Saturday, June 24, 2017

The Machinery of the GOP Fascist Takeover

The machinery that is killing our democracy:

Newsweek, on the data miners and Big Data tycoons who rigged this election.

The brain tricks they are using:

A Berkleyside profile of George Lakoff who explains how America has been hypnotized.

Lesson being:

Big money + obedient people will defeat smart people + humane/democratic values?

Bigotry is stronger than Tolerance?

Unreason is stronger than Reason?

Tribalism defeats inclusive Democratic Values?

Are we all fascists deep down?

Are we all predators? Is fellow feeling dead?

Now that the Washington Post has decided the target of the Russian cyber attack (the Democratic Party) was actually to blame for what happened (are rape victims and robbery victims and fraud victims basically to blame?), does that mean open societies are doomed?

Do we need to cross that line to defend ourselves? Do we need to start arming schoolchildren to prevent the next mass shooting? Do we need to descend to their level to beat the undemocratic and malevolent forces? Do we need to validate the rightwing's accusations in order to defeat them? To defeat lies to we need to lie more and better? There is a Churchillian question in this: “Is this what we are fighting for?”

There must be some available jujitsu devices we should be developing and using. We have the most creative technical minds on the planet. Why aren’t they engaged on the side of liberal democracy?

Is it because there is a basic autocratic strain that defines Silicon Valley? Are they basically more interested in their opportunities to control us than enabling us to empower ourselves? (Do they believe fascism will set them free? Corporations are favored under fascism. They are constrained under democracy. Maybe they are tired of that.)

Have we gone back to the medieval belief system the Enlightenment and our own Revolution overturned?

Does the recent [victory] of Trumpism and Putinism prove that Might makes Right?

Does it prove that possession is 9/10 of the law? That the man with the gun wins the argument? That Power = Truth? Is that God’s Will? Are we to understand that God and Putin agree in principle?

“We won. You lost. Shut up. Bow down. Do as you’re told. Pay the rich. Screw the poor.”

Is that what we’ve learned? Is that what the American experiment has arrived at? Maybe we’ve arrived at our Julius Caesar moment. Is Trump Caesar or Nero? Or is he Caligula?

While we are soul searching and self questioning the tyrants are busy.

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Friday, June 23, 2017

How Trump Makes Us More Like Russia (Poor Us)

Why are we focused on Russia? "Trump won, shut up." "Why does it matter if Russians helped him?” It matters because Trump’s financial and business history is deeply entangled with Russian criminality, and the criminals who have helped him preserve an appearance of wealth for three decades will demand something in return. Like anyone who gets in bed with mobsters, Trump is being forced to pay them back (to borrow his word) “hugely." He may be paying them with our money, or he may be paying them back by dismantling America's global superiority, enabling Russia to fill that vacuum. Or he may be paying them back by grafting the kleptocratic Russian model onto our economy. Putin the kleptocrat has plenty of admirers here, rich people who see our economy as something to be looted rather than run properly and fairly. Investigators are following the money.

This Bloomberg article follows the rubles down the years through Trump Inc.

"The Post noted that the investigation also includes "suspicious financial activity" involving "Russian operatives." The New York Times was more specific in its account, saying that Mueller is looking at whether Trump associates laundered financial payoffs from Russian officials by channeling them through offshore accounts."

Trump promises everything, but how much does he deliver? Ask the people who enrolled their futures in Trump University. Now he's taken that con game to new heights via the White House, where his promises affect Americans' trust in their democratic system and institutions. Money Magazine reports on the Trump jobs promises that were hollow.

"Since his election, Trump has frequently used broad claims to take credit for jobs, especially those for blue collar workers, that the numbers don't bear out."

The massive advantages of people at the top of the economy used to be tempered somewhat by our democratic traditions and norms. But what if those norms and regulations were removed? What if the whole point of the economy was to enrich the very rich and bugger the rest of us? What if working people were the only ones paying for the roads and the bridges and the systems that keep our economy running, leaving the 1% off the hook? The money managers for the rich do a very good job of helping their clients avoid obligations the rest of us have to shoulder. Like those Russian oligarchs who operate as global free agents with no obligations and no restrictions.

