Thursday, June 01, 2023

The Braggadocio of a Con Artist Moron

I don't know when or who originated the phrase "LORDY THERE ARE TAPES" but by now it's clearly referring to donald trump and his ongoing cons where he's caught on audio or film bragging about the crimes he's pulling (via Digby quoting from CNN): 

Federal prosecutors have obtained an audio recording of a summer 2021 meeting in which former President Donald Trump acknowledges he held onto a classified Pentagon document about a potential attack on Iran, multiple sources told CNN, undercutting his argument that he declassified everything.

The recording indicates Trump understood he retained classified material after leaving the White House, according to multiple sources familiar with the investigation. On the recording, Trump’s comments suggest he would like to share the information but he’s aware of limitations on his ability post-presidency to declassify records, two of the sources said...

As Digby notes:

I guess this recording is seen as proof that Trump’s daft insistence that he declassified everything in his mind is bogus because he told these people that it was classified and he couldn’t share it. Needless to say, Trump would just say that he was lying about the document still being classified in order to protect the country but it doesn’t look good.

As I was writing this blog post, it turned out that David A. Graham at The Atlantic also titled his article "LORDY THERE ARE TAPES" and this is where I found out it was James Comey who originated the phrase when Congress questioned him about trump firing him back in 2017. So that little mystery solved, while Graham spells out how troubling this is for trump:

In the ongoing classified-documents scandal, though, the tapes seem to exist. CNN and The New York Times report that Justice Department Special Counsel Jack Smith, who is investigating Trump’s removal of secret records to Mar-a-Lago, has obtained a recording in which the former president discussed his possession of a sensitive document. According to the outlets, Trump indicates that he knows it’s classified and is aware he cannot share it.

The content of the tape is important for any prosecution of Trump, which would have to prove he knew that what he was doing was wrong. But the circumstances of the recording are also revealing about how Trump operates, and the way he seems to understand bad press as a graver threat than criminal prosecution...

I would argue otherwise, but let's give Graham his points:

Given that mishandling of classified materials by former officials is apparently common, Smith appears to also be focusing on whether Trump attempted to hide the documents from the federal government once they were requested and then subpoenaed. Reports indicate that Trump had boxes moved to hide them and lied to his attorneys about the material, and an aide allegedly inquired about how long surveillance video was maintained. (Lordy, maybe there are lots of tapes.)

Aside from the egregious violation of the Stringer Bell rule—or perhaps just the Richard Nixon rule—that recording evidence of one’s own criminality represents, the tape would demonstrate yet again Trump’s reckless disregard for the law. Consider the circumstances for the recording. In July 2021, two writers working with former White House Chief of Staff Mark Meadows on his autobiography interviewed Trump at his Bedminster, New Jersey, club. Meadows was not present...

Trump was, as usual, in a score-settling mood. A recent New Yorker report had claimed that in the final days of his administration, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Mark Milley had taken steps to prevent Trump from ordering a strike on Iran. The story was opaque on its sourcing, but it narrated events from Milley’s own perspective. Trump, who likes to portray himself as a dovish, isolationist opponent of warmongering generals, was furious. At the meeting with the two writers, Trump brandished a report that he claimed was Milley’s plan for an assault on Iran, and said that the general had repeatedly urged him to mount an attack...

But Trump was reluctant to show the memoir writers the actual document, according to the reports, because he knew it was still classified and they did not have security clearances. He may not have always been so fastidious. Smith is reportedly also investigating whether Trump showed several visitors a classified map.

The recording that Smith has obtained was reportedly made not by the writers but by Margo Martin, a Trump aide who “​​routinely taped the interviews he gave for books being written about him that year,” according to the Times. The former president was apparently worried about being misrepresented or misquoted...

Because Lord knows a liar on the scale of trump himself hates to get misquoted. It is interesting to note that trump is claiming the classified documents absolve him of any warmongering towards Iran, but then refuses to let others confirm what was in those documents. trump is either lying about the contents of those docs, or was honestly exposing classified materials to people who didn't have proper clearance. Either way, he's fucked.

(As a side note, one of the reasons there were recorders in the Oval Office was because Kennedy and LBJ both wanted verbal evidence of the things the CIA and other agencies were telling them, because there had been a breakdown of trust after the Bay of Pigs. Also, for their memoirs. Nixon ironically had the system removed when he stepped into office in 1969 but re-installed it later for those reasons. I digress.)  

This is Graham's view of trump's actions:

To summarize: Trump’s fear of damaging press—whether in the Milley reports or the Meadows book—was so much greater than his fear of criminal accountability that he ended up making an incriminating recording that could be a key piece of his own prosecution.

