Sunday, October 21, 2018

What did Donald Trump do today?

He got so far out on a limb trying to bribe voters with tax cuts that even Steven Mnuchin couldn't bail him out.

Yesterday, en route to still yet another campaign rally, Trump told reporters that he was "looking at putting in a very major tax cut for middle-income people." Bizarrely, he followed up that vague hint with an impossible deadline: "And if we do that it’ll be sometime just prior, I would say, to November."

As Trump (hopefully) knows, changing tax laws would involve passing a bill through Congress. Congress is not in session and will not be again until November 13. Since tax policy affects every American, and is the way that the government funds itself, even minor technical changes normally take months of planning.

Pressed for comment today, Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin--who presumably would have been in the loop on any actual plan--had no explanation for what Trump may have meant.

It's not unheard of for politicians to try to tempt voters with the prospect of lower taxes, but Trump may want to be careful about doubling down on this particular bribe. While the 2017 tax cut package was his one and only significant legislative achievement, it has not been popular. While it has resulted in enormous windfalls for corporations and real estate tycoons, most Americans--and hence most voters--have seen no real change in their tax bills, and the ballooning budget deficit it is causing hasn't helped either.

Why should I care about this?

  • Tax policy can't (and shouldn't) be made up on the spot.
  • Past a certain point, campaign promises can be so obviously fake that it becomes insulting.
  • It's bad if we genuinely can't tell whether a president knows how a bill becomes a law.

Saturday, October 20, 2018

What did Donald Trump do today?

He called Saudi Arabia's absurd explanation for the death of Jamal Khashoggi "a good first step."

Since Khashoggi's disappearance on October 2, Trump has been desperate to avoid saying or doing anything about the apparent murder of the Washington Post columnist. He has feigned ignorance of the matter when U.S. intelligence agencies had already been informed of it, claimed that (fictional) arms deals with the Saudi government mean he is helpless to act, and unsubtly tried to inject the fact that Khashoggi was not an American citizen into the coverage. (Khashoggi was a permanent resident, and entitled to the full protection of U.S. law, just like Trump's in-laws were until recently.)

Asked about the Saudi government's latest story en route to yet another campaign rally, Trump said that "it was a big first step. It was a good first step."

The latest version of the official Saudi account has the 59-year-old Khashoggi entering the consulate in Istanbul, starting a fistfight with fifteen men, and dying. It does not explain why those men traveled to the consulate, why Khashoggi was recorded being tortured and dismembered, or what happened to his body. The Saudis are "investigating" under the supervision of Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman--who almost certainly ordered Khashoggi's murder in the first place.

It's not clear whether Trump genuinely believes this absurd version of events, or if he simply feels he cannot afford--because of financial or political debts--to contradict it.

Why does this matter?

  • A president who can't (or won't) condemn outright murder can't do his job.

Friday, October 19, 2018

What did Donald Trump do today?

He missed the point about ongoing Russian attacks on democracy.

The Justice Department revealed today that it had indicted yet another Russian agent for using social media bots to spread disinformation in advance of the 2018 elections. A reporter broached the subject with Trump, who interrupted with a pre-emptive denial that he was a co-conspirator.

Had nothing to do with my campaign. You know, all of the hackers, and all of the — everybody that you see, nothing to do with my campaign. If the hackers — a lot of them probably like Hillary Clinton better than me. Now they do, now they do. You know, they go after some hacker in Russia they say oh, that had nothing to do with my campaign.

When the reporter asked if Trump had any "warning" for Russia over its continued attempts to undermine American democracy, Trump retorted, "I’ve already said it."

In reality, Trump has gone out of his way to protect the Putin regime. He has suggested that the massive espionage and propaganda campaign he benefited from was the work of China, "somebody sitting on their bed that weighs 400 pounds," or—inexplicably—the Democratic Party itself. He publicly sided with Putin against his own intelligence services. He even endorsed Putin's offer to let Russian agents "assist" the U.S. with its cyber defense, which led a Republican senator to say, "It's not the dumbest idea I've ever heard, but it's pretty close."

