Tuesday, June 19, 2018

Sacred Cows

On Tuesday, President Trump maintained his "the bestdefense is a good offense" politics:

Keep in mind- as Trump or his Ghost Tweeter would put it- that the President herein does not defend his policy, instead blaming it on Congress and Democrats.

Keep it in mind, especially, upon reading the CNN Politics headline "Every living first lady has spoken out against familyseparation."

There are two problems with the headline.  The more obvious is that Mrs. Trump not only did not criticize the President's policy, she reinforced one of the media's continuing themes: both sides do it. She "hopes both sides of the aisle can finally come together..." She also wants a "country that follows all laws," which is one of the Administration's (misleading) talking points, and "a country that governs with heart," which the President himself has periodically advocated.

Far better were the statements of Mrs. Carter and Mrs. Bush. Mrs. Carter stated in part "the practice and policy today of removing children from their parents’ care at our border with Mexico is disgraceful and a shame to our country." Mrs. Bush wrote an op-ed for The Washington Post in which she observed "this zero-tolerance policy is cruel. It is immoral. And it breaks my heart. "

These two were the most eloquent and courageous responses of the five to a bad and very unpopular policy imposed by President Trump and Attorney General Sessions and carried out by Homeland Security secretary Nielsen. Then we come to the wives, one of them a presidential candidate, of the two most recent Democratic presidents.

Michelle Obama struck a bipartisan note, favorably retweeting a portion of Bush's article and added "Sometimes truth transcends party."  President Trump's policy was enacted in May, 2018 and differs substantially and significantly from the one imposed by Mrs. Obama's husband, who was condemned by Mr. Trump as "one of the worst Presidents ever," who "co-founded ISIS." As recently as late last year, Donald Trump doubted that Barack Obama was born in the USA. But "sometimes truth transcends party."

And "crooked Hillary," whom candidate Trump vowedwould be incarcerated were he to become President, stated "what is happening to families at the border is horrific."

Like Mrs. Trump, Mrs. Bush, and Mrs.Carter, Mrs. Clinton and Mrs. Obama assiduously avoided mention of the name of the individual- Donald J. Trump- who is responsible for what appears to be, and what they (save possibly Melania) believe, is a ghastly policy.  It's understandable in the case of Melania (who should have remained silent), Republican Laura, and Rosalynn, who was First Lady over 37 years ago and, truth be told, is 90 years old. (I would say age is the elephant in the room but that would be partisan.)

None of the women uttered the words "Donald Trump," but otherwise give credit to Laura Bush and Rosalynn Carter. Melania Trump's remarks, which were not demanded by the media, politicians, or the public, were at best neutral. Given who they are, Michelle Obama and Hillary Clinton were no more impressive.

The bar is set low for former First Ladies, as CNN's headline demonstrates Two of them cleared it: two of them did not. The unimpressive remarks of those two might go a bit in explaining the current state of the Democratic Party.

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Monday, June 18, 2018

Meanwhile, In Berlin

Representing the Putin-Trump plan for dismantling the Trans-Atlantic Alliance, we have

Crime in Germany has been declining, an inconvenient, yet not uncomfortable, fact for a demagogue who used the racially charged "law and order" to lie his way to the top some nineteen months ago.

But Trump is right that there is impatience within the grand coalition Prime Minister Angela Merkel formed earlier this year. Yet, Monday morning in the USA brings the news

German Chancellor Angela Merkel tonight accepted an end-of-the-month deadline from Interior Minister Horst Seehofer on border control.

The compromise would help de-escalate a row that had threatened to blow up the 70-year-old alliance between the two conservative parties — Bavaria’s Christian Social Union and the Christian Democratic Union — destabilising her government.

Mrs Merkel said she would hold talks with other EU countries on migration issues and report back on July 1.

Mr Seehofer said tonight he wanted to proceed step-by-step in his plan to turn back some migrants at the country’s borders.

In the USA, we have a chief executive who has imposed tariffs on those European allies (and Canada), as well as withdrawn from the Iran nuclear agreement and the Paris climate accord and moved the nation's embassy in Israel to Jerusalem. These have all been moves strongly opposed by allies and democratic nations in general, whose objections have been met by a figurative middle finger from President Trump.

His new national security adviser, John Bolton, once said "If I were redoing the [UN] Security Council today, I’d have one permanent member because that’s the real reflection of the distribution of power in the world.” His views have not changed. The President's have: he'd add mainland China and Russia.

By contrast, Merkel has worked out an arrangement, however temporary, with her chief domestic foe, preparatory to meeting with  Italian Prime Minister Conte, later French President Macron, and with the European Union at the end of the month. “In the CDU, we are of the conviction that German and European interests have to be considered together,” Merkel has said (video below from early June).

We've been doing it differently here, with a chief executive who has imposed tariffs on those European allies (and Canada), as well as withdrawn from the Iran nuclear agreement and the Paris climate accord and moved the nation's embassy in Israel to Jerusalem. These have all been moves strongly opposed by allies and democratic nations in general, whose objections have been met by a figurative middle finger from Donald Trump.

The President's new National Security adviser, John Bolton, once said "If I were redoing the [UN] Security Council today, I’d have one permanent member because that’s the real reflection of the distribution of power in the world.” His views have not changed. The President's have: he'd add mainland China and Russia.

Nations working together to come up with solutions to mutual problems may seem a novel approach because Washington has not practiced it since, roughly, the January 2017 inauguration of the "I alone can solve it" authoritarian. The concept of cooperation is almost as awkward as the concept of shame for Donald Trump and his supporters

In tweeting Monday morning "We don’t want what is happening with immigration in Europe to happen with us!" President Trump continues an ultra-nationalistic and ultimately futile approach toward the surge in refugees in the USA and Europe. Fortunately, the German chancellor, seeking a coalition- or at least cooperation- among allies, is leading the continent in addressing the issue. President Trump does not understand: but this is what leadership looks like.

