Monday, September 11, 2017

The Trump Grind Grinds On; Plus, the Return of Photoblogging on the Ol' Patio Boat.

Just a quick update.

Yeah, I haven't posted on Trump since July. In part because it's been a busy couple of months, but mostly it's because I think we're settled in for the long haul. I doubt there'll be anything truly newsy amidst the noise -- and oh, there's lots of noise! -- until Special Counsel Bob Mueller issues whatever it is that he's going to issue, be it a big report, indictments, etc. For now, Mueller seems settled in for the long haul with a staff full of veteran money-laundering investigators and an arrangement with the New York Attorney General that seems designed to block the potential for Presidential pardons..

In the meantime, just about everything -- personnel shuffles, Congressional squabbles, salacious details -- is just background noise. Trump is an awful, incompetent president. In a way, I guess that's good because his incompetence may keep him from accomplishing a few terrible things. But his awfulness won't seem very good if we do accidentally end up in a nuclear war with North Korea. Mostly I'm just hoping that enough competence still remains at places like the Department of Defense and FEMA to get us through whatever comes up.

So here we are, churning away at Current Watergate Defcon Status: DEFCON 2, like a mega-hurricane circling in the middle of the Atlantic, waiting for a steering current to move us along.

In the meantime, the ol' Patio Boat has been horribly devoid of fun photos of fun places. And there has been some personal fun along the way. Monique and I took a trip to Tobago with my folks. We also hauled a couple of my nieces out to Wyoming to view the eclipse with my brother Mike, his family, and my folks. And there were lots and lots of cool cars everywhere this summer.

I've finally started to organize up a few of the photos, so look for some photoblogging coming soon to the ol' Patio Boat.

In the meantime, here, have a solar eclipse:


Monday, July 24, 2017

Checking in on Trump: yup, still going about how I expected

More of a quick check-in than a real blog post here, but I had a moment to capture a few quick thoughts on how things are proceeding, so here goes. This is just a sample from the last month:

1. Trump reportedly warning special counsel Bob Mueller not to investigate Trump family finances.

2. Trump reportedly researching how to fire special counsel Bob Mueller, who has reportedly expanded his investigation to include Trump family finances.

3. Trump reportedly researching pardons, both for his family and himself.

And let's not forget Don, Jr., tweeting out that email in which he set up a meeting with a Russian attorney for the purpose of getting documents from the Russian government that were supposedly damaging to Clinton as what he was told was "part of Russia and its government's support for Mr. Trump."

Trump, Jr.,'s reply? "I love it."

Then Trump, Jr., set up the meeting, which apparently also involved Trump's campaign manager Paul Manafort, Trump's son-in-law Jared Kushner, and several genuine Russian spies.

Meanwhile, the US Senate this week is preparing to hold a vote on whether to gut Medicaid to give billionaires marginal tax cuts on investment income. The best estimates from the CBO on what they're planning have 18 to 34 million Americans losing health care insurance altogether, while most of the rest of us see sharply increased costs. The CBO also estimates that significantly upwards of 10,000 Americans will die prematurely as a result of this bill.

The number of hearings they've had on this bill thus far? Zero. In fact, nobody knows what exactly is in the thing that they're supposed to be voting on tomorrow.

This is what dying democracies look like: millions of citizens thrown to the curb solely for the benefit wealthy plutocrats who control the political process. All of it done behind closed doors.

Not very cheery, huh? Well, I never told you this was going to be a joy ride.

Right now it looks to me as if the best bet to restore the full rule of law and general sanity in Washington is Mueller's investigation. God only knows what'll happen if Trump does manage to get him fired somehow. I'd like to think that the Republican Congress finds it spine and starts conducting a genuine investigation -- maybe by just setting up Mueller and his team as their own special investigator. But they're too busy rushing their health-care bill ... or really, their lack-of-health-care bill through in secret to give me much hope that they give a damn about the rule of law.

