Saturday, January 19, 2019

Trump Is As Bewildered As A Kindergartener At A Seminar On String Theory When Anything Concerning Governance And Economics Comes Up


Late Friday, Rolling Stone ran an interview by Andy Kroll with a rare Republican congressman who is acting like he's more afraid of a 2020 Democratic challenge than he is of Trump. Will Hurd only won by the skin of his teeth in November-- 103,285 (49.2%) to 102,359 (48.7%), 926 votes-- winning at all only because the geniuses at the DCCC couldn't figure out it would have been better to run a Mexican-American in a district that is 71% Mexican-American. Hurd's district includes 820 miles on the U.S.-Mexico border and he's not in agreement with Trump about building a wall. He called Trump's claim of a border crisis is a "myth," and that "building a wall from sea to shining sea is the most expensive and least effective way to do border security. The average is $24.5 million a mile" and is a "third-century solution to a 21st-century problem."

Perhaps that was the kind of thing that inspired George Will to write yesterday that "The shabbiest U.S. president ever is an inexpressibly sad specimen." What a way to think about even an illegitimate fake "president." Will reminded his Washington Post column that "Half or a quarter of the way through this interesting experiment with an incessantly splenetic presidency, much of the nation has become accustomed to daily mortifications.  Or has lost its capacity for embarrassment, which is even worse.... Dislike of him should be tempered by this consideration: He is an almost inexpressibly sad specimen. It must be misery to awaken to another day of being Donald Trump. He seems to have as many friends as his pluperfect self-centeredness allows, and as he has earned in an entirely transactional life. His historical ignorance deprives him of the satisfaction of working in a house where much magnificent history has been made. His childlike ignorance-- preserved by a lifetime of single-minded self-promotion-- concerning governance and economics guarantees that whenever he must interact with experienced and accomplished people, he is as bewildered as a kindergartener at a seminar on string theory.”

Which is why this fountain of self-refuting boasts ('I have a very good brain') lies so much. He does so less to deceive anyone than to reassure himself. And as balm for his base, which remains oblivious to his likely contempt for them as sheep who can be effortlessly gulled by preposterous fictions. The tungsten strength of his supporters' loyalty is as impressive as his indifference to expanding their numbers.

Either the electorate, bored with a menu of faintly variant servings of boorishness, or the 22nd Amendment will end this, our shabbiest but not our first shabby presidency.
Trump had another bad day today

This kind of stuff has real effects in the real word. Early Friday, Noah Bierman answered a question, in part, about the government shut down. Why can’t Trump make deals? No one trusts him anymore. "[T]he president who campaigned as the world’s best deal-maker, vowing that he alone could fix Washington’s dysfunction, has been stymied as he looks for achievements before facing the voters again. Two years in, the man who built a political reputation as a guy who tells it like it is has lost the essential ingredients to closing deals: credibility and trust... The president’s squandered credibility, overlaid with nonstop investigations, is likely to imperil a second-half agenda that includes basic responsibilities-- raising the nation’s borrowing limit, most essentially-- as well as more ambitious goals. Among those are measures to rebuild the nation’s infrastructure, win congressional approval of a revised trade deal with Mexico and Canada, overhaul immigration laws and lower the costs of prescription drugs.
Sen. Mitch McConnell was jolted with a fresh reminder of President Trump’s capriciousness last month: The majority leader persuaded Republican colleagues to take a politically difficult vote to temporarily fund the government, but not a border wall, only to see Trump withdraw support-- initiating the longest shutdown in history.

...McConnell, having been burned, has largely left the shutdown fight to Trump. House Republicans, having lost their majority in large part because of voters’ own dismay with Trump, are now on the sidelines as he must battle House Speaker Nancy Pelosi. And Democrats, following her lead, are emboldened given their experience with the president’s unreliability as a negotiating partner.

Trump’s tactics were honed over decades. Throughout his business career, he moved from one project to the next-- real estate development, sales, casinos and branding-- often leaving scorned partners or creditors to deal with the fallout from bankruptcies or deals gone bad.

“This was all to stay ahead of his reputation,” said Michael D'Antonio, author of The Truth About Trump. But “in Washington,” he said, “you can’t escape who you are for very long. He’s proven that he can’t keep his word.”

The president has broken records for false statements, according to nonpartisan fact checkers. An increasing majority of voters-- by 61% to 34% in one recent poll-- say he is not honest. The same poll, from Quinnipiac University, found that voters also rated his leadership skills as poor, by 58% to 39%.

Complicating the problem, Trump has churned through staff faster than his predecessors. He has surrounded himself with a collection of temporary officials, family members and inexperienced advisors with little sway on Capitol Hill.

“They’re lacking some of the usual negotiating infrastructure,” said John Lawrence, former chief of staff to Pelosi. “In this White House, everything changes the next day: the personnel, the policies, the view of reality.”

Republican lawmakers’ criticism is muted, however, because even as Trump has ranked among the least popular presidents in modern history, he has consistently commanded overwhelming support from Republican voters, according to polls.

Still, the mistrust from nearly every quarter of Congress has grown each time he has broken his word, complicating efforts to pass his initiatives, according to former lawmakers, aides and close observers.

“Even things that should on paper be easy, there just always seems to be a way for him to step on his own foot,” said a former aide who requested anonymity to avoid upsetting his current employer. “Sometimes, this is unintentional-- he just says stuff.”

The act that precipitated the month-old shutdown, and has come to define it, occurred in December. McConnell received bogus assurances from the White House that Trump would sign a Senate bill to fund and keep the government open to Feb. 8 while negotiations on border money proceeded, according to a person familiar with the discussions.

After senators approved the bill by a voice vote, Trump, egged on by conservative media personalities, rejected the legislation in favor of a fight with Democrats over the wall. Without any bill funding a quarter of the government, a partial shutdown began days later.

McConnell, Republicans’ foremost deal-maker, has since stayed in the background. Other Republican senators were left vulnerable to conservatives’ charges they were too quick to cave, even as they were stuck answering for the government services unfulfilled and hundreds of thousands of federal employees unpaid, with no sense of how the president intended to win.

“It would have been great if they had told us they wanted this fight, because we would have started working on it,” Florida Republican Sen. Marco Rubio fumed as the shutdown began, three days before Christmas. “We have to deal with it now.”