The Nation reports on how this scam is operated.

" Part of the inequality problem, however, is that trillions of dollars are being shifted off the ledger, hidden from measurement and taxation. Some of this “hidden wealth of nations,” as Gabriel Zucman calls it, is kept in offshore tax havens like the Cayman Islands and Panama that function as secrecy jurisdictions with minimal transparency or reporting requirements. Trillions more has been hidden in trusts and other complex financial arrangements available only to the very wealthy. New research suggests that households in the top 0.01 percent, those with wealth over $40 million, evade 25 to 30 percent of person income and wealth taxes—about 10 times more than the general population.

"This process is aided and abetted by professional wealth managers who facilitate and lubricate the process of hiding wealth. Many of them work in private family offices that serve wealthy families. These are not mom-and-pop financial planners who help protect families from running out of money. We’re talking about the well-compensated professionals that serve the richest one-tenth of one percent of Americans."

But getting back to Trump and Russia––who has been floating Trump while he runs his grift on Americans? Fortune magazine reports.

"Trump said in the deposition that Bayrock’s Tevfik Arif “brought the people up from Moscow to meet with me,” and that he was teaming with Bayrock on other planned ventures in Moscow. The only Russians who likely had the resources and political connections to sponsor such ambitious international deals were the corrupt “oligarchs.” Although Trump claimed that negative publicity about him from O’Brien killed the deals, he still insisted that “we are actually going to be [in Russia] fairly soon.” When asked if he had “concerns about investing in Russia,” Trump answered “No.”

“...The plaintiffs in a 2015 racketeering case against Bayrock, Sater, and Arif, among others, alleged in the civil lawsuit that: “for most of its existence it [Bayrock] was substantially and covertly mob-owned and operated,” engaging “in a pattern of continuous, related crimes, including mail, wire, and bank fraud; tax evasion; money laundering; conspiracy; bribery; extortion; and embezzlement.” Although the lawsuit does not allege complicity by Trump, it claims that Bayrock exploited its joint ventures with Trump as a conduit for laundering money and evading taxes. The lawsuit cites as a “Concrete example of their crime, Trump SoHo, [which] stands 454 feet tall at Spring and Varick, where it also stands monument to spectacularly corrupt money-laundering and tax evasion.””

How has Trump gotten away with this? It's complicated and complication makes criminals harder to jail. Complex schemes are likelier to keep the money they've stolen. Look at how the financiers who collapsed our economy evaded jail. Trump's genius is in deception and evasion and big talk. He took the schtick on TV and got big ratings. We loved Trump like we loved Tony Soprano, because he wasn't hurting us personally... so we thought. Enough Americans loved that and bought it to make him a viable candidate in the Republican Party where that kind of scheme is accepted and admired. Where successful criminals are Winners and victims are Losers. Millions of Americans love throwing their money away at casinos and investing in bogus schemes and this scheme was bogus and entertaining. It's not new. What's new is the elevation of flim-flam and racketeering into the White House. If he hasn't yet fully criminalized the White House he has left enough of a criminal trail for investigators to follow. Trump fired Comey and Preet Bharara for investigating him. Will he fire Mueller? Can he? Will we let him? Maybe the Republican Congress will give him time to finish the job.

The New Yorker reports on the deliberate complexity of this kind of crime.

"Donald Trump has long deployed what might be called the chaff approach to evading legal scrutiny in his business dealings. Parts of his labyrinthine business holdings seem to be likely targets of investigation. He was sued for civil fraud over promises made to students of Trump University (a case that was settled after Trump became President). He talked on CNBC about the need to pay bribes when doing business overseas. His Atlantic City casino, the Taj Mahal, was in violation of anti-money-laundering laws when Trump owned it. He has had ties to New York Mafia figures. Yet he has never been indicted nor, for all we know, did any prosecutor consider pursuing a criminal case. Perhaps this is because the structure of Trump’s business has been, like chaff tossed out of a bomber, a remarkably effective defense. There is no one thing to look at when investigating Donald Trump. There’s not one company, there are hundreds, possibly thousands. Every deal he does has its own legal structure, its unique set of participants and business model. Rarely—and less often in the past decade—is Trump the primary owner and visionary of a project. More typically, he has sold a license to put his name on someone else’s project.”

