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Random thoughts on a Saturday Morning

Like many on the left, I’ve railed against both siderism, though I defer to Driftglass (highly recommended), as the champ in that field. Read that blog and you have no need to personally read David Brooks to get incensed at his latest atrocity.

This morning I had to gasp, for right in the midst of reading an excerpt from a pundit implicitly attacking both-siderism was a classic case of … you guessed it! Both siderism:

Most pundits in Washington now recoil at any suggestion that the Trump-Russia story is really about treason. They all want to say it’s about something else – what, they aren’t quite sure. They are afraid to use serious words. They are in the business of breaking down the Trump-Russia narrative into a long series of bite-sized, incremental stories in which the gravity of the overall case often gets lost. They seem to think that treason is too much of a conversation-stopper, that it interrupts the flow of cable television and Twitter. God forbid you might upset the right wing! (And the left wing, for that matter.)

via The Intercept

Most pundits in Washington are in thrall to both-siderism. That accounts for their inability to wrap their minds around Trump’s (and the Republican Party as a whole) criminality, because in order to do so they would have to abandon their religious devotion to both-siderism. James Risen, who wrote the above, has a point. But notice how he sticks the finish. Somehow, he sees a world in which the feelings of the left are as tenderly coddled as those of the right. Either that, or he thinks the left would somehow be offended at talk of Trump’s treason. It’s a reflex among the punditocracy, even when one of them is implicitly attacking that very reflex.

Now, on to something completely different, and yet oddly, not so different.

Yesterday Robert Mueller indicted 13 Russians and a few Russian based corporations for meddling in the U.S. elections. Anyone with brains can see that there are plenty more shoes to drop. He has the Trump organization in the crosshairs, there can be no doubt, and he no doubt feels he’s got the goods on them. It’s a huge story. A federal prosecutor is getting ever closer to charging a president and his confederates with conspiring with a foreign power. It’s a front page story in today’s New York Times.

But.

It’s tucked away on the left hand side of the page. What story gets the most attention? A story about the fact that the FBI got warnings about the Parkdale school shooter. Sure, it would have been nice if the FBI could have stopped the guy, but a) how many warnings do they get about various people and how many resources do they have to respond, and b) what precisely were they supposed to do since the guy bought the gun legally and had done nothing illegal. Besides, he was a right wing white person, and we don’t bother right wing white people in this country. This story is pure diversion, yet another example of the right wing determining the narrative. In this case it serves two purposes: it supports their campaign to discredit the FBI, thus covering for Trump’s treason, and it diverts from the real issue: why are American citizens able to legally buy weapons whose sole purpose is to enable mass killings of human beings? Today’s front page brings to mind the classic Times’ front page featuring three stories about Hillary’s emails, written about the same time that the Times ran an article headed: Investigating Donald Trump, F.B.I. sees no clear link to Russia.

It’s often been said (and it’s true) that facts have a well known liberal bias. The fact of the matter is that both siderism has a well known right wing bias.

What’s the big deal?

I’m really puzzled about all the attention people are paying to the recent shootings in Florida. I thought we had, sub silentio, agreed that we weren’t even going to talk about mass shootings, unless the shooter broke a record. This guy didn’t even come close. Granted, he holds the record for this year, but even though we’ve seen mass shootings nearly every day this year, the body counts have been relatively low, so this latest shooter still isn’t in the big leagues. All those other shootings got almost no press, which seems unfair to the other shooters, who, I’m sure, we’re trying their best. It also seems so unfair to Republicans, who have to say prayers for the victims again, and decry the Democrats for politicizing the issue instead of bemoaning the fact that there’s really nothing that can be done about it. We really need to set some ground rules on these things. I think Republicans should only have to offer their thoughts and prayers when the body count exceeds a reasonable number; say 30. They should be permitted to ignore the low yield shootings, so they can concentrate on creating a plutocracy. And can’t we all agree that it’s disrespectful to the victims to advocate for gun control right after a mass shooting, and a waste of time any other time, since at such points there’s no demonstrated need to discuss it.

A few thoughts about Michael Cohen

Donald Trump’s fixer lawyer has admitted that he paid porn star Stormy Daniels for her silence during the presidential campaign:

Cohen stated:

“Neither the Trump Organization nor the Trump campaign was a party to the transaction with Ms. Clifford, and neither reimbursed me for the payment, either directly or indirectly. The payment to Ms. Clifford was lawful, and was not a campaign contribution or a campaign expenditure by anyone.”

This raises some interesting questions.