Lawmakers have been dealing with Trump’s abrupt tactical shifts from his start, and at the White House he leaves the impression with each advisor who talks with him that he shares their point of view, until he doesn’t.
Anyone think any foreign leaders believe a thing he says? Yeah... maybe one.

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The McConnell-Pence-Kushner Plan-- Has Trump Asked Ann Coulter's Permission?


Does it surprise you that Americans are overwhelmingly pessimistic about Trump's illegitimate presidency? Only 29% of Americans think Trump's "presidency" will be successful in the long term. They must all be on the pharmaceuticals his allies are manufacturing and dumping all cross America.

In his incoherent speech today, never once mentioning the hundreds of thousands of federal works he's beens screwing over, Trump made an insincere, unilateral offer to Democrats-- instead of negotiating with them in good faith-- to give the Dreamers a 3-year reprieve (a non-starter) in return for a monument to his vanity. It's filled with Stephen Miller poison pills and was rejected immediately. Jamie Raskin (D-MD), a member of the House Judiciary Committee told me a few minutes ago that Trump "is clearly looking for a way to end the self-inflicted political wound of this obscene and deeply unpopular shutdown. Someone needs to tell him that negotiations can start the minute he ends the shutdown which has turned the system of checks and balances into a hostage crisis. We cannot reward this political extortion racket by paying for his medieval fantasy wall that he promised Mexico would pay for."

Kushner, McConnell and Pence came up with the plan-- with help from some Blue Dogs and New Dems from the Republican wing of the Democratic Party-- to trade $5.7 in border wall in exchange for the BRIDGE Act-- which would extend protections for Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA)-- and also legislation to extend the legal status of Temporary Protected Status (TPS) holders.

McConnell supposedly told Trumpanzee Pelosi was never going to move on border funding because, in McConnell's mind House Democrats would never allow it. So a proposal had to come from Trump that he would promise to sign so that McConnell could bring it to the Senate. It looks like President Miller made certain that Trump would propose something that the Democrats would scoff stand give Trump manufactured cause to blame them for all the problems he created all on his own.

As Ryan Grim asked after deciphering Trump's nothing-burger p.r speech, "Who's dumber-- Jared Kushner or somebody who takes advice from Jared Kushner?" Or substitute Stephen Miller. No one in the White House could have possibly thought the democrats would embrace this. I hope Ann Coulter calls the offer "amnesty light" and angers the bigots who still back Trump.

Marianne Williamson, who is about to declare her candidacy for president, took a strong clear position that leaves no one in doubt about where she stands: "The president’s continued use of other people’s lives as pawns in his ego-driven games will not stand. I support Speaker Pelosi’s refusal to negotiate with his tactics of emotional terrorism."

Ted Lieu (D-CA) could have been speaking for the whole Democratic caucus after he heard Trump's speech: "Democrats have a straightforward, reasonable position:
1. Reopen government;
2. Negotiate a deal.
The President prides himself on being a great negotiator. Why does he need to use a harmful government shutdown as a negotiating tactic?"

For Trump to get this junk-proposal through the House, he would have to win over the majority of Blue Dogs and New Dems. An hour after he finished speaking I got in touch with Long Island New Dem, Tom Suozzi who told me "Trump’s proposal is wholly and completely inadequate. The government should reopen immediately. The idea of holding federal employees' jobs and paychecks hostage as a negotiating technique cannot be permitted. After the government is open, I would support more robust border security that could include some additional physical barriers and more important, technology, improved ports of entries, immigration judges and border personnel. Any support for more robust border security, however, should only be in the context of immigration reform and real permanent protections for Dreamers, TPS recipients and others." A few moments ago on Twitter:

Eva Putzova lives closer to the border, in Arizona's first congressional district, where she's running against conservative Democrat Tom O'Halleran this cycle. She saw right through Trump's scam today: "Trump’s proposal is laughable. Once we have permanent legal protections for DACA and a pathway to permanent legal status for millions of immigrants who have been making so many American businesses rich we can talk again."

Mike Siegel is officially announcing his candidacy for Congress in Texas tomorrow afternoon. He's not beating around the bush about anything, let alone Trump's latest dishonest p.r. stunt. He took a minute out of the preparations for tomorrow to tell me that he "can’t help but be reminded of that old saying, 'never negotiate with a terrorist.' Trump is abusing the political process to seek a wall that the majority of Congress opposes-- otherwise, he’d have the funding already. I’m proud that House Democrats have refused to roll over. We need a way out of this crisis, but paying for a wall is not the way."

Pramila Jayapal (D-WA) has probably been the most outspoken advocates for immigrants rights in Congress. Her press release made it perfectly clear she wasn't buying Trump's fake compromise: "'Deals' that don't provide any permanent solutions and that contain a wall are not real deals. The economic, political and personal costs of the Trump-McConnell shutdown are piling up. This latest proposal is not a serious offer. It’s time for the President to stop taking the country hostage, ask his Senate colleagues to vote on the same bill we approved last month and end the suffering once and for all."

Oops-- the far right seems far from happy

McConnell said he will have the Senate pass Trump's "proposal" next week. "I intend to move to this legislation this week. With bipartisan cooperation, the Senate can send a bill to the House quickly so that they can take action as well." Pelosi will no doubt hold hearings and make some amendments.

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Wily Willie Barr-- A Guest Post By Sam Husseini


Grand Rapids Congressman Justin Amash (R-MI) doesn't get a vote of William Barr, luckily for Barr and unfortunately for America. "William Barr," he tweeted soon after Trump nominated him, "is another unfortunate pick for attorney general. His record is one of empowering government, specifically the executive branch, at the expense of liberty and the rights of the people. We need an AG who will uphold the 4th Amendment and 5th Amendment, not erode them. After the Senate hearing Tuesday, he wrote that "Barr reiterated his support for legalized theft, also known as civil asset forfeiture, calling it a 'valuable tool.' This anti-liberty position and others from Barr are disqualifying." Sam Husseini, a frequent DWT contributor and the communications director of the Institute for Public Accuracy, has a very different perspective about why Barr should be disqualified. Today he sent us his own Barr-related coverage, which originally appeared in FAIR, as a guest post.

Triumph of Conventional Wisdom: AP Expunges Iran/Contra Pardons from Barr’s Record
by Sam Husseini

A president facing a major scandal, just as the highest-profile trial is about to begin, pardons the indicted or convicted officials around him to effectively stop the investigation that’s closing in on his own illegal conduct.

