Saturday, January 20, 2018

Defending Trump

The publisher of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, an ardent Trump supporter, evidently has adopted his hero's style and fomented discord and disruption in the community.  The NPR affiliate in Pittsburgh summarizes

Members of the Newspaper Guild of Pittsburgh said they are “saddened and humiliated” by an editorial published on Martin Luther King Jr. Day in the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette.

“Reason as racism: An immigration debate gets derailed” has also faced criticism from former Post-Gazette staff members, major foundations in Pittsburgh, and family members of the paper’s publisher, who have called the editorial a defense of racist rhetoric by President Donald Trump’s.

The Newspaper Guild of Pittsburgh, which represents 150 current employees of the Post-Gazette, submitted a letter to the editor objecting to the editorial. Guild President Michael Fuoco said that it was rejected by the paper’s publisher, John Robinson Block, and will not be published.

The PPG did publish a critical letter signed by sixteen members of the family which owns its parent company, Block Communications.

Block begins the editorial- published on Martin Luther King's birthday- with "calling someone a racist is the new McCarthyism." (If the publisher even wanted to pretend the piece came from the editorial board, he would have written "racist.")

But Block is not the best messenger, arguing "we need to confine the word “racist” to people like Bull Connor and Dylann Roof."

Excluded would be: a) the late Jimmy 'the Greek' Snyder, fired when he commented 'The slave owner would breed his big black (man) to his big woman so that he could have a big black kid. ... That's where it all started... The black (athletic) talent is beautiful.";  b) the late Cincinnati Reds owner Marge Schott, who once remarked "Never hire another nigger. I'd rather have a trained monkey working for me than a nigger";  c) the living David Duke, who once maintained "White people don't need a law against rape, but if you fill this room up with your normal black bucks, you would, because niggers are basically primitive animals"; d) any of Duke's former operation, the Ku Klux Klan, or of the American Nazi movement.

Duke is no longer so explicitly racist. Now he thanks President Trump for his "honesty & courage" and contends "we are determined to take the country back" with "the promise of Donald Trump."

Yet, Block's editorial, despite first glance and common interpretation, was not about the promiscuously applied term "racist." He argues

But, when we have a chance to reform the immigration system, and save the Dreamers, and find common ground, let us not get distracted by another cudgel to use against the president. Calling the president a racist helps no one — it is simply another way (the Russia and instability cards having been played unsuccessfully) to attempt to delegitimize a legitimately elected president.

This is about Donald Trump and the myth of conservative victimization. For cultists who ridicule liberal "snowflakes," they are oddly insistent that Trump was "legitimately elected."  They also are determined to insist repeatedly- well before Robert Mueller completes his investigation- that nothing has been proven by the Special Counsel or, as Block imagines it, "the Russia and instability cards having been played unsuccessfully."

"If he is to be removed from office, let the voters do it based on his total performance — temperament as well as accomplishment — in 2020." we're forced to read from a wealthy publisher who fell asleep before the civics instructor got to Article II, Section 4 of the US Constitution. (I'm beginning to miss the time when conservatives feigned devotion to Mr. Madison's document.)

Such conservative snowflakes don't even have the courage of their convictions, in this case hostility toward Dreamers.  Block asks, curiously, "If the president had used the world “hellhole” instead, would that have been racist? If he had used the word “failed states,” would that have been racist?"

And if the Pittsburgh Steelers had beaten the Jacksonville Jaguars last weekend, would they have beaten the New England Patriots in Foxboro, Massachusetts this weekend?  We don't know and it doesn't matter. The Steelers did not win and the President did not say "hellhole" or "failed states," instead using a more profane and graphic term, which was very likely not an oversight.

"How many presidents have said crass things in the Oval Office in private meetings? Think of Kennedy, Clinton and Nixon, to name three," Block claims. However, The Hill reports Trump "called friends to brag after the meeting in which (he) reportedly referred to Haiti, El Salvador and African nations as "'shithole countries.'" This may be the first report of a President proud of his obscene language and determined that several nations would know he held them in contempt.

"The goal," Block disingenuously contends, is "to save the Dreamers. That's what the White House meeting last week was about." At that meeting, Senate Democratic Whip Dick Durbin presented a plan in which the Dreamers would be protected while several of the President's own objectives would be accepted by Democrats. After previously saying he would support whatever Congress gave him, Trump denounced the deal, denying the Dreamers and risking a shutdown of  the federal government so that his own dream of total Democratic capitulation on the Wall might be fulfilled.

The main objective of President Trump's strategy is not to build a wall, assuage hurt feelings on being called out as a  racist, or demonstrate world leadership by publicly condemning other countries as inferior.  As Charlie Sykes has noted, the Republican Party now is "a party devoted to trolling.... because conservative politics is now less about ideas or accomplishments than it is about making the right enemies cry out in anguish."

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Friday, January 19, 2018

No Compromise

The Illinois Senator and Democratic Whip on Thursday tweeted

He wasn't listening to Joe Scarborough, who earlier in the day sagely commented (beginning at 10:15 of the video below)

If you're a Democrat and you do anything to help this President who sounded racist and Republicans who have attacked Dick Durbin and questioned his integrity, questiioned his honesty- if you're a Democrat and do anything to help the government- help Republcans keep the government open without attaching a clean DACA bill to it, then you don't deserve to be in the majority this year- at the end of this year because you're too weak.

Democrats have to go after them. They were attacked, the President was racist in his remarks. He's now attacking the Congressional Black Caucus and basically said they're jokes. They called Dick Durbin a liar. You make them pay for that and while you make them pay for that, you also do what's good for the Dreamers and you get- you get a deal for theDreamers or you don't get a single vote. They own Congress. If they can't keep the government open, the voters will balme Republicans, not Democrats.

I believe that's likely, though Steve M. thinks voters will blame Democrats- but that it wouldn't hurt except in the short run. Senator Durbin was from the start an ardent supporter of Barack Obama, and it shows in his negotiating style.

Democrats must stop going in demanding half a loaf, getting a quarter-loaf, and believing they've accomplished something. As Scarborough understands, they hold most of the cards in this drama.  In "Fire and Fury," Steve Bannon is quoted characterizing liberals as "snowflakes."  Durbin's stance is part of what makes Democrats "snowflakes"- proposing significantly less than what they should.

It doesn't help with the Democratic base, which in this case is the immigrant community and its close allies.  And it hurts in the long run with voters generally, who have come to think of the Democratic Party as the one too weak to stand up for what it believes in.

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Thursday, January 18, 2018

Verify, Do Not Trust

Huffington Post reports

White House Chief of Staff John Kelly told a meeting of Democratic lawmakers that President Donald Trump’s campaign pledges to curb immigration ― including his promise to build a wall along the U.S.-Mexico border ― were uninformed, and that such a structure was unlikely to happen in full, according to multiple media reports.

Kelly made the comments to members of the Congressional Hispanic Caucus on Wednesday in a closed-door session that was first reported by The Washington Post. His comments were confirmed by Rep. Luis Gutiérrez (D-Ill.), who was at the meeting.

