Thursday, January 21, 2021

Is He Really Gone?


"But the same pathologies that abetted Trump’s political rise, animated his followers and became hallmarks of his turbulent single term have now, in the twilight of his presidency, left him a man diminished."

Is that true? Is Donald J. Trump "diminished"? What about his mob of  insurrectionists? Are they diminished? Are they even embarrassed?

The Federal prosecution of members of the mob might take some of the starch out -- one arrested in Kernersville yesterday, the first North Carolinian taken in on Federal charges; also the uncovering of actual conspiracies coordinating the presence of militia members with "combat techniques" taught by members of the US military. The FBI's knocking on doors all over the nation may sap some of that vim for putting yourself on Facebook while ransacking the seat of constitutional government. Prosecution of federal conspiracy charges -- Jeez. As Dr. Samuel Johnson is famous for saying, “Depend upon it, sir, when a man knows he is to be hanged in a fortnight, it concentrates his mind wonderfully.” 

The anger behind that mob -- a reaction to perceived victimhood -- ain't diminishing. It's probably just going into hiding -- with the FBI on the hunt -- going underground to fester, resupply, and snipe. Or, on the other hand, it's going into the sick ward. In a Marist poll, only 39% of Trump voters said they would get a COVID vaccine. Thinning the herd via pandemic seems like the ultimate cult devotion.

Trump himself gets it that the Republican Party is done with him, so he intends to be done with them first. The Wall Street Journal got the story yesterday that Trump had spoken out loud the bright idea of starting a brand-new political party, "and we'll call it The Patriot Party." Who didn't show up to see him off at Joint Base Andrews early yesterday morning? None of the Republican Party grandees, McConnell, McCarthy, even Pence wasn't there, and McConnell is sounding more and more like a vengeful man who intends to leave the bark on.

"It is unclear whether such an effort at a new party would involve the recruitment and running of candidates or serve as a media and merchandise empire for the former president." We're betting the latter. Third parties often start off with a bang and then fizzle. There would certainly be a bang for the Patriot Party, fer sure, with an equally and opposite debilitating impact on the GOP, but unless Tramp himself -- or a Trump -- is on the ballot, not sure this movement, based on resentment, has staying power.

My number one question in watching Trump helicopter into retirement: What sort of factor will he be in elections going forward -- if any -- and how durable is the "Trump effect" that foiled Democratic ambitions last November, if Trump isn't on the ballot?

Wednesday, January 20, 2021

How Joe Biden Will Begin To Reverse Trump Policies

We expect the newly inaugurated president to sign some 15 separate executive orders this afternoon, with more promised in the next weeks.  The collective effort was characterized by Biden's aides as “undoing” and “reversing” policies implemented by Trump that were “harmful” or “inhumane.” 

The Pandemic

Swiftly following his swearing in, President Biden plans to sign executive actions that will require masks on all federal grounds, and he will ask agencies to extend moratoriums on evictions and on federal student loan payments. He will urge Americans to don face coverings for 100 days while reviving a global health unit in the National Security Council — allowed to go dormant during the Trump administration — to oversee pandemic preparedness and response. He will also begin to reverse steps taken by President Trump to withdraw from the World Health Organization by dispatching Anthony S. Fauci, the nation’s top infectious-disease official, to speak at the international group’s executive board meeting tomorrow. He will create a White House Covid-19 response team that will coordinate across the federal government and with states on ramping up vaccinations, distributing more masks and gloves, expanding testing capacity, reopening schools and more. 


The new president will sign an order repealing the ban on travel from several majority-Muslim nations. Another order will call on the Department of Homeland Security to continue an Obama-era initiative protecting “dreamers” from deportation and issuing them work permits as long as they qualified under the requirements laid out when the program, Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, began in 2012. Biden will also end the national emergency over the border that Trump declared as a way to circumvent Congress when lawmakers would not grant him funding for his wall. He also promises to repeal the Trump administration’s interior immigration enforcement order that sought to withhold federal funds from cities that shielded undocumented immigrants. And he will halt construction on the border wall. 

The Census

The new president will nullify the Trump administration’s directive that attempted to exclude the counting of noncitizens from the U.S. census.


President Biden plans to sign an order revoking the permit, issued by the Trump administration, that allowed for the construction of the Keystone XL pipeline, and he will sign an order to rejoin the Paris climate accord. The United States will officially be part of the 189-country climate agreement in 30 days.

Racial Equity

President Biden plans to rescind the “1776 Commission” established by the Trump administration to push a much more conservative (lily white) version of American history in public schools. That commission issued its report only this week to widespread scorn from historians because of its soft-soap on the history of American slavery. In other orders promised for coming days the president-elect has promised to root out systemic racism from our institutions, holding the federal government accountable for advancing equity for families across America.

Transgender Rights

The new president plans to revoke "in coming days" the ban on transgender people from serving in the military.

Abortion Rights

President Biden intends to reverse the so-called "global gag rule" (the "Mexico City policy") that blocks U.S. aid to organizations abroad that perform abortions or offer counseling on the procedure.

Tuesday, January 19, 2021

Thom Tillis -- Creampuff on Milquetoast


In an online lunchtime chat with the John Locke Foundation's Donna Martinez that was streamed live yesterday, Senator Thom Tillis claimed that he had not read the five paragraphs in the House's impeachment article against Donald Trump.

Asked whether he'd vote to convict the president, Tillis -- an overcooked noodle, sliding off the spoon -- wouldn't answer yes or no.

Tillis said there are "a lot of questions that I’m still getting legal advice on."

"Legal advice" -- under the rubric of "Do I dare to eat a peach?"

