Trump’s Gone Full Jessep

[NB: The byline is mine. /~Rayne]

If you haven’t haven’t recently watched the 1992 film, A Few Good Men, it’s a good time to do so. Especially for this particular monologue delivered from the stand by Colonel Nathan Jessep, played by Jack Nicholson (spoiler alert: this scene is the climax of the movie):

The colonel gave an illegal order — a Code Red — to his men to dispense extrajudicial punishment to PFC William “Willie” Santiago after which Santiago died.

Up to this point Jessep has been a hard ass, bordering on rude. But this particular monologue depicts Colonel Jessep at his worst, when the mask slips off and the monster who can justify his worst impulses does so because his ego won’t permit any serious questioning of his authority.

This is Trump — from reports based on feedback from those in his presence, he’s gone full Jessep and whatever mask he’s worn has slipped off. He’s given illegal orders, in direct opposition to his oath of office and the Constitution, the law and a court order, when he demanded the separation of asylum-seeking families at the border while “ranting and raving” that “border security security was his issue.”

He believes he is the law, as if he’s king.

No one in the White House seems able to disabuse him of this concept — if they are trying at all.

A number of senior staff have been fired throughout Trump’s 26 months in office, the latest such termination resulting in the departure of Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen.

It’s not clear whether the departure of Secret Service director Randolph Alles was for the same reason; he denies it but the timing is suspicious given the appearance of a purge across DHS leadership.

One employee whose continued employment suggests they aren’t explaining the limits of executive authority is White House counsel Pat Cipollone. His presence was noted in reports about a meeting in which Trump had a narcississtic meltdown about DHS’ inability to stop asylum seekers at the border. Why was Nielsen the sole target two weeks later instead of Cipollone?

~ ~ ~

In A Few Good Men, the story arc centers on the two Marines charged with Santiago’s death as a result of the Code Red. They argued they were following orders from their superior officer, and as we see in the climax, Col. Jessep finally admits he gave the order. The court renders its verdict:

The Nuremberg defense will not hold; an illegal order is illegal no matter the rank of the person issuing it, and obeying it is illegal as well. Government employees who commit illegal acts even at the order of the president violate the law as well as their oaths of office:

I, _____, do solemnly swear (or affirm) that I will support and defend the Constitution of the United States against all enemies, foreign and domestic; that I will bear true faith and allegiance to the same; that I take this obligation freely, without any mental reservation or purpose of evasion; and that I will well and faithfully discharge the duties of the office on which I am about to enter. So help me God.” (5 USC 3331)

Support and defend the Constitution. Well and faithfully discharge the duties of office. Obeying an illegal order fulfills neither of these.

Founding father John Adams said, “We are a nation of laws, not of men.” Walls are useless if they defend not the law and our country’s values, but one man’s sick, skewed ego.

Graphic: Quino Al via Unsplash (mod by Rayne)

Three Things: This Ain’t No Fooling Around

[NB: The byline, check it as always. /~Rayne]

It may be April Fool’s Day but this isn’t a joke. We have some serious matters to tackle urgently today. Let’s get to them pronto.

But first, write down this number or add it to contacts, you’re going to need it:
Congressional switchboard (202) 224-3121

~ 3 ~
Mitch McConnell is expected to bring a Senate rule change to a vote, possibly today; he wants to shorten the amount of time for the Senate to debate nominees before approval 30 from hours to 2 hours. This move was approved by the Senate Rules Committee along party lines and is horribly anti-democratic (little d) as it provides an inadequate amount of time for both senators and their constituents to air problems with nominees and evaluate their suitability for office, which in some cases are lifetime appointments.

McConnell, the man who refused to allow a vote on an Obama SCOTUS nominee, claimed this rule change was necessary because of “‘unprecedented obstruction’ by Democrats.” What amazing projection.

The media also did a pissy job informing the public about this change.

Call your senators, tell them to vote NO on SRes 50. This rule change is unacceptable. You need to know they are fulfilling their role to advise and consent — and that role doesn’t mean rolling over and doing the White House’s bidding. If they don’t fully debate nominees’ qualifications, why do we even need the Senate?

~ 2 ~
And now for the perfect example why the previous rule change is unacceptable: Stephen Moore, economics hack extraordinaire, deadbeat father, and one of the reasons the GOP members of Congress have been especially jacked up since January 2017. McConnell doesn’t want a full debate about him.

This guy is Trump’s nominee for the Federal Reserve and he’s completely out of his depth. I’ll point you to economist Justin Wolfers for details, though — start at the top of his Twitter thread (click on the dte to open it):

And here:

Back when the 115th Congress was sworn in, the House GOP caucus was corralled into a closed door session. Few details have emerged but we know Moore was used to persuade the caucus members they were “no longer the party of Reagan” because popularism. This laid the opening for the POS tax cuts passed last year which were supposed to lead to all kinds of economic growth due to reinvestment. Psych! It was either a massive snow job by Moore on behalf of corporations or it was utter stupidity about the stickiness of corporate profits (they go into shareholders’ pockets, not reinvestment into workers or equipment).

If we ignore the red flags waving about Moore — including a $75,000 tax lien for 2014 income — the ridiculousness of the tax cuts points to Moore’s unsuitability for the Fed Reserve. He’s a complete hack who offers little more than a front to which the GOP can point to legitimize their ransacking the country.

Call your senators: No on Moore for Federal Reserve.

~ 1 ~
This sums up the problem:

A senior administration official with direct knowledge of the meeting described Trump’s stance: “He doesn’t want another single dollar going to the island.”

Puerto Rico is still in very bad shape 19 months after Hurricane Maria devastated the island. I can’t begin to do the scale of the additional problems inflicted on Puerto Ricans by the horrible management of financial aid. Please read this piece at the Washington Post for a better take on how bad things are:

Puerto Rico faces food-stamp crisis as Trump privately vents about federal aid to Hurricane Maria-battered island

The Bigot-in-Chief continues his deadly vendetta against Puerto Rican Americans still badly affected by Hurricane Maria’s devastation. He doesn’t want to send them any additional aid for reasons which are opaque to the rest of the country but are readily guessed at based on his past behavior.

