Sunday, March 31, 2019

What did Donald Trump do today?

He played golf, as only he can.

Trump played somewhere between his 165th and 179th round of golf today. (The uncertainty is because of the heroic measures that his staff sometimes undertake to conceal whether Trump is golfing, or merely visiting a golf course he owns.) 

At this point, even Trump's fiercest critics have mostly given up on pointing out the hypocrisy of these trips, given that he complained bitterly about President Obama's (comparatively mild) golf habit, and promised as a candidate that he'd be "too busy" to waste time on the links if elected. Likewise, the mounting expense of flying Trump to and from Washington, D.C. to Florida or New Jersey every week seems to have taken a backseat to other ethical considerations in the Trump presidency.

But a recent book sheds new light on Trump as a golfer.  Commander in Cheat: How Golf Explains Trump is full of anecdotes about how Trump's loose relationship with the truth extends to his love of golf. The most direct example of this is Trump's supposed handicap of 2.8. The lower the handicap, the better the golfer. Trump is, in effect, claiming that he is a better golfer than Jack Nicklaus, whose handicap has never been lower than 3.4 in the past year.

Nicklaus is healthy, of a similar age to Trump, plays regularly, and is generally regarded as one of the best golfers of all time. Trump, however, is not without his own accomplishments: he recently declared himself the winner of a tournament he didn't even play in.

That would make golf one of many things that Trump (who claims he was scouted by major league baseball teams as a high schooler, before bone spurs supposedly cut short his athletic career), believes he is better than the best at

So what?

  • It's wrong to accuse people of bad things you do yourself.

Saturday, March 30, 2019

What did Donald Trump do today?

He threatened to end funding meant to prevent the humanitarian crisis he both does and doesn't believe exists.

The State Department announced today that it was cutting economic aid to El Salvador, Guatemala, and Honduras. Refugees from these countries account for a large number of the asylum seekers who have sought to enter the United States recently. 

As is common in the Trump administration, his decision seems to have caught his own staff by surprise: just yesterday, the Department of Homeland Security announced a "historic" agreement with those same countries to improve cooperation on the migration issue.

In the past week, Trump has been returning to his nativist roots, complaining that other countries are not doing enough to make his immigration policy work. He has renewed his perennial promise to close the U.S.-Mexico border entirely to "punish" Mexico for failing to completely stop the flow of Central American migrants through its southern border. (This is an empty threat: it would cause massive economic damage to the United States to end legal border crossings, and refugee claims would be legally unaffected.)

While Trump has some legal authority to withhold aid to these countries, awarding it is essentially the only thing the United States can do to keep the number of refugees from increasing. Trump himself has acknowledged that there is a "humanitarian crisis"—which he has used to justify keeping children of asylum seekers in cages. 

But it's not at all clear that Trump actually understands that he was correct in saying so. At a rally this week, he mocked refugees and said that their claims of fleeing starvation, gangs, sexual violence, and government persecution were a "big fat con job."

Why should I care about this?

  • It's bad if nobody who works for a president knows what his policy positions are from day to day.

Friday, March 29, 2019

What did Donald Trump do today?

He blamed a grieving father for the fatal effects of his own immigration policy.

Last December, a seven-year-old girl named Jakelin Caal died in Border Patrol custody. Speaking from his luxury resort in Florida, Trump told reporters that Caal's father, who was traveling with her when they were detained, had taken responsibility for her death: "One of the children, the father, gave the child no water for a long period of time — he actually admitted blame," Trump said.

This is a lie. Nery Caal, Jakelin's father, has never said any such thing. 

Instead, Nery has repeatedly said that he and Jakelin were denied water during their eight-hour stay in a detention facility, even though it was during this time that CPB agents noted that she was very sick. Instead of being offered treatment, the father and daughter were then put on a bus to another facility 90 minutes away. Jakelin's condition worsened en route, with her temperature rising to 105.9 degrees, and she died of septic shock several days later. 

Bacterial infections of this kind can progress to fatal stages within hours, but are treatable with antibiotics when medical attention is given promptly.

Trump's "zero tolerance" policy for people crossing the border to seek asylum—a right guaranteed under American law regardless of where or how such a crossing takes place—meant that the Caals and other families have been detained in facilities not designed for children. 

It's not clear if Trump somehow thought Nery Caal had actually said this, or if he was trying to deflect attention from the latest such "facility" where the Trump administration has been detaining children: a highway underpass in Texas fenced in with razor wire.

Why is this a bad thing?

  • All lying is bad, but lying to blame a grieving father for the death of his child is monstrous.
  • Presidents who can't accept responsibility for the consequences of their actions aren't fit for office.

Thursday, March 28, 2019

What did Donald Trump do today?

He made an empty threat.

Trump posted this on Twitter today:

No, he may not—and no, he cannot.

As this site noted exactly three months ago, the last time Trump repeated this threat:

Looking only at the economic effect, it's hard to overstate how disastrous this would be. Mexico is the United States' third largest trading partner, and the two countries do about $1.7 billion dollars in trade every day. Any interruption in legal trade would paralyze American industries ranging from automaking to agriculture. As Trump himself has claimed (more or less accurately), there are about a million legal crossings per day, most of them having to do with trade or business.

Also—for whatever it is worth in the Trump administration—he has no legal authority whatsoever to do any such thing.

Trump's claim about Mexico is also a lie. Mexico does devote significant resources to what it calls Programa Frontera Sur, a military operation to intercept migrants at its southern border—for now. Trump's obsession over historically low numbers of illegal border crossings has given Mexico leverage over the United States it didn't have before.

Why does this matter?

  • When presidents make empty threats it undermines the presidency and the United States.
  • It's wrong to lie.
  • Other countries act in their own best interest, not the United States', no matter what a president tweets.

Wednesday, March 27, 2019

What did Donald Trump do today?

He accidentally told the truth about William Barr.

In an interview tonight, Trump told Fox News that if Attorney General William Barr had been in office from the start, "this all would not have happened." In other words, Trump is saying he believes that Barr would not have appointed a special counsel to investigate his and his campaign's ties to the Russian government's attempts to throw the election to him.