Recently, Trump has taken to sarcastically asking why he would enlist Russia's help to win an election. Earlier this week he told the Associated Press, "To think that I would be even thinking about using Russia to help me win Idaho, we're using Russia to help me win the great state of Iowa or anywhere else is the most preposterous, embarrassing thing."

During the campaign, Trump explicitly asked for Russia's help on live television. Their cyberattacks on the DNC started later that day.

How is this a bad thing?

  • Defending the country and the Constitution is the single most important job that the president has.
  • A president who wasn't guilty or frightened because he owed his presidency to a hostile foreign power's attack on democracy probably wouldn't react so defensively every time the subject came up.

Thursday, October 18, 2018

What did Donald Trump do?

He threatened to give illegal orders to the military.

Riffing on Twitter about immigration this morning, Trump said that if Mexico could not stop a caravan of Central American migrants, he would "call up the U.S. Military and CLOSE OUR SOUTHERN BORDER!"

There are a few problems with this plan--most of them having to do with the fact that the U.S. military obeys U.S. laws. One of them, the Posse Comitatus Act, prohibits using the military as a police force. 

That's why Trump was forced to rely on voluntary donations of National Guard troops from various states for his last attempt at militarizing the border. That didn't go well: National Guard troops sent to the border ended up doing jobs like shoveling manure, and many of the states who sent Guard troops pulled them back when Trump's family separation policy was revealed.

Why does this matter?

  • It's bad for a president to say he'll give the military unlawful orders.
  • This—

    —is not a threat that requires the attention of the world's most powerful military.

Wednesday, October 17, 2018

What did Donald Trump do today?

He complained that the AP wrote down what he said.

Trump gave a long interview to the Associated Press yesterday, which was fact-checked in detail by other media outlets (including the AP itself, twice) today. 

Trump enjoys attention from the media he claims to hate, and has been especially anxious to get it recently since Fox News stopped carrying his rallies live. But he's often upset by what he sees. Among his 19 tweets today (through 9:30 p.m.) was a complaint that the AP had somehow misled readers with a headline. It seems likely that Trump is referring to this headline:

AP: So my question is, if Republicans were to lose control of the House on November 6th — or a couple of days later depending on how long it takes to count the votes — do you believe you bear some responsibility for that? 
Trump: No, I think I'm helping people.
Trump went on to talk about the primary elections he'd intervened in, and claimed that "many people" had told him that they would never vote in any election where he wasn't on the ballot.

So what?

  • In a democracy, leaders don't get to dictate their own press coverage.
  • It's bad if a president won't or can't acknowledge (or remember) his own words from a day ago.

Tuesday, October 16, 2018

What did Donald Trump do today?

He got into a public pissing match with the adult film actress he cheated on his wife with.

Trump had no public events on his schedule today, which left him free to spend most of the day on Twitter. He made 20 tweets by 10:00 P.M. EDT. One of them was a riff on the news that one of Stormy Daniels' lawsuits against him had been dismissed.

Daniels, whom Trump voluntarily paid $130,000 to not discuss their sexual encounter, responded in kind:

The "letter" Trump is referring to is a statement Daniels made when her non-disclosure agreement with Trump was still in force. She first told In Touch magazine about her affair with Trump in 2011, long before his political career began. (Trump's "fixer" Michael Cohen has since pleaded guilty to campaign finance law violations in association with that hush money payment, which was made days before the 2016 election.)

Trump's threat of a countersuit is probably not giving Daniels much anxiety. Not only would he have to testify under oath in any civil suit, he almost never follows through on his threats to bring libel suits, and has never prevailed on the rare occasions he's actually gone to court.

Why should I care about this?

  • Traditionally, most presidents have been able to get through the day without publicly calling their porn star ex-mistresses names.
  • A president who had a reasonable, non-incriminating explanation for a mysterious six-figure payment to a porn star would have given it by now.

Monday, October 15, 2018

What did Donald Trump do today?

He helped an authoritarian regime excuse the murder of an American journalist, intentionally or otherwise.

