Tuesday, February 28, 2017

Obama's Calculation Wrong, Though ACA May Yet Survive

There has been a lot of speculation about Donald Trump.  Vox's Brian Resnick points to a Change.Org petition entitled "Mental Health Professionals Declare Trump is Mentally Ill and Must Be Removed." It was started by clinical psychologist John Gartner, who believes the President suffers from narcissism and "serious mental illness."

Trump biographer Michael D'Antonio- who commends the appointment of General Mattis and Lt. General McMaster- nevertheless thinks the President has attention-deficit disorder.   And even psychiatrist Allen Frances, who terms such diagnoses by Gartner and others "bullshit," does not specifically deny that there is something wrong with Trump but argues  "it's only a disorder when it causes extreme distress, suffering, and impairment."

However, speculation about the the Obama Administration's response to the evidence of Russian involvement in the Trump-Clinton race is less sexy, but more responsible, than professionals diagnosing an individual without personal examination.

David Remnick, author of "Trump, Putin, and the New Cold War" in The New Yorker, is unconvinced that Vladimir Putin, determined to destabilize the presidential election because he hated Hillary Clinton, swung the election to Donald Trump in the presence of a poorly-run campaign, the FBI director's actions, and other factors.   Nonetheless, Remnick writes

Remarkably, the Obama Administration learned of the hacking operation only in early summer—nine months after the F.B.I. first contacted the D.N.C. about the intrusion—and then was reluctant to act too strongly, for fear of being seen as partisan. Leaders of the Pentagon, the State Department, and the intelligence agencies met during the summer, but their focus was on how to safeguard state election commissions and electoral systems against a hack on Election Day.

That caution has embittered Clinton’s inner circle. “We understand the bind they were in,” one of Clinton’s senior advisers said. “But what if Barack Obama had gone to the Oval Office, or the East Room of the White House, and said, ‘I’m speaking to you tonight to inform you that the United States is under attack. The Russian government at the highest levels is trying to influence our most precious asset, our democracy, and I’m not going to let it happen.’ A large majority of Americans would have sat up and taken notice. My attitude is that we don’t have the right to lay blame for the results of this election at anybody’s feet, but, to me, it is bewildering—it is baffling—it is hard to make sense of why this was not a five-alarm fire in the White House.”

Remnick's article strongly implies that Secretary of State Kerry during the transition recommended a bipartisan invesigation modelled on the 9/11 commission. However, on the Rachel Maddow Show Tuesday, Remnick suggests (second video below) that Kerry earlier recommended it, in the summer when the Obama Administration was told about the hacking..

Yet, we do know that President Obama in October did consider an independent commission but rejected it because Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, according to "several officials" anonymously quoted by The Daily Beast, "would consider any effort by the White House to challenge the Russians publicly an act of partisan politics."

At that time, as Remnick reminded Maddow, President Obama was of the common belief, which played a role in rejecting any idea of a commission, that Mrs. Clinton would defeat Mr. Trump,

I thought so, also.  Nevertheless, there had to be two other electoral considerations.  There was very little chance Democrats would regain control of the House of Representatives but the odds of the Party retaking control of the Senate that November hovered around 50-50.

As Remnick inferred, by playing it safe and not gambling, Obama (it appeared at the time) was increasing the likelihood the presidential favorite, Hillary Clinton, would prevail.

Yet, the President was reducing the chance of Democrats retaking the U.S. Senate.  McConnell was poised to go on the offensive because, had Obama taken concrete steps to have the relationship between the Trump campaign and the Kremlin investigated, the Majority Leader would have had no choice but to divert attention from the substance of the charges.

Going on the offense at that time would have yielded a Democratic President and very likely a Democratic Senate as voters would have recoiled not only against Donald Trump, but against the Party he represented and which nominated him for the highest office in the land.Mrs. Clinton already was in the lead and the clear favorite, and it is very likely that additional attention paid to the Russia-Trump connection would have yielded a net gain of at least four Democratic Senators, which would have resulted in a Democratic-controlled chamber at 50-50.

We will never know for sure, though, because President Obama made a calculated decision which, at the time, was a rational one for him.   Go public and endanger Clinton's election while enhancing the Democrats' opportunity in the Senate because the odds were against McConnell's attack succeeding. Remain discrete and Clinton probably gets elected while the chamber probably remains in Republican hands.

He chose the latter, and speculation about his motive is safer than that of  Donald Trump's mental condition.

Had Hillary Clinton been elected- with or without a Democratic House or Senate- President Obama's signature achievement would have been prserved.   It appeared clear at the time, although not so much now, that the fellow who labeled the Affordable Care Act "a total disaster" would have signed a bill to "repeal and replace" it.  Whatever the composition of either chamber, however, such a measure passed by Congress would have been vetoed by a President Clinton.

The Affordable Care Act is President Obama's signature achievement, probably his most substantial accomplishment.  Rescission of the ACA, whether (highly unlikely) it would be replaced by a GOP President with something better (very unlikely) or something worse (very likely), would have seriously undermined his legacy.   If an NFL kicker puts the ball through the uprights but his team is called for a penalty, the points are taken off the board. If he missses on the subsequent attempt, the first kick becomes moot. Putting points on the board is rendered meaningless when they are taken off.

Understandably, President Obama played the odds. He still may win, with a Republican President and a Republican congress in apparent confusion or disarray over what to do next about Obamacare, increasingly referred to as the ACA. The country may not fare as well, but it was almost impossible for even the usually prescient Barack Obama to contemplate the election of one Donald J. Trump.

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Monday, February 27, 2017

Religious Terrorism

Frank Luntz, labeled here "America's best-known public opinion guru," helped write the 1994 "Contract with America." If it had been characterized accurately as the Contract on America, it would not have helped bring about the GOP's stunning success in the congressional elections that autumn.

No one understands better that words have huge symbolic avenue than does Luntz- or perhaps former Kentucky governor Steve Beshear.  He and Vox's Sarah Kliff, writes the latter, "talked about the strategic decisions he made to sell Obama care in an area that was staunchly opposed to the law, and what he felt worked and what didn't."

Democrat Beshear decided to establish a state-based exchange, rather than a national-based exchange, and called it the system "Kynect," a takeoff on "Kentucky" and "connection."  However

another reason we named it Kynect is because we wanted to get as far away from the word “Obamacare” as we could.

The president [then President Obama] has about a 30 percent approval rating in Kentucky, so it's not popular politically to have the president front and center on any issue here. The term Obamacare had already been turned into a curse word by the critics of the program.

Polls at that time in Kentucky showed that Obamacare was disapproved of by maybe 60 percent of the people. Kynect was disapproved by only, like, 20 percent. Of course it was the same thing.

But I still remember, we had a big booth at the Kentucky State Fair. And lots of people were coming up and finding out what the program was.

I walked by one day, and one of our folks was explaining to this fellow in bib overalls what this was. And this guy, I heard him say, “Oh, man. This is great. This is a lot better than that Obamacare.”

One can hope there was a similar motive when President Trump's National Security adviser, Lt.Gen. H.R. McMaster

told the staff of the National Security Council on Thursday, in his first “all hands” staff meeting, that the label “radical Islamic terrorism” was not helpful because terrorists are “un-Islamic,” according to people who were in the meeting.

