We Need An 11/8 Commission Before Obama Leaves Office—But Don’t Hold Your Breath

Late in November of 2002, George W. Bush signed into existence what was officially called The National Commission on Terrorist Attacks Upon the United States. We, of course, know it as the 9/11 Commission. Created by Congress, the commission was officially “chartered to prepare a full and complete account of the circumstances surrounding Image result for 9/11 commission reportthe September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks, including preparedness for and the immediate response to the attacks.” It was “also mandated to provide recommendations designed to guard against future attacks.” 

Last week, Democrats introduced a bill in both the House and Senate that would establish a 9/11-like commission, bipartisan and with subpoena power, to examine the 2016 election and Russia’s role in it. So far, though, no Republicans have signed on. It is imperative they do so before next Friday—January 20—and it is imperative that President Obama sign such a commission into existence. We need an 11/8 commission. But I wouldn’t bet any money on getting one.

News related to the 2016 election is coming out fast and furious. On Friday, FBI Director James Comey and other intelligence officials gave Congress a classified briefing on Russian cyberattacks and election interference. But the issue quickly became, for Democrats at least, Comey’s own strange election interference, especially his inexplicable and unprecedented eagerness to publicly discuss and criticize Hillary Clinton’s email-server missteps, while refusing to say whether the FBI was, simultaneously or subsequently, also looking into allegations that members of Trump’s election team were in contact with and colluding with the Russians to sabotage Mrs. Clinton’s campaign. Democrats were, after the briefing, visibly upset.

Evidence is piling up that the FBI director and his agency did not properly handle either of the election-sensitive issues involving Clinton and Trump. As far as the former, the Justice Department’s inspector general has opened up aRelated imagen investigation into Comey and his handling of the Clinton email issue, which caused The Wall Street Journal and others to call for his resignation.  As for the latter, just this morning, the left-leaning British online newspaper, The Independent, published a depressing story: “Former MI6 agent Christopher Steele’s frustration as FBI sat on Donald Trump Russia file for months.” The story tells us that Mr. Steele, who is considered a reliable source by intelligence officials and who put together the now famous dossier that suggests Donald Trump has been compromised by the Russians,

became increasingly frustrated that the FBI was failing to take action on the intelligence from others as well as him. He came to believe there was a cover-up, that a cabal within the Bureau blocked a thorough inquiry into Mr Trump, focusing instead on the investigation into Hillary Clinton’s emails.

Steele and a former reporter for The Wall Street Journal, who both worked for a firm hired by Republican opponents of Mr. Trump to do opposition research, were so concerned that no action was being taken that they “continued with the Trump case without being paid.” According to The Independent, the concern was that in July of 2016,

Mr Steele produced a memo, which went to the  FBI, stating that Mr Trump’s campaign team had agreed to a Russian request to dilute attention on Moscow’s intervention in Ukraine. Four days later Mr Trump stated that he would recognise Moscow’s annexation of Crimea. A month later officials involved in his campaign asked the Republican party’s election platform to remove a pledge for military assistance to the Ukrainian government against separatist rebels in the east of the country.

Mr Steele claimed that the Trump campaign was taking this path because it was aware that the Russians were hacking Democratic Party emails. No evidence of this has been made public, but the same day that Mr Trump spoke about Crimea he called on the Kremlin to hack Hillary Clinton’s emails.

By late July and early August MI6 was also receiving information about Mr Trump. By September, information to the FBI began to grow in volume: Mr Steele compiled a set of his memos into one document and passed it to his contacts at the FBI. But there seemed to be little progress in a proper inquiry into Mr Trump. The Bureau, instead, seemed to be devoting their resources in the pursuit of Hillary Clinton’s email transgressions.

It’s important to note that it was on July 5 that Director Comey announced the results of his Clinton email investigation and offered rather scathing commentary along with his recommendation not to prosecute her. It was around this time, The Independent story says, that Christopher Steele’s memo—a collection of which at some point turned into that dossier published by BuzzFeed—was in the hands of the FBI. If this is true, it is more than a little disturbing.

The Independent story goes on in detail about the New York field office of the FBI, which “appeared to be on a crusade against Ms Clinton.” Rudy Giuliani, a close friend of Trump’s and a member of his campaign, “had a long working relationship” with the New York office, and Giuliani seemed to have insider information that, he bragged, “should turn things around.” At that time—late October—Trump’s campaign was trending rather poorly in the polls. Two days after Giuliani’s curious cheeriness about Trump’s future electoral prospects, Comey sent his now infamous letter to Congress saying he was reopening his probe into Clinton because of some potential new evidence found, as we now know, on Anthony Weiner’s laptop. And, as we now know, and as many predicted at the time, there was no new evidence. Again, it is disturbing that not only did Giuliani appear to know what the FBI director was doing, but the director was doing it while pretty obviously knowing what people like Christopher Steele were saying about the Trump campaign’s collusion with the Russians.

Although the Obama administration, on October 7, formally and publicly accused Russia of interfering in our election, the story never caught fire. Many people now blame President Obama for not responding to the story more forcefully. Obviously, looking back now, he should have. But that wasn’t an easy call at the time. Clinton was leading in the polls and most of the experts and pundits expected her to win. A strong and loud reaction by Obama would have been greeted with charges that he was attempting to hack the election, especially if he publicly suggested a Russian-Trump alliance. Obama would likely have become the story, whether Clinton went on to win or lose.

