World War III? Not necessarily

“Let’s Go Places.”

Gen. Qasem Soleimani is dead. Good.

And now we’re speculating about whether this could trigger a Third World War. Not good.

David Schanzer, a terrorism expert and professor of the practice at Duke University’s Sanford School of Public Policy, warned the killing “will strengthen the Iranian regime domestically, the exact opposite goal of our policy.”

“President Trump’s decision to escalate hostilities by killing Qassem Soleimani epitomizes the failure of his strategy for dealing with Iran,” he said in a press release obtained by McClatchy News. “ … By engaging in a unilateral act of aggression inside Iraq, we have pushed our Iraqi allies even closer to Iran.”

Quincy Institute analyst and Colby College International Relations Professor Steven Simon said it is unlikely weapons of mass destruction will fall on a city such as Chicago in the near future.

Still, many on Twitter feared the worst.

People on Twitter always fear the worst. Still, while I’m shedding no tears for this guy, I’m anxious about what happens next. If the 21st century has taught us anything, it’s that killing even the most deserving bad guys doesn’t automatically result in peace.

The one halfway-decent thing you can say about the Trump Administration is that it hasn’t gotten America trapped in any more Middle Eastern wars, but who could possibly have any confidence in their ability to handle a major international crisis?

Hopefully, Daniel McCarthy’s take on this is correct:

Iran’s Islamic revolutionary regime might well want revenge. But is avenging Soleimani worth risking the regime’s existence? If killing him was an act of war, is this a war Iran is prepared to fight and win? How, exactly? Iran couldn’t win a war with Saddam Hussein’s Iraq in the 1980s. Contrary to what neoconservatives might want you to think, Iran has not become a military superpower akin to Nazi Germany in the 30-odd years since then. Also contrary to what neoconservatives sometimes say, Iran is not irrational to the point of being suicidal. But some panicky anti-war supporters of President Trump have adopted this implausible view of Tehran. They think honor will demand that Iran retaliate, leading to out-and-out war.

But nation-states are not 18th-century gentlemen fighting duels. Most regimes are concerned above anything else with their own survival. This is as true for Iran as it is for North Korea, another country which is not about to attack the United States, despite what much of the press and foreign-policy world would like you to believe. 

Are US forces in the Middle East in danger of being targeted by Hezbollah or other Iranian proxies? Here too the stakes are clear. President Trump ordered the strike that killed Soleimani because Iranian-backed demonstrators and militias were harassing the US embassy in Iraq and an American contractor was killed in a rocket attack on an Iraqi military base in December. The Trump administration has said that Soleimani was planning more mischief, which is easy to believe: far from being a martyr to peace and non-interventionism, Soleimani was a man whose business was fomenting war and insurgency. It’s tempting to call him an Iranian neoconservative. He was in Iraq on a mission of exporting revolution.

[…]

Donald Trump was elected to put Washington’s emphasis back on the well-being of Americans, rather than on the imperial politics of the Middle East. A war with Iran would be a betrayal of his mandate — a war that would lead to other wars and more prolonged occupation of the region. His domestic agenda, all his policies on trade and immigration, would fall by the wayside in the same fashion that George W. Bush’s did as a result of the Iraq War. He would become another war president, and another failed president. But killing Soleimani doesn’t make that inevitable — on the contrary, by itself Soleimani’s death brings an end to one of the villains whose role in stoking anti-American violence in the region made it harder for us to leave. President Trump has struck a blow for peace.

“President Trump has struck a blow for peace.” I know those words, but that phrase makes no sense.

Incoming!

Yes, some people have predicted twenty of the last three recessions. But CNBC has a long list of warning signs:

Perhaps the most talked about recession indicator is the inverted yield curve.

Amid falling interest rates in the broader U.S. bond market, the yield on the benchmark 10-year Treasury note has fallen below the 2-year yield several times since Aug. 14. In a healthy market, long-term bonds carry a higher interest rate than short-term bonds. When short-term bonds deliver a higher yield, it’s a called an inversion of the yield curve. The bond market phenomenon is historically a trusty signal of an eventual recession: It has preceded the seven last recessions. A recession occurs about 22 months after an inversion on average, according to Credit Suisse.

[…]

Gross domestic product in the U.S. is slowing. The economy expanded by 2% in the second quarter, the Commerce Department said in its second reading of GDP on Thursday.

Two percent is the lowest growth rate since the fourth quarter of 2018 and down from 3% growth in the first three months of this year.

[…]

U.S. manufacturer growth slowed to the lowest level in almost 10 years in August. The U.S. manufacturing PMI (purchasing managers’ index) was 49.9 in August, down from 50.4 in July.

