Trump Against the World

On top of everything else, today the FBI arrested a young man in Oklahoma City who had planned to blow up a bank. The man is associated with a right-wing anti-government movement calling itself the Three Percenters, which has ties to Oath Keepers and the Bundy Militia. Can we now admit we have a problem with right-wing domestic terrorism, finally?

Someone seems to have been able to persuade Trump he needed to say something more about Charlottesville

After two days, blistering criticism from his own party and tougher anti-white-nationalist statements from the company that makes Tiki torches and German Chancellor Angela Merkel, President Trump dragged himself to the podium for a statement that specifically condemned white nationalists, neo-Nazis and other racists. He had to begin with some self-congratulations on the economy — because his accomplishments are what he really cares about. He told the country, “To anyone who acted criminally in this weekend’s racist violence, you will be held fully accountable. Justice will be delivered.” He finally spit it out by calling racism “evil” and condemning the “KKK, neo-Nazis, white supremacists and other hate groups.”

He read from a teleprompter. Speaking from his heart would have been impossible, given his obvious lack of passion and willful blindness over the past couple of days. He did not mention the “alt-right,” nor did he announce he is firing Stephen K. Bannon, who once bragged he gave the alt-right a platform at Breitbart. He did not announce any specific policy measures. He did not apologize for his moral obtuseness. This was the weakest statement he could have gotten away with, 48 hours too late. Why did it have to come to this?

But he had already failed the Acting Like a Grown Up test earlier today. Kenneth Frazier, chairman and CEO of Merck, withdrew from Trump’s American Manufacturing Council to protest Trump’s insipid response to Charlottesville. Frazier, who is African American, wrote,

 “America’s leaders must honor our fundamental values by clearly rejecting expressions of hatred, bigotry and group supremacy, which run counter to the American ideal that all people are created equal. As CEO of Merck and as a matter of personal conscience, I feel a responsibility to take a stand against intolerance and extremism.”

So this morning Trump tweeted:

Amber Phillips in WaPo writes that Republicans, Republican senators especially, have been remarkably critical of Trump regarding Charlottesville.

A number of Senate Republicans criticized nothing less than the way Trump chose to be president Saturday. They publicly and directly condemned his words and actions. More specifically, they criticized his lack of words and actions to clearly and forcefully denounce the white supremacy roiling Charlottesville’s streets and seizing the nation’s attention. …

… There’s no nuance in those statements, no need to read between the lines. These Republicans think the president did a bad job being president in the midst of a violent, fraught crisis. Their criticism carries extra heft when you consider that these lawmakers mostly weren’t prodded by reporters, microphones thrust in their faces, to say any of this. Congress is on break, so wherever in the world these lawmakers were, they made the proactive decision Saturday to go on Twitter — or call up their staff to write a statement — and criticize the president.

But harshest by far is David Frum, who calls on his fellow Republicans to abandon Trump asap.

President Trump made two big political decisions over past half-week, and both are already proving disasters.

The first decision was to cut himself loose from the Republican leadership in Congress. Trump blasted Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell with a sequence of tweets fixing blame on McConnell—and thereby absolving himself—for the failure of Obamacare repeal.

The second decision was to issue a statement condemning “many sides” for the confrontation in Charlottesville, Virginia, over the weekend—and adhering to that policy of pandering to white nationalism even after the ramming death of a counter-protester and the injury of many more.

Trump had wanted to stand apart from Republicans in Congress—and they have now obliged him. Former campaign rivals Ted Cruz and Marco Rubio; Senator Cory Gardner, who heads the Senate Republican campaign organization; President Pro Tempore of the Senate Orrin Hatch—all issued statements implicitly criticizing Trump’s response for its even-handedness between perpetrators and targets.

Republicans are in a terribly, um, delicate position here. Since the bleeping Nixon Administration — nay, since Goldwater’s presidential campaign — they’ve been dog whistling at white racists to get their votes. So Nixon talked about lawnorder and Reagan about welfare queens and George H.W. Bush’s campaign about Willie Horton, and everybody knew they were talking about race even if they didn’t come out and say it. But even though they’ve been winking and nodding at white supremacists all these years, they can’t afford to be seen with them in public, because they are really, really unpopular. And not just with nonwhite voters.

Trump is blowing their cover and forcing them to go on record as believing racism is bad. It’s extraordinary, really.

