Wednesday, July 31, 2019

What did Donald Trump do today?

He forgot to mention something about interest rates.

Today, Trump continued his pattern of abusing Jerome Powell, his own hand-picked chair of the Federal Reserve, for acting independently. The Fed voted today to lower interest rates by a quarter point, the first such drop since the Great Recession bottomed out in 2008. 

Trump had been pushing for an interest rate cut to stimulate the economy—a little like pouring gasoline on a fire. (His corporate tax cuts had the same effect, flaring off money that wasn't needed to support an economy that wasn't in trouble yet.) But rate cuts are normally used to prevent financial disaster—and lately, the Fed seems to agree that an economic disaster is coming. 

Still, Trump was upset by getting what he wanted, because Powell didn't promise more, and didn't publicly agree with Trump's theory that interest rates should always be low. Trump whined on Twitter:

As usual, Powell let us down, but at least he is ending quantitative tightening, which shouldn't have started in the first place - no inflation. We are winning anyway, but I am certainly not getting much help from the Federal Reserve!

Ending "quantitative tightening" is another emergency measure the Fed uses to stave off the worst of a recession. "No inflation" is actually a very bad sign for an economy—economists are usually happiest with about 2% inflation—so it's a good thing Trump is wrong about that, too.

Trump has been so obvious about tying Fed policy to "winning" the 2020 election that it's easy to forget that he personally benefits from lower interest rates. Trump came into office with a third of a billion dollars in debt to one bank alone. In fact, even with financial disclosure forms, it's hard to know how much Trump owes. Counting his businesses debts, which he continues to draw income from, it was at least $2 billion when he assumed office and started calling for rate cuts.

A quarter-point rate cut isn't enough for most consumers to notice. It won't make refinancing a mortgage attractive for homeowners. But it will save Trump tens if not hundreds of millions of dollars in debt finance.

Why does this matter?

  • Presidents are supposed to do what's best for the country, not their private bank accounts.
  • It's bad if the president doesn't understand how the basic safety mechanism for the world economy works.
  • It's extremely bad if he does know, but ignores it to do what's best for himself anyway.

Tuesday, July 30, 2019

What did Donald Trump do today?

He said that black Americans love him, then praised the political ideology of the Confederacy.

Trump gave a speech in Virginia today noting the 400th anniversary of that state's legislature. It was boycotted by most of that body's black delegates, in protest of Trump's racist calls for Americans of color to be sent back "where they came from."

Trump responded to the boycott by saying that the protesting delegates were "fighting against their own people." Apparently by "their own people" Trump meant other African-Americans, since he went on to say that black Americans were "happy as hell" that he'd attacked majority-black cities like Baltimore and their representatives in Congress.

As of this week, Trump's approval rating among black voters was down to 6% in the most recent poll on the subject. That's actually lower than his recent average, and minority voters cited his race-baiting attacks as the reason. (Those attacks were generally unpopular with white voters, too.)

At his speech in Virginia, Trump also praised "state's rights." That was the political rallying cry of the Confederacy, which wanted state governments to be able to prevent any federal ban on slavery. Later it was adopted as a code word for pro-segregationist groups.

Why should this bother me?

  • Lying about how popular you are doesn't usually work after middle school.

Monday, July 29, 2019

What did Donald Trump do today?

He tried to rewrite 9/11 history again.

Trump held a signing ceremony for a bill to permanently endow a compensation fund for people who contracted injuries or diseases in the aftermath of the September 11th attacks. It was championed by comedian Jon Stewart, who forced it into the national spotlight and made it impossible for the Senate to continue to block. Trump hates Stewart and refused to mention him during the ceremony.

Trump did, however, mention himself, once again lying that he personally had had anything to do with the response to the attacks:

[The bill] also provides pensions for those who are suffering from cancer and other illnesses stemming from the toxic debris they were exposed to in the aftermath of the attacks. Many of those affected were firefighters, police officers, and other first responders. And I was down there also, but I’m not considering myself a first responder. But I was down there. I spent a lot of time down there with you.

This is a lie. Trump was no closer to the WTC than millions of other New Yorkers at the time of the attack, and was not "with" first responders in any way whatsoever. (It's not even clear Trump was a bystander.) Trump has also claimed he paid "hundreds of men" to help with the cleanup and rescue efforts. There's no evidence of this, other than Trump's word.

There is evidence of how Trump spent his time immediately after the attacks, though. He gave several phone interviews that day. In one of them he bragged that because the World Trade Center's twin towers had been destroyed, he now owned the tallest building in Manhattan. (He didn't.) He also promptly filed for a "small business" grant and claimed $150,000 for supposed damage to one of his properties. (Even this was a lie: he told reporters on September 13 that the property in question was undamaged.)

Unlike millions of other Americans, Trump—who claims to be and at times may actually have been a billionaire—never gave any money to 9/11 charities. (He did eventually give money to the 9/11 museum, but this appears to have been a 2016 campaign stunt.) He said he lost "hundreds" of friends in the attack—or about 10% of the total killed—but has never attended a single funeral or mentioned any names of people he lost. He also insisted he personally witnessed people jumping from the towers from his apartment in Trump Tower. People did jump, but Trump couldn't have seen them from that distance, so the story was changed to include a "solid gold" telescope.

Trump's speech did not mention that his own 2019 budget proposal would have cut funding for 9/11-related health claims.

Why does this matter?

  • Anyone who would tell this many self-promoting lies about the greatest tragedy in recent American history is too sick to be president.

Sunday, July 28, 2019

What did Donald Trump do today?

He rid himself of an intelligence chief who told him things he didn't want to hear.

Trump forced Dan Coats out of his job as director of national intelligence today. Coats's offense seems to have been that he repeatedly brought Trump information he didn't want to hear. For example, Coats passed on the intelligence community's unanimous finding that Russia had and was continuing to attempt to sabotage American elections, and that North Korea was manipulating him with fake peace overtures. 