In any case, according to The Independent, Steele became “frustrated and demoralised” at the lack of FBI action. While in New York in October, he reluctantly spilled the beans to David Corn, of Mother Jones. Corn published a story on Monday, October 31, eight days before the election. According to Corn’s subsequent account of his meeting with Steele, the former British spy said the FBI’s response to the information he provided them on Trump and the Russians was “shock and horror.” Despite that, there wasn’t any public comments by Comey at any time, which, you may remember, triggered a response from now-former Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid. On October 30, Reid wrote to Comey, accusing him of “a disturbing double standard for the treatment of sensitive information” and suggesting through his “partisan actions” that Comey “may have broken the law.” Reid continued:

In my communications with you and other top officials in the national security community, it  has become clear that you possess explosive information about close ties and coordination between Donald Trump, his top advisors, and the Russian government – a foreign interest openly hostile to the United States, which Trump praises at every opportunity. I wrote to you months ago calling for this information to be released to the public…and yet, you continue to resist calls to inform the public of this critical information.

Like the October 7 story announcing the Obama administration’s accusations against Russia, Reid’s written outburst on October 30 and Corn’s October 31 story didn’t receive a sufficiently serious reaction from the wider press. Why? The biggest reason was because Comey’s reopening of the Clinton email probe, which was revealed on Friday, October 28, was dominating all the headlines. The press had always seen Clinton’s email-server story as the biggest of the campaign and would not let it go, even for much more serious allegations that the Russians were openly trying to get Trump elected, and Trump, on July 27, had openly asked them for help. Thus it is that the national press, especially cable news—which enjoyed record ratings and profits by promoting Trump almost endlessly—must share in the blame for what happened on November 8 and for what happens after January 20. And perhaps that is why, now that it is much too late, the national press is aggressively pursuing the Putin-Trump story. Maybe there is some collective guilt at work.

But despite an aggressive, if tardy, press, the only way this whole disgusting issue—Russian influence, Trump’s and his campaign’s level of collusion with the Russians, and the FBI’s handling of all of it—can be resolved for all time is via an independent, bipartisan commission. But, I hate to admit, it is fairly clear that this almost certainly will not happen before the inauguration next Friday, and it is even more certain it won’t happen after Trump is in control. He obviously has a lot to hide since he is not shy about hiding it.

We know, through stories featuring revelations from Christopher Steele, as well as through some earlier reporting, that the FBI has actually been investigating the Russian-Trump election issue for some time. And we know, by reading between the lines of Comey’s appearance before Congress last week and through other revelations, that the FBI has some classified information that would help Americans understand more of what happened during our election. Atop-secrett the very least, as Democrats have formally requested, President Obama should declassify some of this information. Short of a bipartisan commission, it would be our best chance to see for ourselves just what the Russians, with or without Trump’s collusion, did to us and what we can do to make sure it doesn’t happen again.

 

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The Huffington Post’s Bad Headline, Entitlement “Reform,” And A Theory Of Trump’s Potential Impeachment

Every now and then, contrary to the 140-character Zeitgeist, I like to go into the weeds. So, let’s start with the headline itself:

Reince Priebus: Donald Trump Won’t ‘Meddle’ With Social Security And Medicare

The story, written by Daniel Marans, began this way:

Incoming White House Chief of Staff Reince Priebus appeared to confirm that President-elect Donald Trump would stand by his campaign promise not to cut Social Security and Medicare.

Notice that word “appeared.” It wasn’t in the headline, which clearly claimed that Priebus said Trump “won’t” meddle with Social Security and Medicare. But Priebus didn’t say that, as the lead clarifies. Also notice that word “confirm” in the lead. Priebus “appeared to confirm Trump’s campaign “promise.” Think about that one. We are asked to believe that Priebus, one of Trump’s many obfuscators, not only appeared to confirm” Trump’s promise, but that Priebus actually possesses the ability to confirm it. We know, though, that no one, including Priebus, actually can confirm anything Trump has said or will say. We know that because Trump is both a pathological liar and a pathological denier, and the trump-ss-cardword “promise” has no real applicability to him. Trump can’t even confirm something he himself said. What he promised yesterday, what he promises today, Trump can, and will, deny tomorrow. And his surrogates will follow suit.

That’s why journalists and headline writers have to be careful. They have to stop playing by the old journalistic rules, which no longer apply. Social media-obsessed people, as we all know, skim headlines as a shortcut to understanding what’s going on in the news. And that HuffPo headline—an outlet that ought to know better—is particularly harmful to the public’s understanding of what is going on, or, more to the point, what might happen in the months to come, in terms of Social Security and Medicare and, before it’s over, Medicaid.

Let’s look at the transcript of what Priebus said on CBS’s Face the Nation:

JOHN DICKERSON: Quick question on replace. Donald Trump has campaigned on the idea of not touching Medicare. That’ll be his position still?

REINCE PRIEBUS: Yeah. I mean, I don’t think President-elect Trump wants to meddle with Medicare or Social Security. He made a promise in the campaign that that was something that he didn’t want to do. But what he wants to do is grow the economy, help shore up Medicare and Social Security for future generations. And if we can get three to five, 6% growth, we’ll do that. And we’ll explode the economy, and bring jobs back, and make trade more fair across the world, lower rates for everyone, and I think hopefully get businesses going again so people can put more money in their pocket.

Notice a couple of things. First, why is John Dickerson only asking a “quick question” about “touching Medicare”? Doesn’t the possibility of Trump joining Paul Ryan and the reactionaries in his party, in their effort to destroy Medicare as we know it, deserve more than a quick question? Of course it does. But apparently TV journalism has its priorities, and understanding whether Trump intends on preserving Social Security and Medicare doesn’t happen to be one of them. So, because Dickerson did not follow up on Priebus’ assertions, we will at least examine his words ourselves:

1. Note that Dickerson did not specifically ask Priebus about Social Security (even though he should have). Priebus brought up Social Security on his own. Why? We can guess it’s because Priebus knows “entitlement reform” is a big deal to Paul Ryan and his Houseful of reactionaries, and that Ryan’s so-called reform includes mucking with Social Security in ways that will screw needy beneficiaries, many of whom voted for Trump. Thus, the “Old-Age, Survivors, and Disability Insurance” program—which is what we rubes know as Social Security— was on his mind.

