Wednesday, May 31, 2017

A Big Burden

Legacies can be a mixed bag.  Coincidentally, two figures who do, or will, illustrate that most clearly are/were German.

Attributing a little too much to Martin Luther's impact on 20th century European history, Lutheran historian Martin E. Marty summarizes

Luther contributed to anti-Semitism in Germany. Because Jews frustrated him by not accepting the gospel, he turned on them, writing, “Burn their synagogues and drive them out!” Not much happened with that sentiment for a couple of centuries, but beginning in the 1800s, anti-Semitism increased more and more. It’s stupid to say Luther is Hitler’s spiritual ancestor. But it’s not stupid to say that in his rather blind striking out at Jews, Luther unintentionally provided the passion, vocabulary, and rationale for some horrible things that happened to Jews in our time.

Connection with vocabulary and rationale probably were more prominent than his effect on passion, for events probably would have played out roughly as they did without Luther.  Although Luther was prompted most by the practice of buying and selling of indulgences common in the Church, the impact upon mankind of the Great Reformer is nearly unparalleled because (according to the editors of Christianity Today)

Every Protestant Reformer—like Calvin, Zwingli, Knox, and Cranmer—and every Protestant stream—Lutheran, Reformed, Anglican, and Anabaptist—were inspired by Luther in one way or another. On a larger canvas, his reform unleashed forces that ended the Middle Ages and ushered in the modern era.

Not bad for an individual who in his later years became bitterly anti-Semitic and anti-Catholic.

Although lacking Luther's personal failings, Angela Merkel has in the past contributed to Europe's economic woes. Danny Vinik- in an article with a highly misleading headline- explains 

For years, German rules and regulations have held down wage growth. With productivity growing faster than workers' pay, German manufacturers have developed a competitive advantage against their international counterparts. Furthermore, this slow wage growth, in combination with tight fiscal policy, has led to less German consumer demand, an especially large problem for countries like Spain, Greece and Italy that have suffered because of lower consumer demand since the financial crisis. In other words, German citizens could be buying Greek wines and Italian pastas, providing an influx of money into those countries. But German economic policies have choked off such consumer spending, holding back both the recovery of their weaker neighbors as well as the global economy.

“By not encouraging a stronger domestic demand, Germany continues to be reliant on trade and exports to maintain their economic strength,” said Bruce Hirsh, a former assistant U.S. trade representative. “They would, of course, claim that’s just good economics. Whether that’s the case or not, it’s certainly having that impact.”

Germany has also benefited from the euro. The value of the euro is based on international trade and capital flows of the 18 countries that use the currency. Because Germany has a relatively stronger, more productive economy than its EU counterparts, the euro is effectively undervalued for Germany. In other words, if Germany was still using the deutschmark, the currency would be stronger, reducing exports and increasing imports. Germany would be less competitive internationally if it had a national currency. According to an International Monetary Fund report from last year, German’s inflation-adjusted exchange rate is undervalued by 10 percent to 20 percent, up from 5 percent to 15 percent in 2014. And in 2016, Germany’s dollar-denominated current account surplus — the amount savings exceed investment — was $300 billion, the largest in the world.

“When the euro is weak, Germany will be exceptionally competitive globally,” said Setser. “That’s a byproduct of participation in the euro.”

The Germans have also exported these macroeconomic policies to the rest of the Eurozone by forcing nations like Greece to adopt tight fiscal policy in exchange for bailouts. Such policies have benefited German manufacturers which have maintained their economic competitiveness, but it has led to a very slow recovery across Europe, which has weighed on the global economy.

If Angela Merkel were an American, she would be a very bad choice for Secretary of the Treasury or any other economic post.

But she is not an American, and is instead the head of state of Europe's premier economic powerhouse.   Further, she is not Chancellor of Germany while Ronald Reagan, Bill Clinton, George W. Bush, or another reasonably conventional politician heads the world's greatest superpower.

She is Chancellor at a time when the USA is headed by someone alternately not reasonable or ignorant, who consistently "plays the president on television and on Twitter."

Angela Merkel and the German people are highly conscious of the history of the first half of the twentieth century, and have been accordingly reluctant to assume military leadership in Europe.

History has taught us the peril of a militarized Germany, a lesson we were taught by British diplomat Hastings Ismay, who in the 1950s described the purpose of NATO as "to keep the Americans in, the Russians out, and the Germans down."

That aphorism is no longer valid, given that the European nations now are in a stage of cooperation, not competition. Fred Kaplan notes "Russian President Vladimir Putin's chief foreign policy goal is to restore the old Soviet Union," which can be accomplished "only if the European Union is weakened and the ties between the United States and Europe are severed." Donald Trump is pursuing those twin objectives, and the response must come from Berlin.

God must be partial to irony.  In the sixteenth century, it was up to Martin Luther, a monk with severe shortcomings, to call "foul" on the Roman Catholic Church. In the twenty-first century, it is up to Angela Merkel, who has stifled economic recovery on the continent, nonetheless to assume the role thrust upon her as leader of the Transatlantic Alliance, hence of the free world.

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Tuesday, May 30, 2017

Upon Further Review, They May Simply Be Republicans

What is going on in Texas? Or as they surely would put it at the Texas capitol, "what the hell is going on in Texas?"

Nothing good, at least on immigration. One need not be an advocate of both-siderism to assume trouble ahead when the Texas Tribune earlier this month featured such headlines as "Advocates call for more 'sanctuary congregations' ahead of new Texas law;"; "Paxton looks to get ahead of legal challenges to 'sanctuary cities' ban"; Houston Police Chief ready to reluctantly enforce 'sanctuary' law."

And those articles appeared weeks before the last day of the state legislature when, as described by Talking Points Memo

A Republican state lawmaker prompted a scuffle in the Texas House on Monday when he told his Democratic colleagues that it had called Immigration and Customs Enforcement on protesters in the capitol who were speaking out against a new immigration law.

Republican state Rep. Matt Rinaldi acknowledged in a Facebook post that he called ICE on people protesting SB4, a new law that will allow law enforcement to ask about the immigration status of anyone they detain. When Rinaldi told his colleagues in the state House that he had called ICE, he started a verbal altercation, according to Democratic members of the state House.

Here in New Jersey, we call a "verbal altercation" an "argument."  Yet, in New Jersey (or anywhere else, presumably) things don't proceed in such a manner as that

Democratic state Rep. Ramon Romero Jr. told reporters that Rinaldi told them, “I called ICE — fuck them,'” according to the Texas Tribune. Romero said that Rinaldi also said “Fuck you” directly to Democratic lawmakers, per the Texas Tribune.

At that point, Democratic state Rep. Cesar Blanco noted to Rinaldi that Italian Americans were also once immigrants, according to Romero.

Blanco told reporters that Rinaldi responded, “‘The difference between me and them is that I love this country.'”

