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Nothing to See Here!

[ 61 ] May 17, 2017 |


Nobody could have foreseen etc.:

One of the Trump administration’s first decisions about the fight against the Islamic State was made by Michael Flynn weeks before he was fired – and it conformed to the wishes of Turkey, whose interests, unbeknownst to anyone in Washington, he’d been paid more than $500,000 to represent.

The decision came 10 days before Donald Trump had been sworn in as president, in a conversation with President Barack Obama’s national security adviser, Susan Rice, who had explained the Pentagon’s plan to retake the Islamic State’s de facto capital of Raqqa with Syrian Kurdish forces whom the Pentagon considered the U.S.’s most effective military partners. Obama’s national security team had decided to ask for Trump’s sign-off, since the plan would all but certainly be executed after Trump had become president.

Flynn didn’t hesitate. According to timelines distributed by members of Congress in the weeks since, Flynn told Rice to hold off, a move that would delay the military operation for months.

OK, but surely the Trump administration could not have been aware of Flynn’s corrupt ties to Turk…

Michael T. Flynn told President Trump’s transition team weeks before the inauguration that he was under federal investigation for secretly working as a paid lobbyist for Turkey during the campaign, according to two people familiar with the case.

Despite this warning, which came about a month after the Justice Department notified Mr. Flynn of the inquiry, Mr. Trump made Mr. Flynn his national security adviser. The job gave Mr. Flynn access to the president and nearly every secret held by American intelligence agencies.

Oh, and this also means…

Still weaselly shitbag Highly Principled Public Servant Until He Can Secure That Gig As Tucker Carlson’s Clinton Foundation Special Correspondent Jason Chaffetz says there’s nothing to see here, so I feel confident Mueller will find nothing further untoward about this very tight administrative ship.


Robert Mueller named special prosecutor to look into Russian involvement in election

[ 193 ] May 17, 2017 |

Mueller is the former head of the FBI.  This is not good news for Trump.

A little dinner at Irvine

[ 31 ] May 17, 2017 |

I realize the following doesn’t add up to a hill of beans in this crazy mixed-up world, but we must all cultivate our own hydroponic gardens:

My email in-box is getting blasted with announcements that Erwin Chemerinsky has been named the new dean of UC-Berkeley’s law school.

Chemerinsky has spent the last ten years as the dean of UC-Irvine’s new law school, which admitted its first class in 2009.  His avowed goal was to create a “top 20” law school from scratch, since apparently what the world needs now is not a new Frank Sinatra, but another top 20 law school (I would have thought 20 top 20 law schools were enough, but I am apparently not a sufficiently disruptive and innovative thinker in the fast-moving world of contemporary higher education).

Chemerinsky didn’t achieve this essentially pointless goal (UC-Irvine was ranked 30th in 2015 and 28th this year), but he did manage to hire an impressive faculty, with perhaps its most impressive feature being its stupendous salaries: a quick skim of the public records indicates that a bunch of legal Anteaters are pulling in north of $300,000 in compensation, not counting benefits, which tack on another 30% to the payroll.

Long story short: a back of the envelope calculation indicates the law school is probably spending around $30 million per year in direct operating costs, which is a lot, given that this year the school’s total net tuition revenue is going to be around $9 million, and of course it has no alumni network yet from which to extract donations (The school got a $20 million founding gift from an Orange County real estate mogul but that money is likely long gone, given that the first entering class paid no tuition and the next two got very heavy discounts).

Long story shorter: UC-Irvine’s law school is costing the parent university a fortune, and will continue to do so for the foreseeable future.  Of course it’s hard to quantify the inchoate benefits in ACADEMIC PRESTIGE accruing to the larger university from its hosting the third-highest ranked law school in the greater Los Angeles area. Oh wait, it really isn’t: those benefits add up to approximately zero dollars per year, more or less.

None of this touches on the fact that the dumpster fire that is the hiring market for entry level lawyers in California needs another top 28 law school like Donald Trump needs two scoops of ice cream and a suitcase full of crystal meth.

For these fantastic achievements in the field of lighting mountains of money on fire for no good reason, Chemerinksy got rewarded with the deanship of something UC-Irvine will never be in a million years, i.e., a genuinely elite law school.   Hopefully EC at least improves Berkeley’s recent .333 batting average in regard to hiring law school deans who don’t sexually harass or assault students and/or staff. (In light of the institution’s recent history I can’t help but note that one of the two other finalists Chem beat out was Laura Gomez, a Latina woman who is an extremely impressive person in every way, but who has yet to light enough money on fire to sufficiently impress university administrators).