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Too Bad, So Sorry

Melania Trump spokesperson Stephen Grisham on Sunday morning issued a statement which read

Mrs. Trump hates to see children separated from their families and hopes both sides of the aisle can finally come together to achieve successful immigration reform. She believes we need to be a country that follows all laws, but also a country that governs with heart.

In unison: let us clap our hands for a First Lady who hates to see children separated from their families. By now, she has presumably turned off her television set and avoided videos on social media so that she's not forced to see what her husband has wrought. The New York Times' Peter Baker explains

The president has falsely blamed Democrats for the situation, saying that he was simply enforcing a law that they had written. But no law requires families to necessarily be separated at the border. Children have been taken away from their parents because of a Trump administration “zero tolerance” policy enacted this year to prosecute all unlawful immigrants as criminals.

Steve M. adds

Melania isn't challenging her husband -- this is part of the administration's bamboozlement process. Stephen Miller embraces the family separation policy, Kirsjen Nielsen says family separation isn't administration policy, the president blames it on Democrats -- it's all one big "sorry not sorry," with Miller speaking to the immigrant-haters, the president speaking to the Democrat-haters, and Nielsen and Melania attempting to confuse everyone else.

But there is something additional: heart.

It turns out that even Mrs. Trump's appeal to governing with heart is an echo of- and probably a shout-out to- the President.  In defending his decision to strike a Syrian air base, in an April, 2017 interview with the Associated Press Mr. Trump cited the "human responsibility" of the presidency. He added "here, everything, pretty much everything you do in government involves heart, whereas in business most things don’t involve heart. In fact, in business you’re actually better off without it.”

In September he claimed at a press availability in the White House that he has "a love for these people" and "a great heart" for Dreamers.

Prior to his State of the Union address the following January, the president remarked

When you're a businessperson, you don't have to worry about your heart, the heart.  You really do what's best for you — you know, for almost purely monetary reasons....

I'm telling you, the immigration is so easy to solve if it was purely a business matter, but it's not.  And I think that's something that I've learned maybe more than anything else.  You have to govern with all of the instincts of a businessperson, but you have to add much more heart and soul into your decisions than you would ever have even thought of before.

The President has argued that he governs with "heart," and now his wife "a country that governs with heart." We have seen what Mr. Trump means by that and have no reason to believe his wife means anything else. Melania Trump chose on her own to enter the political fray and issue a statement intended to take the heat off the President of the United States of America for a very unpopular policy.  We should not pretend she has done anything different.

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Sunday, June 17, 2018


Responding to a question about North Korea, in his interview with Trump TV on Friday President Trump stated "I went there, I gave him credibility. I think it’s great to give him credibility."

Two New York Times reporters reviewed a United Nations report issued in 2014 and in the run-up to the Kim-Trump summit, they wrote

People accused of political crimes are arrested and sentenced to prison camps without trials, while their families are often kept in the dark about their whereabouts. Up to 120,000 inmates were in the country’s four major political prisons in 2014 and were subjected to gruesome conditions, according to the United Nations report.

Prisoners are starved, forced to work, tortured and raped. Reproductive rights are denied through forced abortions and infanticide. Some are executed — sometimes in public. Hundreds of thousands of political prisoners have died in the camps over the past 50 years, the United Nations report found.

In addition to the political camps, North Korea also operates prisons for those accused of ordinary crimes. Some prisons are short-term labor camps. Others hold prisoners who face long-term torture, starvation and other suffering.

For its 2017 report, Human Rights Watch noted

Those accused of serious political offenses are usually sent to political prison camps, known as kwanliso, operated by North Korea’s National Security Agency. These camps are characterized by systematic abuses, including meager rations that imperil health and can lead to starvation, virtually no medical care, lack of proper housing and clothes, regular mistreatment including sexual assault and torture by guards, and public executions. Political prisoners face backbreaking forced labor, including in logging, mining, and agricultural.

UN officials estimate that between 80,000 and 120,000 people are imprisoned in political prison camps.

They're sometimes called "political prison camps," sometimes "labor camps."  But they actually are concentration camps. Auschwitz, Buchenwald, and Dachau were among death camps run by the Nazis while they operated a string of concentration camps.

Kim Jong-un runs a group of concentration camps, and the President of the USA calls him a "strong head" who "speaks and his people sit up at attention.” "I went there, I gave him credibility. I think it’s great to give him credibility," Donald Trump said. And so he did.

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Saturday, June 16, 2018

Lie Of The Day (June 15, 2018)

This is a whopper:

These, however, are lies:

“I think that the report yesterday, maybe more importantly than anything, it totally exonerates me. There was no collusion. There was no obstruction. And if you read the report, you’ll see that.”

"Manafort has nothing to do with our campaign. … I feel a little badly about it. They went back 12 years to get things that he did 12 years ago?
“You know, Paul Manafort worked for me for a very short period of time. He worked for Ronald Reagan. He worked for Bob Dole. He worked for John McCain, or his firm did. He worked for many other Republicans. He worked for me, what, for 49 days or something? A very short period of time.”

“I feel badly for General Flynn. He’s lost his house. He’s lost his life. And some people say he lied, and some people say he didn’t lie. I mean, really, it turned out maybe he didn’t lie. So how can you do that?”

“I hate the children being taken away. The Democrats have to change their law. That’s their law.”

“Barack Obama, I think you will admit this, he said the biggest problem that the United States has, and by far the most dangerous problem … is North Korea. Now, that was shortly before I entered office. I have solved that problem. Now, we’re getting it memorialized and all, but that problem is largely solved, and part of the reason is we signed, number one, a very good document. But you know what? More importantly than the document — more importantly than the document, I have a good relationship with Kim Jong Un.”