Frum goes on to say that Trump needs an excuse. Whining about Democratic obstructionism doesn’t really work if his own party controls both houses of Congress. The new paradigm must be that everyone in Washington is Trump’s enemy.

He’s put out a new campaign ad to that effect — seriously —

If you watch, you may notice that Trump’s enemies include a lot of news media.

Anyway, Frum continues …

It’s probably impossible for a man of Trump’s psychology to process how much legal jeopardy he and his family may be in—and how utterly he depends on Republicans in Congress to shield him. President Bill Clinton faced down scandal politics in his second term because his party united to support him, a decision politically vindicated by the strong Democratic showing in 1998, the best sixth-year election performance in modern history. Trump, by contrast, is doing his utmost to persuade congressional Republicans that it could well be less disastrous to face the voters in 2020 under Mike Pence than Donald Trump. Pence apparently thinks so, too. Pre-Charlottesville, that remained a tough sale. Post-Charlottesville, things look different.

IMO if the Senate could initiate articles of impeachment, Trump would be toast. The House will stick with him for a while, I suspect.

Losers Gotta Lose

There are reports — I’m not sure they’ve been confirmed — that one person died in Charlottesville when a car plowed into counter-protesters. The video in this tweet is said to show some of what happened:

More about the car incident:

Brennan Gilmore, a 38-year-old Charlottesville resident who came Saturday to oppose the white nationalists, was filming his friends demonstrating three blocks away from the park when he noticed a gray car drive past.

Mr. Gilmore turned his camera in time to see the car slow as it approached the counterprotesters and then suddenly speed up, ramming into the car in front of it and the crowd itself.

“Bodies went flying — up onto the hood of the car and into the air,” Mr. Gilmore said. “It was horrifying.”

I haven’t been watching television, but I understand it’s all been very ugly — no surprise. And then there’s this —

I understand the original purpose of the White Losers Rally was to protest the removal of a statue of Robert E. Lee. So I can understand the Confederate flags. But I’d really like to hear that one fellow explain what the Nazi flag represents to him. For that matter, what’s with the all the replicas of German army helmets I’ve seen in so many photos? I believe the German army still uses that same basic helmet shape today, so that’s not just a Nazi thing. Does replicating the military garb of a foreign country mean something to these people? And why no Viking helmets?

(Speaking of Nazis — I don’t know that I announced it here, but I have a contract with a real publisher to write something about Buddhist history, and that got me delving into its origins in India. The Indo-Europeans called “Aryans” the Nazis were so proud of were, um, not people you’d really want to move into your neighborhood.  They were barbarians. They swept across Asia about 35 centuries ago burning, killing and looting everything. They smashed superior civilizations and made off with the livestock. It was centuries later before they had a written language or could build anything more complicated than a tool shed. They were actually way, way behind folks like the Chinese and Egyptians, civilization-wise. Well, come to think of it, maybe the losers are Aryans.)

Anyway– I’m sure we’ll get more details about what happened in Charlottesville in the next few days.  I’ve heard from several people that the police didn’t do enough to intervene until the loser mob got out of hand. If the losers try to pull off more mass rallies, there had better be plenty of National Guard standing by to keep order.

North Korea and the Carnival of Stupid

I’ve been struck by the sheer amount of stupid coming from both Right and Left regarding North Korea.

From the rightie fringe, meet evangelical pastor Robert Jeffress, who has been ranting that God wants Trump to bomb North Korea and that the Bible gives Trump authority to do this. (I say that if God wants Kim Jong Un taken out, it ought to be easy to arrange a lightening bolt to do the job neatly and quickly. Intercontinental nuclear warfare is so messy.)

On the other side, the Eternal Ditz Jill Stein weirdly absolves Kim Jong Un of any responsibility whatsoever in the ongoing tensions regarding his nuclear program. She thinks that if the U.S. and South Korea weren’t so mean to KJU all the time, he’d happily stand down. Just dismantle the military systems protecting Japan and South Korea and send Kim Jong Un some flowers and a gift certificate to Olive Garden, and he’d be nice as pie.

