Wednesday Morning Open Thread: Another Battle Begins

(Jeff Danziger’s website)
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As if Lord Smallgloves could tell you what was in “his” budget… Greg Sargent, in the Washington Post, “Even some Republicans balk at Trump’s plan for steep budget cuts”:

While some fiscally conservative lawmakers, particularly in the House, found a lot to praise in Trump’s plan to balance the budget within 10 years, most Republicans flatly rejected the White House proposal. The divide sets up a clash between House conservatives and a growing number of Senate Republicans who would rather work with Democrats on a spending deal than entertain Trump’s deep cuts.

“This is kind of the game,” said Senate Majority Whip John Cornyn (R-Tex.). “We know that the president’s budget won’t pass as proposed.”

Instead, Cornyn said he believes conversations are already underway about how Republicans can negotiate with Democrats to avoid across-the-board spending cuts that are scheduled to go into effect in October. Those talks could include broad spending increases for domestic and military programs that break from Trump’s plan for deep cuts in education, housing, research and health care…

Budget experts questioned many of the economic assumptions that the White House put into its plan, saying it was preposterous to claim that massive tax cuts and spending reductions will lead to a surge in economic growth…

“Even some Republicans” plan on a political career that lasts beyond the next election — maybe even one that doesn’t involve people spitting on them in the street. This ain’t a budget proposal, it’s a new chapter in a cultists’ holy book. Or a performance-art script for grifters hoping to massage the plutocrats’ greed glands…



Tuesday Morning Open Thread: The Kleptocracy

It used to be third-world shiteholes and banana republics where the ruling autocrat was brought low by the thieving ways of his inept relatives. Thanks, GOP, for making this comic trope AMERICAN!

Within the warped internal logic of the Trump presidency — where it is taken as a given by essentially everybody around him that the president is impulsive and grotesquely ignorant — his shocking actions and statements have a more understandable basis.

A week ago, it appeared that the probe would center around the activities of a handful of figures who are now marginal within Trumpworld: former campaign manager Paul Manafort, foreign policy adviser Carter Page, and deposed National Security Adviser Michael Flynn. That has changed. The Washington Post reported Friday that investigators have identified a current White House official as a person of interest in its financial probe. (The story hinted, and New York Magazine contributor Yashar Ali confirmed, that the person is Jared Kushner.)…

All this implies that the probe is scrutinizing the financial aspects of Trump’s business, which is a family operation. While some Trump advisers opposed the firing of Comey, Kushner reportedly advocated for it. That fact may seem strange if one thinks of Kushner as a voice of pragmatism. But it is easier to understand if you think of him as a figure sitting near the heart of a financial scandal, who harbors a strong interest in suppressing the investigation…
 
The official White House line maintains — or has tried to maintain — that the administration welcomes special prosecutor Robert Mueller and sees his work as a chance to dispel the cloud of suspicion needlessly hanging over the presidency. Their actions suggest a very different calculation. From Trump’s campaign to ensure the loyalty of his FBI director, to his subsequent firing of him, to his tweet-rages against the special prosecutor as an unfair witch hunt — all of this indicates high levels of panic in the Oval Office. Trump has almost certainly engaged in obstruction of justice for the simple reason that there is a lot of justice to obstruct.

Of course, like every other aging crime family capo, the old man can’t resist going back to his known accomplices…



Open Thread: Now, the Happy Part Is Over…


Okay, the Secretary of Commerce thinks criminalizing protests isn’t such a bad thing, since he got ‘two gigantic bushels of dates’ from his security detail. One look at Wilbur Ross’s face, you can understand why dietary fiber is so valuable to him!



Another Croggle-Worthy* Read: “Donald Trump After Hours”

*croggle: (dated, fandom slang) To shock so much as to cause brief paralysis; to stun; to startle.

Thing is: HE THOUGHT THIS WAS A GOOD IDEA. Kanye West, Ryan Seacrest, watch and admire me, bigly!

Michael Scherer and Zeke J. Miller, at TIME, with a great subhead: “From where the 45th President works, eats and sleeps, everything is going just great. Now if only everyone else would see it that way“:

In a few minutes, President Donald Trump will release a new set of tweets, flooding social-media accounts with his unique brand of digital smelling salts—words that will jolt his supporters and provoke his adversaries.