This is where I disagree. trump wasn't and isn't afraid of bad press. In his mind, all press is good, because it gets him the attention he craves, and he bulldozes through every terrifying report of his damaging behavior without a care. Look at how he handled the Access Hollywood revelations, look at how he ignores every red flag thrown up about his terrible business record, look at how he mocks anyone who questions what he does.

donald trump did what he did because he was convinced - remains convinced, even as criminal investigations tighten around him like chains - he was and still is above the law. As a celebrity, as a business CEO billionaire (although that is questionable), as the President of the United States Loser of the Popular Vote Twice. 

This is why he screams on social media about "WITCH HUNTS" that are honest criminal investigations into the federal and state laws he's violated. This is why he excuses away every bullying phone conversation he has with other people to lie or cheat for him as "perfect in every way." This is why he whines like a five-year-old about how everyone else is "unfair" to him whenever he's held accountable.

This is why donald trump brags about breaking laws, because he believes nobody can force him to answer for the crimes he's done.

And why not think like that? After all, there's been reports since the 1980s about trump pulling unethical if not illegal stunts with his business plans and property holdings. At any time over the decades, the legal authorities - the FBI, the IRS, the state attorneys, the Manhattan DA's office, the SEC, anybody - could have dug into the allegations of money laundering and tax evasion that were out there. But none of them did. They were too busy going after Martha Stewart, who went to jail for less than anything trump's ever done.

All these years of getting away with his fraudulent schemes - the failed casinos, the sham university, the products with TRUMP stamped over them that few people really bought - gave trump the delusion he was untouchable. And given his needs - to be adored (not loved), to be feared, to be worshipped - this always leads trump to happily and openly brag about what he's done. Everybody else can be guilty, but not him: trump deems himself perfect in every way.

This is why trump's defense in the Carroll sexual assault trial failed: His own deposition had him claiming that what he did was allowed, that celebrities - that men of power like himself - had the privilege to do whatever they - meaning himself - liked.

trump couldn't let go of all those Presidential records he had because he knew they gave him power, that they were symbols of his office. This is why he keeps claiming "those documents are MINE" as though they were personal belongings instead of government documents. It's why trump held onto classified materials he knew were still classified, because he could show them off to others and brag while doing so.

One of the things to ALWAYS remember about trump, more than his sins of lying, his wrath, his lust, his greed: trump's PRIDE must always dictate that he pose himself as greater than he is. trump must always brag about things - not only lie about things that never happen, but crow about the things that did - in order to make himself look good. Always.

Just remember the full Biblical warning about Pride: Pride goeth before destruction, and an haughty spirit before a fall.

trump is all about the haughty and the pride. Here comes his fall.


Monday, May 29, 2023

Anniversary: When Doonesbury Dropped the GUILTY Bomb On The National Discourse

On May 29, 1973, in the midst of the then-ongoing investigations into the Watergate DNC headquarters break-in by Nixon's campaign (and dirty works) handlers, a singular comic strip appeared in the daily newspapers crossing the lines from objective observation to subjective opinion when artist Garry Trudeau focused on John Mitchell - one of the key players in the overall Watergate scandals - and pre-judged the man with the conclusion that he was "GUILTY! GUILTY GUILTY GUILTY!" (Yes, CAPS LOCK was even a thing before the Internet, kiddos)

the strip that defined not just a moment, but 
altered how we perceive political commentary to this day

The Doonesbury comic strip was merely three years young in 1973, having been bought up by a comic strip syndicate as part of an effort to infuse the four-panel humor sections of daily newspapers with younger, more college-oriented (in those days, Boomer generation) artists appealing to similar audiences.

The artwork itself was pretty basic, "fresh out of art school" kind of linear inking, with static bodies and "camera placement" with distance (and no shifting of angles or position) to set the scenes for characters to interact. There was also more dialogue than most strips worked with.

What creator Trudeau brought to the comics readership was a brash willingness to discuss modern-day topics - the political upheaval happening across college campuses in those days, the then-ongoing Vietnam War (which ended in 1972) and its immediate post-war consequences, the growing feminist movement, and the struggles to integrate schools and society as a whole in the wake of the 1960s Civil Rights battles - whereas most strips were mild observations of daily life and struggles of quiet desperation.

There'd been other daily comic strips that delved in politics with as much fervor and impact: Pogo by Walt Kelly, for example, was a "cute animal" strip that discussed issues - even political topics - of the day. Kelly famously attacked the Red Scare baiting of McCarthyism of the 1950s by exposing Joe McCarthy himself as a gaslighting bullying character Simple J. Malarkey (some scenes of Malarkey hunting down several Pogo characters are considered the scariest moments in comic strips history). Modern-day political satirists - Trudeau among them - openly claim Pogo as their inspiration. 

