January 2018 Archives

Daily Beast's Betsy Woodruff explains why Nunes won't release the memo, noting that "The FBI has not been permitted to see the memo Rep. Devin Nunes and his staff wrote about alleged abuses by the intelligence community:"

"The FBI has requested to receive a copy of the memo in order to evaluate the information and take appropriate steps if necessary. To date, the request has been declined," said Andrew Ames, a spokesperson for the FBI. [...]

Nunes, who heads the powerful House intelligence community, put together the four-page memo based on intelligence the FBI showed him and a few of his staff, as well as Rep. Adam Schiff, the top Democrat on the committee. More than 150 members of the House have seen Nunes' memo. Scores are calling for its release, while Democrats say it is "a misleading set of talking points attacking the FBI."

"The fact that Republicans refuse to show the memo to FBI," Woodruff continues, "which characterizes the intelligence they shared with Nunes, has Democrats concerned:"

One aide told The Daily Beast it means Nunes' efforts are just politics. [...] The House intelligence committee decided against letting Democrats release a minority report characterizing the intelligence underlying the memo.

The second curious incident is the new White House voicemail greeting, as David Boddiger writes:

In response to the government shutdown over a funding impasse, someone has recorded an automated voice mail greeting on a public White House phone line that is overtly partisan and blames Democrats for "holding government funding, including funding for our troops and other national security priorities, hostage to an unrelated immigration debate."

Fact-checking website Snopes reported that, on Saturday, "The Republican-controlled White House went so far as to change the outgoing message on the White House telephone comment line (202-456-1111) to an unprecedented message blaming Democrats." Here's the transcript:

Thank you for calling the White House. Unfortunately, we cannot answer your call today, because Congressional Democrats are holding government funding, including funding for our troops and other national security priorities, hostage to an unrelated immigration debate. Due to this obstruction, the government is shut down. In the meantime, you can leave a comment for the president at www.whitehouse.gov/contact. We look forward to taking your calls as soon as the government reopens.

As Snopes continues:

A press release announcing the ad accuses Senate Minority Leader Charles Schumer and his fellow Democrats of "shut[ing] down the federal government, holding lawful citizens hostage over their demands for amnesty for illegal immigrants."

The press release goes on to call out "Democrats 'who stand in our way' of progress" of being "complicit in every murder committed by illegal immigrants."

To end on a lighter note, John Prager writes that Mar-a-Lago guests are horrified about plastic spoons with their caviar:

Trump bemoaned the fact that the government shutdown he and his party caused made him have to miss his big election anniversary extravaganza at the Mar-a-Lago.

While his sons Don Jr. and Eric filled in for him, Trump's guests were less than pleased with their $100k-$250k price of admission because they're spoiled rich jerks.

"I hate to do this, but this is a total disgrace, shame on Mar-a-Lago, you can't serve caviar with plastic spoons!" a horrified guest posted on Instagram. "Please offer your caviar with mother of pearl spoons and dishes."

Prager snarks that "It is unclear if the Caviar, like Trump's masters, was Russian."

Trump attacked the WSJ for "misquoting" him in this transcript:

Mr. Trump: President Xi has been extremely generous with what he's said, I like him a lot. I have a great relationship with him, as you know I have a great relationship with Prime Minister Abe of Japan and I probably have a very good relationship with Kim Jong Un of North Korea.

I have relationships with people, I think you people are surprised.

WSJ: Just to be clear, you haven't spoken to the North Korean leader, I mean when you say a relationship with Korea--

Mr. Trump: I don't want to comment on it--I don't want to comment, I'm not saying I have or I haven't. But I just don't--

"Ahead of Trump's attack," NCRM continues, "late Saturday, the newspaper released the audio of the transcript:"

We have reviewed the audio from our interview with President Trump, as well as the transcript provided by an external service, and stand by what we reported. Here is audio of the portion the White House disputes. https://t.co/eWcmiHrXJg pic.twitter.com/bx9fGFWaPw

-- The Wall Street Journal (@WSJ) January 14, 2018

NBC News' Geoff Bennett made this comment:

Worth noting this push to discredit the WSJ comes after the paper reported Friday that the president's private attorney brokered a $130K payment to a former adult film star to keep quiet about an alleged sexual encounter with Trump https://t.co/sLrgpdUG7h

-- Geoff Bennett (@GeoffRBennett) January 14, 2018


update (9:53pm):
Liberal America contextualizes the controversy:

The reporter was not being dishonest if he misinterpreted it. I guess it comes down to whose interpretation we trust, that of the Wall Street Journal reporter or that of Donald Trump. Me? Of course I believe nearly anyone over Donald Trump. D'uh. When you're dishonest and shady in most of your other dealings, you forfeit the benefit of the doubt in any argument. [...]

