Tuesday, February 28, 2017

What did Donald Trump do today?

He suggested some of the recent wave of anti-semitic vandalism and bomb threats came from Jewish groups themselves in order to make Trump look bad.

The remarks, made at a closed-door meeting (but echoed by an incoming White House senior staff member), were reported by Pennsylvania state attorney general Josh Shapiro. A Jewish cemetery in Philadelphia was desecrated on Sunday, less than a week after a similar mass vandalism campaign at a Jewish cemetery in St. Louis. At least five distinct waves of bomb threats each targeting dozens of Jewish community centers and schools have been reported in the last two months. The most recent was yesterday.

Trump has not handled criticism on this subject well. He got into a contentious exchange with an Orthodox Jewish reporter at his recent press conference, shouting down a question about the rise in violence and threats. He released a Holocaust Day memorial statement that pointedly omitted mention of Jews (over the objections of his own State Department), then had his press secretary attack the Anne Frank Center for its criticism and bemoan that his efforts are "never good enough" for Jewish groups. And he has repeatedly insisted that the fact that his daughter's family is Jewish means that he cannot be criticized on his actions (or lack thereof) on the matter.

Anti-semitic hate groups, for their part, have openly embraced Trump, whom they see as sympathetic to their views. Both Trump and his chief advisor Steve Bannon have made anti-semitic remarks themselves, to the delight of white nationalist supporters.

Why is this a bad thing?

  • A president who sees Jewish cemeteries vandalized and concludes that he is the victim is either paranoid or a narcissist.
  • Anti-semites who believe a president is a kindred spirit, and who are denounced only after enormous political pressure and months of silence, will probably not stop thinking they have a friend in the White House.

Monday, February 27, 2017

What did Donald Trump do today?

He had an epiphany on health care reform.

In remarks to a meeting of state governors, Trump addressed his stalled efforts to repeal the Affordable Care Act by saying, "I have to tell you, it's an unbelievably complex subject," he said. "Nobody knew that health care could be so complicated." 

Trump's perspective on health care is unusual in that he has always been wealthy enough to hire personal physicians directly, which may account for his frequent confusion about how, for example, his own employees' insurance plans work. For that matter, Trump seems somewhat ambivalent about whether private health insurance should be massively deregulated, or destroyed outright in favor of a Canadian-style national health service, as he proposed in a 2000 book. 

That said, Trump may have been unique in his apparent long-standing belief that health care policy was not complicated.

So what?

  • When candidate Trump expressed confidence in his ability to replace the ACA with "something terrific," voters may have assumed he had a basic understanding of the subject.
  • It is not a good sign if a president is surprised to find that the job is difficult.
  • Everybody knew that health care was complicated.

Sunday, February 26, 2017

Sunday Week in Review

What else did Donald Trump do this week?

Russia leaks. He had, even by Trump Administration standards, a difficult time with leaks this week. On Thursday, CNN reported that the White House had improperly requested that the FBI help it do political damage control over reports that Trump campaign and transition officials had been in secret contact with Russian agents. The FBI, which is among the agencies investigating, refused, citing policies that forbid it from commenting on ongoing investigations. Later that day, CNN and four other news organizations were barred from a press briefing. The common thread between them was that they had all reported on the Russia investigation. 

On Friday, Trump directed his early morning Twitter rage at the FBI itself, slamming it for its supposed failure to find "leaks" within its own ranks. But even the White House's own anti-leak effort--featuring Press Secretary Sean Spicer summoning staff into a briefing room and forcing them to submit their personal phones for inspection--was itself immediately leaked.

Immigration. Trump also had a rocky week with respect to his immigration policies. His executive order redefining deportation practices was so broadly worded that even his homeland security secretary didn't seem to know what it meant. A face-value reading of the order holds that all noncitizens suspected of being in the country illegally are subject to immediate expulsion. Kelly, however, denied that there would be any real change in the number of deportations--which in turn contradicts Trump's statements on the subject. Among those now subject to summary deportation (regardless of their actual status) are hospital patients, women at courthouses seeking protection from domestic violence, families taking their children to school, and--in what appears to have been a deliberate choice by the Trump White House--family members of US servicemembers on active duty in war zones

The DHS seems to be having a hard time guessing what Trump wants to hear: this week, Trump rejected as "politically motivated" a Homeland Security report concluding that his travel ban would not be an effective means of keeping terrorists out of the country.