Trump soon? We’ll see. But this actually describes what President George H.W. Bush did in 1992.

The Iran/Contra scandal revealed, among other things, that the Reagan/Bush White House had secretly sold missiles to Iran in exchange for hostages held in Lebanon, using the proceeds to fund right-wing forces fighting the leftist Nicaraguan government in violation of US law.

On Christmas Eve 1992, just as the indicted former Defense Secretary Caspar Weinberger was about to face trial, Bush pardoned him and five others, including former Assistant Secretary of State Elliott Abrams and and former National Security Advisor Robert McFarlane. The New York Times (12/25/92) reported this as “Bush Pardons 6 in Iran Affair, Averting a Weinberger Trial; Prosecutor Assails ‘Cover-Up.'”

The attorney general for Bush who approved the pardons, William Barr, is now being nominated for the same position by Trump. Is this background relevant? Though current news columns are rife with speculation that Trump might likewise protect himself by pardoning his indicted or convicted associates, the dominant US news wire service doesn’t seem to think so.

In “Barr as Attorney General: Old Job, Very Different Washington” (1/14/19), Associated Press reporter Eric Tucker made no mention whatsoever of the Iran/Contra pardons. Rather than seriously examine the trajectory of presidential power and accountability, Tucker framed the story, as the headline indicates, as a stark contrast between the  gentlemanly Bush and the “twice-divorced” Trump:
Serving Trump, who faces intensifying investigations from the department Barr would lead, is unlikely to compare with his tenure under President George H.W. Bush.
The false implication is that Bush did not himself face intensifying investigations from Lawrence Walsh, who operated out of the Justice Department’s Office of Special Counsel. The misleading comparison is compounded by Tucker describing Trump as “breaking with the practice of shielding law enforcement from political influence” and ousting Attorney General Jeff Sessions for “not protecting him in the Russia investigation”—as if Barr didn’t have direct experience in the first Bush administration with imposing political influence on law enforcement to protect a president from investigation.

Instead, Tucker cites Barr’s supporters calling him “driven by his commitment to the department” and “very much a law-and-order guy.” (The praise for the new head of the department Tucker regularly covers marks his article as a “beat-sweetener,” a long and unfortunate tradition of journalists’ making their jobs easier by sucking up to sources.)

This deceptive piece was apparently picked up by literally thousands of media outlets. A search of “unlikely to compare with his tenure under President George H.W. Bush” produces over 2,400 results.

As Consortium News founder Robert Parry, who broke much of the Iran-Contra story for AP, would later write in a review of Walsh’s book Firewall: Inside the Iran/Contra Cover-Up:
The Republican independent counsel [Lawrence Walsh] infuriated the GOP when he submitted a second indictment of Weinberger on the Friday before the 1992 elections. The indictment contained documents revealing that President Bush had been lying for years with his claim that he was “out of the loop” on the Iran/Contra decisions. The ensuing furor dominated the last several days of the campaign and sealed Bush’s defeat at the hands of Bill Clinton.

Walsh had discovered, too, that Bush had withheld his own notes about the Iran/Contra Affair, a discovery that elevated the President to a possible criminal subject of the investigation. But Bush had one more weapon in his arsenal. On Christmas Eve 1992, Bush destroyed the Iran/Contra probe once and for all by pardoning Weinberger and five other convicted or indicted defendants.
Parry, who died a year ago, left AP after many of his stories on Iran/Contra were squashed (Consortium News, 1/28/18).

After I criticized AP on Twitter for the omission, a later piece by Tucker, co-written with Michael Balsamo, noted perfunctorily in the 16th graph: “As attorney general in 1992, he endorsed Bush’s pardons of Reagan administration officials in the Iran/Contra scandal.” (A search on “as attorney general in 1992, he endorsed Bush’s pardons of Reagan administration officials in the Iran/Contra scandal” produced a mere 202 results.)

While much of the media obsesses over every bit of “Russiagate,” some breathlessly anticipating the next revelation will surely bring down the Trump presidency, it’s remarkable how little interest there is in the trajectory of presidential power.

Rather, much of the establishment media has gone to great lengths to rehabilitate officials from both Bush administrations, including the elder Bush himself when he died last month. (One exception to the generally hagiographic coverage of his death was Arun Gupta’s “Let’s Talk About George H.W. Bush’s Role in the Iran/Contra Scandal”-- in The Intercept, 12/7/18.) Indeed, Trump naming Barr just after George H.W. Bush’s funeral could be seen as a jiu-jitsu move: How could anyone object to his nominating the AG of the just-sainted Poppy Bush? It’s as though Trump were saying, “If you all like him so much, I’ll have what he had.” See the Institute for Public Accuracy news release, “Barr as AG? Bush and Trump Dovetail.”

AP‘s actions also fit into the institution-protecting mode of what Parry derided as the “conventional wisdom”-- which in its current formulation depicts Trump’s authoritarian tendencies as aberrations from the norms of US politics, rather than a continuation of the worst tendencies of his predecessors.


Messages to Associated Press can be sent to (or via Twitter @AP). Please remember that respectful communication is the most effective.

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Xenophobia May Be Hard To Spell, But It's Easy To See-- Especially When Jeff Merkley Put Out A Secret Trump Regime Document


Pew released a new poll yesterday. One of the findings was that most voters say they don't believe what Trump says and that they're not confident officials in his administration are ethical. Just 39% are-- far fewer than for Reagan's (67%), George H.W. Bush's (59%), Clinton's (45%), George W. Bush's (44%) or Obama's (49%). "Views of the ethical standards of top Trump administration officials remain at record lows compared with previous administrations dating back to the 1980s. Overall, 39% rate the ethical standards of top Trump administration officials as either excellent (7%) or good (32%). A much greater share describes them as either not good (20%) or poor (39%). These ratings are about the same as they were in May 2018." They're probably going to go even lower.

