This Is the Kind of Scandal That Starts Wars

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Nicholas Kristof writes,

Turkey claims to have audiotape of Saudi interrogators torturing Jamal and killing him in the Saudi Consulate. None of this is confirmed, and we still don’t know exactly what happened; we all pray that Jamal will still reappear. But increasingly it seems that the crown prince, better known as M.B.S., orchestrated the torture, assassination and dismemberment of an American-based journalist using diplomatic premises in a NATO country.

That is monstrous, and it’s compounded by the tepid response from Washington. President Trump is already rejecting the idea of responding to such a murder by cutting off weapons sales. Trump sounds as if he believes that the consequence of such an assassination should be a hiccup and then business as usual.

Frankly, it’s a disgrace that Trump administration officials and American business tycoons enabled and applauded M.B.S. as he imprisoned business executives, kidnapped Lebanon’s prime minister, rashly created a crisis with Qatar, and went to war in Yemen to create what the United Nations calls the world’s worst humanitarian crisis there. Some eight million Yemenis on the edge of starvation there don’t share this bizarre view that M.B.S. is a magnificent reformer.

There are credible reports that the U.S. knew the Saudis intended to seize Jamal Khashoggi before it happened, and did nothing.

Did I mention how much Trump loves the Saudis? His personal business ties to the Saudis are deep and go back many years. And in spite of his claims to the contrary, those ties appear to continue.

Since Trump took the oath of office, the Saudi government and lobbying groups for it have been lucrative customers for Trump’s hotels.

A public relations firm working for the kingdom spent nearly $270,000 on lodging and catering at his Washington hotel near the Oval Office through March of last year, according to filings to the Justice Department. A spokesman for the firm told The Wall Street Journal that the Trump hotel payments came as part of a Saudi-backed lobbying campaign against a bill that allowed Americans to sue foreign governments for responsibility in the Sept. 11 terror attacks.

Attorneys general for Maryland and the District of Columbia cited the payments by the Saudi lobbying firm as an example of foreign gifts to the president that could violate the Constitution’s ban on such “emoluments” from foreign interests.

The Saudi government was also a prime customer at the Trump International Hotel in New York early this year, according to a Washington Post report.

The newspaper cited an internal letter from the hotel’s general manager, who wrote that a “last-minute” visit in March by a group from Saudi Arabia accompanying Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman had boosted room rentals at the hotel by 13 percent for the first three months of the year, after two years of decline.

Saudi Arabia has also helped on one of Trump’s key policy promises, and helped the president’s friends along the way.

And, of course, Trump’s first foreign trip as POTUS was to Saudi Arabia, and Mr. Ivanka appears to have developed a close relationship with MBS.

So how will the Trump administration respond to the apparent murder of  Jamal Khashoggi?

Trump told reporters at the White House on Thursday that though he didn’t like the fact that Khashoggi had disappeared under mysterious circumstances, he didn’t want to risk losing a very lucrative arms deal with Saudi Arabia.

“This took place in Turkey, and to the best of our knowledge, Khashoggi is not a United States citizen, he’s a permanent resident,” the president said. “We don’t like it, even a little bit. But as to whether or not we should stop $110 billion from being spent in this country, knowing they [Saudi Arabia] have four or five alternatives, two very good alternatives, that would not be acceptable to me.”

So no, he’s not going to do anything, and I’m sure the Saudis were counting on that when they decided to take out Jamal Khashoggi. But I don’t think this issue is going to go away, either.

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The Many Standards of Anger

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Greg Sargent addresses the question, “Why is the mob angry?

