Tuesday, January 30, 2018

Last Call For Ollivander's Rule, Con't

Donald Trump is following Ollivander's Rule, named for the wand shopkeep in the Harry Potter books as he describes the evil Lord Voldemort:

"After all, He Who Must Not Be Named did great things – terrible, yes, but great.”

As Ezra Klein points out, Trump the president is a massive failure.  Trump the reality show star however is a much different picture.

The secret to Trump’s success, the insight that has separated him from his competitors, is that he has cared less about the nature of the coverage he received than that he received coverage at all. 
“Even a critical story, which may be hurtful personally, can be very valuable to your business,” Trump said in his 1987 book The Art of the Deal. He goes on to recall the lesson he learned being attacked for a particularly gaudy skyscraper he sought to build. 
“The point,” he says, “is that we got a lot of attention, and that alone creates value.”
This is the law by which Trump lives his life. Attention creates value, at least for him. Before Trump, every politician hewed to the same basic rule: You want as much positive coverage, and as little negative coverage, as possible. Trump upended that. 
His rule, his realization, is that you want as much coverage as possible, full stop. If it’s positive coverage, great. If it’s negative coverage, so be it. The point is that it’s coverage — that you’re the story, that you’re squeezing out your competitors, that you’re on people’s minds. 
This was Trump’s true political innovation: He realized that presidential campaigns — and particularly presidential primaries — had become reality shows, and the path to victory was to get the most attention, even if much of that attention was negative
In this, Trump either intuited or stumbled into a profound insight about the media: It’s easier to get bad press than good press. There is an old line about the media: We don’t cover the planes that land safely. Most politicians try to get media coverage while landing the plane safely. They stage photo ops at factories, give prepared statements, deliver carefully crafted speeches. The result is dull, predictable, normal — and ignored. 
Trump dominates news cycle after news cycle by crashing planes into Twitter. He is everywhere, seemingly all the time. He says things no national politician in history would have dared say, things that the press covers because they are outrageous, controversial, unnerving, appalling. 
Trump is demanding and receiving our attention, crowding out everything else, accepting that it’s better to be hated than to be ignored.

Eat your heart out, Machiavelli.

So what do we do about the Tangerine Tyrant?  That's just it, no matter how much you despise the man, he's still the guy running the executive branch.

Every so often, someone will suggest that we just ignore Trump’s words, his riffs, his tweets. But Trump controls a nuclear arsenal. His tweets are “considered official statements by the president of the United States,” according to Sean Spicer, who served as Trump’s first press secretary. 
These are words that start wars, that drive deportations, that set policy, that end negotiations, that empower bigots, that reveal scandals, that represent our country. That the president of the United States is acting outrageously, or worryingly, or offensively, is important. As much as Trump might treat his presidency like a reality show, it remains a presidency, and lives are in the balance
Yet in owning our attention, in driving the agenda, in setting both the terms and tone of the debate, and in doing so by generating constant negative attention, cultural conflict, and emotional alarm, Trump makes us a little more like him, and politics a little more like the tribal clash he says it is.

This is the real damage Trump is doing to America and will continue to do.

We're Already In A Constitutional Crisis

Just a reminder that the deadline has passed on the legislation Congress overwhelmingly approved last year for new sanctions on Russia, and Donald Trump has simply refused to implement the law.

Lawmakers were blindsided and outraged on Monday after the Trump administration said it would neither announce nor implement new sanctions against Russia
After briefing senators in a classified setting, the State Department announced that the sanctions regime currently in place was acting as a “deterrent” against Russian aggression and that, therefore, new measures will “not need to be imposed” as required under the law. 
The announcement caught lawmakers off guard, including those who co-authored the bipartisan Countering America’s Adversaries Through Sanctions Act (CAATSA) last year. That bill passed in large part to punish Russia for its efforts to influence the U.S. presidential election in 2016. That it was put on the backburner left some on Capitol Hill with the impression, once more, that the Trump administration felt indifferent toward the Kremlin’s influence campaign. 
“When the Congress voted for this, the whole point of it was to slap sanctions on these Russian companies that interfered with our election and are doing all kinds of other things,” Rep. Eliot Engel (D-N.Y.), the ranking member of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, told The Daily Beast in an interview. “The legislation itself is not a deterrent if you don’t put teeth behind it. And the teeth behind it are the sanctions.” 
Monday’s episode marked the latest chapter in a months-long tug-of-war between Capitol Hill and the White House over a sweeping sanctions law that the administration, critics contend, has refused to fully implement and has dragged its feet in doing so. Congress felt it had forced the president’s hand with the passage of CAATSA by supermajorities in each chamber. A provision of that law required the administration to brief lawmakers on Monday about its efforts to sanction foreign governments and other entities that were continuing to do business with Russian defense and intelligence firms that the State Department publicly named in October. 
On Monday afternoon, administration officials gathered with senators on Capitol Hill to detail their plans for implementing the sanctions. The session was clouded in secrecy, with lawmakers refusing to reveal details that would potentially compromise confidential information.

But as those briefings wrapped up, State Department spokeswoman Heather Nauert released a statement saying the administration determined that new sanctions were not needed since it was estimated “that foreign governments have abandoned planned or announced purchases of several billion dollars in Russian defense acquisitions

So no, Trump will not follow the law, and will not punish his friend Vladimir Putin.  We openly have a Chief Executive who refuses to implement a law as required by Congress, legislation that passed with 98% of the vote, well more than the two-thirds needed to override a veto.

Trump's just refusing to do it.

So what now?  I know we're coming up on a major crisis with the impending firing of Mueller, but with these Russian sanction failures, we're already in one.

