Pages

Tuesday, January 31, 2017

David Brooks: The Republican Fausts

(Faust, of course, made a deal with the devil, exchanging his soul for unlimited knowledge and worldly pleasures.)

I've copied-and-pasted this article directly from The New York Times. It's by the (often detestable) David Brooks, entitled "The Republican Fausts." (Even a stopped clock tells the right time twice a day.) How long can "principled" Republicans put up with Trump's malfeasance?
Many Republican members of Congress have made a Faustian bargain with Donald Trump. They don’t particularly admire him as a man, they don’t trust him as an administrator, they don’t agree with him on major issues, but they respect the grip he has on their voters, they hope he’ll sign their legislation and they certainly don’t want to be seen siding with the inflamed progressives or the hyperventilating media.

Their position was at least comprehensible: How many times in a lifetime does your party control all levers of power? When that happens you’re willing to tolerate a little Trumpian circus behavior in order to get things done.

But if the last 10 days have made anything clear, it’s this: The Republican Fausts are in an untenable position. The deal they’ve struck with the devil comes at too high a price. It really will cost them their soul.

In the first place, the Trump administration is not a Republican administration; it is an ethnic nationalist administration. Trump insulted both parties equally in his Inaugural Address. The Bannonites are utterly crushing the Republican regulars when it comes to actual policy making. 

The administration has swung sharply antitrade. Trump’s economic instincts are corporatist, not free market. If Barack Obama tried to lead from behind, Trump’s foreign policy involves actively running away from global engagement. Outspoken critics of Paul Ryan are being given White House jobs, and at the same time, if Reince Priebus has a pulse it is not externally evident.

Second, even if Trump’s ideology were not noxious, his incompetence is a threat to all around him. To say that it is amateur hour at the White House is to slander amateurs. The recent executive orders were drafted and signed without any normal agency review or even semicoherent legal advice, filled with elemental errors that any nursery school student would have caught.

It seems that the Trump administration is less a government than a small clique of bloggers and tweeters who are incommunicado with the people who actually help them get things done. Things will get really hairy when the world’s problems are incoming.

Third, it’s becoming increasingly clear that the aroma of bigotry infuses the whole operation, and anybody who aligns too closely will end up sharing in the stench.

The administration could have simply tightened up the refugee review process and capped the refugee intake at 50,000, but instead went out of its way to insult Islam. The administration could have simply tightened up immigration procedures, but Trump went out of his way to pick a fight with all of Mexico.

Other Republicans have gone far out of their way to make sure the war on terrorism is not a war on Islam or on Arabs, but Trump has gone out of his way to ensure the opposite. The racial club is always there.

Fourth, it is hard to think of any administration in recent memory, on any level, whose identity is so tainted by cruelty. The Trump administration is often harsh and never kind. It is quick to inflict suffering on the 8-year-old Syrian girl who’s been bombed and strafed and lost her dad. Its deportation vows mean that in the years ahead, the TV screens will be filled with weeping families being pulled apart.

None of these traits will improve with time. As former Bush administration official Eliot Cohen wrote in The Atlantic, “Precisely because the problem is one of temperament and character, it will not get better. It will get worse, as power intoxicates Trump and those around him. It will probably end in calamity — substantial domestic protest and violence, a breakdown of international economic relationships, the collapse of major alliances, or perhaps one or more new wars (even with China) on top of the ones we already have. It will not be surprising in the slightest if his term ends not in four or in eight years, but sooner, with impeachment or removal under the 25th Amendment.”

The danger signs are there in profusion. Sooner or later, the Republican Fausts will face a binary choice. As they did under Nixon, Republican leaders will have to either oppose Trump and risk his tweets, or sidle along with him and live with his stain.

Trump exceeded expectations with his cabinet picks, but his first 10 days in office have made clear this is not a normal administration. It is a problem that demands a response. It is a callous, bumbling group that demands either personal loyalty or the ax.

Already one sees John McCain and Lindsey Graham forming a bit of a Republican opposition. The other honorable senators will have to choose: Collins, Alexander, Portman, Corker, Cotton, Sasse and so on and so on.

With most administrations you can agree sometimes and disagree other times. But this one is a danger to the party and the nation in its existential nature. And sooner or later all will have to choose what side they are on, and live forever after with the choice.

Good News For Anti-Semites (Looking At You, Bannon)

A tweet from Jim Sciutto, CNN:
Just in: Israel seeking clarity on #TrumpTravelBan - 145,000 Jews born in 7 countries listed in EO incl 54,000 in Iraq & 45,000 in Iran
Following that, a tweet from Matt Ortega:, digital media consultant
Steve Bannon with an extra pep in his step today: he gets to keep out 145,000 Jews, too. https://twitter.com/jimsciutto/status/826097943254024196

Well Said, Frank

“Above all things, good policy is to be used that the treasure and monies in a state be not gathered into few hands … And money is like muck, not good except it be spread.” (Francis Bacon, 1625)

H/T Meteor Blades at Daily Kos

Extreme Vetting? Like What Refugees Already Get?

Here's extreme vetting for you: the situation already in place. According to Phil Torres, in an article at Salon entitled "Donald Trump’s “Muslim ban” is already backfiring — and its consequences will only get worse":
As PolitiFact has outlined, refugees need a referral from the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees prior to screening by U.S. authorities. Only about 1 percent of these individuals end up getting through this. The U.S. then has its own security measures, which involve background checks, fingerprint analysis and an interview with the Department of Homeland Security. If prospective refugees get through all this, “they then undergo a medical screening, a match with sponsor agencies, ‘cultural orientation’ classes and one final security clearance. . . . Syrian refugees in particular must clear one additional hurdle. Their documents are placed under extra scrutiny and cross-referenced with classified and unclassified information.” The probability of dodging these obstacles is extremely low.
If a terrorist wants to get into the U.S., why take that route instead of simply flying in and overstaying their visa?

The article says that there are 784,000 people living in the U.S. who came here as refugees; three havve been charged with plotting a terrorist attack. The odds that one particular U.S. citizen -- you, for instance -- will be killed or injured by a refugee are approximately 3.64 billion to 1 -- sort of like the odds against being killed by a lightning strike while you're being devoured by a shark.

Read the article; there's a lot more good stuff there about refugees and immigrants.

Who Wore It Better?

Say Goodbye To The Supreme Court Filibuster

I almost entitled this post something to do with the "nuclear option," but with the nuclear football in the hands of an unstable man-child, I don't think we should do any more word play with the word "nuclear."

In regards to the filibuster, of course, the phrase "nuclear option" means the ultimate anti-filibuster measure by the party in power: eliminate it. The filibuster is nowhere enshrined in law; it is simply a custom in the Senate, although one that has been followed since the 1850s. What respect do you think Donald Trump holds for custom and tradition? It is to laugh.

Trump will propose a hard-line right-winger for the Supreme Court, to replace Antonin Scalia in the seat the Republicans have stolen from Barack Obama by denying his nominee, Merrick Garland, not only a vote but even a Senate hearing. The Democrats are having a fierce debate among themselves as to whether they should filibuster this nominee, or meekly submit because this SCOTUS seat only returns the Court to the status quo existing before Scalia's death, or to hold off and filibuster Trump's next nominee, also sure to be a hard-line right-winger, but who would shift the balance of the court to a solid Republican majority.

Anthony Kennedy, considered the swing vote on the court, is 80 years old; two of the court's staunch liberals, Ruth Bader-Ginsburg (the notorious RBG) and Stephen Bryer are 83 and 78, respectively. Any of them could die or retire in the next four years. The nightmare scenario would be death or retirement for all three, in which case Trump's hard-line right-wing nominations would cement an unbreakable Republican majority, potentially for decades.

I believe it doesn't matter whether the Democrats filibuster Trump's first nominee -- expected to be announced tomorrow -- or his second. Whenever it happens, the Republicans will kill the filibuster.

Previous administrations have been reluctant to take such a drastic step, because it opens the door to tyranny by the majority, a situation which will certainly be used against them when control of the Senate passes to the other party. But we're in new territory now: Trump will not give a damn about what happens in the future. His only concern will be what will be of benefit to him while he is president. If killing the filibuster means he gets to have his way, that's what he'll do -- and the Senate are too cowardly to stand up to him.

Who Is Steve Bannon?

Click here for an article at The Daily Beast, by Ronald Radosh, entitled "Steve Bannon, Trump's Top Guy, Told Me He Was 'A Leninist' Who Wants To ‘Destroy the State.'"

Bannon is a Leninist, or so he told Radosh in an interview in 2013, when Bannon was running the Breitbart site. Radosh asked him what he meant by that:
“Lenin,” he answered, “wanted to destroy the state, and that’s my goal too. I want to bring everything crashing down, and destroy all of today’s establishment.” Bannon was employing Lenin’s strategy for Tea Party populist goals. He included in that group the Republican and Democratic Parties, as well as the traditional conservative press.
Some other things Bannon told Radosh:
“National Review and The Weekly Standard,” he said, “are both left-wing magazines, and I want to destroy them also.” [Bannon is big on destroying things.] He added that “no one reads them or cares what they say.” His goal was to bring down the entire establishment including the leaders of the Republican Party in Congress. He went on to tell me that he was the East Coast coordinator of all the Tea Party groups. His plan was to get its candidates nominated on the Republican ticket, and then to back campaigns that they could win. Then, Bannon said, when elected they would be held accountable to fight for the agenda he and the Tea Party stood for.