The reading is below the neutral 50.0 threshold for the first time since September 2009, according to IHS Markit. Any reading below 50 signals a contraction.

Because Donald Trump lives rent-free in our heads now, most people are wondering about whether the recession will start in time to sink his already shaky re-election chances. But I’m wondering how it will affect politics on this side of the border.

A recession will not start in time for the next federal election, but there’s a good chance we’ll be in one not long afterward. And, fairly or not, whoever’s in charge will take the blame for it.

In other words, whoever wins the federal election in 2019 may come to regret it in 2023. Or sooner, if – as looks increasingly likely – we have a minority government.

The coming Epstein apocalypse

This week, hundreds of pages of documents related to a civil suit against Epstein may be released – and many of his rich, famous and powerful enablers named.

…A judge could decide on July 24 how and when to unseal a trove of documents — some 2,000 pages worth — in connection with a civil lawsuit filed by an Epstein accuser against his one-time companion Ghislaine Maxwell. The papers may reveal allegations of sexual abuse involving people described in court filings as “prominent individuals.”

That civil suit and its remnants have been in the courts for four years. But, in a startling coincidence of timing, an appeals panel ruled just three days before the wealthy financier was taken into custody on July 6 that the documents should be unsealed. The long-running Epstein saga entered a new chapter.

“It’s what everyone is betting — that it’s going to get interesting,” said an investment banker who asked not to be identified. “Like the rest of New York, I’m waiting.”

[…]

The civil proceeding involving the sealed documents is related to a defamation suit filed in 2015. The plaintiff was Virginia Giuffre, a Floridian who claimed Epstein sexually abused her for two years starting in 2000, when she was 16, and that Maxwell participated. Giuffre sued after Maxwell publicly called her a liar. The documents in question were filed in connection with a summary-judgment motion in the case, which was settled.

Giuffre first accused Epstein in December 2014 when she attempted to join a suit by two other of his accusers who sought to nullify the federal non-prosecution agreement in Florida. In her request, Giuffre included descriptions of abuse by Epstein and other prominent individuals “including numerous prominent American politicians, powerful business executives, foreign presidents, a well-known Prime Minister, and other world leaders,” the three-member appeals court panel said in ordering the unsealing.

Maxwell wants the full appeals court to reconsider the unsealing order. “The media have shown an insatiable appetite for any shred of information/speculation to publish and broadcast since Mr. Epstein’s arrest,” Maxwell said, and that interest could result in “due process concerns” for Epstein and other potential prosecution targets and witnesses.

Even if the materials remain sealed, we already know about many of the people in Epstein’s circle, including Presidents Trump and Clinton and even Prince Andrew. This New York Times story lists many more, including some you may not have expected. (Chelsea Handler?)

The Trumpissist’s Prayer

I’ve seen several variations on the “Narcissist’s Prayer,” but it basically goes like this:

That didn’t happen.

And if it did, it wasn’t that bad.

And if it was, that’s not a big deal.

And if it is, that’s not my fault.

And if it was, I didn’t mean it.

And if I did…

You deserved it.

I suspect that’s what Jonathan Last, whose daily newsletter The Triad is an essential read, had in mind when he wrote about how Trump and his supporters rationalize what he has unleashed:

The perfect spin cycle for Trump and his media quislings:

Of course he didn’t mean that.

You can’t prove he meant it.

It’s totally reasonable, why are you carrying on about it?

It actually means this other thing why are you stupid and dishonest?

You’re damn right he meant that first thing. MAGA, bitches!

They do this over and over. With Charlottesville. With “fire and fury.” With the Access Hollywood tape. With the Mueller report. With Trump’s saying that George W. Bush committed treason and that Ted Cruz’s father helped kill JFK.

At this point, there aren’t even any questions to be asked, except for this:

Where is the country supposed to go from here?

Does anyone believe this is going to get better before Election Day, 2020?

Update: see the Narcissist’s Prayer, above:

President Donald on Thursday disavowed the “send her back” chant that broke out at his rally on Wednesday night.

“I was not happy with it. I disagree with it,” Trump said to reporters about the chant, which began after the president again went after Rep. Ilhan Omar (D-Minn.) as part of his ongoing attack on four progressive freshman congresswomen.

This is n̶o̶t̶ now normal

What a difference three years in power makes:

When a tape surfaced in 2016 of Trump boasting about grabbing women’s genitals, top Republican officials briefly pulled their endorsements, disinvited him from events and even sought to remove him from the ticket.

When, as president, Trump equivocated on condemning white supremacists in a deadly Virginia rally, top business leaders disbanded White House advisory boards in protest.