President Trump and Republicans have adopted a closing electoral strategy that depicts the Democratic Party and “angry” leftist protests against Trumpian rule as the only real reigning threat to our country’s civic fabric and the rule of law. A new Republican National Committee video juxtaposes footage of leading mainstream Democratic figures with that of angry protesters, while decrying “the left” as an “unhinged mob.” …

… But much of the resulting debate over all this is hollow, because it is not putting these basic realities front and center: Trump, more than any leading U.S. figure in recent memory, has actively tried to stoke civil conflict on as many fronts as possible. He has concertedly subverted the rule of law, not just to shield himself from accountability, but, more to the point for present purposes, with the deliberate purpose of exciting his minority base — and enraging millions on the other side of the cultural divide — in a manner that is thoroughly corrupt to its core.

Witnessing this gaping hole in the debate is akin to watching a team of doctors diagnose a patient with advanced stages of brain cancer without acknowledging the existence of his tumor.

In a larger sense, this goes back to the question of who gets to be angry. See “Who Gets to Be Angry” and “Who Gets to Be Angry II.”

In the first “Who Gets to Be Angry” post I pointed out that right-wing white men are the only demographic in the U.S. allowed to display anger without social or cultural penalty. Right-wing white women are allowed to display anger if they are standing next to a white man who is angry about the same thing — call it ladies’ auxiliary anger. Otherwise, women who display anger are labeled “hysterical” or “whacky,” whereas a white man doing the same thing is “strong.” Men who are not white must also take care to be gentle of temperament, because right-wing white men have a pathological fear of black men displaying so much as mild pique. Or wearing hoodies.

Even white men can be slammed for anger if they are also “liberal” or “lefties,” although younger white guys generally aren’t used to being sensitive to the privilege rules and don’t hold back expressing themselves in angry ways. If there’s a big leftie demonstration, if somebody acts up and behaves badly it’s nearly always a young white guy.

One of the not-often-spoken rules we’ve all followed all these years is that only right-wing white men are allowed to be angry. This was plainly illustrated by the Kavanaugh hearings, in which Christine Blasey Ford was careful to be calm and unemotional, although she clearly was frightened, while the Right rewarded Kavanaugh for his unhinged hostility to the Democrats who questioned him.  Literally, he was entitled. If Ford had behaved the same way, they would have crucified her for it.

The same multiple standards apply to group demonstrations. Right-wing mobs are celebrated as the voice of the people; leftie demonstrators are condemned as violent extremists on George Soros’s payroll. Even Karen Tumulty noticed right-wing hypocrisy on that one.

There was a time, less than a decade ago, when the sound of red-faced protest was music to Republican ears.

That, of course, was when Barack Obama was president, and the tea party movement was hijacking congressional town hall meetings with shouts of “Tyranny!” There were plenty of shoving matches, and Democratic lawmakers were burned in effigy. The police were regularly called in to bring a semblance of order.  …

… Senate GOP leader Mitch McConnell (Ky.) lauded the conservative agitation as a pure expression of the frustrations and values of ordinary Americans.

“You’re the people who prove the politicians wrong when they say that all this activism and unrest was crafted, somehow, in a boardroom, down on K Street,” he said. “The grass-roots movement isn’t Astroturf, as they like to put it. It’s something that started at your kitchen tables.”

The tea party really was more astroturf than grass roots, but let’s go on …

Now it is the Democrats who are making the noise, and the argument is playing in reverse.

“You don’t hand matches to an arsonist, and you don’t give power to an angry left-wing mob. Democrats have become too EXTREME and TOO DANGEROUS to govern. Republicans believe in the rule of law — not the rule of the mob,” President Trump tweeted Saturday about the demonstrations that erupted after the Senate voted to confirm his nomination of Brett M. Kavanaugh to the Supreme Court.

I’ll go back even further. Remember the Brooks Brothers Riot? Those guys really were paid political operatives. They stopped a legitimate vote count and helped steal a presidential election. What did Democrats do to retalitate? Nothing.

BTW, while googling “Brooks Brothers Riot” I came across this opinion piece at Jacobin that’s worth reading.