A variation of this comes from a guy I bumped into on social media — “North Korea is not a real threat to you and I. It only threatens the 1% and their interests…now watch them drag us all into their pissing contest again.” Another common theme is that They (the U.S. government plus mainstream media) are lying to us about North Korea to distract us from what They are doing. And, you know, They lied to us about weapons of mass destruction in Iraq, so They must be lying to us about nukes in North Korea now.

I don’t think the Right will ever grasp that under most circumstances, bombing people we don’t like usually gives us worse problems down the road (see consequences of the invasion of Iraq for examples). It’s the stupid on the Left I want to address right now. I’d like to propose two theories that will be immediately hooted down by a lot of lefties:

  1. Not everything that happens in the world has to do with the machinations of the infamous 1 percent.
  2. Not everything that goes wrong in the world is the fault of the U.S. Sometimes people in other countries screw up all by themselves.

Yes, it’s absolutely true that past U.S. decisions played a huge role in the creation of North Korea. However, don’t forget that the USSR played an equally large role. It’s also possible that had Korea not separated, the despotic Kim family would be in charge of all of Korea now, not just North Korea, and today we’d be arguing about how dumb it was to let that happen without a fight. But since we can’t go back 70 years and re-do the past, this is water under the bridge.

It’s also the case that over the years, U.S. policy has fluctuated between chest-thumping and genuine conciliation. No rightie will admit this, but in the 1990s President Clinton made some real progress with easing tensions between North Korea and everybody else. Righties will tell you that the Agreed Framework negotiated by Jimmy Carter in 1994 was a disaster, but in fact it worked pretty well, if not perfectly. Basically, the North Koreans agreed to give up nuclear weapons in exchange for aid. And lo, the North Koreans gave up processing plutonium and submitted to IAEA inspections.

So what happened? George W. Bush happened. At the time Bush II became president in 2001, the IAEA was still inspecting North Korea and reported that the plutonium processors were still sealed. But for a lot of reasons, Bush and the neocons and Republicans generally wanted the Agreed Framework to fail, and they accused the North Koreans of secretly processing uranium. This was never proved, but it was the excuse the Bushies used to end the Agreed Framework, and North Korea had a nuclear arsenal in a few short years. For more on this, see:

It’s also the case that the U.S. invasion of Iraq told North Korea it had better not disarm. The lesson the North Koreans took from Iraq was that the only way to avoid being invaded by the U.S. is to be a nuclear power.

So, yeah, the U.S. has made a lot of blunders regarding North Korea. However, no one with any knowledge of international relations or the Kim regime thinks that if the U.S. were to fold up its tents and completely retreat from Asia, North Korea would stop being a threat. North Korea is a threat because its leaders are despotic and paranoid. Michael Hirsch wrote,

Even more than other dictatorships, it is sustained by pure xenophobia, a paranoia about threats from the outside world, even as Stalinism has become a yellowing chapter in the history books elsewhere. Pyongyang’s statement that its nuclear forces “represent the nation’s life” sounds ridiculous. Yet it is a true description of the regime’s life. …

…Out in the real world, the Soviet Union collapsed, its former satellites democratized, the Chinese opened up and reformed, and even the Arab autocracies began to reform or topple. Inside North Korea, it is still 1953, and I’m not just talking about Kim Jong-un’s hairstyle. The regime’s ideology, called juche, is often simplistically defined as Korean self-reliance. In fact it has proven to be a kind of ideological superglue–a compound of traditional Korean xenophobia and nationalism, Confucian respect for authority, and utopian Marxism-Leninism that is able to resist the solvents of economic urgency or democratic modernization.

This issue is about more than just the United States and North Korea. Remember that Korea was occupied and oppressed by a militaristic Japan for a long time before the U.S. got in any way involved. But since World War II our military has ostensibly been protecting the much-resented Japan. Whether we should still have military bases in Japan today is an excellent thing to debate, and I’m personally very open to rethinking the whole Pax Americana thing. But that’s not going to help us with the immediate crisis.

Here’s the immediate crisis, reported today:

In the escalating game of chicken between North Korea and the US, North Korea is showing no signs of flinching: Pyongyang has announced detailed new plans for firing four ballistic missiles that would fly over Japan and land between 19 and 25 miles off the shore of the US territory of Guam.

North Korea says the plan could be ready for sign-off by North Korean leader Kim Jong Un within a week. If he does decide to launch the missiles, it would raise questions of whether the US would attempt to intercept them using the THAAD missile defense system it has stationed at Guam.