“I can confirm that Chief of Staff Kelly said today that the President’s campaign was not fully informed about the wall he was promising to voters,” Gutiérrez said in a statement. “Kelly went on to say that many campaigns are not fully informed about every policy and that campaigning and governing are two different things and that governing is harder.”

We don't have a quote from the Chief of Staff himself, but only an interpretation of his remarks by a member of Congress and immigration advocate.  But it sounds as if Kelly was, if he referred to "campaigns," giving the boss cover while attempting to make himself out as the voice of reason. The latter seems likely because

Gutiérrez also went on to confirm reporting by The New York Times that Kelly took credit as the “one who tempered” Trump’s more extreme opinions on the wall and the viability of the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals initiative, also known as DACA.

“Kelly took credit for educating the President on the wall and that a concrete barrier from sea to shining sea was no longer the conception of border security barriers supported today by the White House,” Gutiérrez said.

It surely is comforting to know, through Representative Gutierrez, that the Chief of Staff does not except a concrete wall to arise out of the Rio Grande and the Colorado River.  The next day the President went even further, backing down from his campaign boasts while pretending otherwise:

The Wall is the Wall, it has never changed or evolved from the first day I conceived of it. Parts will be, of necessity, see through and it was never intended to be built in areas where there is natural protection such as mountains, wastelands or tough rivers or water.....

The old joke runs "how do you know when X is lying?" Donald Trump has shattered the punch line "when his lips are moving," for he does it quite effortlessly when he tweets as well as when he speaks (no rhyme intended).

Nonetheless, that puts the President not at odds but on the same terrain as his chief of staff. Let us not forget

Video of a 2015 speech delivered by Representative Frederica S. Wilson revealed Friday that John F. Kelly, the White House chief of staff, misrepresented her remarks when he accused her of bragging about securing $20 million for a South Florida F.B.I. building and twisting President Barack Obama’s arm.

Mr. Kelly, escalating a feud between Mr. Trump and Ms. Wilson, had cast the congresswoman on Thursday as a publicity-seeking opportunist. However, the video, released by The Sun Sentinel, a newspaper in South Florida, showed that during her nine-minute speech, Ms. Wilson never took credit for getting the money for the building, only for helping pass legislation naming the building after two fallen federal agents.

She never mentioned pleading with Mr. Obama, and she acknowledged the help of several Republicans, including John A. Boehner, then the House speaker; Representatives Mario Diaz-Balart and Carlos Curbelo; and Senator Marco Rubio.

John Kelly is different than Donald Trump or Kellyanne Conway or Sarah Huckabee Sanders. He is more serious and reputable, and probably tells the truth more often than he utters falsehoods. But there is a reason all these individuals serve this particular President.

For the latter three, truth is an unpleasant option. For General Kelly, it can be thrown overboard when necessary, which puts him on an ethical plane above Sanders, Conway, or Trump. However, he is a reminder that service in uniform to the country does not inoculate one from dishonesty. As the immigration debate continues, nothing he (or anyone in the Administration) says can be assumed to  be completely accurate.

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Wednesday, January 17, 2018

Consider The Source

As of a year ago when "Frederick Douglass has been doing an amazing job," President Trump didn't know that the abolitionist had died well over a century earlier.  He thought "people don't ask that question- why was there a Civil War" and believed "most people don’t know" Abraham Lincoln was a Republican and “Nobody knew that health care could be so complicated.”

Donald Trump is profoundly, spectacularly ignorant. However, he isn't stupid.

Admiral Ronny Jackson, the White House physician for President Trump and formerly for President Obama, performed a physical examination upon his Commander-in-Chief and pronounced him in "excellent health."

Most skepticism today is focused on Dr.Jackson's contention that Trump is 6'3" and weighs 240 pounds, which places him one pound beneath "obese." Still, he would be classified as obese if he were not listed at 6'3",  the same height as John Ellis Bush (JEB), who is demonstrably taller than Trump. 

But few individuals care whether Donald Trump, who is intensely bigoted, has threatened nuclear war against Korea and probably presided over a campaign colluding with a foreign enemy and power, is wildly overweight.

Many people do, though, care about the President's cognitive health.  Dr. Jackson observed  that Trump scored 30 out of 30 on a test Wikipedia states was created in 1996 and "was validated in the setting of mild cognitive impairment." Jackson revealed that Trump allegedly scored 30 out of 30 on the test which according to Wikipedia "was validated in the setting of mild cognitive impairment, and has subsequently been adopted in numerous other settings."

The  doctor had previously concluded "I've got to know him pretty well. And I had absolutely no concerns about his cognitive ability or his, you know, his neurological function." Afterward he maintained "I have no reason whatsoever to think the president has any issues with his thought processes." Yet, Atlantic writer and  editor James Hamblin tweets 

The Montreal Cognitive Assessment is a 10-minute test that asks a person to draw a clock, repeat the phrase “I only know that John is the one to help today,” and identify a lion, rhinoceros, and camel. 

It would be extremely concerning if a President scored less than 30/30. 

Additionally, Jackson- who is not a neurologist- revealed that Trump himself had requested the exam. It appears to be "a widely used screening assessment for detecting cognitive impairment" and- despite the possibility of  gaming the test- Dr Jackson did not state whether Trump knew beforehand that the MoCA would be the test given to him.

We also were not told whether the 10-minute test was administered in ten minutes to a patient who has a notoriously short attention span.  But we do know this: Donald Trump is Dr. Jackson's boss.

Dr. Jackson is a United States Navy admiral specializing in emergency medicine, not neurology. He is, however, Donald Trump's subject, as suggested by Article II, Section 2 of the United States Constitution: the President shall be commander in chief of the Army and Navy of the United States, and of the militia of  the individual states when called into the actual service of the United States.

With every outrageous tweet, statement, or action by the White House, Republican members of Congress stand idly by, rarely questioning the President, even lying for him in the instance of Senators Cotton and Perdue. They do so even though they are elected by their constituents and answerable only to their constituents.

And now we have a military doctor assigned to the White House who is answerable, at least de facto, primarily to Donald J. Trump. He has- surprise!- pronounced the President physically and mentally fit and sharp.

The President is ignorant of history and civics. Nevertheless, as this game illustrates, he is far smarter and shrewder than he's given credit for.

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Tuesday, January 16, 2018

Racism And More Important Things

You knew it would happen. Having unjustified faith in good sense, I did not.  The Washington Examiner has reported

In just three days, the short video of reporters yelling questions to President Trump about whether he is a racist has become C-SPAN's most-watched clip on YouTube involving the Trump White House.

In the video from Friday, Trump signed a proclamation honoring Martin Luther King Jr., and left the room as reporters demanded to know if he was a racist. That question was prompted by Trump's reported comment that America shouldn't let in people from "shithole" countries.

"Mr. President, will you give an apology for the statement yesterday?" one reporter asked.

"Mr. President, are you a racist?" April Ryan of American Urban Radio Networks asked. "Mr. President, are you a racist?"

Shockingly, the President, already turning away from reporters, refused to answer.  Next up from Ms. Ryan when the opportunity presents itself: "Mr. President, when did you stop beating your wife?" Conversely and constructively, it might be "when will you be releasing the tax returns you promised the American people?"

