Wednesday, June 28, 2017

The little big reveals:
Why Trumpcare is already DOA

IT WAS A blink-and-you’ll-miss-it moment in the current debate over the future of health care in the United States, one that seems to suggest what’s coming next in this comic saga of a manqué presidency. It came, like so many moments of accidental revelation do lately, from President* Donald Trump, who sat down Tuesday with four Republican senators while in the presence (if not exactly the company) of the media. Matt Shuham reported on the moment for Talking Points Memo.

Speaking off-handedly about the prospects for the Trumpcare bill still in limbo in the Senate, Trump tipped his hand on his confidence in the outcome without realizing it, or maybe just without caring one way or another.

“This will be great if we get it done, and if we don’t get it done, it’s just going to be something that we’re not going to like and that’s OK and I understand that very well,” the president* said. “But I think we have a chance to do something very, very important for the public. Very, very important for the people of our country that we love.”

Note the relatively few important words in all of that, the words that matter: “if we don’t get it done ... that’s OK ...” Implicit in those eight words is at least a rhetorical expectation of failure, an embrace of the risk, and maybe even the likelihood, that things will not go as planned.

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That was one of Tuesday’s little big reveals on the future of the bill now known as the Better Care Reconciliation Act (apparently the second name for the Trump bill). The other one was when Kentucky Sen. Mitch McConnell pushed back the planned Senate vote on the Trumpcare bill until after the July 4 recess. “I had hoped, as you know, that we could have gotten to the floor this week, but we’re not quite there,” he told reporters. “But I think we’ve got a really good chance of getting there, it’ll just take us a little bit longer.”

That statement from the poster-boy senator for Obamacare repeal seemed to star a chain reaction. Talking Points Memo reported that, not long after McConnell’s postponement of the planned Senate vote, three GOP senators — Shelley Capito of West Virginia, Rob Portman of Ohio and Jerry Moran of Kansas tweeted or released statements announcing their decision not to back the Trumpcare bill.

Capito, very popular in her home state, had the response that was the most rooted in practicality: the constituent-driven practicality of what works for the people who elected her.

“I recognize that many West Virginians rely on health coverage and access to substance abuse treatment because of my state’s decision to expand coverage through Medicaid. I have studied the draft legislation and CBO analysis to understand its impact on West Virginians,” she said in a joint statement with Portman. “As drafted, this bill will not ensure access to affordable health care in West Virginia, does not do enough to combat the opioid epidemic that is devastating my state, cuts traditional Medicaid too deeply and harms rural health care providers.”

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MAYBE THE president* knew what was coming from Capito and the others, maybe not. If he did know, maybe he felt he could ignore it. What he couldn’t ignore, of course, was the letter that landed the day before, the letter to McConnell and Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer direct from Dr. James Madara, executive vice president and CEO of the American Medical Association.

It couldn’t be more of a disaster for Trumpcare. “Medicine has long operated under the precept of Primum non nocere, or 'first, do no harm.’ The draft legislation violates that standard on many levels,” Madara wrote.

He continued: “Though we await additional analysis of the proposal, it seems highly likely that a combination of smaller subsidies resulting from lower benchmarks and the increased likelihood of waivers of important protections such as required benefits, actuarial value standards, and out of pocket spending limits will expose low and middle income patients to higher costs and greater difficulty in affording care.”

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Madara said the organization “continue[s] to oppose Congressionally-mandated restrictions on where lower income women (and men) may receive otherwise covered health care services – in this case the prohibition on individuals using their Medicaid coverage at clinics operated by Planned Parenthood. These provisions violate longstanding AMA policy on patients’ freedom to choose their providers and physicians’ freedom to practice in the setting of their choice.”

“We do appreciate the inclusion of several provisions designed to bring short term stability to the individual market, including the extension of cost sharing reductions payments. We urge, however, that these provisions serve as the basis of Senate efforts to improve the ACA and ensure that quality, affordable health insurance coverage is within reach of all Americans.”

Trump, the political object of serial two-by-fours to the head over the preceding 24 hours, thus came to the realization that “if we don’t get it done ... that’s OK ...” — a statement that effectively gives any senator that wants to back away from the bill the cover to do so without much penalty. Capito’s clear-as-glass opposition was based entirely on the needs of her fellow West Virginians; it was pothole politics played (and played well) on the national stage. If any rank-and-file Republicans need cover for the vote to come, she’s just given them plenty. So has the leadership of the AMA. And House Trump knows it.

