Al Sharpton To Michael Cohen: “What The Hell Do You Have To Lose?”

And still Donald Trump continues to insist that “karma is not a bitch,” even as Michael Cohen realizes that, as Al Sharpton told him, “what the hell do you have to lose?”  I am thinking, maybe there’s something going on.

New Presidential Clarification: I Meant To Say Karma Is Not, Repeat Not, A Bitch

Responding to the revelation that (hallelujah) there is a tape (how many?) of Mr. Trump talking hush hush with Cohen, Donald J. Trump has announced that all these years he has really been saying “karma is not a bitch.”  And we were mistaken, Trump added, to think that when he said “lock her up, lock her up” that he meant those words to be taken literally or seriously.  In related news, Vladimir Putin denied that he was not thinking about flipping his support to the Democrats for the midterms.

New York Times And Washington Post Struggling To Stop Giving Trump The Benefit Of The Doubt Today

Today’s top headlines are still Trump-indulgent, for shame.  NY Times: “Trump Says He Misspoke On Russian Role; Under Fire, He Says He Accepts U.S. Reports On Meddling.”  Yes those things happens, but in the very same breath, President Trump said “could be other people also. A lot of other people out there.”  He did not say “what about the 400-pound guy on the sofa in Jersey,” but Trump followers got the message, which is, yeah he said thing A because the lugenpresse and Soros and the Left made him but he also said thing B (the 400-pound guy) to own the libs, and we get it and the elites don’t.

The Washington Post fell into the same trap of indulging the rightwing strategy of getting-dotard-off-the-hook-and-pass-more-tax-cuts-quick.  Their story quoted the “could be other people” message in the first paragraph, but the headline was just as off base as the NYT’s: “Under fire, Trump says he accepts intelligence on Russian interference.”  True as far as it goes, but it does not go far enough.  What part of their own columnist Margaret Sullivan’s advice about giving readers a “truth sandwich” do the Post headline writers still fail to grasp?

P.S. To its credit, CNN (both Brooke Baldwin and Jake Tapper) have dealt skeptically today with Trump’s message, dealing precisely with the issues above.  Note to Marty Baron: I know you are busy, but headlines are very important. To Dean Baquet: it’s not a “great f—ing story” anymore if you eff it up.

Trump (On Hannity’s Show) Confirms “President Putin Is Living Rent-Free In My Head”

In case it wasn’t absolutely clear from the Helsinki press conference, Donald J. Trump has officially confirmed in a TV interview aired on the Hannity show yesterday that Vladimir Putin is giving him direction on how to respond to Robert Mueller’s investigation. Also, in 2013, many many years ago, as President Putin said, I Donald Trump was just one more wannabe pimp. And “he also says there is absolutely no collusion, which you know, and Tucker standing over there definitely knows, because he gets it.  He’s one of the people that get it.”  Now I’m wondering whether Putin gets it, or Tucker gets it, or both.  I think they both get it, it being the absolute lack of collusion.  OK settled that.  Four hours ago, everything changed at the end of a very very long period of time when we came to a lot of really good conclusions. And “foreign relations, I’m going to have a great story.”  A story of me bowing low.  “I did say, you have to pay up.”  And President Putin, he told me to tell everybody that the Mueller witch hunt is a real shame and Russia might have to attack us if we don’t get rid of the Mueller shame. He, Putin, felt is was very hard for me, Donald Trump, to make a deal because of, you know, all of this nonsense and much of the muchness of the case.

Lots Of Low Energy Learned Helplessness From Republicans Today, Wonder Why?

Donald Trump is very strong. He tells it like it is. The world is very dangerous, but Mr. Trump is the one, the only one, who can keep us safe.

That was before yesterday.  Now what?  Many Republicans are now in hiding.  A few (many of whom are retiring) have made critical statements referencing “Russia” as a problem, but not “Trump,” as if “Trump” had little or nothing to do with “Russia.”  Funny, my lying eyes just witnessed President Trump bowing down low, sucking up, accepting a large ball as a gift, and disrespecting American law enforcement and intelligence agencies while standing right next to the former KGB agent who has been the dictator of Russia since before Trump even made it onto reality TV.  Maybe I’ll forget all about that quickly.

As far as I can tell, the Republican appeasement-of-the-appeaser strategy is going as follows: yeah, it wasn’t a good moment, but her emails, but dangerous gangs of Central American brown people, but it’s really all under control, but your tax cuts and Supreme Court.  Maybe it’ll work.  But the “Democrats are talking crazy talk about Russia” thing is not going to fly so well anymore.  The “witch hunt” thing isn’t looking so good anymore (Ryan even said explicitly today that Mueller’s investigation should continue).  Most of all, the “Republican presidents are strong and tough” thing has been pretty well punctured.  Some people on Fox will say Trump can “correct his mistake.”  It’s not so easy, we saw what we saw, the nonverbal messages are not so easy to erase with a tweet or with blathering words.

The learned Republican helplessness won’t help them much either–at least if Democrats continue to pound them every day with the things that Congress actually can and should do: pass a law to protect Mueller.  The Senate Judiciary Committee already passed such a bill 14-7 out of committee, but McConnell refuses to put it on the Senate floor, because of course it would pass. It would not be law unless the House passed it, which is unlikely, but it would be some deterrent to Trump.  Congress could subpoena Trump’s tax returns and business records as part of an investigation into what he owes to Russia.  The House Intelligence Committee could reopen its investigation into Russia-Trump ties, without Devin Nunes on the committee.  All of this might or might not result in impeachment–which is fine, because what is most urgently needed right now is not immediate impeachment, but actual oversight.  The media should not excuse Republicans for their learned helplessness–that would be the soft bigotry of low expectations, wouldn’t it?

Spare Us The “I’m Shocked, Shocked” Reactions To The Helsinki Press Conference

Yes, Trump did go overboard in blowing any remaining cover.  In fact Putin may have tried to dial it down a couple of times (along with dunking on Trump a couple of times, e.g. “are you kidding, of course I wanted this puppet Trump to become president”).  But some of the hot takes from reporters that they are “shocked” makes me wonder: have you considered reassessing your assumptions? your reflexive “bothsidesism”? what news sources have you been reading and watching for the past three years?

Rootless Cosmopolitan President Loses The Run Of Himself In England

Between “I miss the name ‘England’ and insulting the Prime Minister in a tabloid interview and making Queen Elizabeth II wait ten minutes for his arrival while she stood out in the hot sun, the President of the United States lost the run of himself this week.  I agree with the notion that it’s not enough to say that he is a moron–it’s more complicated.  I’m sure that along with the buffoonish commentary about “the name ‘England'” that he intended to bully Prime Minister May by touting Boris Johnson and insinuating that he had a secret sauce for negotiating Brexit and that May has foolishly failed to heed his (so far and probably forever unspecified, like his taxes) brilliantly “brutal” advice.  The purpose of all that was to weaken the existing government, making the “Leavers” feel Trump will surely give them a deal that is the “highest level of special,” all for the sake of making Trump look like he alone can solve the UK’s problems.

He, Trump, may or may not be consciously following a playbook that Putin or his minions have laid out explicitly.  Trump has, though, had contacts with Russians going back over thirty years, long before Putin became czar.  Nevertheless, the Soviets of the 1980s had and Putin today has a consistent purpose: attack the main enemy, the US, via maskirovka aimed at sowing internal divisions.  With Trump they managed to hit the jackpot.  Bullying and autocratic rule and thuggishness have been in Trump’s head (and heart, to speak loosely) for his whole life.  When Trump warned the other day that Europeans had “better watch themselves” lest they lose their “culture,” he was parroting straight-up white nationalist rhetoric, rhetoric that many in Congress, Republican as well as Democrat, have denounced for decades.  But the Republican Party leadership, Senate and House, is now going almost completely silent as Trump becomes ever more open in his alliance with voices that until very recently were completely off-limits for their openly racist, anti-Semitic, and anti-Muslim abuse.  Sam Brownback, Trump’s “ambassador for international religious freedom,” has apparently threatened British officials with reprisals if they do not release Tommie Robinson–that is way out of the bounds of how the US and UK have dealt with one another.  It is apparently not enough for the president to issue pardons to wingnut “sovereign citizens” and arsonists, now they want to meddle in British justice on behalf of the so-called English Defence League.

Who is really the “rootless cosmopolitan” in 2018?  That phrase was used to target Jews in the 20th century. Trump has his own version of racial dog whistling and targeting.  His rhetoric is approaching klaxon horn volume–but he is dangerous precisely because, as so often, he is projecting onto others his own weaknesses.  If there was ever a truly and pitifully rootless wannabe cosmopolitan in our time, he’s it.

Mueller Removed Agent Strzok From The Trump-Russia Investigation A Year Ago So He’s Old News–But Today’s Hearing Is Still Quite A Show

Robert Mueller removed Peter Strzok from the Russia case about a year ago.  Strzok exercised poor judgment on several fronts. I do not have great faith in Strzok’s assertions that his official actions were not affected by his personal opinions–though it’s worth saying that Strzok, unlike the NY FBI office, does not seem to have threatened to leak or have leaked for political purposes any damaging information about FBI investigations I think Mueller did the right thing sending him packing.   I am thus not sure what point Republicans thought they would be making today, other than to air out Strzok’s embarrassingly dirty laundry, which at this point has little to do with Mueller if one is actually following facts rather than titillating insinuations.  Though I don’t trust Strzok much, the behavior today of Congressmen Goodlatte and Gowdy is at least as tawdry.  Goodlatte has little clue about parliamentary procedure, which may have led him into a Democratic trap.  It is pretty rich that Goodlatte would threaten Strzok with contempt citations (for following FBI legal instructions to refrain from answering any questions bearing on an ongoing investigation) when Steve Bannon faced no such similar compulsion.  Goodlatte’s refusal to let Strzok consult an FBI lawyer this morning would be laughably corrupt if it weren’t such an ominous sign.  Republican refusal to conduct impartial oversight–or much oversight of Trump at all–was never on clearer display than today.  Congressional hectoring of witnesses looks unseemly, but that’s not new.  What’s dangerous is Republican political sabotage of an investigation into Russian political sabotage of our elections.


P.S. Further evidence of meddling:

The President Doesn’t Need To Read The Black Book Of Communism, Putin Will Read It Aloud For Him


The Crimes, the Terror, and the Repression that the Black Book of Communism (1997) describe are likely to fascinate Donald Trump as Vladimir Putin–who speaks pretty good English, I have heard–reads the black book lullaby aloud during their summit meeting.  I expect Putin to lull Trump into a dreamlike fugue state as Trump imagines how beautiful it would be to wield dictatorial power that so far he has just glimpsed longingly from afar.

By the way, what the hell were 7 Republicans from the US Senate doing in Russia on the 4th of July? Where, in particular, do Senator Ron Johnson’s loyalties lie?

If Donald Trump is not following Putin’s script in Europe this week, how would we know the difference? Yes, some NATO countries have not yet reached the 2% of GDP military spending target yet, but the agreed deadline is 2024. Yes, Germany’s dependence on Russian pipelines is troubling (at least to some Eastern Europeans, whom Russia could cut off more easily if Germany increases capacity on a route that bypasses East Europe; also US natural gas producers don’t like it), but Trump gave a wildly exaggerated picture.  Germany gets less than 10% of its energy from Russia.  Trump may have been accurate when he threw out “60-70% of gas,” but natural gas is just a small part of Germany’s energy use. Trump probably knew he was spreading lies when he said Germany is “totally captive to Russia,” and he has already moved on to spread other lies in Brussels and London.  Europeans would do well to increase military spending–for their own reasons–but Trump forgets to mention that NATO’s Article 5 clause of mutual self-defense has been triggered just once–in the fall of 2001, after the 9/11 attacks on the United States.  NATO soldiers from several countries have died in Afghanistan and Pakistan and elsewhere in support of policies driven by American presidents. Trump does have at least half a point in pushing NATO nations to increase their spending (the “half against” argument might be that the US spends far less than 2% of its GDP on military efforts related to NATO countries, though some military assets are mobile enough to reach Europe fairly quickly), but his careening from one extreme position to another is not encouraging me that we have a very stable genius as president.


