Trump’s Bitter Enders: White Evangelicals

The only poll I’ve seen about the phony national emergency, by NPR/PBS NewsHour/Marist, says that the public disapproves of Trump’s phony national emergency declaration by 61 to 39 percent. “Nearly 6-in-10 also don’t believe there is an emergency at the southern border and that the president is misusing his presidential authority. They also believe that his decision should be challenged in court,” NPR reports. Here is a more detailed demographic breakdown.

Republicans, naturally, are more approving of the declaration than the public at large. But Paul Waldman points out that this isn’t necessarily good news for Trump.

The question is whether he can duplicate his 2016 electoral college hat trick by dramatically energizing noncollege whites again, and by winning independents and others who decide they don’t like either candidate (as Trump did in 2016).

And among those groups, the poll finds surprising levels of opposition. Large majorities of independents tilt against Trump on these questions. And non-college-educated whites disapprove of the national emergency declaration by 53 to 43; they lean slightly against the idea that there’s even any emergency (49-47); and even marginally say that it makes them less likely to vote for Trump (46-41).

However, there is one demographic that’s still in the tank for Trump.

White evangelical Christians. They approve of the declaration by 67 to 26; think there is a national emergency on the border by 70 to 22; say he’s properly using his powers by 69-23; and say this makes them more likely to vote for him by 60 to 22..

I have to say that even I am a bit nonplussed by the white evangellical Christians, even though as a child of the Bible Belt I suppose they shouldn’t surprise me.

There was a very disturbing op ed in the New York Times a couple of months ago that relates to this — “Why Trump Reigns as King Cyrus” by Katherine Stewart. There’s a big chunk of white evangelicals — a not insubstantial part of the population — that sincerely wants Trump or somebody like him to seize power and establish a right-wing theocracy. That’s more important to them than those piddly theological concerns such as morality and Jesus.

Today’s Christian nationalists talk a good game about respecting the Constitution and America’s founders, but at bottom they sound as if they prefer autocrats to democrats. In fact, what they really want is a king. “It is God that raises up a king,” according to Paula White, a prosperity gospel preacher who has advised Mr. Trump.

Ralph Drollinger, who has led weekly Bible study groups in the White House attended by Vice President Mike Pence and many other cabinet members, likes the word “king” so much that he frequently turns it into a verb. “Get ready to king in our future lives,” he tells his followers. “Christian believers will — soon, I hope — become the consummate, perfect governing authorities!”

The great thing about kings like Cyrus, as far as today’s Christian nationalists are concerned, is that they don’t have to follow rules. They are the law. This makes them ideal leaders in paranoid times.

“When are they going to start rolling out the boxcars to start hauling off Christians?” Tony Perkins, the president of the Family Research Council, asked in 2016. If you’re hearing those boxcars pulling up in the distance, as it were, you don’t merely overlook the antisocial qualities of a prospective leader, you embrace them as virtues.

See also this discussion on white Christian evangelicals and Christian nationalism at Vox. White evangelicals have a long history of cherry-picking scripture to support whatever they want to believe, going back to their antebellum support for slavery in the South.

You never hear devout evangelicals say that God raised up Trump to punish or chastise evangelicals for placing too much of their hope in power politics or political strongmen. Evangelicals are modern people — they believe in certainty and often insist that they know the exact will of God on all matters. In other words, they do not share the Catholic or Orthodox idea of the “mystery of faith.” They also have a long history of cherry-picking from the Bible to justify their politics.

Some believe that Trump, like King Cyrus, is delivering them from the “captivity” of the Obama administration. Bible verses calling for obedience to government are used to justify immigration policies that seem to contradict the teachings of the Scriptures in relation to refugees and “strangers.” They find some verses useful and ignore others.

If the Obama Administration is their idea of “captivity,” obviously there’s no reasoning with these people. They are nuttier than a Payday bar. But this also explains the Trump/Republican bizarre obsequiousness to Bibi Netanyahu and their conflation of being anti-government of Israel with anti-Semitism. White evangelicals are anti-Semitic lovers of Israel because Israel fits into Dispensationalist ideas of prophecy; see Nancy LeTourneau, “A More Twisted Form of Anti-Semitism.” They’ve figured out a way to complain about alleged rising anti-Semitism on the Left while absolving themselves of the same sin.

Is there anything Trump could do to shake their faith? Maybe if it was proved he had paid mistresses to get abortions, but I doubt even that would do it. However, as Paul Waldman says, there aren’t enough of them to re-elect Trump by themselves.

Carlo Allegri/Reuters

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Why I Don’t Give Money to NARAL

Cheryl Gay Stolberg writes in the New York Times:

In the 116th Congress, if you’re a Democrat, you’re either a socialist, a baby killer or an anti-Semite.

That, at least, is what Republicans want voters to think, as they seek to demonize Democrats well in advance of the 2020 elections by painting them as left-wing crazies who will destroy the American economy, murder newborn babies and turn a blind eye to bigotry against Jews.

This sort of tactic is nothing new. Here is a story from 2004:

The Republican Party acknowledged yesterday sending mass mailings to residents of two states warning that “liberals” seek to ban the Bible. It said the mailings were part of its effort to mobilize religious voters for President Bush.

They do this stuff because it works. And at this point the Republicans are out of ideas — all they’ve got left is cutting taxes, banning abortion and investigating Hillary Clinton. So they lie.

