Friday, May 31, 2024

Twelve Manhattan jurors (and one brave judge) strike a victory for justice as Donald Trump is found guilty on all 34 counts in historic New York hush-money trial

Donald Trump Guilty on all counts (Getty)

Most stories written about Donald Trump in recent years, use these two words -- "former president" -- to help describe him. After yesterday's verdict in Trump's New York hush-money case, two more words -- "convicted felon" -- will almost certainly be used to describe him in future published works.Until Trump came along, Americans had no experience with a former president facing criminal charges, much less being convicted on all 34 felony counts against him. Many of us probably never dreamed that such a thing could happen, until the Republican Party decided to jump in bed with Trump, long known as a glorified con man and grifter, Now, thanks to 12 brave jurors (and one brave judge) the whole sleazy house of cards has fallen down around both the party and its sketchy candidate.

Americans undoubtedly have many questions about this unprecedented turn of events. And Trump's situation, of course, is complicated by the fact he is both a "former president" and a "wannabe future president," running against Democratic incumbent Joe Biden in the 2024 election, set for Nov. 5. With that in mind, the No. 1 question across the country today likely is: "What happens now?"

Rolling Stone (RS) magazine has done a top-notch job of answering that question, and addressing related issues. The original RS piece is under the headline "Donald Trump is Now a Convicted Felon." That version of the story is behind a paywall and probably is not accessible to many of our readers. But a free version is available at Yahoo! under the headline "Trump Has Been Convicted in His Hush-Money Case. Now What?" Answers to many of the questions percolating in American minds can be found there. Let's take a look. Reporters

A jury on Thursday found Donald Trump guilty on 34 felony counts of falsifying business records stemming from a payment to keep adult film actress Stormy Daniels quiet about an alleged affair before the 2016 election. Such a verdict is unprecedented, just as it was unprecedented when the former president first stood criminal trial in April, and just as it was unprecedented last spring when Manhattan District Attorney Alvin Bragg charged him with falsifying business records.

The indictment from Bragg was the first of four that have been leveled against Trump, and almost certainly the only one that will head to trial before the election. It would also be unprecedented, of course, for a major-party nominee for the nation’s highest office to be a convicted felon. There’s a good chance this will in fact be the case this year, and that you might have a few questions about what it means for the election and beyond.

Can Trump still run for president?

Yes. The only requirements to run for president are being 35 or older, being a natural-born citizen, and being a resident of the United States for 14 years. The nation’s founders did not stipulate that Americans convicted of felonies related to paying a porn star to keep quiet about an alleged affair cannot run for president.

Can Trump vote for president?

Probably. Trump is registered to vote in Florida, and convicted felons can only vote in Florida after they’ve completed their sentence — which could mean serving time or simply paying a fine. Trump is unlikely to have completed his sentence by election time for a variety of reasons.

Trump wasn’t convicted in Florida, though, and Florida honors the voting eligibility laws of the state where the conviction occurs. New York only prohibits felons from voting when they are incarcerated, so unless Trump is behind bars on election day — which is unlikely — he’ll probably be able to vote for himself in the Sunshine State.

Will Trump go to prison?

Maybe down the road, but it’s unlikely Trump will wind up behind bars as a result of a guilty conviction in his hush-money case. Yes, he is now a convicted felon, but they’re lower-level felonies and Trump has no previous criminal convictions, which means probation and/or a fine might be the more likely punishment.

Nevertheless, it’s up to Judge Juan Merchan — who has already threatened to jail Trump for violating his gag order — and each of the 34 charges carries a maximum four-year prison sentence and $5,000 fine. It may be unusual for a conviction on these charges alone of someone with a clear record to result in prison time, but nothing about this case is usual.

It might be a while before punishment is meted out, however, as the former president’s legal team — which argues he could never receive a fair trial in New York City and that the prosecution was politically driven — is standing at the ready to rush into the appeals process, which could be lengthy.

For now, however, sentencing has been set for July 11, days before the Republican National Convention kicks off in Milwaukee.

But what if he does go to prison?

Just as there’s nothing in the rule book stating that a dog can’t play basketball, there’s nothing in the Constitution saying someone in prison can’t be elected president.

Trump might not have much recourse if he loses in November, but if he wins there are a number of ways he could leverage the federal government to keep himself out of prison. The Justice Department cases would be easy; he could just tell his hand-picked attorney general to toss them. The state cases are more difficult — as Rolling Stone reported last week, he’s currently lobbying Congress to pass a law that would protect the president from non-federal prosecution.

Is Trump planning to take revenge?

Trump has long teased that he will weaponize the Justice Department against his political enemies if he wins back the White House, and Rolling Stone reported last year that his team has already trained its crosshairs on Bragg. Their sights have continued to focus on the Manhattan district attorney as the case has progressed.

“Mark my word: Alvin Bragg, [prosecutor] Matthew Colangelo, and many others will face criminal prosecution,” Mike Davis, a lawyer and Trump ally, posted to X, formerly Twitter, in early May. (Members of Trump’s inner sanctum have frequently discussed Davis as a top contender for senior roles, including at the Justice Department, in a possible second Trump administration.)

Davis’ words reflect a pervasive desire among the MAGA and GOP elite to go after those responsible for Trump’s legal woes, with an array of attorneys and other Republicans close to Trump drawing up preliminary plans for different ways that the Justice Department could investigate or charge Bragg and other prosecutors who’ve brought cases against the ex-president, numerous sources tell Rolling Stone. Since last year, lawyers and others with Trump’s ear have privately briefed him — sometimes during parties at his club and estate — on these retributive legal ideas, with Trump at times offering enthusiastic praise in response, sources add. In some instances, Trump has solicited more ideas. These discussions have continued well into 2024.