If they didn’t, “we would force them out of office and oppose them when the next election for their seats came around.”
Radosh goes on:
Trump’s decision to take on Bannon indicates that he wants to wage his campaign along the lines laid down by him—that of destroying the Republican leadership and the Party as we know it. Trump’s behavior thus far has been compatible with Bannon’s belief in Leninist tactics. As the Bolshevik leader once said, “The art of any propagandist and agitator consists in his ability to find the best means of influencing any given audience, by presenting a definite truth, in such a way as to make it most convincing, most easy to digest, most graphic, and most strongly impressive.”
Steve Bannon: Trump's Rasputin.

"How To Build An Autocracy," By David Frum

Click here for a long, excellent article by David Frum at The Atlantic, entitled "How to Build an Autocracy."

It starts off with a kind of dumb tale of what life might be like in the U.S. after Trump's first term; you can skip down 15 paragraphs or so to the one saying:
In an 1888 lecture, James Russell Lowell, a founder of this magazine, challenged the happy assumption that the Constitution was a “machine that would go of itself.” Lowell was right. Checks and balances is a metaphor, not a mechanism.
Then it gets good. He explains what has happened in Hungary, and how democracy in that European Union state gradually unwound over a six-year period to its present state.
The transition has been nonviolent, often not even very dramatic. Opponents of the regime are not murdered or imprisoned, although many are harassed with building inspections and tax audits. If they work for the government, or for a company susceptible to government pressure, they risk their jobs by speaking out. Nonetheless, they are free to emigrate anytime they like. Those with money can even take it with them. Day in and day out, the regime works more through inducements than through intimidation. The courts are packed, and forgiving of the regime’s allies. Friends of the government win state contracts at high prices and borrow on easy terms from the central bank. Those on the inside grow rich by favoritism; those on the outside suffer from the general deterioration of the economy. As one shrewd observer told me on a recent visit, “The benefit of controlling a modern state is less the power to persecute the innocent, more the power to protect the guilty.”
There's a subheading: "If this were happening in Honduras, we’d know what to call it. It’s happening here instead, and so we are baffled."
You could tell a similar story of the slide away from democracy in South Africa under Nelson Mandela’s successors, in Venezuela under the thug-thief Hugo Chávez, or in the Philippines under the murderous Rodrigo Duterte. A comparable transformation has recently begun in Poland, and could come to France should Marine Le Pen, the National Front’s candidate, win the presidency.
He explains how the situation in the U.S. is different, with its long history of democracy and its strong institutions. But Trump is unique, and America has never faced a situation quite like this one. He shows how the self-serving cooperation of dishonest politicians like Paul Ryan helps introduce Trumpism:
“Do you have any concerns about Steve Bannon being in the White House?,” CNN’s Jake Tapper asked Ryan in November. “I don’t know Steve Bannon, so I have no concerns,” answered the speaker. “I trust Donald’s judgment.”

Asked on 60 Minutes whether he believed Donald Trump’s claim that “millions” of illegal votes had been cast, Ryan answered: “I don’t know. I’m not really focused on these things.”

What about Trump’s conflicts of interest? “This is not what I’m concerned about in Congress,” Ryan said on CNBC. Trump should handle his conflicts “however he wants to.”

Ryan has learned his prudence the hard way. Following the airing of Trump’s past comments, caught on tape, about his forceful sexual advances on women, Ryan said he’d no longer campaign for Trump. Ryan’s net favorability rating among Republicans dropped by 28 points in less than 10 days. Once unassailable in the party, he suddenly found himself disliked by 45 percent of Republicans.
That's an astonishing comedown for a popular politician like Ryan, and he knows where his bread is buttered. He will accept Trump's excesses and offenses because it is in his interests to do so.
Donald Trump will not set out to build an authoritarian state. His immediate priority seems likely to be to use the presidency to enrich himself. But as he does so, he will need to protect himself from legal risk. Being Trump, he will also inevitably wish to inflict payback on his critics. Construction of an apparatus of impunity and revenge will begin haphazardly and opportunistically. But it will accelerate. It will have to.
Here's an explanation by the odious Newt Gingrich of how Trump's power might be wielded:
Newt Gingrich, the former speaker of the House, who often articulates Trumpist ideas more candidly than Trump himself might think prudent, offered a sharp lesson in how difficult it will be to enforce laws against an uncooperative president. During a radio roundtable in December, on the topic of whether it would violate anti-nepotism laws to bring Trump’s daughter and son-in-law onto the White House staff, Gingrich said: The president “has, frankly, the power of the pardon. It is a totally open power, and he could simply say, ‘Look, I want them to be my advisers. I pardon them if anybody finds them to have behaved against the rules. Period.’ And technically, under the Constitution, he has that level of authority.”

That statement is true, and it points to a deeper truth: The United States may be a nation of laws, but the proper functioning of the law depends upon the competence and integrity of those charged with executing it. A president determined to thwart the law in order to protect himself and those in his circle has many means to do so.
Frum says:
Trump is poised to mingle business and government with an audacity and on a scale more reminiscent of a leader in a post-Soviet republic than anything ever before seen in the United States. Glimpses of his family’s wealth-seeking activities will likely emerge during his presidency, as they did during the transition. Trump’s Indian business partners dropped by Trump Tower and posted pictures with the then-president-elect on Facebook, alerting folks back home that they were now powers to be reckoned with. The Argentine media reported that Trump had discussed the progress of a Trump-branded building in Buenos Aires during a congratulatory phone call from the country’s president. (A spokesman for the Argentine president denied that the two men had discussed the building on their call.) Trump’s daughter Ivanka sat in on a meeting with the Japanese prime minister—a useful meeting for her, since a government-owned bank has a large ownership stake in the Japanese company with which she was negotiating a licensing deal.
There's a great deal more; it's a very interesting article. Frum closes by saying:
We are living through the most dangerous challenge to the free government of the United States that anyone alive has encountered. What happens next is up to you and me. Don’t be afraid. This moment of danger can also be your finest hour as a citizen and an American.

Monday, January 30, 2017

The Firing Of Acting Attorney General Sally Yates

Sally Yates was appointed Deputy Attorney General in 2015. In her Senate confirmation hearing, a questioner said:
"Well, you have to watch out because people will be asking you to do things and you have to say no. Do you think the Attorney General has the responsibility to say no to the President if he asks for something that's improper?"
And:
"If the views the president wants to execute are unlawful, should the Attorney General or the Deputy Attorney General say no?"
Her response:
"Senator, I believe that the Attorney General or Deputy Attorney General has an obligation to follow the law and the Constitution, and to give their independent legal advice to the President."
Her questioner in that Senate hearing? Jefferson Beauregard Sessions III.

Trump And The Popular Vote

Interesting statistic: Hillary Clinton received almost 3 million more votes than Trump. In fact, Trump's share of the popular vote was exceeded by the following, all of whom lost the election:

Richard Nixon in 1960, Al Gore in 2000, John Kerry in 2004, Gerald Ford in 1976, and Mitt Romney in 2012. Trump finished barely ahead of Michael Dukakis in 1988.

"I Lift My Lamp Beside The Golden Door"?

The New Colossus, by Emma Lazarus:


Not like the brazen giant of Greek fame,
With conquering limbs astride from land to land;
Here at our sea-washed, sunset gates shall stand
A mighty woman with a torch, whose flame
Is the imprisoned lightning, and her name
Mother of Exiles. From her beacon-hand
Glows world-wide welcome; her mild eyes command
The air-bridged harbor that twin cities frame.

"Keep, ancient lands, your storied pomp!" cries she
With silent lips. "Give me your tired, your poor,
Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,
The wretched refuse of your teeming shore.
Send these, the homeless, tempest-tost to me,
I lift my lamp beside the golden door
!"

Maybe not so much.

Voter Fraud

Click here for the most comprehensive article I've seen on voter fraud, by Sher Watts Spooner at Daily Kos, entitled "Sure, there's voter fraud. By Republicans." Spooner cites eight cases where people cast fraudulent ballots -- all Republicans, who presumably voted Republican -- in previous presidential and state elections from 2012 on. She says there were four cases prosecuted in the 2016 presidential election, and three of them were Republicans.

Of course there are irregularities in voter rolls: Steve Bannon, Tiffany Trump, Steve Mnuchin, Jared Kushner, and Sean Spicer are each registered in two different states. There's nothing wrong with that, and it happens all the time when people move from one state to another - but it isn't voter fraud unless the person votes, or tries to vote, in both locations. Same thing with people on the voter rolls who die; it sometimes takes a long time to get their names off. But there's no fraud unless someone tries to vote in the dead person's name.