What we are witnessing is a massive criminal takeover of our country, including the public sector––the government––and the economy. While they make us look over there (sparkly object: tweets, empty promises, rallies, boasts, showbiz) they quietly pick our pockets. The GOP Congress is fully engaged: promising Bigger and Better and Cheaper while quietly removing healthcare benefits and guarantees for pre-existing conditions and removing the systems that keep the poor covered and regulations that protect average people from being preyed upon and poisoned and impoverished. And they are doing this to deliver trillions in tax cuts to the top 1%. They are looting America the way Putin has looted Russia.

PBS's Frontline reports on how Putin has looted the Russian economy.

Russian mobsters have been looting the Russian economy since the 1990s when Putin took over. The ones doing it are licensed to loot by Putin himself, who gets a cut of everything. The looted trillions need a place to hide and some of that cash has been hidden in and laundered through Donald Trump’s many failing and dicy enterprises. Because nobody else would finance Trump. The banks refused. When the banks won’t help you, you turn to the Mob. Trump appears to be fully mobbed up.

But the larger pattern is more disturbing: the entire Republican financial scheme, including the healthcare “reform” and tax “reform” and deregulation and reinventing government itself, all seem to be modeled on the old scenario of mobsters taking over your business and looting it. Where is there money? Find it, take it, leave the system that money was operating in as a dysfunctional shell. They are operating on our national economy the way diners work on crab legs at Red Lobster: cracking the shell and sucking out the meat. What’s left is garbage.

They look at an economy full of hard working people and they see the workers as a liability not an asset. Dump them. But fleece them first. Ditch all the promises made to them. Suck out all the benefits and loot their retirement funds. Then replace them with robots, as Carrier is doing in Indiana with the money Trump gave them to save jobs.

Trump and his Republican friends in Congress are hollowing America out, using the Russian model. Like rodents looking for food supplies or missiles seeking targets, they are finding all the pockets of money being used to keep the system running and putting it into the pockets of their richest friends. Because they and their rich friends don’t need that system, they are rich, they are neatly invested offshore. They, like Putin and any of his Russian mobster/international gangster friends, don’t need America except as a source of loot. The America they do need is one with a pliant, obedient, cheap and desperate workforce, eager to mow their vast lawns and do their laundry and clean their homes and wait silently at table. To do the work and expect very little. Who cares if they die younger? Let them die the moment they can’t do the work. The way they do in Russia.

So it really is about Russia. Very much so.

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Tuesday, June 06, 2017

Why We Need To Make the Hitler Comparisons and repeal Godwin's Law

"[Ian] Kershaw combined two ideas that underpin his approach to Nazi history. First, the sociologist Max Weber's notion of charismatic leadership – the cult of personality which grew up around Hitler, the belief that he was imbued with almost superhuman powers and should never be questioned. And second, the phrase most associated with Kershaw: "working towards the Führer", the idea that though Hitler was not dictating every aspect of policy the entire bureaucratic apparatus devoted itself to trying to interpret his wishes. "People second-guessed what he wanted," Kershaw explains. "He didn't need to command everything. People interpret 'getting rid of the Jews' in different ways, and cumulatively that then pushes along the dynamic of the persecution without Hitler having to say 'do this, do that, do the other’.””

~From Ian Kershaw: A Life In Writing, in the Guardian

“…There is growing concern in the White House about what skeletons may emerge as investigators comb through a coterie of aides, past and present, who would have done virtually anything to win favor with Trump,” or they’re preparing to mount a defense of all those contacts between Trump’s inner circle and the Russians based on the inexperience, or stupidity, as one anonymous source put it, of “the motley, freewheeling crew of lieutenants and loyalists who have long populated his entourage.”