Trump has been visibly reluctant to respond to the murder of Jamal Khashoggi, a dissident Saudi journalist working in the United States. This morning, Trump quoted the official Saudi line:
I just spoke with the King of Saudi Arabia, who denies any knowledge of what took place with regard to, as he said, his Saudi Arabian citizen. I’ve asked — and he firmly denied that... The King told me that Turkey and Saudi Arabia are working hand-in-hand, very closely, on getting to the bottom of what happened. So we’ll see what happens. But Mike Pompeo — excuse me — Mike Pompeo is leaving literally within an hour or so. He’s heading to Saudi Arabia. 
We are going to leave nothing uncovered. With that being said, the King firmly denied any knowledge of it. He didn’t really know. Maybe — I don’t want to get into his mind — but it sounded to me like maybe these could have been rogue killers. Who knows? We’re going to try getting to the bottom of it very soon. But his was a flat denial.
Hours later, CNN reported that the Saudi government was preparing to acknowledge that Khashoggi had died in their custody, but planned to blame the murder on agents working "without clearance and transparency."

Or, in other words, that the men who apparently tortured and executed Khashoggi inside a Saudi consulate with the full cooperation of its staff were "rogue killers."

NBC later confirmed that reporting. Notably, the Saudi government has not pushed back on these reports, even though Trump's endorsement of King Salman's denial was less than a day old.

There are two ways of explaining the fact that Trump signed on to a foreign government's lie, only to have it immediately abandoned. One is that Trump simply assumes that foreign leaders—especially those of the authoritarian stripe he personally admires—are always telling him the truth. This fits a pattern in his presidency where he has also vouched for the trustworthiness of Vladimir Putin and Kim Jong-un.

The other possibility is that Trump is simply has too much political and financial capital invested in Saudi Arabia and feels forced to defend its government regardless of what it has done.

What is the problem with this?

  • It shouldn't be this easy to manipulate (or fool) a president.
  • In a democracy, leaders are supposed protect journalists from dictators, rather than the other way around.

Sunday, October 14, 2018

What did Donald Trump do today?

He repeated almost every lie or false belief he has about North Korea in one interview.

Trump appeared tonight on the CBS news program 60 Minutes in a pre-taped interview with Lesley Stahl. When the conversation turned to North Korea, Trump said almost nothing that was factually true.

Here was the heart of that exchange:
TRUMP:...And he doesn't wanna go to war, and we don't wanna go to war, and he understands denuclearization and he's agreed to it. And you see that, he's agreed to it. No missiles.
STAHL: Do you trust him?
TRUMP: Sure. I know. It's-- it's very true. But the fact is, I do trust [Kim Jong-un]. But we'll see what happens.
STAHL: But is it true that they haven't gotten rid of a single weapon, and they may actually be building more missiles-
TRUMP: They want to--
STAHL: With nuclear--
TRUMP: And I will tell you that they're closing up sites.
STAHL: But--
TRUMP: Setting it up.
STAHL: Is what I said true, that they haven't? Gotten--
TRUMP: Well, nobody really knows. I mean, people are saying that. I've actually said that.
STAHL: What? That they're still building missiles, more missiles?
TRUMP: We don't really know, Lesley. We really don't know. 
In spite of what he claimed tonight, Trump does know (or, at least, has been told) that the Kim regime has rapidly accelerated its missile program since their summit in June, building on its recent successful test of a missile that can probably reach the U.S. mainland.

In essence, Trump is claiming that the fact that North Korea hasn't tested a nuclear weapon since last September means that they are cooperating. But once a nuclear design has proved out in testing, it can be mass-produced and there is no need for further testing. (The same is true of missiles.)

For example, the United States has not tested a nuclear weapon since 1992--but it is still a nuclear power.

The other central lie here was that Kim had "understands denuclearization and [has] agreed to it." In reality, North Korea defines "denuclearization" very differently than the United States, and has "agreed" to nothing binding in any way. None of the concessions that Trump has made to North Korea have in any way led to a lessening of its nuclear attack capability.

Why is this a bad thing?

  • Presidents should not lie to the American public about a nuclear threat.
  • It's a bad idea to publicly declare your "trust" (much less your "love") for a nuclear-armed dictator who has constantly lied to you.

Saturday, October 13, 2018

What did Donald Trump do today?

He got the effects of his family separation policy wrong.

