Democrats: Big Tent, Yes, but With Parameters

Trump Maladministration

Here are some things to read about reforming the Democratic Party so that it can grow a broader voter base. However, not everyone is on the same page. And I’ve got my own ideas about who’s right and who’s stuck in old, losing paradigms.

First, let’s review the problem. Here is the 2016 election results map by county:

See the problem? That more people live in the blue spots than in the red doesn’t mean the overwhelming amount of red doesn’t matter, especially if we want to take back Congress. So let’s continue.

Politoco’s Patrick Cavan Brown writes “Heartland Democrats to Washington: You’re Killing Us.” The subhead says that an “elitist” national party is alienating voters. Okay. But the article mostly quotes some good old boys in Indiana who want the Democratic Party to be more about ending abortion rights, being meaner to Muslims and supporting the NRA.

We need to be clear that some things are off the table. Compromising on civil rights — which includes reproductive rights — is off the table. We may not all see eye to eye on what direction to take with gun control, but making guns even easier to get than they are already is off the table. I would not say that an individual Democrat can’t run on right-wing positions, but the positions of the party overall need to be clear on these issues, or the concept of “party” itself has no meaning. The people interviewed speak about a “big tent,” but I say if a tent has no structure at all it’s not a tent.

But what kind of structure will help us turn some of that red back to blue without betraying the constituents who have stuck with us and that we will need in the future?

I say that if a pro-choice Democrat can be elected senator in Alabama, we don’t have to compromise to win elections. Yes, we may lose a few elections on these issues, but we lose more by being squishy. Take stands. Don’t be the generic brand X. We absolutely cannot betray minorities and women and expect to keep their trust. Being squishy has cost Democrats with younger voters also; too many of the young folks just don’t trust the party to do anything for them, and I can’t say I blame them.

Moving on: This article links to a report called “Hope from the Heartland: How Democrats Can Better Serve the Midwest by Bringing Rural, Working Class Wisdom to Washington.” The report was put together by a Congresswoman from Illinois named Cheri Bustos. She interviewed 72 successful Democratic local officials from rural areas in Midwestern states now dominated by Republicans to come up with guidelines for how Democrats can win in the rural Midwest. Her basic advice for what the Democratic Party should do:

  1. improve its messaging and the Democratic brand;
  2. focus our policies on jobs and the economy;
  3. reconnect with voters from the Heartland; and
  4. adapt campaigns to be more successful in rural areas.

I can’t argue with any of that. The first two items apply to the entire party in every district, in fact.

If you read the whole thing, though, a big fat piece of hypocrisy emerges. These rural politicians complain that the Democrats in 2016 didn’t focus enough on jobs and the economy and instead spent too much time talking about social issues and “identity politics.” But then when you get into what issues they really want to talk about, a lot of them fell back on abortions and guns. At least no one in this report wanted to deny civil rights to Muslims.

Something’s got to give. I say the main focus has to be on economics and bringing opportunity and prosperity back to the rust belt and rural America. The choice is that America can be an economic backwater with discrimination, guns and back-alley abortions, or it can be a 21st-century nation with a strong economy. Period. And I think that will work, because “economic anxiety” is a real thing. Believe it, or not.

Racism Versus Economic Anxiety

American’s lefty hive mind has pretty much dismissed “economic anxiety” as a cause for the debacle of 2016, settling instead on racism/nationalism as the primary if only factor. I don’t think it’s that simple, though.

It’s often pointed out that Trump voters on average had higher incomes than Clinton voters. See? No economic anxiety. But the nerds at FiveThirtyEight did a deeper dive into the data and found something different. Clinton and Democrats generally did much better among nonwhites, who tend to have lower incomes. So, the average income for Democratic voters was lower. But if you control for race, the numbers look different:

Trump significantly outperformed Romney in counties where residents had lower credit scores and in counties where more men have stopped working.2

The list goes on: More subprime loans? More Trump support. More residents receiving disability payments? More Trump support. Lower earnings among full-time workers? More Trump support. “Trump Country,” as my colleague Andrew Flowers described it shortly after the election, isn’t the part of America where people are in the worst financial shape; it’s the part of America where their economic prospects are on the steepest decline.3

From my current perch in rural Missouri, that’s what I see. People here are much more right wing overall than they were in the 1960s. But in the 1960s a young man — yes, we’re talking about young white men — could graduate high school and the next week get a union job working for the local mining company.  And there were great training programs available that paid those young men salaries while they learned to be machinists or electricians or whatever kind of skilled worker the mining company needed. So, just about any male who did okay in high school, stayed out of trouble and was willing to do the work could have a steady, stable job that paid union wages and benefits, and thereby pay for a nice middle-class lifestyle. Now, that’s all gone. Other than maybe college — if you can pay for it — there are precious few opportunities for the young folks here that would put them on track for ever enjoying the same standard of living as their grandparents. Even a college degree is no guarantee of anything.  There is still money in the community, although from what I can see much of it is in the hands of retirees.

And, of course, you see the same thing all over the rust belt and in many small rural towns throughout America. There have been huge changes since the 1960s, and not for the better.