~McKay Coppins in The Atlantic

The vagueness and contradictoriness of Trump’s ideation combined with the ruthlessness and eager inhumanity of his henchmen make the Hitler comparison increasingly necessary.

Godwin’s Law is more a theory of how things happen than a ban or a prohibition against invoking Hitler. We should not ban the Hitler comparison for one obvious reason: Hitler was himself not “Hitler” until he was able to be, until he was licensed to be by election and empowered to be by the Enabling Act of 1933 and until he was further empowered and weaponized by the devotion of his thousands of henchmen eagerly “working toward the fuhrer”.

Trump has shown an aggressive tendency to defy rules and violate norms, and the more he is criticized for doing so (but suffers no consequences) the more aggressive his violations become and the more devout his following becomes. It is a minority now but as he evades censure and removal it may grow. Impunity is very attractive, especially to the powerless, and Americans feel very powerless in this economy. Trump’s “joke” about shooting someone on 5th Ave was a trial balloon, a test. It was foreshadowing. Hitler wrote Mein Kampf; Trump tweets and blurts his intentions. When he is thwarted he says he was joking. As soon as he can, though, he violates the norm again and increases his license to violate further norms. Trump’s comical barroom blowhard persona has already begun to evolve into a mask of hate.

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Tuesday, May 30, 2017

A Tragedy of Errors (A New Play By Donald J. Trump)

The great Charlie Pierce: “It simply comes down to money: the Russians, the meetings that mysteriously slipped everyone's minds when they were testifying before Congress or filling out disclosure forms, the vanishing tax returns, the emoluments mess, the bizarre attraction to wealthy overseas authoritarians, the unshakable presence of Michael Flynn. All of it, simple American greed magnified by a culture of celebrity and, through a fluke presidential election, dropped like a dead squirrel in a chimney into the world's greatest democracy—and, as a result, stinking up the entire joint."

From The New Republic, a summary of how Trump is destroying the US's global standing. It begins with the rich irony of House Speaker Paul Ryan's demanding the American intelligence services cut Hillary Clinton off from classified briefings while the Trump campaign was known to be welcoming the aid of the Russian spy services.

“Today I am writing to formally request that you refrain from providing any classified information to former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton for the duration of her candidacy for president,” Ryan wrote last July to James Clapper, who was then the director of national intelligence, after then-FBI Director James Comey described Clinton’s handling of classified information as “extremely careless.”
“I firmly believe,” Ryan added, that “this is necessary to reassure the public that our nation’s secrets are secure.”

The Republicans expressed no worries about Trump’s blabbermouth tendencies, and a truckload of gaffes and blurts and lapses later they are still not too worried about the Traitor-In-Chief…

From Newsweek we learn the reason the Russian scheme to corrupt the US presidential election worked was because the Trump campaign worked with them, adopted their techniques, targeted their attacks and fully utilized their stolen data. The GOP and the Russians were full partners. The most crucial participant in the US appears to have been Jared Kushner.

Since the election it’s been all hands on deck, trying to prevent the American public from learning what happened. From SLATE a report on GOP obstruction of justice.

From VOX, a chart showing the various ways Trump and his proxies have obstructed justice. (These are just the obstructions we knew about a week ago. A lot has been disclosed since.)

From The Nation: Conservatives are complaining that a majority of the news coverage of President Trump is negative. "The obvious response is that the vast majority of stories about famine, natural disasters, and genital warts are negative, and that doesn’t imply a bias on the part of those writing them.”

From the UK's The Independent we learn how our chief executive appeared to our allies (former allies?)

“When it comes to diplomacy, President Trump is a drunk tourist. Loud and tacky, shoving his way around the dance floor. He steps on others without realising it. It’s ineffectual.” ~unnamed State Dept official

From the LATimes: While great harm is being done to the US’s global standing, great harm is also being done here at home. But there are powerful interest groups who complain not enough harm is being done.