Among the ideas batted about by MAGA’s legal brain trust, at times when Trump himself has been in the room, include the Justice Department deploying federal statutes, including Section 242 and Section 241 of Title 18 of the U.S. Code, to investigate or prosecute Bragg for allegedly violating Trump’s constitutional and civil rights.

Another popular idea in the upper echelons of Trumpland is for the Justice Department to criminally charge Bragg and other prosecutors for so-called “election interference.” This would exploit a different part of the criminal code that prohibits officials from using their “authority for the purpose of interfering with, or affecting, the nomination or the election of any candidate for the office of president.”

In April 2023, Trump, in front of a cheering crowd, gave another reason when he publicly called for the district attorney to be prosecuted, claiming Bragg “illegally leaked massive amounts” of grand-jury information.

But when confronted with this in a Time magazine interview this year, Trump tried to say he never called for Bragg’s prosecution, even though Trump did so on camera and in front of an audience.

How will Trump respond publicly?

The same way he’s been responding to the trial itself, by alleging that the case is part of a political conspiracy orchestrated by President Joe Biden to hurt Trump’s chances of defeating him in November. Trump has already been fundraising aggressively off his indictments — including by splashing his mugshot in Georgia across merchandise — and he will continue to do so if he is convicted in New York.

Advisers and allies close to Trump are convinced that the Manhattan jury pool won’t be kind to Trump, and many of the former president’s aides, lawyers, and political collaborators have long viewed a conviction as a foregone conclusion. They have been preparing accordingly.

Namely, his 2024 campaign has prebaked an aggressive fundraising blitz that will give him ample opportunity to scream “WITCH HUNT,” “ELECTION INTERFERENCE,” and all of the other tag lines he’s used to paint himself as a victim.

Thursday, May 30, 2024

U.S. Rep. Byron Donalds dances around questions about Trump trial, making it look like he and the GOP are clueless about simple concepts of governance

Byron Donalds and Donald Trump (The Paradise Progressive)

A New York jury has begun deliberations in the hush-money case against former President Donald Trump, with a verdict possibly coming as soon as today.  Whether the outcome is "guilty" or "not guilty," it will make history because no former president ever has faced a criminal verdict; Trump is the one and only to have done so -- and we aren't even thinking of the three other cases that remain on his personal criminal docket.

Perhaps the historic nature of the occasion caused one Trump ally to become verklempt, making spectacularly bizarre statements -- or in one instance, developing an apparent case of lockjaw when asked a simple question related to the case. So what do we make of this oddball, who is inappropriately mouthy one moment and seemingly incapable of speaking the next.

We are talking about U.S. Rep. Byron Donalds (R-FL), who is considered a legit contender to be Trump's running  mate. Donalds must want the gig pretty badly because common sense seems to have eluded his grasp lately. Of course, that could make Donalds a perfect fit to be VP for Trump, whose verbal meanderings of late have caused several psychologists to voice concern that he has a brain disorder, perhaps a form of dementia, with deterioration apparently accelerating.

If "talking out of your hat" is a requirement for serving in a possible second Trump administration, Donalds might be a perfect fit. Let's consider the first episode where Donalds' mouth and his brain seemed to have become disconnected. This is how The New Republic (TNR) reported on the incident (in a story dated 4/15/24) under the headline "GOP Rep. Desperately Begs New York to Acquit Trump in Hush Money Case; Representative Byron Donalds pleaded with potential jurors in Trump’s hush-money trial to vote “not guilty.” TNR's Ellie Quinlan Houghtaling writes:

The Republican Party is all in on Donald Trump, so much so that at least one representative is trying to sway his legal proceedings. Before the start of the Republican presidential pick’s first criminal trial, Representative Byron Donalds pleaded with the people of Manhattan to give his party leader a break.

“My plea is to the people of Manhattan that may sit on this trial: Please do the right thing for this country,” the Florida congressman told Newsmax. “Everybody’s allowed to have their political viewpoints, but the law is supposed to be blind and no respecter of persons. This is a trash case, there is no crime here, and if there is any potential for a verdict, they should vote not guilty.”

This statement presents several signs that Donalds' brain has turned to mush:

(1) He begs jurors to do "the right thing for this country," and in our justice system, that means a juror should take in all the material presented and render a verdict that is in line with the facts and the law."

(2) But Donalds doesn't want that in the Trump case. He says "the law is supposed to be blind and no respecter of persons," but he wants the law to be turned on its head in this case, in order to benefit the defendant, Donald Trump -- because Donalds desperately wants to serve as Trump's VP.

(3) Donalds hints that jurors should approach the case with an open mind, an unbiased, objective view. But Donalds clearly has his mind made up, declaring (with no evidence to support it) that this is a "trash case," and "there is no crime here." This is the voice of a self-serving individual  who has no idea what he is talking about. In fact, Donalds sounds like someone who has zero understanding of criminal law. Trump also has a tendency to mouth off about issues he does not understand, and that should be a concern for everyone who is considering casting a 2024 vote for Trump. (That reminds me of this question for potential Trump voters: On  what do you base your possible support for Trump? I would genuinely like to know because I don't see any quality he possesses that would make him fit to serve in any public office, much less the presidency. I also don't see anything in Byron Donalds' words that explains why HE supports Trump -- other than he wants to be vice president. If anyone would care to explain why they might vote for Trump, I would love to hear your thoughts. (I do have one request: Please don't tell me why you DON'T want to support Joe Biden or the Democratic Party. I'm interested in why you might -- or definitely will -- cast a vote FOR Donald Trump.)