Current Watergate Defcon Status: DEFCON 2, with the political equivalent of global thermonuclear war edging closer every day.

This is not going well.

Thursday, June 15, 2017

Prime Watergate Territory: we're hip-deep in the Big Covfefe

So, not surprisingly it turns out that Trump now wants to fire the Special Counsel Bob Mueller:  Friend Says Trump Is Considering Firing Mueller as Special Counsel (New York Times, June 12, 2017)

Why? Well, this one's easy to answer:

Special counsel is investigating Trump for possible obstruction of justice, officials say (Washington Post, June 14, 2017)

The special counsel overseeing the investigation into Russia’s role in the 2016 election is interviewing senior intelligence officials as part of a widening probe that now includes an examination of whether President Trump attempted to obstruct justice, officials said.

The move by special counsel Robert S. Mueller III to investigate Trump’s conduct marks a major turning point in the nearly year-old FBI investigation, which until recently focused on Russian meddling during the presidential campaign and on whether there was any coordination between the Trump campaign and the Kremlin. Investigators have also been looking for any evidence of possible financial crimes among Trump associates, officials said.

Trump had received private assurances from then-FBI Director James B. Comey starting in January that he was not personally under investigation. Officials say that changed shortly after Comey’s firing.


Mueller Seeks to Talk to Intelligence Officials, Hinting at Inquiry of Trump (New York Times, June 15, 2017).

WASHINGTON — Robert S. Mueller III, the special counsel examining Russia’s meddling in the 2016 election, has requested interviews with three high-ranking current or former intelligence officials, the latest indication that he will investigate whether President Trump obstructed justice, a person briefed on the investigation said on Wednesday....

A former senior official said Mr. Mueller’s investigation was looking at money laundering by Trump associates. The suspicion is that any cooperation with Russian officials would most likely have been in exchange for some kind of financial payoff, and that there would have been an effort to hide the payments, probably by routing them through offshore banking centers.


Trump's tweeting this morning was entirely predictable:



The bit about investigating money laundering was buried a dozen or so paragraphs deep in that New York Times story, but that's the thing that I always thought would bring down Trump.

And so here we are. I can't imagine the Congressional GOP can continue to stand by if Trump obstructs justice a second time and fires the enormously well respected former head of the FBI Bob Mueller, and presumably Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein with him. Of course, I've been flat-out wrong about what the Congressional GOP can stand for.

As you can see from his Tweet's, Trump is still 100% unable to take responsibility for his own actions or learn from his mistakes. It's no surprise. This is Donald Trump as he has always been and will always be: an awful human being. I believe strongly in the infinite power of forgiveness and redemption for everybody, no matter what they've done. But the first step is to acknowledge your own sins and mistakes. Donald Trump has been incapable of this for seventy years. He isn't going to change now.

Trump is now in a trap of his own making. As they say so often and as Trump would've known if he ever read a freaking book, "It's not the crime that gets you. It's the cover-up."

I've been forecasting a long, grinding march to impeachment. But Trump might accelerate his already overdue departure from the White House if he fires Mueller. And he's not smart enough to understand why it's a bad idea, so there's a real chance it could happen.

This seems a good time to introduce the ol' Patio Boat to the Watergate Defcon scale I've tweeted about a few times over on Twitter. (For those who never saw the movie War Games, the Defcon scale is the US defense condition alert scale that goes from five (total peace) to one (global thermonuclear war). Here's what I've come up with for this:

DEFCON 5 - The Obama Presidency
DEFCON 4 - Trump inaugurated. Corruption and crimes obvious and public. Think of that as the Watergate break-in period.
DEFCON 3 - Firing FBI Director James Comey to quash the Russia investigation. Probably around the equivalent of the Saturday Night Massacre.)
DEFCON 2 - Appointment of Special Counsel Bob Mueller. In 1974 we were queuing up the Senate Hearings for this stage.
DEFCON 1 - Impeachment Hearings. Interestingly enough, Nixon himself never made it this far.

