Wednesday, February 28, 2018

What did Donald Trump do today?

He lashed out at--and got snapped back by--his own Attorney General.

Once again reacting emotionally to something he'd seen during his morning Fox News time, Trump tweeted out another attack on Jefferson Sessions:

For the record, the Justice Department's Inspector General, Michael Horowitz, is indeed an "Obama guy." He's also a "George W. Bush guy," a "Clinton guy," and a "George H.W. Bush guy," having been appointed to federal offices by those presidents too.

It's possible that Trump is genuinely confused about why "an Obama guy" has any responsibility at all. Trump often seems to think that Sessions is his personal defense attorney, and that the Justice Department is his private police force. Sessions' failure to "protect" Trump by recusing himself from the criminal investigation into links between the Trump campaign and Russia's election sabotage infuriated Trump, and led to him demanding Sessions' resignation before cooler heads prevailed.

Trump tweet-ordered Sessions investigate "Dem crimes" last week, too. This time, though, Sessions immediately returned fire in a statement: “As long as I am the attorney general, I will continue to discharge my duties with integrity and honor, and this department will continue to do its work in a fair and impartial manner according to the law and Constitution.”

Why does this matter?

  • A president who can't even conceive of an independent, non-political justice system is unfit to lead it.
  • Selectively calling for your political enemies to be prosecuted is what authoritarians do.
  • It's a bad sign when a president needs to be spoken to like this by his own cabinet-level appointees.

Tuesday, February 27, 2018

What did Donald Trump do today?

He named a campaign manager for his 2020 re-election campaign.

Trump has officially been a candidate for the 2020 presidential election since early afternoon on the day he was inaugurated in January 2017. But there had been no formal campaign manager until today, when the campaign announced that Brad Parscale had been appointed to the post. 

In the 2016 campaign, Parscale was Trump's "digital strategist." He headed up the Trump campaign's social media strategy, which in turn has made him a subject of the ongoing investigation into Russian sabotage of the election. In particular, independent counsel Robert Mueller's team is investigating whether the Trump campaign's data operation was in any way connected to the activities of the disinformation army deployed against the United States by the Putin regime.

Parscale has other Trumpian qualities than a curiously close relationship with Russia. For example, he has embraced nepotism: he immediately appointed Lara Trump (the wife of Donald Trump's middle son Eric) and John Pence (nephew of Vice-President Mike Pence) as "senior advisors," the same title that Jared Kushner and Ivanka Trump hold in the White House. He also shares his boss's occasional carelessness on social media: today he "liked" a reply to a Trump tweet that called Trump an "idiot."

But Parscale's most Trump-like quality is his murky financial dealings and disreputable business ties. Last August, for reasons that are not immediately clear, Parscale sold his private marketing company to a penny-stock firm known as CloudCommerce, Inc., and took a seat on its board. That firm has not turned a profit in years, and its former CEO--who still has influence over the business--was convicted of securities fraud.

All this having been said, Parscale has a low bar to clear as campaign manager: his predecessor, Paul Manafort, is under indictment for conspiracy against the United States and dozens of related fraud and financial charges.

Why is this a problem?

  • It says something about a president if the best person he can get to run his re-election campaign is under investigation in the same scandal threatening the president in the first place.

Monday, February 26, 2018

What did Donald Trump do today?

He bragged that he’d have rushed the Parkland mass murderer without a gun.

At a meeting of state governors at the White House this morning, Trump once again brought up the fact that the lightly armed sheriff’s deputy assigned as a resource officer to the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School did not confront the attacker during a crucial four-minute period. Trump called this “frankly disgusting” and “a disgrace.” Response from actual law enforcement officers has been mixed, though police psychologists have said that a "freezing response" is common in such situations even among trained officers. The deputy has since resigned.

Trump then pivoted to a favorite topic: himself. He declared, "I think, I really believe I’d run in there even if I didn’t have a weapon.”

The evidence for Trump’s physical courage isn’t compelling. By his own admission, he is squeamish around blood, which is why he says he refused to help an elderly man who fell in one of his ballrooms. He actively avoided service in Vietnam, pleading for a draft deferment on the grounds that he had a bone spur in one foot. More recently, he has recoiled in obvious fear from an angry protestor and an annoyed bald eagle. (Trump called the bird "seriously dangerous.") These are fairly normal reactions to apparent physical threats, but they don't do much to support his belief in his great personal bravery.

Trump's claim doesn't leave much room for interpretation, but at the afternoon briefing, Sarah Huckabee Sanders said that what Trump really meant was that, in such a situation, he would be "a leader" because he "would have wanted to have played a role."

So what?

  • A need to be seen as a hero even when you’ve done nothing heroic is not a good sign of mental health. 
  • It’s bad if the President of the United States talks like an Internet Tough Guy meme. 
  • If anything counts as politicizing tragedy, this does.

Sunday, February 25, 2018

Sunday Week in Review, Family Edition

What else did Donald Trump do this week?

He had some family issues arise, intentionally or otherwise.

Donald Jr. Trump's eldest son Donald Jr. isin theorymanaging his father's businesses along with his brother Eric, though Trump Sr. is still directly financially tied to the income of the Trump Organization. Also in theory, Donald Jr. plays no official role in the Trump administration, and occasionally even claims not to be involved unofficially.

This week, Donald Jr. traveled to India, ostensibly to promote his father's company's real estate projects. But he also gave a speech on foreign policy alongside the prime minister of India, Narendra Modi. The younger Trump also took a page from his father's book and sold access to himselfand by implication the presidencywith newspaper ads declaring, "TRUMP IS HERE — ARE YOU INVITED?"

Donald Trump Jr. has no foreign policy or diplomatic experience, but tickets for "dinner and conversation" with him cost $38,000.

Ivanka. Trump dispatched his eldest daughter Ivanka to South Korea this week in order to represent the United States at the Olympics. This is a fairly traditional sort of duty for a presidential family member, and not a problem in and of itself, although Trump insisted on raising the stakes, tweeting that there was no one "better or smarter" than Ivanka for the job.

