Friday, September 29, 2023

MAGA wants a shutdown

There was a Republican debate this week, and I want to give it all the attention it deserves so let’s ignore it. Let’s talk about something that matters like the looming government shutdown instead.

It looks increasingly likely that the government will run out of money this weekend. There’s one reason for that. The Republican MAGA faction is holding the process hostage. In fact, there is every indication that MAGA wants a government shutdown.

sorry we're closed signage
Photo by Tim Mossholder on Unsplash

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One tell is that Donald Trump has endorsed the idea of a shutdown. In a Truth Social post (an Orwellian moniker if there ever was one), Trump wrote, “The Republicans lost big on Debt Ceiling, got NOTHING, and now are worried that they will be BLAMED for the Budget Shutdown. Wrong!!! Whoever is President will be blamed. UNLESS YOU GET EVERYTHING, SHUT IT DOWN! Close the Border, stop the Weaponization of ‘Justice,’ and End Election Interference.”

There’s some truth to that. Blame for shutdowns is usually apportioned to both parties, but the party screaming “SHUT IT DOWN!” usually bears the brunt.

Of course, Trump has an ulterior motive. The Former Guy previously called on Republicans to use the crisis as an opportunity to defund the federal prosecutors who are bringing cases against him. Make America great or something or other.

Trump’s minions in Congress received their marching orders and got in step. A second tell is the focus of Republican negotiations in recent days.

The Republicans in the House approved an amendment from Marjorie Taylor Greene - MARJORIE TAYLOR GREENE! - that would reduce Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin’s salary to $1. This is not an amendment that is intended to become law. This is a poison pill that is designed to kill the appropriations bill to which it is attached. You don’t try to kill appropriations bills with nonsensical garbage two days before the government runs out of money unless you want the government to shut down.

A second tack that MAGA is taking is to use the threat of a shutdown to cut off aid to Ukraine. Senator Rand Paul, who never ceases to underwhelm me, threatened on Twitter to only support a continuing resolution to keep the government open if it did not contain aid to Ukraine.

“To avoid a government shutdown, I will consent to an expedited vote on a clean CR without Ukraine aid on it,” Paul wrote. “If leadership insists on funding another country’s government at the expense of our own government, all blame rests with their intransigence.”

Remember that John McCain accused Paul of “working for Vladimir Putin” in 2017. I haven’t seen much to make me question McCain’s assessment.

And many House Republicans have taken up Paul’s rallying cry of “Whatever Putin wants!” The House resisted MAGA attempts to strip Ukraine aid from the defense appropriations bill, but Republicans were split on the issue. The amendment failed by a 104-330 vote, but the breakdown among Republicans was 104 in favor of following Putin’s wishes and 117 in favor of keeping the aid intact.

The battle over the Ukraine aid is not over, however. We haven’t seen the last of MAGA attempts to abandon our allies to their fate. There are many rationales for this position but the arguments mainly fall into two main categories.

First, is the pseudo-pacifist position that aid must end to stop the war. It won’t. Ending aid won’t end the Ukrainian desire to resist the invader who is literally raping and pillaging their land and its citizens. It will just make it more difficult and bloody for Ukraine to win.

You can also be sure that the impeachment inquiry into Hunter - I mean Joe - Biden will continue. By most accounts, the first day of hearings ended with a thud that included star witnesses that undercut the Republican narrative, allowed Democrats to shift the spotlight to Donald Trump, featured apparently falsified evidence, and led Democrats to attempt to prohibit Marjorie Taylor Greene from exhibiting pornography (two terms I’d really rather not hear together).

Second, critics of aid cite the cost. This is disingenuous because both parties can easily find money for anything they want to, despite the mountains of red ink that fill the federal ledger. If a bill to fund a border was up for a vote, those nays would quickly become yeas.

The reality is that Ukrainian aid is a tiny share of the federal budget, and it is money well spent. We don’t have boots on the ground, but we are weakening a major geopolitical foe and showing our own strength and resolve. Well, most of us are.

In my view, the anti-Ukraine wing of the GOP (still a minority!) takes that view for a couple of reasons. First, they are reflexively anti-Biden. If Biden favors it, they assume it must be bad. And they don’t want Biden to get credit for any success so they have to make sure that Biden fails, even if means handing an entire nation over to Vladimir Putin.

