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Defying the Odds

Defying the Odds
New book about the 2016 election.

Monday, March 18, 2019

Broidy, Inaugural Money: Scandalabra Rolls On

In  Defying the Oddswe discuss  Trump's record of scandal The update  -- just published --includes a chapter on the 2018 midterms.

Federal authorities raided the office of Republican fundraiser Elliott Broidy last summer, seeking records related to his dealings with foreign officials and Trump administration associates, according to a sealed search warrant obtained by ProPublica.
Agents were authorized to use the megadonor’s hands and face to unlock any phones that required fingerprint or facial scans.
The Washington Post reported in August that the Justice Department was investigating Broidy. The sealed warrant offers new details of federal authorities’ investigation of allegations that Broidy had attempted to cash in on his Trump White House connections in dealings with foreign officials. It also shows that the government took a more aggressive approach with the Trump ally than was previously known, entering his office and removing records — just as it did with Trump’s personal lawyer Michael Cohen.
Michael Kranish et al. report at WP:
Dubbed the Chairman’s Global Dinner, it was the brainchild of billionaire Thomas J. Barrack Jr., Trump’s close friend and his inaugural committee chairman, who conceived of the night as a glittery overture to a diplomatic corps anxious about the change in Washington.
Paid for by donors to the inaugural committee, the event put Barrack’s style of global networking on display and gave foreign guests an unparalleled chance to mingle with the incoming vice president, other members of the new administration and lawmakers.
The dinner serves as an extrava­gant symbol of Trump’s inaugural festivities, which involved record fundraising, lavish spending and a large concentration of foreign guests. Now, state, federal and congressional investigators are scrutinizing those issues as part of five inquiries of activities related to the inaugural committee.
The scope of the various inquiries remains unknown. But federal prosecutors in New York issued a wide-ranging subpoena last month to the inaugural committee indicating that they are investigating possible conspiracy, money-laundering and false statements. The subpoena sought all information related to the committee’s donors and vendors, as well as any information related to foreign contributors.
A separate federal investigation already has revealed that illegal foreign money was funneled into the inaugural committee. Last year, political consultant W. Samuel Patten admitted that he steered a donation from a Ukrainian politician to the committee through an American straw donor. The Ukrainian subsequently attended the inauguration, according to prosecutors in Washington. Patten agreed to assist the investigation as part of a plea deal.

Sunday, March 17, 2019

The Yang Scandal, Continued

 In  Defying the Oddswe discuss  Trump's record of scandal The update  -- just published --includes a chapter on the 2018 midterms.

 Frances Robles, Michael Forsythe and Alexandra Stevenson at NYT:
The Republican National Committee promised an “evening reception with Donald J. Trump” last March at his Mar-a-Lago resort in Palm Beach, Fla.
A contribution of $2,700 toward the president’s re-election would get you in the door. Two seats for dinner were on offer for $25,000. And there was a third option: for $50,000, dinner for two and a photo with Mr. Trump.
Cindy Yang was determined to get the photo.
But there was a hurdle. The invitation limited campaign contributions to $5,400 per person, so Ms. Yang, a Chinese immigrant who had set up a string of day spas in Florida and was active in groups backed by the Chinese government and Communist Party, needed others to chip in.
Over the weeks leading up to the event, at least nine people in Ms. Yang’s orbit, some of them with modest incomes, made donations at exactly $5,400. She ended up at the dinner.

Saturday, March 16, 2019

Trump and the New Zealand Massacre

In Defying the Odds, we discuss Trump's curious lack of devotion to American principles.  His rhetoric is more about degradation than aspiration.  The update  -- just published --includes a chapter on the 2018 midterms.

Colby Itkowitz and John Wagner at WP:
President Trump said Friday he does not believe white nationalism is a rising global danger after a suspected gunman who authorities say espoused that ideology killed 49 Muslims in New Zealand.
When asked at the White House whether white nationalists were a growing threat around the world, Trump replied: “I don’t really. I think it’s a small group of people that have very, very serious problems. It’s certainly a terrible thing.”