Donalds is not the only member of the Republican Party to hold this mindset, indicating the GOP has become mostly a shameless band of bootlickers. Houghtaling writes:

Donalds’s appeal is indicative of a new wave of opinion within the conservative party—that is, a complete disregard for not just Trump’s 91 criminal charges but also their outcome. According to The Daily Beast, just one in 20 interviewed GOP lawmakers showed concern with the possibility that their nominee for the White House could be a convicted felon, instead referring to the proceedings as “frivolous.”

“You get an alleged conviction on BS charges in front of a judge that is not impartial and that’s supposed to sway my mind?” Donalds told The Beast. “Man, I’m bigger than that. I don’t worry about that kind of stupid stuff.”

Other lawmakers, such as Ohio Senator J.D. Vance, completely threw the judicial system under the bus, blaming Trump’s woes—which also include repercussions for bank fraud, sexual abuse, election interference, hoarding classified documents at Mar-a-Lago, and more—as the failures of another pillar of government.

“I’m very uncomfortable with the weaponized justice system,” Vance told the outlet. “I couldn’t care less what a weaponized justice system says. Ultimately, it’s not going to change my vote. I don’t think it’ll change most Americans’ votes.”

The only outlier was Utah Senator Mitt Romney, a longtime Trump critic who is leaving Congress at the end of his term. He told The Beast that the implications of having a convicted felon as president were “not good”— still, he didn’t believe that a conviction would “make any difference at all” to Trump voters.

“He will once again say, ‘This is all political,’” Romney told the outlet. “And they will dutifully follow.”

That appears to extend to many of Trump’s acolytes in Congress.

What about the second incident, where Donalds seemed to lose his ability to speak. TNR provides details under the headline "Potential Trump V.P. Dodges Simple Question on Dangerous Trump Lie; Byron Donalds refused to answer a question on the merits of Donald Trump’s latest conspiracy theory." Hafiz Rashid writes:

Representative Byron Donalds won’t answer a simple question on whether he thinks the FBI wanted to assassinate Donald Trump while searching his estate for classified documents.

The contender for vice president kept dodging CNN’s Abby Phillip Thursday night when she tried to get a straight answer out of him regarding the conspiracy theory.

“Congressman, I just want to note that you are not responding to a very simple question about a conspiracy theory that you voiced,” Phillip said, at times talking over Donalds. 

“What conspiracy theory?” Donalds replied, sounding clueless.

“That the FBI, by having on a document that they are authorized to use deadly force, was trying to harm or assassinate Donald Trump,” Phillip replied. “That is false. Will you acknowledge that?”

“Can I be very clear with you?” Donalds asked, talking over Phillip, who tried in vain to get him to acknowledge the truth of the situation. “I’m not sure what Merrick Garland is trying to do these days, because it is clear that the Department of Justice is being weaponized against Donald Trump.” 

Phillip and Donalds argued throughout the rest of the interview, with Donalds spending more than three minutes trying to steer their discussion back to his assertion that the Justice Department is being weaponized, and Phillip trying to pin down the congressman on how there was no plot to kill Trump, as the former president claimed on a Truth Social post earlier this week.

A former president claiming his successor tried to kill him is unprecedented, according to The Washington Post. The FBI has already testified that it chose to search Mar-a-Lago on a day that Trump would not be there in order to prevent any conflict. The FBI and Merrick Garland each confirmed that standard procedure for searches includes a deadly-force policy, and that the same policy was used when President Biden’s homes were searched for classified documents.

Donalds and other Trump allies are seizing upon this conspiracy theory to distract from the recent news that more classified documents were found in Trump’s bedroom at Mar-a-Lago four months after the FBI’s initial search. Meanwhile, the actual case against Trump remains in limbo thanks to Trump appointee Judge Aileen Cannon’s indefinite stay.

Wednesday, May 29, 2024

Experts blast Judge Cannon for "incompetence" and "perceived bias" as she hands Trump another gift by finding prosecutors' actions were not "polite enough"

U.S. Judge Aileen Cannon

Did you need another reason to conclude Donald Trump and U.S. Judge Aileen Cannon are dishonest, corrupt scumbags who deserve each other? We have one for you, thanks to our friends at The New Republic (TNR). Ellie Quinlan Houghtaling, reporter for TNR, describes the latest outrage in the months-long  lovefest between Trump and Cannon, the jurist with a thin resume who likely only made it to the federal bench because Trump himself nominated her. She has proven that she has neither  the experience nor the intellectual heft to handle perhaps the most important court case to come out of the United States in the past 50-plus years. Why does it matter so much? That's because it involves the possible sharing of classified information involving military, foreign policy, state department, and intelligence secrets. The subject matter of a legal case does not get much more serious than that. 

The  election interference/obstruction/conspiracy case related to the Jan. 6, 2021, attack on the U.S. Capitol almost certainly would rank second in importance of the four criminal cases facing Trump. But even that case, which involved a direct attack on American democracy, lacks the international implications and possible future repercussions of the classified-documents case in Florida. For example, it is known that Trump showed documents to individuals who did not have clearance to see them. What if he has, or does, share them with adversarial regimes led by authoritarians, such as those in Russia, China, North Korea, and Iran? That could lead to an international crisis that is hard to even comprehend at the moment.

TNR's Houghtaling provides details about the latest looniness, which tramples the rule of law at the courthouse where Cannon conducts her handiwork. This post at X describes the reaction of Laurence Tribe, constitutional scholar at Harvard Law School, to today's shenanigans:

BREAKING: A leading Constitutional scholar just predicted that U.S. District Judge Aileen Cannon committed a MAJOR blunder that will cause her to be removed from Special Counsel Jack Smith's classified documents trial. Laurence Tribe, top constitutional scholar and University Professor Emeritus at Harvard University, is referring to Judge Cannon's "wildly lawless" refusal to place a gag order on Trump in the aftermath of his "assassination" accusations. Last week, Trump referred to standard FBI "deadly force" instructions in case of danger issued prior to the raid on Mar-a-Lago, and claimed that was proof President Biden was trying to assassinate him, despite the fact that the raid was coordinated with Trump's Secret Service and Trump wasn't even in the state.