But the lies work for them, for several reasons. The biggest one is that the abandonment of the working class by the Democratic Party means that there’s a big demographic of Americans that never hear anything Democrats have to say. There is a near complete shut out of Democratic and progressive messaging in large parts of the country. It’s also the case that Republicans spent decades building an interconnected infrastructure of media and think tanks to generate and promote Republican propaganda, and Democrats don’t have anything to compete with that.

And then there’s the fact that some advocacy groups on “our” side, groups that soak up our donations and support, are pretty close to worthless. NARAL is a case in point.

The National Association for the Repeal of Abortion Laws was founded in 1969, when the fight to legalize abortion was being fought state-by-state. When the Roe v. Wade decision struck down most state laws in 1973, the organization changed its name to National Abortion Rights Action League. Today it calls itself NARAL Pro-Choice America, and it is a 501(c)(4) organization headquartered in Washington, DC. There is also a NARAL Pro-Choice America Foundation, which is a 501(c)(3) charitable organization, and a NARAL PAC.

Why do I think NARAL is a waste of time? Let me count the ways.

Being fervently in favor of reproductive rights, back in the 1970s I became a dues-paying member of NARAL. In the late 1970s I was living in Cincinnati, which is a conservative town with a big Catholic presence. Everywhere I looked, I saw anti-abortion propaganda, from billboards to the way the issue was covered in the local newspapers. I remember a lot of photos of sweet-faced nuns at candlelight vigils on the front page of the Cincinnati Enquirer. If a pro-reproductive rights viewpoint was presented at all, it was badly written and on page B12.  I wrote many letters to editors in those days, none of which were published.

Where was NARAL? One day their newsletter arrived in the mail. And I learned from the newsletter that the organization had decided to put all of its resources into lobbying. There would be no public outreach or even attempts to get the pro-choice perspective into the nation’s newspapers. Just lobbying.

That’s when I stopped sending them money.

In the years since I’ve observed anti-abortion talking points dominate news coverage. I’ve seen the same stupid and easily refutable arguments made, over and over, and rarely answered. I’ve seen nothing in the way of public education about abortion law and practices in the U.S., a topic of which most Americans are grossly ignorant, which is why the Right gets away with lying about it.

The single biggest lie about abortion law that the Right has used successfully for years is that abortion is legal in the U.S. throughout pregnancy, and even immediately after. They can murder newborn babies! But no, they can’t.

The fact is that Roe v. Wade allows states to ban elective abortions after the gestational age at which a fetus might be viable. Then as now, that’s considered after the 23rd week of pregnancy. According to Alan Guttmacher, 43 states have gestational limits on legal abortion ranging from 20 to 24 weeks.

The remaining states are California, Colorado, District of Columbia, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New Mexico, Oregon and Vermont. There’s a big fight going on in Vermont right now over abortion access. It turns out that while there is no specific gestational limit on the books in Vermont, there are no abortion providers in Vermont performing third-trimester abortions.

The Vermont Medical Society testified before the House Human Services Committee on H.57 earlier this month.

“Vermont law currently is silent on abortion and allows abortion with no restriction,” it said. However, in 2016, the latest year for which abortion data is available, “91.7 percent of all Vermont abortions happened within the first trimester (12 weeks or less) and only 1.3 percent of Vermont abortions occurred in 2016 after 21 weeks.”

Data from the Centers for Disease Control on abortions nationwide in 2015 shows that seven abortions were conducted in Vermont after 21 weeks — 0.7 percent of all abortions in the state — but doesn’t give a more specific breakdown for when those procedures were performed.

The medical society added that woman simply do not elect to terminate pregnancies in the final few months, as opponents of H.57, like Coyne, suggest.

“‘Late term’ abortion is a social construct introduced to create an image of an elective abortion that happens closer to 8-9 months, which does not happen and is not a term that is used medically,” the society says.

And even if a woman wanted to abort a pregnancy that late, there are no providers who would do it in Vermont, according to the medical society.

“No abortion providers in Vermont perform elective abortions in the third trimester,” it says.

Lucy Leriche, the vice president of public policy at Planned Parenthood of Northern New England, said the only time when a woman might get an abortion that late in their pregnancy would be “under really severe circumstances for health of mother or because the viability of pregnancy is at risk.”

Doctors who do carry out elective procedures that late in pregnancy, she added, would face dire professional consequences for violating their licensure and committing medical malpractice.

If you check out the circumstances in the other states, you find the same thing. Even where there is no specific gestational limit on elective abortion, doctors simply don’t do them, and women aren’t asking for them. When pregnancies have to be terminated in the third trimester because the mother is at risk, every effort is made to save the baby.

Yet for years — nay, decades — the anti-reproductive-rights people have been keeping their supporters whipped up with stories of full-term babies killed in abortion procedures. This simply is not happening. Why hasn’t there been a robust public education effort being made all this time explaining the facts?

NARAL? (Cricket chirps)

For that matter, the whole emphasis on “choice” is off. Where abortion is criminalized, women still get abortions. Criminalization doesn’t even slow it down, as a great deal of real-world experience shows us. That doesn’t mean that criminalization doesn’t cause a lot of suffering to women or doesn’t force some women to carry pregnancies to term against their will. Criminalization has many consequences no one is talking about. In Latin American countries, for example, women suffering natural miscarriages are criminally investigated. See “What Happens When Abortion Is Banned?” for the real-world details. See also “When Abortion Is Illegal, Women Rarely Die. But They Still Suffer.” From the latter article:

If other countries are a guide, abortion restrictions won’t reduce the number of abortions that take place: According to the Guttmacher Institute, abortion rates in countries where abortion is legal are similar to those in countries where it’s illegal. In parts of the world where abortion is illegal, botched abortions still cause about 8 to 11 percent of all maternal deaths, or about 30,000 each year.

