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Monday, May 22, 2017

Somebody get him a map. And a nap.

by digby

The Israel portion of the trip looks like it's even worse than the Saudi orb.

First, he screws the pooch by saying to Netanyahu in front of reporters that he never mentioned Israel when he was sharing their secrets with the Russians. I'm not kidding:

Then this: in remarks before meeting with Israeli President Rivlin, he says "we just got back from the Middle East."


The Master Negotiator

by digby

Can you believe this?
Publicly, President Trump didn't seem overjoyed when, earlier this month, he signed a $1 trillion bill to keep the government open. Privately, his mood was much, much worse.

Behind-the-scenes: When the spending bill had been negotiated and finalized, White House chief of staff Reince Priebus phoned the former House Speaker John Boehner and told him the president doesn't like how the negotiation came out and is thinking about vetoing the bill. Boehner has told associates that Priebus asked him if he could talk Trump into signing the spending bill. Boehner said he would.

Ten minutes later, Boehner's phone rang. It was the President. Boehner made a couple different arguments to Trump about why he should sign the spending bill:

  • He told Trump he should be happy about the fact that he doesn't have to give a dollar of domestic spending in exchange for increases in military spending. And he got a substantial boost in military spending.
  • The most important argument Boehner made: the last thing you need right now is a government shutdown.

Why this matters: I'm not suggesting Boehner's conversation with Trump was determinative. It's telling, however, that the President hated the spending bill so much that his chief of staff felt the need to reach out to the former House Speaker

Trump was supposed to be the greatest negotiator in the history of the world. But apparently what he meant by that was that he wanted a showdown so he could prove his manhood. Of course.

He has said that he thinks we need a good government shutdown. It's unclear whether he understands what that means or why he believes it is a good idea. But it's telling that Priebus had to get him on the horn with John Boehner to convince him not to do it. It means there really isn't anyone in the White House who can convince the president not to be a destructive fool.  And truthfully, it's looking as if there are very, very few who either know that's what he's doing or want to stop him if they do.

Not one protest!

by digby

Trump didn't mention human rights in his big Islam speech yesterday. Not that he knew what he was saying. But the effect is that the US is publicly declaring that human rights are no longer a factor in US foreign policy. Of course. (Well, unless Trump needs an excuse to bomb someone over chocolate cake to prove to a foreign leader that he's got big hands.)

Anyway, who needs human rights? They are so messy.

Here's Commerce Secretary Wilber Ross:

“There was not a single hint of a protester anywhere during the whole time we were there,” he said. “Not one guy with a bad placard.”

At this point, the CNBC host interrupted him and pointed out that there generally aren’t protests in Saudi Arabia because it does not allow public displays of dissent.

“In theory that could be true,” Ross conceded. “But there was not a single sign that there was any effort at incursion, there wasn’t anything. The mood was a genuinely good mood, and at the end of the trip, as I was getting back on the plane, the security guards for the Saudis’ side who had been helping us over the weekend all wanted to pose for a big photo op, and then they gave me two gigantic bushels of dates as a present… That was a pretty from-the-heart genuine gesture.”

They like him they really like him.

Lock him up

by digby

"When you have your staff taking the Fifth Amendment, taking the Fifth so they are not prosecuted, when you have the man that set up the illegal server taking the Fifth, I think it is disgraceful --- Donald Trump

The budget from hell 

by digby

President Donald Trump is exhausted. At least that’s what an aide told the press as an explanation for why he used the word “Islamic” rather than “Islamist” in his big speech in Saudi Arabia and ended up offending his hosts. After the speech, Trump canceled his appearance at the Tweeps Forum and had his daughter fill in for him.

He did manage to handle a weird glowing orb and swayed along to a traditional all-male sword dance along with Secretary of Commerce Wilbur Ross, Secretary of State Rex Tillerson and White House adviser Steve Bannon on the first night of his trip but none of that looked very arduous. And the team brought home a major arms deal, with the president’s son-in-law Jared Kushner arranging a nice discount for the wealthy Saudi government, which will undoubtedly give the war in Yemen a big boost. But the administration didn’t come away empty-handed by any means. The Ivanka Foundation apparently scored a gift from gulf sources, which flies in the face of what Donald Trump once had to say about the Clinton Foundation:

For Monday’s stop in Israel, most Israeli government ministers were planning to boycott the airport ceremony until Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu had a fit and demanded that they attend. (The ministers were a little miffed that Trump gave away one of their intelligence operatives while swinging his yuge “intel” around for the Russians.) The White House had previously requested that Israel shorten the welcoming ceremony officials had planned at the airport because of the heat, which is lucky considering that Trump was falling apart just three days into his trip. It seems that our president is lacking in the strength and stamina required for the job. You might even call him “low energy.”

Still, it probably beats being back in Washington and dealing with the Russian investigation. The last two weeks have been historically bad. Even the best-run White House in the world would have had trouble carrying on with the normal business of governing under these circumstances — and I think everyone knows by now that this is not the best-run White House in the world. So it should not be surprising that for reasons that make no sense whatsoever, the Trump administration chose this moment to drop its proposed budget. And it is a bomb.

First of all, it’s bizarre to do this while the president is on his first big overseas trip. As Forbes’ Stan Collender observed, the production of the budget is normally a major political endeavor, choreographed in every detail over the course of at least a week. It usually begins with the State of the Union address, when the president would unveil his major policy proposals to the nation. Then administration officials would strategically leak specific details and issue trial balloons, after which top members of the economic team would hit the airwaves to sell the plan to the public. That’s just the beginning. Collender explained how things normally work:
The budget was then sent to Congress the next day. The president typically held a press conference to take a political victory lap for what he was proposing. Federal departments and agencies would do a briefing that same day for reporters. Cabinet members would appear the rest of the week at congressional hearings on their budgets. In one final gasp, the new president’s budget would then be the prime topic of conversation on that weekend’s talk shows.
None of this is happening. It is also true that even if members of Team Trump tried to follow that script it would be tough because of all the scandals and investigations. But they aren’t even trying. The president will be on the air all week, but he won’t be talking about this. As far as we know, the members of the economic team who aren’t traveling with the president aren’t booked for any TV this week. Even more problematic is the fact that they are dropping this budget during the same week that the Congressional Budget Office report on the Trumpcare bill is scheduled to be released — which will create another round of devastating headlines in local papers all over the country. And for obscure procedural reasons, the House may even have to go through the agony of voting on that toxic waste of a bill all over again.