This morning, Trump defended his policy of separating children from their parents when they end up in the custody of immigration officials--including refugees and asylum-seekers.

Trump's logic was that the prospect of losing their children was a good form of deterrence for adult border-crossers: "If they feel there will be separation, they don’t come."

In reality, as his own government's statistics show, the family separation policy--which spurred bipartisan alarm as to its cruelty and incredibly shoddy administration--had no effect whatsoever. Trump's use of family separation began in October 2017 and continued in force through June 2018. 5,129 more people traveling in family groups were apprehended crossing the border in that period than in the same 9-month period for the previous year.

Families willing to risk the border crossing rarely feel they have a choice, whether they qualify for asylum or not, are fleeing horrific gang violence, collapsed economies, and political persecution

It's not clear whether Trump knows this and was lying, or has not been told about the ineffectiveness of child separation as a deterrent.

Why should I care about this?

  • Policies that ignore facts are usually bad policies.
  • Deliberately inflicting harm on children to achieve political goals is evil.

Friday, October 12, 2018

What did Donald Trump do today?

He did a little gaslighting on the subject of a murdered journalist.

Trump spent much of yesterday and today under fire for shrugging off the disappearance of Washington Post journalist and U.S. resident Jamal Khashoggi. Asked about it en route to his thirty-fourth campaign rally since taking office, Trump said that "nobody knows" what happened to Khashoggi.

The Turkish government has said publicly that it has audio of Khashoggi being tortured inside the compound by men speaking Arabic. Khashoggi was a dissident who had angered the influential Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman.

Not everything about the situation is yet known to the average citizen, but Trump is the President of the United States, and he almost certainly knew exactly what had happened to Khashoggi before his disappearance was made public. This knowledge would have come from intelligence intercepts and information provided directly to him by the Turkish government before Khashoggi was publicly reported missing. In fact, it is very likely that Trump was informed about the danger to Khashoggi before he even entered the embassy.

Trump is entangled in a number of personal and financial ways with the Saudi ruling elite. Saudi Arabia was the first foreign country Trump visited as president, and he was still talking about his "love" for the country's ruling royal family at a different campaign rally last week--after Khashoggi had disappeared, and after Trump had presumably been notified.

Why does this matter?

  • Playing dumb isn't a great look for the President of the United States.
  • A president who can't act in defense of American values, or the people under the protection of its laws, isn't fit for office.
  • There is a reason that every president before Trump made sure they couldn't be bribed or blackmailed by business connections before they took office.

Thursday, October 11, 2018

What did Donald Trump do today?

He put a price on the United States' tolerance for murder of journalists.

Trump was asked this morning about the apparent murder of Washington Post columnist Jamal Khashoggi, which appears to have been committed at the Saudi embassy in Turkey by agents of the Saudi government. 

Trump's answer was, in effect, that the murder of a journalist could not be allowed to threaten the purchase of weapons from American arms dealers. He referenced Saudi weapons purchases four times in his answer.

REPORTER: Will Jamal Khashoggi’s case affect the way you deal with MBS or other Saudi officials? 
TRUMP: We have to see what happens. A lot of work is being done on that, and we’re going to have to see what happens. I don’t like stopping, uh, massive amounts of money that’s being poured into our country on — I, I, I know they’re talking about different kinds of sanctions, but they’re spending $110 billion on military equipment and on things that create jobs, like — jobs and others, for — this country. 
I don’t like the concept of stopping an investment of $110 billion into the United States, uh, because you know what they’re going to do? They’re going to take that money and spend it in Russia or China, or someplace else. So I think there are other ways. If it turns out to be as bad as it might be, there are certainly other ways of handling the situation.
But I will tell you, upfront, right now, and I’ll say it in front of senators: they’re spending $110 billion purchasing military equipment and other things. Uh — If we don’t sell it to them, they’ll say, “Well, thank you very much, we’ll buy it from Russia.” Or “Thank you very much, we’ll buy it from China.” That doesn’t help us — not when it comes to jobs and not when it comes to our companies losing out on that work. 
But there are other things we can do. Let’s find out what the problem is first. Okay? 
REPORTER You mean sanctions in that case? You oppose sanctions against Saudi Arabia? 
TRUMP: I oppose — I would not be in favor of stopping a country from spending $110 billion — which is an all-time record — and letting Russia have that money and letting China have that money. Because all they’re going to do is say, “That’s okay. We don’t have to buy it from Boeing. We don’t have to buy it from Lockheed. We don’t have to buy it from Raytheon and all these great companies. We’ll buy it from Russia. We’ll buy it from China.” 
So what good does that do us? There are other things we can do.