2. Priebus said “I don’t think” Trump “wants to meddle with Medicare and Social Security.” He didn’t say “I am certain.” He didn’t say “I am absolutely confident.” He merely said he didn’t think Trump would renege. He was speculating not asserting. He was, purposely, leaving room for future betrayal. Because, as noted, no one can confidently assert anything regarding any statement Trump has made—or will make.

3. Priebus’ weak speculation that Trump won’t bother Social Security and Medicare is based on certain assumptions, like Trump bringing us explosive economic growth, bringing back manufacturing jobs, negotiating and renegotiating trade deals, and lowering tax rates, which “hopefully get businesses going again so people can put more money in their pocket.” The problem is that businesses are already going again, people have more money in their pockets, and there aren’t many economists this side of Sean Hannity who believe in all that standard Reagan-era voodoo magic. Thus, the premise for suggesting that Trump will not mess with entitlements is based on art-of-the-deal and supply-side fantasies.

4. Now look at these two sentences: “He made a promise in the campaign that that was something that he didn’t want to do. But what he wants to do is grow the economy, help shore up Medicare and Social Security for future generations.” Priebus said that Trump’s messing with the two big entitlement programs “was something that he didn’t want to do,” like having to spank an unruly child. The way that sentence is constructed leaves a lot of room for meddling, especially when coupled with the second sentence. One can imagine a future appearance on Face the Nation in which Priebus will say Trump didn’t want to sign Social Security and Medicare “reform” bills, but it was necessary to “shore up” the programs because economic growth lagged behind projections due to Democratic Party interference. “Things were much worse than he imagined during the campaign, and Democrats have conspired to make them worse in order to hurt Trump,” this future Priebus can say about Trump’s broken promise. Or Priebus—feel free to substitute your surrogate of choice—can point to something Trump said to the AARP:

If we are able to sustain growth rates in GDP that we had as a result of the Kennedy and Reagan tax reforms, we will be able to secure Social Security for the future. As our demography changes, a prudent administration would begin to examine what changes might be necessary for future generations. Our goal is to keep the promises made to  Americans through our Social Security program.”

There is a giant “if” in that statement: “If we are able to sustain growth rates in GDP that we had as a result of the Kennedy and Reagan tax reform.”  I hate to till over-farmed ground, but people need to be reminded of the facts. First, Kennedy did reduce the top marginal tax rate from 91% to 70%. But today’s highest rate is just less than 40%. Any effect of lowering taxes for people in the highest bracket today will not have much, if any, salutary economic effect. Second, Kennedy targeted earners who would spend their tax breaks and thus stimulate the economy. There isn’t a GOP plan out there today anything like that. Most of the proposed tax cuts would go to top-bracket people who will simply bank the money, not go out and buy a new Chevy Cruze made—by union workers—in Lordstown, Ohio.

As for Reagan, the myth lives on. The truth is that although he reduced marginal income tax rates, he raised other taxes and closed large loopholes. The net effect wasn’t significant, except in terms of normalizing large budget deficits because of his increase in military spending (which deficits, weirdly, have been blamed on Democrats ever since). Thus, Trump’s “if” statement—which I am sure is the product of some nutty supply-side economist and not his own creation—will not bear the burden of protecting Social Security, or Medicare, or any entitlement, in the future.

Then there is, “As our demography changes, a prudent administration would begin to examine what changes might be necessary for future generations.” The political ambiguity in that phrase, again the product of someone other than Trump—who wouldn’t know anything about “demography” unless it was a dues-paying member of Mar-a-Lago—is wide enough to drive an Ayn Rand tractor-trailer through. A Ryan-friendly Trump, if it came to it, could easily cite demographic changes that his “prudent administration” could use to make “necessary” reformsall in the name of “future generations.” That’s right out of the Paul Ryan-Pete Peterson playbook.

In any case, there is one thing we know with absolute certainty: Paul Ryan, the Speaker of the House, is determined to implement his once-in-a-lifetime, one-party-rule offense according to his ideological playbook. He is hellbent on privatizing Medicare and reducing Social Security benefits. If you don’t believe me, try Forbes or, uh, Forbes. And there are only two things, right now, that stand between Ryan and his goal. One is the Senate Democratic Caucus, which features several wobbly-kneed Democrats from red states—and keep in mind that Senate Democrats only have power if the filibuster remains, not exactly a certainty in these strange times. The other obstacle for Ryan is Trump. And Ryan will soon have some important leverage over the Orange Grifter: the threat of impeachment.
impeachRyan’s dream of destroying—or failing that, weakening—New Deal ideology can obviously only come to pass if Trump signs onto the effort and openly defends it. Ryan dare not advance his Randian agenda without the backing of Trumpers, who have proven they will follow Trump no matter what he does. And it is my rather wild theory that Ryan may use the threat of impeachment—which has to originate in the House—to get Trump to sign on and defend his assent. This impeachment threat would not, at first, be advanced openly. As time passes, it would be—if it hasn’t been already—quietly passed on to Trump associates, like Reince Priebus, who will inform Trump that insurance against impeachment will come at the price of “meddling” with entitlements (something that Priebus, as a political and personal friend of Ryan, is inclined to do anyway). Such a quiet threat could have its intended effect without an open display of hostility toward Trump on the part of House Republicans.

I won’t pretend this is a likely scenario. The ultimate manifestation of the developing dynamics of the next administration’s relationship with a Republican Congress is anyone’s guess. But since impeachment will be part of the general conversation the minute Trump takes office (see: Emoluments Clause, for instance), and will continue to dog him throughout his presidency, it is not entirely nuts to think something like my scenario could happen. With Trump, just the hint that he could go down in history as an impeached president may itself be enough to find enough room in his AARP statement, “As our demography changes, a prudent administration would begin to examine what changes might be necessary for future generations,” to accommodate substantial changes in entitlement programs.