Sunday, January 29, 2017

The 25th Amendment

Here is a portion of the 25th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution:
Whenever the Vice President and a majority of either the principal officers of the executive departments or of such other body as Congress may by law provide, transmit to the President pro tempore of the Senate and the Speaker of the House of Representatives their written declaration that the President is unable to discharge the powers and duties of his office, the Vice President shall immediately assume the powers and duties of the office as Acting President.
The way things are going, this amendment may be a subject for discussion.

The Command Structure In Trumpworld

Click here for an article in The Washington Post, by Josh Rogin, entitled "Inside Trump’s shadow national security council."

The triumvirate at the top of the heap are chief strategist Steve Bannon, senior adviser Jared Kushner, and White House Chief of Staff Reince Priebus. "No major decision can go forward without their sign-off."
The national security adviser-designate, retired Lt. Gen. Michael T. Flynn, is also playing a major role, not only in choosing his National Security Council staff but also by putting forth candidates for other national security and intelligence agencies, transition officials said. Billionaire Peter Thiel is involved in the Defense Department transition, mostly on an organizational level, and is also on the official executive committee.

Each of the three advisers at the top has carved out a niche:
Bannon has been working on the long-term strategic vision that will shape the Trump administration’s overall foreign policy approach. He has a keen interest in Asia, is committed to working on the buildup of the military and is also interested in connecting the Trump apparatus to leaders of populist movements around the world, especially in Europe.



Kushner has become a main interlocutor for foreign governments and has been interacting with leading representatives from countries including Israel, Germany and Britain. He also has the most amount of confidence from the incoming president and is charged with looking out for the personal political interests of his father-in-law.



Priebus’s role is often to take the ideas and plans put forth by other Trump loyalists and filter them through the lens of what would work practically. He is known to weigh in on how major foreign policy ideas or appointments would be received by outsiders such as lawmakers, foreign governments and the media.


There are some conflicts between strong, forceful members of Trump's team:
Mattis and the Trump team have already clashed over Pentagon staffing, and consequently most Defense Department senior official positions remain unfilled. Transition officials told me that Mattis requested that almost two dozen Pentagon political appointees be allowed to stay on during the first months of the Trump administration because he did not want the Pentagon to be caught flat-footed in case of an early emergency.

The Trump transition team pushed back and allowed Mattis to retain only a half-dozen top officials, including Deputy Defense Secretary Robert Work.
There's competition for the top spots:
Inside Trump world, there is also a lot of jostling for spots on what are known as the “beachhead teams.” These are sets of officials who will receive temporary 120-day political appointments while the permanent appointments are sorted out. There’s no guarantee the beachhead team officials will get permanent jobs, but they will be in a stronger position to contend for them. This is another way in which the Trump insiders are already exerting influence before the Cabinet officials can get their boots on.
Rogin concludes by saying that those who appear to be in the strongest position are those who have been with him since the beginning (With some exceptions, I might note, such as Chris Christie and Rudy Giuliani.)

Trump's Unhinged Behavior In His First Week As POTUS

Click here for an article by Ruth Marcus at The Washington Post, entitled "Trump’s erratic first week was among the most alarming in history."

Marcus's article is not about Trump's policy enactments, which are scary in themselves, but just about his "erratic, even bizarre, behavior." She says: "In depressing retrospect, the dark inaugural address, with its invocation of 'carnage' and 'tombstones,' was the week’s high point."

The first thing on Trump's agenda on Saturday morning, the first full day of his presidency, was to angrily order the acting director of the National Parks Service to come up with other photos of the inauguration crowd size, in an effort to prove the false claim that his crowd was the biggest at any inauguration ever, including the one in 2008 celebrating the election of the first black president. Next, he ordered his hapless press secretary, Sean Spicer, to hold a "press conference" for the purpose of angrily berating reporters.



Then came a clownish performance in front of the CIA Memorial Wall, where he made a single eight-word reference to the wall (later claiming he had "paid great homage to the wall"). He boasted of his intellect, attacked the "dishonest" media, and "lamented that the United States did not 'keep the oil' in Iraq even as he dangerously observed, 'Maybe you’ll have another chance.'" He also tried a couple of lame jokes, which to the CIA, in that place, is kind of like doing a standup comedy routine at Arlington National Cemetery.


And so it went, each day feeling scarier than the one before, and Trump’s sycophantic aides modeling his own fact-free rants — press secretary Sean Spicer’s falsehood-filled briefing-room tirade, counselor to the president Kellyanne Conway’s brazen defense of “alternative facts,” chief strategist Stephen K. Bannon’s brutish admonition to the media to “keep its mouth shut.”

Trump himself outdid his petty obsession with crowd size with his delusional obsession with popular-vote fraud, first behind closed doors with incredulous congressional leaders , then for all the world to watch in his ABC interview. What was once delusional ego-salving now appears headed for official inquiry.

This is ominous not only for the implicit threat of imposing new and unnecessary obstacles to voting, but also because it means that no one, neither American citizens nor foreign leaders, can believe the president of the United States when he makes an assertion. Meantime, the destabilizing cost of Trump’s behavior manifested itself with Mexican President Enrique Peña Nieto’s abrupt cancellation of his trip to Washington.

Trump Administration's Incompetence (Thank God)

The malevolence of President Trump’s Executive Order on visas and refugees is mitigated chiefly—and perhaps only—by the astonishing incompetence of its drafting and construction.” See below.

Click here for an article at The Washington Post by Ilya Somin, entitled "Making America cruel again – Trump’s executive order on refugees."
President Donald Trump’s recent executive order on refugees is both cruel and counterproductive. It inflicts great harm on many thousands of people while simultaneously endangering national security.
Somin goes on:
The White House claims that the order is intended to protect the US against terrorism. But any such risk is extremely small already. The average American has only about a 1 in 3.6 billion per year chance of being killed by an immigrant terrorist of any kind, Muslim or non-Muslim, refugee or otherwise. That is far less than the odds being killed by a lightning strike.

On net, Trump’s order actually increases the risk to national security far more than it might reduce it. Trump and his supporters are not the only ones who want to keep Syrian refugees out of the US. The leaders of ISIS feel exactly the same way. They want to prevent Muslims from fleeing to the West so as not to reduce the number of people living under ISIS rule, and also because they fear that refugees might be influenced by Western liberal values inimical to radical Islamism. Trump’s order plays into ISIS’ hands, both by keeping out refugees and by needlessly antagonizing Muslims around the world.

Trump’s order also benefits terrorists because it keeps out Iraqis and Syrians who helped US forces, often risking their own lives in the process. If you were an Iraqi or Syrian considering helping the US, would you trust American promises of refuge after this order? I don’t think I would. Intelligence and other assistance from members of the local population is essential to combatting terrorists and insurgents. Don’t take my word for it. Take that of the US military’s counterinsurgency manual, coauthored by General James Mattis, the newly confirmed secretary of defense (one of Trump’s few good appointees). Thanks to Donald Trump, US forces are now less likely to get that kind of support.
But we're lucky, to some extent, that Steve Bannon, Stephen Miller, et al, are completely incompetent at what they're doing:
The one silver lining of Trump’s order is that its incompetent drafting leaves it vulnerable to various legal challenges. Already, opponents have already secured four federal court orders suspending various parts of the order, and there may be more such rulings in the near future. As Benjamin Wittes, a leading national security law expert, puts it: “The malevolence of President Trump’s Executive Order on visas and refugees is mitigated chiefly—and perhaps only—by the astonishing incompetence of its drafting and construction.”

Pro-Trump Distortion Of Syrian Refugee Numbers

Yes, 97% of the refugees accepted from Syria have been Muslims; and yes, 10% of the population of Syria are Christian. One would think there would be a higher number of Christian refugees.

Trump supporters frequently throw out this fact, implying that the Obama administration was clearly discriminating against Christians and giving Muslim refugees preference. While a lot of the uninformed audience may think this is a significant statistic, the spokespersons we see on TV know better, and they are being dishonest.

Christians are definitely victims of discrimination within Muslim communities in the Middle East; that's just a fact. The main U.N. refugee camp in Jordan from which the Syrian refugees come to the U.S. -- after an 18-month to two-year vetting process -- contains many thousands of Muslims, and the Christians there are persecuted; as a result, they flee the camp and are not selected, or they don't go there in the first place. That is why the number of Christian refugees is low, not because of Obama administration favoritism.

Obama's 2011 Ban On Iraqi Refugees - Different From Trump's Ban

I've been reading and hearing Trump supporters (including the odious Jeffrey Lord) claiming that there was no popular uprising when Obama instituted a six-month ban on Iraqi refugees in 2011, arguing that current protests are hypocritical and simply a result of irrational hatred of Trump.

Click here for an article by Mikey Smith at the Mirror, entitled "No, Barack Obama and Jimmy Carter didn't do the same thing as Donald Trump's Muslim ban."

The article explains that Obama's six-month ban was as a result of U.S. authorities discovering that two al Qaeda operatives had used the refugee program to settle in Kentucky. The ban was not based on religion -- it was directed against all Iraqis of whatever faith -- and it was a response to a specific threat. The U.S. used the six-month period to review, research, and draw up new immigration guidelines for Iraqi refugees, after gathering information such as fingerprints on IEDs, etc.