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Friday, May 19, 2017

Trump's Violent Attack On Truth

The other day, after Trump gave Turkish dictator Erdogan a cordial meeting at the White House, Erdogan watched his personal security detail attack and violently tackle, beat and kick peaceful protesters across the street from the Turkish ambassador's residence. This occurred on our soil while the Turkish president watched.

Reported by the Guardian.

Video at BoingBoing.

This appears to be where Trump is headed. This was a demonstration of the kind of brute force President Trump envies and admires.

Across the country there are new legislative efforts to criminalize peaceful political protest, to criminalize free speech. And what informs free speech? The information and facts we get from a free press. Trump is cracking down on press freedom already.

A reporter asking questions at the FCC was manhandled and arrested.

"Security guards at the Federal Communications Commission headquarters here manhandled a well-regarded reporter at a public hearing today and forced him to leave the premises after he had tried to politely ask questions of FCC commissioners.

"The reporter, John M. Donnelly of CQ Roll Call, is an award-winning journalist. He is also chairman of the National Press Club’s Press Freedom Team and president of the Military Reporters & Editors association. He has chaired the NPC Board of Governors and formerly served on the Standing Committee of Correspondents in the U.S. Congress, which credentials the Washington press corps.

"Donnelly said he ran afoul of plainclothes security personnel at the FCC when he tried to ask commissioners questions when they were not in front of the podium at a scheduled press conference.

"Throughout the FCC meeting, the security guards had shadowed Donnelly as if he were a security threat, he said, even though he continuously displayed his congressional press pass and held a tape recorder and notepad. They even waited for him outside the men’s room at one point.

"When Donnelly strolled in an unthreatening way toward FCC Commissioner Michael O’Rielly to pose a question, two guards pinned Donnelly against the wall with the backs of their bodies until O’Rielly had passed. O’Rielly witnessed this and continued walking…"

In West Virginia, a reporter asking HHS Secretary Price questions was arrested and faces charges. Charges of what? Of asking questions.

"On Tuesday evening, Public News Service reporter Dan Heyman was arrested at the West Virginia State Capitol after asking Price about the Republican health-care bill that passed in the House last week. Heyman wanted to know if domestic violence will be considered a preexisting condition if the bill becomes law.

"Price didn’t respond, so Heyman kept asking his question. He said he followed Price down a hallway and reached past people in his entourage while holding his phone. Then capitol police “decided I was just too persistent in asking this question and trying to do my job and so they arrested me,” Heyman said."

This is the Trump administration’s goal: to suppress, intimidate, and jail journalists for doing their job.

The Pointer Institute reports that Trump asked FBI director Comey to jail journalists who were embarrassing him.

"President Trump asked former FBI Director Jim Comey to lock up journalists for publishing classified information during a February Oval Office meeting, according to a memo written by Comey shortly after the meeting summarized Tuesday by The New York Times.

"Trump urged Comey to imprison journalists at the beginning of an exchange during which he also asked the former FBI chief to back off an investigation into then-National Security Advisor Michael Flynn, according to the story."

The story reported in The Guardian.

This intimidation predates the inauguration. We saw it on camera. We saw it in his legal intimidation of women who charged him with sexual assault. If Trump dislikes what someone says or reports, even if it’s true, he will retaliate––with all of the power and leverage a billionaire possesses, and with violence. Now he has the power to retaliate with the full force of the federal government and its police agencies.

How violent might this get? Trump has a record of defying rules and limits. He has a record of retaliating with force. Look at the foreign leaders he admires. Putin, whose operatives have been silencing his critics and opponents with lethal poisonings and machine guns and by throwing them from high windows. Trump admires Philippine leader Duterte who has bragged about joining his death squads on killing sprees.

Which brings us back to one of the tyrants Trump is modeling himself after.

Trump invited Turkey’s dictator Erdogan to a warm embrace in the White House, and Erdogan returned this favor by staging a vivid demonstration of how his dictatorship works at home. Kurdish protesters were assembled legally and peacefully across the street from the Turkish Ambassador’s residence, when this happened. The video is shocking. Muscular thugs in dark suits chasing and beating peaceful protesters, knocking them down then kicking them in the head and the groin. Brownshirt behavior in Washington DC carried out by a foreign dictator friend of our president. Think of it as an advertisement for Trump’s kind of leadership. Jackboots worn with business suits.