In a press release yesterday, Jeff Merkley formally requested that FBI Director Christopher Wray open a perjury investigation into Secretary of Homeland Security Kirstjen Nielsen, after new documents show that Nielsen lied in sworn testimony to Congress about the administration’s family separation policy. A previously-undisclosed administration memo, which Merkley released publicly yesterday, shows explicitly that high-level administration officials worked to create a new policy to "separate family units." Yet in sworn testimony before the House Judiciary Committee, Nielsen stated explicitly that the administration did not have a family separation policy. From Merkley's letter to Wray:
The FBI has previously indicated that the Department of Justice requires a formal criminal referral from Congress to initiate an investigation concerning Congressional testimony. I write today to execute such a criminal referral. Compelling new evidence has emerged revealing that high-level Department of Homeland Security officials were secretly and actively developing a new policy and legal framework for separating families as far back as December 2017.

Despite this fact, while testifying under oath before the House Committee on the Judiciary, Secretary Nielsen stated unequivocally "I'm not a liar, we've never had a policy for family separation," In light of these conflicting facts, the FBI should immediately investigate whether Secretary Nielsen’s statements violate 18 U.S. Code § 1621, 18 U.S.C § 1001, or any other relevant federal statutes that prohibit perjury and false statements to Congress.
If you didn't watch the Chris Hayes interview with Jeff Merkley Thursday (up top), please do now. Although here's how evening news reports handled it Friday. This is from radio station KOIN, the CBS affiliate in Portland, Oregon:

The NBC News report by Julia Ainsley pointed out that "Trump administration officials weighed speeding up the deportation of migrant children by denying them their legal right to asylum hearings after separating them from their parents, according to comments on a late 2017 draft of what became the administration's family separation policy obtained by NBC News. The draft also shows officials wanted to specifically target parents in migrant families for increased prosecutions, contradicting the administration's previous statements. In June, Department of Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen said the administration did "not have a policy of separating families at the border" but was simply enforcing existing law."
The draft plan was provided to NBC News by the office of Sen. Jeff Merkley (D-OR) which says it was leaked by a government whistleblower.

In the draft memo, called "Policy Options to Respond to Border Surge of Illegal Immigration" and dated Dec. 16, 2017, officials from the Departments of Justice and Homeland Security lay out a blueprint of options, some of which were later implemented and others that have not yet been put into effect.

At the time, the number of undocumented immigrants seeking to cross the southern border was near historic monthly lows: 40,519 in December 2017, compared to 58,379 the same month the year prior.

The document was circulated between high level officials at DHS and the Justice Department, at least one of whom was instrumental in writing the first iteration of the administration's travel ban.

The plan, and the comments written in the margins, provide a window into the policy discussion thinking at the time, how far officials were willing to go to deter families seeking asylum and what they may still be considering.

In one comment, the Justice Department official suggests that Customs and Border Protection could see that children who have been separated from their parents would be denied an asylum hearing before an immigration judge, which is typically awarded to children who arrive at the border alone.

Instead, the entire family would be given an order of "expedited removal" and then separated, placing the child in the care of HHS in U.S. Marshall's custody while both await deportation.

"If CBP issues an ER [expedited removal] for the entire family unit, places the parents in the custody of the U.S. Marshal, and then places the minors with HHS, it would seem that DHS could work with HHS to actually repatriate [deport] the minors then," the official wrote.

"It would take coordination with the home countries, of course, but that doesn't seem like too much of a cost to pay compared to the status quo."

It is unclear from the official's comment whether the government planned on reunifying children with their parents before they were deported.

"It appears that they wanted to have it both ways-- to separate children from their parents but deny them the full protections generally awarded to unaccompanied children," said Lee Gelernt, a lawyer for the American Civil Liberties Union who led the class action suit on behalf of migrant parents who had been separated from their children.

A DHS official told NBC News on the condition of anonymity because the department does not comment on pre-decisional documents that the draft's authors' intent was to enable agencies to reunify families after they were separated for prosecution.

But the draft and comments do not mention plans to reunify.

The Inspector General for Health and Human Services released a report on Thursday that said "thousands" of children were separated under the Trump administration during an influx in separations that began in the summer of 2017, before the zero tolerance policy. Whether those children were reunited with their parents is unknown, the report said.

...When the administration began separating immigrant families under the "zero tolerance" policy in May 2018, it held children in the custody of HHS until they could be placed with a sponsor to await an asylum hearing. Zero tolerance never placed children in expedited removal or included systematically deporting them without their parents. Trump reversed the policy in an executive order on June 20, 2018.

One policy that was discussed but not implemented from the draft memo included limiting protections for migrant children who were victims of abuse or neglect.

The draft's authors suggested targeting "potential abuses" in the Special Immigrant Juveniles program, which provides green cards for immigrant children who have been abused, abandoned or neglected by a parent. The Justice Department official notes in a comment that children who have been abused by one parent are often living with the other parent when they qualify and that DHS Secretary Nielsen could refuse to award green cards in such cases.

It is not clear whether the administration rejected the idea of targeting children in the Special Immigrant Juveniles Program or whether the idea is still under consideration.

Other policies discussed in the draft, however, did materialize. For example, HHS adopted a policy that would require anyone in a household who agreed to sponsor an unaccompanied migrant child to undergo an extensive background check. Publicly, DHS and HHS said that this was to ensure the safety of children. But the draft shows administrators knew the potential for creating a backlog of children in migrant detention, which later became reality and led to the creation of the Tornillo tent city last year.

"There would be a short term impact on HHS where sponsors may not take custody of their children in HHS facilities, requiring HHS to keep the UACs [unaccompanied children] in custody longer," the draft said.

The official commenting in the margins of the draft noted, "I would suggest referring sponsors for criminal prosecution under 1324 if information indicates the sponsor facilitated the travel of the minor into the United States."

The Justice Department has increased its criminal prosecutions of child smugglers under the Trump administration, but it does not prosecute every parent who has paid for their child to be brought to the United States.

Also, the draft outlined the administration's plan to keep asylum seekers in Mexico. Officials from the administration are currently in negotiations with Mexico to finalize such a deal, forcing all asylum seekers to wait in Mexico until a judge could adjudicate their claims, which could take months or even years due to a backlog in the courts.

"There are litigation risks associated with this proposal, as it would implicate refugee treaties and international law," the draft said. In public testimony, Nielsen has told Congress that the policy is legal.

The officials also weighed "mandatory detention" of asylum seekers "for the duration of the adjudication of their asylum claims."

