Marco Rubio finally got to make a joke—and seem smarter than Donald Trump.

At Thursday’s GOP debate in Miami, CNN’s Dana Bash asked the Florida senator what he though of President Barack Obama’s attempts to normalize relations with Cuba. “I would like the relationship between U.S. and Cuba to change. But Cuba has to change first,” Rubio said. Bash then turned to Trump, who has backed diplomatic relations with Cuba in the past. Trump responded that the U.S. needed a “better deal” with Cuba, but stumbled over what exactly that meant.

After pressure from Bash to state specifics about his position on Cuba, Trump finally said he would probably close the embassy in Havana until the U.S. reached a deal with Cuba that guaranteed that Cuba wouldn’t sue the U.S. for “a tremendous amount of money.” Rubio pointed out that the embassy was in the same building as the former consulate, insinuating that Trump didn’t really know what he was talking about. Plus, Rubio said, “I don’t know that Cuba is going to sue us, but if they sue in a court in Miami, they are going to lose.” His quip got big laughs and cheers from the audience; they grew into a standing ovation as he mentioned free elections, a Chinese listening station, and Assata Shakur“that cop killer from New Jersey.”

If Rubio hadn’t gotten big applause in a hometown debate for a harsh answer on Cuba, he’d be in trouble; it’s too bad the rest of Florida isn’t so keen on him. 

August 17, 2018

Win McNamee/Gett

Trump argues with veterans about napalm, Agent Orange and Apocalypse Now.

The Daily Beast reports that on March 17, 2017 President Donald Trump met with a delegation of veterans’ groups and got into a bizarre dispute about a film classic. Rick Weidman, co-founder of Vietnam Veterans of America (VVA), brought up the problem of Agent Orange, asking the president to broaden the number of veterans who can receive VA benefits for treatment from the herbicide, which was used during the Vietnam War. The president seemed to confuse Agent Orange with napalm, an incendiary gel that was also deployed in that conflict. The president claimed the problem with Agent Orange had already been dealt with.

The the conversation took a strange turn. As The Daily Beast describes the scene:

Attendees began explaining to the president that the VA had not made enough progress on the issue at all, to which Trump responded by abruptly derailing the meeting and asking the attendees if Agent Orange was “that stuff from that movie.”

He did not initially name the film he was referencing, but it quickly became clear as Trump kept rambling that he was referring to the classic 1979 Francis Ford Coppola epic Apocalypse Now, and specifically the famous helicopter attack scene set to the “Ride of the Valkyries.

Source present at the time tell The Daily Beast that multiple people—including Vietnam War veterans—chimed in to inform the president that the Apocalypse Now set piece he was talking about showcased the U.S. military using napalm, not Agent Orange.

Trump refused to accept that he was mistaken and proceeded to say things like, “no, I think it’s that stuff from that movie.”

Eventually the president said the problem was that Weidman “just didn’t like the movie.”

The exchange is in keeping with the haphazard way that Trump has handled veterans’ matters. The Daily Beast also notes that veterans’ issues had been part of the portfolio of former reality show star Omarosa Manigault-Newman. According to one veterans’ advocate, during a February 2017 meeting Manigault-Newman “showed up late, interrupted us, and said she was taking the lead.”

Earlier this month, ProPublica reported that a small cabal of the president’s cronies, none of them holding public office, were shaping VA policy. These wealthy friends of the president all belonged to his private club Mar-a-Lago. Members of this cabal sometimes tried to use the VA to promote their private interests.

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Did Brett Kavanaugh lie to the U.S. Senate?

The New York Times reported on Friday that Kavanaugh, who is President Trump’s nominee to replace Anthony Kennedy on the U.S. Supreme Court, misleadingly downplayed his role in a campaign to put a controversial judge on an appeals court. In 2006, when Kavanaugh himself was nominated to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit, he told the Senate that Judge Charles W. Pickering “was not one of the judicial nominees” that he was “primarily handling” as part of his work as an attorney for the George W. Bush administration. But documents from the time show that Kavanaugh may have actually played an important role in Pickering’s nomination process:

Among other things, the emails show that Judge Kavanaugh helped work on a binder of documents about the judge, Charles W. Pickering Sr., to give to Senate staff members; drafted a letter to a senator about him; and handled a draft opinion article supporting his confirmation intended for publication under the name of Alberto Gonzales, the White House counsel whose staff called him “Judge.”