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SO DOES MITCH McConnell. That explains the generally anodyne, perversely upbeat language in his scrum with reporters. But McConnell looks at least a little further down the road than most senators in the public eye. He’s not one for playing the long game, but he is capable of the longer game, looking for leverage no one else can see.

People have asked repeatedly how the Republicans could credibly advance such a willfully monstrous piece of legislation as the Trumpcare bill, which would eviscerate Medicare, remove pre-existing conditions as a coverage threshold, and balloon the health-care premiums for Americans in no position to pay them.

Leave it to Joshua Guess, my colleague at Swamp, to offer a provocative idea on June 24: Maybe McConnell isn’t serious.

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Guess writes: “The one read that no one seems to have on this situation is also the one I think is the most obvious: McConnell doesn't actually want the bill to pass. His mistake was in believing the base cared more than it does about ACA repeal and making new legislation a priority as a result. Everything going forward flows from that one wrong assumption. 

“What I believe he's really doing is deliberately crafting a bill he knows won't get the support of the necessary 50 GOP senators. By choosing to include provisions and language he knows will peel off certain votes, McConnell creates a liminal space where he believes blame can be targeted rather than directed at the party in general.

“As of right now, at least four GOP senators are publicly against passing the new legislation. If McConnell changes it to suit them, it will peel off several on the other end of the spectrum. This is the one central weakness of the congressional GOP. Finding a middle ground between the extreme right and the moderates is an increasingly narrow ledge to walk.”

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WE'RE PROMISED the climax of this drama sometime after the July 4th recess. By that time, McConnell says, he’ll have time to go back to other senators and wheedle and threaten and cajole ... and not coincidentally make changes in the bill that might make it more palatable. Changes that will, to one degree or another, make it more and more like Obamacare, the system they are sworn to destroy.

But it’s already too late. This iteration of Trumpcare is a variation of the one that died the death back in April; its prospects for survival shouldn't be any more likely than the predecessor. The opposition is louder, it’s more grounded than it was before, and it’s wider than it was in April, with more opponents of Trumpcare emerging in red states all the time.

Consider the inescapable drumbeats: Not one state supports the Republican health-care bill as it stands, according to reporting and multi-poll calculations by The New York Times. “We found that Republicans have produced a rare unity among red and blue states: opposition to the A.H.C.A.,” The Times reported, using the old three-letter shorthand for the Trump bill's original name.

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Add to that the sporadic fury of off-the-chain citizens at town halls; the disappointing previous scores from the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office (which estimated that up to 22 million more Americans could lose their health care under Trumpcare); and the generally favorable marks Obamacare has gained in its seven years of uptime.

The end results? An administration eager to define itself by undoing what its predecessor did, rather that charting its own affirmative legacy, by using a program's best attributes in order to build something better.

A party foolishly willing to die on this anti-populist hill, despite the best advice of many within that party (never mind the approaching midterm-year political realities).

A president* who’s not exactly confident of the future of this bill, and an opposition that's just as certain the bill has no future at all.

Image credits: Trump: Kevin Lamarque/Reuters. McConnell: Associated Press. Swamp logo: © 2017 Jerrick Ventures LLC. Trumpcare supporters map: ©2017 The New York Times. Congressional Budget Office logo: © 2017 CBO.

Friday, June 23, 2017

Ken: He's Just an American Guy

The artifact historically known as Ken — a template for male American imagery for generations — has always been something of a moving target. From his early days as a miniature stand-in for the ideal guy next door in the parallel dollhouse America of 1961 (paired up with his girlfriend, female analog and fellow everyday archetype, the legendary Barbie), Ken would slowly, in some ways glacially, come to symbolize variations in the idea of the average American guy.

Down through the years, the variations on the theme of Ken were more cosmetic than anything else: different hairstyles, a flirtation with a beard; changes in the chisel and shape of the face; even a 2014 Ken with Italianate features, a shift from his Anglo-Saxonesque heritage (Gianfranco Ken was a limited-edition collectors’ item).

Now, Mattel, the El Segundo, Calif.-based manufacturer of the doll that’s been sold hundreds of millions of times in the United States and abroad, has performed a startling Ken remake, releasing a “new crew” line of Ken dolls whose personae span more of American race, ethnicity, culture and gym membership than ever before. ...

Read the rest at Geeks Media

Image credit: © 2017 Mattel. Geeks logo: © 2017 Jerrick Ventures LLC.