He couldn’t bother to do adequate pre-hurricane preparation; he sat on his goddamn fat ass and bitched about NFL players taking a knee rather than get off his ass and make sure Puerto Rico was prepared. We know he had ample time and instead he was either malignant in his duties or incompetent, take your pick.

— He had to be shamed by Hillary Clinton into dispatching the Navy’s hospital ship. The ship did not treat as many patients as it should have nor did it stay long enough. At least one entire ICU ward on the island died because medical attention didn’t get to the most obviously needy places fast enough.

— Under his watch management of disaster recovery services was totally botched, from water bottles sitting on the tarmac undelivered to electrical service contracts let to what appears were profiteering outfits unprepared to deal with the scale of the problems. So much money was wasted because of this gross incompetence.

— Too little attention was given to Puerto Rico’s businesses as critical national infrastructure. The entire country faced medical supplies shortages because manufacturers in PR were the only sources in the U.S. and they were ignored rather than treated as essential.

Three thousand Americans died after the hurricane; most of them died because of the fucked up and opaque personal agenda Trump has against Puerto Rico. More people may have been affected here on the mainland but I’ll bet there’s no way to record the impact.

Me, for example — I had to manipulate the schedule for major surgery back in early 2018 because the hospitals here in Michigan were reporting tight supplies of IV equipment made in Puerto Rico. Thank goodness it worked out, that I didn’t have another episode requiring transfusions and days of IVs. But I couldn’t help think of patients elsewhere across the country who were negatively impacted; there were reports of reusing disinfected IV equipment because supplies had run out.

Trump thinks Puerto Rico has received too much money already. I suspect Trump’s real issues are:

1) He has a personal bias against Puerto Rico because a Trump-branded golf course there failed in 2015;
2) He simply hates brown and non-English speaking people — just look at how he responds to situations where persons of color need help versus whites;
3) He doesn’t see Puerto Rico as part of the U.S.

American persons of color are highly aware of the treatment of Puerto Rico. How the White House and Congress respond to Puerto Rico shapes their opinion, and failure to do right by Puerto Ricans can affect these voters’ attitudes going into 2020.

But Puerto Ricans don’t have a senator, one might say. True — but it’s estimated 6% of the population left the island after the hurricane and more may still leave. They’ve been moving to Illinois, Texas, Louisiana, Florida, Georgia, Kentucky, and Wisconsin because it’s cheaper to live in these states than it is now in Puerto Rico. What a pity for GOP senators in those states up for re-election in 2020 who continue to vote against aid for Puerto Rican recovery — they’ll have more Democratic voters to contend with at the polls.

Call your senators — tell them to ensure Puerto Rico has more financial assistance for post-hurricane recovery. We owe it to our fellow Americans just as we would if they were in North Carolina, Florida, Texas, or California after a major disaster. We owe them for the failure to provide equal protection under the law before, during, and after the hurricane resulting in nearly as many Americans’ deaths as 9/11.

~ 0 ~
Lock and load, people, this ain’t no disco. Roll out to the phones. When you’re done you can use this as an open thread.

P.S. For those of you who aren’t on broadband or have challenges making calls, try sending a fax to your members of Congress. There are sites on line which offer free faxes to Congress; my personal favorite is FaxZero.com as they have the numbers for each member already listed. Just type up a short note — be sure to included your real name and address so they can verify your residency in their district/state — then follow the instructions at the site. I keep a blank letterhead template with address header for each of my members of Congress just for this purpose. All I have to do is fill in the body and send. I have a nice copy in my records of what I sent and when. But do keep in mind these fax services will send an email immediately after you press Send to validate your email address. Check the link the fax service emails before confirming.

Three Things: Hey You, Mr./Ms./Mx. Pissed-Off

[NB: Check the byline, thanks. /~Rayne]

I get it. You’re furious, en fuego, royally pissed off. You’ve traveled through shock and traversed anger, raging for days now since Attorney General Bill Barr issue that POS four-page letter chock full of holes big enough to drive a 40-foot dry van through again and again.

And now you’ve hit bottom, burned out and blue having reached another stage in the grieving process.

We all know this isn’t the end of it, no matter how much gaslighting and abuse the White House, its proxies, the right-wing horde, and asshats like David fucking Brooks spew. You know what you saw in the speaking indictments, plea agreements, and sentencing memos produced over the last two years.

We all know who ‘Individual 1’ is no matter how much he and his myriad minions and handlers would like us to forget his role as an unindicted co-conspirator who denied the public the right to know the truth about his past during the 2016 election.

At least one conspiracy to defraud the American public is right there spelled in black and white under our noses, and again in congressional records as part of Michael Cohen’s testimony before the House. Trump worked with Cohen to lie to the voting American public, violating campaign finance laws in doing so.

“If the people don’t have the facts, democracy doesn’t work,” as Judge Amy Berman Jackson told former Trump campaign manager Paul Manafort during his sentencing hearing, another liar Trump brought into his team, allowing Manafort to change the Republican’s platform on Ukraine without a wide and open discussion among conservatives about it.

Trust your eyes and ears. You’re right to be angry and disappointed. Take a deep cleansing breath in and center yourself, feel that righteous burn of indignation, then let out the poison.

And then take another deep breath, roll up your sleeves, grab your phone, and let’s kick some ass.

~ 3 ~
What: Barr didn’t confine himself to his four-page POS summary on Sunday. Oh no. He had to make it really fucking personal for a huge swath of Americans by refusing to allow the DOJ to defend the Affordable Care Act. From the ABA Journal:

The DOJ’s new stance would strike down additional provisions that allow children to have coverage on their parents’ policies until age 26 and that guarantee “essential health benefits” such as mental health, maternity and drug coverage. The stance also would eliminate an expansion of Medicaid and free preventive services for people on Medicare.

Quite literally Americans could die because of this move.

Needed:
— Call your representatives and tell them you support the current ACA legislation in the absence of a better, Medicare for All replacement.
— Ask your reps to do what’s necessary to ensure the DOJ fulfills its mission to enforce the laws of this country, which at this time includes ACA.