As the Washington Post’s Fact Checker helpfully tells us, this is “only a partial list.” Further, Salvatore Rizzo explains why each of these is inaccurate, and it is clear that in at least four cases, the falsehood was not simply a matter of judgement and Trump would have known the statement is inaccurate.

The report covers only a period prior to the election. Therefore, it could not have "exonerated" Donald Trump, nor will anyone who reads it imagine that it does so.

Admittedly, the President may have been (though probably not) unaware that Michael Flynn worked 144 days, not 49 days, for his campaign, though he likely realized it covered a substantial period of time. However, he surely knows that it has not “turned out” that “maybe he didn’t lie.” Trump himself has stated “I had to fire General Flynn because he lied to the Vice President and the FBI.

The President understands, further, that his Administration’s policy of separating children from parents charged with violation of immigration law as they present themselves as refugees to border authorities is a new one. He probably is aware also of the 4/18 memorandum, revealed Friday evening by MSNBC’s Ari Melber and, signed by Attorney General Jefferson B. Sessions, in which (Melber explains)

The Trump Administration shifts from a long-standing set of policies that prioritized enforcement against immigrants deemed more dangerous and offered more protection for folks who are not considering (sic) dangerous as well as for children and families. This new policy orders a “zero tolerance policy for” all offenses and states the “zero tolerance policy supersedes the other existing policies I mentioned”- meaning the more family-oriented policies of past administrations in both parties are now out.

President Trump knows, moreover, that his agreement to agree with Kim Jong Un has not “largely solved” the problem of North Korea. The most significant plank reads “the DPRK commits to work toward complete denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula.” That does not mandate complete denuclearization (which is interpreted differently by Seoul than by Washington, anyway) not does it mandate even working toward it- rather a commitment to work toward it. 

Unfortunately, WaPo refers to the partial list as “false and misleading claims” rather than “lies.” Worse, it refers to the statements as “whoppers”- which tens of millions of Americans, some of them voters, find quite tasty.

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Friday, June 15, 2018

Sit At Attention

Trump & Co. is making it more obvious now.

Reporting on the then-upcoming Trump-Kim summit, Fox News host Abby Huntsman on Sunday noted "regardless of what happens in that meeting between the two dictators, what we are seeing now is history."

 Having accidentally told the truth on Trump TV, Huntsman later "apologized" for what she called a "mistake."

"Mistake" misses the real story, however. The tell is the response from frequent Trump surrogate Anthony Scaramucci, who (as Sam Seder observed, video below) replied "yea, because he's a disruptive risk taker, he's willing to break what would be the usual bonds of..."

Anyone can make a mistake. But when an experienced businessman now-turned pundit who appears frequently in defense of the President doesn't correct a startling remark, it throws into question whether there is anything to correct.

On Thursday, President Trump saluted General No Kwang-choi of North Korea, an unnecessary and improper gesture given the regime he represents. Sarah H. Sanders misleadingly defended Trump's move as "a common courtesy when a military official from another government salutes that you return that." No apology, no retreat.

In an interview with Trump TV prior to an impromptu exchange with the press on Friday morning, the President remarked of Kim Jong Un

Hey, he's the head of a country and I mean a strong head.   Don't let anyone think anything different.  He speaks and people sit up at attention. I want my people to do the same.

 "You don't understand sarcasm," he later told reporters.

Earlier this week, Trump said "Anybody that takes over a situation like he did at 26 years of age and is able to run it and run it tough. I don’t say he was nice or say anything about it. He ran it, few people at that age — you could take one out of 10,000 could not do it.”

Perhaps that, too, was meant as sarcasm, as perhaps with hispraise of Chinese strongman Xi Jinping as "now president for life, president for life. And he's great. and look, he was able to do that. I think it's great. Maybe we'll have to give that a shot someday." Or VladimirPutin, who "has been a leader far more than our president [Obama] has been."

 When Trump made his "joke" about the need for "people (to) sit up attention," he forgot to laugh or smile. So did the reporter he was speaking to.

And he knows "my people"- his subjects- knew what he meant.  Cowardly as he often is after such remarks, he failed to own up to what he was doing, labeling it "sarcasm" and a "joke." But he did not laugh or smile, nor did the reporter he was speaking to. 

He regards "my people" as his subjects.  The pounding upon our head is President Trump warning us what he has in mind in the unlikely event of a second term. That will be neither a joke nor sarcasm, and certainly no laughing matter.

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Wednesday, June 13, 2018

Not Kim, Not Trump, But.... Us?

On Wednesday morning, President Trump tweeted 

President Trump may simply suffer from seriously impaired judgement. Political science professor Vipin Narang,a fellow at the Federation of American Scientists and senior editor at The Diplomat magazine believes that with the Trump-Kim summit, "China moves closer to being the dominant power in northeast Asia"  and "the lesson for states like Iran is simple: Acquire a thermonuclear ICBM that can threaten America and you too can have your Singapore declaration — a fast track to nuclear status."  He argues

North Korea has arrived as a nuclear power, and there is no going back. Once the reality-show theatrics of the Singapore summit meeting subside, we are left with the reality that North Korea was just recognized as a de facto nuclear weapons power.

President Trump went to the meeting with Kim Jong-un of North Korea to try to take the keys to Mr. Kim’s nuclear kingdom. Whatever the terms of the statement released at the end of the meeting, Mr. Kim has not committed to anything concrete. He is not surrendering North Korea’s nuclear weapons and has walked away the big winner.