Monday, June 12, 2017

For Ice Cube … one respectful rejoinder:
The n-word belongs to America

WE GOT ONE of those proverbial Teachable Moments over the weekend, one that followed a moment, the week before, that was lamentable more than anything else. As it so often happens, television was the medium, race was the subject and the n-word — star of stage, screen and TV — was again in the center square, the catalyst for an American event.

Only this one hinged on questions we rarely ask ourselves: Who gets custody of the n-word? From whose mouth should that word never emerge?

Teachable moments are useless if you don’t learn something from them once they happen. And we’ve been here before and before and before. Even when we think we haven’t.

One of those moments, of course, happened on HBO’s Real Time With Bill Maher on June 2, during an exchange between host Bill Maher and Nebraska Republican Sen. Ben Sasse. ...

“I gotta get to Nebraska more,” Maher said.

“You’re welcome,” Sasse said. “We’d love to have you work in the fields with us.”

And Maher took the bait. “Work in the fields? Senator, I’m a house nigger.”

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The blowback was more or less immediate. Twitter exploded with outrage, calling Maher everything and a child of God. HBO, Maher’s own network, castigated him for the slur. Variety critic Maureen Ryan called for his firing, as did Black Lives Matter activist DeRay McKesson and activist Chance the Rapper. Minnesota Sen. Al Franken canceled a planned appearance on the program.

On MSNBC, the Rev. Al Sharpton embarked on a role as cultural archeologist, unearthing a video clip that, in showing Maher using the same word previously, tried to put the current matter into historical context.

It got so bad that wags in the entertainment trades speculated how or whether the outburst would scuttle Maher’s chances to win an Emmy.

Leave it to Ice Cube, the actor, writer, director and an icon in the rap game, to try to put things in some kinda perspective that didn’t involve prolonged bad blood on social media or Glocks at 30 paces. ...

Read the full piece at The Omnibus @Medium

Image credit: Bill Maher and Ice Cube: HBO.

Saturday, June 10, 2017

Changing the Venue

Netflix debuted its $60 million original movie War Machine in late May. The reviews for the Afghan War-era film starring Brad Pitt were all over the place, from mildly rapturous to downright vicious. But if a recent study is to be believed, television viewers have made a decision about changing their moviegoing habits in a way that makes Netflix and other streaming services war machines themselves. The legacy studios are not happy.

In its May study of streaming video service use, Fluent LLC, a New York-based marketing company, found that more people use streaming video services now than have cable subscriptions. According to the Fluent study, 67 percent of Internet users in the United States watch or have access to streaming services like Netflix, Amazon and Hulu, and only 61 percent have cable service in their homes. ...

Read the full story at Geeks

Image credits: Will Smith in Bright: Netflix. Geeks logo: © 2017 Jerrick Ventures LLC.

Wednesday, May 31, 2017

Fighting fire with gasoline:
Lewandowski may be back on the Trump bus

IN WHAT could be President* Trump’s latest subversively contrarian staff hire — you know, the kind of thing that made him hire former Texas Gov. Rick Perry, who couldn’t stand the Environmental Protection Agency, to be in charge of the Environmental Protection Agency — Trump is considering Corey Lewandowski, the irascible, assaultive Trump 2016 campaign manager, for a return to House Trump.

You remember Corey. A walking IED, Lewandowski was fired from the Trump campaign he directed in July 2016, facing battery charges after rather physically moving a reporter out of Trump’s path. This after weeks of baiting and taunting the media and vilifying anyone who didn’t kiss The Donald’s ring.

The president* is weighing Lewandowski’s return, and that of former Trump deputy campaign manager David Bossie, to help with rapid-response messaging in the wake of the still-mushrooming scandal surrounding Trump, the campaign and Russian involvement in the 2016 election process.

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But as much as anything, the possible return of Lewandowski and Bossie to the Trump fold speaks volumes about one of the biggest problems the administration has to confront: a president* who is, inexplicably, still in campaign mode instead of the one required to govern a nation and its people.

If he comes back, Lewandowski’s likely to be the marquee headache. House Trump is deciding how best to use this daffy thug to the president’s* advantage: Will they let him run loose in the White House or keep him chained up on K Street or Z Street or wherever they quarantine the mushwits in Washington (the ones who aren’t on Capitol Hill)?