The question wasn't stupid, worthless, or offensive simply because it was certain that it wouldn't be answered. Some questions need to be asked even if they surely will bring no reply. However, critical is a venue in which ignoring the question makes clear that the respondent is actively avoiding answering. This was not one of those instances.

Admittedly, by getting so many views, it becomes ipso facto a good question by the Law of the Free Market. (Success being its own justification, if it feels good or gets you what you want, do it. )  In a commentary having a lot to do with President Trump and nothing (directly) with April Ryan, Charles Blow explains

I find nothing more useless than debating the existence of racism, particularly when you are surrounded by evidence of its existence. It feels to me like a way to keep you fighting against the water until you drown.

The debates themselves, I believe, render a simple concept impossibly complex, making the very meaning of “racism” frustratingly murky.

So, let’s strip that away here. Let’s be honest and forthright.

Racism is simply the belief that race is an inherent and determining factor in a person’s or a people’s character and capabilities, rendering some inferior and others superior. These beliefs are racial prejudices....

Understanding this, it is not a stretch to understand that Donald Trump’s words and deeds over the course of his life have demonstrated a pattern of expressing racial prejudices that demean people who are black and brown and that play to the racial hostilities of other white people.

Obviously, Donald Trump throughout his life has demonstrated a pattern of racial prejudice which exploits and encourages racial hostilities of other white people.  Given his extensive history of racially biased remarks, including (probably) "laziness is a trait in blacks" and (inarguably) "look at my African-American over here," the burden of proof lies with persons arguing that Trump is not a racist, in the traditional, contemporary, or any other, sense.

Nevertheless, it is less clear that he is a "racist" in the traditional and accurate meaning of the term as defined by Blow (who believes Trump is a racist)- a belief that race is an inherent (emphasis mine) and determining factor in an individual's character and capability. It also is not terribly important. More significant, as Blow understands, is

the extraordinary hypocrisy of elected officials who either remain silent in the wake of Trump’s continued racist outbursts or who obliquely condemn him, only to in short order return to defending and praising him and supporting his agenda.

Recognizing and acknowledging the racial component in the President's actions is more important than proving that Trump is a "racist."  Opposing his extremist agenda and calling out the members of Congress (hello, Senators Flake, Corker, Graham, and others) who obliquely condemn him while supporting his agenda is more valuable.

The media can continue to idolize Senators Flake, Corker, Graham, and others who concede the emperor has no clothes yet simultaneously enable and embolden him. Or it can continue to debate whether Donald J. Trump is a racist and prove he is. Still, both the loyal opposition and the media have a role to play, and shouting "are you a racist" to the President is not a good start.

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Monday, January 15, 2018

Backlash Anger

Rand Paul appeared on Sunday's "Meet the Press" and argued that President Trump couldn't be a racist because

I did about 200 cataract surgeries with a group of surgeons in Haiti and the same in Central America. And when we asked Donald J. Trump as a private citizen to support those trips, he was a large financial backer of both medical mission trips. So I think it's unfair to sort of draw conclusions from a remark that I think wasn’t constructive, is the least we can say.

And I think it's unfair then to sort of all of a sudden paint him, "Oh well, he's a racist," when I know, for a fact, that he cares very deeply about the people in Haiti because he helped finance a trip where we were able to get vision back for 200 people in Haiti.

Obviously, there are many reasons for extremely wealthy people to give to charities which have nothing to do with the color of skin of the people who may be benefitted, and that if Rand Paul or Donald Trump were concerned about charitable giving, they wouldn't have supported the Corporate Tax Scam of  2017. The legislation, The New York Times notes, "roughly doubles the standard tax deduction, to $12,000 for individuals and $24,000 for couples. A higher standard deduction means fewer taxpayers will itemize their deductions on their tax returns, reducing the incentive to give to charities." (And Paul could have cosponsored Senator Lankford's amendment which would have allowed the deduction for taxpayers who take the new and improved standard deduction.)

But his remarks did illustrate how confused- or mistaken- people are about the reason Trump made his remark- which reportedly he did so repeatedly. Paul argues

I think people jumped a little bit to a conclusion. Let's take the whole scenario and put different words in there and let's say, "We'd rather have people from economically-prosperous countries than economically-deprived countries." Or,   Then it wouldn't have been so controversial.

Of course, it wouldn't have.  But he didn't, and it was no mistake.  Paul adds

In 2013, Lindsey Graham said the exact same thing the president did, but he used the hell-hole. "We can't have everybody coming from every hell-hole on the planet here." And now everybody thinks Lindsey Graham's a great statesman because he's put out this thing about American ideals, and stuff, which was a good statement, but he said almost the identical thing to the president in 2013. 

But- policy implications aside- Trump did not say the same thing, and it was no mistake.

The President used crude and rude language because it painted a more graphic picture than did "hell-hole." He wanted to promote a crappy (pun intended) image of the undeveloped countries because he otherwise would not have gotten the visceral, gut reaction he cravesfrom supporters.  NBC's Hallie Jackson on Friday tweeted 

Two sources tell @GeoffRBennett and me POTUS worked the phones, calling friends/allies to gauge reaction to "sh*thole" fallout. One source familiar describes his mood as "belligerent" at fallout/coverage; another says he wanted insight into how his base might react.

Similarly, on Sunday conservative Christian and Trump critic Erick Erickson tweeted

It’s weird that people in the room don’t remember Trump using that word when Trump himself was calling friends to brag about it afterwards. I spoke to one of those friends. The President thought it would play well with the base.

Trump selected language he knew was descriptive and offensive, notwithstanding what Rand Paul and other Trump supporters- such as GOP TV's Tucker Carlson- may believe. Carlson remarked "an awful lot of immigrants come to this country from other places (that are) dirty, they're corrupt and they're poor, and that's the main reason those immigrants are trying to come here and you would, too, if you lived there."

That's a legitimate argument to make- if it had anything to do with what Trump said in the manner he said it.

It didn't. It didn't, because voters of his base would have barely reacted if the President had calmly stated "We realize that there are more problems in economically-deprived countries, therefore there's a bigger impetus for them to want to come." Neither would it have served his purpose had he remarked "We regret we cannot accomodate the good people from these economically-deprived countries who want to migrate to our own."

But "s_ _ _ hole" countries gives them red meat, especially knowing  that their enemy, the liberal-academic-minority complex, would howl in opposition.

President Trump gets a two-fer. His fans, whose support he'll need after calls for impeachment following release of the special counsel's report, clap and honk their horns in unison. And he further divides the people of the United State of America, a primary tactic since he announced his candidacy, and one which his buddy in the Kremlin surely approves of.

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Saturday, January 13, 2018

Very Little- And Meaningless

Asked how "congressional leaders reacting to the president's vulgar comment," Scott Detrow of Morning Edition on classic "liberal media"- acknowledged that President Trump's recent comments about third world nations are not out of character. However, he stated (hat tip to Steve M.) also

So there was broad condemnation. Many Democrats had reactions very similar to what Steny Hoyer, the number-two Democrat in the House said. His quote was that President Trump's comments are racist and a disgrace. They do not reflect our nation's values - many Republicans critical as well. Utah Republican Mia Love, who has Haitian roots, put out a statement saying the president's comments are unkind, divisive, elitist and fly in the face of our nation's values.

