Your Evening Zen

We've gone through a lot today, and you deserve a break. So here it is: the Huntington Beach pier at sunset on Wednesday. Just stare at it and relax for a while. Tomorrow will erupt soon enough.

Here's a quick evening roundup of Trump fuckuppery. First up, I'm sure you remember that the original White House story behind James Comey's firing was that deputy AG Rod Rosenstein had recommended it and Trump just went along. Well, it turns out there was a reason this story was abruptly retracted and revised today:

Second, poor old Sean Spicer is once again in the crosshairs:

Every few weeks we hear that Trump is sounding out replacements for Spicer, but somehow Spicer always seems to ride out the storm. But I have to say that being fired now, before things really descend to Ron Ziegler level, might be the best thing Spicer could hope for.

Finally, in non-Comey fuckuppery, Trump refused to let US photographers into the Oval Office for his meeting with the Russians this morning. However, he did allow a TASS photographer in, apparently under the impression he was just taking snapshots for Vladimir Putin's grandkids:

Trump (a) didn't know that TASS is a news agency, (b) didn't realize that letting a TASS photographer into the Oval Office might not be a great idea from a security point of view, and (c) didn't realize that publishing pictures of this meeting was the whole point Vladimir Putin had asked for it in the first place. Putin wanted evidence to show that Russia was back, baby, and this was it. It's scary how easily Trump was played on all this. It's also scary that apparently none of his advisors had the courage to tell Trump any of this stuff.

UPDATE: I have been informed that the correct spelling is fuckuppery, with two p's. I had no idea this was even a word, let alone one I could misspell. However, it's now corrected. I hope this acts as a lesson to you all.

Comey Comey Comey Comey. Let's catch up. Why exactly did Donald Trump fire the guy, anyway?

Right. Yesterday's official narrative was that, out of the blue, Deputy AG Rod Rosenstein recommended Comey's termination, and Trump was like whatevs. Let's do it. Today the story has changed:

Last Wednesday was the day Comey falsely testified that Huma Abedin had forwarded "hundreds and thousands" of emails to her husband. But Trump didn't know it was false at the time, so obviously that had nothing to do with his "strong inclination" to fire Comey. What's more, this new timeline was released only after McClatchy posted an account of Monday's meeting, which forced the White House to make up a new story. So what exactly was it about Comey's testimony that bothered Trump so much?

Those FBI guys are pretty sharp! Yeah, it was Russia. And not just since last Wednesday, either. Here is Maggie Haberman in the New York Times:

By Monday, capping off months of festering grievances, Mr. Trump told people around him that he wanted Mr. Comey gone....Mr. Trump was adamant, denouncing Mr. Comey’s conduct in both the Clinton and Russia investigations, and left aides on Monday with the impression that he planned to take action the next day.

....The hostility toward Mr. Comey in the West Wing in recent weeks was palpable, aides said, with advisers describing an almost ritualistic need to criticize the F.B.I.’s Russia investigation to assuage an anxious and angry president....Roger J. Stone Jr., a longtime informal adviser to Mr. Trump who has been under F.B.I. scrutiny as part of the bureau’s investigation into possible ties between the Trump campaign and Russian officials, was among those who urged the president to fire Mr. Comey, people briefed on the discussions said.

The Washington Post confirms all this in interviews with "more than 30 officials at the White House, the Justice Department, the FBI and on Capitol Hill, as well as Trump confidants and other senior Republicans":

Every time FBI Director James B. Comey appeared in public, an ever-watchful President Trump grew increasingly agitated that the topic was the one that he was most desperate to avoid: Russia....At his golf course in Bedminster, N.J., Trump groused over Comey’s latest congressional testimony, which he thought was “strange,” and grew impatient with what he viewed as his sanctimony, according to White House officials. Comey, Trump figured, was using the Russia probe to become a martyr.

....Trump was angry that Comey would not support his baseless claim that President Barack Obama had his campaign offices wiretapped. He was frustrated when Comey revealed in Senate testimony the breadth of the counterintelligence investigation into Russia’s effort to sway the 2016 U.S. presidential election. And he fumed that Comey was giving too much attention to the Russia probe and not enough to investigating leaks to journalists.