First, let us assume, just for the sake of argument, and putting aside his legal conclusions, that what he says is true. The affair took place in 2006, and if memory serves, it was written up in a magazine in 2011. Apparently, Ms. Daniel’s silence was not worth a dime back then. After all, reading about Donald Trump having an affair in those days was a real yawner, like, what else is new. So, the timing here is somewhat suspect, is it not? One could conclude, without needlessly taxing one’s brain, that Ms. Daniel’s silence was suddenly worth something to someone in October of 2016.

Actually, I should point out here that Cohen was probably wasting his money, because had the affair been exposed, Trump probably wouldn’t have lost a vote among his yahoo supporters. But Cohen didn’t know that. So he was definitely providing a thing of value to the Trump campaign. When one provides something of value to a political campaign, said something is a campaign donation, subject to monetary limits and disclosure requirements. If you don’t believe me, just ask John Edwards, who was put on trial for soliciting money from donors to pay for the silence of his mistress:

The fact that Mr. Edwards tried to cover up his affair is not at issue. The Justice Department says that those contributions from two wealthy patrons were campaign donations and therefore subject to federal campaign finance laws that set limits on the amounts that can be donated and received, and require public reporting. Those two donations were well in excess of the limit of $2,300 that an individual can give.

The indictment says the money was actually used for campaign purposes: If the public knew that he was having an affair, his campaign would have been over. (It was over anyway in January 2008, before he confessed to the affair in August, after he lost too many primaries to Barack Obama and Hillary Rodham Clinton. But it might have imploded even earlier if the affair had been known.)

Edwards got off, because the government couldn’t prove it’s case:

“The verdict is not surprising,” said Steve Friedland, a law professor at Elon University School of Law in North Carolina. “Since there was not a smoking gun and lots of indirect evidence, it was very difficult for the prosecution to prove him guilty beyond a reasonable doubt of taking illegal campaign contributions.”

Cohen has all but admitted that he paid for Daniels silence in the midst of a presidential campaign in order to aid his fellow genius’s presidential campaign. He violated the law by making an illegal campaign contribution; it isn’t even necessary to prove that the Trump campaign was aware of it. That gun isn’t smoking, it’s on fire.

Now, it’s a near certainty nothing will be done to Cohen. We live in a post-rule of law world. Still, it is beyond question that he knowingly violated the law.

Here’s another interesting twist. Daniels has decided that Cohen’s admission frees her from the non-disclosure agreement:

A manager for the adult film actress told The Associated Press on Wednesday that Daniels believes Trump’s lawyer invalidated a non-disclosure agreement by publicly discussing the payment.

Gina Rodriguez says the actress, whose real name is Stephanie Clifford, will discuss her alleged 20006 extramarital affair with Trump.

Now, this makes perfect sense, for after all, when Cohen bought her silence, besides the money she was also getting Trump’s silence (and Cohen’s). After all, if word of the affair got out it would damage her reputation just as much, if not more, than Trump’s. I’m not a woman, but I’m pretty sure if I we’re, the last thing I’d want people to know is that I had the bad taste to have sex with Donald Trump. More than once, even! So Cohen breached the agreement first, and Stormy is now free to speak, though her reputation is now permanently damaged. As a practical matter, in my humble opinion, she’s been free all along, because the genius and/or Cohen would have run up against a bit of a Catch 22 had they brought suit to enforce the agreement, since the act of bringing the suit would have amounted to an acknowledgment of the truth of what she was saying.

Finally, let us pause and consider if something like this had come out about Barack Obama. It would matter not that his “lawyer” paid the money. We would never have heard the end of it. I give this piece of news a shelf life of 3 days. If memory serves, not a single member of the Obama administration was credibly accused of a criminal act. It’s becoming almost routine for members of this administration to out and out admit to criminal behavior. And of course, very few days pass before another story appears about yet another Trump official stealing from the public purse.

A prediction

Here’s a bit of good news:

A political science professor with no management experience and controversial views about redistricting is no longer being considered for the top operational role at the Census Bureau.

The White House had been considering Thomas Brunell, a political science professor at the University of Texas at Dallas, for the role of deputy director at the Census Bureau. A Department of Commerce spokesperson confirmed Monday that Brunell is not under consideration.

Civil rights groups strongly opposed Brunell’s appointment because as an academic he argued that gerrymandering can be a good thing and served as an expert witness in several cases defending Republican redistricting plans.

“We understand that Dr. Brunell has withdrawn from consideration to be deputy director of the Census Bureau,” said Vanita Gupta, president and CEO of The Leadership Conference of Civil and Human Rights. “The administration should name experienced, qualified, and nonpartisan leadership at the Census Bureau, including a Senate-confirmed director. We renew our commitment to working with current leaders at the Commerce Department and Census Bureau to ensure a fair and accurate census ? one that counts all communities equally well.”

via The Huffington Post

This is a welcome development, but it is merely a victorious skirmish in a war we are otherwise losing.