But Ivanka Trumpwho does officially work for her father but has not qualified for a permanent security clearance after more than a year on the jobdid more than cheer for American athletes. Instead, she was apparently there as what amounts to a high-level diplomatic mission. Her father has let her stand in for him at international events before, but given the perilous situation on the Korean peninsula at the moment, Ivanka Trump found herself doing policy work that would normally be handled by the U.S. Ambassador or the Secretary of State.

The position of Ambassador to South Korea has been vacant for all of Trump's term. The only candidate willing to consider the job, Victor Cha, ultimately withdrew in protest over Trump's approach to the region.

Viktor and Amalija Knavs. Trump's parents-in-law made the news this week too, as the Washington Post reported that they had become permanent residents and are expected to become citizens soon.

Unless the Knavses, who are in their seventies, were sponsored by an employerwhich seems unlikelythen they almost certainly got their green cards via their daughter Melania's sponsorship. Although she almost certainly worked illegally for a time before getting a proper work visa (which would make her a priority for deportation under her husband's policies) Melania Trump obtained her own citizenship in 2006. This means that the Knavses would fall under Trump's definition of "chain migration," just as Trump's own mother and paternal grandfather would have.

Whether or not he understands the irony, Trump rails against "chain migration" at every opportunity, and has threatened to veto any bill to provide for DACA recipients unless he gets his way.

Eric (and Donald Jr. and Melania). On Thursday, Trump's middle son, Eric, gave a speech at CPAC on the unlikely topic of mannersspecifically, how Americans have lost theirs. Most of his evidence dealt with occasions where people were rude to members of the Trump family, orin the case of his father's State of the Union addressdidn't applaud loudly enough. He said that this rudeness showed that Americans were "losing family values."

Two days before Eric's speech, Donald Jr. promoted tweets attacking a survivor of the Parkland mass murder as a puppet of his "deep state" father, who is a former FBI agent. This conspiracy theory has resulted in death threats against 17-year-old David Hogg and other members of his family. His younger sister Lauren Hogg then appealed to Melania Trump, who has taken on fighting cyber-bullying as one of her tasks as First Lady, to intercede with her stepson.

There has been no response from Donald Jr. or Melania Trump on the matter.

Why do these things matter?

  • A president who tolerates his family members selling access to the presidency doesn't deserve to hold the office.
  • High-level diplomacy in a region threatened by nuclear war is too important a job to give to someone totally unqualified.
  • A president who approves of "chain migration" when it benefits his family but not when it helps anyone else doesn't really care about immigration.
  • Attacking the survivors of a mass murder for political gain is disgusting no matter whose family you're a member of.
  • Leaving the United States without an ambassador to South Korea, under these circumstances, is incredibly stupid.

Saturday, February 24, 2018

What did Donald Trump do today?

He blamed congressional Democrats for not passing legislation during a recess that he's promised to veto anyway.

Several times today, Trump insisted that Democrats had "abandoned" DACA recipients. He told Fox News' Jeanine Pirro that he was "the one that's pushing DACA, and the Democrats are nowhere to be found"--a quote he both retweeted and expanded upon.

Congressional Democrats are the minority party, and Congress is in recess this week. Democrats have been trying to pass some version of the "DREAM Act," which would permanently protect children brought to the United States, since 2001.

Earlier this month, however, a bill with bipartisan support that would have extended legal protection to DACA recipients seemed likely to pass in Congress, until a Trump veto threat scuttled it. Trump called the bill a "total catastrophe"--not because it wouldn't protect Dreamers, but because it didn't include American taxpayer funding for his proposed border wall or restrictions on "chain migration," which is his term for naturalized Americans who sponsor other family members for permanent residency. (Trump's mother, paternal grandfather, and father- and mother-in-law all followed family members to the United States.)

Trump, acting alone, rescinded all DACA protections by executive order in September of last year, and could reinstate it just as easily if he wanted to.

Why does this matter?

  • Blaming other people for things you did yourself is hypocrisy.
  • A president who creates problems he's unwilling to solve may just not be very good at his job.

Friday, February 23, 2018

What did Donald Trump do today?

He whistled past the graveyard of Jared Kushner's inability to get a security clearance through proper channels.

At a White House press availability today, Trump was asked if he would override the normal security clearance background checks and give his son-in-law and "senior advisor" Jared Kushner permanent access to top secret information. Until now, according to Kushner's own lawyers, the approval process has stretched into its second year because of Kushner's multiple repeated failures failures to disclose required information. In theory, Kushner should have lost his temporary clearance today because of an order issued by Chief of Staff John Kelly.

Trump's rambling response to the question took over three minutes to deliver:
Well Jared's done an outstanding job, I think he's been treated very unfairly, he's a high-quality person. Uh, he works for nothing, just so, you know, nobody ever reports that, but he gets zero. He doesn't get a salary, nor does Ivanka, who's now in South Korea, long trip, representing her country, and we cannot get a better representative. In fact, the first lady, Melania, was telling me what a great impression she made this morning when she landed in South Korea. Jared is, um, truly outstanding, he's, he's, he was very successful when he was in the private sector. He's working on peace in the middle east and some other small and very easy deals. They've always said, "peace in the Middle East, peace between the Palestinians and Israel is the toughest deal of any deal there is." Now I've heard this all my life, that, as a former dealmaker, although now you can say maybe I'm a more of a dealmaker than ever before, you have no choice as President to do it right, but, the hardest deal to make of any kind is between the Israelis and the Palestinians. We're actually making great headway. Jerusalem was the right thing to do, we took that off the table. But Jared Kushner is right in the middle of that, and he's an extraordinary dealmaker. And if he does that, that will be an incredible accomplishment and a very important thing for our country. So General Kelly, who's doing a terrific job, by the way, is, uh, right in the middle of that. We inherited a system that's broken. It's a system where many people have just, it's taken months and months and months, to get many people that do not have a complex financial, you know, complicated financials, they don't have that, and it's still taken months. It's a broken system and it shouldn't take this long. And you know how, how many people are on that list. People with not a problem in the world. So that'll be up to General Kelly, and General Kelly respects Jared a lot, and General Kelly will make that call, I won't make that call, I will let the General, who's right here, make that call. But Jared's, uh, doing some very important things for our country, he gets paid zero. Ivanka, by the way, gets paid zero. She gave up a good and very strong solid big business in order to come to Washington because she wanted to help families and she wanted to help women. She said, "Dad, I want to go to Washington, I want to help women." And I said, "You know, Washington's a mean place." She said, "I don't care, I want to help women, I want to help families," and she was very much involved, as you know, in the child tax credit, and now she's working very much on family leave. Things that I don't think would be in the agreement if it weren't for Ivanka. And some of our great senators, et cetera. But she was very much in the forefront of, uh. So I will let General Kelly make that decision, and he's going to do what's right for the country, and I have no doubt he'll make the right decision. Okay? 
In essence, Trump was making three claims:
  1. That his daughter and son-in-law are important to the functioning of his administration, and noble people interested only in serving the greater good of the United States.
  2. That the decision about Kushner's ability to continue his voracious consumption of the nation's most sensitive secrets would be made on a purely professional basis by chief of staff John Kelly--who would surely "make the right decision."
  3. That the process in place for approving people for security clearance is "broken." 
Trump's anxiousness to make these points is likely related to the news, reported today by the Washington Post, that the FBI will not sign off on Kushner's clearance for the foreseeable future. The reason is the worst imaginable one, from Trump's perspective: Kushner cannot be given unfettered access to classified information because of what special counsel Robert Mueller's investigation has uncovered about him.