Tillis also questioned the ramifications of a potential second vote in the Senate to bar Trump from holding elected office in the future. Tillis noted that, while conviction requires a two-thirds majority in the Senate, a subsequent vote to bar him from running again would require only a majority vote.

“I’ve got to wrap my head around that," he said.

Anything as mushy as that Tillis noggin ought to be pretty easy to warp into any shape you want.

Hattip: Travis Fain.

The Body Count -- Steven Dillingham, Census Bureau Director


A Reoccurring Feature on Who's Jumping Off Luxury Liner Trump

Steven Dillingham, director of the U.S. Census Bureau, announced his resignation yesterday in the wake of allegations that he had supported a partisan push to deliver data on undocumented immigrants to President Trump before the president leaves office.

Reports last week from bureau whistleblowers said political appointees were pressuring staff members to release state tallies of undocumented immigrants by Jan. 15, regardless of their accuracy, to boost Trump’s effort to exclude them from congressional apportionment. Those reports prompted calls from civil rights groups and Democratic lawmakers for Dillingham to resign.

Dillingham was appointed director two years ago as the bureau was embroiled in lawsuits over the Trump administration’s push to add a question about citizenship to the 2020 Census, an effort that was ultimately blocked by the Supreme Court. His appointment had been set to last until the end of 2021.

Monday, January 18, 2021

Trump Leaves a Ticking Time Bomb in the NSA


This guy. Michael Ellis, a lawyer and Trump loyalist, who had been an operative for Republican Rep. Devin Nunes and then graduated to the Trump White House in various roles (a lawyer for the National Security Council and then the White House’s senior director for intelligence), where he did what he could to stop the publication of John Bolton's book, "The Room Where It Happened." Ellis is said to have overruled the decision by a career official to clear Bolton’s book for publication, even though he had no formal training in the classification of national security information. Then the William Barr Justice Department, under pressure from Trump, sued Bolton to recoup his profits from the book.

Anyway ... this guy ... Michael Ellis has been forced on the National Security Agency in the last days of the Trump administration as the NSA's general counsel. Trump's last (acting) defense secretary ordered the NSA to hire Ellis, something the director of the NSA clearly didn't want to do -- to embed this political punk into the ranks of the Senior Executive Service, which will protect his job from a political firing by the Biden administration (though they can reassign his ass to a place where he can't continue to spy for Trump).

Mr. Ellis is seen as a smart lawyer. But the push to install him in a permanent government job puzzled some. According to former officials, he is likely to enter the general counsel’s office under a good deal of suspicion and will have an uphill battle to win the confidence of [NSA Director] General [Paul] Nakasone.

Mr. Ellis will be a member of the Senior Executive Service, a Civil Service job that has strong protections against firing. However, civil servants can be easily moved in the Defense Department, so he could be given a legal job elsewhere in the sprawling department — overseeing compliance with environmental regulations at a remote military base, for example. [NYTimes]

Gotta ask why Trump and his minions were so determined to give one of Twitterman's loyal foot soldiers such a prominent perch in the national spy agency. Gosh, it's almost like Trump wants to keep an eye on how, say, Russia may be faring under the new Biden administration.

And how many other Trump moles have been similarly installed for longterm spying in other government agencies?

Inside the Insurrection


A New Yorker reporter's footage from inside the Capitol riot is chilling, especially for revealing how the insurrectionists see themselves and congratulate their own testosterone.

The crisis in our nation wasn't just for that one day. Their devotion to the big lie becomes an enduring burden for the survival of the Republic.

Sunday, January 17, 2021

We Need Another Stacey Abrams in North Carolina


Next month, the state executive committee of the North Carolina Democratic Party will vote on a new chair for the state party. The only announced candidate for the job right now is Bobbie Richardson, who is currently 1st vice chair and a former member of the NC House. She was appointed to the Dist. 7 House seat in 2013, won reelection in 2014 and 2016 but lost her seat (by a large margin) in the elections of 2018, after redistricting dissolved her old constituency and replaced it with a much whiter, more Republican electorate. 

(The old Dist. 7 had been considered one of the most racially gerrymandered in the state. While redistricting generally across NC in 2018 made Democratic gains in the General Assembly possible, that redistricting hurt a handful of Democratic incumbents, and Richardson was one of those.)

Could Richardson be our Stacey Abrams? Would she have the vision and the juice to mount aggressive voter registration and outreach to find and motivate the people who haven't been participating in our civic contract? While Black voter turnout in North Carolina increased 4.1 points last fall over 2016, it wasn’t enough for Democrats to flip the state for Biden or to flip at least one chamber in the General Assembly. Some 68.4% of North Carolina’s Black voters cast a ballot in the 2020 elections, compared to 78.8% of white voters. That's the winning margin right there, all those votes left untapped.

Richardson spent 35 years teaching in North Carolina schools, with a wealth of preparation behind her including a doctorate in education leadership from UNC-Chapel Hill. She's been a stand-out leader in her community (which is clear from reading her bio), but can she bring a Stacey Abrams level of organizing and reform to the North Carolina Democratic Party?

Wednesday, January 13, 2021

Donald Trump Should Beware of Cosmic Irony


I heard Fran Lebowitz say she worries about dying in such a manner that people will laugh. It's called "cosmic irony," that force in the universe looking to embarrass you in your last minutes. Like Nelson Rockefeller, dead of a heart attack in the secret apartment of his very young mistress. Like Sir Francis Bacon, a most arrogant but scientific Elizabethan, dead of pneumonia after stuffing a chicken with snow. Like Draco of Athens, literally killed by kindness, suffocating under a pile of gifts showered on him by grateful citizens. I could go on.

