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Denofcinema.com: Saturday Night at the Movies by Dennis Hartley review archive

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Saturday, January 20, 2018


Saturday Night At The Movies

*On this day of massive national protest , it seemed like a good night to re-run this one ---

Incident on Christopher Street: Stonewall Uprising

By Dennis Hartley

Si se puede: Stonewall rioters, 1969

It isn’t nice to block the doorway
It isn’t nice to go to jail
There are nicer ways to do it
But the nice ways always fail

-Malvina Reynolds
In the wee hours of June 28, 1969 the NYPD raided a Mafia-owned Greenwich Village dive called the Stonewall Inn, a popular gay bar on Christopher Street. As one of those policemen recalls in the new documentary, Stonewall Uprising, the officers were given “…no instructions except-put them out of business.” Hard as it might be for younger readers to fathom, despite the relative headway that had occurred in the civil rights movement for other American minorities by that time, the systemic persecution of sexual minorities was still par for the course as the 60s drew to a close. There were more laws against homosexuality than you could count. The LGBT community was well-accustomed to this type of roust; the police had no reason to believe that this wouldn’t be another ho-hum roundup of law-breaking deviants. This night, however, was to be different. As the policeman continues, “This time they said: ‘We’re not going, and that’s that.’ It was a war.” More than a war; it in fact proved to be the catalyst for a movement.

Exactly how this spontaneous act of civil disobedience transmogrified into a game-changer in the struggle for gay rights makes for a fascinating history lesson and an absorbing film. Filmmakers Kate Davis and David Heilbroner take an Errol Morris approach to their subject. Participants give an intimate recount of the event and how it changed their lives, while the several nights of rioting (from initial spark to escalation and immediate aftermath) are effectively recreated using a mixture of extant film footage and photographs (of which, unfortunately, very little exists) with dramatic reenactments.

Davis and Heilbroner also take a look back at how life was for the “homophile” community (as they were referred to in the media at the time). It was, shall we say, less than idyllic. In the pre-Stonewall days, gays and lesbians were, as one interviewee says, the “twilight” people; forced into the shadows by societal disdain and authoritarian persecution. As you watch the film, it becomes hard to believe that these folks were living in America (you, know, that whole land of the “free” thingie). The excerpts from a “CBS Reports” news special from 1967 (“The Homosexuals”) are particularly telling of the era. “2 out of 3 Americans look upon homosexuals with disgust, discomfort, or fear,” a grim-faced Mike Wallace intones. From the same program, an “expert” posits that “Homosexuality is, in fact a mental illness, which has reached epidemiological proportions.” (Hide the kids!) Prior to seeing this film, I had never heard of the goings-on in California’s Atascadero State Hospital in the 50s and 60s, where gay inmates were given “cures” straight out of A Clockwork Orange (or the Guantanamo handbook, for that matter). Lobotomies, sterilizations, and even castrations were involved (one interviewee refers to the facility as “The Dachau for Queers”). Gee, what do you suppose those Stonewall patrons were all so pissy about? Why didn’t they just go live in Russia?

Perhaps not so surprising are the recollections that the media wrote off the incident as an aberration; little more than a spirited melee between “Greenwich Village youths” and the cops (“Homo Nest Raided, Queen Bees Are Stinging Mad”, the N.Y. Sunday News headline chuckled the following day). The film culminates in the story of the first commemorative marches the following year, which were more furtive and politically charged affairs than the relatively festive and celebratory street parties that the pride parades have become (not that there’s anything wrong with that, to paraphrase Seinfeld).

I think this film is an important reminder that when it comes to civil rights, America is not out of the woods yet. Not just for the LGBT community (Prop 8 being an all-too-recent memory) but with Arizona’s SB 1070 darkening Ms Liberty’s doorstep as well. And do I need to remind you about teabagger-fueled vitriol? Stonewall might seem like ancient history, but its lessons are on today’s fresh sheet. The struggle goes on…and the moving closing comments by some of the documentary’s interviewees would seem to bear this out “It was the only time I was in a gladiatorial sport…where I stood up in,” says one participant, tears welling in his eyes, “…I was a man.” And there is no sugarcoating the means to the ends, either. A female interviewee confides, “As much as I don’t like to say it, there’s a place for violence. Because if you don’t have extremes, you don’t get any moderation.” Gladitorial sport? A place for violence? Standing up for what’s right? That is "so gay." And as another interviewee points out, that’s so…American.

Note: The film is currently in limited release around the country, but I noticed that it is a PBS American Experience production, so you’ll want to keep an eye on your TV listings!

Previous posts with related themes:

William Kuntsler: Disturbing the Universe

239 pounds of jello

by digby

Well, if there's one thing we've learned in the past year it's that the presidency actually is important. This Washington Post tick-tock of the last two weeks of "negotiations" is just mind-boggling:

After the president ordered cameras out of the Cabinet Room that day, the group delved into the details. Kirstjen Nielsen, Trump’s homeland security secretary, and her staff passed out a four-page document on the administration’s “must haves” for any immigration bill — a hard-line list that included $18 billion for Trump’s promised border wall, eliminating the diversity visa lottery program and ending “extended family chain migration,” according to the document, which was obtained by The Washington Post.

But one person seemed surprised and alarmed by the memo: the president.

With Democrats and Republicans still in the room, Trump said that the document didn’t represent all of his positions, that he wasn’t familiar with its contents and that he didn’t appreciate being caught off-guard. He instructed the group to disregard the summary and move on, according to one of the lawmakers in the room, speaking on the condition of anonymity to describe a private conversation.

“It’s like the wedding where someone actually stands up and objects to the wedding,” the lawmaker said. “It was that moment.”

Read more »

The carnage unfolds

by digby

A year ago Donald Trump gave the darkest, cruelest most cynical inaugural address in American history. And he has lived up to its promise. It's perfectly fitting that on the first anniversary, the government has shut down over the issue of mass deportation of hundreds of thousands of Latinos.

That's what he ran on and that's what he wants to do.

Here's how he frames the DACA issue today:

That's right. The DREAMers are now "unchecked illegal immigration."

He has been all over the map on the DREAM kids. But in the end there is only one constituency that matters to him:

Trump may have gone through dozens of staffers in this first year. But his base, as represented by Fox News, is solidly behind him. And they set the agenda.

As The Daily Beast's Sam Stein wrote on twitter:

It’s probably not an overstatement to say that the length of the government shut down depends largely on a Sunday evening meeting between a select few people: the producers of Fox & Friends


Trump's twitter: year one
by digby

It remained one of his main methods of communication and it gets him into more trouble than anything else:


Get out your "Fire and Fury"
by digby

Michael Wolff was on Real Time with Bill Maher last night. Maher asked him if there was something in the book that nobody's asked him about in all his appearances:

Instead of telling Maher about something that he did put in the book, Wolff slyly teased a White House anecdote that he apparently didn’t feel comfortable including. There was one story about Trump that he kept hearing, but couldn’t confirm, even by his questionable standards.