Today Democrats are re-evaluating Michelle Obama’s famous words, “When they go low, we go high.” A few days ago, Eric Holder said, “When they go low, we kick ’em. That’s what this new Democratic Party is about.” The Right, naturally, has been outraged, never might that they declared open season on kicking, punching and even shooting Democrats a long time ago.

I’m still opposed to violence. I’m not opposed to pulling whatever legal, political levers can be pulled to destroy the Republican party, however. Voting rights reform and putting an end to gerrymandering would go a long way in that direction, and Democrats damn well better get to work on those if they take back the House. No more Mr. Nice Political Party.

We’ll know better after we get election results, but I’m seeing indicators that Republicans finally broke the Bigger Asshole rule. To review:

The Bigger Asshole Rule

Effective demonstrations are those that make them look like bigger assholes than us.

That’s because the public will turn against whichever side is the bigger asshole. So, if demonstrators are seen as bigger assholes than the Powers That Be, public opinion will support the establishment and turn against the demonstrators. But in the Kavanaugh debacle, I sincerely believe that a majority of the public saw the Republicans as the bigger assholes, and most recent polling backs that up. Even now right-wing commenters are crowing that the Democrats damaged themselves on Kavanaugh, but I don’t think so. And I think the backlash against Republicans for the Kavanaugh debacle is just beginning, and it will continue for a long time.

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Trump Maladministration

Item One, ya’ll folks in Florida, stay safe.

Item Two, there is more speculation about why Nikki Haley announced she is leaving the UN:

U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Nikki Haley reportedly announced her departure on Tuesday — even though she’s leaving at the end of the year — because she wanted to avoid appearing as though she were leaving the Trump administration in response to potential negative outcomes of the midterm elections or any other negative news, Politico reported.

According to two people familiar with the matter, Haley also was trying to avoid the appearance that the findings of special counsel Robert Mueller’s Russia probe had anything to do with her departure.

While Haley’s official story is that her exit is fueled by her passion for term limits, her allies say Haley felt she couldn’t move up any further in the Trump administration and she decided to “bow out,” in Politico’s words.

There are hopes among the remaining Never-Trump Republicans that she’ll challenge Trump in 2020. Trump, for his part, is said to have been “annoyed” by her popularity and political ambitions, which means that if he weren’t such a sodden mass of Stupid he’d have offered her bigger jobs.

Item Three, There are new indicators that the post-Kavanaugh backlash is helping Demicrats and hurting Republicans, which is not what Mitch McConnell expected. See Philip Bump, “This Is Not What a Pro-Kavanaugh Electoral Backlash Looks Like.” See also “Dems Gain On Generic Ballot In Post-Kavanaugh CNN Poll, Contradicting Other Surveys” and “Poll: Kavanaugh confirmation energizes Democrats more than GOP.”

Item Four, My dad was born 100 years ago today. This photo was taken about 1944, when he was about 25.


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Nikki Haley Resigns

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No idea why.

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Meanwhile, the Planet Is Going to Hell

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I haven’t been this angry at politicians since I can remember. I am take-no-prisoners, display-their-dripping-heads-on-pikes angry. And I’m not generally an angry person. I can’t imagine how really angry people must feel.


A landmark report from the United Nations’ scientific panel on climate change paints a far more dire picture of the immediate consequences of climate change than previously thought and says that avoiding the damage requires transforming the world economy at a speed and scale that has “no documented historic precedent.”

Right now, I feel that it’s going to take some heads on pikes to get the U.S. government to address this. The political system is broken.

See also: Charles Blow, “Liberals, This Is War

David Atkins, “With Kavanaugh, Republicans Secure An Unjust and Unsustainable Minority Rule

Nancy LeTourneau, “Republicans Have Reason to Fear ‘Mob Rule’”

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Kavanaugh Impeachment Previews

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It’s expected that Beer Bong Brett will be confirmed today, so what’s next? This may not be the end of the story.