Needless to say, the leaks we’ve seen suggest this budget is a nightmare that could have been written by the most conservative member of Congress advised by the Heritage Foundation. It is a full-fledged assault on children those who are poor or have disabilities and elderly people. According to Jonathan Swan at Axios, these are the bullet points:
Balanced budget: I am told Trump’s budget will balance over ten years. To get there, it will propose tough cuts on both the mandatory and discretionary sides — e.g. to the EPA and State Department — and will assume that the U.S. economy will grow at 3 percent instead of the 1.6 percent rate it grew in 2016. The 3 percent growth rate will be reached after a few years, not immediately. 
Where the entitlement cuts are made: From programs including SNAP (food stamps), CHIP (Children’s Health Insurance Program), and SSDI (Disability Insurance). The budget proposal will also assume that Trump can sign into law the American Health Care Act — the Obamacare repeal and replace bill that passed the House and is now being considered by the Senate. That bill makes substantial cuts to Medicaid. 
How the entitlement money will be saved: The source tells me there’ll be an “emphasis on work requirements for able-bodied people” to save money on these social welfare programs.
The new GOP populism looks an awful lot like the old conservative GOP’s politics after all. The only thing missing is the huge tax cuts we know are coming, but Trump will almost certainly insist on a really big show for his “reform” plan. He’ll be happy to go out and tell people how much they are winning. He’s obviously not so keen on owning up to all the losing.

The good news is that this budget is likely dead on arrival. It will bring a few days of very bad press for Republicans and could shave another point or two off the president’s already historically low poll numbers. It suffers from the same dynamic that has made Trumpcare into a giant albatross choking the life out of mainstream Republicans, but with one important difference. Since this austerity budget isn’t something they’ve all been running for office on these past few years (the way they did on repealing Obamacare), it may just die an early death. Which is very much preferable to all the humans who would do so if the bill were passed.


Normalizing W 

by tristero

For a while, the question going around my social media was, "Don't you wish George Bush was president instead?" And my response was always the same, "You mean, would I prefer dying from pancreatic instead of liver cancer?"

But normalizing W - and by extension, the hideous caricature of an American political party that is the modern GOP - appears to be inevitable. Let's not mince words here:

What Posner and Bazelon wrote below is as Orwellian a lie as anything coming from Trump's mouth:

Both George W. Bush and Barack Obama flexed their executive muscles. Mr. Bush enhanced the president’s control over national security after the Sept. 11 attacks by opening Guantánamo, trying terrorism suspects before military tribunals, and authorizing warrantless wiretapping. Mr. Obama took unilateral aggressive actions to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and reform immigration. 
They left the office stronger than when they arrived. Although their policies were controversial, both presidents were given deference because they made their judgments conscientiously and led the government professionally.

Bush is now conscientious. The president who famously refused to pay attention to a memo that was entitled "bin Laden Determined to Attack US" in the month before 9/11.

Bush is now professional. The president who praised the incompetent Michael Brown during Katrina with ""Brownie, "you're doing a heckuva job.""

Bush - the president who presided over the worst economic crash since his fellow Republican Hoover's regime.

Bush - the president who brought international shame to his office and the United States by kowtowing to right wing religious extremists during the grotesque, macabre Terry Schiavo horror.

Bush - the president who invaded a country on knowingly trumped up (yes, that's intentional language) lies, which led to Abu Ghraib, which led to ISIS, and to attacks to come against the US that will likely last for generations.

That is the President Bush who is now touted as a paragon of conscientious and professional governance.

Posner and Bazelon both know better. They should be ashamed of themselves.
Good morning

by digby

Guess what?

Enjoy your day.


Retreading Rahm

by Tom Sullivan

Democrats may be "rolling in cash" going into the 2018 midterms, but they'll need more than money to produce the Democratic wave they last saw in 2006. They'll need vision and a message. Republicans are awful isn't the message. Voters already know that.

Politico's coverage this morning suggests Democrats are rolling out a retread of Rahm Emanuel's 2006 strategy, even sending senior House Democrats to Chicago to seek Emanuel's advice:

“In 2006, there was a similar landscape, where Republican-controlled majorities in the House and Senate refused to do anything to hold George W. Bush accountable,” said Rep. Hakeem Jeffries of New York, one of the three Democrats planning the Chicago trip. “The 2006 blueprint will have to be updated and reloaded to reflect the environment of today, but there are some lessons that can be learned.”
Democrats haven't even finished learning their lessons from 2016. But it's easier to skip over them and party like it's 2006. Organizing For Action (OFA) wants to target Republican “Rubber Stamp Reps,” echoing Emanuel's 2006 effort to name a Republican “rubber stamp of the week.” Firedoglake organized in 2006 to send congressional Republicans actual rubber stamps reading Rubber Stamp Republican Congress. Cute stunt. But in 2018 will it move voters? Did it in 2006?
“The future, in a presidential election, a statewide election, or a congressional, is in the suburbs, where more moderate voters exist,” Emanuel said in last week's episode of POLITICO’s Off Message podcast. “I purposely recruited candidates who reflected the temperament, tenor and culture of their district. I didn’t try to elect somebody that fit my image. I tried to help elect somebody that fit the image and the profile of the district.”
To repeat: "Democrats rely on polling to take the temperature; Republicans use polling to change it." Democrats chasing public opinion aren't leading, they're following. Voters elect leaders, not followers. Emanuel's strategy turned candidates in the districts he selected from Democrats into Republican-lite. It boosted Democrats' numbers, but only over the short term. Where are the Blue Dogs now? That's what comes of chasing public opinion rather than molding it.

Emanuel's more conventional strategy of targeting swing districts received far too much credit for the sweep in 2006 and Howard Dean's 50-state plan too little. Dean put 3-4 professional organizers on the ground in states where Democrats were not considered competitive. What happened?

Governing looked back at Dean's strategy in 2013:
Here's how the Democrats fared in the reddest of red states between January 2005 and January 2009, the period when the 50-state project was in operation:
  • State House seats: Net gain of 39 seats, a 2 percent increase of all seats in the states analyzed
  • State Senate seats: Net loss of two seats
  • Governorships: Net loss of one
  • Attorney generalships: Net gain of one (elected seats only)
  • U.S. House seats: Net gain of three seats
  • U.S. Senate seats: Net gain of one seat
  • Presidential performance: In 15 of the 20 states, the Democratic nominee saw an increase in vote share between 2004 and 2008. In three other states, the vote share remained constant. It dropped in only two states.
Perhaps not so impressive until one considers the states in question were Alabama, Alaska, Arkansas, Georgia, Idaho, Kansas, Kentucky, Louisiana, Mississippi, Montana, Nebraska, North Dakota, Oklahoma, South Carolina, South Dakota, Tennessee, Texas, Utah, West Virginia and Wyoming. So what happened after Barack Obama pulled the plug on 50-state?
Now let's compare this record to the one between January 2009 and January 2013.
  • State House seats: Net loss of 249 seats, a decrease of 13 percent of the existing seats in those states
  • State Senate seats: Net loss of 84 seats, a decrease of 12 percent
  • Governorships: A decrease by half, from eight governors to four
  • Attorney generalships: A drop by two-thirds in elected AGs, from nine to three
  • U.S. House seats: A 40 percent drop, from 44 seats to 26
  • U.S. Senate seats: A drop from 11 seats to 8. (It could drop further by 2014: Of those eight remaining seats, three senators are retiring and another three face tough reelection contests.)
  • Presidential performance: Only two of the 20 states (Alaska and Mississippi) saw higher support for Obama in 2012 than in 2008. In most of the 20 solidly red states, Obama's 2012 vote fell back roughly to John Kerry's level from 2004.
Altogether, these post-2009 declines are, to put it bluntly, pretty catastrophic. In these 20 solidly red states, the Democrats controlled 13 legislative chambers in 2005, a number that fell to just three in 2013. Of the 40 chambers in these states, only two experienced a net gain of Democratic seats between 2005 and 2013; in the other 38, the Democrats lost ground.
Of course, that analysis fails to account for the backlash to Obama after 2008 and other factors. The South has some stiffer challenges, but those libertarian-leaning red states in the Great Plains and the West, and Montana currently, each get representatives and senators too. The map is the math. Rebuilding decayed party infrastructure builds the Democrats' bench. Shaving the margins out there is a win if it helps tip the balance in Congress and if Democrats take back legislatures from which future governors and congress members arise.