We're getting pretty deep into DEFCON 2 and the summer of '17 has only begun. I still think it's likely that we enter a long slog as Mueller builds an iron-clad case. But Trump could continue to escalate things quickly if he chooses to do so. We shall see.

In the meantime, chaos embroils Washington. The Trump disaster is growing worse by the day. So I close with words I never thought I'd utter, "The sooner we swear in Mike Pence as President of the United States, the better."

Friday, June 2, 2017

Summertime, and the Trumping is Queasy: or, we are all subjects of The Orb of Covfefe

We've made it to June without having entered into a nuclear exchange with North Korea, so I'd guess this is the point where I have to say that Donald J. Trump has now managed to exceed the low side of my expectations.

Hurrah for no thermonuclear war for the first four-plus months!

On the other hand, this is still going about as well as I expected overall. So you can all mute that applause a bit.

(Still, hurrah for no thermonuclear war yet! Hey, that's a good thing!)

I'm not going to detail the sad list of developments in the last month or so, but I will hit a few highlights to keep things in context before I hit today's topic: what my best-case scenario for a Trump presidency would've been.

A special counsel was appointed for the Russian investigation. At some level, what's there to investigate? We have Trump on national TV saying he fired the head of the FBI because he wouldn't stop investigating the Russian ties of Trump's campaign. There it is: smoking gun, obstruction of justice. Case closed. On the other hand, it's going to take a vast mountain of evidence to drag the GOP Congress off their butts, so have at it, Bob Mueller. There's no shortage of corruption and treason for you to dig through and I suspect we'll need every bit of it to shove the Trump gang out of office quickly.

The House passed their awful and appalling health care bill while the Trump Administration uses all of the regulatory levers at its disposal to destabilize Obamacare and run up policy costs. I'd like to believe that somehow the Senate won't follow the House's suit, but that would require believing that at least three GOP Senators would put the health and well being of Americans ahead of tax cuts for billionaires. So I have little faith that anything but disaster is looming on that front.

And on the international front ... oh my, on the international front. From the trips to Saudi Arabia and Israel to the disastrous summit with our NATO allies to announcing our intention to pulling out of the Paris climate change agreement it has been a month of utter and complete international disgrace.

So, yeah, that's about how I expected this to go. And since you now know that crossing the four-month mark without a nuclear exchange has surpassed my lowest expectation, it's time to talk about what fleetingly reminded me of my a best-case scenario when I woke up nauseous and angry on Wednesday, Nov. 9, 2016.

The Orb and Covfefe

So how does that get us to Best-Case Trump? Well, in the midst of the Saudi Arabia trip this delightfully weird image hit the wires:


It turns out that this picture was taken as they pressed this illuminated globe to officially open a large anti-terrorism center in Riyadh. But for a while it gave the Internet great fun as everybody riffed on The Orb and its meaning.

My favorite of the subsequent photoshoppings was this:


Yes, that's Saruman on the left. He looks right at home in this picture, doesn't he?

So, the international trip was mostly a disaster on substance, but it at least gave us all a goofy moment of fun.

And again, a couple of nights ago Trump apparently wrestled his phone away from his minders and began a tweet only to ... lose interest? fall asleep? accidentally hit "Tweet" instead of "Cancel"?




Apparently nobody in the White House was willing to wake Trump up and ask him to delete it. So for about six hours "Despite the constant negative press covfefe" stood as the foremost Tweet on Trump's account. And again, the Internet -- especially Twitter -- had a rollicking good time with the non-word "covfefe" and the fact that apparently nobody would or could tell Trump to take it down until 6 am the next morning. I won't even try to capture it all here. Go look up #Covfefe on Twitter for a sampling, and then you can go with the Merriam-Webster Dictionary on this one:



The Orb and Covfefe hubbubs reminded me of that best-case scenario I had briefly envisioned on Nov. 9th after the greatest electoral debacle in history came home to roost. Somehow, I thought that maybe Trump would stumble into some useful advisors who would steer him into the sort of mediocrity that George W. Bush achieved. Yes, there were some awful mistakes and policy decisions along the way. But he managed to bumble along most of the time without the level of public disaster that we see on a daily basis from Trump, and we all at least got a few laughs out of his occasionally brutal syntax and his malapropisms.