North Korea declared its nuclear weapons force technologically complete at the end of 2017, with its third successful test of an intercontinental ballistic missile. Now, less than a year later, North Korea’s nuclear power is politically complete, thanks to the legitimacy that comes from a handshake with an American president. Mr. Kim did what neither his father nor grandfather could do before him: sit down and negotiate with a president of the United States. The Singapore summit meeting looks indistinguishable from a meeting between the leaders of two states with normal diplomatic relations. But this is far from where Washington and Pyongyang have ever stood. It was Mr. Kim’s development of nuclear weapons — and the credible means to deliver them to America — that made the meeting possible.

Didn’t he just agree to “work towards complete denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula”? He did. Just like his grandfather’s deputies did in 1993. That phrase — “denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula” — is a term of art that the United States and North Korea can interpret to suit their interests.

The summit provided nothing specific, let alone verifiable. It also poses, as Narang describes, tremendous opportunity for expansion of Chinese influence in Asia and a serious threat to the security of South Korea.

Yet, when President Trump looked around the negotiating table, saw only Kim Jung-un and two interpreters and did not identify the mark, it might not have been him. William Saletan explains

When your adversary wants concessions, you’re supposed to raise the price by projecting reluctance. Instead, Trump has expressed eagerness to do what Kim wants. Trump says he wants to end joint U.S. military exercises with South Korea—a long-standing North Korean goal—since he wants to save money anyway. He hints at a rift in the alliance with Seoul, grousing that South Korea doesn’t pay the whole cost of the exercises. And he signals that he’d be happy to pull U.S. troops off the peninsula altogether: “I want to get our soldiers out.”

Trump isn’t trying to impress Kim. He’s trying to impress you. He starts by lowering the bar, claiming that any summit outcome is better than the nuclear holocaust people feared after Trump escalated the war of words with Pyongyang. “You could have lost, you know, 30, 40, 50 million people” in a nuclear war, Trump pointed out in the press conference. Then, to pad the tally of gains from the summit, Trump double-counts things North Korea had done beforehand: releasing hostages and suspending missile launches. Trump demands extra credit for not giving North Korea $150 billion, which he falsely claims Obama gave up in the nuclear deal with Iran. (Spoiler: It was Iran’s money.)

In the Singapore agreement, Trump hasn’t insisted that Kim accept clear methods of verification. Instead, Trump asks you to accept Kim’s vague assurances. “I do trust him,” Trump told Stephanopoulos. When asked how denuclearization will be verified, Trump offers mumbo-jumbo: “It’s going to be achieved by having a lot of people there, and as we develop a certain trust.” Trump says you’ll have to wait 15 years for proof that the deal was honored, since “scientifically,” it takes that long to denuclearize.

Mumbo-jumbo.  That technical language suggests that Trump knows what is going on, that whatever he and his new buddy mean by "denuclearization" cannot be verified under terms of the paper-thin agreement.  Instead

As usual, Trump is lying. And he’s happy to enlist Kim in the con. At the press conference, David Sanger of the New York Times asked Trump whether Kim’s promises were based on an adequate logistical understanding of “dismantling both the uranium and the plutonium processes” of his nuclear program. “He understands it so well,” Trump replied. “He understands it better than the people that are doing the work for him.”

Perhaps smart people working for Kim were murdered, leaving him with a weak staff.  Maybe working a good deal for the USA- or even doing a favor for Vladimir Putin or Xi Jinping- isn't what Donald Trump is after. If his motivation is primarily financial, an effort to open up new market(s) for the Trump enterprises, the President's strategy is entirely rational. Saletan recognizes

Trump has spent a lifetime using other people’s celebrity to promote himself and his products. To him, Kim is just another celebrity. That’s why he spoke at the press conference about North Korea as a real estate paradise with beautiful beaches. It’s also why Trump credited Kim with saving, through North Korean participation, this year’s Winter Olympics in South Korea. “They weren’t exactly selling tickets,” said Trump. But once “Chairman Kim said, ‘Let’s participate in the Olympics,’ it sold like wildfire and was a great success.”

The summit, too, was an entertainment success. For that, Trump is happy to praise Kim and collaborate in the pretense of landmark concessions. Thanks for watching.

Trump and Kim, Saletan theorizes, are "working together to pass of their toothless pact as a milestone. It's a con, and you're the mark."

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Lie Of The Day (June 13, 2018)

Five minutes apart early Wednesday morning, President Trump issued two tweets pertaining to North Korea. The second included two claims:

President Obama actually warned the president-elect that North Korea would be the new president's "most urgent problem," not his "biggest and most dangerous problem." Still, Trump's claim was close enough to reality, thus can be classified with horseshoes and hand grenades.

But Mr. Trump contended also "before taking office people were assuming that we were going to War with North Korea." I don't know what "people" Donald Trump had talked to- or why the w in "War" would be capitalized- but folks on planet Earth were assuming nothing of the sort.

If Trump had claimed individuals believed- rather than assumed-  we would go to war with North Korea, he might deserve the benefit of the doubt. After all, he might have spoken with 100 persons and found 12 who believed war was likely.

However, he typed assumed, though a widespread view that war was ahead came about only after several months of the new administration (video below, Barack Obama in 2016, not panicked).  In August, 2017 The Washington Post reported

Obama highlighted North Korea in his meeting with Trump two days after the election. Aides who traveled with Obama to an Asia-Pacific economic forum in Peru in late November recalled him saying that Trump seemed to “sit up and take notice.”

The Obama team expected Trump to undertake the sort of deep-dive review and interagency decision-making process that it had employed, Rhodes said. Obama was frequently criticized by Republicans as being too deliberative, or, as Trump called him on the campaign trail, weak and indecisive. But Rhodes said the goal was to produce unity and clarity across the administration, rather than the kind of whipsaw tone and message that has marked the North Korea issue under Trump.