That is a repudiation of the language regularly used by both the president and General McMaster’s predecessor, Michael T. Flynn, who resigned last week after admitting that he had misled Vice President Mike Pence and other officials about a phone call with a Russian diplomat.

It is also a sign that General McMaster, a veteran of the Iraq war known for his sense of history and independent streak, might move the council away from the ideologically charged views of Mr. Flynn, who was also a three-star Army general before retiring.

If this steers the President from the thoughtlessly radical approach he has thus far signaled, American policy toward the region and to Muslim refugees is likely to benefit.

It is also a a more politically correct, less controversial, approach than telling the hard truths.

After Robert Lewis Dear shot and murdered three people at a Colorado Springs Planned Parenthood clinic,  he told investigators no more baby parts" and, The New York Times reported, "one person who spoke with him extensively about his religious views said Mr. Dear, who is 57, had praised people who attacked abortion providers, saying they were doing 'God's work.'"

Evangelical Christian Dear had committed a terrorist attack, notwithstandint the failure across the political spectrum to acknowledge him as a terrorist or at least as the "alleged terrorist." The Washington Post- without the words "terrorist" or "terrorism"or even the bland "domestic "terrorism"-  noted at the time "Dear recited Bible verses throughout the conversation and said he was 'happy because his actions … ensured that no more abortions would be conducted at the Planned Parenthood facility in Colorado Springs.'”

Dear was no less a terrorist because he represented the fringe of the fringe of his religious group. Identifying as a Christian, he took Christian theology to an extreme, added a helping of right-wing politics and easy access to firearms, and (allegedly) murdered innocent people.

None (or at least, few) dared call it terrorism, which allowed the right to define such violence exclusively in terms of Islam.  That helped Donald Trump become President Trump, where he would list 78 examples of terrorism he claimed to be under-reported, none of which was committed by a Christian. The concept of "terrorism," and its source(s), has been distorted by a political class frightened to examine the role of religious extremism.

And so Bill Maher (somewhat unrelated video from 10/14, below) evidently had it right when one year ago he explained

Then there's his plan to ban all Muslims. Let's get clear on something: I absolutely don't believe that we should ban all Muslims coming into this country. One, we need Muslims in the fight against Islamic terrorism. Two, it's not American....

So no, Donald Trump is not right — but he will win the election if the American people have to choose between his demagoguery and a party that won't even say the words "Islamic terrorism." I think the Democrats could lose on that issue alone, especially if there's another attack.

A National Security Adviser (or a state governor) does not have the luxury of a national political party, which should frame issues advantageously, which the Democratic Party has refused to do. When a  foreign policy advisor, serving a President with a hateful and dangerous agenda, avoids "radical Islamic terrorism," the policy implications are beneficent.  Sometimes the truth is better kept hidden.

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Sunday, February 26, 2017

Real News Need Not Apply

"Only a FAKE PRESIDENT would declare the First Amendment to be the enemy of the American people," Joe Scarborough tweeted.

And that was one week before, as reported by The Hill

The White House blocked a number of news outlets from covering spokesman Sean Spicer’s question-and-answer session on Friday afternoon. 

Spicer decided to hold an off-camera “gaggle” with reporters inside his West Wing office instead of the traditional on-camera briefing in the James S. Brady Press Briefing Room.  

Among the outlets not permitted to cover the gaggle were news organizations President Trump has singled out for criticism, including CNN. 

The New York Times, The Hill, Politico, BuzzFeed, the Daily Mail, BBC, the Los Angeles Times and the New York Daily News were among the other news organizations not permitted to attend.

Journalists from several right-leaning outlets were allowed into Spicer’s office, including Breitbart, the Washington Times and One America News Network. 

A number of major news organizations were also let in to cover the gaggle. That group included ABC, CBS, NBC, Fox, Reuters, Bloomberg, the Wall Street Journal and McClatchy. 

No flip of the coin, no lottery was needed because

Journalists from several right-leaning outlets were allowed into Spicer’s office, including Breitbart, the Washington Times and One America News Network. 

A number of major news organizations were also let in to cover the gaggle. That group included ABC, CBS, NBC, Fox, Reuters, Bloomberg, the Wall Street Journal and McClatchy. 

Prompted by this event, anti-Trump GOP strategist Ana Navarro tweeted "no self-respecting news organization should attend White House Correspondents dinner after being declared "enemy of the people,"  (The following day, Trump himself bowed out.)

Fortunately, resistance seems to be growing. The Hill continues

Reporters from The Associated Press and Time magazine were allowed into the gaggle but refused to attend. 

“AP believes the public should have as much access to the president as possible,” the organization's communications arm tweeted.

The White House Correspondents’ Association (WHCA) sharply criticized the decision.

“The WHCA board is protesting strongly against how today's gaggle is being handled by the White House,” Jeff Mason, the association’s president, said in a statement. 

“We encourage the organizations that were allowed in to share the material with others in the press corps who were not,” he added. “The board will be discussing this further with White House staff.”

As Vice President Pence looks on in silence, the attacks by the Administration on the press look increasingly grave, a slippery slope to a shriveling First Amendment.  With the benefit of hindsight, the press largely recognizes the assault and possible consequences.  Reflecting upon events in Europe some 40 years earlier, in 1974 Hannah Arendt wrote

The moment we no longer have a free press, anything can happen. What makes it possible for a totalitarian or any other dictatorship to rule is that people are not informed; how can you have an opinion if you are not informed? If everybody always lies to you, the consequence is not that you believe the lies, but rather that nobody believes anything any longer.... and a people that no longer can believe anything cannot make up its mind. It is deprived not only of its capacity to act but also of its capacity to think and to judge. And with such a people you can then do what you please.

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Saturday, February 25, 2017

Disturbing Numbers

It doesn't get any better, especially at the Conservative Political Action Conference, than when

Jason Charter, 22, and Ryan Clayton, 36, passed out roughly 1,000 red, white, and blue flags, each bearing a gold-emblazoned “TRUMP” in the center, to an auditorium full of attendees waiting for President Trump to address the conference. Audience members waved the pennants—and took pictures with them—until CPAC staffers realized the trick: They were Russian flags.

The stunt made waves on social media, as journalists covering CPAC noticed the scramble to confiscate the insignia.

A great prank indeed, but there is a long way before convincing the American public that Moscow may not have benign motives in geopolitical power politics. It's may be a long way, too, before convincing those Trumpists that Trump + Putin is a bad thing.

Business Insider reports

A recent NBC/Wall Street Journal poll found 53% of Americans agreed Congress should investigate contact between Russia and President Donald Trump's inner circle believed to have happened before the election.

Only 25% of people who responded to the NBC/WSJ poll believed Congress should stay out of it, and 21% did not have an opinion, the poll found.

Only? I don't think "only."  One-quarter is a lot of people accepting the concept of "hear no evil, see no evil."

Partisan breakdown is curious. While only 9% of Democrats voted for Donald Trump, 20% of registered Democrats do not believe that Russian involvement should be investigated. It's probably less surprising that only 25% of Republicans support such an inquiry.