Another prime liberal bugaboo, The New York Times, termed critical reactions "extraordinary bipartisan rebukes to a sitting president."

As of when the CNN report hit the transom at 6:29 a.m. (the day after the Times report), the "extraordinary biparisan rebukes" of President Trump included four Republicans of their 291 members of the United States Congress.

Senator Tim Scott, an African-American from South Carolina, called Trump's remarks "disappointing," as if they were an aberration.  Utah senator Orrin Hatch remarked "I look forward to getting a more detailed explanation regarding the President's comments.," suggesting a full explanation might justify the sentiments and language.  Senator James Lankford of Oklahoma, unwilling to acknowledge the report's validity, said "if these comments are accurate they are disappointing."

And Mia Love. Love is a  second generation Haitian-American and Republican representative from Utah. The New York Times gushed she "demanded an apology from the President" and TIME's headline blared "'The President Must Apologize': Haitian-American GOP Rep. Mia love Slams Trump's 'Shithole Countries' Comment."  She had tweeted

Her remarks are worse than weak. They are standard Repub boilerplate, which would have made Ayn Rand- and probably her acolyte, Paul Ryan- proud. They never took a thing from our federal government, she claimed. As a candidate for the US Senate, Elizabeth Warren explained

There is nobody in this country who got rich on their own. Nobody. You built a factory out there - good for you. But I want to be clear. You moved your goods to market on roads the rest of us paid for. You hired workers the rest of us paid to educate. You were safe in your factory because of police forces and fire forces that the rest of us paid for. You didn't have to worry that marauding bands would come and seize everything at your factory... Now look. You built a factory and it turned into something terrific or a great idea - God bless! Keep a hunk of it. But part of the underlying social contract is you take a hunk of that and pay forward for the next kid who comes along.

Love evidently has parents fortunate enough never to have traveled on interstate highways or other roadways partly funded by the federal government; or to have benefitted from federal aid to education; nor to have experienced the indignity (as she might see it) of Medicare or of a Social Security check.

The Representative from Utah's fourth congressional district has paid it forward by voting to gut health care for millions of Americans with the GOP alternative to the Affordable Care Act and following that up by supporting the GOP's Corporate Tax Scam of 2017.

Most telling, however, is that she has advocated elimination of the estate tax, which applies to 75-80 family-owned farms nationally,  because "I have a lot of rural farmers" who are hurt by the  estate tax.

Mia Love is a fraud, determined to shove money upwards while extolling her own family's virtues. More serious is the naively favorable response of the media to her, Tim Scott, Orrin Hatch, James Lankford, and other Republicans who pander by declaring they are disappointed by Donald Trump's remarks, presumably because they are not  up to the high standard he has set for decency, compassion, and accuracy.

The media will continue to treat similar remarks as criticism of Donald Trump. Nevertheless, it must contrast that sentiment with the practice of GOP members of Congress to vote consistently with the President as they prop him up, give him political victories, a chance to boast of his greatness, and secure public support for dangerous and extremist policies

Friday, January 12, 2018

The Itch For Oprah

Oprah Winfrey's powerful Golden Globes speech, Politico's Annie Karni realizes, "led to a wistful question, posed by Hillary Clinton fans watching the Oprah 2020 frenzy play out this week: Where the heck was Winfrey in 2016?"

Winfrey was not invisible, for she

had initially raised hopes in Clinton’s camp by telling “Entertainment Tonight,” during a red-carpet interview, that “I’m with her” — a quick-hit endorsement that buoyed spirits at campaign headquarters, especially because the campaign operatives had not helped Winfrey craft it, or planted it....

A month before the election, she had added

 “You don’t have to like her. Do you like this country? Do you like this country? You better get out there and vote. ... Do you like democracy or do you want a demagogue?” 

Karni reports "that comment further deflated the Brooklyn-based Clinton crew," as well as it should have.

By contrast, longtime Clinton confidante Phillip Reines argued “The excitement triggered by celebrities might not be as transferable to a political candidate as it is to a sneaker or hotel chain. Hard to argue that a Kim Kardashian tweet would have flipped the outcome.”

Sorry, but comparing national superstar Oprah Winfrey to Kim Kardashian is like comparing the popular and extraordinarily accomplished Tom Hanks to a pornographic film star.  Kardashian is not a porn performer but she appeals to a certain segment of the electorate while alienating a larger number.  Vox's Constance Grady notes that Janice Peck, author of "The Age of Oprah," recognizes

that Oprah’s ability to connect with her audience is in and of itself political. Part of the secret to her enduring appeal, Peck says, is her ability to keep white women — her biggest demographic — from thinking of her as black. “You have all these white fans who have historically talked about her as if she is a personal friend of theirs, as if she could come into their homes,” Peck said, “which of course she did, on their TV screens.”

Fifty-three percent of white women voted for Donald Trump. That percentage probably would not have dropped dramatically had Winfrey campaigned for Clinton as she did for Senator Obama in 2008 but as Peck notes, “She understands how to connect with audiences and give them what they want at a particular time. She’s always been very smart at figuring at who her audience is and how to resonate with them.”

Supporting Reines' perspective, Karnie argues "even a joint Beyoncé-Jay-Z concert and rally for Clinton in Cleveland in the homestretch of the race didn’t deliver the bellwether state of Ohio to Clinton’s column on election night."

That's accurate, and a huge, seemingly successful, rally in Philadelphia with the Clintons, the Obamas, and Boss Springsteen the night before the election culminated in an unexpected Trump victory in Pennsylvania the following day.

But we didn't know all this at the time, and neither did Winfrey. Conventional  (and nearly unanimous) wisdom held that properly targeted celebrity endorsements- such as by beloved black figures in the city of Cleveland and in the city of Philadelphia (with a gigantic white star)- can only help a Democratic candidate.

Consequently, the question arises: where was Oprah? Karnie points out that longtime Clinton adviser Minyon Moore, who has contact(s) in the Winfrey camp, reasons

Oprah has a brand that is built on a capitalist society. Any time someone like that opens their mouth to support a political candidate, they have something at risk. Most of them do this based on their own value system. I have learned to be grateful, because they have empires of their own.

That was from an apparent admirer. Publicly, Oprah Winfrey was apolitical until she endorsed candidate Obama in September 2006, then again in October 2006 and May 2007, followed by her first campaign appearance with the candidate, in December, 2007.

Following her fellow Chicagoan's acceptance speech at the convention, the new-age television superstar, still an actress, commented "what I saw with Barack Obama was something that was transcendent and I felt transformational for me as a human being and for this country."  One researcher maintains that Winfrey's support of Obama's bid "does appear to have been a decisive, if not a deciding, factor." All in a good cause, at least.

And yet, Oprah's support of the Democrat who was striving to replace Obama and to continue most of his policies was tepid at best.  Largely apathetic pre-Obama and post-Obama, Oprah Winfrey has excited Democrats- including pols- from coast-to-coast. It is thoroughly understandable, given the Party's yearning for a glamorous superstar to replace the business giant in the Oval Office.