You can see Barr is now setting a precedent for a unilateral executive branch which can pick and choose the laws it will enforce in spite of precedent backing existing laws. This can’t go any further.

Congressional Switchboard: (202) 224-3121

~ 2 ~
What: Betsy ‘Multi-Yacht’ Devos decided disabled Americans do not merit an opportunity to achieve; she’s proposed ending funding for Special Olympics.

That shallow, stupid wretch has no real idea what Special Olympics means to the disabled, especially children and their parents. One of my family members has worked for more than a decade at a Special Olympics camp, spending weeks with children who otherwise wouldn’t be able to go to camp like abled children. The kids meet other kids like themselves, make new friends, learn new skills, hone their physical abilities, begin to see themselves as capable of so much more. And their parents get a much-needed respite from caring for children who may need around-the-clock monitoring.

But as the former director of the Office of Government Ethics says, the cruelty is the point. Devos is Cruella De Ville who will kill puppies for their coats given the chance. Pro-life, my foot; she cares not a whit what life is like for the disabled after birth.

She quite literally wants to axe Special Olympics and take the money to give to charter schools, which fail at around 25% rate. The money she will steal from the disabled will literally go down a rat hole and nobody except the charter school profiteers will benefit from this scam.

In fact the amount we spend as taxpayers providing additional support to Special Olympics could be offset easily if Trump spent four less weekends at his golf courses on our dime.

There are those who argue it’s really Trump who insisted on this cut and Devos is merely is grunt doing the scut work of hurting the disabled. Sure — but a person whose values are genuinely aligned with caring for fellow humans would have told Trump to stick this sidewise and quit their post instead.

The chances of this proposal passing the House are slim to none, especially after Devos was grilled by Rep. Mark Pocan (D-WI) on Tuesday, but it’s a line in the sand we should draw.

Needed: Call your members of Congress in both houses and let them know this kind of cruelty to disabled Americans is unacceptable and it will not fix the inherent problem of making schools into privatized profit centers with an unacceptably high rate of failure.

Congressional Switchboard: (202) 224-3121

~ 1 ~
What: Acting Interior Secretary David Bernhardt is appearing before the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee as Trump’s corrupt nominee for Interior Secretary.

If you have a moment or two, watch for the swamp monster — the one in the green mask sitting behind Bernhardt, not Bernhardt (because when you’ve seen one of the fleshy pink swamp monsters, you’ve seen many).

Needed: This guy is selling out our national resources. Call your senators and tell them hell no on this dirtbag, we don’t need another swamp monster helming the Interior Department.

Congressional Switchboard: (202) 224-3121

~ 0 ~
Don’t forget to check your phone’s battery charge. Get calling!

This is an open thread, by the way.

Three Things: Boeing Boing

[NB: The byline – check it. /~Rayne]

That U.S. flights of Boeing’s model 737 Max aircraft were suspended is a good thing, I think we can agree though perhaps not all for the same reasons. I’ve had suspicions about Boeing for some time now and not because of the company’s products or its management. Three things have bothered me and the deadly crash on March 10 has only added to previous concerns.

~ 3 ~

I’ve noted before that Boeing has been a possible target for stock manipulation; in fact I wrote about my suspicions a year ago:

You can imagine my surprise on December 6, 2016, when then-president-elect tweeted about Boeing’s contract for the next Air Force One, complaining it was too expensive. Was it Boeing the spies were discussing? But the company didn’t fit what I could see in the indictment, though Boeing’s business is exposed to Russia, in terms of competition and in terms of components (titanium, in particular).

It didn’t help that Trump tweeted before the stock market opened and Boeing’s stock plummeted after the opening bell. There was plenty of time for dark pool operators to go in and take positions between Trump’s tweet and the market’s open. What an incredible bonanza for those who might be on their toes — or who knew in advance this was going to happen. …

And while Boeing 737 Max equipment safety was under public debate after Sunday March 10th crash, Trump tweeted this Luddite position on contemporary aircraft complexity on March 12:

How interesting that he avoided naming Boeing specifically, but at the same time he managed to post the first of these two tweets at exactly 10:00 a.m.; the second tweet didn’t publish for another 12 minutes, leaving those following his tweets closely to assume he was going to discuss Boeing specifically during the interim.

I can’t help think Trump has an ulterior motive with regard to Boeing considering how often he has stepped into their business one way or another since December 6, 2016.

It’d be nice to know who’s been shorting NYSE:BA before his tweets and in which stock exchanges.


[Graphic: NYSE:BA moving average and trading volume from midday Monday 11-MAR-2019 to midday Tuesday 12-MAR-2019 via Barron’s.]

~ 2 ~

Trump’s personal demands have also affected Boeing directly with regard to system updates. The government shutdown delayed for five weeks work by the Federal Aviation Administration toward certification of a software “fix” for the 737 Max flight control system.

In other words, eight more American citzens traveling on the doomed flight this past weekend may have paid the ultimate price for Trump’s gross incompetence and corruption, not to mention the other truly marvelous human beings lost to the world when that flight met the earth two weeks ago.

Boeing’s business model needs to be revisited, though, if the flight control system “fix” wasn’t treated with adequate urgency based on feedback from Boeing to the FAA. There’s a fundamental question of a product’s safety for its intended purpose if it must have a software update to fly safely but that update is an additional feature outside the product’s purchase agreement and must bought before it can be added. Smells like product liability with a whiff of extortion.

Would we tolerate this business model in other situations where so much is at stake? Imagine your computer’s operating system needs a patch before you can use it — and you must pay for the patch, it’s not included in the licensing agreement for the operating system. Oh, and the computer runs your insulin pump or your pacemaker wihout which you are likely to die.

~ 1 ~

The FAA as well as Boeing need to be reevaluated based on complaints the government agency is too closely linked to the aerospace company to provide appropriate oversight. The FAA has been relying on Boeing to self-monitor via component safety inspections because the FAA doesn’t have adequate personnel or resources.

Recall recent reports of supply chain vulnerabilities — is it at all possible Boeing components have been as compromised as other military suppliers have been? How would the public know if it has relied on the FAA’s self-inspection “designee program”?