People laughed.

Like, say you're a proper and judgmental church lady. A garbage truck with your name on it may be stalking you in the streets. People will laugh, most likely in private but still.

I don't know if Donald Trump worries. Pariahs often don't. Pariahs lack the self-reflection to recognize any ironies, let alone the cosmic variety, but he should, if he could, avoid living in such a way as to invite the flying fickle finger of fate. Self-absorption paves the road for cruel hilarity.

Say, he blunders into Melania's bedroom in the middle of the night, and she mistakes him for a Mexican rapist and puts a bullet through his heart. Say, a judgmental young woman grabs him by the privates and precipitates an exploding aneurysm in his femoral artery. Say his smartphone catches fire and he's wearing clothes fashioned out of cellulose fibers, designed and sold as a brand by Ivanka.

Dreaming up those scenarios could be a parlor game. I remember when we had a similar one for Dick Nixon: "I won't be satisfied until he ________." It's a ghastly theater of revenge porn, not entirely unlike the scenarios the mob at the Capitol last week were playing in their heads as they went hunting for traitors. 

The Youngest Member of Congress Reveals His Character


Newly elected NC-11 Congressman Madison Cawthorn spoke at the Ellipse rally of Trumpists last Wednesday. Cawthorn said in part: “The Democrats, with all the fraud they have done in this election, the Republicans, hiding and not fighting, they are trying to silence your voice. Make no mistake about it, they do not want you to be heard. But my friends, when I look out into this crowd, I can confidently say, this crowd has the voice of lions. There is a new Republican Party on the rise that will represent this country, that will go and fight in Washington, D.C.”

Henderson County Sheriff George Erwin, who had worked hard for Cawthorn's election, couldn't stand it. He said about Cawthorn's speech, “Words mean things. You can inflame a group and you can calm a group by the words you used. To me, he inflamed,” Erwin said. “.... You rile people up and then afterwards, you’re going to say, ‘Well, this is appalling. This is appalling and I back the blue.’ No, you don’t. You fired these people up and the first line of defense was law enforcement. People are dead. You can’t take that back.”


Sure enough, Cawthorn waited until the next day to tweet his disgust with the insurrectionists -- "it wasn’t patriotism it was thuggery.” And then he told a WLOS reporter that he didn't feel any responsibility for what happened. No responsibility. "I'm not responsible at all." That's it, that's the same Trumpist inability to see self, to see clearly what you did and to know it for what it was, and to admit it, at least to yourself.

Sheriff George Erwin
Sheriff Erwin shared his shame that he had worked so diligently to get that young man elected: “This is all on me. Calling all these people, getting them to endorse, introducing him to county commissioners, law enforcement officials. That is all on me. I’m a big boy. I’ll take my punishment. I am not happy with what I’m seeing. I think this is just going to be the tip of the iceberg. I don’t think it’s going to get any better.”

Indeed, there's a Cawthorn contrail going all the way back to election night -- "Cry more lib" -- as he plays to a national hardcore audience. He wants to be their new star. Speaking at the Republican National Convention went to his head, and now he's all about the tough guy act. On Dec. 21, at a speech before the young conservative group Turning Point USA, Cawthorn said that if other Republicans were not on the record “calling for fair, free and just elections” he would come to their districts and fund primary opponents. Call your congressman and feel free, you can lightly threaten them and say, you know what, if you don’t start supporting election integrity, I’m coming after you, Madison Cawthorn is coming after you, everybody’s coming after you,” Cawthorn told the group.

His character comes out in other ways, too: "Erwin said Cawthorn’s hiring and his treatment of people in the office turned him off, as did the new congressman’s seeming priority for a national spotlight over district concerns."

The sheriff isn't the only Republican in the 11th District to speak out against Cawthorn. Eddie Harwood, a Buncombe County conservative, posted this on Facebook: “But after his role in inciting this mob violence we saw at the Capitol, my worst fears about his immaturity and willingness to pander to the worst instincts of the right-wing fringe were realized,” Harwood wrote. “Make no mistake: There is blood on his hands. He played a role in encouraging the violence and attack on our democracy, going to get his picture taken and trying to get on the right-wing news by whipping up the crowd that attacked our democracy and our constitutional process. It was disgusting.”

The Trumpists probably outnumber the Sheriff Erwins and the Eddie Harwoods of the 11th District, and the Trumpists in the 11th District are still jazzed by their RINO-hunting last week and aren't about to let anything bad (or even "adult") happen to Madison Cawthorn. Consider the threatening phone call to the Haywood County Democratic Party: "Are you the fuckers that are calling for Madison Cawthorn to resign? We're coming after you." Then a brick went through their HDQs window.

That's the situation in the 11th District. That's the shape of the Republican Party. Cawthorn is probably going to be their burden until 2022, when the potency of Trump's bullying may be gone. We'd love to see Col. Moe Davis run for that seat again.

Read more here:

Tuesday, January 12, 2021

Biden's Choice To Head the CIA

William J. Burns, to head the Central Intelligence Agency

Burns has been a career diplomat in the State Department. He led secret talks with Iran that led to the famous nuclear deal that Trump promptly destroyed. Burns has a reputation for nonpartisanship and has held key diplomatic posts in both Democratic and Republican administrations.

NYTimes: Mr. Burns also served as the ambassador to Russia from 2005 to 2008, making him a keen observer of President Vladimir V. Putin. Russian interference in American elections has been one of the most important intelligence issues in recent years. In all, Mr. Burns did two tours in Moscow and speaks Russian. Mr. Burns, currently the president of the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, has been vocal in his belief that American diplomacy has been damaged during the Trump administration.