Nevertheless, given her apparent centrist bent, disinterest in Democratic races for President and Congress, and complete absence of qualifications for the position, the hankering for Winfrey is borderline reprehensible and threatens the effort to reverse the damage undertaken by the alliance of President Trump and congressional Republicans.

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Thoroughly Unwise

Think before speaking, Congresswoman- or don't speak at all. Politico reports

Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi complained Thursday that immigration negotiations are being led by "five white guys" — and was quickly rebuked by her No. 2, Minority Whip Steny Hoyer, himself one of those white guys involved in the talks.

“The five white guys I call them, you know," Pelosi said at her weekly news conference. "Are they going to open a hamburger stand next or what?” Pelosi said, complaining that minority members of Congress were not involved in deciding the fate of Dreamers.

Pelosi's quip was a reference to the hamburger chain Five Guys and the five white men leading the immigration negotiations. In addition to Hoyer, they include Senate Majority Whip John Cornyn (R-Texas), Senate Minority Whip Dick Durbin (D-Ill.), House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.), and White House Chief of Staff John Kelly.

Overrated hamburgers, excellent french fries. But that's off-point.

Fortunately, Democratic whip Steny Hoyer rebuked Pelosi, telling Politico in a statement “That comment is offensive. I am committed to ensuring DREAMers are protected and I will welcome everyone to the table who wants to get this done."

The remark of the "San Francisco Democrat" is not only patently bigoted and patronizing, it is likely to get Democrats running in 2018 in GOP, or swing districts labeled as "Pelosi Democrats."

The statement also was bizarre. The Democratic delegation is meeting under the leadership of.... Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi.  Presumably, if someone's skin color should be a qualification for making policy, she ought to be able to facilitate it.

To make matters odder, we learn

“That could’ve been done four months ago. The very idea that this week they’re saying, ‘Oh why don’t we get four white guys and General Kelly to come and do this,’” she continued. The lack of minority involvement only serves to delay a deal, she argued, since it would need sign-off from the Congressional Hispanic Caucus and others.

One wonders whether she could be naive or ignorant enough to believe this is a strategic disadvantage. Having a Democratic duo which is strictly (non-hispanic) white while necessitating a sign-off from other groups (the "other" probably being the Congressional Black Caucus) is a strategic advantage.

It goes something like this: "it sounds pretty good to us, guys, but we have to run it by the others and, well, sometimes they're not as reasonable as we are." Someone must step up to explain this routine, yet relatively successful, strategy to the leader of the Democratic Party in the House of Representatives.

There is something else which, remarkably, Pelosi doesn't seem to understand.  The narrative- not unfounded- is that the GOP is the nearly all-white, exclusive party while the Democratic Party is significantly more inclusive. Obviously, as pertains to these negotiators, she cannot make this case and therefore, the less said, the better.  When Pelosi refers to the ethnic background of the negotiators, she muddles part of the modern raison d'etre of the Democratic Party and suggests to voters that there is no distinction betweeen the two parties.

Bothsiderism is better left to the mainstream media. Denigrating someone on the basis of inherited characteristics is better left to the leader of the other Party. And Speaker Pelosi, and the Democratic Party, would benefit were she to leave the messaging to someone else.

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Thursday, January 11, 2018

The Pendulum Swings Again

The jig is up. Master propagandist Kellyanne Conway won't admit it but gave Chris Cuomo an opportunity to explain it (beginning at approximately 13:00 of the video below) when he interviewed the Counsel to the President on Wednesday night.

Cuomo began "and you had the President walk into that meeting and say "Look, the wall, can be different things in different places. I'm open to- I'll agree to whtever you guys come up with." After Conway  replied "You realize part of it is mountainous," the intense but controlled Cuomo responded

No, no, not what I realize. Do you realize when the President was promising it's going to be a big, new wall all across. I'll build in in a year. People said exactly what you're saying now and he shook his head in definace and said "no, not me, that's these other guys. They're saying they're going to compromise. Not me- big, brand new wall." That's what he said- it's not a metaphor. It doesn't mean a fence, it doesn't mean sensors. It's a wall. 

That's what he said- it's not a metaphor.  It doesn't mean a fence, it doesn't mean sensors. It's a wall. He changed. He changed at the meeting- Republicans say it, Democrats say it.

The unflappable Conway, exposed as the flunky who defends whatever Trump says minute-to-minute, admitted

You know what's changed? That he has said in order to do a deal on DACA it includes a wall it includes an end to chain migration. It includes an end to the visa lottery system and what bothers a lot of folks out there-it seems including you- is that you're going to get the main tool out of the  way if he surprises you and actually does a deal on DACA. ....

Donald Trump's words have changed. He hasn't changed over the course of  the past two-and-a-half years, in the period since the Voice of the Common Man, accompanied by a trophy wife, announced his presidential candidacy at the $1.5 billion, 58-story skyscraper he owns.

He hasn't changed over the past two years, in the period since the then-primary candidate vowed "I will build a great, great wall on our southern border, and I will make Mexico pay for that wall. Mark my words."

Nor has he changed since September 1, 2015, after he first promised to build a great, geat wall on our southern border, and well before othr times he has repeated that. He had met with Hispanic Chamber of Commerce President Javier Palomerez, who stated

The Donald Trump I sat with today was hospitable, he was a gentleman. He listened much more than he spoke. He asked questions.

We continue to disagree, particularly on the wall. We agreed on this notion of mass deportation of 11 million people. And we continued to agree on the fact that we will not use Trump properties.

Hw peobably has not changed since February 2016, when he made to the New York Times editorial board off-the-record remarks which apparently contradicted his public statements, widely speculated to be about immigration.

Donald Trump probably has never believed in a wall. He did not believe in it while speaking to illegal immigration-advocate Palomarez, but does advocate it when speaking to his nativist base. It doesn't matter, because all Trump believes in is himself and his views change upon a whim, depending on whom he is speaking to.

His public position has transitioned in the past couple of days. However, now that his openness to deal with Democrats on immigration has been exposed, the President probably will have contradicted that position by the time this has been posted.

He will reverse course, for a time, because he has no point-of-view at all. He has advocated a "big, beautiful wall," opposed a wall, supported it, and now is open to a deal so he can say he has succeeded where no President ever has. He has evolved, devolved, and evolved again. Intimidated, he will back down in light of criticism from his cultural right, including that from talk-show host Laura Ingraham, who- neither deaf nor blind- on Wednesday night warned

I’m going to wait and see what the final DACA proposal looks like. But if it does not include a wall – a real wall, not a see-through wall, expect a political revolt from the base, which means losing the House and maybe even the Senate. And by the way, [ending] chain migration — absolutely necessary".... He promised them a wall — a big, beautiful wall. And unless it’s built, unless chain migration is ended, I fear, Mr. President, your most ardent supporters will write you off as just another politician who said something you really didn’t mean.

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Wednesday, January 10, 2018

Reasonably Well-Liked Crackpot

Even with expansion to 280 characters, Twitter has its limits. And so Matthew Yglesias tweets

Liberals need to come to terms with the fact that conservatives on Capitol Hill, in the executive branch, at interest groups, and around the country think this is a good president leading a well-run administration.