This sounds eerily familiar, like the claims related to firmware updates needed on servers when it was possible the Supermicro motherboard hardware had been compromised.

~ 0 ~

Treat this as a open thread. We could use a break from what will continue to be a flood of news relate to the Special Counsel’s Office report, especially after the Golfer-in-Chief parks his cart for the weekend and begins shit posting on Twitter in earnest again.

All the News Fit to Treat Badly

This screenshot depicts U.S. news media’s gross failure.

There have been numerous stories this week about the Trump cabinet which received slapdash coverage. All of them are scandals and should have resulted in the firing or resignation of two, possibly three cabinet members.

And yet the public is deluged with and seeking more information about a celebrity’s personal screw-up resulting in prosecution — a story which has no real impact on their personal lives. The public doesn’t appear to know how very badly Trump’s cabinet members are treating the public’s trust, or the risk posed by turning a blind eye to these cabinet members’ bad faith and corruption as nearly all of them are in the line of presidential succession.

In short, the public isn’t being informed about real news.

If the public is asking about a celebrity, leave it to celebrity gossip sites to answer. The public needs reporting about these failing cabinet members, and they need to know these stories are far more important than celebrity buzz, affecting the country’s ability to function normally. If the public isn’t asking about these cabinet members, it may be a sign that the media is failing them and/or the trend data may be manipulated.

~ ~ ~

How much do you or your family members and friends know about Wilbur Ross’s repeated lies about his personal holdings? The Office of Government Ethics refused to certify his most recent financial disclosure statement because he didn’t sell stocks that he said he’d sold. This has been going on since he became Commerce Secretary. His work in that role has been dismal as it is, not to mention his questionable relationship to a bank in Cyprus. But to lie and lie repeatedly to the government about his personal finances? There’s no excuse for his not knowing what assets he’s holding because he has to file a tax return reflecting ownership, earnings and subsequent profits and losses.

There’s also no excuse for news media to treat Ross’s lies as if they are perfectly normal for the person who is eighth in line of presidential succession and responsible for fostering, promoting, and developing the foreign and domestic commerce of the largest economy in the world. News outlets should be asking the White House every damned day why Ross hasn’t been booted out the door.

~ ~ ~

How much do you or your family members and friends know about former federal prosecutor and current Labor Secretary Alexander Acosta’s role in the ridiculously light sentence human trafficker Jeffrey Epstein received? Or Acosta’s role in violating the Crime Victims’ Rights Act, directly affecting at least 30 of Epstein’s victims?

News media paid a little more attention to this case because the crimes underlying it were of prurient interest. But they have already forgotten justice for the victims, blowing off Acosta’s continued employment in a role overseeing workplaces where human trafficking may occur. Acosta is right behind Ross in the presidential succession lineup. News media should likewise ask why Acosta still has a job as Labor Secretary right after they ask about Ross’s continued employment.

~ ~ ~

How much do you or your family members and friends know about former Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke’s alleged lies to federal investigators regarding disapproval of Native American casinos? This wasn’t the only probe Interior Department Office of Inspector General had been looking into; it’s the one which has been referred to a grand jury. What other damage may Zinke have done while he was at Interior? What continues under acting Interior Secretary?

Zinke had been two slots ahead of Ross in the presidential succession lineup. At least Zinke is no longer with the administration, unlike Ross and Acosta, or Betsy DeVos.

~ ~ ~

A staffer for Education Secretary DeVos attempted to obstruct investigation into DeVos’ restoration of approval for a college accreditor by trying to remove the acting inspector general looking into the re-approval. It’d be nice to know if DeVos instructed her deputy secretary Mitchell Zais to remove Sandra Bruce because was continuing her investigation, or if Zais tried this on his own. This is yet another cabinet-level scandal the public doesn’t know enough about compared to a celebrity story.

DeVos has been a threat to public education since her approval hearing when she suggested guns were needed in the classroom to protect against bears. She’s a threat to more than education as 13th in line of succession for the presidency, too, given there are open slots for Secretaries of Defense and Interior. College students struggling with tuition debt and students who’ve participated in active shooter drills would love to know why DeVos still has a job. They ought to know someone is asking every day.

~ ~ ~

And Secretary of Transportation Elaine Chao couldn’t let these four cabinet secretaries have all the fun. She may have been improperly coordinating with our glorious Senate Majority Leader Mitchell McConnell — also her spouse — to ensure their home state Kentucky received a lion’s share of transportation projects.

Fortunately Chao is not in the line of presidential succession because she is foreign born.

Fortunately, her spouse McConnell isn’t in the succession lineup at all.

Unfortunately, these were just a handful of stories which should have ranked higher in the mind of the public and the media’s effort.

This is an open thread.

Trump’s 200 Million Inauguration Visitors and $15 Million Net Worth: The Scale of His Border Lies

Tonight, Trump will take over the airwaves to lie about the southern border in what will either be a last ditch effort to persuade Senate Republicans to stay the course supporting his temper tantrum, or will include a declaration of emergency that would pave the way to reopen government while saving face, all while creating an unbelievably dangerous precedent in the process.

Yesterday, NBC reported just how enormous are the lies the Trump Administration is telling about the southern border.

It describes that while the Administration claims to have stopped 4,000 known or suspected terrorists last year, in reality, CBP stopped just six.

U.S. Customs and Border Protection encountered only six immigrants at ports of entry on the U.S-Mexico border in the first half of fiscal year 2018 whose names were on a federal government list of known or suspected terrorists, according to CBP data provided to Congress in May 2018 and obtained by NBC News.

The low number contradicts statements by Trump administration officials, including White House press secretary Sarah Sanders, who said Friday that CBP stopped nearly 4,000 known or suspected terrorists from crossing the southern border in fiscal year 2018.

That number six is itself an exaggeration. In a piece predicting that, “the Intelligence Community is almost certainly not able to stand publicly behind what the White House and DHS are saying,” former National Counterterrorism Center Director Nick Rasmussen explains what (he correctly suspected) that number represents: visa denials based on a possible link to terrorism.