2018 is already shaping up to be a horrid year for the Republic...if we can keep it.

New tag, since we've finally gotten that far:  Constitutional Stupidity.

It's Mueller (Crunch) Time

A number of developments in the special counsel investigation of the Trump regime last night has made things pretty uncertain, and almost assures the fateful showdown that I've been predicting for months now (and many of you have been predicting as well).  As I mentioned yesterday, FBI Deputy Director Andrew McCabe stepped down, and all indications he was forced out.  This morning we know why: current FBI Director Chris Wray is all but saying that McCabe was relieved of his post because of the House Intelligence Committee's memo on the DoJ's upcoming Inspector General's report, written by GOP committee chair Devin Nunes.

FBI Director Chris Wray hinted to FBI staff in an all-employee email that a government watchdog investigation played a role in FBI Deputy Director Andrew McCabe's departure Monday, sources who have seen the memo told CNN. 
Wray said in the message he could not comment on the coming inspector general report about the FBI's conduct during the 2016 election and defended himself as not being swayed by politics. 
A source familiar with the matter told CNN that Wray had informed McCabe he is bringing in his own team, which McCabe would not be a part of, and that it was McCabe's decision whether to stay at the FBI or leave. 
The coming inspector general report into the handling of the 2016 Hillary Clinton email investigation has taken on increased scrutiny as President Donald Trump and his allies have railed against FBI officials like McCabe for months over the agency's handling of sensitive political matters and what they argue is political bias.

The Nunes memo relies heavily on the IG report, but cherry-picks the results and condenses it down to four pages.  In order to get out ahead of the report, Republicans have been threatening to release the "classified analysis memo" to the public.  Last weekend's revelations that Donald Trump already tried to fire Robert Mueller in June upped the timetable considerably, and indeed the Republicans in control of the committee voted late last night to release the memo, giving Trump five days to block it.

Republicans on the House Intelligence Committee, disregarding Justice Department warnings that their actions would be “extraordinarily reckless,” voted Monday evening to release a contentious secret memorandum said to accuse the department and the F.B.I. of misusing their authority to obtain a secret surveillance order on a former Trump campaign associate. 
The vote, made along party lines, threw fuel on an already fiery partisan conflict over the investigations into Russia’s brazen meddling in the 2016 presidential election. Republicans invoked a power never before used by the secretive committee to effectively declassify the memo that they had compiled. It was an extraordinary maneuver, cheered on by President Trump, who has repeatedly dismissed the Russia investigation as a “witch hunt” and a sham. 
Committee Republicans said the memo’s release would shed useful light on potential political bias that may have warped the early stages of the Russia investigation without compromising intelligence gathering. Representative K. Michael Conaway of Texas, a senior Republican on the committee, said on Monday that he was confident the Republican memo itself would not present a national security risk and was complete and fair as written. 
Democrats called the three-and-a-half-page document a dangerous effort to build a narrative to undercut the department’s continuing Russia investigation, using cherry-picked facts assembled with little or no context. Speaking to reporters after the closed-door vote, Representative Adam B. Schiff of California, the committee’s top Democrat, said Republicans had voted “to politicize the intelligence process.”

Sadly, we expect that the president of the United States will not put the national interest over his own personal interest,” Mr. Schiff said. “But it is a sad day indeed when that is also true of our own committee.”

The memo release now lights the fuse on the time bomb that we all knew was going to come.  The two main targets of the GOP mentioned in the memo are McCabe, now gone from the FBI having taken the fall for the Clinton e-mail investigation not turning up anything as of yesterday since former FBI Director James Comey was fired in May (for the same reason) and Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein, who appointed special counsel Robert Mueller. 

The memo and the IG report will be the basis used to fire Rosenstein and appoint someone who will fire Mueller.  Trump is searching for his Robert Bork.  I agree fully with Charles Pierce that another Saturday Night Massacre is now assured.

That McCabe jumped under pressure seems undeniable, unless you are Sarah Huckabee Sanders, from whom truth fled months ago. The president*, she said, was not part of the process through which McCabe resigned. This, of course, ignores the rather salient fact that there would not have been a “process” at all had not the president* and his people not felt the hot breath of the hounds on their hindquarters almost a year ago. The “process” began when the president* canned James Comey over, in the president*’s own words, the Russian thing.

Nevertheless, the forces are organized and arrayed behind the president* if he wants to crank up the Enola Gay and fire Bob Mueller. (The terrified meeping of Republican senators like Lindsey Graham is of no consequence. Impeachment begins in the House, and that’s where the wild things roam.) They have established within their ranks an excuse that is plausible to the raving lunatics of The Base: that the FBI actively conspired against the president* and in favor of Hillary Rodham Clinton because a couple of FBI lovebirds texted each other about the fundamental absurdity of a Trump presidency*. Oh, and because #ReleaseTheMemo—the phantom document prepared by White House congressional doorstop Devin Nunes that purports to demonstrate to the feeble-minded the depths of FBI perfidy. Now for you, me, the lamp post, and anything with the intellectual depth of a handball, this is a ridiculous notion. We, however, are not the conscripted hoplites of this army of dumbasses.

It's no longer a matter of if Trump wants to fire Mueller, but whether or not the Republicans in Congress will allow him to get away with it.  If anything, the House GOP is actively giving Trump the cover he thinks he needs to do it.

The question then becomes "do we allow them to get away with it?"   I know just a month ago that I predicted Mueller would be allowed to finish his report and recommend charges against Trump. I said then that it was a big bet, predicated on Trump not firing Mueller.

We're about to find out if I was wrong.


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