Even countries as powerful as the United States can't act with impunity on the world stage, but this may be the first time ever that a president has explicitly put a dollar figure on the United States government's willingness to tolerate state-sponsored murder of journalists.

Trump may feel he has to protect the "$110 billion" arms deal because he's already taken credit for it, even though it was begun under the Obama administration, and even though it doesn't really exist except in the form of unenforceable promises to consider buying weapons in the future. ($110 billion would be about 42% of Saudi Arabia's entire annual budget.)

But more to the point, Trump has already allowed himself to be compromised by the Saudi government. His faltering U.S. hotels have been propped up by Saudi government patronage, and the Saudi royal family bailed him out on several occasions during the 1990s. Trump himself admitted the conflict of interest on the campaign trail in 2015: “They [Saudis] buy apartments from me. They spend $40 million, $50 million. Am I supposed to dislike them? I like them very much.”

Trump has given over much of his Middle East policy to his son-in-law Jared Kushner. Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, the powerful figure thought to be behind the Khashoggi plot, has openly boasted of his ability to manipulate Kushner and hence the United States government.

Why should I care about this?

  • A president who is too compromised to act in defense of the United States is too weak to hold office.
  • When the United States retreats from defending freedom of the press, authoritarians take advantage.
  • There is no dollar figure that can be put on American values.

Wednesday, October 10, 2018

What did Donald Trump do today?

He told an awful lot of lies into a short op-ed.

Trump's name appeared over an op-ed about health care policy in USA Today this morning. Health care is an issue of major concern for voters in the coming election, and Trump is politically vulnerable on it. The piece took the form of an attack on proposals to expand Medicare to all Americans, which Trump falsely attributed to all Democrats.

The op-ed was not well received by fact-checkers, who found lies or deceptive phrasing in almost every sentence, including these:

  • A Democratic plan "would cost an astonishing $32.6 trillion during its first 10 years." That's a lot of money, and certainly the highest estimate Trump could find on the subject, but even so it is $2 trillion less than projections for the current system. 
  • "As a candidate, I promised that we would protect coverage for patients with pre-existing conditions." He certainly did make that promise, and then immediately broke it. In a nearly unprecedented move, Trump has ordered the federal government not to defend Obamacare in a lawsuit filed by Republican state officials seeking to overturn those protections for patients with pre-existing conditions.
  • “We are now seeing health insurance premiums coming down.” They're not--they're just rising more slowly than in 2017. Last year, insurers "priced in" Trump's attempts to sabotage the subsidies and individual mandate at the core of the U.S. health care system. 
  • "I am committed to resolutely defending Medicare and Social Security from the radical socialist plans of the Democrats." Whatever your opinion of socialism as a political philosophy, all single-payer health care programs (including Medicare) are socialized health care. Trump knows this, and from time to time (as recently as last May) has enthusiastically endorsed it, although he so often forgets what his "official" position is on health care that it's probably not fair to read too much into that.

Why does this matter?

  • Policies that need to be lied about probably aren't good policies.

Tuesday, October 9, 2018

What did Donald Trump do today?

He reluctantly decided not to try to put his own daughter in his cabinet.

Trump address reporters this afternoon about the surprise resignation of U.N. Ambassador Nikki Haley. A reporter asked whether he was considering replacing her with one of his national security advisors, Dina Powell, in order to replace "one strong woman with another."