[T]hose visa denials or SIA encounters hardly equates to disruption of a terrorist plot or the “capture” of a known terrorist. Our watchlisting system is predicated on a carefully calibrated risk management approach. When the intelligence community acquires information that points to a potential link to terrorist activity, individuals are not permitted to travel to the United States. But it should not be assumed that every individual who was denied the opportunity to enter the U.S. because was in fact a would-be terrorist intent on doing us harm.

Plus, the 4,000 number equates to all such stops, not just those on the southern border.

In other words, the White House has been telling an unbelievable exaggeration to attempt to ratchet up fear to justify Trump’s tantrum.

It is, even among Trump’s fantastic lies, remarkable. Trump used a number, 4,000, that is actually 666 times higher than even a conservatively high number, 6.

To show just how big a lie it is, I calculated what two of Trump’s other most famous lies, exaggerated on such a scale, would be.

In an effort to avoid looking inadequate as compared to President Obama, whose inauguration had record crowds (much to the chagrin of those us of caught in the Purple Tunnel of Doom), Trump claimed more people attended his inauguration than ever before, meaning more than the 1.8 million who attended Obama’s first inauguration. In reality, the number was likely between 300,000 and 600,000. Take the smaller of those two numbers, exaggerate by as much as Trump is exaggerating the threat of terrorist infiltration on the southern border, and he’d have to claim 200 million people would have attended his inauguration, many more times the crowd Obama got.

Or take his net worth, another of his most epic lies.

Trump has claimed his net worth is $10 billion; the company, too, claims to make that much in a given year. Last year Forbes calculated Trump’s net worth was actually closer to $3 billion.

But if we take Trump’s exaggerated claim of $10 billion, and assumed he is exaggerating by the scale that he’s exaggerating the threat at the southern border, and it’d say his real net worth was just $15 million.

I mean, that’d make Mitt Romney far richer than Trump. Richard Blumenthal, too, would be worth more than the President. The Senate might not even let a pauper like that join their club! According to some calculations, Nancy Pelosi would even be worth more — in monetary, and not just human, worth — than Trump if he exaggerated this much.

The point is this lie is not just egregious and fact-free. It is, even among Trump’s lies, a whopper.

And Trump will go on teevee tonight to try to spread lies on an epic scale.

On Narrating Donald Trump: “Shoot me like I’m shot on ‘The Apprentice'”


Pretty much everyone I know is recommending this New Yorker profile describing how Mark Burnett created Donald Trump’s current image (and with it his electoral prospects).

Along with describing how both Trump and Burnett came to turn the popularity of the show into a marketing vehicle and a Trump’s telling claim that he initially hesitated before signing onto reality teevee because the, “contractors, politicians, mobsters, and everyone else I have to deal with in my business … don’t like, as they’re talking to me, having cameras all over the room,” the piece describes how the show depicted not reality, but a heavily edited narrative trying to retroactively justify Trump’s capricious firing decisions each week.

The result created the illusion that a serially bankrupt joker was, instead, a king.

Burnett has often boasted that, for each televised hour of “The Apprentice,” his crews shot as many as three hundred hours of footage. The real alchemy of reality television is the editing—sifting through a compost heap of clips and piecing together an absorbing story. Jonathon Braun, an editor who started working with Burnett on “Survivor” and then worked on the first six seasons of “The Apprentice,” told me, “You don’t make anything up. But you accentuate things that you see as themes.” He readily conceded how distorting this process can be. Much of reality TV consists of reaction shots: one participant says something outrageous, and the camera cuts away to another participant rolling her eyes. Often, Braun said, editors lift an eye roll from an entirely different part of the conversation.

At the end of each episode, Trump determined which competitor should be “fired.” But, as Braun explained, Trump was frequently unprepared for these sessions, with little grasp of who had performed well. Sometimes a candidate distinguished herself during the contest only to get fired, on a whim, by Trump. When this happened, Braun said, the editors were often obliged to “reverse engineer” the episode, scouring hundreds of hours of footage to emphasize the few moments when the exemplary candidate might have slipped up, in an attempt to assemble an artificial version of history in which Trump’s shoot-from-the-hip decision made sense. During the making of “The Apprentice,” Burnett conceded that the stories were constructed in this way, saying, “We know each week who has been fired, and, therefore, you’re editing in reverse.” Braun noted that President Trump’s staff seems to have been similarly forced to learn the art of retroactive narrative construction, adding, “I find it strangely validating to hear that they’re doing the same thing in the White House.”

Such sleight of hand is the industry standard in reality television. But the entire premise of “The Apprentice” was also something of a con. When Trump and Burnett told the story of their partnership, both suggested that Trump was initially wary of committing to a TV show, because he was so busy running his flourishing real-estate empire. During a 2004 panel at the Museum of Television and Radio, in Los Angeles, Trump claimed that “every network” had tried to get him to do a reality show, but he wasn’t interested: “I don’t want to have cameras all over my office, dealing with contractors, politicians, mobsters, and everyone else I have to deal with in my business. You know, mobsters don’t like, as they’re talking to me, having cameras all over the room. It would play well on television, but it doesn’t play well with them.”

“The Apprentice” portrayed Trump not as a skeezy hustler who huddles with local mobsters but as a plutocrat with impeccable business instincts and unparalleled wealth—a titan who always seemed to be climbing out of helicopters or into limousines. “Most of us knew he was a fake,” Braun told me. “He had just gone through I don’t know how many bankruptcies. But we made him out to be the most important person in the world. It was like making the court jester the king.” Bill Pruitt, another producer, recalled, “We walked through the offices and saw chipped furniture. We saw a crumbling empire at every turn. Our job was to make it seem otherwise.

[snip]

Trump took to his part more nimbly than anyone might have predicted. He wouldn’t read a script—he stumbled over the words and got the enunciation all wrong. But off the cuff he delivered the kind of zesty banter that is the lifeblood of reality television. He barked at one contestant, “Sam, you’re sort of a disaster. Don’t take offense, but everyone hates you.” Katherine Walker told me that producers often struggled to make Trump seem coherent, editing out garbled syntax and malapropisms. “We cleaned it up so that he was his best self,” she said, adding, “I’m sure Donald thinks that he was never edited.” [my emphasis]

Throughout, the piece both implicitly and explicitly suggests that the White House is adopting techniques from the show in burnishing Trump’s power. Or, at least, Trump is asking that his handlers replicate the same frames of power that Burnett used.

