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The Ineffable Boiling Frog of Trump Scandal

In the last several days, two outlets have tried — but (in my opinion) failed — to communicate the sheer scale of the President’s corruption. Today, that bastion of warmed over conventional wisdom, Axios, deemed Trump’s Russian conspiracy “the biggest political scandal in American history.”

They miss most of the key details (and treat Trump’s contacts with Russian officials as the crime, when that’s not by itself one). Even in a piece invoking the Teapot Dome Scandal, they don’t seem to see the outlines of a quid pro quo bribe, Tower and dirt for sanctions relief. There’s no mention of Paul Manafort at all, much less one describing how he shared polling data in a meeting where he also discussed sanctions relief.

And I don’t think the Mueller investigation really has delivered one of the biggest counterintelligence cases in history (which may be a mis-citation of this Garrett Graff article).

More remarkably, the Axios founders don’t seem to be able to get their arms around where this scandal ends, in part because some of the other stuff Trump has done — monetizing the Presidency via other foreign powers or various properties — are separate from the Russian part of Trump’s scandals.

Tuesday, Greg Sargent attempted a different approach, cataloging all the things that Republicans in Congress think should not be investigated by Congress. He came up with this list:

  • Materials relating to any foreign government payments to Trump’s businesses, which might constitute violations of the Constitution’s emoluments clause.
  • Materials that might shed light on Trump’s negotiations over the duration of a real estate project in Moscow, which Trump concealed from the voters even as the GOP primaries were underway.
  • Materials that might show whether Trump’s lawyers had a hand in rewriting former lawyer Michael Cohen’s testimony to Congress falsifying the timeline of those negotiations.
  • Materials that might illuminate more detail about Trump’s numerous efforts to obstruct the FBI/Mueller investigation.
  • Materials that would shed more light on the criminal hush-money scheme that Cohen carried out, allegedly at Trump’s direction, and on Trump’s reimbursement of those payments.

This list is based on the HJC list of document requests, and so is limited to people who’ve already (publicly) been asked for documents. But even there, it doesn’t capture why some of these things matter — again, including the appearance of a quid quo pro bribe trading the Trump Tower for sanctions relief. Nor does it incorporate the full scope of kinds of crimes listed here. This list doesn’t include the range of lies told, not just by Cohen but by Roger Stone and Don Jr and others, nor does it consider the import of Cambridge Analytica and Manafort sharing polling data with the Russians.

And, of course, because Sargent works backwards from the HJC list, he doesn’t include issues already being investigated by other committees, such as how Trump’s ICE keeps losing immigrant children, or why he forced aides to give his daughter and her husband security clearances that they clearly weren’t suited for.

I raise this not to criticize, but instead to observe that we’re at a point where journalists are struggling to communicate the full scale of Trump’s corruption, even just that corruption tied exclusively to the Russian investigation. That’s partly been a result of his media approach, treating each day as a new opportunity to replace yesterday’s spectacle with a new one. It’s partly because of the boiling frog effect: we’ve had piecemeal disclosures over two years, and few journalists have taken stock along the way to see what the actual court evidentiary record amounts to. And even there, we often forget to add in the truly breathtaking corruption of Administration aides like Scott Pruitt or Ryan Zinke, or of current Secretary of Commerce Wilbur Ross.

I’ve been thinking about this a lot of late — I don’t pretend to be able to get my brain around anything beyond the Russian investigation, to the extent even that is doable. It seems that we need to start trying to quantify this not in terms of names or actions but instead in terms of harm to the nation.

Just as one example, even the judges in the Russian investigation have — across the board — seen Trump’s flunkies to be selling out the interest of the United States, perhaps for Trump personally, perhaps for self-dealing, perhaps for foreign associates. Whatever crimes (or not) Trump committed, because he and his flunkies refuse to put the interest of the country first, it has consequences for Americans, including the constituents of members of Congress who want to ignore all this corruption.

We’ve been boiling frogs for several years here. But it’s time to take stock on the bottom line effect that Trump’s corruption has had on the country, and holding Republican enablers accountable for that damage.