If the US intercepted the missiles successfully, it would make the US look stronger, but if it failed, it would be a humiliating spectacle and a blow to the credibility of US power. So it’s not hard to see how firing missiles so close to Guam raises the stakes in the US-North Korean standoff in way the North’s previous ballistic missile tests haven’t.

Trump just had a press conference full of more tough talk. However, I don’t think the biggest thing we need to worry about is whether Trump will order North Korea to be nuked. NK borders Russia and China, and neither Russia nor China would support Trump in this. Certainly, neither China nor Russia would tolerate a U.S.-controlled state in North Korea occupied by U.S. troops. They don’t much like Kim Jong Un, but they tolerate him for the sake of stability.

Indeed, although people make noises about how China ought to do something about North Korea, it’s odd that nobody talks about Russia doing something about North Korea.

North Korea does not have many friends.

It has China and, to a lesser degree, Russia, both of which oppose unilateral American military strikes on sovereign countries. The two countries believe that any US move would destabilize the region and harm their own interests. North Korea borders China and Russia, and any crisis on the peninsula would add extra strain to those borders.

(Fun fact: Did you know that if you want to drive from Finland to North Korea, you could drive only through one country? Yeah: Russia is that large.)

On its own, Russia also helps North Korea with its economic woes. Russian Railways is in discussion with the government in Pyongyang to expand the rail connections between the two countries. Moscow also invests heavily in North Korea’s energy sector and gives Kim’s regime hard currency, which it needs to purchase foreign goods. There are also around 10,000 North Koreans in Russia as part of a guest worker program providing cheap labor to Russia.

Maybe we should be grateful for whatever dirt Vladimir has on Donald, because Vladimir sure as hell does not want a U.S. strike on North Korea.

And, frankly, I’m not seeing anywhere near the kind of relentless propaganda campaign that sold Americans on the idea that invading Iraq was a good idea, and I don’t think the Trumpettes are capable of carrying out such a campaign. They’ve made too many enemies in media and in other conservative circles to pull it off. A new CBS News poll shows only 29 percent of Americans think that striking North Korea now would be a good idea.

But here’s the thing — we’ve known for a long time that North Korea has nuclear weapons. This is not a new thing the Trumpettes just thought up. North Korea set off its first nuclear bomb as a test in October 2006. What’s new is that now North Korea has missile capability to deliver those weapons somewhere we don’t want nuked.  And no one who knows anything about North Korea thinks it can be persuaded to give up nuclear weapons now. We had one shot, and Bush blew it.

My sense of things is that if somebody could duct-tape Trump’s stupid mouth for awhile, and if the U.S. were to back off and let other nations take the lead in smoothing tensions with North Korea, maybe this will blow over. For now. But these crises will keep happening until the Kim regime collapses, and I don’t much think there’s anything the rest of the world can do to force that to happen without making things worse.

And while I don’t think that the U.S. would actually strike North Korea preemptively — Trump’s stupid mouth notwithstanding — there’s always the possibility that North Korea would. And that would be a genuinely terrible thing that could easily touch off a world war, especially with Trump in the White House.

So, lefties, please stop tweeting that there’s no real danger and that They are lying to us about North Korea just like they lied about Iraq. It’s annoying.

Tillerson Backtracks Trump

Yesterday the so-called president threatened North Korea with “fire and fury” if it made any more threats against the U.S. A few hours later, North Korea responded by saying it was considering a strike (one assumes a nuclear one) on Guam, which is overrun with U.S. military bases. Trump hasn’t directly responded to that, I don’t think, proving once again that what he’s not a man of his word.

Greg Sargent writes that Max Tillerson has more or less pulled back Trump’s “red line.”

Tillerson also sought to reassure Americans by saying this:

“I think what the president was just reaffirming is that the United States has the capability to fully defend itself from any attack, and our allies, and we will do so. So the American people should sleep well at night.”

Tillerson also said “the president just wanted to be clear to the North Korean regime that the U.S. has the unquestionable ability to defend itself … and its allies.” But that subtly — and meaningfully — shifts the red line Trump drew.