....George Lombardi, a friend of the president and a frequent guest at his Mar-a-Lago Club, said: “This was a long time coming. There had been a lot of arguments back and forth in the White House and during the campaign, a lot of talk about what side of the fence [Comey] was on or if he was above political dirty tricks.”

And it turns out there was something else gnawing away at Trump:

Trump, angered by press coverage of the Russia investigation and Gen. [Michael] Flynn, has asked senior staff and the White House counsel’s office multiple times if it was appropriate to reach out to the fired National Security Adviser, according to a source close to Flynn and a Trump administration official with direct knowledge of the exchanges.

Needless to say, Trump has been forbidden from talking to Flynn since Flynn is under investigation by Trump's Department of Justice, and talking to him could be construed as witness tampering. So Trump is cut off from Flynn and growing more and more "isolated" within the White House, according to increasingly Nixonian press reports.

And how is the public responding to all this? We'll know in a few days. But Trump is already suffering in the polls, and Quinnipiac adds insult to injury by asking people the first word that comes to mind when they think of President Trump:

This is a trickier question than it seems. I myself tend to gravitate toward idiot, but I'm not happy with it. Nor is Trump quite a prototypical asshole. But what exactly is he? What single word best describes him? I just can't come up with one.

Just kidding. The real title is "Voting and Registration in the Election of November 2016: P20 Tables." Basically, the tables show that every natural Democratic Party constituency turns out to vote at low rates. For example, the young:

And the poor:

And the non-white and non-native:

There's nothing new here, and of course it's even worse in midterm elections. This reality has been the bane of the Democratic Party for decades. The natural base of the Democratic Party may be bigger than the GOP's, but they just don't turn out to vote. If Democrats ever figure out how to address this, they'll rule the country for the next century.

Lunchtime Photo

This is a wild radish, a common wildflower here in Southern California. It doesn't look much like a radish to me, but what do I know? If mom says it's a wild radish, it's a wild radish.

Please feel free to zen out and forget all about Donald Trump and James Comey for a few minutes. You're welcome.

I guess Donald Trump fired James Comey because he wanted to "move on" from the Russia investigation. That's not really working out so well, is it? Matt Yglesias rounds up the reporting of the past couple of days:

OK, sure, this looks bad. But I'm sure there are reasonable explanations for all of it. And Sean Spicer will tell us what they are as soon as he comes out of hiding.

This whole story is just bizarre. Before yesterday, I would have guessed that Trump's Russia ties were actually fairly minimal. Maybe Flynn and Manafort were closer to the Kremlin than they should have been, and hell, maybe Trump has gotten funding in the past for his real estate projects from Russian oligarchs. But that's probably it. Nothing that would really harm Trump himself a lot.

And maybe that's still all there is. Maybe Trump just erupted because Comey's persistence was pissing him off and he wanted to show who was boss. And he figured it was no big deal because Democrats and Republicans both hate Comey and would be happy to see him go. That was, needless to say, a massive miscalculation, but not a surprising one from a functioning sociopath like Trump.

But...I don't know anymore. Maybe there really is more here. Trump's odd embrace of Russia-friendly policies during the 2016 campaign always made that plausible. This is all just weird as hell.

In non-Comey news today, the director of the Census Bureau, John Thompson, is stepping down:

The director of the U.S. Census Bureau is resigning, leaving the agency leaderless at a time when it faces a crisis over funding for the 2020 decennial count of the U.S. population and beyond....The news, which surprised census experts, follows an April congressional budget allocation for the census that critics say is woefully inadequate. And it comes less than a week after a prickly hearing at which Thompson told lawmakers that cost estimates for a new electronic data collection system had ballooned by nearly 50 percent.

The basic background here is that Republicans are demanding that the 2020 census be conducted for no more than it cost to conduct the 2010 census. Inflation and population growth essentially mean that Republicans are asking the Census Bureau to conduct the census for about a quarter less than it cost to conduct the 2010 census. Democrats find that ridiculous, and presumably Thompson resigned because he felt like he was being set up for failure. With the budget he was given, the census would be a fiasco and he'd take the fall.