“I didn’t have the blue dress,” Wolff said, referring to the evidence that damned Bill Clinton during the Monica Lewinsky scandal.

“It’s about somebody’s he’s fucking right now?” Maher asked, excitedly.

“Yes,” Wolff replied, but he refused to elaborate. “You just have to read between the lines,” he said, adding, “Now that I’ve told you, when you hit that paragraph, you’ll say bingo.”

I don't know who it is although most people are pointing to the above passage in the book as the likely choice. I've certainly wondered about that ...

And it might be bullshit. But considering Trump's history, it also could easily be true. He knows JFK and Clinton had affairs in the White House and he's got an image to maintain...

by digby

Sure, the government is shut down, and the corrupt imbecile in the White House is the subject of a counter-espionage investigation.

This is what Fox News is up to:

In a bizarre video posted to Pirro’s Twitter account on Friday afternoon, she can be seen standing in the woods of Chappaqua, New York, where the Clintons live — and, in Pirro’s words, where she is “on the search for Hillary”:

“You think I’m gonna find her? You think she’s anywhere around?” Pirro asks in the video. “Tune in tomorrow!”

Read more »
Governance by crisis
by Tom Sullivan

Photo credit: National Parks Conservation Association (2013)
On the first anniversary of Donald Trump's inauguration, the federal government shut down.
Once again, dysfunction in Washington has stopped the money flowing from the Beltway outward. The Great American Shutdown has returned for an encore season. For how long, no one knows. But the time spent finger pointing will probably get in the way of resolving the impasse. That and the lies.

Jonathan Swan obtained an internal memo from staff at Justice and Homeland Security detailing objections to the immigration deal. Calling it spin is generous. Kevin Drum notes that while there is a kernel of truth to every section, this is Republicans lying to themselves about what is in the Durbin/Graham proposal on DACA. Drum's notes:

And so in the fullness of time came the vote late last night whether to vote on continuing resolution the nth to provide funding for government operations for another couple of weeks. It would be the fourth temporary spending measure passed in this fiscal year, and the first shutdown since 2013. The vote did not end well. The president had to cancel his golf trip to Florida.

Politico reports:
On a 50-49 vote that closed shortly after midnight, the Senate rejected a patchwork funding measure that would stave off a shutdown for four more weeks. Most Senate Democrats and a small handful of Republicans voted to filibuster the House-passed bill.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) said he will offer a new stopgap measure that would fund the government for just three more weeks, until Feb. 8. The vote will not occur immediately early Saturday morning, McConnell said.
Despite the blame-throwing, it is not as if the president's flip-flopping on his own agreements had nothing to do with the chaos. In a Friday meeting with New York Democrat Sen. Chuck Shumer, the sitting president rejected the second bipartisan immigration deal in a week after saying he would sign any immigration deal Congress sent him. The problem is, no one in Washington knows what he wants (if he even does himself).
Read more »

Friday, January 19, 2018

He couldn't negotiate his way out of a paper bag</>
by digby

But then his base doesn't really want him to make one:

President Trump and Senator Chuck Schumer of New York, the top Democrat in the Senate, came close to an agreement to avert a government shutdown over lunch on Friday, but their consensus broke down later in the day when the president and his chief of staff demanded more concessions on immigration, according to people on both sides familiar with the lunch and follow-up calls between Mr. Trump and Mr. Schumer.

The negotiations between Mr. Trump and Mr. Schumer, fellow New Yorkers who have known each other for years, began when the president called Mr. Schumer Friday morning, giving the White House staff almost no heads-up. In a lengthy phone conversation, both men agreed to seek a permanent spending deal rather than the stopgap measure being negotiated by lawmakers on Capitol Hill.

Less than an hour later, Mr. Schumer was meeting with Mr. Trump over cheeseburgers in the president’s study next to the Oval Office. The White House chief of staff, John F. Kelly, was there, as was Mr. Schumer’s chief of staff, Mike Lynch.

As the meal progressed, an outline of an agreement was struck, according to one person familiar with the discussion: Mr. Schumer said yes to higher levels for military spending and discussed the possibility of fully funding the president’s border wall. In exchange, the president agreed to support legalizing young immigrants who were brought to the United States as children.

Mr. Schumer left the White House believing he had convinced the president to support a short, three to four-day spending extension to finalize an agreement, which would also include disaster funding and health care measures.

Then everything fell apart.

By the end of the day, as midnight struck and the government officially shut down, senators continued talking and the White House issued a blistering statement that “Senate Democrats own the Schumer Shutdown.”

Read more »

Friday Night Soother: endangered pups

by digby

Via Zooborns:

Seven endangered African Painted Dog pups have made their first public appearances at Chester Zoo.

The playful pups scampered out of their underground den, led by their mother K’mana who had kept them safely tucked away since giving birth to them on November 19. Also known as African Wild Dogs, it is the first time the endangered animals have ever been bred at the zoo.

Tim Rowlands, Curator of Mammals at Chester Zoo, said, “After spending six-weeks deep inside their den under the watchful eyes of mum, the pups have now come out and they’ve most certainly come out to play! These rare pups are incredibly important new arrivals and a major boost to the international breeding programme which is working to try and ensure a brighter future for these impressive and beautiful animals.”

African Painted Dogs are one of Africa’s most threatened carnivores and are listed as Endangered by the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN). Conservation experts fear there may now be fewer than 1,500 breeding Dogs left in isolated regions of eastern and southern Africa.

Mike Jordan, the zoo’s Collections Director, added, “With human populations increasing in Africa and villages expanding, Painted Dog numbers have plummeted as their habitat is converted to farmland. This puts them in direct conflict with local people, where they are hunted and poisoned for killing livestock and exposed to infectious diseases transferred from domestic Dogs.”

For more than 10 years, Chester Zoo has been a vital part of the George Adamson Wildlife Preservation Trust African Wild Dog Programme in Tanzania, working to return healthy and genetically diverse populations of Painted Dogs back to the wild. Zoo experts have helped conservationists working in Africa to re-establish viable populations of Painted Dogs, bred in special protected breeding areas in Tanzania, in two national parks – Tsavo and Mkomazi.

African Painted Dogs are named for their mottled coat with splotches of black, yellow, white, and brown. They live in packs and hunt cooperatively to bring down prey many times their size. They are known for their speed, reaching 44 miles per hour, and their stamina during hunts.

More adorable pictures at the link.



How it was: 1/19/17

by Dennis Hartley

One year ago today ...

Just for giggles, let’s look at some of the developing news stories on this day before the inauguration of Donald J. Trump as the POTUS:

Oh, boy.

Aw, jeez.

Ay, cabron.

Oh god.

Oh, fuck…

…this is no dream, this is really happening, isn’t it? I feel safe. You?