But abortion-related deaths are much less common than they were a few decades ago, especially in countries with functional health-care systems. Since the early ’90s, abortion fatalities have declined by 42 percent globally. This is despite the fact that about 45 percent of all the abortions in the world are still performed in “unsafe” circumstances—meaning without the help of a trained professional or with an outdated medical method. Unsafe abortions are more common in countries where the practice is illegal.

While fewer women are perforating their uterus or dying of sepsis, if women who attempt to perform their own abortion are taken to the hospital with complications, they might be reported to the authorities and face jail time.

That’s the future criminalization will bring us.

The 501(c)(4) portion of NARAL has an annual budget of about $8.5 million, according to several sources. According to a recent annual report from NARAL, 85 percent of their budget is spent on “program services.” My impression from reading the report is that their biggest effort these days is working to elect pro-choice politicians to office, and that’s fine. But wouldn’t some effort at public education pay bigger dividends?

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Putin’s Quid Pro Quo

David Atkins has written a terribly bleak but important piece at Washington Monthly called Why Even the Furthest Left Should Care About the Trump-Russia Conspiracy. Atkins has been warning of a “global conservative religious fundamentalist white supremacist movement” gaining ground in Europe and the U.S., and that Vladimir Putin’s Russia is its lodestar. And at this point it’s beyond doubt that Russia actively helped Donald Trump’s campaign.

We know that Vladimir Putin personally ordered historically unprecedented criminal theft of material from the Democratic Party to assist Donald Trump. We mostly know why he did it: to relieve sanctions on his mafia cronies, to advance his fossil-fuels based economy, and to weaken the structural international supports of his greatest geopolitical rival. We also have more than an inkling of the leverage he possessed over Donald Trump: regardless of whether Trump fears the revelation of even more lurid kompromat, we already know that Trump was hoping for a big real estate deal in Moscow, and that Trump’s real estate holdings and his lone lender, Deutsche Bank, both have alarming connections to Russian oligarchs and money laundering.

What we don’t yet know is what Trump offered the Russians in return. This and only this is the fig leaf that still allows Republicans to claim there is “no collusion.”

But we have a clue that Russia is getting something it wants — the breakup of the Atlantic alliance. See Rift Between Trump and Europe Is Now Open and Angry in the New York Times.

The Europeans no longer believe that Washington will change, not when Mr. Trump sees traditional allies as economic rivals and leadership as diktat. His distaste for multilateralism and international cooperation is a challenge to the very heart of what Europe is and needs to be in order to have an impact in the world.

But beyond the Trump administration, an increasing number of Europeans say they believe that relations with the United States will never be the same again.

Karl Kaiser, a longtime analyst of German-American relations, said, “Two years of Mr. Trump, and a majority of French and Germans now trust Russia and China more than the United States.”

This is seriously bad stuff. Going back to Atkins:

This matters because Russia’s actions to install Trump as president have advanced the interests of fossil fuel barons, making it much harder to deal with climate change in a timely fashion. It matters because, by putting Trump in office, Vladimir Putin enabled Republicans to pass an enormous tax cut for the wealthy and for corporations, thereby making it much more difficult for progressives to tackle badly pressing problems like infrastructure, monopoly power, and inequality. It matters because Russia’s successes in propping up Assad and pushing Brexit have made it much, much harder for internationalists and anti-war progressives to advocate for a peaceful multilateralism that benefits everyone around the globe.

That’s why it’s so critical to keep a spotlight on Trump and Russia. This isn’t just for immediate partisan gain. If the alliance between conservative Russian fossil-fuel kleptocrats and the global white supremacist movement is not exposed, broken, and destroyed, then the progressive policy agenda is in deep trouble. None of the laws that Elizabeth Warren, Alexandria-Ocasio Cortez, or Bernie Sanders will push for will have any chance of passage as long as there remains an unbroken alliance between the real power in the Republican Party and the Russian mafia state’s hacker collectives.

One wonders how deep the rot goes in the Republican Party.  In his “60 Minutes” interview, to air tonight, Andrew McCabe said he briefly discussed invoking the 25th Amendment with Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein. Miz Lindsey Graham went into a pearl-clutching frenzy on Face the Nation this morning, vowing to hold hearings and punish whoever was responsible for doing something that obviously needs to be done. No rational person can possibly believe Trump is capable of carrying out the duties of his office. Several columnists mentioned the 25th Amendment after Trump’s bizarre Rose Garden national emergency announcement a couple of days ago.  (See, for example, Dana Milbank and Charles Pierce.)

So the nation watches helplessly as Trump destroys democracy at home and international relations everywhere else, because our national government is too corrupted and compromised to take the clear and necessary steps to remove a dysfunctional president from office.

Stuff to Read:

Timothy O’Brien, In Trump’s World, He Never Loses

Anne Applebaum, An off-key Pence sings from the Trump hymnal to a stony European reception

Reuters, Japan’s PM nominated Trump for Nobel Peace Prize on U.S. request: Asahi

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Emergency! There’s a Monster in the White House!