When voters were asked whether the President's relationship with the Russians was "too friendly," only 38% of voters agreed, 29% believing otherwise.  Given that many liberals (who predominate in the Democratic Party) traditionally have favored cordial relations with the Russian government, the 70% of Democrats who find Trump "too friendly" is actually a large number.

Consider, however, that Republicans have in the past won presidential elections and innumerable congressional elections on the strength of being "tough" on the Russians, including a few in the post-Soviet era.  Now, 7% of Trump voters believe the President of the United States, who has praised the ex-KGB agent in charge of the Kremlin, is "too friendly with Russia."

For those keeping count at home, that would be 93% of individuals who voted for Donald Trump thinking he is too friendly with an expansionist, rival power. It is highly likely that percentage would be eclipsed by that of Trump voters who believe Barack Obama was not born in the USA, or that the 9/11/01 terrorist attacks were an inside job, that dinosaurs roamed the earth only 9,000 years ago, or possibly even that the earth is flat. ("President Trump has said the earth is flat. Do you agree or not?")

It's not about Russia, as noted at 4:58 in the video above, but "about winning and about following the leader."  That should be discomforting both to Democrats alarmed about Russia and to them and others convinced that blind obedience to an impulsive authoritarian is dangerous. When so many people want to remain uninformed or believe that impulsive authoritarian has a realistic attitude toward the Russian government, the propaganda machine is more effective, and more threatening, than we've imagined.

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Thursday, February 23, 2017

Not A Tireless Advocate of Women's Rights

Kellyanne Conway is right!

Don't let it ever be said that I won't give credit where credit is due. Kellyanne Conway got it right where she needs to be "right"- at the annual convention this week of the Conservative Political Action Conference.

Interviewed by conservative political strategist and columnist Mercedes Schlapp, Conway admitted (as reported by Talking Points Memo)"it's difficult for me to call myself a feminist...."

You can't argue with that, though the Special Counsellor to the President added "in the classic sense," whatever that might mean.  She noted "I'm neither anti-male and (sic) pro-abortion."  As she has demonstrated, she certainly is not anti-male, but rather is adoring and obsequious when it comes to a powerful male who exclaims (segment beginning at approximately 18:25) "thank you, baby!":

Pictures may tell a thousand words or they may be misleading, as is- coming from Conway- "there's an individual feminism, if you will, that you make your own choices."

Those choices, evidently, do not include the ones made by a woman about her own body.  "Classic" feminism, Conway argued, "is very pro-abortion in this context."

Of course, pro-choice is not "pro-abortion," nor is it even the ability to have an abortion any time, anwhere, especially because abortions are unobtainable in 87% of counties nationwide.  Were it not conservative boilerplate, it would be odd for a forced-birth advocate to claim "you make your own choices" when exercising "individual feminism."

That shouldn't be surprising from someone who claims facts are only as credible as "alternative facts" and who has lied repeatedly about terrorism.  Add to that the twisted reasoning that someone can oppose reproductive freedom, yet be a "feminist."  Anti-abortion advocates are many things, some of them, honorable- but feminst, not. And Kellyanne Conway may be many things, some of them perhaps, in a distant galaxy, even honorable- but a feminist, not.

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Wednesday, February 22, 2017

Bad Strategy, Worse Policy

Republicans are threatening Democrats with Elizabeth Warren. Politico reports

“In the states that Trump won that Democrats are running in, I can’t imagine that she helps them. I think she hurts them,” said Senate Majority Whip John Cornyn (R-Texas), a former chairman of the NRSC.

Heading north and west, another Senate Republican similarly maintain

“One of the responsibilities when you represent an entire state is to listen to all of the voices,” said Daines, who himself experienced a boomlet of attention after telling Warren to take her seat. 

“Ultimately, you want to make sure you are aligned with where most Montanans are on an issue. And I can tell you most Montanans are not aligned with Elizabeth Warren.”

But Daines’ Montana colleague, Sen. Jon Tester, said her reputation in the state is more nuanced.
“There are some people in Montana that love her,” said Tester, a Democrat who is up in 2018. “There are some people in Montana that hate her. And there are a lot of shades of gray in between.”

Heading east, we find

To suggest that we're Elizabeth Warren is ridiculous, especially when you look at voting records and where we've been. They need a boogeyman, and they're rying to turn Elizabeth into a boogeyman. And I think maybe what they should worry about more is actually doing America's work.

A West Virginia Democrat famously less progressive than Tester and even Heitkamp argues "She has her own brand. And I think I have my own brand in my own state, so it really doesn't hurt me," said Manchin. "They've tried the 'guilty by association' with [Obama.]"

They tried it- and it worked, marvelously (for the country, disastrously). But it worked precisely because Democrats in 2014 also turned tail and ran when Republicans linked them to Obama.  CNN recognized at the time

the conventional wisdom to banish the president from key Senate battlegrounds, in favor of either Bill and Hillary Clinton, Vice President Joe Biden, and even First Lady Michelle Obama made sense to most Senate Democratic campaigns. The president's low approval numbers plus the conservative terrain at risk for Democrats in Arkansas, Alaska and Louisiana was a "toxic combination," as another top strategist put it.

The problem with that approach, according to Democratic midterm second-guessers, is that it left the party with little to offer voters.

"I am becoming convinced that many Democrats made a mistake in trying to run away from President Obama and the Democratic party agenda," said Jim Manley, a former spokesman for Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid. "How is the base supposed to get excited when elected Democrats are going to such great length to put as much distance as the can between them and a president that was elected twice by the American people," Manley asked.

Charlie Pierce notes

The piece mentions no specific policy position that might alienate the good folks of North Dakota, Montana, or West Virginia because that would spoil all the fun. But what are the issues for which she stands that would so revolt voters in the sticks? A sensible financial regulation system that prevailed in this country for 50 relatively prosperous years? A protection against the trickeration that you find on the back of every credit card? An end to usurious practices in the student loan industry? All of these things poll very well in every poll I've ever seen.

Democrats should not have run away from President Obama or his Affordable Care Act. Voters sense fear in a candidate's eyes and they will read "fear" in the eyes of Democrats noticeably running away from the Massachusetts senator.

In 2012, for reasons which include Hillary Clinton and go way beyond her, the Democratic Party was seen as standing for little, and turnout suffered as a result.  Donald Trump benefited by promising to "drain the swamp" and there arguably is no Democrat, as Pierce understands, who has worked as single-mindedly in the US Congress to do just that.

So Democrats should take their cue from Republican Clint Eastwood and should, in their own terminology, tell Republicans: go ahead make my day. It does not assure victory but running scared, displaying the fear in their eyes, nearly assures defeat for the Party.

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Tuesday, February 21, 2017

Politically Correct Outrage

There seems to be a bull market in anti-Semitism (incident on Monday, below) President Trump's USA  as

At least 17 Jewish community centers across the United States were targeted with bomb threats in the third wave of such mass disruption this month....

On Jan. 18, some 30 Jewish institutions in at least 17 states received bomb threats. On Jan. 9, such threats were called into 16 JCCs across the Northwest and South, forcing the evacuation of hundreds.

An NBC News correspondent posted on Twitter the response which he received from Presidential Press Secretary Sean Spicer, which read "Hatred and hate-motivated violence of any kind have no place in a country founded on the promise of individual freedom. The President has made it abundantly clear that these actions are unacceptable."