Initially, Trump appeared to think he could outsource the problem to China, a strategy deemed simplistic and naive by foreign policy experts who say Beijing has limited influence with the North and strategic interests that diverge from the United States’.

There would be little concern in the outgoing administration about war if the "goal was to produce unity and clarity across the administration." There was little concern in the incoming administration about war if "Trump appeared to think he could outsource the problem to China." Later, as the rhetoric ramped up between Trump and Kim Jong-un, fear of imminent war arose.

But it did not do so Donald J. Trump took office.  Trusting the contempt he has for the American people, he knows many of his cultists will follow him blindly and many other voters will forget life as it was 18 months ago. Nonetheless, whether good strategy or bad, "before taking office people were assuming that we were going to War with North Korea" is a lie.

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Tuesday, June 12, 2018

No Retreat, No Shame

On Saturday, the Prime Minister of arguably the USA's closest ally (that, prior to this presidency) criticized President Trump's determination to impose tariffs upon Canada. Expressing a notion which would have pleasedfascists of old, the exquisitely sensitive, politically correct President of the United States of American condemned the prime minister  as "very dishonest, weak." Elizabeth Preza writes

 “One of the arguments was that the president can't show weakness and what Trudeau did required this robust response otherwise the president would appear to be weak,” (former CIA head Michael) Hayden said. “Actually, Trudeau did not make President Trump look weak. President Trump made President Trump look unstable, erratic and thin-skinned.”

 Hayden noted U.S. and Canadian intelligence services “don't just cooperate."

"We are, by-and-large, integrated because we have common values and common legal systems and common strategic objectives," he said. Back to embarrassment — we, frankly, ought to feel a little bit ashamed for treating such a good friend the they they were treated yesterday from very high levels in our government.”

That's excellent and on-point. However, although Hayden isn't particularly liberal, he invokes the leftist concept of shame because he does not realize that the concept means no more to conservatives than the notion of asking for forgiveness from a higher power means to Trump.  In commentary on Real Time Friday, Bill Maher remarked

Conservatives govern without shame, and liberals shame without governing. We have lost- liberals- the House, the Senate, the White House, the Supreme Court,Kanye. Our symbolic victories are the only victories we get now. They get to cut their own taxes, rip up the social safety net, and make coal a vegetable. We get to banish actors.

Five months ago, Donald Trump (probably accurately) stated "no regime has oppressed its own citizens more totally or brutally than the cruel dictatorship in North Korea." Now he says Kim Jong-un "hasto be a tough guy or he has been a rough person" and "loves his people." No explanation, no apology, no remorse, and no shame. We're America, bitch!

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Monday, June 11, 2018

The Sound Of Silence

Before President Trump threw his temper tantrum on Saturday

 "Canadians … stood shoulder to shoulder with American soldiers in far off lands in conflicts from the First World War onward," the prime minister said at a press conference at the end of the summit.

“Canadians, we’re polite, we’re reasonable, but we also will not be pushed around,” Trudeau continued.

 Evidently, Justin Trudeau will not be pushed around. But we know who will be pushed around.

President Trump, who has never met an ally he couldn't scold, on Friday had urged the G-7 to readmit Russia and former Vice President Biden noted

Putin’s Russia invaded its neighbors, violated our sovereignty by undermining elections, and attacks dissidents abroad. Yet our President wants to reward him with a seat at the table while alienating our closest democratic allies. It makes no sense.

Then on Saturday, President Trump, asked whether "Crimea should be recognized as Russian..." responded

Well, you know, you have to ask President Obama, because he was the one that let Crimea get away. That was during his administration. And he was the one that let Russia go and spend a lot of money on Crimea, because they’ve spent a lot of money on rebuilding it. I guess they have their submarine port there and such. But Crimea was let go during the Obama administration. And, you know, Obama can say all he wants, but he allowed Russia to take Crimea. I may have had a much different attitude. So you’d really have to ask that question to President Obama — you know, why did he do that; why did he do that. But with that being said, it’s been done a long time.

 Law professor Laurence Tribe replied

Asked why in the world he’s urging Russia’s readmission to the G-8 despite Ukraine & Crimea, Trump could only say it was Obama’s fault that Russia illegally invaded the former & annexed the latter. What a pathetic, puerile response. We’re governed by a dumb, nasty infant.

Joe Biden has been uncharacteristically silent. More significant- and more serious- the man he served for eight years has been characteristically silent.

Barack Obama is silent in the face of an attack by the man who led the crusade to convince the nation that Obama was born in Africa and claimed he created ISIS. When five years ago Damascus crossed President Obama's red line, Donald Trump tweeted "Why do we keep broadcasting when we are going to attack Syria. Why can't we just be quiet and, if we attack at all, catch them by surprise?" He followed that with "In war, the element of surprise is sooooo important.What the hell is Obama doing." There was not a peep of protest from Obama.

And now President Trump leaves the USA and claims his immediate predecessor "was the one that let Russia go" and "allowed Russia to take Crimea."

Perhaps Obama is following the unwritten, informal code that ex-Presidents should not criticize an incumbent President. But this is no George Herbert Walker Bush or George W. Bush, let alone Gerald R. Ford. It is Donald J. Trump. More likely, Obama's motive is similar to those GOP members of Congress refusing to criticize President Trump because they are afraid he'll tweet mean things to them. 

Voting with the President, they are more complicit in the lies and deceit of Donald Trump and the right-wing havoc he's causing.  Admittedly, Barack Obama is keeping it classy, yet- like those Republicans- reinforcing the rule of a President undermining his predecessor's legacy at every turn.

We are reminded -over and over again- that President Obama in 2012 won voters, counties, and states that Hillary Clinton did not. If Mr. Obama is that popular (or at least credible), it's time for him to risk some of the crowd's adulation by standing up for himself, his Party, and the country. In this period of unusual peril, it's time for the last Democratic president to prove there is no "kick me" sign on his posterior.