“Ignorance is king. Many would not profit by his abdication. Many enrich themselves by means of his dark monarchy. They are his Court, and in his name they defraud and govern, enrich themselves and perpetuate their power. Even literacy they fear, for the written word is another channel of communication that might cause their enemies to become united. Their weapons are keen-honed, and they use them with skill. They will press the battle upon the world when their interests are threatened, and the violence which follows will last until the structure of society as it now exists is leveled to rubble, and a new society emerges. I am sorry. But that is how I see it.”
– From the novel A Canticle for Leibowitz, by Walter M. Miller, Jr.


We know they colluded. And they also may have committed a crime.

by digby

If you read nothing else about the Russia investigation this week-end I urge you to read this analysis in Lawfare by the former White House Counsel to Barack Obama, Bob Bauer. He breaks down in layman's terms what the actual legal liabilities the Trump campaign faces from its collusion with the Russian government. The argument always seems to be that "collusion" isn't a crime and therefore whatever happened was legal. It's true that there's no criminal statute against this vague term, but there are plenty laws against what we know they did. And, we don't know everything, not by a long shot.

This is just an excerpt. Please read the whole thing if you want to get a sense of how the Russia investigation may be playing out from a legal standpoint:

In June of 2016, the campaign invited Russians connected to the Kremlin to travel to the United States to discuss information in their possession supposedly damaging to Hillary Clinton. Don Jr. expressed enthusiasm for the offer of assistance and conveyed his view of how the publication of the material could be timed to best serve the campaign’s interests. “[I]f it’s what you say I love it especially later in the summer.”

Trump Jr. and the senior campaign staff acted with clear knowledge that the individuals engaging with their campaign were closely associated with the Russian government and acting with its authorization. The intermediaries who proposed and arranged the meeting told him so. The emails from Mr. Goldstone stressed in the first line (1) that the government, through the offices of the Crown Prosecutor, was the source of assistance, and (2) that the Moscow traveling party was tendering campaign assistance as “part of Russia and its government’s support of Mr. Trump.”

This was months after Papadopoulos first heard about the emails–the second time that the Russians had, with evident interest in the part of the Trump campaign, offered assistance. The Russians would also have been aware that, four days after their offer of this meeting, Trump announced plans for a press conference at which new disclosures about Secretary Clinton would be made. The president seems to have believed that something sensational for use against Clinton might soon be in hand. The timing suggests that he was alerted to the offer from the Russian government and open to it. Again, the Russians would have taken note.

It is not clear what happened at the meeting, but we do know that the president participated in publicly misrepresenting the nature of the meeting and the identities of those in attendance. Bannon has expressed disbelief that anyone would think that the president was not informed in real time about what the Russians came to offer. He suggests that Don Jr. might have brought the Russian visitors to meet with his father.

The campaign dismisses the encounter and argues that the Russians came with material that the campaign senior staff did not think useful. Perhaps so; but on this question, too, we know a good deal less than the special counsel, and a final public accounting of what transpired at the meeting is still to come. But it is well established that the meeting took place, and its significance lies in part in that fact alone. The Russians knew that an American presidential campaign was willing to accept direct support from a foreign government. They would have learned from the meeting that the Trump campaign was, in fact, eager for the information about Clinton cited without specifics in the Goldstone emails. Don Jr. has acknowledged that he “pressed” the Russian lawyer for more information during the meeting.

Later in the year, Don Jr. communicated privately with Wikileaks, the known agent of the Russian government in the distribution of illegally hacked material. Once again, he confirmed the importance the campaign attached to these disclosures. He accepted from WikiLeaks a link for general distribution that would facilitate press access to the emails of supposedly highest interest. Fifteen minutes later, picking up on the theme that no one should overlook the importance of this email cache, his father tweeted out a complaint that the press was failing to report more thoroughly about this material. Another two days later, Don Jr. tweeted out the link provided by WikiLeaks. Did Trump Sr. learn about the WikiLeaks communications from his son and act on the specific request that he help in promoting the emails? And, of course, by October, the president was appealing openly to the Russians to locate and disseminate deleted Clinton emails.

These known facts support a case that the Trump campaign knowingly solicited the Russian government’s support and gave the Kremlin “substantial assistance” in achieving its electoral aims.

(1)The solicitation theory draws strength from the communications between the Trump campaign and the Russian government intermediaries, and from the surrounding circumstances. The Russian government probed for the campaign’s expression of interest in the emails; the Trump campaign left little doubt that it was interested. In fact, the exchanges between the Trump campaign and the emissaries from Moscow constitute an explicit statement of that interest in the “thing of value” the Russians claimed to have. To the extent that the campaign might answer that it never quite “asked for” anything in particular, merely agreeing to receive the traveling party and listen, the problem is that the law reaches “implicit” solicitations, not just specific requests. The rule also covers words-plus-conduct, and the behavior of the campaign–an extraordinary meeting with agents of a foreign government in campaign headquarters with the senior staff–bolsters a solicitation charge.

Moreover, the “thing of value” the Russians were peddling remained the same over the course of the year. The purloined emails were not a one-time gift to the campaign. First came the DNC material, then the Podesta stolen emails, and WikiLeaks spread them out over time, in a series of disclosures. The entire course of dealing between the campaign, the Russians and WikiLeaks reflects on the campaign’s part an ongoing strategic commitment to these revelations, and its active assistance to the Russians in using them to maximum effect. The solicitation itself did not take place on just one occasion but was confirmed over time.

(2) “Substantial assistance” is not hard to plead on these facts, coupled with those that may yet come in response to the clear and pending questions. The campaign knowingly encouraged the Russians and Wikileaks at every turn. It was helpful enough that the nominee, rather than denouncing this intervention, publicly applauded it. His tweets and those of his son were also beneficial to the Russian cause.

It also seems to have escaped notice that the campaign aided the Russians by providing access to its judgments about attacks that would be ineffective. The campaign suggests that the Russians came to the U.S. with information about questionable donations implicating Clinton, and they waved this off as of no use or interest. That, too, was valuable to the Russians, who could then turn to other, more fruitful lines of attack. The point is that the Russians and the campaign were working together, sharing information toward the achievement of a shared goal, and the alliance they forged was unquestionably advantageous to the Kremlin.

Trump Campaign Liability

A criminal prosecution will have to address questions of intent., and the president and his campaign team may defend by arguing a lack of clarity about motive in these unusual circumstances. They might stress that the campaign never accepted any cash. It played no part in the hacking of the DNC or of Podesta’s personal email account. Its intention was just to reinvigorate a relationship badly damaged in the Obama years. As all the rest is just politics, maybe some bad judgment exercised here or there, but in no way an appropriate basis for what would be, certainly, an unprecedented criminal charge.

This defense has to fail at least in the case of the Trump campaign as an entity. Let’s assume, for example, that Don Jr., inexperienced and naïve in the way of politics, did not understand legal problems arising from his contacts with agents of the Russian government in Moscow and WikiLeaks. He might also argue in his own defense the more experienced members of the campaign staff who might have warned him about these problems said nothing. What’s more, they accepted his invitation that they meet with Russian agents at the Trump Tower in June 2016.

If Don Jr. did affirmatively advise his father about the meeting, the WikiLeaks proposal for promoting the email cache, and the like, he might have even more of a reason to argue that if the nominee, his father, saw nothing wrong with the activity, the son would not have known the legal risks that he was running.

