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Fri Sep 14, 2018, 09:41 PM

Friday Talking Points (500) -- Manafort Flips!

A new warning has just been issued, because the hurricane-force bluster emanating from the White House is projected to reach Category 5 this weekend.

Heh. Sorry, but we couldn't resist.

Convicted felon Paul Manafort pleaded guilty today to two additional serious federal felonies, one of which was conspiracy to defraud the United States government. He also had to pony up tens of millions of dollars' worth of real estate, because one of the frauds he perpetrated was avoiding paying $15 million in federal taxes by money laundering. The biggest news, however, wasn't Manafort pleading guilty to his ninth and tenth felonies, but the fact that to get a plea deal he had to agree to cooperate with Bob Mueller's investigation. This is what he's been fighting against doing all along, so it is big news.

Manafort becomes the fifth Trump aide to plead guilty to federal charges as a direct result of the Mueller investigation. The others: Michael Cohen, Michael Flynn, Rick Gates, and George Papadopoulos. Two more peripheral figures have also entered guilty pleas, as well. That "witch hunt" excuse is (as they say in Washington) no longer operative.

In fact, when they add up all the property and bank accounts Manafort was forced to hand over, the Mueller investigation might now have already paid for itself -- bringing in more to federal coffers than the investigation has cost. Which, incidentally, blows another Trump complaint out of the water.

Trump's paranoia has been noticeably increasing, of late. What with the Bob Woodward book and that anonymous New York Times article, President Trump had already started seeing enemies everywhere he looked. And now the only guy who was willing to fight Mueller's charges has caved. Trump must now be shivering in his boots wondering what Manafort will be telling Mueller in the coming weeks. It's reportedly gotten so bad in the White House that Trump only trusts his own immediate family, and (for some reason) Stephen Miller. From a Vanity Fair article:

Sources told me {President Donald} Trump is "obsessed," "lathered," and "freaked out" that the leaker is still in his midst. His son Don Jr. has told people he's worried Trump isn't sleeping because of it, a source said. Meetings have been derailed by Trump's suspicion. "If you look at him the wrong way, he'll spend the next hour thinking you wrote it," a Republican close to the White House said.

Now Trump also has to deal with Manafort flipping, which is only going to make the problem worse. We suppose that Manafort can now kiss goodbye any hope of ever getting pardoned by Trump, since Trump views disloyalty pretty harshly. Now that Manafort's going to be singing like a little birdie to Mueller, Trump will likely never forgive him. America awaits with bated breath what Trump will tweet out about this new development.

Of course, we began our column with that Category 5 metaphor because there is an actual hurricane devastating the Carolina coast even as we write this. In normal times, we wouldn't have used such a metaphor in order to not even suggest trivializing such a devastating disaster, but at this point such distinctions don't seem to apply in the political world. We say this because of what's been going on all week on the edges of the current storm.

Trump began the week insisting that his handling of Hurricane Maria was an "unsung success" story. This flew in the face of the new official death count, which now stands at almost 3,000 -- far more than Hurricane Katrina. Trump also warned that Hurricane Florence was "tremendously big and tremendously wet," which was kind of odd (but, for Trump, really just par for the course). But then Trump took to Twitter to complain about a conspiracy against him that does not actually exist. He disavowed the official Maria death count and insisted -- without a shred of evidence, as usual -- that "Democrats" inflated the figures because they were out to get him politically.

These two tweets were resoundingly denounced by all. Democrats excoriated the president's self-obsession and insensitivity, and Trump had even gone too far for some Republicans. The governor of Puerto Rico (a big Trump supporter, so far) gently admonished Trump, while Puerto Rico's only representative in Congress had to "respectfully disagree" with Trump's refusal to accept the death toll number, "because that's not the reality." Two prominent Republicans in Florida (which has lots of Puerto Rican voters) also spoke out against Trump. Rick Scott, who is running for Senate, disagreed with Trump on Twitter: "I've been to Puerto Rico 7 times & saw devastation firsthand." The harshest intraparty criticism, though, came from Representative Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, who is retiring from Congress (and so doesn't have to worry about the voters anymore). She ripped into Trump in an interview:

What kind of mind twists that statistic into: "Oh, fake news is trying to hurt my image"? How can you be so self-centered and try to distort the truth so much? It's mind boggling.

Yes, it is -- much like everything else Trump tweets. Earlier in the week, in fact, Trump marked the anniversary of 9/11 in truly bizarre fashion on Twitter: "17 years since September 11th!" Really? Exclamation point? That's just... wow. This was after Trump started the day by tweeting more complaints about the Russia investigation against him. Because even on 9/11, everything is always all about him.