Reported in The Guardian.

This is not new. Erdogan’s personal security guards beat up journalists outside the Brookings Institution in March of last year.

Donald Trump’s campaign showed an escalating tendency toward violence. Trump himself has shown a tendency to push things as far as he can go and then further. When stopped or discouraged by officials or judges or rules he challenges their validity, questioning the law, discrediting the rules and norms that make the United States a democracy. Trump obviously would much prefer being president of a dictatorship where he can do whatever he likes and destroy whoever opposes him or criticizes him or asks him embarrassing questions.

Trump, the man who brazenly slanders and libels anyone who stands up to him, wants to change the libel laws to enable him to go after his critics. Now he has presidential powers to follow through on his threats. His goal? To undermine Americans’ ability to sort fact from fake and truth from lies.

Reported by Politico.

Newsweek analyzes Trump's threats to the First Amendment and lays out what it means going forward.

Trump fears the truth because truth and facts are our best defense against tyranny.

Trump won the election because of the flood of fake news. His campaign repeatedly cited and pushed fake news stories. They applauded and validated the fake news being produced by Russian proxies to pollute our politics.

The Trump campaign won the election in large part because they adopted the strategic false memes and smears the Russians were producing. They welcomed it and distributed it. They were playing by the Russian playbook and it worked. This according to intelligence expert Clinton Watts, in testimony before Congress.

Video testimony via CNN

The White House staff feeds President Trump a steady diet of fake news stories, which shape his “reality” (which is entirely unreal). And this enables him to shape his devoted followers’ reality to conform with his delusions.

Reported by Newsweek.

This war against truth and information is central to tyranny and Trump’s goal is exactly that. It’s happened before, but earlier tyrants did not have the power and machinery this president has to undermine our free access to good information. Trump is weaponizing the Big Lie, which is the tool Hitler and Stalin used to consolidate their power.

At VOX, historian Timothy Snyder explains how tyrants gain power by first destroying free and reliable information, by destroying truth.

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Tuesday, May 16, 2017

Putin's Useful Idiot

Then this happened.

First the Washington Post broke the story about how Trump blurted out top top secret national security information in a meeting with the Russians. Then others verified the story. Buzzfeed, then Reuters, and others.

Here’s some useful analysis of what it might mean, the harm it has done. From The Atlantic.

The blindly loyal Republican chain-of-command is full of enablers and explainers. The line of succession is full of them: Pence, Ryan, and down the line, all bound by ties of loyalty and fealty to Trump as Trump appears to be bound to Putin and our worst global enemy. The Republican Party is like malware that has infected and corrupted our democratic systems and put our security at risk.

"When history holds its trial to account for the Donald Trump presidency, Trump himself will be acquitted on grounds of madness. History will look at his behavior, his erratic and childish lying and his flamboyant ignorance of history itself and pronounce the man, like George III, a cuckoo for whom restraint, but not punishment, was necessary. Such will not be the case for Mike Pence, the toady vice president and the personification of much that has gone wrong in Washington.”

Richard Cohen in the Washington Post and NYDailyNews.

The club of Trump enablers includes many talking heads in the news media. One of them being Mara Liasson, a terrific normalizer of the abnormal. There was this exchange recently on NPR:

Garcia-Navarro: What about the left? I see a whole political spectrum mobilized by Comey's firing. You know, you look on social media and cable news, they're calling for Trump's impeachment. What do you think when you hear calls like that? Is it feasible?