So why should anyone care about these things?

  • Presidents do not get to pick and choose what rules to follow.
  • It is not the FBI's job to give the president political cover.
  • Punishing or rewarding reporters according to how politically helpful they are to the regime is what authoritarians do.
  • Management oversight by Twitter rant is unlikely to help the FBI.
  • Presidents, and not their subordinates, bear responsibility for the unintended consequences of their policies.
  • If a president cannot tell the difference between bad news and a politically motivated attack, he is not emotionally stable enough to do the job.

Saturday, February 25, 2017

What did Donald Trump do today?

He got angry that "the media" wasn't reporting a statistic he apparently heard while watching TV news.

Trump claimed that the national debt had decreased by $12B in his first month, compared to an increase of $200B in President Obama's first month. If it's true that other "media" are not reporting this fact, it is probably because presidents in their first month of office have virtually no control over the national debt, which is determined by the previous year's budget. 

Put another way, if Trump really believes a monthly decrease in the national debt is always a sign of good presidential leadership, he is essentially arguing that he took over from a better president than President Obama did. 

The specific numbers Trump cited are slightly inaccurate, but they match what a guest on Fox News had said minutes before Trump tweeted about it. This is not the first time that Trump has uncritically given the presidential seal of approval to things he hears on TV. Advocacy groups have even begun staking out the shows Trump is known to watch in the hope of appealing to him directly via ads. That said, it's not clear why Trump thought "the media" was failing to tell people things he learned from the media.

Why should anyone care about this?

  • The president's actual economic advisors should have more influence on his economic knowledge than TV pundits or ad buyers.
  • It's bad if a president is more concerned with how he looks in the press than how well he is governing.

Friday, February 24, 2017

What did Donald Trump do today?

He made the case for repealing Obamacare by saying that it "covers very few people."

More than 23 million Americans receive health insurance through the Affordable Care Act: 11 million via expanded access to Medicare, and 12.2 million via federal and state-run exchanges. About 20 million fewer Americans were uninsured in 2016 compared to pre-ACA levels.

Since the start of his campaign, Trump has appeared confused about exactly what the ACA, from who is covered by it to how much it costs to whether he's really opposed to it in the first place. It's not clear whether his comments today reflected continued confusion, or were simply a genuine admission that he doesn't regard 23 million Americans' health insurance as very significant.

So what?

  • The health insurance of 23 million Americans is very significant.

Thursday, February 23, 2017

What did Donald Trump do today?

He took credit for $700M in savings on a military contract that was renegotiated under President Obama.

In a meeting with CEOs today, Trump teased Lockheed CEO Marillyn Hewson over what he assumed was her support for Hillary Clinton, and claimed that he had lowered the contract price for the F-35 fighter jet by $700 million. In fact, such contracts are renegotiated on an annual basis, and the most recent reduction was announced in December. 

Hewson's remarks earlier this month announcing the cost reductions praised Trump, but were generally interpreted as an attempt to give Trump, who is notoriously susceptible to flattery, some political cover. Trump's remarks today suggest that he may actually believe he somehow had an influence on the cost reduction program that has been in place since 2011.

Who cares?

  • It's wrong to take credit for things you didn't do.
  • Presidents who can be manipulated through flattery will cost the country more than $700M.

Wednesday, February 22, 2017

What did Donald Trump do today?

He didn't read an article about how aides are shielding him from negative coverage, if an article about how aides are shielding him from negative coverage is to be believed.

A story in Politico today reveals how current and former White House and campaign officials carefully manipulate the news sources Trump is given to read, in an attempt to control his outbursts. Critical coverage is screened out, and when no favorable coverage on a topic of interest to Trump can be found, staff attempt to persuade conservative media outlets to create some. 

So what's so bad about this?

  • A president who must be manipulated by his own staff to maintain some degree of emotional control is not able to do the job.
  • It is not a good sign if a president can be so easily manipulated, even if it is necessary that it happen.
  • When a president's own aides are speaking openly to the press about how they manipulate the president, they are trying to warn the public that something is very wrong.