The chattering class isn’t waiting. Rumors of Lewandowski’s serving in or around the White House “have senior Trump administration officials gnashing their teeth,” The Daily Beast reported Monday. “It would be another trainwreck,” one White House official told The Beast. “I'm dreading that it could even happen … though he'll probably be kept outside [the White House], it's looking like.”

The Daily Beast reported that “[o]fficials suggested it is more likely that Lewandowski lands at a parallel communications operation designed to push back against waves of bad press that have consumed the White House since Trump was inaugurated. Axios reported on Tuesday that the White House is considering bringing on Bossie and Lewandowski ‘as part of an outside-inside duet.’”

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WHICH, IF it happens, would be a waste of time and taxpayer money. The challenges the president* faces are so numerous, they won’t respond to the convenience, the relative luxury of one problem being isolated from another. The crew at House Trump needs a holistic solution, having to resolve not just one self-inflicted crisis but at least three, and each of them is a truly full-blown crisis, not just a “distraction.”

The biggest problem to be solved is the one that sits in the high chair at the White House. The crises that Lewandowski and Bossie may be brought in to fix have their origins at Trump’s own gilded doorstep. Which probably won’t stop either of them from creating issues of their own.

“Word is [Lewandowski] won’t be in the White House proper. More of a shadow adviser,” one official told The Daily Beast. “When, not if, he does something crazy, there’ll at least be a degree of separation.”

"I gagged when I [first] heard that," another senior Trump aide told The Beast. "[Corey] will not be an asset in the West Wing. He would be a hothead in a [White House] that needs the opposite.”

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Perversely, the administration plan makes practical, tactical sense. When it gets crazy, you double down on the people you trust, the support system that keeps you going — the same one that, to one degree or another, helped get you where you are.

“At times of crisis obviously it’s important that you surround yourself with people you can trust, and Corey certainly has proven his loyalty,” said Alex Conant, a partner at the public affairs firm Firehouse Strategies, and Florida Sen. Marco Rubio’s communications director during the 2016 campaign.

BUT. “The challenges Trump faces are not his staff’s fault. Staff changes won’t matter unless they come with systematic changes to how the president is running his White House,” Conant told Politico. And that’s the problem with bringing these two back under the big top. They’re not what’s needed by Trump & Co. They’re the opposite of what’s needed. They’ll probably exacerbate the situation, making things worse for everyone. They’re likely to be a case of fighting fire with gasoline.

◊ ◊ ◊

TRUMP’S POSSIBLE addition of Bossie confirms this. Most recently Bossie has been chairman of the conservative advocacy group Citizens United, and from that position took point in advancing the case that led to one of the Supreme Court’s most momentous decisions, Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission, a ruling that basically empowered corporations to impersonate human beings for the purpose of influencing political campaigns with mountains of cash.

But in the early 90’s, Bossie was on the staff of the Senate committee investigating Whitewater, and thus starting his career as a Clinton bête noire. In 1997 and 1998, he was an investigator for the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee, tasked with finding campaign finance irregularities by President Clinton — a hot-dog job he performed with relish. Until he got fired by the people who hired him, for going too far.

“David Bossie is so craven and maniacal that in the heyday of the overreaching, Gingrich-era Congress, the top Whitewater conspiracy theorist in the House had to fire him for doctoring evidence,” said Bill Clinton campaign chairman John Podesta, to The Guardian (UK) last September.

“He certainly knows how to set fires,” said Clinton administration image medic Mark Fabiani, to Politico. “Whether he’s good at putting them out or not, I have no idea.” A saga to be continued ... until it’s discontinued.

Image credits: Lewandowski: Fox News. Trump: Mark Wilson/Getty Images. Bossie: Gage Skidmore/Creative Commons.

Monday, May 29, 2017

Two watershed sounds of a watershed year

IT’S STARTING to happen, little by little, our remembering of the events of the watershed year, 1967. Between now and the end of the year, we’ll make that even-numbered anniversary journey, revisiting the March on the Pentagon, the race riots in Detroit, the riots in Newark, the Biafra civil war, the riots in Cairo, Ill., and Durham, N.C.; the appointment of Thurgood Marshall as the nation’s first black Supreme Court justice; the dawn of the Haight-Ashbury scene; Hair’s premiere on Broadway, the release of In the Heat of the Night … and the riots in Cambridge and Memphis and Milwaukee.

“Jim Marshall 1967,” a retrospective of cultural events of the year through the eyes of the renowned rock photographer, just closed at the Grammy Museum in Los Angeles. But like the next wave coming in off the ocean, two more revisitations are happening now, one of them a full-on sonic reimagining of everything we heard before.