The show’s camera operators often shot Trump from low angles, as you would a basketball pro, or Mt. Rushmore. Trump loomed over the viewer, his face in a jowly glower, his hair darker than it is now, the metallic auburn of a new penny. (“Apprentice” employees were instructed not to fiddle with Trump’s hair, which he dyed and styled himself.) Trump’s entrances were choreographed for maximum impact, and often set to a moody accompaniment of synthesized drums and cymbals. The “boardroom”—a stage set where Trump determined which candidate should be fired—had the menacing gloom of a “Godfather” movie. In one scene, Trump ushered contestants through his rococo Trump Tower aerie, and said, “I show this apartment to very few people. Presidents. Kings.” In the tabloid ecosystem in which he had long languished, Trump was always Donald, or the Donald. On “The Apprentice,” he finally became Mr. Trump.

[snip]

Trump has succeeded in politics, in part, by borrowing the tropes of the show. Jonathon Braun pointed out to me that when Trump announced his candidacy, in 2015, he did so in the atrium of Trump Tower, and made his entrance by descending the gold-colored escalator—choreography that Burnett and his team had repeatedly used on the show. After Trump’s announcement, reports suggested that people who had filled the space and cheered during his speech had been hired to do so, like TV extras, for a day rate of fifty dollars. Earlier this year, the White House started issuing brief video monologues from the President that strongly evoke his appearances on Burnett’s show. Justin McConney, a former director of new media for the Trump Organization, told New York that, whenever Trump works with camera people, he instructs them, “Shoot me like I’m shot on ‘The Apprentice.’ ” [my emphasis]

One of the most interesting details in the piece is that Democrats actively (and successfully) lobbied musical talent to blow off Trump’s inauguration, themselves performing a kind of script-writing that has haunted Trump since.

A Democratic political operative who was involved in a back-channel campaign to dissuade big-name stars from appearing at the event told me that Burnett had tried to enlist musicians to perform. “Mark was somebody we were actively working against,” the operative said. Trump’s wish list included Elton John, Aretha Franklin, and Paul Anka—who, he hoped, would sing “My Way”—but they all claimed to be otherwise engaged. The event ended up with sparse crowds and a feeble roster of performers.

Because I dawdled before reading the piece, I was reading it at the same time as reading coverage of the shutdown. That coverage highlights the results of running a Reality Teevee star as President. There’s NYT report that the reason why Trump has shut down the government to get Congress to fund him a wall is because Sam Nunberg and Roger Stone (and Steve Bannon) used the wall as a mnemonic device to get Trump to repeat his lines.

“How do we get him to continue to talk about immigration?” Sam Nunberg, one of Mr. Trump’s early political advisers, recalled telling Roger J. Stone Jr., another adviser. “We’re going to get him to talk about he’s going to build a wall.”

[snip]

“As a messaging strategy, it was pretty successful,” [anti-immigration activist Mark] Krikorian said. “The problem is, you got elected; now what do you do? Having made it his signature issue, Trump handed the Democrats a weapon against him.”

We’ve shut down the entire government because an entertainment professional always refused to memorize his lines (or as someone on Twitter noted, use a teleprompter), and so the unstable hacks who managed him early on invented a policy promise that not even hardline anti-immigration experts want.

And Trump seems to be judging the advice on the shutdown he receives based on how sycophantically his interlocutors judge his “performance” trying to ratchet up pressure for a wall.

Trump spent much of Saturday on the phone with allies, talking through his positioning on the shutdown and hearing their reviews of his Rose Garden performance, according to a person close to him. Two people regularly on his call list — Rep. Mark Meadows (R-N.C.) and Sen. Lindsey O. Graham (R-S.C.) — have encouraged Trump to take a hard line and refuse to agree to reopen the government unless wall funding is secured, the person said.

Trump, who doesn’t understand the successful tycoon that starred in The Apprentice was the product of heavy editing, has now taken to editing himself, trying to fulfill the things the Campaign Reality Teevee star said over and over, based off what Mark Meadows and Lindsey Graham  tell him.

The New Yorker profile, however, offers scant solutions to the problem that Burnett created — just his ex-wife imploring him to tell Trump he’s not actually living a reality show, as if that will fix the problem.

One day this past fall, Burnett got a call from his first wife, Kym Gold, with whom he remains friendly. Gold was upset about what was happening in the country, and asked Burnett to intervene with Trump. “We had it out,” she told me. “I said, ‘You’ve got to help our children, for the future and safety of this country.’ ” Gold implored Burnett, “Tell him this is not a reality show. This is real life. You’re the President. You’re saying things you cannot say—to reporters, to other world leaders.”

But that wouldn’t fix it even if Burnett were willing to risk losing access to Trump by telling him.

The problem, and any potential solutions, is something I’ve been thinking about for some time. No one is going to cure Trump of his addiction to being framed to look powerful. If he doesn’t get that high from his White House handlers, he will continue to fire them and look elsewhere, to people who are even better trained at flattery than Burnett. Trump now believes he can produce himself, based largely on the feedback of nutjobs like Ann Coulter and Sean Hannity.

I’m not actually advocating letting Trump frame himself as a king. But I also think that much of Democrats’ response involves trying to fact check Trump rather than reframe him. Your typical Trump voter isn’t going to give a damn that Trump is lying until some policy he has bragged about (up to and including the shutdown, but also his trade wars) ends up making them feel personally betrayed.

Mind you, I think Nancy Pelosi understands all this. She understands (like that other great female politician, Angela Merkel) that Trump will lose more if he is shown looking weak next to a woman than if someone proves his 100,000th lie.

That last of the self-imagined productive sycophants left with John Kelly. Trump now has a temporary Chief of Staff, one who will be gone once Trump decides to internalize Mick Mulvaney’s labeling of Trump’s position on the wall as “childish.” That creates a vacuum in the function of framing Trump’s image.

Update, January 12: This important op-ed from an OLC veteran describes how lawyers there do much the same as what editors on The Apprentice does.