Dave Clarke Jive

[ 47 ] May 17, 2017 |

Napoleorange’s plan to cram as many civil rights disasters into one administration continues, bigly.

Sheriff David Clarke of Milwaukee County, Wis., said Wednesday he has accepted a job in the Department of Homeland Security.

Clarke told conservative radio host Vicki McKenna during an interview on 1130 WISN that he will leave his post as sheriff to serve as a deputy secretary of Homeland Security.

The Teller of Totally Convincing Anecdotes is being sued for the neglect, abuse and deaths of several prisoners and the new born baby of an inmate who gave birth in the prison.

Clarke has faced two federal lawsuits since December, in the wake of four deaths that occurred last year in the Milwaukee County Jail. In mid-March, the family of a man who died of dehydration in April 2016 sued Clarke and the county, alleging that jail staff subjected the man to “torture” by denying him water as he pleaded for it over 10 days. County prosecutors are considering bringing felony charges against jail staff for neglect. Another lawsuit, filed last December, seeks damages for the death of a newborn in the jail last July, after jail staff ignored the infant’s mother as she went into labor and for more than six hours thereafter, according to the suit.

A lawsuit filed earlier this month also alleges mistreatment of pregnant inmates. In that suit, a woman alleges that, during a seven-month stint at the jail in 2013, she was forcibly shackled with a “belly-chain” that tied her wrists and legs to her stomach during her hospitalization for pre-natal care, while she was in labor, and while she received treatment for post-partum depression after she gave birth. The restraints made giving birth more painful for the woman, left marks on her body, and made it more difficult for doctors—who insisted she be freed—to give her an epidural, the lawsuit says. The jail has a policy that inmates be shackled while receiving medical care that makes no exceptions for pregnancy, according to the lawsuit, which also states that more than 40 women were subjected to the same treatment.

Really, just the best people, terrific.

Donald J. Trump, the New King of Comedy

[ 33 ] May 17, 2017 |


The number of conservatives who were able to convince themselves not merely that a typo should be taken out of context and used to willfully misread a statute but that the ACA’s federal exchanges were willfully designed to fail is an indication that there’s essentially no argument too ridiculous for them to believe if their salary depends etc. And so it goes with the state-of-the-art post hoc defense of Donald Trump’s obstruction of justice — that he was Only Joking:

The theory that Trump’s apparent instructions to Comey were not instructions at all, but simply disconnected musings or a hilarious bit that Comey failed to understand, suffers from a number of serious flaws. The first is that Trump instructed the other attendees of the meeting to leave the room before he said it to Comey. That is not what you ordinarily do when you’re about to tell a really good, albeit dry, joke.

Second, after Trump made his “joke” about wanting Comey to halt the Russia investigation, and Comey did not halt it, Trump fired Comey. Nobody would be that committed to a bit. Third, the letter Trump wrote firing Comey has a sentence implicitly casting Comey’s decision not to investigate Trump personally as a point in favor of his keeping his job: “While I greatly appreciate you informing me, on three separate occasions, that I am not under investigation, I nevertheless concur with the judgment of the Department of Justice that you are not able to effectively lead the bureau.” Ponder that “nevertheless.”

Then there is the fact that Trump, in a mind-blowing interview with NBC’s Lester Holt, himself connected the decision to fire Comey to the ongoing Russia investigation.

The nature of language is such that we can never identify an actual instruction with complete certainty. Any number of crimes rely on verbal or written communication that could be a joke or a pun or a fever dream or some kind of absurdist meta-commentary. “Your money or your life,” could be a threat to kill a person who doesn’t surrender their purse, but it could always be a wry philosophical statement about materialism. Generally, though, the straightforward interpretation of language is the correct one. So it does appear that Trump engaged in obstruction of justice, or else words have no meaning.

Another major problem with this defense is that it’s not really clear what the joke is. Fortunately, Brian has obtained new Comey memos that fill in the gap:

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Trump’s wacky hi-jinx should be taken seriously but not literally.


[ 101 ] May 17, 2017 |


Finally, true bipartianship could be achieved!

I look forward to Matthew Dowd and Ron Fournier’s exciting renewed support of Trump.

The little narcissist that couldn’t

[ 68 ] May 17, 2017 |

White man who inherited a vast fortune and then via a bizarre series of events was handed the presidency of the United States advises young people on how to overcome the harsh fact that life can be very unfair, especially to him:

President Donald Trump, amid his own swirling controversies, advised United States Coast Guard Academy graduates that while things aren’t always fair, “you have to put your head down and fight, fight, fight.”