Why should I be concerned about this?

  • The whole purpose of a security clearance is that it keeps sensitive information out of the hands of people who can be forced to reveal it.
  • The security of the United States is more important than Trump's need to indulge his children.
  • There is nothing broken about a system that doesn't approve people who shouldn't be approved.

Thursday, February 22, 2018

What did Donald Trump do today?

He said he didn't say something, then said he said it, all in the same tweet.

At 7:22 this morning, Trump began a tweet by saying, "I never stated 'give teachers guns' like was stated on Fake News @CNN and @NBC."

The following sentence was, "What I said was to look at the possibility of giving 'concealed guns to gun adept teachers with military or special training experience - only the best." 

Trump suggested that 20% of teachers could be armed. In related news, an armed Broward County sheriff's deputy assigned to Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School was suspended today and immediately resigned. Deputy Scot Petersen, described as a "veteran officer," was in position to confront the attacker, but--heavily outgunned--he remained outside the building. 

Who cares?

  • Even by Trump's standards, saying something is fake news in one sentence and confirming it in the next is pretty ridiculous.

Wednesday, February 21, 2018

What did Donald Trump do today?

He hears you, he said.

Trump held a "listening session" today with preselected victims of school gun violence. The White House event was scheduled against a day of protest in Tallahassee by many of the student-survivors of the Parkland mass murder.

Trump's struggle to show empathy is most noticeable in times of tragedy. He has gotten into nasty feuds with grieving widows and parents of servicemembers killed in action, jovially tossed paper towels at hurricane victims (before blaming them for their misfortunes), and asserted the likely innocence a man his own staff had fired over accusations from two ex-wives that he had beaten them. When he met with first responders to the Parkland mass murder, he offered them "congratulations" and gave a grinning thumbs-up sign for the cameras--a photo he liked so much that he made it his Twitter banner.

Presumably this is why his staff felt obliged to write down talking points for him that included a reminder to say "I hear you." 

Encouraging Trump to practice "reflective listening," as it is known, was good advice. The Complete Idiot's Guide To Clear Communication says that it's especially useful in emotionally charged situations.

Trump did more than listen, though. He spent a considerable amount of time telling his audience that "your problem" could be solved by arming teachers. This is not a new position for Trump, although admitting it is.

Why should I care about this?

  • It's bad if the president needs to be reminded of how to act like he's listening.
  • Presidents should not lie about their policies.
  • Presidents should not use tragedies to advance political ends.
  • Mass murders committed with guns are the president's problem, not just the survivors'.

Tuesday, February 20, 2018

What did Donald Trump do today?

He got caught in another "better hope there are no tapes" moment, this time with one of the women he's accused of sexually assaulting.

Rachel Crooks is a candidate for the Ohio Legislature, and one of the 19 women who have accused Trump of making unwanted sexual contact with them. In her case, it took place in Trump Tower, where she worked in 2006 as a receptionist for a company with offices there. She says that immediately after being introduced, Trump began kissing her, first on the cheek, and then more forcibly on the lips. She e-mailed her mother and sister about the encounter the same day.

Crooks was profiled in the Washington Post this morning, which appears to have been enough to prompt a furious two-tweet response from Trump, in which he rhetorically asked, "Who would do this in a public space with live security cameras?"

According to Donald Trump himself, one person who might do such a thing is Donald Trump. A few months before he met Crooks, he was recorded by Access Hollywood microphones describing his preferred seduction technique:
You know I’m automatically attracted to beautiful — I just start kissing them. It’s like a magnet. Just kiss. I don’t even wait. And when you’re a star, they let you do it, you can do anything. Grab 'em by the pussy.
As for security cameras, Crooks had an answer that recalled James Comey's response when Trump threatened to catch him out with "tapes" that never materialized:
Trump's encounter with Crooks occurred about a year after he married his third wife Melania, six months before the sexual encounter that porn actress Stormy Daniels told In Touch magazine about, and five months before former Playboy model Karen McDougal wrote that she had sex with Trump and he tried to pay her afterwards.

Trump has repeatedly declared that nobody respects women more than he does.

Why is this a problem?

  • It's bad if a president is credibly accused by many women of exactly the same pattern of abusive behavior.
  • At this point, Trump should probably have learned not to threaten people with "tapes" he can't produce.

Monday, February 19, 2018

What did Donald Trump do today?

He made up for his missed Saturday golf game with a Monday golf game.

As this site has noted before, Trump plays golf so often, and spends so much time away from the White House, that any given round is not really newsworthy. But today's round has larger implications, because it marks the end of what turned out to be a 48-hour period in which he "honored" the 17 victims of the Parkland shooting by not playing golf 45 minutes away.

Trump was eager to publicize his sacrifice at the start of the weekend, dispatching an aide to tweet that he would not be playing on Saturday in spite of the excellent golf weather. Some White House aides reportedly viewed the Parkland tragedy as a "reprieve" from a string of political bad news, and Trump himself tried to turn the mass murder into a reason why he should no longer be investigated in connection with the Russian election attack.

Funerals and memorials for those slain--officially, the reason Trump abstained from golf on Saturday--continued today. So did protests led by the surviving students themselves. Trump spent between 8:55 A.M. and 1:42 P.M. at Trump International Golf Club. 

Why does this matter?

  • A president who sees human tragedy in terms of how it will help him do political damage control isn't worthy of the office.

Sunday, February 18, 2018

Sunday Week in Review

What else did Donald Trump do this week?

Even by Trump standards, it was a rough week.

Russia breaks Russia news. Trump spoke with Russian leader Vladimir Putin this week, in an unscheduled call that is public knowledge in the United States only because Russian state-run media reported on it. The White House did not announce the call or acknowledge it until it was outed by the Putin regime.

Trump is extremely sensitive to the fact that Russia's criminal interference on his behalf in the 2016 elections creates the perception that he is beholden to Putin, so even normal intergovernmental contacts between the US and Russia are affected. Trump seems to have decided that the answer is more secrecy regarding his and his administration's Russian contacts. 

The Putin regime, however, which benefits first and foremost from a weakened American government, has delighted in publicizing its meetings with Trump. Last month, a Russian intelligence chief who was already on the sanctions list--meaning he could not legally be admitted to the US under normal circumstances--met with American officials. Since Sergey Naryshkin was likely involved in the very criminal conspiracy that supported Trump, the Trump administration was anxious to keep the meeting secret, but the Russian Embassy itself tweeted out news of the visit.

Paying for sex (I). This week, Trump's personal lawyer Michael Cohen admitted that he paid porn actress Stormy Daniels $130,000--or, rather, that he "facilitated payment" to her through a Delaware LLC. Daniels had told several media outlets the story of her sexual encounter with Trump early in his marriage to Melania, but recently was subject to a nondisclosure agreement that prevented her from repeating them. (Daniels' lawyer believes that Cohen's acknowledgement of the payment violates that agreement, and says that she will once again confirm the affair and the lengths that Trump went to in order to conceal it.)

Paying for sex (II and III). Also this week, former Playboy model Karen McDougal confirmed to journalist Ronan Farrow that she had written an eight-page account of her sexual encounters with Trump (during his most recent marriage), for which Trump offered to pay her money. McDougal also said that she had been subsequently paid by a Trump ally in the publishing industry for the exclusive rights to the story of any physical relationship she had ever had with any "then-married man."

McDougal is not well known, and Trump is the only "then-married man" she has ever been linked to. The contract for her story--which prevents her or anyone else from telling it--is with a company owned by David Pecker. Pecker is a close friend and political ally of Trump's, and the publisher of the National Enquirer, which has used the "catch and kill" technique of buying up unflattering news about Trump before.

Farrow's article includes the revelation that Trump reportedly had a sexual encounter with a third adult entertainer, Jessica Drake, and offered her $10,000 for "her company."

Trump's extramarital affairs are arguably a private matter, but the fact that he has gone to extraordinary lengths to conceal them is problematic. Anything that Trump wanted badly enough to keep secret that he was willing to go to such elaborate lengths and expense to do so, is something that he can be blackmailed with. 

It remains unclear if, or how many other times, Trump's network of lawyers and publishers have swung into action to conceal his sexual encounters.

Golf alternative. Normally, Trump's aides work hard to keep reporters from being able to say with absolute certainty that Trump spent the weekend golfing--sequestering his press pool miles away from the golf courses he visits, putting reporters in rooms and then taping trash bags to windows, or even planting trees to prevent tiny glimpses of the course from being visible from public streets.

But in the wake of the mass murder in Parkland, Florida--very close to Trump's weekend home in Palm Beach--the Trump White House went out of its way to say that Trump would not be golfing, "out of respect" for the victims.

Instead of golfing, after a 20-minute appearance with first responders on Friday, Trump went to a literal disco dance party.

Imaginary factories. On Tuesday, Trump congratulated himself on a GM factory in Detroit that appears to exist only in his imagination. Speaking from the White House, Trump said this:
GM in Korea announces a first step in necessary restructuring. They're, um, going to, GM Korea company announced today that it will cease production and close its --- plant in may of 2018 and they're going to move back to Detroit. You don't hear these things, except for the fact that Trump became president, believe me, you wouldn't be hearing that. So they're moving back from Korea to Detroit.
But, as a spokesperson for General Motors confirmed, there are no plans to open a plant in Detroit, or move any of the jobs from the closing Korean plant there.

Trump frequently invents fake jobs in order to take credit for creating them.

School shootings means no Russia probe. Last night, Trump tweeted that the reason the FBI couldn't prevent the mass murder in Parkland was that they were too busy investigating the Russian attack on the 2016 election.

Whether Trump likes it or not, the FBI is a major part of the United States' counterintelligence capabilities. The agency overall has approximately 35,000 employees. The ones involved in processing firearm background checks are not interchangeable with the ones investigating attacks by foreign government on the United States.

Why do these things matter?

  • A president who can't act independently of a hostile foreign power is unfit for the office.
  • Americans should have to rely on Russia for information about its own government.
  • It's bad if the president is vulnerable to blackmail.
  • It's neither legal nor respectful to offer to pay a woman for sex.
  • Trading one form of leisure for another does nothing to "honor" mass murder victims.
  • Presidents should not lie about accomplishments that don't exist.
  • It's a problem if a president treats literally everything on his agenda, no matter how unrelated, as a way to escape from an ongoing criminal investigation.

Saturday, February 17, 2018

What did Donald Trump do today?

He forgot how Congress works--twice.

Trump's predictable weekend tweetstorm was more intense than usual, augmented by the fact that Trump was forced by the political optics of golfing half an hour from a mass murder site to give up his usual weekend pastime. Most of the tweets dealt with his need to push back against yesterday's confirmation of a sophisticated Russian attack on the election to benefit him. But he did touch on the legislative crises in Congress, once again blaming Democrats for being unwilling to vote for legislation he's willing to sign.

Effectively, Trump argued that because Democrats didn't pass certain laws when they had the majority nine years ago, it wasn't necessary to pass any such laws now.

As Trump is sometimes able to recall, most legislation requires 60 votes in the Senate to overcome a potential filibuster. The Democrats' coalition (which included two independents and a party-switched Republican) only had 60 votes in the Senate for a few working weeks of the 2009-2010 Congress, and even then, legislation cannot be instantaneously drafted or forced through.

As for the current session of Congress, Trump actively sabotaged a bipartisan plan this week to provide for DACA recipients, although doing so remains overwhelmingly popular with Americans. Trump has suggested that he will take some sort of action in the wake of the Parkland mass shooting, but has refused to give any specifics or even say if his solution involves gun legislation at all.

Why does this matter?

  • It's insane for a president to think that because a problem existed before it was his responsibility, it's not his responsibility now.
  • It's wrong to blame other people for your own shortcomings or bad acts.
  • A plan you can't provide any specifics for is not a plan.

Friday, February 16, 2018

What did Donald Trump do today?

He falsely claimed that the indictment of Russians for conspiring to help him win the election proved his innocence in any Russian conspiracy.

Today, the Office of the Special Counsel released a federal grand jury indictment of 13 Russian individuals and three Russian organizations for conspiracy against the United States. The lengthy bill of indictment describes an espionage and intelligence-gathering operation that fed a vast, highly sophisticated disinformation campaign conducted over the internet and with support from American citizens. The indictment says that the object of the conspiracy was to interfere with the election and thereby erode Americans' faith in the legitimacy of their government and elections.

Trump's reaction was to declare, in a statement and on Twitter, that the indictment actually exonerated him. He claimed that the Mueller investigation showed "that there was NO COLLUSION between the Trump Campaign and Russia and that the outcome of the campaign was not changed or affected."

The indictment in no way exonerates Trump or the Trump campaign. It does not say that the Russians' efforts to affect the outcome of the election was unsuccessful. 

It does, however, indicate that the indicted Russians were working with other co-conspirators "known to the grand jury" but not specified in the indictment. It also identifies the Trump campaign as the intended beneficiary of the Russians' efforts by mid-2016.

Why is this important?

  • It's wrong to lie.
  • It shouldn't take this much effort to get a president to acknowledge an ongoing attack on the United States.

Thursday, February 15, 2018

What did Donald Trump do today?

He made announcements on gun violence without using the word "gun."

Trump, who made no public acknowledgement yesterday of the mass murder of 17 children and teachers in Florida, addressed the issue in a tweet and a brief statement today--sort of.

The tweet seemed to put responsibility for the shooter's actions on "neighbors and classmates" who "knew he was a big problem." Trump then admonished them that they "must always report such instances to authorities, again and again!"

In fact, classmates and others who knew Nikolas Cruz--and even strangers on the internet--had repeatedly reported his behavior to authorities, which led to his expulsion from the school that he then attacked. 

Trump's televised address, which he read carefully from a prompter, lasted a bit under two minutes. Except for a single reference to "gunfire," Trump did not mention firearms at all in the announcement, which remains the White House's only statement on the murder. But, as in the tweet, Trump did stress the need to "tackle the difficult issue of mental health."

A few weeks after taking office in 2017, Trump signed into law an act that repealed an Obama administration regulation that made it harder for people with mental illnesses to buy guns.

Why is this a problem?

  • There are many valid positions a president might take on the subject of guns, but pretending they don't exist isn't one of them.

Wednesday, February 14, 2018

What did Donald Trump do today?

He clarified his position on domestic violence.

Appearing before reporters in the Oval Office today, eight days after the still-unfolding Rob Porter story first broke, Trump was asked "Why have you not spoken out against domestic violence?" and "Do you believe the women?" Trump was visibly annoyed as he responded, "I am totally opposed to domestic violence and everybody here knows that. I am totally opposed to domestic violence of any kind. Everyone knows that, and it almost wouldn't even have to be said. So now you hear it, but you all know it."

Whether Trump was opposed in principle to domestic violence was never really in question. Even though he has been accused under oath by his own ex-wife of a violent sexual assault during their marriage, and bragged about how being famous shields him from the consequences of grabbing women's genitals, nobody has ever attributed some kind of formal pro-abuse stance to him.

Trump's statement did not address whether he believed Porter's accusers, why he has expressed sympathy only for Porter, why Porter was apparently being considered for a promotion to deputy chief of staff in spite of the fact that the accusations were known to the White House, or why he has publicly attacked so many women who have accused political allies of his of sexual or domestic abuse.

Why does this matter?

  • Officially opposing domestic abuse, but not really caring if someone has engaged in it, is not much better than being pro-abuse.
  • How powerful or connected a man is has nothing to do with whether accusations of domestic abuse are true.
  • Trump is correct: it's extremely bad that he needs to say this out loud.

Tuesday, February 13, 2018

What did Donald Trump do today?

He lashed out at a fired staffer who, until recently, he'd been full of good wishes for: Omarosa.

There were major developments in the metastasizing Rob Porter story today, with no less than the Trump-appointed director of the FBI flatly contradicting the White House's latest story about Porter's security clearance. But it was Omarosa Manigault-Newman, Trump's three-time Apprentice protégé, who was on the receiving end of a White House attack.

The White House leaked today that Manigault-Newman was fired in December for--as the story now goes--abusing her privileges with a government car service. This follows pointed comments made last week by Trump spokesperson Raj Shah: "Omarosa was fired three times on The Apprentice, and this is the fourth time we let her go. She had limited contact with the president while here, she has no contact now."

This marks a major change in Trump's tune. On the day her departure was announced, with Sarah Huckabee Sanders characterizing it as a voluntary resignation to "pursue other opportunities," Trump personally tweeted his warm wishes:
It's no mystery what is behind the change in Trump's story about Manigault-Newman's departure: she has been shopping a tell-all book to publishers, and has used her recent stint on yet another reality show (CBS' Celebrity Big Brother) to drop ominous hints about the horrors she witnessed. What is still unclear, months after the end of her White House tenure, is what she had been doing there in the first place. She was paid the maximum White House salary of $179,700--the only African-American out of 60 people in that salary tier--but what exactly her job as communications director for the White House Office of Public Liaison entailed has never been made clear.

Trump repeatedly promised on the campaign trail to hire "the best people."

Why does this matter?

  • It actually does matter if a president fails to hire "the best people," or at least competent people.
  • The presidency is not a reality show and must never be treated like one.
  • It's bad if the president can be baited this easily.

Monday, February 12, 2018

What did Donald Trump do today?

He introduced a budget that would add record amounts to the deficit, after running as a deficit hawk.

Trump released his proposed budget for the fiscal year 2019 today. Its specific priorities are already provoking criticism from both Democrats and Republicans, but the biggest surprise for Trump supporters is likely to be its effect on the budget deficit. If adopted, it is projected to raise the United States' debt by $7.1 trillion over the next ten years.

The United States has accumulated about $20.6 trillion in debt over its first 241 years, so Trump's budget would increase that by about 34% over the next ten.

As a candidate, Trump claimed he would eliminate the debt--not the deficit, but the entire debt--over the course of two terms as president.

Then again, the specific proposals he made as a candidate had a price tag of more than $11 trillion in increased debt, so arguably he is only breaking the campaign promises about reducing the debt, and keeping the ones about massively increasing it.

Why does this matter?

  • People who heard Trump say he was going to eliminate the federal debt might have thought he intended to at least lower the federal debt.
  • A budget is a statement of priorities.

Sunday, February 11, 2018

Sunday Week in Review

What else did Donald Trump do this week?

Name-calling. On Monday, Trump called Rep. Adam Schiff (D-CA) "one of the biggest liars and leakers." Schiff is the ranking member on the House Intelligence Committee chaired by Devin Nunes, and was about to put Trump in the awkward position of declassifying a Democratic-authored memo that undid Trump's claims of political persecution by his own FBI. (Trump, who approved the release so-called Nunes Memo without reading it and over the objections of his own FBI and DOJ, ultimately decided to simply refuse to allow any Democratic response based on the same classified sources.)

There is no evidence that Schiff has leaked classified information--and in fact, Trump seems to be the only one even making the claim.

Executive time. Schiff responded by noting that Trump's tweet came during "executive time," and asking him to get back to work. "Executive time" is how the White House internally refers to the nebulous and ever-growing blocks of unscheduled time on Trump's schedule for which no information about Trump's agenda, even in general terms, is provided. Trump spends much of his "executive time" in the White House residence, watching TV and sometimes tweeting from bed, as he recently admitted.

But while Trump's morning and evening twitter-rants are a predictable feature of the calendar, they're not limited to "executive time," as his tweeting this week made clear. On Wednesday, he issued an all-caps blast: "NEW FBI TEXTS ARE BOMBSHELLS!" (The bombshell in question was that then-President Obama had asked to be kept informed on the unfolding investigation into Russia's attack on the 2016 election.) 

Reporter Kyle Griffin noticed that Trump's tweet came at 11:10 A.M., when he was supposed to be--and presumably was--in the middle of an intelligence briefing.

Presidential "daily" "briefings." This week, the Washington Post provided two pieces of context that help explain why Trump was tweeting during his daily intelligence briefings: that he refuses to do the reading for them, and often skips them altogether. In fact, Trump's ability to sit through the briefings--which are designed to be the most efficient way of delivering critical intelligence summaries to the president--shows the same pattern as his ballooning "executive time:" he is starting them later, skipping them more often, and frequently tweeting during them.

Parade-planner-in-chief. Trump's fascination with military parades--ostensibly like the one he saw for Bastille Day in France, but as described more like a Soviet-era display--was renewed this week. The White House confirmed this week that Trump has directed the Pentagon, which is normally more concerned with readying tanks and missiles for battle than for parade, to prepare such a parade for Washington, D.C. 

Public opinion generally ran against Trump--retired military veterans tended to have the sharpest criticisms--but the very next day after the news broke, he did get a kind of support from an unlikely ally: North Korea, which held a pre-Olympics show of force in the form of a parade. On Thursday, 10,000 DPRK troops marched stiff-legged behind tanks and trailers carrying the very same long-range missiles (capable of reaching the United States) recently developed by North Korea.

If Trump has thought better of his plans, he does not appear to have told the Pentagon.

Why are these bad things?

  • It's wrong to accuse people of things they haven't done.
  • The test of whether something should be classified is not whether or not it will help the president politically.
  • A president unwilling or unable to put in a full day's work should resign.
  • Listening to and (if possible) understanding the day's intelligence reports is a more important use of a president's time than Twitter.
  • Holding military parades solely for the purpose of creating good optics for the ruling regime is what authoritarians do.

Saturday, February 10, 2018

What did Donald Trump do today?

Whether or not he realizes it, he accused himself of ruining two of his employees' lives.

Trump is apparently still worried about the fate of the two White House employees who lost their jobs this week amid disclosures that their histories of reported spousal abuse were keeping them from getting security clearances. (He has spoken several times on the subject now, but has yet to mention the women given black eyes or burned with cigarettes.) Showing an empathy he rarely displays except when the subject is men accused of beating or sexually harassing women, he tweeted:

As many people noticed, Trump has "merely alleged" more than a few things himself, with the explicit intention of "shattering and destroying lives." For example, in 1989 he spent $85,000 on a full-page ad calling for the death penalty for the so-called Central Park Five, black and Hispanic teenagers who were accused of raping a white woman. They were convicted based on what was later shown to be a coerced confession, then completely exonerated by DNA evidence in 2002. To this day, Trump continues to "merely allege" that they must be guilty all the same.

"Due process" is a legal term that doesn't apply to Rob Porter and David Sorenson, who don't face criminal charges for the assaults they've been accused of. But if Trump was trying to say that it was unfair that they had to leave, then he's stepping on his own story. After the Porter story broke, the White House changed its story several times about whether and when Porter was leaving, and whether he was being fired or resigning voluntarily. Finally, the Trump administration settled on a story that Porter had been fired immediately upon chief of staff John Kelly learning that the allegations were "true." (White House staff immediately contacted the Washington Post to say that they didn't really believe this.)