Nearly a dozen senior aides stand in the Oval Office, crowding behind couches or near door-length windows. This is the way he likes to work, more often than not: in a crowd. He sits behind his desk finishing the tasks of the day, which have included watching new Senate testimony about Russian involvement in the 2016 presidential election, by signing orders in red folders with a black Sharpie.

When he held the job, Barack Obama tended to treat the Oval Office like a sanctum sanctorum, accessible only for a small circle of advisers to break its silence on a tightly regulated schedule. For Trump, the room functions as something like a royal court or meeting hall, with open doors that senior aides and ­distinguished visitors flock through when he is in the building…

And the stream of visitors is constant. Just a few hours earlier, National Security Adviser H.R. McMaster had stopped by with a foreign military delegation. Vice President Mike Pence brought by the Prime Minister of Georgia unscheduled for a photo. The New England ­Patriots got to take pictures behind the desk recently, and the President says the billionaire Ronald Lauder, a great collector of art, went crazy when he saw the painting of George Washington above the fireplace. “Never had people,” Trump likes to say of Obama’s use of the space. “I use the room. I use it a lot. I had the biggest people in the country here.”…

The powers of the presidency are vast, but Trump has discovered in these first months in office that they do not include­ much influence over how his words and actions are consumed by the American people. Among the many frustrations, none seems to burn quite as much as the disrespect he feels he has received from the press, which has steadily failed to reflect his version of reality. The story he wants told is not the one the nation reads and sees…
 
“The truth is, I got a raw deal,” he says later in the evening, the frustration unmistakable for a man who has spent so much of his life grading himself by headlines. The détente with the press after the election that he had hoped for never came. “It’s gotten worse,” he says. “It’s one of the things that surprises me.”

To cope with this new reality, the President says he is trying a mindfulness trick: he has tried to tune out the bad news about himself. “I’ve been able to do something that I never thought I had the ability to do. I’ve been able not to watch or read things that aren’t pleasant,” he will say later in the night, listing off the networks he tries to tune out and the newspapers he struggles to skim. Of course, as his public outbursts indicate, he does not always succeed, but he says he no longer feels a need to know everything said about him. “In terms of your own self, it’s a very, very good thing,” he says. “The equilibrium is much better.”

The following day, the news of the Senate hearings will once again fail to comport with the meaning he derived from his TiVo. The focus instead will be on Yates’ description of how she warned the White House about the apparent duplicity of Trump’s first National Security Adviser, Michael Flynn, who misled the Vice President about his contacts with Russia. Flynn is now facing an investigation into foreign payments that officials say he failed to report.

Trump can’t do anything about that, for the most part. But he can still tweet. So now he walks out of his dining room, followed by the same substantial entourage of senior aides. Back in the Oval Office, he checks in with his waiting staff. “Did you get that stuff out?” the President asks of the tweets he had prepared. “The Russia-Trump collusion story is a total hoax,” one reads, “when will the taxpayer funded charade end?” Dan Scavino, his social-media director, is sitting on the couch. “Yes, sir. Instagram, Facebook, Twitter. It’s everywhere,” he says….

The waiters know well Trump’s personal preferences. As he settles down, they bring him a Diet Coke, while the rest of us are served water, with the Vice President sitting at one end of the table. With the salad course, Trump is served what appears to be Thousand Island dressing instead of the creamy vinaigrette for his guests. When the chicken arrives, he is the only one given an extra dish of sauce. At the dessert course, he gets two scoops of vanilla ice cream with his chocolate cream pie, instead of the single scoop for everyone else. The tastes of Pence are also tended to. Instead of the pie, he gets a fruit plate…

This is the part of the job that he has clearly come to enjoy, playing businessman for the American people. He brags about the close relationships he believes he has formed with foreign leaders, complimenting Germany’s Chancellor Angela Merkel on inviting his daughter Ivanka to speak overseas. He boasts of convincing Egypt’s leader, General Abdul Fattah al-Sisi, to release several political prisoners, including an American­. He even runs through the many ways he has revised the rules of engagement in the war on the Islamic State. “They keep coming to me, at weird times too,” he says of requests for approval for drone strikes and Special Forces raids in his earliest days in office…

When asked directly if he feels his Administration has been too combative, he makes a brief allowance. “It could be my fault,” he says. “I don’t want to necessarily blame, but there’s a great meanness out there that I’m surprised at.” The inner conflict is clearly evident. This is the same man who just a couple hours earlier had joked about former federal officials choking “like dogs.”