In 2003, when Bush put Pickering forward as a nominee, controversy centered on the Mississippi judge’s aggressive campaign to get the Justice Department to reduce the sentence of a man “convicted of burning a cross on an interracial couple’s lawn,” The Washington Post reported at the time. Pickering believed the man’s seven-year sentence was too long and too harsh for the crime, and wrote in a sealed order that the man’s “record is devoid of any general attitude of racial animosity.” Bush eventually appointed Pickering when the Senate went on recess.

Kavanaugh’s involvement in the Pickering nomination is only the latest trouble to beset his own nomination. According to a CNN poll released on Thursday, only 37 percent of Americans think the Senate should confirm his nomination, making him the most unpopular Supreme Court nominee since Robert Bork in 1987.


Trump angrily cancels his expensive parade project.

In July of 2017, the president was impressed by the Bastille Day military parade he saw during his visit to France. He called for a comparable American event, a showcasing of the latest military hardware through the streets of Washington, D.C. The Pentagon took up the task of planning the event, but cost estimates kept going up, jumping more than 700% from $12 million to 92 million.

The president tweeted this morning saying the parade was cancelled, and that he would instead go to the Armistice parade in parade on November 11. He’ll also attend another parade in Andrews Air Force Base. He blamed the government of Washington for the cancellation.

In response, Muriel Bowser, the mayor of Washington, tweeted:


The suspicious timing of the Stormy Daniels payout might lead to campaign-finance charge.

The Wall Street Journal is reporting that federal prosecutors are zeroing in on the timing of the payments to Stephanie Clifford (whose stage name is Stormy Daniels) by the president’s former lawyer Michael Cohen. The fact that these payments came immediately after the release of the Access Hollywood tape in the waning weeks of the 2016 election is helping prosecutors construct a plausible narrative that shows the hush-money was election related.

The issue of timing is important because prosecutors have to pre-empt the argument that the payment to Clifford was made just to prevent Trump’s family from learning of her alleged affair with Trump rather than to influence the election. In 2012, Democratic politician John Edwards successfully defended himself from a campaign-finance case of a similar nature by arguing that the allegedly illicit payment was done to shield from his wife information about an extramarital affair rather than for electoral reasons. Earlier this year, Michael Cohen made exactly this argument by saying on CNN, “It wasn’t for the campaign. It was for him.”

But in the Trump/Clifford case, the fact that the payment was made soon after the release of the Access Hollywood tape gives a plausible time-line that pins the motives on influencing the election.

As The Wall Street Journal notes, “Federal prosecutors in New York view the ‘Access Hollywood’ tape as a trigger that spurred Mr. Cohen to bury potentially damaging information about his boss, as they investigate whether the payment amounted to an illegal, in-kind contribution or an expenditure that should have been disclosed by the campaign, people familiar with the matter said.” The path seems to be clearing for federal prosecutors to go after both Michael Cohen and Trump himself for the payments to Clifford.

August 16, 2018

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Reuters discovers that children are suffering from lead poisoning on U.S. military housing.

The international news agency has published an in-depth exposé, based on two-years of reporting, on lead poisoning in military housing. The disheartening finding of the reporting is that lead poisoning is a problem in more 3,800 neighborhoods. As the report notes:

Reuters obtained medical data from the Army showing that at least 31 small children tested high for lead at a Fort Benning hospital over a recent six-year period. All tested above the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s threshold for elevated lead levels – 5 micrograms per deciliter of blood. Any child who tests high warrants a public health response, the CDC says.

Army data from other clinics showed at least 77 more high blood-lead tests for children at Fort Polk in Louisiana, Fort Riley in Kansas, and Fort Hood and Fort Bliss in Texas.