No, he hasn't, but never mind. With the statement slammed as inadequate, the President's daughter attempted to fill the breach with the tweet "America is a nation built on the principle of religious tolerance. We must protect our houses of worship & religious centers. #JCC."

She, too, was criticized.   Writing in the Huffington Post, Lee Moran posted several negative tweets, most of them noting that Ms. Trump/Mrs. Kushner would more usefully convey her message of tolerance to her father, who is President of the United States.   One of them pointed out "seriously, #Ivanka? Are you so tone-deaf, drowining in hubris, that u don't realize how disingenuous & ironic this tweet is?"

Notwithstanding the power of Steve Bannon and the insensitivity generally of the Administration toward anti-Semitism, the irony is limited.   Ivanka is an Orthodox Jew, as is husband Jared. However, there is less to her tweet than meets the eye.

No one, not even the religiously tolerant, would argue that the USA is not a country built upon the principle of religous tolerance, although that tolerance- initially- was granted primarily to Protestants.

More significantly, however, "we must protect our houses of worship & religious centers" means next to nothing. It is akin to the all-purpose apology "..... if anyone was offended by something said...."   Ezra Klein tweets, "What is the point of not using the words 'Jewish,' 'Jewish Community Center,' or anti-Semitism' in this context?"

The question is rhetorical or at least should be. We know what the point is. Fans of her father, even his base of alternative right supporters, have little quarrel with the bland "our houses of worship & religious centers."  But many of them, especially ones of the alternative right, have a problem with Jews.  Additionally, quite a few of Trump's supporters across-the-board believe that it is Christians who are discriminated against and need protection.

Presumably, Donald J. Trump is not anit-Semitic, and not only because he has a daughter who converted to Judaism and married a Jew.  Rather, there may be many things Trump says or fails to say, does or does not do, in which he does not believe. But a fellow who correctly understood that he could publicly "shoot somebody and not lose voters" knows who his voters are and the many ways to appeal to them.

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Not A Glamorous Idea

It may not be surprising that a conservative talk show radio host, syndicated nationally from St. Louis, would tweet "First black president snuck $221 million to the Palestinians instead of sending it to Flint where he received 100% of the black vote twice."

In 2017, the USA agreed to send the Palestinian Authority $263 million dollars, a reduction of $27 million. This reporter explains

The US does not deliver aid money directly into the PA’s coffers. Instead, to avoid possible misuse of funds, particularly to pay the salaries of convicted terrorists, the US channels aid into specific projects.

For example, the US can directly pay PA contractors who work on water or electricity infrastructure, and pay bills for schools and hospitals.

And of course the obvious question: what on God's green earth does aid to Flint, Michigan have to do with money sent to the Palestinian authority?

Not much-  but Stacy Washington makes much more sense when she talks about illegal immigration. Or at least she did when she recently wrote

Requiring all businesses to use E-Verify would drastically reduce illegal immigration by turning off the jobs magnet that attracts illegal laborers. That would protect American workers and boost wages. And unlike most Washington regulations, it would do so without burdening taxpayers and businesses or infringing on citizens' civil liberties.

The Department of Homeland Security administers E-Verify. The site cross-references employees' I-9 work authorization forms against their Social Security numbers, visas, and other government records. In a matter of seconds, the system either green-lights a hire or issues a "tentative nonconfirmation," which lets employers know that the person might not be authorized to work.

Erecting a physical structure to block entry into the USA of hordes (or over the last several years, trickles) of illegal "aliens" (obnoxiously, "illegals") is sexier and makes immigration critics hot.  But that does not address the largely unaddressed problem, as Stacy explains:

Mandating E-Verify would curb illegal immigration far more effectively than even the highest border wall could. That's because 40 percent of illegal immigrants arrive legally and then overstay their visas. Making it nearly impossible to hold a job without legitimate work papers would compel many illegal workers to return home and discourage others from illegally immigrating in the first place.

That should be a compelling motive, thus far from the thoughts of most conservatives, who are much more determined to keep immigrants from voting or receiving from government benefits such as education or health care.

Stacy concludes that mandatory application of E-verify would be

the quickest, most efficient way to deter illegal immigration. It would boost wages and open up job opportunities for American citizens and legal immigrants. And since this electronic wall is already in place, nobody would have to pay for it. Not even Mexico.

The case that immigration reduces wages and benefits has not been convincingly made, despite the claim, as cited by Stacy, that "immigration reduces (lower-paid) workers" wages by up to $1,500 per year." The belief is intuitive, yet in this case is reminiscent of the retail promo "prices up to 50% off" (which may turn out to be 5% of less in most cases).

But the argument that unemployed and already-employed workers would benefit by e-verify (or generally tougher enforcement of immigration laws) has not been proven largely because it has little constituency.  Democrats are not exorcised by increased immigration nor the prospect of allowing illegal immigrants to remain in the country. The GOP's popular base wants a hard wall, a visible symbol of their antagonism toward immigrants, and probably of more.  And employers are not energized by thoughts of increasing compensation of their workers, nor that the latter can be free to speak up without fear of deportation.

As Stacy explains, requiring use by employers of E-verify would be more effective and far cheaper than building a wall. Nor would it create a structure which decades, even centuries, into the future would be not only literally, but figuratively, ugly.

It also would not require re-invention of the wheel. Howver, in an age in which a politician can appeal to voters by proclaiming he will "utterly destroy" a major terrorist organization and "I alone can fix it" (no matter the "it"), that does not bode well for its prospects.

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Sunday, February 19, 2017

Very Special Friends

A reliable source quotes Paul Newman's Henry Gondorff in The Sting (1973) remarking "You gotta keep his con even after you take him. He can't know that you took him."

Donald Trump's supporters are probably a long way from figuring out they're being taken, and Trump knows it.

Yesterday in Melbourne, Florida the President warned "You look at what’s happening in Germany, you look at what’s happening last night in Sweden. Sweden. Who would believe this? Sweden. They took in large numbers. They’re having problems like they never thought possible.

Who would have believed it, indeed? No doubt most of Trump's supporters there and throughout the USA believe something happened in Sweden Friday night, and still do.  Fortunately, it was just another of Trump's fantasies because nothing happened in Sweden Friday except cold weather. Its last terrorist attack occurred in 2010, despite its acceptance of 200,000 refugees from the greater Middle East.

That led Charles Pierce not only to quote the fictional Gondorff  but to tweet "If you haven't seen Frederic Douglasss's oration in memory of the victims of the Bowling Green Massacre in Stockholm, go to YouTube now."

Trump's assiduous avoidance of truth reflects a central fact of his appeal and danger. At the Melbouren rally, he claimed "I'm here because I want to be among my friends and among the people."

But during the transition period, he was singing a different tune to members at a reception at  his New Jersey club. With an admission fee of $100,000 ($200,000 since the election), they are not the "friends and the people" who came out for him on Friday, nor the white working-class folks who attached their fears and dreams, mostly fears, to him on November 9.    Instead

“So, this is my real group,” Trump said at the Trump National Golf Club in Bedminster, on November 18, according to the audiotape. “These are the people that came here in the beginning, when nobody knew what this monster was gonna turn out to be, right?”