But the campaign is an organization, an entity with independent legal obligations, and does not have any such defense or excuse. The rules apply to it, as they do to any “person.” It was a large organization, and it had available legal advice required to comply with the law. No lawyer consulted about the facts known to date would have rendered an opinion that these contacts were lawful.. Either the senior staff received advice that it disregarded, or chose not to ask for advice. The campaign’s vulnerability to criminal prosecution often escapes consideration in any discussions about the likelihood of criminal liability for these campaign finance violations.

And Donald Trump? The other day the president reflected on his flexibility in the choice of friends and adversaries and in patching up quarrels. He does not see himself as having any “permanent” enemies or adversaries. “I’m a very flexible person.” For this dealmaker, what drives him is his self-interest, and at any particular time, the benefits of cutting a deal. That his potential deal partner was the Russian government, and that the bargain would involve Kremlin support for his election, may not have struck the president as materially different from other agreements struck in his and a negotiating counterpart’s mutual interest. As the president stated in July of 2017 at a news conference, “I think from a practical standpoint most people would have taken that [Trump Tower] meeting” with the Russians.

In the end, the public record suggests that the candidate, aided by a number of the senior advisers, thought he could make a deal with the Russians. For all we know, Mr. Trump may be truly offended by prior administrations’ policies toward Russia and he believes that improved relations with Vladimir Putin serve the national interest. In 2015 and 2016, he also saw the potential for his campaign in this rapprochement. He entered into a political alliance with a foreign government and there is not much in his business career to suggest that he would sacrifice the gains he perceived in this relationship to the admonitions of his lawyers.

Read on ..

Unhappy Huckleberry

by digby

Graham is pissed at Norman Bates ... er Tom Cotton. If he and Flake hold out, McConnell won't even be able to get to 50 votes. It's happened before.

The White House and many Congressional Republicans attempted Friday to pin the potential government shutdown on Senate Democrats, trying to name it the “Schumer Shutdown” after Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY). But their strategy was undermined by a prominent member of the president’s own party.

Lindsey Graham, the senior senator from South Carolina, told MSNBC that he is still a “no” on the legislation passed by the House on Thursday that would keep the government open for 30 days but do nothing to protect beneficiaries of President Obama’s Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA). DACA provided protection to more than 750,000 people who were brought as undocumented immigrants to the United States as children, but President Donald Trump’s administration has moved to end the protections starting in March.

“I’m not going to continue this game with DACA recipients’ lives,” Graham explained. “A lot of people on my side say ‘What’s the urgency?’ Well, put yourself in their shoes. You’re a teacher somewhere, you don’t know if March the 5th you’ll be kicked out of the country you call home. This idea that we’ve got plenty of time — I don’t like that. If you’re one these recipients you feel like we should have done this yesterday. And 80 percent of the American people are actually with us.”

Trump earlier this week rejected a bipartisan deal that would have protected DACA beneficiaries and cleared the way for a funding bill, after initially expressing a willingness to sign such a deal. Graham laid the blame for the impasse on Trump’s flip-flop and his listening to bad advice from two people: White House aide Stephen Miller and freshman Sen. Tom Cotton (R-AR).

“I think the change comes about from people like Mr. Miller,” Graham said. “Mr. Miller is well-known in the Senate for having views that are outside the mainstream.” Graham observed that the “Steven Miller approach to immigration has no viability.”

He expressed openness to solutions, but said the Trump White House is taking a “a hard-edged approach” that would not fly even in the GOP-controlled U.S. Senate. “The Tom Cotton approach has no viability here. He’s become sort of the Steve King of the Senate. I like Tom but on immigration, he’s putting something on the table that there’s just no market for in phase one.” (Rep. Steve King (R-IA) is an immigration hardliner with a long history of racist comments.)


When the president is an f-ing moron ...

by digby

As I write this Senator Schumer is at the White House trying to get deal to keep the government open and save hundreds of thousands of young people and sick children. Maybe by the time you read this they will have found a way to do that.

But when you have a racist, heartless Republican party and a moron for president, it's not going to be easy. This freashshow of a president and his henchmen can't be trusted as far as you can throw them. From the New York Times' article on that shithole meeting from last week:

As they departed the now famous Oval Office meeting where President Trump used vulgar language to disparage the national origin of some potential immigrants, Senators Lindsey Graham and Richard J. Durbin found themselves in a condition unfamiliar to such veteran politicians: speechless.

“After Lindsey and I left the room and got in the car together to come back to Capitol Hill, it was silence in the car,” Mr. Durbin, of Illinois, recalled in an interview on Thursday, describing their mutual distress at the ominous turn the negotiations had taken as well as the president’s conduct. “We had just witnessed something that neither one of us ever expected.”

That sudden breakdown in talks toward a bipartisan immigration solution has had significant repercussions. In the absence of a deal to permanently protect young immigrants in what is known as the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, or DACA, the Republican-controlled House and Senate are now struggling to keep the government open past Friday.

And the uproar surrounding the disclosure of Mr. Trump’s language has added a huge complication, stirring outrage among Democrats and their allies and sowing confusion among Republicans about the president’s true aims. Most Democrats are refusing to help pass any temporary spending plan without the immigration legislation and Republicans are having a difficult time rounding up votes on their own.

In recounting events, Mr. Durbin, the No. 2 Senate Democrat, who has been pushing to protect young immigrants for nearly two decades, noted that he had a promising telephone call with Mr. Trump hours before last week’s meeting. Then he was invited to join Mr. Graham, Republican of South Carolina and a longtime advocate of an immigration law overhaul, at the White House for what they believed was a session to complete a bipartisan agreement to protect the young immigrants known as Dreamers in exchange for new border security and other immigration law changes.

Instead, they ran into a buzz saw of angry and coarse opposition from the president, reinforced by the surprise presence of hard-line opponents of immigration overhaul from the House and Senate.

“The deck was stacked against us as the president walked in the room,” said Mr. Durbin, who said Mr. Graham, seated next to the president, began laying out the specifics of the pending agreement only to have the meeting quickly deteriorate.

“He barely had a sentence or two out of his mouth, then the president started commenting. ‘Who is affected by that? What is this going to do?’” said Mr. Durbin, the sole Democrat of a dozen people present. “It was a very tough conversation starting immediately.”

“The language that was used, the attitude of the president, the expressions he made when it came to immigration just stunned me,” Mr. Durbin said.

Mr. Durbin, who has been in Congress for more than three decades and is no stranger to political back rooms, said the meeting was not the usual case of salty language shared among politicians gathered behind closed doors.

“It was beyond, and the intensity of the president’s feeling, and what he said there, as well as many other epithets during the course of it, I was surprised and shocked in a way,” he said, noting that upon his return to the Capitol, some colleagues commented on his demeanor.

“They said, ‘You look shaken,’ and I said I was,” he said. “After you have been in politics as long I have, it takes something to shake you up.”