Cannon made no attempt to address the substance of Smith's concern about the safety of law-enforcement agents, instead choosing to find fault with whether the prosecution adequately informed the defense of their concerns. “It’s the smoking gun that will finally lead to her removal from the stolen secrets case,” Tribe said.

Here is more from TNR's Houghtaling under the headline "Judge Cannon Blocks Trump Gag Order in Pettiest Way Possible;Trump can keep talking as much as he wants about the classified-documents case":

Judge Aileen Cannon rejected a gag order request in Donald Trump’s classified documents trial Tuesday on the basis that the filing wasn’t polite enough.

The gag order, filed by special counsel Jack Smith, was “wholly lacking in substance and professional courtesy,” according to the judge, who noted that the request did not allot enough follow-up time for Trump’s legal team to discuss the request.

“Because the filing of the Special Counsel’s Motion did not adhere to these basic requirements, it is due to be denied without prejudice. Any future, non-emergency motion brought in this case—whether on the topic of release conditions or anything else—shall not be filed absent meaningful, timely, and professional conferral,” Cannon wrote. (Notice that Cannon cites no statute or procedural rule that supports her conclusion.)

It’s just one of many subtle wins that Cannon has handed to the presumptive GOP presidential nominee in the trial. Earlier this month, she ordered a temporary stay on Trump’s legal requirement to give the government advance notice of which classified materials will be discussed—but never added an expiration date to it, effectively placing an indefinite hold on the proceedings.

Legal experts have warned that Cannon’s delayed actions and aversion to expedite the federal obstruction case could delay the trial until after November, and could also be the Trump-appointed judge’s way of surreptitiously dismissing the trial altogether.

Laurence Tribe is not the only prominent member of the legal community to question Cannon's deliberate handling of the Trump matter. Houghtaling writes:

On Thursday, former Trump White House attorney Ty Cobb accused Cannon of “incompetence,” insisting that there’s more than enough evidence—and time—to take the case to trial before Election Day.

“And frankly, this is a case that should’ve started trial yesterday or two days ago when the original trial date was set,” Cobb told CNN. “This case could have easily gotten to trial. Only her incompetence and perceived bias has prevented that.”

Tuesday, May 28, 2024

"Normal people" who cling to the myth of a rosy economy during Trump's first term, may meet an "inflation"bomb" that turns their worlds upside down


As we reported four days ago (5/24/24), Americans are confused about the state of their own economy. That is understandable, given the barrage of numbers and analysis that come with most economic reports. Bu it is alarming in an election year where President Joe Biden intends to keep us on the road of democracy, which has proven effective and resilient for roughly 250 years. Meanwhile, Republican Donald Trump seems hell-bent on taking us down the road to authoritarian rule, which could upend our society and global stability for decades to come.

Here is one example of economic confusion: A recent poll showed more than half of respondents think we are in a recession, even though we aren't. Similar misconceptions seem to be clouding Americans' judgments about inflation. But here is an assessment from Axios that should raise concerns across the fruited plain. Some experts see an "inflation bomb" in our future under possible Trump stewardship:

"President Biden's top economic priorities are fighting inflation and lowering costs for the American people," writes White House deputy press secretary Andrew Bates. "Standing up to corporate price gouging is at the core of that fight. . . . "

  • The administration has struggled with its messaging around inflation  they know it's making Americans feel bad, and that there's not much they can do about it before the election, as Axios' Hans Nichols wrote recently.
  • They argue inflation would get worse under Trump — "top economists warn that MAGAnomics would set off an 'Inflation bomb,'" Bates writes.

In a pair of recent articles at Axios, Felix Salmon and Emily Peck seek to provide clarity on an inherently unclear subject:

* Under the headline "'Inflation' doesn't mean what it used to," Salmon explains the realities behind perceptions about inflation Here re some takeaway numbers:

(1) Inflation, at least as officially measured by the Bureau of Labor Statistics, has come down sharply from its peak of 9% in mid-2022. It now stands at 3.4%, broadly in line with where it was for the quarter-century between 1983 and 2008;

(2) Salmon includes a chart titled "Change in Consumer Price Index (CPI), as measured by normal people and economists  (You can view the chart here.) The orange line shows a steady decline in CPI, starting in July 2022 and ending with the current figure, from January 2024, of 3.4.%. The purple line, showing CPI as measured by "normal people," starts an upward climb in January 2021 and now stands at 19.3%.

What are we to take from all of this? First, I sense a strong anti-Biden bias among "normal people" in their measure of CPI referenced above. I can't help but notice that, according to the way "normal people" measure CPI, prices started rising in Jan. 2021, almost the moment Biden took office. I see nothing but bias that can explain this, especially when you consider that this "normal people " measure really is no measure at all; they are just guessing. And in their minds, the rise in consumer prices is drastically higher than the conclusions by professionals who measure economic indicators for a living. In other words, there is a massive disconnect between the "guessers" and the "professionals." And this is not the only example that suggests poll respondents are clueless about events that should be well-known by most any semi-intelligent citizen. We will have more stunning news on that subject in an upcoming post.