Liasson: No. I don't. I think there's a lot of magical thinking on both ends of the political spectrum. You know, his supporters think he's rewritten the rules, and they'll tell me, “It doesn't matter what he does, it doesn't matter what his approval ratings are.” Remember during the campaign he said he could stand on 5th Avenue and shoot someone and not lose any voters. On the left, I think they are in the grip—many people, critics of him—are in the grip of this delusion that he's going to be impeached, or that we're in a full-fledged constitutional crisis. So this is a phenomenon of our very tribalized politics.
(Shared by blogger Erik Lundegaard)

We’ve been doing various kinds of magical thinking. On the right and in business circles they’ve been imagining magical ways this might turn out all right, how making a nincompoop/criminal/traitor president might benefit them personally. This is the default of many Americans: "This might not hurt me. How can I profit from this?” Millions of Germans went along with the Nuremberg Laws that confiscated property, positions, businesses and finally gold fillings from the mouths of Jews because it didn’t hurt them personally and they actually profited from it by accepting their share of the confiscations.

Republicans are cynically calculating how much they can confiscate from the American economy and from working Americans before this White House drops us in the soup. The White House has been dropping us in the soup for 100+ days now and most of what we hear from the Republicans is about how nice and warm the soup feels and how nourishing it is.

Sometimes you need a lawyer to sort the sense from the nonsense in the damage control pronouncements the White House makes on a daily basis. Yesterday’s bombshell had officials of ascending importance marching out of the White House to try to discredit and deflect and spin the catastrophic news story. Just like the bogus “certified letter” that Trump’s Russian lawyer wrote to say "he had not had relations with that Russian”, the letter and these announcements certified nothing and said nothing. From LawFare Blog

Conservative icons like David Brooks and Erick Erickson and The Economist are beginning to shout fire. It’s a shame they waited this long, but of course they were calculating how they might profit from President Trump and the damage he was bound to do, assuming the damage wouldn’t be to them personally. Because what damages others might wind up being personally very profitable. (Tax cuts. Deregulation. Big spending aimed at profiting loyal Republicans.)

The Economist compares the Trump White House to a medieval court.

The useful idiot explanation is the least incriminating one Trump’s enablers can offer and White House insiders are suggesting that is the case. We don’t have a Chief Executive at the helm of our executive branch, we have a clown, a naif, a fool, a useful idiot. Republicans thought he would be useful to them, but mostly it appears he is useful to Russia and Russian mobsters and probably a coterie of American criminal counterparts.

From Politico:

“…Several advisers and others close to Trump said they wouldn't be surprised if Trump gave information he shouldn't have. One adviser who often speaks to the president said the conversation was likely freewheeling in the Oval Office, and he probably wanted to impress the officials."
"He doesn't really know any boundaries. He doesn't think in those terms," this adviser said. "He doesn't sometimes realize the implications of what he's saying. I don't think it was his intention in any way to share any classified information. He wouldn't want to do that."

Some of the White House staff play a game where they troll the president, playing tricks on him to see how gullible he is. They are constantly amused. He is very very gullible.

Politico on Trump's suppliers of fake news.

But who’s laughing?

Look at the photos the Russian spy agency photographers provided from inside the Oval Office meeting. The meeting American journalists were barred from. They show Trump, red-faced and bloated, laughing with the Russian foreign minister and the Russian ambassador, both known intelligence operatives at a high level, but are the Russians laughing with him or at him? Or at us?

Trump has in just over 100 days not only compromised our national security and turned the White House into a chaotic mess, but he has made us a global laughingstock.

Eight years ago President Obama had managed to steady a collapsing U.S. and global economy. He was admired by the world. He was given the Nobel Peace Prize. Not only was Obama admired, we were admired. I miss that. I don’t like being made a fool of but many conservatives are comfortable with that.

There's a phrase from WW2. Everybody's heard it. "Loose lips sink ships." The concern was that a GI or a dock worker or a worker in a munitions factory or a clerk would get talking in a bar and get the urge to brag about how important they were. Knowing something other people don't know makes little people feel important, so they brag. There were instances during WW2 when loose lips did sink ships. This sort of foolish pathetic treason was never the sort of thing that occurred in the Oval Office. We never had to worry that the sad, boastful, little person was the President of the United States.