Meanwhile, there seems to be a power struggle happening at FEMA. First it was reported that FEMA had transferred $10 million to ICE, because they needed some more money to hold children in captivity. Nothing like setting spending priorities, eh? Then the head of FEMA came under direct attack, as a Department of Homeland Security inspector general's report was disclosed which revealed an internal investigation into Brock Long's travel expenses. The report also disclosed that Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen recently tried to force him to resign as the head of FEMA. This report has apparently been around for months, which makes the leak's timing all the more bizarre. A former top FEMA official was quoted saying: "The fact that someone within the administration is taking shots at FEMA in the middle of a hurricane is insane. Lives are at stake. People are working around the clock to get resources and assets in place.... Why would you do that?"

Is it time for Trump to tweet "Heckuva job!" yet? We're just wondering....

To close the week out, Trump tweeted out some information on the hurricane that was already dangerously outdated (he tweeted for residents to evacuate now, when the storm had already hit -- then after being informed how idiotic that was, told everyone to stay in their homes instead). And then Trump proved once again that he has no idea what irony is, by warning people not to spread falsehoods about hurricanes (after his whopper about Hurricane Maria conspiracy theories, which started this whole chain of events).

In other news, the Senate is preparing to vote next week on the confirmation of Brett Kavanaugh to the Supreme Court, and a bombshell revelation appeared today -- Kavanaugh now stands accused of attempted rape when he was in high school. He has denied the accusation, but it will be interesting to see how this influences the fence-sitters on the vote.

Let's see, what else? The big stories of the week really pushed just about everything else to the side, but there was one story that is worth mentioning. The Trump administration recently moved to close down the Palestinian Liberation Organization's office in Washington, which (like all their other current moves) is a stinging insult to the Palestinians. This, mind you, is just before Jared Kushner is reportedly set to unveil his Middle East peace plan. Speaking on the 25th anniversary of the Oslo peace accords, Kushner astonishingly claimed that President Trump had improved the chances for peace. Such thinking is obviously nothing short of delusional, so it will certainly be interesting to see what Kushner's long-awaited peace plan actually contains. And, of course, how the Palestinians and the Arab world react to it. My guess is that Kushner is in for a very rude awakening.

This week saw the end (finally!) of the 2018 primary election season. The final three states (New Hampshire, Rhode Island, and New York) voted this week, and Establishment Democrats scored several important key victories over Progressive challengers. But somehow we just can't bring ourselves to award a MIDOTW to Andrew Cuomo. More on him in a moment, actually.

Instead, we're going to hand out an Honorable Mention to Cynthia Nixon, who was soundly defeated at the polls (by a 2-1 margin, in fact). But her impact on the race was bigger than the number of votes she got (or, more to the point, didn't get). Nixon ran on a strong liberal platform, and hit current Governor Cuomo hard on his anti-Democratic record. Since she entered the race, Cuomo has tacked hard left on a whole range of issues -- marijuana reform, upping the minimum wage, free college tuition, etc. -- which he simply would not have done without Nixon in the race. There's even a name for it now: the "Cynthia Effect." Nixon's candidacy has made Cuomo a better Democrat, plain and simple.

Nixon also had one other effect on the New York primary -- her campaign drew a lot of attention to a very fishy situation which Cuomo has allowed to continue for years. Even though the Democrats were nominally the majority in the state senate, a cabal of nine of them decided to sell out their loyalty to the Republicans. For committee assignments and cash for their districts, they turned their coats and decided to caucus with the GOP. This allowed Republicans to continue to control the chamber -- even though they were in the minority.

Thursday night, seven out of nine of these turncoats were successfully primaried out of office. Progressives picked up almost all of these nominations, and have thus broken the back of the cabal. All of these candidates deserve their own Honorable Mention awards, this week, for providing Progressives with at least a minor (but still important) victory in the primaries.

California Democrats also deserve their own Honorable Mention, for continuing to follow Jerry Brown's lead in fighting climate change. The legislature passed a bill that Brown just signed into law which will move the state to an electric grid powered by 100-percent renewable, carbon-free power by the year 2045. That's real leadership, and it stands in stark contrast to the Republican position.

Barack Obama also gets an Honorable Mention, for jumping back into politics in the midst of one of the most important midterm elections of our lives. It's good to see him back on the campaign trail again. In fact, it's just good to see him again, period.

But this week's Most Impressive Democrat Of The Week award goes to a group up in Maine which is pioneering a new political tactic. A coalition between the Maine People's Alliance, Mainers for Accountable Leadership, and activist Ady Barkanis is very concerned about how Senator Susan Collins is going to vote on the Kavanaugh confirmation. So they decided to do something about it. They launched a crowdfunding page to raise money that is pledged to be used against Collins in her next re-election battle (in 2020) -- but only if she votes to confirm Kavanaugh. If she votes against his confirmation, then all the money will stay in the donors' accounts and not be collected at all.

As we said, this is a novel and innovative tactic. Collins reacted angrily, stating that it was bribery and extortion, and that she wouldn't be influenced by such low-down tactics. That might hold some water, if you had absolutely no idea of how things work in Washington.

For the rest of us, however, it is downright laughable, because this is the way the lobbyist game is routinely played in Congress. Is it bribery? Probably, but it is also how things currently happen on a regular basis. Bribery can work both ways, of course -- a lobbyist might show up in a senator's office to offer big wads of campaign cash if the senator will only vote a certain way. Or they -- again, routinely -- will threaten to spend another mountain of cash against the senator in their next election. According to the Supreme Court, such money is "free speech" and not legalized bribery. When such money comes from deep-pocket lobbyists, that is.

Why should a crowdfunding effort be treated any differently? Because it is right out in the open for all to see rather than being hidden in a secret meeting with a lobbyist? That's preposterous! Transparency might just shine a spotlight on a tactic that is used everyday, but if you've got a problem with that, then better campaign finance laws are the answer. Attacking the crowdfunding effort is merely shooting the messenger, not addressing the underlying problem.

So, yes, it's crass and might fall under the heading of bribery or extortion. But this bribery or extortion is so widespread and institutionalized that the complaint rings hollow when only brought against a group of citizens banding together to have more clout against lobbying organizations that do the same thing in private, all the time.

Oh, the best news? This crowdfunding effort has already raised over 1.3 million dollars, one small donation at a time. That is beyond impressive. Which is why the Maine People's Alliance, Mainers for Accountable Leadership, and activist Ady Barkanis are our Most Impressive Democrat Of The Week winners this week, by far.

{We rarely endorse donation efforts, but if you'd like to contribute to this movement, please do so at the official Crowdpac donation page to put the pressure on Senator Susan Collins.}

Cynthia Nixon certainly disappointed a whole lot of Progressives this week by falling short in the primary, but since we've already cited her positively we're going to give her a pass. Zephyr Teachout also disappointed many by falling short in her race to become New York's next attorney general as well. But we're not in a rubbing-salt-in-the-wounds type of mood.

Instead, we've got to hand the Most Disappointing Democrat Of The Week this week to Andrew Cuomo's campaign. We can't quite bring ourselves to award it to him directly, because he may not have been culpable. But someone within the New York Democratic Party machine certainly deserves a heaping portion of scorn.

Here's the whole ugly story:

The New York Democratic Party has sent out a campaign mailer arguing that Jewish voters "can't take a chance" on Cynthia Nixon, a progressive candidate challenging incumbent Andrew Cuomo in Thursday's Democratic gubernatorial primary, because she can't be trusted to stand up to anti-Semitism.

"With anti-Semitism and bigotry on the rise," Jews shouldn't back "inexperienced Cynthia Nixon, who won't stand strong for our Jewish communities," the mailer says.

The New York State Democratic Committee, as the state party is known, supports Cuomo's bid for a third term. But the committee's executive director disavowed the mailer following a backlash against it, including by some Jewish leaders.

The party mailer lists alleged stances Nixon has taken against the interests of the Jewish community. Nixon, the state party alleges, is "against funding yeshivas;" supportive of B.D.S. -- the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement against Israel; and "silent on the rise of anti-Semitism."

This is beyond disgusting, it is also downright ridiculous, as the article goes on to explain:

Nixon, an actress whose ex-husband is Jewish, is raising her two children from that marriage as Jews.

Like many other New York Democrats, Nixon supports greater oversight of the curricula in Orthodox Jewish schools known as yeshivas. Critics, including some within the Jewish community, maintain that the secular education provided at yeshivas is often inadequate.

Cuomo reportedly promised Hasidic leaders in a meeting in Brooklyn earlier this month that he would not increase regulation of yeshivas.

Nixon told HuffPost on Sunday that she does not support the B.D.S. movement and never has.

"Anti-Semitism is on the rise, not just across the country but across the globe. My children are Jewish. I fear for them," Nixon said in an interview after delivering a speech at a Harlem church. "And to have me accused in such a blatant way of something that is so completely untrue is deeply, deeply offensive to me."

Cuomo, to his credit, also disavowed the mailer and said it was a mistake. Still, he is the head of the Democratic machine, which means a whole lot in New York state. While he may not have personally approved the mailer being sent out, it still never should have happened in the first place.

In fact, we'd like to take the opportunity to make another plea for donations, this time to a worthy cause in New York -- the Museum Of Political Corruption. New York is home to so much political corruption (much of it still occurring under Cuomo's watch) that a non-profit has been formed to create a museum of the whole sordid history -- right back to Boss Tweed, in fact -- in Albany, where it belongs. This is a worthy cause, and one that we've written about before, but somehow this week's news spurred us to give them a plug today. So check their site out and donate to their cause if you wish.

But back to our award. Until an actual culprit is identified, we are awarding this week's Most Disappointing Democrat Of The Week to Andrew Cuomo's campaign and the New York State Democratic Committee. For shame!

{Contact the New York State Democratic Committee on their official contact page, to let them know what you think of their actions.}

Volume 500 (9/14/18)

This column celebrates two milestones today. As noted immediately above, this is the 500th Friday Talking Point column to be published. In a strange coincidence (the numbers usually don't work out this evenly), it is also 11 years to the day since the first Friday Talking Points column appeared ("Memo To Democrats: Talking Points," which ran on 9/14/07).

It took a few months for the column's format to really gel, as evidenced by the fact that we didn't give out Most Disappointing Democrat Of The Week awards until the fourth column, and it wasn't until the sixth column that the Most Impressive Democrat Of The Week award appeared. This was also the first column where we settled on the series title "Friday Talking Points."

To mark the occasion, we are going to announce a minor change to the format today. The fourth FTP column was the first to begin our volume numbering system (the first three were not numerated). This system, it should be noted, is actually an incorrect periodical use of the term, since we should really count "issues" all year long, and then change "volumes" each year. By such a system, this article would properly be: "Volume 12, Issue 1." But we always felt that was too snooty, so we're not going to switch over to such a system now.

Instead, we're still going to count each week as a new volume, beginning with "Volume 501" next week. Maybe we'll make some Levi's jeans jokes, who knows? But what we will no longer be doing is including the volume number in the actual title of the article itself. With the numbers getting so high, we feel it has become too distracting. We'll still note the volume number as always, right above the actual talking points section, but today is the last time it will appear in the headline. A minor change, to be sure, but we wanted to warn everyone in advance.

Since this is such an auspicious occasion, we should take the time to give credit where credit is due. This column series was inspired by another column series: "The Top 10 Conservative Idiots Of The Week," which used to run at DemocraticUnderground.com. The original column ran for over 300 episodes (although the archives seems to be having some problems, you can still see some of the old ones here), and we were sorry to see it go. But there's good news -- the column series has recently been revived! You can see new postings (in a different format) here. (And, yes, those "here" links were provided in a fit of nostalgia for the style of the early days of blogging.) We began posting our FTP columns at DU years ago, and still do so every Friday.

It's been a wild ride these past 11 years, and things certainly don't seem to be slowing down any. Which means we'll probably be here for another 500 columns, so you've all got that to look forward to. But enough celebratory nonsense, let's instead just get on with this week's show, shall we?

The death of Tinkerbell

OK, admittedly, that's a pretty grim image. But we felt it appropriate for the subject matter.

"Republicans sell the public over and over and over again on a myth -- that cutting taxes, particularly cutting corporate taxes, will cause the economy to grow so fast and furiously that federal revenues will actually rise. 'Tax cuts pay for themselves!' they fervently tell all who will listen. This has been proven not to be the actual case over and over again, but that doesn't stop them from selling the same old snake oil. In fact, that's what they've been telling us since they passed their massive tax cuts -- a gigantic giveaway to the one percent and Wall Street -- last year. The deficit would actually shrink, they insisted. Well, the numbers are starting to come out, and they tell a different story. In the last 11 months, the deficit has skyrocketed to $895 billion. And that's with one month left to go, so it might even approach one trillion dollars this year. That's up a full third over last year. The last time the unemployment rate was so low, the government was running a surplus, to put it in some context. Remember when Republicans used to care about the deficit? That only seems to happen when Democrats are in the White House, though. Their myth has been busted once again. They clapped as hard as they could, but Tinkerbell still died."

More cowbell!

The answer, obviously (to drastically switch metaphors on a whim), is: More cowbell!

"Republicans are so bereft of new ideas and so frightened by the fact that they haven't been able to pass just about their entire agenda even though they hold both houses of Congress that they're desperately grasping at the only straw they have left -- even staring into the face of trillion-dollar yearly deficits. The House of Representatives is about to attempt to pass what they're calling 'tax reform 2.0' -- yet another round of tax cuts that will overwhelmingly go to the richest Americans. Their first round of tax cuts for fatcats blew a $1.9 trillion hole in the deficit over the next decade, and the second round is projected to cost a whopping $3.2 trillion. Nothing like that good old-fashioned Republican fiscal responsibility, folks! Talk about banging the same note over and over again even when it's an awfully sour note to be playing."