That's an intriguing argument, especially because it is rarely made by Republicans, particularly when "Make America Great Again" was popularized by their presidential nominee, who obviously has contempt for American institutions and traditions.  But if you think it couldn't have gotten worse in the Texas legislature, consider

Democratic state Rep. Justin Rodriguez told reporters that Rinaldi threatened to shoot one of his colleagues.

“There was a subsequent exchange between my brother Poncho and Representative Rinaldi and there was a threat made from Rinaldi to put a bullet in one of my colleague’s heads,” Rodriguez said of Rinaldi, according to the Texas Observer. “That kind of threatening language he needs to be called out and held accountable for.”

That may be acceptable by Texas standards, however, because

In a Facebook post, Rinaldi claimed that he was assaulted by Romero and threatened by Democratic state Rep. Alfonso “Poncho” Nevárez. Rinaldi said that he said he would use his gun in self-defense.

The bill had been signed by Republican governor Greg Abbott on May 7 after the state House of Representatives had passed it on a party-line vote after, reported the Texas Tribune

state Rep. Dennis Bonnen, R-Angleton, successfully made what some Democratic members called an unprecedented motion to group all of the remaining amendments — more than 100 — and record them as failed. He said he made that suggestion so members wouldn't be forced to pull their amendments. The motion passed 114 to 29, with about a third of Democrats approving the measure.

Members voted on the bill after adding back a controversial provision that extends the scope of the bill and allows local peace officers to question the immigration status of people they legally detain. The original House version of the bill only allowed officers to inquire about status during a lawful arrest.

This is no small matter.  One GOP member characterized the legislation as "getting dangerous criminals off the street. That's the mission. Shouldn't be any more than that." Yet, the Republicans added back the provision allowing police officers to ask individuals not under arrest whether they are in the country illegally (video below preceded inclusion) as

That detainment language was included in what the Senate passed out of its chamber in February but was later removed by state Rep. Charlie Geren, R-Fort Worth, the bill’s House sponsor.

The amendment to add that provision back into the bill was offered by Tyler Republican Rep. Matt Schaefer, who was in the middle of a back-and-forth, deal-making struggle that stopped debate for more than hour. Both parties’ members caucused as they tried to hammer out a deal whereby Schaefer would pull his amendment and Democrats would limit the number of proposals they would offer.

Those proposals appear to have included

myriad amendments that sought to shield people at certain places from being subject to the provisions of the bill. Those include domestic violence shelters, homeless shelters, pre-kindergarten schools, and public school events such as football games. All failed along party-line votes. 

Raids at domestic violence shelters, homeless shelters, pre-kindergarten schools: If one didn't know any better, one would think the GOP wanted to deprive immigrants of life-sustaining social services.   Not surprisingly

no compromise was reached, despite several high-profile Republicans, including Geren and House State Affairs Committee Chairman Byron Cook, R-Corsicana, telling members they would vote against the Schaefer proposal.

This portends serious problems for Texas, and not from violence among legislators or excessively punitive immigration policy.  Democrats evidently were aware that the bill would pass and were willing to drop their amendments, but that was insufficient for Republicans, who pushed through a more extreme, worse bill. Their shenanigans bespeak a dysfunctional government in Austin. Come to think of it: that sounds a lot like the GOP in Washington, D.C.

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Monday, May 29, 2017

Lessons Not Learned

In view of the National Security advisor's Afghan policy, Brian P. McGlinchey argues, "Zbigniew Brzezinski was much like Osama bin Laden. They may well share the same afterlife."

That's a little harsh. Still, McGlinchey is right to point out that the subject of his bin Laden comparison, who died last week at the age of 89, "bears enormous responsibility for the rise of the Taliban, al Qaeda and ISIS."

On July 3, 1979 President Jimmy Carter signed an order to provide covert assistance to the Mujahideen rebels aiming to overthrow the pro-Soviet government in Kabul.  As Brzezinski expected, that effort encouraged the Soviets to invade Afghanistan, prompting him to tell the President "We now have the opportunity of giving to the USSR its Vietnam War.”

One estimate has it that in the nine-year war between the Soviets and the Taliban, approximately one million civilians, 90,000 Mujahideen fighters, 18,000 Afghan troops, and 14, 500 Russian soldiers were killed. (The death of a million civilians was a rather large price to pay for the pyshic satisfaction of seeing 14,500 communists killed.) The Soviet army was forced out in February, 1989 and the communist regime of Mohammad Najibullah was forced from power in 1992.

Although the overrated, dreaded Russians  suffered the direct defeat in Afghanistan, the USA suffered a severe blow from which it has never fully recovered because, McGlinchey recognizes

The CIA and Saudi GID recruited jihadists from all around the Muslim world, creating relationships and networks that would evolve into not only al Qaeda, but also ISIS and many other Salafist terrorist groups across several continents.

Still, the impact of Brzezinski's central Asian policy falls short of meriting him eternal existence in a fiery destination with Osama bin Laden. However, McGlinchey links to a 1998 interview in which Carters's former advisor is asked "When the Soviets justified their intervention by asserting that they intended to fight against secret US involvement in Afghanistan , nobody believed them . However, there was an element of truth in this. You don’t regret any of this today?"  (Video below is from a later interview but which partially pertains to the 1998 discussion.)

Remarkably, Brzezinski responded

Regret what? That secret operation was an excellent idea. It had the effect of drawing the Russians into the Afghan trap and you want me to regret it? The day that the Soviets officially crossed the border, I wrote to President Carter, essentially: “We now have the opportunity of giving to the USSR its Vietnam war." Indeed, for almost 10 years, Moscow had to carry on a war that was unsustainable for the regime , a conflict that bought about the demoralization and finally the breakup of the Soviet empire.

Worse, asked "do you regret having supported Islamic fundamentalism, which has given arms and advice to future terrorists, Dr. Brzezinski responded "what is more important in world history? The Taliban or the collapse of the Soviet empire? Some agitated Moslems or the liberation of Central Europe and the end of the cold war."

Let me answer. The Soviet Union already was on the road to collapse, which would have occurred even in the absence of its defeat in Afghanistan.  And those "agitated Moslems" arguably have become a bigger threat to world peace- and inarguably to innocent civilians- than the Soviet Union ever was.

Brzezinski went on to ask rhetorically "what is there in common among fundamentalist Saudi Arabia, moderate Morocco, militarist Pakistan, pro-Western Egypt or secularist Central Asia? Nothing more than what unites the Christian countries..."

That betrays a fundamental misunderstanding of the nature of the threat which has faced the free world for over a quarter century.  Whatever Riyadh's involvement- probably severely minimized by the US government- in the 9/11/01 terrorist attacks, danger now resides less in nation-states than in terrorist organizations.

