Fascism: As polling turns against him, Trump lays groundwork for mass violence

Rattled by poor polling numbers in his reelection bid, the alleged president of the United States is encouraging domestic terrorism. That's where we're at, and everyone from top national security experts to local emergency officials are all crystal clear on that. The New York Times reports from a bunch of 'em in a piece that can both contain remarkable factual phrases like "Mr. Trump has descended into rants about perceived enemies" and still somehow soft sell the underlying message:

The nation is preparing for violence on and after Election Day because Donald J. Trump, a fascist, is goading his supporters into that violence with rally claims that any loss on his part will be proof that his enemies cheated.

There is no possible chance that Trump doesn't know what he's doing. His tweeted calls to "LIBERATE" states from governors who imposed widespread pandemic measures resulted in a Michigan militia attempting to do exactly that. Trump is back at it even today, claiming their primary target, Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer, "wants to be a dictator." He is attaching the legitimacy of the state to calls for mob action—only to repeat those calls when it looks like the first versions are beginning to bear fruit.

The only reason he is not being treated as a radical, dangerous figure who has irreparably violated his own oath of office, necessitating removal, is because Republican Party leadership and lawmakers have themselves embraced and defended those violations. It is self-radicalizing; the farther Trump goes into overtly authoritarian behavior, the more pressure the party feels to defend and normalize their own support for him. The more Trump's circle has succeeded in isolating and excising state and local functionaries who express alarm at his grotesqueries, the more the party has become a homogenized group of anti-democracy, authoritarian-molded radicals themselves.

Trump has clearly been unfit for office in every respect; the impeachment investigation identified his corruption, the pandemic proved his apathetic incompetence, and his continued calls for mob justice against targeted enemies have proven (as have similar quotes repeated through the last five years) that he is not just indifferent to extralegal punishments of his enemies, but publicly fantasizes about them. If Vice President Mike Pence, Sen. Mitch McConnell, Attorney General William Barr, Treasury Sec. Steve Mnuchin, Sec. of State Mike Pompeo, Rep. Mark Meadows, Sen. Lindsey Graham, Sen. Ted Cruz, and the entire rest of the party had not all decided to ally with him for their own ideological and policy ends, he would have been removed in bipartisan fashion long ago, reduced to a historical footnote.

They didn't, and now local law enforcement officials around the country are preparing for radicals among what Trump has proudly designated his "Army" intent on disrupting Election Day, sabotaging ballot-counting measures, and committing acts of coordinated terrorism targeting his opponents. It's now expected.

Once again we're in a position where the fate of democracy rests on not just beating anti-democratic forces, but doing so in such a convincing fashion that sabotage can't alter the outcome. But now it comes with the near certainty of violence. This is Mitch McConnell's fault: Remember that. This is Lindsey Graham's fault. Mike Pence, Kellyanne Conway, William Barr. Trump's suggestions to "liberate" parts of America from small-d democratic governance would be intolerable if they believed them to be intolerable. Everything Trump does and will do has happened because they allowed it.

California Republican Party says it won’t take down illegal ‘ballot boxes’ despite state orders

On Monday, it came to light that the California Republican Party was placing what they called "official ballot drop off boxes" in locations deemed to be Republican-friendly (such as, no kidding, "gun stores") in apparent efforts to make it easier for Republican voters to vote than not-Republican voters.

There are two problems with this. First: It's not legal. California law allows voters to designate a person to drop their ballot off at an official location rather than going themselves; it does not allow the "designated person" to be an unattended cardboard box. (And yes, some of the "official ballot drop off boxes" are merely "simple cardboard boxes with no locking security mechanism.")

The second problem is, yes, ballot security. Voters may not be aware that these very much not official "drop off boxes" are managed by unknown Republican operatives, and there's no guarantee the ballots collected in such boxes won't "accidentally" be, to use a recent Trumpian example, dumped into a river. (I kid. Here in California we don't have rivers. They could be dumped into storm drains, though, which would be problematic because all the aspiring sewer actors do not need more lines to practice.) There's nothing to say the ballots the Republican Party claims to be collecting won't be sorted through, perhaps to weed out non-Republican looking names, or otherwise disposed of. That's why California ballot-harvesting laws require a designee.

California officials have now warned the state Republican Party that what they're doing is illegal and may even result in prison time. The Republican Party has responded in the expected way: They don't care, and won't be complying with state demands to remove the boxes.