Tuesday, February 21, 2017

What did Donald Trump do today?

He accused "liberal activists" of activism.

Members of Congress, especially Republicans, have been getting an earful about Trump from constituents at public meetings. This appears to have been what prompted Trump to tweet today that "so-called angry crowds in home districts of some Republicans are actually, in numerous cases, planned out by liberal activists. Sad!"

Trump is correct that his political opponents (emboldened by Trump's abnormally low approval rating) are encouraging voters to make their voices heard. This is a cornerstone of American democracy enshrined in the First Amendment, which forbids laws "abridging the freedom of speech... or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances."

There is no truth to the related claim advanced recently by Trump and his surrogates that anti-Trump voices are paid. In fact, paying large groups of people to create the illusion of political support is so rare in American politics (most likely because of the cost) that there is only one confirmed case in recent memory--Trump's campaign kickoff in 2015.

So why is that such a bad thing?

  • It's very bad if a president cannot accept that Americans might legitimately have a problem with him.
  • Presidents who live in glass White Houses shouldn't throw stones.
  • It is actually not a problem if Americans assemble to petition the government for redress of grievances.

Monday, February 20, 2017

What did Donald Trump do today?

He announced, through his defense secretary, that the United States does not intend to seize Iraq's oil.

It was probably necessary for James Mattis, who is visiting Iraq today, to make such an announcement because Trump has repeatedly declared that Iraq's oil industry is a prize of war that the United States should have taken because "to the victor go the spoils." 

Seizing Iraq's oil against its will would involve nothing short of the permanent military conquest and occupation of the country. The last serious attempt at seizing even a small oil-producing region was Saddam Hussein's invasion of Kuwait in 1990, although ISIL has used oil fields in territory it controls to provide for its own oil needs and to raise cash from small-scale smuggling operations.

Why should anyone care about this?

  • It's bad if a president needs to explicitly reassure allied governments that he does not intend to invade them and take their natural resources.
  • Saddam Hussein and ISIL are poor role models for a president of the United States.

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Sunday, February 19, 2017


What else did Donald Trump do this week?

Golf. Trump played golf for the fifth time in his 30-day-old presidency today. Trump was extremely critical of President Obama playing golf, in part because of the expense to taxpayers for Secret Service protection when Obama spent nights away from the White House. The cost of protecting Trump and his family for the first month ($11,300,000) is about the same as the average cost for President Obama on a yearly basis. * * * * * For example, the Secret Service accompanied Trump's sons Eric and Donald Jr. as they opened a golf course in Dubai this week and met in private with leaders of the United Arab Emirates.

Staff issues (and golf). Many executive branch employees under Trump lost their jobs this week. At least six Trump-appointed White House staffers lost their jobs for failing background checks, though some--like the daughter of a Trump political ally in the swing state of Florida--will be given other administration jobs. * * * * * Two senior advisors were fired for criticizing Trump: Shermichael Singleton was fired from his new job at HUD for anti-Trump editorials he had written during the primary campaign, and Craig Deare was dismissed from his post at the National Security Council for remarks he'd made regarding Trump's diplomatic bungling with Mexico. * * * * * Trump's efforts to replace Michael Flynn, the National Security Advisor he fired this week, also hit a wall when the leading candidate, Vice Adm. Robert Harward, turned down Trump's offer and privately referred to the job under Trump as a "shit sandwich." * * * * * In an audio recording uncovered this week, Trump discussed the details of staffing his cabinet with members of a New Jersey golf club he owns, telling members, "You may wanna come around. It’ll be fun. We’re really working tomorrow. We have meetings every 15, 20 minutes with different people that will form our government." Trump also told members, who pay him $300,000 per year in fees, "you are the special people."

Russia. In the past week, Russia has engaged in two military provocations: violating a 1987 missile treaty by deploying a ground-launched cruise missile, and parking a spy ship about 30 miles from a US Navy submarine base in Connecticut. These actions follow other recent provocations, including the "buzzing" of a Navy destroyer by Russian aircraft and the test launch of an ICBM. Trump, who raged at a campaign rally last night about a nonexistent terror attack in Sweden, has been muted and noncommittal in the few words he has said publicly on the subject.

Why should anyone care about these things?