So, yeah, that was my upside for Trump: George W. Bush. I didn't really expect Trump to achieve that, since Bush was a slightly more competent businessman, had eight years of experience as a governor, and generally had a good idea of how the U.S. government works. But I held out a tiny bit of hope that maybe Trump would find his way to that.

Of course, a week or two of the transition stripped me of that lofty notion. What has happened thus far has been much, much worse and less competent than the W. standard. Alas.

But at least we've got black humor to help lighten the load.

(And no, I don't want to hear from Internet scolds saying, "How can you laugh about Covfefe when Trump is...." We're adults here on the ol' Patio Boat. We can laugh at an occasional joke without completely forgetting every other problem in the world. The world is a mean ol' place sometimes, and that's why we have humor to help us cope.)

Meanwhile, the march to Trump's inevitable impeachment continues apace. The biggest thing that will move the dial in the short run is the upcoming special election on June 20 in Georgia's 6th U.S. House District, where Democrat Jon Ossoff has a narrow lead in the polls in a district that was gerrymandered to provide a substantial GOP advantage. Republican Tom Price won the district 61.7%-38.3% in November. Both the Democrats and the Republicans are pouring money into this race, which has already become the most expensive US House race ever. If the Republicans lose there, they may need to reassess whether they really want to ride Trump into the midterm elections in 2018.

The thing about a gerrymander is that it's usually accomplished by drawing districts that favor your party by about 55%-45%, enough to provide a substantial advantage that gives you an election day edge and that also discourages good candidates from running against you and financial backers from putting money into a campaign against you. Cutting the margin much closer than that puts you in danger of making your district competitive. Making the margin much larger means that you might not be able to pack an additional district for your party.

But if you've managed to do so badly in office that you've shifted the electorate against you by 15% or so ... well, then you've got a problem. Because you're suddenly vulnerable everywhere. It happens very seldom because it takes a true wave. It takes something completely outside the political norms to make that happen.

It takes a Trump.

(And the all-powerful Orb of Covfefe.)

---

BTW, if you're reading this and you're not following me on Twitter, you can do so at @Patioboater. In the pre-Trump era my Twitter account used to be a pretty quiet place with mostly retweeted space photos, weather photos, and a few other items that cracked me up or interested me. Nowadays it's a lot livelier. So come join my mighty 178 followers.




Monday, May 15, 2017

Hoping for a Quiet Trump Week. A Man Can Hope, Can't He?

The Spicer-speak hit the fan last week. The point of this post, however, is not to talk about last week's news, but to plea for a quiet week this week.

If you care enough to read this post you don't really need me recount the week in detail for you, but here's a quick recap for anybody coming in late. Last week's news started energetically enough with former Acting Attorney General Sally Yates and former Director of National Intelligence James Clapper testifying before a Senate subcommittee on several issues, including former National Security Advisor Mike Flynn's potential ties to Russia. Then it exploded into one of the craziest news weeks I can ever recall after Trump fired FBI Director James Comey on Tuesday. After two days of claiming that Trump had fired Comey because of unhappiness that Comey had acted unfairly to Hillary Clinton in his public statements about the investigation of her email server**, Trump ultimately admitted two days later in an interview that he fired Comey because Trump was unhappy about the continued progress of the investigation into his campaign's ties with Russia.

**Yes, Monique thought I was making this part up when I called her to tell her the news. To quote her exactly she said, "No, really. Why did they claim they did it?" In a week of ludicrous news the notion that anybody would believe that White House whopper still may be the most ludicrous item of all.