Further, I think a lot of these people have an axe to grind with Ukraine over Trump’s first impeachment. They blame Zelenskey and Ukraine for the problems that Trump had over his “perfect phone call” and are holding a grudge.

Finally, a lot of Republican extremists are simply pro-Putin. Right-wing propaganda has painted Putin as anti-political correctness, an enemy of homosexuality (despite his odd penchant for shirtless photos). and a defender of Christianity. This isn’t new, going back at least a decade.

So when the shutdown happens next week, remember that it didn’t have to happen. It will have happened because certain Republicans are agents of chaos who wanted it to happen. These people have no loyalty to anyone or anything except Donald Trump. That includes the Republican Party or Speaker McCarthy, who they use when it suits their purpose but are just as happy to leave him twisting in the wind.

I call this crowd the “kamikaze caucus” because they thrive on angst and destruction. They are happy to shoot themselves in the foot if it elevates their name. They really don’t care if their party loses the shutdown shenanigans because victory for them is to become more prominent among the Republican base and to be able to call other members of their party “RINOs.”

Voters should remember the shutdown when they go to the polls next year. Republicans who are serious and work for the betterment of the country should be rewarded, but MAGA radicals who toy with the national economy and are just as happy to “burn it down” as to “make America great” should never be trusted with power again.

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THE DEBATE: Okay, I’ll say a few words about the debate. It was meaningless. There was little to no criticism about the elephant not in the room except for the fact that he wasn’t there. Except for Chris Christie, the hopefuls can’t bring themselves to say a mean word about Donald Trump, and without challenging him, they can’t win. Wednesday night’s event was about positioning for 2028, not 2024.

There were a few good barbs, such as Nikki Hailey’s statement to Vivek Ramaswamy that, “Every time I hear you speak, I feel a little bit dumber.” That’s a fair statement but it was directed at the wrong person. Without telling voters why they are better qualified than Donald Trump, they won’t get the votes of Trump supporters.

Chris Christie did have a memorable moment in which he tried to label Trump as “Donald Duck” for skipping the debate, but with all the problems Trump has, focusing on his no-show status seemed too easy, especially coming from Christie. Plus, it was just an awkward, cringy insult.

DIANNE FEINSTEIN: Breaking news as I write this is that California Senator Dianne Feinstein has passed away at 90. Feinstein had already announced that she would not run for re-election after extended absences from the Senate this year due to health issues.
May she rest in peace.

From the Racket News

Wednesday, September 27, 2023

A legal loss for Donald Trump

 Yesterday was a harbinger of things to come. In a legal defeat for the former president, Donald Trump was found liable for fraud relating to misstating the value of his businesses in New York. The ruling in a civil case is not a criminal conviction but marks one of the first times that Trump has been held legally accountable for his actions.

Yesterday’s ruling involves a civil lawsuit brought by New York Attorney General Letitia James. The suit alleged that Trump misrepresented the value of his real estate holdings in order to deceive banks, insurers, and other entities and exaggerated his net worth by as much as $3.6 billion between 2011 and 2021 for the purpose of securing loans and making other deals. New York Supreme Court Justice Judge Arthur Engoron agreed with the state.

man wearing Donald Trump mask standing in front of White House
Photo by Darren Halstead on Unsplash

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“This is a fantasy world, not the real world,” Engoron wrote in his decision, saying that Trump’s accounting relied on “bogus arguments” that ignored basic accounting rules.

Among the fraudulent claims cited were documents that stated that The Former Guy’s Trump Tower apartment residence was three times its actual size and valuations that overstated Mar-a-Lago’s worth by 2,000 percent, notes CNBC.

This case was decided quickly. The case was set to go to trial on October 2, but James filed a motion in August asking for an immediate verdict per PBS Newshour. A hearing on the motion was held on September 22 and the judge ruled in her favor four days later. The bottom line here is that the evidence against Trump was so strong that a full trial on the question was not needed.

Per the Wall Street Journal, the full extent of the ruling is not yet known, but it also affects his sons, Eric and Don Jr. The verdict has already included the cancellation of the Trump Organization’s right to do business in New York, but James is also seeking $250 million in punitive judgments. The ruling also sanctioned several Trump lawyers $7,500 each for engaging in frivolous legal tactics.

