Hillary Victory Fund last year? And how it amounted to Hillary Clinton’s buying the DNC? I genuinely felt like a voice howling in the wilderness, as hardly anyone else but a Politico reporter and Matt Taibbi connected the same dots I was connecting.

Well, folks, Donna Brazile of all people has written a book that spills the beans and throws Hillary and her Victory Fund under the bus, to mix clichés. There’s an excerpt at Politico that corroborates all the stuff I wrote about the Hillary Victory Fund last year and how it amounted to Hillary Clinton buying the DNC, and the nomination. Please read the whole thing.

Update: See also Abigail Tracy at Vanity Fair.

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Tony Podesta and the Mueller Investigation

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Trump Maladministration

When word got out that Tony Podesta, a Democrat and brother to John Podesta, was under investigation by Bob Mueller, the Right reacted with much joy. For example:

For the better part of a week, the Fox News program “Tucker Carlson Tonight” has been doing business as “The Tony Podesta Gazette.” The trend started with welcome news in Carlsonville: On Oct. 23, news reports indicated that eminent lobbyist Tony Podesta, of the Democratic-connected lobbying outfit Podesta Group, was a “subject” of the investigation of special counsel Robert S. Mueller III, who is looking into allegations of collusion between Russia and the Trump presidential campaign. …

…In the best tradition of a cable-news opinionator, Carlson slipped his programming mitts around the Podesta-Manafort-Ukraine connection and squeezed until multiple segments trickled out. On Oct. 23, he riffed, “Robert Mueller’s team of investigators apparently has found evidence of suspected wrongdoing by the Podesta Group, which you will remember is a lobbying firm founded by Hillary Clinton’s campaign chairman John Podesta and his brother Tony. According to news accounts, the Podestas may have violated criminal law by failing to register as lobbyists for foreign powers.”

The next night, Carlson claimed to have his own little break in the story, thanks to a “source” who’d formerly worked at the Podesta Group. “According to our source … Manafort is indeed at the center of this investigation, but not because of his ties to Trump. In fact, Paul Manafort spent years working with the Podesta Group on behalf of Russian government interests.” The “source” also claimed that Manafort could be seen in the Podesta Group offices at least once a month.

More: “Now, why did the Russians choose the Podesta Group? Well, because both Podestas were close to the Clintons and Hillary was then secretary of state. She could get things done for the Podestas’ Russian clients. It was influence peddling, the most obvious kind,” said Carlson. Such content bumped along through the end of the week.

Lawyers for the Podesta Group eventually sent a sternly worded letter to Carlson. However, Tucker and others at Faux Nooz continue to say that the Podesta investigation is “the real Russia story,” not the investigation into alleged collusion between the Trump campaign and Russia. This is supposed to be making the Democrats look bad.

In fact, as Ben Mathis-Lilley writes at Slate, many Democrats would be thrilled if Mueller indicts Podesta.

The point is that the Trump-industrial complex is hyping Podesta’s resignation as if he were an irreplaceable cornerstone of modern progressivism. This isn’t true: While he is former Clinton campaign chairman John Podesta’s brother and certainly is/was a figure of more influence in the Democratic Party than, say, me, he’s not a household name and has never held office. His lack of importance to the Democrats’ public image is evident when you consider which party figures have suggested that Mueller’s investigation of his firm is inappropriate or misguided: none of them. To state what is weirdly not obvious to Trump and Fox News—possibly because they can only perceive of politics through their own lens of reflexive total partisanship?—Mueller prosecuting a few relatively minor Democrats here and there is good for the Democrats, because it burnishes his reputation as a man of nonpartisan integrity whose investigation deserves continued public support as it (presumably) uncovers more and more evidence of malfeasance in Trump’s inner circle.

Still, what exactly does Tony Podesta have to do with any of this? It turns out that in 2012 Manafort hired the Podesta Group and another lobbying firm to lobby for a Ukrainian political party within the United States. There’s nothing illegal about that. However, the Podesta Group did not disclose this work to the Justice Department as required by the Foreign Agents Registrant Act (FARA). Podesta claimed they believed the group was not affiliated with the Ukrainian government.

The indictment, unsealed Monday, refers to “Company A” and “Company B” as the firms Manafort and Gates solicited in 2012 to lobby on behalf of the Ukranian government. Company A is Mercury Public Affairs and Company B is the Podesta Group, the sources said. …

… According to the indictment, the lobbying firms were paid $2 million from offshore accounts controlled by Manafort.

Their work included lobbying “multiple members of Congress and their staffs about Ukraine sanctions, the validity of Ukraine elections” that the reasons for imprisoning Yulia Tymoshenko, the political rival of Russian-backed Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych.

The indictment also revealed that Gates told Company A, now known to be Mercury, in February 2012 that it would be “representing the Government of Ukraine in [Washington] D.C.”