But when I was at OLC, I saw again and again how the decision to trust the president failed the office’s attorneys, the Justice Department and the American people. The failure took different forms. Sometimes, we just wouldn’t look that closely at the claims the president was making about the state of the world. When we did look closely, we could give only nudges. For example, if I identified a claim by the president that was provably false, I would ask the White House to supply a fig leaf of supporting evidence. Or if the White House’s justification for taking an action reeked of unconstitutional animus, I would suggest a less pungent framing or better tailoring of the actions described in the order.

I often wondered, though, whether my attempts to remove the most basic inaccuracies from the face of a presidential order meant that I was myself failing to carry out my oath to protect and defend the Constitution. After all, the president had already submitted, through his early drafts or via Twitter, his reasons for issuing a particular order. I sometimes felt that, rather than engaging in professionally responsible advocacy, my OLC colleagues and I were using the law to legitimize lies.

I felt more than a twinge of recognition this month when reading a New Yorker article about Trump and the reality-TV show “The Apprentice.” Jonathan Braun, an editor on “The Apprentice,” described how editors would “reverse engineer” episodes after Trump made impulsive decisions about firing a contestant. The article described editors “scouring hundreds of hours of footage . . . in an attempt to assemble an artificial version of history in which Trump’s shoot-from-the-hip decision made sense.” Like a staff member at “The Apprentice,” I occasionally caught myself fashioning a pretext, building an alibi.

Photo: Pavan Trikutam via Unsplash

Three URGENT Things: POTUS’ Alert Text, Facebonked, Kavanuh-uh

Let’s get right to it, no time for preamble (and don’t forget to check the byline above).

~ 3 ~

There will be an unblockable nationwide test of the Presidential Alert system on all cell phones today at 2:18 p.m. ET.

This infuriates me to no end, especially after Trump’s insulting bullshit at his fan club rally last night in which he denigrated assault survivor Dr. Blasey Ford. It’s as if he’s going to grab us all by the privates at the same time today without our consent.

Think about it: so much of your private personal life goes through your phone and now Trump’s FEMA has decided it will inject itself into your phone?

Lifehacker has a decent article suggesting some methods for mitigating or avoiding the text if not blocking it — you can read about it at this link.

Make sure you tell friends and family ASAP about this alert so they don’t freak out and aren’t in the middle of something important when this alert shows up.

Pity the poor residents of Hawaii, having to face this crap first thing this morning.

Time zone conversion for the alert:

Eastern: 2:18 p.m. ET
Central: 1:18 p.m. CT
Mountain: 12:18 p.m. MT
Pacific: 11:18 a.m. PT
Alaska: 10:18 a.m.
Hawaii: 08:18 a.m.

Check time conversion at this link. I’m going to shut my phone off at 2:00 p.m. ET and take an hour-long break.

~ 2 ~

The half-assed FBI investigation will likely be finished today; don’t expect to see the Swiss cheese-y results riddled with holes where testimony wasn’t collected. It’s unlikely the public will see this report.

This means McConnell will likely pursue a vote on cloture today to end debate in order for the full Senate to vote on Kavanaugh before the end of the week.

Which in turn means CALL YOUR SENATORS. Yes, even the steadfast Democrats who are unlikely to sway because their offices are being flooded with right-wing calls demanding their poor rich white frat boy judge be seated for a lifetime on the Supreme Court.

Screw that. Just MAKE THE CALLS.

Congressional switchboard: (202) 224-3121

Need a script for your call? @Celeste_pewter has them broken into four categories:

– The Democrats who have already said yes, and won’t flip no matter what.
– The red state Democrats.
– The potential GOP flips.
– The GOP senators who will vote yes, no matter what.

And a universal, all-senators script.

Pick the appropriate script and have at it. (Thanks, Celeste!)

HOOSIERS: Make a special effort to thank Joe Donnelly who came out last night as a NO on Kavanaugh. He is surely being pummeled today by Indiana’s finest red staters.

NORTH DAKOTANS: Heitkamp is down but within margin of error of her Republican opponent. Make sure you call so that she doesn’t feel pressure to backslide.

Trouble getting through switchboard or full mailbox? Try contacting your senators’ local offices. Look them up at:

Contacting Congress: https://www.contactingcongress.org
Ballotpedia: https://ballotpedia.org/Who_represents_me%3F

~ 1 ~

Facebook’s massive breach exposes what a bad, BAD idea it was to allow a Facebook login to become a universal login for other applications. Let’s not forget Facebook has also appropriated users’ phone numbers for advertising without users’ consent. It’s a security cataclysm and Facebook is once again flat-footed.

NEVER LOG INTO SITES WITH FACEBOOK USERID.

Never use the same password for more than one site.

Use a password manager.

Read up here about the problem.

What did I do? I gave up Facebook years ago when it was clear to me they were a security cesspool.

~ 0 ~

Now get going. Run!

Treat this as an open thread.

Food for Thought

Those of you who have seen my recent Twitter posts are aware that I went to Wilmington, NC to volunteer with Operation BBQ Relief. We provided meals for people affected by the massive flooding in the Wilmington region resulting from Hurricane Florence. I helped from Sunday, September 23 through Friday, September 28. It was an exhilarating  experience. But I was far from alone. The massive civilian response to this natural disaster clearly rivaled, and in some cases appeared to exceed, the response by FEMA. On September 30, OBR reported having provided 314,575 meals during its time in Wilmington. Similarly, World Central Kitchen, affiliated with Chef José Andrés, reported on October 1 that they had prepared 300,000 meals for the Wilmington area. Many rescues as the floodwaters rose were carried out by the Cajun Navy, which sent over 300 volunteers and responded to over 1500 calls for help during the flooding. They kept a smaller group of volunteers in the region after the initial rescues so that they could deliver food and supplies to neighborhoods that remained cut off by the persistent floodwaters.

That such a massive civilian response is needed is vexing. I lament that government has been so shrunken and so populated with rogues ranging from the merely inept (Heck of a job, Brownie!) to straight up grifters (Scott Pruitt and even Donald Trump himself) that we have to fulfill a primary government function (provide for the common defense) through ad hoc volunteer networks.