Trump had a packed schedule of meetings that weekend less than two weeks after the election. On the Saturday after the cocktail party, Trump met with Mitt Romney, Michelle Rhee, Betsy DeVos, Todd Ricketts, Bob Woodson, Lew Eisenberg and Dr. Patrick Soon-Shiong. On Sunday, John Gray, Kris Kobach, Wilbur Ross, Chris Christie, Rudy Giuliani, Robert Johnson and David McCormick all schlepped out to Bedminster for meetings.He added: “I see all of you. I recognize, like 100 percent of you, just about"... 

The President asked this salt-of-the-earth bunch for suggestions on how to run the federal government and

The supportive crowd ate it up as the relaxed Trump, in his element, gave them a close-up view of how he was setting up the government. “You are the special people,” he told the crowd of about 100 members, who mingled around a sushi station served by a waiter wearing a camouflage “Make America Great Again” cap.

Donald Trump promised to "drain the swamp," never mentioning he was going to refill it with alligators, including Steve Mnuchin, whose net worth of $400 million was fueled by turning OneWest into a foreclosure machine.

Odds are fairly good that Trump's Melbourne crowd of 9,000 included a few supporters his new Treasury Secretary foreclosed upon in the audition for leadership in an administration shaping up as a Wall Street reunion.

Trump gave his supporters in Florida what they came for, repeated lies interspersed with red meat. But the biggest lie was the least complicated: I am here for you.   He's here for some people, but they're the ones he so flattered at the Bedminster, New Jersey Golf Club.  For all the others, he'll keep the con going and going.

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Saturday, February 18, 2017

Papa Donald

A couple of weeks ago, David Frum painted a dystopian portrait of the future in which "it's 2020, and President Donald Trump will shortly be sworn in for his second term."  The nightmare includes a landscape in which

The media have grown noticeably more friendly to Trump as well. The proposed merger of AT&T and Time Warner was delayed for more than a year, during which Time Warner’s CNN unit worked ever harder to meet Trump’s definition of fairness. Under the agreement that settled the Department of Justice’s antitrust complaint against Amazon, the company’s founder, Jeff Bezos, has divested himself of The Washington Post. The paper’s new owner—an investor group based in Slovakia—has closed the printed edition and refocused the paper on municipal politics and lifestyle coverage.

If Saturday's Washington Post is any indication, it is halfway there.

At Thursday's news conference, President Trump repeatedly referred to "fake news,"  an all-purpose rationalization. Trump particularly hates one network, perhaps because it reminds him of himself: "I mean, I watch CNN, it's so much anger and hatred and just the hatred."

More so, the press is generally being scapegoated. The President maintained "Russia is fake news. Russia -- this is fake news put out by the media."  Moreover, "it was all a, you know, fake news, fabricated deal, to try and make up for the loss of the Democrats and the press plays right into it."

"Fake" evidently can be rolled out as an adjective to discredit anything, given that Trump claimed "I said to somebody that was in the room, I said 'you take a look at Reince, he's working so hard just putting out fires that are fake fires.' I men, they're fake. They're not true."

Or it can be a ready made excuse for failure, as in Vladimir Putin is "sitting behind his desk and he's saying 'you know, I see what's going on in the United States, I follow it closely. It's going to be impossible for President Trump to ever get along with Russia because of all the presure he's got with this fake story.'"

But whenever you think Donald Trump has hit rock bottom, it turns out to have been a false bottom. On Friday, he tweeted (capitalization his) "The FAKE NEWS media (failing @nytimes, @NBC News, @ABC, @CBS, @CNN) is not my enemy. It is the enemy of the American People!" (For NBC, it's only its news division because Trump is still getting paid from its entertainment division. The man may be ignorant, even slightly deranged, but he's not stupid.)

As Trump himself would say were it not about him- "some say" that has fascist overtones. The media may hear "nice little news operation you have there- it would be a shame if one of those Americans thought I was serious about that 'enemy' thing."

It could happen. Ryan Lizzaa tweets "Not the front-page photo I was expecting the day after Trump calls the media the enemy":

In a story which has a happy ending, Jim Rutenberg notes

This is how the muzzling starts: not with a boot on your neck, but with the fear of one that runs so deep that you muzzle yourself.

Maybe it’s the story you decide against doing because it’s liable to provoke a press-bullying president to put the power of his office behind his attempt to destroy your reputation by falsely calling your journalism “fake.”

Maybe it’s the line you hold back from your script or your article because it could trigger a federal leak investigation into you and your sources (so, yeah, jail).

Or, maybe it’s the commentary you spike because you’re a publicly supported news channel and you worry it will cost your station its federal financing.

Although the front page photo in The Washington Post probably was accompanied by the paper's usual objective, stellar reporting, the adage remains "a picture tells a thousand words." Notwithstanding the photograph showing an elderly man apparently pained to be holding the hands of two young children, the image will linger as a grandfatherly one while serving no useful journalistic purpose.  We can only hope this is but a blip because the fourth estate is one of the few institutions standing between the American people and the plans of  Donald Trump, Steve Bannon, and others for a country hitherto unimaginable.

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Friday, February 17, 2017

The Family Dodge

"I have no idea why President Trump would make up a story about me like he did today,"  countered the ranking member of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee.  April Ryan had asked President Trump about having a meeting with the Congressional Black Caucus and the President commented

I was all set to have the meeting. You know, we called him and called him. And he was all set. I spoke to him on the phone, very nice guy.....

He wanted it, but we called, called, called and can't make a meeting with hm. Every day I walk and say I would like to meet with him becuase I do want to solve the problem. But he probably was told by Schumer or somebody like that, some other lightweight. He was proably told- he was probably told "don't met with Trump. It's bad politics.

So Donald Trump lied. Big deal- his lips moved, he lied. Nothing new there. Nor is it surprising that when African-American Ryan asked about the absence of a meeting with the CBC, Trump responded "Do you want to set up the meeting?" After Ryan started to respond "I'm not," the President interrupted with "are they friends of yours?" Appropriately nonplussed, Ryan stated "I'm just a reporter" and the President replied "well, then set up the meeting."

Trump's Administration is in such disarray that he can't get his people to set up a simple meeting. And he thinks all black people know all other black people.  And Saturday follows Friday.

Lamentably less controversially, the President claimed

So here's the story, folks. Number one, I am the least anti- Semitic person that you've ever seen in your entire life. Number two, racism, the least racist person. In fact, we did very well relative to other people running as a Republican -- quiet, quiet, quiet.

Famously, the Office of the White House lost track of six million murders on Holocaust Remembrance Day, wiping out the genocidal nature of the Nazi regime.  When the White House recently released its list of "underreported" acts of terrorism it somehow omitted what by one account  are the "350 terrorist attacks — including stabbings, shootings, vehicular ramming attacks and a bus bombing —" targeting Israeli victims, most of them Jews, since September 13, 2015. Jacob Weisberg reminds us that President Trump declared "a position of 'America First' in his inaugural address. He either doesn’t know or doesn’t care that was the slogan of America’s pro-Nazi isolationist movement, which accused Jews of drawing the country into war."

And who can forget this tweet during the campaign, from a white supremacist's website?