For years, however, Democrats have rarely had time for it. Dean got that. It is disheartening to think the DCCC is going back to Rahm's playbook. There's never enough time to rebuild, but always enough time to throw on another patch. The question that Dean's tenure as DNC chair posed was, do you expand the party by winning elections, or do you win elections by expanding the party? Detroit's resurrection didn't come from selling more of the same old cars. It came from selling better-designed cars made in newer factories. That takes investment. As Governing observed, Dean's experiment demonstrated how "modest investments in party infrastructure can pay tangible dividends -- and how those dividends can disappear once the investments dry up."

This is the most important election of our lives, as I heard once again at a dinner over the weekend. They say it every year. That's why all the party's energy and all its fundraising goes towards next November and never towards the two or three after that. It's a fundamentally defensive strategy.

If you don't show up to play, you forfeit. It's one thing Democrats do well.

Sunday, May 21, 2017

Sunday Night Soother

by digby

To center yourself for this coming week:

How the ducklings got onto a 6th floor balcony of a Library of Congress building is a mystery.

But the dozen baby ducks and their mother were rescued Tuesday afternoon with the help of the U.S. Capitol Police. Librarian of Congress Carla Hayden posted a picture of the ducklings on Twitter.

On Tuesday, around 4 p.m., a Library of Congress staffer noticed the ducklings and their mother go past a window of the 6th floor balcony of the James Madison Memorial Building, which is one of the library’s facilities, said Gail Osterberg, the library’s director of communications.

There is no water around, so it seemed a bit “out of the ordinary,” said Osterberg.

The staffer went to the librarian’s office and got the chief of staff who has access to the balcony. The two went out on the balcony and saw the ducklings and their mother. The birds were trying to get over the walls of the balcony but couldn’t, Osterberg said.

“Clearly it was not a safe environment for them,” Osterberg said.

U.S. Capitol Police was called. Officers and others were able to safely coax the ducks into two boxes, Osterberg said.

She said they did not find a nest in the balcony area, but staffers believe the mother duck flew up there and gave birth in some nearby shrubbery.

“She flew up there and had her babies in some bushes, overlooking the Capitol,” Osterberg said. “It is a very nice, peaceful spot. Away from the hustle, bustle.

“And then she was trying to figure out what to do from there.”

In yet another duck story, a Republican asshole bitched about some little ramps that were built for baby ducks at the Washington Mall

The heartless creep didn't know the story, of course. Not that he would care if he did:

The office of the Architect of the U.S. Capitol released a statement this week saying four “broods” ― or families ― of ducks live in the pool, including their newly hatched ducklings. The two ramps were installed as part of a collaboration with City Wildlife, a local nonprofit. The group’s president, Anne Lewis, told The New York Times that the ducklings could die without the ramps. 
“Ducklings get into the water ― often helped there by visitors ― and then can’t get out because of the high curb at the water’s edge,” Lewis told the newspaper. “They will drown from exhaustion or die of starvation unless they have a way to get out of the water.” 
It seems to have worked. The ducklings, who have become social media sensations, are already using the ramps:

He's compulsive

by digby

So this won't work:
Mr. Trump’s aides have also been pressing for more restraint by the president on Twitter , and some weeks ago they organized what one official called an “intervention.” Aides have been concerned about the president’s use of Twitter to push inflammatory claims, notably his unsubstantiated allegation from March that his Democratic predecessor, Barack Obama, had wiretapped his offices.

In that meeting, aides warned Mr. Trump that certain kinds of comments made on Twitter would “paint him into a corner,” both in terms of political messaging and legally, one official said.

It didn't take. All these were done after that meeting:

He hasn't been tweeting on his trip. I'd guess because he isn't alone. That's when he gets all excited.


An Inconvenient Truth

by digby

For Trump and his fans:

Putting solar panels on rooftops and arrays is a labor-intensive process. You need people to design and manufacture the panels. Then people to market the panels to homes, businesses, and utilities. Then people to come and install them.

It all adds up to a lot of jobs. Even though solar power still provides just a fraction of America’s electricity — about 1.3 percent — the industry now employs more than 260,000 people, according to a new survey from the nonprofit Solar Foundation. And it’s growing fast: Last year, the solar industry accounted for one of every 50 new jobs nationwide.

The chart below breaks it down by job type. The majority of solar jobs are in installation, with a median wage of $25.96 per hour. The residential market, which is the most labor-intensive, accounts for 41 percent of employment, the commercial market 28 percent, and the utility-scale market the rest:

To put this all in perspective: “Solar employs slightly more workers than natural gas, over twice as many as coal, over three times that of wind energy, and almost five times the number employed in nuclear energy,” the report notes. “Only oil/petroleum has more employment (by 38%) than solar.”

Obviously, this sort of thing doesn't help coal miners in places where coal mining once provided a lot of jobs. But that is the story of civilization. I don't think any liberal or environmentalist believes that the government shouldn't help people who are displaced by such evolutions in technology. The only people who don't care about that are the conservatives these folks inexplicably vote for.

But the fact is that there are a bunch of new jobs being created by modern solar technology. And they're jobs that could be done by at least some of the same people who mined in the past. Or a new generation.

It's just another illustration of how disillusioning Trump's empty nostalgia is going to be. Those coal jobs will not come back. And on some level they knew it. But instead of inspiring them to the future the way the best American political leaders have always done, he drew them into a fever dream about a past that cannot be recreated. Since he himself still dwells in the world of his youth in his own mind it was very convincing to these folks.


The Trump Effect Goes International

by digby

His unpopularity knows no bounds. And his chaos is catching:

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has required all cabinet ministers to attend the reception ceremony for U.S. President Donald Trump at Ben-Gurion International Airport on Monday. A senior Israeli official said that Netanyahu issued his instructions after finding out that most ministers were not planning on attending the event.

During a Sunday meeting of coalition heads, Netanyahu was notified that there would be a sparse attendance of ministers at the reception and that most party heads wouldn't participate in it. Netanyahu was furious and blew up the meeting, a senior official who attended the meeting said. Immediately afterwards, the Prime Minister's Bureau issued an instruction to all government ministers according to which they must participate in the airport reception.