If the Democrats don’t blow it, and there really is a blue wave this year, you can bet that the current administration will federalize voter suppression in some way. There would likely be a move in Congress this year to selectively suppress the vote if they thought it would get through the Senate, but that’s not likely, given that the filibuster still has a tenuous existence. There’s probably a lot that the Justice Department can do to suppress the vote if it joins forces with willing state legislatures, particularly now that they’ve packed the courts with reactionary judges, and that is likely the route they will take. Make no mistake, they will move heaven and earth to steal the 2020 election.

This is just one of many threats to democracy going on under the radar as we are constantly distracted by relatively meaningless distractions. It is a terrible thing that Rob Porter beat his wives and girlfriend, but that’s hardly the most important thing to focus on when the life is being sucked out of the constitution from within. I’m not saying the genius plans these distractions, but he couldn’t do a better job of distraction if he was plotting it out.

Just a small number of states

A few thoughts on this:

A top official at the Department of Homeland Security confirmed on Wednesday that Russia did indeed “successfully” hack voting rolls in a small number of states. NBC writes:

In an exclusive interview with NBC News, Jeanette Manfra, the head of cybersecurity at the Department of Homeland Security, said she couldn’t talk about classified information publicly, but in 2016, “We saw a targeting of 21 states and an exceptionally small number of them were actually successfully penetrated.”
While breaches of voter rolls in at least two states—Arizona and Illinois—had been previously reported, this appears to be the first positive confirmation of Russian success by a top Homeland Security official.

Last September, DHS botched the public release of information about Russian hacking efforts in 21 states, originally contacting individual states on a Friday to give them limited information about hacker attempts to breach their systems. The Associated Press finally rolled the reports into one cohesive story. Several days later, Homeland Security officials told Wisconsin officials the information they previously relayed to the state hadn’t been totally accurate. That show of competency been about par for the course for DHS.

Wednesday’s Homeland Security revelation came just hours after Secretary of State Rex Tillerson said Russia was already eyeing the upcoming midterms and the U.S. was nowhere near prepared to deal with it.

“I don’t know that I would say we are better prepared, because the Russians will adapt as well,” Tillerson told Fox. […]

“There’s a lot of ways that the Russians can meddle in the elections, a lot of different tools they can use,” Tillerson said.

Tillerson told Fox that he suspects Russia’s exercise of its influence has already begun, and indicated that the US doesn’t really have a solid plan to block it.

via Daily Kos

Well, it’s obvious that the “U.S”, by which Tillerson means the Genius, is fine with the Russians interfering with our elections.

But lets get back to Ms. Manfra, and her “exceptionally small number” of successfully hacked states. I would have thought that the only number that would be dismissed as “exceptionally small”, given the subject matter, is zero, but I guess I’m just a funny thinking liberal, who wonders if maybe the reason Wisconsin was providing inaccurate information is that they were just fine with being hacked, if it helped the Genius get elected.

There may not be much we can do to stop the Russians from spreading fake news and the like, but there are fairly obvious, effective steps we could take to stop them from hacking the voter rolls and voting machines. First, take the voting machines off line completely, along with whatever computers are storing the data collected from them. If that means a bit of extra time tallying the vote, so be it. Second, get rid of all-electronic voting, and require paper ballots or some other mechanism that preserves the ability to count the actual votes cast. There was a time when even many Republicans would see the merit in these obvious common sense moves. But since they figure that any Russian interference will help them, they won’t do a thing to stop it. In the unlikely event the Democrats take the House, they should pass a bill to require those changes in all federal elections. If the Orange one vetoes it, at least the people of this country will see where everyone stands.

Why don’t the Dems keep their blue dogs on a leash?

Joe Manchin, probably the most right wing Democratic Senator, has clearly gone off the rails:

The U.S. Senate should be a polite membership club rather than a contentious governmental body whose balance of power shapes the lives of millions of human beings, Sen. Joe Manchin (D-WV) argued Tuesday.

Manchin went to the floor to beg his colleagues to sign a bizarre pledge of mutual loyalty to one another. “Washington will be dysfunctional until we all draw a line of truce and say we’re here for the same reason, we take the same oath,” he said. “If you’re willing to serve, you’re my comrade and I’m willing to work with you.”

He decried the endless fundraising that fills politicians’ nights and the vitriolic politicking that crowds their days, before taking out a pen and signing a formal pledge of his own design. “I’m pledging to the people of West Virginia and to the American people that I will not campaign against a sitting colleague,” he said.