But on Monday, a day after Trump posted tweets promoting the racist trope that four minority congresswomen should “go back” to their countries of ancestry, the president waltzed onto the South Lawn of the White House with the confidence of a man fully supported by his party and by much of the corporate world that had once kept him at arm’s length.

[…]

Even as a few Republican lawmakers spoke out against Trump’s language, with some specifically calling it racist, most stayed quiet or sought to soften their admonishment of the president by mixing it with criticism of the women he attacked.

“They’re just terrified of crossing swords with Trump, and they stay mute even when the president unleashes racist tirades,” said presidential historian Douglas Brinkley, who has been critical of Trump. “Republican leaders are now culpable for encouraging this kind of rank bigotry. By not speaking out, by staying mum, they are greenlighting hate rhetoric.”

Trump is Trump. The man cannot help being an ignorant, racist oaf any more than the scorpion can resist stinging the frog.

But his enablers? They know better. And years from now, when they’re saying how awful they knew Trump was all along, don’t let them forget it.

I believe Tom Arnold

The guy who was once married to Roseanne Barr and was surprisingly good in True Lies says he’s heard tapes of the President using racist slurs while filming his reality show:

This week, Arnold went a step further, repeating his claim (this time to widespread media attention—try googling it) that he has seen a secret “outtakes” reel made by Apprentice staff showing the now Republican president-elect saying “every racist thing ever,” and then some.

“I have the outtakes to The Apprentice where he says every bad thing ever, every offensive, racist thing ever,” Arnold told Seattle radio station KIRO. “It was him sitting in that chair saying the N-word, saying the C-word, calling his son a retard, just being so mean to his own children.”

What made me think about that years-old story today? Oh, nothing…

President Donald Trump referenced Rep. Ilhan Omar (D-MN) in a series of posts that literally urged the freshman congresswoman to go back to Africa.

Side note: I wish I had a time machine so I could go back to 1999 and tell people, “Tom Arnold is looking for tapes of President Trump saying the N-word on his reality show.”

We’re all Al Bundy now

In an interview with Rich Eisen, the great Ed O’Neill talked about how he got his breakout role on Married With Children by portraying Al Bundy not as angry and outraged by his family’s antics, but as a resigned loser who was past the point of caring:

Yesterday it was revealed that the President of the United States and his family were running a charity scam for years, and that legal threats have forced them to shut it down:

President Donald Trump’s personal charitable foundation has agreed to dissolve under judicial supervision amid an ongoing lawsuit concerning its finances, according to a document filed Tuesday in Manhattan Supreme Court by the New York state Attorney General’s office.

The dissolution of the Donald J. Trump Foundation resolves one element of the attorney general’s civil lawsuit against the foundation, which includes claims that the President and his three eldest children — Don Jr., Ivanka and Eric — violated campaign-finance laws and abused its tax-exempt status. Rather than operating it as a genuine charity, the lawsuit alleges, they instead allowed it to be used “as little more than a checkbook to serve Mr. Trump’s business and political interests.”

According to prosecutors, Trump’s phony charity scammed veterans:

The suit, filed in June, alleges that Trump and his children violated federal and state charities law with a “persistent” pattern of conduct that included unlawful coordination with the 2016 Trump presidential campaign.

Central to the lawsuit is a nationally televised charity fundraiser for military veterans that Trump held in Des Moines, Iowa, on January 28, 2016, just ahead of the Republican caucus vote there. The foundation received $2.8 million as a result of that event. According to the New York suit, Trump campaign staff then directed the disbursement of those funds for Trump’s political benefit.

The lawsuit also alleges that Trump mined his charity for “personal enrichment,” including using $100,000 from the nonprofit to settle legal claims against his Mar-a-Lago resort in Palm Beach, Florida.

Imagine if this had come up with Obama, or Clinton, or either of the Bushes in the White House.  It would be a scandal the likes of which Washington had never seen.  Public outrage would force the President to resign in disgrace.

For this President, it’s barely a blip on the radar:

cnn

Again: the President of the United States ran a phony charity for his own benefit, and it’s little more than an afterthought compared to other stories about Trump-related scandals, corruption and investigations.  A sentencing hearing for his former National Security Advisor, whom the Judge basically accused of actual treason, bumped it to little more than a footnote.

While he was running for President, Trump famously said he could shoot someone on Fifth Avenue and not lose any of his supporters.  He hasn’t personally killed anyone yet, but our ability to be shocked has certainly taken a hit.