Releasing immigrants on bond while they wait months or years to see an asylum judge is an issue that has plagued both the Obama and Trump administrations. However, under the 1997 Flores court agreement, ICE is prohibited from holding children in detention for longer than 20 days. In September 2018, the administration announced that it was seeking to overturn the Flores agreement, but the policy has yet to go into effect. ICE is also limited in space to hold all immigrants awaiting asylum hearings.
Will this be enough to change the way Republican senators would vote? Ask yourself a different question: will this be enough to change the minds of their Republican base?

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By Lying Day In And Day Out-- On Matters Great And Small-- Trump's Credibility Is Nonexistent Just When He Needs It Most


Pew's new poll released yesterday, was devastating enough before yesterday's smoking gun: Trump Begins Third Year With Low Job Approval and Doubts About His Honesty. 37% approval and 59% disapproval. "A growing share of Americans say they trust what Trump says less than what previous presidents said while they were in office. Nearly six-in-ten (58%) say they trust what Trump says less than previous presidents, up from 54% last June and 51% in February 2017, shortly after he took office. The public also continues to fault the ethical standards of top administration officials. Just 39% rate their ethical standards as excellent or good, while 59% say they are not good or poor."

What smoking gun? Oh yeah... forgive me for brushing by that so quickly. Jason Leopold and Anthony Cormier broke the story at BuzzFeed News: Trump Directed His Attorney Michael Cohen To Lie To Congress About The Moscow Tower Project. Here's the long and short of it: "Trump directed his longtime attorney Michael Cohen to lie to Congress about negotiations to build a Trump Tower in Moscow, according to two federal law enforcement officials involved in an investigation of the matter. Trump also supported a plan, set up by Cohen, to visit Russia during the presidential campaign, in order to personally meet President Vladimir Putin and jump-start the tower negotiations. 'Make it happen,' the sources said Trump told Cohen. And even as Trump told the public he had no business deals with Russia, the sources said Trump and his children Ivanka and Donald Trump Jr. received regular, detailed updates about the real estate development from Cohen, whom they put in charge of the project. Cohen pleaded guilty in November to lying about the deal in testimony and in a two-page statement to the Senate and House intelligence committees. Special counsel Robert Mueller noted that Cohen’s false claim that the project ended in January 2016 was an attempt to 'minimize links between the Moscow Project and Individual 1'-- widely understood to be Trump-- 'in hopes of limiting the ongoing Russia investigations.' Now the two sources have told BuzzFeed News that Cohen also told the special counsel that after the election, the president personally instructed him to lie-- by claiming that negotiations ended months earlier than they actually did-- in order to obscure Trump’s involvement."

If this report of Trump suborning false testimony-- in other words, broke the law by making one of his employees lie under oath for him-- is confirmed, then Trump committed a felony and must resign or be impeached. That's the smoking gun I was referring to. Let's start with the early morning tweet from Senator Jeff Merkley (D-OR):

Rhode Island Senator Sheldon Whitehouse, a former state Attorney General, had a similar tweet around the same time:

And then Jerry Nadler, the new chairman of the House Judiciary Committee. A tiny bit of background. When John Conyers announced he was leaving Congress, Zoe Lofgren (D-CA) made a play to vault over the second most senior]member of the committee, Nadler, to claim the chair for herself. (She is next in seniority after Nadler.) Lofgren played the woman card but it didn't work and the Policy and Steering Committee-- probably at Pelosi's urging-- recommended Nadler. The vote was 118-72 in his favor. There was some talk at the time that if the Dems won back control of the House, Nadler would follow Pelosi's instructions to the letter on impeachment talk. So he's completely slow-walked it and talked it down and came up with a bullshit narrative that they have to wait for Mueller. Mueller works for the executive branch and has nothing whatsoever to do with impeachment, even though his investigation will be useful to the committee that's supposed to investigate impeachment: Judiciary.

And it hasn't been just me, urging Nadler to get off his ass. Tom Steyer agrees he's got to go: "On behalf of the nearly 7 million Americans who have joined the Need to Impeach movement, I call on Nancy Pelosi, Jerry Nadler and every Member of Congress to begin impeachment hearings. It’s time for the legislative branch of government to do its constitutional duty." One of the committee members, Ted Lieu (D-CA) tweeted that "it is time for the House Judiciary Committee to start holding hearings to establish a record of whether @POTUS committed high crimes." Another member of the committee, Jamie Raskin (D-MD) told me that "In a courtroom, 'impeachment' means exposing lies and deceptions, so that kind of impeachment hearing starts on day one. As for constitutional impeachment, well, everything in due course." 

Friday morning Trump didn't respond directly, just atypical Giuliani robotic lie--"Any suggestion, from any source, that the President counseled Michael Cohen to lie is categorically false"-- and a bunch of bullshit tweets and a retweet of one of Trump's Fox apologists, even though, if true, the allegations-- and remember, few Americans believe anything Trump says-- constitute both obstruction of justice and suborning perjury. Trump’s instructions to lie were already known to Mueller through testimony from multiple witnesses and through documentation. In fact, Cohen only confirmed information Mueller already had.

By the way, did you watch the Senate confirmation hearings for William Barr? How about these exchanges?
Graham: So if there was some reason to believe that the president tried to coach somebody not to testify or testify falsely, that could be obstruction of justice?

Barr: Yes. Under an obstruction statute, yes.

Klobuchar: You wrote on page one that a president persuading a person to commit perjury would be obstruction. Is that right?

Barr: Yes. Well, you know, any person who persuades another.

Klobuchar: You also said that a president-- or any person-- convincing a witness to change testimony would be obstruction. Is that right?

Barr: Yes.

Klobuchar: And on page two, you said that a president deliberately impairing the integrity or availability of evidence would be obstruction. Is that correct?

Barr: Yes.

There's some chit-chat on Capitol Hill now that Trump wants to withdraw Barr's nomination. Now, that would be funny.

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Midnight Meme Of The Day!


by Noah

The incident tonight's meme refers to happened in Florida two months ago. President Trump has said nothing about these "very fine people" in the two intervening months. Can you imagine if these people had come from Mexico, Costa Rica, or Honduras? Of course you can. They would have been pointed to and used as one of the excuses to send even more of our troops to the border back in November. They would have been loudly pointed out in last week's oval office address. FOX "News" would still be talking about the people pictured in tonight's meme virtually every hour of every day. Other Republican "news bibles" such as the Daily Caller, World Net (Nut) Daily, Newsmax, and Breitbart would seem to be covering nothing but. Typical white supremacist Republican senators and representatives like Mississippi's Cindy Hyde-Smith and Iowa's Steve King would be lined up to screech about them on the floors of the Senate and House. They'd be crushing each other in the race for the microphones and cameras. Ann Coulter, Tucker Carlson, David Duke, Sean Hannity, Rush Limbaugh? You wouldn't be able to shut them up. Same with every MAGA hat-wearing Republican voter. Instead, their silence is deafening. Their silence defines them.