Other reactions to Trump’s “fire and fury” talk:

John Cassidy:

Within minutes, news of Trump’s words had gone around the world. They were met with a mixture of astonishment, alarm, and gallows humor. “Look on the bright side: compared to the coming thermonuclear inferno, global warming will seem quite pleasant,” Paul Begala, the Democratic strategist, said on Twitter. In a similar vein, Ross Douthat, the Times columnist, tweeted, “Nuclear war Twitter will be the best Twitter.” Psychologists tell us that laughing is often a way to deal with stress and to downplay dangerous situations. Indeed, the neuroscientist V. S. Ramachandran has theorized that laughter developed as a way for early humans to signal to their kin, “Don’t waste your precious resources on this situation; it’s a false alarm.” Hopefully, Trump’s use of this bellicose rhetoric was such an instance, but it’s hard to be sure. It’s not even clear what he was trying to say. …

…In light of Tillerson’s stance, a charitable interpretation of Trump words is that the Secretary of State and the President are doing a good-cop, bad-cop routine, and that Trump’s statement was part of a coördinated effort to persuade the North Korean dictator to change course. On Tuesday, the North Korean Foreign Minister said that his government would never agree to negotiate about its nuclear weapons. And a North Korean news agency responded to the United Nations’ recent imposition of new economic sanctions by saying, “Strategic steps accompanied by physical action will be taken mercilessly.”

Threats are the only way Trump knows how to relate to people. But threatening someone like Kim Jong Un is counterproductive; it just makes him less likely to cooperate. KJU and DJT are like two little boys taunting each other; neither will back down. The adults have to step in and stop them, if there are any adults.

Josh Marshall reminds us that much of the difficulty we’re having with North Korea now is the fault of George W. Bush, who unnecessarily inflamed relations with North Korea to score political points at home. I wrote about this back in 2005; see “Blame Bush for North Korea’s Nukes.” Dubya also tried talking tough about North Korea, and this made a dicey situation much worse.

As Josh Marshall points out, North Korea has a pattern of using “menacing or destabilizing actions to extract aid from great powers.” Four days ago the UN hit North Korea with a bunch of new sanctions. Kim John Un has tantrums and makes threats; like Trump, that seems to be his only foreign relations tool. I don’t see any solution here, other than hoping the boys get tired of taunting and go take naps.

Trump’s Iceberg Is Ahead

Aaron Blake writes at WaPo that Trump’s base is officially crumbling.

Trump assured us Monday that it was “stronger than ever.”

Then came more polls that drive home how untrue that is.

A CNN poll and an Investor’s Business Daily poll, both released late Monday, show somewhat different pictures of Trump’s overall approval. The CNN poll pegs it at 38 percent — around where it has been in other polling for a while — while the IBD poll shows it at a painfully low 32 percent. That’s the lowest of any high-quality poll in Trump’s entire presidency.

Investor’s Business Daily is a right-wing rag. If Trump has lost IBD … And note that FiveThirtyEight gives the IBD/TIPP poll an A- rating, which means it’s one of the more reliable polls.

These polls come on the heels of a Quinnipiac University poll last week that also showed Trump’s strong approval among Republicans dropping off. In that poll, just 53 percent of Republicans strongly approved of the president — down from a previous low of 62 percent.

Another common thread running through these polls is Trump’s decline among the working-class voters who were so key to his win in the 2016 election. The Q poll last week showed them disapproving of Trump more than they approved of him for the first time. The IBD poll shows Trump’s biggest decline coming among those making between $30,000 and $50,000 per year; 40 percent of this group approved of Trump last month, but it’s down to 27 percent today. Another of the biggest declines was among high school-educated voters, among whom Trump’s approval dropped by 11 points. The CNN poll shows Trump’s strong approval among whites without college degrees declining from 47 percent in February to 35 percent today. This is a group among which Trump beat Hillary Clinton more than 2-to-1.

Trump has not been looking good at FiveThirtyEight for awhile, either. The Gallup daily tracking poll has had Trump’s approval bouncing between 36 and 39 for the past month. The last time he was at 40 was July 9.

From Inspired Traveller at

However, it’s possible Trump is not completely aware of how badly he’s doing in the polls. Matt Yglesias writes at Vox:

As Alex Thompson of Vice News, citing “three current and former White House officials,” reports: In the morning at 9:30 and then around 4:30 in the afternoon, Trump is presented with a briefing document full of people praising him.