Are You Experienced? (released May 12, 1967) by the Jimi Hendrix Experience and Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band (released in the UK May 26, ’67, in the US June 1) by the Beatles both put the world on notice that the dovetailing of culture, innovation, technology and opportunity that made the decade what it was fast becoming had reached some wild zenith, a high point of creativity. They stand as signposts, benchmarks of the era, the two serial musical events that presaged the future, and announced to a still wary, curious general public the era that was, even then, very nearly over.

These two cultural upstarts — the Liverpool band that bottled the zeitgeist only three years earlier, and the Seattle guitarist who transformed the palette of his instrument and the sound of rock music like no one before or since — brought out records back to back … and changed everything.

All the innovation in the world won’t help you if no one’s listening. Neither record would have mattered — maybe neither record would have happened — if there wasn’t a public ready to receive it. By 1967 rock as art form had been confirmed in the mind of the public; the latitude and permissions of society had evolved enough in other spheres of the social life to make open minds at least possible. The public was ready for the distillation of rock’s best practices, the music in its highest and best use.

Hendrix and the Beatles rose to the occasion. And 50 years later, we still hear the broadsides they fired on our expectations.

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From that tree-ring distance, certain things about Are You Experienced? become clearer than ever: its embrace of violence and danger, depression and sexuality, dreams and the flights of the imagination — all of it in a sonic context no one could have imagined. Hendrix had able fellow travelers in Noel Redding, a fluid, nimble bass player, and Mitch Mitchell, a drummer whose machine-gun precision helped give their sound a fearsome energy. But the Jimi Hendrix Experience was Jimi’s vision, start to finish, and never more purely executed than at the beginning.

“Purple Haze,” of course, set the table, and the terms of engagement. The first track on the album established the scape of Hendrix’s daring, and revealed the comfort and confidence he already had in his style of playing, and the vision underneath. This first single from the album, heavy with the virtuosity of Hendrix’s guitar at full throttle, was just right for radio, with the brevity and punch to be heard and remembered above the radio menagerie of Animals, Byrds, Monkees, Hermits and Stones.

On “Third Stone From the Sun,” a spirited psychedelic sprint across Jimi’s universe, Jimi is your guide as an extraterrestrial visits earth (“May I land my thinking machine?”), ultimately deciding that it’s not worth saving (“to you I shall put an end, and you will never hear surf music again.”). In one nearly seven-minute track, Hendrix already points the way to the fusion of rock and jazz, marking roads for Miles Davis, John McLaughlin and others to pave in the years to come. The song brilliantly morphs rock with jazz, hummable melody with dissonant invention. It’s in this early manifestation of greatness that Hendrix seems to have exploded fully formed as a creative entity. ...

Read the full essay at The Omnibus at Medium

Friday, May 26, 2017

Nothing to Declare?:
Revisiting the (Proposed Wider) Laptop Ban

Months after the federal Department of Homeland Security banned large electronic items on U.S. bound flights originating in the Middle East, the agency is ready to double down in unsettling ways, with a proposed ban on laptops and tablets in cabins of U.S. bound flights from Europe. It hasn’t happened yet, but there’s a sense that the Trump government is quietly laying the groundwork for putting a ban in place.

That in itself would be bad enough: just One More Thing to be navigated (and tolerated) in the modern world. The original laptop ban, in March, and the one proposed now have a worthy rationale, intended to address the threat of explosives secreted in laptops and tablets by terrorist groups intent on creating mass-casualty events. ...

The nightmare's self-evident for business travelers; they'd be expected to object to anything that cuts into the ability to work on the long-haul flights between Europe and the United States — one of the leading global air-traffic corridors. ...

But DHS' proposed ban expansion may be just as upsetting for legions of other travelers: everyday people taking vacations or personal travel — people eager to document their travels for posterity (or for blogs, friends and family).

The phrase “nothing to declare” takes on another meaning when writers, journalists, photographers and other professionals in the travel industry find they can't work, or work as well — can't properly declare the wonders they've seen — because of the restrictions the new ban would impose. ...

Read the full story at Wander

Image credits: Laptop computer at airport security station: Via CNN. Wander logo: © 2017 Jerrick Ventures LLC.

Monday, May 22, 2017

Dear Donald ...