Trump’s toothless NDA

Harry Litman, a former federal prosecutor, says Stormy Daniels shouldn’t worry about having to pay millions of dollars to the President even if the now-infamous non-disclosure agreement isn’t set aside:

Take the case of Stormy Daniels, the porn actress who says she had an affair with Trump in 2006. Trump lawyer Michael Cohen said he negotiated an agreement with Daniels in October 2016 in which he paid her $130,000 and required she not disclose any details of the alleged affair or otherwise disparage Trump. The “hush agreement,” as Daniels aptly calls it, is backed by a so-called “liquidated damages” provision, which purports to require she pay $1 million for any and all breaches.

[…]

Trump and Cohen’s Bronx bluster notwithstanding, the “liquidated damages” clause in Daniels’s hush agreement is a far less potent tool then they want her to believe. Indeed, it is not enforceable.
Contract law is pragmatic: It permits actual damages for breach, but not punishment. The breaching party is responsible for making the non-breaching party whole — nothing more.
There is a legitimate place in a contract for the “liquidated damages” clause. For some contracts, it is very hard for the parties to determine in advance the fair measure of damages in the event of a breach. In such a setting, the parties can include a clause that sets out what the damages will be.
However, and crucially, the set amount must be a reasonable forecast of the anticipated or actual harm from a breach. A party cannot simply name an arbitrary, exorbitant figure as the presumed “damages” from a breach, even if the other party agrees. If the law were otherwise, the breaching party would be locked in even when performance was inefficient or unfair, and the non-breaching party would reap a windfall.
When courts see a party using a liquidated damages clause to punish or deter a breach, they will condemn it as a “penalty” and strike it out of the contract.
Meanwhile, sit back and enjoy Daniels’ lawyer and a lawyer for Trump’s lawyer screaming at each other about this on CNN.  For twenty-six minutes.  As Allahpndit put it, “We were offered a ticket to the circus and accepted. We might as well get our money’s worth.”

Dowd is Done

There’s nothing I hate more than having to withdraw as legal counsel for a client, after putting in months of hard work. But when your client is determined not to listen to you, and in fact has repeatedly gone out of his way to flout your legal advice, there comes a point where you have to admit that the lawyer-client relationship has collapsed and you cannot represent this person any more.

Counsel for the President of the United States apparently felt the same way.

Good luck to Trump finding a replacement.  Maybe Joseph Rakofsky is still available, unless he’s in a conflict of interest because he sued Trump along with everyone else on the internet.

Protecting Donald Trump fans from themselves

The Attorney General of New York is suing Donald Trump for running an allegedly fraudulent “Trump University.”

Yes, “Trump University.”  My favorite allegation: “Trump University speakers repeatedly insinuated that Donald Trump would appear at the three-day seminar, claiming that ‘he is going to be in town’ or ‘often drops by’ and ‘might show up’ or had just left, or baited students with the promise of a ‘surprise’ or a ‘special guest speaker.’ As students later discovered, these claims were untrue. Rather than being photographed with Donald Trump, they were offered the chance to have photos taken with a life-size photo of Donald Trump.”

The Donald™ hit back by saying the prosecution is politically motivated.  (To be fair, there’s no reason they can’t both be true.)  Meanwhile, the Washington Post‘s Alexandra Petri concedes that TU is almost certainly a scam, but how can you help anyone gullible enough to sign up for it?

There is another word for “consumers who believed in the Trump brand” enough to pay $35,000 to go to Donald Trump University, and it rhymes with “Borons.”

New York is suing Trump for fraud. Maybe the word “University” shouldn’t have been in the name, but does the state of New York always swoop in on such cases? If so, I know some people who paid $12.50 each to attend “Monsters University” at their local cinemas who learned very little about being monsters and became, if anything, less attractive as hiring prospects.

Also, doesn’t the proximity of the name “Donald Trump” in the phrase “Donald Trump University” cancel out “university,” like “Facebook” in “Facebook privacy”?

Donald Trump University didn’t make you rich? Donald Trump can barely make Donald Trump rich!

What did people think they were going to get out of this? Even if the program did what it promised — offered you an instructor hand-picked by Donald Trump who showed you the way to replicate The Donald’s success — you wouldn’t actually be much better off. “Okay,” the instructor would say. “First, be born the son of real estate developer Fred Trump. Then lose a lot of money. Call me back when you’ve completed that step, and we’ll discuss hair options.”

Fraud is wrong. But if you looked at this offering and your thought was, “Great! I will just give Donald Trump $35,000, and then I’ll be a millionaire like him!” maybe you needed this wake-up call before you embarked on any other business ventures, like, say, mailing Elon Musk your life savings “as an investment.” What was your backup plan, to buy 2000 As Seen On TV Earwax Vacuums, and use the $50,000 you “saved” to start a business?