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Signaling Weakness

At his news conference in Charlevoix on Saturday, President Trump complained

So two things can happen on NAFTA. We’ll either leave it the way it is, as a threesome deal with Canada and with the United States and Mexico, and change it very substantially — we’re talking about very big changes. Or we’re going to make a deal directly with Canada and directly with Mexico. Both of those things could happen.

If a deal isn’t made, that would be a very bad thing for Canada and it would be a very bad thing for Mexico. For the United States, frankly, it would be a good thing. But I’m not looking to do that. I’m not looking to play that game.

(Nice little country you have there, Canada. It would be a shame if something happened to it.)

It was later in the day that

Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said he would with "absolute certainty" impose retaliatory measures on July 1 to answer Trump's tariffs on steel and aluminum. He said the argument that Trump's tariffs on steel and aluminum are a matter of national security are "kind of insulting." Trudeau said Canadians are nice but added, "We will not be pushed around.

While still at the conference, the boldly politically incorrect American president agreed to sign the joint communique with the other six men and women. It was not until he was safely in the air, where he would not have to look the other leaders in the eye, that the tough guy with beer muscles emerged and there were these:

White House economic adviser Larry Kudlow blasted Trudeau later Saturday and then

Trudeau “really kind of stabbed us in the back,” Kudlow said on CNN’s “State of the Union” on Sunday, calling on the Canadian to apologize to Trump.

The U.S. helped negotiate the joint communique and was “very close to making a deal with Canada” on the North American Free Trade Agreement, Kudlow said. But the Canadian prime minister’s post-conference criticism Saturday was “a betrayal” that Trump needed to respond to, to avoid showing weakness on the eve of talks with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un, he added.

“He is not going to permit any show of weakness on the trip to negotiate with North Korea, nor should he,” Kudlow said of Trump. “Kim must not see American weakness.”

These guys sure know how to drive a deal. Not only are they kissing up to one of the world's worst dictators by blasting an ally, they are telling Kim Jong Un that they are doing it only to prevent the President from appearing weak.  Kudlow, paraphrased: We are weak, Kim, but we'll pretend to be strong. Transparency in the age of Trump is showing America's hand, revealing its strategy. (Can he loathe this country any more?)

It's also Trump-style political correctness. Face-to-face with his adversaries (American allies), he was anxious to avoid confrontation and agreed to sign the joint communique. Once he was able to escape, he found courage.

Roaring like a lion when it's safe, the coward keeps up the act.

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Sunday, June 10, 2018

Lie Of The Day (June 9, 2018)

"I would say." Donald Trump contended at his news conference following the G7 summit, "that the level of relationship is a 10. We have a great relationship. Angela and Emmanuel and Justin. I would say the relationship is a 10."

Following meetings at the White House in late April

President Trump and Chancellor Angela Merkel of Germany made no attempt on Friday to hide their disagreements over the future of the Iran nuclear deal and trade relations between the United States and Europe after a day of White House meetings that appeared to have produced no breakthroughs on major disputes.

Mr. Trump and Ms. Merkel, who have had a chilly relationship from the start, steered away from the kind of awkward confrontations that have characterized past meetings, going out of their way to compliment each other and accentuate areas of agreement. But Mr. Trump pressed his complaint that the trade relationship between the United States and Europe was “unfair,” and Ms. Merkel made clear that the president had not made the commitment she was seeking — permanently exempting the European Union from the steel and aluminum tariffs he imposed in March.

Mr. Trump congratulated Ms. Merkel for her recent election victory and praised her leadership in helping pressure North Korea to come to the table for talks on dismantling its nuclear program, but he also blasted what he called an unfair trade disparity between the United States and Germany — making particular mention of a $50 billion trade deficit in automobile parts — and dwelled once more on his frequent complaint that Germany does not contribute enough financially to NATO.

In the run-up to the G7 conference in Canada, things got worse. The President said he would impose tariffs on Mexico, Canada, and the European Union and they have vowed to retaliate.Trump  recommended that Russia be admitted to the G7 because "we have a world to run," a reminder to the allies that Trump has far less regard for them than he has for Moscow. He interrupted a breakfast meeting of the conference's gender equality advisory council by showing up late, at which time "fellow G7 leaders stared at Trump as he slowly made his way to his seat, which was across the table from Trudeau and next to International Monetary Fund managing director Christine Lagarde."

In the very same response in which he gave a rating of 10 to relations between the USA and those allies, Trump charged

the European Union is brutal to the United States. They don’t — and they understand that. They know it. When I’m telling them, they’re smiling at me. You know, it’s like the gig is up. It’s like the gig is up. They’re not trying to — there’s nothing they can say. They can’t believe they got away with it.

If Donald Trump believes that adds up to a "10," he is an even worse mathematician than he is an historian. But rest assured that he realizes the relationship is closer to a 1 than to a 10, which provided a great opportunity for yet another brazen lie by the President of the United States of America.

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Saturday, June 09, 2018

A World To Run

Ian Bremmer and Malcolm Nance, the latter in response to the former, consider President Trump's affinity toward Russian President Vladimir Putin:

Early Thursday morning, The New Yorker posted by Susan Glasser an article in which she referred to a security conference in the Estonian capital the previous week and added

When I went to Berlin after the Tallinn conference, I talked with several German officials who made similar references to personal and familial dysfunction. In their view, Trump’s decision to take on his allies on so many issues all at once is quite different from the standard-issue European policy disputes with the United States, such as the 2003 rift over George W. Bush’s invasion of Iraq, or Ronald Reagan’s early nineteen-eighties military buildup against the Soviet Union. Those were differing views over how to protect the alliance; now Trump is questioning the alliance itself. “It’s like your parents questioning their love for you,” Norbert Röttgen, the chairman of the Bundestag’s foreign-affairs committee, told me on Monday. “It’s already penetrated the subconscious.”