More specifically, the California Republican Party intends to continue the operation while daring state officials to do anything about it. Party spokesperson Hector Barajas noted that a 2018 state law prohibits election officials from rejecting a ballot solely because it was returned without the required designee signature or relationship to the voter, signaling that the party intends to collect ballots however they want, handle and turn them in however they want, and dare election officials to throw those votes away. Election officials will almost certainly not do that, so here we are.

It's another case of the party's all-encompassing insistence that laws don't matter if bending the law would benefit the party. See also: Dinesh D'Whateverguy, and literally every member of Donald Trump's inner circles, past and present, indicted and not, and the Republican gutting of the Federal Election Commission, and the nullification of election-related impeachment charges against Dear Leader, and take your pick.

And yes, everyone involved is aware of the dichotomy of the Republican Party going to furious lengths to restrict voting access in Texas and other Republican-led states while bending restrictions that they believe are harmful to their own voters. It's not irony, it's fascism.

What California voters need to know right now, however: Do not use those boxes. Don't. California is mailing ballots to all voters; follow the instructions provided to the letter and mail them back. Do not put your ballot in a cardboard box, or a burlap sack, or into the mouth of a large wooden horse that has appeared, overnight, in the empty parking lot of an abandoned mall. Just mail them in, or turn them in where the state itself tells you to.

There's no guarantee that the local Chuckles' Gun Club and Shoebox Votin' Booth will be handling your vote, as America decides between authoritarian rule and democracy, with anything resembling care. The Republican Party is playing fast and loose with the votes of their own most loyal supporters, and that is not something you want to get involved in.

Mike Pompeo is now brazenly campaigning for Trump using his federal post

Prior to ex-House Republican Mike Pompeo becoming Trump's secretary of state, it was generally understood that U.S. secretaries of state were not allowed to use the tools of their office for rank partisan politicking. Using government resources to campaign is illegal; turning the top diplomatic job in the country into a tool of partisanship damages U.S. credibility abroad by signaling, to world counterparts, that the U.S. diplomat is In This For Themselves.

All of that is gone now because Donald Trump simply chose to ignore those constraints, and Republicans—with the singular exception of one Mitt Romney, exactly once—wholeheartedly adopted the same merging of party and state as the new way things are done. This was helped along immensely by Trump's surrounding of himself with hard-right ex-House Republicans contemptuous of the rules from the outset. Mike Pompeo is a poster child for this. He continues to assist Trump in the cover-up of a criminal Ukrainian extortion scheme—one timed to allow Russian incursions into that country to proceed and be solidified while much needed U.S. aid was used to pressure for Trump reelection favors. He continues to abet Trump's incompetent dismantling of U.S. foreign policy infrastructure.

And, of course, Pompeo is using his State Department role to campaign aggressively for Trump and Republicans throughout the country. The premise is that key Trump-supporting demographics and swing states just happen to need conservative foreign policy priorities explained to them by, literally, the top U.S. diplomat—one who admittedly has little else to do since all such policy decisions have been stripped from him and his government agency in favor of the new policy, Whatever Trump Last Said. The reality is that Pompeo is touring the country giving campaign speeches to, as the AP reports, a white evangelical church in Plano, Texas; the hard-right Value Voters Summit; and other appearances in Wisconsin, Florida, Tennessee, Kentucky, and of course his home state of Kansas. Pompeo has famously been eyeing higher office himself—a plan that briefly looked scuttled when Pompeo was implicated in impeachable crimes, but one Pompeo appears to be inching back to with hopes that voters no longer remember or resent him for that now that the Trump administration has delivered at least a half-dozen other scandals and death-dealing clusterfucks for them to chew on instead.

The important thing to remember here is that Pompeo is crooked. He is crooked in the William Barr way, and fairly precisely: He has been caught directly assisting in Trump's impeached-for acts; he has been caught in a campaign to cover up those acts and his involvement for Trump's benefit and his own; he has done each of these things in service of elevating Republican power regardless of legality or institutional norms; and he makes no particular effort to hide the use of his office as explicitly partisan, to be used for shoring up allies and punishing enemies.

While Barr pressures his underlings into producing documents meant to portray Trump's detractors and investigators as the "true" criminals of Russian election hacking while undermining further investigations into Trump and all allies, Pompeo weaves through the country on a heavy campaign schedule to tell conservative audiences that they should "go to the polling place and express your preference" for his hard-right claims and declarations, as AP quoted him telling his Texas audience.