Over the last two weeks the plans for Trump's reception at Ben-Gurion Airport have seen many changes. The first plans called for a long ceremony, which included speeches and handshakes with all cabinet ministers and other senior state officials who would welcome Trump on the tarmac. But the plans were cut per the White House's request, which noted that they wanted the reception to be as short as possible due to the warm weather and to include only the two countries' anthems, handshakes between Trump and Netanyahu, Israeli President Reuven Rivlin and Knesset Speaker Yuli Edelstein, as well as a guard of honor.

He gets antsy. And hot. And tired.

In light of those changes, the ministers were at first disinvited from the reception. However, on Saturday evening the plans changed again, and the ministers were informed that they are in fact invited, but that they must arrive two and a half hours in advance and that they will have to undergo a security check. In addition, they will only view the ceremony from the sidelines and will not shake hands with Trump. The Foreign Ministry told the ministers that attendance was not mandatory.

As a result, most ministers said they will not attend.

It appears that Trump is quite a disappointment to the Israeli right. Imagine that:

The Israeli Right's Love Affair With Trump Goes From Ecstasy to Agony

On the eve of his historic visit, the Russian intelligence scandal proves the president’s problematic personality will burn Israel too

Israel is doing its best to contain the fallout from Donald Trump’s reported faux pas of revealing its innermost intelligence secrets to the Russians. If it had been Barack Obama, right-wing Israeli politicians would be foaming at the mouth, but given that it’s Trump, they’re doing their best to stay silent. Relations are great and will continue to be great, Defense Minister Avigdor Lieberman pledged.

Israel has no interest in venting its anger in public. Relations with the U.S. in general and intelligence collaboration in particular are too precious. The intelligence agencies will decide how to proceed from here and how to ensure that their information – and agents, if press reports are credible – is protected from the Donald Trump's leaky mouth, but they will try to do so far away from the headlines. The president’s visit to Israel will start on Monday and the last thing Benjamin Netanyahu wants or needs now is a public spat that will put more strain on an already tense occasion.

Trump’s visit, in fact, went sour before it started. Spats over his speech at Masada, since cancelled, as well as quarrels over the Western Wall, back and forths about moving the U.S. Embassy to Jerusalem and, of course, the eruption of the intelligence scandal have already marred what was once slated to be a triumphant tour de force for both sides. Now, Israel will be happy if Trump comes and goes without creating another major headache.

It wasn’t supposed to be this way, of course. Although Trump was never anyone’s original cup of tea – you will recall, because he certainly hasn’t forgotten, Trump’s cancellation of a campaign trip to Israel after Netanyahu criticized his proposed Muslim ban - but things changed once he began to lead the GOP race and became its presumptive candidate. Netanyahu even gave Trump a boost by meeting him in New York two months before the elections despite the displeasure voiced by Hillary Clinton. Then Sheldon Adelson started to warm to Trump and Ambassador Ron Dermer became the unofficial go-between even before the votes were counted. Most Israelis still expected Clinton to win, but Netanyahu had hedged his bets well.

Trump’s election, against all odds, fired up the imagination of the Israeli right. This was the redemption they had been waiting for, after eight lean years with Obama. Israeli right-wingers chose to overlook Trump’s questionable statements at the start of the campaign, including his ambition to achieve the “ultimate deal,” his hints that Israel was responsible for the absence of peace, his refusal to endorse an undivided Jerusalem and his curious slip of the tongue that Israel would have to reimburse the U.S. for the foreign aid it had received. They preferred to accentuate the positive policies Trump adopted later in the campaign when he wanted to try and steal Jewish votes from Clinton. Trump would move the embassy, renounce the two-state solution and confront Iran over the nuclear deal, they thought. Israel, they rejoiced, has finally hit the jackpot.

Throughout this time, the Israeli right ignored the fact that so many of its staunchest American supporters, especially neoconservatives, were Never-Trumpers. They turned a blind eye to Trump’s no-holds-barred belligerence during the election campaign as well as myriad allegations and reports of his arrogance, ignorance, inability to concentrate and overall erratic personality. These must all be exaggerations and fabrications, they said, of the leftist media, in Israel and the U.S. alike. We’ve suffered from them ourselves, they told themselves. In any case, many of Trump’s alleged faults seemed less objectionable from Israel, a country not renowned for good manners or dainty etiquette. Trump, as far the right was concerned, not only talked the talk but he also walked the walk. The fact that he threw political correctness out the window and did not hesitate to insult Muslims and brand them as inherently suspect endeared him even more to his right wing Israeli fans.

But the heartbreak began almost immediately. Meetings with Jordan's King Abdullah and Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed dissuaded Trump from acting quickly to keep his campaign promises on Jerusalem. His press conference with Netanyahu in February made it clear that while he wasn’t as bothered as Obama had been by Jewish settlements, Israel would not have the free hand right-wingers had fantasized about. Then Jason Greenblatt came to the region sounding like Dennis Ross and Ambassador David Friedman testified in Congress as if he was Martin Indyk. Trump, the headlines said, is preparing an ambitious peace plan that will include the regional elements that Israel had always sought but would nonetheless pivot around the Palestinians, as the Israeli right had always feared.

Still, Netanyahu and his ministers were willing to look on the positive side. Unlike Obama, Trump did not reprimand Israel for each house it built in the West Bank nor did he care about the Israeli coalition’s ongoing crackdown on dissent. Trump had bombed Syria, was talking tough on Iran and could very well take on North Korea. Given that most Israelis are convinced that any peace process will eventually run aground because of Palestinian rejectionism, there wasn’t all that much to worry about. Trump will come to Israel, say nice things, participate in countless photo ops and generally have a good time, if things went according to plan.

Preparations for the visit, however, revealed the first cracks in this rosy picture. Trump’s advance team seemed just as amateurish and erratic as their boss. More importantly, it soon became clear that Trump was more interested in using his Israel visit as backdrop for his own aggrandizement rather than an opportunity to upgrade relations. Trump’s team insisted that his two main events, at Masada and the Western Wall, be solo performances. Netanyahu was not welcome, they said. Adding insult to injury, the White House couldn’t even bring itself to recognize the Western Wall’s affinity to Israel, as if they were the same lefty pinko Palestinian sympathizers that Israel had thought were gone forever.

The intelligence scandal, the chumminess with the Russians and the realization that Trump may have compromised an Israeli asset and indirectly conveyed Israel’s closely-guarded secrets to Iran and Hezbollah, finally brought everything together. Suddenly the president’s creepy connections to the Kremlin, his lack of discipline and refusal to learn, his capriciousness, impulsiveness and yearning for approval, his shiftiness and his dishonesty and his lack of loyalty to supporters and allies all came home to roost. Israel was burned by the traits that it had preferred to disregard, as if they were detached from the staunchly pro-Israeli Trump of their dreams. The liberal media’s portrayal of Trump, it now seems, were not as inaccurate as they had hoped.