But where Pogo could hide on the "funny pages" by being animal characters playing out allegory and metaphor in a cartoon swamp, Doonesbury is a strip about humans in real-life environments, tackling issues with real-life ramifications, and making commentary directly on people - not a ink-suited representative, but directly named like Mitchell - who could hire lawyers and sue for defamation.

That "Guilty!" strip is the moment when Trudeau crossed a line in journalism ethics - as much as cartoon strips could be considered journalism. After all, the comics page was part of the whole daily newspaper package: Front page news, Local news, Sports, Lifestyles, and Classifieds. (With crossword puzzles and comics stuck in either the Lifestyles or Classifieds. Such was the glory years of print media. I digress)

As Paul Hebert notes on his Reading Doonesbury blog about this strip:

In response to the 1973 strip, a dozen newspapers dropped Doonesbury. The Washington Post – now (in 2017), ironically, Doonesbury’s online home – argued that guilt or innocence should be adjudicated by “the due process of justice [and] not a comic strip artist,” and maintained that it could not “have one standard for the news pages and another for the comics.” Kerry Soper, in Garry Trudeau: Doonesbury and the Aesthetics of Satire, frames the Post’s “discomfort” with the “GUILTY!” strip as a product of the “problematic” fact that Trudeau blurs the line between “comic strip storyteller, journalistic muckraker, and political watchdog...”

It's the ethical dilemma in journalism between being Subjective or Objective when reporting on an event (or a person). Subjective meaning "based on personal opinion" with an emotional or judgmental bias, Objective being more "based on facts and evidence" with an eye towards informing the audience. It's a struggle that is ongoing: Especially with the rise and domination of 24/7 cable news needing to fill all those hours with more Subjective punditry discussing topics at an emotional biased level, as well as social media overwhelming the discourse with Twitter (or YouTube) bites and badly written blog essays (stares at self in the mirror). 

This ethical conflict is what I studied as a Journalism student at University of Florida, even taking a class on Journalism Ethics. Hell, my term paper was on Doonesbury's place in print media, whether it belonged in the daily comics pages or if it belonged in the Op-Ed/Letters to the Editor sections where commentary and subjective essays were permitted. I got an A for that paper, I was very proud of that fact, although I ended up with a B for the class grade (I did poorly on a mid-term exam). It's why I joke semi-seriously that I got a B in Ethics but a D in Reporting, which is how I ended up as a librarian.

The solution a lot of newspapers took was to make that move, taking Doonesbury from the less-partisan comics pages and placing it in the more opinionated Editorial pages, as a compromise whenever facing some of the more boundary-breaking storylines Trudeau illustrated, such as introducing a gay character for the first time in comics, or showing a man and woman in the same bed post-coitus, or any of the political attacks Trudeau aimed at Reagan or conservatives in general. 

Trudeau was an unabashed liberal, and it often showed in his works. However, Trudeau did his homework: On the scales of Subjective vs. Objective, when he skewered a political figure or public celebrity, he did it based on the facts he could uncover through basic research. Although he'd reach into levels we'd consider slander - such as the series of strips he inked pointing out how Frank Sinatra had questionable connections to mobsters - he at least based the attacks on provable facts. It still made for interesting reads.

I grew up as a pre-teen - I was eight or nine years old - reading Doonesbury collected paperbacks in the Young Adult section of the Dunedin Public Library (back when the library occupied a refurbished Publix storefront). I was a bit ahead of my fellow classmates having gotten bored with the juvenile lit (stop killing puppies, you damn juvenile writers!) and preferred the sci-fi and humor novels for the teens where my older brother hung out. It surely disappointed my dad somewhat as part of my left-leaning ideology comes from that exposure, but I still remember Trudeau's work being more of a gentle skewering of ideologies of the 1970s and 1980s. He would attack liberals - more of a chiding out of disappointment - for some of their follies - obsessing over symbolism more than the issues needing work - as much as attacking conservatives for their disdain and self-serving actions.

One thing that Trudeau excelled at was being sympathetic, even empathetic, towards the targets of his criticism. Even at their worst, the harshest Republican characters - especially the real-life figures like both Bush Presidents - received some level of bathos that made them human to readers (even as they didn't appear on-screen except as floating hats, waffles, or air bubbles). Save for donald trump: Even in the 1980s, his excessive greed and narcissism was on full display whenever he appeared in a Doonesbury story arc.