Without dwelling on it: Again, Mike Pompeo using his government perch to address the Republican National Convention—from Israel, no less—was such a grotesque insult to supposed diplomatic nonpartisanship that it would have likely ended with Pompeo's removal from his post during any of the last half-century's worth of presidencies. Republican lawmakers, however, are embracing Pompeo's acts as they are Trump's, and Barr's. There is no Republican caucus demanding Trump adhere to the rule of law, or the Hatch Act, or basic expected decencies.

The whole point of immunizing Trump during impeachment was to enable further corruption. It was the expected outcome. It clearly worked, as Trump's rapid gutting of oversight offices and inspectors showed. We are now at a point where Trump and Barr are openly crafting plans to eliminate votes if the November elections do not go his way, and continue eliminating votes for as long as it takes until the Republican Party can claim a crooked victory.

The reasons are not just to retain power, though; Trump's team and Trump's allies need a victory for more personal reasons. There has been a mountain of criminal acts, cover-ups, ethical violations, and rank corruption from Barr, from Pompeo, from Trump himself, and other Trump cabinet members past and present. The moment they lose power, there is a danger that the remaining shards of true, neutral law enforcement will come for them—and those ex-officials will no longer have means to block those investigations.

Every investigation currently being blocked and corrupted can only be blocked or corrupted so long as the corrupters remain in power. Republicans like Pompeo, still identified as having played a role in international extortion whether his Republican Senate allies are supportive or are not, has no time to worry about laws or norms as he scurries around the country to protect himself from the consequences of his own corruption.

It’s propaganda, not hypocrisy: Republicans use lying as primary governing technique

There is no point in accusing Republican senators of hypocrisy. Absolutely none. Only hours after the death of Supreme Court icon Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Republicans—who had previously gnashed their teeth at the audacity of the suggestion that the nation's first nonwhite president had the constitutional power to make nominations to the court at any point during the final year of his term—began declaring that this time around, obviously that new rule no longer applies. And obviously the president of their own party, impeached and transparently corrupt, must be granted a scrambling court even as voters line up to cast early ballots.

Hypocrisy implies there’s a previous ideology being upset; there wasn't one, and isn't one, and no serious politics-watcher ever thought otherwise. The principle being upheld by Sen. Mitch McConnell and clan then and now was more simple: Retain power using all available tools, and deny the opposition power using all available tools. There is no "ideology" inside the modern conservative movement, either before Trump's arrival or afterwards, that can survive its first brush with expediency. Each argument lasts only as long as the soundbites require and will be replaced with a new one immediately, without hesitation, when required.

Expediency as ideology is not a senate-only device. Former Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia practiced it with aplomb, often resulting in lawyers and courts using his past words against him in new cases—a futile gesture. Of his "originalist," "textualist," or "institutionalist" allies, the same approach is used by All Of Them.

It's not hypocrisy if the principle all along was "whatever best increases power." And it is irrelevant if it is.

The relevant part is that it is accomplished by lying. The practitioners claim some bold new notion of how the world should work, and it is an absolute, baldfaced, bullshit-laden public lie. Those who watch McConnell or Sen. Lindsey Graham in their public appearances can easily identify, at this point, the schtick that makes up their entire persona.

They look the American public in the eye, and they simply lie to them.

“I want you to use my words against me. If there’s a Republican president in 2016 and a vacancy occurs in the last year of the first term, you can say Lindsey Graham said let’s let the next president, whoever it might be, make that nomination." pic.twitter.com/quD1K5j9pz

— Vanita Gupta (@vanitaguptaCR) September 19, 2020

It was a lie from the moment he uttered it, and there was not a person in the room who didn’t know it from the outset. The movement is devoted to lying as governing principle. It works because there are countless channels through which those lies can be disseminated, and amplified, and praised. It will continue for as long as it works.

Over and over. About everything, all the time. The Moscow Turtle has never cried a sincere tear in his life, but according to him all Democratic actions are Devastation, all Republican actions are Sorrowfully Required Due To Democratic Existence, and the rest is puppet show. Graham is superb at being outraged in showy defense of the outrageous. Sen. Marco Rubio's usual deployed device is to respond to each act of corruption or depravity with a Bible verse, typically as non sequitur, and wiping his hands of the rest of it. Sen. Susan Collins is forever concerned by gross incompetence or criminality within her movement, and remains equally as concerned the next time around, and will make good on that "concern" exactly zero times as she votes to enable each concerning act one-by-one-by-one.

It's not hypocrisy. They're just liars. Conservatism is a movement of fictions, a series of nonsense falsehoods deployed like a squid ejects ink. Nobody asks the squid whether it stands by the cloud ejaculated in the last crisis. It would be pointless. The squid doesn't remember, and can't tell you.