Mr. Durbin said he did not personally leak details of the conversation and also directed his staff not to discuss it. But he did share his version of events with four other senators as they plotted how to proceed. Word of what happened during the meeting — and one word in particular — quickly circulated and was first reported by The Washington Post within hours.

Mr. Durbin then began discussing the meeting in public the next morning while in Chicago after the White House did not deny reports of what transpired. The president and others attending the meeting only later challenged exactly what expletives were used in describing countries that Mr. Trump wanted to prevent from sending migrants to the United States.

Though the disclosure has roiled the negotiations, Mr. Durbin said it has also provided better context of the president’s immigration stance.

“Now that the American people have a clearer understanding of the president’s motivation on immigration, it makes it easier to confront some of the things he’s suggesting,” Mr. Durbin said.

He noted that the president previously said his focus was on border security, preventing terrorists from entering the country and protecting jobs for American workers. The new comments, Mr. Durbin suggested, show that racial origin might be a consideration, as well. He said he warned Mr. Trump that singling out Haitians for exclusion was “an obvious racial decision.”

Yes, it's clear that Trump wants to deport millions of people and stop legal immigration because he's a racist xenophobe. He made that clear on the campaign trail and nobody believed him. His henchmen like Tom Cotton heard him and they are running with it.



Guns, God and Trumpski

by digby

I wrote about the Russians and NRA for Salon this morning:

By December of 2015 it was obvious that presidential candidate Donald Trump, whom most people still considered just an entertaining gadfly, had a very friendly attitude toward Russian president Vladimir Putin. Trump complimented Putin for his strength and his leadership, which he often contrasted with Barack Obama's. He denied reports that Putin had critical journalists killed, defending his admiration for the man by simply saying “I think that my words represent toughness and strength."

I wrote about it for Salon at the time, pointing out that while Trump seemed out of step with what most of us thought was the standard GOP position on the Russian leader, Putin-philia was a phenomenon among a certain sub-set of right wingers. Marie Cogan of the National Journal had chronicled the "Secret American Subculture of Putin-Worshippers" back in 2013, profiling conservatives who saw the Russian president much as Trump did: a manly contrast to the feminine, weak (and black) American president. When the shirtless Putin was pictured allegedly catching a 46-pound pike, posters on Free Republic swooned with envy:

“I wonder what photoup [sic] of his vacation will the Usurp­er show us? Maybe clip­ping his fin­ger­nails I sup­pose or maybe hanging some cur­tains. Yep manly.”

As it turns out it wasn't just those who hated Obama for being a "metrosexual." Other factions of the conservative movement had taken a liking to the Russian government and its right wing policies. Ed Kilgore at New York magazine noted back in 2016 that some Christian conservatives liked Putin, naming Franklin Graham, National Organization for Marriage leader Brian Brown, and American Family Association spokesperson Bryan Fischer among the leaders who appreciate Putin's Islamophobia and hostility to gay rights.

White supremacists have been connecting with like minded white nationalists in Russia for some time. All the top American neo-Nazis from Matthew Heimbach to Richard Spencer have spent time in Russia and extol the virtues of its white homogeneity. None other than former KKK Imperial Wizard David Duke has spent considerable time there. Duke has said that Russia is the “key to white survival."

Since so much of the hardcore right that supports Donald Trump is also very friendly toward Putin it should come as no surprise that gun rights zealots are equally enamored of the macho, white nationalist Russian leader. He is their kind of guy. And they are Russia's kind of guys too.

The Washington Post reported last spring about the remarkable outreach to American right-wing activists by a man named Alexander Torshin, a Russian banker and purportedly close Putin ally who is suspected of international money laundering by the Spanish government. One of the Americans with whom he connected was a Nashville lawyer named G. Kline Preston IV, who had longtime business interests in Russia.

Preston introduced Torshin to David Keane, former head of the NRA and president of the American Conservative Union. With a partner named Maria Butina, they began a Russian gun owners organization which sponsored events and competitions, to which prominent American gun activists were invited.

Last July Richard Engel, NBC News' chief foreign correspondent, and NBC's Kelly Cobiella broadcast a program called Guns, God and Russia in which they interviewed Preston and he made a revealing comment about why he and the far right are so enamored with Russia:
We're very similar people. In fact, you could take many Russians and put 'em in a room with people who are from Nashville, Tennessee and everybody kind of looks the same.
The white people anyway.

It was a bit surprising when the NRA enthusiastically endorsed Trump earlier than usual in the process. He wasn't a member, didn't hunt and hadn't been in the military. He did talk tough on the campaign trail about gun rights and he spoke out both in favor of "law and order" and vigilantism, which isn't something you see every day. The gun lobby backed Trump early and strong, and when he won they took credit, especially for the ad buys in the states that made the difference in the Electoral College win. The NRA massively outspent their previous election record, using a division that is not required to disclose its donors.

According to the Center for Public Integrity just before the election:
In October [2016] alone, about one of every 20 TV ads in Pennsylvania has been sponsored by the NRA ... and in Ohio, the organization is responsible for about one of every eight TV ads that have aired so far in October.
They also financed a sophisticated and expensive ground operation in the states Trump won with a razor-thin margin. NRA CEO Wayne LaPierre had good reason to take credit for Trump's upset.

Evidently, there have been suspicions among the Washington press for over a year that the NRA had received a bundle of Russian cash and on Thursday, Peter Stone and Greg Gordon of McClatchy reported that the FBI is investigating whether the aforementioned Alexander Torshin may have funneled Russian government funds to his friends in the NRA to help elect Trump.

The House and Senate investigations have also been on the trail of the Torshin-Butina-NRA connections. They have also followed up on clues in the Russia probe that touch on Russophile Rep. Dana Rohrabacher, R-Calif., Trump foreign policy aides J.D. Gordon and Sam Clovis, and conservative activist Paul Erickson, who reportedly tried to set up meetings among the various players, including Trump. In fact, Erickson and Butina are partners in a shadowy business whose purposes and activities are unclear.

It's unclear where all this may lead, but if it is true that Russian money was used to help finance the NRA's ad campaign, somebody's got some explaining to do. All these right-wingers may love Vladimir Putin's policies against gays and Muslims, appreciate his manly physique and endorsement of gun violence and mayhem. Perhaps they look forward to a friendly white nationalist alliance to keep all the "shithole countries" in their places. But that desire wouldn't excuse election interference or accepting foreign money to help finance an election campaign. If the Mueller investigation has the NRA in its crosshairs, that fate could not have found a more deserving target.


One year in

by digby

Oh hey look. The public is smarter than we might think:

One reason why Trump's approval ratings remain historically low despite more positive attitudes toward the economy is that a large majority see his policies as favoring the wealthy over the middle class

Donald Trump began his presidency a polarizing figure; he ends his first year a beleaguered one.

As the anniversary of Trump’s inauguration approaches on Saturday, the president’s support has eroded, his opposition has gained energy and his party faces bleak prospects for the midterm elections in November, according to a new USC-Dornsife/Los Angeles Times nationwide poll.