Compare Trudeau's character building to the likes of Bruce Tinsley's Mallard Fillmore, which never rose above caricature and attacked only one side of the political spectrum (liberals) with ire and excessive outrage. That strip essentially devolved into an Author Tract instead of any kind of running commentary. Whereas Trudeau aims for a punchline at the end of every strip, Tinsley often has no punchline, just punches.

Doonesbury itself is rarely in the papers anymore, as much as there are any newspapers still surviving. It's a question of how soon Trudeau will retire for good instead of the extended vacations he's been known to take. It may depend on whenever donald trump ends up physically in jail after all the appeals on his felony convictions are exhausted a few years from now, at which point Trudeau might put up a final Sunday strip of a large banner reading "MISSION ACCOMPLISHED."

We'll see.

In the meantime, Trudeau just keeps rolling with the hits.

from October 22, 2017
History does repeat, first as tragedy and then as farce...


Sunday, May 28, 2023

The 2023 Budget Fight As An Ongoing War

Well, I just wrote a few days ago about how the current Republican Congressional push to force a debt ceiling default just to make Biden's re-election hopes go up in smoke, but somehow during this weekend Biden was able to get Speaker McCarthy to sign off on a budget deal. Some details via Claudia Grisales, Ximena Bustillo, Franco Ordoñez, and Joe Hernandez at NPR:

President Biden and House Speaker Kevin McCarthy reached an agreement in principle to avoid a potentially disastrous government default and raise the nation's debt ceiling. But as details – and criticism – of the deal began to trickle out on Sunday, both sides moved to rally support for a plan that negotiators concede will not please everyone...

The deal follows weeks of negotiations and a tense creep toward a deadline to raise the government's borrowing limit. The final package is expected to have opponents on the extremes of both parties, but the announcement Saturday indicates that Republican and Democratic leaders believe they will gain enough bipartisan support to pass the legislation. That confidence will be tested over the next few days as the measure makes its way through the House, where Republicans hold a slim majority.

The proposal holds nondefense spending for fiscal year 2024 at roughly current levels and raises it 1% in 2025, according to a source familiar with the negotiations. The agreement separately raises the debt limit for two years.

Overall, it's something that sticks to the current fiscal path that the federal government was on. There doesn't seem to be a lot of deep cuts to social aid, the restrictions Republicans are getting on food stamps may not create massive consequences (the work requirements are going to be affecting people who are already working). This deal can be considered a win for Biden since it kicks any further debt ceiling fight past the 2024 elections (providing of course Biden wins re-election and the Dems can at least retain partial control of Congress) and because it plays up to the national media's expectations of "bipartisan" deals getting done.

Thing is, the fight isn't over. Digby at her website has more on that:

It’s not over yet, because Kevin McCarthy still has to round up enough votes to get past the Hastert Rule (GOP can’t bring a bill to floor with a majority of Democratic votes) and he might still face a motion to vacate the chair when all is said and done (which is his problem, not ours) it appears that creaky old Joe got the best deal we could have expected, most importantly an agreement to extend the debt limit until after the next election...

Digby quotes from Dave Dayen at the American Prospect:

With one potentially major exception, the relative harm and help was kept to a minimum in the final agreement. It will only be a little bit easier to commit wage theft, or to sell defective or poisoned products. It’ll only be a little harder to get rental assistance or tuition support. Only a few people will be freer to pollute the environment; only a few will find it more difficult to get food. The Internal Revenue Service will only be a little worse. A lot of things will stay the same. Almost nothing will get any better...

The goal here was to allow both sides to say contradictory things to their members. Republicans can say they achieved the target of the Limit, Save, Grow Act to limit discretionary spending to FY2022; Democrats can say they only froze spending at current levels. And both are sort of right.

Digby then cites Dan Pfeiffer over at Message Box News (what the hell is that? nevermind, keep reading):

I want to hold out judgment on the work requirements until I see the details, but based on what we know, Biden limited the damage demanded by the GOP.

There’s not much to love in this deal for progressives, but Biden seems to have preserved all of the climate funding from the Inflation Reduction Act. If that’s the case, it’s a big win.

The deal is not great, but it’s a far cry from what the Republicans wanted. Notably, the Republicans played their best card, and all they got was a suboptimal budget deal...

Joe Biden played a very tough hand well. He got a better deal than many thought possible, and he forced the Republicans to adopt a series of very unpopular positions that they will have to own on the campaign trail next year. 

There is nothing inspirational about “could’ve been much worse.” No one will run to the polls or volunteer to make phone calls because Democrats “limited the damage.” But the debt limit was President Biden’s first showdown with the MAGA Republican House. All things considered, he navigated it quite well.

Again, Biden got the best of this - and will still likely get hammered by Beltway Media for some reason or another to keep their "horserace for 2024" narratives going - while McCarthy has to face his own House factions and keep them from turning on him or each other.

I mentioned it before: There is that Freedom Caucus faction that came into this budget fight wishing for a government default who are going to be livid that the debt ceiling will be addressed with this deal. These are the congresscritters who WANT to drive the nation over that cliff, and if McCarthy is putting the brakes on that act of destruction that caucus is going to lash back.

As Digby pointed out, the current House rules are that the "majority of the majority" (that Hastert Rule) requires that enough Republicans agree in principle on this deal, and there's no guarantee McCarthy has those votes. He's working with around a 5-vote majority: If enough Far Right Republicans say no, then this can't even get to a floor vote where the Democrats could agree to it as a bipartisan act.

And that's not even addressing the possibility of one of the Freedom Caucus members calling for a "Vacate the Chair" vote of No Confidence to force McCarthy out as Speaker. I dunno if that can happen before this deal can come to a vote, but if it does the whole thing becomes a clown show.

All of that would definitely become a major Biden win, because he made the bipartisan effort to avoid economic catastrophe while McCarthy and the House GOP couldn't. Enough House Republicans could arguably go with this deal to avoid that public debacle, but then again this modern Republican Party has a history of napalming everything instead of taking the sensible option. And then Biden can step in and invoke the 14th Amendment clause anyway and resolve the debt ceiling matter altogether.

This is going to be a crazy week ahead, America.

Hope you got the popcorn popping.

Saturday, May 27, 2023

The Dark Machiavellian More Hated Than Feared: Kissinger at 100

If you want to know why Henry Kissinger is the most demonized motherfucker on the planet, read the quick historical rehash by Slate's Fred Kaplan of Kissinger's body counts while handling the United States' foreign policy efforts at the height of the Cold War between the 1960s through 1970s (with a dark realization his policy ideas lived on well into the modern-day War On Terror). 

Kissinger had his moments of triumph in his years of power, from 1969–76: U.S.–Soviet détente, the opening of China, and his shuttle diplomacy in the Middle East (though it was President Jimmy Carter who, a few years later, forged an enduring peace between Israel and Egypt).

Still, the dark side of Kissinger’s tradecraft left a deeper stain on vast quarters of the globe—and on America’s own reputation.

Chile is the darkest blotch on Kissinger’s legacy. He was the chief architect of the U.S. policy to destabilize the regime of Chile’s democratically elected socialist president, Salvador Allende...

This was not a case of Kissinger merely doing Nixon’s dirty work. In fact, Nixon was considering a proposal by a senior State Department official—one of Kissinger’s aides—to reach a modus vivendi with Allende. Kissinger postponed a White House meeting with the aide and convinced Nixon to crush the new government instead...

He did the same thing three years later, after the Argentine coup, whose military leaders were even more brutal and murderous. In fact, he berated an aide who suggested issuing a démarche to the Buenos Aires government. Instead, Kissinger turned a blind eye to Operation Condor, an assassination operation against left-wingers throughout much of Latin America. In that context, he told Argentina’s foreign minister, “Look, our basic attitude is that we would like you to succeed.” And he urged him to succeed—that is, to put down dissidents and critics—as quickly as possible. State Department officials and ambassadors started issuing protests to the dictators in charge of Condor. Kissinger put the kibosh on their efforts, demanding that “no further actions be taken on the matter.”

Kissinger also gave a green light to Indonesia’s 1975 invasion of East Timor, which resulted in the killing of more than 100,000 civilians. He told Gen. Suharto, Indonesia’s leader, that his use of U.S. weapons “could create problems”—that is, legal problems for Nixon and Kissinger—but added, “It depends on how we construe it: whether it is in self-defense or is a foreign operation.” An East Timor Truth Commission later concluded that U.S. political and military support for Suharto was “fundamental to the Indonesian invasion and occupation.”

This was all of a piece with Kissinger’s actions, back in the spring of 1971, after the East Pakistan coup led by Gen. Agha Muhammad Yahya, which led to the deaths of millions of civilians. “To all hands,” Kissinger supported the coup, writing in a cable to diplomatic personnel, “don’t squeeze Yahya at this time.”

And, of course, dominating Kissinger’s entire time in power, there were the massive bombings of North Vietnam, which did nothing to turn or stop the war, and the secret bombings of Cambodia. The latter—a ferocious stream of aerial attacks that began in March 1969 and roared on for more than a year under the code names “Breakfast Plan” and “Operation Menu”—killed as many as 150,000 civilians. It also so destabilized the entire country of Cambodia that the Khmer Rouge moved into the vacuum and murdered at least 2 million more, roughly a quarter of the country’s population.

There's a reason why whenever a beloved celebrity like Tina Turner passes away, the immediate social media reaction is "Why the fuck is Kissinger still alive?"

Kissinger still lives because he converted political connections into personal power, and because the United States refuses to hand him over for war crimes or any other crimes against humanity he clearly caused across his career (and the bloody legacy he left in his wake).

Kissinger defends himself to this day by arguing the global struggle against Communism required a "realpolitik" response: That is, to be as brutal and undermining as the Stalin-backed insurgencies had been in the 1950s across Eastern Europe and then the Third World. In this, Kissinger describes himself as a Machiavellian, in that "the ends justified the means" in ensuring American economic and political influence on the world stage.

If Kissinger truly is a Machiavellian, he overlooked one of the key teachings: In Machiavelli's question "whether it is better to be Loved or Feared," Machiavelli answered his own question by pointing out "It is more important to avoid being Hated" because in that moment you lose the Respect a Prince - or any leader - needs to keep himself in power.

In Kissinger's wake were dozens of nations broken, bloodied, left to suffer under dictatorial regimes backed by American muscle. The citizenry of those nations did not, will not forget that the United States - selling ourselves as a beacon of liberty and justice - became hypocritical monsters turning a blind eye to the suffering of those who begged for liberty and justice for their own.

In this, the United States remains a target of hate across the Third World nations that we need to deal with in our ongoing efforts to maintain global political stability (which we've learned is a better way to maintain our interests through strong economies built on trade and cooperation).

Because of that legacy, Henry Kissinger remains a Prince more Hated than Feared, and clearly never Loved. I don't care what Jill St. John saw in him.

Thursday, May 25, 2023

Basic Things To Know About Yet Another Republican Default Threat

There's a Democrat in the White House and there's Republicans in charge of one-half of Congress, so those of you who survived 2011 and 2013 budget crises know what THAT means: Yet another attempt by the goddamn Republican wingnuts hoping to drown the nation in Grover Norquist's bathtub, forcing spending cuts on social aid that they themselves are too afraid to do on their own, and maybe even nuking the global economy just to blame the Democrats for their own sabotage.

So as we're facing another budget battle that could lead to a U.S. default and global economic meltdown, let Stacey Vanek Smith at NPR spell out what's at stake:

One of the outcomes that would happen if the U.S. defaulted would be a major hit to the United States' reputation internationally.

"It would be a disaster and the reputation of the government for meeting its debt obligations would be in tatters," says Darrell Duffie, professor of finance at Stanford's Graduate School of Business...

So much money that the country can right now borrow up to $31.4 trillion, a debt ceiling that will need to be raised or suspended to avoid a default.

And if the U.S. defaults, the interest rate on the country's debt would go up because the U.S. would be seen as riskier: too politically dysfunctional to get its bills paid on time...

An actual default would also deliver a massive shock to financial markets, raising the prospect of a new global financial crisis.

Investment bank UBS estimates the S&P 500 could fall by at least 20%. Bond markets would tumble, and that would send borrowing costs higher across the economy including for already-high mortgage rates.

And banks would be hit as well given that lenders are among the major investors of government debt. As a result, depositors and investors could start to worry about whether banks are on solid ground at a time when the banking sector has recently suffered through the failures of three smaller and regional lenders...

(Economics professor from University of Michigan Justin) Wolfers says if the U.S. defaults and there's no more money to spend, the government suddenly wouldn't have cash to run basic operations, things like schools and roads.

Government workers could get their pay delayed if the government runs out of cash, while businesses that have contracts with the governments might also stop getting paid for a while.

And the list of people who may not get vital government benefits is long, including most prominently veterans who rely on these payments as a lifeline as well as retirees who rely on Social Security payments.

All those missed payments would have a direct impact on the economy...

The shock to financial markets and the impact across the board would be blows of such magnitude that many experts believe would lead to a U.S. recession: unemployment could spike, lending could freeze up and the economy could shrink...

All of these things are wonderful in the eyes of the Far Right, because they can use all of that to blame Biden and the Democrats even though THEY'RE the ones insisting the federal government defaults on our national debt. They've done this shit before, and while they took some of the blame the Republicans didn't lose control of Congress at the ballot boxes in 2012 and 2014 while the Democrats were hit with "both sides at fault" blame by a short-term-memory mainstream media.

The big reason for Republicans holding the debt ceiling vote hostage is that it brought Joe Biden - who lived through these fights ten years ago and promised not to make the same mistakes - to the negotiating table over the Republicans' budget-slashing agenda.

Try to remember, kids: Between 2017 and 2018 the Republicans had FULL control of the budget process, with both wings of Congress AND donald trump in the White House eager to sign off on anything they sent him. The Republicans succeeded in passing a massive tax cut bonanza for the rich, but refused to commit any major spending cuts to balance their budgets. Even they knew full well any slashing of the social safety net like Social Security, Medicare, Food Stamps, and any other public aid would have been political suicide for their party.

Which is why, whenever the Democrats are in partial or complete control of Congress and the White House, the Republicans will do everything they can to force the Democrats to do their dirty work for them and get the Dems held accountable if any social aid does get cut.

But this time around this game of fiscal brinkmanship is a little different, and more terrifying.

There's still a faction of the House Republicans - the Freedom Caucus - that wants more than just the massive spending cuts that the rest of the Republicans would be happy with: The Freedom Caucus doesn't want the debt ceiling to go up under any circumstance. These wingnuts want the federal government to default no matter what.

It's more than just crashing the national and global economy just to make Biden look bad for 2024: These wingnuts are convinced it will bankrupt and flush out an entire federal bureaucracy they fear is too far liberal/Woke for them to ever control. The Freedom Caucus honestly wants to burn the whole government down so that they can take over and rebuild their fantasy utopia on the ashes.

In the previous budget showdowns, these Freedom Caucus members were too few to hold up any compromise deals that were eventually hammered out in 2011 and 2013. THIS TIME, the caucus has the advantage of a tiny Republican majority in the House. Speaker McCarthy has basically a slim five-vote advantage over the Democrats, and all it can take is five angry wingnuts from his own party to nuke every deal and bring on that default.

Making it worse is that McCarthy, in order to gain that speakership, granted his party a "No Confidence" veto power where a single congresscritter could call for his removal. Any attempt to get centrist Democrats to cross the aisle and help him with a budget deal would trigger that revolt.

There's a less-likely scenario where the other saner Republican factions - the ones who will deal for spending cuts but won't cross the line of driving the entire planet over the cliffs - could threaten their own "No Confidence" on McCarthy to force him to ignore the Freedom Caucus, but that would lead to open schism and the Republicans still have enough intra-party discipline not to fall apart like that. Yet.

We are looking at three scenarios at this point:

1) President Biden refuses to play the Freedom Caucus' game of default, and calls on his authority under the 14th Amendment to maintain the nation's full faith and credit: Or even more fun, mint the trillion-dollar coin. That could lead to the House Republicans pushing for impeachment - which will fail - and more likely force a legal court battle that would go to an ultra-conservative Supreme Court that may side with the wingnuts to re-interpret the Constitution to allow economic havoc.

2) Nothing gets resolved, and the debt ceiling triggers a default. The Freedom Caucus gets exactly what they want. The global economy goes into a tailspin and Gods help us if the Republicans use this to regain full control in 2024. More likely is that even the deep-pocket billionaires supporting the GOP are hit hard by the recession to where they hold back on funding, and enough voters get angry enough at the real culprits to instead re-elect Biden and throw enough Republicans out of the House to reflip it back to Democrats.

3) The Freedom Caucus refuses to budge on their stance even with major concessions from Biden on spending cuts, driving enough Republicans in unsafe congressional districts to quit the party and flip the House now to where the Freedom Caucus lose their power. Granted, this is pure wish-fulfillment on my part, but given the hard-line position of that caucus there doesn't seem to be any other sane option left to the nation.

By most reports, we're looking at the debt ceiling to kick in during the first weeks of June.

By all evidence, the Freedom Caucus - as an act of sedition - is more than happy to let our nation fail.

By all rights, saner heads should prevail and kick those self-serving destructionists out of power.

Wednesday, May 24, 2023

One Sentence Observation On Ron DeSantis' Presidential Campaign Announcement

I hope DeSantis chokes worse than Jeb Bush and Marco Rubio.

Second Sentence Update 6:40 PM EDT: Oh ye gods, the Twitter announcement effort is reportedly turning into a techie nightmare, with metaphoric karma, and lots of crash and burn, with follow-up links to be edited in later.

Third Sentence Update 9:55 PM EDT: There's several Internet snark-reports out there with Boing Boing's headline DeSantis's Twitter Campaign Launch Suffers Rapid Unscheduled Disassembly being the funniest to describe how inept the whole start-up had been, when you think about how a better-planned organization would have tested audience capacity for an online event to avoid embarrassing crashes like this one.

Another Update to provide more Schadenfreude about this disaster: There's always Alexandra Petri at the Washington Post able to provide the appropriate descriptives about how badly this campaign launch went over (behind paywall):

This was the funniest thing Elon Musk has ever done.