This is almost certainly true. 

Trump spent much of his first two years as president attempting to hound his first attorney general, Jefferson Sessions, from office. Sessions, who was part of the Trump campaign and himself had secret meetings with Russian agents that he lied about to Congress, had recused himself from the FBI's investigation into that attack. Replacing Sessions would have allowed Trump to put a loyalist in charge of the Mueller investigation directly.

Barr wrote an unsolicited memo to the Department of Justice arguing that Trump could never be guilty of obstruction of justice while in office. This memo was brought to the attention of Trump, who then appointed him to replace Sessions, who he had fired after the midterm elections in November. 

Barr then used that authority to pre-emptively declare Trump innocent of obstruction, which Mueller had pointedly refused to do

In his summary of the still unseen Mueller report, which apparently runs into the hundreds if not thousands of pages, Barr argued that Trump should not be prosecuted for obstruction if he could not be prosecuted for an underlying crime. This is legally backward—obstruction of justice is a crime in and of itself, because if it were not, there would be no reason for criminals not to try to obstruct investigations into their crimes.

In short, Barr as attorney general absolved Trump after less than two days of the crime he had promised to absolve Trump of when he was a private citizen waiting to be nominated.

Why does this matter?

  • The attorney general is not the president's personal defense attorney.
  • It's bad if the president needs the attorney general to act as his own defense attorney.
  • The president is not above the law.

Tuesday, March 26, 2019

What did Donald Trump do today?

He tried to get a moon shot on the cheap.

Today, Trump announced his administration's new plan for NASA: putting American astronauts on the moon by 2024, four years ahead of the current most optimistic schedule.

Of course, Americans have gone to the moon before, but the tiny lunar modules of the Apollo program were sent up atop massive Saturn V rockets—still the most powerful ever successfully launched. The planned replacement, the Space Launch System (SLS), is still under development.

The literal moon shot proposal was taken by many as a campaign stunt. NASA does not seem to have been told about Trump's plans to cut its timeline in half: its budget request from earlier this month was still based on the 2028 schedule.

Trump's own proposed 2020 budget cuts funding for the SLS and for NASA overall

So what?

  • NASA, like all government agencies, works better when it's not being used as a political prop.

Monday, March 25, 2019

What did Donald Trump do today?

He threatened FBI agents with death, if his own press secretary is to be believed.

Trump's press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders said this today:

They are literally — the media and the Democrats — have called the president an agent of a foreign government. That is an accusation equal to treason, which is punishable by death in this country.

It's possible to read this as Sanders saying that the accusations themselves are "equal to treason." But in context it seems more likely that she was simply saying that anyone who wanted Trump investigated for his known and previously unknown ties to Russia was trying to have him put to death. Sanders didn't say which "media" or "Democrats" she thought were calling for Trump's death.

This is factually and legally absurd, as Sanders presumably knew. While Trump personally may now escape prosecution for his Russia connections, he was never in danger of being charged with the capital crime of treason, which has a specific definition that wouldn't apply even if he had been caught red-handed conspiring (secretly or in the open) with Russia's efforts to sabotage the 2016 election.

But Sanders' comments must also be viewed in light of Trump's own use of the word "treason" today: to describe the fact that anyone dared to investigated him in the first place. He invoked that capital crime in describing his plans for revenge to reporters shortly after Sanders spoke:

We can never let this happen to another president again. There are a lot of people out there that have done some very evil things, very bad things, I would say treasonous things against our country. Those people will certainly be looked at. I’ve been looking at them for a long time. And I’m saying, why haven’t they been looked at? They lied to Congress. Many of them you know who they are.
Like Sanders, Trump didn't say who he meant specifically would be "looked at" on his order—but today his campaign sent out a memo to TV networks naming Democrats that Trump wants revenge on for their supposed "lies." None of quotes attributed to the figures named were untrue.

Who cares?

  • It is not treason to investigate crimes.
  • It is not treason to oppose the president.
  • It's bad for a president to threaten the media (and unnecessary if he's innocent).

Sunday, March 24, 2019

What did Donald Trump do today?

He settled on a framing for the post-Mueller phase.

Today, Trump's recently appointed attorney general William Barr released a brief summary of the report he received from special counsel Robert Mueller. Trump's White House immediately declared that the report was a "total and complete exoneration" of Trump.

Trump himself echoed that phrase later in a tweet:

The exact words that Mueller used, as quoted by Barr, were that the report "does not exonerate" Trump.

Barr's letter did not hint how much (if any) of Mueller's actual report Trump will allow to be seen, or when. 

Barr was nominated by Trump to his post after he sent the DOJ an unsolicited memo attacking the entire idea of investigating Trump for obstruction of justice. As Barr's letter makes clear, he—and not Mueller—made the decision not to prosecute Trump or other Trump administration members for obstruction.

Why is this bad?

  • It's wrong to lie.
  • Innocent people don't generally lie about having been found innocent.

Saturday, March 23, 2019

What did Donald Trump do today?

Nothing, somewhat ominously.

If Sarah Huckabee Sanders is to be believed, Trump spent today in the same informational limbo as the rest of the country regarding what the Mueller report contains, and what of it Trump's hand-picked attorney general William Barr will allow to see the light of day. Given the strain Trump was under during last weekend's emotional meltdown, his handlers have decided to pursue a containment strategy today. According to the Washington Post:

Typically, Trump is accompanied by only a small staff entourage, sometimes with mid-level aides, on his weekend jaunts to Florida. But on Friday, several senior White House officials, including acting chief of staff Mick Mulvaney and press secretary Sarah Sanders, flew with him to Florida — in part so Trump would be surrounded by people he knows and trusts and therefore be less likely to do something rash, according to two people close to the president who spoke on the condition of anonymity to reveal internal details.
Trump agreed with his aides to be restrained in his public comments about the Mueller report until he gets a full briefing on its findings, which could occur as early as Sunday. Reminded that the president’s inclination has been to break the shackles his aides place on him by tweeting his feelings, one senior administration official replied, “The stakes are higher.”

It may be working: Trump stayed off Twitter entirely today—something that has only happened a few times during his presidency, and the first time in over a year that he has stayed away for a full day. Instead, Trump played golf for approximately the 175th time in his presidency.

Why does this matter?

  • Presidents should not have to be manipulated by handlers so that they are "less likely to do something rash."

Friday, March 22, 2019

What did Donald Trump do today?

He let North Korea—and China—out of sanctions that had been in place for less than a day.

Trump has met in person with North Korea's dictator Kim Jong-un twice in the last nine months. He has given Kim enormous diplomatic victories, helped Kim strengthen his grip on power, and made unreciprocated military concessions. In exchange, Kim has refused to even pretend to be willing to give up his nuclear arsenal, has been caught planning to fool nuclear inspectors, and has accelerated his missile program

Yesterday, the Trump administration imposed sanctions on North Korea and two Chinese companies that were helping to violate the economic embargo on the Kim regime.

Today, in a tweet, Trump rescinded them—apparently without telling anyone in his own government first.

The tweet did not say why Trump intervened on North Korea and China's behalf. Pressed for comment, White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders said, "President Trump likes Chairman Kim."

That doesn't explain much, but it is obviously true. Trump has said that he and Kim "fell in love" because of the "beautiful letters" that Kim sent him. But even early in Trump's term, when he seemed to be trying to goad North Korea into open warfare, he was open in his admiration for Kim, saying:

I can tell you this, and a lot of people don’t like when I say it, but he was a young man of 26 or 27 when he took over from his father, when his father died. He’s dealing with obviously very tough people. A lot of people, I’m sure, tried to take that power away, whether it was his uncle or anybody else. And he was able to do it. So obviously, he’s a pretty smart cookie.

Kim has kept power through some of the worst human rights abuses since World War II, including murder, punitive rape, mass incarceration, torture, hostage-taking (including Americans), collective punishment of dissidents' families, intentional starvation, total censorship, forced abortions, cyber-warfare (including against the United States) and enslavement.

So what?

  • Presidents should know what their own administrations are doing on matters of major national security.
  • Neither China nor North Korea has the United States' best interests at heart.
  • A murderous totalitarian dictator who threatens the United States with nuclear weapons is not someone the president should have warm feelings for.

Thursday, March 21, 2019

What did Donald Trump do today?

He attacked the Federal Reserve for giving him what he wants.

Today, Trump blamed Federal Reserve Chairman Jerome Powell—who Trump himself appointed—for the failure of the United States economy to reach the 4% growth that Trump promised. In an interview with Fox Business, Trump said, "The world is slowing, but we’re not slowing, and frankly if we didn’t have somebody that would raise interest rates and do quantitative tightening, we would’ve been at over 4 [percent] instead of at 3.1 [percent]."

The Fed raises interest rates during normal growth so that it can lower them to ward off or shorten recessions. Keeping them artificially low is a bit like eating seed corn: it endangers the future in exchange for a very small return in the present. 

Trump's only hope of political salvation lies in being able to claim that the economy is doing well, although in reality it's on very much the same trajectory as it was under President Obama. This is why he has already used up the other two emergency tools that a president has at his disposal to revive a bad economy—massive tax cuts and protectionist trade barriers—at a time when the economy was already in reasonably good shape.

Neither attempt succeeded in getting the growth rate to 4%, although the tax cuts are already exploding the national debt, and Trump's trade war has gone about as well as actual economists expected it would.

But this week, the Federal Reserve signaled that it would give Trump his wish and stop raising interest rates—because the economy is now expected to weaken much faster, and it may be necessary to use the last of those emergency tools on an actual economic emergency.

Why should I care about this?

  • Presidents don't have to be economists, but they do have to be willing to listen to them.
  • It's wrong to blame other people for your failures.

Wednesday, March 20, 2019

What did Donald Trump do today?

He escalated his recent feud with a man who has been dead for seven months.

Trump has, for reasons he has not explained, been very angry at the late Sen. John McCain lately, seven months after McCain died of brain cancer. Today, Trump went to Lima, Ohio, and gave a speech at a factory that manufactures tanks for the Army. In the middle of his speech, which was supposed to be about manufacturing, Trump interrupted himself to rant for more than five minutes about McCain.

A lot of people are asking, because they love me and they ask me about a man named John McCain. And if you want, I'd tell you about—should I or not? Yes? Yes? So I have to be honest, I've never liked him much. Hasn't been for me. I've— really probably never will. But there are certain reasons for it, and I'll tell you, and I do this to save a little time with the press later on. John McCain received the, uh, the fake and phony dossier, did you hear about the dossier? It was paid for by crooked Hillary Clinton, right? And John McCain got it, he got it, and what did he do? He didn't call me. He turned it over to the FBI hoping to put me in jeopardy. And that's not the nicest thing to do. You know when those people say, cause I'm a very loyal person. John McCain campaigned for years to replace Obamacare, for years, in Arizona, great state, I love the people of Arizona, but he campaigned for years for "repeal and replace," so did [Sen.] Rob [Portman], so did a lot of senators. When he finally had the chance to do it he voted against repeal and replace. He voted against, at two o'clock in the morning, remember "thumbs down?" We said what the hell happened. He said two hours before he was voting to repeal and replace then he went "thumbs down." Badly hurting the Republican party, badly hurting our nation, and hurting many sick people who desperately wanted good affordable health care, we would have had it. This would have saved our country over a trillion dollars in entitlements, and we would have ended up making a great health care plan frankly with the Democrats because they woulda had no choice. McCain didn't get the job done for our great vets and the VA and they knew it. That's why when I had my dispute with him I had such incredible support from the met—the vets and the military. The vets were on my side because I got the job done. I got choice, and I got accountability, accountability meaning somebody mistreats our vets for forty-five years there were trying--they mistreat our vets and we say, "hey, you're fired, get out, can't mistreat our vets." They never got it done. And choice, for years and years, decades they wanted to get choice, you know what choice is? You're a military veteran, you're one of our great people, to me, one of the great people. For may decades they couldn't get it done, it was never done, I got it, five months ago. I got it done. Choice! Instead of waiting in line, a vet, fought for us, fought in these tanks, fought for us. Instead of waiting in line for two days, two weeks, two months, people waiting on line, they're not very sick by the time they see a doctor they're terminally ill. We gave 'em choice. If you have to wait, for any extended period of time, you go outside, you go to a local doctor, we paid the bill, you get yourself better, go home to your family, and we got it passed, we got it done. And the other thing is we're in a war, in the middle east, that McCain pushed so hard. He was calling Bush, President Bush all the time, "get in to the middle east, get into the middle east." So now we're into that war for 7 trillion dollars, thousands and thousands of our people have been killed, millions of people overall, and frankly, we're straightening it out now, but it's been a disaster for our count--we've spent tremendous wealth, tremendous wealth and tremendous lives, in that war, and what do we have, it's worse than it was 19 years ago. I call it the endless wars. 19 years ago when we started. So John McCain loved it. I endorsed him at his request, and I gave him the kind of funeral that he wanted, which as president I had to approve. I don't care about this, I didn't get "thank you," that's okay. We sent him on the way, but I wasn't a fan of John McCain, so now what we can say is now, we're all set, I don't think I have to answer that question, but the press keeps—"what do you think of McCain, what do you think." Not my kind of guy, but some people like him, and I think that's great.

Some of this is a lie. John McCain's funeral did not require Trump's approval, nor did Trump have anything to do with McCain being given (by Congress) the honor of lying in state in the Capitol rotunda. McCain did not give the FBI the intelligence dossier that first linked Trump to the Putin regime's attempts to get him elected until after the election. (Trump hasn't explained why he thinks McCain should have covered up information related to crimes and espionage against the United States.)

Trump's mention of the "choice" for veterans where McCain "didn't get the job done" is a reference to a veteran's health care bill that was first introduced in 2014—by John McCain. It passed by wide majorities in both houses. The bill is actually named after McCain and two other veterans, an unusual honor for a sitting legislator. Trump's only known contribution was to sign it.

Trump's claims that veterans preferred him is absurd, although Trump may actually believe it anyway. McCain, who spent more than five years as a P.O.W. in Vietnam, was beyond question more popular with other servicemembers than Trump, who avoided the draft and joked about STDs being his version of Vietnam. After McCain's death, veterans' groups were enraged when Trump initially refused the normal courtesy of ordering the flag lowered to half staff. (As of last October, Trump's approval rating among active-duty troops was 44%, barely higher than his overall approval rating.)

Some of it is hypocritical. McCain supported the U.S. invasion of Iraq and Afghanistan after the September 11th attacks, but so did virtually every elected Republican—and so did Donald Trump. Likewise, McCain was one of several Republican votes against Trump's last-ditch effort to abolish the ACA, but it was the "skinny repeal" version that had, in effect, no "replace." (Trump's plan by that point was to sabotage the ACA, and then use that as leverage to force Congress to adopt something else.)

Some of what Trump said, however, was true. McCain has not thanked Trump for his funeral.

UPDATE, March 21: Trump later characterized his unscripted, mid-speech, five minute rant this way: "I don’t talk about about [John McCain.] People ask me the question, I didn’t bring this up."

Why is this a problem?

  • It's wrong to lie about the dead.
  • Presidents are responsible for the success or failure of their policies.
  • This is not how a mentally stable person acts.

Tuesday, March 19, 2019

What did Donald Trump do today?

He reported on a very different economy than the one he tweets about.

Trump routinely talks about the post-2007 economy he inherited as though he had much to do with it.  

Under normal circumstances, presidents don't have much direct impact on the economy. But Trump spent last year radically altering both trade and tax policies—often against the advice of his own economic advisors. At the same time, he was promising economic growth at rates not seen since the post-WWII boom.

Today, at the same time that he was tweeting yet more praise for himself on that score, his administration released a new economic forecast essentially admitting that not only will the U.S. economy fall short of even 3% growth in, but that the supposed stimulus of his massive 2017 tax breaks for corporations and the ultra-rich never materialized.

Why is this a problem?

  • The president of the United States has to either have a basic grasp of economics, or listen to those who do.
  • Past a certain point, confidence in your own abilities becomes pathological.

Monday, March 18, 2019

What did Donald Trump do today?

He yelled at an auto union, although it's not clear why.

Trump spent much of the weekend on an epic Twitter bender, and some of its recurring themes spilled out into Monday's "executive time." One thread he continued today was an increasingly confusing rant aimed at the United Auto Workers and General Motors over the proposed closing of a plant at Lordstown, Ohio.

GM announced that it was closing the plant last November as part of a major restructuring that it says will save $6 billion but reduce its workforce by 15%. The closing of the Lordstown plant will end 1,500 jobs. 

On Sunday, Trump attacked the UAW personally and his members for failing to "produce" and told them to "stop complaining and get the job done." 

It's hard to know what Trump thought he was saying here. The union—whose entire purpose is to preserve as many of its members' jobs as possible—does not own the plant and cannot force GM to keep it open or "produce" anything that GM doesn't want to build. 

The UAW, for its part, has asked Trump himself to intervene twice—and heard nothing until the attack on Sunday.

Today, Trump continued to rage about the plant closure, but broadened his field of fire to include GM as well, and demanded that it close plants in "China or Mexico." Doing that would have been much easier before Trump imposed tariffs on steel and automobiles that made it impossible to profitably export cars from the U.S. (GM begged Trump last year not to risk its profits and American jobs by imposing those tariffs.)

Why is this a bad thing?

  • In a capitalist democracy, businesses aren't forced to do unprofitable things to please the ruling party.
  • Presidents who don't know what a union does aren't competent to do their jobs.
  • It's wrong to blame other people for the consequences of your own actions (or inactions).

Sunday, March 17, 2019

What did Donald Trump do today?

He spent the weekend fighting with the ghost of John McCain. 

Trump spent much of his attention this weekend on Twitter, where he repeatedly attacked the late Sen. John McCain. Yesterday, he accused McCain of "spreading" the "fake and totally discredited" Steele dossier, the 2016 document that identified many of the links between the Trump campaign and Russia. Trump also blamed McCain for Trump's failure to repeal the Affordable Care Act.

After McCain's daughter Meghan fired back, Trump referred to McCain as "'last in his class (Annapolis) McCain" and retweeted a conservative Twitter account claiming that "millions of Americans... hated McCain."

None of this is true.

Parts of the Steele dossier, which was originally commissioned by a conservative newspaper, remain unproven, but virtually nothing in it has been "discredited," and a great deal of it has been confirmed

McCain was not last in his class at Annapolis, but came to prominence as a result of spending almost six years as a prisoner of war in Vietnam, where he survived torture. (Trump, a high school athlete and an avid golfer to this day, claimed that he had bone spurs as a way of avoiding the draft.) 

And in spite of Trump's insistence that it was "proven" that McCain tried to have the Steele dossier publicized before the election—which he certainly could have done—in reality, McCain only referred it to the FBI after Election Day.

Trump, who demands absolute personal loyalty and is easily enraged when it isn't given to him, has never forgiven McCain for the senator's criticism of him.

It's not clear what, if anything, provoked Trump to lash out at a man who has been dead for six months. But there may be a method to Trump's madness. In a recent meeting with oil industry lobbyists, an Interior Department official praised Trump's ability to distract Americans from things they might otherwise object to, like opening up huge portions of the U.S. territorial waters to oil drilling. 

Why is this something I should care about?

  • Uncontrollable anger at a dead man is not a sign of good mental health.
  • Shouting that false things are true doesn't make them true.

Saturday, March 16, 2019

What did Donald Trump do today?

He changed his story again on the Mueller report.

On Thursday, the House of Representatives voted unanimously on a resolution calling for the public release of any report issued by the Office of the Special Counsel investigating the Russian sabotage of the 2016 election. 

Trump immediately exploded on Twitter, insisting that "there should be no Mueller Report." 

Meanwhile, the resolution was blocked from coming to a vote in the Senate by frequent Trump defender Lindsey Graham (R-SC). 

Safe from any chance of the resolution passing, Trump changed his tune today, claiming that he had told House Republicans to support the resolution to release the report—the one he's trying to keep from coming into existence.

No Republicans mentioned Trump's supposed support for the resolution before Graham protected Trump from its passage in the Senate. While non-binding, the resolution would have forced Senate Republicans to agree in public to following the existing law governing the release of the report Mueller is required to write at the conclusion of his investigation—and obeying that law may be a luxury Trump cannot afford.

Why should I care about this?

  • Presidents are supposed to obey the law whether or not it "looks good."
  • An innocent person might think he's the target of a "witch hoax," or he might think he'll be exonerated, but generally he wouldn't switch from one to the other depending on the day's news.

Friday, March 15, 2019

What did Donald Trump do today?

He said that white nationalism isn't a real threat.

Yesterday, a self-described white nationalist from Australia shot and killed 49 people in two mosques in Christchurch, New Zealand. Trump initially hesitated to call the attack terrorism, and during an Oval Office appearance before reporters, he had this exchange:

Q: Do you see today white nationalism as a rising threat around the world?

TRUMP: I don’t really. I think it’s a small group of people that have very, very serious problems. I guess if you look at what happened in New Zealand perhaps that’s the case. I don’t know enough about it yet. They’re just learning about the person and the people involved.

In reality, as both the FBI and watchdog groups have noted, hate crimes and membership in white nationalist groups have increased sharply in recent years.

By the time Trump spoke, the killer's political leanings were known worldwide. It's not clear what further information Trump was waiting for in order to understand the shooter, who talked about white nationalism during his internet livestream of the murders he committed at two mosques.

To be clear, there's no reason to think that Trump approved of the killings. But Trump, who was cited by the New Zealand killer as a white nationalist role model, has always shown a real fear of confronting or speaking ill of the white nationalists he believes are an important part of his base.

For example, even after it ended in murder, he famously broke free of his own staff's attempts to restrain him from declaring the white nationalist rally in Charlottesville to be the work of "very fine people." He blamed the victims of a mass murder at a Jewish synagogue in Pittsburgh rather than comment on the white nationalist ideology of the killer. His White House compiled a list of terrorist incidents that left off attacks against non-white and non-Western targets. Trump is a vocal supporter of Alex Jones, who says that the world is undergoing a "white genocide" (a phrase also used by the New Zealand shooter). He's retweeted hoax videos from white nationalist groups, and pardoned a convicted felon who was a darling of the white nationalist movement.

Trump did not use the word "Muslim" in any of his comments on the shooting today. His reluctance to note that Muslims peacefully engaging in worship were the victims also has political roots: he has built his political brand on the belief that his own supporters hate Muslims.

Why does this matter?

  • A president who can't easily condemn racially motivated murder can't do the work of the presidency.
  • People who voted for Trump who aren't Islamophobic, racists, or white supremacists, might not like that he apparently thinks they are.=
  • Ignoring politically inconvenient problems doesn't make them go away.

Thursday, March 14, 2019

What did Donald Trump do today?

He floated a trial balloon about a coup.

In an interview with Breitbart published today, Trump made a not-too-veiled reference to what he thought—or hoped—his supporters would do if he was removed from office or lost the 2020 election.

“So here’s the thing—it’s so terrible what’s happening,” Trump said when asked by Breitbart News Washington Political Editor Matthew Boyle about how the left is fighting hard. “You know, the left plays a tougher game, it’s very funny. I actually think that the people on the right are tougher, but they don’t play it tougher. Okay? I can tell you I have the support of the police, the support of the military, the support of the Bikers for Trump – I have the tough people, but they don’t play it tough — until they go to a certain point, and then it would be very bad, very bad. But the left plays it cuter and tougher. Like with all the nonsense that they do in Congress … with all this invest[igations]—that’s all they want to do is –you know, they do things that are nasty. Republicans never played this.”

Trump has explicitly endorsed violence many times on his behalf in the past. He said that "Second Amendment people" would be all that could stop Hillary Clinton if she were elected. He's called on the audience at his rallies to beat up protestors and promised to pay the legal costs of anyone who did. (In at least one case, a Trump supporter was arrested for doing as Trump asked, only to find that Trump will not actually pay those legal costs.)

Trump has also said many times that elections are only valid if he wins, and has pre-emptively threatened civil upheaval and economic disaster if he were impeached.

In 58 elections, some of which were bitterly contested in the courts after Election Day, no losing or impeached presidential candidate has ever even hinted at some sort of uprising on his or her behalf—until now. It's not clear if Trump, who took office with a record low 46% of the popular vote and has only lost support since, actually thinks that the U.S. military would side with him in an attempt to cling to power. It absolutely would not—but setting that aside, Trump is not particularly popular with Americans serving in the military, especially for a Republican.

Trump is right about one thing, though: "Bikers for Trump" really does exist. It is a registered PAC (i.e., a political fundraising organization) founded by an artist who by his own admission doesn't ride very much.

So what?

  • It's not normal to have a president (of the United States, at least) hinting that he wants to be kept in office by violence if necessary.
  • The United States military "supports" the Constitution and the rule of law, not a specific person who some individual members might want to be President.

Wednesday, March 13, 2019

What did Donald Trump do today?

He either lied about a federal judge, or got conned by a convicted criminal's lawyer.

At the White House today, in reference to the sentencing of his campaign chair Paul Manafort, Trump said this:

I have no idea, I can only tell you one thing again that was proven today: No collusion. There's no collusion. There's no collusion and there hasn't been collusion and it was all a big hoax.

His remarks came just a few hours after Manafort's attorney, Kevin Downing, speaking in public but addressing an audience of one, said this:

For anyone who was in the courtroom today, what I’m about to say will not be a surprise: Judge Jackson conceded that there was absolutely no evidence of any Russian collusion in this case. So that makes two courts, two courts have ruled 'no evidence of any collusion with any Russians.'

In reality, moments before that, Judge Amy Berman Jackson had gone out of her way to say pretty much the opposite in her sentencing statement.

I also want to make clear from the start that the conclusion of this particular prosecution with the imposition of sentence today will not be a vindicatino of and will not incriminate anyone who is involved in or the subject of the ongoing investigation by the Office of Special Counsel. Notwithstanding the many references that pepper the sentencing memo, the question of whether there was or was not any coordination or conspiracy or any collusion between anyone associated with the presidential campaign was not presented in this case. Period. Therefore, it was not resolved one way or the other by this case. 
Also, this sentence will not be an endorsement of or an indictment of the mission or the tactics of the Office of Special Counsel.

Jackson then noted that Manafort's defense lawyers had rested heavily on the legally irrelevant question of whether it was fair for the Mueller investigation to charge Manafort with crimes uncovered during their probe of Russia's sabotage of the 2016 election on Trump's behalf. She continued:

The number of times the argument was repeated, notwithstanding the fact that it didn't have any bearing on the question at hand, suggests that it wasn't being repeated for the benefit of [the Court], but for some other audience
Finally, The "no collusion" refrain that runs through the entire defense memorandum is similarly unrelated to the matter at hand. The defense told me over and over "importantly" or "it is notable that" the defendant had not been charged with any crimes related to the primary focus of the special counsel's investigation. ...The "no collusion" mantra is simply a non-sequitur that doesn't bear on the question of the appropriate sentence. And it's not clear whether it's accurate, since the investigation is as yet unfinished and no report has been issued.

It's not clear whether Trump knew what Judge Jackson had said and was lying about it, or whether he was simply fooled by Downing's performance. Trump has been dangling pardons in front of many of his apparent co-conspirators, and has adamantly refused to rule out pardoning Manafort.

Why does this matter?

  • Presidents cannot change reality simply by claiming it is something else.
  • If this was Trump being manipulated, it was way too easy.

Tuesday, March 12, 2019

What did Donald Trump do today?

He kicked Boeing when it was down.

Until this morning, Trump had made no public comment on the crash of an Ethiopian Airlines flight. Eight Americans were among the 157 people killed on Sunday when the latest model of Boeing's 737 line crashed shortly after takeoff. It was the second such fatal crash for that model in the past year.

Some aviation experts believe that a system designed to help automatically keep the new 737 Max 8 out of a stall may have contributed to the accidents. Trump, who is not an aviation expert (in spite of his belief that scientific knowledge and MIT degrees are hereditary), added his two cents today in a pair of tweets:

Airplanes are becoming far too complex to fly. Pilots are no longer needed, but rather computer scientists from MIT. I see it all the time in many products. Always seeking to go one unnecessary step further, when often old and simpler is far better. Split second decisions are........needed, and the complexity creates danger. All of this for great cost yet very little gain. I don’t know about you, but I don’t want Albert Einstein to be my pilot. I want great flying professionals that are allowed to easily and quickly take control of a plane!

 In reality, as Axios noted, today's increasingly complicated planes have made flying safer than ever:

But Trump, who flies at least once a week to his golf resorts in what may be the most complicated passenger jet ever made, wasn't just spouting off about modern technology. Boeing, an American company, is locked in a perennial fight for large passenger jet market share with the European company Airbus—and Boeing has offended Trump several times already during his presidency by failing to promote him when he demanded it. For example, just before he took office, Trump publicly threatened to cancel Boeing's contract for the next version of Air Force One when its CEO offered mild criticism of Trump's trade war rhetoric.

Many governments have grounded the 737 Max 8 pending a review of its safety. So far, the U.S. Federal Aviation Administration has not done so—possibly because decisions of that magnitude are difficult to make when its top position has been vacant for the past 14 months.

Who cares?

Monday, March 11, 2019

What did Donald Trump do today?

He proposed to cut Medicare, Medicaid, and Social Security.

Trump's official 2020 budget proposal, released today, calls for $845 billion in cuts to Medicare. Trump is also proposing $241 billion in cuts to Medicaid, and $26 billion from Social Security.

There's nothing inherently wrong with proposing such cuts, which have no chance of becoming law, regardless of which party controls Congress. But Trump distinguished himself from other Republicans during the primary by accusing them of wanting to cut those programs, while swearing that he himself never would. 

For example, in a May 2015 interview with a conservative website, Trump said, "I’m not going to cut Social Security like every other Republican, and I’m not going to cut Medicare or Medicaid."

A few days later, he gave a speech in which he made the same claim—and then quoted himself in a tweet.

He said the same thing in his formal campaign announcement the following month: "Save Medicare, Medicaid and Social Security without cuts. Have to do it."

In 2017, the Washington Post put together a video compilation that captured some, but not all, of Trump's subsequent promises to leave those entitlement programs untouched.

Trump subsequently accused Hillary Clinton of attending a "secret Wall Street meeting" where she "admitted that she wants to cut Medicare and Social Security." (This was a lie.) He also said that Democrats running in the 2018 midterm elections "want to destroy Medicare."

Why does this matter?

  • People who heard Trump promise not to cut Medicare, Medicaid, and Social Security may have thought he wouldn't try to cut Medicare, Medicaid, and Social Security.
  • Accusing other people of wanting to do the things you are doing doesn't change the fact that you are doing them.

Sunday, March 10, 2019

What did Donald Trump do today?

He tried to fudge his latest job numbers.

In a tweet dashed off this morning from his Florida resort, before yet another round of golf and a political fundraiser, Trump claimed that "More people are working today in the United States, 158,000,000, than at any time in our Country’s history."

This is true—because it's virtually always true, outside of the steepest recessions. Population growth means that more than 200,000 new jobs need to be created every month just to keep overall employment rates steady. Even when unemployment is rising, there are usually more Americans working at the end of each new month because there are always more Americans in total.

Trump appears to have been trying to distract from the fact that February saw only 20,000 jobs created.

Why does this matter?

  • Spinning bad news doesn't make it good news.
  • Lying with statistics is still lying.

Saturday, March 9, 2019

What did Donald Trump do today?

He blamed several million of his supporters for persecuting... themselves.

Much of Trump's Twitter feed for the past year has been devoted to giving himself political defenses against criminal charges. Today, he suggested in a retweet that if he could be impeached or tried for crimes, so too might the "62,980,160" people who voted for him.

Of course, it's not illegal to support Trump or any other candidate. (It is illegal to try to use that support to sell access to him, but even with the news today that a Mar-a-Lago member implicated in a sex slavery ring was doing just that, only a relatively small number of people have been caught trying to peddle their influence over Trump.)

But while Trump's count of his vote total is surprisingly accurate for him, it ignores a recent poll showing that 64% of Americans already believe he has committed crimes

Since Trump got 46.7% of the total votes cast, that means that, at an absolute minimum, 10.7% of his 2016 voters (about 6.7 million) now already believe Trump has committed the crimes for which he is being investigated.

Why should I care about this?

  • Political popularity doesn't make a president above the law (and Trump is historically unpopular).
  • It's possible that a few of Trump's 62,980,160 previous voters are dumb enough to believe they'll be criminally liable for their vote, but it's still a pretty harsh insult to the intelligence of the rest of them.

Friday, March 8, 2019

What did Donald Trump do today?

He projected some anti-Semitism.

In what appears to have been an attempt to capitalize on a recent controversy over remarks made by Rep. Ilhan Omar, Trump today told reporters that Democrats "have become an anti-Jewish party."

On its face, this is absurd. All but two Jewish members of Congress are Democrats, and every  single Democrat--including Omar--voted for an anti-bigotry resolution that passed yesterday, while number of Republicans objected.

Trump's remarks take on a different color when viewed in light of his own history with antisemitism. He famously referred to neo-Nazis chanting "Jews will not replace us" as "very fine people." He has earned the enthusiastic support of white nationalists and the Ku Klux Klan. 

Trump, who is 72, is fond of indulging in Jewish stereotypes. He once told the Republican Jewish Coalition, "You're not going to support me because I don't want your money." And in what he may have thought of as a backhanded compliment to Jews, in service to anti-black racism, Trump once said this: "Black guys counting my money! I hate it. The only kind of people I want counting my money are short guys that wear yarmulkes every day."

Why should I care about this?

  • Accusing others of traits you possess is called projection, and it's not a sign of good mental health.
  • It's bad if the president is a bigot.

Thursday, March 7, 2019

What did Donald Trump do today?

He weighed in on global trade.

At a joint press conference with the visiting  of the Czech Republic, Trump was asked by a Czech reporter about trade between the two countries. (The Czech Republic has not been directly targeted by Trump's so-called "national security" tariffs.

Here is how Trump responded, in full:

Q    Mr. President, trade between Czech Republic and the United States it’s growing just right now.  Very good —
TRUMP:  Say it?
Q    — very high numbers.  But the potential tariffs on the cars could be very harmful to the Czech economy.
TRUMP:  I don’t — I don’t understand.Thank you.

 While Trump might be forgiven for not knowing the minutia of U.S.-Czech trade numbers, his non-answer is revealing all the same. Trump has spent much of the last year insisting that the United States is "winning" a trade war with China that has seen disastrous disruptions to small businesses and farms. But he has gone suddenly silent this week, most likely because of a government report showing that the United States' world trade deficit has risen to a record high in the past year, up by 12.5% to almost $900 billion.

In other words, Trump is ducking trade questions because his decision to impose taxes on American consumers who buy foreign goods has had exactly the opposite effect than what he intended.

If Trump understood how tariffs work a year into his trade war, he might actually be bragging about this result. He's utterly failed to stimulate American production, but otherwise the increased deficit is not actually terrible news, since it means that American consumers are generally confident enough to buy goods. But Trump seems incapable of understanding that trade between countries is not a sign of weakness.

So what?

  • Ignoring problems doesn't make them go away.
  • Some degree of basic economic literacy, or the ability to acquire it, is mandatory for a president.

Wednesday, March 6, 2019

What did Donald Trump do today?

This evening, Trump announced his intention (at least for now) to refuse to show up for debates in the 2020 campaign.

Of course, Trump doesn't have to do debates if he doesn't want to—or if he's afraid to—or if he simply doesn't plan to abide by any election result where he doesn't win

But speaking of "Fake News," Trump's tweet doesn't give the reason why the DNC decided not to let Fox News host a primary debate: the revelation this week that, just before the 2016 election, the network had refused to run one of its own employees' reporting on Trump. That fall, reporter Diana Falzone wrote a multiply-sourced story complete with photographic evidence about Trump's sexual affair with porn star Stormy Daniels, which wasn't widely known at the time. The story was spiked and Falzone was told it was because Fox News CEO "Rupert [Murdoch] wants Donald Trump to win. So just let it go.”

Trump also benefited from a similar "catch and kill" tactic employed by the National Enquirer, which at one point owned a physical safe in which its owner, David Pecker, locked away information that would be damaging to Trump. (Pecker, who is implicated in an attempt to blackmail Amazon owner and Trump enemy Jeff Bezos, is now cooperating with federal prosecutors' investigations into Trump and his associates.)

Who cares?

  • Corrupting the free press—or delegitimizing it where corruption doesn't work—is what authoritarians do.
  • It's bad if presidents try to hide from public scrutiny.
  • Some of the people who voted for Trump might not have if they'd been allowed to know about the scandals that other people covered up for him.

Tuesday, March 5, 2019

What did Donald Trump do today?

He tried to put words in the public's mouth that the public didn't want there.

This afternoon, Trump was asked about the document requests made yesterday to 81 Trump-connected people and institutions by the House Judiciary Committee. He responded:

The witch hunt continues. The fact is that, I guess, we got 81 letters. There was no collusion. It was a hoax. There was no anything. And they want to do that instead of getting legislation passed. Eighty-one people or organizations got letters. It’s a disgrace. It’s a disgrace to our country.

I’m not surprised that it’s happening. Basically, they’ve started the campaign. So the campaign begins. But the campaign is actually — their campaign has been going on for the last two and a half years. So it’s a shame. 
And the people understand it. When they look at it, they just say, “Presidential harassment.” But that’s okay.

It's true that one American person said "presidential harassment" about Congressional oversight of the Trump administration—

—but "the people," according to a Quinnipiac poll taken this week, "understand" things very differently. It found that by a 64%-24% margin, Americans believe that Trump committed crimes before taking office. It also found that more Americans (45%) believe Trump has committed crimes since taking office than believe he has not (43%).

Why does this matter?

  • Oversight isn't harassment.
  • It's bad if almost two-thirds of the country think the president is a crook.

Monday, March 4, 2019

What did Donald Trump do today?

He reacted badly to the idea of Congressional oversight.

Today, the House Judiciary Committee issued letters and requests for documents from 81 people and institutions connected to various ongoing investigations.

Trump immediately called the entire thing a "hoax." 

Among the things that the documents sought by the Judiciary Committee are in a position to shed light on are:

  • what role now-convicted felon, then-national security advisor Michael Flynn played in connecting the Trump campaign and administration to the Putin regime
  • the plans, until recently kept secret and vehemently denied by Trump, to build a "Trump Tower" in Moscow and offer Vladimir Putin a bribe in the form of a free stake in the building
  • Trump's attempts to get his attorney general, Jeff Sessions, to un-recuse himself or quit so that Trump could have a free hand to fight the investigation into his ties to Russia
  • the specific details of Trump's secret efforts while still president-elect to broker a deal with Putin to drop U.S. sanctions against Russia
  • how and how often Trump inflated the supposed value of his assets (to defraud banks he sought loans from) and/or deflated them (to lower his tax bill)
  • whether Trump's firing of FBI Director James Comey was (as Trump has openly admitted) an attempt to frustrate an investigation into his ties to Russia, and whether this constitutes obstruction of justice
  • how much of the $107 million raised by the Trump Inaugural Committee came from foreign sources, which is illegal
  • what Trump's now-convicted campaign manager Paul Manafort and his now-convicted second-in-command Rick Gates did for the Russia-connected Ukrainian politicians that Manafort owed money to
  • whether Trump's hush money payments to the women he had sexual affairs with following the birth of his youngest son also violates tax law
  • the arrangements made by the publisher of the National Enquirer to "catch and kill"—i.e., pay hush money for—stories about Trump's sexual infidelities
  • how many individuals or companies under the control of the Putin regime have done business with the Trump organization, or the businesses that his son-in-law, Jared Kushner, has a stake in
  • why the General Services Administration allowed Trump to effectively act as his own government landlord where the federally-owned Old D.C. Post Office property was concerned, in violation of its own rules and the language of the lease contract
  • what Trump discussed with Vladimir Putin at meetings where he personally seized the translator's notes and has refused to share details even with his own appointees
  • why the Trump campaign shared top-secret voter demographic and turnout data with Russia, which was exactly what Russia needed to tailor its own disinformation campaign on Trump's behalf 
  • details on the June 2016 meeting in Trump Tower between Eric Trump, Donald Trump Jr., and Paul Manafort and agents of the Russian government to discuss spying on Hillary Clinton
  • how many Russia probe targets discussed pardons with the White House
  • how much Trump has monetized the presidency in violation of the Constitution's foreign and domestic emoluments clauses
  • if there is any sense in which Trump has removed himself from direct control of the business empire he still receives money from
  • the access that convicted Russian spy Maria Butina had to the Trump administration through her relationship with a Trump advisor and her infiltration of the National Rifle Association
  • how Matthew Whitaker, generally regarded as severely underqualified for the job, was elevated out of the normal chain of command to the post of acting attorney general
  • details on the attempts by mercenary contractor Erik Prince (brother-in-law of Trump's education secretary Betsy DeVos) to set up a secret meeting between Trump transition team members and representatives of several Middle Eastern countries and Russia.
  • whether Trump directed his "fixer" Michael Cohen to lie to Congress in support of Trump's political and legal defense to the Russia investigation—which was one of the crimes Cohen was convicted of
  • any additional criminal or civil violations committed by Trump's now-shuttered "charity," beyond the ones it has already admitted to
  • why the Trump campaign insisted on changing the GOP platform to take a pro-Russia stance on the occupation of Ukraine
  • how many Trump campaign and transition officials had contacts with agents of the Putin regime in Russia
  • how much Trump and his campaign knew about Wikileaks' plans to disseminate e-mails stolen by Russia from the Democratic National Committee

Trump has not offered any details on why these are all "hoaxes."

Why should I care about this?

  • Presidents are not above the law.