Et tu, Matt? He speaks of "liberals" as if he is not among them, which would be news to almost everyone.

O.K., though.: if his thesis is that many people believe Donald Trump is a good president and like him, polls do confirm that Trump remains popular among Republicans.

However, it's less likely these individuals believe their hero is administering a well-run organization than that they just don't care whether he is.  From the moment he came down the escalator and recognized their id with "when Mexico sends its people...  They're bringing drugs. They're bringing crime. They're rapists," they knew he was the same guy who on at least 12 occasions had suggested the black President wasn't one of them.

"The enemy of my enemy is my friend" may never have been so applicable as in describing the one candidate who seemed (and still seems) unafraid to say what they would like to say about the people they hate. Their spouse, their neighbor, and especially their employer may not want to hear it- but one guy is willing to say the things not "politically correct."

Yet that's far different than believing the President runs a well-oiled shop.  Not all of the President's supporters know chapter and verse of Michael Wolff's Fire and Fury. However, Trump himself does not know chapter and verse (or any chapter and verse, it seems) of the Bible but knows other people know it. And so it rings at least partially true to them, even more to members of the Executive Branch- that

The truth was, Ivanka and Jared were as much the chief of staff as Priebus or Bannon, all of them reporting directly to the president. The couple had opted for formal jobs in the West Wing, in part because they knew that influencing Trump required you to be all-in. From phone call to phone call — and his day, beyond organized meetings, was almost entirely phone calls — you could lose him. He could not really converse, not in the sense of sharing information, or of a balanced back-and-forth conversation. He neither particularly listened to what was said to him nor particularly considered what he said in response. He demanded you pay him attention, then decided you were weak for groveling. In a sense, he was like an instinctive, pampered, and hugely successful actor. Everybody was either a lackey who did his bidding or a high-ranking film functionary trying to coax out his performance — without making him angry or petulant.

They're not terribly ignorant, and not stupid at all, but simply unmoved by the chaos of the Administration.  Their political priorities are Trump's political priorities, or so GOP voters believe.  And the interest groups know where their bread is buttered: Trump is their only president, and his failure means the failure of their agenda and, ultimately, Democratic victory at the polls, which they would find rather uncomfortable.

The interest groups have largely accepted the maxim (emphasis mine) of Grover Norquist, who in May of 2012 famously- and not in jest-  quipped

All we have to do is replace Obama. ...  We are not auditioning for fearless leader. We don't need a president to tell us in what direction to go. We know what direction to go. We want the Ryan budget. ... We just need a president to sign this stuff. We don't need someone to think it up or design it. The leadership now for the modern conservative movement for the next 20 years will be coming out of the House and the Senate. [...]

Pick a Republican with enough working digits to handle a pen to become president of the United States. This is a change for Republicans: the House and Senate doing the work with the president signing bills. His job is to be captain of the team, to sign the legislation that has already been prepared.

Donald Trump has the working digits and obviously will sign whatever Ryan-McConnell put on his desk.  Formally eliminating the Affordable Care Act would have been merely the cherry on the top of an agenda of privatization, deregulation, and tax cuts for corporations.  The popular base has its hateful rhetoric, members of  the Executive Branch have their jobs, and interest groups have what they paid for. As Matthew Yglesias should realize, all the rest, including a "well-run Administration," is quite beside the point.

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Tuesday, January 09, 2018

Shooting The Messenger

They are toadies, flunkies, or sycophants, or perhaps a combination of the three and their support of President Donald J. Trump endangers national security. They are not traitors; they are not giving aid and support to the enemy, for the USA is not in a declared war and consideration of any nation as an "enemy" is therefore subjective. However regrettable for the nation, they are not stupid.

These are congressional Republicans, the 227 (of 239) House Republicans who voted for the Corporate Tax Scam of 2017 and the 51 of 52 (John McCain having been absent) of Senate Republicans who did the same.  "It's always a lot of fun when you win," Trump responded, confirming that congressional Republicans had strengthened him and helped "make America great again." "Enablers," the pop psychologists would call them, accurately.

They're all in for the President who is called an "idiot," "fucking idiot," "fucking moron," "child," dope," or "dumb as shit"- and those characterizations come from members of his own Adminstration.

Validating the juvenile's agenda is not the only damage they're doing.  Politico reports

Last month, House Republicans cast public suspicion on communication they say occurred in the fall of 2016 between former FBI general counsel James Baker and a Mother Jones reporter who wrote stories at the time about the FBI’s probe of Trump-Russia ties. The lawmakers cited Justice Department documents for the claim but have provided no further details.

Republicans have offered no evidence of wrongdoing and say they are merely seeking more information for now.

Evidence is optional, as it was when they nearly rescinded the Affordable Care Act and largely did so de facto with passage of the  tax bill. Moreover

The Republican focus on Justice Department contacts with the media escalated last week, after House Intelligence Committee Chairman Devin Nunes (R-Calif.) reached a Wednesday agreement with Justice Department leaders to secure witness testimony from officials whose handling of the Trump-Russia probe he has criticized.

Nunes released a letter the next day to Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein which included a little-noticed reference to an alleged meeting between Weissmann and reporters.

Rosenstein's office, Nunes wrote, "is researching records related to the details of an April 2017 meeting between DOJ Attorney (and Mueller teammate) Andrew Weissman… and the media."

The letter offered no other details about the meeting, such as why it might be the subject of an inquiry. But sources tell Politico that Republicans intend to ask more questions along these lines in the coming weeks.

"Sadly, we are now at a point in our political life when anyone can be attacked for partisan gain," tweeted James Comey, neglecting to note that usually the "anyone" is a journalist and the "partisan" is Republican.

Less than three months after the President of the United States of America threatened to challenge the broadcast license of a network he accused of "fake news," the congressional wing of his Party is joining him in an assault upon the practitioners of the First Amendment. The goal of the strategy is to quell dissent while the tactic- intimidation- may be having an effect. In an under-publicized story

“I’ve written twice in my column a quote about one of the people closest to Donald Trump during the campaign saying he’s got early stage of dementia,” (MSNBC host Joe) Scarborough said. “He repeats the same stories over and over again. His father had it, and it’s getting worse, and not a single person who works for him doesn’t know it. He didn’t think he was going to win. Twice the Washington Post would not let me put that in my column. I salute them for having a high bar, but we’re at this moment, and until your book came out, this was something we were not allowed to speak about.” 

This is not The Wall Street Journal or a small-town newspaper subject to the whims and prejudice of a local Art Pope.This is The Washington Post, thus calling into question how far we've come since the media covered up for President Roosevelt's melanoma and helianopa, President Kennedy's scoliosis, or President Reagan's likely dementia.

Scarborough may be exagerating or distorting the situation or- far less likely- lying. But the public needs to know if anything written by the ex-congressman was censored and if so, why it was deemed unfit to print.   Donald Trump may be suffering early symptoms of Alzheimer's Disease, or be mentally ill, or simply may be an evil man with an extraordinarily grandiose image of self. But we'll never know if the newspaper most reliably bringing us coverage of the President starts pulling its punches.