So the Creature has announced that he is declaring a national emergency in order to build the wall. Here he is explaining what he thinks will happen next:

Add a percussion riff to that and it would almost be rap. So he’s anticipating a court fight until the SCOTUS gives him what he wants.

However, House Democrats plan to pass a joint resolution condemning the move, and the rules say the Senate has to vote on it within 18 days.  Every Republican senator would have to go on record to show whether he stands with Trump or with the Constitution. I’m really looking forward to this. But watch Mitch sit on it until the 18 days are up.

If both houses of Congress pass the resolution with a supermajority vote, it’s over. And I bet that’s not impossible. The resolution would only need a majority to pass, but then of course Trump could veto it.

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Will Trump Surrender?

Trump is said to be very unhappy with the budget deal that was announced last night. He should be; for his part, it’s a worse deal that he would gotten if he hadn’t pulled the shutdown stunt at all. Aaron Blake writes,

The amount of funding is actually shy of the original deal Republicans and Democrats reached last year that Trump rejected. At that time, the spending bill for the Department of Homeland Security included $1.6 billion for 65 miles of fencing, both slightly more than the current tentative deal.

Greg Sargent:

Now that negotiators have reached an agreement in principle for six months of spending on the border, however, it’s once again clear that Trump’s win on the wall will remain firmly in the category of the imaginary.

It includes only $1.375 billion for new bollard fencing in targeted areas. That’s nothing like Trump’s wall — it’s limited to the kind of fencing that has already been built for years — and it’s substantially short of the $5.7 billion Trump wants. It’s nothing remotely close to the wall that haunts the imagination of the president and his rally crowds. The $1.375 billion is slightly less than what Democrats had previously offered him. It can’t even be credibly sold as a down payment on the wall.

Everyone is hoping he’ll take the $1.375 billion for fencing and claim victory for his wall. But the usual malcontents, like Ann Coulter, already are slamming it.

Back to Greg Sargent:

A House Democratic aide tells me that negotiators also agreed that the deal would include “substantial” expenditures to address the humanitarian plight of migrants arriving at the border.

Such money would go toward “medical care, more efficient transportation, food and other consumables,” to “upgrade conditions and services for migrants,” as the original Democratic proposal at the start of conference committee talks put it. …

…Unfortunately, Democrats backed down on a core demand: a cap on Immigration and Customs Enforcement detention beds. Democrats hoped this would force ICE to focus resources on dangerous undocumented immigrants, thus picking up fewer longtime noncriminal residents.

But Democrats instead agreed to fund 45,000 detention beds. To understand this, note that ICE is currently overspending against last year’s budget, by funding around 49,000 beds. So relative to that, Democrats are cutting the number of beds. But as Heidi Altman notes, what Democrats agreed to is higher than the actual number of beds legitimately funded last year. So that’s a hike.

It’s a deal in which nobody got everything they wanted, but I’d support it to avoid a shutdown. Right now it’s anybody’s guess what Trump will do, though.

See also Why the Wall Will Never Rise by Richard Parker.

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What Lies Beneath

The Houston Chronicle is running a multi-part expose on sexual abuse within the Southern Baptist Convention. It’s a massive scandal.

It’s not just a recent problem: In all, since 1998, roughly 380 Southern Baptist church leaders and volunteers have faced allegations of sexual misconduct the newspapers found. That includes those who were convicted, credibly accused and successfully sued, and those who confessed or resigned. More of them worked in Texas than in any other state.

They left behind more than 700 victims, many of them shunned by their churches, left to themselves to rebuild their lives. Some were urged to forgive their abusers or to get abortions.

About 220 offenders have been convicted or took plea deals, and dozens of cases are pending. They were pastors. Ministers. Youth pastors. Sunday school teachers. Deacons. Church volunteers.

Nearly 100 are still held in prisons stretching from Sacramento County, Calif., to Hillsborough County, Fla., state and federal records show. Scores of others cut deals and served no time. More than 100 are registered sex offenders. Some still work in Southern Baptist churches today.

The Southern Baptist Convention is a kind of umbrella organization for the diverse churches that consider themselves to be part of the Southern Baptist tradition. The Southern Baptists, you might recall, are a vestige of the antebellum South, the part of the national Baptist convention that broke away in 1845 in support of slavery. Evangelicals in the northern states were leaders of the abolition movement. Today the Southern Baptists are the second largest denomination in the U.S., after the Roman Catholics, who have their own problems.

The Southern Baptists have a very loose administrative structure that gives local congregations a huge amount of autonomy. This is the excuse they are using for ignoring reports of abuse.

At the core of Southern Baptist doctrine is local church autonomy, the idea that each church is independent and self-governing. It’s one of the main reasons that Boto [August “Augie” Boto, interim president of the SBC’s Executive Committee] said most of the proposals a decade ago were viewed as flawed by the executive committee because the committee doesn’t have the authority to force churches to report sexual abuse to a central registry.

Because of that, Boto said, the committee “realized that lifting up a model that could not be enforced was an exercise in futility,” and so instead drafted a report that “accepted the existence of the problem rather than attempting to define its magnitude.”…

… Even so, the SBC has ended its affiliation with at least four churches in the past 10 years for affirming or endorsing homosexual behavior. The SBC governing documents ban gay or female pastors, but they do not outlaw convicted sex offenders from working in churches.

Yeah, funny how that works.