A serious flaw was found in the refugee program, so the Obama administration opted to halt the program to examine the problem and come up with a solution. The refugee program was reinstated after the six-month period, with tighter regulations and more careful vetting -- a sensible way to deal with a newly discovered problem.

The Sad Journey From FDR To Donald Trump

Click here for an excellent article by Heather Cox Richardson at The Guardian, entitled "From Goldwater to Reagan and now Trump. But Americans will fight this latest brand of cartoon conservatism."



It presents an outline of the development of American society from the Great Depression through FDR's New Deal, through Eisenhower's Middle Way and into the tumult of the civil rights movement in the '60s, the development of movement conservatism, influenced by William F. Buckley and the National Review, Barry Goldwater, Nixon's Southern Strategy to absorb disgruntled racist Southern Democrats into the Republican party, through Ronald Reagan:
With Reagan, the principles of movement conservatism captured the White House. Reagan contrasted his own cowboy persona with the “welfare queen”, a black woman who drove a Cadillac and lived high on the hog thanks to government benefits she collected under “80 names, 30 addresses, 12 social security cards… and on four non-existing deceased husbands”. In office, Reagan slashed government regulations, taxes and social welfare legislation, explaining that the government activism that created the welfare queen was destroying America by killing individual initiative and morals.


Reagan ushered in the "Greed is Good" era of Gordon Gekko, and started the huge transfer of wealth from the lower rungs of society to those at the very top.

Dominated by movement conservatives, the Republican party advanced an increasingly cartoonish narrative divorced from what a member of George W Bush’s White House [reportedly Karl Rove] famously disparaged as “the reality-based community”.
Despite some pushback during eight years of Clinton and eight more of Obama, movement conservatism brought us to the era of Donald Trump:
In the 2016 election, Donald Trump stripped off whatever genteel veneer remained on that narrative. He presented himself as a larger-than-life Gordon Gekko, a successful billionaire who had risen from almost nothing through his own hard work. He deliberately reinforced the idea that he – and by extension his supporters – was better than other Americans. He cultivated the support of white supremacists and boasted of sexually assaulting women. And yet he nodded to his own rhetorical sleight of hand: he lied shamelessly, boasting: “I love the uneducated.” To his supporters’ dismay, as soon as he was elected, Trump embraced the policies of movement conservatives, turning policy reins over to ideologue house speaker, Paul Ryan, who called for more tax cuts, the destruction of Obamacare and the shredding of the remnants of the social safety net, and to Vice President Mike Pence, who pushed a dramatic rollback of abortion women’s rights. But the triumph of movement conservatism has illuminated that it is hollow. Trump is Gordon Gekko on steroids, a man so convinced of his own superiority that he can abide no rival and yet who is clearly unprepared for the presidency. He focuses solely on dominance and power rather than competent governance.
It's a good article, but I wish it had mentioned the Powell memo. Click here for my post entitled " The Powell Memo: Founding Document For Corporate Dominance."

Are Flynn And Bannon Taking Over The National Security Council? Be Afraid - Be Very Afraid

Further down, I've copied an earlier post of mine, entitled "Fake News? Let's Hope So!" Unfortunately, one of Trump's latest executive orders may be a step in this dangerous direction. it's elevated the odious Nazi sympathizer Steve Bannon to a position of outrageous power, as a member of the National Security Council's "principals committee," the real inner circle -- including the Secretary of State and Secretary of Defense, as well as the National Security Adviser, the nutball Michael Flynn -- but sometimes not even the Director of National Intelligence and the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff! (Update: The weakling Reince Priebus, too, is to be a member of the principals committee, further politicizing the national security apparatus.)

Click here for Karoli Kuns' take on it at Crooks & Liars.

Susan Rice has tweeted that this situation is "stone cold crazy."

Click here for an article in The Washington Post by David J. Rothkopf, entitled "The danger of Steve Bannon on the National Security Council." The article says: "David J. Rothkopf is chief executive and editor of the FP Group, which publishes Foreign Policy magazine. He has written two histories of the NSC, 'Running the World' and last year’s 'National Insecurity.'"

This is a huge, scary red flag. Watch this space.

UPDATED: Click here for an article at Daily Kos entitled "Trump removes DNI and Chairman of Joint Chiefs from National Security Council; adds Bannon, Priebus."
If Trump wants to start a war, it’s hard to imagine a better first move than this one. All decisions on national security will now be made by political operatives, while career professionals in the intelligence and military communities have been deliberately excluded from the process. Every single member of the NSC PC is now political; there are no career professionals left.

Fake News? Let's Hope So!

Click here for an earlier post of mine, entitled "Wingnut Flynn - Updated." Since that was posted, Flynn has continued on his merry nutball way, most recently contacting the Russian ambassador to the U.S. multiple times on the same day Obama was announcing sanctions against Russia.

Click here for an article by Digby at Hullabaloo entitiled "Let's hope this is fake news." Michael Flynn Jr. -- apparently a worse alt-right conspiracy theorist than his nutty old man -- "... tweeted out a story published on Voltaire Network entitled “General Flynn’s Proposals to Reform Intelligence.” He tells of a plan afoot to abolish the position of Director of National Intelligence -- currently held by James Clapper, who, together with Michael Vickers, the undersecretary of defense for intelligence, forced Flynn out as head of the Defense Intelligence Agency -- and to make all 16 intelligence agencies responsible to a different official.

That official? The National Security Adviser, a person not subject to Senate confirmation. The official presently holding that position? Michael Flynn, Sr.

Jesus wept.

Saturday, January 28, 2017

Trump Misfires On Muslims

Here's a great tweet from Ali Soufan, a Lebanese-American former FBI agent who was involved in a number of high-profile anti-terrorism cases both in the United States and around the world:

911
Hijackers
Shoe Bomb
Underwear Bomb
Fort Hood
Time Square
Boston
San Bernardino
Orlando
NY-NJ Bombs
None from the 7 listed in ban.

The ban is on citizens from Syria, Iraq, Iran, Libya, Somalia, Sudan and Yemen.

Friday, January 27, 2017

Hasta La Vista, Mrs. Palin

Click here for an article by Chris Cillizza in The Washington Post, entitled "The end of Sarah Palin is here." And indeed it is -- or at least let's hope so.

According to the article, Sarah has folded her moneymaking engine, Sarah PAC, as of the end of 2016. The object of Sarah PAC, we've been assured ever since its inception in 2008, has been to support the election campaigns of like-minded Republicans to political office. In 2010, when Sarah PAC was "functioning on all cylinders," it raised $5.6 million and spent $4.3 million. Funny thing, though: "Just $509,000 of that total — less than 12 percent of total expenditures — went to either candidates or political/party committees."


In the 2016 election cycle, Palin's Sarah PAC spent $830,000 on consultants and just $82,500 in donations to other candidates — a.k.a its ostensible purpose.
But Sarah PAC managed to spend $168,000 on travel and lodging expenses — twice as much as it donated to candidates.

The gold vein has petered out; the scam has come to an end. Time to fold your three-card monte game and scuttle off into the shadows, Sarah. Good riddance.

Thursday, January 26, 2017

Trump Unbound (And Unhinged)

This article by Digby at Hullabaloo, entitled "Trump is a terrorist's best salesman," is too good to chop up; I'm reproducing it here in full:
I wrote about his loose talk about torture for Salon this morning:

President Trump gave a speech to the Department of Homeland Security on Wednesday in which he declared that the department was “a law enforcement agency” and promised “to restore the rule of law in the United States.” He ran as a law-and-order candidate so none of this was terribly surprising. He spent most of his time talking about the tragedies of American families who’ve have a member killed by someone who was in the country illegally, just as he did at the Republican convention in Cleveland. (One can only wish he would show the same compassion toward the much larger number of American families whose children are killed by gun-toting fellow citizens, but that’s a different story.)

Earlier in the day, Trump had signed an executive order directing state and local government to act as immigration officers and “ensure the faithful execution of the immigration laws of the United States against all removable aliens.” (Emphasis added.) This presumably means turning over undocumented people who have committed no crime to federal authorities, a policy most local and state police oppose, since it terrorizes millions of innocent people and threatens to drive them underground where they no longer cooperate with authorities in any way. Trump also promised a number of other DHS reinforcements, including the hiring of 5,000 new border patrol officers. And needless to say, they’re going to start to work on his Big Beautiful Wall right away.

The word is that Trump’s plans for “extreme vetting” and his temporary bans on refugees and visitors from certain countries (all of them predominantly Muslim nations in the Middle East) are scheduled to follow by the end of the week. His authoritarian domestic agenda is well on its way, launched in a blinding blizzard of executive orders. His followers must be pleased.