The entire week was filled with a mix of actual news, analysis of news, analysis of news analysis leaks, counter-leaks, Trump tweetstorms, rest-of-the-world tweetstorms, rumor, innuendo, unbelievably good reporting with salacious details, salacious details spun up from thin air, and enough inches of political columnist outrage to wrap around the globe.

It was such a crazy week that I even broke down and lifted the cable news ban, spending much of Tuesday, Wednesday, and Thursday evenings DVRing and surfing the cable news punditry.

Here's what I learned from dipping my toe back into cable news last week:

  • Anderson Cooper is very good at summarizing the scope and shape a complex news story in 5-10 minutes. He is also good at one-on-one interviews. He then has a panel of eight idiots who yell at each other for the rest of the 45 or so minutes of each hour of his show, making it unwatchable.
  • Rachel Maddow takes a long time to explain anything. But if you do stick around until she finally does get to the point, you find that she's at least given you enough context to understand why that point matters.
  • Brian Williams is back on TV. Who knew? (11 pm EDT on MSNBC.)
  • Fox News is as dishonest as ever. Interestingly, their dishonesty in the Age of Trump has taken a new form. In their earnest eagerness to serve as the State News Apparatus of the Trump Administration they end up parroting utterly dishonest White House statements, whereas during the Obama Administration they ended up making up utterly dishonest statements about the White House. So that was kinda fun to watch for five minutes or so.
  • The DVR and fast forward are your friend if you want to watch cable news. At least you can then zip past the endless hours of pundit-on-pundit filler to get to the genuine news updates and the interviews with people who might actually have something new to say.

I can't say I learned all that much more from cable news than I did from my Twitter feed, but I did appreciate the opportunity to at least see how this story was playing out for the rest of the world. As near as I can tell through the world of information, disinformation, and misinformation this is where the various camps fall right now:

Trump Administration - circular firing squad being assembled in the wake of the media disaster. Since Trump won't find himself to blame I reckon we'll see a lot of staff turnover in the next few weeks.

FBI and the rest of the Intelligence Community - pissed. I'm beginning to believe that if Trump does get taken down the epitaph will read, "Don't f*** with the FBI."

Congressional GOP - nearly all the heads are still buried deeply in the sand. A few are starting to pop their heads up, however. That'll be a trend to keep an eye on. But for now, let's face it. Trump admitted on tape in a televised interview that he fired the head of the FBI to obstruct an investigation the FBI was conducting regarding Trump and his associates. And the collective Congressional GOP response was, "Eh, so what?"

My sense of them remains that nothing changes for them until and unless all of this translates into losing gerrymandered seats. If Democrat Jon Ossoff wins the special election for a US House seat in Georgia on June 20th -- a seat won by the Republican by 20 points in 2016 -- a lot of GOP Congressmen may suddenly rediscover their regard for the rule of law. Right now the polls have him in a dead heat for that seat.

Congressional Dems - a mix of genuine concern, genuine outrage, faux outrage, and unsightly glee. Hey, Congressional Dems, it'd be a bit easier to believe that you are "putting country over party" in this matter if every single damn email you spammed me with last week didn't also contain a fundraising demand.

Twitter - All atwitter.

Me - Freaking exhausted. I'd done a pretty good job through the first few months of the ongoing Trumpiness keeping it all compartmentalized and only letting it intrude on my work day during lunchtime. My ability to do that broke down after Comey got canned. I tried my best to ignore it all, but I simply felt compelled to check in fairly frequently on the decline and fall of Western Democracy. And every time I checked back in on the news, there were genuinely new developments. It was crazy. Plus, aside from Comey and the Russia investigation, there were a lot of other substantial developments and real news that I haven't even mentioned here.

What I really need this week is for the world to not have another crazy news week. I have things to do this week, and I need to be able to focus on them. I can't do that if the news repeats the pace of last week.

Trump is headed off on his first overseas trip on Friday. So maybe he'll spend this week looking at maps of his overseas properties and staying away from Twitter, constitutional crises, and public confessions to obstruction of justice.

I can hope, can't I?