Fewer than can recall, from the campaign's final week, the arguably anti-Semitic ad which famed white nationalist Richard Spencer labeled "powerful,"

Trump has an all-purpose answer whenever he is charged- and when he is not- with anti-Semitism.  Wednesday was typical, when he responded to a question about national disunity by saying "Hopefully, I'll be able to do something about that. And you know it's something that was very important to me. As far as people, Jewish people, so many friends, a daughter who happens to be here right now, a son-in-law, and three beautiful grandchildren."

Thirteen months ago, American Jew and Haaretz columnist Peter Beinart warned

For years, Benito Mussolini carried on an affair with a Venetian Jewish woman named Margherita Sarfatti. He nevertheless boasted about his hatred of “these disgusting Jews,” a hatred that he claimed long preceded Italy’s implementation of anti-Semitic legislation in 1938. 

In his book, The Captive Mind, Czeslaw Milosz describes an anti-Semitic writer in 1930s Poland who “had many Jewish friends, and the very day he published his racist statements, he would come to these friends…and falling on his knees, would declare his love for them.” Notorious anti-Jewish polemicists of 16th Century Central Europe, Johannes Pfefferkorn and Anton Margaritha, were both Jewish converts to Christianity. Even Hitler himself expressed deep affection toward Eduard Bloch, a Jewish doctor from Vienna who had treated his mother. Calling Bloch a “noble Jew,” Hitler instructed the Gestapo to protect him even as Nazi forces sent other Austrian Jews to their deaths. 

Skepticism should ensue when someone touts his personal affection for individuals while indentifying them by their religious, ethnic, or racial group.  Many people have black friends or have even voted for black political candidates while believing the latter are anomalous.  Decades ago, in Donald Trump's formative years, it was not uncommon to hear "some of my best friends are colored." It was a tip-off, even as it was sometimes accurate. "Personal behavior," Beinart observes, "often contradicts public ideology."

Beinart adds

Lueger, the notoriously anti-Semitic turn-of-the-century mayor of Vienna who inspired Adolf Hitler, had numerous Jewish friends. Asked to explain the apparent contradiction, he declared, 'I decide who is a Jew.'" 

It is not hard to imagine that Donald Trump believes his daughter, son-in-law, and Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin are Jewish while believing other Jewish people.  Scapegoating those Jews he reviles because, or independent, of their religious affiliation also is not a stretch.

We know Donald Trump is narcissistic and dishonest.  We do not know that he is a racist or anti-Semite, or has other characteristics seemingly on display.  But just as he undoubtedly has black friends while he fans the flames of racial animosity, sincere affection for his daughter and the man she married, as well as their children prove little.

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Thursday, February 16, 2017

Upon Further Review...

President Trump may have gotten religion (not Christianity, Judaism, or Islam), switching gears on the USA's traditional "one  China" policy. And in what has been seen as an effort to avoid a trade war with the mainland Chinese, the Trump Administration recently has altered its approach toward alleged currency manipulation by Beijing. On Feburary 14, Slate's Jordan Weissman explained

According to the Wall Street Journal, the White House's National Trade Council is eyeing a plan that would address currency manipulation generally without aiming at China specifically by deeming the practice an unfair subsidy. That will allow individual companies that feel they've been hurt as a result of currency manipulation by China, or by any other country, to bring complaints before the Commerce Department and ask for countervailing tariffs.

Hopeful but appropriately skeptical, Weissman acknowledged "if China ever did start manipulating the value of its currency down again, letting companies complain about it to the Commerce Department might be an inadequate response."

Well, well.   The day after the piece from the somewhat prescient Weissman, The Associated Press reported

The government of China awarded U.S. President Donald Trump valuable rights to his own name this week, in the form of a 10-year trademark for construction services.

The registration became official on Feb. 14 and was published in a trademark registration announcement on the website of China's Trademark Office on Wednesday.

This may well be the first foreign trademark to be handed to Trump during his presidency, but is unlikely to be the last. In China alone he has 49 pending trademark applications and 77 marks already registered in his own name, most of which will come up for renewal during his term.

It's the same old tune, played over and over again in this Administration, now applied to the world's (still) pre-eminent totalitarian regime:

Critics say Trump's global intellectual property interests could be used by foreign states as leverage over the president and may violate the emoluments clause of the U.S. Constitution, which bars public servants from accepting anything of value from foreign governments unless explicitly approved by Congress. These concerns are particularly sharp in China, where the courts and bureaucracy reflect the will of the ruling Communist Party.

The registration this week came as a surprise win for Trump after a decade of trying — and failing — to wrest the rights to his name back from a man named Dong Wei. The abrupt turn in Trump's bureaucratic fortunes once he declared his candidacy has raised questions about the extent to which his political status may be helping his family business.

Questions, indeed  Norman Painter, along with President Obama ethics lawyer Norman Eisen, represent Citizens for Responsiblity and Ethics in Washington in its lawsuit filed in January against Trump. Eisen calls Painter "the Number 1 scholar in the country on government ethics" and

Any special treatment from China would mean that Trump effectively accepted a present from Beijing, an act that would violate the Constitution, Richard Painter, chief White House ethics lawyer under President George W. Bush, said in an email. "A different conclusion might be reached if Trump had been treated like everyone else seeking a trademark, but the evidence does not point in that direction."

The Trumpists still maintain that President Trump would never, ever have any connection with his businesses while he is President. And so

Alan Garten, chief legal officer of The Trump Organization, said Trump's trademark activity in China predates his election. Trump has turned management of his company over to his children and a team of executives in order to remove himself from his business and its trademark portfolio, he added.

China's State Administration for Industry and Commerce, which oversees the Trademark Office, and the foreign ministry could not be reached for comment Wednesday.

David Frum tweeted about last week "one aide violated ethics rules to enrich Trump's family; and then lied about deal to lift sanctions on pro-Trump espionage." (Conway understands well the purposes of this regime.) By all means, investigate thoroughly any connections between General Flynn- and all other individuals in this Administration- and the Kremlin. But also and always, follow the money.  And get those tax returns released.

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Wednesday, February 15, 2017

Russian Ties Are Not Ties From Russia.

David Frum has explained that Donald Trump

has repeatedly and emphatically rejected criticism of Vladimir Putin’s methods of rule, including his murders of journalists.

He has called NATO obsolete because it is too focused on the threat from Russia. At his own convention, he told The New York Times he would not defend small NATO countries like Estonia against a Russian attack.

Trump’s convention team, largely indifferent to the work of the party-platform committee, acted decisively to strike pro-Ukraine language. Trump himself has urged decreased U.S. support for Ukraine as it resists Russian invasion.

And at this most recent press conference, he indicated openness to recognizing Russia’s conquest and annexation of Crimea—and expressed opposition to maintaining sanctions against Russia. That statement would have topped the news on any day except one in which a candidate for United States president openly invited foreign espionage against his political opponent.

That's a pretty good summary- or was a good summary, when Frum wrote it on July 27, 2016. The latest is The New York Times' discovery that

Phone records and intercepted calls show that members of Donald J. Trump’s 2016 presidential campaign and other Trump associates had repeated contacts with senior Russian intelligence officials in the year before the election, according to four current and former American officials.