Trump is also making news on his national security agenda. We heard late Wednesday that he’s preparing executive orders to drastically reduce the U.S. role at the United Nations and other international groups (which should not be seen as evidence of his “isolationism” — it’s evidence of his unilateral imperialism.) Most unnerving of all, a draft of a proposed executive order to explore a new regime of torture and reopen the secret CIA prisons known as “black sites” from the George W. Bush era made the rounds, sending a shock wave through the political world.



When he was asked about this at the Wednesday press briefing, press secretary Sean Spicer robotically denied that the draft order “came from the White House” and it turned out that it originated with the 2012 Mitt Romney campaign. (It figures that Trump staffers plagiarized the language from someone else — they routinely lift everything from cake designs to convention speeches.) BuzzFeed reported that this had originally been the most “comprehensive option” in a larger document, supposedly the only option that explicitly referred to CIA detention and torture programs. So we don’t know for sure whether the new administration will actually issue this order; at this point, it would be surprising if it didn’t.

After all, during the presidential campaign Trump promised over and over again to bring back torture. Commentators on TV yesterday insisted that he told the New York Times he had changed his mind after speaking with incoming defense secretary James Mattis, who told Trump he didn’t believe torture worked. But anyone who believed that must not have read the actual interview. He actually said, “I was surprised because [Mattis] is known as, like, being the toughest guy and when he said that, I’m not saying I changed my mind.” He hasn’t.

On Wednesday Trump also gave a remarkable interview with David Muir of ABC News, in which he said that within the previous 24 hours top intelligence officials had reassured him that “torture works.” He also reiterated what he had said several times on the campaign trail, that he believes the U.S. must be as brutal as the terrorists:

We’re not playing on an even field. When they’re chopping off the heads of our people, and other people. When they’re chopping off the heads of people because they happen to be a Christian in the Middle East — when ISIS is doing things that nobody has ever heard of since medieval times, would I feel strongly about waterboarding? As far as I’m concerned, we have to fight fire with fire.

He did say he would do what Mattis and CIA director Mike Pompeo wanted, and promised to keep everything within the law. How that squares with his certainty that torture works is hard to say.

It’s stunning how Trump casually uses the word “torture,” especially now that he is the president. Since it is a war crime and viewed as illegal in the U.S. and around the world, officials who approve of torture have usually used the euphemism “enhanced interrogation.” That is primarily for legal reasons but also because they generally recognize that most people consider torture an immoral abomination, and using the word comes with a political cost. Barack Obama, like George W. Bush, originally insisted that “the U.S. doesn’t torture” but later admitted, “We tortured some folks.” He still refused to prosecute any of the perpetrators, however, preferring not to “look in the rear view mirror.” Well, we’re about to have a head-on collision with history.

Even some Republicans are balking at Trump’s torture talk, although it’s likely a small club:

As for the notorious “black sites,” these are basically prisons in foreign countries where the U.S. secretly detained and tortured suspected terrorists so they didn’t have to deal with all the messy due process of incarcerating them at Guantánamo Bay. Think about that. If Trump plans to do any of this lawfully he’s going to have to find a way to eliminate the McCain-Feinstein amendment in the 2016 National Defense Authorization Act that bars torture and secret sites that don’t allow Red Cross access. That amendment passed the Senate by a vote of 78-21. Our laws also require that all forms of interrogation comport with the Army Field Manual as well as international treaties and conventions, which poses more obstacles to any potential torture policy.

Of course all Trump would probably need to reverse those laws would be a major terrorist attack against the U.S., and the way he’s talking we’re likely to see a major one before too long. This loose talk by the president of the United States — endorsing wanton brutality, saying he believes in “fighting fire with fire,” bragging about invading countries and seizing resources like he’s Genghis Kahn — is being heard by people all over the world, some of whom are undoubtedly thrilled to have such a brilliant recruiting tool for their violent cause. Every time Trump opens his mouth and issues more crude trash talk, he makes all of us less safe.
"Trump had signed an executive order directing state and local government to act as immigration officers and “ensure the faithful execution of the immigration laws of the United States against all removable aliens.” Does this mean that racist zealots at every level of state and local government are going to have carte blanche to carry out arrests and subsequent deportations of anyone they find to be an illegal immigrant? Sounds to me like a "yuge" opportunity for abuse.

And "Most unnerving of all, a draft of a proposed executive order to explore a new regime of torture and reopen the secret CIA prisons known as “black sites” from the George W. Bush era made the rounds, sending a shock wave through the political world." Please, please, please don't let the U.S. go down that dark path again.

Doomsday Clock

According to Wikipedia:
The Doomsday Clock is a symbolic clock face that represents a countdown to possible global catastrophe. It has been maintained since 1947 by the members of The Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists' Science and Security Board, who are in turn advised by the Governing Board and the Board of Sponsors, including 18 Nobel Laureates. The closer they set the Clock to midnight, the more vulnerable the scientists believe the world is to global disaster.
The clock was first designed to be a reflection of the danger to the world of nuclear disaster. In recent years, in assessing the danger to the world, the scientists have also "reflected climate change, and new developments in the life sciences and technology that could inflict irrevocable harm to humanity." In recognition of the irrevocable harm to humanity that Donald Trump could inflict, the scientists of the Clock have advanced the time by 30 seconds: It now stands at 2.5 minutes to midnight, the closest it has been since 1953, when the U.S. and the Soviet Union detonated their first thermonuclear bombs within a six-month period.



Click here for an article in The New York Times by Lawrence M. Krauss (chairman of the board of sponsors of the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists) and David Titley (former chairman of the Navy’s Task Force on Climate Change and a member of the Bulletin's science panel), entitled "Thanks to Trump, the Doomsday Clock Advances Toward Midnight."
Making matters worse, the United States now has a president who has promised to impede progress on both of those fronts. Never before has the Bulletin decided to advance the clock largely because of the statements of a single person. But when that person is the new president of the United States, his words matter.
... Mr. Trump’s statements and actions have been unsettling. He has made ill-considered comments about expanding and even deploying the American nuclear arsenal. He has expressed disbelief in the scientific consensus on global warming. He has shown a troubling propensity to discount or reject expert advice related to international security. And his nominees to head the Energy Department, the Environmental Protection Agency and the Office of Management and the Budget have disputed or questioned climate change.
The Bulletin mentions the following points as reasons for advancing the clock:
  • North Korea’s continuing nuclear weapons development, the steady march of arsenal modernization programs in the nuclear weapon states, simmering tension between nuclear-armed India and Pakistan, and stagnation in arms control. 
  • Doubt over the future of the Iran nuclear deal 
  • Deteriorating relations between the United States and Russia, which possess more than 90 percent of the world’s nuclear weapons.
  • Mixed results in global efforts to limit climate change. 
These are all matters in which President Trump has signaled that he would make matters worse either because of a mistaken belief that the threats posed by nuclear weapons and climate can be ignored or that the words of a president of the United States do not matter to the rest of the world.

Aaaargh! Elizabeth Warren Voted To Confirm Ben Carson?

Yes, she did, as did stalwart progressive Ohio Senator Sherrod Brown. On Chris Hayes's All In With Chris Hayes, he notes Warren as saying:
Yes, I have serious, deep, profound concerns about Dr. Carson's inexperience [inexperience???] ... But 'the nominee I wanted' is not the test ... I understand that some people might have made the call differently [duh]. I appreciate your making your thoughts heard. Unlike the new Administration, I don't believe in ignoring or silencing people who disagree with the choices I make or the votes I take.
That's profoundly disappointing, Senator Professor. Hayes summarized your position as "We cannot do to them what they did to us," but I don't agree that that's what's happening here. Carson should be rejected on his merits: He's totally unqualified and unfit for the position. Voting against Carson's confirmation is not a boneheaded, no-matter-what stonewall; it's a sound judgment based on the merits (Carson has none).

To her credit, Hayes's guest -- Slate columnist Michelle Goldberg -- responded: "To me, that is just completely unintelligible." She says she doesn't think Democrats are angry with people who voted for Mattis. (Hayes butted in, suggesting that Nikki Haley as U.N. ambassador was another such reasonable appointment, and I disagree completely -- while not a bad person, in my judgment, she is no more qualified than Carson.) "The thing is, Ben Carson should not be -- on the merits -- Secretary of HUD."

Sad.

Wednesday, January 25, 2017

Emoluments? Moi?

According to Chris Hayes on MSNBC's All In With Chris Hayes, Trump's flagship Palm Beach resort, Mar-A-Lago, has doubled its initiation fee, from $100,000 to $200,000. The managing director of the club said that an increase had been planned since before the election, but that "We have had a sudden surge in requests."

Surprise, surprise. Now that members may be rubbing shoulders at the club with the President of the United States, the price has gone up -- and straight into the pockets of one Donald J. Trump.



Norm Eisen, a former Obama ethics lawyer, said:
This type of naked profiteering off of a government office is what I would expect from King Louis XVI or his modern kleptocratic equivalents, not an American president.
What are these "emoluments" of which you speak?