Although Porter's inability to get a security clearance affected his ability to do his White House job, there was nothing stopping Trump from insisting that he or Sorenson stay on. Given Trump's comments since their firings, it's not clear whether he simply believes they were innocent all along, or if he simply doesn't think that what they're accused of means they're unfit to work in the White House.

So what?

  • It's bad if a president's working assumption is that a woman who claims to have been beaten or sexually assaulted is making it up.

Friday, February 9, 2018

What did Donald Trump do today?

He wished Rob Porter well, said it was "very sad" that he was leaving, and repeatedly emphasized Porter's claims that his ex-wives were lying.

Rob Porter was, until today, Trump's staff secretary, a position that required him to personally handle the classified paperwork that goes across Trump's desk. He had been denied a security clearance by the FBI, and while the Trump White House seems to have known for months the reason for that denial, it only became public this week that Porter had been accused by both of his ex-wives of physical abuse.

Much of the initial furor settled on chief of staff John Kelly, who issued a full-throated defense of Porter even after pictures emerged showing Colbie Holderness, Porter's first ex-wife, with a black eye. Asked for comment today, however, Trump weighed in, interrupting White House staffers who were trying to hurry him out of the room before responding.
REPORTER: Do you have a comment on Mr. Porter?

WHITE HOUSE AIDE: Thanks, everyone.

WHITE HOUSE AIDE: Thanks, guys.

TRUMP: Well, we wish him well. He worked very hard. I found out about it recently and I was surprised by it. But we certainly wish him well. It's obviously a tough time for him. He did a very good job when he was in the White House, and we hope he has a wonderful career, and hopefully he will have a great career ahead of him. But it was very sad when we heard about it, and certainly he's also very sad. Now, he also. as you probably know, he says he's innocent, and I think you have to remember that. He said very strongly yesterday that he's innocent, so you'll have to talk to him about that. But we absolutely wish him well. Did a very good job while he was at the White House. Thank you very much, everybody.
Trump has a long history of publicly siding with men accused of abusing women, and suggesting that women who come forward to report abuse are liars. A partial list includes:

Roy Moore. After eight women came forward to accuse Alabama Senate candidate Roy Moore of sexually touching them when they were teenagers as young as 14 and he was in his thirties, Trump bucked the general trend of Republicans recoiling in horror, and stressed Moore's claims of innocence.
He denies it. Look, he denies it. If you look at what is really going on, if you look at all the things that have happened over the last 48 hours, he totally denies it. He says it didn't happen, and you know, you have to listen to him also. You're talking about, he says 40 years ago, this didn't happen, so, you know. ...Roy Moore denies it, that's all I can say, and by the way, he totally denies it.

Mike Tyson. When boxer Mike Tyson was convicted in 1992 of rape, Trump--who stood to lose a fortune in revenue if Tyson couldn't fight at his casinos--said, "It's my opinion that to a large extent Mike Tyson was railroaded in this case." Appearing on The Charlie Rose Show, Trump doubted the victim's testimony because she was able to compete in a pageant the next day. "I heard about a girl that, late in the evening, knocked on his door, was taken in, was raped--perhaps, perhaps not. Number one, she knocks late in the night. Number two, she's dancing in a beauty contest at 8:00 a.m. [the next day]. I saw the tapes. I see the big smile on her face. She's dancing happily at 8:00 a.m."

Roger Ailes. When the Fox News CEO was engulfed in accusations by half a dozen female employees of sexual harassment and assault--charges that ultimately cost his network at least $45 million dollars in settlements--Trump came to his defense and said that the women were lying. He told the Washington Examiner, "I think they are unfounded just based on what I've read. Totally unfounded, based on what I read." He later said this on Meet the Press:
I can tell you that some of the women that are complaining, I know how much he's helped them, and even recently. And when they write books that are fairly recently released, and they say wonderful things about him. And now, all of a sudden, they're saying these horrible things about him. It's very sad because he's a very good person. I've always found him to be just a very, very good person. And, by the way, a very, very talented person. Look what he's done. So I feel very badly.
Bill O'Reilly. Trump also came to the defense of Bill O'Reilly, who was forced to resign from the network after the New York Times discovered that he and Fox had paid $13 million in settlements to women who accused him of harassing them, and retaliating against them professionally if they resisted his advances. Trump said in an interview that O'Reilly was "a person I know well – he is a good person. I think he shouldn’t have settled; personally I think he shouldn’t have settled. Because you should have taken it all the way. I don’t think Bill did anything wrong.”

Corey Lewandowski. While Trump's first campaign manager has largely escaped implication in the Russia conspiracy (unlike his successors, Paul Manafort and Steve Bannon) he was charged during the campaign with misdemeanor battery when he grabbed Michelle Fields, a Breitbart reporter, by the arm. Trump made his defense of Lewandowski part of his stump speech, openly floating the idea that the reporter was lying about her injury: "How do you know those bruises weren’t there before?" He told a rally crowd that "it’s a very very sad day in this country when a man could be destroyed over something like that," and said that he couldn't fire Lewandowski because he had "a beautiful wife and children."

Himself. Trump has been accused of sexual assault or harassment by about twenty women, not counting his own ex-wife's testimony that he raped her, or the many pageant contestants who corroborated his own story that he would use his position as the owner of beauty pageants to peep on them while they changed clothes.

Trump has repeatedly said that every single woman who has accused him of misconduct is a liar.

Why is this a problem?

  • It's bad if the President of the United States can't seem to believe women reporting abuse under any circumstances.

Thursday, February 8, 2018

What did Donald Trump do today?

He made promises about military Dreamers that he himself says he doesn't have the authority to keep.

Speaking for the Trump administration, Secretary of Defense James Mattis today announced that the 850 DACA recipients currently serving in the military will be protected from deportation. "They will not be subject to any kind of deportation," Mattis said. "In terms of the DACA situation ... it's clarified they are not in any kind of jeopardy." 