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Friday, January 18, 2019

Fixers Fix-- And Bad Fixers Fix Badly


Cohen was a bad fixer for a worse boss. Yesterday's blockbuster by Michael Rothfeld, Rob Barry and Joe Palazzolo tells the story of Michael Cohen, then Trump's personal lawyer, handing a WalMart big stuffed with cash-- between $12 and $13,000-- to John Gauger an employee of Jerry Falwell, Jr. The payoff was for riggng online polls to make it look like Trump was popular.

When confronted, with the Journal exposé, Cohen said that "What I did was at the direction of and for the sole benefit of Donald J. Trump. I truly regret my blind loyalty to a man who doesn’t deserve it." Cohen had also instructed Liberty "University's" RedFinch Solutions LLC owner, Gauger, to create and run a Twitter account called "@WomenForCohen" that "praised (Cohen's) looks and character, and promoted his appearances and statements boosting" Trump's candidacy.

CNN reported that "In making the claim, Gauger told the paper he wasn't fully paid for the work, though the Journal said Cohen was reimbursed $50,000-- the amount the two originally agreed on for Gauger's services-- by the Trump Organization. Gauger, according to the paper, also received a boxing glove 'worn by a Brazilian mixed-martial arts fighter' along with the cash payment.

The paper said that Cohen denied paying Gauger in cash, instead telling the Journal that "all monies paid to Mr. Gauger were by check" and declining to comment further. The Trump Organization did not comment to the Journal. Rudy Giuliani, an attorney for Trump, told the paper that the allegation that Cohen received more money than what he paid to Gauger shows he's a "thief."

...The Journal said that Cohen's reimbursement was made around the same time that he received a $130,000 reimbursement from Trump for expenses incurred during the 2016 election. CNN has previously reported that Cohen used the $130,000 as a hush money payment to a woman who allegedly had an affair with Trump, which Trump denies.

Gauger told the paper that Cohen asked him in early 2014 to help Trump score well in a CNBC online poll of business leaders and a 2015 Drudge Report poll of potential Republican candidates. Gauger's efforts for the CNBC poll were unsuccessful, according to the paper, and Trump ranked low in the Drudge Report poll.
This is how people in other countries are seeing this pathetic idiocy swirling around the illegitimate, fake "president" of the United States:


Getting To Know You, Getting To Know All About You... Kamala Harris


2010 saw a red tidal wave sweep Democrats out of office across America. Democrats lost 63 House seats and watched John Boehner take over the speakership from Pelosi. Democrats lost 6 Senate seats-- Pennsylvania, Arkansas, Indiana, Wisconsin (Russ Feingold) and North Dakota. Republicans also picked up new governors' mansions in Ohio, Wisconsin, Pennsylvania, Michigan, Florida, Iowa, Kansas, Oklahoma, Tennessee, Maine, Wyoming and New Mexico. But California was a different story. No Democrats lost their House seats. Barbara Boxer was reelected to the Senate (against Carly Fiorina) with a healthy 10 point margin-- 5,218,441 (52.2%) to 4,217,366 (42.2%). Jerry Brown was elected governor against Meg Whitman by more than a 13 point margin 5,428,458 (53.8%) to 4,127,371 (40.9%). In the Lt. Gov. race, Gavin Newson clobbered his GOP opponent, Abel Maldonado, 50.12% to 39.94%. In the state Assembly races, Democrats got 5,121,423 (54.27%) votes and Republicans just 4,121,280 (43.67%) and picked up 2 seats. There were no changes in the state Senate races that were up but statewide Democrats got 2,279,834 votes (55.57%) and Republicans 1,736,816 votes (42.33%). It was similar for most statewide offices:
State Controller
John Chiang (D)- 5,315,196 (55.1%)
Tony Strickland (R)- 3,481,167 (36.1%)

Secretary of State
Debra Bowen (D)- 3,786,174 (53.1%)
Damon Dunn (R)- 2,751,863 (38.6%)

State Treasurer
Bill Lockyer (D)- 5,423,219 (56.5%)
Mimi Walters (R)- 3,473,543 (36.2%)

State Insurance Commissioner
Dave Jones (D)- 4,630,988 (50.6%)
Michael Villines (R)- 3,453,694 (37.7%)

State Supervisor of Public Instruction
Tom Torlakson (D)- 4,222,946 (54.52%)
Larry Aceves (R)- 3,476,243 (44.88%)
And then came the Attorney General election, pitting San Francisco County District Attorney Kamala Harris against Los Angeles County District Attorney Steve Cooley (R). Even with President Obama actively supporting her and appearing at her rallies, Harris barely won. With other statewide Democrats running up million-plus vote margins, Harris scraped through with 4,443,070 votes (46.1%) to 4,368,617 (45.3%). In fact, Cooley was so far ahead in early counting that by midnight the networks had declared him the winner. The next morning late returns from L.A. that had been expected to come in for Cooley, came in for Harris but it wasn't until November 24, 3 weeks later, that the votes were finalized and Harris declared the winner.

California voters didn't really know who she was in 2010. She was reelected in 2014 by a much healthier margin-- finally that million vote cushion-- but voters still didn't know much about her. Two years later, she ran for the U.S. Senate seat Boxer retired from. By that time the California GOP had passed away and been cremated. With no Republican on the ballot, it was a Democrat vs Democrat race and Republicans generally either stayed home or rallied around Blue Dog Loretta Sanchez. Harris-- representing both the status quo establishment and the liberal wing of the party-- beat Sanchez overwhelmingly-- 7,542,753 (61.6%) to 4,701,417 (38.4%). It was a rout, with Sanchez winning just 4 of California's 58 counties (Glenn, Fresno, Madera, and Imperial), but voters still weren't clear about who Harris was, just that she was better than a conservative, not-too-bright Blue Dog Democrat.