How will the Trumpers respond to this? I suspect they'll hear exactly what they want to hear, and they never want to hear the truth.

The duplicity also reaches into Trump's "shithole" remarks. H/t to Taegan Goddard for linking to Erick Erickson's explication of that event:

20180114-erickson.JPG

We now have corroboration of Stormy Daniels' story:

Adult actress Alana Evans claims porn star Stormy Daniels and Donald Trump invited her to their hotel room in a report that offered further corroboration of the Wall Street Journal's account earlier on Friday.

"Evans," the piece continues, "said she received multiple calls from the fellow actress while she was in a room with Trump:

"Stormy calls me four or five times, by the last two phone calls she's with Donald [Trump] and I can hear him, and he's talking through the phone to me saying, 'Oh come on Alana, let's have some fun! Let's have some fun! Come to the party, we're waiting for you,'" Evans told the Beast.

"She ultimately turned down the offer," the piece mentions, thereby foregoing the inevitable hush money and NDA. How many more stripper heels have yet to drop, one wonders...

idiot king

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The Rude Pundit wants Trump's defenders to prove that Trump isn't a fucking moron. Stephen Miller and CIA Director Mike Pompeo have defended Trump, but the Rude Pundit remains unsatisfied, suggesting that we "take a page from Trump himself:"

When questions were created by right-wing nutzoids about whether or not Barack Obama was born in the United States, Trump hounded Obama about producing his birth certificate. The best-known birther in the nation, Trump wouldn't let it go until Obama did finally make the document public. Even then, that wasn't enough for Trump, who fanned the flames of crazy until it no longer served a political purpose for him. [...]

So let's demand that Trump fucking prove that he's not an idiot, that he's actually engaged and understands the issues. That he is "like, really smart" and that he understands tax law better than any CPA or health care as well or better than anyone. That he's fit for office. Prove it. Put the fuck up or shut the fuck up. Because right now, we're just supposed to take his word and the word of his lackeys and sycophants. And if President Obama's word wasn't good enough on his place of birth, then Trump's word sure as shit ain't enough.

"Trump's gotta do a press conference," he continues "a real one, not a spontaneous one:"

He's gotta sit for an interview with someone who isn't one of his conservative ball washers. It's gotta be a real reporter who will ask him specific questions about specific policies and demand detail. C'mon, motherfucker. Let's see what you've got.

One can hope--although it's far more likely that "his idiot hordes will tell us that Trump is smart because, indeed, idiots want one of their own as their idiot king."

Alex Shephard discusses Holt's hit book at TNR, noting that "numerous people in the publishing industry have unironically compared Michael Wolff's explosive Trump administration tell-all Fire and Fury to Harry Potter:"

It's a genuine cultural phenomenon. Booksellers across the country told me they sold out in hours, if not minutes. Barnes & Noble's website informs anxious customers that the mega-chain will have the book back in stock on January 19. The otherwise speedy Amazon is even less precise: It warns the prospective reader that the book "usually ships within two to four weeks." More than 1,000 people are on the New York Public Library's waiting list. This scarcity has driven samizdat electronic copies of Fire and Fury, which began circulating even before the book's publisher, Henry Holt, moved the on-sale date up to January 5 from January 8. It may be the most pirated book since, you guessed it, Harry Potter. [...]

For the last year, major publishers have increasingly bet on Trump-focused books like Fire and Fury to drive revenue, with readers being distracted by the daily avalanche of news coming from the White House. Publishers spent 2017 catching up to Trump, having largely written him off in 2016.

HuffPo notes Holt's response to Trump's demands, writing that "Lawyers for the author and publisher [...] issued a letter Monday to the president's attorney, refusing to cease publication:"

"My clients do not intend to cease publication, no such retraction will occur, and no apology is warranted," [Holt and Wolff's attorney, Elizabeth] McNamara wrote in a letter obtained by HuffPost.

"Though your letter provides a basic summary of New York libel law, tellingly, it stops short of identifying a single statement in the book that is factually false or defamatory," the letter continued. "Instead, the letter seems designed to silence legitimate criticism."