Manchin’s document calls for the 100 stinking-rich members of the most prestigious, least prolific legislative body in the developed world to down tools. Pledge signers would give their word to never campaign against another sitting senator, raise money for their opponents, and “not use or endorse social media campaigns that attack them.”

One bizarre element of this is that it is simply unbelievable that at this point Manchin could believe that he can trust any Republican who signs his pledge to keep his or her word, given recent history.

But lets set that particular quibble aside.

There is a backstory here, and it’s one that helps explain why the Democrats have been, and will continue to be, losers. It’s not likely that any Democrats will sign Manchin’s pledge, but they will continue, as they have in the past, to attempt to appease him.

In the Democratic Party, the most right wing members get constant deference. Witness, as one small example, the DCCC’s invitation to the Blue Dogs to please recommend some more DINO candidates for seats that should be in play in November. It’s a bit different with the Republicans. I remember when I first started blogging, passing on a report about our “moderate” Republican Congressman, Rob Simmons. He was kept on a tight leash, permitted to go off the reservation only when it was absolutely clear it would make no difference. The leaders called the shots, and “moderates” like Simmons did what they were told. The called it “catch and release”; that’s right, they even had a name for it.

Simmons position in Congress was analogous to Manchin’s and to many of the Blue Dogs. He was in a relatively left leaning district in which he had to appear to be at least “moderate”. Manchin is in a right leaning state in which he has to appear to have no brains. If this suggestion about the pledge is any indication, then he doesn’t have to work hard at that appearance. But the fact is that unlike Simmons, he’s not on a leash, he’s calling the shots, as do the Blue Dogs. This spells trouble for the Democratic Party, both in the short and long term.

If the Democrats are going to be an effective alternative to the Republicans they need to be more than Republican-lite. That just doesn’t sell. They have to play the long game, as the Republicans have done. If Manchin or his fellow Blue Dogs don’t want to be team players, then the Democrats should be prepared to cut them loose. If they want to wander off the reservation, they should do so only with the express permission of leadership; permission that should be seldom granted. We have to be prepared to lose a few of them either by election loss or conversion to their true colors if we want to build a solid governing majority. In the short term, accomodating the Blue Dogs means dampening the ardor of the base in November, which may turn the “blue wave” into a “blue dribble”. In the long term, it means giving up on any chance of getting a working progressive majority in either House.

I’m already convinced that the Democrats are all in for November. They think they can lose big if they just try, and that’s exactly what they’re doing. They can’t stop themselves from assuming a defensive crouch, and their constant deference to the Blue Dogs simply compounds the problem.

Can Fox meet the challenge?

As I write this, the story at this link reflects a 1.36% decline in the stock market so far today, on top of Friday’s record sell off.

Is Fox up to the challenge? They’ve been touting the market’s rise since Obama left office as proof of Trump’s supercalifragilisticexpialidocious presidentiality. Now they have to do a 180 and blame the recent drop on Obama.

Do they have it in them to tie themselves in knots to engage in that sort of intellectual dishonesty in order to propagandize for the genius?

Why ask? You know they do. And the Republicans will pick up on it.

On a personal level, the hit to my 401k will be worth it, if, the next time I go to a hearing in Hartford, I can ask the Trump loving security guard how his 401k is doing, since last time I was there he gave the genius credit for its recent growth. Then again, he’ll just blame Obama too.

UPDATE: Okay, I know it was practically a no brainer, but I can’t resist patting myself on the back. Media Matters reports that Sean Hannity has blamed Obama for the market’s drop:

SEAN HANNITY (HOST): Because the Obama economy was so weak all of these years we had just artificially cheap money. Now what’s cheap money? Cheap money is when you can borrow at ridiculously low rates. The era of cheap money at some point has to come to an end. The government has artificially, the Fed has artificially kept the price of money down and the price borrowing down and now that’s going to come to an end. In many ways it represents; Ashley Webster is the name? In many ways it’s a sign of the strength of the economy more than anything else.

Yet another prediction. Hannity’s convoluted explanation for Obama’s responsibility just won’t do, and Fox will eventually settle on something simpler but just as stupid. Note at the end he tries to have it both ways, Obama caused the drop, which is bad, but the drop is a sign of the strong economy, so it’s good. The other folks at Fox may try to work that in to whatever they ultimately settle on.

A few thoughts on the “secret memo”

Well, all the world can now read the “secret memo”, and, not surprisingly, other than in the right wing fever swamp, the reaction has been dismissive at best, mocking derision at worst. A good collection of mocking twitter posts here.