The folders, according to Thompson, “are filled with screenshots of positive cable news chyrons (those lower-third headlines and crawls), admiring tweets, transcripts of fawning TV interviews, praise-filled news stories, and sometimes just pictures of Trump on TV looking powerful.”

The point of this is to improve the notoriously media-obsessed president’s mood by reminding him he has a lot of fans and admirers out there, and in a hilarious detail, reportedly some in the White House even refer to this clip package as “the Propaganda Document.” And, in a very bad way, it is.

A psychologically normal person in Trump’s situation would be keeping a watch out for icebergs, so to speak. But like the crew of the The Titanic, Trump assumes he is unsinkable and is unprepared for disaster.

Speaking of disaster, the New York Times just reported this a few minutes ago:

President Trump threatened on Tuesday to unleash “fire and fury” against North Korea if it endangers the United States as tensions with the isolated nuclear-armed state grow into perhaps the most serious foreign policy challenge yet in his young administration.

“North Korea best not make any more threats to the United States,” Mr. Trump told reporters at his golf club in Bedminster, N.J. “They will be met with fire and fury like the world has never seen. He has been very threatening beyond a normal state and as I said they will be met with fire and fury and frankly power the likes of which this world has never seen before.”

Yeah, real smart, dude. Kim Jong-un will continue to make threats. What are you actually going to do?

The Beginning of the End Game?

John Kelly  has no control over the so-called president’s twitter fingers. Trump’s Monday morning tweet storm was as unhinged as ever.  He insists the Trump base is bigger and stronger than ever, and of course news media are all against him. Greg Sargent writes,

This comes some 24 hours after Deputy Attorney General Rod J. Rosenstein made big news by telling “Fox News Sunday” that if the special counsel finds evidence of crimes in the course of his probe into Russian sabotage of our election, it may be within the scope of his investigation to pursue them.

In these seemingly disparate developments, it is hard not to discern the potential for a volatile, combustible combination.

Because Trump is undermining our democratic norms and processes in so many ways, it is often easy to focus on each of them in isolation, rather than as part of the same larger story. But, taken together, they point to a possible climax in which Trump, cornered by revelations unearthed by Robert S. Mueller III’s probe and by ongoing media scrutiny, seeks to rally his supporters behind the idea that this outcome represents not the imposition of accountability by functioning civic institutions, but rather an effort to steal the election from him — and from them.

This really could get ugly.

Here’s Your Ticket to the Fever Swamp

I was cruising around the Web this morning and saw this headline at Haaretz:

What does this tell you about far-right Bannon affiliates? And why must we pay attention to these people? From the article:

The driving force behind the campaign has been far-right blogger Mike Cernovich, who started sharing links to a website called, McMaster Leaks, which is devoted to attacks on McMaster, on social media.

The website featured a brazen anti-Semitic caricature depicting McMaster and retired General David Petraeus, who is considered close to a number of senior NSC officials – as two puppets being controlled by Jewish billionaire George Soros, who himself is being controlled by “the Rothschilds,” the famously rich Jewish family of bankers. After the caricature was mocked on social media, the website edited it, replacing the word “Rothschilds” on the top of the pyramid with the word “Saudis,” but keeping in Soros depiction in place.

Yet McMaster, according to his rivals on the far-right, isn’t only being controlled by the Rothschilds – it turns out he is also “hostile to Israel,” according to articles that have been published in recent days on Breitbart, the far-right website formerly edited by Bannon, and on the Conservative Review. These articles, quoting “administration officials” and a Facebook post by Israeli journalist Caroline Glick, accuse him of such “sins” as opposing an Israeli request to include Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu at Trump’s visit to the Western Wall during his visit in Israel earlier this year.

It’s one thing to be anti-Semitic, but to be anti-Semitic but also, apparently, a knee-jerk Zionist requires a scrambling of mental processes possibly unparalleled in modern political history. Well, except perhaps for the so-called patriotic Americans who periodically call for secession. Or this crew:

I bet the guys with the Swastikas would tell you they are pro-Israel, too.

This is also from the Haaretz article:

McMaster, it should be noted, was the Trump administration’s most senior representative and speaker earlier this year at the Israeli embassy’s annual Independence Day event. He was warmly received by the crowd and gave a speech in which he expressed the administration’s strong support for Israel, and promised to always safeguard the Jewish state’s security interests.