From 2011 to 2016, Brooke Army Medical Center in Texas – which processes blood tests from many bases nationwide – registered more than 1,050 small children who tested above the CDC’s elevated threshold, the center’s records show.

The roots of the problem go back to the privatization of military housing in the 1990s. The military contractors tasked with running housing have been slow to build new residences and the military has provided meagre funding for upkeep and renovation. Also, the close ties between the military and contractors has led a code of silence about housing problems. Lead contamination is part of a larger issue with contamination at military sites. In June, it was revealed that the White House had delayed the release of a report on the contamination of military base drinking water with perfluoroalkyls.

As Reuters observes, “Military families can face special difficulties if they complain about hazards in their homes, however. They are taking on landlords who are in business with their employer. Among the 60 interviewed for this story, more than half expressed fear that being identified could hurt a military member’s career.”

“These are families making sacrifices by serving,” toxicity research Dr. Bruce Lanphear told Reuters. “It appears that lead poisoning is sometimes the cost of their loyalty to the military.”

The free-market fallacy behind Ben Carson’s anti-desegregation policy.

Since taking over HUD, Carson has been on a mission to absolve the department of its responsibilities to desegregate housing. The Affirmatively Furthering Fair Housing (AFFH) rule was instated by Barack Obama’s HUD in 2015 to strengthen the 1968 Fair Housing Act, by forcing municipalities receiving federal funding to assess local housing segregation—and come up with plans to fix it. Carson has been slowly killing Fair Housing enforcement (which he once compared with “the failure of school busing”) since January, when HUD issued a notice to suspend enforcement of the rule until 2020.

This week, HUD announced proposed changes to the rule to “minimize [the] regulatory burden” on local governments. In a statement, the National Fair Housing Alliance, which is one of several groups currently suing Carson for the rule’s suspension, said that any reconsideration of the rule “must account for the fact that HUD has a track record of more than 40 years of failing to properly ensure compliance” with its Fair Housing mandate. A research group at MIT found in 2017 that only two years into AFFH, the rule had supported more ambitious desegregation plans in almost every participating municipality.

Carson says the rule is “suffocating investment in some of our most distressed neighborhoods,” which is straight out of the pro-development handbook. As an affordable housing crisis intensifies across the country, the belief of housing development advocates in the power of higher density to “naturally” create more affordable housing has become increasingly widespread. But without any guarantee that this additional housing would be offered at affordable rates, there’s little reason to believe that more density will lead to anything but more displacement and more segregation.


Trump’s desire for a big military parade is proving to be very costly.

The Pentagon has revised the estimated costs of a military parade in November that is being done at the president’s behest. The original estimate is that it would cost $12 million. The new estimate is 760% higher: $92 million.

The United States doesn’t normally hold such parades unless there is a clear-cut military victory. The last such parade was in 1991 when America and its allies swept Iraq out of Kuwait.

Trump got the idea for a parade after visiting France last September and witnessing an impressive military display during Bastille Day.

“It was a tremendous day, and to a large extent because of what I witnessed, we may do something like that on July 4 in Washington down Pennsylvania Avenue,” Trump said after being awed by France’s military hardware. “We’re going to have to try to top it, but we have a lot of planes going over and a lot of military might, and it was really a beautiful thing to see, and representatives from different wars and different uniforms.”

According to CNBC, the Pentagon is pulling no stops in the effort to show that America can one-up France in military spectacle. “The plans currently include approximately eight tanks, as well as other armored vehicles, including Bradleys, Strykers and M113s,” the network reports. “The parade is also expected to include helicopter, fighter jet, transport aircraft as well as historical military plane flyovers. Troops in period uniforms representing the past, present and future forces will march in the parade, as well.”

The Pentagon believes they’ve resolved the question of whether the Abrams tanks would destroy Washington’s infrastructure. Thanks to the tanks distributed weight and track pads, the streets of Washington will not be torn to shreds.

Eduardo Munoz Alvarez/Getty Images

Omarosa releases new tape, says Trumps tried to “buy” her silence.

On Thursday, Omarosa Manigault Newman released a secret tape of a conversation between her and Lara Trump during an interview with MSNBC’s Craig Melvin.