It is not that the nation is run by a movement of "hypocrites." The nation is run by a collection of liars.

Propagandists.

Those who issue false statements and make false claims relentlessly in order to deceive the public, or to stir their base into new heights of feverishness, or—and this is rather more to the point in this particular year—to justify and endorse criminality in service to the movement. Incompetence, if in service to the movement. A quarter million deaths, if in service to the movement.

The lies are consequential. McConnell and his allies lied their way through the impeachment of a president, simply insisting that the evidence was not evidence and the testimony not testimony. The movement has lied its way through a pandemic, turning even the most rote of pandemic safety precautions—masks, even—into conspiracies and partisan litmus tests.

When Michael Caputo and his aides insisted that children were nearly immune to the virus and could not spread it, it was not ideology. It was a lie meant to keep more of the "economy" open even if the more pertinent metric—deaths—was multiplied.

When the movement claims "antifa"—a group that does not actually exist—is behind police reform protests, it is a lie. It is propaganda intended purely to discredit protestors, and better facilitate state and militia violence against them.

When Sen. Ron Johnson pipelines the work of known Russian operatives into his committee to declare that he has discovered very serious doings, doings that suggest his opponents are secretly corrupt in ways no American law enforcement has ever been able to find, he is fully aware of his own actions. He is not stupid.

When Attorney General William Barr releases a document that grossly undermines a report on Russian election interference that benefited his party, and follows up by launching conspiracy after conspiracy all premised on the notion that it is American law enforcement that is corrupt for going after Republican targets, he is lying to the public for the sake of the party.

The movement of Republicanism is propagandistic in nature. Lies are deployed towards political ends. All involved know they are lies. All involved spread the lies willingly. Fox News exists as propaganda factory. Donald Trump exists as propaganda factory. McConnell exists as propaganda factory. The sitting attorney general, the president's odd private lawyer—the only through line is relentless lying to the public about everything, all the time, for power.

There's no textualist in conservatism. Nonsense about precedents and institutions is barely even given lip service. There are no "deficit hawks," or "small government" idealism. None of those things have survived. The only takeaway from White House press briefings is a single, fundamental point: These are today's lies. If you don't like them, there will be others tomorrow.

There is a word for all of this. Declaring that your leaders are allowed to commit crimes while demanding the arrest of enemies on false charges; the rejection of facts and the explicit declaration that the free press is an enemy of the people for presenting information that conflicts with the state's own preferred interpretations; the altering and realtering of supposed norms so that the opposition is, invariably, declared to be out of control in their requests, so out of control that it is now necessary to alter the rules of government to properly constrain them:

It is authoritarianism. The party is a propaganda movement devoted only to self-preservation. There is not a stitch of prior ideological principle that will survive from 2016 to 2020—or from 2018 on a Monday to 2018 on a Tuesday. The rules are whatever they need to be to suppress the movement's perceived enemies. Not merely for a desperately needed Supreme Court seat, but for the now-existential election and all its myriad details.

Asked whether Trump wants election delayed, will accept foreign help, Trump team refuses to say

It was another typical day on the Sunday shows, the place where America's most powerful people congregate to, for the most part, brazenly lie to us. Today's version came with one thing that the Trump team Very Much wants to talk about—banning social media app TikTok—and several they very much did not.

The two things they didn't want to talk about: Whether Donald Trump has asked his staff about delaying the November elections, and whether Trump's White House and/or campaign will accept foreign "assistance" in defeating former Vice President Joe Biden.

WATCH: Trump adviser Jason Miller is asked three (3) times whether the Trump administration or campaign would accept foreign assistance in this election. Three (3) times, he refuses to say no. pic.twitter.com/Kcgm021pHP

— DNC War Room (@DNCWarRoom) August 2, 2020

That Trump campaign creature and deadbeat dad Jason Miller was so aggressively unwilling to answer straight-up whether the Trump team would be willing to accept foreign election assistance to beat Biden, on Fox News Sunday, is probably not surprising. Miller instead called it a "silly question," which to his credit is true: Trump himself faced impeachment for extorting a foreign government to provide such help, using the tools of his office, so pretending there is some remaining doubt about whether Trump and his team of people who did such a thing would do such a thing is indeed "silly."

This one is on Fox host Chris Wallace. If you book the oozing gastropod Miller on your show, you know what you're going to get: Lying. Gaslighting. Dear Leader-isms a-plenty. And you would still talk to him ... why? The point of bringing on a spokesperson who you can be absolutely sure will lie about anything and everything pertinent is what, exactly?

Newest Trump chief of staff Mark Meadows, plucked from his House seat after a campaign of vigorously defending Trump from both the thing Trump was impeached over and every last thing he wasn't, had his own moment of not-gonna-answer-that when asked on Face the Nation whether Trump, after suggesting in a tweet that the presidential election be delayed, asked "you or anybody else in the administration to look into" delaying it.

Meadows couldn't answer that one. Or rather, wouldn't answer that one, instead swerving to attacks on pandemic vote-by-mail efforts with the usual aplomb of a treasonous dirtbag man with no particular attachment to seeing those elections happen. He can't answer whether Trump administration members were specifically asked, by Trump, if there was a way to delay the elections? Really now?

White House Chief of Staff Mark Meadows doesn't answer John Dickerson's question about "did the president ask you or anybody else in the administration to look into the idea of delaying the election day?" pic.twitter.com/dclXhW8ZcE

— Aaron Rupar (@atrupar) August 2, 2020

If you can't give an emphatic no to that one, we can all read between the lines. All right then, so it's come up.

None of this bodes very well for the elections, of course. Meadows was among the House Republicans most willing to be crooked on Trump's behalf back in Congress; presumed foreign agent Rep. Devin Nunes has been getting anti-Biden packets from pro-Russian Ukrainians while ex-House Republican Mike Pompeo, of the same vintage, uses his State Department perch to distribute anti-Biden materials to House Republicans while hiding it from Democrats.

There's a coordinated Republican strategy to manufacture foreign dirt, using pro-Russian foreign forces, to attack Biden with conspiracy theories in the final months of the election so that the best American pal foreign autocrats ever had can cling to power for another four years. From Pompeo to Barr, from Nunes to Meadows to Giuliani to Miller, they're sifting through disinformation to see what they can plausibly use before the press, the American people, intelligence services and federal investigators catch wind of it.

It'll probably be very stupid things, given what Giuliani has presented so far, but that doesn't mean they won't go all-in on the effort. If Trump and his team cannot be bothered to form even a mediocre plan for combatting the pandemic that has now killed 150,000 Americans and which may kill 250,000 before November—and they clearly can’t—then arguing that whoever Trump’s running against would be even worse is the only remaining play.

Democrats ask for FBI briefing on foreign disinformation efforts around Sen. Ron Johnson

Monday, top Democratic lawmakers asked FBI director Christopher Wray to provide classified briefings to Congress on an unspecified but "ongoing" "concerted foreign information campaign" targeting Congress with the aim of disrupting the 2020 presidential elections.

Reporters have now been able to get a bit more information on what those lawmakers have been getting at: Both Politico and The New York Times are reporting that the classified addendum to the letter touches on Sen. Ron Johnson's would-be investigation of Hunter Biden, which has been the pipeline through which Trump "personal lawyer" Rudy Giuliani has been funneling known-false information from his network of Ukrainian criminals and disinformation brokers. Specifically, notes the Times, Sen. Ron Johnson has been relying heavily on a Ukrainian figure thought by the FBI to be a "conduit" for Russian disinformation.

None of this information is new. Johnson's eagerness to solicit testimony from ex-Ukrainian official Andrii Telizhenko was the subject of public alarm and a previous intelligence community warning. Johnson has been dismissive of complaints about his reliance on known dodgy sources, though he was pressured into giving up on the idea of taking Telizhenko's testimony directly.

Reading between the lines here, then, at least one part of Democratic lawmakers’ concerns appear to be that Sen. Johnson is using his committee and "Biden" investigations to legitimize foreign disinformation operations targeting Biden in the 2020 election—or, rather, that at least one foreign disinformation campaign is targeting Johnson, using his eagerness to boost Trump's election chances to dispense election disinformation directly from the mouths of Republican senators.

There are a few things to know here. Most importantly, Johnson cannot claim gullibility in stovepiping foreign disinformation here. After a specific intelligence community warning and after mountains of public reports on the sketchiness of Giuliani's Ukrainian associates, many of whom are pro-Russian Ukrainians forced from their positions by the public and new government, and their debunked claims against their enemies. Johnson has continued to "investigate" information that has already been discredited, and it is clearly intended, like "Benghazi," as means of influencing upcoming elections. Ron Johnson knows precisely what he is doing and who he is dealing with.

So the question is not whether Russian and other foreign disinformation campaigns are targeting Johnson, but the extent to which Johnson is co-conspiring with those brokers to craft and release election-bending smears cooperatively. In his defense, Sen. Ron Johnson is widely regarded as one of the dullest senators in the institution, if not the most dull, and so there is the slightest possibility he does not see himself as coordinating with the disinformation campaign—or, more accurately, does not connect the dots as to what that coordination means, when tied to foreign disinformation sources.

Johnson has long been a puzzle, and that is putting it mildly. He was one of a collection of hard-right Republican lawmakers who inexplicably traveled to Moscow for the Fourth of July, in 2018, and who came back claiming that the Russian hacking and disinformation campaigns in the 2016 presidential elections were being blown "way out of proportion."

There's no particular reason to believe Johnson is not stovepiping foreign disinformation willingly. That was the very premise of Rudy Giuliani's "legal" help to Trump's electoral needs. Johnson was also vociferous in defending Trump when Trump extorted the Ukrainian government by withholding military aid until that government agreed to give a public announcement supporting that disinformation, leading to Trump's impeachment.

What Democrats are not publicly saying, but should, is that Johnson is not acting as target of a foreign disinformation effort, but a co-conspirator. He is a full ally of the Trump-Giuliani-Ukraine-Russia disinformation campaign.

Sen. Joni Ernst says 130,000 American deaths show Trump is ‘stepping forward’

Though it is a holiday weekend, the Sunday news shows continued on in mostly the usual fashion. Trump ally Sen. Joni Ernst, one of the corrupt man-child's most ardent defenders as the Republican Senate nullified impeachment charges against Trump without investigation, once had a lot to day about two (2) Americans dying of Ebola under President Barack Obama, saying it showed "failed leadership." CNN host Dana Bash asked Ernst whether 130,000 Americans dying in the (now fully out-of-control) COVID-19 pandemic also is showing "failed leadership."

Sen. Joni Ernst replied with yet another response seemingly hand-tailored to show just how corrupt, incompetent, and buffoonish the Republican Party has become. After a long filibuster resulting in Bash repeating of the question: "No, I think that the president is stepping forward," she clowned.

CNN's Dana Bash: You said in 2014 that Obama showed "failed leadership" with Ebola, when only 2 Americans died. Would you say Trump's showed failed leadership with coronavirus as 130,000 Americans have died? Sen. Joni Ernst: "No, I think that the president is stepping forward" pic.twitter.com/WQqSC82OSt

— Justin Baragona (@justinbaragona) July 5, 2020

Lord, now that was just pathetic. I’m embarrassed for both of them.

Again, the whole premise of so-called "news" programs is invalidated if political leaders are simply allowed to bullshit their way through each with no repercussions. Bash's question was spot-on, probing whether a sitting senator's supposed outrage at one pandemic would translate to the next. Clearly, it did not.

What, then, should the repercussions be for being so transparently a hack? Should a buzzer sound? Should a duck drop from the ceiling? During the pandemic itself physical solutions are largely out of bounds, as most of the people praising Donald Trump's brilliant handling of a pandemic now expected by the White House to result in at least a quarter million dead are praising him from inside their own homes because it is simply too unsafe to travel to the studios as usual. That means the best solution is, for now, right out; nobody is going to agree to have a pie-throwing machine installed in their den.

Hecklers, then. I'm going to propose the "news" shows liven up their broadcasts with professional hecklers. If any politician says something as egregiously tawdry as Joni Ernst says regularly, ninety seconds of interview time will be given to a team of hecklers to point it out and roast their target into oblivion.

Hey, it's more news than what's currently being broadcast. If the nation's top political reporters are incapable of bringing shame to those that quite transparently deserve it, we need to bring in people with more appropriate skills.

Trump, Ratcliffe implausibly claim Trump was never told of Russian bounties for murder of US troops

Numerous news agencies have now confirmed the story broken by The New York Times on Friday: The Russian government secretly issued bounties on U.S. troops in Afghanistan, offering cash to militants in exchange for the killing of American soldiers. The Russian intelligence unit in question is believed to be the same one behind the poisoning of ex-spy Sergei Skripal, in 2018.

The Trump administration's response to this now-undeniable news is coalescing around a bizarre argument: Despite the immediate danger to U.S. forces, nobody in U.S. intelligence told Donald Trump or Mike Pence it was going on.

Despite the Times reporting that Trump's National Security Council met in late March to present Trump with a "menu" of possible retaliatory responses, both Trump and his surrounding toadies now claim that Trump and Pence were not told of the clear and substantive danger to U.S. troops. Director of National Intelligence John Ratcliffe, newly installed in the post after maudlin and sycophantic performances as a House Republican defending Trump during impeachment proceedings, gave the most definitive declaration:

"I have confirmed that neither the President nor the Vice President were ever briefed on any intelligence alleged by the New York Times in its reporting yesterday. The White House statement addressing this issue earlier today, which denied such a briefing occurred, was accurate. The New York Times reporting, and all other subsequent news reports about such an alleged briefing are inaccurate."

This is almost certainly a lie—as would be expected from Ratcliffe. There are few plausible scenarios in which top U.S. intelligence officials would hide a Russian operation to assassinate U.S. soldiers from the White House, and fewer still in which this would happen, but the Times' government sources would instead falsely invent a scenario in which he was.

Trump's installed team, however, is suggesting one of only two possible scenarios. One, that those surrounding Trump and Pence did not feel a high-level Russian espionage operation directly promoting the murder of U.S. troops was worth White House attention.

Or two, the U.S. intelligence community was intentionally hiding information about the Russian operation from Trump and Pence. If so, that would be an astonishing choice, and would suggest that intelligence officials believed there were national security reasons to keep Trump and Pence in the dark about just how much the U.S. knew about Russian operations.

The Director of National Intelligence is either suggesting that Trump and Pence are such impotent figures that his office did not bother to alert them or discuss with them a Russian plot to murder Americans, or that his office believed telling Trump about the Russian scheme would itself compromise U.S. security. Both of those possibilities are alarming.

It seems far more likely that both Ratcliffe and the White House are lying, directly, about Trump's involvement. At the end of March, Trump and Putin spoke by phone five times in three weeks, an "unprecedented" level of communications; the White House, as usual, has concealed the contents of those calls.

Trump's own denials are scattershot and ridiculous. In a petulant pair of tweets Trump proclaimed that "Nobody briefed or told me, @VP Pence, or Chief of Staff @MarkMeadows about the so-called attacks on our troops in Afghanistan by Russians, as reported through an “anonymous source” by the Fake News @nytimes," before wandering off to attack Hunter Biden again.

But Mark Meadows was not Trump's chief of staff during the period in question, and Trump is misstating the actual story. Russians did not "attack" U.S. troops directly, but have offered bounties for others to attack them. Trump, or whoever is tweeting for him, seems to have little ability to comprehend the thing he is denying—a point in favor of Ratcliffe's claim that Trump is simply too stupid to be of use to intelligence officials, to be sure.

Again: We will almost certainly learn that Ratcliffe, Trump, and Trump's indignant but forever-lying spokescreatures are lying blatantly about Trump's knowledge of the Russian operation. That is almost a given. The next question to be answered is why Trump (and Pence), despite learning of the bounties in March, have taken no action in response to Russia's act.

That answer, too, seems self-evident. It is the same reason it was necessary to install a thoroughly corrupt but loyal House Republican into a top intelligence spot to begin with.

Lt. Col. Vindman is up for promotion, but everyone is presuming Trump will just be corrupt again

Most Americans last heard of Lt. Col. Alexander Vindman when Donald Trump had both him and his uninvolved twin brother forcibly escorted out of the White House in overt retaliation for Vindman's testimony to House impeachment investigators. Vindman spoke of what he personally witnessed in the Trump White House's effort to extort the Ukrainian government into producing "dirt" on Trump's election opponent before releasing congressionally mandated aid for the war-torn country. It was one of Trump's first acts of vengeance against those that testified against him, after being immunized from lawbreaking by the Republican-led Senate.

Now Lt. Col. Vindman is up for promotion, to full colonel, and according to The Washington Post the question hanging over the Pentagon is whether Trump will once again reach down to retaliate against Vindman, turning the usual promotion process into yet another example of the fascist man-child's use of government as a tool to protect and enable his own lawbreaking.

The Post's article is mostly speculative, with senior officials and the Pentagon expressing concern that once the normally noncontroversial list of hundreds of promotions hits the White House and Senate for confirmation, Trump will create new military controversy by making the move. Nobody believes Trump to be above it. Nobody is seriously pretending, at this point, that Trump has not been using his office to personally retaliate against impeachment witnesses, whistleblowers, investigators, and anyone else who he believes has improperly challenged his absolute authority to do crimes.