Seems to me Podesta ought to have been at least suspicious that this work was being done on behalf of an entity connected to the government of Ukraine. But if that’s the entire beef against him, that’s not really “the real Russia story,” is it? Elsewhere we find,

Manafort organized a PR campaign on behalf of a nonprofit called the European Centre for a Modern Ukraine. Podesta Group was one of several firms that were paid to do work on the PR campaign to promote Ukraine in the U.S.

Podesta Group filed paperwork with the Justice Department in April stating that it had done work for the European Centre for a Modern Ukraine that also benefited the same Ukrainian political party that Manafort once advised. Podesta Group said at the time it believed its client was a European think tank untethered to a political party.

And in another place we read:

The work for the European Center, which ended in 2014, was cited in the indictment on Monday as part of a “scheme” by Mr. Manafort and Mr. Gates to gain support in Washington for their longtime client, the pro-Russian leader Viktor F. Yanukovych, a former president of Ukraine, while evading disclosure requirements for foreign lobbying.

Here’s another wrinkle, however, from Natasha Bertrand for Business Insider:

A New York publicist who has represented clients including former Trump Organization adviser Felix Sater and Ukrainian billionaire Rinat Akhmetov says he was asked by Paul Manafort and Rick Gates if he could avoid registering with the Justice Department as a foreign agent while he worked for them — and whether he would agree to be paid from offshore accounts. …

… Ronn Torossian, the CEO of 5WPR, told Business Insider he was approached by Manafort and Gates in 2012. …

…Torossian said that he met and/or spoke with Manafort and Gates “on multiple occasions in February and March 2012” to discuss a prospective PR campaign “for billionaires and the Ukrainian government.”

It was around that time that Manafort and Gates “solicited two Washington, DC, firms (Company A and Company B) to lobby in the United States on behalf of” the Ukrainian government, according to the newly unsealed indictment. NBC News reported on Monday that Company A and B was Mercury Public Affairs and The Podesta Group, respectively.

“They acted like they controlled the government of Ukraine,” said Torossian, who did crisis work for the Eric Trump Foundation as recently as last month.

Torossian is not connected to the Podesta Group, as far as I know, and it’s possible that Manafort didn’t ask Podesta to not register as a foreign agent. But that may yet come out.

So Podesta, who has left the firm that bears his name, may end up facing some kind of penalty for not properly registering the work he did for Manafort. Or not. But so far, that’s all we know about why Podesta’s name turned up in all this.

See also Court Docs Reveal Fight Over Manafort’s Lawyer Testifying To Mueller Grand Jury, which relates to the 2012 lobbying project.

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Bad Vetting Isn’t the Problem

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Trump Maladministration

I just want to point out that Sayfullo Saipov, the man accused of killing eight people in Manhattan yesterday, is from Uzbekistan. Uzbekistan is not on any of Trump’s unconstitutional travel ban lists. And while we may learn otherwise, so far it appears Saipov became radicalized after he arrived in the U.S. in 2010.

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Two Indictments, One Guilty Plea

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Trump Maladministration

Let’s start with the guilty plea, because news of that broke just this morning

A professor with close ties to the Russian government told an adviser to Donald Trump’s presidential campaign in April 2016 that Moscow had “dirt” on Hillary Clinton in the form of “thousands of emails,” according to court documents unsealed Monday.

The adviser, George Papadopoulos, has pleaded guilty to lying to the F.B.I. about that conversation. The plea represents the most explicit evidence connecting the Trump campaign to the Russian government’s meddling in last year’s election.

Here’s the affadavit against Papadopoulos. I haven’t read it through yet, but let’s keep going.

Josh Marshall writes on the Papadopoulos plea:

It shows a Trump foreign policy advisor in active communication with what appear to be Russian government officials or spies trying to get dirt on Hillary Clinton, arrange meetings with Russian government officials (even Vladimir Putin, rather ludicrously) and solicit Russian support. That an active foreign policy advisor was taking these actions while in active communication with the campaign about those actions is quite damning. An unnamed campaign official sent back word that a meeting with Trump himself was not happening.

Papadopolous was arrested in July and has apparently been cooperating since. I see no purely legal reason why the news of his arrest in July and guilty plea in early October had to be revealed today, other than keeping the news from Manafort. One other potential reason is that one of the ‘campaign officials’ referenced in the Papadopolous plea appears to be Manafort. It sends two clear messages. First, we’re not at all done with collusion and we’re making progress. Second, we arrested Papadopolous in July and he pled out in October and no one knew. So don’t think you have any idea what we have.

Josh Marshall concludes by saying, “But in revealing the Manafort news early, giving time for the White House to respond as you’d expect (nothing to do with us or Russia or the campaign) and then following up by revealing this Papadopolous indictment certainly has the feel of sucker punching the White House.” Heh.

By now you’ve heard that Paul Manafort and Rick Gates were indicted and taken into custody.

The charges in the indictments against Manafort and Gates are mostly about activities that went on before they became part of Trump’s campaign. The smart people all say that Mueller is trying to flip Manafort and Gates to dish on Trump.