5th District Democrats Blast the Sedition of Virginia Foxx


Intercepted email: Democratic officials in the 5th District of N.C. have drafted a letter address to Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi, urging disciplinary action against Congresswoman Virginia A. Foxx for her activities last Wednesday. This is part of the letter:

Ms. Foxx has claimed to object “out of an abiding respect for the Constitution” in reflection of supposed “violations of Article II, Section I of the Constitution” in which there is no stated direction as to how the states’ manage their election process regarding Presidential electors.  The reality is that the Republican Members’ publicly stated goal in raising multiple objections to states’ electors certification was to overturn the election in favor of the defeated President Trump. This action goes against the intent of the Electoral Count Act of 1887, which sought to minimize Congressional involvement in election disputes. This grossly un-democratic attempt to subvert the will of the people reflects a violation of her duty as called to in the Amendment XIV of the Constitution, Section 3:


No person shall be a Senator or Representative in Congress, or elector of President and Vice President, or hold any office, civil or military, under the United States, or under any State, who, having previously taken an oath, as a member of Congress, or as an officer of the United States, or as a member of any State legislature, or as an executive or judicial officer of any State, to support the Constitution of the United States,shall have engaged in insurrection or rebellion against the same, or given aid or comfort to the enemies thereof. But Congress may by a vote of two-thirds of each House, remove such disability.


As constituents of Ms. Foxx, we want to be very clear that we do not feel adequately represented by an individual who would publicly stand with insurrectionists. We want to make clear that this is not done in hopes to undermine the recent election that Rep. Foxx fairly won despite many similar election process changes in our great state of North Carolina that were done in Pennsylvania. The sheer hypocrisy in challenging the results of Pennsylvania, where Biden won, but not North Carolina, where Trump was victorious, is obvious in their ultimate intentions: disregarding the will of the majority of Americans as reflected in the Electoral College totals. We recognize that due to targeted gerrymandering by the NCGOP-lead NC General Assembly any replacement for Ms. Foxx in the Fifth District would come from special election that a Republican candidate is favored to win.

Therefore, we respectfully request that the House of Representatives conduct an investigation for Ethics Violations regarding Ms. Foxx’s aforementioned Acts of Sedition. If the 2/3rds vote necessary for expulsion cannot be secured, we request that the House of Representatives formally censure Ms. Foxx on behalf of her constituents in the 5th Congressional District.


Monday, January 11, 2021

Biden Made His Choices for Labor, Commerce Departments


Martin Walsh, to be Secretary of Labor

Currently and for the last seven years, the mayor of Boston and a former top union leader (the Boston Building and Construction Trades Council, an umbrella group for unions). He's a personal friend of Joe Biden.

Virginia Foxx, who has a limited vocabulary, immediately attacked Biden's choice: “Marty Walsh’s background in organized labor signals that he will work to deliver on left-wing campaign promises.” Imagine that! Delivering on campaign promises.

Boston Globe: "Organized labor has played a pivotal role in Walsh’s life and political rise. He was 21 years old when he became a member of the Laborers’ Union Local 223 in Boston, which his father had joined in the 1950s after emigrating from Ireland and his uncle later led. Walsh, who was a state representative for 16 years, went on to also serve as president of the union, then was the head of the Building and Construction Trades Council. When he first ran for mayor in 2013, unions fueled his campaign with financial contributions and volunteers."

Gina Raimondo, to be Secretary of Commerce

Currently and since 2014, the governor of Rhode Island. 

Politico: Raimondo is a former venture capitalist who worked at a fund backed by Bain Capital. She also started her own venture firm in Rhode Island, where she worked before being elected general treasurer of Rhode Island in 2011. During the presidential primary of 2020, she threw her support behind former New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg, serving as national co-chair for the well funded but ill-fated campaign.

Raimondo, if approved by the Senate, will preside over a sprawling, diverse department, whose functions include forecasting the weather, managing ocean fisheries, and setting international product standards. She will also be landing in the middle of several international trade disputes that were begun during the tenure of Trump's Secretary Wilbur Ross.


Sunday, January 10, 2021

Joe Biden's Justice Department


Merrick Garland, to be Attorney General of the United States

Garland, 68 -- most famous probably for being the Supreme Court nominee who never got a hearing, an early casualty of Trump-style bullying and a pelt on McConnell's shield.

Garland first worked at the justice department in 1979 as an assistant to Attorney General Benjamin Civiletti. He later became a federal prosecutor and in the Clinton administration served as a senior Justice Department official. Clinton appointed him to the D.C. bench of the US Court of Appeals.

He knows violent white supremacists. He played a leading role in the investigation and prosecution of Timothy McVeigh and Terry Nichols for the Oklahoma City bombing. His grandparents, Russian Jews, fled the Tsar's pogroms in the early 20th century. Garland was raised in conservative Judaism where he learned caring and protection for the weak. In 1983, as a lawyer in private practice, he won the case in the Supreme Court which mandated seat belts in all autos.

He looks too moderate for some progressives, but he looks foursquare to me. Nina Totenberg described him as "a moderate liberal, with a definite pro-prosecution bent in criminal cases." For post-Trump, that sounds promising. SCOTUSblog"Judge Garland's record demonstrates that he is essentially the model, neutral judge. He is acknowledged by all to be brilliant. His opinions avoid unnecessary, sweeping pronouncements." Garland has a reputation for collegiality, and according to Wikipedia, his opinions rarely draw a dissent. "Some Biden advisers have come to view him as well-suited to restore norms of nonpolitical decision-making at the Justice Department" (WashPost).