The comment was a clear reference to the fact that Trump’s White House is now besieged by bipartisan questions about his alleged request that former FBI Director James Comey to halt an investigation into his former top national security aide.
“Never, never, never give up. Things will work out just fine,” he said in New London, Connecticut, Wednesday.
Then, dropping the pretext even more, he bemoaned the media coverage of his presidency.
Once hoped for as a reset, Trump's foreign trip now bogged in White House crises
“Look at the way I have been treated lately, especially by the media,” he said. “No politician in history, and I say this with great surety, has been treated worse or more unfairly. You can’t let them get you down, you can’t let the critics and the naysayers get in the way of your dreams.”
I imagine Trump has probably heard the word “surety” a lot in his business dealings.

For a Vision of What Republicans Want to Do to the Nation, Look at North Carolina

[ 25 ] May 17, 2017 |


Above: The North Carolina GOP

While we are rightfully focused on the out of control Trump administration, I continue to pay attention to the meth laboratories of democracy that are the states. I do so for many reasons, but one of them is that you can see how Republicans are trying out new methods to create their dreamed of autocracy. I was originally going to combine this was a brief mention of Trump and Erdogan, but Melissa usefully did this already. So instead I will stick to that lovely paradise known as North Carolina. To being with, North Carolina Republicans stick to their most important principle: Being stringent defenders of pig shit.

North Carolina’s hog farms won an extra measure of protection from lawsuits Thursday, after the state Senate overrode a veto by Gov. Roy Cooper, who had sought to preserve the right of property owners to sue farmers over quality-of-life issues.

The state Senate narrowly defeated Cooper’s veto, a day after the House took the same step. The Senate vote was 30 to 18, mostly along party lines, in a procedure that requires support from three-fifths of lawmakers present. The vote was similar Wednesday in the House, with 74 voting to override the governor’s veto, and 40 voting to support the governor.

The new law limits the amount of money people can collect in lawsuits against hog farms for odors, headaches, flies and other aggravations. Critics have said the law limits financial recovery to the point that such lawsuits are not likely to be filed in the future.

The measure, which protects all agricultural and forestry operations, was prompted by 26 federal lawsuits filed against the state’s largest pork producer, Murphy-Brown, a subsidiary of Smithfield Foods. In other states, such lawsuits have resulted in jury awards of hundreds of thousands of dollars to local residents. North Carolina’s law will limit financial recovery to several thousand dollars, according to some estimates.

An early version of the law, House Bill 467, would have applied retroactively to the Murphy-Brown cases, but lawmakers stripped out that provision amid objections from Democrats and Republicans alike that it would be inappropriate for the legislature to intervene in a pending legal dispute.

On Thursday, all 15 Democrats in the Senate supported Cooper, and were joined by three Republicans who had previouly voted against the legislation, including Tamara Barringer of Wake County. Two Republicans were absent who had previously voted for the bill when it passed the Senate last month.

In the House vote to override Cooper’s veto, seven Democrats voted against the Democratic governor, and three Republicans voted with him.

North Carolina has about 9 million hogs on nearly 2,300 hog farm operations, many of them concentrated in the eastern part of the state. The large farms, which can contain thousands of hogs, treat the hog feces and urine in open-air lagoons, from which water is pumped onto crops as a nutrient-rich fertilizer.

Nearly 500 residents living near those farms allege in the lawsuits that they are subjected to revolting odors as well as swarms of flies and buzzards attracted to outdoor bins where pig carcasses are dumped for pickup by haulers. The lawsuits include allegations that the spraying from the lagoons disperses fecal bacteria that wafts across property lines and settles on cars, homes and lawns.

North Carolina’s hog farming practices have been under scrutiny for decades. Amid rising public health concerns, the state banned the construction of new hog farms in 1997 that treat hog waste in open-air lagoons. More than 30 scientific studies have documented public health and environmental problems arising from industrial hog farming here.

And before someone makes the obvious point–yes, on this issue there are also crappy Democrats in the pockets of the agricultural lobby. That they suck on this issue is unfortunate. Whether they should be primaried or not I can’t say; obviously it depends on the district. But both sides don’t do it–all of one side and a few bad apples of the other side do it, which is not a reason to decry the entire Democratic Party, especially since Roy Cooper vetoed the thing.

Then there’s how Republicans respond to Democratic challenges.

N.C. Senate Republicans were visibly upset with Democrats for prolonging the budget debate with amendments during an after-midnight session Friday morning.

As the clock approached 1 a.m., Senate Minority Leader Dan Blue was summoned to the front of the chamber to talk privately with Senate leader Phil Berger. The Senate had rejected five amendments from Democrats to fund their spending priorities, but each time one proposal was shot down, another one was filed.