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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

Let Them Eat (Starbucks’ Coffee) Cake

A couple of older billionaire white dudes have been shooting off their mouths. One of them is partially clued in. The other one apparently lives on a different planet where the sky is a groovy coffee-colored plaid.

I’m sure I’m preaching to the choir when I point out these facts:

The links above include scolding by financial experts who say Americans need to do a better job of saving. But…

Don’t get me started on what college tuition and subsequent debt does to Americans’ ability to save.

We all know that health care costs have not improved and remain the leading cause of bankruptcy in the U.S. even though more Americans have health insurance under ACA.

And rich older white dudes are completely, utterly, hopelessly out of touch about the financial facts of life for nearly half of Americans let alone the next 2-3 deciles.

Like Wilbur Ross — our Commerce Secretary who lied about his assets and clearly knows nothing about Americans’ daily commerce — struggled to comprehend why federal employees might need to use a food bank after missing a paycheck.

Just get a loan, Ross thinks. Sure, sure, banks give signature loans to people without any collateral let alone a source of income all the time. Come on, Wilbur: would you invest in a bank offering those kinds of terms to the average Joe/Josephine off the street?

And then there’s Trump, who thinks we can just ask the grocer to extend some credit for an unspecified period of time. Right — a nationwide grocery chain clearing 1-3% a year in profits can afford to extend credit.

So goddamned clueless he is. I’m only surprised he didn’t tell furloughed federal workers he’d give them a 5% discount to play golf at one of his courses during their free time.

76-year-old billionaire Michael Bloomberg, who thinks he’s still young enough to run for president in 2020, trashed Sen. Elizabeth Warren’s wealth tax proposal as “probably unconstitutional,” thereby revealing his brain’s atrophy. If taxing higher levels of income wasn’t unconstitutional under Hoover, Roosevelt, Truman, Eisenhower, Kennedy, Johnson, Nixon, Carter, then it probably isn’t unconstitutional.

And then Seattle coffee magnate Howard Schultz popped off at Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez’ proposals to increase marginal tax rates on the uber-wealthy, calling her “a bit misinformed” and her proposal “un-American.”

Except the U.S. had higher tax rates on the wealthy, for most of the 20th century. The country could afford to build more infrastructure; it built a successful public school system and went to the moon. How nice for Schultz that he could grow up and become a young entrepreneur in that economic environment.

(Put a pin in here for future reference, as a reminder that Schultz not only called AOC “un-American” but Sen. Kamala Harris, too. It’s as if he has a problem with women of color…)

Schultz thinks he has become a billionaire all on his own, as if the increasingly fascist political system with its active suppression of younger, marginalized citizens played no role in his wealth accumulation.

As if the last two decades of stagnant wages due to employment monopsony, repressive Federal Reserve policies, and the real estate market haven’t helped line his pockets by assuring low-wage workers get locked in and unable to move to better paying jobs.

Schultz has been able to accumulate massive amounts of wealth on the backs of people who aren’t being paid living wages, out of the wallets of those whose limited resources allows them to buy a coffee but not a house or health care. He’s rolling in a sea of cash because minimum wage workers are living in little more than indentured servitude.

You know what’s really un-American?

An ungrateful and narrow-minded billionaire white dude who doesn’t think living wages and health care for everyone are fair, who thinks that higher taxes after his first $50 million are theft.

A purveyor of luxury beverage products unable to grasp the unselfish commitment it will take to form a more perfect Union, establish Justice, insure domestic Tranquility, provide for the common defense, promote the general Welfare, and secure the Blessings of Liberty for all the people.

At least Bloomberg sees the danger Schultz’s presidential candidacy poses to this country.

But Schultz isn’t in it for the country’s benefit. He’s in the race for himself. It’s clear he’s done the number crunching and determined that it’s cheaper to run for POTUS even if he were to cause Trump to win re-election. (I’ll bet he’s even figured out how to write off his exploratory trips around the country as a business expense.)

Because the campaign expenses are less than the cost to his personal wealth if he were taxed at a higher rate and if he were also forced to pay living wages to his workers.