The bottom line? A disturbing number of Americans are determined not to give Biden credit for operating a steady ship on the economy. In a post titled "Biden's latest push to take control of the inflation narrative, Axios' Emily Peck discusses the anti-Biden bias, noting that a reliance on Trump to run a steady economy likely will end in disaster for many everyday Americans. Peck writes:

The Biden administration released a memo to its allies outlining its actions to combat rising costs — and blaming Republicans for blocking its efforts.

Why it matters: It's an attempt to tell Americans that the White House is focused on bringing prices down at a time when voters are unhappy with the economy, and hold the president responsible for inflation.

  • "President Biden's top economic priorities are fighting inflation and lowering costs for the American people," writes White House deputy press secretary Andrew Bates. "Standing up to corporate price gouging is at the core of that fight."

Catch up fast: The latest inflation figures show that prices rose 3.4% over the last year — much lower than the scorching levels seen in 2022 but still too high for comfort.

  • Meanwhile, the economy overall is on solid footing — particularly the labor market. The unemployment rate has been under 4% for 27 straight months.

Between the lines: Biden generally doesn't get much credit for economic strength. Former President Trump polls better on his handling of the economy. What do "normal people" base their positive assessment of Trump's economic stewardship? Is it based on guesses that have little to do with reality? Is it based on the fact they are likely Republicans anywy? My answer is "yes." For a clear-eyed, reality-based view of Trump's performance on the economy during his first term, we invite you to check out this article at U.S. News & World Report, under the headline "Many Remember Solid Economy Under Trump, but His Record Also Full of Tax-Cut Hype, Debt, and Disease; Numbers show that the economy during Donald Trump’s presidency has never lived up to his own hype."

  • The administration has struggled with its messaging around inflation  they know it's making Americans feel bad, and that there's not much they can do about it before the election, as Axios' Hans Nichols wrote recently.
  • They argue inflation would get worse under Trump — "top economists warn that MAGAnomics would set off an 'Inflation bomb,'" Bates writes.

Zoom in: In the memo, the White House lays out the steps the administration is taking to counter "price gouging" by companies. The gouging keeps "prices elevated despite inflation falling," it says.

  • For each of the actions the White House lays out, it's facing blowback — typically in the form of lawsuits from companies with the support of Republicans who practice "MAGAnomics," it says.

For example: Airlines are suing over a new Transportation Department rule that would require them to disclose fees upfront.

  • The credit-card industry is suing over a new Consumer Financial Protection Bureau rule that would cap credit-card late fees at $8.
  • Pharma companies including AstraZeneca and Bristol Myers Squibb have filed suit over provisions in Biden's signature Inflation Reduction Act that give Medicare the power to negotiate lower drug costs.

The bottom line: The White House is fighting two battles, one against inflation and the other against the economic narrative.

Friday, May 24, 2024

Poll shows many Americans think we are in a recession when we aren't; in fact, the economy is humming along nicely under Biden, so maybe he needs credit for that


Americans seem to be hopelessly mixed up on the economy, and that is alarming as we face an existential election in November 2024, where a vote for Joe Biden is one step toward maintaining the democracy that has served America well for roughly 250 years and made us the envy of the world. On the other hand, a vote for Donald Trump supports his plan to sweep aside our constitution and the rule of  law and usher in an authoritarian system that likely will feature "government by Trump's whims" -- and those whims apparently will include retribution against his perceived political enemies (including executions), political prosecutions that have no basis in fact or law, flawed economic policies that could lead to inflation, recession, and trade wars and ... well, you get the idea. It's time for Americans to get up to speed about their own economy because our futures might depend on it.

How deep is the confusion and misinformation out there. Per an article at Axios, polls show a sizable chunk of Americans believe we are in a recession. But here's the deal: That is not true. Under the headline "More than half of Americans think the U.S. is in a recession. It's not," Emily Peck writes:

More than half of Americans — 56% — mistakenly believe the U.S. is currently in a recession and that Biden is responsible for a worsening economy, according to a stunning new poll conducted by Harris for The Guardian.

Why it matters: The economy is actually in good shape and there's no recession. But misperceptions like this are a huge political challenge for President Biden and an advantage for former President Trump as they vie for second terms.

Reality check: It can be difficult to know if a recession is actually happening — it's a call typically made after the fact by the National Bureau of Economic Research. (The NBER called the 2008 recession months after most people believed we were in one.)

What are the characteristics of a recession, and do Americans know how to identify them? What tends to be going on beneath the surface? Peck provides clarity:

  • In order for there to be a recession, there typically needs to be a significant decline in economic activity.
  • That's not the case now. The U.S. economy, as measured by GDP, is growing.

The big picture: It looks like inflation and the higher cost of living — indicators not typically part of the recession call by the NBER — could be shaping Americans' views.

  • 70% of Americans said that cost of living is their biggest economic concern, followed by inflation at 68%.
  • Two-thirds of Americans, including 65% of Democrats, report it's difficult to be happy about positive economic news when they feel financially squeezed each month.
  • While the rate of inflation has slowed since its 2022 highs, it is still higher than most Americans are used to — and prices are up a great deal from 2019. Is that because Biden inherited an economic mess, driven by the COVID pandemic and featuring soaring inflation from Trump? An analysis from shows how the pandemic, which Trump mishandled and lied about, caused on economic mess that landed in Biden's lap:
  • The Covid-19 crisis and its aftermath, including the policy responses, led to enormous changes in inflation. Prices for many items—especially gasoline, clothing, transportations services, and accommodations—fell during the sharp economic downturn in March and April of 2020, while prices of some other items—especially food at grocery stores—posted unusually large increases at that time. On net, the dominant pressure on inflation was clearly downward at the beginning of the pandemic. In the spring of 2021, however, prices for some items turned up sharply, and by the fall of 2021 the price increases had become widespread. By 2022, inflation had risen to levels not seen in 40 years. Inflation then began to recede and declined throughout 2023.