Just under one-third of those polled, 32%, approved of Trump’s job performance, compared with 55% who disapproved and 12% who were neutral. That 23-point deficit represents a significant decline since April and the last USC/L.A. Times national poll, which found Trump with a 7-point approval deficit, 40% to 47%.

Looking just at residents of 11 key swing states, Trump’s standing is virtually the same — 33% approve, 54% disapprove — evidence that his problem goes far beyond the big, Democratic coastal states.

Moreover, opposition to him has intensified — 42% in the poll said they disapproved strongly of Trump’s job performance, up from 35% in April. A much smaller group, 15%, voiced strong approval, down slightly from April.

The 55% disapproval closely matches the average of other recent, nonpartisan polls; the 32% approval is several points lower than the average, most likely because the USC/L.A. Times poll explicitly gives people the option of saying they neither approve nor disapprove, which not all polls do.

Widespread disapproval of Trump’s performance has also dragged down his party’s standing. Asked which party’s candidates they would favor if the congressional elections were being held today, those polled sided with the Democrats by 11 points, 51% for Democrats to 40% for the Republicans.

Democrats have held their own supporters better than Republicans have: Eight in 10 people who voted for Hillary Clinton in 2016 said they definitely would vote for a Democrat for Congress if the election were held now. Just two-thirds of people who voted for Trump had a similarly definite intention of voting for a Republican.

History indicates that with a double-digit lead on the congressional ballot question, “the Democrats would be very likely to take the House” in November, said Robert Shrum, the veteran Democratic strategist who directs USC’s Unruh Institute of Politics, which co-sponsored the poll. “The Republicans could be in real trouble.”

That result comes despite the poll’s finding of widespread optimism about the economic future, which normally would boost the party in power.

The poll was mostly completed before the Oval Office meeting last week in which Trump used a vulgar word to describe African countries and said he would prefer to see more immigrants from places such as Norway. As a result, the poll doesn’t reflect any change in Trump’s standing that may have come from those remarks, which many Democrats, and some Republicans, have labeled racist.

And this:

The poll was conducted online from Dec. 15 to Jan. 15 among 3,862 respondents drawn from a panel designed to accurately reflect the country’s demographics. Results for the full sample have a margin of sampling error of 2 percentage points in either direction. Panel members are part of a continuing research project into public opinion by USC’s Center for Economic and Social Research, the poll’s other co-sponsor.

In 2016, the poll repeatedly forecast a Trump victory in the election.
Because the USC/L.A. Times poll questions the same people repeatedly over time, it can track those defections: About one in eight people who said in April that they approved of Trump’s job performance now say they disapprove.

Most of those who had not made up their minds in April now have done so, and by almost 2 to 1, they have gone against Trump.

“The people who were ‘waiting to see’ in the spring have mostly moved toward disapproval,” said Jill Darling, survey director for the USC economic and social research center.

Even among those who voted for him, Trump’s popularity is tepid. Asked to rate him on a 0-100 thermometer, Trump voters gave the president personally an average score of 64. His policies won a score of 72. By contrast, the antipathy from Clinton voters was intense — they gave Trump a personal score of 7 and a policy score of 9.

32% approval. In a roaring economy.


Acceptable casualties

by Tom Sullivan

As expected, the U.S. Supreme Court issued a stay on a lower court order that North Carolina immediately redraw congressional district boundaries. The three-judge panel found them so partisan it ruled them unconstitutional gerrymanders. North Carolina Republican legislative leaders argued that such action in an election year was unwarranted. Plus, the court already has decisions pending in similar cases from Wisconsin and Maryland. Those rulings will impact the North Carolina case.

Republican lawmakers stated openly their motivations behind the current maps. “I think electing Republicans is better than electing Democrats,” Representative David Lewis said during drafting. “So I drew this map to help foster what I think is better for the country.” Partisan gerrymanders are permissible because they are not against the law, Lewis argued:

"I propose that we draw the maps to give a partisan advantage to 10 Republicans and three Democrats because I do not believe it’s possible to draw a map with 11 Republicans and two Democrats."
The plan worked:
In 2016, the court said, Republican congressional candidates won 53 percent of the statewide vote. But they won in 10 of the 13 congressional districts, or 77 percent of them.
Whether partisan gerrymanders are constitutional may be decided in the Wisconsin and Maryland cases. At issue is whether (as I alluded to earlier regarding Maryland) Republicans drawn into safe districts for Democratic incumbents are denied equal protection under the 14th Amendment, and vice versa. Gerrymandering districts "safe" for your party treats your own voters in opponents' safe districts as acceptable casualties. Independent voters are pawns in both.

That three such cases have reached the Supreme Court speaks to the prevalence of the practice and the threat gerrymandering as now practiced poses to democratic norms. If former United States Attorney General Alberto Gonzales were arguing the case, he might consider an appeal to norms "quaint," but as we have seen with the current administration, democratic norms underlie more of our constitutional system than we previuosly realized.

The New York Times provides a walk-through of the issues at stake. In it, Judge Paul V. Niemeyer of the the United States Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit calls partisan gerrymandering "a cancer on democracy," adding:

“The widespread nature of gerrymandering in modern politics is matched by the almost universal absence of those who will defend its negative effect on our democracy,” wrote Judge Niemeyer. “Indeed, both Democrats and Republicans have decried it when wielded by their opponents but nonetheless continue to gerrymander in their own self-interest when given the opportunity.”
Republican Governor Larry Hogan of Maryland has announced nonpartisan redistricting reform legislation as well as signing onto an amicus brief for the plaintiffs in the Maryland case.

Hogan, a Republican governor in a heavily Democratic state, is less gleeful about the practice than his North Carolina co-partisans whose motives in seeking further delay, plaintiffs there say, Republicans admit openly:
"But their true motive is as plain as day: the Republican contingent of the legislature wants to enjoy the fruits of their grossly unconstitutional actions for yet another election cycle."
And so they shall.

* * * * * * * *

Request a copy of For The Win, my county-level election mechanics primer, at tom.bluecentury at gmail.

Thursday, January 18, 2018

Donnie was a bad, bad boy

by digby

Trump is going to be in a very bad mood tomorrow. In Touch is going to publish the lurid interview with adult film star Stormy Daniels in which she goes into detail sexual encounters with Donald Trump in the last decade.