At the same time, that such networks of volunteers DO come together is a wonderful affirmation of the compassion and empathy that unite all that is good in humanity. I will admit to a bit of trepidation in choosing to work with OBR. After all, it’s barbecue in the South. I wondered if I would be surrounded by people in MAGA hats. But I chose OBR over WCK because I know barbecue and I’m not a professional chef, so I felt I had more to offer there. I also chose to go there because I realized that it would be likely I would be working alongside many conservatives (I saw no MAGA hats there, by the way), but wondered if they would experience a bit of cognitive dissonance if they realized the empathy they were showing for the flood victims was mostly lacking in the policies they choose to endorse.

While I of course did not find out if any of the volunteers had an epiphany and chose to support more generally empathetic policies, I did feel that a genuine breaking of normal barriers occurred during the busy times producing so many meals.  Working the production lines, simple backyard barbecue enthusiasts like me worked shoulder to shoulder with successful barbecue competition team leaders and owners of barbecue restaurants. They shared information and tips freely, so I learned a huge amount. It turns out that a couple of the leaders for our work also lecture in the BBQ Boot Camps offered by the North Carolina Barbecue Society, and I’ve added attending one of those to my bucket list.

The clear high point of my time there was on Monday, September 24 when we paused our work to commemorate the 2,000,000th meal prepared by OBR since its inception in 2011 following the massive tornado in Joplin, MO. The person chosen to receive that special meal is described in the video OBR posted here (the heart of the story begins around the 4 minute mark if you want to skip ahead). There were very few dry eyes under the tent by the end of the story even though the smokers surrounding us were finished cooking for the day. There was a magical feeling of compassion in the air, along with a sense of awe for what people working together could accomplish. With any luck, that feeling will creep into other aspects of life for some of those who were there.

I did come away with a feeling that perhaps for a few folks, doing volunteer work of this sort may well be a case of “walking the walk” that goes along with talk of very limited government. I still don’t see how that could mesh with the utter lack of empathy displayed by the gentleman behind the check-in desk one morning who wore a shirt proclaiming “Stand for the flag, kneel for the cross” or the lack of empathy for victims of sexual assault that it takes to continue to support Brett Kavanaugh. But at least on the front of caring for one another when disaster strikes, our country is still infused with a compassion that overcomes all barriers. If only we can find a way for it to spread to other fronts.

 

Three Things: CRC—What? An Indictment, Plus Shut Downs Ahead

[NB: As always, check the byline. / ~Rayne]

Brett Kavanaugh’s nomination and confirmation process is an 800-pound gorilla in the media, as is the potential for the obstructive removal of Rod Rosenstein as Deputy Attorney General. They suck up enormous amounts of mental wattage, sitting wherever they want to sit.

Here are three things which are in some way related and worth more of our attention, whatever is left after the gorillas are done with it.

~ 3 ~

CRC: One degree from Manafort

Thomas Fine went prowling around FARA filings, landing this juicy find (pdf):

Yes, Creative Response Concepts, Inc., the same firm for which Ed Whelan has worked, registered in 2005 as a foreign agent for Viktor Yanukovych — the same Yanukovych for which Paul Manafort also worked as an illegal foreign agent. CRC was paid $10,000 by Potomac Communications Group, for which Aleksei Kiselev worked. Kiselev also worked for Paul Manafort to assist Yanukovych.

What a small, small world.

Should note CRC’s registration was after the fact — they were contracted for April-October 2003. Why so late?

(Thanks to @JamesFourM for the PCG-Kiselev-Manafort link.)

~ 2 ~

Indictment yesterday related to Trump Towers…in Azerbaijan

Didn’t see this until late last night: DOJ indicted Kemal “Kevin” Oksuz (pdf) on one count of hiding or falsifying material facts and four counts of making false statements to the U.S. House of Representatives Committee on Ethics. The filings were related to a Congressional trip to Azerbaijan ultimately paid for by State Oil Company of Azerbaijan Republic (SOCAR), the wholly state-owned national oil and gas company of Azerbaijan.

Oksuz is now a fugitive.

Ten members of Congress and 32 staffers traveled in 2013 to attend a U.S.-Azerbaijan convention in Baku after Azerbaijan had asked Congress for an exemption from sanctions on Iran for a $28 billion natural gas pipeline project. The members and staffers were later cleared as it appeared they believed the trip’s funding was provided by Oksuz’s nonprofit organization.

Personally, I think those members and staffers needed a rebuke. Nonprofits don’t print money; they rely on money from donors. Follow the money to the donors before accepting a trip and incidentals. It’s not rocket science.

Worth keeping in mind the Trump International Hotel & Tower built in Baku, overseen by Ivanka Trump, which burned in late April this year — an amazing two fires, same day. What are the odds?

~ 1 ~

Shutdowns Ahead: U.S.-Canada and U.S. Government?

Doesn’t look like negotiations between the U.S. and Canada are going to make this Saturday’s deadline. No idea what will happen after that. We all know the Trump administration has been at fault; how could anybody screw up a long-term peaceful relationship like U.S.-Canada, our second largest trading partner after China, without deliberate bad faith? Without the intent to screw over another NATO member’s economy?

And the U.S. government itself faces a budget deadline. If the “minibus” budget bill isn’t signed by midnight this coming Sunday we’re looking at a shutdown and it appears the bottleneck may be Trump. The jerks at Breitbart are fomenting to encourage a shutdown by insisting Trump refuse to sign the bill — they’re just plain malicious, thinking not at all about the impact on fellow Americans or the economy.

Putin must be laughing his ass off at how easily the GOP’s white nationalist base has subverted U.S. and NATO stability by giving up control to a mobbed-up, golf-addicted, attention-deficient wig.

~ 0 ~

Don’t miss Marcy’s interview on Democracy Now in which she talks about Rod Rosenstein’s status and the Kavanaugh confirmation process.

Treat this like an open thread — have at it.

p.s. A note on site operations: Please be sure to use the same username and email address each time you log into the site. It makes it easier for community members to get to know you. Deliberate sockpuppeting is not permitted.

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