American law enforcement and intelligence agencies intercepted the communications around the same time they were discovering evidence that Russia was trying to disrupt the presidential election by hacking into the Democratic National Committee, three of the officials said. The intelligence agencies then sought to learn whether the Trump campaign was colluding with the Russians on the hacking or other efforts to influence the election.

And Frum's bill of particulars came more than two months before the office of National Intelligence, after months of speculation about Russian involvement in the USA election, stated the DNC emails "thefts and disclosures are intended to interfere with the US election process.  We believe, based on the scope and sensitivity of these efforts, that only Russia's senior-most officials could have authorized these activities.”

(For extra credit: what other election campaign news hit on the same day, on October 7?)

Ten days ago- or two days before the current Michael Flynn saga began- the NYT reported

President Trump cast doubt on whether Moscow is backing separatists engaged in the recent escalation of fighting in eastern Ukraine, appearing to side with President Vladimir V. Putin of Russia, who has long denied involvement in the conflict despite evidence to the contrary.

Mr. Trump said he did not take offense at the outbreak of a lethal bout of fighting in Ukraine that came within a day of a phone conversation he had with Mr. Putin, saying of the recent clashes, “we don’t really know exactly what that is.”

They’re pro-forces,” Mr. Trump said of the Ukrainian separatists in an interview that aired on Monday on “The O’Reilly Factor,” on Fox News. “We don’t know, are they uncontrollable? Are they uncontrolled? That happens also. We’re going to find out; I would be surprised, but we’ll see.”

The report unavoidably suggested "Mr. Trump’s comments were the latest indication that his desire for warmer relations with Russia may be coloring his view of the conflict in Ukraine..."

Of course, "warmer relations with Russia" mat be a euphemism for "toady" (video below from late September).  And yet, President Trump has tweeted (capitalization his)  "Crimea was TAKEN by Russia during the Obama Administration. Was Obama too soft on Russia?"  Politico notes

Trump’s tweet follows comments from White House press secretary Sean Spicer, who said on Tuesday that the president will take a harder line against Russia and expects the country to withdraw from Crimea in the future.

Everyone is a comedian.  And Donald Trump is a comedian whose stock in trade is diversion and dishonesty. Still, nothing should be assumed. When he tweets "was Obama too soft on Russia?" we should ask " what is your answer, Mr. President?"

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Tuesday, February 14, 2017

Urge To Intimidate

"Our opponents, the media and the whole world will soon see," argued Trump senior policy director Stephen Miller," as we begin to take further actions, that the powers of the president to protect our country are very substantial and will not be questioned.”

A cynic might suggest there is only one word to describe a president as Miller has. That word would be "despot."  However, "autocrat" also would do quite nicely.

Steve Miller should have stuck with music, but is not alone in his regard for presidential authority. The Washington Post reported Monday that Assistant to the President and Director of Communications for the Office of Public Liaison Omarosa Manigault

got into a heated argument with a White House reporter just steps from the Oval Office last week, according to witnesses. The reporter, April Ryan, said Manigault “physically intimidated” her in a manner that could have warranted intervention by the Secret Service.

Ryan also said Manigault made verbal threats, including the assertion that Ryan was among several journalists on whom Trump officials had collected “dossiers” of negative information.

Manigault, a onetime friend of Ryan’s, declined to address Ryan’s accusations on the record, offering only this emailed statement: “My comment: Fake news!” She did not specify what she considered false.

The incident occurred

outside White House press secretary Sean Spicer’s West Wing office late Wednesday. Among the witnesses were White House press office staffers and a Washington Post reporter, Abby Phillip.

Phillip said she didn’t hear every word of the women’s exchange but said Ryan told her afterward that she felt Manigault’s behavior was so threatening that it was “Secret Serviceable,” meaning that it rose to the level of law enforcement intervention.

Ryan, a veteran White House correspondent for the American Urban Radio Networks, used the same phrase repeatedly in an interview. “She stood right in my face like she was going to hit me,” Ryan said. “I said, ‘You better back up.’ . . . She thought I would be bullied. I won’t be.”

This did not spring up out of nowhere.  Rather (not Dan)

The argument apparently stemmed from emails that Manigault sent to Ryan during the presidential campaign.

In October, Manigault sent Ryan an email raising questions about whether Ryan was being paid by Hillary Clinton’s campaign — a claim Ryan vigorously denies. Manigault included a link to an article from the Intercept, which covers national security issues.

The article detailed the Clinton campaign’s effort to secure favorable media coverage by “manipulating” reporters; it included a list compiled by Clinton staffers of TV surrogates who were part of the campaign. It published a separate list of journalists, including Ryan, whom the campaign hoped to influence but were not paid by the Clintons.

“This story suggests that as a reporter, you are (or were) a paid Clinton surrogate,” Manigault wrote in the email. “I pray this is not true! This could be hurtful to your legacy and the integrity of your work.”

The article did not imply Ryan was a paid Clinton surrogate, but facts are elusive things to the crowd now polluting Washington, D.C.  Not content with confusing surrogacy with uh, er, objectivity

Manigault sent a second email to Ryan a few minutes later. It read, “Protect your legacy!! You have worked too hard to have people question your ethics as a journalist. People talking trash about the reporters on that list having NO integrity. It’s hurtful to hear people say those things about you.”

Ryan said she was devastated by any intimation that she was unethical. “It’s just ugly,” she said. “She’s trying to harm my integrity and my career. I’ve been [covering the White House] for 20 years. I plan to be here for the next 20 years. You don’t mess with someone’s livelihood.”

During their altercation, Ryan said Manigault told her that she was among several African American journalists who were the subject of White House “dossiers.” Manigault has previously said that Trump is keeping “a list” of opponents, though at the time she was referring to Republicans who voted against Trump.

Ryan laughed off the claim of dossiers and Manigault, a friend of Trump from "The Apprentice" days, may have been making it up. However, keeping dossiers on reporters is a staple of police states, as is claiming the immunity from criticism Miller does for President Trump.

In his recent piece "How Donald Trump Could Build an Autocracy in the U.S.," David Frum explains

The rulers of backsliding democracies resent an independent press, but cannot extinguish it. They may curb the media’s appetite for critical coverage by intimidating unfriendly journalists, as President Jacob Zuma and members of his party have done in South Africa. Mostly, however, modern strongmen seek merely to discredit journalism as an institution, by denying that such a thing as independent judgment can exist.

It doesn't have to be the ruler himself trying to intimidate unfriendly journalists. He has Manigault to do it individually. Smearing the press generally may be left to Miller or to Kellyanne Conway, who has accused the press of being "the Opposition Party. Not the Democratic Party. You're the Opposition Party."

With the explosion of the Flynn story, there was insufficient note taken of the Trump regime's response to criticism of Stephen Miller.  In a normal Administration, there would have been an effort to allay fears with a statement of regret, a claim that the comment was misintepreted, or at least an assurance that the statement applied only to the issue of the day, in this case refugee policy.

But nothing ensued, nothing to clarify, re-word, tone down, or assuage anyone's concerns. Not coincidentally, there is only (Dear Leader) "will not be questioned."  Frum observes

A president who plausibly owes his office at least in part to a clandestine intervention by a hostile foreign intelligence service? Who uses the bully pulpit to target individual critics? Who creates blind trusts that are not blind, invites his children to commingle private and public business, and somehow gets the unhappy members of his own political party either to endorse his choices or shrug them off? If this were happening in Honduras, we’d know what to call it.