Russell D. Moore, president of the Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission of the Southern Baptist Convention, had some words for his fellow Southern Baptists.

The first is to see with clear eyes what is before us. Some have ridiculed this concern as being some irrational sweep into a secular #MeToo moment, implying that the problem is “political correctness” over an issue that is no real problem within church life. Others have suggested that the church should not concern itself with questions of “justice” and that preaching the gospel itself will resolve matters of injustice. Others have implied that the horrific scandals we have seen in the Roman Catholic church are due to the theology of Catholicism, the nature of a celibate priesthood and so forth. All of these are not only wrongheaded responses, but are deadly dangerous both to the lives of present and future survivors of these horrors and to the witness of the church itself.

All rape and sexual exploitation is evil and unjust. Sexual abuse is not only sin but also a crime. All of it should be prosecuted in the civil arena, and all of it will be brought before the tribunal of the Judgment Seat of Christ. But nothing is worse than the use of the name of Jesus to prey on the vulnerable, or to use the name of Jesus to cover up such crimes. The issue of predators in the church is not a secondary issue, on which churches should brush up merely because of the cultural moment. This is a primary issue, one that Jesus himself warned us about from the very beginning. The church is a flock, he told us, vulnerable to prey.

People often grumble about the evils of organized religion, but unorganized religion is just as bad. Some of the worst religion horror stories I know of were perpetrated by people unaffiliated with any organized religion.

But what we see from the Southern Baptists is the pure reflection of their values. Keeping women out of leadership positions is an important value. Opposing homosexuality is an important value. Protecting women and children from sexual predators is not an important value.

And notice I’ve gotten this far into this post without mentioning evangelical support for Donald Trump.

We are living in a time in of small-r revelations. Long-festering sexual abuse going on in many organizations, and not just Christian ones, are among those revelations. This sort of thing seems to go on everywhere that men are given exclusive, unquestioned authority. And when the predation begins to come to light, the organization first denies it, then covers it up rather than address it. But it seems the patriarchy is finally weak enough that the revelations are breaking through.

I see the messiness going on in Virginia in a similar light. The truth is that, probably, there are very few white southern politicians of either party who didn’t participate in some sort of racist expression in their wayward youth; there just isn’t always a photographic record of it. And I’m not making excuses for Ralph Northam, who ought to resign. White culture has winked at racist expression for way too long. And for too long, white liberal politicians have paid lip service to ending racial injustice without lifting a finger to dismantle the white power structure that perpetrates it. Karma will not be denied, however.

What’s next, I wonder?

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The Trump Inauguration: Grifters Gonna Grift

Last week federal prosecutors in New York requested a whole lot of documents related to the Trump inauguration, donation and spending. The two major issues apparently under investigation were, (1) where the bleep did all that money go; and (2) did any of those donations come from foreign sources, which would have been in violation of law?

There has been much clucking about how the bleep the Trumps spent twice as much money as previous presidents on half as much inauguration. For all the money spent — $107 million — here were only three official balls instead of the usual ten or so, and the entertainment was barely worthy of a senior class reunion. Paul Waldman:

It may be some time before we know the full story of what happened in the inaugural, but this appears to be the outline. The inaugural was run by some people of questionable character, who raised an unprecedented amount of money. The spending of that money was certainly wasteful and perhaps even fraudulent; a friend of Melania Trump set up an event-planning company just before the inauguration and was paid $26 million, Trump’s campaign manager billed $2 million for getting a crowd to show up, and another event planner spent $10,000 on makeup for 20 staff members attending a party.

Like much of what Trump is involved in, the whole thing was ad hoc, haphazard, and without much in the way of care or oversight, offering numerous ways for the unscrupulous to fill their pockets. But it has also been shrouded in mystery, since inaugurals aren’t subject to the same disclosure requirements as most government functions.

Along with the makeup, it was Reported last month that “There was another $30,000 in per diem payments to dozens of contract staff members, in addition to their fully covered hotel rooms, room service orders, plane tickets and taxi rides, including some to drop off laundry.”

I did some checking; yes, a top-of-the-line professional makeup artist might charge $500 per person for an extra special event, although there are very good ones who work for a lot less. But I have a hard time believing Trump was that generous to contract staff members, unless they were purely political hires. This is the guy who built and ran his golf clubs with illegal labor.  Like this

The brightly painted homes that line the road in Santa Teresa de Cajon, many paid for by wages earned 4,000 miles away, are the fruits of a long-running pipeline of illegal workers to the president’s course, one that carried far more than a few unauthorized employees who slipped through the cracks.

Soon after Trump broke ground at Bedminster in 2002 with a golden shovel, this village emerged as a wellspring of low-paid labor for the private club, which charges tens of thousands of dollars to join. Over the years, dozens of workers from Costa Rica went north to fill jobs as groundskeepers, housekeepers and dishwashers at Bedminster, former employees said. The club hired others from El Salvador, Mexico and Guatemala who spoke to The Post. Many ended up in the blue-collar borough of Bound Brook, New Jersey, piling into vans before dawn to head to the course each morning.

Not that they would have risked getting caught hiring illegal help for the inauguration, but I still can’t see them being that generous to the hired help doing flunky jobs. I’m saying there was a whole lot o’ padding in those expense records.