House Democrats will open an investigation into accusations of sexual misconduct and perjury against Judge Brett M. Kavanaugh if they win control of the House in November, Representative Jerrold Nadler, the New York Democrat in line to be the chairman of the Judiciary Committee, said on Friday.

Speaking on the eve of Judge Kavanaugh’s confirmation vote this weekend, Mr. Nadler said that there was evidence that Senate Republicans and the F.B.I. had overseen a “whitewash” investigation of the allegations and that the legitimacy of the Supreme Court was at stake. He sidestepped the issue of impeachment.

“It is not something we are eager to do,” Mr. Nadler said in an interview. “But the Senate having failed to do its proper constitutionally mandated job of advise and consent, we are going to have to do something to provide a check and balance, to protect the rule of law and to protect the legitimacy of one of our most important institutions.”

Josh Marshall:

But now there’s this: FOIA lawsuits by Senate Democrats and the Electronic Privacy Information Center (EPIC) that have unearthed information “about potentially thousands of Brett Kavanaugh’s White House emails and other records related to the Senate hacking scandal from early in the George W. Bush administration and other controversial subjects that have not been disclosed to the Senate.”

Here’s the article. It’s not totally clear how much is really there. Read the piece to get your own sense. These emails are now approved for release, though White House could step in and say no.

However, if the Dems are the House majority they get subpoena power; seems to me they could get those records.

See also The Effort to Unseat Susan Collins in 2020 Is Already Underway.

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I Can’t Watch

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I’m so depressed over the Kavanaugh mess I don’t even want to follow the news. I’ll check back in later.

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All the President’s Tax Frauds

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Do read the blockbuster report out by the New York Times on the Trump Family Taxes.

Mr. Trump won the presidency proclaiming himself a self-made billionaire, and he has long insisted that his father, the legendary New York City builder Fred C. Trump, provided almost no financial help.

But The Times’s investigation, based on a vast trove of confidential tax returns and financial records, reveals that Mr. Trump received the equivalent today of at least $413 million from his father’s real estate empire, starting when he was a toddler and continuing to this day.

Much of this money came to Mr. Trump because he helped his parents dodge taxes. He and his siblings set up a sham corporation to disguise millions of dollars in gifts from their parents, records and interviews show. Records indicate that Mr. Trump helped his father take improper tax deductions worth millions more. He also helped formulate a strategy to undervalue his parents’ real estate holdings by hundreds of millions of dollars on tax returns, sharply reducing the tax bill when those properties were transferred to him and his siblings.

This all might have been criminal at the time, but unfortunately it’s all past the statute of limitations.

By age 3, Mr. Trump was earning $200,000 a year in today’s dollars from his father’s empire. He was a millionaire by age 8. By the time he was 17, his father had given him part ownership of a 52-unit apartment building. Soon after Mr. Trump graduated from college, he was receiving the equivalent of $1 million a year from his father. The money increased with the years, to more than $5 million annually in his 40s and 50s.

Horatio Alger would have been proud.

Fred Trump was relentless and creative in finding ways to channel this wealth to his children. He made Donald not just his salaried employee but also his property manager, landlord, banker and consultant. He gave him loan after loan, many never repaid. He provided money for his car, money for his employees, money to buy stocks, money for his first Manhattan offices and money to renovate those offices. He gave him three trust funds. He gave him shares in multiple partnerships. He gave him $10,000 Christmas checks. He gave him laundry revenue from his buildings.

Much of his giving was structured to sidestep gift and inheritance taxes using methods tax experts described to The Times as improper or possibly illegal. Although Fred Trump became wealthy with help from federal housing subsidies, he insisted that it was manifestly unfair for the government to tax his fortune as it passed to his children. When he was in his 80s and beginning to slide into dementia, evading gift and estate taxes became a family affair, with Donald Trump playing a crucial role, interviews and newly obtained documents show.

Truly inspiring.