See also:

Paul Manafort’s central role in the Trump-Russia investigation, explained

How Paul Manafort’s arrest fits into Robert Mueller’s Russia investigation, explained

I’ll post more links if I come across some good ones.

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Stuff to Read

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Trump Maladministration

While we’re waiting to find out whom the Mueller grand jury has indicted, here’s some other stuff to read.

The liberal-left divide reshaping American politics” at the Guardian by Pete Davis is a long read, but worth it. It’s the best analysis I’ve seen yet about the tussle between establishment Democrats and progressives.

Robert Mueller Sends a Message: He’s Deadly Serious,” by Bob Cassidy at the New Yorker. I hope so.

The governor of Puerto Rico is demanding that the Whitefish contract be canceled.

Whitefish Energy Holdings was awarded the no-bid contract by the beleaguered Puerto Rico Electric Power Authority on September 26, and the deal has drawn loud criticism since its specifics have trickled out. The company only had two employees the day Hurricane Maria hit. It had never worked on a project close to the scale of the Puerto Rico power restoration. And the firm is based in Whitefish, Montana, the hometown of President Trump’s Secretary of the Interior Ryan Zinke. He has denied having anything to do with procuring of the contract.

The Puerto Rican power authority’s decision to forego “mutual aid” agreements with utilities from other areas — as is traditional after large-scale disasters — and assign the job to a for-profit company instead baffled many experts.

The specific terms of the contract also raised eyebrows, from the exorbitant hourly rates charged by Whitefish to its barring of a government audit. And Whitefish didn’t do itself any favors by engaging in a Twitter feud with San Juan Mayor Carmen Yulín Cruz.

FEMA has denied approving the contract.

Update: The Whitefish contract has been canceled. I’m hearing from maybe reliable sources that Rudy Giuliani was mixed up in that mess somehow.

Michelle Ye Hee Lee and Elise Viebeck at WaPo: How Congress plays by different rules on sexual harassment and misconduct. Of course.

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The Shifting Political Ground

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Trump Maladministration

Eugene Robinson:

Both major parties are in crisis, and I believe the reason is that the ground has shifted beneath them in ways they do not understand. Until the contours of the new political landscape become clear and the parties reshape themselves accordingly, I fear that chaos and turmoil will reign as the new normal.

Yeah, pretty much. For example, you’ve got one party that is hell bent on pushing through a tax cut plan that fewer than a third of Americans support. Why is that?

A couple of days ago, Jim Tankersley and Thomas Kaplan wrote in the New York Times that Tax Cuts Are the Glue Holding a Fractured Republican Party Together. Tax cuts appear to be the only issue they can still rally around, and passing a massive tax cut bill is, for them, something like having a baby to save a failing marriage. That rarely works, I understand.

Paul Waldman wrote pretty much the same thing in WaPo.

… what’s important isn’t so much the details of legislation but that this Congress pass something. They failed in their attempt to repeal the Affordable Care Act, so they have to cut taxes, not just because it’s an eternal Republican priority but because it constitutes doing something big. Otherwise their voters will decide they’re ineffectual and weak, which is what those voters thought of them during the Obama years, and part of what led to the nomination of Donald Trump.

“The attitude of the conservative base is,’‘If they don’t do this, they’re worthless,’” says Stephen Moore of the Heritage Foundation. Or as Sen. Lindsey O. Graham put it, “If you care about the Republican Party we better produce because those who put us here have had it with us.”

This is the more powerful theory, because Republicans in Congress went through years of being yelled at by tea partyers demanding to know why they had failed to repeal the ACA, make America immigrant-free and banish Barack Obama to the Phantom Zone. This was mostly those establishment Republicans’ own fault, since they pretended to those voters that they could resist Obama in ways that they knew were impossible as long as he was president, but over time — and with a few primary losses of their colleagues — the fear of their base became part of their psychology.

Of course, behind the scenes you’ve got people like the Club for Growth and the Koch Brothers calling the shots. That probably has more to do with it than fear of retribution of voters. Otherwise, it makes no sense that the only legislation they can rally around is unpopular with their own voters.

Trump’s plan would balloon the deficit and add to the $20 trillion national debt. … Among Republicans surveyed, 63 percent said deficit reduction should take priority over tax cuts for corporations, while 75 percent said deficit reduction should take priority over tax cuts for the wealthy.

Needless to say, Democrats were even more against the tax plan. But it’s pretty obvious there’s a huge disconnect between the Republican voter base and the stuff Republicans actually do when you let them run the government. That’s been true for a long time, but Republicans are good at distraction — look! There’s a black guy in the White House! And Hillary Clinton!

Robinson continues,

Trump is large and in charge of the Republican Party because he’s more in touch with the base than the GOP establishment is — which means the party’s leaders have lost contact with the country.

But meanwhile, where are the Democrats? Basically nowhere.

The Democratic leaders in the House and Senate, Nancy Pelosi (Calif.) and Charles E. Schumer (N.Y.), are better at politics and basic arithmetic than their Republican counterparts. This fact has given Democrats more power in Congress than they deserve.