Now that federal investigators finally are looking into Trump’s inauguration expenses, my first question is, How much of this money ended up in the pockets of the Trumps? Michael Lewis, author of Moneyball and The Big Short, wrote that Trump paid no attention to his own transition team until he found out the team had raised several million dollars to pay the staff.

The moment he saw it, Trump called Steve Bannon, the chief executive of his campaign, from his office on the 26th floor of Trump Tower, and told him to come immediately to his residence, many floors above. Bannon stepped off the elevator to find Christie seated on a sofa, being hollered at. Trump was apoplectic, yelling: You’re stealing my money! You’re stealing my fucking money! What the fuck is this?

Seeing Bannon, Trump turned on him and screamed: Why are you letting him steal my fucking money? Bannon and Christie together set out to explain to Trump federal law. Months before the election, the law said, the nominees of the two major parties were expected to prepare to take control of the government. The government supplied them with office space in downtown DC, along with computers and rubbish bins and so on, but the campaigns paid their people. To which Trump replied: Fuck the law. I don’t give a fuck about the law. I want my fucking money. Bannon and Christie tried to explain that Trump couldn’t have both his money and a transition.

Shut it down, said Trump. Shut down the transition.

Christie and Bannon were able to calm Trump down. But the point is that Trump considered any money donated to the campaign to be his money. He was going to shut down the transition so he could pocket the donated money. How much of the money donated to the inauguration ended up being his money? We know that grotesque amounts of money were spent at the Washington Trump International Hotel, which jacked up its rates for the occasion. It has been widely reported that the hotel billed the inaugural committee $1.5 million. But $1.5 million is a drop in the bucket; people who have experience with inaugurations have said that even with the known cost overruns, it seems about $40 million simply evaporated.

Many articles about the inaguration fiasco point fingers at Stephanie Winston Wolkoff, a close friend (back then) of Melania Trump who received $26 million to do event production. Her work on the inauguration was done through a company set up just for the inauguration, which looked suspicious. But a new article at Vanity Fair by Emily Jane Fox makes Wolkoff out to be an experienced and competent professional event planner who was thrown under the bus by the Trumps when criticism started to roll in about the money and the spending. According to Wolkoff, she was raising alarms about the way money was being spent and warned the Trumps that things were going on that would not look good to auditors. She says she complained about the prices at Trump’s hotel being jacked up and that Paul Gates and Tom Barrack, who were doing parallel event planning, were burning through money in unaccountable ways. At one point, she claimed, Gates wanted a vendor to be paid directly by a donor, not through the inauguration committee, so they could keep the transaction off the books.

Long-time Trump friend Tom Barrack, a private equity real estate guy, was chair of the inaugural committee. Barrack used the traditional chairperson’s dinner to talk up invitees described as “foreign ministers” for Saudi Arabia, Qatar, and the United Arab Emirates. These ministers have not been named. Barrack is believed to have used the occasion to promote a business deal with them.

Let us not forget that in his recent un-blackmail post,  Jeff Bezos mentioned connections among the National Enquirer, the Saudi government, Washington Post columnist Jamal Khashoggi, and Trump. Hmmm.

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Are Jeff Bezos’s Boy Parts the New Watergate Complex?

I thought that today I would be writing about Matthew Whitaker’s testimony to Congress. But today, it’s all about Jeff Bezos’s boy parts and how the National Enquirer threatened to publish a photo of them.

Background: Last month the National Enquirer published an expose of a Bezos extramarital affair, resulted in Mrs. Bezos filing for divorce. I hadn’t followed this much because, frankly, I don’t care. But then Jeff Bezos launched an investigation into how the National Enquirer got its hands on the evidence, which included private text messages. And the National Enquirer was not happy. Ryan Bort of Rolling Stone explained,

After the Enquirerpublished its investigation last month, Bezos told his longtime personal security expert, Gavin de Becker, to look into how AMI was able to obtain his text messages. Bezos writes that he was informed by AMI that Pecker was “apoplectic” that de Becker was on the case. A few days later, Bezos says he and his lawyers were told by AMI that if de Becker didn’t stand down, the Enquirerwould publish a trove of private photos they obtained, including a “below-the-belt selfie” of Bezos. …

…Another email followed, laying out the exact terms to which AMI was hoping Bezos would agree. These terms involved Bezos and de Becker stating publicly that they “have no knowledge or basis for suggesting that AMI’s coverage was politically motivated or influenced by political forces.”

Bezos not only published the threats he was sent; he also published descriptions of the photos. And he might as well have, because in 2019, who cares? Does anyone really want to look at Jeff Bezos’s pecker? (Not to be confused with David Pecker, the publisher of the National Enquirer.) I doubt it. Is anyone’s opinion of Jeff Bezos changed because of any of this? I doubt it. If you want to read it, here is what Bezos published.

Ryan Bort continues,

The political angle to which AMI is referring derives from Pecker’s decades-long relationship with Trump. AMI reportedly employs a “catch and kill” practice in which the company purchases the rights to an unsavory story, and Pecker allegedly has a literal safe filled with potentially damaging Trump tales. The most notable story is that of the president’s alleged affair with former Playboy Playmate Karen McDougal. In December 2018, the Southern District of New York revealed in the sentencing memo for Trump’s former lawyer-fixer Michael Cohen that AMI purchased the story specifically to keep it from hurting Trump’s presidential chances. AMI admitted as much as part of a non-prosecution agreement, an agreement that also stipulated that AMI not commit additional crimes. The blackmail and extortion detailed by Bezos would certainly be of interest to federal investigators and thus could put AMI in a mess of legal jeopardy, which means Pecker really, really, really didn’t want Bezos to find out how they came across his text messages.