And then there's this:
Mother Jones has learned that Daniels years earlier talked about having had a sexual relationship with Trump—and in lurid detail. According to 2009 emails between political operatives who were at the time advising Daniels on a possible political campaign, the adult film actor and director claimed that her affair with Trump included an unusual act: spanking him with a copy of Forbes magazine.
“She says one time he made her sit with him for three hours watching ‘shark week.’ Another time he had her spank him with a Forbes magazine.”
In early 2009, Daniels announced that she was considering challenging Sen. David Vitter, the Louisiana Republican who two years earlier had been snared in a sex scandal. Vitter’s phone number was discovered in the records of the so-called D.C. Madam, who ran a prostitution ring in the nation’s capital. Vitter, who now is a lobbyist, was a prominent social conservative who opposed abortion and gay marriage. Daniels, who grew up in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, told reporters she wanted to highlight his hypocrisy. She offered up a potential campaign slogan: “Stormy Daniels: Screwing people honestly.” 
Daniels was serious enough about running that she embarked on a May 2009 “listening tour” of the state and held discussions with local political consultants. Those conversations included coming up with possible campaign contributors. According to a May 8, 2009, email written by an operative advising Daniels, who asked not to be identified, Daniels at one point scrolled through her cellphone contacts to provide her consultants with a list of names. The email noted that the potential donors included Steve Hirsch, the founder of an adult entertainment company; Theresa Flynt, the daughter of Hustler’s Larry Flynt; Frazier Boyd, the owner of a strip club chain; and Jenna Jameson, the so-called “Queen of Porn.” Also on the list: Donald Trump. 
This email was sent to Andrea Dubé, a Democratic political consultant based in New Orleans. In response, Dubé expressed surprise that Daniels was friendly with Trump. “Donald Trump?” she wrote. “In her cell phone?”
“Yep,” the other consultant replied. “She says one time he made her sit with him for three hours watching ‘shark week.’ 
Another time he had her spank him with a Forbes magazine.”  
Dubé and the other consultant confirmed to Mother Jones they exchanged these emails. 
The campaign consultant who wrote the email to Dubé tells Mother Jones that Daniels said the spanking came during a series of sexual and romantic encounters with Trump and that it involved a copy of Forbes with Trump on the cover. 
A fall 2006 cover of Forbes does feature Trump and two of his children, Donald Jr. and Ivanka. 

So, is everyone still sure that the golden showers tape couldn 't possibly exist?


Oh,those clownish demagogues

by digby

Don't worry about the shithole stuff. He doesn't really mean it. They never do:

Actually, he meant it.

That was written in 1922.  It took him a while to employ his anti-semitism "effectively" for political purposes. But he got it done.



They can pass a popular bill right this minute if they want to

by digby

If there's no funding bill signed by tomorrow, it'll be the first time a party that has majorities in both the House and Senate and White House shuts down its government.The Reagan, Clinton and Obama shutdowns all happened with a majority opposition in congress.

They may not even be able to get to 50 GOP votes in the senate at this point.

The Republicans can pass a bill with a huge bipartisan majority right now if they want to include a DACA fix and CHIP funding. It's there, waiting for them. The public supports it. It's dead easy.

It's all up to the leadership and that clownshow in the White House.


Despot in waiting

by digby

The Arkansas Times reports that Senator Tom Cotton is threatening his own constituents:

Ozark Indivisible, the activist group that has been pressing members of Congress from Arkansas on health care, immigration and other issues, reported on its Twitter account last night that people calling Sen. Tom Cotton's office had received cease-and-desist letters and posted the image above.

Billy Fleming, a Times contributor, also sent me a copy of the image and an account from a person who reportedly received the letter. That person wrote:

I received a letter from the office of U.S. Senator Tom Cotton from Arkansas after calling and expressing my grave concerns over his actions and support of this administration's agenda concerning a wide variety of subjects from the attack on our healthcare, DACA and immigration issues, to national security, to the rise of white nationalist fascism, to the environment, the gutting of our State Department, the attack on the free press...and similar deeply troubling actions & motives I've seen Senator Cotton support & condone. It was odd to receive this letter as I've called other Members of Congress to express my strong thoughts and opinions about their actions and thought this to be not only my duty as an American citizen but my First Amendment right granted all U.S. citizens by our U.S. Constitution, the foundation of our Democracy.

I believe if Tom Cotton's office were to respond as to why they sent this letter, I think they just honestly don't want to listen to any citizen's opposing view or hear the numerous grave concerns U.S. citizens have about the serious & ongoing attack on our Democracy and past election cycle in which a foreign, hostile Russian government interfered, they don't want U.S. citizens to call and speak their mind and truth in a very direct manner and they obviously don't want to be held accountable for their words and actions while serving all the people in this nation. I may have used unprofessional and unbecoming language at times as the anxiety and stress of what I'm witnessing is at times too great a burden to control and I have vehemently expressed my righteous anger at Senator Cotton's complicitness with this harmful regime.

Fleming said he knew several people who'd received such a letter. He said he believed they all had made repeated phone calls to deliver similar talking points, but he said they were unlikely to have made rude or disparaging remarks.
Circulating yesterday was the film of an effort some months ago by a Boone County activist to pose questions to Rep. Steve Womack. She was persistent. He was not amused.

Yesterday, demonstrators — self-identified as being from "shithole countries" — were asked to leave Cotton's Washington office after a noisy encounter with staff members who told them they'd be arrested for unlawful entry if they didn't leave. They did, chanting "Dream Act Now."

Democracy can be a noisy thing. It seems to have some impact on members of Congress, too.

Here's the video of the Womack activist:

These Republicans are very delicate flowers. It's hard for them when they have constituents who don't recognize that they are talking to their betters and show the kind of respect that Republican aristocrats require.


The world's greatest negotiator strikes again

by digby

He's so good:

President Trump blew up Republican strategies to keep the government open past Friday when on Thursday morning he said a long-term extension of the popular Children’s Health Insurance Program should not be part of a stopgap spending bill pending before the House.

With a possible government shutdown looming this weekend, the House had planned to vote late Thursday on a stopgap spending bill that would keep government funding flowing to Feb. 16 as delicate negotiations continue to protect young, undocumented immigrants brought illegally as children from deportation.

But by midday Thursday, the chances of a shutdown appeared to be rising. Efforts to negotiate a broader budget deal that would protect young undocumented immigrants, raise spending for military and domestic programs and fund children’s health care had been making progress until Mr. Trump referred to African nations as “shithole countries” last week. The ensuing uproar upended budget and immigration talks and emboldened Democrats. On Thursday, senior House Democrats introduced a resolution to censure the president for his words.

Republicans, hoping to keep the government open while tempers cool, turned to a one-month stopgap spending measure, but that gambit may be nearing a dead end. Illustrating the trouble, Virginia’s two Democratic senators, Mark Warner and Tim Kaine, whose constituents include hundreds of thousands of federal workers, announced together that they would oppose the temporary spending bill. They had been seen as among the most likely yes votes in the Senate, where Republican leaders need at least nine Democrats to support the bill.

“Congress should remain in session with no recess until we work out a long-term bipartisan budget deal that addresses all issues,” Mr. Warner and Mr. Kaine said in a joint statement.

The president’s tweet only added to the confusion. Republican leaders had spent Wednesday pressuring Democrats to vote for the spending bill, arguing that opposing it would effectively block a six-year extension of the children’s health program, attached to the spending bill as a sweetener for lawmakers in both parties.

Speaker Paul D. Ryan of Wisconsin said on Wednesday that it would be “unconscionable” for Democrats to oppose funding for the Children’s Health Insurance Program with a “no” vote on the short-term spending bill.