Netanyahu and his colleagues will still try to fete Trump as if nothing has changed. They will praise his leadership, laud his resoluteness, express confidence in his policies and give thanks for his steadfast support. Trump might even be more gracious, given his need to atone for his Russian sin. The declarations, however, will ring hollow. They will be overshadowed not only by the skepticism and apprehension that have now been injected into the Israeli right’s attitude but by the gathering clouds of investigations and impeachment that will henceforth hang over the president’s head. No one will mention their shattered dreams or broken hearts, of course, but some right-wingers are already thinking ahead. Many of them will soon start to pine for Mike Pence. Now there’s a president, they will tell themselves, who is the answer to our prayers.

What you see is what you get with Trump. That freak show is real. An the rest of the world is finding that out, even the right.

But hey, this is the right's creation and that goes for Netanyahu and his crew too. They helped create this phenomenon.

What is this creeping fascism you speak of?

by digby

It doesn't happen all at once. It evolves:
With multiple felony charges brought against more than 200 people on Inauguration Day, police and prosecutors in the District of Columbia are putting activists on notice that legal protections ingrained in the Constitution may not apply to them, according to legal experts.

This new era of law enforcement is affecting policing tactics beyond Washington. The harsh treatment of protesters in the District since Donald Trump assumed the presidency — with a large number of people who did not engage in violence facing decades in prison for simply taking part in a protest — lets law enforcement officials across the nation know that a tough-on-dissent policy is acceptable, the experts said.

Shortly after Trump took the oath of office on January 20, the official White House website published statements outlining the new president’s six top priorities, including one titled “Standing Up For Our Law Enforcement Community.” The White House page explaining this priority said Trump’s administration “will be a law-and-order administration,” committed to ending the “dangerous anti-police atmosphere in America.”

Trump’s attorney general, Jeff Sessions, issued a memorandum last week in which he directed federal prosecutors across the country to charge suspects with the most serious offense they can prove. The memo was seen as a reversal of President Barack Obama’s policy shift toward fewer mandatory minimum sentencing guidelines and a rethinking of how people charged with non-violent drug crimes are prosecuted and sentenced.

The memo also aligns with how the Justice Department is ratcheting up its prosecution of protesters and could serve as a guide for how state and local jurisdictions treat expressions of dissent, according to Flores-Williams. “Under the Sessions DOJ, states are going to have carte blanche to pass whatever local ordinances they want to eliminate, outlaw, and make protests extremely difficult,” he told ThinkProgress.

These changes are incremental. They don't always happen in dramatic ways.  And while Trump takes his clown show on the road, Jeff Sessions is quietly empowering the police state.

QOTD: Trump

by digby

"The fertile region - and it is SO fertile..."

That's from his speech which the press seems to have found to be quite impressive:

He gave a speech that sounded like someone from a different administration wrote it. He does that. He's often very nice to people's faces and then rips into them before a different audience. I'd guess everyone knows this by now.

He's making a lot of arms deals overseas and evidently they're working hard to get these customers a break in the price. He says this will create jobs, jobs, jobs.

So there's that.


Post-post-racial America

by Tom Sullivan

It's hard not being near the top of the political food chain. It's tough being white, proud, and so easily threatened by this:

Photograph by Martin Schoeller from National Geographic, October 2013.

As has been increasingly obvious, “Racial attitudes made a bigger difference in electing Trump than authoritarianism.” Part of that is the sense that growing ethnic and racial diversity is a threat to white supremacy and status. Not necessarily in the Klan sense, but in the societal privilege sense. “When you’re accustomed to privilege, equality feels like oppression”:

All this anger we see from people screaming “All Lives Matter” in response to black protesters at rallies. All this anger we see from people insisting that their “religious freedom” is being infringed because a gay couple wants to get married. All these people angry about immigrants, angry about Muslims, angry about “Happy Holidays,” angry about not being able to say bigoted things without being called a bigot...
A poll last week indicates nationwide attitudes are definitely shifting, just ever so slowly. Like when they threw the wheel on the Titanic hard over and she kept heading straight for the iceberg for what seemed like minutes before beginning to turn.

Pew Research reported last week:
In 2015, 17% of all U.S. newlyweds had a spouse of a different race or ethnicity, marking more than a fivefold increase since 1967, when 3% of newlyweds were intermarried, according to a new Pew Research Center analysis of U.S. Census Bureau data.2 In that year, the U.S. Supreme Court in the Loving v. Virginia case ruled that marriage across racial lines was legal throughout the country. Until this ruling, interracial marriages were forbidden in many states.

More broadly, one-in-ten married people in 2015 – not just those who recently married – had a spouse of a different race or ethnicity. This translates into 11 million people who were intermarried. The growth in intermarriage has coincided with shifting societal norms as Americans have become more accepting of marriages involving spouses of different races and ethnicities, even within their own families.

The most dramatic increases in intermarriage have occurred among black newlyweds. Since 1980, the share who married someone of a different race or ethnicity has more than tripled from 5% to 18%. White newlyweds, too, have experienced a rapid increase in intermarriage, with rates rising from 4% to 11%. However, despite this increase, they remain the least likely of all major racial or ethnic groups to marry someone of a different race or ethnicity.
Furthermore (pg. 7):
The decline in opposition to intermarriage in the longer term has been even more dramatic, a new Pew Research Center analysis of data from the General Social Survey has found. In 1990, 63% of nonblack adults surveyed said they would be very or somewhat opposed to a close relative marrying a black person; today the figure stands at 14%. Opposition to a close relative entering into an intermarriage with a spouse who is Hispanic or Asian has also declined markedly since 2000, when data regarding those groups first became available. The share of nonwhites saying they would oppose having a family member marry a white person has edged downward as well.
Stormfront commenters were less sanguine about what that meant. One wrote,"... it just seems America is officially over. This WILL be a complete third world nation within thirty years. Absolutely finished." Strange, because when Obama became president and the T-party rose up, Ann Coulter declared "we don't have racism in America any more" like it was a good thing. Despite Pat Buchanan lamenting “The End of White America,” in Shelby v. Holder, Chief Justice John Roberts declared. “Our country has changed."

Ask black voters in North Carolina how much.

After calling for President Trump's impeachment, U.S. Rep. Al Green of Texas received racially tinged threats. He played a few voice mails for a town hall meeting Saturday:
The seven-term Democrat told the crowd of about 100 people that he won't be deterred.

"We are not going to be intimidated," Green said Saturday. "We are not going to allow this to cause us to deviate from what we believe to be the right thing to do and that is to proceed with the impeachment of President Trump."

One male caller used a racial insult and threatened Green with "hanging from a tree" if he pursues impeachment. Another man left a message saying Green would be the one impeached after "a short trial" and then he would be hanged, according to the recording.

Green took to the House floor on Wednesday to say he believes Trump committed obstruction of justice and no one's above the law.

The good news is their numbers are shrinking, but as Jesus said, bigots you have with you always. Or something.