Now Kamala Harris is running for president. She has an indisputably progressive voting record-- marginally more progressive than Elizabeth Warren's, Cory Booker's, Jeff Merkley's, Sherrod Brown's and even Bernie's. Going strictly by the numbers, she has the best voting record in the Senate-- 99.63% in the crucial roll calls. She's only been in the senate for 2 years though, so she doesn't really have any record of accomplishment yet. I bet that there's a good chance that if she stays in the Senate a couple of terms, she will have accomplishments and will be recognized as a progressive champion. Now... she just seems like a careerist, like most of the senators. And then there's her record as California Attorney General. Lara Bazelon's NY Times piece Thursday night, Kamala Harris Was Not A 'Progressive Prosecutor', opens that up for discussion in a big way. One savvy correspondent noted after reading it that "Nothing is so telling as the abuse of power just because one can. The calculating ways of Harris, her willingness to destroy people for political purpose, for notches on her belt, are a fright. If she can rationalize the actions detailed in this essay, she can rationalize anything. Like Hillary, in order to prove she’s tough. I hope this begins the end of the presidential/VP aspirations of Harris." And there I was, imagining that she would be Bernie's VP choice! Instead... is this the end of RICO?

Friday morning saw Bazelon's piece becoming part of the conventional wisdom about Harris. Her campaign moved into crisis mode. CNN reported that "University of San Francisco associate law professor Lara Bazelon took central aim at Harris' contention that she was a 'progressive prosecutor,' who sought to right injustice and change the criminal justice system from within." Team Trump, no doubt, has taken note.
"Time after time, when progressives urged her to embrace criminal justice reforms as district attorney and then the state's attorney general, Ms. Harris opposed them or stayed silent," wrote Bazelon, the former director of Loyola Law School Project for the Innocent. "Most troubling, Ms. Harris fought tooth and nail to uphold wrongful convictions that been secured through official misconduct that included evidence tampering, false testimony and the suppression of crucial information by prosecutors."

In an interview Thursday, Bazelon said that she was inspired to write the piece after Harris devoted a chapter in her new memoir, The Truths We Hold, to the idea that she was a progressive prosecutor.

"For some of us, that was just too much to bear. Because that's not her record," Bazelon said. "I think that the decisions she made had an eye toward running for higher office-- had an eye toward trying to walk this tightrope of not getting law enforcement and police and prosecutors upset with her."

Harris aides dismissed the piece as opinion and noted that a number of Bazelon's examples lacked proper context, or even an acknowledgment that line-level prosecutors made central decisions in a number of the most controversial cases.

"Kamala Harris has spent her career fighting for reforms in the criminal justice system and pushing the envelope to keep everyone safer by bringing fairness and accountability," said Lily Adams, Harris' spokeswoman, said in a statement.

"In 2004, when most prosecutors were using a tough on crime approach, Senator Harris was starting Back on Track in 2004 which diverted young people charged with first time drug offenses into apprenticeship and training programs instead of decades long prison sentences. When she was Attorney General, she brought accountability to the system with the first statewide training on implicit bias and procedural justice in the country, body cameras to the agents at DOJ, launched multiple pattern and practice investigations and demanded data on in-custody deaths and police shooting be made available to the public."

Citing the criticism of the fact that Harris did not take a position in 2014 on Proposition 47, a reform of California's three strikes law, Harris aides said her policy as attorney general was that she would not take a position on a ballot measure if she was responsible for writing the ballot language. She viewed it as a conflict of interest.

While Harris did favor reforming the three strikes law for low-level felonies to help reduce California's prison population, she also had concerns that if inmates were released there should be proper support services in place to help them. Aides noted that while Harris was district attorney and dealing with the three strikes law on a day-to-day basis, she did not seek any 25-year-to-life sentences on any low-level crime.

Bazelon also faulted Harris for refusing as attorney general to support statewide standards governing the use of body-worn cameras by police officers.

At that time, Harris, broadly, supported the use of body-worn cameras and required Department of Justice officers who she oversaw to wear them. But an aide said she believed that each police jurisdiction should have flexibility to set their own standards for how footage could be used, how long it should be kept and when it should be released to the public.

Bazelon's piece also criticized one of Harris' most controversial stances, which was her decision to defend the death penalty as California's attorney general even though she personally opposed it. Earlier in her career, Harris took considerable heat for refusing to seek the death penalty in 2004 for the killer of San Francisco police officer Isaac Espinoza.

In part because of the complexity of Harris' record, Bazelon touched off a vigorous debate about Harris' criminal justice stances, both on Twitter and in early voting states like Iowa and South Carolina, where Harris is scheduled to visit next week.

If Harris runs, it is a debate that will likely play out for many months among her 2020 rivals, particularly as Harris tries to consolidate the African-American vote in South Carolina and the early states of the Southeast where that demographic makes up a large portion of the electorate.

The Democratic California senator, who has worked closely with Kentucky Republican Sen. Rand Paul on bail reform and co-sponsored legislation making lynching a federal crime, has clearly been expecting these attacks from the left, particularly as criminal justice reform became a focal point for Democratic activists.

In her new memoir and during her talks at book tour events, she frequently noted her family's surprise at her decision as a young woman to become part of a system that has disproportionately incarcerated black and brown men.

Harris writes in the book that she "knew that there was an important role on the inside, sitting at the table where the decisions were being made. When activists came marching and banging on the doors, I wanted to be on the other side to let them in."

At every event, she also noted her efforts to reduce recidivism, implicit bias within law enforcement and the program she launched giving first-time drug offenders an opportunity to get high school diplomas and jobs.

Some, noting the breadth and expanse of Harris' legal record over several decades, rose to her defense.

"It is an unfortunate byproduct of the campaign season to place Democrats into a box," said South Carolina Democratic Party Chair Trav Robertson. "I would believe that Senator Harris had significant input from her staff-- legal professionals in these circumstances. This opinion piece will have little impact on her chances in South Carolina."

"Most important, her performance during the (Supreme Court Nominee Brett) Kavanaugh hearing and the (attorney general nominee William) Barr hearing more than likely will have motivated those who consider themselves progressives in the Democratic Party," Robertson said.

Bazelon's opinion piece in the Times also sent ripples through some Iowa Democratic circles as they await an announcement of Harris' decision.