That was Thursday morning. It wasn't until Friday morning that the President left the White House to be flown to the two-day G-7 summit in Canada and stated "Russia should be in this meeting. Whether you like it or not, and it may not be politically correct, but we have a world to run. . . . They should let Russia come back in."

And so the President of the USA wants Vladimir Putin's Russia to be join the group of seven allies. It would, at least, alleviate the need to tell our intelligence secrets to the Kremlin. But wait- run that one by me again, will you?

We have a world to run.  Trump wasn't talking about the G7-8, the Transatlantic alliance, or the European Union.  One year ago, a former undersecretary of State and ambassador to NATO wrote 

America and Europe are experiencing their most significant crisis in decades. President Trump’s recent visit to NATO and the EU was the least successful of any U.S. president in seven decades, exposing deep ideological divisions and a widening gulf of trust across the Atlantic. Last weekend’s terrorist attacks in London had the same effect. Trump repeatedly criticized London Mayor Sadiq Khan for telling citizens not to be alarmed by the attacks, when Khan actually said they should not be alarmed by a heavy police presence. Trump’s tweets did not go down well in stoic Britain, where the World War II maxim, “keep calm and carry on,” still holds.....

The heart of the problem is Trump’s view of Europe, and Germany in particular, as an economic competitor rather than a strategic partner. This is a sea change in American attitudes towards Europe. All of Trump’s predecessors dating to President Truman have prized Europe’s political and military alliance with America. Trump’s boorish behavior in Brussels and his intemperate tweets criticizing Merkel (and now Khan) have only reinforced the doubts about him in Europe

In late May, after criticism of NATO from President Trump, Angela Merkel remarked "I have experienced this in the last few days. And that is why I can only say that we Europeans must really take our fate into our own hands."

That was in May, 2017. Now, as David Corn mused on AM Joy on Saturday morning, Trump "doesn't want a G-7. He wants a G-2, maybe a G-3" (mainland China included). 

Actual "fate" is pre-determined. Otherwise, fate wouldn't be fate. But if the European Union doesn't want Europe- and possibly the globe- split up by two or three world powers, it needs to start, yesterday.

Friday, June 08, 2018

The Tweet Diversion

Two of the many Trump dog whistles in April included

It is because of tweets like these, though on a variety of subjects, that human weathervane Paul Ryan on May 2 told an audience of business leaders and investors "we definitely could do with a few less tweets. The President and I have had that conversation more times than I can count. Later in the month- one in which he tweeted 259 times- a survey found that 72% of registered voters believe the President's use of the platform is excessive.

Still, the President's policies toward immigrants and refugees may demonstrate that this habit contributes toward his political popularity.

Politifact has explained that once the US Department of Health and Human Services receives an "illegal entry referral" from the Department of Homeland Security, it "is responsible for placing the child with a sponsor as the child’s immigration case is resolved." As a professor of immigration law and national security remarked, "Previous administrations felt broad use of the 'prosecute-first' option was needlessly harsh."

The Trump Administration is referring far more individuals for prosecution, thus ruthlessly separating parents and children. While some voters- even some conservatives- are discomfited by views of children locked in cages, Trump's tweets divert attention from them and toward Mexico, Mexicans, border security, and the general resentment which fuels the popular base.

And away even from immigration policy.  We learned recently from Tracy Jan of the Washington Post

Despite his administration’s "Hire American” stance, Trump and the GOP leadership have gone quiet on mandating E-Verify, draining momentum from a top policy goal of grass-roots Republicans.

“The president has been very weak on this subject,” said Roy Beck, president of NumbersUSA, an organization that has campaigned for a national E-Verify mandate since 1996 in its quest for reduced immigration. “Even though he’s not pushing hard for it and even though the Republican leadership has been really sluggish on this, the Republican Party as a whole is overwhelmingly for this.”

Three days later, Nick Miroff of the Post reported

The Department of Homeland Security said Friday it will issue 15,000 additional guest worker visas for 2018, facing an outcry from business owners who say they’re being hurt by the country’s labor squeeze.

It was the second year in a row that DHS agreed to allocate an extra 15,000 guest worker visas, on top of the 66,000 annual cap established by Congress. Lawmakers have granted DHS the authority to exceed the cap, and in recent weeks they have urged Nielsen to allow more foreigners to alleviate the tight labor market, with the unemployment rate at 3.9 percent.

The H-2B visas are for foreigners who take seasonal jobs in seafood, tourism, landscaping, construction and others industries — but not farmworkers. Critics of the guest worker program say such jobs should pay more to attract more teenagers and American workers who have dropped out of the labor force.

Lest we think that the Administration has undergone a compassion transplant and is concerned about immigrants

In a statement, DHS said Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen determined that not enough “qualified, U.S. workers [were] available . . . to satisfy the needs of American businesses.”

“The limitations on H-2B visas were originally meant to protect American workers, but when we enter a situation where the program unintentionally harms American businesses it needs to be reformed,” said Nielsen, whose statement urged lawmakers to pass legislation to establish an appropriate number of seasonal visas....

It was a near-repeat of what happened last year under then-Secretary John F. Kelly. At that time, DHS described its decision to allocate 15,000 extra visas as a “one-time” increase. There was no such wording in Friday’s statement.

Critics of illegal immigration would do well to remember that parents everywhere tell their children "choose your friends carefully":

“It shouldn’t become a habit, but I’m afraid it will,” said Mark Krikorian, director of the Center for Immigration Studies, who has written articles in recent weeks praising the labor shortages as a sign of the success of Trump’s immigration crackdown.