"Dreamers" are extremely sympathetic with Americans, and protecting those serving the United Sates in uniform would be popular. But according to Trump's own supposed legal rationale for rescinding the executive order that created the DACA program in the first place, he cannot make any such promise. "There can be no path to principled immigration reform if the executive branch is able to rewrite or nullify federal laws at will," Trump said at the time. 

Mattis's promise was itself qualified: servicemembers could still be deported if they were subject to a specific deportation order by a judge. Nothing would prevent federal authorities for seeking such an order if a military DACA recipient came to their attention. Under Trump, Immigration and Customs Enforcement has begun targeting immigration activists for deportation.

What's the problem with this?

  • Presidents' principles shouldn't change based on what's politically convenient.
  • You don't get credit for partially solving a problem of your own making.

Wednesday, February 7, 2018

What did Donald Trump do today?

He got very confused about what the stock market is and who it works for.

After Monday's record-setting 1,175-point drop in the Dow Jones Industrial Average (and comparable losses in other indexes), Trump was conspicuous by his silence--almost as though he suddenly didn't want to take responsibility for the stock market as a barometer of his presidency. But this morning, he finally weighed in via Twitter, with an excuse: "In the 'old days,' when good news was reported, the Stock Market would go up. Today, when good news is reported, the Stock Market goes down. Big mistake!"

Trump isn't wrong that markets sometimes go down on "good" news, although this was just as true in the "old days" when Trump first inherited his wealth. (Stocks also rise and fall for other, less obvious reasons.) But Trump's apparent belief that the stock market is the economy and vice versa is alarming for a few reasons. 

One is that economic policies aimed solely at goosing the stock market--which is to say, increasing hypothetical future wealth on paper--usually work against the interests of the actual economy. For example, poorly timed tax cuts that flood the wealthiest investors with cash when it's least needed, at the cost of making it harder to fight the next downturn. 

Another problem with Trump's confusion is that precious few Americans actually benefit from the paper profits of the stock market. Trump seems to think that all Americans are heavily invested in the stock market, but only about half of Americans have any money at all in the stock market--and most of those have only a few thousand dollars. As with all wealth, virtually all stock wealth is held by the wealthiest few

Why does this matter?

  • It's bad if the president is financially illiterate.

Tuesday, February 6, 2018

What did Donald Trump do today?

He called for the government his party controls to shut down.

There wasn't much ambiguity in Trump's comments at a White House meeting today: he used the
term "shutdown" six times in five sentences, saying he'd "love to see one" rather than compromise with the bipartisan immigration bills being developed in Congress.

If we don't change it, let's have a shutdown. We'll do a shutdown and it's worth it for our country. I'd love to see a shutdown if we don't get this stuff taken care of. ...If we have to shut it down because the Democrats don't want safety, and unrelated but still related, they don't want to take care of our military, then shut it down. We'll go with another shutdown.
On the surface, Trump's comments are simply about his unwillingness or inability to negotiate with Congress, but it's worth noting that Trump has shown a weird fondness for the failure of American government in the past. In May, when Congressional Republicans preferred former president Obama's budget priorities to his own, Trump declared that "our country needs a good shutdown." The January 2018 shutdown on Trump's watch was the first ever during one-party control of government.

Trump isn't always pro-shutdown. For example, when Obama was president, Trump seemed to remember that shutdowns are bad things that hurt the economy, cost far more than normal government operations, and are unpopular with voters.

Why is this a problem?

  • Presidents should be willing to at least try to do their jobs.
  • The proper functioning of the U.S. government is more important than the president's pride.

Monday, February 5, 2018

What did Donald Trump do today?

He suggested it might be treason not to clap for him.

Appearing before a screened, friendly audience at a rally in Cincinnati, Trump waxed angry about how Democrats at the State of the Union didn't clap for him. "Even on positive news, really positive news like that — they were like death. And un-American. Un-American." Trump paused to point to someone in the audience, adding, "Somebody said, 'treasonous.' I mean, yeah, I guess, why not? Can we call that treason? Why not! I mean they certainly didn't seem to love our country very much."

Trump's tone suggested he was treating it lightly, but he often appears to genuinely believe that he is the presidency and the nation personified. He has reacted with confusion and anger to the suggestion that opposing him is different from opposing the United States. This is most clearly seen in his reaction to James Comey's refusal to pledge loyalty to Trump personally, but also in his abuse of Jefferson Sessions for the "very unfair" act of his recusal, or his suggestion that US intelligence agencies were staffed with Nazis because they were investigating Russian election interference even after he said there was none.

The treason statement was part of a much larger portion of the speech in which he fretted about the prospect of losing control of a protective Congress. Ostensibly, he was supposed to be talking about his tax plan and its supposed economic benefits. While Trump spoke, US markets were in the midst of a freefall. The Dow Jones, which had been in a slow five-year upward trend, fell 1,175 points in its biggest single-day loss ever.

Why does this matter?

  • Past a certain point, a need for affirmation becomes pathological. 
  • Not supporting Donald Trump isn't a crime. 
  • Thinking that people don't love a country if they don't love the leader is what authoritarians (and cult leaders) do.

Sunday, February 4, 2018

What did Donald Trump do today?

He jumped in front of the Super Bowl spotlight.

Hours before the kickoff, Trump issued a statement insisting that anyone failing to stand during the National Anthem at the Super Bowl would necessarily be making an anti-military statement.

This is, in effect, the same argument Trump has always made on the subject, but it's been a number of months since he sought attention for it, and sideline protests have not been common in the second half of the NFL season--nor were any planned for tonight's game. That said, the Super Bowl is an almost irresistibly large target for the attention-driven Trump.

Without exception, all NFL players who have knelt during the national anthem have been calling attention to police abuses of African-Americans. It's not clear whether Trump knows this and is lying, or if he simply doesn't know why players had been kneeling.

Why is this a problem?

  • It's wrong to lie.
  • Presidents who have a problem with peaceful protest have a problem with the United States of America.
  • Nobody expects politicians to be shy, but past a certain point, a need for attention becomes pathological.