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Monday, January 08, 2018

Too LIttle, Too Much, Too Late

A great political strategist- Ronald(6) Wilson(6) Reagan(6-) once put it succinctly, quipping "when you're explaining, you're losing."

Reagan had few original thoughts but was sufficiently crafty to know what plays well in Peoria. And if true that "when you're explaining, you're losing," there is a corollary: when you're clarifying, you're losing.

Steve Bannon less-than-cleverly combined the two when on Sunday he stated  "My comments were aimed at Paul Manafort, a seasoned campaign professional with experience and knowledge of how the Russians operate. He should have known they are duplicitous, cunning and not our friends. To reiterate, these comments were not aimed at Don Jr."

David Frum responds "Bannon helpfully explains that Don Jr, CEO of the supposedly multibillion-dollar Trump Organization, was too inexperienced and unknowledgable to realize he shouldn’t receive stolen information from Russian spies,"

In the statement first reported by Axios, Bannon had omitted mention of Jared Kushner or Ivanka Trump, but called Donald Trump Jr. "both a patriot and a good man" who "has been relentless in his advocacy for his father and the agenda that has helped turn our country around." Again, Frum: "Bannon clarifies: it was not treasonous of Donald Trump Jr. to organize a meeting with Russian spies, only of Paul Manfort to attend it."

Nonethless, as Politico notes

inside the White House, Bannon's 297-word statement of contrition about comments he made in Michael Wolff's "Fire and Fury: Inside the Trump White House" was seen as too little, too late for an operative unaware of the self-inflicted damage his hubris could cause.

It did nothing to quell Trump’s rage at his former chief strategist or the anger of Bannon’s former West Wing colleagues, according to multiple administration officials, who said the vibe in the president’s circle was that people were unmoved by the statement. Asked whether there is anything Bannon can do at this point to get back in the president's good graces, one White House official said curtly, "Unlikely."

Bannon and Trump are wise enough to recognize that each can use the other, and some sort of rapproachment is likely. Still, the response from the White House was far more predictable than that Bannon would do something so foolish as to wait a few days and then issue what The Washington Post referred to as a "mea culpa."

Bannon's (belated) response was both too little and too much.  Trump does not crave approval but adulation.  After passage of the Corporate Tax Scam of 2017, the always-understated Senate Majority Leader McConnell told the President "you hold the record."  House Speaker and perennial ass-wipe Paul Ryan cited "exquisite presidential leadership" and Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy gushed "we would not be standing here it it were not for you."

Similarly, House Ways and Means Committee chairperson Kevin Brady told the President "but for your leadership we would not be here today" and Senate counterpart Orrin Hatch, chairperson of the Finance Committee, raved "you're one heck of a leader" who "has been making history since the first day of this administration." (In the old days, we would refer to people such as Hatch as "senile.")

Compared to all that, "patriot and good man" (directed at the President's son) is very weak tea and could not impress Donald Trump.

In an ironic twist, however, while Bannon's compliments were insufficient, they also were excessive.

Often generously referred to as a "bully"- fascist would be far impolitic and rude- Donald J. Trump feeds on the weak and the unsuccessful. When candidate Trump trivialized the Vietnam war sacrifice of John McCain, he did not suggest the reports of torture were exaggerated, question their accuracy, or claim the torture was unusually severe. Instead, he maintained "I like people who aren't captured"; that is, individuals who aren't losers.

Once the blowback ensued after the "Sound and Fury" comments were published, Bannon had lost.Yet, iIf he had issued his near-apology immediately, it would have been merely insufficient, having taken place before it was clear the remarks were damaging him. Instead, he waited until the President criticized him, thus making it obvious he issued the mea culpa because his back was against the wall and he had no choice. He was a loser, and Trump pounced.

It was an unforced error on the part of Steve Bannon and a mistake he's unlikely ever to repeat.

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Saturday, January 06, 2018


At various times, Reince Priebus, Representative Lee Zeldin (R-NY), and other Republicans have termed a "nothingburger" the meeting to discuss "dirt" on Hillary Clinton in June 2016 at Trump Tower among three top Donald Trump aides and five individuals with direct or indirect ties to the Kremlin.  Now one of Trump's personal attorneys, John Dowd, has claimed that Thursday's report of the President's effort to convince Attorney General Sessions not to recuse himself in the Russia matter is "another NYT nothing burger."

At first glance  this may seem to be a nothing burger:

Republican Sens. Chuck Grassley and Lindsey Graham on Friday issued a criminal referral to the Justice Department, urging it to examine whether the former British spy Christopher Steele made false statements to the FBI "about the distribution of claims" contained in a dossier he wrote about alleged ties between the Trump campaign and Russia.

In a letter to Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein and FBI Director Chris Wray, Grassley and Graham wrote: "Attached please find a classified memorandum related to certain communications between Christopher Steele and multiple US news outlets regarding the so-called 'Trump dossier' that Mr. Steele compiled on behalf of Fusion GPS for the Clinton Campaign and the Democratic National Committee and also provided to the FBI."

The senators, both members of the Senate Judiciary Committee, continued: "Based on the information contained therein, we are respectfully referring Mr. Steele to you for investigation of potential violations of 18 U.S.C. § 1001, for statements the Committee has reason to believe Mr. Steele made regarding his distribution of information contained in the dossier."

The criminal referral does not pertain to the veracity of the dossier's claims and "is not intended to be an allegation of a crime," a press release from the committee says.

There is no there there, but it still is more than a nothing burger (whatever the heck that is, anyway).

The subtle effect of the Grassley-Graham scheme has as its corollary the intensifying attack by the President and his subordinates upon the nation's intelligence and law enforcement agencies.  These agencies have long deserved skepticism, though they have consistently received little or none from those who have become their critics in service of Dear Leader.

Nonetheless, they do not deserve to be undermined, with little or no basis, by Republicans intimidated by the President or who fear for their own future if the Trump goes down. This will have lasting impact, and not a positve one, upon the faith of American citizens in these institutions.

In a similar  fashion, Grassley & Graham further are chipping away at faith in American political institutions.  They are intentionally drawing some attention from the Kremlin's interference with American political players in the political process toward other alleged misbehavior. While they imply this was motivated by anti-Trump bias, they sow distrust in all politicians, engendering a notion that all polticians, not only enablers of the Kremlin, have an angle.

There is another insidious effect of the Grassley-Graham stunt upon American politics. Evidence ironically comes by way of Thursday night's righteous rant of MSNBC contributor Steve Schmidt, a Never Trumper, in which he noted that

the President of the United states was engaged in premeditatively lying to the American people (with) the incompetence,  the recklessness, the unpreparedness for duties and responsibilities, around the most powerful person in the world of this entire menagerie around him, the West Wing of the White House.