Lisa Monaco, for the No. 2 position of Deputy Attorney General

She, too, is a department veteran. She served as the Assistant Attorney General for National Security from 2011 to 2013 and as the Principal Deputy Assistant Attorney General. Before that she worked as a prosecutor, then served as a senior adviser to Robert Mueller when he was FBI director. She also served in the Obama White House as the chief counterterrorism advisor to the president. 

She worked as a research coordinator for the Senate Committee on the Judiciary from 1992 to 1994 under then chairman Joe Biden, where she especially worked on the Violence Against Women Act. As a member of the Justice Department's Enron Task Force, she led the trial team in the prosecution of five former Enron executives. (Corporate corruption has got to be a target-rich area after four years of Trump.)

For the Russian interference she's well equipped. She was President Obama's chief cybersecurity advisor and drove the policy decision to create the Cyber Threat Intelligence Integration Center under the Office of the Director of National Intelligence in 2015.

Vanita Gupta, for the No. 3 position of Associate Attorney General

Wikipedia: President and Chief Executive Officer of the Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights. Previously the Principal Deputy Assistant Attorney General and appointed to head of the Civil Rights Division at the Department of Justice by Barack Obama, a position she held until January 20, 2017 (ahem). 

Before all of that, she was a civil rights lawyer and the Deputy Legal Director of the American Civil Liberties Union, where she oversaw its national criminal justice reform efforts. She also served as assistant counsel at the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund. Throughout her career, she has drawn support from a wide range of liberal and conservative activists, as well as law enforcement leaders, for building collaborative support and finding common ground on policing and criminal justice reform.

I happen to know something about Gupta's very first case as a young lawyer working for the NAACP, because it involved people of color just 25 miles from where I grew up in the Texas Panhandle. She defended some 40 African Americans and six white or Latino people who were romantic partners of African Americans in Tulia, Tex., seat of Swisher County and a little town well known to me because it had a public swimming pool. The 40 Tulia defendants had been convicted by all-white juries on drug dealing charges. In almost every case, the only evidence was the testimony of an undercover agent, Tom Coleman. Coleman did not use wiretaps or marked money, and records showed that he had "filed shoddy reports." He had previous misdemeanor charges for stealing gasoline from a county pump and "abuse of official capacity." Gupta won the release of her clients in 2003, four years after they were jailed, then negotiated a $6 million settlement for those arrested.

Gupta's previous tenure at the Department of Justice was marked by several high profile matters that included the investigations of the Ferguson, Baltimore, and Chicago police departments; the appeals of the Texas and North Carolina voter ID cases; the challenge to North Carolina’s HB2 law and other LGBTQ rights litigation; enforcement of education, land use, hate crimes, and other statutes to combat Islamophobia and other forms of religious discrimination; etc.

Kristen Clarke, to be Assistant Attorney General for Civil Rights

Clarke's parents immigrated to Brooklyn from Jamaica. She got her B.A. from Harvard and her law degree from Columbia. After graduating from law school she joined the Department of Justice as a prosecutor and a trial lawyer on voting rights, hate crimes, and human trafficking cases. She won a landmark decision in the D.C. Circuit that found hateful on-line trolling a compensible tort.


Friday, January 08, 2021

They Won't Stop


More a student of politics than a student of government, so I'd rather speculate on what now happens to the Republican Party than on how our system survives for the next dozen days. (Yes, I could also speculate on what now happens to the Democratic Party, but I don't write romance novels.)

You know what else was going on in this nation on Wednesday? The winter meeting of the Republican National Committee, at an expensive venue on Amelia Island, Florida. (I'm told a mere jigger of good Kentucky whiskey cost $24.) And do you know what Donald J. Trump was doing Thursday morning? He was all rah-rah-team on a speakerphone direct to the winter session attendees and also in a later canned video. Curiously, the events of the day before no longer existed anywhere in the universe. Poof. No national emergency, no potential public embarrassment for politicians who condoned the mob. During the breakfast session on Thursday morning, Trump complained about the media and never once mentioned the storming of the Capitol.

Trump also sent along to the winter meeting a 2-minute video of himself standing in the White House colonnade. He bragged about the popularity of the party, about his 74 million votes, about women (of all things) who won seats in the House, and about the expedited coronavirus vaccine. Again, he did not mention the insurrection meant to keep him in the White House.

In other words, Jesus! Not only did Trump lie by omission, like Land O Lakes wouldn't melt in his mouth, but he also displayed his total lack of interest in self-examination. His crippling ineptitude with self-awareness is the hallmark of this very stable genius. He seemed not to know yesterday what he now looks like. He doesn't understand that many of the delegates attending the winter meeting were already secretly disgusted with him, some of them beginning to speculate on whether the Trump blessing in 2020 might be a liability or no advantage for a candidate. 

Self-examination? That video speech "to the nation" yesterday evening, which Trump let his daughter Ivanka talk him into, included these words:

"America is and must always be a nation of law and order. The demonstrators who infiltrated the Capitol have defiled the seat of American democracy. To those who engaged in the acts of violence and destruction, you do not represent our country. And to those who broke the law, you will pay."

This is what we get from a president who can't see himself and for whom none of what he said is true -- its insincerity underlined by his monotone while reading it.

Here's the political question: Just how much of what's left of the GOP can actually see itself any clearer than Trump sees himself? Does the wider GOP, not just the Party brass on Amelia Island, see that its brand has become so hated by voters that the Party is forced to suppress the vote of those who hate them in order to win elections -- imposing hurtles like photo I.D., doing purges of voter rolls, moving precincts and limiting access to early voting, drawing maps that divide and conquer?