So are Republican demands unreasonable? I'm sure there's a massive backstory here, but just to get started here are the costs of the past five censuses plus a projection of what a flat budget means for the 2020 census:

The Republican argument, obviously, is that the cost of the census shot up in 2000 and 2010 and it's time to rein it back in. The Democratic argument, presumably, is that the census is more complex today and costs more to run etc. etc.

I don't want to pretend to be an instant census expert, so I'll stop here. But the questions we should be asking are: Is the census a lot more complex than it was in 1990? If so, why? Does it have to be, or can we scale it back? What would we be losing?

Donald Trump is embroiled in a scandal over his ties to Russia. He just fired his FBI director over this, a move widely viewed as Nixonian. So who does Trump meet with today at the White House?

First, the Russian ambassador and foreign minister. Then Henry Kissinger.

And no US photographers are allowed in the room for the meeting with the Russians. Only Russian agency photographers. Because of course.

This is what happens to a TV show when it feels like it has to top itself every season. It's time to cancel this one.

It's gonna be one of those days, isn't it? It's all Comey all the time. Check out the front page of the New York Times right now:

I've highlighted the ones that got headlines, but there are actually 16 stories about the Comey firing there. The top one tells us this:

Days before he was fired, James B. Comey, the former F.B.I. director, asked the Justice Department for a significant increase in money and personnel for the bureau’s investigation into Russia’s interference in the presidential election, according to three officials with knowledge of his request.

I'm sure this surprises no one. We're already pretty far into "What did he know and when did he know it?" territory. And there's more than one he that this applies to.

And don't miss Jenna Johnson's fascinating report about a White House press staff taken by surprise and scrambling to figure out what the hell they should say about all this. "Another Tuesday at the White House," Sarah Huckabee Sanders joked. I wonder how long these folks can hold out? Ron Ziegler lasted until the very end, but I doubt that these folks have his kind of fortitude.

Politico has a big "inside" look at the Comey firing tonight, and it is bananas:

[Trump] had grown enraged by the Russia investigation, two advisers said, frustrated by his inability to control the mushrooming narrative around Russia. He repeatedly asked aides why the Russia investigation wouldn’t disappear and demanded they speak out for him. He would sometimes scream at television clips about the probe, one adviser said.

....Trump had grown angry with the Russia investigation — particularly Comey admitting in front of the Senate that the FBI was investigating his campaign — and that the FBI director wouldn't support his claims that President Barack Obama had tapped his phones in Trump Tower.

....Trump received letters from Rod Rosenstein, the deputy attorney general, and Jeff Sessions, the attorney general, calling for Comey's dismissal...[A White House spokesman] said Trump did not ask for the letters in advance, and that White House officials had no idea they were coming. But several other people familiar with the events said Trump had talked about the firing for over a week, and the letters were written to give him rationale to fire Comey.

Summary: The Comey firing had nothing to do with the Hillary Clinton email investigation. It was all because Trump was outraged over Comey's public acknowledgement that the FBI was investigating his Russia ties. He wanted the investigation to disappear, and he began obsessing about firing Comey—presumably in hopes that this was all it would take to kill the case. And apparently Trump was shocked when Democrats didn't line up behind him. They hate Comey too, don't they?

Trump's astronomical ignorance has finally caught up with him. He seems to have had no idea that firing Comey wouldn't stop the investigation—nor that a new FBI director wouldn't dare quash it. In fact, all the firing does is make the investigation untouchable. And Trump's astronomical narcissism has caught up with him too. He has so little insight into other humans that he simply couldn't conceive of anyone hating Comey but still defending his right to serve out his term. In Trump's world, you reward your friends and punish your enemies and that's that.

This is hardly unexpected from Trump, whose ignorance and narcissism are legendary. But does he really have nobody on his staff to warn him about this stuff? Reince Priebus surely knew how this would play out. Ditto for Mike Pence.

And one final thing: once again, we learn that many of Trump's advisors are perfectly willing to portray him as an idiot. The Politico story is based on conversations with insiders who were happy to confirm that the Comey firing was all about Russia. This directly contradicts the White House narrative that it was about the fact that everyone had lost confidence in Comey because of the way he mistreated poor Hillary Clinton. Who are these people who work for Trump (?) but are happy to undermine him to the press on a regular basis?