Last week felt like one of the most consequential news weeks I can ever recall. What those consequences will be remain to be seen. Despite the iron-clad pronouncements of clouds of pundits arguing vehemently on my TV last week, only history will tell us if last week was a good week or a bad week for the rule of law.

As I told Monique and a few others last week, I used to think that living through Watergate was probably exciting and maybe even a little fun. I now realize that the only reason I thought that was because I know how it turned out ... with a triumph for the rule of law. In reality, living through this sort of disaster is equal parts frightening and horrifying. I'm hopeful this one will turn out okay, too.

But there are no guarantees. Dark Ages all have starting points.

I'm rooting for the light.

But I'm worried.

Friday, April 28, 2017

Trump at 100 Days: yeah, this is the train wreck I was expecting...

There are lots of detailed overviews of the last 100 days of the ongoing White House dumpster fire and yard sale out there. So I'll make this check-in brief.

What's worse than I expected?

The Russian stuff -- It was obvious that something foul was afoot during the campaign. But there's far more paper trail, money trail, and documented violation of law than I had expected. It looks pretty clear to me that if the GOP-run Congressional oversight committees care to exercise a bit of investigation and oversight, this whole rotten structure is coming down. Which brings me to...

GOP Congressional Partisanship -- I underestimated the willingness of the Republican Congress to sell out our nation and any remaining principals they may have ever had in service of partisan power and their unquenchable thirst for tax breaks for the millionaires and billionaires who bankroll their party. They aren't just bad, uncaring representatives. They are rapidly proving themselves to be bad Americans.

Trump's increasing incoherence -- Read the text of any of the recent interviews. Donald Trump was always an appalling human being, but I don't remember him being nearly this incoherent. His words are convincing me that the whispers of encroaching dementia are correct. I'm not doctor, but that is not a well mind.


What's about what I expected?

Ego and Arrogance -- Donald Trump's infinite insecurity and need for self-aggrandizement.

Greed and Corruption -- The Trump family's venality.

Lies, lies, lies -- The endless lies, both petty and substantial. The word "dishonest" greatly understates the problem.

Assault on democratic values -- The relentless erosion of rules, standards, and enforcement mechanisms to keep our government basically honest and competent. Even if he's impeached tomorrow, this is probably Trump's most damaging legacy to date.


What's not as bad as I expected?

The bright spot of his incompetence and incoherence is that even with single-party Republican rule in Washington he has yet to push through substantial legislative disasters like dismantling the ACA or a half-dozen other looming disasters for most Americans.

I'm not optimistic that happy state of affairs can last all the way until January 2019.


What do I expect going forward?

I'd like to think that Trump doesn't make it to the November 2018 mid-term elections for Congress. But I dunno. Maybe he eventually shuffles in a reasonably competent assortment of White House staff and they right this capsizing ship. If he continues to be a disaster and the Democrats can regain one of the Houses of Congress, then 2019 will be interesting and chock full of investigations.

Of course, by then we'll probably be involved in several large regional wars, so ... well, yeah.

In other words, taken as a whole it's all going about how I expected. That is not a good thing.

Monday, March 20, 2017

Trump at the Two Month Mark: "The S***show Won't Be Playing Out for the Full Four Years."

My thanks to my friend Ray Abruzzi for the tweet that gave me today's subtitle. It came in a post that linked to one of the many, many, many news stories filed today after FBI Director James Comey confirmed that the FBI was investigating the Trump campaign's collusion with Russian hackers during the 2016 U.S. Presidential campaign.

I'm not sure how that revelation can lead to anything other than a special prosecutor, though I have to admit that I have thus far underestimated the Republican Party's determination to pretend that they can't see the parts of this scandal that played out in plain sight during the 2016 election.

We seem to be plunging quickly into prime Watergate territory despite the best efforts of the US Congress to avoid the inevitable. How it all ends is anybody's guess. About the only thing that has surprised me thus far is the sheer ineptitude of the Trump gang. Although I expected the malevolence and untruthfulness of the Trump Administration, the incompetence has fallen below even my low expectations.