The most overt fraud was All County Building Supply & Maintenance, a company formed by the Trump family in 1992. All County’s ostensible purpose was to be the purchasing agent for Fred Trump’s buildings, buying everything from boilers to cleaning supplies. It did no such thing, records and interviews show. Instead All County siphoned millions of dollars from Fred Trump’s empire by simply marking up purchases already made by his employees. Those millions, effectively untaxed gifts, then flowed to All County’s owners — Donald Trump, his siblings and a cousin. Fred Trump then used the padded All County receipts to justify bigger rent increases for thousands of tenants.

Good ol’ American ingenuity, huh?

All told, The Times documented 295 streams of revenue that Fred Trump created over five decades to enrich his son. In most cases his four other children benefited equally. But over time, as Donald Trump careened from one financial disaster to the next, his father found ways to give him substantially more money, records show. Even so, in 1990, according to previously secret depositions, Mr. Trump tried to have his father’s will rewritten in a way that Fred Trump, alarmed and angered, feared could result in his empire’s being used to bail out his son’s failing businesses.

How heart warming. And there’s lots and lots more. So much more. And as you read it, keep reminding yourself that if Dems take back the House, the head of the House Financial Services Committee will be Maxine Waters. And Maxine Waters could subpoena all of Trump’s bank records and tax returns.

See also this Forbes article about how Trump is trying but failing to make money off the presidency. So much winning.

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Why Is Kavanaugh Still a Candidate for SCOTUS?

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What I’m seeing in the Kavanaugh mess is very different from what Republicans must be seeing. Because what I’m seeing is that the longer this drags out, the worse Kavanaugh looks to most voters. Yes, opinions about the candidate have hardened along partisan lines, but “swing voters” are mostly going into the opposition camp. Many people who were undecided last week are “no” this week. It also appears that opposition to Kavanaugh is stronger among Dems than support for him is among Republicans. He is, as someone might say, a loser.

Yet, rather than back off from the nomination, Republicans are doubling down. And they are doing this in spite of lots of indicators that Kavanaugh is going to hurt them more than help them in the midterms. Apparently, Republicans think otherwise.

Dylan Scott wrote a couple of days ago,

Republicans aren’t being irrational. While Democrats are appalled, Republicans are listening to a different drummer: the conservative grassroots. Those voters want their Supreme Court justice confirmed, or else they are threatening to stay home on Election Day — and that really could put the Republican majority at risk.

Evangelicals are maybe the single cohort most loyal to Trump and therefore crucial in midterm elections, which will be a referendum on the president. They were already warning Republicans not to withdraw Kavanaugh or else risk electoral disaster before Ramirez came forward. They don’t sound likely to change course now.

The nerds at FiveThirtyEight discuss this perspective and aren’t sure it holds water.  On September 26, at least, they were saying that the Republicans might be better off withdrawing Kavanaugh and replacing him with a less controversial conservative. There was still plenty of time to get the confirmation done and off the plate before the midterms.  They also questioned how important this Supreme Court pick is to the right-wing base, really. One anti-abortion judge is as good as another, and the woods are full of ’em.

However, by sticking with Kavanaugh, and making the whole confirmation about Kavanaugh, and not just about putting a conservative justice on the Court, Republicans could very well be shooting themselves in the foot. At least, it seems that way to me. But, apparently, the Right imagines it is standing on some kind of principle, or even moral higher ground, and they aren’t going to step down.

So Mitch McConnell is preparing to push Kavanaugh through, and if he doesn’t have the votes the Republicans will probably campaign on how Kavanaugh was “borked.”

Of course, a big part of the Republican’s perspective is that they don’t think sexual assault is really a wrong. Especially if it happened a long time ago and the perp is a powerful white guy.

From the perspective of not-Republicans, this issue isn’t really about what Brett Kavanaugh did to Christine Blasey Ford. It’s about a system that protects the predation of men and dismisses the damage done to those they assault. Every time someone stands up and expresses outrage about how Brett Kavanaugh and his family must be suffering, they are saying loudly and clearly that Christine Blasey Ford’s suffering is her problem and she should get over it already, and that, basically, women don’t count.