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Sunday, May 14, 2017

Angry 70 Year Old Man Barricaded In DC Mansion

We wake up every morning wondering if it’s still true. Is Trump still president. If a President Hillary Clinton had presided the way Trump has these 100+ days she’d be on her way out. Congress would have had bills of impeachment prepared before she’d given her victory speech on November 9th. The pitchforks and torches and nooses were out for Hillary from the moment she announced her candidacy. From that date on the Republican Congress had busied itself with hearings and subpoenas. The investigative committee chairs had installed a teleport to transport them quickly onto FoxNews the moment they left the floor.

Jason Chaffetz was one of the most dogged accusers. He never let up. His goal in life was to jail Hillary Clinton. When FBI director James Comey found “carelessness” but no criminality, the Republicans were furious. They felt betrayed, as if they had a contract promising them that the investigation would serve her up to them. The line in Alice In Wonderland is “Sentence First. Verdict Afterwards.” Jason Chaffetz embraced the role of the Red Queen. He’d turned his congressional seat into a prosecutor’s office, an inquisitor’s office.

So when the Trump presidency debuted with its own palpable and juicy prosecutable charges hung round the president’s and his staff’s necks you’d expect an eager prosecutor would get to work.

But Chaffetz seemed bored with the allegations against Trump. Betraying our country to Russia? Meh. Using the presidency to enrich himself? Who cares. Chaffetz’s response when asked about Trump’s many disturbing and possibly incriminating financial entanglements and the glaring conflicts of interest was especially peculiar:

“He’s already rich.”

Meaning? The only meaning we can deduce is that Jason Chaffetz and his fellow Republicans believe it’s OK for a rich person to engage in criminal behavior. A rich person is allowed to enrich himself further by illegal means. A rich person is allowed to turn the Oval Office into a moneymaking machine. When a relatively middle class person enters the White House, say a Bill Clinton, it’s a different matter. Then they investigate. Republicans are immune. Rich people are immune.

Reported in The New Yorker

Reported at greater length in The Atlantic

The danger Trump presents is increased because the Republicans in Congress are so craven, so obedient, so partisan. James Fallows writes about this in The Atlantic, giving five reasons why Kremlingate is worse than Watergate.

This article from The American Interest examines Trump’s Russia entanglements.

"Whatever the nature of President-elect Donald Trump’s relationship with President Putin, he has certainly managed to accumulate direct and indirect connections with a far-flung private Russian/FSU network of outright mobsters, oligarchs, fraudsters, and kleptocrats. Any one of these connections might have occurred at random. But the overall pattern is a veritable Star Wars bar scene of unsavory characters, with Donald Trump seated right in the middle. The analytical challenge is to map this network—a task that most journalists and law enforcement agencies, focused on individual cases, have failed to do.”

It appears that Donald Trump has been a very useful asset in a massive and long-running Russian money laundering scheme.

Vanity Fair explains why a note from your lawyer won’t get you off the hook, especially if that lawyer was named Russia’s Lawyer of the Year.

When I heard Trump promise that a “certified letter” would clear him of any wrongdoing I laughed. As if the Post Office, for an additional fee, will certify the truthfulness of a letter. (That joke appeared on SNL last night so I wasn’t the only one who thought of it.)

This Dutch documentary goes into Trump’s deep ties to Russian mobsters. All Russian mobsters still living operate as Putin henchmen.

Google Trump and Bayrock and Russia and you find some interesting stories, all about money laundering, the looting of the Russian economy, and the rescue of a bankrupt Trump over the years. There's more than one way to launder a ruble.

This one's from the Guardian.

The reliably conservative Chicago Tribune has this to say:

“We have the tin-pot leader whose vanity knows no bounds. We have the rapacious family feathering their nests without regard for the law or common decency. We have utter disregard for values at home and abroad, the disdain for democracy, the hunger for constraining a free press, the admiration for thugs and strongmen worldwide.”

The New Yorker's Amy Davidson analyzes the problems Trump created in his Lester Holt interview.

Trump’s business dealings are under scrutiny by the Senate. From the New Yorker.

Mother Jones gets down to the facts in the Russia story.

The White House staff meanwhile is in turmoil. Staffers responding with “Jesus!” when they see Trump’s latest tweets. From The Daily Beast.

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