Everybody knows Trump is a sack of crap. Everybody knows he has no impulse control to call on, even if it would be in his interest to not do the overly corrupt thing. It's a given. The question, then, is whether his staff can perhaps jingle some keys or whatnot for long enough for the promotion process to go by as it normally does, unimpeded. Perhaps show him a new “antifa" mug, get him riled about that. Perhaps tell him that a fictitious world leader from a fictitious country called him a “poopyhead,” something sure to set him off for two weeks and render him unable to function as anything but short-thumbed tweet machine.

But this seems unlikely, and the subtext of the Post's speculation and sources is that all involved are so dreading having this battle that the promotion roster itself miiiight have been delayed while everyone involved steeled themselves for it, or might have only been delayed for the more prosaic reason of, you know, Trump so f--king up the response to a worldwide pandemic that even the United States military is unable to perform its usual functions at full capacity, while a "senior defense official" tells the Post that actually there was no delay at all, which doesn't seem like the kind of assertion you'd normally insist on being anonymous to pipe up with.

So we'll see. Will Trump take the opportunity to avoid even one new clusterf--k, even as the military reels from what was very close to a direct order to attack American citizens in Washington, D.C. streets? The odds say ... no.

Senate Republicans refuse to even look at Trump’s tweet smearing 75-year-old attacked by police

This morning Donald Trump smeared a 75-year-old American citizen attacked by police in one of the impeached president’s most delusional tweets yet, and that is saying something. "Buffalo protester shoved by Police could be an ANTIFA provocateur. 75 year old Martin Gugino was pushed away after appearing to scan police communications in order to black out the equipment. @OANN I watched, he fell harder than was pushed. Was aiming scanner. Could be a set up?" tweeted the conspiracy-promoting crackpot who has barricaded himself in the White House. (A phone. The man was holding what is known in common circles as a "phone.")

For three years, Senate Republicans have evaded questions about Trump's most grotesque behaviors by insisting that they, America's most powerful lawmakers, have not seen them. It is such a tired game that reporters like Politico's Burgess Everett and Andrew Desiderio are printing out Trump's statements to show them to shut-in senators. The result? Senate Republicans refusing to even look at the paper as they flee.

Multiple reporters pressed Republican senators for their thoughts on Trump now peddling insane conspiracy theories about an American citizen who has been hospitalized after being assaulted by Buffalo police force.

Sen. Marco Rubio: "I didn't see it, you're telling me about it, I don't read Twitter, I only write on it." (Rubio "liked" another of Trump's tweets only four days ago, one of at least 1,663 tweets known to have been read by Sen. Insert Bible Verse.)

Sen. Dan Sullivan: “I don’t want to comment right now. I’m on my way to a meeting. I’ll see it when I see it.”

Sen. John Cornyn going for the cornpone I-am-an-idiot routine: "You know, a lot of this stuff just goes over my head."

Sen. Kelly Loeffler: Fled to an elevator.

Sen. Cory Gardner: Didn't "want" to look at it. Fled.

Sen. Ted Cruz: “I don’t comment on the tweets.” (Sen. Cruz does, however, comment on other presidential tweets.)

Sen. Lamar Alexander: “Voters can evaluate that. I’m not going to give a running commentary on the president’s tweets.”

Sen. Susan Fret-Level Collins: “I think it would best if the president did not comment on issues that are before the courts.”

Breaking Republican ranks with unusual admissions that they do at least know how to read:

Sen. John Thune: “Most of us up here would rather not be political commentators on the president’s tweets. That’s a daily exercise that is something you all have to cover.” But: “It’s a serious accusation, which should only be made with facts and evidence. And I haven't seen any yet.”

Sen. Mitt Romney: “It was a shocking thing to say. And I won’t dignify it with any further comments.”

With the exception of Romney, each of these Republican senators, and all the others, voted to dismiss impeachment charges brought against Donald Trump with similar defenses. They claimed they had not seen the evidence of Trump's actions, and that they were simply too busy to bother reading it when presented. It is based on cowardice, for the most part, but also on a more transactional calculation: So long as they support Trump, no matter what radicalism, authoritarian proclamations, promotion of violence, or crimes he may commit, the party can continue recrafting America into something more pleasing to their own racist eyes.

There has been no bottom, even after an attack on an American church so that Trump could commandeer it out from under clergy for his own purposes. There will not be one any time soon. They have betrayed their country countless times now; there is no going back.

�In case you didn�t see the tweet...� pic.twitter.com/eoYHYW02dz

— Andrew Desiderio (@AndrewDesiderio) June 9, 2020