  • The bottom line: Americans' mood about the economy does not match reality, Peck reports:

  • Zoom in: 55% of Americans wrongly believe the U.S. economy is shrinking this year rather than growing.

  • 49% believe the S&P 500 is down for the year (it's up).
  • Figuring out the right answers is tough because 64% of Americans say they don't know who to trust when it comes to learning about the economy. And that number is relatively bipartisan.
  • Even if the information on the economy is reported correctly, 62% of Americans think the economy is worse than the media makes it out to be.

"Americans have perception gaps around the economy," Jacklyn Cooney, a research manager at Harris, tells Axios.

That's a polite way of saying many Americans are doing a poor job of keeping up with economic news. It's time we start doing better. It's hard to cast a meaningful vote without having accurate information upon which to base it.

Thursday, May 23, 2024

Tiny piece of evidence, hidden in plain sight, could turn classified-documents case upside down, with heat on full blast under Trump and Judge Aileen Cannon


A small piece of evidence, nearly hidden in a document unsealed this week, could spell big trouble for Donald Trump in his classified-documents case out of Florida, according to a report at The New Republic (TNR). Trump and Judge Aileen Cannon, who never has seen a pro-Trump document she did not like (after all, Trump appointed her, despite a thin resume that indicates she is unqualified to sit on the federal bench), are on increasingly hot seats.

Under the headline "One Incriminating Footnote in Bombshell Trump Classified Docs Report; A new report says Donald Trump was still hoarding classified documents months after the Mar-a-Lago raid—and one footnote reveals exactly what was done with them," TNR's Talia Jane writes:

A bombshell buried in a footnote midway through an 87-page opinion, freshly unsealed Tuesday, spells further trouble for Trump in the classified documents case.

The 2023 opinion from U.S. District Judge Beryl Howell reveals that an unnamed witness scanned and saved confidential documents onto a laptop owned by Save America PAC, a political-action committee formed by Trump in 2020. The detail sheds new light on the depths to which Trump consciously violated federal law.

The explosive footnote, found on page 37 of the 2023 opinion, states that in 2021:

WITNESS scanned the contents of the box … onto a laptop in her possession owned by the Save America Political Action Committee (“PAC”), a PAC formed by the former president in 2020.

On January 6, 2023—two years later—Trump’s lawyer notified the government of what this unnamed witness had done and provided a thumb drive of the files to the government. This revelation came four months after the FBI had already executed a search warrant on Trump’s Mar-a-Lago estate to retrieve classified materials Trump had illegally kept.

That is not the only incriminating tidbit from Judge Howell's opinion. TNR's Jane provides more details about evidence that had been stored away under seal, more or less hiding in plain sight:

The opinion by Howell, who presided over the case in 2023, also revealed that the FBI discovered more classified documents in Trump’s bedroom months after the Mar-a-Lago raid that turned up boxes of classified materials stored in his bathroom.

Unauthorized removal and retention of classified materials is a violation of federal law with penalties up to $250,000 or up to five years in prison. That an aide associated with Trump’s PAC copied classified documents is damning for Trump—who so far has avoided trial thanks to Judge Aileen Cannon granting motions to indefinitely delay the case.

Trump is charged with 40 felonies of alleged unlawful retention of classified documents and obstruction of the investigation into his super-illegal hoarder antics.


Speaking of Judge Cannon, she might soon be noticing blistering heat headed in her direction, according to a report at Newsweek. Critics are scorching her from all angles because of her deliberate handling of a hugely important matter that involves possible sharing of highly sensitive documents linked to national security. Thanks to Cannon's tendency to do YUGE favors for Trump, the case now is listed as "indefinitely postponed." From Newsweek's Kate Plummer:

Judge Aileen Cannon has received further criticism for delaying Donald Trump's classified documents trial following the release of new evidence pertaining to the case.

In June 2023, Trump was charged with retaining national-defense information, including U.S. nuclear secrets and plans for U.S. military retaliation in the event of an attack, and obstructing the government's efforts to retrieve them. Prosecutors have said he took the documents after leaving the White House in 2021 and resisted repeated requests by federal officials to return them all. Trump, the presumptive Republican nominee for the presidential election, has denied any wrongdoing.

On Tuesday, a new court filing by U.S. District Judge Beryl Howell revealed that lawyers found four classified documents in the former president's bedroom at Mar-a-Lago, four months after the FBI raided the estate and initially discovered documents pertaining to national security.

"Notably, no excuse is provided as to how the former president could miss the classified-marked documents found in his own bedroom at Mar-a-Lago," Howell, an Obama appointee, wrote in the opinion, suggesting Trump would have known the documents were there.

Following the revelation, Cannon, the Trump appointee who is overseeing the case, was slammed by commentators for previously delaying the case. Newsweek contacted a representative for Trump by email to comment on this story.

Writing on X, formerly Twitter, Joyce Vance, a former U.S. attorney for the Northern District of Alabama, said: "This makes Judge Cannon's foot dragging on this case even more incomprehensible. Not like it involves serious matters, or anything."

Tristan Snell, a legal analyst and former New York assistant attorney general who helped lead the prosecution against Trump University, which was successfully sued for deceptive and aggressive marketing practices, said Trump's "handpicked judge has stopped him from being prosecuted" for having "betrayed American national security."

Russell Drew, an X user who posts about politics and has over 23,000 followers said it was "outrageous that the American people won't get to see Donald Trump on trial in the classified documents case before the election...or maybe ever."

He continued: "The idea that the Trump-appointed, highly conflicted judge, Aileen Cannon, has such power to control everything is mindboggling."