P.S. The latest revelations from the Financial Times about Russian money in Trump’s Toronto project are looking unclean:

Are You Being Groomed To Love The New Name Of Our National Capital?

“Chinese government bans media criticism of President Trump”–today’s Washington Post.  And why not, in spite of the tariffs thing, dictators gonna dictate it comes to suppressing free speech and showing that they’re “strong leaders.”  Speaking of which, the summit is going to be so easy for our Trump because he has a special gift for Putin, even better than a Rocket Man CD.  Trump will be announcing that our national capital will be renamed in October (to commemorate the October Revolution, naturally) as “Putingrad,” which may not roll off the tongue quite yet.  But after a few years of mandatory Russian in mandatory Christian academy white nationalist charter schools, it’ll go down easy.

Trump Announces That Merkel Is The Puppet Not Him–And That Next War Will Be Fought On Rockaway Beach And Virginia Beach, Not (As We Had Figured) In Latvia And Estonia

If President Trump had called out German Chancellor Angela Merkel to her face for Germany’s supposed “captivity” to Russia, instead of yammering at a Norwegian (Stoltenberg) about Germany’s pipeline, I would be ready to say he might have half a point.  But as it is, he smiled in the photo shoot with Merkel, and so I have to keep it 100 and call our US president the cowardly weasel he is.  It was embarrassing and sickening to see Trump try his “no puppet, no puppet, you’re the puppet” routine on Merkel.  She had a firm yet courteous response to Trump: I grew up in Russian-controlled East Germany, and am happy to live in a unified and free Germany where we make our own decisions. Other European leaders will, I hope, learn from Merkel’s response to Trump.  Trump’s cult followers may be willing to have Trump groom them to see Putin as an ally in the white nationalist cause, but I expect a wave of anti-Trump revulsion this November.  European leaders and others will, I hope, hang in there until Trump is cut down to size by actual constitutionally-based oversight from the next House of Representatives.

To Win Midterms, Democrats Need To Reset Their Heuristics About Other People’s Availability Heuristics

Fancy words, I know.  I just mean that leading Democrats–from Schumer and Pelosi on down–ought to get more realistic about what their likely voters are really like.  Their likely voters, contrary to some Democrats’ pleasantly self-flattering availability heuristics, are not necessarily very well-informed about the details of government policy, or federal agency regulations, or the subtleties of Chevron deference.  Also, Trump lies, but not as many people care about that as Democrats would like to think.  Democrats, to win the midterms, must transmit cues to voters that are easily understandable and emotionally compelling–healthcare sabotage by Trump; the threat to pre-existing conditions coverage; the threat to women’s access to birth control as well as abortion; the crushing burdens of our new Gilded Age, especially the social insecurity.  Trump boosters love to say “promises kept,” but Democrats need to counter that by saying over and over that wage growth is stagnant, that regular people are bearing heavier burdens while the 1% and fake corporate people are living high on the hog, and most of all, that Republican cruelty and harshness is not a natural law but a deliberate choice Trump’s party has made because Trump could not care less about working Americans.  Seventy-eight foreign workers at Mar-a-Lago is not America first. Tolerating Wilbur Ross’s insider trading is not draining the swamp. The swamp creatures in Trump’s cabinet.  The see-no-evil denials of sexual abuse by people like Jim Jordan.  And the danger of an out-of-control president who has no clue about what has made America great and no respect or feeling for freedom.  Democrats must not assume that people have leisure time to keep up with complicated story lines.  Motivating those who already despise Trump and will crawl over glass to vote Democratic this November–that’s already baked in, but it’s not enough to win.  Democratic politicians who really want to put a check on Trump’s power must stop flattering themselves that “their” voters are more informed and can’t be fooled by Trump.  The millions of disaffected, jaded, harried, troubled, people who may or may not bother to vote need to hear short and sweet messages, over and over.  They need to hear that Republicans are not doing squat to protect the forgotten men and women, and on the positive side that Democrats will defend economic opportunities for young people, healthcare security for everyone, and American freedoms against anybody who thinks that they are king.