Trump also said he had not seen a manifesto, purportedly from an attacker, that named him as an inspiration for white identity ideology.
Alex Ward at Vox:
President Donald Trump just used similar language to describe immigrants coming into the United States that the alleged mass shooter did to justify killing nearly 50 Muslims in Christchurch, New Zealand.
On Friday, Trump issued the first veto of his presidency to override a congressional blockade of the national emergency he declared at America’s southern border. During the veto signing ceremony, Trump explained why he felt a national emergency was warranted to stop migrants from entering the US.
“People hate the word ‘invasion,’ but that’s what it is,” he said, according to the White House pool report.
That is chillingly similar to the language the main suspect in Friday’s Christchurch terrorist attack used to explain why he chose to gun down at least 49 Muslims. In the rambling 74-page manifesto the 28-year-old suspected shooter posted online shortly before the attack, he writes that he was committing the killings “to show the invaders that our lands will never be their lands.”
It’s also the same language the man who killed 11 people at a synagogue in Pittsburgh last October used: In that case, the perpetrator blamed Jews for helping what he called “invaders”in the Central American migrant caravans who were trying to enter the US.

Friday, March 15, 2019

Blowing Out the Moral Lights Around Us

 In  Defying the Oddswe discuss  Trump's record of scandal The update  -- just published --includes a chapter on the 2018 midterms.

However, public cynicism about America’s moral standards is high, as evidenced in the annual Values and Morals poll conducted by Gallup since 2002. In the latest poll, released last June, a record high 49 percent of respondents rated moral values in the U.S. as poor, and only 14 percent rated them excellent or good.
The perception that unethical behavior is increasingly commonplace could have a snowball effect, says Andrew Cullison, a philosophy professor who heads DePauw University’s Prindle Institute for Ethics.
“People think that if moral standards have eroded, why should they play by the rules,” he said. “If they’ve lost trust in some entity or institution, then that organization has lost the right to their compliance with the rules.”
Cullison said President Trump and his administration may be contributing to those perceptions with their departure from some longstanding ethical norms. Trump, for example, has refused to release his tax returns, as other recent presidents did, and has neither divested his business holdings or placed them in a blind trust.
“It’s the objective truth that norms of conduct are being violated,” Cullison said. “Where people differ is how outraged they are. If you’re getting what you want (in terms of policy), you’ll be more willing to look the other way.”
Last year, Tom Scheck reported at APM:
A growing chorus of ethics officials, including the acting director of the U.S. Office of Government Ethics, warns that President Trump's conduct related to his business interests is causing a dangerously negative public perception of the nation's ethics system.
"These are perilous times," said David Apol, acting director of the Office of Government Ethics. His comments came in a rare interview earlier this month that happened to be the same day President Trump nominated someone to replace him.
Apol worries that the president's decision to not divest from his sprawling business holdings and the scandals involving Trump's Cabinet are causing public distrust in the federal government.
"When the head of your organization, the head of your government says these rules aren't important enough for me to comply with, that makes the program challenging. And that changes the relationship, the way people view the ethics program," he said.
In a recent poll by Transparency International, 44 percent of respondents said they believe that most or all of the officials in the Office of the President are corrupt — an 8 percent increase from 2016. The poll also found that 58 percent of Americans polled believe corruption is getting worse.
Other polling finds that public trust in government remains near historic lows under President Trump. Only 18 percent of Americans say they can trust the government in Washington to do what is right, according to polling by the Pew Research Center

Thursday, March 14, 2019

"No Collusion"

In  Defying the Oddswe discuss Russian involvement in the 2016 campaign The update  -- just published --includes a chapter on the 2018 midterms.

At WP, Aaron Blake reports on Judge Amy Berman Jackson's sentencing of Paul Manafort:
Manafort’s legal team had suggested repeatedly in its sentencing memo that the fact that he hadn’t been found to have colluded with Russia should be a mitigating factor when it came to how much time he would serve in prison. But Jackson not only rejected that argument in sentencing him to 43 additional months in prison, she also rejected the entire argument behind it.
“The ‘no collusion’ refrain that runs through the entire defense memorandum is unrelated to matters at hand,” she said. “The ‘no collusion’ mantra is simply a non sequitur.”

Then she added: “The ‘no collusion’ mantra is also not accurate, because the investigation is still ongoing.”
Claiming something like there was “no collusion” as a defense is within any defendant’s right. It’s basically saying, “There was no crime.” The problem with Trump and his allies — and Manafort’s legal team, in this case — was that they have tried to stretch it much further. They have argued that the lack of proof of collusion thus far is somehow dispositive. They are suggesting that, because it hasn’t been proved, it never happened.
Trump has tried this trick repeatedly for months, misrepresenting statements by key players in the Russia probe. When Deputy Attorney General Rod J. Rosenstein last year announced indictments of Russians suspected of influencing the 2016 election, he emphasized that those specific indictments included no allegations of collusion. The president and the White House suggested that Rosenstein had essentially just exonerated the Trump campaign, when, in fact, the case simply wasn’t about collusion.

Wednesday, March 13, 2019

Influence Update

 In  Defying the Oddswe discuss  Trump's record of ethical laxity The update  -- just published --includes a chapter on the 2018 midterms.

Dan Friedman at Mother Jones:
After four days of silence, the White House has finally addressed questions about Cindy Yang, the massage parlor owner who sold Chinese business executives access to President Donald Trump and his family at Mar-a-Lago.

“The President doesn’t know this woman,” Judd Deere, a White House spokesman, told Mother Jones on Tuesday.

Josh Kovensky at TPM:
The founder of a chain of massage and spa parlors that snagged Patriots owner Robert Kraft was apparently also hawking a different line of business: investment immigration.

Li “Cindy” Yang, a 45-year old Florida woman, has found herself in the headlines this past week for hobnobbing with some of the country’s most powerful politicians (including Trump) at Mar-a-Lago, and reportedly charging top Chinese execs for access to elected officials at the Palm Beach club.
TPM found that Yang, through a Florida-based company called GY US Investments LLC, was also using proximity to Trump and his properties to peddle so-called investor visas. Under the EB-5 visa program, foreign citizens can get a conditional two-year U.S. green card in exchange for making certain investments. Mother Jones first reported the existence of GY US Investments.
David Gelles et al. at NYT:
With more countries grounding Boeing jets and with lawmakers, aviation workers and consumers calling on the United States to do the same, the head of the aerospace giant on Tuesday made a personal appeal to President Trump.
Boeing’s chief executive, Dennis A. Muilenburg, called from Chicago and expressed to Mr. Trump his confidence in the safety of the 737 Max 8 jets, according to two people briefed on the conversation. Two of the planes flown by overseas carriers have crashed in recent months in similar accidents.
The brief call had been in the works since Monday, but it came shortly after Mr. Trump raised concerns that the increasing use of technology in airplanes was compromising passenger safety. “Airplanes are becoming far too complex to fly,” he wrote on Twitter. “Pilots are no longer needed, but rather computer scientists from MIT.”
Boeing’s relationship with Mr. Trump has not always been smooth, however. Shortly after becoming president-elect, Mr. Trump assailed Boeing for the estimated cost of its program to build new Air Force One planes, which provide mobile command centers for the president.
The “costs are out of control, more than $4 billion. Cancel order!” Mr. Trump wrote on Twitter a month after winning the election, but before taking office. A couple of weeks later, Mr. Muilenburg visited Mr. Trump at his Mar-a-Lago club in Palm Beach, Fla., to try to smooth things over.
“It was a terrific conversation,” Mr. Muilenburg told reporters after the meeting, explaining that he had given Mr. Trump “my personal commitment” that Boeing would build new Air Force One planes for less than the $4 billion estimate. Weeks after the conversation, Boeing donated $1 million to Mr. Trump’s inaugural committee. The company had donated the same amount to help finance President Barack Obama’s inauguration in 2013. 
Dan Diamond at Politico:
The White House's proposed budget includes funding for a small children's health program sought by one of President Donald Trump's golfing buddies: Jack Nicklaus.
Under the administration's fiscal 2020 funding plan released Monday, HHS would steer $20 million toward a mobile children's hospital project at Miami's Nicklaus Children's Hospital, named for the legendary golfer.

Nicklaus had lobbied Trump on the golf course in Florida, and he met with HHS Secretary Alex Azar and then-OMB Director Mick Mulvaney in Washington, D.C., to request funds, say two individuals with knowledge. Trump personally directed HHS to earmark the funds to help Nicklaus develop mobile children's hospitals, one individual said.

Tuesday, March 12, 2019

Trump and Nixon

In Defying the Odds, we discuss Trump's character, involvement in scandal, and approach to the media -- which all suggests parallels to Nixon.  The update  -- just published --includes a chapter on the 2018 midterms.