After all, Trump has never given a damn about working-class people except as a means to his narcissistic ends, and why should he stick his presidential neck out for them, especially when he has a legion of spinners who can sell his treachery to his followers?

All this is just something to keep in mind, as we slowly descend into the abyss of the Trump presidency. Stay tuned.

Mike Pence: “It’s The Greatest Honor Of My Life” Being “Shoulder to Shoulder” With An Admitted Sexual Predator

At this point in this long and ugly campaign, what else can be said? If you watched that debate last night (not to mention the circus leading up to it) and believe Donald Trump is qualified in any way to be president of the United States, then, like Trump, there is something wrong with you that a stadium full of psychiatrists, or a coliseum full of priests, can’t fix. The man is a creep. A lie-stained lunatic. A dangerous authoritarian who would, as he openly stated last night, use his presidential power to jail his political enemies—and only Allah knows what else he would do.

Since there is almost nothing else left to say about Trump’s lack of character and his lack of class and his lack of competence, I do want to say something about his running mate, the Jesus-loving, God-fearing, family values-honoring, Mike Pence. This morning I heard Mr. Pence say, as he does all the time, that being Trump’s running mate is “the greatest honor of my life” and that he is proudly standing “shoulder to shoulder” with Trump, with the same Trump who, behind closed doors, admitted that sexually assaulting women—with impunity—is one of the benefits of being a “star.” And pence on cnn.jpgjust why did Pence say he still wants to shoulder-kiss a man who believes fame entitles him to freely fondle the genitals of, say, Mike Pence’s daughters? Because, as the born-again VP candidate told CNN’s Alisyn Camerota, Trump “said last night very clearly that that was talk, not actions. And I believe him.”

Let’s think about that for a minute. Pence said that he believes Trump when Trump finally denied—after trying to dodge the question from Anderson Cooper three times last night—he has kissed and fondled women without their permission. Let it sink in just how that must sound to children around the country. A presidential candidate actually has to tell us that when he bragged about being a sexual predator, he was essentially just having a good time with the boys on the bus and he didn’t really mean it. And his running mate actually has to tell us that it is okay with him that Trump lied about being a sexual predator because he was merely talking about being a sexual predator and not acting on the talk. It really is breathtaking.

Here’s an excerpt from Trump’s infamous bus conversation:

TRUMP: I’ve gotta use some Tic Tacs, just in case I start kissing her. You know I’m automatically attracted to beautiful — I just start kissing them. It’s like a magnet. Just kiss. I don’t even wait. And when you’re a star they let you do it. You can do anything.

BILLY BUSH: Whatever you want.

TRUMP: Grab them by the p***y. You can do anything.

Trump, according to Pence, was simply kiddin’ around when he said he was “automatically” prone to “just start kissing” women he found “beautiful.” That was “talk, not actions” said Pence. But what kind of man would pretend, while working on a TV show that highlights beautiful women, that he cannot control himself around them? What kind of man would lie to others about his inability to prevent himself from sexually assaulting women? Is that the kind of man that a born-again Pence wants to stand shoulder to shoulder with? Would he want his two daughters, or his wife, to stand shoulder to shoulder with Trump? Or does Pence believe that the women in his life are not attractive enough to trigger an “automatic” response from the Orange Groper?

We all have asked, when trying to comprehend Trump, what kind of a creep is this? But now, as we try to understand how Pence—who claims the moral high ground with every Christian breath—can proudly embrace Trump, it is time to ask, what kind of creep is Mike Pence?

The Trump Dilemma And An Appeal To Anson Burlingame

As all you locals know, Anson Burlingame is a man with whom I have spent considerable time and effort debating on this blog and in the Joplin Globe and on his own (now retired) blog. I would characterize him as a conservative with a libertarian streak. Recently I, and others, have been interacting with him over the “Trump Dilemma”: should a conservative opposed to Trump vote for a third party (Anson’s tentative position) or swallow hard and vote for Hillary Clinton in order to make a vote against Trump doubly effective?

The following is my latest, and perhaps last, attempt to convince him to take the latter course:

Anson,

Sorry this is so long. But passions are high.

Nobody is trying to lecture you. We are trying to reason with you. You love your country and you have served it honorably. We love our country, too. And we want to keep loving it. How, we ask, can you (or anyone) turn it over (or risk turning it over by not voting for Trump’s only viable rival) to someone so temperamentally unqualified and imbalanced, so ignorant and bigoted, so self-serving and demonstrably corrupt? 

If you think I am going to spend any time, any time whatsoever, trying to convince you that Hillary’s policy proposals (domestically, especially) are something you, as a conservative, could accept, you’re mistaken. That wouldn’t do one bit of good and we both know that. She is a Democrat with left-of-center views. You’re not. You have right-of-center views. There isn’t much of a match there. And besides that, I realize how much Hillary has been demonized in the conservative press and, alas, in the “mainstream” press. That is tough to overcome in a few blog posts. Thus, my appeal is directed elsewhere.

There is one thing that we all can see with our own eyes: Trump is truly an existential threat to the America we have known. That’s not election year hyperbole. You can see it and I can see it and all but the willfully blind can see it. He doesn’t make much of an effort to hide his instability and ignorance. He merely uses bluster to bully his way through. There isn’t an inch of depth to anything he says. He doesn’t understand our history. He has no clue about the military. He has no conception of how world relations work. He doesn’t know the difference between Shia and Sunni or, for that matter, the difference between a nuclear triad and a triathlon. Our allies fear he will win and wreck what is right with the world. Our enemies, particularly Russia and ISIS, want him to win. Think about that. And then think about it again.