Granted, John Kelly, HR McMaster, Kellyanne Conway, Sarah H. Sanders, Jared Kushner, Scott Pruitt, Steve Mnuchin, and several others are facilitating the incompetence and recklessness of President Trump.  But they are not alone. Steve M recognizes that the cynical move against Steele by Senators Grassley and Graham

will make them heroes on the right -- and in the mainstream, they'll retain their reputations, as respectable-seeming Republicans always do, even after it's unmistakably clear to everyone that they were running interference for a gang of criminals in league with international thugs. They won't be regarded as dishonorable. They'll be treated with respect on Sunday chat shows. We'll purge a certain number of Trumpers, but the vast majority of those who aided and abetted them will be allowed to carry on as if nothing had happened....

The press has made some serious efforts not to normalize Trump, and bravo for that. But McConnell and Ryan, Graham and Grassley, Nunes and Gowdy have all been normalized for years. The press hasn't been willing to portray them as the scoundrels they are. After we're rid of Trump, that will continue to be the case with regard to his enablers.

We'll not know for some time whether Schmidt will be among those in, or on the periphery of, the media who will avoid calling out Graham and Grassley, McConnell and Ryan and Jim Jordan.  But most of the commentariat and the working press will refuse, as SM eloquently explains, to acknowledge what the GOP has become- and had become long before there was even a presidential candidate named Donald J. Trump.

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Friday, January 05, 2018

Grand Opportunity

Interviewed Friday morning on "The TodayShow," "Fire and Fury" author Michael Wolff was asked about his credibility and responded "my credibility is being questioned by a man who has less credibility than perhaps anyone who has ever walked on earth at this point."

Perhaps? Mr. Wolff is being too generous. Donald J. Trump, at many and varied times both attacked and praised as a nationalist and populist, is a world-class liar- and a fake, phony, and fraud.

Or maybe he's not, and in the next 24 hours we'll know with confidence whether his image, crucial to his electoral success, as a populist and nationalist is legitimate. Henry Grabar explains that the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City, NY

announced on Thursday it would start charging mandatory admission fees to out-of-state visitors, a policy change that will provide revenue for the Met and bring the museum’s business model in line with its global peers. It will also deprive New York of one of its most extraordinary, egalitarian traditions, a rare offering that had lingered from the city’s fading commitment to common public life.

The Met, whose 7 million annual visitors make it the second-most popular art museum on Earth after the Louvre, has long wanted to make more money from admissions. The museum says out-of-staters account for more than half of its annual attendance. (New York state residents and students from around the region will continue to pay what they wish to enter the nation’s largest art museum; admission for children under 12 remains free.) It wasn’t just about making ends meet; it was a matter of principle. “What is it about art that it shouldn’t be paid for?” the former Met director Philippe de Montebello asked in 2002....

In a letter published on Thursday, Met President and CEO Daniel Weiss put a more pragmatic spin on it: The Met needs money. The museum has struggled financially in recent years, running up a $40 million deficit that forced layoffs of 90 employees last year and the downscaling of a planned $600 million new wing. Critics say that under Thomas Campbell, who resigned as director in February of last year, the museum had spent recklessly, seduced by visions of new wings, new art, and new donors.

Weiss argues that his museum does not derive most of its revenue from government and is “the only major museum in the world that relies exclusively on a pure pay-as-you-wish system," It's unlikely that charging visitors- who currently are asked to make a donation-will greatly cut into its attendance because

No one would contend that a tour of the Met is not worth $25 or that most international visitors, who account for 37 percent of the museum’s attendance, could not afford it. Museum directors and their allies have often said their institutions possess what economists call a low “elasticity of demand,” meaning that price hikes generally don’t drive visitors away.

However, Grabar argues

This may be true and good for globetrotters, and perhaps the Met will still bring in 7 million visitors next year. But the person the museum ought to be trying to get inside is not someone already determined to be there. It’s precisely those who might be turned off by a $25 ticket who are the Met’s perfect audience: the young woman visiting her sister who is not sure if she can afford it, the New Jersey commuter who doesn’t know if he even likes this stuff. The Met has always offered itself to those people, in part because its astounding array of treasures in such close proximity—not just art, but armor, and the choir screen of a Spanish church, and the façade of an 1825 bank building, and an entire Egyptian temple—can melt any skeptic’s resistance. But also because, being free, all you had to lose was your time.

Fewer domestic travelers- even those from Trump's allegedly beloved heartland- will be able to afford to visit one of the nation's cultural treasures. Grabar continues:

Enduring the stern looks of the ticket-sellers when you handed over your $2 was the price you paid to share this sneaky, radical bargain with a friend from out of town. It’s too bad that the Met will no longer mean the same thing to visitors as it does to New Yorkers, because no city is quicker to make you one of its own than this one. However diminished from days when the subway was a nickel and CUNY was free and the Met didn’t“suggest” anything but the city’s tremendous public assets, New York’s occasional largesse was never something that had to be earned. And while the museum remains all but free for New Yorkers, whatever their vintage, the formality of an ID check nevertheless functions as a little marker to remind that some visitors belong and some do not.

The Met, Grabar understands, "will no longer mean the same thing to visitors as it does to New Yorkers" while "the formality of an ID check" will serve "as a little marker to remind that some visitors belong and some do not."  A cultural institution freely available to all individuals- who would attend alongside New Yorkers- will become less available to Americans from Durham or Dubuque or Delavan, Wisconsin.

Normally, this would not concern a President of the United States. But inveterate tweeter Donald J. Trump is not a normal president. He made his millions or billions in New York City, NY, where he maintains his principal residence. His favorite person and her husband are Manhattan people,where they lived in opulence and Jared made his own big bucks in real estate.

And now a repository of high culture located in Democratic New York City in Democratic New York State has chosen to favor New York citizens over those of Southfield, Michigan or Scranton, Pennsylvania. They will be asked for identification and charged admission on the same basis as visitors from any country.

This would be a perfect opportunity for a president who once claimed to represent "Pittsburgh, not Paris" to tweet out his concern.

Or it would be if President Trump were a populist or even a genuine nationalist.  But that was all for popular consumption.  In "Fire and Fury," Wolff notes that when the President signed the initial Executive Order promulgating the travel ban

The result was an emotional outpouring of horror and indignation from liberal media, terror in immigrant communities, tumultuous protests at major airports, confusion throughout the government, and, in the White House, an inundation of opprobrium from friends and family. What have you done? You have to undo this! You’re finished before you even start! But Bannon was satisfied. He could not have hoped to draw a more vivid line between Trump’s America and that of liberals. Almost the entire White House staff demanded to know: Why did we do this on a Friday, when it would hit the airports hardest and bring out the most protesters?

“Errr … that’s why,” said Bannon. “So the snowflakes would show up at the airports and riot.” That was the way to crush the liberals: Make them crazy and drag them to the left.

Serving the most sensitive President in American history, presidential advisor Steve Bannon was pleased "the snowflakes would show up at the airports and riot."  "That was the way," Wolff wrote, "to crush the liberals."

Not only was crushing liberals by enraging them the primary objective of Trump's chief campaign strategist, it was the guiding principle of the Trump campaign. It was not populism or even nationalism, though the latter played a role: it was to exhibit a visceral hatred of the people Republicans hate, thereby stirring up more animosity to exploit. Given a chance to show a genuine populist or even nationalist spirit, the President will pass.

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Defending Trump

The publisher of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, an ardent Trump supporter, evidently has adopted his hero's style and fomented disco...