Okay, so the United States harbors a very twisted whackjob Right. It has always been among us, I suspect. It’s just that lately the whackjobs have been getting jobs related to national security. The reason the whackjobs are targeting McMaster is that he’s finally been allowed to clean house at the National Security Council, “re-assigning” some people who were of the Michael Flynn-Steve Bannon-“Hail Vinland!” persuasion.

From “The War Against H.R. McMaster” at The Atlantic:

McMaster has cleaned house at the NSC over the past few weeks. Via his deputy Ricky Waddell, he fired director of strategic planning Rich Higgins last month over a memo Higgins wrote alleging a deep-state conspiracy against President Trump. McMaster then dismissed two top officials brought on by the previous national-security adviser, Michael Flynn: the NSC’s senior director for the Middle East, Derek Harvey, who was fired last week; and the senior director for intelligence programs, Ezra Cohen-Watnick, who was let go on Wednesday.

McMaster wanted to fire Cohen-Watnick last April, but apparently Bannon blocked that firing. Cohen-Watnick was involved in the flap about Susan Rice requesting the “unmasking” of certain Americans whose names showed in intelligence reports because they were talking to foreign entities under surveillance.

… But McMaster’s show of force has set off alarm bells among Bannon allies in the pro-Trump media sphere, who favored Flynn and regard the national-security adviser as a globalist interloper. Other White House officials have in the past been targets of theirs—Priebus was, for example—but the vitriol against McMaster has been notable for its speed and intensity. …

… It’s come from all corners. Breitbart News, the website Bannon controlled as executive chairman before joining the Trump campaign, has produced a flurry of negative stories about McMaster over the past two days, accusing him of “purging” dissenters and kowtowing to “holdovers” from the Obama administration. Fox News host Sean Hannity has tweeted about McMaster, saying he might need to go. Radio host Laura Ingraham has also weighed in, tweeting that “Obama holdovers at NSC or State Dept who are leaking shd do real time for these leaks. Why has McMasters fired actual Trump supporters?” The Daily Caller published an interview with two former NSC officials attacking him, accusing him of undermining the president’s foreign-policy agenda. Circa, a site owned by the conservative Sinclair Broadcasting company, published a letter Thursday that McMaster sent months ago to his predecessor Susan Rice, in which he informed her that she could keep her security clearance. It’s a standard letter, but it has caused a furor in light of the ongoing controversy over unmasking.

So far, Trump is standing by McMaster, as are the non-Bannon White House faction — Ivanka, Jared, and I assume new chief of staff John Kelly. We’ll see how long that lasts.

It’s Grand Jury Time!

Robert Mueller has impaneled a grand jury to hear testimony on Junior’s meeting with the Russian lawyer, several sources say. Subpoenas have been issued, but so far no one has said who they’ve been issued to.

Note that this grand jury is separate from the one that already was looking into Michael Flynn.

CNN also reports,

Federal investigators exploring whether Donald Trump’s campaign colluded with Russian spies have seized on Trump and his associates’ financial ties to Russia as one of the most fertile avenues for moving their probe forward, according to people familiar with the investigation.

The web of financial ties could offer a more concrete path toward potential prosecution than the broader and murkier questions of collusion in the 2016 campaign, these sources said.
One year after the FBI opened an investigation, the probe is now managed by special counsel Robert Mueller. Sources described an investigation that has widened to focus on possible financial crimes, some unconnected to the 2016 elections, alongside the ongoing scrutiny of possible illegal coordination with Russian spy agencies and alleged attempts by President Donald Trump and others to obstruct the FBI investigation. Even investigative leads that have nothing to do with Russia but involve Trump associates are being referred to the special counsel to encourage subjects of the investigation to cooperate, according to two law enforcement sources.

Note also that there’s a bipartisan move in the Senate to prevent Trump from firing Mueller without cause.

The two proposals — one from Tillis [Sen. Thom Tillis (R-N.C.)] and Sen. Christopher A. Coons (D-Del.) and the other from Sens. Lindsey O. Graham (R-S.C.) and Cory Booker (D-N.J.) — each seek to check the executive branch’s ability to fire a special counsel, by putting the question to a three-judge panel from the federal courts. They differ in when that panel gets to weigh in on the decision.

Also, too, Senate Republicans snark at Trump.