I’m arguing that in many parts of the country that voted for Trump, the economic anxiety fuels racism and keeps it as alive as if the past 50 years hadn’t happened. Otherwise, a lot of it might have dissipated by now.

David Atkins wrote over a year ago,

Those who argue that economic anxiety fuels Trump’s support do not maintain that voters aren’t racist, but rather that economic anxiety creates the conditions for xenophobic populist animosity. It is no accident that Nazism sprung from the economic horrors of the 1930s, or that neo-fascist groups like Golden Dawn in Greece rose from the terrible economic conditions facing Europe in the age of austerity. The Brexit vote in Great Britain was, indeed, fueled by cultural and racial resentments—but the flames of those resentments were fanned by economic hardship. Conversely, it is also no accident that the greatest civil rights expansions for large minority groups have tended to come during periods of relative economic prosperity, as was the case during the postwar boom of the 1960s. That Trump’s support is strongest in more ethnically homogeneous areas is also no surprise: Social contact with minorities has long been proven to reduce racism, inoculating people against scapegoating by conservative populists.

This is not to say there was no racism in rural Missouri in the 1960s; of course there was. It was blatant. Rural Missouri was just about entirely white in those days and seems very nearly all white now; it remains a stubbornly segregated state. (Frankly, rural Missouri remains mostly white because of the lack of opportunity; there’s little reason to move here, no matter what color you are; there are only reasons to move away.) I’m saying that racism is so entrenched here partly because of the economic anxiety, along with the homogeneity. And Republicans, especially since Nixon, have done a bang-up job feeding the cultural and racial resentments, resulting in the famous tendency of so many poor whites to vote against their own economic interests.

However, for all these years, Democrats have let them get away with that. They have failed to come up with counter-messaging to persuade people that they really would be better off with Democratic economic policies than Republican ones. Indeed, especially since the rise of right-wing radio and Fox News, the only messaging a lot of folks in rural areas hear is right-wing messaging. I’ve been complaining about this for years.

Stop Being Republican Lite

The standard reaction to this problem from the national party is to run “centrist” candidates in conservative areas, which all too often means Blue Dogs who are not noticeably different from Republicans. Seems to me this has had the long-term effect of reinforcing Republican perspectives. It’s buying into their message. I sincerely believe that if over the past two or three decades, Democrats had had the guts to encourage candidates who offered clear alternatives to Republican messaging instead of watered-down versions of it, we wouldn’t be in the mess we are now.

I acknowledge that rural candidates probably don’t want to put gun control and reproductive rights at the center of their campaigns. That’s why Democrats need to be able to speak credibly to working-class folks on economic issues. Unfortunately, they also gave away their old advantage with working class issues. And please don’t read “white” into “working class.”

Stanley Greenberg in The American Prospect:

The Democrats don’t have a “white working-class problem.” They have a “working-class problem,” which progressives have been reluctant to address honestly or boldly. The fact is that Democrats have lost support with all working-class voters across the electorate, including the Rising American Electorate of minorities, unmarried women, and millennials. This decline contributed mightily to the Democrats’ losses in the states and Congress and to the election of Donald Trump.

Greenberg’s piece is worth reading all the way through. Part of the problem, he says, was that the Democratic message of 2016 emphasized the wonderful recovery from the 2008 financial crash. Unfortunately, big chunks of the country haven’t recovered from the 2008 financial crash. Lots of individuals haven’t recovered from the 2008 financial crash. That message just didn’t jibe with people’s experiences. And I realize that much of what Obama wanted to do that would have helped was blocked by Republicans. But at the same time … show me the bankers who went to jail.

Continuing with Greenberg:

The final dynamic distancing Democrats from working-class America is the party’s alignment with the economically and culturally ascendant in America’s metropolitan centers, where Democrats win office and govern. As Clinton’s winning popular vote margin grew to nearly three million, concentrated in an ever-smaller number of urban counties, the Brookings Institution revealed that fewer than 500 Clinton-won counties produced two-thirds of the nation’s GDP in 2015.

Perhaps that is why President Obama and Secretary Clinton sounded so satisfied with the state of America and its future. In nearly every speech for most of his presidency, including in his 2014 State of the Union address, Obama rightly declared that America “is better-positioned for the 21st century than any other nation on Earth.” When he and Clinton closed the 2016 campaign in Philadelphia, Detroit, Miami, Chicago, Raleigh, Cleveland, and Columbus with their upbeat take on America’s future, they symbolically aligned the Democrats nationally with the economically and ascendant cities—and they barely noticed anything amiss in smaller cities and towns and rural America.

This is the plain truth. I keep saying that the 2016 Democratic message was tone deaf to the national mood. That was not the year to exude smug satisfaction,  but smug satisfaction was the primary vibe of the Clinton campaign. I realize that there were proposals in the Democratic platform that would have been beneficial to working-class people, but our general election candidate didn’t bother to mention those things in her television ads. So most folks who are not die-hard politics nerds never heard about them. People wanted change. The guy who promised to shake things up sounded more appealing, even to more nonwhite voters than we’d like to admit.

This survey found a significant drop in support for the Democratic Party among black women, for example. Are the Democrats getting anything right?