Senate Rules Chairman Bill Rabon abruptly called for a recess, stopping the proceedings for nearly two hours. GOP leaders headed to a conference room with legislative budget staff, while Democrats – some surprised by the lengthy delay – passed the time with an impromptu dance party in the hall.

The session finally resumed around 3 a.m., and Republican Sen. Brent Jackson introduced a new budget amendment that he explained would fund more pilot programs combating the opioid epidemic. He cited “a great deal of discussion” about the need for more opioid treatment funding.

Jackson didn’t mention where the additional $1 million would come from: directly from education programs in Senate Democrats’ districts and other initiatives the minority party sought.

Sen. Erica Smith-Ingram’s rural district in northeastern North Carolina took the biggest hit from the amendment. It strips $316,646 from two early college high schools in Northampton and Washington counties, and it specifically bans state funding from supporting a summer science, math and technology program called Eastern North Carolina STEM.

The Northampton County program has received about $180,000 in recent years to serve 90 high school students, many of whom are African-American and from low-income families.

“I don’t know what motivated the amendment, but it will have a devastating effect on an area that is already suffering,” Smith-Ingram said Saturday, adding that the STEM summer program would shut down if the provision is in the final budget.

Would you be surprised to know that Smith-Ingram is African-American as well as a Democrat and that her district is heavily black? No, of course you wouldn’t.

Speaking of North Carolina Republicans’ war on African-Americans, it’s attempt to recreate something as close to Jim Crow voting as it could was rejected by the Supreme Court. Unfortunately, it’s entirely about the fact that the state’s new Democratic governor, whose power was drastically reduced by the GOP once they couldn’t control the office anymore, decided to stop defending the case, and not about the merits of the openly racist law. The upside is that the Fourth Circuit completely rejected it on the merits already and that stands. Of course, the real lesson is that even with flawed Democrats, they are way, way, way better than Republicans precisely because of issues like this. But maybe the Greens can run a challenger next time! That’s more important than making sure this type of voter suppression doesn’t continue!

But I guess Hillary should have held campaign rallies in Wisconsin. Anyway.

This is what a unified Republican government would look like nationally if it could a) get the power, b) break down the norms that prevent this sort of thing nationally, and c) didn’t elect a man of stupendous stupidity who blows up his own presidency. In other words, holding onto to both houses of Congress with a Mike Pence presidency and a bunch of judges named to these courts means we could be much closer to Erdogan’s Turkey than you would like to think.

Incompetence or Malevolence? (Washington State Republican Party edition)

[ 50 ] May 17, 2017 |

The Seattle Subway collective has a good headline, but I wonder whether incompetence is the most likely explanation.


1. As part of legislative horse-trading last year, Republicans provided votes to pass a law to authorize Sound Transit to take to the voters a new package to extend the current light rail system and various other mass transit projects, and taxes to pay for them. The agency’s legislative ask included a mix of income sources other than the highly unpopular motor vehicle exise tax, or MVET–a type of tax that was the subject of a devastating and successful tax rebellion almost 20 years ago the state budgets have still not fully recovered from. Republican legislators make them use the MVET.

2. Sound Transit uses the legislative authority to put together a sizeable package, funded in party by the authorized MVET. It passes easily, despite the unpopular tax.

3. The depreciation schedule used to determine the MVET (and currently in use for a smaller MVET from the first ST package) differs from blue book value, exaggerating the value of late-model cars while underestimating the value of older cars. 2-10 year old cars are taxed at a value anywhere from 20-50% greater than Kelly Blue Book. Again, this is what the legislation authorized, and how the existing MVET has been collected for a decade.

4. With a major assist from the consistently anti-transit Seattle Times, Republican opponents of public transit attempt to whip up a tax rebellion about the MVET, claiming Sound Transit misled voters about the nature of the taxes. (ST’s website, throughout the campaign, featured an ST III tax calculator, which accurately included the MVET at the legislatively approved depreciation schedule. To carry the charade forward, phony show-trial “hearings” will now be held about how Sound Transit misled voters. This accompanies legislation that looks likely to pass that would “fix” the MVET without replacing the lost funds, putting post-2002 ST’s exemplary record of finishing projects on time at risk. (Democrats control the House, but several Democrats from parts of the ST taxing region that didn’t support the package* are freaked out by the tax rebellion, and are willing to play the compromise role between “full-on assault on Sound Transit” and “respect the clear will of the voters.”)