  • Americans are not "special" just because they pay hundreds of thousands of dollars to play golf.
  • If highly qualified national security experts will not work for a president, national security suffers.
  • Ideological purges of staff is what authoritarians do.
  • It is bad if a president freely discusses the business of his administration with members of whatever country club he happens to be relaxing at.
  • One way of demonstrating that a president has not been compromised by the hostile foreign power that helped him get elected would be to respond in some way to acts of military aggression by that country.
  • It is bad if a president is more concerned about imaginary acts of terror than real threats.

Saturday, February 18, 2017

What did Donald Trump do today?

He campaigned for president.

On the 29th full day of his presidency, and 1,355 days before the next presidential election, Trump held what was officially designated as a campaign rally at a Florida airport. Trump formally declared for re-election at 5:11 p.m. on the day of his inauguration.

Presidents are permitted to hold unlimited public appearances where they advocate for their policies, but making this a campaign rally will also allow Trump to filter out non-supporters and sell merchandise.

During his transition and presidency, Trump has pined for the emotional high of the campaign season. His political allies have openly acknowledged that this rally is as much an attempt to soothe his frustrations with the actual job of governing as it is to shore up his unprecedentedly poor approval rating.

Why is this a bad thing?

  • A president who is emotionally compromised by the job itself is not capable of doing the job.

Friday, February 17, 2017

What did Donald Trump do today?

He declared five news outlets "the enemy of the American people."

Journalists immediately pointed out that "enemy of the people" ("враг народа") was a Leninist term used to attack groups that were deemed insufficiently supportive of the Revolution. It was used for similar purposes in Maoist China and Stalinist Russia.

Others compared Trump's now-daily attacks on the free press with modern-day authoritarian regimes like Myanmar or Zimbabwe. Historian Michael Beschloss noted the closest American parallel was Henry Kissinger's advice to President Nixon on how to discredit his political enemies.

Nazi Germany used the term ("Feind des Volkes") as part of its dehumanization campaign against Jews.

Why is this a bad thing?

  • Democracy cannot function unless the press can report freely and without fear on the workings of government.
  • It is not a good thing if a President of the United States adopts the PR strategies of dictators and war criminals.

Thursday, February 16, 2017

What did Donald Trump do today?

He held an impromptu press conference at which he declared himself "the least racist person," then ordered a black reporter to set up a meeting with her "friends" at the Congressional Black Caucus.

AURN reporter April Ryan had this exchange with Trump:
RYAN: When you say the inner cities, are you going to include the CBC, Mr. President, in your conversations with your urban agenda, your inner-city agenda?
TRUMP: Am I going to include who?
RYAN: Are you going to include the Congressional Black Caucus and the Congressional Hispanic Caucus?
TRUMP: Well, I would. I tell you what: Do you want to set up the meeting? Do you want to set up the meeting?
RYAN: No, no, no. I’m just a reporter.
TRUMP: Are they friends of yours? Set up the meeting.
RYAN: I know some of them, but I’m sure they’re watching right now —
TRUMP: Let’s go. Set up a meeting. I would love to meet with the Black Caucus. I think it’s great, the Congressional Black Caucus. I think it’s great.
The (actual) Congressional Black Caucus asked to meet with Trump in a letter dated January 19th but received no reply.

Why is that such a bad thing?

  • Automatically assuming that all members of a minority group are "friends" or otherwise interchangeable pretty much rules you out of contention as "the least racist person."

Wednesday, February 15, 2017

What did Donald Trump do today?

He blamed Michael Flynn's resignation on unfair media coverage, contradicting himself and his own spokespersons.

Trump called Flynn "a wonderful man" who had been "treated very, very unfairly by the media, as I call it, the fake media in many cases." This is at least the third different framing in the last two days. The White House has claimed that Flynn resigned voluntarily and that he was fired; that he had the Trump's full confidence and that Trump's trust in Flynn was "eroding."

Trump was formally notified that Flynn had lied about the nature of his contacts with the Russian ambassador, and was vulnerable to blackmail as a result, on January 26th. He has offered no explanation as to why Flynn was allowed to remain as Trump's point person on intelligence until this was leaked to the media three weeks later. 

Trump did not specify what in the media reports was "unfair," but he did call the leaks "illegal" and said that this, and not Flynn's behavior, was the real scandal.

So what?

  • In a democracy, it is neither illegal nor unfair for reporters to report on leaks after they have happened.
  • It's bad if a president only addresses compromised intelligence officials inside the White House when it starts looking bad in the media.

Tuesday, February 14, 2017

What did Donald Trump do today?

He expressed concern about "illegal leaks" regarding, for example, his handling of North Korea.

Trump's enthusiasm for informational security where North Korea is concerned is a marked change from his approach on Saturday, when he discussed his administration's response to a North Korean missile launch in full view of Mar-a-Lago waitstaff and club members. Trump and staffers used unsecured phones to illuminate secret documents in the candlelit public dining area rather than go to a special secure facility, hardened against eavesdropping, that travels with the president.

Dinner patrons, fully aware of what was being discussed, posted pictures of Trump's deliberations and selfies with the military officer carrying the "nuclear football" to social media. Trump was even willing to smile for the camera when a club member approached him in the midst of the impromptu North Korea strategy session.

Trump has repeatedly said that Hillary Clinton should be jailed for storing confidential memos on a private server.

So what?

  • "Leaks" are probably the least of our informational security problems under the circumstances.

Monday, February 13, 2017

What did Donald Trump do today?

He abruptly distanced himself from his own National Security Advisor after reports that US intelligence agencies had caught Michael Flynn in a lie about his Russia contacts. [UPDATE: Flynn resigned shortly after this was posted amid revelations that he is vulnerable to Russian blackmail.]

Flynn, who was fired from the Obama administration for mismanagement of the Defense Intelligence Agency, is one of a number of Trump administration officials with close financial and personal ties to the Putin regime. On Christmas Day, immediately before Obama administration sanctions against Russia went into effect, Flynn phoned the Russian ambassador to the United States. 

The timing immediately raised concerns that Flynn was conducting illegal negotiations on behalf of the incoming Trump administration, which had benefited from Russian interference in the election. Flynn denied that he had discussed the sanctions. This now appears to have been a lie

Trump pointedly refused to declare his support for Flynn in remarks tonight, and has reportedly approved a search for Flynn's replacement. 

Why would anyone think this was a bad thing?

  • If Flynn was acting on his own, it speaks poorly of Trump's judgment in hiring a man who had already been fired for cause from a national security position.
  • If Flynn was acting on Trump's orders and undercutting the United States government on Russia's behalf, then it becomes a situation that is impossible to talk about using polite words
  • Either way, it is incredibly bad if the president's National Security Advisor is the target of a counterintelligence investigation.

Sunday, February 12, 2017

Sunday Week in Review

What else did Donald Trump do this week?

He continued his trend of taking credit for new jobs that were in the works before he took office. This week Intel's CEO made an Oval Office appearance with Trump to announce the opening of an Arizona factory. This is part of long-term plans that Intel first announced (to similar presidential fanfare) back in 2011.

He talked a great deal about terrorism, both personally and through his spokespersons. Trump tends to view terrorism in terms of its political effect, and seems to be pursuing three strategies simultaneously that he believes will allow him to weather any future terrorist attack against the United States.

  1. Declare that the media is ignoring terrorism. Once again, Trump's source for this allegation seems to be InfoWars, a site that believes that the U.S. government was behind 9/11 and the Sandy Hook school shooting was a government hoax.
  2. Refuse to acknowledge politically inconvenient terrorism. The list of 78 terror attacks that the Trump administration circulated (all of which were covered by the American press) included many attacks in active war zones with no fatalities, or crimes that do not appear to have been terrorism. It did not include events like the recent murders in a Quebec mosque by a white self-proclaimed Trump supporter, or the murder of nine African-American churchgoers by the white nationalist Dylann Roof. Recruitment in the United States for white nationalist and other far-right ideologies dwarfs that of radical Islamic groups.
  3. Repeatedly refer to non-existent terrorism. It was revealed this week that Kellyanne Conway's infamous "slip of the tongue" regarding the "Bowling Green massacre" was one she'd made several times recently. Press Secretary Sean Spicer also "misspoke" three times in one week as he referred to foreign terrorist attacks in Atlanta. There has not been any terorrism in Atlanta since Eric Rudolph, an American citizen affiliated with the Christian Identity movement, bombed the Atlanta Olympic Games in 1996 and a lesbian bar in 1997.