Maybe in states of the former Confederacy, where Trumpism is strongest -- like North Carolina -- the adherence to Trump's big lie may hang on longer than in the Midwest and the industrial North. (Incidentally, I operate with this definition: belief in Trump's lies plus a proclivity for bullying equals "Trumpism.") I hear that the braggadocio of the Capitol stormers sprouts today on social media, with more and more of the guys (and a few of the gals) posting selfies of their brave deeds taken while trashing the Capitol. They clearly think they're totally in the clear and unaccountable. Because they're white.

Is that the Republican Party of 2022?

It's worth noting that at the winter meeting in Florida, the crowd of GOP leaders "had a lackluster response" when former U.N. ambassador Nikki Haley criticized Trump. “He was badly wrong with his words yesterday,” Haley said. “And it wasn’t just his words. His actions since Election Day will be judged harshly by history.” Judged harshly by history -- who he? -- but not necessarily openly dissed by the GOP's top officials. The all-in Trumpist cheerleader, National Chair Ronna McDaniel, has been endorsed by Trump for another term, which she ardently desires, and she therefore has no rivals to head the Party for another two years.

Where do the Larry Hogans of the Republican Party go? Where do the Bob Orrs?

The Body Count -- The Raft Is Getting Crowded


A Reoccurring Feature on Who's Jumping Off Luxury Liner Trump

Hard to keep up in the aftermath of Trump's attempt on Wednesday to overthrow the democratic government of the United States.

Mick Mulvaney
Dr. Elinore F. McCance-Katz
, assistant secretary for the Department of Health and Human Services, resigned yesterday, writing in her resignation letter that she had planned to stay on until the next administration but her "plans abruptly changed" Wednesday evening when she saw "the violent takeover of the Capitol building." "I believe that this behavior was totally unacceptable and, in my own heart, I simply am not able to continue," she wrote.

Anthony Ruggiero, senior director for counterproliferation and biodefense at the National Security Council, resigned in protest of the President's incitement of insurrection.

Matt Pottinger, Trump's deputy national security advisor.

Mick Mulvaney, former White House chief of staff and currently special envoy to Northern Ireland, told CNBC in an interview Thursday morning that he called Secretary of State Mike Pompeo on Wednesday night to resign. "I can't do it. I can't stay," Mulvaney said in the interview.

John Costello, the Commerce Department's deputy assistant secretary for intelligence and security.

Ryan Tully, senior director for European and Russian Affairs at the National Security Council.

Tyler Goodspeed, the acting chairman of the Counsel of Economic Advisers.

The Body Count -- Two Trump Cabinet Secretaries


A Reoccurring Feature on Who's Jumping Off Luxury Liner Trump

Transportation Secretary Elaine Chao (and wife of Mitch McConnell) and Education Secretary Betsy DeVos are resigning over the Trump-inspired insurrection Wednesday at the US Capitol.

Chao wrote that she will resign effective Monday and was "deeply troubled" by the "entirely avoidable" events at the Capitol building.

DeVos submitted a letter of resignation to Trump on Thursday, calling Wednesday's events "unconscionable for our country."

"There is no mistaking the impact your rhetoric had on the situation, and it is the inflection point for me," she wrote. "Impressionable children are watching all of this, and they are learning from us. I believe we each have a moral obligation to exercise good judgement and model the behavior we hope they would emulate. They must know from us that America is greater than what transpired yesterday."

Thursday, January 07, 2021

The Body Count -- Some Top White House Staffers


A Reoccurring Feature of Who's Jumping Off Luxury Liner Trump

Stephanie Grisham, a longtime Trump family loyalist who served as White House press secretary and most recently as the first lady’s chief of staff; and Anna Cristina Niceta, the White House social secretary, separately announced their resignations last night.

Deputy White House press secretary Sarah Matthews also announced her resignation last night, saying she was honored to serve the Trump administration but “deeply disturbed” by the storming of the Capitol.

How Virginia Foxx Voted on the Two Objections to Electoral College Votes


Representative Virginia Foxx straddled, an awkward position for a supposedly dignified 70-something congresswoman to take.

On the first objection to the Electoral College votes from Arizona, following debate which resumed after the insurrection last night, Foxx voted not to sustain the objection. On the second objection to the Electoral College votes from Pennsylvania, Foxx voted "yea" to sustain the objection. That vote in the US House didn't happen until almost 4 a.m. this morning.

The congresswoman wants to have it both ways. But we feel sure she'll be soliciting those presidential autographs from Joe Biden.

Sore Losers Become Active Threats to Our Democracy


What happened yesterday at the Capitol is the culmination of Trump's morally defective presidency. His supporters who stormed and ransacked the building believed his lies and became complicit in his attempt at a coup.

Trump stoked his ego by causing thousands to break the law for his sake and in his name. He must have reveled in the scene, until the scene became too stomach-churning even for him -- if it ever did.

“Statistically impossible to have lost the 2020 Election,” Trump lied in a tweet on December 20. “Big protest in DC on January 6th. Be there, will be wild!” They showed up by the thousands for a rally on The Ellipse, as did Trump, who urged them repeatedly to march on the Capitol. He even said he'd be marching with them. He didn't. He retreated to the warmth and safety of the White House while an insurrection unfolded on Capitol Hill.

Liz Cheney: "We just had a violent mob assault the US capitol ... No question the President formed the mob, the President incited the mob, the President addressed the mob. He lit the flame."