Saturday, May 20, 2017

Saturday Night at the Movies

SIFF-ting through cinema, Pt. 1

By Dennis Hartley

The Seattle International Film Festival kicked off May 18, so over the next several posts I’ll be sharing highlights. SIFF is showing 400 films over 25 days. Navigating such an event is no easy task, even for a dedicated buff. Yet, I trudge on (cue the world’s tiniest violin). Hopefully, some of these films will be coming soon to a theater near you…

Bad Black –Some films defy description. This is one of them. Yet…a guilty pleasure. Written, directed, filmed, and edited by Ugandan action movie auteur Nabwana I.G.G.at his self-proclaimed “Wakaliwood studios” (essentially his house in the slums of Wakaliga), it’s best described as Kill Bill meets Slumdog Millionaire, with a kick-ass heroine bent on revenge. Despite a low budget and a high body count, it’s winningly ebullient and self-referential, with a surprising amount of social realism regarding slum life packed into its 68 minutes. The Citizen Kane of African commando vengeance flicks.

Rating: ***½ (Plays May 20, 22 & 25)

Becoming Who I Was – Until credits rolled for this South Korean entry by co-directors Chang-Yong Moon and Jeon Jin, I was unsure whether I’d seen a beautifully cinematic documentary, or a narrative film with amazingly naturalistic performances. Either way, I experienced the most compassionate, humanist study this side of Ozu. Turns out, it’s all quite real, and an obvious labor of love by the film makers, who went to Northern India and Tibet to document young “Rinpoche” Angdu Padma and his mentor/caregiver for 8 years as they struggle hand to mouth and strive to fulfill the boy’s destiny (he is believed to have been a revered Buddhist teacher in a past life). A moving journey (in both the literal and spiritual sense) that has a lot to say about the meaning of love and selflessness.

Rating: **** (US Premiere; Plays May 21 and May 23)

Bill Frisell: A Portrait – He doesn’t “shred” or do windmills on stage. In fact, he looks more like a college professor who drives a 1972 Volvo than a peer-revered guitar slinger that most people have never heard of. I will confess that even I (an alleged music geek) couldn’t name one Bill Frisell song. Yet, this unassuming Seattle-based virtuoso has 35 solo albums and scores of sessions with more well-known artists to his credit. He’s also tough to nail down; All Music Guide files him under a dozen genres, including Modern Creative, Post-Bop, New Acoustic, World Fusion, and Progressive Folk. Emma Franz’s film, while perhaps just a smidge overlong for anyone but a super-fan, nicely conveys the joy of creating, and as its title infers-delivers an amiable portrait of a an inventive player.

Rating: *** (Plays May 24, May 25 & June 1)

Entanglement – Any film that opens with a suicide attempt makes me wary; because let’s face it, they can’t all be Harold and Maude (but oh, they try…how they do try!). This Canadian mumblecore dramedy (directed by Jason James) stars Thomas Middleditch as a (wait for it) depressed divorcee who finds out his parents adopted but then quickly gave up a baby girl after a surprise pregnancy. And so this “only child” sets off on a quest to find and connect with the almost-sister that he never had. Very droll. It’s engaging enough to hold your interest, but marred by a certain amount of predictability.

Rating: **½ (World Premiere; Plays May 20 and May 24)

The Fabulous Allan Carr – If you learn one thing about the business we call “show” from Jeffrey Schwarz’s profile of late movie producer Allan Carr, it’s this: For every Grease, there’s a Grease 2. Yes, the same man produced both films. But there was a lot more to this flamboyant showman, who first demonstrated his inherent genius for turning lemons into lemonade when he secured domestic distribution for a no-budget Mexican exploitation flick about the Uruguayan rugby team plane crash survivors who kept alive by gnawing on their less fortunate teammates (you remember Survive!). He produced some huge hits…and probably more misses. But his hits were big enough to sustain a hedonistic lifestyle, which included legendarily over-the-top parties. An entertaining paean to a special type of excess that flourished from the mid-1970s thru the early 1980s.

Rating: *** (World Premiere; Plays May 20)

The Farthest – Some of my fondest childhood memories are of being plunked in front of the TV, transfixed by the reassuring visage of Walter Cronkite, with the familiar backdrop of the Cape Canaveral launch pad. Remember when NASA spaceflights were an exciting, all-day news event? We seem to have lost that collective feeling of wonder and curiosity about mankind’s plunge into the cosmos (people are too busy looking down at their goddam phones to stargaze anymore). Emer Reynolds’ beautifully made documentary about the twin Voyager space probes rekindles that excitement for any of us who dare to look up. And if the footage of Carl Sagan’s eloquent musings regarding the “pale blue dot” that we call home fails to bring you to tears, then surely you have no soul.

Rating: **** (Plays May 20 and May 24)

The Force – Peter Nicks’ documentary examines the rocky relationship between Oakland’s police department and its communities of color. The force has been under federal oversight since 2002, due to myriad misconduct cases. Nicks utilizes the same cinema verite techniques that made his film The Waiting Room so compelling (my review). It’s like a real-life Joseph Wambaugh novel (The Choirboys comes to mind). The film offers no easy answers-but delivers an intimate, insightful glimpse at both sides.

Rating: *** (Plays May 20 and May 24)

Pyromaniac – It’s not your imagination…”Nordic noir” is a thing (e.g. Scandinavian TV series like The Bridge, Wallander, and the Millennium trilogy). One of the progenitors was Erik Skjoldbjærg’s critically acclaimed 1997 thriller Insomnia (not to be confused with Christopher Nolan’s 2002 remake). The Norwegian director returns with this somewhat glacially-paced but nonetheless involving drama about the son of a fire chief who goes on a fire setting spree. The troubled protagonist’s psychosexual issues reminded me of the lead character in Equus. Beautifully photographed by Gosta Reiland.

Rating: *** (Plays May 20, 22, & 31)

Rocketmen – Well, if you (like me) have completely missed out on the web series concerning “…the deranged comedic adventures of Seattle’s little-known protectors, The Department of Municipal Rocketry”, have I got news for you. It’s now been distilled into a handy feature film. The result? A feature film that looks like a web series. On film. As someone who loves cheesy 50s sci-fi and the old Republic serials, I “get” what writer-director-animator Webster Crowell was going for here; his cast is obviously having fun, and his self-animated special effects are cleverly interwoven, but-it never quite takes off.

Rating: ** (World Premiere; Plays May 25, May 28, & June 5)

White Sun – Director Deepak Rauniyar uses the family row that ensues when a Maoist rebel returns to his isolated mountain village for his Royalist father’s funeral as an allegory for the political woes that have divided and ravaged his home country of Nepal. Naturalistic performances and rugged location shooting greatly enhance a story that beautifully illustrates how a country’s people, like members of an estranged family, must strive to rediscover common ground before meaningful healing can begin.

Rating: *** (Plays May 22 & May 30)

Previous posts with related themes:

2017 SIFF Preview
More reviews at Den of Cinema
On Facebook
On Twitter


I guess he brought the entire family and cabinet on this trip

by digby

blockquote class="twitter-tweet" data-partner="tweetdeck">
please enjoy this footage of the secretaries of commerce and state dancing awkwardly while holding swords pic.twitter.com/KrkoGRS8fW
— David Mack (@davidmackau) May 20, 2017

Insert your dark joke here.

And remember this?