Zero Tolerance For Noncompliance With Federal Court Orders–Looking At You, ICE And Jeff Sessions

It would be sad and low energy for the bureaucrats at ICE and the Justice Department to fail to comply with federal court orders regarding their abusive, inhumane, and illegal treatment of asylum seekers.  Maybe the judges should issue contempt citations and lock up a few of the recalcitrant bureaucrats to focus their minds.  I am not saying that any particular asylum seeker is entitled in any way to refuge in the United States.  I am not saying that everyone seeking entry into the US has a valid claim.  I am not in favor of open borders. I am in favor of zero tolerance for felonies.  For example, securities fraud and insider trading. If, and only if, Wilbur Ross has committed crimes, he should be locked up.  If, and only if, Jeff Sessions has committed perjury, he should be locked up.  Same goes for Donald Trump Jr.  Money laundering, zero tolerance. Perjury, zero tolerance. Tax evasion, zero tolerance.

P.S. I think “abolish ICE” is a dopey approach from a political standpoint for many if not most Democratic politicians, who should join together to push for better health care for all Americans and better educational opportunities–starting with early education.  And do attack Republican corruption and child abuse, the more vividly the better.  Do not assume that any potential voter has time to pay attention to the NYT or the Washington Post or even CNN, because many are too busy getting by. Re the Supreme Court, yes Roe is important, but so is the way the Supreme Court has made life more and more difficult for working people, in or out of unions.

Theresa May And Her Cabinet Play “Let’s Keep Pretending A Little Longer”

UK Prime Minister Theresa May kidnapped her Cabinet, brought them to Chequers in Buckinghamshire, and emerged triumphantly with promises of “Deal for Britain” and “Brexit Clarity.”  One can imagine that her ministers did not want to resign now, if only to avoid the mile walk down the Chequers driveway during a heat wave–but the clock continues ticking toward March 2019.  There is no way the EU is going to go along with the UK renouncing free movement and “taking back control” of borders; and avoiding a hard border between Northern Ireland and Ireland as well as Northern Ireland and Great Britain; and enjoying a UK-EU free trade area for agricultural products and industrial goods; and the UK renouncing ECJ jurisdiction and common fisheries policy.  She might convince many Leavers that the EU is rude and treacherous when they refuse to go along with this; she might even snap and start mouthing lines like Boris’s “F— Business” herself.  Maybe the UK will be in a stronger bargaining position next winter and May will get everything she is promising, but it’s hard to see how that’ s plausible.  It’s not easy to accept being a former empire in continuing (relative) decline.

When President Trump’s Older Sister Was Two Years Old, The Soviets Bombed Helsinki

Does President Trump know that Finland was attacked by the Soviet Union during his sister’s lifetime? Or that Finland was part of the Russian Empire during his father and mother’s lifetime? History sometimes seems to have begun fresh every morning for the president of the United States.  If only someone suspicious of the Russians and Chinese and North Koreans–John Bolton comes to mind–were keeping an eye on this, and giving the president good advice, and not buying into the talking points of Putin and Kim Jong Un and Xi Jinping.  If only two or three Republicans in the US Senate cared enough about “country over party” to say out loud that the Russians and the North Koreans and the Chinese might not actually follow up on their very beautiful handshakes with our stable genius president.  If only…


Update: and now we learn that US Secretary of State Pompeo delivered a Trump-signed CD of Elton John’s Rocket Man to Kim Jong Un the other day.  There is no bottom.