And, indeed, Bloomberg reported today that federal prosecutors in Manhattan are looking into the threats the National Enquirer sent Bezos, and the tabloid’s parent company could be in a whole heap o’ legal trouble.

Further, Bezos apparently believes there is no legal way the text messages could have been obtained by the National Enquirer. And here the story is murkier. Why would the National Enquirer go to such risks to stop Bezos from investigating how it got the texts? There is much speculation that the dots will connect to the White House. Such as:

If this episode leads to the eventual dénouement of the National Enquirer I would be content, but if there is a White House angle, even better.

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The SOTU: Have We Hit Bottom Yet?

They say it’s always darkest before the dawn, and I say that’s a good reason to sleep late. I didn’t watch the SOTU speech, and after I heard how long it was, I was glad I didn’t. Just 45 minutes of that [bleep] and I’d want to put my head in an oven. I trust we all survived.

Now I’m reading the reviews. A lot of people pointed out that Trump’s speech was full of lies and statements about unity and compromise he clearly didn’t mean. But I was looking for the subtexts. It’s not about what he said, but about what was signified.

Ezra Klein pointed out that Trump — or another president whose party enjoyed control of Congress — could have accomplished great things in two years. Somehow, Trump squandered one opportunity after another.  “In the Trump presidency, it’s always Infrastructure Week, and it always will be,” Klein said, wryly.

Trump’s speech tonight could have been a victory lap. He could have bragged about the roads being repaired and the bridges being built by his infrastructure bill. He could have talked about the lives being saved by his massive mobilization to staunch the opioid crisis. He could have pointed to tax cuts focused on the middle class, a border wall built in exchange for protecting DREAMers, a health care effort that did what he promised and expanded coverage while cutting deductibles. And all of it would have come in context of the strongest economy since the 1990s.

Instead, Trump delivered his address with Speaker Nancy Pelosi looming over his shoulder, a reminder of the midterm election he just lost. He spoke having delayed the State of the Union due to a government shutdown he demanded and subsequently lost. He spoke with an approval rating of 41 percent — lower than his predecessor, Barack Obama, during the worst of the Great Recession.

The Trump presidency carries its direct costs, and it carries its opportunity costs. Its direct costs come in money wasted on high-income tax cuts, in the deterioration of America’s reputation abroad, in the corruption snaking through the executive branch, in the families ripped apart at the border, in the government agencies hollowed out by an exodus of talented staff.

The opportunity costs are harder to measure but no less real. Trump’s presidency has burned time, trust, and political energy that could have gone toward addressing America’s real problems. These are years that could have been spent fighting climate change, expanding health care coverage, investing in R&D, designing a saner and safer immigration system, making the tax code reward work rather than wealth.

The recent White House leaks that revealed how little time Trump spends every day actually working are hardly a surprise. He’s never in his life had a job, you know.

Matt Yglesias:

There were two truly well-done sections of the speech. One was the troll of the Democrats present around the divisive term “socialism.” The other was a series of moments on the stories of Holocaust survivors and World War II veterans.

These high points were, however, classic signs of an intellectually exhausted presidency. America does have a rich history and heritage that can be mined for moments of nobility and emotion at will. And Democrats have some internal divisions that their opponents can exploit.

But Trump’s concluding exhortations to “look at the opportunities before us” and recognize that “our most thrilling achievements are still ahead” fell fundamentally flat. Trump does not have any big ideas or grand transformative vision. His administration is essentially a three-legged stool. On the first leg, the slow but steady improvement in economic conditions that happened during Barack Obama’s final six years in office has continued through Trump’s first two. On the second leg, he’s turned over essentially every government agency to business interests who enjoy lax regulation and thus ensure he and his party remain well-funded. On the third, he has anti-immigrant demagoguery to blame for every problem under the sun.

There are no real ideas here to tackle the escalating costs of health care, higher education, housing, and child care. No interest in economic inequality, no real thought about foreign policy, and basically no real energy or sense of purpose. Trump’s key idea was that to maintain peace and prosperity, Congress needs to abdicate its oversight responsibilities and let him be as corrupt as he wants. That’s all he’s left with — a vague hope that the economy holds up and nobody catches him with his hand in the cookie jar. But the investigations are going to happen, and they’re going to be fascinating.

Regarding socialism — some people think that Trump just made it more popular. Paul Waldman:

The trouble is that as an insult, “Socialism!” doesn’t have the zing it once did. And that’s Republicans’ own fault.

Perhaps not entirely, I’ll grant you. One reason “Socialist!” isn’t the powerful insult it once was is just time: Since the Soviet Union collapsed almost three decades ago, there are a couple of generations of Americans who have no memory of the Cold War. For them, socialism is not synonymous with communism, which anyway is just something they learned about in history class. They don’t view it as the ideology of our enemies.

But more importantly, in the time since, Republicans have attacked almost anything Democrats wanted to do as socialism. Modest tax increases on the wealthy? Socialism! Regulations to lower carbon emissions and reduce the risk of climate catastrophe? Socialism! Health-care reform built on maintaining private insurance but with stronger protections for consumers? Socialism!

After hearing that for so long, a lot of young people in particular seem to have concluded that “socialism” means little more than “policies that are more liberal than the Republican Party would prefer.” In other words, they’ve accepted the Republican view of what socialism is.