Hours after Mr. Trump’s tweet, the White House tried to walk it back. A White House spokesman, Raj Shah, said that the president supports the House’s stopgap bill.

But Democrats pressed their advantage. Senator Chuck Schumer, Democrat of New York and the minority leader, brought up the tweet and questioned whether it meant that the president opposes the stopgap measure that congressional leaders from his own party are trying to pass.

“Who knows?” Mr. Schumer asked. “It’s a mess.”

Representative Nancy Pelosi of California, the Democratic leader, made clear that she was unmoved by the inclusion of CHIP funding in the stopgap bill.

“This is like giving you a bowl of doggy doo, put a cherry on top and call it a chocolate sundae,” she said.
They're still laughably trying to shame Democrats with eye-rolling sanctimony that only a child could possibly believe was sincere:

“I’m more than puzzled why they would threaten to turn their backs on those children and shut down the government while they’re at it over the entirely unrelated issue of illegal immigration,” Mr. McConnell said.

Give that man a Fake News Award.

Why the president suddenly undercut Republican arguments was not immediately clear. On Wednesday, the Trump administration released an official statement endorsing the stopgap measure, including the extension of funding for CHIP.

He had no idea what the negotiations taking place on the Hill were because he's fulminating about his poll numbers and Steve Bannon. He probably just sent off that tweet while on the phone with his lawyer trying to get In Touch Magazine to spike their 5,500 word Stormy Daniels story about his sexual (non)prowess. He's busy.

I have no prediction about the possible shutdown.It could happen. But it will happen because Republicans couldn't muster the votes to keep the government open. That's on them. They have a majority and a daft president who has no clue what he's signing. This shouldn't be that hard.



Sloppy Steve has a big story to tell

by digby

I wrote about Sloppy Steve's big adventure for Salon this morning:

Around the first of the year, the New York Post's Page Six published a blind item about the Russia investigation grand jury in Washington in which an alleged witness told the paper:
The grand jury room looks like a Bernie Sanders rally. Maybe they found these jurors in central casting, or at a Black Lives Matter rally in Berkeley.
The source went on to note that 11 of the 20 jurors are African-American and that "there was only one white male in the room, and he was a prosecutor."

This was briefly taken up by the right-wing media, which charged that this proved the whole process was rigged against Donald Trump, apparently on the assumption that black people could not possibly judge him fairly. That was strangely reminiscent of candidate Trump's insistence during the campaign that the judge in the Trump University case could not be fair because of his Mexican heritage. Indeed, that wasn't the only echo of Trump's own words. As Think Progress pointed out at the time: "whoever leaked this tidbit to the New York Post sounds an awful lot like Donald Trump."

Think Progress noted that the use of the words "central casting" was the first major tip-off, since that's an old-fashioned phrase Trump is particularly known for. MSNBC's Steve Benen even wrote a story last February asking why the president is so "preoccupied" with it. An even bigger clue is that Trump and Page Six columnist Richard Johnson have a close relationship going back decades. Last month, Johnson even wrote a column called "Richard Johnson's life with The Donald."

Between the signature phrase, the familiar racism and the relationship with the author, it's not much of a stretch to suspect that Trump himself was the source of this sneering little story. The fact that it would be shortsighted and counterproductive to insult members of a grand jury that's hearing evidence in a criminal case in which you may be implicated doesn't rule him out. If anything, it's another bit of evidence pointing in Trump's direction.

That story came to mind upon reading the news this week about former Trump campaign head and White House adviser Steve Bannon testifying before the House Intelligence Committee and being subpoenaed by special counsel Robert Mueller's office. I couldn't help but think about Trump's scathing statement that Bannon had "lost his mind," and the tweet calling him "sloppy Steve," and wonder whether anyone had warned Trump that insulting a man who had been in the highest reaches of the campaign, the transition and the administration might not be the best strategy. Pushing for him to be fired and cast out of the movement he helped create just doesn't seem like a savvy move. It would have been easy to blow off the Wolff book as fiction and give Bannon a pass to keep him inside the tent. A man with a lot of ammunition and nothing to lose is dangerous.

This week, Bannon appeared before the House Intelligence Committee for about 10 hours and did something nobody else has been able to do. Members of both parties, who have not been able to agree on anything for months, came together to protest Bannon's claim of some form of executive privilege that has never existed before. They were upset enough that when Bannon's lawyer explained that he was making the claim because his testimony was voluntary, they quickly drafted a subpoena and gave it to him so that he could say he was compelled to talk.

It didn't work. According to Bannon and his attorney, the White House would not allow him to speak about anything to do with the presidential transition, the administration or any conversations he'd had with the president after leaving the White House. That's way beyond the scope of any legitimate executive privilege.

It sounds as though it was quite the three-ring circus. For instance, Axios' Jonathan Swan reports:
Bannon attacked the Republicans running these congressional committees for choosing to investigate the Trump campaign and Russia. He said it was part of an "establishment" plan to try to "nullify" the election result. Gowdy challenged him on that, asking Bannon who is this establishment you refer to who is trying to nullify Trump's victory? Bannon answered: Paul Ryan and Mitch McConnell. Gowdy countered that Bannon couldn't have it both ways. Was he also referring to Trump confidant Kevin McCarthy — the leader of the Republican House conference — who is surely part of the same Ryan-McConnell "establishment?"
There's no word on how Bannon responded to that. But according to Swan he did "slip up" early on with a particularly damning little bit of info. He admitted that he'd had a conversation with former White House chief of staff Reince Priebus, former press secretary Sean Spicer and former legal spokesman Mark Corallo about Donald Trump Jr.'s infamous Trump Tower meeting with the Russians. (Corallo later reportedly resigned over the cover-up.) That got the committee very excited, but Bannon clammed up afterwards and said he wished he could say more.

How funny that Bannon would drop that one little hint of inside knowledge of the single most important part of the puzzle -- a possible conspiracy and cover-up -- and nothing else. One might even suspect he did it on purpose just to let the White House know that even though they had claimed executive privilege, he was still in the driver's seat.

It was around the time of the supposedly inadvertent slip that word came into the committee hearing that The New York Times was reporting that Bannon had been subpoenaed by the Mueller grand jury. Presumably Bannon and his lawyer knew about that, but they hadn't mentioned it to the committee, which had to pause its questioning to make sure it was not interfering with the Mueller probe. We now know that the FBI had shown up at Bannon's house with the subpoenas on Jan. 9. We don't know why Mueller's team didn't ask him to come in voluntarily as they have done with everyone else, but in any case, as of yesterday he has agreed to do just that.

It's all very odd. Nobody else has been subpoenaed out of the blue by the special counsel, and nobody else has been instructed by the White House to claim such an expansive version of executive privilege before a congressional committee. It would seem that all the parties believe there is something unique about what Bannon has to offer.

A source close to Bannon told NBC News that “he’ll answer any questions” Mueller wants to ask. And why not? Donald Trump made sure that he has plenty of time on his hands and nothing left to lose.