Once-respected Republicans in the national security and intelligence business have overwhelmingly voiced their fear of a Trump presidency. They have said he is a dangerous man. Many of them have said that although they disagree with Hillary Clinton on a number of things, that they have to overlook those disagreements because the stakes are so damned high. That is all I am trying to say here. Sure, you would have a lot of problems with a Clinton presidency, no doubt about that. But at least you will know there will be another election to follow (and potentially correct the previous result) because with Hillary Clinton you have good reason to believe the world won’t go completely to hell in between. We have no reason, absolutely no reason, to believe such a thing under a “President Trump.”

Finally, I have tried to think of the reverse situation, one in which you would be asking me to vote against my ideological or partisan or other preferences in order to stop a Trump-like Democrat from taking office. I confess I can’t think of any potential candidate on my side who would fit. Not one. I have, though, come up with a man from recent history that I will use as a type of candidate I can honestly tell you I would vote against, if he were around today and had received the Democratic nomination. That man is George Wallace.

I hesitate to use Wallace (Democrats rejected him three times as their presidential candidate) because although he was a segregationist and populist (before he repented later in life of his racism and ran, again, as a Democrat in the 1972 primaries), he wasn’t a totally ignorant fool like Trump. He knew how government worked, and if he had become president during his days as a segregationist, there isn’t any reason that I know of to have feared his starting a nuclear holocaust (accidentally or on purpose) or some other such thing. 

Having said all that about Wallace and stipulated that he wasn’t in Trump’s league in terms of an existential risk to the country, I will use him to stand in for a candidate that might set up a “Trump Dilemma” for Democrats like me. If a Wallace-like segregationist were, God forbid, to ever get the Democratic Party nomination, I can assure you that if the polls showed him with even a slight chance of becoming president, I would not vote third party. I’d vote for the candidate with the best chance of beating him. That candidate would, by default, have to be a Republican. And so long as that Republican opposed the bigotry and racist politics of my Wallace-like figure—and showed at least a minimum understanding of how the world works—he or she would have my vote—even if I otherwise stood in ideological opposition to such a candidate. You have my word on that, even as I appreciate the cognitive dissonance of it all. Merely electing such a racist demagogue to high office would do more damage to the country than, say, another tax cut for billionaires.

That lands me here: I, in fact, have voted for Republicans for president. I now vote for Democrats, but it isn’t inconceivable to me that someday I would, depending on how the political parties conduct themselves, vote for a Republican again. And that is the key, Anson. It depends on how the parties conduct themselves. Just look at what has happened to the Republican Party under Trump and ask yourself if that is the proper conduct. Of course it isn’t. And then ask yourself: what is the best way to send a message to the offending political party?

I sent a message to the GOP in 2004, when I voted for my first Democrat, John Kerry. My message was simple: the Republican Party no longer represented my interests and I refused to vote for a guaranteed-to-lose third party that would have only helped the GOP stay in power. I wanted my vote to essentially count twice by not only withholding it from the Republicans, but by giving to the Democrats. It turned out Bush stayed in power anyway. But my conscience was clear, especially when the economy collapsed in 2008. No one could blame my vote for that. 

Again, there is no lecturing here, Anson. I am just trying to, as I said, appeal to reason and common sense. In the end, you and I cast just one vote each. Neither is likely to affect the outcome in the slightest. My efforts to convince you not to vote for a third party and thereby theoretically enhance Trump’s chances to win are somewhat personal. We have gone at each other, mostly with civility, for more than 7 1/2  years. I continue to believe that I have not misjudged you, in terms of your understanding of and appreciation for what is at stake here, when it comes to Trump and the national and world threat he represents—and when it comes to “throwing away” your vote (I think those were your words). My plea is not to throw away that vote. Make it count. At least to those of us who have known and argued with you over the years, mostly with what I won’t hesitate to call mutual respect.

Maybe in the end it will turn out my judgment is faulty. If so, that’s on me not on you. You are who you are and obviously not subject to my judgments or expectations. Both of us are responsible for our own choices, in this case our own history-making votes. I can at least say that my old sparring partner will not actually vote directly for Trump—a prediction I confidently made to someone earlier this year. That may not be enough to stop Trump in this third-party-heavy race (where Johnson and Stein are polling too high for my comfort), but it does say something good about you in that you refuse to follow most conservatives and Republicans into a very dark place.

As far as the larger picture, the collective electorate, I am hoping that there are a lot of Anson Burlingame conservatives out there who, in the end, will do the best thing for the country and hold their noses, if they have to, and vote against a dangerous demagogue by voting for Hillary Clinton.

Duane

The Orange Slime Runneth Over

Taking a break from cataloging Trump’s lies, bigotry, racism, and intimations of violence, let’s add to the list of things we know about Trump involving fraud and cheating and pay-for-play corruption. Here’s two new ones:

Trump used $258,000 from his charity to settle legal problems

Trump Won Tax Breaks While Donating Tens Of Thousands To Corrupt Official

Meanwhile, there is this:

Republican Voters Are Unifying Behind Donald Trump

Conclusion: The more we learn about Trump’s fraud, cheating, and corruption—added to what we already know about his lies, bigotry, racism, and fondness for violence—the more Republicans like him. Onward Christian soldiers!

Did Donald Trump Hire Someone To Bomb New York City And New Jersey? Some People Are Saying He Did.

Just think about it. Donald Trump had a bad day on Friday. He not only got a lot of hyper-negative press for pulling a con on journalists—by pretending he was going to have a press conference and renounce his birtherism when he really used the event to get free publicity for his new hotel and himself—he also got a lot of bad press for launching yet another Big Lie that it was Hillary Clinton who was responsible for the birther movement (a lie his surrogates spent Sunday perpetuating with Goebbels-like intensity; more below). By all measures, it was a bad day and a bad weekend for Trump.