One senior White House official recently outlined the three rules of Trump for a group of reporters: When you’re right, you fight. Controversy elevates message. And never apologize. All of these rules have survived his time in office, if in slightly more modest forms. After bringing new levels of combativeness to the political process, “the only way you survive is to be combative,” Trump says now. “I’ll read stories in the New York Times that are so one-sided. Hey, I know when I am successful. I know victory.”….

HE IS THE WORLD’S BIGGEST CELEBRITY, PEOPLE! (Why does everyone laugh at his mighty sword?… )



Open Thread: Still Grifting the “Golden Visas”

Despite considerable attention over the weekend, the Kushner family has yet to be dissuaded from shilling their high-level “access” to Chinese investors hoping for a Disney-style FastPass to the front of the visa line:

Kushner Companies’ China roadshow, promoting $500,000 investments in New Jersey real estate as the path to a residency card in the United States, moved to Shanghai on Sunday after a similar pitch on Saturday in Beijing. Security was tighter in Shanghai than it had been in Beijing, where reporters for The New York Times and The Washington Post briefly attended the event before being kicked out.

Mr. Kushner has said he has stepped back from the day-to-day operations of the family business. But government ethics filings show that he and Ivanka Trump, his wife and the president’s daughter, continue to benefit from their stake in Kushner Companies’ real estate business and other investments, which is worth as much as $600 million…

NYMag adds:

Kushner is also no stranger to EB-5 visas, as he reportedly raised $50 million in loans using the program to help finance a Trump-branded 50-story apartment tower in Jersey City called Trump Bay Street. Kushner, who has done repeated business with Chinese firms, has become a primary adviser within the White House regarding matters related to the country. He has promised to recuse himself from any White House discussions on the future of the EB-5 program, but his family is clearly still looking to benefit from the program before any decisions are made by the Trump administration.

This is also not the first controversy involving Kushner Companies and China since Jared took on his multitasked role in the White House. The company’s recently abandoned effort to negotiate millions of dollars in equity for a Manhattan redevelopment project from China’s Anbang Insurance Group was widely criticized by American lawmakers and government ethics experts as a scenario in which China might be trying to gain favorable treatment from the Trump administration…



Interesting Read: “The calculus behind Jason Chaffetz’s sudden decision to walk away”

Two reporters from the Deseret News craft an amazing example of what I suppose must be “Mormon nice”, turning never-less-than-postive words and carefully-buffed stories into a portrait of a vicious little self-promoter attempting to slide out of the unexpected spotlight exposing every wart of Grifter King Trump’s nasty court…

Something had flipped after the election, Chaffetz had noticed, an ugly impulse unfurling across America. He had seen anger directed at him before, but nothing like this. He’d been getting death threats, on his voicemail and in his inbox, and in the ensuing weeks it would only get worse.

He had become a target, the face of Republican fecklessness. At his D.C. office, his young staffers fielded calls from all over the country, hundreds a day, demanding he investigate Trump. As chairman of the House Oversight Committee and Government Reform Committee, Chaffetz had risen to national prominence for his aggressive inquiries into missteps by the Obama administration, making him a hero to the “Fox and Friends” crowd.

He’d hammered the Secret Service, demanded documents on the Fast and Furious gun running scandal, and most notably, grilled Hillary Clinton for hours on the deaths of four Americans at a compound in Benghazi, Libya. So why wasn’t he investigating Donald Trump? People asked him this wherever he went, at the airport, at Five Guys when he was standing in line for a burger. Tonight they wanted answers.

He stepped out from behind the curtain.