From CNN:
Programming note: CNN Original Series “Tricky Dick” explores Richard Nixon’s political rise and fall, with never-before-seen footage, starting Sunday, March 17, at 9p ET/PT.
Washington (CNN) -- President Donald Trump’s rhetoric about the Russia investigation might seem unprecedented, including his blistering attacks on investigators and pushback against the press. But history presents another strong example. More than 40 years ago, President Richard Nixon grappled with Watergate and hit many of the same points as the scandal unfolded.
In both cases, the President and his White House were enveloped by a sprawling Justice Departmentinvestigation. Both times, this led to the departure of senior officials, a slew of criminal charges against people close to the President, and allegations of a cover-up. Nixon and Trump both relished opportunities to proclaim their innocence and go after their opponents.
There are parallels, but there are also some differences. Watergate forced Nixon from office in August 1974 after Republicans in Congress withdrew their support. Trump has maintained the backing of GOP lawmakers and voters alike. Indeed, many Trump supporters have embraced his narrative that he is the victim of a “witch hunt” and the investigation itself is the problem.
As special counsel Robert Mueller nears the end of his investigation and Democrats on Capitol Hill ramp up their own probes, here are a dozen ways Nixon and Trump struck similar tones.

Medicare Cuts

In Defying the Odds, we discuss the tax issue in the 2016 campaign.  The 2017 tax legislation is greatingly expand the deficit, which puts social security and Medicare at risk The update  -- just published --includes a chapter on the 2018 midterms.

Toluse Olorunnipa and Sean Sullivan at WP:
A new proposal by President Trump to slash Medicare spending puts Republicans in a political bind ahead of the 2020 election as Democrats are pitching an expansion of the popular health-care program for all Americans.
Trump’s 10-year budget unveiled Monday calls for more than $845 billion in reductions for Medicare, aiming to cut “waste, fraud and abuse” in the federal program that gives insurance to older Americans. It’s part of a broader proposed belt-tightening effort after deficits soared during the president’s first two years in office in part due to massive tax cuts for the wealthy.
The move immediately tees up a potential messaging battle between Democratic proposals for Medicare-for-all — castigated by Republicans as a socialist boondoggle — and a kind of Medicare-for-less approach. focused on cutting back on spending, from the GOP.
Democrats, including some seeking to challenge Trump in 2020, seized on the proposed Medicare cuts Monday as an example of the GOP seeking to balance the budget on the backs of the elderly and the poor after giving broad tax breaks to the wealthy.
“Make no mistake about it: Trump’s budget is a massive transfer of wealth from the working class to the wealthiest people and most profitable corporations in America,” Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), a Democratic presidential candidate, said in a Monday tweet that highlighted Medicare cuts.
During his 2016 campaign, Trump broke from Republican orthodoxy by promising not to cut Medicare, Medicaid or Social Security. His budget, by contrast, calls for scaling back all three programs.

Monday, March 11, 2019

Foreign Influence Operations

Li Yang, the Florida massage parlor entrepreneur who created and operated a business that sold Chinese business executives access to President Donald Trump and his family at Mar-a-Lago, has yet another intriguing line of work. She is an officer of two groups with ties to China’s Communist government. And she founded a Miami-based nonprofit that promotes “economic and cultural exchange” between China and the West in coordination with “senior…Chinese leaders” in the United States, according to a profile of Yang posted on a Chinese social media platform.
Donald Trump’s inauguration received tens of thousands of dollars from shell companies that masked the involvement of a foreign contributor or others with foreign ties.
The Guardian has identified the creators of three obscure firms that contributed money to Trump’s inaugural committee, which collected a record $107m as he entered the White House in 2017.
The three companies each gave $25,000 to Trump’s inaugural fund. At least one of the contributions was made for a foreign national who appears ineligible to make political donations in the US.
One of the $25,000 donations to Trump’s inauguration was made through a Delaware shell company for a wealthy Indian financier based in London, who appears to not hold US citizenship or residency.
Another was made by a company formed in Georgia by a lobbyist with connections to the Taiwanese government. His wife said the firm was funded by Chinese investors. One of their daughters was later given an internship in Trump’s White House, which they said was unrelated to the donation.

A third $25,000 contribution was made through a company formed anonymously in New York by an Israeli real estate developer who has helped other foreign developers with legal issues in the US. The Israeli developer said he held US residency, commonly known as a “green card”, which permitted him to contribute legally.

Sunday, March 10, 2019

Trump and AOC on America

In Defying the Odds, we discuss Trump's curious lack of devotion to American principles.  His rhetoric is more Putin than Reagan.  The update  -- just published --includes a chapter on the 2018 midterms.