But the party managed to lose a presidential election to a man who had never been elected to public office, who slandered Mexican immigrants as rapists, who used African Americans and Latinos as foils to help him stoke feelings of grievance among whites, and who bragged about sexually harassing and assaulting random women. You lost to that guy, Democrats.

The party of Franklin Roosevelt allowed the GOP to pretend to champion the interests of the working class. Failure to connect with white voters in the Rust Belt is only part of the story of last year’s defeat, and maybe not the most important part. Democrats failed to sufficiently energize their core constituencies — urbanites, African Americans, Latinos, women, young people.

Robinson goes on to say that there’s a big re-alignment going on. And, in my opinion, the biggest fault line is not between liberals and conservatives, but between people who think our forms of economy and government still work, or ever worked, for them, and those who don’t.

The biggest problem Democrats have is that the establishment is populated by people who are too damn satisfied with the way things are, or the way they would be if we didn’t have to constantly fight back right-wing nonsense like cutting people off from health care. Democrats too often see their role merely as protecting existing programs — and the Supreme Court — from Republicans.

The self-satisfied ones, the ones who think there’s nothing broken in the U.S. that just electing more Democrats won’t totally fix, can’t think beyond that. And they’re the ones who control the party.

See, for example, Why “Centrists” Will Sink the Democrats, If They Haven’t Already by Richard Eskow. Democrats “have lost all three branches of the federal government, two-thirds of state houses, and two-thirds of governorships,” he says. Yet they continue to offer the same old nostrums and reject change.

The Democrats have achieved their greatest political and policy successes when they have ignored the “centrists” – in reality, ever-present naysayers who cloak their negativity in the pseudo-technocratic jargon of centrism.  It’s hard to imagine that the New Deal, Medicare, or the Moon Landing would have ever happened if milquetoast Democrats like these had been in charge.

Meanwhile, the old order is crumbling.  73 percent of voters are dissatisfied with the way the country’s being governed, despite topline economic improvements. 61 percent agree with the statement, “Republicans and Democrats have done such a poor job representing the American people that a third party is needed.” That’s nearly twice as many as those who feel that the two parties are doing an “adequate” job.

The bipartisan, centrist political consensus is breaking down. That’s not an accident, and it’s not an injustice. It’s the result of repeated failures, both abroad and at home. The question is, what will replace it: something better, or something worse? If Democrats continue to follow the losing ways of the past, we probably won’t like the answer.

Back to Robinson:

We all have a mental image of the political spectrum. On the right, there is the Republican Party with a set of conservative policies — cut taxes, shrink government, limit entitlements, deregulate, etc. On the left, there is the Democratic Party with a set of liberal policies — expand health care, raise wages, regulate Wall Street, promote fairness and so on.

The rise of Trump and Sanders and the fact that some of their campaign positions were identical — we should have health care for all, free-trade pacts have harmed U.S. workers, the “system” is rigged to favor the rich and powerful at the expense of the middle class — suggest to me that the familiar left-right spectrum is no longer an accurate schematic of public opinion.

Here we have to stop and acknowledge that Trump didn’t mean any of that stuff, since he favors the rich and powerful above all else, and he certainly had no plan for health care, whereas Sanders does. But I understand why people were snookered. He said what they wanted to hear, while Clinton offered nothing but bromides. And the racist dog whistles helped.

Today’s key fault lines may be between metropolitan areas and the exurbs and small towns strung along the interstates; between those who have gone to college and those who have not; between families who have benefited from the globalized economy and those who have not; and between an anxious, shrinking white majority and the minority groups that within a couple of decades will constitute more than half the population.

I suspect the younger college-educated crowd might find themselves in more solidarity with working class folks than with the Boomer white collar professional class. I also acknowledge that the racism and other bigotries common among white working-class people is a big hurdle to overcome, but speaking as someone who came from a small town, blue collar and racially segregated background, I know that some people are educable. And to win elections, some will often do.

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The Empty Center

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Trump Maladministration

This post is mostly about Republicans, but if you see parallels with the Democrats, I won’t argue. I will get to that in the end.

David Weigel, Michael Scherer and Robert Costa report in WaPo that Mitch McConnell has declared war on Steve Bannon.

More than a year ahead of the 2018 congressional contests, a ­super PAC aligned with McConnell (R-Ky.) revealed plans to attack Bannon personally as it works to protect GOP incumbents facing uphill primary fights. The effort reflects the growing concern of Republican lawmakers over the rise of anti-establishment forces and comes amid escalating frustration over President Trump’s conduct, which has prompted a handful of lawmakers to publicly criticize the president.

Yet the retaliatory crusade does not aim to target Trump, whose popularity remains high among Republican voters. Instead, the McConnell-allied Senate Leadership Fund (SLF) will highlight Bannon’s hard-line populism and attempt to link him to white nationalism to discredit him and the candidates he will support. It will also boost candidates with traditional GOP profiles and excoriate those tied to Bannon, with plans to spend millions and launch a heavy social media presence in some states.

Bannon, of course, has been at war with McConnell for some time. But this points to the impasse the Republican Party has reached. The core of their voting base is made up of hard-line populists and white nationalists. How can Republicans campaign against hard-line populism and white nationalism and keep the base happy?

The fascinating thing going on here is that the Republicans for years have been telling themselves they are a party of Principles and Ideas and Whatnot, while attracting voters with red meat and dog whistles, but the base really doesn’t give a hoo-haw about the principles and ideas and just want the dog whistle stuff. But if the Republicans become nothing but the party of red meat and dog whistles, with no pretense otherwise, it’s unlikely they can survive long as a party. They’ve already demonstrated they don’t know how to govern any more. And this is a reality that’s yet to dawn on some of them.

Ron Dreher — no fan of Trump’s — writes at the American Conservative about Jeff Flake:

 Jeff Flake’s conservatism deserves to lose. He’s right about Trump’s character, but as I wrote in response to his book a short while back, all he offers is warmed-over Reaganism. If establishment Republicans like Flake had been paying attention, they would have changed with the times, and headed off somebody like Trump. I don’t mean that they should have surrendered their principles, necessarily, but adjusted them to fit the circumstances. Burke himself said that a state without the means of change is without the means of its own conservation. It’s true of a political party, certainly. Political parties are not churches, after all. The problem with the Republican Party and movement conservatism is that it regarded Reaganism as a kind of religion.

Jeff Flake strikes me as an honorable man. But good riddance to his kind of Republican.

Via Dreher, I learn that Ross Douthat has written something halfway intelligent:

To the extent that there’s a plausible theory behind all of these halfhearted efforts, it’s that resisting Trump too vigorously only strengthens his hold on the party’s base, by vindicating his claim to have all the establishment arrayed against him.

But the problem with this logic is that it offers a permanent excuse for doing nothing, no matter how bad Trump’s reign becomes. (“I’d criticize him for accidentally nuking Manila, but you know, then Fox News would just make it all about me …”) In the end, if you want Republican voters to reject Trumpism, you need to give them clear electoral opportunities to do so — even if you expect defeat, even if it’s all but certain. And an anti-Trump movement that gives high-minded speeches but never mounts candidates confirms Trump’s claim to face establishment opposition while also confirming his judgment of the establishment’s guts and stamina — proving that they’re all low-energy, all “liddle” men, all unwilling to fight him man to man.

If Corker really means what he keeps saying about the danger posed by Trump’s effective incapacity, he should call openly for impeachment or for 25th Amendment proceedings — and other anti-Trump Republicans should join him. If Flake really means what he said in his impassioned speech, and he doesn’t want to waste time and energy on a foredoomed Senate primary campaign, then he should choose a different hopeless-seeming cause and primary Trump in 2020.

I said yesterday that it wouldn’t surprise me if Flake is positioning himself to primary Trump. We’ll see. Meanwhile, after his gutsy speech, Flake went back to Republicanism as usual:

In the dead of Tuesday night, with the applause still ringing in his ears, Flake voted to strip the Consumer Finance Protection Bureau of a rule that allowed Americans to file class-action suits against banks rather than being forced into an arbitration process that generally is as rigged as a North Korean election.

Another interesting read is by Damon Linker, “The Center-Right’s Empty Idealism.”  He is discussing the recent anti-Trump speeches by McCain and G.W. Bush.

At an event in New York three days later, Bush defended the same idealized construal of the country, its history, and its role in the world, while adding more specifics. For Bush, the United States stands for freedom and democracy, which are the “inborn hope of our humanity,” and is called upon to defend them against their enemies abroad. Doing so involves supporting the liberal international order against tyrannical and totalitarian threats, as well as favoring free trade, the dynamism that results from relatively open immigration, and policies that empower the job-creating juggernaut of the private sector.

If it weren’t for the Trump administration’s promotion of a far more culturally populist and nationalist ideology, there would be nothing at all noteworthy about McCain and Bush’s statements. On the contrary, they would be seen as expressions of the purest political boilerplate — a recitation of chapters and verses from the hymnal of American civil religion that one might have expected to hear from any president or presidential candidate from either party at any point since Ronald Reagan was elected (and maybe earlier). They stand out today, and move many of us a bit more than they once did, only because President Trump and many of his senior advisers don’t speak this language and don’t entirely share the moral and political vision it expresses.

It’s precisely the familiarity of the language and political vision that should strike us as strange. McCain and Bush recited the same civic poetry we’ve heard for decades, the same poetry that lost out to Donald Trump in the 2016 GOP primaries. Yet here we are, nearly a year into the Trump administration, and two of the most prominent figures in the Republican establishment have decided to respond by saying … precisely the same thing yet again.

James Hohmann writes at WaPo that most Republicans are rallying around Trump by saying critiques such as Flake’s are about Trump’s personality and not policy. Hohmann tries to argue that there are real policy differences. “Flake’s decision to not seek another term was as much about his refusal to abandon his core principles as his concern over Trump’s fitness for office,” Hohmann writes. But what core principles would those be? Flake’s votes in the Senate show that he agrees with Trump 90 percent of the time.  Maybe going forward he will clarify his position vis à vis Trumpism, but it’s not clear to me now, other than maybe thinking that Trump is vulgar and doesn’t know how to play the We Are the Party of Principles and Ideas game.

Back to Ron Dreher:

Donald Trump is not the answer. But you know what else isn’t the answer? The same old GOP script. I find myself tonight thinking about the reader who posted a comment last night saying that he’s having to work 12-hour days, and on weekends too, just to make ends meet. I happen to know the guy. He’s a middle-aged political and religious conservative, a churchgoing family man. And he’s being ground down by what he rightly calls “the destruction of the middle class.” I don’t know if he voted for Trump or not, but the Republican Party offers him nothing, and he knows that. Doesn’t mean he’s voting Democratic — that party is also a hot mess — but I can well imagine that the respectable rhetoric of a Sen. Flake falls on deaf ears in his house.

The parallels with Democrats — the Old Guard of both parties is clinging to the past, although in different ways. And they are both clinging to a mythical center that may not exist any more. And the Old Guard of both parties offers nothing to beaten down working class people, and the Old Guard of both parties is in denial about that.

The Republican Old Guard still thinks it is the party of Reagan, Main Street, tough foreign policy and world leadership. Listening to Jeff Flake, I am reminded of the great line from Nixon’s “Checkers” speech — “I should say this, that Pat doesn’t have a mink coat. But she does have a respectable Republican cloth coat, and I always tell her she would look good in anything.” Respectable Republican cloth coat — that was a line that resonated with people in 1952. Republicans were not ostentatious people. They were people who wore sensible shoes and cloth coats and loved their little daughters and their dogs. How would the cloth coat line go over today? It seems a quaint and alien thing now.

Of course, in 1952 Joe McCarthy was out there, too, whipping up hysteria. Behind the curtains of civility and rows of genteel men in grey flannel suits, Richard Hofstader’s pseudo conservatives were fighting against the center of their day. (I still say that if you want to understand the roots of today’s political insanity, read Hofstader.)

Both parties are in a perilous place. The political center, whether center-right or center-left, is empty. The center-left is compromised by clientelism and overpaid technocrats producing bullet-point plans of well-intentioned tweaks. The center-right, though, is just a sad ghost that wants to believe it has principles but can’t quite remember where it put them.

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Flake Out

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Trump Maladministration

Today’s big nooz:

Sen. Jeff Flake (R-Ariz.) will retire from the Senate at the end of his term, saying he was out of step with his party in the era of President Trump.  …

… In an unannounced Senate floor speech Tuesday announcing his retirement, Flake excoriated Trump without using his name.

“We must never allow ourselves to lapse into thinking that is just the way things are now. If we simply become used to this condition . . . then heaven help us,” Flake said, his voice shaking. “Without fear of the consequences and without consideration of the rules of what is politically safe, we must stop pretending that the conduct of some in our executive branch are normal. They are not normal. Reckless, outrageous and undignified behavior has become excused as telling it like it is when it is actually reckless, outrageous and undignified.”

Flake was first elected to the Senate in 2012 and was up for re-election next year. Before that he served in the House, beginning 2001.

“It is often said that children are watching. Well, they are. And what are we doing to do about that?,” Flake said. “When the next generation asks us, why didn’t you do something? Why didn’t you speak up? What are we going to say? I rise to say, enough.”

Flake said senators “must dedicate ourselves to making sure that the anomalous never becomes the normal. With respect, we fooled ourselves long enough that a pivot to governing is right around the corner, a return to civility and stability right behind it. We know better than that. by now, we all know better than that.”  …

… “It is clear at this moment that a traditional conservative who believes in limited government and free markets, who is devoted to free trade, who is pro-immigration, has a narrower and narrower path” in the Republican Party, he said.

The speech got a standing ovation from those senators present. Responding with her usual graciousness, White House spokeswoman Sarah Sanders said Flake was being petty and was such a loser he wouldn’t have won re-election anyway.

Josh Marshall reminds us that Flake was a “very conservative Republican” who has been a reliable vote for Trump’s nonsense. Even so,

 I’m still pretty stunned by this turn of events. We know Trump is a bull in a china shop. We know that he’s creating cross-cutting tensions within the GOP that are hard to navigate. We know that everyone around President Trump gets damaged. But Flake giving up his seat just makes the impact of Trump, the electoral carnage palpable and visible in an entirely new way.

Jeff Flake is 54 years old. He served a dozen years in the House before running for the Senate in 2012, the first opening that came up while he was in Congress. Politicians don’t put in that time building a base and a political track to bail out of the Senate after one term. Basically not ever. Certainly not for someone like Jeff Flake.

No, sentimentality. But wow. The carnage and the stress and the destruction. There will be much more. Trump is poison. He arranges around himself, the worst and least principled sort of people. We’ll all be damaged more.