I’ve been blogging about you forever, it seems, on and off, even before the campaign that has landed you, inexplicably, in the White House. The fruition of your 2016 campaign has propelled you into an office that, frankly, I thought you had no more realistic chance to occupy than any reasonably talented golden retriever.

But we are where we are. You’re in the Trump Hotel at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue, and we’re obliged, one way or another, to accord you some measure of the respect that this awesome address, and its prime occupant, deserve.

Since Jan. 20th, bloggers, writers and other civic-minded scribes have been wrestling with the language, trying to find a way to describe you that's both accurate and truthful. Some have been using only your last name; I’ve been going with “president-apparent” and “president presumptive” as a way to describe you by title. Once I even toyed with POTUSINO (President of the United States In Name Only) but that was too much jargon by half.

But I’ve since found the approach that works for me. I know not what course others may take, but as for me, I’m giving your current title the simple, elegant, Occam’s-razor grace note it deserves. ...

Read the rest at The Swamp

Image credits: Trump: The Swamp logo: © 2017 Jerrick Ventures LLC.

Sunday, May 21, 2017

Carry-on baggage: Trump, the FBI and the I-word

WHEN PRESIDENT* Donald Trump left Friday for his first foreign trip in his new job, he brought along two pieces of carry-on baggage he couldn’t have left behind if he tried. Both will have a lot to do with whether his first White House trip abroad is or is not his last.

First, of course, there was the surprise Wednesday announcement of Robert S. Mueller III, former FBI director, to assume the role of Justice Department Special Counsel investigating possible collusion between the Russian government and the Trump campaign to subvert the process and/or results of the 2016 presidential election.

In a letter signed on Wednesday, Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein appointed Mueller to the post, and tasked the former Marine with leading a “full and thorough” investigation into the actions of the Kremlin in the run-up to the Nov. 8th election.

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Mueller is empowered to pursue “any links and/or coordination between the Russian government and individuals associated with the campaign of President Donald Trump; and (ii) any matters that arose or may arise directly from the investigation.” Rosenstein’s letter also authorizes the Special Counsel “to prosecute federal crimes arising from the investigation of these matters.”

A chorus of praise went up almost immediately, especially from those who remember Mueller’s long tenure as FBI Director.

“People are really torn up about what happened to Director [James B.] Comey — a good man who has treated very badly by the president,” a senior FBI official told Politico’s Philip Shenon. “The fact that the investigation is now going to be led by Mueller, who is so like Comey in so many ways and who also loves the bureau, is sweet justice.”

In his analysis piece for Politico, Shenon observed: “It’s hard to imagine that this new job is any more intimidating than the one Mueller confronted on the morning of Sept. 11, 2001, when the newly arrived FBI director was forced to deal with the aftermath of terrorist attacks that left more than 3,000 people dead in New York and Washington and put the FBI’s very survival in doubt because of what would be shown to be its well-documented bungling before the attacks.

“Mueller had been on the job at the FBI for exactly one week. The fact that the FBI survived in one piece after multiple government investigations of 9/11, and that Mueller went on to serve another dozen years at the bureau and left with his reputation for independence and honesty largely unscathed, suggests to his friends and admirers that the blue-blooded 72-year-old former Marine is the right man for his new job—and that President Trump and his campaign advisers have much to fear from his investigation.”

◊ ◊ ◊

THE SECOND piece of baggage is as heavy as the first one. According to various sources, this was presented to Trump right before he departed from the United States, and it could be a much weightier matter, one he’ll be hard-pressed to ignore.

On Friday, writer-provocateurs Louise Mensch and Claude Taylor, writing in the Patribiotics blog, reported:

Multiple sources close to the intelligence, justice and law enforcement communities say that the House Judiciary Committee is considering Articles of Impeachment against the President of the United States.

Sources further say that the Supreme Court notified Mr. Trump that the formal process of a case of impeachment against him was begun, before he departed the country on Air Force One. The notification was given, as part of the formal process of the matter, in order that Mr. Trump knew he was not able to use his powers of pardon against other suspects in Trump-Russia cases. Sources have confirmed that the Marshal of the Supreme Court spoke to Mr. Trump.

As the drumbeat for investigation increases, we can expect to see and hear about more skeptical Trumpeters lawyering up, seeking to cut deals, hoping to satisfy their inner Monty Halls in the hopes of avoiding indictments.

And at some point, for the crowd that left the United States on Air Force One days ago, there’ll be quiet reflection in days to come about what’s necessary to stay out of prison. Maybe they’ll make it an extended vacation.