So, as a great many people keep saying, the Democrats need to clarify bold economic goals and craft a message around those goals that resonates with people, but not compromise on civil rights. And Democrats need to stand with working people, period, instead of trying to please corporations while saving crumbs for working people. Unfortunately, the leadership of the national party is still mostly in the hands of the same people who ran the party into the ground over the years.

I fear we’re not going to get the fresh direction we need until we get new leadership. And that may be too late. In particular I fear the top leaders of the party, who are grotesquely out of touch with younger voters, never mind working class ones, will continue to keep their thumbs on the scale in 2020 when we’re choosing a new presidential nominee instead of letting actual voters decide.

The Young Folks

Finally, I direct you to a document called “Autopsy: The Democratic Party in Crisis” by, um, a bunch of people. It’s got lots of good stuff in it, and I urge reading it. I want to speak to this part in particular —

It’s important to note that young voters are increasingly more left-wing than their counterparts a generation ago — on social and political issues as well as ideology. In addition to their overwhelming embrace of self-described socialist Bernie Sanders, young people are more and more rejecting capitalist politics — with one January 2017 poll showing 43 percent of voters under 30 favorable toward socialism vs. only 26 percent unfavorable. (The generational trend is glaring, with just 23 percent of those 65 or older favorable toward socialism.) In an April poll by Harvard, a majority of young people responded that they do not “support capitalism.”

This generational shift was on stark display during one post-election CNN town hall when an NYU student cited the Harvard poll on millennials’ loss of trust in capitalism and asked Rep. Nancy Pelosi about the party moving left “to a more populist message” on economic issues. The Minority Leader bolted out of her seat and insisted, “I have to say, we’re capitalists, that’s just the way it is” before letting out a chuckle. The combination of knee-jerk dismissal and “just the way it is” cynicism perfectly distilled the problem the party has selling itself to today’s youth.

At the core of this disconnect is what, at first, appears to be a paradox: young voters are getting more left-wing but also less likely to identify as Democrats. According to a recent Brookings survey, only 37 percent of youth in 2016 identified as Democrats — down from 45 percent in 2008. But the percent who identified as “liberal” in 2016 was 37 percent, up from 32 percent in 2008. So how is it, young voters are moving leftward but identify less with the nominally “left”major party?

And, of course, the Democrats are not a “left” party, not in the same way the Republicans are a “right” party.

With Republicans, you know what you’re getting, like it or not. With Democrats, at least half the time you can vote for a guy who campaigns with noises about fighting for the little guy, and then later we find out he voted to let Payday Loan companies stay in business, or weaken workplace safety rules, or let cheating bankers off the hook, or some such. And that’s been going on for years. We can blame campaign finance laws for that, I guess, but Democrats need to get a clue that all the campaign cash in the world won’t help you if voters just plain don’t trust you.

I’ve quoted Matt Yglesias before

But though Democrats are certainly the more left-wing of the two parties — the party of labor unions and environment groups and feminist organizations and the civil rights movement — they’re not an ideologically left-wing party in the same way that Republicans are an ideological conservative one. Instead, they behave more like a centrist, interest group brokerage party that seeks to mediate between the claims and concerns of left-wing activists groups and those of important members of the business community — especially industries like finance, Hollywood, and tech that are based in liberal coastal states and whose executives generally espouse a progressive outlook on cultural change.

I’d say the young folks really need and are looking for a genuinely left-wing ideological party, and are frustrated with the Dems that they aren’t.

So, stands on cultural issues have cost Democrats with some voters, but their squishiness on economic issues, especially the problems being caused by what we might call over-reliance on capitalism, is costing them with much of the rest of the voters. The answer is not “centrism” — please — but fresh thinking and clarity on what working-class Americans throughout the nation really need from their government. And then, be champions for that.

The “Autopsy” document also has a section on “War and the Party.” It begins,

The most audible dissent inside the 2016 Democratic National Convention came during the two speeches that most forcefully touted policies of perpetual war. Former Defense Secretary Leon Panetta was taken aback when delegates repeatedly interrupted his primetime address with chants of “No more war.” The next night, just after Gen. John Allen encountered the same chant during the convention’s final session, the Washington Post cited poll numbers that indicated the chanting delegates represented a substantial portion of views among Democrats nationwide.

The wisdom of continual war was far clearer to the party’s standard bearer than it was to people in the U.S. communities bearing the brunt of combat deaths, injuries and psychological traumas. After a decade and a half of nonstop warfare, research data from voting patterns suggest that the Clinton campaign’s hawkish stance was a political detriment in working-class communities hard-hit by American casualties from deployments in Iraq and Afghanistan.

I personally think that a message of not spending trillions on endless military adventures overseas is one that would have broad appeal now. Older Dem leaders are people who came up through the ranks in the years after George McGovern, and the prevailing wisdom then (and, indeed, since the 1950s) was that Dems can’t be seen to be “soft” in foreign policy. We can’t be soft on Communism (hence, the Vietnam War) and we can’t be soft on terrorism (hence, a bunch of Dem senators who should have known better voted for the October 2001 war resolution that got us into Iraq).

In this, and in so many other ways, the 2016 campaign was out of touch. This has got to change.

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One More Thing …

Trump Maladministration

The Hill: Lawyer paid $130k to silence adult-film star over sexual encounter with Trump: report. The Wall Street Journal broke the story, looks like.

The Wall Street Journal reported that Michael Cohen, an attorney for the Trump Organization at the time and now Trump’s personal lawyer, arranged for Stephanie Clifford, known in the industry as Stormy Daniels, to receive $130,000 as part of a nondisclosure agreement one month before the 2016 presidential election.

Clifford has privately told sources interviewed by the Journal that she and Trump had a consensual sexual encounter in 2006, the year after he and Melania Trump were married. Clifford was 27 years old at the time of the alleged encounter in Lake Tahoe.

I’m less interested in what went on with Ms. Clifford than I am in how Sarah Sanders is going to dismiss it while insulting reporters for even bringing it up.

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Eric Greitens: The Perfect Republican

Trump Maladministration

Missouri Governor Eric Greitens is a wonder. He kicks old people out of nursing homes, takes housing benefits away from the poor, blocks minimum wage hikes, and … blackmails his mistress?

Fred Barbash in the Washington Post:

Missouri Gov. Eric Greitens (R), responding to media reports, acknowledged Wednesday night that he was unfaithful to his wife “a few years ago” before being elected.

The alleged affair happened in 2015. Greitens was elected governor in 2016.

The woman, who has not been named publicly, was Greitens’s hair stylist, according to media reports confirmed by The Washington Post with a source familiar with the situation.

Hair stylist? Mr. Tough Guy Navy Seal, the Scourge of Cornfields, had a hair stylist?


A Democrat-turned-Republican, Greitens was elected governor in November 2016 after a campaign that emphasized his status as a family man. Greitens and his wife have two children. “I’m Eric Greitens,” he said during the campaign. “I’m a Navy SEAL, native Missourian and most importantly, a proud husband and father.”

Of course he is. So are they all.

The governor had just delivered his state-of-the-state address Wednesday when KMOV in St. Louis broke the story about his affair with his former hairdresser in 2015.

The extramarital relationship itself, however, may have been the least explosive part of the story.

More unusual was what she purportedly said in a recording made surreptitiously by the woman’s jealous ex-husband, which the station played.

In it, she can be heard telling how Greitens invited her to his home in 2015. Once she arrived, he told her he would show her how to do pull-ups, taped her hands to exercise rings and blindfolded her, all with her consent.

Then, to her shock, she alleged, he snapped photographs of her naked and threatened to distribute the pictures if she revealed the relationship.

Did I mention that this guy is the perfect Republican? Seriously, the GOP must have a factory somewhere cranking out replicas.

Apparently the woman’s ex-husband had been on social media trashing Greitens for being a homewrecker. The state’s major newspapers had been sitting on the story, because all the information they had came from the husband. But KMOV, which is the CBS affiliate station in St. Louis, decided to run with it. And then Greitens issued a statement admitting to the affair. So it’s out.


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Nope, No Hypocrisy Here …

Trump Maladministration

Yesterday one of Trump’s lawyers sued Buzzfeed and Fusion GPS over the Steele Dossier.

Michael Cohen, a personal lawyer for Trump who is named in the dossier, says BuzzFeed and several of its staffers defamed him when it published the 35-page document and an accompanying article last January. He also says that Fusion GPS and Glenn Simpson, its founder, similarly defamed him after it hired an ex-British spy to compile the document as part of its opposition research against the Trump campaign.

Today, Trump said he intends to “take a strong look” at libel laws because he thinks they aren’t fair.

Trump made the tautological — if vaguely threatening — statement to reporters at a cabinet meeting.

“We are going to take a strong look at our country’s libel laws so that when somebody says something that is false and defamatory about someone, that person will have meaningful recourse in our courts,” he said.

Trump said he wants “fairness.”

“If somebody says something that’s totally false and knowingly false, that the person that has been abused, defamed, libeled, will have meaningful recourse,” he said. “Our current libel laws are a sham and a disgrace and do not represent American values or American fairness.”

Trump himself was never guilty of saying false and defamatory things, of course.

What’s probably frustrating Trump and his lawyer is the fact that in the U.S. it’s just about impossible for a public official to successfully sue for defamation. As it says on this legal information page

The public has a right to criticize the people who govern them, so the least protection from defamation is given to public officials. When officials are accused of something that involves their behavior in office, they have to prove all of the above elements of defamation and they must also prove that the defendant acted with “actual malice.” …

… “Actual malice” means that the person who made the statement knew it wasn’t true, or didn’t care whether it was true or not and was reckless with the truth — for example, when someone has doubts about the truth of a statement but does not bother to check further before publishing it.

I’m not aware of a single case of a sitting president successfully suing someone for defamation. Or even unsuccessfully suing someone. As far as I know, the last POTUS who took legal steps to keep people from saying nasty things about him was John Adams, and that didn’t turn out well.

American tradition has always been that you can say any damn thing you want about the POTUS except to threaten physical harm. And that extends to anyone on the White House staff and his personal lawyers who get sucked into public issues. Michael Cohen should know that. Obviously, if presidents or other elected officials could sue anyone who said anything critical of them, free speech would be a joke.

I suspect that if President Obama had attempted to sue Trump for dafamation he would have had a hell of a case, especially since Trump continued to push the “birther” theory long after it had been debunked. But he didn’t, because presidents are supposed to be above that sort of thing.

In other news — Trump also said today that he thinks it’s “unlikely” he would ever have to be interviewed by Bob Mueller.

“We’ll see what happens. Certainly I’ll see what happens. But when they have no collusion and nobody has found any collusion, at any level, it seems unlikely that you would even have an interview.”

My understanding is that if Mueller insists on an interview, Trump would have to submit to it — or else figure out how to fire Mueller. And we’d have one doozy of a constitutional crisis on our hands then.

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Republican’s Steele Dossier Scam Exposed

Trump Maladministration

As I commented on earlier this week, a few days ago Sen, Charles E. Grassley and Sen. Lindsey Graham of the Senate Judiciary Committee made a criminal referral to the Justice Department against Christopher Steele. Steele, of course, is the former British spy who authored the infamous Steele Dossier about Trump’s ties to Russia. Exactly what crime was alleged isn’t clear, but what is clear is that we’re supposed to get the message that the whole Steele Dossier thing was just a Clinton political trick against Trump.

Note that the Senate Judiciary Committee has not interviewed Steele himself. However, the SJC did interview the founders of Fusion GPS, the company that commissioned the dossier.  These guys, Glenn Simpson and Peter Fritsch, wanted their testimony to the committee made public.

Republicans have refused to release full transcripts of our firm’s testimony, even as they selectively leak details to media outlets on the far right. It’s time to share what our company told investigators.

We don’t believe the Steele dossier was the trigger for the F.B.I.’s investigation into Russian meddling. As we told the Senate Judiciary Committee in August, our sources said the dossier was taken so seriously because it corroborated reports the bureau had received from other sources, including one inside the Trump camp.

The intelligence committees have known for months that credible allegations of collusion between the Trump camp and Russia were pouring in from independent sources during the campaign. Yet lawmakers in the thrall of the president continue to wage a cynical campaign to portray us as the unwitting victims of Kremlin disinformation.

Greg Sargent wrote yesterday,

The escalating campaign by President Trump’s allies to discredit the ongoing Russia investigation is based partly on the idea that the probe itself is an illegitimate abuse of power. Some Republicans in Congress are all in on this alt-narrative and are going to great lengths to employ Congress’s investigative machinery to bolster it, plainly in hopes of keeping the real truth about Trump and Russia from coming out.

But Democrats can make it harder for Republicans to get away with this. Democrats need to ensure that the transcripts of testimony delivered to Congress by the co-founders of the firm that commissioned the so-called Steele Dossier are made public. Hardball procedural tactics toward this end do exist: A Democratic senator can try to make the transcripts public by reading them into the congressional record on the floor.

Or, they can just release the records, as Diane Feinstein did today.

Feinstein said she released the transcript to set the record straight. “The innuendo and misinformation circulating about the transcript are part of a deeply troubling effort to undermine the investigation into potential collusion and obstruction of justice,’’ she said.

Jennifer Rubin wrote,

Sens. Charles E. Grassley (R-Iowa) and Lindsey O. Graham (R-S.C.) made a fateful decision acting unilaterally with a phony “criminal referral” of Christopher Steele, a Brit over whom the United States has no jurisdiction anyway and whom they never saw testify, not just because it made them look like partisan hacks. They set a new standard that anyone on the committee could act independently and without bipartisan consent of their colleagues. So Sen. Diane Feinstein (D-Cal.) did them one better.

You can read the transcript online here. The transcript has no classified information, btw. There was no reason to keep it sealed.

Among other things, Simpson and Frisch testified that Trump was doing considerable business in the former Soviet states of Georgia and Azerbaijan. Technically that’s not Russia, but it’s certainly in Russia’s orbit.

For a time Steele was reporting his findings to the FBI because he believed there were national security issues surrounding Trump’s candidacy. He later told Simpson that the FBI already had this same information from several other sources, including from a “mole” in the Trump campaign itself.

However, you might recall the infamous October 31, 2016 article in the New York Times citing the FBI and saying that the intelligence agencies were not finding evidence linking Trump to Russia.  This alarmed Steele and caused him to stop talking to the FBI.

“There was a concern that the FBI was being manipulated for political ends by the Trump people and we didn’t really understand what was going on,” Simpson testified, calling the Oct. 31 article “a real Halloween special.”

The Times story reported at a critical moment in the 2016 election campign that the FBI had found no “conclusive or direct link between Mr. Trump and the Russian government” during a months-long inquiry. The story has come under fire in light of subsequent reporting, much of it by the Times’ own reporters, detailing contacts between the two.

Simpson testified that the article contradicted Steele and Fusion’s own research into Trump’s connections with Russia.

It would be really, really interesting to know who the sources were on that Halloween story. I blamed James Comey at the time, but it may not have been him.

Interesting shit.

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GOP Governor Delayed 2016 Tax Refunds Because the State Needed the Money

Trump Maladministration

Missouri is notoriously slow at paying tax refunds, but this year is one for the late records. I understand some people are still waiting. Yesterday Missouri Auditor Nicole Galloway accused Governor Eric Greitens of deliberately obstructing a routine but necessary audit and thereby slowing down refunds.  The Springfield News-Leader reports,

Auditor Nicole Galloway says Gov. Eric Greitens’ administration has made “unprecedented attempts” to “obstruct audit work” related to late tax refunds.

Missouri has been required to pay hundreds of thousands of dollars in interest in recent years to taxpayers who waited more than six weeks for refunds, Galloway’s office said in a new report.

“The state has paid individual income tax refunds in an increasingly untimely manner” and “does not have sufficient cash available” to refund taxpayers on time, the report said. Also, Missouri pays back larger returns first, regardless of the order in which refunds are processed, the auditor’s office said.

The delays are due to Missouri’s decision to pay other expenses before refunds, stalling $200 million in refunds at one point, according to Galloway’s office.

“The administration is balancing its checkbook on the backs of individual taxpaying Missourians — that is simply unacceptable,” Galloway said in a written statement. “Throughout this audit, my office received thousands of calls and e-mails from taxpayers who were rightfully frustrated because they were not receiving the money they were owed.”

You might recall that last year Greitens sold himself to Missouri voters with television ads that showed him shooting up cornfields with various military weapons.

Like any good wingnut, he’s all about tax cuts. Among other things, he has cut low-income housing tax credits because, you know, those poor folks take up too much space anyway.  He also ensured that people stay poor by blocking a St. Louis city ordinance that raised the minimum wage to $10 an hour in the city. Thanks to Greitens, many people who had already been enjoying larger paychecks saw their income cut back to $7.70 an hour. He also cut 8,000 elderly and disabled people off medical care  and cut millions out of the higher education budget. So he’s not what we’d call a sweetheart. The St. Louis Post-Dispatch also has been slamming him for his lack of transparency in campaign funding. He apparently received millions in dark money from lobbyists and corporations, so he’s not what we’d call a man of the people, either. But damn, that boy can shoot up a cornfield.

Getting back to the tax refund delays — the St. Louis Post-Dispatch reported,

Missouri Auditor Nicole Galloway on Monday said Gov. Eric Greitens’ administration obstructed and delayed her office’s audit of income tax refund processing even after she subpoenaed his Department of Revenue in April.

Despite this, Galloway, a Democrat, found that the amount of interest paid out to Missourians because the state processed their tax returns late rose 38 percent in one fiscal year — from $306,077 during fiscal year 2016, to $423,366 this past year. …

… The sparring started in April, when Galloway subpoenaed the state Department of Revenue seeking information about its processing of tax return refunds. Greitens, a Republican, called the move a “political stunt” and said his administration was preparing to turn over reams of documents to the auditor.

“My office was met with a lack of cooperation, numerous delays in responses and communication, refusal by the administration to even meet to discuss the audit, and more troubling, a refusal to confirm that all information was provided,” Galloway said at a Monday news conference.

Parker Briden, the governor’s spokesman, said in a statement that the criticisms were “another cheap ploy from a Democrat who is desperate for headlines.”

Did I mention that some people are still waiting for 2016 refunds?

Republicans have pointed out that the state was notoriously late refunding taxes when a Democrat, Jay Nixon, was governor. But they’ve never been this late before.

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Twilight of the Trump: Closing In

Trump Maladministration

There are reports that Mueller will be seeking an interview with Trump soon. There also are reports that Trump’s lawyers are trying to stop that from happening.

President Donald Trump has repeatedly said he would testify under oath about possible collusion between the Trump campaign and Russia during the 2016 presidential election. But now it looks like Trump’s lawyers are worried about a potential interview with special counsel Robert Mueller — and are seeking ways to avoid it.

NBC News reports that Trump’s attorneys are in initial talks with federal investigators about how a possible interview might take place. Trump’s lawyers have suggested the president could provide written answers to Mueller’s questions instead of sitting down face-to-face with Mueller’s team. They’ve also floated the idea of not having the president take part in the interview at all. The Washington Post also reports that a Trump-Mueller interview could take place within weeks.

But legal experts I spoke to doubt Mueller would settle for anything less than a sit-down with Trump. “I highly doubt that Mueller will accept written questions and answers,” Renato Mariotti, who served as a federal prosecutor from 2007 to 2016, told me in an interview. “Prosecutors are interested in a subject’s responses to detailed lines of questioning without the opportunity to have lawyers carefully craft their client’s answer.”

Heh. In other news, Jonathan Swan at Axios reports that Trump spends most of his days watching television and tweeting.

President Trump is starting his official day much later than he did in the early days of his presidency, often around 11am, and holding far fewer meetings, according to copies of his private schedule shown to Axios. This is largely to meet Trump’s demands for more “Executive Time,” which almost always means TV and Twitter time alone in the residence, officials tell us. …

… Trump’s days in the Oval Office are relatively short – from around 11am to 6pm, then he’s back to the residence. During that time he usually has a meeting or two, but spends a good deal of time making phone calls and watching cable news in the dining room adjoining the Oval. Then he’s back to the residence for more phone calls and more TV.

The 11-to-6 schedule is not exactly jam-packed.