Here's my best guess about what may really will matter as we head down this path:

1. Trump's popularity continues to fall. His approval rating is down to 39% in the Gallup poll and 42.6% in the fivethirtyeight.com compendium of polls. Beyond being unprecedented territory for a newly elected president, some historic lows are not too far from here. This matters because the Congressional GOP will eventually have to decide if their agenda faces a larger threat from internal divisiveness -- which will certainly increase if they impeach Trump -- or from voter fury in the 2018 election. Most Republican voters still back Trump, but that number is falling, too.

Thus far the Republicans in Congress are focused on unity, but that could change quickly as 2018 looms or if GOP agenda items like the repeal of the ACA falter because of the distractions or because of Trump himself. Mike Pence will sign their bills just as happily, if not more happily,. It sounds as if an increasing number of GOP Congressmen are starting to admit off the record that this would be fine with them.

1A. Whatever shreds of credibility Trump used to have seem to be fading away. The true diehards who never raise their heads from the Breitbart/Fox/InfoWars/Limbaugh fever pits may not see it, but the rest of America does. This will be very important in media coverage of this scandal as we progress.

2. New revelations: There's nothing like new news to keep a scandal growing. It seems that new information comes forth nearly every day. As reporters keep digging, they keep turning up evidence that increasingly tie Trump's campaign staff to Russian hackers. This continuing drip, drip, drip of information is what forced the House Intelligence Committee to hold today's hearing. The drip, drip, drip seems likely to continue and to continue to force action.

And at some point the FBI will release the results of their investigation.

3. Concrete evidence that directly ties Trump to the actions of his staff: At this point it seems clear that Trump's campaign staff colluded with Russian hackers, though many of the details are still a bit muddled and hidden. Trump seems unlikely to have issued written orders to collude with the Russians, so it will likely take either testimony or a recorded conversation to provide the smoking gun. Trump's fear of concrete evidence coming out is likely behind is bizarre charges that Obama and/or British Intelligence tapped his wires during the campaign. That accusation feels like the sort of weirdly specific charge issued by a paranoid and guilty mind.

4. Will somebody cut a deal? There's a lot of money changing hands right now to try to secure loyalty. Among the former Trump campaign staffers who haven't been able to get a security clearance for a White House gig it's hard to find one who isn't on a foreign payroll right now. But the FBI is pretty good at finding a wedge. Taking the fall and a long prison term sounds romantic in gangster fiction, but it plays out a lot differently when crony crooks face the option of hard time. Heck, given the rate at which Russian diplomats linked to this scandal seem to be dying premature deaths, the witness protection program may soon start to look pretty good.

So, what next?

Beats me. This is an unstable situation that continues to escalate. But the FBI moves at its own pace, so how quickly it comes to a true head is really hard to predict. Maybe they keep grinding out progress and get to the top eventually. Or maybe the FBI is only able to pin this on a fall guy like Roger Stone, and things ramp down eventually.

The betting odds that Trump gets impeached and removed from keep dropping -- now down to 10/11 at Ladbroke's. The odds seem likely to drop again after today's hearing.

That's worth repeating for emphasis. Two months into his first term a President whose party also controls Congress is now more than a 50-50 bet to be impeached and removed from office in his first term.

There's lots else that we could talk about: the lying, the more lying, the lying about the lies, the abandonment of his promises to working-class Americans about the sort of health-care reform he'd support, the myriad foreign policy blunders. But as I look around at the big picture today, it seems to me that the most astonishing thing is that the legal mechanisms for removing him from office are already in motion, despite the best attempts of the party that controls the White House and the Congress to stop them.

I expected a Trump presidency to be historically bad, but I didn't expect things to go downhill so quickly. Honest to Pete, we're just two months removed from the Inauguration and we're already hip deep in FBI and Congressional investigations.

As I quoted in my subtitle, this disaster can't possibly last four years. It just can't.