Saudi women are forced to cover up when they leave their homes but visiting Western female dignitaries tend not to cover their heads when visiting. Neither Theresa May nor Angela Merkel wore headscarves during their visits earlier this year.

Weird. A journalist talks to some people who didn't vote for Trump.

by digby

Naturally, it's a Canadian journalist, Daniel Dale, who writes for the Toronto Star:
A struggling post-industrial town. A Christian factory worker praying “constantly” for Donald Trump. Ernarda Davis, 65, is the kind of person Trump vowed to help, living in the kind of place Trump vowed to heal, and she wants badly for her president to succeed.

You’ve heard this kind of story before. Except people who look like Davis don’t usually qualify for 2017 articles about how voters are feeling about Trump.

She is black.

And when she was asked in Petersburg, Va., last weekend how Trump is doing so far, she curved her fingers into a rigid circle.


“He needs to get hate out of his heart and open his eyes. And that might help,” she said. “Get hate out of his heart, open his eyes, and see what’s going on.”

The U.S. media narrative of the past year has been dominated by accounts of white Trump voters standing by their man no matter what they hear on the news. Their unyielding loyalty is important. But also noteworthy is Trump’s inability to earn even the fleeting honeymoon support of just about anyone who didn’t vote for him.

No group is so fiercely opposed to Trump as African Americans, a group he had promised to make a top priority.

I know it's shocking to hear from average Americans who didn't vote for Trump. If you watch the mainstream news you hear plenty of elite disdain but you never hear from the people. All you see on television are older white people who tell the reporters that while they wish he wouldn't tweet so much there is nothing that he has done or could ever do to change their minds about him. They have always been a minority of the public and that minority is getting smaller all the time. It's nice to hear from some of that huge majority for a change.

Nobody ever said you shouldn't curtsy

by digby

Via Axios:

Although Trump shook the Saudi King's hand when they first met, he slightly bowed after receiving the medal, as seen in the video above. Yet Conservatives have been relatively quiet on the matter, or if they are addressing it, they're spinning the news to be pro-Trump.

Fox News headline: "Trump shakes hands with Saudi leader, doesn't bow as Obama appeared to do"

In 2009 when Obama greeted the Saudi King with a bow (which the WH later denied), conservatives and GOP members were not happy about it.

2009 conservative coverage:

The NRSC: The campaign arm for Republican senators, even ran a web ad using an image of Obama and the king to solicit donations. "Should America Bow To A King?" the ad asked, with a "Yes" and "No" option, the latter highlighted in red. The fundraising campaign came with a statement from NRSC Executive Director Rob Jesmer:

"President Obama paid fealty to Saudi King Abdullah by bowing to him at the G-20 Summit in London. ...it's becoming increasingly apparent that our new President would rather be accepted and befriended by his new friends abroad, than preserve America's reputation and leadership as the world's pre-eminent superpower.

Washington Times editorial: "In a shocking display of fealty to a foreign potentate, President Obama bowed to Saudi King Abdullah ...The bow was an extraordinary protocol violation."

Shot: "Press outlets have been conspicuously silent on Mr. Obama's bow."

Chaser: "Mr. Obama is proving that one can be elected president without knowing how to behave presidentially."
American Thinker blog: "I am quite certain this is most unbecoming of the President."

Fox News: "American presidents do not bow to anyone. They do not bow to heads of state, monarchs, potentates, popes or any other mere mortal. When President Obama bowed to the King of Saudi Arabia earlier this year the White House rushed to spin it away. They claimed that it was not a 'bow' at all. The White House stated that the president was 'stooping' to look the feeble king in the eye while shaking hands."

The kicker: "Well, you can fool some of the people some of the time. The pictures and the video said it all. Obama bowed to the Saudi king."



Mixed feelings

by digby

Only 6% of people have them about Trump. Everyone else knows exactly how they feel about him. And most of them don't approve:

Public approval of President Donald Trump has dropped to its lowest level since his inauguration, according to a Reuters/Ipsos poll released on Friday, after Trump was accused of mishandling classified information and meddling with an FBI investigation.

The May 14-18 opinion poll found that 38 percent of adults approved of Trump while 56 percent disapproved. The remaining 6 percent had "mixed feelings."

 Here's how it looks:

This part is important because it impacts the way these GOP miscreants calculate their positions on big legislation and then 2018:
Among Republicans, 23 percent expressed disapproval of Trump in the latest poll, up from 16 percent in the same poll last week. The decline in support from Republicans appears to be a primary reason why Trump's overall approval rating is now at the lowest level since he took office.

I'm all for any legal method of removing Trump from office, whether resignation, 25th Amendment or impeachment. But it's very important that Democrats win elections and the American people repudiate this Republican party's descent into madness. It takes a while for that to happen. (And it doesn't last...)

Last time it took the monumental debacles of Katrina, Iraq and a worldwide economic meltdown to pry a small number of people away from their GOP identity to vote for Barack Obama. Let's hope they wise up a little bit sooner this time.

GOP leadership knew about Dana

by digby

Dana Rohrabacher didn't keep his admiration for Vladimir Putin a secret. But apparently, the Russians thought he was quite the useful idiot. And the GOP leadership has known about it since 2012:

The F.B.I. warned a Republican congressman in 2012 that Russian spies were trying to recruit him, officials said, an example of how aggressively Russian agents have tried to influence Washington politics.

The congressman, Dana Rohrabacher of California, has been known for years as one of Moscow’s biggest defenders in Washington and as a vocal opponent of American economic sanctions against Russia. He claims to have lost a drunken arm-wrestling match with the current Russian president, Vladimir V. Putin, in the 1990s. He is one of President Trump’s staunchest allies on Capitol Hill.

As a newly appointed special counsel investigates connections between the Trump campaign and Russian operatives, the warning to Mr. Rohrabacher shows that the F.B.I. has for years viewed Russian spies, sometimes posing as diplomats, as having a hand in Washington.

Mr. Rohrabacher was drawn into the maelstrom this week when The Washington Post reported on an audio recording of Representative Kevin McCarthy of California, the House majority leader, saying last year, “There’s two people I think Putin pays: Rohrabacher and Trump.” Mr. McCarthy said on Wednesday that he had made a joke that landed poorly.

But the F.B.I. has taken seriously the possibility that Russian spies would target American politicians. In a secure room at the Capitol, an F.B.I. agent told Mr. Rohrabacher in 2012 that Russian spies were trying to recruit him as an “agent of influence” — someone the Russian government might be able to use to steer Washington policy-making, former officials said.

Mr. Rohrabacher said in a telephone interview on Thursday that the meeting had focused on his contact with one member of the Russian Foreign Ministry, whom he recalled meeting on a trip to Moscow. “They were telling me he had something to do with some kind of Russian intelligence,” Mr. Rohrabacher said. He recalled the F.B.I. agent saying that Moscow “looked at me as someone who could be influenced.”

Law enforcement officials did not think that Mr. Rohrabacher was actively working with Russian intelligence, officials said, rather that he was being targeted as an unwitting player in a Russian effort to gain access in Washington, according to one former American official. The official said there was no evidence that Mr. Rohrabacher was ever paid by the Russians.