On Tuesday, Trump has his first meeting of the day with Chief of Staff John Kelly at 11am. He then has “Executive Time” for an hour followed by an hour lunch in the private dining room. Then it’s another 1 hour 15 minutes of “Executive Time” followed by a 45 minute meeting with National Security Adviser H.R. McMaster. Then another 15 minutes of “Executive Time” before Trump takes his last meeting of the day — a 3:45pm meeting with the head of Presidential Personnel Johnny DeStefano — before ending his official day at 4:15pm.

This is fairly typical, Swan says. So he has an official five-hour workday, during which time he has to sit through three meetings in between lunch and yelling at the TeeVee.

Basically, no one is doing the job of president of the U.S. In his case, that may be just as well. Steve M points out that very often stuff Trump says about his policies and the policies his officials present to Congress and the public bear no resemblance to each other. The officials appear to be working around him.

Ross Douthat believes that White House staff are (barely) keeping the government together. And he asks, “Can the people who surround Donald Trump work around his incapacity successfully enough to keep his unfitness from producing a historic calamity?” I repeat, this is Ross Douthat, people.

I could be wrong, but I’m predicting Trump’s presidency won’t survive the year.

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Twilight of the Trump?

Trump Maladministration

In the department of There Are None So Blind As Those Who Will Not See, some hack at the Washington Examiner actually asked, “Why hasn’t Michael Wolff’s dementia-Trump ever been seen in public?” Like there hasn’t been discussion about Trump’s mental health going back long before Wolff’s book came out. See, for example, “I’m a brain specialist. I think Trump should be tested for a degenerative brain disease,” published December 7.

The more pertinent question is, does it really matter what the diagnosis is? Josh Marshal writes,

We are now back on to the feverish debate about whether or not Donald Trump is mentally ill or suffering from the onset of dementia. The most important thing to know about this debate is that it simply doesn’t matter. Diagnoses are something for trained professionals and even they are challenged to make them without a proper in-person examination. But again, it doesn’t matter.

For public purposes, clinical diagnoses are only relevant as predictors of behavior. If the President has a cognitive deficiency or mental illness that might cause him to act in unpredictable or dangerous ways or simply be unable to do the job, we need to know. But My God, we do know! We see him acting in these ways every day – and not just in multiple news reports from an abundance of different news organizations. We see it with our own eyes: in his public actions, his public statements, his tweets. All the diagnosis of a mental illness could tell us is that Trump might be prone to act in ways that we literally see him acting in every day: impulsive, erratic, driven by petty aggressions and paranoia, showing poor impulsive control, an inability to moderate self-destructive behavior. He is frequently either frighteningly out of touch with reality or sufficiently pathological in his lying that it is impossible to tell. Both are very bad.

In other words, Washington Examiner hack, if you want to see what dementia looks like, just watch Trump for a while. If he’s not suffering some sort of brain impairment, he’s putting on a hell of an act. Or, if that’s his “normal,” then he’s always been dumb as a box of rocks. Either way, he shouldn’t be president.

And people are getting tired of the excuses. (Watch Jake Tapper cut short an interview with Stephen “I Even Look Like Fredo” Miller. Fun little clip.)

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Republicans Tilt at Steele Dossier/Clinton Windmills

Trump Maladministration

The Senate Judiciary Committee made a criminal referral to the Justice Department against Christopher Steele, the author of the infamous Steele Dossier. Yes, the first referral of their investigation into alleged Russian-Trump collusion is against one of the people who exposed it. Of course.

It’s a bit hazy as to exactly which crime Steele is alleged to have committed. The Judiciary Committee allege that Steele lied to federal authorities about his contacts with reporters, and they want it investigated, although to what end (except as a red herring) isn’t clear.

The Senate Judiciary Committee behaves as if the Steele Dossier is the lynchpin against all the anti-Trump allegations, and if it were discredited all would be resolved in Trump’s favor. But it seems to me the Steele Dossier is nearly irrelevant at this point. It wasn’t even the first clue of possible collusion that caught the FBI’s interest, as was once believed. We now know the first clue was Trump foreign policy adviser/coffee boy George Papadopoulos’s drunken bragging to an Australian ambassador that the Russians had dirt on Hillary Clinton.

Of course, it’s also the case, according to several sources, that Trump has been whining bitterly for months about the “fake” dossier, so the referral may have been made to mollify the man-baby.

Seems to me that if the Steele Dossier had never been written, we’d still be in about the same place regarding the several investigations. There’s plenty of publicly revealed evidence — especially of obstruction of justice — without it, and who knows what Mueller has by now that he’s keeping under his vest.

Meanwhile, the FBI (at Trump’s request, the NY Times says) has opened another investigation into the Clinton Foundation. Per the Times story there’s no new evidence of anything; the investigation will be re-plowing old fields. And the Department of Justice is once again investigating Hillary Clinton’s emails. Last week the right-wing Judicial Watch was practically crowing because the State Department released the emails found on Anthony Weiner’s laptop and, JW says, some of them were classified. (And the State Department released them? Well, they were heavily redacted.)