The crowd erupted in deafening boos, rising to their feet. Chaffetz smiled. He’d seen worse. As a placekicker at BYU in the mid-1980s he’d played before hostile football crowds with Ty Detmer and Jason Buck. “You think this is bad,” he thought to himself. “You’ve never been to Laramie, Wyoming.”

Besides, plainclothes police officers were standing behind the curtain, and others were scattered throughout the crowd. No one here could rattle him, not really. And even if they did, he wouldn’t let them see it. He would keep smiling, no matter what he felt inside.

Clips of the town hall were starting to go viral. For the part of the electorate who felt the Trump administration was a threat to the republic, this was a moment, #Resistance. Here was one of the few people who could bring Trump to heel, who could subpoena his tax records, force him to testify under oath, really anything he wanted, and his constituents were demanding he do it.

“Do your job! Do your job!” they chanted. Chaffetz smiled through his teeth, pleading for the crowd to calm down, but no one was listening.

In the ensuing weeks, Chaffetz insisted the protesters didn’t bother him, but those closest to him began to worry if all the unhinged Facebook posts and death threats were taking a toll. Trey Gowdy, the Republican congressman from South Carolina who Chaffetz considers his best friend, openly wondered if Chaffetz’s ever-ready smile was masking pain.

“Some of the stuff left on his voicemail,” Gowdy said, pausing. “He plays it for me and I’m trying to evaluate, do you take it seriously? What do you do about it?”…
Read more



Open Thread: Erik Prince Is Just Full of Ideas!

Hey, remember Erik Prince, friend-of-Putin and Seychelles tourist? Bloomberg Politics has another profile — “Blackwater Founder Prince Said to Have Advised Trump Team”:

According to people familiar with his activities, Prince entered Trump Tower through the back, like others who wanted to avoid the media spotlight, and huddled with members of the president-elect’s team to discuss intelligence and security issues. The conversations provide a glimpse of Prince’s relationship with an administration that’s distanced itself from him since the Washington Post reported earlier this month that Prince had met with a top aide to Russian President Vladimir Putin in the Seychelles in January.

That island encounter was the latest in a series of conversations between Trump advisers and Russians that have come to light as U.S. investigators probe allegations that Russia interfered with the presidential election…

A Prince spokesman in London said… in a prepared statement: “Erik had no role on the transition team. This is a complete fabrication. The meeting had nothing to do with President Trump.” The statement also questioned whether Prince’s activities were being monitored. “Why is the so-called under-resourced intelligence community messing around with surveillance of American citizens when they should be hunting terrorists?”

Yet over a two to three month period around the election, Prince met several times with top aides as the incoming government took shape, offering ideas on how to fight terror and restructure the country’s major intelligence agencies, according to information provided by five people familiar with the meetings. Among those he conferred with was Flynn, a member of the transition team who joined the administration and was later dismissed, some of the people said. He discussed possible government appointees with people in the private sector, one person said. Prince himself told several people that while he was not offering his advice in any official capacity, his role was significant.

The meetings occurred in Trump Tower, the administration’s transition office in Washington and elsewhere, according to people familiar with them. In one informal discussion in late November, Prince spoke openly with two members of Trump’s transition team on a train bound from New York to Washington. He boarded the same Acela as Kellyanne Conway and they sat together. Joining the conversation at one point was Kevin Harrington, a longtime associate of Trump adviser Peter Thiel who is now on the National Security Council. They discussed, in broad terms, major changes the incoming administration envisioned for the intelligence community, as recounted by a person on the train who overheard their conversation…

A longtime critic of government defense and security policies, Prince advocated a restructuring of security agencies as well as a thorough rethink of costly defense programs, even if it meant canceling existing major contracts in favor of smaller ones, said a person familiar with the matter…

Lemme see if I understand this: A guy who made billions running mercenaries for the highest bidder, scion of a family notorious for pushing ‘privatization’ of government functions to fatten private businesses, someone who’s currently camped out in Hong Kong supervising the PRC’s turf-building exercises in Africa because he’s leery about answering to American legal authorities… just happened to be providing advice because “Trump was weakest in the area where the stakes were highest — foreign affairs.”

After all, the American military is a mighty machine, and therefore one that can hardly have been privatized enough, so far.

You can’t take your eyes off these goniffs for a single minute.