Andrew Turner, the former campaign manager for Iowa State Auditor Rob Sand-- who narrowly beat the GOP incumbent in the 2018 race-- said the piece was "widely talked about and passed around."

Turner acknowledged that most Iowans aren't making up their minds at this juncture, "but activists and staffers do, and I think some who had liked her a lot before don't feel the same way."

He called the opinion piece "troubling," especially to him, a young Democratic man of color.

"This op-ed for me, helped narrow down my choices," Turner said to CNN. "Senator Warren and Senator Booker both have tremendous records on these issues and don't need to explain why just as recently as 2014 they couldn't support a State Proposition (47) that would help curb some of the systemic racism in the criminal justice system and would improve the quality of life for so many young black and brown, men and women."

"I think there's lots of other black and mixed race Democrats out there thinking the same thing I am right now," Turner said.

Former Iowa Democratic Party chair Sue Dvorsky called the review of Harris' record "fair because she's expected to be top tier." Dvorsky noted that every one of the 2020 candidates is facing scrutiny of their records.

"It isn't too early. We're starting," Dvorsky said. "Every one of these candidates have three things they have to do: Lay out a positive vision of why them; explain how they are going to address the current occupant's style; and respond to their own record. The longer the record, the longer the response."

Dvorsky, a key influencer in Iowa politics who plans to remain neutral this cycle, was an early backer of Barack Obama in 2007 and also caucused for Hillary Clinton in 2016. This cycle, she said, "it will be vision, policy and record" that will determine Iowa Democratic support. "Everyone will have to answer to that."
Wow! And not even a mention of Mnuchin! You don't know about that? It's not about something she did; it's about something she didn't do and it troubles progressive insiders in a very big way and has been thought to be Harris' Achilles heel, maybe even something that would disqualify her from being named Bernie's running mate. OneWest was the crooked California bank founded by now-Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin, an oozing slime ball among slime balls. As David Dayen reported for The Intercept early in 2017, Mnuchin "repeatedly broke California’s foreclosure laws" during his tenure with the bank (2009-15). He based his report on a previously undisclosed 2013 memo from top prosecutors in the state attorney general’s office, Kamala Harris' office.

The memo makes it clear that Mnuchin's bank "rushed delinquent homeowners out of their homes by violating notice and waiting period statutes, illegally backdated key documents, and effectively gamed foreclosure auctions. In the memo, the leaders of the state attorney general’s Consumer Law Section said they had “uncovered evidence suggestive of widespread misconduct” in a yearlong investigation. In a detailed 22-page request, they identified over a thousand legal violations in the small subsection of OneWest loans they were able to examine, and they recommended that Attorney General Kamala Harris file a civil enforcement action against the Pasadena-based bank. They even wrote up a sample legal complaint, seeking injunctive relief and millions of dollars in penalties. But Harris’s office, without any explanation, declined to prosecute the case." It would be really interesting watching Harris being forced to debate this with Elizabeth Warren on a primary stage.
“After years peddling the kind of dangerous mortgage-backed securities that eventually blew up the economy, Mnuchin swooped in after the crash to take a second bite out of families by aggressively-- and sometimes illegally-- foreclosing on their homes,” Sen. Elizabeth Warren said in a statement last month. Sen. Ron Wyden, the top Democrat on the Senate Finance Committee, warned: “Given Mr. Mnuchin’s history of profiting off the victims of predatory lending, I look forward to asking him how his Treasury Department would work for Americans who are still waiting for the economic recovery to show up in their communities.”

The consistent violations of California foreclosure processes outlined in the memo would indicate that Mnuchin’s bank didn’t merely act callously, but did so with blatant disregard for the law.
And you know what makes this much worse? In 2016, Mnuchin contributed a lot of political money. Here's who he gave it to:
Republican National Committee- $309,600
New Jersey Republican State Committee- $10,000
Connecticut Republican Campaign Committee- $10,000
Republican Party of Tennessee- $10,000
Republican Party of Wyoming- $10,000
Republican Party of Louisiana- $10,000
Republican Party of West Virginia- $10,000
Republican Party of Virginia- $10,000
Republican Party of Mississippi- $10,000
Republican Party of Arkansas- $10,000
Republican Party of South Carolina- $10,000
New York Republican Federal Campaign Committee- $10,000
Paul Ryan (R-WI)- $5,400
Scott Walker (R-WI)- $2,700
Donald J. Trump (R-NY)- $5,400
Kamala Harris (D-CA)- $2,000
In August of 2017, Jesse Mechanic wrote at HuffPo that Harris had "been deemed the Democratic Party establishment’s next big thing. They’re pushing her as the figure head of the resistance, the anti-Trump: a staunch, strong progressive who relies on her intelligence and empathy to combat the authoritarian belligerence of the current administration. While Harris is certainly poised and intelligent, her progressive credentials are fuzzy and her past is punctuated boldly by her decision to not prosecute OneWest Bank and the 'foreclosure king' who ran it, current Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin... [D]espite internal memos explicitly mentioning numerous prosecutable offenses by Mnuchin and co., then California Attorney General Kamala Harris refused to prosecute... The Democratic party is a fractured entity. The anti-establishment, anti-corporatist, anti-centrist, anti-plutocratic wing of the party is growing every day and they are unwavering and passionate about their ideals. Harris, who met with Clinton donors last month and is against party purity tests, has certainly failed to impress those pining for Bernie Sanders or Elizabeth Warren... For the most part, Harris aims to stay in the middle, but by all accounts, centrism is dead. While she may be able to distance herself from some earlier mistakes, the one looming specter from which she cannot escape is Steve Mnuchin. If she wants to be considered as a viable Democratic candidate, she needs to appeal to the Sanders/Warren wing of the party. And to do this, she must provide an adequate justification for this glaring omission, or, at the very least, admit she made a terrible error. Voters on both sides of the aisle have grown tired of the corporatist model. This issue will not go away, she had myriad reasons to prosecute a man who brazenly and illegally exploited the citizens of her state and failed to do so."

The Marist poll NPR released this week shows Harris with a 36% approval rating among Democratic (and Democratic-leaning independent) voters, not quite in the same ballpark as Biden, Bernie and Warren, but significantly better than Bloomberg (27%), Gillibrand (22%), Klobuchar (21%) or Castro (20%). A majority of voters either never hear Harris and the others she ranks better than, or didn't have enough information to form any kind of judgment.

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