Imagine that you are transported to the most awkward telemeeting of your life. And then imagine it is being broadcast to a half-million or so people, a number that keeps causing the meeting app to implode, until the crowd finally dwindles and gives up, and when the meeting finally restarts in another spot, you are left with a fraction of the original attendees.

And now imagine you are Ron DeSantis and this is your presidential campaign announcement.

Calling Wednesday night’s event “the most awkward telemeeting of your life” does not do the awkwardness justice. It was one of those calls where you both keep talking at the same time and then stopping. It was a butt dial from your mother. It was the voice broadcast equivalent of a car spontaneously bursting into flames — something with which I guess co-host Musk has some experience...

First there were several long minutes of silence. Then came the microphone feedback. Then there were some murmurs about the need to get started. More silence. Then came a routine, uninspiring introduction from a man named David. Then, mid-sentence, sudden silence. This failure repeated. And then, after more disjointed muttering, there came the hold music. Hold music! Then the hold music stopped. Bringing us... more silence...

That is to say, THE IDEAL PRESIDENTIAL CAMPAIGN LAUNCH! Peak performance! Nothing about this was bad. Objectively. I cannot think of a better way to launch any kind of campaign, short of crashing through a window wearing only a bathrobe (on fire) and immediately being swallowed by an alligator. Well, maybe you could also be suing Disney for unclear reasons...

Actually Alexandra, DeSantis is fighting Disney because DeSantis is a bullying bitch, but I digress.

Not since the Titanic — but the Titanic at least had a successful launch. Ditto, the Hindenburg. They had other problems.

STILL TOO SOON, ALEXANDRA. Seriously. I'm still not over Macho Grande...

It truly felt as though DeSantis had forgotten that people outside his echo chamber exist. And maybe, in his America, they won’t! But first he treated us to an actual echo chamber, complete with a weird echo (I forgot to mention the weird echo!) and microphone feedback.

This is the quality of service DeSantis brought to Florida and threatens to bring to the rest of the United States.

It'd be hilarious if it didn't point to utter destruction, either by DeSantis' own hand or donald trump's.

Tuesday, May 23, 2023

This Stopped Being Funny in 2015: The Primary Buildup for 2024

Ugh.

I don't wanna start up the bloody horse-race comparisons of Presidential primary candidates again.

Not for the Republicans. I wasn't enticed by the 2012 lineup - the Upper Class Twit lineup - and the 2016 lineup all crashed and burned against the nightmare juggernaut of the Shitgibbon campaign.

But we've seen Ron "Anti-Florida Man" DeSantis essentially start up his campaign this year by pushing the most painful set of laws - against trans and gays, against our schools, against libraries, against immigrants, against women - on his state in order to impress the Culture War wingnuts, and there's been a number of other desperate hopefuls starting off their campaigns - like Tim Scott this week - in the mad belief that they'll be standing when donald trump gets indicted on 108 different criminal investigations (I may not be exaggerating at this point) this summer. Even Chris Christie - one of the 2016 flame-outs humiliated by trump - is thinking "Hey, now it's MY turn to humiliate HIM."

Please.

I've already pointed out that trump being indicted - hell, trump possibly being IN JAIL by next year - isn't going to stop trump being on the ballot. The Republicans - hell, the entire Presidential election process - don't have that restriction blocking any jailed felon from their ballots. And we've already witnessed the way trump violates the law of gravity in that every scandal and revelation only increases his rabid MAGA fanbase support. Any photo of trump in handcuffs becomes a rally poster, and he's going to win every GOP state primary in 2024. Republicans WILL vote for a convicted trump. It then becomes a nightmare scenario where trump and his GOP state allies can rig the broken Electoral College system to steal 2024 like he stole 2016.

This is enough to drive a sober librarian to drink. Except the drinking game gag I tried writing in 2015 quickly turned sour and unfunny the minute it became clear a monster like trump was going to win the Republican nomination. It REALLY stopped being funny in November 2016 when the broken Electoral College failed all of humanity.

I've said this before as well: There are no saviors, no moderates, no Reagan-esque figure coming to rescue the Republican Party. They have been taken over by conservative extremists hell-bent on authoritarian rule against a majority of Americans they no longer view as fellow citizens. donald trump's campaign and Presidential misrule demonstrated how cruelty and fearmongering can lead the GOP to power and control, and there's no alternative for that party to emulate.

For the Republicans ever since that fateful June 2015, it's just trumps all the way down.

There's nothing else TO say about the impending primary clown car that's about to crash over the cliffs. Again.

Gods help us.