Richard Eskow explains how the GOP's 100-year war is bigger than taxes or Trump, and says of Fire and Fury that "the book, and the president's unhinged reaction to it, provide new evidence that Trump is cognitively and emotionally unfit for office." Despite the focus on Trump's (lack of) intellect, Eskow writs, "the deeper forces of history move on, and we ignore them at our peril:"

While the nation obsesses about Trump, he and his fellow Republicans are radically rewiring our political and economic order. The tax bill they passed at the end of last year proves it.

"While Democrats offer complex proposals that tinker at the margins of multiple crises and fight one holding action after another," he continues, "Republicans are thinking big:"

They want to shape the next 100 years. They understand the sweep of history, as former Reagan aide Bruce Bartlett told David Sirota in a recent interview:
"Republicans have been working for at least 40 years to get to where they are now. And one of the ways they did this, is by creating a vast number of institutions and outlets for people who think the way they do to create and echo chamber, and really I call itself brainwashing ... There's nothing like this on the left. They don't put the resources into long term institutions and programs. They tend to be fireman. We're gonna rush to put out this fire, and once that fire's put out, they sit back and relax.

"Meanwhile," he adds, "the Republicans are setting other fires in lots of other places:"

The Republicans want to dismantle the collective gains of the Progressive Era, the New Deal, the New Frontier, and the Great Society. Instead of building on the progress of the past, they want to undo it. They want to radically unmake communitarian society, while turning workplaces, medical facilities, and the landscape into scenes of pollution and bodily harm - a Hieronymus Bosch landscape, but with white men in suits and ties instead of that artist's more customary demons.

Paul Waldman's assessment of Trump as a third-class intellect, but a fourth-class temperament harkens back to the erroneous attribution of "a second-class intellect but a first-class temperament" as Oliver Wendell Holmes' assessment of FDR. Of Trump, Waldman snarks that "He's the stablest, most geniusy stable genius, believe me," before opining on "the fact that the president of the United States is an obvious halfwit:"

We don't need to argue about whether it's true, because we see it every day.

Not only was he the most uninformed candidate in memory, he had no evident interest in learning about any substantive issue--yet proclaimed himself to know more about everything than anyone.

Contrast Trump's brainless braggadocio with a hypothetical opposite--such as his predecessor:

So if you were building a politician's mind from scratch you'd want him to have the intellect to understand complex policy issues but the judgment to make good decisions with limited information; the social intelligence to connect with a variety of different kinds of people; the wisdom to grasp potential futures from an understanding of the past; and the verbal dexterity necessary to speak eloquently off the cuff, to name just a few of the ways he might be considered smart. Few presidents have them all, yet our current president seems to have none of them.

Waldman then issues this frightening prophecy:

As a 71-year-old man who never exercises and subsists largely on junk food, the potential for Trump to experience a cognitive decline in the next few years is real. If you thought 2017 was crazy, just wait for 2018, 2019, and 2020.

I truly hope that he is wrong.

Ellen Brown examines the plight of student debt slavery in a pair of articles. Part 1 observes that "Slavery by debt has continued to this day, and it is particularly evident in the plight of students:"

Graduates leave college with a diploma and a massive debt on their backs, averaging over $37,000 in 2016. The government's student loan portfolio now totals $1.37 trillion, making it the second highest consumer debt category behind only mortgage debt. Student debt has risen nearly 164% in 25 years, while median wages have increased only 1.6%.

Due to that disparity, it's no surprise that "nearly one-third of borrowers have made no headway in paying down their loans five years after leaving school, although many of these borrowers are not in default:"

They make payments month after month consisting only of interest, while they continue to owe the full amount they borrowed. This can mean a lifetime of tribute to the lenders, while the loan is never paid off, a classic form of debt peonage to the lender class.

What happens if they don't pay up on time? Many people can't, which is why "the default rate on student debt was over 11% at public colleges and was 15.5% at private for-profit colleges:"

Defaulted borrowers risk damaging their credit and their ability to borrow for such things as homes, cars, and furniture, reducing consumer demand and constraining economic growth. Massive defaults could also squeeze the federal budget, since taxpayers ultimately cover any unpaid loans.

"It hasn't always been this way," she reminds us:

Until the 1970s, tuition at many state colleges and universities was free or nearly free. Education was considered an obligation of the public sector, and costs were kept low.