At The Daily Beast, Amy Zimmerman reports on a remark by Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez:
"And for me, what is just so upsetting and heartbreaking about this moment is like, since when did it become the moderate position in America to continue caging children?” 
“And so I think all of these things sound radical compared to where we are, but where we are is not a good thing!” She exclaimed. “And this idea of like 10 percent better than garbage…It shouldn’t be what we settle for.”
Trumpists are attacking her comment as a slur on America.  But note what Trump told The New York Times in 2016:
We have tremendous problems when you have policemen being shot in the streets, when you have riots, when you have Ferguson. When you have Baltimore. When you have all of the things that are happening in this country — we have other problems, and I think we have to focus on those problems. When the world looks at how bad the United States is, and then we go and talk about civil liberties, I don’t think we’re a very good messenger.

Chinese Deep Massage

 In  Defying the Oddswe discuss  Trump's record of scandal The update  -- just published --includes a chapter on the 2018 midterms.

The latest Trump political donor to draw controversy is Li Yang, a 45-year-old Florida entrepreneur from China who founded a chain of spas and massage parlors that included the one where New England Patriots owner Bob Kraft was recently busted for soliciting prostitution. She made the news this week when the Miami Herald reported that last month she had attended a Super Bowl viewing party at Donald Trump’s West Palm Beach golf club and had snapped a selfie with the president during the event. Though Yang no longer owns the spa Kraft allegedly visited, the newspaper noted that other massage parlors her family runs have “gained a reputation for offering sexual services.” (She told the newspaper she has never violated the law.) Beyond this sordid tale, there is another angle to the strange story of Yang: She runs an investment business that has offered to sell Chinese clients access to Trump and his family. And a website for the business—which includes numerous photos of Yang and her purported clients hobnobbing at Mar-a-Lago, Trump’s private club in Palm Beach—suggests she had some success in doing so.

A blast from the past...On May 12, 2017   Javier C. Hernández reported at NYT:
The real estate company owned by the family of Jared Kushner, son-in-law and senior adviser to President Trump, said on Friday that its employees would no longer take part in a cross-country roadshow in China this month.
Executives from Kushner Companies, including Nicole Meyer, Mr. Kushner’s sister, were expected to appear in the southern cities of Shenzhen and Guangzhou and the central city of Wuhan this month, according to ads for the events.
But after an uproar, the company and its Chinese partner said on Friday that Kushner Companies would no longer be present at those events, although it will continue to actively court investors.
The company is seeking $150 million in financing for a New Jersey housing development through a program that gives foreigners who invest at least $500,000 a shot at green cards, which allow permanent residence in the United States. The overall sum represents about 15 percent of the total cost of the property project.
But the effort to raise money in China drew widespread criticism, with ethics experts saying it presented a conflict of interest. Mr. Kushner continues to benefit from a stake in his family’s real estate business and other investments worth as much as $600 million.

Saturday, March 9, 2019

Erik Prince Perjury?

 In  Defying the Oddswe discuss  Trump's record of scandal The update  -- just published --includes a chapter on the 2018 midterms.

Brooke Seipel at The Hill:
Erik Prince, the former head of Blackwater and brother of Education Secretary Betsy DeVos, has acknowledged that he was present at a key 2016 Trump Tower meeting.
In an interview on Al Jazeera's "Head to Head" that aired Friday, Prince said he was present at an Aug. 3, 2016, meeting at Trump Tower to "talk about Iran policy."
The New York Times reported last year that Prince organized a 2016 meeting at Trump Tower that included Donald Trump Jr. and Lebanese-American businessman George Nader. During that meeting, Nader reportedly said the United Arab Emirates and Saudi Arabia wanted to aid Trump in his bid for the White House.

Prince previously testified under oath to the House Intelligence Committee on Nov. 30, 2017, saying at the time that he had "no official" or "really unofficial role" in the Trump campaign and his only involvement in helping was attending fundraisers and placing yard signs.
"Head to Head" host Mehdi Hasan pressed Prince on why his presence at the meeting was apparently not part of his testimony to lawmakers, to which Prince suggested, "they got the transcript wrong," prompting laughter from the audience.

Prince later added, "not all of the discussion that day was transcribed."

Friday, March 8, 2019

House GOP Botches Anti-Hate Vote

In Defying the Odds, we discuss state and congressional elections as well as the presidential race   The update  -- just published --includes a chapter on the 2018 midterms.  It explains how House GOP miscalculations contributed to the Democratic victory at the polls.  The miscalculations keep coming.