And there was no better way to make everyone forget about birtherism and Trump’s pathological lying—and, of course, look to him for “tough and smart and vigilant” leadership—than to get a shiny new terrorist attack in the news.  And since terrorists didn’t seem to be cooperating, Trump had to do something. He had to act fast. There was no time to lose.

Now, rightly, you should demand to see just what evidence there is to support the claim that Trump may have been involved in the terrorist attacks on Saturday night. Well, I will use a patented Trumpian analysis of the “facts” and list the evidence for you:

  1. Some people are saying Trump was involved.
  2. Trump’s campaign had riled the press on Friday and he was getting a lot of negative coverage, including journalists actually saying, finally, that he was lying about birtherism. Motive.
  3. Before any local official confirmed what had happened Saturday night, Trump stepped off his plane in Colorado and unequivocally stated that “a bomb went off in New York.” How did he know that? How did he know the explosion wasn’t some kind of gas leak that got ignited and not a bomb at all?
  4. The first blast was in Manhattan. Trump lives in Manhattan.
  5. Other explosions happened in New Jersey. Trump once had casinos in New Jersey and admits he has lots of connections there.
  6. A person police say may be involved in the bombings is a naturalized citizen originally from Afghanistan who now lives in New Jersey. That fits nicely, so nicely, into Trump’s narrative about why we should be scared of all such people.
  7. Dotrump-and-terror-suspecdtnald Trump said almost exactly a year ago—coincidence?—the following to CNN’s Jake Tapper: “I have friends that are Muslims.” Was one of his friends the bomber (or bombers) in New York and New Jersey? Some people are saying they might be.
  8. In December of last year Trump said, “Many Muslim friends of mine are in agreement with me. They say, ‘Donald, you brought something up to the fore that is so brilliant and so fantastic.'” What could be more brilliant and fantastic than a terrorist attack executed just in time to change Trump’s negative coverage on the campaign trail?
  9. Again in December of last year he said, “I have been called by more Muslims saying what you are doing is a great thing, not a bad thing. Believe it or not, I have a lot of friends that are Muslim, and they call me…” So, Trump has admitted he talks to a lot of Muslims. Did he talk to the bomber or bombers in New York and New Jersey? Somewhere, some people are saying he may have.
  10. Trump recently had killing on his mind when he suggested we take the guns away from Hillary Clinton’s security detail and, “Let’s see what happens to her.”

In addition to this “evidence,” we can also see that the Trump campaign, as mentioned, has resorted to keeping alive a Big Lie about Hillary Clinton starting the birther movement, a lie so big and brazen that it would make Joseph Goebbels blush. To remind you, Goebbels was Hitler’s Reich Minister of Propaganda. He famously said,

The essential English leadership secret does not depend on particular intelligence. Rather, it depends on a remarkably stupid thick-headedness. The English follow the principle that when one lies, one should lie big, and stick to it. They keep up their lies, even at the risk of looking ridiculous.

Just look at the Big Lie repeated on Sunday by some of Trump’s top propagandists:

♦ Kellyanne Conway, his campaign manager, told Face the Nation: “This started with Hillary Clinton’s campaign, number one. Number two, it was Donald Trump who put the issue to rest when he got President Obama to release his birth certificate years later…”

♦ CNN’s Jake Tapper tried to correct the record with Chris Christie, the biggest Trump hack in the country:

TAPPER: Just as a point of fact, Donald Trump did not accept when Barack Obama released his birth certificate in 2011. He kept up this whole birther thing until Friday, that’s five years.

CHRISTIE: That’s just not true. It’s just not true that he kept it up for five years.

TAPPER: Sure he did.

CHRISTIE: It’s just not true.

TAPPER: It is true.

CHRISTIE: No, Jake. It wasn’t like he was talking about it on a regular basis until then. And when the issue was raised, he made very clear the other day what he position is.

WORN OUT TAPPER: Okay.

♦ Finally, there was the chairman of the Republican Party, Reince Priebus. He said on Face the Nation:

People get convicted every single day with circumstantial evidence that is enough to tip the scale. And by the preponderance of evidence before us, Hillary Clinton or her campaign were definitely involved in this issue. We can’t keep saying it’s not true. That’s ridiculous.

As you can see, Trump and his campaign officials and surrogates (and many conservative media outlets) are willing to employ propaganda techniques in the Goebbels style, “even at the risk of looking ridiculous.”

Let’s be clear: Every journalist in the country knows that Hillary Clinton had nothing to do with the birther movement. In fact, the Trump campaign, accidentally, proved she had nothing to do with it when it released a transcript of an interview with Clinton’s 2008 campaign manager, Patti Solis Doyle. She said that either a volunteer or a paid staffer forwarded “an email that promoted the conspiracy” and that Hillary Clinton “made the decision immediately to let that person go.” Immediately. She didn’t need five years.

And that would be the end of the Hillary-started-it lie in any other universe except a Trump-Goebbels one. And if Trump and his campaign are willing to use such appalling Reich-like tactics, who could put it past them to hire a bomber or two in New York and New Jersey as a way of changing the subject? Let me paraphrase Priebus:

People get convicted every single day with circumstantial evidence that is enough to tip the scale. And by the preponderance of evidence before us, Donald Trump or his campaign were definitely involved in the terrorist attacks in New York and New Jersey. We can’t keep saying it’s not true. That’s ridiculous.

I want to end this piece of Trumpish speculation with something Vin Weber—a former GOP congressman from Minnesota and once a top adviser to then-Speaker Newt Gingrich—said to Jonathan Martin of The New York Times about Donald Trump:

It’s frightening. Our politics, because of him, is descending to the level of a third-world country. There’s just nothing beneath him. And I don’t know why we would think he would change if he became president. That’s what’s really scary.