Yeah, but dude — they vote.

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What a Bleeping Bleep

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I don’t know that the “limited investigation” will be anything but a paper shuffle, but my sense of things is that the more time it takes to confirm Brett Kavanaugh, the less likely it is he will be confirmed. David Atkins wrote,

Senator Jeff Flake’s decision to to stall the confirmation vote of Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh by a week while the FBI conducts a limited inquiry to the assault allegations may turn out to be a mere speed bump on the road to Kavanaugh’s confirmation. Given the nominee’s brazen lies under oath on matters small and large, it is also possible that a week will be more than enough time for a combination of journalistic and law enforcement inquiries to expose Kavanaugh as too patently unfit for even this hyperpartisan Republican Senate to force through.

Either way, in the current political environment a week is an ocean of time, giving Republican Senators like Flake, Murkowski, Collins and others ample opportunity to consider just how history will view them, and just how low the Republican Party will sink under their guidance.

My suspicions are that the biggest reason McConnell et al. agreed to the investigation is that he didn’t have the votes. But if that’s so, will another week make any difference? Or will a perfunctory investigation provide a fig leaf of an excuse to do the wrong thing for the likes of Susan Collins?

At Axios, Jim VandeHei writes that the whole mess reveals a massive miscalculation on the Republicans’ part:

The big picture: He and Republicans had an epic failure of imagination. They were forced reluctantly and publicly into what should have been a fairly easy-to-anticipate moderate compromise: agree to a vote after a quick FBI probe. Instead of looking hungry for truth, Kavanaugh heads into the week looking fearful of findings.

There’s a reason for this miscalculation:

Republicans, from the earliest days of the allegations, were overly confident they could just jam this through, several people involved the process tell us.

They thought he would be better defending himself — and that Dr. Ford would seem less credible.

Republicans treated this like a bare-knuckles political fight. They calculated a Fox News appearance, a Trump endorsement, a headstrong Mitch McConnell, a fired-up base, a fast vote would hold the party together.

According to Jonathan Martin and Alexander Burns at the New York Times, the Republicans are still approaching the nomination as a bare-knuckles political fight.

By agreeing to delay Judge Brett M. Kavanaugh’s nomination in the short term, President Trump and Senate Republicans are making two long-term bets: that a drawn-out confirmation battle will secure a conservative majority on the Supreme Court, and that the fight will give them a better chance of keeping control of the Senate in the midterm elections.

With that Senate majority squarely in mind, Republicans are also making a concession to stark political realities. Party leaders have concluded that supporting Judge Kavanaugh’s nomination, in the face of sexual assault accusations against him, will all but ensure that Republicans lose control of the House in November even as their fortunes may improve in some tough Senate races. …

… Republicans, particularly the Senate majority leader, Mitch McConnell, appear to be gambling that their majority in the House is already in tatters, and that it is worth trading for a legacy-making appointment to the Supreme Court and the chance to retain their 51-to-49 Senate majority.

Among other challenged Democrats they’re probably thinking of Claire McCaskill, who has said she will vote no on the nomination. But I’m not sure this mess is hurting McCaskill here. The people who are knee-jerk anti-McCaskill voters are knee-jerk anti-McCaskill voters with or without Kavanaugh. But there are a lot of suburban women in this state who may be ambivalent about McCaskill but are probably furious about Kavanaugh, and there are a lot of rural women who have been mistreated by men in them thar hills.

Meanwhile, even the bleeping Jesuits have withdrawn support for Kavanaugh.

See also Charles Pierce, In Plain Terms, Judge Brett Kavanaugh Lies About Everything and Jamelle Bouie, A Justice Kavanaugh Will Be a Pyrrhic Victory for the GOP.

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