23 HOUSE REPUBLICANS voted against a resolution Thursday evening that condemned hate against many groups, including Jews and Muslims, in the wake of REP. ILHAN OMAR’S (D-MINN.) comments that suggested supporters of Israel might have dual loyalty -- remarks that were widely viewed as anti-Semitic. Every Democrat voted yes.
-- THERE IS SERIOUS, SERIOUS anger -- seething, it’s fair to say -- at the top levels of the House GOP that Republicans muddled their message with a split on this vote. All week, HOUSE MINORITY LEADER KEVIN MCCARTHY’S leadership team managed to keep his troops in line, allowing Democrats to spend days upon days tripping all over themselves. Now, they have taken a bit of the spotlight off Democrats for reasons that are clear to no one.

THE PREVAILING THOUGHT in House GOP leadership and in much of the rank and file is that the folks who voted against the resolution handed Democrats a gift.
-- THE HOUSE GOP is overwhelmingly white and male, so there is definitely a concern about a slice of the party voting against a resolution that condemns hate against minorities.
-- HOUSE REPUBLICAN CONFERENCE CHAIRWOMAN LIZ CHENEY of Wyoming split with MCCARTHY and HOUSE MINORITY WHIP STEVE SCALISE (R-LA.) and voted against the bill. Sure, they’re in the minority, so fissures might appear to matter less, but when the rank and file sees that there is disunity at the top, they take notice.
Josh Marshall at TPM:
The real headline is that 23 Republicans voted against the resolution. On its face, presumably that means they voted “no” as a statement that they didn’t find the resolution strong enough. But the actual roll call, well … it’s not all that clear. Steve King, the actual anti-Semite and white nationalist in Congress, voted “present”, not doing his GOP colleagues any favors.
It’s not much better from there. The list of 23 is heavily stocked with some of the most hard right Republicans in Congress: Gohmert, Gosar, Massie, Yoho, Burgess, Palazzo, Biggs. Palazzo is a big time confederate flag supporter and … well, not great on race issues. And that applies to at least some degree to lots of those on the list. House number three leader Liz Cheney voted against it and (probably the only one party leaders are happy about) Lee Zeldin, one of two Jewish Republicans in Congress, did too.

Thursday, March 7, 2019

Anti-Semitism Divides Democrats

In Defying the Odds, we discuss the Sanders candidacy and the leftward drift of the Democratic Party.     The update  -- just published --includes a chapter on the 2018 midterms.

Bret Stephens at NYT writes about Rep .Ilhan Omar (D-MN):
“Israel has hypnotized the world,” she tweeted in 2012. “May Allah awaken the people and help them see the evil doings of Israel.” Last month, she wrote that U.S. support for Israel was “all about the Benjamins baby.” A few weeks after that, she told an audience in D.C. that “I want to talk about the political influence in this country that says it is O.K. to push for allegiance to a foreign country.” Confronted with criticism about the remark from her fellow Democrat Nita Lowey, she replied: “I should not be expected to have allegiance/pledge support to a foreign country in order to serve my country in Congress or serve on committee.”
Under intense pressure, Omar recanted those first two tweets. But she’s standing her ground on her more recent comments. It’s a case study in the ease with which strident criticism of Israel shades into anti-Semitism.
House Democrats are now wrangling over the text of a resolution that was initially intended as a condemnation of anti-Semitism, with Omar as its implicit target. At this writing it is mired in predictable controversy, as members of the party’s progressive wing and black caucus rally to Omar’s side in the first open challenge to House Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s leadership. In the Senate, the presidential hopefuls Kamala Harris, Bernie Sanders and Warren have weighed in with statements that painted Omar as a victim of Islamophobia — which she is — without mentioning that she’s also a purveyor of anti-Semitic bigotry — which she surely is as well.
It says something about the progressive movement today that it has no trouble denouncing Republican racism, real and alleged, every day of the week but has so much trouble calling out naked anti-Semite in its own ranks. This is how progressivism becomes Corbynism. It’s how the left finds its own path toward legitimizing hate. It’s how self-declared anti-fascists develop their own forms of fascism.