What a pity Schultz hasn’t calculated how much more overpriced, excessively roasted coffee minimum wage workers can buy if they didn’t have to worry about health care expenses on top of their rent.

 

Treat this as an open thread.

Wilbur Ross Lets His Inner Trumpian George Wallace Bigot Freak Flag Fly

The real Mr. Magoo of the Trump Administration, Wilbur Ross, this morning went on a full court press, with the press, to promote the latest push from the Trump Administration. When did the US seek out pointed bigotry and otherism on the official census? 1950. Magoo Ross and his Commerce Department issued a racist manifesto:

“The reinstatement of a citizenship question will not decrease the response rate of residents who already decided not to respond. And no one provided evidence that there are residents who would respond accurately to a decennial census that did not contain a citizenship question but would not respond if it did (although many believed that such residents had to exist). While it is possible this belief is true, there is no information available to determine the number of people who would in fact not respond due to a citizenship question being added, and no one has identified any mechanism for making such a determination.”

Actually, that is exactly what it is going to do, and what will occur. Facts and intelligence no longer matter.

From Hansi Lo Wang at NPR:

“A lot of census watchers, former census bureau directors, other census experts have said that they are very, very concerned that there already is a lot of anti-immigrant sentiment, that already folks are very concerned about giving personal information to the federal government, that now if there is a citizenship question added as the Commerce Department is announcing that … a lot of immigrants, not only those who are undocumented, but anyone who maybe has ties to folks who are undocumented, may not want to … participate in the census and therefore they would not be counted, and that has direct impacts on how people are represented in this country.

“All census numbers are used to reapportion seats in Congress, specifically the House of Representatives, and also these numbers have an impact on how billions of dollars are distributed around the country … from the federal level all the way down to the local level of how school districts figure out how to divide up resources. So this could have a really big impact if immigrants are not participating in the census in 2020.”

And thank you Vanita Gupta, in the New York Times (also reinforced in an interview with MSNBC):

“Adding this question will result in a bad census — deeply flawed population data that will skew public and private sector decisions to ensure equal representation, allocate government resources and anticipate economic growth opportunities — for the next 10 years,” Vanita Gupta, the chief executive of the Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights and a deputy attorney general in the Obama administration, said in a statement Monday night. “The stakes are too high to allow this. We urge Congress to overturn this error in judgment.”

Dianne Feinstein issued a, for once, spot on press release:

“An accurate count of everyone living in the United States is vital to our democracy. Adding a question designed to depress participation in certain communities is an assault on the foundations of this country.

“Given President Trump’s toxic rhetoric and aggressive policies toward immigrants, it’s clear his administration wants to include this question to discourage participation in immigrant communities. Individuals living in mixed-status households may be afraid to participate, fearing their responses would be used to target them or their families.

“This is particularly troubling in states like California with high immigrant populations. Without an accurate census, our state will lose federal funding for infrastructure, schools and social welfare programs we are rightly owed. Even more troubling, an undercount of our population could lead to California losing seats in Congress, disenfranchising millions of California voters.

“The administration’s claim that this question is needed to ‘permit more effective enforcement’ of the Voting Rights Act is simply not true. A citizenship question has not been included on the census since 1950, 15 years before the Voting Rights Act was passed. Instead, that data is already collected on the American Community Survey, a longer set of questions sent to more than 3.5 million American households every year.

“The census should not be a political football, used to depress responses from immigrant communities and target states like California. I’m committed to ensuring an accurate census in 2020 and will work with California’s leaders to have this citizenship question removed from the census.”

Yes. And it is a real issue. Not since George Wallace tried to block the schools from the minorities he hated, has there been such an immoral and unmitigated assault, for craven political purposes, as Trump and his merry band of bigot henchmen are putting forth now. It is the sickness that is killing America, not that which will make us great.

Can’t wait for the “Constitutional scholars” of the Federalist Society to weigh in with their full throated support of yet more rank Trump Administration bigotry and hatred. And some more “Liberal Media” stories about racist hicks in diners that support this revanchism. This is Trump’s America. And, yes, Vlad Putin must be chomping on popcorn and loving it.