The whole thing never made sense. The thing was created by Republican operatives who immediately claimed it was being held hostage by nefarious forces. it was a controversy created by and for Fox viewers. The underlying premise is: if you can sell it to the Fox viewer, you can sell it to everyone.

What this episode reveals is the fact that many Republican politicians have become dupes of their own propaganda machine. They have come to believe that everyone is as easily deluded as the average Fox viewer, and, in the process, they themselves have become as easily deluded as the average Fox viewer. That’s not how it’s supposed to work; it’s important that the propagandist realizes that he’s propagandizing.

Based on everything I’d read about the “secret memo”, it seemed clear that no one the least bit informed would be taken in. Nunes obviously believed otherwise and appears to have believed his own propaganda. He, like so many other Republicans, has come to believe that everyone thinks like him and the average Fox viewer.

The only question is: is it enough. Abe never pointed out the obvious: that it may be sufficient to fool most of the people most of the time. In fact, given how we elect our representatives, it may be sufficient, contra Abe’s assertion, to fool some of the people all of the time, provided those people live in the right places. We may be about to find out if that’s so.

Where are the purists when you need them?

At the moment it really looks like the Democrats may do well in November, but we have to bear in mind that we’re talking about the Democrats, who have an affinity for losing. To quote a character from the Firesign Theatre, “sometimes I think they do it on purpose”. No one has documented the misdeeds of the party better than the folks at Down with Tyranny, and today they make a good point.

The Senate is looking much more difficult to win than the House, and it is only common sense that we should do everything possible to preserve the seats we have, but…

New Jersey has a completely different nightmare brewing for the Democrats. It is not a swing state; it’s a pretty safely blue state with a PVI of D+7. Hillary beat Trumpanzee there, winning their 16 electoral votes 2,148,278 (55.45%) to 1,601,933 (41.45%). So in 2012 Menendez, always a shady character but before the most recent scandals that rocked the politics of New Jersey, beat Republican Joe Kyrillos 1,987,680 (58.9%) to 1,329,534 (39.4%). Should be a safe seat, right? And it would be– except for Menendez, who is adamantly refusing to resign.

Newark Star-Ledger columnist Tom Moran asked his readers to “try to envision Sen. Robert Menendez trying to manage his daily calendar when he’s juggling his second trial on corruption charges with his campaign for re-election. Will he march in parades? Or will he attend the trial every day to save his neck?” He points out how dangerous– actually he said “ridiculous”– it is “in the Trump era, when a single Senate seat can tip the balance of power.”

New Jersey voters haven’t sent a Republican senator to Washington for half a century, and with Trump soiling the brand so badly, Democrats could win by picking a name out of the phone book.

Their only chance to lose this seat is to do exactly what they are doing– rallying around Menendez with a unanimity that virtually ensures he will win the primary race on June 5, provided he’s not sent to prison first.

Sure, the Supreme Court has legalized bribery, but it’s not at all clear that the ruling applies to Democrats. It’s fairly clear that the trial judge has his or her doubts on that score.

Where is the Kristen Gillibrand analog who will rise up in the Senate, or even in a caucus, and urge Menendez to retire for the good of both the party and the country? He may not be convicted, given the impediments to proving bribery, but there’s really no question that what he did was grossly improper. In fact, the case against him is far stronger than the case against Al Franken, who was railroaded out of a seat from a state no longer as safely blue as it was, and certainly not as blue as New Jersey. We have a zero tolerance policy toward sexual impropriety (nothing Franken did, or is alleged to have done, comes close to abuse, harassment, or misuse of his position) while we apparently have an infinite tolerance policy for bribery, so long as the bribes are thinly disguised as gifts between friends. The Democrats would risk nothing by getting Menendez to step aside, yet they’re doing nothing to make that happen. If the Democratic brain trust were consciously trying to figure out a way to lose, which we at least have to hope they are not, they could not improve on their current strategy.

No one can make me watch

Tomorrow night we will see if the Very Stable Genius can act presidential, which he can prove merely by reading from a teleprompter without wetting his pants or foaming at the mouth. Wedo not yet know whether he will meet the challenge, but if he does, we can expect that the New York Times and its ilk will be proclaiming that a new day has dawned. Needless to say, Obama, even George Bush, proved nothing about themselves by being able to read from a teleprompter. In fact, if memory serves, Obama was mocked for doing so.

Luckily I have no television, though I know that if I looked hard enough, I could find it streaming on the internet. But, why should I do so when my feelings on the subject are a little like this ladies’:

Here’s hoping that Joe Kennedy, and particularly Jimmy Fallon get better ratings than the genius. We await Sarah Huckabee’s lies on that subject.

Credit where due: a friend posted this great cartoon on his Facebook page. I think it speaks for millions.