Image credits: Mueller: Doug Mills/The New York Times. Trump adios: Saul Loeb/AFP/Getty Images.

Saturday, May 20, 2017

Seven days in May: House Trump
and the Dumpster fire of the inanities

“Do not ask me about how this looks, we all know how this looks,”
                               -- senior Trump aide to The Daily Beast on May 15.

HOMEOWNERS of any long standing will know that feeling of hyperadrenalized dread when, inexplicably, there’s a fire to be contained in your home — and fast. When you discover the flames that are way bigger than any you’ve seen before that were under control, you move almost in an autopilot mode: isolating the conflagration, looking for any smothering material nearby, moving the burning object as close to the tender mercies of water or a fire extinguisher as fast as possible ... and always being careful not to be a part of what’s going up in smoke.

Working at the White House must feel like that right about now. On steroids. As if it hasn’t been bad enough over the last 120 days or so — with one self-inflicted distraction or another affecting the agenda of President* Donald Trump — a period of seven more or less consecutive days have thoroughly cemented the meme of willful chaos upon the Trump administration. Day after day, one face palm-worthy event after another has come out of this White House, misstep upon misstep, layer upon layer, a misbegotten parfait. There’s been more than one costly screw-up to be minimized. There’s more than one fire to be contained.

The Trump Hotel at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue is in flames today, from the West Wing to the East Room to the White House lawn, as staffers weep and wail through broken teeth cowering behind the oaken doors of their offices, never far from the bellicose orange cartoon dirigible leading them, the mango Napoleon cursing and shrieking the instructions of a man who may be in the grip of the dark triad of malignant narcissism ... or maybe just a man in thrall to arrogance for the sake of arrogance. No one can say for sure. The halls of the White House are jammed with Dumpsters on fire; senior advisers scream at underlings who quake and dissolve in tears; a Brueghelian vision of rage and lamentations straight outta “The Triumph of Death” ... and somewhere amid the Brobdingnagian shitshow of the Trump White House, over the loudspeakers, the music we might have expected ... the inescapable strains of the Russian national anthem.

◊ ◊ ◊

The events of the last seven-eight days have come on us so fast, cascading over us in such dizzying fashion, it begs for some way to boil this madness down to something we can get our heads around. We need a scorecard.

Start with what happened on Tuesday, May 9, when Trump fired FBI Director James Comey, in a fit of the petulant, defensive pique the president-presumptive is known for. Days later, The Daily Beast reported, “Multiple White House sources confirmed ... that the president was ‘furious’ in the aftermath — causing aides to spend the rest of the week drawing as little attention to themselves as possible.

“An exasperated White House staffer on Friday described a different dynamic, saying the West Wing often struggles to keep up with Trump’s kinetic and unilateral public messaging operation and tweets and interviews that often diverge from the official White House line on the day’s events.

“The resulting tension between Trump’s statements and those of the press office charged with maintaining his public image have some frustrated at their apparent inability to nail down a coherent narrative ...” Which makes sense: You can’t be any more coherent than the boss giving you your instructions.

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WEDNESDAY, MAY 10. The White House lets the Russian government steer the public narrative of Trump’s meeting with two top Russian diplomats by giving the Kremlin-sponsored media exclusive access to the event. Not The New York Times. Not The Washington Post. Not NBC News. Of all the unforced errors of the Trump administration, of all the events connecting Russia with the integrity of the 2016 presidential election, this one was easily the most easily avoided. It’s also the one most likely to yield malign dividends.

The Daily Beast reports: “The White House did not allow American press into the meeting between President Donald Trump, Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov, and Russia’s ambassador to Washington, Sergey Kislyak. But it did admit a photographer from TASS, a state-owned Russian news service. Its photos were subsequently posted on TASS’s website, giving that outlet a monopoly on publishable visuals of the meeting. ...

“Two senior administration officials, one an Obama holdover and the other a Trump appointee, told The Daily Beast that the resulting reliance of U.S. media on a propaganda arm of a foreign government let Russia set the public tone of the meeting and embarrassed the administration amid already contentious discussions with Russian diplomats.”

Trump, a senior administration official told The Beast, is “either in bed with the Russians or too stupid to understand the severity of this mistake. Either way, the implications are truly terrifying.”

◊ ◊ ◊

It didn’t advance the Trump meme-let of financial invincibility when the markets cratered on Wednesday. The Dow Jones Industrial Average fell through the floor, shedding more than 370 points.