He should be removed from office now, forcefully, not in two weeks, and that could happen if Vice President Pence and members of the Cabinet invoked the 25th Amendment. They won't. They remain as morally vacant and complicit as always, though many of them are now tut-tutting. "Thoughts and prayers!"

This Trump-inspired insurrectionist has his foot up on Nancy Pelosi's desk.
He later had his photo taken holding up a piece of her mail he had stolen from the office.

Historians are saying that this is likely the first time that the flag of rebellion
has been paraded through our Capitol. It was a white people's insurrection yesterday,
and their essential coddling by law enforcement was the height of white privilege.

They think they are doing something righteous.
That delusion and abandonment of reality will be the great burden
of the Biden administration and will weigh heavily on all of us.

Wednesday, January 06, 2021

Thank You, Stacey Abrams!


A 50-50 split in the US Senate, with Vice President Kamala Harris the tie-breaker, and Mitch McConnell no longer the 500-pound tortoise sitting on every progressive initiative. This morning may be the first time I've really felt hopeful in months. 

The apparent wins of Raphael Warnock and Jon Ossoff are particular triumphs of the amazing Stacey Abrams, who after she lost the Georgia governor race in 2018 against Brian Kemp, what did she do? She started Fair Fight and began the voter registration and get-out-the-vote drives that first turned Georgia blue for Joe Biden and then made it possible for him to get his cabinet confirmed and his appointments of federal judges approved.

I'm hearing Abrams may run for Georgia governor again in 2022.

Monday, January 04, 2021

The Man Who Tried To Stop Trump


NYTimes reporter Michael Schmidt has written the best book I've read on the Trump era, or ever hope to read -- "Donald Trump v. The United States: Inside the Struggle To Stop a President." Schmidt hasn't just written a kind of political thriller based on his granular Washington reporting, coupled with amazing access to a particular White House official, White House Counsel Don McGahn. McGahn was trying to herd the wrong man who had gotten himself into the wrong place at the wrong time, a new president who was trying to wield absolute power like the monarch he was in his own mind. That's a sizzling tale in Schmidt's handling. But his book seems greater than that. It's grade A history and will live as a valuable chronicle of what we've been through as a nation. Schmidt's style -- crystalline, propulsive, clarified like the best basting butter.

He tells the tale of more than just McGahn. Other Trump administration figures also attempted to restrain Trump, like James Comey, who didn't last too long. We have to admit that those attempts to restrain Trump were largely unsuccessful-- Trump still got himself impeached and is right now plotting God knows what for this coming Wednesday. Last Saturday, Trump, with North Carolinian Mark Meadows on the line, solicited Georgia elected officials to commit electoral fraud. 

But for a time -- the heart of Schmidt's book -- Don McGahn attempted to hold Trump back. He was the one top aide who could have a shouting match with Trump and keep his job. He called Trump "King Kong," and not as a complement. In McGahn's eyes, Trump became just another celebrity bimbo, susceptible to flattery and lacking a moral core. McGahn was particularly repulsed when Trump pardoned a woman because fellow celebrity Kim Kardashian made the suggestion. In the end, and because Trump's first set of defense team lawyers (John Dowd and Ty Cobb) had offered Mueller total access to White House aides -- because Trump had told them he'd done nothing wrong and they chose to believe the biggest liar in the Western Hemisphere -- McGahn covered his butt and told the Mueller team everything he thought the Mueller team was going to find out eventually anyway. Plus McGahn had come to the conclusion that Trump was setting him up to take the fall. McGahn blabbed in secret to Mueller's team for over 30 hours and just incidentally implicated Trump in criminal obstruction of justice. Whether any Federal prosecutor anywhere, even six months from now, chooses to pursue charges on that evidence is a forlorn hope.

Trump has been a threat to democracy itself and essentially unstoppable (except for the intercession of the voters, a fact that Donald Trump doesn't accept and that right now he's scheming to overturn). Schmidt sums up the Trump persona better than anyone: "He was thin-skinned, but somehow impervious to things that would -- and did -- destroy more normal candidates. He couldn't take a punch, yet he could survive a beating better than anyone else."

Now this McGahn fellow ... not someone I intend to heroize. He's a libertarian, apparently a pretty notorious one. He wanted to see government regulation dismantled and the Wild Wild West restored to capitalism, and he had extracted a promise from Trump to take the job of White House Counsel: Trump had to give McGahn a free hand to select Supreme Court nominees, along with all Federal district judgeships. McGahn came up with the names and McConnell pushed them through, often over the objection ("Not Qualified") of the American Bar Association. Trump got through a staggering 230+ judicial nominees, almost all of them McGahn's personal picks.

Schmidt understands The Trump Way -- "a cascading chaos" of daily whims and petty grudges, distractions and head-scratching detours and deadends. That daily churn of novelty actually "dulls the senses" for us bystanders, and normal people with allegiance to normal values forget to be shocked.

Schmidt ends his account in the summer of 2019 with Attorney General William Barr's commandeering of the Mueller report to Trump's benefit. Schmidt's book went into production months before the November election, and it was published last August. Schmidt didn't know how the election would turn out, but he seems resigned that Trump will survive yet again. I'm prepared to say he hasn't. And I can only hope that Michael Schmidt is already prepping a volume two, to get us all the way through this aberration.

Saturday, January 02, 2021

How Close We Came To Ultimate Betrayal


Of all the books written about the Trump era debacle, I wanted to read the one by Peter Strzok, the FBI agent who got hounded out of the agency by Donald J. Trump. Strzok had led much of the initial FBI investigation into Russian influence and interference in the 2016 election, and after Strzok's text messages criticizing Trump became public, the president unleashed literally hundreds of nasty tweets against him, forcing the agent to move his family into hiding. Those tweets -- some of which alleged that Strzok was a "traitor" - also led ultimately to Strzok's firing from the FBI.