What’s up with Trump and Flake?  David Nakamura and Ed O’Keefe wrote this in the Washington Post last August:

President Trump went on the offensive Thursday against two Republican senators, attacking them for their recent criticisms of his divisive governing style and response to the violence in Charlottesville.

In a morning tweetstorm, Trump lambasted Sens. Lindsey O. Graham (S.C.) and Jeff Flake (Ariz.), calling Graham “publicity-seeking” and Flake “toxic” and endorsing a primary challenger to Flake in his reelection bid next year. Flake recently published a book that was highly critical of Trump. …

Flake wrote in his book that Republicans abandoned their principles in the face of Trump’s unorthodox campaign and surrendered to the “politics of anger.” The party gave in to “the belief that riling up the base can make up for failed attempts to broaden the electorate,” Flake wrote in “Conscience of a Conservative: A Rejection of Destructive Politics and a Return to Principle.”“These are the spasms of a dying party.”

Even earlier, last May, Flake got into trouble with Trump by publicly doubting that the Republicans would have a viable replacement health care law to vote on before the August break, which certainly turned out to be true. Former Arizona state senator Kelli Ward criticized Flake for not being enough of an obsequious toady toward Trump, and she issued a primary challenge. Trump noisily endorsed Ward over Flake a few weeks ago.

Just to illustrate what sort of class act Ward is, after Sen. John McCain announced he had brain cancer, Ward publicly stated that McCain should resign at once, and by the way, she was available to fill his seat.

Ward is not winning hearts and minds.

A Republican super PAC with ties to Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) on Tuesday took a shot at former Arizona state Sen. Kelli Ward (R), arguing that she will not be the Republican nominee in the wake of Sen. Jeff Flake‘s (R-Ariz.) decision to not run for reelection.

Senate Leadership Fund (SLF) has been critical of Ward, who had launched a primary challenge to the right of Flake and has the backing of pro-Trump outside group Great America Alliance. Flake sent shockwaves throughout the political world when he announced on Tuesday that he wouldn’t run for a second term in 2018.

“Sen. Jeff Flake will be remembered for a distinguished and impactful career in Congress, as well as his independent streak and genial manner,” Senate Leadership Fund president Steven Law said in a statement.

“The one political upshot of Sen. Flake’s decision today is that Steve Bannon’s hand-picked candidate, conspiracy-theorist Kelli Ward, will not be the Republican nominee for this Senate seat in 2018.”

Flake’s departure will likely open up the Republican field and now leaves a spot open for a candidate as an alternative to Ward.

Just yesterday, we learned that Ward may not be Trumpian enough, either.

This past April, two Breitbart alumni joined the campaign of Kelli Ward, an insurgent conservative preparing to challenge Republican Sen. Jeff Flake on a familiar Trump-style platform to “drain the swamp” and “Make America Great Again.”

Ward officially kicked off her campaign last week at an event attended by Fox News’s Laura Ingraham and Breitbart executive chair and former Trump adviser Steve Bannon. Later that same day, the two Breitbart writers, Jennifer Lawrence and Dustin Stockton, quit. After working on her campaign for more than six months, they had come to believe that Ward was not the true believer she claimed to be.

So, the Right isn’t just breaking up into pro- and anti-Trump factions; it is breaking up into varying degrees of Trumpism factions. And the senate race in Arizona next year is going to be right out of the Wild West.

Anyway, Flake will still be in the Senate until January 2019, which would be a good time to focus on his presidential nomination exploratory committee. (He wrote a book. That’s why senators write books; to run for POTUS.) His announcement today makes it possible for him to become a leader of the anti-Trump faction within the GOP. It also means he has no reason to kiss Trump’s ass, ever.

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The Russian Uranium Clinton Thing: A Primer

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Trump Maladministration

The Russian Uranium Clinton Thing is an old story being given new life in right-wing media to deflect attention from Trump’s Russian connection scandals. Right-wing media never bother to address the question of why one story is supposed to cancel out the other, but never mind. I’m bringing it up now because (1) it’s stupid; and (2) it’s new to a lot of people. The Russian Uranium Clinton Thing was a thing last year during the primaries, also, but I don’t believe I mentioned it then. I have been filing it under the heading of Shit That Looks Bad But There’s Worse Stuff to Talk About.

I believe the Russian Uranium Clinton Thing story was broken by the New York Times in 2015, in a story headlined Cash Flowed to Clinton Foundation Amid Russian Uranium Deal.

At the heart of the tale are several men, leaders of the Canadian mining industry, who have been major donors to the charitable endeavors of former President Bill Clinton and his family. Members of that group built, financed and eventually sold off to the Russians a company that would become known as Uranium One.

Beyond mines in Kazakhstan that are among the most lucrative in the world, the sale gave the Russians control of one-fifth of all uranium production capacity in the United States. Since uranium is considered a strategic asset, with implications for national security, the deal had to be approved by a committee composed of representatives from a number of United States government agencies. Among the agencies that eventually signed off was the State Department, then headed by Mr. Clinton’s wife, Hillary Rodham Clinton.