Wednesday, March 6, 2019

New York's Legal Threat to Trump

Bill Mahoney at Politico New York:
The federal government is barred from trying somebody twice for the same crime. But New York’s statute takes this further than is constitutionally necessary by saying state prosecutors can’t charge someone who has received a federal pardon with a related state crime.
New Attorney General Tish James made closing the so-called double jeopardy loophole a regular talking point on the campaign trail. She has been pressing lawmakers on the issue in recent weeks.
“I think we’re getting close,” said state Sen. Todd Kaminsky (D-Nassau), the bill’s sponsor and a former federal prosecutor. He said that James and the Assembly “are working out some language. ... It’s clear the bill is a priority, it’s something I’m confident we’re going to move this session, and we just want to do it so it’s not too over-broad.”
The legislation was initially proposed by former Attorney General Eric Schneiderman. While his career ended in disgrace mere weeks after the bill was introduced, the idea has continued to receive attention as the number of people with ties to the president who have been indicted — including several for crimes allegedly committed in New York — continues to tick up. Just two weeks ago, reports surfaced that Manhattan District Attorney Cy Vance Jr. has begun to draf tstate charges against former Trump campaign manager Paul Manafort, but it could face a hurdle in the form of the current state law.

Tuesday, March 5, 2019

Trump, Existential Fear, and Evangelicals

In Defying the Odds, we discuss cultural reasons for Trump's victory.  The update  -- just published --includes a chapter on the 2018 midterms.

A.J. Nolte at The Bulwark:
...Obergefell came as a huge shock to conservative evangelicals. They’d rapidly gone from certainty that they were winning big cultural fights to a very real fear that their views on marriage would be regarded as proof of bigotry. Given that the Obama administration regarded forcing nuns to provide contraception as a moral imperative, this fear was, perhaps, not totally groundless. Bluntly put, many evangelicals panicked.
Existential fear’s impact on political behavior is something political scientists have studied extensively. One of the primary drivers of this type of fear they’ve identified is when rising expectations about the future are dashed. In essence, this explains what happened to evangelicals, just as it explains the role declining trade between Britain and Germany may have played in World War I. And, as in war, pretty much the first thing a political movement does when faced with existential fear is to look for allies: the tougher, stronger, and scarier, the better.
Counterintuitively, the fact that Trump is bellicose, bombastic, insulting, and lives according to a code at odds with evangelicals’ beliefs actually made him more attractive as an ally, not less. “Evangelical nice” is a real thing, and like all good satirical characters, there’s a solid core of truth in The Simpsons’ depiction of Ned Flanders. That made evangelicals unlikely to see one of their own as capable of defeating an existential threat. But Trump embodied the opposite values, and he seemed determined to fight the people they were fighting
 In the long run, of course, the evangelical alliance with Trump is almost certain to do more harm than good. Trump’s administration has certainly used executive action to follow through on some evangelical priorities related to abortion and religious freedom, and has appointed one, maybe two, reliably conservative Supreme Court justices. On the other hand, he’s also alienated millennials, ethnic minority voters, and college-educated suburbanites, and this alienation is making evangelicals and their positions more unpopular by proxy. It also doesn’t particularly help that, while past evangelical efforts on religious freedom (such as the 1993 Religious Freedom Restoration Act and 1998 International Religious Freedom Act) were explicitly designed to apply to Christians and non-Christians alike, Trump’s flirtation with things like Muslim bans undermines this universal argument in significant ways. Critics of broad religious freedom protections argue that they amount to “Christian special pleading”; it’s not a particularly good idea for evangelicals to condone any of Trump’s actions that give support to that argument.

Monday, March 4, 2019

Trump and Antitrust

In Defying the Odds, we discuss Trump's approach to the media -- which is Nixonian.  The update  -- just published --includes a chapter on the 2018 midterms.
As the Washington Post reported in 1997, Nixon talked to Chuck Colson in 1971 about using antitrust threats: "`If the threat of screwing them is going to help us more with their programming than doing it, then keep the threat,' Nixon told a White House aide in a tape-recorded Oval Office conversation recently transcribed for the first time. `Don't screw them now. [Otherwise] they'll figure that we're done.'"