Trump talked about compromise, which in context appears to be approving everything he asks for. Steve M:

Trump’s nature means that he can’t even compromise strategically.Remember the George W. Bush presidency? It started with the bipartisan No Child Left Behind education bill, proposed by Bush three days after his inaugural. In retrospect it’s clear what Bush was doing — he was reaching across the aisle once, in a high-profile way, before reverting to a high level of partisanship. It worked. After proposing No Child Left Behind, Bush got his tax cuts, his deregulation, and his wars.

An infrastructure bill in the first days of 2017 could easily have been Trump’s No Child Left Behind. Chuck Schumer was eager for it. If it had been a real infrastructure bill with real money for real projects and not a phony attempt to make the rich richer by allowing them to leverage the bill’s incentives in order to fund for-profit projects, it would have passed easily. But Trump, for all his ideological inconsistency earlier in his life, discovered Fox News a decade or so ago, and now he’s in a partisan gang, and he likes it that way. It suits his nature. He’s had some wins — tax cuts, judges — but they’ve been partisan wins masterminded by veteran GOP partisans.

There’s are pleasure centers in Trump’s brain that light up when he’s approaching a moment of agreement with an opponent. But he doesn’t like compromise — it makes him feel “weak,” one of his most-used words — so he’d rather have the much greater rush of pleasure he gets from telling the opponent to fuck off.

Martin Longman:

He could have put his focus on what the Republican and Democrats in Congress could jointly accomplish in this session. He could have singled out key Democratic chairpersons that he was interested in working with to accomplish specific goals.

He did not do those things, which shows that legislation is still not a priority for him or even for his speechwriters and strategists. And to top it all off, he actually suggested that the Democrats should not investigate him if they want to get anything else done.

“An economic miracle is taking place in the United States — and the only thing that can stop it are foolish wars, politics, or ridiculous partisan investigations. If there is going to be peace and legislation, there cannot be war and investigation. It just doesn’t work that way!

It was always going to be unlikely that the Trump administration would work productively with the Democratic House, but it would have been good politics to at least aspire to accomplishing something. With the right kind of message, Trump could have put great pressure on the Democrats to produce at least an infrastructure bill.

But he didn’t. I think legislation bores him. And the speech wasn’t that interesting, either. Paul Glastris:

… it’s a lot easier to judge how members of the GOP who were in the House chamber felt about the speech. It was right there for all of us to see on TV. And the overwhelming sense I got was that they didn’t like much of what they heard. In fact, I can’t remember a State of the Union address that was so tepidly received by members of the president’s own party.

Sure, there were moments when GOP lawmakers stood and applauded vigorously, at a few points even chanting “USA! USA!” But those occasions were remarkably few. And I don’t recall the cheering from the GOP side of the aisle ever being sustained and energetic. Instead, time after time, Trump’s crafted rhetoric and policy proposals were met with pro forma standing and limp clapping from Republicans, whose facial expressions alternated between polite nodding and cringing discomfort. In the cutaways to Mitch McConnell, the Senate leader was conspicuously restrained, even for him. The section on trade was, not surprisingly, poorly received by GOP members. The parts about pulling troops out of Afghanistan and Syria were met with crickets. And what struck me as most significant was the awkward near-silence with which Republicans greeted Trump’s bizarre warning that the economy would be jeopardized by “investigations.”

Frankly, Trump is a dull person even to psychoanalyze. His id is all there is to him. He’s a complex of malevolent character disorders, and they are all out there, plain as day. How long, Oh Bob Mueller, how long?

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It All Went Wrong in the 1970s


Do follow up my last post on the true meaning of “centrism” by reading Michael Tomasky’s “The Real Legacy of the 1970s” at the New York Times.  He argues that it was in the 1970s that the nation shifted from its old consensus on Keynesian economics to the “supply side” nonsense that never worked but which we can’t seem to get rid of.

… walk down a street and ask 20 people a few questions about economic policy — I bet most will say that taxes must be kept low, even on rich people, and that we should let the market, not the government, decide on investments. Point to the hospital up the street and tell them that it wouldn’t even be there without the millions in federal dollars of various kinds it takes in every year, and they’ll mumble and shrug.

The 1970s also saw the beginnings of the Democratic Party’s lurch to the right, as the establishment sought to distance itself from both the New Left and from Lyndon Johnson’s mixed legacy of the Great Society and the Vietnam War. The heads-up-their-ass Democratic Party leadership that has been misdirecting the party for the past 20 to 30 years started their careers in the 1970s and 1980s, resulting in the rise of neoliberalism in the early 1980s. And,of course, the Republican Party has gotten nuttier and nuttier since Reagan.

Then follow that up by reading this post by Steve M, which concludes,

I think the rich assume they’re bulletproof now. They think they’ll maintain their ability to hoard all the nice stuff even if the rest of America (or the world) burns. And I wish I believed they were wrong about that. I support progressive politicians, but I suspect it may be impossible now to make significant improvements to ordinary Americans’ lives through conventional politcal means. I fear the rich won’t allow us to do that unless we threaten to destroy their world.

Then move on to Sean Illing, Why are millennials burned out? Capitalism. In brief, capitalism as we know it doesn’t appear to be sustainable, yet it’s questionable whether meaningful reform is possible in our current political climate. We’ve lost the Vital Center, people. 

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