“There’s just nothing beneath him,” says a fellow Republican. Case closed.

Trump: I Need A Deplorable To Assassinate Hillary Clinton

The birther “clean up” having failed, Trump had to lure the press away from the issue. What better way than, once again, putting out a call for Second Amendment nuts to Second Amendment Hillary Clinton to death? I mean, it didn’t bother too many folks the first time he suggested such a thing five weeks ago, so why not give it another shot just to stir up a new controversy that journalists will talk about until the next new one comes along?

“Take their guns away,” Trump said of the “body guards” protecting Mrs. Clinton, and then, “Let’s see what happens to her.” Someone should remind the Orange Menace that if he loses this election, his Secret Service detail will eventually go away. Then we’ll see what happens to him. And you know what will hImage result for second amendment remediesappen to him? He’ll have to invest a ton of money in private bodyguards and invest a ton of time in worrying about whether one of the billions of people he has offended will embrace the Second Amendment remedies he not-so-subtly champions. After all, they know where he lives.

Brian Fallon, Clinton’s press secretary, tweeted out last night, “Republicans across country should be forced to say whether they are OK with Trump’s comments inciting violence against Hillary Clinton.” Nice try, Brian. But an appeal to decency hasn’t worked in the past and there is little evidence it will work this time. No matter what percentage of Trump supporters they represent, Republican candidates need the deplorables to win and there is no sense in pissing them off by repudiating their champion.

Jimmy Fallon And The Normalization Of Bigotry

This morning, Trump will tell Americans two more big lies.

First, he will tell us that it was Hillary Clinton who started the birther movement. Second, he will tell us that he now believes President Obama was born in America because it was he, Trump, who forced Obama to release his birth certificate. And he will tell us those two big lies while he advertises his brand new hotel in Washington, D.C.

That’s how a bigoted, buffoonish con man, whose business history is full of unpaid debts, fraudulent schemes and bankruptcies, intends to make a buck off this presidential race. And, for the most part, television will help him do it. Journalists simply aren’t up to the task of relentlessly exposing him. On the contrary, it is television journalists who are normalizing bigotry and making a quasi-fascist seem well within the bounds of American life.

Image result for jimmy fallon and trump hairHow does such normalization happen? Well, how many times have you seen Jimmy Fallon, an affable late night comedian, run his fingers through Trump’s strange hair? I know I’ve seen it at least a dozen times in just a few hours of surveying the news channels, including Good Morning America this morning, where it was part of the lead report and where the reporter labeled Trump a “good sport” for allowing Fallon to compromise his coiffure. Trump may be a con man. Trump may be a crook. Trump may be a fascist. But at least he is a good sport about it all.

To Jimmy Fallon and America’s TV journalists: We’ve seen years of Trump hate speech, countless lies, naked appeals to fear and anxiety and prejudice, business and other ties of affection to a ruthless Russian dictator, and, finally, a frightening fondness for fascism. And all of that you have now normalized—Americanized—by that little ratings-grabbing stunt. I hope, should Trump win, you all have a good time explaining to your kids and grandkids—if you get the chance—why you felt it necessary to turn such a man into, first, a good sport and, then, a dangerous president.

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Trump, Pence, And Deplorable Math

In mathematical notation an ellipsis (…) is frequently used to mean “continue on in like manner.” Suppose someone wanted to indicate all of the positive integers between one and, say, 31 million. One could obviously start writing down all the numbers, all 31 million of them. Good luck with that. Or one could simply write this: “1, 2, 3…31,000,000.” That little ellipsis is handy and pretty simple. And so is this: If you want to know why Mike Pence refuses to call David Duke deplorable, it all comes down to math. It comes down to that “1,2,3…” above.

If Pence conceded that, yes, Duke is deplorable, he has begun the count of just how many Trump supporters are, in fact, part of that “basket of deplorables” Hillary Clinton described. Her self-admitted “grossly generalistic” calculation that “half of Trump’s supporters” belong in that basket may, for all we know, grossly underestimate the number of “racist, sexist, homophobic, xenophobic, Islamophobic” folks who are behind Trump. Such a thing isn’t exactly easy to quantify, but you have to start somewhere and Pence doesn’t want anyone to start counting and adding them all up.

But let’s do start counting. Let’s start counting with David Duke. Is he a Trump supporter? Absolutely. Is he deplorable? According to Republican Joe Scarborough he is. And on the set of Morning Joe this morning, all agreed with Joe that it should be easy for Mike Pence Image result for the deplorablesto say David Duke is deplorable. I think it is fair to say that most Americans would agree with Joe, too. So, that’s 1. And that number 1 is important because now we are not talking about whether some of Trump’s supporters are deplorable, we are talking about how many are deplorable. Again, it is now in the math.

Let’s try number 2. A man named Jared Taylor founded a “think tank” called the New Century Foundation. Taylor also manages a website called “American Renaissance.” He is a white nationalist. The Southern Poverty Law Center has some representative quotes from Taylor, including this:

Blacks and whites are different. When blacks are left entirely to their own devices, Western civilization — any kind of civilization — disappears.

Taylor’s think tank embraces the idea that “the presence” in America of so many dysfunctional blacks is a big “disadvantage” and that “there are more black psychopaths and more psychopathic behavior among blacks.” You get the idea. Helpfully, Buzzfeed pointed out that Taylor is “an avid supporter” of Donald Trump:

In a recent post, Taylor contended, “If Mr. Trump loses, this could be the last chance whites have to vote for a president who could actually do something useful for them and for their country.”