Lara Trump, the senior adviser of President Trump’s 2020 campaign and Eric Trump’s wife, can be heard offering Manigault Newman a job working alongside her for $15,000 a month—a figure totaling $180,000 a year.

The tape opens with Mrs. Trump referencing what she considers a troubling New York Times article—the Times’s Maggie Haberman believes it to be this one—in which Manigault Newman is quoted having said she has “seen things that made me uncomfortable” over the course of her work for Trump, and that she has a “profound story that I know the world will want to hear.”

“It sounds a little like, obviously, that there are some things you’ve got in the back pocket to pull out,” Lara Trump says on this new tape, referring to the article. Mrs. Trump then notes that all the money raised for the campaign comes from small donors, and offers to match Manigault Newman’s White House salary of $179,ooo. Manigault Newman told Craig Melvin that the recording is proof of “an attempt” to “buy my silence, to censor me, and to pay men off.”

President Trump’s former bodyguard, Keith Schiller, was also offered a 2020 campaign position that pays $15,000 a month, according to CNN. He left the White House in September 2017 for “financial reasons,” began receiving $15,000 a month for “security expenses” in October, and was interviewed as part of the Russia investigation in November.

The U.S. National Archives

Mississippi GOP Senate hopeful waxes plagiaristically poetic over Robert E. Lee.

Chris McDaniel, who currently serves in the Mississippi State Senate and has his sights set on a U.S. Senate seat, published a Facebook post on Wednesday praising the supposed honor of Robert E. Lee, the Virginia-born general who fought in defense of the South’s slaver aristocracy during the Civil War.

Here’s the irony: McDaniel’s attempt to refute the “historically illiterate left” is astoundingly historically illiterate itself. The claim that Lee “opposed both slavery and secession” would likely come as a great surprise to the Confederate general, who waged a five-year war against the United States on behalf of a secessionist rebellion that sought to preserve slavery. The Atlantic’s Adam Serwer noted last year that not only did Lee own slaves himself, but soldiers under his command sought to enslave free black Americans during the Pennsylvania campaign and routinely murdered captured black Union soldiers throughout the war. Misrepresenting Lee as a benign, honorable figure is a common feature of Lost Cause mythology, which valorizes him and other Confederate leaders who fought to defend white supremacy.

McDaniel might have fared better if he hadn’t lifted the passage whole cloth from Dinesh D’Souza. The conservative filmmaker is known for his relentless efforts to deflect criticism of the Republican Party’s racist tendencies by citing historical episodes of racism within the pre-1960s Democratic Party. Real historians have thoroughly debunked the charade, which willfully ignores the parties’ historic flip on racial issues in the mid-twentieth century over civil rights, but D’Souza remains unrepentant in his quest to paint Democrats as the real racists of the Trump era.

What prompted McDaniel to rise to Lee’s defense in this occasion is unclear. In any event, it’s a jarring move for a public official to make. After all, why should anyone seeking elected office in the federal government praise a man who sought to destroy it?

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Trump wants Omarosa arrested.

Writing in Vanity Fair, Gabriel Sherman reports that President Donald Trump “told advisers that he wants Attorney General Jeff Sessions to have [Omarosa] Manigault Newman arrested, according to one Republican briefed on the conversations. (It’s unclear what law Trump believes she broke.)” Despite the counsel of his advisors and his wife Melania to ignore Manigault Newman, the president continues to go on a rampage against the former advisor, who he’s known for fifteen years dating back to their work on the reality television.

“In recent days, Trump has called Manigault Newman ‘crazed,’ a ‘lowlife,’ and a ‘dog’ on Twitter,” Sherman notes, “Another Republican recounted how over the weekend Trump derailed a midterm-election strategy session to rant about Manigault Newman’s betrayal.”

The story of Trump demanding that Manigault Newman arrested is consistent with the fact that Trump has repeatedly made public requests that the Department of Justice investigate his political enemies. The president has also expressed frustration in tweets over Attorney General Jeff Sessions not doing his bidding with regard to the Russia investigation: