Tuesday, January 31, 2017

What did Donald Trump do today?

He met with pharmaceutical industry representatives and completely reversed his campaign promise to allow Medicare to negotiate drug prices.

Since 2003, Medicare has been forbidden from using its purchasing power to negotiate bulk discounts on the drugs it buys. Repealing this restriction was popular with Democratic and independent voters, and Trump campaigned heavily on the issue. As recently as January 10th, Trump said that the pharmaceutical industry was "getting away with murder."

However, after meeting with drug company executives today, Trump said he was opposed to "price-fixing by the biggest dog in the market, Medicare, which is what's [already] happening." (Because of the 2003 law, it is not happening. It's not clear if Trump was confused about this, or was lying to create confusion on the matter.)

Trump instead proposed tax breaks for drug companies and cutting regulations.

What's the problem here?

  • Some voters may have believed Trump when he said he was in favor of (and not opposed to) lowering Medicare's drug costs through market forces.
  • It's a bad sign if a president's views on a major policy issue can be completely reversed in one meeting.

Monday, January 30, 2017

What did Donald Trump do today?

He suggested that diplomatic staff who didn't "get with the program" on his immigration bans should lose their jobs.

Trump was reacting, through his press secretary, to a formal dissent memo being circulated among the diplomatic corps. It condemns the ban as counterproductive and a violation of American values, and suggests alternative measures to enhance border security. 

It is expected to gather hundreds of signatures from career diplomatic staff. There is a near-total vacancy in senior State Department positions (including the secretary) after a purge last week conducted immediately before the release of the entry bans. 

The "dissent channel" in the State Department was established during the Vietnam War as a way to allow diplomats with practical expertise to share their views without fear of retribution. 

So who cares about this?

  • Presidents who only listen to advice that flatters them will never get good advice.
  • Ideological purges and threats against people who dissent is textbook authoritarianism.

Sunday, January 29, 2017

Sunday Week in Review

What else did Donald Trump do this week?

He made clear that he will not release his tax returns, in spite of a record-breaking number of signatures on a Whitehouse.gov petition asking him to do so. Every president since Nixon has released tax returns before being elected and during their terms.

He inadvertently accused his own advisor, Steve Bannon, of voter fraud. On Wednesday, Trump conflated illegal voting (extremely rare) with being registered in two places (extremely common). Bannon is registered to vote in at least two states. This is not illegal. His daughter and Treasury Secretary were subsequently revealed to have committed "voter fraud" in the same fashion.

In the wake of a diplomatic debacle with Mexico, he gave responsibility for managing the aftermath to his son-in-law. Jared Kushner, like Trump the heir to a real estate fortune, has no diplomatic experience.

Finally, he attracted a great deal of attention to his own state of mind. His press secretary said that media coverage of his inauguration was "demoralizing" to Trump, and another aide said it had prevented him from "enjoying" the weekend properly. Both the Washington Post and the New York Times ran stories citing multiple aides who painted a grim picture of Trump's mental state, alternately enraged by perceived slights and manipulated by factions within his administration.

Why should anyone care about these things?

  • Americans have a right to know about their presidents' financial entanglements.
  • Multiple registrations are not a threat to the integrity of American elections.
  • Managing relations with nations that are major trading and security partners should not be someone's first job in diplomacy.
  • It's bad if people who work with a president are openly questioning his ability to control himself.

Saturday, January 28, 2017

What did Donald Trump do today?

He confirmed, through a spokesperson, that his ban on entry by "aliens" from seven countries would include people with permanent residency ("green card") status.

Trump's order banning entry in to the United States from certain Middle Eastern countries referred to "aliens," a category which includes legal permanent residents of the United States. Today the Department of Homeland Security confirmed that green card holders would be prohibited under the ban. Even this statement was quickly amended to say that there might be exceptions on a "case by case" basis, though no information was available on how that decision would be made, or by whom.

Permanent residency is commonly granted to spouses and adopted children of American citizens, or certain classes of skilled workers, like translators employed by the Defense Department.  It is part of the lawful path to gaining United States citizenship.

It remains unclear if keeping Americans' spouses and children from re-entering the United States was intentional. The order may be illegal, but is being enforced for the moment. 

So what's so bad about this?

  • Policy changes that seem like they were done hastily and carelessly, probably were.
  • Policies that hurt the families of Americans hurt Americans.

Friday, January 27, 2017

What did Donald Trump do today?

He justified giving Christian refugees a higher priority than Muslims by claiming that it had been "almost impossible" for Christians to be granted refugee status in the past.

This is completely false. 2016 was the first year in which Muslim refugees admitted to the US (38,901) narrowly outnumbered Christians (37,521). In every other year since 2006, more Christians were given refugee status than any other religious group, despite the refugee population as a whole being from predominantly Muslim regions. 

There is no way to know why (or if) Trump believes otherwise.

Trump today barred all entry to the United States for 90 days from seven predominantly Muslim countries in the Middle East, and suspended admission of all refugees into the United States for 120 days.  In part because of its absurdly complicated nature, no religious, ethnic, or political group within Syria has escaped harm during the six years of its civil war. 11 million people have fled their homes during the fighting. 

Why should anyone care about this?

  • It's bad if major policy decisions affecting national security aren't based on facts.

Thursday, January 26, 2017

What did Donald Trump do today?

He told Republicans at a meeting in Philadelphia that the city's homicides are "terribly increasing."

They are not.

Philadelphia is a minority-white city, one of several (including Atlanta and Chicago) that Trump has recently singled out as "hell" or "carnage." Violent crime has been steadily decreasing nationwide since the early 1990s.

Trump's remarks came a day after he ordered the government to publish a list of crimes committed by immigrants. Immigrants are less likely to commit crimes than citizens.

Who cares?

  • Presidents who see crime only in certain places cannot effectively fight it everywhere.

Wednesday, January 25, 2017

What did Donald Trump do today?

He tweeted several times before business hours--from an unsecured phone.

The New York Times reported today that Trump still tweets and takes calls on his old, unsecured Samsung Galaxy while in the White House residence, "to the protests of some of his aides." (This reverses earlier reports that Trump had, reluctantly, agreed to give up his unsecured phone.)

President Obama used a number of specially secured devices, including a Blackberry and an iPhone. Their functions were severely limited for security purposes: the iPhone could not play music, take pictures, or make outgoing calls. Trump has been given similar phones since taking office, but cannot be forced to use them.

Trump's Twitter account has been hacked before, and his unwillingness to coordinate his tweets with staff has raised fears of the damage to the economy or national security that could be done with even brief access. A compromised phone can also be used to surreptitiously record audio or video, record passwords and keystrokes, or track the user's browsing habits, among other things.

So who cares?

  • Convenient access to Twitter is not more important than national security.
  • It is a real problem if, five days into his term, a president's aides are talking to reporters in an attempt to get him to change his behavior.
  • If a fake tweet from a president's account declaring an invasion or trashing a company is plausible enough to do damage, it says something about the real tweets he sends.

Tuesday, January 24, 2017

What did Donald Trump do today?

He claimed, through his press secretary, that he truly believes 3 to 5 million votes in the 2016 election were cast illegally--apparently all for Hillary Clinton.

In a meeting with congressional leaders last night, Trump repeated his claim that at least 3 million votes were cast illegally for Hillary Clinton. (Clinton won the popular vote by 2.9 million votes.) 

Sean Spicer confirmed today that Trump says he genuinely believes this, "based on the information he's provided [with]." Spicer refused to say where Trump is getting his information, referring only in passing to a Pew report from 2012 on an unrelated topic. It seems likely that Trump got the original 3 million number from an unsourced article on InfoWars, a conspiracy site that also claims the Sandy Hook school massacre was faked.

Spicer also refused to commit the Trump administration to investigating the supposed millions of crimes. Election officials from both parties at every level of government have called illegal voting incredibly rare. Voter impersonation, which Trump is describing, is estimated to occur in about 1 of every 15 million votes. Lesser voting-related crimes that do not affect vote totals are somewhat more common.

Why should anyone care about this?

  • There is a point at which a need for affirmation becomes pathological.
  • A president who desperately needs to believe in a falsehood can be manipulated by those willing to humor him.

Monday, January 23, 2017

What did Donald Trump do today?

He advanced the argument, through his press secretary, that the worldwide Women's March protests held the day after his inauguration were not really about him.

Specifically attributing the belief to Trump, Sean Spicer told reporters that "a lot of these people were there to protest an issue of concern to them and not against anything." 

This is quite a change in perspective for Trump, who seemed to understand how protestors felt about him when he tweeted Sunday: "Watched protests yesterday but was under the impression that we just had an election! Why didn't these people vote?"

There is some evidence to suggest that the Women's March protestors were, in fact, protesting against Trump and his policies.

Why is this a bad thing?

  • It is not a good sign if a president literally cannot believe that there is opposition to him.

Sunday, January 22, 2017

Sunday Week in Review, Special Inauguration Edition

Editor's note: WTDT tries to be brief, even on Sundays when we recap more than one thing. If we don't want to be exhausting to read, then we can't be exhaustive of all the legitimately troubling things Donald Trump might do in a week. On special occasions, though, it's worth taking just a little extra space to look at the range of issues that will confront all Americans under Donald Trump's presidency. 

Thank you for your patience, and remember to share this page (Facebook, Twitter) or the things you learn here with someone else who might not have heard them yet. 

Tens of millions of fundamentally decent Americans with good intentions voted for Donald Trump. Even now, many are realizing that their trust in him was misplaced. It's not always comfortable to do it, but it's an act of kindness and patriotism to provide your fellow citizens with facts.

What else did Donald Trump do this week?

He violated his promise that the Trump business empire would conduct no new or pending "deals" in foreign countries during his presidency. The Trump International Golf Course Scotland will proceed with "pending" plans to build a second 18-hole course. Critics of Trump's pledge noted that "deals" was a meaninglessly vague term. The Trump Organization called the move an "implementing [of] future phasing" rather than a "pending deal."

He also failed to deliver on his promise to hand over control of the Trump Organization to his sons and executives before becoming president. Last week's press conference featured stacks of manila folders that Trump claimed were the actual legal documents necessary to transfer "complete and total control" of his businesses. The papers on the table were likely fake, but the actual papers necessary to remove Trump as an officer had not been filed in the relevant states by the time Trump was inaugurated on January 20th.

In remarks at the CIA memorial to fallen agents that dealt mostly with his estimation of his own popularity, he revealed something of his Iraq strategy, saying that "maybe we’ll have another chance" for the United States to seize Iraq's oil. It is physically impossible to seize oil without militarily occupying the country from which it is being seized, but Trump's remarks are likely to be well received by ISIS and similar organizations. ISIS and Al-Qaeda recruitment propaganda has relied heavily on the idea that the United States' only interest in the Middle East is in seizing its oil--something that every American president until now has vehemently denied.

He refused to immediately disclose donors to his Inauguration Committee, although at least the last three presidents have done so without delay. Trump will be legally required to release the names of donors within 90 days. Trump's campaign stressed that he would "drain the swamp" and end the practice of allowing wealthy individuals and corporations to anonymously buy access to the White House.

He was sued for defamation by a woman who came forward during the campaign to accuse him of sexually abusing her. This is one of approximately 75 pending lawsuits against Trump personally (not counting lawsuits against his businesses where he may be subpoenaed), none of which he is exempt from by virtue of being president.

He appointed Reed Cordish as the Assistant to the President for Intragovernmental and Technology Initiatives. Cordish's background in "technology" appears to be nonexistent, but he is the business partner of Trump's son-in-law and senior advisor Jared Kushner, and a $250,000 donor to the Trump campaign.

As is traditional in the internet era, The White House website changed abruptly at the moment of Trump's inauguration, with many references to Obama-era programs and policies being removed. Some deletions, however, were about matters that no president is entitled to ignore. Since the inauguration and as of this post, whitehouse.gov had no information on LGBT issues or immigration, and the civil rights page had been redirected to a single post titled "Standing Up For Our Law Enforcement Community." Information on the Affordable Care Act, which the Trump administration is legally required to support through the 2017 calendar year (even if the act is repealed), had also been purged.

Trump inherited a new Twitter account this week--@potus--but continued to tweet after his inauguration from the more popular one he'd used during the campaign and transition. A day after taking office, he tweeted that he was "honered to serve," then deleted the misspelled tweet and replaced it with a corrected version. Neither tweets nor typos are exempt from the Presidential Records Act, which requires that every communication to or from a president be preserved.

He added, through his senior advisor Kellyanne Conway, a new euphemism for the practice of saying things that are untrue on their face: "alternative facts." Trump has spoken approvingly of the practice of "truthful hyperbole" before and recommended it in his book Art of the Deal.

Finally, he lashed out at "the enemies" who disapproved of his Twitter habits and his intention to continue using it. A recent poll shows that 69% of Americans disapprove of how Trump tweets.

Why would a reasonable person have a problem with any of this?

  • Presidents shouldn't try to get out of promises to behave ethically.
  • It matters if a president says he will do something and then fails to do it.
  • Voters may have believed Trump when he said he wanted more transparency in government.
  • A president's time is too valuable to be spent in depositions and other legal matters over personal business.
  • It is incredibly bad if a president confirms terrorist recruitment propaganda, even if by mistake.
  • It is wrong to appoint unqualified people to White House staff positions because they have a business relationship with your relatives.
  • Presidents don't get to pick and choose which of their duties they want to perform.
  • Presidents don't get to pick and choose which laws are important enough to obey.
  • Calling strategic lies by a catchy name is what authoritarians, real and fictional, do.
  • It's a very, very bad sign when a president openly refers to Americans as his "enemies."

Saturday, January 21, 2017

What did Donald Trump do today?

He and his administration spent most of his first full day in office visibly preoccupied with crowd sizes.

Press Secretary Sean Spicer began his White House career by accusing the media of "deliberately false reporting" on the size of the inaugural crowd, and pre-emptively warned against any attempts to count the protestors gathering in the same place today. (Spicer's warning aside, metrics like Metro ridership statistics, bus permit requests, and photographic comparisons between Friday's inaugural and Saturday's Women's March led most observers to conclude that the Women's March was larger.)

The National Parks Service returned today to Twitter with a meek apology for posting photographs comparing the sparse Trump crowds with the 2009 Obama inauguration. The hours-old Trump administration had issued an "urgent directive" Friday night banning all Interior Department agencies from social media. 

Finally, Trump himself returned repeatedly to the subject of crowd sizes during his remarks to employees of the CIA. Standing in front of the memorial wall for fallen officers, Trump blamed the media for underreporting what he estimated to have been 1.5 million attendees at the inauguration. This is most likely an example of a tactic Trump calls "truthful hyperbole" and recommended in his book Art of the Deal.

Who cares?

  • It's bad when presidents lie to the public, even if they have a clever name for how they do it.
  • Something like this probably should not be an administration-wide priority on a president's first full day in office.

Friday, January 20, 2017

What did Donald Trump do today?

In the very first official act of his presidency, he signed an executive order that raised the cost of mortgage insurance by about $500 per household per year.

The Federal Housing Administration guarantees loans for millions of low- and middle-income American households, allowing home ownership by those with low credit scores or who cannot afford a 20% down payment. Mortgage insurance is required for all FHA loans, at rates set by the government. The Obama administration had recently taken steps to lower that rate, which in turn would have saved homeowners money.

In his inaugural address today, about an hour before signing the order, Trump said that for too long, "Washington flourished – but the people did not share in its wealth." The FHA is a government entity and will retain the surplus funds generated by the restoration of the rate increase.

Since the rate increase will make FHA loans more expensive, it is expected to decrease demand for them. Treasury Secretary-designate and former Goldman Sachs partner Steven Mnuchin (along with other Goldman Sachs alums in Trump's administration) have forcefully advocated for eliminating government support of home ownership in favor of private lending.

Why is this a bad thing?

  • If a president wants to be seen as an economic populist, it's probably a bad idea to raise government fees on low-income households at the behest of the banking industry.

Thursday, January 19, 2017

What did Donald Trump do today?

He claimed to have no knowledge that three of his senior campaign officials were now being investigated over their ties to Russia.

According to the New York Times, intelligence officials are now using intercepted Russian communications and financial records to investigate whether Paul Manafort, Carter Page, and Roger Stone were connected to the Russian government's attempts to influence the election. All three men denied they had done anything wrong. Trump denied any knowledge of the investigation via a spokesperson.

Page and Stone were advisors to the campaign. Manafort was the campaign chair before resigning abruptly in June after his name was discovered on secret ledgers showing him receiving large cash payments from Viktor Yanukovych, the former Ukrainian president removed from power amid allegations that he was a puppet of the Russian government. 

The NYT report stated that their sources, intelligence officials, had confirmed the existence of the investigation because they were afraid that Trump would obstruct them upon becoming president.

Why should I care about this?

  • It is very bad if intelligence agencies think that a president will choose to protect himself and his political allies rather than allow investigations into foreign interference in elections.

Wednesday, January 18, 2017

What did Donald Trump do today?

He banned members of the media from the premises of his DC hotel.

Politico reporter Daniel Lippmann tried to have breakfast at the hotel Wednesday morning, but was turned away by the hotel's management, who told him that members of the media are barred during the week of the inauguration. As Lippmann later reported, DC laws and the terms of the hotel's government lease appear to forbid this.

Trump may be unusually sensitive about the Trump International Hotel because it is at the center of several of his more pointed conflicts of interest. His lease specifically forbids federal officers from being party to it. As president, Trump would be both plaintiff (since the GSA is an executive branch office) and defendant in any lawsuit over the terms of that lease.

He has also been accused of trying to drive foreign diplomats' business to the hotel as quid pro quo for access to his administration. A promise to reimburse the government for profits from such use in that one specific hotel was the only concession he made at last week's press conference on his refusal to divest from his business empire. Furthermore, Trump is being sued for nonpayment by at least three contractors who rushed to finish the hotel in time for the inauguration.

So what?

  • It's bad if a president tries to ban reporters from public places.
  • Trying to prevent reporting on conflicts of interest does not make conflicts of interest go away.

Tuesday, January 17, 2017

What did Donald Trump do today?

He tweeted triumphantly that "people are pouring into Washington in record numbers" for his inauguration.

Many people will indeed attend the inauguration, although "record numbers" seems somewhat unlikely. As of this post, hotels.com reports that 24% of DC-area hotel rooms are unbooked for Friday night. Trump himself has joined the effort to give away free tickets, and scalpers are reporting losses. By contrast, resold ticket prices for President Obama's 2009 inauguration rose into the thousands of dollars and prompted emergency anti-scalping legislation in Congress.

However, Trump's larger point about drawing large crowds "into Washington" is correct in one sense: protestors are likely to outnumber those actually attending the inauguration. It's not clear if Trump is personally aware of that.

Why should anyone care about this?

  • It speaks poorly of a president's integrity if he deliberately counts protestors as supporters.
  • It speaks poorly of a president's mental state if he cannot tell the difference between protestors and supporters.

Monday, January 16, 2017

What did Donald Trump do today?

He began backing off a plan for universal health care almost as soon as it was made public.

In an interview with the Washington Post conducted Saturday and published late Sunday, Trump spoke in general terms of a plan that would guarantee "insurance for everybody." Taken at face value, this would be a universal national healthcare plan to replace private insurance, which would involve a much bigger role for government than the Affordable Care Act that Trump campaigned against

However, any such plan conflicts with both Trump's campaign promises to end Obamacare and with Congressional Republicans' preparation to move the government out of health entitlement programs. Today, Trump's spokesman Sean Spicer began walking back the "insurance for everybody" language in favor of a plan where market forces would make insurance affordable, and Trump would personally negotiate deals with drug companies.

Why is that a bad thing?

  • If a president has a "plan" on Saturday night, it should still exist on Monday morning.
  • Conservatives who voted for Trump may have believed him when he said he thought government-run health care was a bad thing.
  • It's bad if a president thinks the job involves haggling over line items with medical supply contractors.

Sunday, January 15, 2017

Sunday Week in Review

What else did Donald Trump do this week?

He held a press conference, his first since July, at which he gave a tentative hint that he might be willing to accept the unanimous conclusion of US intelligence agencies that Russia had interfered on his behalf in the election. Trump then said that that interference was a good thing, because it had revealed politically damaging material about his opponent that Americans needed to know.

The press conference, ostensibly about his refusal to divest from his business empire, was dominated by questions about Russian espionage and whether Trump's campaign had coordinated with Russia. Trump dismissed an unconfirmed dossier published by Buzzfeed, which he called a "failing pile of garbage," but also lashed out at CNN, which had (accurately) reported that he had been briefed on the existence of that dossier. An angry exchange with CNN's Jim Acosta ended with Trump shouting "You are fake news!"

Trump avoided answering the final question of the press conference, asking him to categorically deny that anyone in his campaign had any contact with Russia during the campaign. Later in the week, however, he did open the door to lifting sanctions imposed against Russia during their annexation of the Crimea, saying that Russia was "doing some really great things."

Later in the week, after Trump's plan to turn over control of his businesses to his sons did not go over well with the nonpartisan Office of Government Ethics, Trump's chief of staff Reince Priebus warned that office's director, Walter Shaub, that he "ought to be careful," and questioned what right the Office of Government Ethics had to be passing judgment on Trump.

Why are these things problems?

  • Espionage designed to undermine confidence in American elections is by definition a bad thing, not a good thing.
  • News that angers a president is not automatically "fake news."
  • It's bad if a president cannot or will not categorically deny that his campaign collaborated with a hostile foreign power.
  • Warning an ethics watchdog not to do his job suggests that you want to do something unethical.

Saturday, January 14, 2017

What did Donald Trump do today?

He lashed out at Rep. John Lewis, blaming Lewis personally for crime and economic problems that may exist only in Trump's imagination.

The Twitter outburst was in response to Lewis' recent statement that he regards Trump's presidency as illegitimate because of Russia's interference and possible collaboration with Trump. Trump accused Lewis of engaging in "talk talk talk" while neglecting a district that is in "horrible shape and falling apart (not to mention crime infested.)"

Lewis' job as a member of Congress does not give him personal authority to do anything but "talk." However, in his previous career as a civil rights activist, Lewis was beaten at the Edmund Pettus Bridge in Selma and, on at least 45 occasions, arrested for his work with the Freedom Riders and other nonviolent civil rights actions. 

It is not clear why (or if) Trump actually thinks Georgia's Fifth Congressional District, which includes the booming midtown and northern suburbs of Atlanta, is in such grim shape. Its median household income is well above the average for the south, and its crime rate is low for an urban area. It is, however, a majority-black district, and Trump has repeatedly expressed the belief that black urban areas are "hell."

Why should I care about this?

  • A president whose emotional outbursts in response to criticism are so easily predictable is a president who can be manipulated.
  • It's very bad if a president assumes that places where African-Americans live are "horrible" and "crime infested."

Friday, January 13, 2017

What did Donald Trump do today?

He resumed his attacks on Hillary Clinton, calling her "guilty as hell" of unspecified crimes.

The Twitter outburst was apparently in reaction to news that the Justice Department would investigate why the FBI briefly, publicly, announced it was reopening its investigation of her on the eve of the election. FBI Director James Comey violated protocol twice during the election with respect to his comments on Clinton's handling of e-mails: first when he editorialized during his announcement that the investigation had turned up no criminal activity, and again when he suddenly and publicly reopened the investigation eleven days before the election. Neither phase found evidence of wrongdoing. 

The Office of the Inspector General, which routinely handles internal investigations of Justice Department agencies, would report on the context of Comey's actions and ensure that no laws were broken as a result. Comey said today that he welcomes the investigation.

Trump may be concerned that any finding that Comey or other FBI agents acted improperly would further undermine the legitimacy of his election in the wake of his popular vote loss and mounting allegations that he colluded with the Russian government to influence the election. 

Who cares?

  • A president's political comfort is not as important as the government's ability to ensure that it is following its own rules.

Thursday, January 12, 2017

What did Donald Trump do today?

He tweeted a very different account of a phone call with outgoing Director of National Intelligence James Clapper than Clapper himself had already given to the media.

Trump's tweet said that Clapper had "denounce[d] the false and fictitious report that was illegally circulated" and that it contained "Made up, phony facts."

Clapper's own account of the call stressed that he did not believe the US intelligence community to have been the source of the leaks--contrary to Trump's claims--and that they have not made a determination as to its reliability.

Trump may be anxious for support from the intelligence community. Less than two days before revising Clapper's statement, Trump compared the leak he thought came from them to "Nazi Germany."

Why is this a problem?

  • It's not good if a president hears only what he wants to hear.
  • Presidents shouldn't gratuitously compare Americans to Nazis.

Wednesday, January 11, 2017

What did Trump do today?

He categorically refused to divest from his business holdings during his presidency, claiming that the "fire sale" that would result from doing so now would cost him too much money.

Midway through his first press conference since July, Trump gave the podium to one of his lawyers, who explained that turning over management of the Trump Organization to Trump's elder sons would somehow "avoid potential conflicts of interest or concerns regarding exploitation of the office of the presidency without imposing unnecessary and unreasonable [market] losses on the president-elect and his family."

The Office of Government Ethics released a lengthy refutation of those claims today. It emphasized that sacrifice is part of public service, and reiterated its previous statements that anything short of an actual blind trust, in which Trump's assets are sold to disinterested parties, will lead to criminal violations of conflict of interest laws.

What would I have to believe to have a problem with this?

  • Nothing that defends the integrity of the presidency is unnecessary.
  • No personal financial sacrifice is unreasonable to ask of a president if it safeguards the interests of the United States.
  • How much money it will cost to behave ethically is not what determines whether something is ethical.

Tuesday, January 10, 2017

What did Donald Trump do today?

He took to Twitter, during President Obama's farewell address, to dismiss news reports that his campaign had actively cooperated with Russia and that he was subject to sexual and financial blackmail.

Briefings compiled by a British intelligence operative known to American intelligence agencies were published today by Buzzfeed. They contain allegations that the Russian government is in possession of graphic video of sexual acts involving prostitutes, and that Trump and senior members of his campaign coordinated their efforts with Russia's selective leaks of stolen DNC e-mails. 

Both the Buzzfeed article and other related reportage published today note prominently that many of the details have not yet been corroborated. Trump's tweet referenced "fake news" but linked to Lifezette, which (among other things) has advanced the theory that Hillary Clinton murdered John F. Kennedy, Jr.

Trump's tweetstorm on the matter ran into President Obama's farewell address, which began at 9:00 p.m. EST. Obama's speech touched on the urgency of defending the principles of democracy. It equated the threat of "autocrats in foreign capitals who see free markets in open democracies and civil society itself as a threat to their power" with that posed by terrorism.


  • It's not a good sign if one president cannot leave office without being upstaged by the scandal response of the incoming president.
  • Presidents don't get to complain when the media reports on things that make them look bad.
  • It's bad if it's even plausible that a president could be subject to financial extortion or sexual blackmail.

Monday, January 9, 2017

What did Donald Trump do today?

He announced the appointment of his son-in-law, Jared Kushner, as Senior Advisor to the President, in apparent violation of federal anti-nepotism laws.

Kushner, a 35-year-old heir to a real estate fortune who purchased the New York Observer in 2008, is already known for his influence over Trump. One of Trump's first moves after being elected was to explore the possibility of getting Kushner a top security clearance, and Kushner succeeded in purging the Trump team of members affiliated with Chris Christie, against whom Kushner has a personal vendetta. (Christie, as a US Attorney, successfully prosecuted Kushner's father for tax evasion and witness tampering.) 

Appointing Kushner to this position, however, would be a violation of federal law on its face, which bars officials (including the President) from hiring close relatives (including in-laws). The move also raises concerns that Kushner would be in a position to benefit financially from his direct access as a senior advisor to the workings of the Trump administration. Kushner has said he will partially divest from his family business holdings--although by selling them to his brother or a non-blind trust administered by his mother. 

These ethics concerns are particularly pointed in light of Kushner's willingness to trade on his father-in-law's political rise during the transition.

Why is that such a bad thing?

  • Presidents should not simply ignore laws they find inconvenient.
  • Presidents should probably pick senior advisors who are in a position to offer advice.
  • It's bad if presidents seem to be putting their family's interests above those of the nation.

Sunday, January 8, 2017

Sunday Week in Review

What else did Donald Trump do this week?

He began the week by celebrating the New Year with Joseph "Joey No Socks" Cinque, a convicted felon who acquired his colorful nickname during his years associating with John Gotti and the Gambino crime syndicate. Access to the party--and therefore, to Trump--required paying money to Trump's Mar-a-Lago club, which grossed about $400,000 on ticket sales, but "Joey No Socks" and Trump have a prior relationship. Another paying guest was Hussein Sajwani, an Emirati business partner of Trump's, whom Trump was careful to praise in his remarks.

He clarified his cybersecurity philosophy by saying that "no computer is safe" and recommended using couriers for important documents. He should know: his Twitter account, the one patch of cyberspace he does personally visit, has been hacked before, raising questions about the consequences of it happening again. 

He took credit for a spike in album sales of a singer who will perform at his inauguration. The singer, Jackie Evancho, had been promoting the album herself for weeks; also relevant to the holiday season sales bump was the fact that it was a Christmas album.

On a related note, he requested, via his press secretary Sean Spicer, that people stop mocking him for taking credit for positive jobs developments that had been announced before his election. Spicer did not refute the underlying reason for the mockery, though.

And why are these such bad things?

  • A twenty-first century president needs to understand that having documents couriered is not a cybersecurity policy.
  • It's wrong to take credit for things you didn't do.
  • Presidents who do that don't get to ask people not to make fun of them.
  • As a rule, presidents should not party with literal mobsters.

Saturday, January 7, 2017

What did Donald Trump do today?

He dismissed proof of serial plagiarism by Monica Crowley, his incoming senior director for strategic communications at the National Security Council, as "nothing more than a politically motivated attack."

The statement from his transition team was in response to a CNN report showing dozens of passages in Crowley's most recent book were copied from columnists, online encyclopedias, and--in one case--a politically active podiatrist's website. Crowley seems to have adopted a tactic favored by undergraduate plagiarists, substituting in synonyms for individual words within larger stolen passages, in the hope of evading detection.

Crowley had already been caught passing off others' work as her own once before.

So why should anyone care?

  • It's wrong to defend people who take credit for things they didn't do.
  • It's bad if presidents claim that every unflattering news item about their administration is a political attack.
  • The senior director for strategic communications at the National Security Council should be someone who can communicate using her own words.

Friday, January 6, 2017

What did Donald Trump do today?

He continued to retreat from his campaign promise to force Mexico to pay for an enhanced border wall.

Trump's transition team has asked Congressional Republicans to add funds for construction of additional border fencing to the next round of appropriations. Trump has offered few specifics for public consumption, but estimates for the cost range from $12 billion (his own) to $38 billion (the MIT Technology review). It is not clear that Congressional Republicans will be willing to increase the current border construction allotment ($175 million) by several hundredfold.

Mexican officials have said repeatedly--and occasionally profanely--that Mexico will bear no portion of the cost. Trump has not yet elaborated on how this would happen.

Trump angrily tweeted today that, contrary to reports in "the dishonest media" detailing this, he was not abandoning his plans to force Mexico to pay; only that it would take the form of a reimbursement at some unspecified later date. The reimbursement element was widely reported on prior to that tweet.

So what?

  • Trump's voters may have believed him when he said, hundreds of times over the course of the campaign, that he would build a wall and make Mexico pay for it.
  • Presidents shouldn't attack the media for accurately reporting on what their administrations say.

Thursday, January 5, 2017

What did Donald Trump do today?

He provoked the resignation of James Woolsey, former CIA director, from his transition team.

Woolsey cited Trump's unwillingness to actually hear his advice on intelligence matters, and said that he was unwilling to continue being used as window-dressing. 

Trump's combative stance towards the United States' intelligence agencies is driven in part by their unanimous conclusion that the Russian government interfered on his behalf in the election that brought him to power, and in part because of his closeness with retired Lt. Gen. Michael Flynn. Flynn, who will serve as Trump's national security adviser, was forced to resign as head of the DIA in 2014 and has been openly hostile to other agencies.

Woolsey's resignation came shortly before Trump lashed out again at the media, the Obama administration, and intelligence agencies over their conclusions about Russia's interference.

Why is this bad?

  • It's bad if presidents ignore genuine advice in favor of what they want to hear.
  • It's not a good sign if a president-elect's advisors resign in protest before he even takes office.
  • Attacking the messenger is not a sign that a president has a problem under control.

Wednesday, January 4, 2017

What did Donald Trump do today?

He hired a key figure in the Bridgegate scandal as his White House Political Director.

In September 2013, two lanes of the George Washington Bridge connecting New York City and northern New Jersey were ordered closed by members of Gov. Chris Christie's office as an act of political retribution against the Democratic mayor of Fort Lee, who had declined to endorse Christie. So far, four people have been convicted of crimes related to the matter. 

Bill Stepien, Christie's campaign manager, was implicated by several people involved, including convicted conspirator David Wildstein. Stepien was romantically involved with another convicted conspirator, Bridget Anne Kelly. Christie himself withdrew Stepien's nomination for Chair of the NJ Republican state party. Stepien invoked his Fifth Amendment privilege against self-incrimination in response to subpoenas related to the criminal investigation.

During the campaign, Trump (among others) savaged Christie over the bridge scandal, citing the economic damage done.

Why should a normal person care about this?

  • Political operatives associated with political dirty tricks and criminal conspiracies probably shouldn't be rewarded with promotions to the White House.
  • Voters may have believed Donald Trump when he said he was opposed to this kind of thing.

Tuesday, January 3, 2017

What did Donald Trump do today?

He took credit for a decision Ford Motor Company made without him, and criticized General Motors for something they don't really do.

In a tweet, Trump cited a Fox Business report saying that Ford would "scrap [its] Mexico plant [and] invest in Michigan due to Trump policies." In fact, Ford made clear that economic considerations were behind its decision to cancel its planned Ford Focus plant in San Luis Potosi, Mexico--and instead move the production of the Focus from Detroit to Hermosillo, Mexico.

The company was, however, careful to express optimism about the Trump administration--perhaps mindful of the damage done when Trump falsely claimed in September that the company was moving its small car division to Mexico. Conservatives have criticized Trump for his enthusiasm for attacking or boosting individual companies, calling it a violation of free market principles to have the government picking sides.

Later in the day, Trump blasted General Motors for selling Mexican-made Chevy Cruzes in the United States. Almost all Chevy Cruzes--97.6%--made for American consumption are sedans made in Lordstown, Ohio.

How is this a bad thing?

  • It's wrong to take credit for things you didn't do.
  • Presidents should not attack major U.S. companies with statements that are only 2.4% true.

Monday, January 2, 2017

What did Donald Trump do today?

He deployed flacks to argue that nobody really knows what happened with Russian hacking--except Donald Trump himself.

Press secretary Sean Spicer went on CNN to claim that it was too soon to draw any conclusions, since the final report commissioned by President Obama wasn't due to be released until next week. Its conclusions are not in doubt.

At the same time, advisor Kellyanne Conway noted that "The President-elect receives intelligence briefings that you and I are not privy to." However, the President-elect does not receive intelligence briefings that the President or the various intelligence-gathering agencies are not privy to.

Trump has maintained that Russia did not seek to influence the election on his behalf in the face of unanimous agreement by the intelligence community that it did. He said on Sunday that he would reveal some of what he (and he alone) knows "on Tuesday or Wednesday." [No such reveal came on either day. --1/12/2016]

Why is this a bad thing?

  • Presidents should not ask the American people to ignore information they find inconvenient.
  • Demanding that people defer to them because they alone have secret knowledge is what authoritarians do, and it hasn't worked out very well for American presidents either.

Sunday, January 1, 2017

Sunday Week in Review

What else did Donald trump do this week?

He rang in the new year in the midst of charging people money for access to him, at a ticketed celebration at his Mar-a-lago club. Trump owns the venue, and will pocket the profit from the $525-575 tickets--although it should be noted that this is substantially cheaper than other attempts to sell access to Trump or his family. Trump's spokesperson Hope Hicks continued to maintain that, in essence, where charging for access is concerned, when the president does it, it's not illegal.

He created a totally new administration position just for his long-time Trump Organization lawyer. Jason Greenblatt's current job is as the chief legal representative for the Trump business empire; he will now apparently play a similar role as the "Special Representative for International Negotiations." Greenblatt has no trade policy experience to speak of.

He once again took to Twitter to complain about his media coverage. Trump has not held a press conference since July 27, and this week had his subordinates float the idea that he might just continue to not have them as president.

And these are bad things why?

  • It's bad if people can buy access to a president.
  • Presidents shouldn't create new government jobs for people whose only qualification is knowing how that job can be used to make money for the president.
  • Presidents don't get to dictate the terms of their coverage by reporters.