Well Dina's certainly a person I would consider, and she is under consideration. We have actually many names... There are other, I've heard a lot of names. I've heard Ivanka! I've heard, 'How good would Ivanka be!' The people that know, it's nothing to do with nepotism, but I want to tell you, the people that know, know that Ivanka would be dynamite. But, uh, I'd then be accused of nepotism, if you can believe it, right? Yes? ...I think Ivanka would be incredible, that doesn't mean I'd, I'd pick her, because--you'd be accused of nepotism! Even thought I'm not sure there's anyone more competent in the world.
Given the definition of the word--"favoritism (as in appointment to a job) based on kinship"--Trump is probably correct that he would be accused of nepotism if he appointed his daughter, a model turned fashion brand owner, to a cabinet-level diplomatic post. 

Ivanka Trump herself, who sometimes shows better political awareness than her father, quickly took herself out of the running--but remains in her current job, Senior Advisor to the President. (Her husband, Jared Kushner--like Donald Trump the heir to a real estate fortune--holds the same title.)

Trump's flirtation with gifting his daughter the a cabinet-level position comes a week after the release of a report showing that his own father essentially purchased all of his businesses for him, in illegal tax schemes that gave him a $413 million head start in the business world. (Trump still claims he received only a "small loan of a million dollars.") 

Why should I care about this?

  • Government jobs should be given to the people most qualified to do them, not to favored children of the president.

Monday, October 8, 2018

What did Donald Trump do today?

He claimed he'd been totally transparent about his taxes.

With Brett Kavanaugh fading somewhat from the headlines, Trump was asked again about last week's epic New York Times report on decades of Trump family tax evasion. The normally understated paper called it an "outright fraud" that amounted to more than half a billion dollars in tax-free gifts from Fred Trump to his children. Trump, who threatens libel at the drop of a hat, was notably muted in his response. (A summary of the major findings of the 14,000-word report is here.)

Today, asked about the story again, Trump insisted that his family's finances were "very well documented. Very well documented. Yeah, it’s been documented for many years very well — all public documents."

In reality, most of the roughly 100,000 documents that the NYT reporters relied on to write their report were not public, and appear to have been obtained from sources within the Trump camp. This secrecy makes sense from the standpoint of self-preservation, since the actions they describe point to a massive and multi-faceted attempt to illegally evade gift and estate taxes.

Trump is also the only president or presidential candidate since President Nixon to refuse to release his personal tax returns.

Why does this matter?

  • Past a certain point, a lie can be so obvious that it becomes an insult.
  • It shouldn't be possible to credibly accuse the person in charge of enforcing tax laws with taking part in a conspiracy to commit $550,000,000 worth of tax evasion.

Sunday, October 7, 2018

What did Donald Trump do today?

He tweeted about North Korea, for whatever that's worth.

Trump spent the day at the golf course, as is typical for him, but was otherwise uncharacteristically silent. His only public comment was a tweet in which he congratulated Mike Pompeo in nonspecific terms about a "good meeting with Chairman Kim today in Pyongyang" where there was "progress made." Trump also repeated his intention to meet with the North Korean dictator again soon.

But it's not clear from any independent reporting what, if anything, Trump was talking about--and given Trump's history on North Korea, it's equally unclear whether Trump would have needed there to be anything to talk about. 

North Korea has honed a strategy over decades of making peace overtures to gain concessions, and then immediately reneging on any promises made. The fact that the George W. Bush and Obama administrations were mostly focused on keeping North Korea isolated, rather than trying to "deal" with a totalitarian regime ruled by a tiny, hereditary elite is a reflection of previous administrations' experience.

Trump, however, staked an enormous amount of political credibility on his belief that he was uniquely qualified to make a "deal"--so much so that he literally declared his June summit meeting with Kim a success the morning before it happened. Since that meeting, North Korea has

Trump, in turn, has tweeted that "there is no longer a Nuclear Threat from North Korea." He also told a rally crowd last week that he and Kim "fell in love."

Why does this matter?

  • The nuclear security of the United States and its allies is much, much more important than any president's poll numbers.

Saturday, October 6, 2018

What did Donald Trump do today?

He spent what should have been a day of celebration for him lying about crowd size.

A day after labeling anti-Kavanaugh protestors as "#troublemakers" and saying they were paid off, Trump was back at the theme on Twitter. In a tweet shortly after Kavanaugh was confirmed, he insisted that there were "about 200 people (& most are onlookers)" protesting in front of the Supreme Court.