I've just finished Strzok's book, "Compromised: Counterintelligence and the Threat of Donald J. Trump." It's a quick read, and with Trump now increasingly in our rearview mirrors, I could stand to confront the insider knowledge that Strzok brings without sinking into more despair over the state of things and the prospect that we were going to have Trump in the White House for another four years.

Strzok offers a fairly straightforward conclusion of presidential betrayal: “Our investigations revealed Donald Trump’s willingness to further the malign interests of one of our most formidable adversaries, apparently for his own personal gain.” The catalog of evidence takes up almost a full page:

...the Russian hack and release of Democratic Party email; independent political actors and camnpaign affiliates back-channelling with WikiLeaks; a sustained and coordinated Russian attack on U.S. electoral systems; clandestine Russian exploitation of social media to target hot-button voter issues; a campaign foreign policy adviser [George Papadopoulos] who knew about the Russian hacks before we did and lied to us; another campaign adviser [Carter Page] with longtime connections to Russian intelligence personnel who couldn't keep his story straight; a former campaign manager [Paul Manafort] with huge debt and troubling ties to Russian and pro-Russian Ukrainian government figures; a former national security advisor [Mike Flynn] who had lied to us about his contacts with Russia and had been forced to resign because of it; an attorney general [Jeff Sessions] who had had contacts with Russia that he had not disclosed during his confirmation hearings.

And on top of it all, at the pinnacle of this heap of perfidy and treachery, sat a president who had lied to the public, cozied up to Russia, and, once he became aware of them, attempted to block our investigations at every turn.

Many of us don't expect Trump's obstruction of justice (the firing of FBI Director James Comey being only the most egregious example) to ever suffer prosecution. President Biden certainly doesn't encourage it and can probably keep it from ever happening. "We need to heal as a nation." Part of my healing would include seeing justice restored, but I'm resigned to Trump's going free, at least for the Federal crimes (the crimes in New York State are another matter). Strzok's book vividly reminds me of the absolute carnival of additional incompetent corruption we could have suffered had Trump been reelected. Can you imagine?

Strzok was and still is a boy scout. Albeit an arrogant and intolerant boy eagle scout. Impatient to a fault but smart as any buggy whip you ever snapped. Along with bashing Trump in his text messages with Lisa Page, the other FBI agent with whom he was having an affair, Strzok was an equal opportunity basher. He thought that Hillary Clinton and the Clinton campaign were bee-yotches of the first order. He hated both Democrats and Republicans and all the nonsense of Party politics, which were in full roar on the Hill during Trump's tenure. Everybody who acted stupidly or illegally deserved Peter Strzok's contempt. 

Obviously not his bosses at the FBI, Comey and McCabe and some others in the chain of command, who are and were in Strzok's eyes upstanding defenders of the constitution and the independence of the FBI and also victims like him of Trump's vindictiveness, with the willing participation of some of the Trump brass in the Department of Justice. (Rod Rosenstein, who appointed Bob Mueller, comes off as a willow stick in Magoo glasses -- a man who you didn't dare trust. (Not included in this book, but Rosenstein too became part of Trump's hobby of hollowing out any people who might dare challenge his right to do any damn thing he pleased. Rosenstein went quietly into retirement.)

[Footnote and a gripe: There's no index to this book. Bah!]

Strzok's personal talent for text-message-savaging of fools and poltroons -- written after all and sent really as a part of sexual foreplay with a colleague who gave as good as she got -- doesn't mean he wasn't a good and honest investigator. In fact, I think his devotion to blunt and even cruel honesty were part of his boy scout credo and actually the character flaw that makes him a tragic figure. The name "Lisa Page" does not appear in his book, and he refuses to say anything about the affair, except that he regrets it and knows it was wrong. Getting fired from the Russian investigation by Bob Mueller himself was a level of punishment to this Captain America that must have been excruciating. Even without Twitterman's roasting him on a spit.

Trump political appointees in the Department of Justice likely leaked the Strzok-Page text messages as part of an overall campaign to discredit the Russian "hoax" by fantasizing a "deep state" cabal of career investigators who supposedly hated Trump and wanted him destroyed. Later, when the IG of the FBI determined that Strzok had not employed any political bias in his investigation, higher-ups (now Trump replacements, officials afraid of Trump's anger) rewrote the report to support Strzok's firing. Rod Rosenstein presided over all of it.

Strzok's Connection To the Popular FX Series, "The Americans"

Strzok earned his stripes as an FBI counterintelligence specialist by being in on the exposure of some deep cover Russian spies who were posing as middle-class Canadians with two kids and longterm plans to become Americans. These real spies became the fictionalized characters Nadezhda and Mischa on the much more glamorous spy series "The Americans," which entertained us through six seasons with seductions and murders galore. The couple that Strzok helped expose were much staider. Their deep-cover identities became known to the FBI in 2001 -- after Strzok and his guys gained legal but secret access to the couple's safe deposit box -- but they and a whole network of other deep-cover Russian agents in several states weren't rounded up in a mass arrest until 2010.

All those Russian spies were eventually deported, exchanged for American assets in Russian prisons, including Sergei Skripal, a Russian double-agent for America. Putin and his operatives later hunted down Skripal and his daughter Yulia in an English provincial town and dosed them with nerve agent.

The ruthlessness of Putin has had its shadow puppet in the White House for four goddamn years.