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Monday, February 13, 2017

Breaking News: Melania Trump Is Not A Prostitute

It can now be told:  Melania Trump is no prostitute.

You probably assumed that anyway but now, in defense of Mrs. Trump, supermodel, actress, and Bernie Sanders supporter Emily Ratajkowski wants you to know it. Politico reports

Editors at the New York Times have reprimanded a reporter for referring to first lady Melania Trump as a “hooker” at an event Sunday night, calling the remarks “completely inappropriate.”

The reporter in question, who has not been identified by the paper, came under fire Monday morning after supermodel Emily Ratajkowski made the reporter’s remarks public in a series of tweets. Ratajkowski, who said the reporter made the remarks while sitting next to her at a New York Fashion Week event, called the comment “disgusting sexist bull---t.”

Keep it classy, Emily. Continuing

“At a party last night, a Times reporter who does not cover Washington or politics, referred to an unfounded rumor regarding Melania Trump,” a Times spokesperson said in a statement to POLITICO. “The comment was not intended to be public, but it was nonetheless completely inappropriate and should not have occurred. Editors have talked to the reporter in question about the lapse.”

In one tweet, Ratajkowski contended "what it is: slut shaming. I don't care about her nudes or sexual history and no one should."

There is almost no information available, so we don't know about what precisely was said, to whom, in what volume, in what context, and whom else was in a position to hear the reporter's remark. Those are mere inconsequential details to Ratajkowski.  Consequently, we can't even be sure whether the reporter was referring to Melania's previous work as a model, speculating about her once being an escort, or something else entirely.

The problem is exacerbated by use of the word "hooker," which literally means "prostitute," but like "racism" or "slut-shaming" is bandied about loosely.

We can, though, speculate about two things. One is that Ms. Ratajkowski has made discussion (hopefully, limited and brief) about Mrs. Trump's character a possible topic of discussion in the context of "slut-shaming," which appears to have been her motive disguised as concern about the First Lady.

The other is that the press is running scared of a President of the United States who pursues personal vendettas. The Politico article concludes

Trump is suing the U.K.-based media company Daily Mail for running an article that included the unfounded rumor that she had once been a “high-end escort.” Trump recently settled a defamation suit with a Maryland-based blogger, who has since retracted and issued a lengthy apology for repeating two rumors about the first lady on his blog. 

We now know, from Emily Ratajkowski's tweeting, that some people (erroneously) consider Melania Trump a "hooker," or alternatively, an ex-hooker. More disturbingly, an offensive, off-hand (as far as is known) comment which would have remained obscure can now be reported broadly and come back to haunt the speaker. Expect more of this sort of thing. Bashir Assad, a fan of Donald Trump, would be proud.

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Sunday, February 12, 2017

A Disguise

In an article originally appearing elsewhere but on February 9 in Salon, law school administrators Erwin Chemirinsky and Howard Gillman defend the University of California-Berkeley against charges it denied Milo Yiannopopulos freedom of speech when his appearance there was cancelled on February 1, 2016.

The highly controversial and stridently right-wing opportunist Yiannopoulos had been invited by the college's Young Republicans.  However, his appearance sparked a black Bloc outburst of approximately 1500 individuals, roughly 10% of whom wore black masks and other black garb, in some cases throwing fireworks and rocks at police and Molotove coctails which resulted in fires.

Berkeley ultimately had little choice but to cancel the event in consideration of the safety and security of everyone, even though it had, as Chemerinsky and Gillman note, employed "extensive security arrangements, including bringing in dozens of police officers from nine other UC campuses."

The university's effort to uphold the principle of free expression did not impress President Trump, who early the following morning irresponsibly tweeeted (capitalization his, of course) "If U.C. Berkeley does not allow free speech and practices violence on innocent people with a different point of view- NO FEDERAL FUNDS?"

If you thought the tweet was hypocritical, you've been paying attention; surprising, you have not been.

On July 11, 2016 Politico had reported that earlier that day Donald Trump had

bestowed another moniker upon himself:  "the law and order candidate."

"We must maintain law and order at hte highest level or we will cease to have a country, 100 percent," he said during a speech in Virginia Beach,Virginia, in which he heaped praise upon America's law enforcement officers.  "We will cease to have a country. I am the law and order candidate."

In an issues paper appearing shortly after taking office, the President struck the same tone, and with the same language. "The Trump Administration," it went, "will be a law and order administration (which) wll honor our men and women in uniform and will support their mission of protecting the public."

There was no mention of the "men and women in uniform" nor of "protecting the public" in Trump's response to the organized mayhem at Berkeley.

Nor was there any mention of the "law and order" George Corley Wallace and Richard Milhous Nixon had effectively invoked in campaigns long past and which Trump had reclaimed in his run for office. That was no coincidence because Trump's rhetoric of, and expressed concern for, law and order always has been a sham.

His outrage was belied, obviously, by the dozens of lawsuits pending against Mr. Trump, the dalliance as a real estate mogul with La Cosa Nostra, and his involvement in a myriad of financial deals sure to enhance his personal and family wealth while he is President.

Trump's rantings about law and order always have been both strategically motivated and a disturbing reflection of his character.  Among other indications, racial discrimination appears to have been a hallmark of his business career. He condoned the beating at one of his rallies of a Black Lives Matter protestor, is comfortable with the support of white supremacists, and stereotypes "the blacks," sometimes treating them as tokens,  There are other signs and your mileage may vary.

Yet, perhaps the most dangerous manifestation of Trump's racial hostility can be found in the image (below, from FactCheck) he tweeted in November of 2015.

Politifact rated the chart as "pants on fire" and explained

None of the numbers are supported by official sources. The figures on black-on-white homicides and white-on-white homicides are wildly inaccurate. And, as several news organizations quickly noted, the "Crime Statistics Bureau" doesn’t exist. We looked for that agency as well and the closest we found in San Francisco were a number of crime scene clean-up services...

The most glaring inaccuracies have to do with white homicide victims. Trump cast blacks as the primary killers of whites, but the exact opposite is true. By overwhelming percentages, whites tend to kill other whites. Similarly, blacks tend to kill other blacks. These trends have been observed for decades.

A couple of numbers are so clearly out of whack that Trump must have strongly suspected they were inaccurate. Politifact found that 82%, rather than 16%, of white victims were killed by other whites; and that 15%, rather than 81%, of white victims were killed by blacks.

The grotesquely inaccurate and deceptive statistics Trump relayed inspire generalized fear by encouraging the misleading impression that violence is perpetrated by strangers, rather than acquaintances. Further (and more obviously), they prompt whites to distrust and even fear (in fewer cases to dislike) blacks.

For Donald Trump, law and order is, as it was for George Wallace and Richard Nixon, more than a slogan. It represents a bulwark against disruption of the social order by undesirables- liberals, the media, immigrants, and especially blacks, a useful slogan for a bitter and hateful authoritarian.

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The Lie Laughed At Around the World

I suppose if a guy would in the Oval Office advocate the execution of "a staffer who leaked a story ," it's not surprising th...