And there was concomitant fallout elsewhere in the economy: The 10-year Treasury yield made its sharpest decline since last June; gold futures kept rallying; and the dollar, almighty greenback, declined to a point it hasn’t touched since Trump was named the winner of the 2016 election.

It’s not just a domestic matter, either. The CBOE Volatility Index, a measure of global economic turbulence, made its biggest jump since the Brexit vote.

“After a protracted period of dormancy, financial markets are beginning to react to developments in Washington in a more unified manner,” reported Robert Brand and Jeremy Herron of Bloomberg News. “The U.S. currency now sits at its lowest level since the day of Trump’s shock win, a retracement some blame on perceptions his legislative agenda faces deeper challenges.”

◊ ◊ ◊

WE GOT THE MOAB of House Trump revelations on May 15, when it was reported that Trump knowingly, deliberately, eagerly shared classified information with Lavrov and Kislyak in the Oval Office.

The Beast: “Communications staff and senior staffers at the White House were literally ‘hiding in offices,’ according to a senior Trump aide, as a gaggle of White House press stormed White House hallways just after The Washington Post story broke on Monday evening.” And there was more: When Trump met with his two Russian pals, he talked about firing Comey in terms that couldn't have been less sensitive, or even patriotic. “I just fired the head of the FBI,” he said. “He was crazy, a real nut job.” (The Times reported it on May 19th.)

Some of those “deeper challenges” the Bloomberg News reporters wrote about involve persuading an increasingly skeptical public that Trump has the stones, the brain and the heart to do what’s required to right a badly-listing ship of state. A wave of the latest poll numbers suggests that won’t happen anytime soon.

◊ ◊ ◊

According to a Reuters/Ipsos poll released on May 19th, Trump is auguring in. In this poll, Trump's approval rating with the public has dropped to 38 percent, one of the very lowest it's been since his installation in the White House on Jan. 20th.

That’s Reuters’ take. Gallup’s daily tracking poll was even worse; it reported on May 19th that Trump was underwater with only 37 percent approval. A May 19th Politico/Morning Consult poll, on how The Donald handled Russian-related intel, wasn’t any more charitable.

A May 11 survey from Quinnipiac University had already said much the same, with Trump sustaining serious erosion of support from independent voters, white men and white voters with no college degrees, a major source of his voter base last November. That survey, conducted over the phone with live interviewers among 1,078 voters nationwide from May 4-May 9, gave a Trump a 36 percent approval rating, compared to the 58 percent who approved.

◊ ◊ ◊

THERE IS NO way to spin or sugarcoat these sagging numbers,” Tim Malloy, assistant director of the Quinnipiac poll, said in a statement. “The erosion of white men, white voters without college degrees and independent voters, the declaration by voters that President Donald Trump's first 100 days were mainly a failure and deepening concerns about Trump's honesty, intelligence and level headedness are red flags that the administration simply can't brush away.”

More unspinnable reality: Thanks to Trump & Co., the GOP is losing millennial voters at a dizzying clip. According to a May 17th Pew Research Center analysis, 23 percent of Republican voters ages 18-29 have switched parties since 2015, compared to 9 percent of Democratic voters in the same cohort. As many as half of Republicans 30 and under walked away from the GOP at one point in that two-year time frame.

And then there’s the big poll, the one that matters right now: A May 16th Public Policy Polling survey found that 48 percent of respondents support impeaching Trump, while 41 percent are opposed. The same poll found that 45 percent don’t think he’ll finish his first and only term as our most deeply asterisked president. Forty-three percent think he stays the course.

◊ ◊ ◊

With the leadership of House Trump out of the country on its first foreign trip, now we can take stock of those recent seven days in May ... while we get ready for the next seven days, as the reports come back from various foreign capitals alerting us to the embarrassment we just know is coming.

Students of American political history try to make sense of where a president’s going based on where he’s been and what he did when he was there. Trump’s first presidential overseas trip takes place later than any administration since President Johnson. On Sunday, Trump will meet with leaders from Gulf states, and deliver a speech to the leaders of more than 50 Muslim nations. From there, the trip continues with stops in Israel, the West Bank, Vatican City, Belgium and Italy.

What could possibly go wrong.

Image credits: Trump: Drew Angerer/Getty Images. James Comey: via NBC News. Trump and Kislyak: Russia in the USA. VIX index chart: Bloomberg. Quinnipiac logo: © 2017 Quinnipiac University.
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