Also at the meeting were Representative Mike Rogers, Republican of Michigan, and according to one former official, Representative C. A. Dutch Ruppersberger, Democrat of Maryland. Mr. Rogers and Mr. Ruppersberger were the senior members of the House Intelligence Committee. In a brief telephone interview, Mr. Ruppersberger said that he recalled a meeting with Mr. Rogers and Mr. Rohrabacher, but did not remember that an F.B.I. agent was present. “Mike and I reminded Dana that Russia is our adversary,” he said.

Mr. Rogers, who has since retired from Congress, declined to comment.

Rogers was widely considered to be a top candidate for the FBI but his name seems to have slid down the list. He also served on Trump's transition team (and quit in December.)

So basically the Intelligence Committee knew about this. Rohrabacher continued to be Russia's greatest friend on Capitol Hill. And we know that the Republican leadership knew about this too because they were "joking" about it last year.

Obviously, there's nothing inherently wrong with someone being a Russophile. Lot's of people are. And I guess it's no big deal as long as Rohrabacher didn't have access to any information that could compromise national security. But if this affinity comes from a love of Putinesque strongman authoritarianism, it's concerning nonetheless.


Sometimes nothin' is not a real cool hand

by Tom Sullivan

The world is laughing at us, Donald Trump tells audiences. Long before he took to the campaign trail, he was obsessed with the notion that the world was laughing at our country, the USA, American leaders. Over 100 times in public statements going back as far as 1987, the Washington Post found. It is another of Trump's "tells." Every time he repeats it, one can't help but feel it is he who fears being laughed at.

Contrary to Adam Gopnik's account, it was not jokes from President Obama and Seth Meyers and the actual laughter at the 2011 White House Correspondents' Dinner that launched his bid for the presidency. Trump considered running for president since the 1980s, perhaps once and for all to silence the laughing in his head. Now, as he embarks on his first foreign trip as president himself, that project is not going so well.


Those were just a few of the comments I heard in Berlin this week from senior European officials trying to make sense of the meltdown in Washington at just the moment when a politically imploding President Trump embarks on what he called “my big foreign trip” in this morning’s kickoff tweet.
Politico's Susan B. Glasser continues:
“People are less worried than they were six weeks ago, less afraid,” a senior German government official with extensive experience in the United States told me. “Now they see the clownish nature.” Or, as another German said on the sidelines of a meeting here devoted to taking stock of 70 years of U.S.-German relations, “People here think Trump is a laughingstock.”

“The dominant reaction to Trump right now is mockery,” Jacob Heilbrunn, the editor of the conservative journal the National Interest, told the meeting at the German Foreign Office here while moderating a panel on Trump’s foreign policy that dealt heavily on the difficulty of divining an actual policy amid the spectacle. Heilbrunn, whose publication hosted Trump’s inaugural foreign policy speech in Washington during last year’s campaign, used the ‘L’ word too. “The Trump administration is becoming an international laughingstock.” Michael Werz, a German expert from the liberal U.S. think tank Center for American Progress, agreed, adding he was struck by “how rapidly the American brand is depreciating over the last 20 weeks.”
For the man whose business is, primarily, his brand, the laughter is now real and not just in his head.

Foreign Policy reports, “NATO is scrambling to tailor its upcoming meeting to avoid taxing President Donald Trump’s notoriously short attention span. The alliance is telling heads of state to limit talks to 2 to 4 minutes at a time during the discussion ..." to Trump-proof the event:
“It’s kind of ridiculous how they are preparing to deal with Trump,” one source told FP. “It’s like they’re preparing to deal with a child — someone with a short attention span and mood who has no knowledge of NATO, no interest in in-depth policy issues, nothing. They’re freaking out.”
Trump may have nothing, but he nevertheless holds the presidency and his party controls the Congress and most state legislatures.

Der Spiegel describes the Trump presidency as "a vortex of scandals, chaos and lunacy." Mathieu von Rohr continues:
It is becoming increasingly apparent that the only goal of Trump's candidacy was the victory itself - demonstrating that he could win - rather than living up to his promises to his voters regarding health care reform or job creation. This is why Trump is obsessed with the critics he sees as trying to diminish his victory by reminding him that he didn't win a majority of the votes. This is why the investigation of Russian influence in the election makes Trump so angry. He sees it as an attempt to undermine the legitimacy of his triumph, something for which he believes he is not being praised enough.

Bloomberg reports that the joke is not on Trump alone:

This week, however, the Russian jokes at the expense of the U.S. got positively unpleasant. First, President Vladimir Putin offered to provide the U.S. Congress with a recording of Lavrov's conversation with Trump, in which the U.S. president allegedly revealed highly classified information (the word Putin used, zapis, cannot really be translated as "transcript", as the Kremlin later claimed). The suggestion, of course, was sheer mockery -- it's impossible to imagine the Congress making such a request of Putin, and U.S. legislators tried to answer Putin in kind, Senator Marco Rubio suggesting that if Putin sent the information by email, he "wouldn't click on the attachment."
It goes on. Short of dying in office or FBI indictment of the president's closest associates, this circus is not pulling up stakes anytime soon. Even though a recent poll finds Americans in favor of impeaching Trump 48-41, the GOP holds the reins in the congress, making impeachment highly unlikely. Their base won't stand for it. But the GOP is also running out of time to complete its 2018 mid-term calculation: Are we more at risk by running with Trump or by trying to distance ourselves? If the economy continues to chug along, Trump's base may stick with him however loud the laughter from foreign quarters, and maybe because of it.

The Denver Post reports:
John McKager “Mac” Stipanovich, a longtime GOP campaign operative in Florida, said he fears numerous other Republican losses in his state and around the country if the party cannot deliver on promises to repeal Obamacare and cut taxes.

“If after all of the talk, after all of the chest-thumping, we can’t get anything done, we may get clubbed like baby seals in 2018,” said Stipanovich, who was an early Trump critic.
After Trump did a fundraiser for Karen Handel, the GOP candidate running in the June 20 GA-06 special election against Democrat Jon Ossoff, Handel has distanced herself, the Denver Post reports. "During a fundraiser this week with House Speaker Paul Ryan, R-Wis., Trump’s name was not mentioned by either Handel or Ryan."

That clubbing and distancing is what Democrats are hoping for. Trump's Seinfeldian presidency about nothing is doomed to fail. But his failure is not Democrats' success. They'll need more than Trump backlash to win in 2018. And their track record with wishful thinking lately isn't impressive.

The Democratic base appears energized and prepared for to fight. Whether they will actually turn out for midterm elections is anybody's guess. (Famously, they don't.) With the Russia investigation dominating the news and daily scandals from the White House, it is not just Trump's agenda that is being lost in the shuffle. Whether or not they have anything substantive (or at least, inspiring) to offer, anti-Trumpism is the only message seeing the light of day, and that is a whole lot of nothin'. "Sometimes nothin' can be a real cool hand," Paul Newman said famously on film. That didn't work out too well either.