On Civility: Democrats Should Be Wise As Serpents And Innocent As Doves–Absolutely, Be Civil, But That Is Not The Same As Being Deferential Or Patient

David Gergen, among others, was dragged a lot recently for saying that the civil rights movement (and antiwar movement) was very civil in tone when compared with today’s protesters.  He seems to have had a memory lapse about the antiwar movement, but he did have a point about the civil rights movement, up to and including the events in Selma of 1965.  Of course the police were not very civil (with the notable exception of Laurie Pritchett of Albany, Georgia, which progressive activists should study), and King wrote a searing critique of white moderates in his “Letter From Birmingham Jail,” but King and other leaders of the freedom movement preached and practiced nonviolent resistance and civil disobedience as both strategy and way of life.  The attacks on the freedom riders and voting rights organizers were not civil at all, but the ideology of the freedom struggle itself was focused on resistance that respected the humanity and dignity of everyone, including and especially the oppressors.

Today’s protesters, if they really want to advance the cause of refugees, people of color, poor white people, and alienated white working-class (and relatively wealthy but anti-cosmopolitan) Trump supporters who knew he was a horrible human being but figured what the hell let’s roll the dice–winning the votes of enough people to grab some levers of power and oversight to put a check on the abuses of Trump is going to take some self-discipline and focus.  Restraint and civility and decency are not for suckers, they are virtues for serious people determined to make a change for the better.  Civil resistance to Trump is not at all about placating or deferring to Trump or his sometimes vicious cult followers.  It’s about regaining our democratic republic and our Constitution and our freedoms.  Civil resistance to Trump is not accepting mental Finlandization, it’s the best way to keep our whole country from being Finlandized by a rogue president.

Will Senator Susan Collins Apply Strict Scrutiny To The Next Supreme Court Nominee?

Three of the five Republican women in the US Senate are ostensibly pro-Roe.  Of those three, Murkowski and Capito have kept, as best I can tell, a prudent public silence about the impending Supreme Court nomination. Susan Collins of Maine, however, has been eager to let us all know that she has red lines.  She has said she cannot support a nominee who shows “hostility” to the Roe precedent.  If she actually applies “strict scrutiny” to the statements the president and the nominee make in coming weeks, good for her.  But she has a history of gaslighting her own constituents (the ACA repeal vote was an exception, to be fair) and I suspect she will find a way to apply “pretend-basis scrutiny” and be “shocked, shocked” when she runs for re-election in 2020.  Or, if the Court does not officially overrule Roe but merely narrows it to the width of the “eye of a needle,” Collins will say with a cheerful smile that there really isn’t any problem.

P.S. Of course the president says he has told not to ask potential nominees about Roe.  As John Poindexter said, it’s all about plausible deniability.

The “Cut Flower Culture” Of Rootless Anti-Cosmopolitan Republicans In The Time Of Trump

Will Herberg, Jewish Marxist-turned-National Review conservative, coined the phrase “cut flower culture” to criticize the rootless modernity he saw as destined to wither and die.  Today’s Trump cult followers may believe they are in glorious full flower.  Do they have any sense of what they have abandoned?  I would think it take some fancy mental footwork to toss aside so many purportedly deep convictions: judicial restraint, respect for precedent, hatred of tyrannical government, devotion to states’ rights, resistance to overbearing executive power, antipathy toward any politician who shows disrespect for veterans and women and POWs and free speech and who says “I alone can fix it”–I could swear that all of that would matter to anyone who is actually attached to small-c conservatism and our constitutional republic.  But the Trump cult shows up how shallow the roots of Republican principles really are.  Selective memory understates the problem.  The followers of Trump have shown themselves to be rootless anti-cosmopolitans.  Their inevitable withering will not be pretty to see.

Yes You Will Keep “Funding This Tripe”

Following the Brexit bickering in UK papers, I see quite a few Leavers intoning that they will “no longer fund this tripe,” meaning they want to stop paying into the bank accounts of bothersome bureaucrats in Brussels. But do these leavers know from whence their tripe soup cometh?  Yeah, Eastern Europe, very likely.  I’m betting that the anti-tripe-funders are going to find themselves paying even more for their beloved tripe next spring, unless they can boost UK tripe production numbers in a big way–which actually seems probable, judging from the comical to-and-fro of blame-shifting that will only intensify between now and next March