Now, I think it is fair to say that most Americans would publicly (forget privately for this exercise) admit that Trump supporter Jared Taylor is deplorable. If David Duke is deplorable, so is Taylor. That’s number 2.

Now, let’s get a little bit closer to the mainstream. How about Ann Coulter? She appears on Fox a lot and also on MSNBC now and then. She is a bestselling author and her latest book is “In Trump We Trust.” Clearly she is a Trump supporter. Is she deplorable? Oh, I dunno, let’s look and see if she might be, among other things, xenophobic:

A lot of people are upset when I talk about Mexican child rapes, Muslims clitorectomies, Muslim honor killings…white people don’t do that. America is not used to these types of crimes. We are bringing in cultures where child rape is very common.

Again, I think most Americans would (publicly) concede that the person who made that statement—and there are plenty more like it—deplorable. Certainly, most American women would find deplorable a woman who said, “I think there’s a reason the words ‘bitchy’ and ‘hysteria’ come from females.” Or who made a sexist statement like this:

If we took away women’s right to vote, we’d never have to worry about another democrat president. It’s kind of a pipe dream. It’s a personal fantasy of mine.

So, Coulter is number 3. Now we are at the ellipsis. We’ve got to get to the 31 million mark. But first, why 31 million? Oh, that’s fairly straightforward. Jamelle Bouie, Slate’s chief political correspondent, wrote a few days ago:

In the RealClearPolitics average of the presidential race, Trump takes support from 42.9 percent of registered or likely voters. Half of that, given more than 146 million registered voters, is about 31 million people—right around 13 percent of all voting-age adults.

Now you know where the 31 million number came from. So, was Hillary Clinton right that so many folks in America belong in a basket of deplorables? Well, let’s first note three things:

  • Prior to her remarks, Hillary Clinton admitted she was being “grossly generalistic.”
  • After her remarks she admitted that being so generalistic is “never a good idea” and she was “wrong” to say “half.”
  • There are many—way too many—deplorable Democrats, too.

Given that, let’s quickly get to whether she was even close to the right percentage of Trump supporters who hold bigoted views (the bigotry was, really, the point she was trying to make). Given that it is difficult to measure such things, there is some strong evidence that Clinton was onto something. I’ll let The Nation’s Joan Walsh sum it up:

On Saturday, she walked back her claim that bigots make up “half” of Trump backers, but not her charge about the role of bigotry in his rise. But she needn’t have. Journalists like Ta-Nehisi Coates, Jamelle Bouie, andJudd Legum have shown that Clinton was right. Two-thirds of Trump supporters believe President Obama isn’t an American (Trump’s first political crusade, you’ll recall.) Sixty percent have “unfavorable views” of Islam, while more than 40 percent believe blacks are “more violent” and “more criminal” than whites. My personal favorite data point: Twenty percent of Trump backers think Lincoln was wrong to sign the Emancipation Proclamation.

That sounds like some fairly convincing math to me.

Why Republicans Still Defend Him

Donald Trump’s indefensible appeal to would-be assassins in his audience has its defenders. Those defenders are called Republicans. You can see them on TV today if you want, or you can find them all over the Internet. Doesn’t matter where you look. You will find Republicans defending the indefensible. You will find Republicans talking about Clinton’s emails, about how much she hates cops, about how much she loves the father of the Orlando killer, about Benghazi.

And that was just this morning. Just think what they will come up with when they have more time to rationalize away the fact that their candidate for president of the United States just confirmed how much of a fascist he really is.

Trump’s remarks began with an utter lie—“Hillary wants to abolish, essentially abolish, the second amendment”—went on to express future despair—“If she gets to pick her judges, nothing you can do, folks”—then suggested a bloody remedy to the despair—“Although the Second Amendment people, maybe there is, I don’t know.”

Which is worse? Trump’s desperate suggestion of “Second Amendment remedies” or Republican leaders’ desperate defense of Trump? The truth is the former couldn’t happen without the latter. So, is it worse that the Republican candidate is, in his Trumpy way, suggesting the murder of a future President Hillary Clinton, or is it worse that the Republican Party hierarchy is standing by him when he does? You tell me.

Imagine, if you can, what would have happened back during the 2008 campaign if a very different Barack Obama—an aggrieved and angry Barack Obama—had suggested that his aggrieved and angry black voters—who suffered mightily because of the economic meltdown—might avail themselves of their own Second Amendment remedies if John McCain became president.

Imagine if, in 2007-2008, Obama had spent a lot of time talking about how people, especially black people, had an unfettered right to buy guns under the Second Amendment. Imagine if he suggested that folks walk down the streets with guns hanging on their shoulders or stuffed in their pockets, saying there shouldn’t be “gun-free zones.” Then, imagine if he said the following at a rally in North Carolina filled with African-American voters:

John McCain wants to essentially abolish the Thirteenth Amendment. He wants to bring back slavery. If he gets to pick his judges, nothing you can do, my brothers and sisters—although the Second Amendment people, maybe there is, I don’t know.

What would have happened? After some people expressed outrage at Obama’s remarks, would Breitbart have published a story titled, “Media Launches a Full Frontal on Obama, Gun Owners“? Would the kooky conservative media focus on protecting the rights of angry black people to keep and bear arms? Would the NRA spend three million bucks defending Obama?

Or would the focus suddenly be on those angry black people with millions and millions and millions of guns? And on an angry black candidate encouraging those angry black people?

Come on, we all know how that would have played out.

The truth is that, as nutty as he is, Donald Trump represents angry white people. Let’s face it. He is speaking for pissed-off palefaces who think their country is being stolen from them by less worthy folks.

And that is what Republican leaders are essentially defending when they defend a disturbed Donald Trump and his crazy and increasingly dangerous remarks. Because those Republican leaders need those pissed-off palefaces in order to stay in power.

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