The judge said that the Trump Organization’s business certificates were being canceled because the Trumps and the company “have continued to disseminate false and misleading information while conducting business” in the state.

The October trial will continue on other issues, including allegations of insurance fraud, but the date may change due to a pending lawsuit that Trump has filed against the judge.

Of course, this isn’t the first time that Trump has lost in court and been held legally accountable for his actions. It was only last spring that a jury found that Trump sexually abused and defamed E. Jean Carroll. Carroll is now suing again after Trump made more libelous statements about her after his first loss.

It won’t the be last time either. As is well known by now, Trump has been the target of four criminal indictments, two of which are federal.

The New York case contains many of the elements that we’ve come to know and loathe about Donald Trump. There is blatant dishonesty, a tendency to assume that he is above the law, legal shenanigans, and an arrogance that is unparalleled.

Trump and his lawyers should learn from the New York case and avoid its mistakes in the criminal cases where the stakes are much higher than a $250 million fine. If Trump loses those cases, the 77-year-old may well spend the rest of his life in prison.

The first lesson is that judges don’t appreciate delay tactics and frivolous antics. Steve Berman wrote yesterday in the Racket News that Russia’s Ukraine strategy seems to be attempting to forestall a near-term defeat in the hope that Republicans can aid Vladimir Putin by cutting off military aid. I think Steve is right.

I also think that something similar is happening in Trump’s legal strategy. The Former Guy is pinning his hopes on a Hail Mary in which he not only wins the Republican nomination but returns to the White House. As president, Trump would be positioned to scuttle the federal cases and possibly even pardon himself.

The state cases in New York and Georgia would be a different matter. Presidents can’t issue pardons for state crimes (and neither can Brian Kemp in Georgia by the way). But Trump might be able to delay those cases until he leaves office and Alvin Bragg’s Manhattan case is pretty weak anyway.

Trump and his team must also realize that the facts are against them in at least several of the other pending cases. Drawing out the process might delay his ultimate accountability, but it’s unlikely he will be able to run the table and avoid a guilty verdict on all counts.

The smart play would be to heed the warning from New York and look to settle some of the most serious criminal cases with a plea deal. At this point, prosecutors would probably still accept such an arrangement, especially considering the effect that a trial would have on the country, but the window for such a deal is closing, and as the E. Jean Carroll cases illustrate, Trump seems incapable of learning from his mistakes.

There seems to be no sign that Trump is considering a deal. The former president’s response to yesterday’s ruling was to attack the system and Letitia James on Truth Social. The screed, with better spelling and punctuation than most of Trump’s posts, is an unhinged rant that concludes with the statement, “If they can do this to me, they can do this to YOU [emphasis in the original]!”

Trump melting down on Truth Social over New York ruling
Truth Social screen shot

Well, yes, Mr. Trump. But you have the point backward.

In the United States, we are supposed to be guaranteed equal protection under the law. If Joe Schmuckatelli, Average American (to use my high school civics teacher, Coach Blackburn’s, classic example; Coach Blackburn was an exception to the rule about coaches not being good teachers in academic courses), would be prosecuted for fraud, corruption, and/or seditious activity, then it is right and proper for politicians, even former presidents, to be prosecuted for the same crimes. Trump’s indictments are an indication that the system is working (albeit slowly), not that it is corrupt.

Mr. Trump does not understand this. In his mind, and in the minds of many of his supporters, politicians are untouchable. Especially if they are Republican.

I’m sorry but that notion sounds swampy to me.

And as for Trump’s idea that “some Appellate Court, whether Federal or State, must reverse this horrible, un-American decision” and come to his rescue because he’s the victim of “Democrat Political Lawfare and a Witch Hunt at a level never seen before,” I think that Judge Engoron put it best:

“This is a fantasy world, not the real world.”

I’m also reminded of WWII German General Erwin Rommel’s critique of Hitler’s (although I hate to invoke the name) defensive strategies as wolkenkuckucksheim or “Cloud Cuckoo Land.” Cloud Cuckoo Land is not a good place to be when your life and freedom depend on sane, rational, measured responses.

For Donald Trump, the cuckoos are coming home to roost.

From the Racket News