Krikorian said he was not surprised at the visa increase because Trump is not an opponent of the guest worker system, and has hired seasonal foreign labor for his golf courses and resorts.

“The President is for H-2B visas, so this is one area where his ‘Buy American, Hire American’ doesn’t apply — it’s hire foreign,” said Krikorian.

Trump has used the H-2B visa program to hire workers at his golf resorts in Palm Beach, Fla., and Jupiter, Fla., saying he “could not get help” during the tourist high season.

“Everybody agrees with me on that,” Trump said during a 2015 presidential debate. “They were part-time jobs. You needed them, or we just might as well close the doors, because you couldn’t get help in those hot, hot sections of Florida.”

Donald Trump has insisted he knows nothing about David Duke; Chicago has the strongest gun laws in the nation; terrorism is so rare it's ignored by the media; he won the popular vote in the 2016 presidential election amid "serious voter fraud" in Virginia, North Carolina, and California; Obama "actively supported" Al Qaeda and "founded" ISIS; and made dozens of other assertions rated "pants on fire" by Politifact. 

It's nearly as absurd that Trump would be forced to hire immigrants on visas for his properties in Florida, when there are (or were) unemployed Americans everywhere who would have moved there for a job, rather than to Wyoming, the Dakotas, Minnesota, or Maine, or elsewhere deep in the snow  belt.  However, if he can keep on tweeting, people will never remember when he said wages are "too high"- and in a rarity, meant what he said.

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Thursday, June 07, 2018

Lie Of The Day (June 5, 2018)

It's the GOP fallback position, and very, very important.

Chris Cuomo interviewed an uncomfortably smiling Sarah Huckabee Sanders on "Cuomo Prime Time" Wednesday night about a variety of topics.  They included the credibility of the Presidential Press Secretary compared to that of the press, the 2016 Trump Tower meeting, the allegation of an FBI "spy" inside the White House, veterans, tariffs, the budget deficit, and immigration.

But what Sanders really wanted to talk about was the economy.  She realizes, after all, that it is the issue on which the Administration is least likely to get challenged- by Cuomo, other journalists, even Democrats. She even stated "I wish we spent a lot more time talking about the economy," she said at one point.

And she said "Multiple people have said that we have the strongest economy that we've had since World War II."

That may well be true. She may have gone home one night and said to her husband and two children "repeat after me: 'we have the strongest economy that we've had since World War II.'" They may have complied. Multiple people.

Better, we have Donald Trump on Tuesday:

It would be "nice," even "cool" or "awesome"- were it true.

Unfortunately it's not, and fortunately we have Jeanna Smialek to explain

Judging solely by gross domestic product, perhaps the simplest way to gauge a nation’s progress, the decades that followed World War II were the hottest in American history. Pent-up consumer demand, a housing boom and a vibrant manufacturing sector all melded into the economy’s Golden Age. By the GDP yardstick, the current pace of the expansion pales in comparison…

Still, the overall jobless rate -- 3.8 percent in May -- has been lower in the past, dipping below 3 percent during the 1950s. The time it takes unemployed people to find work also remains elevated. And while wage growth has slowly picked up, past expansions have seen much bigger gains. That’s true even after accounting for today’s modest inflation.

“If you’re a new data scientist, or Ph.D. economist, yeah, it’s a great time to look for a job,” Lawrence Katz, a Harvard University economics professor who served as the Labor Department chief economist during the Clinton administration, said when asked if this is the best time to look for work. “If you’re a janitor, a construction worker in some places -- No.”

Katz noted that in the late 1960s and late 1990s, wage growth was booming for such everyday employees. And in the 1960s, jobs put workers on a path toward benefits and economic security in the longer run -- more of a rarity today, in a world where unions and pension plans are few and far between.

Michael Bordo, an economics professor at Rutgers University and an authority on monetary history, agrees with Katz on that timing. The best economic period judging by unemployment was the 1960s, he said. In terms of economic growth, it was the 1960s and the 1990s.

Bloomberg's Timothy L.O'Brien notes

As you might have guessed just from reading this, "increased economic value" in this context is a bogus metric, one Trump has ginned up to describe something that isn't actually happening.
Trump's $7 trillion figure refers to how much the overall value of the U.S. stock market has risen since he was inaugurated as president last year. It has nothing to do with the growth in the value of goods and services — which is known as "gross domestic product," not "increased economic value."

More important, Trump isn't presiding over "the best economy in the history of our country." 

Unemployment is at an 18-year low, 3.8 percent, but the unemployment rate was lower in the years right after World War II (it was 2.5 percent in 1953, for example). GDP growth is ticking along at about 2 percent to 3 percent annually, but in the 1960s it was about 5 percent annually. Wage growth is slower today than in the past and the labor force participation rate also lags.

That's not to say that things aren't good right now in many ways. They are. They're just not as good as Trump is saying.

In the interests of full disclosure: O'Brien added "I suspect that Trump isn't riffing on "increased economic value" simply out of ignorance. By tying an economic assessment to the stock market's ascent, Trump can clearly distinguish himself from his predecessor, Barack Obama."

But that is why he is not simply ignorant.  The Chaos President does virtually everything- the pardons, the Iran nuclear deal, health care, taxes, trade- in a manner meant to distinguish himself from No Drama Obama. And it is hard to believe the 71-year-old Trump, proud graduate of the esteemed Wharton School of Finance and Commerce, is unaware of the booming economy enjoyed by his country (in this case, the USA, not Russia) in the years immediately following World War II.
Best economy since WWII? Increased economic activity by $7 trillion dollars.

Democrats have been ceding ground to President Trump on "the economy." They should not. 

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Sacred Cows

On Tuesday, President Trump maintained his "the bestdefense is a good offense" politics : Democrats are the problem. The...