#SeanSpicerSays, #SeanSpicerFacts

From Mark Zohar:



Guess the number of jellybeans.
Me: 87.
Wife: 134.
Sean Spencer: 1.5 million #SpicerFacts

From Adam Khan:



Kwam The Copywriter:
The rebels didn't blow up the Death Star. Period. #SeanSpicerSays

Sean Spicer Facts:
Regarding the dishonest media, to quote Melania Trump, "When they go low, we go high." Period. #SeanSpicerFacts

Mitch Benn:
"The Beatles, INCLUDING John & George, played the inaugural concert and President Trump applauded them with his HUGE HANDS." #SeanSpicerSays

Andy Birss:
#SeanSpicerSays that the lying media does not mention the 1,000,000 invisibility cloaks issued to the crowd on inauguration day.

Benjamin Howard:
"Of course Donald Trump went back in time and killed Hitler with his bare hands. The crooked media just won't cover it." #SeanSpicerSays

"Black Sites"? Waterboarding? Torture? Quo Vadis, CIA?

From The Washington Post:
Yesterday the New York Times broke the news that the Trump Administration has drafted a memo ordering the CIA to review the possibility of again using "black site" prisons overseas and modifying the agency's interrogation tactics, presumably to allow methods considered torture. So we asked Post national security Greg Miller: Does the CIA even want to return to the days of black sites and so-called "enhanced interrogation?"
"The CIA has little if any interest in going back into the business of detaining and interrogating terrorism suspects. Many regard that period as one of the most regrettable chapters in the agency’s history. We’ve learned a lot of gruesome details about the program — “rectal feeding,” prisoners foaming at the mouth, convulsing — that agency people simply find repulsive.

"Then there is the ongoing institutional cost, the cumulative toll of years of criminal, congressional and even internal investigations. The price was pretty high. There will always be hardline defenders, but my sense is that they are vastly outnumbered."

Can An Unhinged Trump Be Removed?

Click here for an article by Digby at Hullabaloo entitled "What do you do when a president is unhinged? (There is a constitutional remedy)." Is Trump nuts? And can he be legally removed? Digby says:
Donald Trump is in over his head. This comes as no surprise to the millions of people who could see that he was unprepared and unfit for the job of president of the United States and voted against him. He’s basically a celebrity heir to a fortune who was so entitled that he believed his privileged existence proved he was competent to run the most powerful nation on earth. That’s the attitude of an aristocrat who ascended to the throne without having any idea what it actually takes to rule. History’s full of such men. It doesn’t often work out well.

Trump managed to convince enough voters in just the right places that his “business success,” born mostly of hype and relentless public relations over many years, qualified him for the Oval Office. Since the Protestant work ethic and the philosophy of virtuous capitalism still permeate American culture, it’s not uncommon for people to equate financial success with superior intelligence and character. Many among the public undoubtedly assumed that Trump’s persona at the rallies was something of a salesman’s act, that he was playing the role of demagogue to rile up the crowd. They assumed that behind closed doors he was a smart and able businessman, making tough decisions on the fly, handling many issues at once.

Those voters didn’t see what millions of others felt instinctively, and which explains the shocked reaction and immediate resistance to his election: Trump’s incessant bragging, his lack of empathy or remorse, his pathological lying and even his bizarre appearance were signs of an unstable personality. It was obvious to many of us that something was not right.
She goes on to elaborate on the transition train wreck and the fiasco that has quickly unraveled since his inauguration, and says: So what happens if President Trump cannot pull himself together and continues to psychologically unravel? There is a remedy other than impeachment. Even conservatives like David Frum have been talking about it for a while: The 25th Amendment was added to the Constitution after the assassination of John F. Kennedy, and provides for the replacement of the vice president if the office becomes vacant. (So it led indirectly to the presidency of Gerald Ford, the only American president who was never elected to any national office.) But Article 4 is about something else entirely:
Whenever the Vice President and a majority of either the principal officers of the executive departments or of such other body as Congress may by law provide, transmit to the President pro tempore of the Senate and the Speaker of the House of Representatives their written declaration that the President is unable to discharge the powers and duties of his office, the Vice President shall immediately assume the powers and duties of the office as Acting President.
She explains how the 25th Amendment, enacted after the Kennedy assassination, has been exercised three times: "once when Ronald Reagan had cancer surgery and twice when George W. Bush underwent colonoscopies." But it was also being considered when insiders were concerned that Reagan was developing Alzheimer's. Digby says:
It’s obvious that Trump has a narcissistic personality, which in itself is not disqualifying. He’s not the first president to have one, nor will he be the last. But his issues seem to run deeper than that. Some observers have suggested that he shows the characteristics of classic psychopathy. And there are plenty who see his behavior as blatantly self-destructive.

Of course it’s an extreme long shot that Trump’s Cabinet or the Republican leadership in Congress would ever take such a drastic step. (Although it’s not at all hard to imagine that in their hearts many of them would prefer President Mike Pence.) This would only happen if Trump really started to behave in a unhinged fashion. After all the bizarre behavior he has exhibited over the past 18 months, one cannot help but wonder: What could possibly count as going too far? It’s almost too terrifying to imagine.


The Scream?

Scary stuff. Is the president insane?

Trump's War On The Truth

Click here for an excellent article by Digby at Hullabaloo, entitled "Preserving Reality."

And click here for the source article she links to, by Zoe Schlanger, at Quartz Media, entitled "Hackers downloaded US government climate data and stored it on European servers as Trump was being inaugurated."



Trump's war on science has begun. Scientists all over the country are working feverishly in "data rescue" events to archive and preserve their work, in anticipation of the Trump administration's attempts to scrub unwanted truths. When Trump's crew present us with their figures, can we believe them?
As Donald Trump was sworn into office as the new president of the US on Jan. 20, a group of around 60 programmers and scientists were gathered in the Department of Information Studies building at the University of California-Los Angeles, harvesting government data.

A spreadsheet detailed their targets: Webpages dedicated to the Department of Energy’s solar power initiative, Energy Information Administration data sets that compared fossil fuels to renewable energy sources, and fuel cell research from the National Renewable Energy Laboratory, to name a few out of hundreds.
Hackers, librarians, scientists, and archivists had been working around the clock, at these events and in the days between, to download as much federal climate and environment data off government websites as possible before Trump took office. But suddenly, at exactly noon on Friday as Trump was sworn in, and just as the UCLA event kicked off, some of their fears began to come true: The climate change-related pages on whitehouse.gov disappeared. It’s typical of incoming administrations to take down some of their predecessor’s pages, but scrubbing all mentions of climate change is a clear indication of the Trump administration’s position on climate science.

“We’re having a heart attack,” said Laurie Allen on Friday afternoon. Allen is the assistant director for digital scholarship in the University of Pennsylvania libraries and the technical lead on a recent data-rescuing event there. “In the last four days I think we’ve been working 22 hours a day, because we were hearing that these precise changes were going to happen.” “I wish we had been wrong about our concerns. But this is what we internally had predicted and prepared for,” added Bethany Wiggin, the director of the environmental humanities program at Penn and another organizer of the data-rescuing event.
While Wiggin and Allen say the changes to whitehouse.gov are disconcerting, they also note they are small potatoes compared with what could come next: the large government data sets related to climate change and environmental health that scientists use for research. For example, there’s a massive Environmental Protection Agency database of air quality monitoring data that might become a target of Trump-appointed EPA administrator Scott Pruitt’s office, based on Pruitt’s history of suing the EPA to roll back air pollution regulations.


Digby concludes:
There's more at the link. [Click here.] These are not paranoid people. They have good reason to do this. The Trump administration is already shutting down the ability of agencies to disseminate information to the public. We will not know if they have changed or destroyed important information. we won't know what to believe.

And that's terrifying.

Deficits Don't Matter (Anymore)!

In 2003, when the Bush administration sought a second, massive round of tax cuts, Dick Cheney famously said: "Reagan proved that deficits don’t matter." And of course they don't -- if the Republicans control the purse strings. For the eight years of Obama's presidency, of course, deficits were the worst thing in the world, and would certainly drive the economy over the edge of the cliff, so that the U.S. turned into Greece. Now that Trump and the Republicans have complete control, of course, suddenly "deficits don't matter."



Click here for an article at Daily Kos, by Kerry Eleveld, entitled "Team Trump eyes ginormous deficit spending, pitting Republicans against one another on taxes." Eleveld says:
Now that control of government spending is at Donald Trump's tiny fingertips, he's like an unsupervised kid in a candy shop looking to OD on sugar. He wants it all: major tax cuts, a spike in military spending, massive infrastructure spending, and, of course, his big beautiful multibillion dollar wall. All of this without offsets in the form of tax revenue will balloon the deficit to epic proportions, a far cry from the mantle of "fiscal responsibility" Republicans have been claiming for decades. But that doesn’t bother Trump—he doesn’t care about making tax cuts “revenue neutral” (i.e. continuing to supply the government with the same amount of revenue), let alone cutting spending. Rachael Bade writes:
A number of Trump advisers in recent weeks have privately questioned whether tax reform needs to be “revenue neutral,” according to multiple people familiar with early-stage tax reform discussions. Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) personally reached out to administration officials to argue that tax cuts without corresponding offsets would spur faster economic growth, and conservative groups such as Club for Growth and Heritage Foundation second that idea, bolstering the argument in the eyes of the right.
Oh yes, now that the GOP is control, growing the deficit is a net plus—after years of being the end of the world as we know it. Paul Ryan, if he retains any sense of dignity, should stand firm against tax cuts that aren't revenue neutral.
During a private tax reform meeting with Trump’s chief of staff, Reince Priebus, strategic adviser Steve Bannon, and son-in-law Jared Kushner two weeks ago, Ryan reiterated that stance. And sources familiar with the talks said nobody objected.