Cannon has long faced criticism and calls to recuse herself from the case for making a number of decisions that some say have favored the former president.

Earlier this month, for instance, Cannon indefinitely suspended the start of the trial while other legal disputes related to the case are being settled.

Meanwhile, Trump isn't short of legal troubles. His high-profile hush money trial is currently being heard in court and a ruling is expected as soon as next week.

Wednesday, May 22, 2024

Trump says he'd consider restrictions on access to contraception, sparking a political firefight and putting his ignorance of the law and governance on full display

(Associated Press)

Donald Trump said in an interview yesterday with a Pittsburgh television station that, if elected president,  he would consider regulations that limit Americans' access to contraception. In fact, Trump was asked twice in the interview if he supported restrictions on contraception, and both times, he indicated he was "looking at" the issue and intended to release a comprehensive policy statement shortly. Trump backed away from the statement after the story started drawing widespread press coverage and harsh criticism from Democrats.

The controversy raises a number of questions about Trump and his campaign:

(1) Does the candidate spout off whatever extremist idea enters his cranium, while giving it little or no thought and not even consulting his advisers?

(2) Does the mishandling of this issue indicate a Trump second term likely would be even more chaotic than his first, with neither Trump nor his advisers able to communicate effectively with each other -- and with neither having any idea how to govern in an orderly, effective fashion?

(3) Do Trump and his team have any clue how complex a  matter such as contraception -- born from privacy rights based in longstanding civil-rights law -- can be?. A paragraph from the website of the Connecticut judicial branch provides clues about the complexity involved:

In 1965, the United States Supreme Court issued its landmark decision in Griswold v. Connecticut, ruling that a married couple has a right of privacy that cannot be infringed upon by a state law making it a crime to use contraceptives. While the right of privacy is not specifically guaranteed by the Constitution, the Griswold Court reasoned that it emanates from certain guarantees in the Bill of Rights. Griswold then paved the way for the Supreme Court's historic ruling in the 1973 case of Roe v. Wade. In Roe v. Wade, the Supreme Court went on to hold that the right of privacy encompasses a woman's decision whether or not to terminate her pregnancy. Griswold v. Connecticut served as an important precedent in the Roe v. Wade decision.

(4) When Trump was asked about possible restrictions on contraception, did he know anything about information in the above paragraph. Had he ever given it any thought before opening his mouth and blabbing about a subject on which he probably is ignorant?

(5) Did Trump reveal himself to be a hypocrite of epic proportions. During his hush-money trial in Manhattan, Stormy Daniels testified that Trump did not use a condom during their sexual encounter at a Lake Tahoe, NV, hotel. Yes, the man who wants to take away the right of women to access contraception had extramarital, unprotected sex with a porn star he barely knew -- no condom. What kind of hypocrisy does that reflect? What kind of dreadful judgment does that show? And some Americans think this guy should be "Leader of the Free World"" The mere thought should send shivers down the spines of every sentient being in the U.S.  

Given the string of incidents on the campaign trail in recent weeks, where Trump has struggled to string together a few simple sentences -- causing many political observers to wonder if he might have a brain disorder that has scrambled his cognitive ability -- Trump simply might not have understand the question and was not inclined to ask a question that might have provided him some clarity? Does this, and other elements of the contraception question, suggest Trump is unfit to serve as president?

Under the headline "Trump says he is open to restrictions on contraception before backing away from the statement," the Associated Press' (AP) Christine Fernando provides a blow-by-blow account of the controversy:

Former President Donald Trump on Tuesday said he was open to supporting regulations on contraception and that his campaign would release a policy on the issue “very shortly,” comments that he later said were misinterpreted.

The comments, made during an interview with a Pittsburgh television station, suggested that a future Trump administration might consider imposing mandates or supporting state restrictions on such highly personal decisions as whether women can have access to birth control. During an interview with KDKA News, Trump was asked, “Do you support any restrictions on a person’s right to contraception?”

“We’re looking at that and I’m going to have a policy on that very shortly,” Trump responded, according to a video of the interview that was briefly posted online before it was supposed to air, then taken down.

The presumptive Republican presidential nominee was pressed in a follow-up question if that meant he may want to support some restrictions on contraception.

“Things really do have a lot to do with the states, and some states are going to have different policy than others,” Trump responded, before repeating that he would be releasing “a very comprehensive policy” on the issue.

This is the first time Trump has suggested he would have a policy on contraception since the U.S. Supreme Court overturned a national right to abortion two years ago, touching off political battles about aspects of reproductive rights, including contraception and in vitro fertilization.

The sections highlighted in blue above show that Trump was asked twice about possible restrictions on contraception, and neither time, did he say the subject would not be considered. AP's Fernando provides more details, showing how Trump's ineptitude -- and apparent ignorance on a subject of huge importance to millions of Americans -- caused an issue to blow up in his face, in a way that should be alarming and embarrassing to those who reside in Trump's orbit, giving his opponents a gift-wrapped opportunity to campaign on an issue that appears to present a no-win situation for Trump:

Responding later to media reports of his interview, Trump said on his social media platform Truth Social that he “has never and will never” advocate for restricting birth control and other contraceptives. Even so, the Biden campaign was quick to seize on the interview.

“Women across the country are already suffering from Donald Trump’s post-Roe nightmare, and if he wins a second term, it’s clear he wants to go even further by restricting access to birth control and emergency contraceptives,” Biden-Harris spokesperson Sarafina Chitika said in a statement.

Advocates on both sides of the abortion debate have long pressed Trump on the crucial question of whether he would allow women to access the abortion pill mifepristone via the mail. He has yet to make clear his views on the Comstock Act, a 19th-century law that has been revived by anti-abortion groups seeking to block the mailing of mifepristone and other abortion medications.