CNN reported December 30,

Then-FBI Director James Comey testified earlier this year that “Somehow, her emails were being forwarded to Anthony Weiner, including classified information by (Clinton’s) assistant, Huma Abedin,” he said.
But there was no indication that Abedin “had a sense that what she was doing was in violation of the law,” Comey added, and investigators couldn’t prove any sort of criminal intent.
The emails weren’t marked as classified, though the FBI later found classified information contained in some emails recovered from Weiner’s laptop.
CNN has previously reported it was likely that some of the emails stored on Weiner’s laptop contained classified information, and fired FBI Director Comey testified that there is no indication Abedin “had a sense that what she was doing was in violation of the law.”

So, again, nothing was found that wasn’t already known about and hasn’t already been investigated. The Justice Department might as well re-open the Lindbergh baby kidnapping case while they’re at it, since they seem to have nothing better to do.

As absurd as they are, these investigations could be used for sinister purposes. Jonathan Chait writes,

At minimum, the effect will be to feed the right-wing news media’s message that Trump’s opponents are the real criminals, in order to supply a distraction for his base. At maximum, the “charges” will allow Trump to have something to trade away — he could fire Mueller while “magnanimously” pardoning his enemies in the alleged spirit of letting old feuds die. In either case, the threat of investigation can be used to make any potential Trump critic think twice.

I’m not sure Trump has the political capital left to make deals like that, though. And, of course, a lot depends on the midterms …


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Literacy and Dementia and Trump

Trump Maladministration

In WaPo, Ruth Marcus says she asked Trump point blank, “Do you read?”

Mika Brzezinski and I had a tense meeting with Trump following what I considered to be a bumbling debate performance in September 2015. I asked the candidate a blunt question.

“Can you read?”

Awkward silence.

“I’m serious, Donald. Do you read?” I continued. “If someone wrote you a one-page paper on a policy, could you read it?”

Taken aback, Trump quietly responded that he could while holding up a Bible given to him by his mother. He then joked that he read it all the time.

I am apparently not the only one who has questioned the president’s ability to focus on the written word. “Trump didn’t read,” Wolff writes. “He didn’t really even skim. If it was print, it might as well not exist. Some believed that for all practical purposes he was no more than semiliterate. Others concluded that he didn’t read because he didn’t have to . . . He was postliterate — total television.”

This isn’t the first time we’ve heard that Trump doesn’t read. If you google “Trump doesn’t read” you get a ton of links to articles testifying to that. And then there’s this, from May 2017 Newsweek by Chris Riotta: “Trump Doesn’t Read His Daily Intelligence Briefings; Prefers Big Pictures Instead.”

Almost every day at about 10:30 a.m., President Donald Trump sits with the heads of the intelligence community and a fresh Diet Coke to discuss some of the world’s most highly classified information in the Oval Office. He prefers “killer graphics,” like pictures, videos and charts, and often interrupts the meeting with questions and unrelated asides, according to CIA Director Mike Pompeo and National Intelligence Director Daniel Coats.

The president also favors tiny “nuggets” of intelligence that pop out at him during his daily briefings, and information that can be boiled down to a single page. “That’s our task, right?” Pompeo asked in a Washington Post article published Sunday. “To deliver the material in a way that he can best understand the information we’re trying to communicate.”  …

… The president prefers “big pictures” during his intel meetings in more ways than one: Trump doesn’t care to read long narratives about developing events around the world, instead preferring imagery he can better understand.

This led to some speculation that perhaps he couldn’t read. He has been known to use a teleprompter from time to time, but not very skillfully.

It’s hard to imagine someone graduating college, even with so-so grades, without being able to read at all. But there’s another element to this reading thing; it’s a skill one can lose with dementia.

I’m thinking of my mother, who was very bright. In the 1940s he completed a five-year program to earn a bachelor’s degree in nursing from the University of Missouri. After a long career as a hospital nurse she ran a Licensed Practical Nursing program at our local community college. Although math was her strongest subject, she certainly could read perfectly well (including doctors’ handwriting).

I flew home for a visit in early summer 1999. My father was very ill and would die of congestive heart failure in a few weeks, but he was still living at home. He and my mother had been engaged in a long disagreement about the best places to go out to dinner. He liked to go to proper restaurants where he could sit down, order from a menu and be waited on. She always wanted to go to buffets.

At one point she and I went out to dinner. I am inclined toward my father’s preferences, and we ended up at a sit-down restaurant. Mom was quiet and seemed uncomfortable, and she barely looked at the menu. After I ordered from the menu she told the waitress that she would have the same dinner I was having.

Her Alzheimer’s wouldn’t be diagnosed for a few more months, although my brother, who was a psychologist, told me she had it the day after Dad’s funeral. That was when I realized she couldn’t read menus. And she was embarrassed to let anyone know.  So she preferred buffets, where she could see the food. It was a coping mechanism.

Oddly enough, she could still write. A professional to the hilt, she had been keeping nurse’s notes on my father’s medicines and treatments to the end. But she couldn’t read menus. And bills and bank statements confused her. But she could understand the labels on the pill bottles, at least for a little while longer. She also continued to do crossword puzzles, although with diminishing success.

I’m just throwing this out as something to think about. Of course I don’t know if Trump has Alzheimer’s or some other mental impairment. But it would explain a lot.

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