In reality, "about 200" is a pretty good estimate of just the number of people arrested during anti-Kavanaugh protests. Even though the vote was a foregone conclusion, protestors were out in force at both the Supreme Court and the U.S. Capitol, as well as elsewhere around the country.

Crowd size has always been a fixation for Trump: he lashes out at staff when crowds at his own rallies are thin, and he famously spent his first full day in office furious about images showing his inauguration was poorly attended compared to President Obama's. 

Ironically, he is one of the few American politicians in modern history to have actually paid people to cheer at his own rallies: much of the crowd at his official campaign announcement were paid actors earning $50 to be there, and waved "homemade" signs provided by event organizers. (Trump said yesterday that protestors couldn't be real because some had printed signs.)

But the more likely reason that Trump is pretending that protestors are paid, or few in number, is that Kavanaugh was deeply unpopular with voters for a Supreme Court nominee. 

So what?

  • In a democracy, leaders don't try to shame people for using their right to free speech.
  • It's wrong to lie.

Friday, October 5, 2018

What did Donald Trump do today?

He repurposed an anti-Semitic smear campaign to attack sexual assault survivors.

Last week, Ana Maria Archila and Maria Gallagher confronted Sen. Jeff Flake (R-AZ) in a Senate elevator doorway and tearfully told him of their sexual assaults. The raw and emotional moment went viral, and temporarily derailed the confirmation process.

This morning, Trump accused the "very rude elevator screamers" protesting against his Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh of being "paid for by [George] Soros."

George Soros is a wealthy financier who has contributed to a number of pro-democracy organizations. This has made him the target of a number of false conspiracy theories, many of which attack him on the basis of the fact that he is Jewish.

Archila's employer, the Center for Popular Democracy, has accepted donations from Soros' Open Society Institute. She was not being "paid by Soros" when she begged Flake not to vote to confirm Kavanaugh.

Why should I care about this?

  • Political opposition is part of democracy, not a global conspiracy.

Thursday, October 4, 2018

What did Donald Trump do today?

He accused Democrats of taking his own position on health care.

At a campaign rally in Minnesota tonight, Trump said this:
Republicans want to protect Medicare for our great seniors who have earned it and they have paid for it. And we will always protect Americans with pre-existing conditions, we are going to take care of them... Some of the Democrats have been talking about ending pre-existing conditions. You know what I say? We get a little more money from China. It’ll be just fine. We’ll be just fine.
Last year, when health care--in the form of repealing the ACA, or Obamacare--was the main focus of Trump's domestic agenda, Trump was easily befuddled by the details, and occasionally forgot which side of the debate he was on.

But even by those standards, it is impossible to know what "Democrats" Trump thinks are on the side of ending the ACA's protection for health insurance customers with pre-existing conditions. That protection is a defining feature of Obamacare, which Trump wanted repealed at all costs.

In reality, the party that has shown opposition to the ACA's pre-existing conditions rule is Trump's own. Republican officials from 20 states have signed on to a lawsuit seeking to invalidate the ACA (including those protections) and Trump himself has refused to allow the federal government to defend the law in court.

Trump also did not explain what China had to do with U.S. health insurance.

Why does this matter?

  • A president who can't remember what his own position is on major policy issues is dangerously incompetent.

Wednesday, October 3, 2018

What did Donald Trump do today?

He blustered on the New York Times' bombshell story about his "outright fraud" on his family's taxes, but didn't refute any of it.

Yesterday, the New York Times published a 14,000-word investigative report on a complicated tax scheme in which Donald Trump, his siblings and other relatives, and his father spent decades falsifying records, hiding assets, and lying about the source of Donald's wealth. A summary is available here.

The piece relied on more than 100,000 documents and took more than a year to report. It is notable for its strong language: it says that Donald Trump (and others) lied and committed state and federal crimes, and that Trump was guilty of "outright fraud." It also explodes Trump's insistence that he only ever took "a small loan of a million dollars" from his father: in fact, the NYT demonstrates, Donald Trump was gifted about $413,000,000 (in 2018 dollars) from Fred Trump, most of it through illegal untaxed back-channels.