Chicago Homicides, 2016

After seeing a Bill O'Reilly segment fearmongering about Chicago's "huge surge in homicides" in 2016, Trump threatened in a tweet to send in the feds. In fact, on a per capita basis, it's not even in the top five in the U.S. But as Frances Langum "Blue Gal" writes at Crooks & Liars:
What Chicago is, though, is Barack Obama's home turf, the home of the Obama Library and Foundation headquarters, and a concentrated punching bag for Fox News, who uses the term "Chicago" as a synonym for "black thugs," and therefore so does Trump.


Bad Lip Reading - The Inauguration

It's the Star Wars bar of extremists and nut cases

Thomas Friedman, columnist at The New York Times (whom I seldom read), answering a question posed on Quora: "Did Thomas Friedman’s opinion of President Elect Trump change after meeting him in person?"
I spent eighteen months doing everything I could to prevent Trump from being elected. I thought he lacked the knowledge, the temperament, and the character to be President of the United States, but I always took him seriously. My last column before the election was actually an appeal to his voters.



Now he's going to be president, and what I learned at the meeting was a lot about the people he's surrounded himself with. Because no one thought he was going to win for fifteen months, he could only attract extremists and goofballs. Now that he's won you realize he's been talking to Rudy Giuliani, Steve Bannon, and the Mike Flynns of the world. It's the Star Wars bar of extremists and nut cases. But now we are all on the “Good Ship Lollipop” and he's the captain. My first column after the election —after taking in the idea that he was President— was a memo to him and on the question of climate change, which I think is very important.

While I spent the last fifteen months hoping he wouldn't win, and I'll spend the next four years on the barricades, while he is still in this plastic phase, appointing people —and he's made some decent appointments like General Mattis— I think you have to engage him, so I'm encouraging everyone to engage him. You cannot underestimate how much he's been living in a bubble talking to the Rudy Giulianis of the world.

Tuesday, January 24, 2017

Can We Trust Trump's Numbers?

He lied repeatedly about the numbers present for his inauguration; he lied repeatedly -- and he's now bringing it up again -- about losing the popular vote because three to five million "illegals" voted for Hillary. There is no -- repeat, NO -- backup for this absurd position. I'm aware of only one person caught voting illegally in the presidential election -- an Iowa woman who voted twice for Trump; why can they not produce ANY of this three to five million? Because they are a figment of Trump's imagination, some demented illusion ricocheting around inside that deranged brain.

Click here for an article at CNN, by Julia Horowitz, entitled "Will Trump team try to undermine official unemployment numbers?"

Sean Spicer tap-danced around a direct question: What does Trump say is the percentage of unemployment? It's actually about 4.7%, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. Is Trump trying to undermine the public's faith in the government numbers? During the campaign, when the figure was slightly over 5%, Trump said in a rally speech that he had heard it was 42%. Here's what he said in August:
"The 5% figure is one of the biggest hoaxes in American modern politics," Trump said during a speech in August, when unemployment was at 4.9%.
Andrew Puzder, Trump's nominee for Labor Secretary, seems to be another statistics fabulist, which is bad news, since he'll be responsible for publishing the figures:
This skepticism will likely be compounded if fast food CEO Andrew Puzder is confirmed by the Senate to lead the Labor Department. Part of his job would be to oversee the Bureau of Labor Statistics, which publishes the unemployment rate on the first Friday of each month.

Since 2012, Puzder has written or co-written a host of op-eds blasting the bureau's method for crunching national job numbers. He claims it exaggerated the economic recovery under former President Obama.

"The official unemployment rate taken alone has become a very poor indicator of economic growth," Puzder wrote in a 2012 op-ed for the conservative website Human Events, though few economists look at the measure in isolation.
There is room for discussion about the methodology used to come up with the unemployment numbers; read the article for an analysis of how Puzder views the government figures.



Brace yourself for some "alternative facts."

Monday, January 23, 2017

A Name From 1974 I Had Forgotten - Jerald terHorst

Click here for an article by Charlie Pierce at Esquire entitled "Some Things Used to Be Bigger Than Keeping Your Job," subtitled "Now we'll see if Sean Spicer keeps his."

Charlie talks about press secretary Sean Spicer and his "very public episode on madness," and Trump spokescobra Kellyanne Conway's defense of Spicer's lies. But the focus of his narrative was the 1974 story of Gerald Ford's first spokesperson, Jerald terHorst, a longtime personal friend of Ford's, who resigned his position after only a month, when Ford pardoned Nixon "for all offenses against the United States which he, Richard Nixon, has committed or may have committed or taken part in during the period from January 20, 1969 through August 9, 1974."

Since terHorst had spent the entire month denying at press conferences that a pardon would be forthcoming, it took him less than a day to decide that in good conscience, he could not continue. This was a shining example of courage and integrity -- a statement of principle that was widely admired. (This was about a year after a couple of other courageous resignations on principle, by Attorney General Eliot Richardson and his deputy, William Ruckelshaus -- known as the Saturday Night Massacre -- when they quit rather than fire Watergate special prosecutor Archibald Cox.)



Pierce argues that Ford's pardon of Nixon "kickstarted the process of infantilizing the American public into people who would not be able to cope with impeaching Ronald Reagan over Iran-Contra, or probing too deeply into the events leading up to the attacks of 9/11, or bringing true justice down on the torturers and Wall Street brigands of the first decade of the 21st century."
This was (and continues to be) a bipartisan project—although, curiously, the endless investigations into Bill Clinton's finances and his extracurricular activities, to say nothing of the wringer through which his wife was put over the past three years, were exempt from these considerations. Apparently, the American people were strong enough to see a president impeached over blowjobs, but not over selling missiles to terrorist states. So it goes.

Sunday, January 22, 2017

Numbersgate, Inauguration - Five Pinocchios For Spicer

Here's my summary of a report by Brian Stelter of CNN at Reliable Sources:
NBC's Katy Tur notes that Spicer, in his statement, also objected to two specific tweets by reporters. This is what happened during the campaign too. "Trump's obsessed with tweets -- campaign hardly dinged me for my on-air reporting but they'd call/email to say Trump found my tweets 'disgraceful,'" Tur tweeted. She also recalled how Kellyanne Conway tracked and printed out reporters' Twitter timelines...

The Boston Globe's Matt Viser: "The White House is trying to take us into post-factual America. The press, and the public, cannot let that happen."

The Economist's David Rennie: "Why it's alarming Sean Spicer was sent out" to misstate the facts: It "implies his job is to reassure Trump loyalists, not inform USA."

WashPost's Dave Weigel: "The man who forced Spicer to give that statement controls our nuclear arsenal. Enjoy your Saturday!"

Toronto Star's Daniel Dale: "Trump's lying has always been a central story. It's not a sideshow, it's the show. Big media still largely unprepared to deal with it."

Is this what every single day will be like?

Mika Brzezinski: "Sean Spicer's first hostage video ... that was pathetic. Embarrassing. Bad. Just bad."

Joe Scarborough: "A president who speaks from hallowed ground at Langley about crowd size and press coverage may soon see his ratings drop into the 20s."

If you guessed that the inauguration would draw 30.6 million viewers, you were right! It was "significantly lower than the crowd that turned out for Barack Obama's first inauguration in 2009," Variety's Daniel Holloway reports. But it was higher than the audience for Obama's second inauguration in 2013. These #'s are for the full-day coverage, not just the swearing-in.


Click here for an article at The Washington Post, by Glenn Kessler, entitled "Spicer earns Four Pinocchios for false claims on inauguration crowd size." It points out that low numbers for the inauguration of a Republican president can be partially explained by the fact that D.C. votes solidly Democratic:
The Washington area leans left. Trump earned only 4 percent of the vote in the District of Columbia. Among the areas served by the Washington Metro, Trump received 8 percent of the vote in Prince George’s County, less than 15 percent of the vote in Montgomery County, less than 17 percent of the vote in Arlington County and less than 30 percent of the vote in Fairfax County.
I've read (unsubstantiated because I'm too lazy to look up the reference right now, but I think it's true) that for one of Reagan's inauguration speeches -- I'm not sure which one -- D.C. voted Democratic, but all the surrounding counties voted Republican, meaning attending the inauguration for lots of Republicans was as simple as crossing a bridge. Republican support in the D.C. area diminished every election since then, to the point that this year, all the counties surrounding D.C. voted for Obama; the nearest counties that voted Republican were 27 and 43 miles away from the center of D.C.