When asked during an April 12 interview with TIME magazine for his views on the Comstock Act and the mailing of abortion pills, the former president promised to make a statement on the issue in the next 14 days, saying “I feel very strongly about it. I actually think it’s a very important issue.”

During an April 27 follow-up interview, Trump said he would announce his stance “over the next week or two.” It’s now been three weeks since the interviews were published on April 30 and over five weeks since Trump told the magazine he would release a statement.

When asked by the Associated Press for an update on when the announcement would be made, campaign officials reiterated a statement that reaffirmed Trump’s strategy of deferring to individual states on abortion. They did not give an updated timeline for a policy statement on medication abortion.

The Trump and Biden campaigns jostled the rest of the day over the hornet's nest Trump threw into their midst:

“President Trump has long been consistent in supporting the rights of states to make decisions on abortion,” the statement said.

Biden campaign spokesperson Lauren Hitt said Trump’s allies have already “outlined exactly how they plan to eliminate abortion access nationwide with or without Congress.”

“We know Trump’s playbook because we’ve seen it,” she said in a statement. “Trump overturned Roe, brags about it constantly, and is proud of the horrific reality where women’s lives are at risk, doctors are threatened with jail time, and IVF and birth-control access are under attack.”

Trump has often relied on the tactic of promising an announcement on a major policy stance in “two weeks” but not delivering, including on issues such as minimum wage, tax policy and infrastructure. Abortion rights advocates and anti-abortion groups alike have expressed frustration with the delay.

“I imagine the events in New York City have been very distracting, but we are watching for an announcement,” said Kristi Hamrick, spokesperson for the anti-abortion group Students for Life, referring to the former president’s hush money trial.

Hamrick said the group has been speaking with Trump’s team about what can be done to restrict abortion at the federal level.

Mini Timmaraju, president of the abortion rights group Reproductive Freedom for All, pointed to the GOP’s Project 2025 playbook -- a blueprint for ways to reshape the federal government in the event of a Republican presidential win in 2024. The Comstock Act is not explicitly mentioned in the plan, but it calls for reversing FDA approval of mifepristone and restricting “mail order abortions.”

“Trump will say whatever he wants, but what really matters is what he did — and that’s to facilitate ending the constitutional right to abortion and set state abortion bans into motion,” she said.

At least 22 states require abortion medication to be delivered in person either by prohibiting mail delivery or requiring medication to be taken in a doctor’s office, though such laws have been temporarily blocked from going into effect in Kentucky, Montana, and Ohio amid legal battles, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures.

Tuesday, May 21, 2024

Trump goes bonkers while denying that he froze up during NRA speech in Dallas, but other recent events present signs of cognitive decline in the GOP's top dog

Donald Trump appears to freeze at NRA speech in Dallas (Getty)


Donald Trump denies that he froze up and stopped speaking for more than 30 seconds near the end of a speech at the National Rifle Association (NRA) convention in Dallas, TX, on Saturday night (5/18/24). Trump's denial, however, does not hold up under scrutiny, according to a report at The New Republic (TNR). Under the headline "Cognitive Decline? Trump Melts Down After Reports on Freezing Episode; Donald Trump wants to pretend he didn’t totally freeze while giving a speech at the NRA convention," TNR's Hafiz Rashid writes:

Donald Trump wants everyone to know that he did not, in fact, freeze for more than 30 seconds during his speech at the National Rifle Association convention in Dallas on Saturday.

In a Truth Social post late Sunday night, the former president claimed that reports indicating he went silent in the middle of his remarks were false, and that he actually paused because of a musical interlude in his speech, something he claimed is part of most of his speeches.

“The reason they came up with this Disinformation is that Biden freezes all the time, can’t put two sentences together, and can rarely find his way off the stage without help. Donald Trump doesn’t freeze!” Trump posted.

Here is the rant/post Trump published on social media. Video from the speech is available at this link. We've seen no reports that Trump has taken questions from the press about the speech.

The Biden Campaign… put out a Fake Story that I ‘froze’ for 30 seconds, going into the ‘Musical Interlude’ section, when in actuality, the 30- to 60-second period of silence is standard in every one of my Speeches where we use the Music,

The reason they came up with this Disinformation is that Biden freezes all the time, can’t put two sentences together, and can rarely find his way off the stage without help. Donald Trump doesn’t freeze!

Here is more from TNR's Rashid, who was not persuaded by Trump's heated post: For one thing, Trump has experienced a number of peculiar incidents on the campaign trail that point to his apparent cognitive decline:

Unfortunately for Trump, the alleged freezing was caught on video, and the former president appears to awkwardly stop, and then resume while the music is still playing.

The incident was the second fumble by Trump this weekend. On Friday, speaking at the Republican Party of Minnesota’s annual Lincoln Reagan Dinner (which he left his youngest son’s graduation celebrations immediately to attend), Trump’s podium almost fell down after he appeared to lean on it too hard, causing the former president to attack the event’s workers and drawing a mocking tweet from the Biden campaign. 

Are these more examples of Trump’s cognitive decline? For the past few months, Trump has made incoherent claims, saying that there were “millions of people” who didn’t speak real languages arriving at the southern U.S. border and that he would stop banks from “debanking” Americans. He has mixed up former House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and former South Carolina Governor Nikki Haley, and described his plan for America’s missile defense system by going, “Ding, ding, ding, ding, ding, ding.… Boom. OK. Missile launch. Woosh. Boom.” None of this helps Trump’s argument that he can go toe-to-toe with President Biden when debate season begins.