The charges are so sharply worded that even Trump, as a public figure, could easily prevail in a libel suit if any of them were shown to be false. Indeed, Trump threatens libel suits at the drop of a hat, although rarely follows through, and has never prevailed in court. 

But Trump completely avoided comment on the report yesterday, and today could not refute any specific fact in the piece. He did complain that the piece talked about the basic concept in finance of "time value of money," saying that he'd "never seen [that] done before." (Trump frequently brags about his undergraduate economics degree, where he should have learned about time value of money in his first year.) 

Even here, though, it's not clear why Trump is bringing it up here. Time value of money certainly could have been part of a piece about an elaborate tax fraud, but the NYT piece simply adjusted figures for inflation to arrive at its conclusion that the amount of money Fred Trump illegally funneled to Donald Trump was worth about $413 million in 2018 dollars.

Trump's refusal to address any of the specific charges in the report means that he is leaving unchallenged claims that he and his family committed massive tax fraud, lied to regulators about rent increases related to that fraud, and that Donald Trump specifically tried to get an even larger share of his dying father's estate with a last-minute adjustment to Fred Trump's will.

Why should I care about this?

  • The person in charge of signing tax laws and enforcing them should not be someone who cheats on his taxes.
  • Basic economic literacy is a requirement for the presidency (and a B.A. in economics).

Tuesday, October 2, 2018

What did Donald Trump do today?


Earlier in the day, Trump said that it was a "very scary time for young men in America" because women could accuse them of sexual assault or rape.

Violent sexual crimes are among the most under-reported crimes, in large part because victims tend to be shamed or disbelieved.

In between his various attacks on Dr. Ford, Trump has called her account "very credible" and said that she was a "very fine woman."

Trump has been accused of sexual assault or harassment by at least 19 different women. He has admitted to "grabbing women by the pussy" because he knew his fame and influence would let him get away with it.

Why does this matter?

  • There is no political prize so important that it is worth scaring sexual assault victims from coming forward.
  • The most charitable interpretation of Trump calling Ford both "very credible" and viciously attacking her as a liar is that he is mentally unstable.

Monday, October 1, 2018

What did Donald Trump do today?

He changed his stance on the Kavanaugh FBI investigation yet again.

Today, apparently on the spur of the moment, Trump changed his public explanation of what the FBI was allowed to do with respect to investigating Brett Kavanaugh's reported sexual assaults in high school and college. Here is a timeline of his evolving claims on the matter.

Before the Kavanaugh-Ford hearing. While Christine Blasey Ford (and other Kavanaugh accusers) were demanding an FBI investigation happen before last Thursday's hearing, Trump insisted that the FBI--that is, the Federal Bureau of Investigation--could not do an investigation of a candidate for federal office. 

This is absolutely not true.

Friday. In order to keep Kavanaugh's chances alive, Trump reversed course and agreed to let the FBI look into certain allegations. But he ordered that any such investigation be "limited in scope and completed in less than one week." 

Saturday. En route to a campaign rally, Trump said that the FBI had been "all over, talking to everybody" and that "they have free rein to do whatever they have to do."

In reality, as NBC and the New York Times reported the same day, the probe was extremely limited. It ignored at least one of Kavanaugh's named accusers (possibly because Trump is feuding with her lawyer), and had an approved witness list with only four names on it. 

Sunday. As witnesses began to complain publicly that the FBI was refusing to take their calls, Trump insisted that NBC's reporting had been wrong, and that he wanted the FBI to "interview whoever they deem appropriate, at their discretion."

By the end of the third day of the seven-day investigation, there was no evidence to suggest that there had been any change.

Today. On the fourth day, ignoring Sunday's insistence that there were no limits on the "limited in scope" investigation, Trump said at a press conference on trade issues that the FBI could "interview anybody that they want within reason, but you have to say within reason."

Trump seemed to be bowing to pressure put on him by moderate Republican senators. But by the end of the day, there was no indication that the FBI's actual instructions had changed. (A president's comment at a press conference is not the same thing as an order.) 

Why does this matter?

  • Presidents who tell the truth the first time about major news events don't have to change their story every day.