Pre-existing condition

Too, too funny.

"Out on the campaign trail, there is what might be called 'a pre-existing condition' worth noting. Since Obamacare was signed into law, Republicans have been using it as a political bludgeon in pretty much every election cycle. Then America got a look at what they really meant by 'repeal and replace' and the public recoiled in horror. In fact, the popularity of Obamacare shot upward during the entire debate and now stands higher than ever. Democrats across the country -- even in such deep-red states as West Virginia -- are now strongly defending Obamacare and all of its benefits. The strongest case they have to make is that Republicans want to end the protections people with pre-existing conditions now have. This is a very personal issue that touches just about every American family out there in some way or another. Republicans, not surprisingly, have -- for the first time since 2010 -- all but stopped running political ads on Obamacare. Instead, Democrats are now running ads touting their support of healthcare reform. This tide has now turned. If Democrats do manage a big blue wave in November, their most effective issue is going to turn out to be Obamacare. How times have changed!"

Beto gains traction

The irony of this one is just too, too delicious, considering what they think of him.

"Republicans are now being forced to spend millions of dollars on advertising in states that they normally would win in a cakewalk. Case in point? Texas, where Ted Cruz may be in serious trouble. Top Republicans in Washington have been saying -- both privately and publicly -- that they now are in danger of losing control of the Senate. Part of their problem is Cruz, because if they lose in Texas then the GOP could lose anywhere, really. Beto O'Rourke, the Democratic challenger, has been running an exemplary campaign, and has captured the attention of national Democrats. Beto just appeared on Stephen Colbert's late-night show, which so worried Team Cruz that they decided they had to buy ad time on the program in desperation. Even Willie Nelson is now in Beto's corner. Meanwhile, top Republicans from Trump on down have had to pour money into the Cruz campaign, which is pretty ironic since they all so obviously detest Cruz. And every million dollars spent in Texas is a million that could have been spent elsewhere on other GOP candidates. Democrats have been dreaming of turning Texas blue for years and years, but 2018 might just be the year they accomplish it. No wonder Republicans are so worried!"

5,000 and counting

This column wasn't the only one to hit a milestone beginning with a "5" this week.

"Donald Trump has now, according to the tireless efforts of the Washington Post, publicly told over 5,000 lies while he's been in office. That works out to over eight lies a day, a rate which has been increasing of late. In fact, they noted that in a single two-hour stretch just last week, Trump told a whopping 125 lies -- a new record! Unfortunately for Trump, people are beginning to notice. And it's not just some plaid-shirted guy behind Trump at a rally, either. Trump's job approval rating has taken a serious turn for the worse, dropping a full three points in just over two weeks. His disapproval is as high as 60 percent, while he's posting approval ratings of less than 40 percent. Just what the Republicans wanted to see, heading into the midterm season!"

Good riddance to bad rubbish

But Trump's not just massively unpopular at home, of course....

"Donald Trump wanted to visit his golf courses in Ireland in November, when he flies over to see the French military parade on the centennial of Armistice Day. But now this visit has been indefinitely 'postponed,' according to the Irish government. Which is probably a good thing all around, because there were massive protests planned for every stage of Trump's visit to the Emerald Isle. The Irish, who are normally the most friendly and welcoming population in Europe (especially when it comes to Americans in general and American presidents in particular), were going to make sure Trump knew how unpopular his visit was. In actual fact, the Irish have hated Trump since long before he entered politics, over his golf course's management and construction. Now that Trump's announced he won't be visiting, the Irish are filled with glee and are doing everything but dance in the streets. As they say in Ireland: Good riddance to bad rubbish."

Sounds qualified to me

And finally, a highly amusing campaign footnote, to close on.

"Juli Briskman is running for a county supervisor's seat in Loudoun County, Virginia. You may not know her name, but you might have seen a picture of her before. She's the woman who was riding her bike in Virginia while Trump's presidential motorcade drove by on its way out of one of Trump's golf courses. She flipped Trump the bird, which was caught in a photo that really deserves a Pulitzer Prize. As a result, she was fired from her job. Since she needs a new one, why not run for office? As far as I'm concerned, she's fully qualified. That photo is certainly worth a thousand words on a Democrat's political résumé."

Chris Weigant blogs at: ChrisWeigant.com
Follow Chris on Twitter: ChrisWeigant
Full archives of FTP columns: FridayTalkingPoints.com
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