Finally, he continued his campaign to delegitimize the entire judicial branch, declaring on Tuesday that "some things are law and some things are common sense" and his blanket immigration bans were the latter. In support of those bans, he unwittingly tweeted out a reference to a legal blog article that called the bans "invidious" and the result of "incompetent malevolence." This appears to be another example of Trump's habit of live-tweeting the cable news shows he watches during the day.

Why are these things bad?

  • It's wrong to take credit for things you didn't do.
  • Presidents should not deliberately mislead Americans about what terrorism has and hasn't happened.
  • The entire system of American government rests on the equal authority of its three branches. 
  • It's bad if a president is reacting impulsively to whatever TV talk program happens to be on.

Saturday, February 11, 2017

What did Donald Trump do today?

He apparently forgot what the word "refugee" means.

In yet another tweet aimed at the "broken" legal system that has blocked his immigration bans, Trump claimed conspiratorially that "77%" of refugees admitted to the US since the ban was stayed came from the seven "suspect" countries it targeted. 

Any refugee permitted to enter the United States in the last week would have been at the very end of what is already an extremely thorough vetting process. No fatal act of terrorism has been committed against Americans by a refugee since three Cuban refugees killed three Americans the 1970s.

Refugees, by definition, come from dangerous places.

Why is that so bad?

  • Treating all members of a group as "suspect" is the definition of bigotry.
  • It probably shouldn't surprise the President of the United States of America that refugees would seek to come here while it was legal for them to do so.
  • Courts are not "broken" simply because they rule against a president.

Friday, February 10, 2017

What did Donald Trump do today?

He attacked the New York Times for failing to report something that happened after the paper was printed.

At 8:35 A.M. today, Trump tweeted that "The failing @nytimes does major FAKE NEWS China story saying 'Mr.Xi has not spoken to Mr. Trump since Nov.14.' We spoke at length yesterday!"

The print version was accurate at the time the early Friday edition was published. The Times' online edition was updated accurately after Trump spoke with China's president Xi Jinping.

Trump's particular sensitivity on this subject may have to do with the fact that Xi had refused to speak with him until he acknowledged that the "one China" policy was still in effect. Although essential to diplomatic and trade relations with China, endorsing the "one China" stance meant that Trump was effectively backing down without a fight from his earlier bluster on China.

So what?

  • It's bad if a president is so anxious to find fault with the media that he forgets how printed newspapers work.
  • Trump's diplomatic struggles are not the New York Times' fault.

Thursday, February 9, 2017

What did Donald Trump do today?

He reacted badly to reports that his Supreme Court nominee had said his attacks on judges were "disheartening" and "demoralizing."

Judge Neil Gorsuch's remarks were made public by Sen. Richard Blumenthal (D-CT), and then subsequently confirmed by Gorsuch's White House minder, Ron Bonjean. Former Sen. Kelly Ayotte (R-NH) was also in the room and also confirmed that Gorsuch had used those words. Sen. Ben Sasse (R-NE) said Gorsuch said similar things in their meeting and "got pretty passionate" about Trump's attacks on the judiciary.

Trump nevertheless tweeted this morning that Blumenthal was "misrepresenting" Gorsuch, then repeated the claim this afternoon. 

Trump has repeatedly attacked the integrity and legitimacy of judges whose rulings have gone against him.

Why is this so bad?

  • It's a very bad sign if a president cannot believe that someone has criticized him, even when three members of his own party independently confirm it.
  • Presidents should not expect deference from judges on the subject of attacking judges.

Wednesday, February 8, 2017

What did Donald Trump do today?

He maintained that questioning the "success" of the recent botched counterterrorism raid in Yemen was doing a "disservice" to the servicemember who died during it.