Trump’s Signing Statement on the Russia Sanctions Bill

So Trump today signed the Russia sanctions bill, although he attached two lengthy signing statements to it. The full text is here.  The first obviously was written by a lawyer. The second may have been at least partly dictated by Trump.

Noah Bierman wrote for the Los Angeles Times:

Trump signed the bill without cameras, sending out a statement later in the morning saying that despite his belief that parts of the measure were unconstitutional, he was signing it into law for the “sake of national unity.”

He had little choice about signing the bill after nearly unanimous votes in both houses of Congress approved it, all but guaranteeing any veto would be overridden.

The bill prevents American companies from investing in many energy projects that are funded by Russian government interests.

It also prevents Trump from unilaterally lifting the  sanctions, giving Congress an extended period of time to review any presidential action that tries to upend or significantly change existing sanctions.

The signing statement(s) more or less say(s) that Trump will honor key provisions, but he gives himself room to challenge it in the future, on constitutional grounds.

From the first statement:

 My Administration will give careful and respectful consideration to the preferences expressed by the Congress in these various provisions and will implement them in a manner consistent with the President’s constitutional authority to conduct foreign relations.

This seems to me to give himself room to do whatever he wants.

Finally, my Administration particularly expects the Congress to refrain from using this flawed bill to hinder our important work with European allies to resolve the conflict in Ukraine, and from using it to hinder our efforts to address any unintended consequences it may have for American businesses, our friends, or our allies.

… or he’ll send his own friend Vinnie “the Claw” from Bayonne to rearrange your kneecaps.

The second statement is even better.

Still, the bill remains seriously flawed – particularly because it encroaches on the executive branch’s authority to negotiate. Congress could not even negotiate a healthcare bill after seven years of talking….

… I built a truly great company worth many billions of dollars. That is a big part of the reason I was elected. As President, I can make far better deals with foreign countries than Congress.

This was after the Great Orange Mound of Blubber did absolutely nothing useful to help Republicans in Congress get any of their bills passed (not that I mind). Several pundits wrote that Trump couldn’t help close the deal because he never bothered to learn what was in the health care bill. Conservative writers also have lost any faith in Trump’s so-called deal-making skills. And here he’s once again calling out Congress for not getting the deal done.

I bet a lot of congressional Republicans are starting to hate him.

Is Trump Ignoring the Russian Sanctions Bill?

Five days ago, Congress sent a sweeping Russian sanctions bill to the White House to be signed into law.

Trump hasn’t signed it yet.

Various White House entities keep insisting that he will sign it. Mike Pence, who is in the Other Georgia, says he will sign it “very soon.”  But he hasn’t yet, and as near as I can tell from googling he hasn’t issued any statements about signing it. He hasn’t even tweeted about it.

For that matter, it appears he hasn’t said anything to anybody about Russia’s expelling U.S. diplomats. A president normally would issue a statement about something like that. But from Trump, not so much as a tweet.

Back to the Russian sanctions bill. Note that the bill includes a Trump filter:

The bill adds new sanctions on Russia’s defense and intelligence sectors aimed at making it more difficult for the country to export weapons, experts said.

It also targets Russia’s energy sector by giving the U.S. the ability to sanction companies involved in developing Russia’s energy export pipelines. The move drew heavy criticism from European investors involved in the construction of a natural gas pipeline between Russia and Germany that is known as Nord Stream 2.

The bill also limits the president’s ability to scale back any sanctions by enshrining into law sanctions that Obama placed on Russia in December for what U.S. intelligence agencies say was meddling in the 2016 presidential election.

If President Trump wanted to lift sanctions, he would first have to get approval from Congress. Experts said this “congressional review process” is born of worries that Trump would try to act unilaterally.

“The motivation for this part is to constrain Trump and to make sure he isn’t able to strike some grand bargain with Putin,” said Daniel Treisman, a political science professor at UCLA. “It is highly unusual to give the president no leeway to remove sanctions. But he still has considerable freedom to determine how to enforce sanctions.”

This bill passed both houses with broad bipartisan support. It’s like Congress doesn’t trust Trump, or something.

Anyway, it’s my understanding he’s got to sign the bill within 10 days of receiving it, or else the bill is considered to be vetoed, and Congress has to vote again to override the veto. The clock is ticking.