It's understandable that very few people (nor I) understood that dynamic in 1989, when the governments of Pakistan, Saudi Arabia, Iran, China, and Egypt also aided the rebels. Nonetheless, when Brzezinski in the same interview noted Islam "is the leading religion of the  world with 1.5 billion followers," he granted its adherents a favorable spin which would have been lacking had he instead remarked that Islam is "followed by 1.5 billion people."  Properly slamming "demagoguery or emotionalism," Brzezinski himself failed to "look at Islam in a rational manner," as he urged.

Although Donald Trump has less of an understanding of Islam that did the late Dr. Brzezinski- or than most people- there was an echo in the President's recent speech in Riyadh of a misunderstanding of the threat posed by Islamic militants.

Trump chose "to express our gratitude to (Saudi Arabia's) King Salman for this strong demonstration of leadership." Announcing $110 billion in arms sales to the Saudi autocrats, he stated "we are here to offer partnership- based on shared interests and values- to pursue a better future for us all." The Butchers of Riyadh no doubt were pleased to learn that "the land of the free and the home of the brave" shares their "interests and values."

Recollection of Zbigniew Brzezinski's role in facilitating the rise of global terrorism can remind us that in the course of 19 or 37 years, we still have learned so little about the menace confronting the world.

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Sunday, May 28, 2017

Best At Belittlement

"I know more about ISIS than the generals do, believe me," bragged Donald J. Trump in November, 2015.

Once President, he proceeded to nominate retired US Marine Corps general John Kelly to be secretary of the Department of Homeland Security, retired Marine general James Mattis for Secretary of Defense, and retired US Army lieutenant general Michael Flynn as his national security advisor.

Flynn was not fired until 18 days after the White House learned that he had lied to the Vice-President about his contacts with Russian ambassador Kislyak.  He was replaced by Army Lieutenant General H.R. McMaster. It's clear that he (and even more so he and Mattis) have a great deal of influence over the Administration's foreign policy, especially given that it has not been as bizarre as expected of a President who admires Russia's Vladimir Putin and other strongmen, and knew upon being elected less about foreign affairs than a fifth grader.

Military scholar and author Thomas E. Ricks notes that Mattis on May 25

appeared before cameras at the White House to respond to a Washington Post article reporting that the president had shared sensitive intelligence about terrorism with Russian visitors. This information was sufficiently detailed, some intelligence officials feared, that it might enable interested parties to determine the source of that intelligence.

Not so, said General McMaster. “The story that came out tonight as reported is false,” he stated emphatically.

The next day, he appeared again before the cameras. This time his line was: “the premise of that article is false—that in any way the president had a conversation that was inappropriate or that resulted in any kind of lapse in national security.” That’s what people in Washington say when they can’t dispute the facts in a given article, but still dislike it.

On the president’s first foreign trip, McMaster has continued to defend Trump, for example, expressing over the weekend a lack of concern about reports that Trump’s son-in-law and confidant Jared Kushner sought to establish a secret, back-channel line of communication to the Russian government that would be hidden from the U.S. national security apparatus.

“We have backchannel communications with a number of countries,” McMaster said during a press availability in Italy. “What that allows you to do is communicate in a discreet manner, so I’m not concerned.”

Therefore, Ricks believes, McMaster should resign because he has not been a check on the President's foolish behavior as Trump

continues to stumble through his foreign policy—embracing autocrats, alienating allies and embarrassing Americans who understand that NATO has helped keep peace in Europe for more than 65 years.

Thinking over this, I worry that having people like McMaster around Trump simply enables Trump. Mature national security specialists seasoned in the ways of Washington simply lend an air of occasional competence to an otherwise shambolic White House. By appearing before the cameras, looking serious and speaking rationally, they add a veneer of normality to this administration. 

And yet, as of now, the military troika of McMaster, Mattis, and Kelly remains in power. If I didn't know any better, I might think that President Trump is enamored of generals.

Or maybe not.  The key lies in Ricks' observation that McMaster is not "improving Trump. Rather, what I have seen so far is Trump degrading McMaster."

Like a raccoon eating garbage or a mother calling at the worst time, it's what he does.  In early December, The New Republic's Alex Shepard and Laura Reston wrote

Few people know how to humiliate like Donald Trump—he told his Twitter followers to check out a sex tape; he instructed Chris Christie to stop eating Oreos and forced him to assume the role of doting butler—but even fewer take humiliation as personally as Trump does. For eleven months, the Hillary Clinton campaign—as well as almost the entire Republican establishment—waged a war against Trump by attacking and undermining his claims that he was rich and smart and had a working penis. But you have to have shame to be humiliated, and Trump lacks it completely. The only thing these attacks achieved was the inevitable retaliation.

Trump gets a perverse sense of satisfaction from deflating his opponents—especially the heirs of the two great political dynasties from the last four decades, both of whom he gave demeaning nicknames. (Crooked Hillary! Low-Energy Jeb!) He made his humiliations as personal as possible, and the sheer number of people belittled, debased, and embarrassed in the crossfire was breathtaking. 

H.R. McMaster has the title, the medals, the bearing, and the respect (so far, anyway) of colleagues and of Washington .  If Trump keeps it going, humiliating a general can be akin to the cherry on top of the cake, perhaps even better than debasing blowhard Christopher J. Christie.

Now on his third marriage, Donald Trump appears to have been a bad husband; with his bankruptices, a bad businessman; with his failure thus far to ban Muslims, get tax cuts for the wealthy, or make ISIL and Kim Jong Un bow down to him, an impotent President.  But just as Rick and Ilsa will always have Paris, Donald J. Trump- real estate swindler, President, or ex-President- will always have someone to humiliate. It's what he does.

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Saturday, May 27, 2017

A Fine Reputation, Once

When a juvenile is accused of breaking the law, people near to him may utter something like "he was such a good kid. It must be the crowd he got into." In a best-case scenario, Lt. General H.R. McMaster is suffering the same fate, for David Frum tweets "one of the finest reputations in the US military is not an asset to be cast away in this manner."

That has been manifested twice rently.  Reuters reports

Asked about reports that Donald Trump's son-in-law had tried to set up a secret channel of communication with Russia before the president took office, U.S. National Security Adviser H.R. McMaster said that so-called "back-channeling" was normal.

McMaster declined to speak specifically about the case of Jared Kushner, who serves as a senior adviser to Trump, but when asked if it would concern him if someone in the administration tried to set up a back channel with the Russian embassy or the Kremlin, he replied "no".

"We have back-channel communications with any number of individual (countries). So generally speaking, about back-channel communications, what that allows you to do is communicate in a discreet manner," McMaster said.

"So it doesn't pre-expose you to any sort of content or any kind of conversation or anything. So we're not concerned about it."

When the content of the meeting is kept secret for approximately three months- as this one did- blackmail becomes plausible. Of course, that would have been less likely had Kushner tried to set up such "back-channel communications" with, say, the Netherlands rather than a geopolitical enemy such as Russia.  It also may have been helpful had it occurred after his father-in-law had actually become President or if someone had informed the NSA or the CIA of the scheme.

Former FBI agent and fellow at the Foreign Policy Research Institute Clint Watts argues "The idea of using Russian facilities to skirt Russian surveillance in the U.S. would either be a serious attempt to hide something or the actions of a young amateur."  A real estate tycoon arguably worth nearly a billion dollars, Kushner is no amateur.

McMaster's lack of concern, given the paucity of detail about the incident, should be troubling. Nonetheless, at least he (presumably) didn't lie there, unlike when

"I think it's extraordinary that there would be an expectation that the president would have to say explicitly that he supports Article 5. Of course he does," McMaster told reporters at the end of a Group of Seven summit in Sicily.

"He did not make a decision not to say it," McMaster continued. "It was implicit in the speech. There was no decision to not put it in there. It is a matter of fact that the United States, the president, stands firmly behind our Article 5 commitments under NATO."

In his speech in Brussels, the President noted that after the terrorist attacks of 9/11/01 "Our NATO allies responded swiftly and decisively, invoking for the first time in its history the Article 5 collective defense commitments."

But this was not the USA standing behind its own commitments to NATO, but rather those nations standing behind their commitment on behalf of  America. Trump added

.... grave security concerns are the same reason that I have been very, very direct with Secretary Stoltenberg and members of the Alliance in saying that NATO members must finally contribute their fair share and meet their financial obligations, for 23 of the 28 member nations are still not paying what they should be paying and what they’re supposed to be paying for their defense.

This is not fair to the people and taxpayers of the United States...

This was less an implicit recognition by the President of his nation's commitment to Article 5 than an implied threat that if other nations don't pony up the dough, he may have to reconsider the USA's posture. It was a shout-out to  the isolationists who were energized by the candidate who criticized US military intevention abroad, yet stated of ISIS “I would bomb the shit out of them. I’d just bomb those suckers. I’d blow up the pipes, I’d blow up the refineries, I’d blow up every single inch—there would be nothing left.” And of course take their oil, because we're the biggest, the best, and always entitled.

Of giving Kushner a pass, Malcolm Nance tweets "McMaster headed to disgrace. He's willfully ignorant of allegations or willing to risk our national security. Either one is disqualifying."

There, the National Security Advisor blew smoke up our backside, as he did commenting on Trump's NATO speech.   Lieutenant HR McMaster is in with a bad crowd, and it's up to him to start leveling with the American people or get out..

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Friday, May 26, 2017

Thrust Into Leadership

Give the Indian-British journalist Sunny Hundal credit for being if not the first, certainly among the first, to recognize (on February 1) that

the German Chancellor isn’t just the leader of Europe, she is now the de-facto leader of the free world. 

The thrice-elected, soft-spoken former scientist from East Germany, armed with a doctorate in quantum chemistry, doesn’t just carry the weight of Germany and Europe on her shoulders, but that of defending freedom and liberalism across the world.

To be clear- and it certainly is- she doesn't have much competition. I know only one word ("schnell") of German, and that from decades of watching "Hogan's Heroes" in first-run and syndication the better part of a half-century. Therefore, I went to Google (translate) for a translation of a Spiegel Online article about the truly remarkable confrontation between President Trump and European leaders.  Evidently a spinoff of Der Spiegel, the German-language news website reports

US President Donald Trump has complained bitterly about the German trade surplus on his meeting with the EU top in Brussels. "The Germans are bad, very bad," said Trump. This was learned by the SPIEGEL from participants in the meeting

Trump said, "Look at the millions of cars they sell in the US, and we'll stop that."

At the meeting, EU Commissioner Jean-Claude Juncker took the side of the Germans and disagreed with Trumps Schelte. Free trade is a good thing for all, said the Commissioner. Juncker had tried a friendly tone, but was hard on the matter, says the participants.

At about an hour's meeting, Trump first met with President Donald Tusk and Commissioner Jean-Claude Juncker, after about 45 minutes, other members of the European Parliament came, including the President of the European Parliament Antonio Tajani and the EU's chief diplomat Federica Mogherini. (An analysis of the meeting can be found here.)

According to a report from the "Süddeutsche Zeitung", the EU side was horrified at the extent of the Americans' lack of awareness of trade policy. Apparently, it was unclear to the guests that the EU countries concluded trade agreements only jointly. Trumps economic consultant Gary Cohn is said to have said in the conversation between the US and Germany tariff tariffs other than between the USA and Belgium.

Germany has been exporting more than it has introduced for years. Trump had already made the German surplus on the subject earlier, and the President had already expressed his critical opinion in an interview with the Bild newspaper. "I would say to BMW if they want to build a factory in Mexico and sell cars to the US without a 35 percent tax, they can forget that" Trump said at the time. Since then, there has been a threat of a criminal tax in the room.

The new US president feels the German surplus is unfair because of the fact that trade deficits are elsewhere, he is especially thinking about the US. The federal government is also under pressure within the EU because of the trade surplus. Lastly, Federal Minister of Finance Wolfgang Schäuble (CDU) had described the surplus as too high in the SPIEGEL interview.

It was actually thought in the EU, after countless meetings of European leaders with Trump and many attempts to explain the international trade policy. This hope may well bury the Europeans.

"Apparently, it was unclear to the guests that the EU countries concluded trade agreements only jointly."  This is so hard to believe it would strain credulity. However, in April

Angela Merkel was forced to explain the “fundamentals” of EU trade to Donald Trump 11 times after he repeatedly asked to do a deal directly with Germany, a senior German official has claimed. 

The US President reportedly exposed "very basic misunderstandings" of how EU trade works during a meeting with the German chancellor last month.

“Ten times Trump asked [Ms Merkel] if he could negotiate a trade deal with Germany. Every time she replied, 'You can’t do a trade deal with Germany, only the EU,'" the official told The Times.

"On the eleventh refusal, Trump finally got the message, 'Oh, we’ll do a deal with Europe then.'"

This was not a good sign. And in the Brussels gathering, Trump chose to admonish the European nations for insufficient financial defense spending- or as the president of the most powerful nation on earth whined, "this is not fair to the people and taxpayers of the United States."  Calling allies out publicly (rather than, or in addition to, privately) is no way to keep friends- or garner respect.

This was moments after rudely brushing aside the prime minister of Montenegro, thereby demonstrating that nothing says "I am the leader" than rushing to the camera to plead one's case.

Oh, what a mess we've made of things.  However, by "we," I'm referring only to all those politicians, non-traditional media, voters, and others who contributed toward making this guy the President of the United States, previously the leader of the free world.

How quaint the Cold War quip "I love Germany so much, I am glad there are two of them." Now- at least with Trump and Merkel in Washington and Berlin, respectively- that remark has been turned on its head.

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Thursday, May 25, 2017

Pretending Both Sides Are Equal

According to Politico, three Montana newspapers have withdrawn their endorsement of the GOP nominee for the state's lone member of the US House of Representatives in the wake of his alleged assault of Guardian reporter Ben Jacobs (below, C-Span live stream).

You probably know what came next in the report. None of the three- The Helena Independent Review, The Missoulian, or The Billings Gazette- switched to Democrat Rob Quist.

Remarks of the latter tell us a lot about the mainstream media's approach to national politics in this era. Members of the editorial board at The Billings Gazette are "at a loss for words." Not so much, however. They huff and puff

If what was heard on tape and described by eye-witnesses is accurate, the incident in Bozeman is nothing short of assault. We wouldn't condone it if it happened on the street. We wouldn't condone it if it happened in a home or even a late-night bar fight. And we couldn't accept it from a man who is running to become Montana's lone Congressional representative.

They do show some perspective when noting

.... that all the other questionable interactions Gianforte had with reporters, including one case where he joked about ganging up on a reporter, must now be seen through a much more sinister lens. What he passed off as a joke at the time now becomes much more serious.

They conclude

we hope that Republican party members and leaders call this for what it appears to be, an inexcusable act. We hope that partisan politics has not eroded our decency to the point where leaders and supporters feel the need to defend the indefensible.

It does not matter whether they term it "inexcusable." Not only will the characterization mean nothing as GOP members of the US House of Representatives continue to push the agenda of a President who has encouraged violence and continually denigrated the press.  During the general election campaign, the then-leader of that Party admitted that its candidate, Donald J. Trump,  had made a statement "sort of like a textbook definition of a racist comment"- then reiterated his endorsement of him.

But the bigger problem is "we hope that partisan politics has not eroded our decency to the point where leaders and supporters feel the need to defend the indefensible."   Partisan politics suggests that this door swings both ways. Quite the contrary, though, as we recall June, 2011, when Democrats acted in characteristic fashion:

President Barack Obama has joined the ever-growing chorus of Democrats seeking the resignation of New York Rep. Anthony Weiner, putting even more pressure on the embattled lawmaker to quit the House in the midst of a sex scandal that seems to produce a new, embarrassing chapter with each passing day.

“I can tell you that if it was me, I would resign,’’ Obama said during an interview scheduled to air Tuesday morning on NBC’s “Today” show.

“And when you get to the point where, because of various personal distractions, you can’t serve as effectively as you need to at the time when people are worrying about jobs, and their mortgages, and paying the bills, then you should probably step back,” Obama said.

Obama’s comments are the latest — and most serious — blow to Weiner’s 

political career, which has imploded after the Democrat was caught sending lewd photos and online communication to at least a half-dozen women he met online.

In addition to Obama, House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.); Florida Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz, chairwoman of the Democratic National Committee; Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee Chairman Steve Israel of New York; and more than a dozen other House Democrats have called for him to step down.

Over 15 Democratic members of the House of Representatives (including their leader in the House) and the President, also a Democrat, called on Weiner to resign, even though he had requested a leave of absence from the chamber and sought a psychological evaluation.

Three days later he resigned. That's how Democrats do it. The "partisan politics" cited by The Billings Gazette- a charge often trotted out in media- is a facile appeal to "bipartisanship."  When GOP hyper-partisanship is ignored in favor of an appeal to bipartisanship with faulty premise, truth is conveniently discarded.

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Just Die- Or Stay Home

Everybody plays the fool, no exception to the rule....

Not all fools (almost all, though) are Trump voters and not all Trump voters are fools.

This applies even to the elderly, some of whom are very well off. But this is inapplicable to those elderly or near-elderly who voted for Donald Trump and are not unusually affluent or who don't have offspring willing and able to care for their parents for many years.

The graph below reflects the 2016 presidential election vote based on exit polls. While 18-29 year olds (19% of the electorate) voted 55%-37% for Clinton over Trump and the 30-44 year olds (25% of the electorate) went for Clinton 50%-42%, 45-64 year olds (40% of those voting) went for Trump, 53%-44% and and individuals 65 and older (15%) voted for Trump 53%-45%.

Overall, the relatively young (18 to 44, 44% of the voters) gave Clinton 53% of their vote and Trump only 39% while the relatively old (45 and up, 56% of those voting) opted for Trump by 52% to 44%.

That's a difference of 22%, which in all likelihood would have been even greater had Trump the opportunity to run against Barack Obama.  Yet, those folks in elder care facilities, who have parents in such facilities, or who are (or fairly soon will be) contemplating the possibility of relocation there, are promised a raw detail in the American Health Care Act as written. Jon Schwarz of The Intercept explains

Many middle-class Americans are unaware that the huge cost of nursing home care – which in some areas can run over $100,000 a year — is not covered by Medicare. Those who need it and cannot pay for it themselves can generally receive coverage from Medicaid, though they usually must spend down all their savings first.

When all is said and done, Medicaid pays the bills for over 60 percent of nursing home residents — people who cannot care for themselves and without Medicaid would have literally nowhere to go.

But the AHCA slashes $880 billion dollars from Medicaid spending over the next ten years, or about one-sixth of the $5 trillion it would otherwise cost the federal government. (While these seem like enormous numbers, the U.S. economy is so big that even $5 trillion will be just about two percent of the gross domestic product over the next decade.)

The bill accomplishes these cuts in part by changing Medicaid from an entitlement, in which the federal government automatically provides states with funding based on the needs of their population, to either a block grant or a per capita allocation (at the state’s choice).

The amount states will receive per capita will be set at the average cost for recipients in 2016. It then will increase at the Consumer Price Index’s rate of medical inflation until 2020, when it will begin going up at the CPI medical rate plus one percent. While this sounds reasonable, it will inevitably have serious consequences over the next 20 years due to the aging of the baby boom generation.

This year someone born in 1950 will turn 67 years old, and probably doesn’t need nursing home care. In 2037 they will turn 87, and will be far more likely to do so.

Nursing care is one big reason Medicaid recipients over 85 cost the program 2.5 times more than those who are between the ages of 65 and 74. If Medicaid were to remain an entitlement, states would automatically receive increased federal funds to cover these greater costs as baby boomers age. Under the AHCA, the per-capita payments to states will increase far too slowly to cover them.

There are many culprits in Trump's victory other than naivete of voters.  Moreover, oldish Americans probably will lead the grass-roots opposition to the AHCA, whether through the AARP or other like-minded organizations, or individually.  Still, this tax cut for the wealthy- uh, er, health care bill- tells us how prescient one ex-congressman was.

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Wednesday, May 24, 2017

Bowing, Repeatedly

Say what you will about Barack Obama- and I've said "more about" him than almost any Democrat anywhere- he certainly has Donald Trump pegged. We learn

“He’s nothing but a bullsh–ter,” Obama told two friends early last November, describing an election night phone call with Trump, in which the businessman suddenly professed his “respect” and “admiration” for Obama—after years of hectoring.

Speaking to PEOPLE for its new cover story on Obama and his wife Michelle adjusting to life outside the White House, the two friends quoted Obama’s blunt assessment of President-elect Trump. And how has Obama’s opinion changed since Trump been in office? “Well,” said one of the sources, “it hasn’t gotten any better.”

Nothing but a bullsh-ter.  An interview conducted August, 2015 by Chris Cuomo of Donald Trump proceeds (at 5:19) as

Cuomo:  (If at a meeting you have with Pope Francis), the translator says to you "the Pope believes capitalism can be real avenue to greed, it can be really toxic and corrupt: and he's shaking his finger at you" and he says "what do you say to the Pope?

Trump: I say "ISIS wants to get you. do you know that ISIS wants to go in and take the Vatican," you knew that, you've heard that, that's a dream of  theirs to go, into Italy, you know that.

Cuomo: Talks to  you about capitalism, you scare the Pope?

Trump: Well, I'm going to have to scare the Pope because that's the only thing- 

In February, 2016 during the presidential primary campaign, Pope Francis was asked about Mr. Trump and responded “A person who thinks only about building walls, wherever they may be, and not building bridges, is not Christian." Understandably, the candidate was not amused.  Fifteen months after Trump thus was definitively criticized (albeit by implication) and nineteen months after he told Cuomo that he would give the Pope the what for 

The pope, by turns dour and smiling, welcomed a more effusive president to the seat of a religion that claims more than 70 million followers in the United States. The two stuck mainly to protocol, avoiding a public reprise of the barbs they aimed at each other during Mr. Trump’s presidential campaign or the pope’s thinly veiled critiques of Mr. Trump as a symbol of a dangerously reinvigorated nationalism.

But there appeared to be a message in the gifts the pope gave to his guest. They included a copy of his influential essay on the importance of saving the environment, a rebuke to the climate change skepticism espoused by Mr. Trump. Francis also presented him with a medallion engraved with the image of an olive tree — “a symbol of peace,” he explained.

Pope Francis would have had to use a 2X4 if he had been any more obvious. Nonetheless

“We can use peace,” Mr. Trump said.

Francis replied, “It is with all hope that you may become an olive tree to make peace.”

As he bade the pope farewell, Mr. Trump told him, “I won’t forget what you said.”

He won't- but may have to charge Francis with Atrocious Assault and Battery.   The message Tuesday also from Cardinal Pietro Parolin, the Vatican’s secretary of state, also was none too subtle when he "urged Mr. Trump not to pull the United States out of the Paris climate accord."  The approach was especially notable because

There was a sense in the Vatican that Mr. Trump was easier to talk to than his tough language on the campaign trail and sharp words toward Francis had led them to believe. “Trump’s bark is worse than his bite,” said a senior Vatican official who was granted anonymity because he was not authorized to speak about the meeting.

Trump's bark is worse than his bite, as President Nieto of Mexico, President Jinping of China, Prime Minister Trudeau of Canada, Saudi Arabia's King Salman, and lots of people ripped off by Trump the businessman have discoverd. Also: Barack Obama, who neatly summed up Donald Trump as "nothing but a bullsh-ter."

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Tuesday, May 23, 2017


In the days since I last posted, the country has moved on: a presidential speech in the heart of Wahabbist Saudi Arabia, presumed terrorist attack in England, a lover's spat between the House Speaker and the President, and the President reportedly urging the DNI and the director of the NSA to deny collusion with Russia in the 2016 election. Additionally, Politico reports

Bloomberg’s Margaret Talev asked the prime minister whether he had any concerns about intelligence cooperation with the U.S., according to the White House press pool.

“The intelligence cooperation is terrific,” Netanyahu told reporters. Trump paused for a moment and halted the press from leaving the room. “Hey, folks,” he said. “Just so you understand, I never mentioned the word or the name ‘Israel.’ Never mentioned it during that conversation.

He looked toward Netanyahu as he gestured toward the pack of reporters. “They were all saying I did,” the president said. “So you had another story wrong. Never mentioned the word ‘Israel.’”

It wasn't much of a secret at that point and was largely an unnecessary whine from a guy who has almost raised whining to an art form. But it was yet another example of Donald Trump doing what the cowardly specialize in: playing to his audience.

The National Review's Andrew McCartthy laments that in Riyadh

As prepared, the text had the president calling for “honestly confronting the crisis of Islamist extremism and the Islamist terror groups it inspires” (emphasis added). But when he actually delivered his remarks, Trump departed from the script, speaking instead of “honestly confronting the crisis of Islamic extremism and the Islamists and Islamic terror of all kinds.”

Trump's aides later insisted that the President had confused the terms "Islamist"- favored by doves- and the more confrontational "Islamic" even though, as The Hill explains

The expression “radical Islamic terrorism" became a centerpiece for Trump’s presidential campaign, with the business magnate claiming the term was a pivotal point in addressing modern threats.

Trump repeatedly criticized the Obama administration and former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, his Democratic opponent for president, for not using the phrase when talking about the fight against terrorist threats.

“I am going to keep radical Islamic terrorists the hell out of our country,” Trump said at a rally in Ocala, Fla., in October, adding that Clinton “won’t even use the term."

During the campaign, Trump gave his supportive, even rapturous, crowds the red meat they had come for.

But now his tune- at least in front of the Saudis- has changed.  "In addition to ancient wonders," the President commented, "the magnificent kingdom of Saudi Arabia "is also home to modern ones—including soaring achievements in architecture." He saluted the new Terrorist Financing Targeting Center "co-chaired by the United States and Saudi Arabia," and argued "Saudi Arabia’s Vision for 2030 is an important and encouraging statement of tolerance, respect, empowering women, and economic development."

The speech marked approval by the Administration of the sale of $110 billion in arms to Saudi Arabia, promulgated as Riyadh continues to slaughter civilians in Yemen.  An advocate of  "religious freedom" domestically, the President chose not to acknowledge that Islam is the official religion of Saudi Arabia and no other religion may be practiced publicly.  Those scimitars wielded by Saudis and Donald Trump demonstrating the traditional sword dance are the Kingdom's weapons of choice for execution for crimes ranging from blasphemy to murder.  Public  display of  crosses, Bibles, and other non-Islamic religious articles is banned and participants in religious worship outside of Islam may find themselves imprisoned. Freedom!

The speech in Riyadh displayed Donald J. Trump at his pandering best, the most inauthentic President ever revered for his authenticity.  Trump yearns for approval of his audience and bearing the strength of no convictions, backs down routinely.  It's why he choked before President Nieto of Mexico, why James Comey found out only from television that he had been fired, and why he touted the "shared interests and values" with the nation deeply involved in the greatest terrorist attack in American history.

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Wednesday, May 17, 2017

The Tax Imperative

On Tuesday morning, Maine senator and intelligence committee member Susan Collins, responding to news of the President evidently giving beyond-classified information to a couple of Russian officials, issued a statement reading in part

The disclosure of highly classified information has the potential to jeopardize sources and to discourage our allies from sharing future information vital to our securityThere are conflicting reports about whether or not President Trump disclosed sensitive information to the Russians. Although the President has the legal authority to disclose classified information, it would be very troubling if he did share such sensitive reporting with the Russians.

As a.m. turned to p.m. and we learned that Trump apparently had suggested to FBI director Comey that he "go easy" on Mike Flynn, there were more Republicans willing to speak out, according to Politico.  Among them were Representative Mark Meadows of North Carolina, who stated "It is important to get to the bottom of it. We've got one standard, and we need to make sure that applies to everybody." His North Carolinian colleague, Mark Walker, remarked "if this is legitimately something that there was some kind of influence or pressure from Comey doing his work, I'm going to be very disappointed." Philadelphia congressman Pat Meehan commented

This whole process is very difficult because we are seeing the central institution — the Justice Department, and the independence of the Justice Department — stretched. And people want to have confidence in the independence of [DOJ’s] activities. I’m hoping that throughout this long process, it can get back into a place where there could be confidence in the ability of the institutions to do their work.

And so go the wringing of hands and the gnashing of teeth.  The Politico reporters noted "Not since October’s “Access Hollywood” moment — when many Republicans believed Trump would have to drop out of the race over his hugely offensive comments about women — has the president faced such a serious political threat. "

But we remember what happened then, don't we? Expressions by Republicans of grave concern were emitted over a presidential candidate who was on tape making it clear he believed he was entitled to assault women sexually.  The outrage was sufficiently widespread that some pundits declared Trump dead in the water, that the only suspense was in determining whether he would be sufficiently pummeled that the GOP would lose control of the Senate.

Soon thereafter anger  of GOP politicians and Trump supporters, Republican or Independent, subsided and the Access Hollywood tape had no discernible effect on November's vote count. It turned out that among voters not already ant-Trump,  there was no problem with "I did try and fuck her. She was married" and "I just start kissing them. It’s like a magnet. Just kiss. I don’t even wait. And when you’re a star, they let you do it. You can do anything."

Republicans who distanced themselves from Trump because of the tape fared more poorly at the polls than Republicans who went back to Trump or never questioned him at all. The message for GOP politicians, unsure of how long to stick with Trump, is clear.

Democrats need not sit idly by, however.  Two weeks ago, Daniel Hemel of Vox explained

A bill pending in Albany leverages the Empire State’s unique position as the sitting president’s lifelong home. It would require the state’s tax authority to publish any New York state returns filed by the president, the vice president, and all statewide elected officials. That bill would apply to returns filed in the past five years as well as all New York state returns filed by those officeholders in future years.

In March, CNN senior congressional reporter Manu Raju had spoken to Democrat Dianne Feinstein of California and the Intelligence Committee, then found

Democrats “actually have the power” to subpoena Trump under committee rules despite being in the minority. But such a move could throw a wrench into the committee's bipartisan investigation into Russia's meddling in the election. And the White House would likely employ protections to keep Trump's tax returns under wraps, CNN reported.

That illustrated why Democrats must obtain the returns at almost any cost. The tax returns are sufficiently explosive that Donald Trump will do anything- legal, and probably beyond- to keep them secret. At the time, Senator Collins said that she wasn't ready to take that action, unsurprising because Susan Collins always is on the cusp of doing the right thing.

Senate Minority Leader Schumer purportedly is considerng the possibility of his caucus refusing to vote on any nominee of the President for FBI director until a special counsel is named to investigate the Trump/Russia/Comey affair. But Senate Democrats can do better.  As Vox's Jeff Stein notes

For instance, Senate Democrats could block McConnell on hundreds of decisions that are normally approved by unanimous consent without second thought — things like when the Senate will meet, minor and uncontroversial tweaks to legislation that doesn’t get written about in the press, and low-level presidential appointments that require Senate confirmation.

“All of the routine business of the Senate would stop,” said Huder, the Georgetown scholar. “Most of the things that happened in the Senate happen by unanimous consent, which is almost the exact opposite of the House.”

One key variable is that not every Senate Democrat needs to go along with the plan for it to work. “If a single senator objects to a consent agreement, McConnell, now majority leader, will be forced to resort to time-consuming procedural steps through the cloture process, which takes four days to confirm nominees and seven days to advance any piece of legislation,” Jentleson writes. “Since every Senate action requires the unanimous consent of members from all parties, everything it does is a leverage point for Democrats ... each of the 1,000-plus nominees requiring Senate confirmation — including President Trump’s Cabinet choices — can be delayed for four days each.”

A Special Counsel and an independent investigatory committee are both very important steps to take. But no investigation by anyone would be complete without the Donald Trump income tax returns of years past, and present. Get and analyze those returns, and Donald Trump is finished, not only as President, but possibly as a free man.

This blog is going on hiatus and will return on May 23.  Please return then, or I'll sic Jeff Sessions on you.

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Ryan For The Defense

Amid reports which indicate that the President of the United States of America and Commander-in-Chief of the Armed Forces probably is selling out his country,* Fox News has one simple message: it's the leakers, stupid. And it's quite clear they don't mean any appointees of President Trump, nor even holdovers from 44 sympathetic to 45.

Probably not coincidentally- especially given the love affair between the network and the President- the Speaker of the House is going that way, too.  Politico reports

House Speaker Paul Ryan urged lawmakers to be “sober” about swirling allegations that President Donald Trump asked FBI Director James Comey to call off an investigation into his national security adviser Mike Flynn.

“That is our job, to be sober, to be passionate … and to follow the facts wherever they may lead,” he said.

Being sober is inarguably a good thing, although some of the most passionate people I've known are quite clearly not sober. The article continues

“It is obvious – there are some people out there who want to harm the president,” he said. “We have an obligation to carry out our oversight, regardless of which party is in the White House. That means before rushing to judgment we get all the pertinent information.”

Here for Ryan is some pertinent information, albeit unconfirmed, about "some people."  Conservative blogger Erick Erickson, critical of Trump the candidate and President, evidently has a source(s) within the Administration who is skeptical of the boss' leadership style. Though fastidiously negative toward the left, Erickson on Tuesday morning wrote  "of these stories about the President"

What sets this story apart for me, at least, is that I know one of the sources. And the source is solidly supportive of President Trump, or at least has been and was during Campaign 2016. But the President will not take any internal criticism, no matter how politely it is given. He does not want advice, cannot be corrected, and is too insecure to see any constructive feedback as anything other than an attack.

So some of the sources are left with no other option but to go to the media, leak the story, and hope that the intense blowback gives the President a swift kick in the butt. Perhaps then he will recognize he screwed up. The President cares vastly more about what the press says than what his advisers say. That is a real problem and one his advisers are having to recognize and use, even if it causes messy stories to get outside the White House perimeter.

I am told that what the President did is actually far worse than what is being reported. The President does not seem to realize or appreciate that his bragging can undermine relationships with our allies and with human intelligence sources. He also does not seem to appreciate that his loose lips can get valuable assets in the field killed.

We read also in Politico that the Speaker "wants to know why the director 'didn’t take action at the time' Trump reportedly pressured him to halt the Flynn investigation."  When he's not battling the elderly and the middle class, the Speaker is an apologist for President Trump. When the story of these times is written, few people will be recognized as more villainous than Paul Davis Ryan Jr.

*in this case, not Russia.

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Tuesday, May 16, 2017

Merely An Infant. Probably.

In a pair of tweets, Donald Trump claims "As President I wanted to share with Russia (at an openly scheduled W.H. meeting) which I have the absolute right to do, facts terrorism and airline flight safety. Humanitarian reasons, plus I want Russia to greatly step up their fight against ISIS & terrorism."

As Chris Cillizza puts it, "riiiiiight."  There is an explanation far more likely for the disclosure to the Russian foreign minister and the Russian ambassador to the USA by Trump of highly classified information. With the help of a slightly profane December, 2015 comment by Mark Cuban (first paragraph below) about Trump, Steve M. explains

He’s like that guy who walks into the bar, and will say whatever it’ll take to get laid. Only in this case he’s not trying to fuck some girl. He’s trying to fuck the country,” he said to applause and laughter.

If I'm right, this was the same impulse in a non-sexual, non-electoral way: 

In Trump's mind, he was putting the moves on the Russians, and he knew something that would really impress them.

And this gets back to another preposterous thing about Trump: He's desperate to impress everyone, but his knowledge base is so deficient that he has no idea what's actually impressive. He gets amazing inside intelligence? Well, of course he does -- he's the president of the United States! But he seriously believes that top Russian officials won't realize that he's briefed on such details unless he tells them.

As pointed out by SM, that fits the President's modus operandi. As he does not point out, it also would be consistent with the law of parsimony.  Still, consider what Cillizza suggested as one (of three) possibilities:

Democrats have insisted for months that there are simply too many connections between Trumpworld and the Russians for moments like this to be coincidences. As in, where there's smoke and smoke and smoke and smoke, there has to be fire.

"As Yogi Berra said, 'It's too much of a coincidence to be a coincidence,'" House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi told CNN's Chris Cuomo in an interview in Washington Monday night. Later, she added: "Every day I ask the question: What do the Russians have on Donald Trump? He's always catering to them."

That more radical, and extraordinarily serious, charge would have the President of the United States giving the middle finger to the nation for which he has contempt. (None dare call it "treason," or at least not I, for it is a term of art.)  Yet, consider that

When President Trump met with top Russian officials in the Oval Office on Wednesday, White House officials barred reporters from witnessing the moment. They apparently preferred to block coverage of the awkwardly timed visit as questions swirled about whether the president had dismissed his F.B.I. director in part to squelch the investigation into possible ties between his campaign and Moscow.

But the Russians, who have a largely state-run media, brought their own press contingent in the form of an official photographer. They quickly filled the vacuum with their own pictures of the meeting with Mr. Trump, Sergey V. Lavrov, the Russian foreign minister, and Sergey I. Kislyak, Moscow’s ambassador to the United States.

The White House may have been strongly motivated to discourage coverage of  this lovely encounter, one in which plot details are so critical that The Washington Post assured its readers it "is withholding most plot details, including the name of the city, at the urging of officials who warned that revealing them would jeopardize important intelligence capabilities."

In the absence of further details, Steve M.'s argument, requiring the fewest assumptions, must be the default theory. However, it does seem there may have been method to the madness of barring American media from what now appears to have been an extraordinary meeting.

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Monday, May 15, 2017

Next To Himself, God Is His Favorite

President Trump's commencement address at Liberty University on Saturday was not inconsequential because, as The Atlantic's Emma Green points out

Much hasn’t changed since Trump’s last visit to Lynchburg. His message is still about taking down Washington, the media, and “the cynics and the doubters.” He still seems most at ease out of the White House, among his people, facing adulation and approval rather than policy decisions and a critical press. But unlike those early days of biblical fumbling, Trump has learned how to smoothly connect his anti-establishment message with religious praise.

To be sure, Trump invoked God at every opportunity. To those past and present members of the military present, he was "profoundly grateful to every single one of you who sacrificed to keep us safe and protect God's precious gift of freedom." He maintained in the USA "we don't worship government we worship God." On behalf of all Americans were barred by government bureaucrats from worshipping the previous Sunday, he declared "We will always stand up for the right of all Americans to pray to God and to follow his teachings."

The President told the story of 98-year-old George Rogers, whom he implied took part in the Bataan death march but "kept his faith in God" and "discovered God's plan for him," later becoming an executive at Liberty.   The assembled graduates, Trump maintained, have been "equipped with the tools from your time right here on this campus to make the right decisions and to serve God, family and country."

The President added "We all salute the same great American flag, and we are all made by the same almighty God."  He promised "As long as you remember what you have learned here at Liberty, as long as you have pride in your beliefs, courage in your convictions and faith in your God, then you will not fail" (video immediately below from 9/15).

Those graudates may or may not have understood, as Dr.  James Emery White explains

But doesn't the Bible say to judge people by their fruit?  Yes, but not as defined by the world, such as money, success, numbers, buildings, publications, position, title, speaking engagements, notoriety, rankings, sales or press coverage.  That is the world's standard of success, not the Bible's.

Trump's failure to understand that neither God, nor faith in God, guarantees earthly success may be apropos for an individual  steeped in the prosperity gospel, a persistent thorn in the side of Christianity.  Still, Green maintains

In his first commencement speech as president, he said it was God who brought him to the White House. But in electoral terms, it was people like those at Liberty, and their president is finally speaking their language.

The President is speaking their language- opposition to abortion, repeated mentions of God,  and opposition to abortion.* He is doing it, however, by still crediting his election to God, to wit (emphasis mine):

It's been a little over a year since I've spoken on your beautiful campus and so much has changed. Right here, the class of 2017 dressed in cap and gown, graduating to a totally brilliant future. And here I am standing before you as President of the United States, so I'm guessing — there are some people here today who thought that either one of those things, either one, would really require major help from God. Do we agree? And we got it.

They may very well agree that Trump's election require(d) major help from God, a belief fully consistent with the President's view. "I alone can fix it," Trump has boasted.  Solomon reportedly noted "when pride comes, then comes disgrace but with humility comes wisdom." Jesus himself is reputed to have said "whomever humbles himself like this child, he is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven."

Donald Trump probably has won evangelicals over. Whether he has won over the entity they claim to adore is much more problematic.

*repetition intentional

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This  is a reasonable question. If going to a predominantly Jewish neighborhood to harass and intimidate Jewish people at a synagogue is no...