Navy SEAL William "Ryan" Owens was killed during the first military operation authorized by Donald Trump, an assault on an al-Qaeda compound in Yemen. The raid also killed an 8-year-old American girl, and approximately 30 Yemeni civilians, including women and children. A $75 million aircraft was destroyed and three other US military personnel injured. The raid failed to achieve its objective when its target, al-Qaeda leader Qassam al-Rimi, escaped

Trump authorized the raid after a briefing over dinner attended by his son-in-law and political adviser, rather than a formal assessment in the Situation Room, and did not observe its progress as is customary during such operations. Shortly afterwards, military officials criticized Trump's disinterestedness in a shocking breach of protocol. Their concerns were echoed across the political spectrum, including by Sen. John McCain (R-AZ). 

Trump spokesman Sean Spicer today called the raid "absolutely a success."

So why is that so bad?

  • When American soldiers and citizens are killed in a military action, it is a disservice to them not to ask questions about the civilian leadership whose orders they followed.
  • It's bad if a president doesn't seem willing or able to acknowledge any mistake, even when innocent lives are lost.

Tuesday, February 7, 2017

What did Donald Trump do today?

He shrugged off news that his Labor Secretary nominee had illegally employed an undocumented immigrant as a domestic servant.

Andrew Puzder admitted late Monday that he had employed a housekeeper who was not legally permitted to work in the United States, and also failed to pay the relevant taxes. He had already come under criticism for a long history of labor-law violations, including wage theft and rampant sexual harassment, on his watch as CEO of fast-food restaurant chains Carl's Jr. and Hardee's. 

Puzder is the third Trump nominee to have been caught illegally employing immigrants. Both Wilbur Ross, Trump's Commerce Secretary, and Mick Mulvaney, Trump's choice for White House Budget Director, unlawfully hired undocumented workers and evaded payroll and Social Security taxes. Trump himself employed undocumented Polish construction workers to build Trump Tower, and then attempted to have them deported to avoid paying their wages.

The White House referred reporters to a statement from Puzder's own spokesperson. Puzder remains the nominee. Undocumented immigrants taking jobs away from Americans was the centerpiece of Trump's campaign.

Why should anyone care about this?

  • It's bad if a Labor Secretary's experience with labor laws comes mostly from breaking them.
  • Americans worried about competition from undocumented workers may have believed Trump when he campaigned against this kind of thing.

Monday, February 6, 2017

What did Donald Trump do today?

He denied that his advisor Steve Bannon had fooled him into giving Bannon a seat on the National Security Council.

The New York Times reported yesterday on Trump's anger that Bannon, who acts as a sort of informational filter for Trump, had not fully explained the significance of Bannon joining the NSC.

Bannon made his name as the publisher of Breitbart.com, a website that frequently runs extremist and white nationalist content. Bannon reportedly thinks of himself as a "Leninist" in that he wants to destroy the current American political system.

In an early-morning tweet, Trump declared that "I call my own shots, largely based on an accumulation of data, and everyone knows it" He called reports to the contrary "FAKE NEWS," and said the same applied to "any negative polls." (Further evidence that Trump was reacting to the NYT story came a few hours later when he specifically accused the "failing New York Times" of "making up stories and sources.")

Why is this a bad thing?

  • It's bad if a president can be manipulated so easily by an underling.
  • It's worse if, having been manipulated, a president refuses to correct the mistake when it has implications for national security.
  • Declaring that "the people" support the regime in spite of all evidence to the contrary is what authoritarians do.

Sunday, February 5, 2017

Sunday Week in Review

What else did Donald Trump do this week?

He lost his temper on a phone call with the Prime Minister of Australia, abruptly ending a planned hour-long call after 25 minutes after the discussion turned to refugees that the United States had promised Australia it would shelter. Aides later claimed that the call went well--but also that Trump was fatigued. Regardless, Trump was still angry enough four days later to tweet his disapproval of the refugee settlement plan.

In that call, Trump told Prime Minister Turnbull that his call with Vladimir Putin had gone much better. In an interview with Bill O'Reilly recorded on Saturday for broadcast before the Super Bowl, Trump vigorously defended Putin and said he had "respect" for him. O'Reilly pressed Trump: "But he's a killer though. Putin's a killer." Trump responded: "There are a lot of killers. We've got a lot of killers. What, you think our country is so innocent?"

He issued new ethics guidelines on lobbying by ex-White House staff. Trump campaigned on a promise to restrict the practice. The new guidelines allow for much more lobbying by former government employees than the Obama administration rules they replace.