Jane Mayer in The New Yorker:
The Justice Department, meanwhile, went to court in an effort to stop A. T. & T.’s acquisition of Time Warner, which owns CNN. Time Warner saw the deal as essential to its survival at a time when the media business is increasingly dominated by giant competitors such as Google and Facebook. Murdoch understood this impulse: in 2014, 21st Century Fox had tried, unsuccessfully, to buy Time Warner. For him, opposing his rivals’ deal was a matter of shrewd business. Trump also opposed the deal, but many people suspected that his objection was a matter of petty retaliation against CNN. Although Presidents have traditionally avoided expressing opinions about legal matters pending before the judicial branch, Trump has bluntly criticized the plan. The day after the Justice Department filed suit to stop it, he declared the proposed merger “not good for the country.” Trump also claimed that he was “not going to get involved,” and the Justice Department has repeatedly assured the public that he hasn’t done so.
However, in the late summer of 2017, a few months before the Justice Department filed suit, Trump ordered Gary Cohn, then the director of the National Economic Council, to pressure the Justice Department to intervene. According to a well-informed source, Trump called Cohn into the Oval Office along with John Kelly, who had just become the chief of staff, and said in exasperation to Kelly, “I’ve been telling Cohn to get this lawsuit filed and nothing’s happened! I’ve mentioned it fifty times. And nothing’s happened. I want to make sure it’s filed. I want that deal blocked!”
Cohn, a former president of Goldman Sachs, evidently understood that it would be highly improper for a President to use the Justice Department to undermine two of the most powerful companies in the country as punishment for unfavorable news coverage, and as a reward for a competing news organization that boosted him. According to the source, as Cohn walked out of the meeting he told Kelly, “Don’t you fucking dare call the Justice Department. We are not going to do business that way.”
A spokesperson for Cohn declined to comment, and Kelly did not respond to inquiries from The New Yorker, but a former White House official confirmed that Trump often “vented” in “frustration” about wanting to block the A. T. & T.-Time Warner merger. “The President does not understand the nuances of antitrust law or policy,” the former official says. “But he wanted to bring down the hammer.” (Last month, a federal court ruled against the Justice Department.)

Sunday, March 3, 2019


In Defying the Odds, we discuss Trump's character.   The update  -- just published --includes a chapter on the 2018 midterms.

"If you use Article Two, it is called obstruction," Trump told CPAC. "But only for Trump, for nobody else." 


From Article I of the articles of impeachment against Richard Nixon:
In his conduct of the office of President of the United States, Richard M. Nixon, in violation of his constitutional oath faithfully to execute the office of President of the United States and, to the best of his ability, preserve, protect, and defend the Constitution of the United States, and in violation of his constitutional duty to take care that the laws be faithfully executed, has prevented, obstructed, and impeded the administration of justice...

The means used to implement this course of conduct or plan included one or more of the following:
making false or misleading statements to lawfully authorized investigative officers and employees of the United States;

withholding relevant and material evidence or information from lawfully authorized investigative officers and employees of the United States;

approving, condoning, acquiescing in, and counselling witnesses with respect to the giving of false or misleading statements to lawfully authorized investigative officers and employees of the United States and false or misleading testimony in duly instituted judicial and congressional proceedings;

interfering or endeavouring to interfere with the conduct of investigations by the Department of Justice of the United States, the Federal Bureau of Investigation, the office of Watergate Special Prosecution Force, and Congressional Committees...

Trump at CPAC 2019

In Defying the Odds, we discuss Trump's character.   The update  -- just published --includes a chapter on the 2018 midterms.

Amanda Sakuma sums up Trump at CPAC:
He called the investigations into him “bullshit.” He said John Podesta, the former chairman of Hillary Clinton’s campaign, “hasn’t gotten over getting his ass kicked.” He mocked the “New Green Deal” — “whatever the hell they call it.” After a while, it was hard to count the number of times he said “damn.”
Jeff Sessions received the brunt of hate from Trump, who called him “weak and ineffective” as attorney general. Trump went as far as deriding his cabinet member by mocking his southern accent and his decision to bow out of overseeing the investigation. “I’m going to recuse mahhself,” Trump said.

More from Sakuma:
Trump set the tone early in his speech with the amount of red meat to throw at the crowd of conservatives, warning of a “socialist takeover” that posed an existential threat to democracy and even going so far as to say outright that some elected officials hate the United States.

“We have people in Congress right now that hate our country... When I see some of the statements being made, it’s very very sad,” he said. “And find out — how did they do in their country? Did they do well?... Some will say it’s terrible he brought that up, but I don’t mind.”


His speech really went off the rails (as usual) when talking about immigration. Trump once again stoked fears of a “migrant invasion” at the southern border. He suggested that parents from Central America were sending their daughters with “massive amounts of birth control” to cross the US border illegally, knowing they would be raped by human traffickers ( “True story told to me by the Border Patrol,” he said, “Think of how evil that is.”)

He also resurrected old dog whistles about foreign women who give birth in the US to game the immigration system.

“They used to call it anchor babies but they don’t use that term anymore because it’s not nice,” Trump said.