In Part 2, Brown mentions an estimate that "the government spends $38 for every $1 it recovers from defaulted debt. The other $37 goes to the debt collectors." To this, she simply asks, "Why?"

Student borrowers are reporting widespread mishandling of accounts, unexplained exorbitant fees, and outright deception as they are bullied into default, tactics similar to those that homeowners faced in the foreclosure crisis.

The public banking movement is a partial solution, as is tuition-free higher education. Such efforts might prevent the problem from worsening, but what to do about the current situation?

We need to free our students from the system of debt slavery that has financialized education, turning it from an investment in human capital into a tool for exploiting the young for the benefit of private investors.

The Atlantic's Jeffrey Selingo mentions a related problem, the false promise of worker retraining, which he describes as "a classic chicken-or-egg dilemma:"

Employers don't want to expand or relocate without the availability of an already-skilled workforce. Workers who have been laid off through corporate downsizing or because their jobs were shipped to a foreign country don't want to dedicate the time and effort needed to go through retraining without the pledge of a sure-fire job with the same or a better paycheck. [...] As a result of the 2008 recession, the U.S. shed 1.6 million manufacturing jobs requiring just a high-school diploma; only 200,000 returned.

The fastest-growing jobs in the country require training and education beyond high school.

"For a few," writes Seligno, "a rejection of higher education might seem rational:"

After all, why would someone in his 50s who hasn't been in a classroom in decades dedicate a few years to train for a new job surrounded by people half his age and then start on the bottom rung of the career ladder? [...]

For many dislocated workers--or employees who were terminated and are unlikely to return to that job or even that industry--it's often easier to collect unemployment or other cash benefits that come along with training and then either remain jobless or patch together work that doesn't require learning a new skill or acquiring a college degree. But that's not a recipe for sustainable careers or even long-term work.

Something like a 21st-century GI Bill would do the trick, but we seem to lack the political will to make it happen.

Sheriff Clarke lies, as Crooks and Liars' Heather points out:

If former Milwaukee County Sheriff David Clarke is known for one thing, it's his irresponsible rhetoric. The most recent and egregious example came just a few days ago when he managed to get himself suspended from Twitter for his tweets threatening violence against the media.

Heather also noted that this tweet made a "wild and baseless accusation" against Hillary:

LYING Lib media spreads FAKE NEWS about me and @realDonaldTrump to fool their liberal followers into believing LIES because as Mrs. Bill Clinton once said, "Look, the average DEMOCRAT VOTER is just plain STUPID. They're easy to manipulate." Classic! pic.twitter.com/8n5tIZKOcI

-- David A. Clarke, Jr. (@SheriffClarke) December 30, 2017

In fact, as Snopes remarked, what's "classic" about Clarke's tweet is his mendacity:

"This statement was not uttered by Hillary Clinton, nor was it published in the 2005 book Rewriting History by Dick Morris as something she ostensibly said. We found no record of this quote in any major publication or news account. In fact, the first mention of this item came in October 2015, more than a decade after Morris' book was published, on a Tumblr page dedicated to generating fake Hillary Clinton quotes."

As Heather remarks, "It's no wonder that Clarke is such a good fit for his current job working for POTUS (Piece Of Totally Useless Shit) Trump. They're practically twitter soulmates."

The Atlantic's James Hamblin wonders about Trump's cognitive decline, noting that "Trump's grandiosity and impulsivity has made him a constant subject of speculation among those concerned with his mental health:"

But after more than a year of talking to doctors and researchers about whether and how the cognitive sciences could offer a lens to explain Trump's behavior, I've come to believe there should be a role for professional evaluation beyond speculating from afar.

"Viewers of Trump's recent speeches have begun noticing minor abnormalities in his movements," writes Hamblin, and a prominent neurosurgeon commented on what are "clearly some abnormalities of his speech." He continues:

Though these moments could be inconsequential, they call attention to the alarming absence of a system to evaluate elected officials' fitness for office--to reassure concerned citizens that the "leader of the free world" is not cognitively impaired, and on a path of continuous decline. [...]

Unfortunately, the public medical record available to assuage global concerns about the current president's neurologic status is the attestation of Harold Bornstein, America's most famous Upper Manhattan gastroenterologist, whose initial doctor's note described the 71-year-old Trump as "the healthiest individual ever elected to the presidency."

The phrasing was so peculiar for a medical record that some suggested that Trump had written or dictated the letter himself.