He lost a $5,770,000 lawsuit brought against one of his businesses by former members of the Trump National Jupiter Golf Club, who successfully argued that when Trump took over ownership he illegally confiscated their refundable membership deposits. This is the second multi-million dollar judgment or settlement against Trump or his businesses since the election. Approximately 75 others are still pending.

Why are these bad things?

  • It is extremely dangerous if a president cannot control his emotions, whether or not he is tired.
  • A president who can excuse the murder of political dissidents and journalists is morally bankrupt.
  • A president who can shrug at political murder but be outraged by a Broadway musical's curtain call is unstable.
  • Voters may have believed Trump when he said he was going to reduce, rather than increase, lobbying by former government officials.
  • It speaks poorly of a president's character if courts repeatedly find that he swindled people in his private business life.

Saturday, February 4, 2017

What did Donald Trump do today?

He called James Robart, who granted a temporary stay of his immigration ban, a "so-called judge."

Robart was nominated to the US District Court by then-President George W. Bush in 2003. He was confirmed by the Senate in 2004 on a 99-0 vote.

Trump has reacted emotionally to questions about his own legitimacy (legal or otherwise) a number of times since the election.

So what's so bad about this?

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Friday, February 3, 2017

What did Donald Trump do today?

He got advice on women in the workplace from two male CEOs.

This morning, Trump convened his all-CEO panel of advisors, officially known as the President’s Strategic and Policy ForumThree of the seventeen remaining members of the Forum are women, but Trump chose Wal-Mart head Doug McMillon and Ernst & Young chief Mark Weinberger to advise him on women in the workforce.

Their contributions were not made public. Between 2001 and 2016, Wal-Mart fought an epic legal battle against over 1,500,000 female employees over persistent wage discrimination and civil rights violations.

Trump himself has been accused of sexual predation on women in the workplace, and is known to insist that female employees dress in a particular feminine style.

So what?

  • Being sued by more than a million women does not make someone qualified to advise the president of the United States on women's issues.
  • Who a president chooses to listen to says something about his priorities.

Thursday, February 2, 2017

What did Donald Trump do today?

He had some difficulty articulating his administration's Iran policy.

Yesterday, Trump's national security adviser Michael Flynn said that Iran was being "officially put on notice" for ballistic missile tests and its support for rebel groups looking to overthrow the government of Yemen. Pressed for clarification today, White House spokesman Sean Spicer confirmed the "on notice" language but refused to say what it meant. Spicer also seemed to suggest that Iran had attacked a US Navy vessel, which would have been an act of war, before being corrected by a reporter.

Trump himself confirmed in a tweet that Iran had been "PUT ON NOTICE," then claimed that the country would have collapsed but for a "life-line" in the form of $150 billion given to them through the six-party nuclear nonproliferation deal signed last year. Neither the number, nor the suggestion that Iran was about to "collapse,"  nor the implication that the United States paid any money to Iran are correct, although it is not at all clear that Trump personally understands this.

Why should anyone care about this?

  • A president needs to understand the basic facts of treaties affecting nuclear proliferation, even if he wouldn't have signed them himself.
  • If a White House press secretary briefs reporters on an act of war against the United States that never happened, either he is grossly incompetent or someone else in the administration is.
  • It is very bad if a president is more willing to issue specific threats to allied countries than to hostile ones.

Wednesday, February 1, 2017

What did Donald Trump do today?

He introduced a Black History Month event at the White House.

Trump's remarks were 742 words long. 197 of them (27%) were about his running feud with the media. 162 (22%) were about African-Americans who personally supported Trump and were in the room. 118 (16%) of them were about his campaign. Trump devoted 84 words (11%) to the state of black America ("right now it's terrible") or, in any event, about the "inner cities," which Trump generally uses as a synonym for issues facing people of color. 

45 words (6%) were about Martin Luther King, Jr. (not counting Trump's complaints about media reports that a bust of King had been removed from the Oval Office). Frederick Douglass, Rosa Parks, Harriet Tubman, and all other African-Americans in history shared 81 words (11%).

So what?

  • It's a bad sign if a president cannot keep his obsessions from spilling over into unrelated events.
  • Black History Month speeches traditionally contain more than a few passing references to black history.