As the Russians gradually assumed control of Uranium One in three separate transactions from 2009 to 2013, Canadian records show, a flow of cash made its way to the Clinton Foundation. Uranium One’s chairman used his family foundation to make four donations totaling $2.35 million. Those contributions were not publicly disclosed by the Clintons, despite an agreement Mrs. Clinton had struck with the Obama White House to publicly identify all donors. Other people with ties to the company made donations as well.

And shortly after the Russians announced their intention to acquire a majority stake in Uranium One, Mr. Clinton received $500,000 for a Moscow speech from a Russian investment bank with links to the Kremlin that was promoting Uranium One stock.

At the time, both Rosatom [the Russian atomic energy agency] and the United States government made promises intended to ease concerns about ceding control of the company’s assets to the Russians. Those promises have been repeatedly broken, records show.

So there’s a big, fat appearance of naughty here. On top of that, it has been reported more recently that back in 2010, when the Thing was going on, Russians and uranium were being investigated by the FBI. The Hill reported this week:

Before the Obama administration approved a controversial deal in 2010 giving Moscow control of a large swath of American uranium, the FBI had gathered substantial evidence that Russian nuclear industry officials were engaged in bribery, kickbacks, extortion and money laundering designed to grow Vladimir Putin’s atomic energy business inside the United States, according to government documents and interviews.

Federal agents used a confidential U.S. witness working inside the Russian nuclear industry to gather extensive financial records, make secret recordings and intercept emails as early as 2009 that showed Moscow had compromised an American uranium trucking firm with bribes and kickbacks in violation of the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act, FBI and court documents show.

They also obtained an eyewitness account — backed by documents — indicating Russian nuclear officials had routed millions of dollars to the U.S. designed to benefit former President Bill Clinton’s charitable foundation during the time Secretary of State Hillary Clinton served on a government body that provided a favorable decision to Moscow, sources told The Hill.

That looks corrupt as hell, as maybe it is. You might remember I’m not a Hillary Clinton fan. However, as Callum Borchers reported at WaPo this week, there are mitigating circumstances. The “government body” that approved the sale was made up of representatives from the State Department and eight other U.S. government agencies. Clinton did not have the authority to approve the sale by herself. Further, Borchers writes, it appears the committee members did not know anything about the FBI investigation when the sale was approved. See also Snopes.

And what about the donations?

It is virtually impossible to view these donations as anything other than an attempt to curry favor with Clinton. Donations alone do not, however, prove that Clinton was actually influenced by money to vote in favor of the Uranium One sale — or to overlook the FBI investigation. Again, there is no evidence that she even knew about the investigation.

Further, as Vox reports, there’s no indication that Clinton went out of her way to advocate for the sale of the uranium.

I am reminded of something written last year by my friend Jeffrey Feldman, that Clinton is less guilty of corruption than of clientelism.

“Corruption” is essentially a quid-pro-quo system. In the most basic example, a person walks into a politicians office and gives them an envelope full of money–throws it on the desk. As the delivery man walks out of the office, he turns to the Congressperson and says, “Vote no on the housing bill.”  That’s the stereotype of corruption in government. I give you money, you do what I tell you to do.

“Clientelism” is a bit different because it is a system whereby patrons and clients act in ways that are mutually beneficial to both–without the explicit quid pro quo, without the smudged brown envelope of sweaty cash.  The big difference between corruption and clientelism is the explicit demand for a political act from the person or entity who wants to influence government. In “corruption” you are paid and then you do what you are asked. In clientism, the politician acts in favor of a powerful interest or entity and then, subsequently, is rewarded.

Put another way — without agreeing to a specific quid pro quo, which would be illegal, the Clintons and a lot of other big players in the world operate in a system in which they are perpetually doing each other mutually beneficially favors without ever being so crass as to admit out loud that’s what they are doing, and without ever specifically agreeing to terms of the favors. Very likely the Russians never directly approached Clinton for her favorable vote, and Clinton never asked for donations. It’s just How Things Are Done.  That doesn’t mean it’s not a corruption of the system, but it’s probably not indictable. Jeffrey continued,

Secretary Clinton, for all the good work that she has done, has built a career on the belief that she can control these patron-client relationships to benefit the powerless. Yet, she has done so by entering into reciprocal relationships with the powerful–who gain no advantage by legislation that helps the powerless.

This is a big reason I don’t want her in office, and I don’t want her associates running the Democratic Party. It it turns out she did do something indictable, I’m not going to shed tears over it. But this has nothing whatsoever to do with the Trump-Russian Collusion Thing, which is a different thing.

Rather hilariously, Trump and Fox News are screaming that “fake media” have refused to cover the Russian Uranium Clinton Thing, even though the New York Times broke the story more than two years ago, and other major news outlets have been reporting on it this week. To see the spin right-wing media are giving the story, see the New York Post.

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