Hamblin also observes that "over the years, Donald Trump's [verbal] fluency has regressed and his vocabulary contracted:"

Ben Michaelis, a psychologist who analyzes speech as part of cognitive assessments in court cases [said that] Trump has exhibited a "clear reduction in linguistic sophistication over time" with "simpler word choices and sentence structure."

"Though it is not possible to diagnose a person with dementia based on speech patterns alone," Hamblin points out, "these are the sorts of changes that appear in early stages of Alzheimer's:"

Trump has likened himself to Ronald Reagan, and the changes in Trump's speech evoke those seen in the late president. Reagan announced his Alzheimer's diagnosis in 1994, but there was evidence of linguistic change over the course of his presidency that experts have argued was indicative of early decline. [...]

After more than a year of considering Trump's behavior through the lens of the cognitive sciences, I don't think that labeling him with a mental illness from afar is wise. A diagnosis like narcissistic personality disorder is too easily played off as a value judgment by an administration that is pushing the narrative that scientists are enemies of the state. Labeling is also counterproductive to the field in that it presents risks to all the people who deal with the stigma of psychiatric diagnoses. To attribute Trump's behavior to mental illness risks devaluing mental illness.

"The idea that the president should not be diagnosed from afar," Hamblin concludes, "only underscores the point that the president needs to be evaluated up close."

Elizabeth Drew's piece "Breaking Bannon" opines that "the bulk of Fire and Fury's disclosures, though deeply disquieting, aren't all that surprising:"

It's not yet clear how Michael Wolff, the book's controversial author, obtained some of his information, but it must be assumed that he taped many of his interviews, particularly those used for the long conversations found throughout the book. What Wolff has achieved is to get attributed quotes from high officials about how the president functions, or doesn't.

But the book mostly tells us what most of political-journalistic Washington already knew: that Trump is unqualified to be president and that his White House is a high-risk area of inexperienced aides. The only surprise is that more calamities haven't occurred - at least not yet.

"A good portion of what was released before the book's publication," she continues, "concerns a battle between two of the most talkative, argumentative, self-regarding braggarts US politics has ever seen: Trump and his one-time chief strategist, Stephen Bannon:"

In the summer of 2016, with his campaign lacking a leader, Trump made Bannon - a scruffy, scrappy former businessman who was then the executive chair of Breitbart News, a website preaching white nationalism - the campaign's chief executive.

Bannon, he surmises, "bragged more than was good for him about his power in the White House and asserted more than he should have" before his ouster in August:

In Trump's view, Bannon's great sin with regard to Wolff's book was to say highly negative things about the president's family. Trump was particularly infuriated by Bannon's description of a now-famous meeting that his son, Donald Jr., and other senior campaign staff held in Trump Tower in June 2016 with some Russians who said that they had "dirt" on Hillary Clinton. Bannon told Wolff that the meeting was "treasonous." But, depending on what actually transpired in that meeting, Bannon might not have been so far off. [...]

Trump was also reportedly furious that Bannon had described the president's favorite child, Ivanka, as "dumb as a brick." Wolff also reports that Ivanka and her husband, White House senior adviser Jared Kushner, had agreed that after their expected smashing success at the White House, it would be Ivanka who would run for president.

Trump's ire over the man he now derides as "Sloppy Steve" boiled over in this Saturday morning tweetstorm:

Now that Russian collusion, after one year of intense study, has proven to be a total hoax on the American public, the Democrats and their lapdogs, the Fake News Mainstream Media, are taking out the old Ronald Reagan playbook and screaming mental stability and intelligence..... -- Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) January 6, 2018

....Actually, throughout my life, my two greatest assets have been mental stability and being, like, really smart. Crooked Hillary Clinton also played these cards very hard and, as everyone knows, went down in flames. I went from VERY successful businessman, to top T.V. Star.....
-- Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) January 6, 2018

....to President of the United States (on my first try). I think that would qualify as not smart, but genius....and a very stable genius at that!
-- Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) January 6, 2018

As Shannon Barber snarked at Addicting Info:

The idea of the likes of Donald Trump being any sort of genius is laughable. Narcissistic? Yes. Delusional? Sure. Genius? Not a chance in hell.

NYT's Michael Tackett also reacted with dismay at Trump's braggadocio:

Mr. Trump's self-absorption, impulsiveness, lack of empathy, obsessive focus on slights, tenuous grasp of facts and penchant for sometimes far-fetched conspiracy theories have invited armchair diagnoses and generated endless commentary.

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