The article says:
Marcel Altenburg and Keith Still, crowd scientists at Manchester Metropolitan University in Britain, analyzed photographs and video taken of the Mall and its vicinity for the New York Times and concluded that about 160,000 people were in those areas in the hour before Trump’s speech. By contrast, they said, at least 470,000 people were in those areas for the Women’s March as of 2 p.m. on Saturday, the time of the march’s peak density.


The article itemizes Spencer's "alternative facts," as Kellyanne Conway put it, formerly known as "lies":
“This was the first time in our nation’s history that floor coverings have been used to protect the grass on the Mall. That had the effect of highlighting any areas where people were not standing, while in years past the grass eliminated this visual.”
“We know that from the platform where the president was sworn in, to 4th Street, it holds about 250,000 people. From 4th Street to the media tent is about another 220,000. And from the media tent to the Washington Monument, another 250,000 people.” [True, but it's dishonest to imply that these areas were full -- they weren't.]
“We know that 420,000 people used the D.C. Metro public transit yesterday, which actually compares to 317,000 that used it for President Obama’s last inaugural.”
“This was also the first time that fencing and magnetometers went as far back on the Mall, preventing hundreds of thousands of people from being able to access the Mall as quickly as they had in inaugurations past.”
“This was the largest audience to ever witness an inauguration — period — both in person and around the globe.”
I won't bother to refute all of these statements: Go to the article, which concludes with a section entitled "The Pinocchio Test," giving Spicer WaPo's lowest grade, four Pinocchios:
This is an appalling performance by the new press secretary. He managed to make a series of false and misleading claims in service of a relatively minor issue. Presumably he was ordered to do this by Trump, who conjured up fantastic numbers in his own mind, but part of a flack’s job is to tell the boss when lies are necessary — and when they are not.



Spicer earns Four Pinocchios, but seriously, we wish we could give five.

Saturday, January 21, 2017

Trump Visits CIA, Spicer "News Conference"

Being too lazy to write my own summary of Trump's foolish address to the CIA and lickspittle Sean Spicer's "press conference," here's an edited version of CNN's Brian Stelter's "Reliable Sources" presentation:
Day two of the Donald Trump presidency brought the return of Trump's anti-media attacks and a jaw-dropping statement from new press secretary Sean Spicer. But an even bigger story happened in the streets of DC, NYC and dozens of other cities and towns. While Team Trump over-promised about the inauguration, the march organizers under-promised and over-delivered. The crowds were much bigger than the leaders (and the journalists there to cover the events) expected.

First came Trump...

"I have a running war with the media."



On his first morning waking up in the White House, the president apparently turned on the TV and turned angry at what he saw.

He lashed out, first in private with his aides, then in public. Speaking at CIA headquarters at 3:15 p.m., Trump started and finished a speech by criticizing the "dishonest media." Several of the things he said were inaccurate. Here's my full story about the speech...

Here are a couple examples of his exaggerations:

Trump exaggerated the size of the crowd at his swearing-in ceremony Friday and complained about what he said was unfair coverage. He said the crowd "went all the way back to the Washington Monument," but it did not. He even described the inauguration weather inaccurately, saying that the skies became "really sunny" after his speech, when in fact it remained cloudy. I'm sitting with CNN's Jim Sciutto right now... and he pointed out that the most egregious, consequential misstatement was Trump's assertion that the media "made it sound like I had a 'feud' with the intelligence community" when "it is exactly the opposite."



"The stars on the wall behind Trump, who is talking about his crowd sizes and complaining about the media, mark dead CIA operatives," LATimes columnist Cathleen Decker tweeted. CNN's Dana Bash said on air, "It's unfortunate that he said that there, on hallowed ground. It happens to be not true that we conflated things that he said. All you have to do is look at his Twitter feed to see what he said."

"The president just tried to rally CIA workforce around the idea that media is the enemy. Let that sink in," wrote the NYT's Mark Mazzetti...

As Jake Tapper deadpanned on "The Lead" Saturday afternoon: "I can't think of anything more important to the American people" than crowd size...

Then came Spicer...

While POTUS was speaking at the CIA, the White House informed the press corps that Spicer would be making some sort of statement in the briefing room later in the afternoon. Reporters waited and waited... [at least an hour] and eventually Spicer came out and stunned them.

On his first full day as press secretary, his first-ever statement from the podium was a tirade. "This was the largest audience to ever witness an inauguration, period," Spicer said, contradicting all available data.

He said, without any evidence, that some photos were "intentionally framed" to downplay Trump's crowd.

In the five-minute statement, he said at least five things that are provably false.



Jim Acosta [CNN reporter] said afterward that Spicer's statement was "astonishing:" "I've never seen anything like it."

Spicer may have genuinely meant every word of what he said. But he was reading from a prepared statement, leading to speculation that someone else -- POTUS? -- wrote it for him. Ari Fleischer [W's spokesman that I hate], who had the same job as Spicer during the George W. Bush administration, tweeted, "This is called a statement you're told to make by the President. And you know the President is watching."

Some CNN commentators argued that Spicer "had no choice" but to go and say what Trump wanted him to say... Others disagreed and said Spicer should have put his foot down and refused...

Dylan Byers emails: The press conference was an embarrassment: for Spicer, for Trump, and for America. Spicer gave the impression that he lacked the integrity to tell the truth. Trump only called more attention to his relatively paltry crowds, as well as his thin-skinned self-consciousness and utter disregard for the responsibilities of his position. America suffered yet another day looking like a nation spiraling out of control.

David Maraniss: "Spicer is delivering the most irresponsible, angry & scary statement I've ever heard in WH. They are at war with press. It will not hold." Glenn Thrush: "Jaw, meet floor." Chuck Todd: "I've run out of adjectives." Maggie Haberman: "This is not a campaign or an RNC spokesman anymore. Taxpayer-funded briefing room in which several falsehoods told."

All politicians and administrations lie, but this kind of lying is different...



Fox News carried Spicer's angry lecture live. CNN made a conscious choice not to do so. Instead, reporters and control room staffers monitored the statement and reported it, with context, minutes later. When I pointed this out on Twitter, my feed was overwhelmed by people cheering the decision.

What about Spicer's credibility?

That's a big question now. Will Spicer have credibility with the White House press corps in the days, weeks and months to come? What he said was contradicted by photos and videos.

"Today the White House lied to the American public. The first day in office," Bakari Sellers said. "You can call it whatever you want to, but they lied." Peggy Nance responded: "Most of America believes Sean Spicer over all of you. His credibility is higher than yours." David Axelrod: "That is a very cynical view…"

A very plugged-in news exec pointed out to me: "Steve Bannon WANTS a grand divide between Trump and the mainstream media. He wants his world to never trust the media. Maybe this was a win for them." [When he awakes and comes out from under the bridge where he's been sleeping, Brannon is an intelligent, knowledgeable, dangerous guy.]



Media editor Alex Koppelman emails: One thing worth keeping in mind as you see all the shocked reactions to Spicer's statement: the conservative Washington Examiner's headline about it was "White House slams 'shameful' media reports downplaying inauguration crowds." The story similarly took him at his word. [They should be punching back!]

Normally, this would just be a disappointing if not totally unusual example of a skewed perspective from a partisan outlet. But consider the message the Trump team sent today, and what it has been saying about how it might shake up the press briefing room. The danger with changes to the briefing room isn’t that some network will lose the best seat in the house; it’s that the Trump team will pack the place with friendly outlets that can be trusted not to question the official line, and will treat them as if they are just as trustworthy a news source as the NYT, if not more so.

The Examiner's coverage is a reminder that there are some outlets that will be more than happy to play along...

NBC's Katy Tur notes that Spicer, in his statement, also objected to two specific tweets by reporters. This is what happened during the campaign too. "Trump's obsessed with tweets -- campaign hardly dinged me for my on-air reporting but they'd call/email to say Trump found my tweets 'disgraceful,'" Tur tweeted. She also recalled how Kellyanne Conway tracked and printed out reporters' Twitter timelines...

The Boston Globe's Matt Viser: "The White House is trying to take us into post-factual America. The press, and the public, cannot let that happen."

The Economist's David Rennie: "Why it's alarming Sean Spicer was sent out" to misstate the facts: It "implies his job is to reassure Trump loyalists, not inform USA."

WashPost's Dave Weigel: "The man who forced Spicer to give that statement controls our nuclear arsenal. Enjoy your Saturday!"



Toronto Star's Daniel Dale: "Trump's lying has always been a central story. It's not a sideshow, it's the show. Big media still largely unprepared to deal with it."

Is this what every single day will be like?

Mika Brzezinski: "Sean Spicer's first hostage video ... that was pathetic. Embarrassing. Bad. Just bad."

Joe Scarborough: "A president who speaks from hallowed ground at Langley about crowd size and press coverage may soon see his ratings drop into the 20s."

If you guessed that the inauguration would draw 30.6 million viewers, you were right! It was "significantly lower than the crowd that turned out for Barack Obama's first inauguration in 2009," Variety's Daniel Holloway reports. But it was higher than the audience for Obama's second inauguration in 2013. These #'s are for the full-day coverage, not just the swearing-in.