Forcing ST to use an unpopular tax provides two strategic benefits to the anti-transit Republicans: it makes the package less popular to the voters, but if that doesn’t work, it’s still there to launch a cynical attack on the government agency with (and they know they’ll have the full support of the region’s major newspaper for this project.)

* Also Bob Hasegawa, who represents a transit-reliant, strongly STIII-supporting district in South Seattle. Bob Hasegawa is running for Mayor of Seattle. There are now a number of promising candidates for Mayor. Please don’t vote for Bob Hasegawa.

With Friends Like These

[ 21 ] May 17, 2017 |

In yet another clear signal about the consequences of embracing strongmen: violence erupted at the Turkish embassy in DC yesterday, just after Turkish President Erdogan enjoyed his cozy White House visit.

The clash involved pro- and anti-Erdogan groups. Turkish state media identified members of Erdogan’s own security team in the fighting. The videos and images are chilling.

Meanwhile, the Trump administration seems perfectly happy to ignore this blatant disregard for basic rights of speech and assembly. This comes in the wake of Trump’s congratulations for the April referendum that considerably strengthened Erdogan’s constitutional powers (despite observers’ concerns about the campaign’s fairness).

Canaries, coalmines, 1930s parallels… you know the refrain by now. The regular blows to democracy, civil society, and foundational rights risk numbing us. So keep your eye on this one, as we learn who was actually involved. This may be a case of riled-up opponents crossing lines—but it may also be that the security forces of foreign autocrat just directly attacked US residents and citizens on US soil with impunity.

Trump’s own history suggests he might even applaud such a move.

Profiles in Courage

[ 21 ] May 17, 2017 |


So, how will Republicans make their choice between the Titanic and the Hindenberg? America’s Most Beloved and Principled Policy Wonk still thinks that his best chance of getting savage cuts in spending for the poor and massive tax cuts for the rich is to go the Tucker Carlson route:

“It is obvious—there are some people out there who want to harm the president,” [Granny-Starver] said. “We have an obligation to carry out our oversight, regardless of which party is in the White House. That means before rushing to judgment we get all the pertinent information.”

That’s one of the more creative lines of defense we’re hearing from Republicans. You’ve got the bald “it’s not illegal if the president does it,” the new and creative “he didn’t mean it, he just says dumb things,” and this one—the real problem are the enemies of Trump, the people who leaked the fact that he leaked classified intelligence to the Russians and, apparently, James Comey.

But it’s not really his problem, Ryan added, actually saying “I don’t worry about things that are outside of my control.” Leadership! Also, too, does he still have confidence in Trump? “I do,” he says. And he will continue to until he gets to end Medicare as we know it.

Now let’s those green eyeshades on and try to take health insurance from 24 million people.

The Party Finally Gets the Politics it Deserves

[ 150 ] May 17, 2017 |


I’m back again on Trump’s most recent impeachable offense unless there’s been another one as I type. Given that the Comey memos are…highly unlikely to work in Trump’s favor, the Republicans have no good political options:

Needless to say, Democrats immediately called for the Comey memos to be released. To show how serious the scandal is, however, House Oversight Committee Jason Chaffetz is also planning to subpeona all documents relating to the Comey/Trump meetings. That even Chaffetz — who all but declared he would be Trump’s poodle after conducting two years of Hillary Clinton snipe hunts — feels compelled to investigate Trump, or to at least create the appearance of investigating Trump, shows what political danger the Republicans are in.

At this point, however, Chaffetz — who isn’t running in 2018 — remains the exception rather than the rule. Republican legislators continue to limit themselves to vague assertions of being “troubled.” And there’s a reason for this: Republicans have created a monster. While Trump’s never-good approval ratings are tumbling among the population as a whole, he remains very popular with the Republican base: According to a Quinnipiac poll, 84 percent of Republican voters think Trump’s first 100 days in office have been a success. Unless he becomes much less popular with Republican voters, acting to remove Trump would tear the party apart. And this is unlikely to happen — historically partisanship has been surprisingly resilient to even the biggest scandals, and defections have generally come from the kind of moderates who are virtually extinct in today’s GOP.

Politically, then, Republicans have no good options for dealing with a president who is grossly unfit for office. And James Comey, whose actions may well have put Trump in the White House, might also be responsible for the political implosion of his presidency.

Most Republicans are perfectly well aware of Trump’s monumental unfitness. But the Republican base is still hearing about how Trump scandals are fake news and Crooked Hillary from people like “ex-journalist Tucker Carlson”:

To be clear, although I don’t think removal from office is imminent, I endorse Paul’s epistemological modesty as to how this will all eventually play out. This is all sui generis.

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