Trump also said he'd replace Coats with Rep. John Ratcliffe (R-TX). Ratcliffe, a former mayor and trial lawyer with no intelligence experience, was almost unknown on the national stage until last week when he furiously attacked special counsel Robert Mueller during Mueller's testimony before Congress, saying that Mueller had a duty to exonerate Trump. (In response, Mueller repeated that he didn't exonerate Trump because the evidence didn't permit it, and noted that Trump could still be indicted after he leaves the protective bubble of the presidency.)

Ratcliffe's performance was widely recognized at the time as a sort of "audition" for Coats's job. It seems to have convinced Trump, whose desperate need for flattery, no matter how obviously fake, is legendary. But many other Republicans have expressed doubts about Ratcliffe's fitness for the job. Sen. Richard Burr (R-NC), chair of the committee that will consider Ratcliffe's nomination, warned Trump that Ratcliffe was a poor choice.

How is this a bad thing?

  • A president who can't bear to hear things he doesn't like from intelligence agencies can't do the job of defending the United States.
  • It shouldn't be this easy to manipulate a president.

Saturday, July 27, 2019

What did Donald Trump do today?

He hated America.

Trump returned to a familiar 2016 campaign theme today, attacking the United States—specifically, parts of Baltimore—as "dangerous" and "infested" with vermin. He said Rep. Elijah Cummings' district was "the Worst in the USA" because Cummings didn't spend enough time in his district. He said that "no human" would want to live there, and contrasted it with border detention camps he called "clean, efficient & well run."

Cummings lives within commuting distance of Washington and generally spends the night in his district. Why Trump seems to think that Cummings runs local government in the region is less clear. 

As pretty much everyone has noticed—including white supremacists—when Trump talks about vermin, or things being "infested" with rats or crime, he is talking about black and brown people. He's said that immigrants "infest" the United States, that four Democratic Congresswomen come from "crime-infested" districts. He also used "crime infested" to describe Rep. John Lewis's prosperous majority-black suburban Georgia district. And his idea of voter outreach in the 2016 campaign was to say, "African Americans and Hispanics are living in hell. You walk down the street and you get shot.”

65% of the people living where Trump says "no human being would want to live" are non-white.

As for the "clean, efficient & well run" border detention camps, it's not clear whether Trump actually believes this or is just angry that Cummings pointed out that it wasn't

How is this a bad thing?

  • America's problems are the president's problems.
  • The camps where asylum seekers are kept are not clean or efficient or well run and it's a problem if Trump doesn't know this.

Friday, July 26, 2019

What did Donald Trump do today?

He warned France that trade wars are not good and not easy to win.

France has passed a 3% tax on the profits that large tech companies make inside France. While this is a small amount in the grand scheme of things for companies like Google, it's raised objections from the companies that will be subject to it, many of which are based in the United States. 

It's not especially surprising that the Trump administration is opposed to the French tax, but the way Trump announced it makes it obvious that he doesn't know or understand his own tax policy. In a tweet, Trump shouted that

If anybody taxes [US-based tech giants], it should be their home Country, the US. We will announce a substantial reciprocal action on Macron's foolishness shortly. I've always said American wine is better than French wine!

The "reciprocal action" is tariffs, which are taxes paid by American consumers in the form of higher prices. In essence, Trump is proposing to fight a French tax on American profits with an American tax on Americans. This is, more or less, one of the things tariffs are supposed to be used for: retaliating against unfair or unfavorable economic policies by other countries.

The surprising part is that Trump seems momentarily to understand this. He normally doesn't.

Trump's entire years-long trade war, which has cost taxpayers more in bailouts than it has brought in in revenue, and which is devastating American industries subject to reciprocal tariffs, is based on the idea that it is impossible to retaliate in exactly this way. As Trump put it almost a year and a half ago at the outset, "Trade wars are good and easy to win."

Trump's "winning" has cost the average American household about a thousand dollars per year.

Why does this matter?

  • It's really, really important that the President of the United States be able to understand the most basic economic concepts.
  • As a general rule, policies that make average Americans poorer are bad policies.

Thursday, July 25, 2019

What did Donald Trump do today?

He tried to pick up some of the pieces of his trade war.

Trump's Department of Agriculture today unveiled the specifics of the second taxpayer bailout of farms made necessary by his trade war with China. It has $14.5 billion in tax dollars being doled out to farm businesses—not all of them Americans or real farmers—through a Great Depression-era emergency program still on the books.

The bailouts are unpopular with farmers, whose businesses are more stable and valuable when they sell their goods on an international market than when they are forced to rely on handouts. The longer American farmers are shut out of Chinese-dominated markets, the less likely they are to be able to re-enter them as competitors. 

Trump appears to be deliberately overpaying farmers, relative to the market value of their crops, in an attempt to stave off political disaster. But setting prices artificially high affects the stability of agricultural markets (and wastes money). 

It also means that the total revenue increase from all of Trump's new tariffs isn't even enough to pay for the bailout of just the agriculture sector. (Tariffs are taxes paid through increased prices by American consumers when they buy foreign goods.)

Meanwhile, Trump insists whenever the subject comes up that farmers support his trade war and have told him so personally. In reality, many (manymany, many, many, many) farmers have been openly calling for Trump to end his trade war immediately.

A spokesperson for Trump admitted that the trade war had "persisted longer than we expected." Where Trump is concerned, this is at least true: he insisted more than a year ago that "trade wars are good and easy to win."

Why does this matter?

  • The stability of American agriculture is much, much, much more important than Donald Trump's re-election campaign.
  • Generally speaking, if your policy hinges on paying big political bribes, it might not be the best policy.
  • It's really bad if the president can't understand basic economic principles.

Wednesday, July 24, 2019

What did Donald Trump do today?

He filed yet another lawsuit to keep Congress from investigating his taxes.

Once again, Trump sent his lawyers into court to try to prevent Congress from getting any information about his taxes. New York state law allows congressional committees to request state tax returns, which would include federal tax information.

Every president and major-party presidential candidate since President Nixon has made their tax returns public. Trump promised to as a candidate, but has spent his entire presidency fighting to keep them secret.

Trump has already been caught cheating on hundreds of millions of dollars in state and federal taxes. Trump inherited almost half a billion dollars from his wealthy father through illegal schemes like setting up fake companies to do non-existent "repairs" on apartments owned by the family. When it finally came to light, it was too late for Trump to be prosecuted, although his sister was forced to resign from the federal bench in order to avoid an investigation.

Trump's tax returns could also provide clues about how much his businesses are engaged in money laundering for Russian oligarchs, and just how many years the supposedly wealthy Trump has avoided paying taxes altogether. Recent years' returns would show how just much Trump personally benefited from the tax cuts he signed. (Trump has claimed that they cost him money, which is an obvious lie.)

In related news, special counsel Robert Mueller—who did not investigate Trump's taxes—reminded Congress that Trump could be indicted after leaving office. (Trump immediately pretended that Mueller had not said this.)

Who cares?

  • Cheating on taxes is a crime.
  • Innocent people don't usually go to this kind of extreme lengths to conceal evidence of their innocence.
  • Presidents aren't above the law.

    Tuesday, July 23, 2019

    What did Donald Trump do today?

    He said that the Constitution gives him the power to do anything he wants.

    Trump gave a speech to teenagers today in which he said, "I have an Article 2 where I have the right to do whatever I want as president."

    In the real world, Article II of the United States Constitution says no such thing.

    Why does this matter?

    • Trump may genuinely believe the president isn't subject to the rule of law.

    Monday, July 22, 2019

    What did Donald Trump do today?

    He said he didn't want to kill ten million people, and then waited to be praised for saying so.

    In a meeting with Imran Khan, the Prime Minister of Pakistan, Trump was asked about the United States' continued involvement in Afghanistan. He responded:

    I could win that war in a week. I just don't want to kill 10 million people. Does that make sense to you? I don't want to kill 10 million people. I have plans on Afghanistan that if I wanted to win that war, Afghanistan would be wiped off the face of the earth. It would be gone. It would be over literally in ten days. And I don't want to do that, I don't want to go that route. 

    There are fewer than 100,000 members of the Taliban in Afghanistan, and while they control large parts of the territory of the country, the only way to kill ten million people in the country in a short time would be a nuclear bombing campaign against urban areas controlled by the pro-U.S. government in Kabul. 

    More to the point, there is no way that Trump has been presented with a military plan involving the massacre of millions of civilians, and there is no circumstance under which the U.S. military would carry out any such order.

    Why should I care about this?

    • You don't get any credit for saying that you could commit mass murder but haven't.
    • The president casually speculating about murdering millions of civilians doesn't help the United States in any way.
    • If Trump doesn't have a plan to win the war without mass murder, then he doesn't have a plan to end the war.

    Sunday, July 21, 2019

    WTDT may publish on a slightly irregular schedule between July 22 and August 1.

    What did Donald Trump do today?

    He said people who say the things he's said about the United States should apologize.

    Trump has spent much of the past week alternately running towards and running away from his claim that four Democratic congresswomen, all minorities and American citizens, should "go back" to the "crime infested" places they're from. (Three of the four were born in the United States.)

    Today, he tweeted that they should "apologize" for unspecified remarks about the United States. It's not clear what he's talking about because most of the things Trump has claimed they've said, like praising al-Qaeda or calling the country "garbage", are lies. 

    What is less clear is where Trump draws the line about what kind of criticism of the United States is acceptable. He himself has used the word "garbage" to describe the condition of the country. In fact, trashing the United States was a main theme of his campaign: Trump said that the U.S. was like a "third world country," and was being laughed at by other nations. In his inaugural address, normally a hopeful and optimistic speech, Trump gave a grim report on "American carnage."

    Trump even managed to throw the United States under the bus in order to defend Vladimir Putin. Asked why he seemed so taken with a dictator who had murdered journalists, Trump shot back, "You think our country's so innocent?"

    Why does this matter?

    • Any American, not just the president, is allowed to criticize the United States.
    • Lying by saying your political opponents support al-Qaeda is about as shitty a thing as it's possible to do in American politics.
    • Americans might like Trump even less if they knew what he really thought of them.

    Saturday, July 20, 2019

    What did Donald Trump do today?

    He sort of tried to do his job, because Kanye asked him to, which may have been a bad idea.

    American rap artist A$AP Rocky has spent the last few weeks in a Swedish jail, awaiting charges for assault after he allegedly got into a fight with a concertgoer on June 30. Mega-celebrities Kanye West and Kim Kardashian West have been lobbying to have him released.

    Today, Trump jumped in front of the spotlight on Rocky. In a tweet that name-dropped Kanye, Trump said he had called the Prime Minister of Sweden to "personally vouch for his bail."

    It's more or less unprecedented for presidents to ask foreign heads of state for personal favors, for the obvious diplomatic awkwardness it causes. It's even weirder for a president to brag about doing so in public. But there's a more basic problem: Sweden doesn't have bail.

    This is not the first time Trump has personally intervened—or at least said that he did—in the plight of African-Americans jailed overseas. When three college basketball players were arrested in China for shoplifting, and later released after intervention by the State Department, Trump gloated that they would have to "say thank you President Trump" for their freedom. Trump then got into a messy Twitter fight with the father of one of the accused students, when the father pointed out that Trump himself hadn't actually done anything—something Trump was still fuming about over a year later.

    Rocky's advocates have made the surprising claim that he is being mistreated in his Swedish prison. They have said that he was denied food, given inadequate bedding, and forced to drink dirty water in a facility that smelled "like a toilet." 

    Why does this matter?

    • It's bad if the president only tries to help people if they're friends with one of his supporters.
    • Past a certain point, needing attention and praise is pathological.

    Friday, July 19, 2019

    What did Donald Trump do today?

    He forgot his position on the debt ceiling.

    The Constitution says that only Congress can authorize the borrowing of money against the United States' credit. For over a hundred years, there has been a pre-existing "debt limit" written into law by Congress, which can be raised as needed with further legislation. 

    Often, appropriations bills authorize money to be spent that would require an increase in the debt limit. If the debt limit were not raised in these situations, the government would eventually default on its bond obligations. Because virtually the entire world is heavily invested in U.S. bonds, a default would trigger a worldwide financial catastrophe.

    Today, Trump told reporters that the idea of using the statutory debt limit as leverage in negotiations with Congress was unthinkable. 

    I can’t imagine anybody ever even thinking of using the debt ceiling as a negotiating wedge. When I first came into office I asked about the debt ceiling, and I understand debt ceilings, and I certainly understand the highest rated credit in history, and the debt ceiling, and I said, I remember, to Sen. Schumer and to Nancy Pelosi, "Would anybody ever use that to negotiate with?" And they said "absolutely not, that’s a sacred element of our country." They can’t use the debt ceiling to negotiate.

    Trump doesn't understand debt ceilings as well as he thinks. Several times in recent history, Congress has pushed the nation to the brink of default by using the threat of default to force a president to sign other legislation. Most recently, in 2012-2013, the Republican-controlled Congress tried to use this tactic to get President Obama to effectively repeal the Affordable Care Act. They were encouraged by... Donald Trump.

    There is some context for Trump's remarks today. The country will need a debt ceiling increase soon, but Congressional Democrats rejected a budget proposal from Trump that would raise it and tie Congress's hands for future appropriations.

    Who cares?

    • Anything that could potentially wreck the entire world economy is something the President of the United States needs to be able to remember his position on.

    Thursday, July 18, 2019

    What did Donald Trump do today?

    He tried to have it both ways.

    Trump has spent much of the week doubling down on his racist tweet that Rep. Ilhan Omar (D-MN) and other women of color in Congress should "go back and help fix the totally broken and crime infested places from which they came." He defended himself by saying that "many people agree with me."

    Last night, at a campaign rally, some Trump supporters who apparently do agree with him chanted "send her back" when he mentioned Omar, a Somali-American congresswoman who as a child fled that country's civil war. He paused his speech and nodded as the chant rang out, for thirteen seconds.

    Today, Trump—under pressure from horrified Republicans—said he'd tried to stop the crowd, although he added that "it was quite a chant." Video of what he actually did exists.

    It's pretty common for Trump to tell people not to believe their own eyes, and the fact that something is on videotape doesn't mean Trump will admit it exists—even if he's previously admitted it does.

    The "send her back" chant came on the same day that Trump lied that Omar had supported al-Qaeda, and told reporters "I hear she was married to her brother."

    Why should I care about this?

    Wednesday, July 17, 2019

    What did Donald Trump do today?

    He showed how worried he is about his tax returns being looked at.

    Today, Trump took the highly unusual step today of asking to join, as a private citizen, his own administration's court battle with Congress over access to his tax returns. Earlier this year, House Ways and Means chair Rep. Richard Neal instructed the Treasury Department to provide that committee with copies of Trump's personal and business tax returns for the past six years. 

    Legally, Congress's case against the Trump administration is extremely strong. By the plain text of the law, the IRS simply has to provide any requested returns, as long as they are viewed in a secure facility. Neal didn't even have to provide a reason—although he did anyway

    Joining the suit as an individual doesn't really change Trump's chances of winning in the courts, although he may be hoping that it will let him keep things tied up in court until after the 2020 election. 

    Ironically, Trump is one of the relatively small number of extremely wealthy Americans who appears to have genuinely broken tax laws, rather than simply taking advantage of legal tax shelters available to people with enough money and political influence. Much of Trump's inheritance, amounting to almost half a billion dollars, was funneled through tax avoidance schemes that ranged from highly questionable to outright fraud. (Even this doesn't really explain where Trump's current, post-bankruptcy fortune comes from.)

    Why does this matter?

    • Innocent people don't usually go to this kind of extreme lengths to conceal evidence of their innocence.
    • Presidents aren't above the law.
    • Ultra-rich people cheating on their taxes hurts everyone who doesn't cheat on their taxes.

    Tuesday, July 16, 2019

    What did Donald Trump do today?

    He got manipulated.

    Last night, Peter Thiel appeared on a Fox News program and accused Google of "seemingly treasonous" behavior with the Chinese government. Thiel is a Trump ally and chair of the data-mining company Palantir, and he wasn't very specific about what "treasonous" things he thought Google was doing. Thiel—who is also invested in several Google competitors and would benefit financially if the company stumbled—called for the FBI and CIA to investigate "in a not excessively gentle manner."

    Thiel's argument seems to be that because he feels some Google employees are "ideologically super left-wing, sort of woke," the company as a whole is vulnerable to infiltration. He also falsely claimed that Google was doing business in China. It is not.

    This morning, Fox and Friends mentioned the interview, prompting Trump to tweet this:

    It's not yet clear if Trump—whose idea of secure communications is a bike messenger— really thinks that Thiel is an expert, or whether he'll follow through on his promise to investigate on Thiel's say-so. But it is very, very, very, very, very, very easy to get Trump to take action against companies he thinks don't support him enough.

    Why does this matter?

    • It shouldn't be this easy to manipulate the President of the United States.
    • In a democracy, the government doesn't investigate companies just because the president's political allies tell him to.

    Monday, July 15, 2019

    What did Donald Trump do today?

    Economics, as only he can.

    Trump hosted a White House event aimed at showcasing American manufacturing. Trump used the occasion to repeat a number of outright lies about his trade war, which he claimed was helping American businesses. 

    For example, he said that foreign countries were "paying a lot of money right into the Treasury." Although Trump has said it many times in the past, that's still not how tariffs work. In the real world, tariffs are paid up front by importers registered in America, and then that cost is passed along to American consumers. (Tariffs are about 2% of total U.S. government revenues.)

    Trump also said that retaliatory Chinese tariffs weren't hurting farmers: "So our farmers didn’t lose anything by the fact that China targeted our farmers." This is totally false. Some—not all—of the tens of billions of dollars in lost farm revenue caused by the trade war were made up by American taxpayers in the form of handouts from an emergency farm support program dating back to the Great Depression. 

    But farmers are also being hurt by being shut out of competition for Chinese markets, opportunities that will not be easy to regain when tariffs go back to normal. Also, artificial short-term government buying adds chaos to markets—something that actual fiscal conservatives oppose.

    Trump insisted that "I never — I hadn’t had one farmer say, 'Please make a fast deal, sir. Please make a fast deal.' ...And the farmers are thrilled, I must tell you that." In reality, farmers are not "thrilled," and many (many, many, many, many) farmers have been openly calling for Trump to end his trade war immediately. (Although in fairness to Trump, it's fairly unlikely the farmers who feel this way would be allowed to talk to him.)

    Trump also addressed the fact that he needs Congressional approval for the USMCA, his light re-working of the NAFTA free trade agreement between the United States, Canada, and Mexico. He claimed that Democrats were holding up approval, because "the Republicans are totally onboard." Actually, they're not.

    Why should I care about this?

    • It's a real problem if the president can't get his mind around basic economic concepts.
    • It's bad if the president doesn't know that people oppose his policies, and worse if he knows but lies and says they don't.
    • The agricultural sector of the American economy is much, much more important than Trump's political fortunes.

    Sunday, July 14, 2019

    What did Donald Trump do today?

    He tried to start a fight in the Democratic party, and got condemned by Republicans.

    Trump was up bright and early with a tweet thread that, even by his standards, was overtly "xenophobic, even racist"—and that's coming from one of his most reliable supporters

    In it, he said that four freshman Democratic congresswomen who "came from countries whose governments are a complete and total catastrophe" to "go back and help fix the totally broken and crime infested places from which they came."

    Three of the four members of Congress Trump was talking about were born in the United States. The fourth, Rep. Ilhan Omar (D-MN), came to the United States as a child refugee from the civil war in Somalia.

    Trump's real intent, on a day where golf was the only other thing on his schedule, appears to have been to try to drive a wedge between those members and Nancy Pelosi, the Democratic Speaker of the House. Both his original tweets and a follow-up thread mentioned Pelosi. He falsely claimed, not for the first time, that Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-NY) had called Pelosi a "RACIST!" 

    As a political maneuver, it doesn't seem to have worked. As of Sunday evening, no national Republican had stepped forward to defend him, and those that did comment called his display "racist and disgusting," pointedly reminded Trump that "we're all Americans," and said that "it has to stop."

    Democrats, predictably, found common ground in turning Trump's racist words back on him. Pelosi, the four congresswomen Trump attacked, and Democrats in general were all on the same page in their responses.

    Why should I care about this?

    • Even by Trump's standards, this is racist.

    Saturday, July 13, 2019

    What did Donald Trump do today?

    He talked about his "popularity."

    Today, Trump tweeted what may actually have been a fairly accurate assessment of his popularity: he claimed that he had a 94% approval rating among Republicans, and that this was even better than Ronald Reagan's 87%. 

    Trump didn't say what poll he was citing—and he's been known to straight up lie about polling numbers in the past—but it's at least in the ballpark. (The part about it being the highest ever is flatly false, but Trump has already said he doesn't think public opinion counts where George W. Bush after the September 11th attacks is concern.) Gallup, a benchmark poll, has him at 90% approval among Republicans.

    The problem, which Trump either doesn't realize or thinks his supporters won't figure out, is what this actually means.

    His overall approval rating at the moment, according to Gallup, is 41%. That means that virtually everyone supporting him is a Republican, and the overall number of Republicans is shrinking under Trump

    Trump gets 34% approval from independent voters in the Gallup poll, and 5% from Democrats. President Reagan, propelled to actual landslide victories by a movement of "Reagan Democrats," had an average approval rating of 31% among Democrats. Even President Obama, who took office in a much more polarized electorate, had almost three times Trump's popularity (14%) among the opposite party.

    As though to prove the point, Trump lashed out at Republican former Speaker of the House Paul Ryan today, his second day of ranting at the "weak, ineffective and stupid" Ryan after excerpts from Ryan's forthcoming book—not particularly enthusiastic about Trump—were released.

    So what?

    • Republican voters might not like Trump thinking they're his personal property.
    • It's fine for politicians to "play to the base," but presidents are supposed to respect the views of all Americans.
    • It's bad if a president thinks his supporters aren't very smart, and worse if he can't hide it.

    Friday, July 12, 2019

    What did Donald Trump do today?

    He tried to talk over reality.

    This morning, a reporter asked Trump about the visit to a border detention facility that Vice-President Mike Pence would be taking later in the day.

    Q Mr. President, are you visiting an immigration detention center like the Vice President?
    TRUMP: Yeah — and very importantly, today, in a few hours, Vice President Pence and the head of Homeland Security are taking the press and congresspeople into detention centers. And we’re the ones that said they were crowded. They’re crowded because we have a lot of people. But they’re in good shape.

    Later in the day, Josh Dawsey, the press pool reporter assigned to Pence's trip, filed this report.

    After negotiating with the VP's office, [I] was taken into an outdoor portal at the McAllen Border Station around 5 P.M., where almost 400 men were in caged fences with no cots. The stench was horrendous.

    The cages were so crowded that it would have been impossible for all of the men to lie on the concrete. There were 384 single men in the portal who allegedly crossed the border illegally. There were no mats or pillows — some of the men were sleeping on the concrete.

    When the men saw the press arrive, they began shouting and wanted to tell us they'd been in there 40 days or longer. The men said they were hungry and wanted to brush their teeth. It was sweltering hot. Agents were guarding the cages wearing face masks.

    Water was available outside the fences, and agents said the men could leave and get water when the press wasn't there.

    Most of the men did not speak English and looked dirty. They said they'd been there for 40 days or more upon questioning from [me.]

    We were pulled out of the portal within 90 seconds, and a White House official said the Secret Service had expressed opposition to the Vice President going in. He briefly went into the room.

    "I was not surprised by what I saw," Pence said later at a news conference. "I knew we'd see a system that was overwhelmed."

    Trump hasn't offered any further comment today on the "good shape" he thinks border facilities are in. But this morning, he did offer an explanation for why he was sending Pence to tour a detention camp:

    And the reason is because the fake-news New York Times wrote a phony story. ...So they’re touring detention centers. And that was my idea because I read a phony story in the New York Times today — or the other day — about the detention centers, about the conditions. And I had people calling me up at the highest levels from Border Patrol and ICE, almost crying, about that phony story. 
    And they never saw anything. They have phony sources. They don’t even have sources. They write whatever they want. The New York Times is a very dishonest newspaper. They write what they want. And what they do is a tremendous disservice to this country. They are truly the enemy of the people, I’ll tell you that. They are the enemy of the people. And what they wrote about detention centers is unfair.

    Trump is a little confused about what day he supposedly read the "phony" New York Times story, because he was repeating things he'd said this past Sunday. The article with "phony sources" about the McAllen Border Station Trump appears to be talking about has this headline

    and is sourced primarily to this Department of Homeland Security report, published last Tuesday.

    Why does this matter?

    • Reality doesn't change just because a president says everything is fine.
    • Presidents who can't or won't admit that problems exist can't solve them.
    • Reporting on official government reports doesn't make anyone the "enemy of the people."

    Thursday, July 11, 2019

    What did Donald Trump do today?

    Social media.

    Trump's day began with 16 tweets before 9:15 A.M, including a thread that reads as deranged even by Trump's standards. In it, he called himself "so great looking" and a "stable genius" before swerving into racial slurs and nicknames for Democratic presidential candidates. (He apparently tried to call South Bend mayor Pete Buttigieg "Alfred E. Neumann," after the famous Mad magazine character, but accidentally tagged the unrelated Twitter user @AlfredENeuman99, who is not a fan.)

    Some of the more alarming tweets were later deleted and re-posted, by someone with access to Trump's account, with better spelling, more coherent wording, and corrected tags.

    Many of the other tweets were spent promoting what amounted to a campaign event about it in the form of a White House "social media summit." No actual social media company was invited, but the exclusively pro-Trump crowd of trolls and "influencers" did feature some notable names. The guest list included:

    • Ali Alexander, who tried to sabotage Democratic presidential candidate Kamala Harris as she rose in the polls after the first debate by spreading birther-style rumors that she was "not an American black." (Trump's son Donald Jr., who sometimes gets assigned social media outreach to the fringes of Trump's base, retweeted Alexander.)
    • Ryan Fournier, one of the founders of "Students for Trump," whose partner in that venture was arrested three months ago on federal fraud charges.
    • Ben Garrison, a political cartoonist known for his drawings of anti-Jewish conspiracy theories, most famously one in which "the Rothschilds" and George Soros are shown holding the puppet strings of the U.S. military. Garrison was uninvited at the last minute, although Trump hasn't said why he was invited in the first place.

    The main theme of the "summit" was Trump's favorite (but false) conspiracy theory that social media companies are targeting conservatives. None of the people invited have actually been banned from any social media platforms.

    The summit attendees were also present when Trump announced his latest swerve on census policy, where they picked fights with actual reporters.

    Who cares?

    • It's wrong to use taxpayer money to reward your own political supporters.
    • The President of the United States has more important things to worry about than his Twitter follower count.
    • People who surround themselves with criminals, overt racists and anti-Semites, and conspiracy theorists do it because they like what those people have to say.

    Wednesday, July 10, 2019

    What did Donald Trump do today?

    He talked about emoluments.

    Trump scored a victory in the courts yesterday, with a Fourth Circuit panel dismissing one of the lawsuits against him over his apparent violations of the domestic emoluments clause. In that case (and others like it), the plaintiffs have argued that Trump's DC hotel—in which he is both tenant and his own government landlord—violates the Constitution's prohibition against presidents being paid money by the government other than their salary.

    Gloating about it on Twitter, Trump made a telling claim: "I don't make money, but lose a fortune for the honor of serving and doing a great job as your President (including accepting Zero salary!)"

    In order to make sense of this claim, it's important to keep in mind that Trump freely admits that he lies about money. He's lied about being richer than he is for vanity purposes, and he's lied about being poorer than he is to avoid taxes. (The second kind of lie is a crime.)

    There are three claims here: that Trump isn't making monetizing the presidency, that Trump is losing money as president, and that he's not taking a salary.

    It's true that Trump is donating his $500,000 salary to government agencies, often popular ones like the National Park Service that he's tried to cut funding for.

    It's a lie that Trump isn't using the presidency to make money. In fact, there are so many different ways Trump has leveraged his office to force money into his own pocket that it's difficult even for long articles to summarize them all. Simply by choosing to spend a weekend at his luxury resort hotels, obliging staff and the Secret Service to charge the government for their rooms, Trump can generate hundreds of thousands of dollars for himself. (He's spent 30% of the nights he's been president at one of his own properties.) Foreign governments have openly declared that they buy Trump hotel rooms—and in some cases, like the government of Saudi Arabia, rooms they don't even need—to curry favor with Trump. 

    But Trump is probably telling the truth when he says he's losing a fortune, at least in the short term. Having run real estate, casinos, an airline, and and consumer goods businesses into the ground, Trump only really found a reliable way to make money late in life: as a brand. And his unprecedented unpopularity has hurt the value of that brand, and bookings at the properties he still owns.

    So what?

    • It's bad if foreign governments can buy access and goodwill from the president.
    • It's kind of sad to expect people to feel sorry for you that you get to be President of the United States.

    Tuesday, July 9, 2019

    What did Donald Trump do today?

    He tried to cut himself free from the unfolding Jeffrey Epstein child sex trafficking scandal.

    Trump was forced to address his and his administration's connections to Jeffrey Epstein, the hedge fund manager who was given a notoriously lenient sentence for sex crimes against children, and who now faces new charges for child sex trafficking. He expressed sympathy for his labor secretary, Alex Acosta, whose as a prosecutor signed off on an extremely light sentence, and then illegally tried to hide the details of that deal from Epstein's victims. Trump also claimed he'd had a "falling out" with Epstein and that he "wasn't a fan."

    Trump made no mention at all of Epstein's dozens of known victims.

    Asked about his confidence in Acosta, Trump said, "I feel very badly, actually, for Secretary Acosta because I’ve known him as being somebody that works so hard and has done such a good job." He also floated the idea that Acosta wasn't really responsible: "I do hear that there were a lot of people involved in that decision, not just him."

    As for his relationship with Epstein, Trump explained it this way:

    Well, I knew him like everybody in Palm Beach knew him. I mean, people in Palm Beach knew him. He was a fixture in Palm Beach. I had a falling out with him a long time ago. I don’t think I’ve spoken to him for 15 years. I wasn’t a fan. I was not — yeah, a long time ago. I’d say maybe 15 years. I was not a fan of his, that I can tell you. I was not a fan of his.

    This is either a lie or a convenient mis-remembering. Trump was a fan of Epstein's, at least for a while. In New York magazine's 2002 profile on Epstein, Trump told a reporter, "I’ve known Jeff for fifteen years. Terrific guy. He’s a lot of fun to be with. It is even said that he likes beautiful women as much as I do, and many of them are on the younger side. No doubt about it – Jeffrey enjoys his social life.”

    Trump is not directly implicated in Epstein's alleged child sex trafficking, although he has openly admitted to behavior with girls and young women that ranges from creepy to criminal.

    However, Trump is acting very worried by the unfolding Epstein drama. Probably the most important sign of how seriously Trump is taking the potential for scandal is the behavior of his famously Trump-protective attorney general, William Barr. Yesterday, Barr recused himself from the Epstein case, as he had promised senators he would at his confirmation hearing. Barr has several connections to Epstein that would normally prevent him from being involved: he was a partner at the law firm that defended Epstein, and Barr's father gave Epstein (then a college dropout) a job at a private school in New York.

    Today, Barr "unrecused" himself.

    Why should I care about this?

    • The attorney general is not the president's personal "fixer."
    • Presidents are responsible for appointing people who the public can trust with power.
    • Reality doesn't change just because the president wants to remember it differently.

    Monday, July 8, 2019

    What did Donald Trump do today?

    He threw a temper tantrum because someone called him insecure.

    Last week, the British tabloid The Daily Mail reported on leaked internal memos written by the British Ambassador to the United States, Kim Darroch. They were harsh in their assessment of Trump. Darroch said that Trump was "inept," desperately insecure, and that his administration was "dysfunctional." He advised other British diplomats talking to Trump to "make your points simple, even blunt," so that Trump could keep up.

    Darroch concluded that the situation was not likely to improve, and that Trump's presidency might well  "crash and burn" and end in "disgrace and downfall."

    The release of the cables was indeed embarrassing for the British government—but not because Darroch had said something he shouldn't. A spokesperson for the Foreign Office said, "The British public would expect our ambassadors to provide ministers with an honest, unvarnished assessment of the politics in their country. Their views are not necessarily the views of ministers or indeed the government. But we pay them to be candid."

    Today, Trump responded to the charge that he was insecure by tweeting this:

    I have been very critical about the way the U.K. and Prime Minister Theresa May handled Brexit. What a mess she and her representatives have created. I told her how it should be done, but she decided to go another way. I do not know the Ambassador, but he is not liked or well........thought of within the U.S. We will no longer deal with him. The good news for the wonderful United Kingdom is that they will soon have a new Prime Minister.

    In reality, Trump does know Darroch, having met him "seven or eight times" as of last year in the normal course of business. (It's very possible that Trump is unable to remember.)

    Realistically, Trump probably could force Darroch out of his job. The problem is that Trump has already shown that he doesn't understand what ambassadors do, which is to serve their own country's best interests. Shortly after taking office, Trump told the British government (via tweet) to appoint his political ally Nigel Farage as ambassador, apparently in the belief it was his choice to make. The response was a flat "no."

    UPDATE, July 9: Trump continued to lash out at "the wacky Ambassador" on Twitter today, again insisting (and perhaps believing) that he had not met and worked with Darroch on many occasions. Trump's own comments are starting to do damage as British politicians, including one of the likely candidates to replace Theresa May as Prime Minister, reacted angrily to his treatment of Darroch.

    Why is this a bad thing?

    • The US-UK relationship is much, much more important than Donald Trump's feelings.
    • Throwing a tantrum in public because someone said you were insecure and slow-witted is a pretty good way of proving them right.
    • It's really important that presidents understand the basics of diplomacy.

    Sunday, July 7, 2019

    What did Donald Trump do today?

    He said that stories about migrants being abused and kept in inhumane conditions were "phony and exaggerated."

    Trump was angry at pretty much all media everywhere today, even Fox News, which normally serves as a sort of safe space for the easily provoked Trump. In particular, he was upset about coverage of the shockingly inhumane conditions that many detained migrants and asylum-seekers were being kept in. He tweeted, "The Fake News Media, in particular the Failing @nytimes, is writing phony and exaggerated accounts of the Border Detention Centers."

    (In the same thread, though, Trump also insisted that he and he alone had foreseen the "crisis" and that if there was one, it was someone else's fault.)

    The NYT is hardly alone in covering the latest rash of reported abuses in what amount to internment camps for migrant families seeking asylum in the United States. But it's hard to see what (if anything) Trump thinks is "phony" about their coverage. Here is a summary of some of their recent reporting on the subject.

    • June 21. "Hungry, Scared and Sick: Inside the Migrant Detention Center in Clint, Tex." This article describes rampant overcrowding, a lack of basic necessities like soap and toothpaste, "outbreaks of scabies, shingles and chickenpox" among detained children, attempted suicides of children, and conditions so filthy that agents working at the detention center would carry the smell with them on their clothes after they left work.

      Sources for this article include the CBP's own chief accountability officer, "dozens of current and former Border Patrol agents and supervisors," the attorneys for interned children, a father of an interned child, a man whose house is adjacent to the station, and sworn testimony obtained by reporters. It includes detailed maps of the interior of the station. 
    • July 2. "Squalid Conditions at Border Detention Centers, Government Report Finds." This piece covers the Trump administration's own report that found serious problems in how migrants were being treated in DHS facilities. Government inspectors found that detainees were denied the ability to bathe themselves, put in frigid rooms with inadequate clothing, and given inappropriate or inadequate food. They also found severe overcrowding. Members of Congress who toured DHS facilities at the same time found migrants begging visitors for help and who said they were forced to drink from toilet bowls.

      The main source for the article is the report itself, as well as public statements by members of Congress from both parties and the acting Secretary of Homeland Security.
    • July 3. "Trump Says Migrants Are ‘Living Far Better’ in Overcrowded Border Facilities." This article deals with the political fallout from the most recent news about migrant abuses. It quotes Trump himself as saying that "many of these illegal aliens are living far better now than where they came from, and in far safer conditions,” and that Democrats would find fault with conditions "no matter how good things actually look, even if perfect." It also quotes Trump as saying that if refugees didn't like being put in detention centers, "just tell them not to come. All problems solved!" It reports on Trump's policies—charging penniless refugees fees to apply for asylum, and allowing only a trickle of applicants across at legal ports of entry. (This has created massive backlogs on the Mexican side of the border and pushed some desperate families to attempt to cross at other points, with deadly results.) The article quotes the acting Secretary of Homeland Security as saying that a Facebook group for Border Patrol agents full of racist and violent sexual fantasies about detainees and Trump's political opponents was "disturbing and inexcusable.

      The sources for the article are Trump himself, public statements from members of Congress, government reports, and the acting Secretary of Homeland Security.

    Trump hasn't said why he thinks any of these people are lying or exaggerating.

    Why should I care about this?

    • Reality doesn't go away just because presidents wish it would.
    • Only dictators fear a free press.
    • Presidents who cannot even acknowledge a problem exists cannot solve a problem.

    Saturday, July 6, 2019

    What did Donald Trump do today?

    He said he didn't know whether he'd managed to fire all the undocumented workers he'd illegally hired over the years.

    Recently, a group of undocumented immigrants who have worked for Trump for years have been trying to get Trump to meet with them. They were recently fired after Trump's businesses belatedly started verifying its workers' documentation, as required by law. The purge came as Trump was shutting down the United States government in order to force Congress to appropriate money for a border wall. 

    Trump was asked about it by a reporter today.

    Q: Mr. President, are you confident there are no undocumented immigrants working at your Bedminster property or other Trump golf properties? 
    TRUMP: Well, that I don’t know because I don’t run it. But I would say this: Probably every club in the United States has that because it seems to be, from what I understand, a way that people did business. 
    But we’ve ended — whatever they did, we have a very strict rule that — those rules are very strict. But it seems that every club, practically, in the United States — that’s the way they did business.

    Trump's statement was four sentences long. In two of them, he excuses his illegal hiring of undocumented workers because, he claims, everyone does it. (Even if true, that wouldn't make it legal.)

    Trump also claims he doesn't know if there are still undocumented workers at his businesses because he's not in charge. Actually, he is. Although he made a show, complete with fake legal documents, of handing over day-to-day authority to his two eldest sons, Trump is still effectively in charge of the Trump Organization, and has still profited from any money saved by illegal hiring practices.

    It's possible Trump didn't know about these specific illegal hires, although his insistence that "every club, practically" does implies that he knew he was doing it too. But Trump has been caught many times breaking the labor laws that protect American workers from wage pressures and undocumented workers from exploitation. He was sued by undocumented Polish demolition workers after he used their vulnerable status as an excuse to underpay them, and settled for $1.4 million. Illegally hired workers at his golf clubs were also forced to work off the clock. And his defunct modeling agency, Trump Model Management—whose former employees include the current First Lady—also hired models without work visas.

    As for Trump's claim about "very strict rules," if they exist, they've only been enforced very recently, after the massive number of illegal hires at Trump businesses came to light and the Trump Organization was forced to start actually verifying employees' work status.

    In fairness, though, not all foreign-born employees of Trump businesses were illegally hired. Trump's businesses routinely make use of special "guest worker" visas. These are only supposed to be issued to companies for work that Americans cannot be hired for. In 2016 and 2017, for example, Trump's businesses used 143 such visas to fill waitstaff, cooks, cleaners, and bartenders at Mar-a-Lago—supposedly because they couldn't find Americans able to do such jobs.

    How is this a problem?

    • Presidents are supposed to enforce labor laws that defend Americans' right to work, not break them.
    • "Everyone's doing it" isn't an excuse for criminal behavior.
    • Throwing your children under the bus for things you did isn't exactly inspiring leadership.

    Friday, July 5, 2019

    What did Donald Trump do today?

    He admitted he'd been lying about why he wanted a change in the census.

    Today was the deadline for government lawyers to explain to a judge presiding over the census lawsuit whether they actually knew what legal argument Trump, as president, wanted to pursue. They didn't know on Wednesday, and they didn't know again today, in spite of working through the Fourth of July holiday to construct any remotely plausible legal justification for Trump's renewed efforts to get a citizenship question on the census. 

    The Supreme Court ruled against Trump last week, but he tweeted today that he could get past that simply by issuing an executive order. (That's not how executive orders work.)

    Asked about his refusal to abide by the Court's decision, Trump accidentally admitted that the main reason he wanted a citizenship question on the census was

    for Congress, you need it for Congress for districting. You need it for appropriations. Where are the funds going? How many people are there? Are they citizens? Are they not citizens?

    The Constitution requires that Congressional districts be drawn according to the total number of persons living in them, not citizens. In the recent Supreme Court case that the Trump administration lost, the plaintiffs argued that this unconstitutional justification was the real reason Trump wanted a citizenship question—and Justice Department attorneys insisted that it wasn't. By inadvertently telling the truth this time, Trump has all but ruined his chances in court.

    Who cares?

    • It's wrong to lie.
    • Presidents don't get to ignore the judiciary just because they don't like how a case turned out.
    • Trying to rig the census is the same thing as trying to rig elections.