Monday, March 20, 2017

At What Point Does Trump's Compulsive Lying Start Requiring Us to Put "The President" in Air Quotes?

There's not a lot anymore to bolster the claim that Donald Trump knows what it means to be president of the United States -- other than he's free, on the taxpayers' dime, to fly around the country playing golf. The truth isn't a component, apparently, and understanding policy and international diplomacy aren't either.
This started years ago, but when is it going to stop? Before or after WWIII?

 Yes, Paul Krugman has it right:
 The New York Times reports it correctly:
The F.B.I. is investigating Russian interference in the 2016 election and possible links between the Trump campaign and the Russian government — and whether there was any coordination, Mr. Comey said.

Mr. Comey said that it was unusual for the F.B.I. to confirm or deny the existence of any investigations, but that in unusual circumstances when it is in the public interest, the bureau will sometimes discuss such matters.
“This is one of those circumstances,” he said.
Mr. Comey told the House Intelligence Committee, “We have no information to support” President Trump’s assertion on Twitter that President Barack Obama wiretapped Trump Tower.
“We have no information to support those tweets,” Mr. Comey said, repeating moments later, “All I can tell you is that we have no information that supports them.”
The N.S.A. chief, Admiral Rogers, weighed in as well, saying that he had no knowledge of anyone asking the British or any other ally to wiretap Mr. Trump. That seemed to refute another claim made by the White House.
“I’ve seen nothing on the N.S.A. side that we engaged in such activity, nor that anyone engaged in such activity,” Admiral Rogers said.
He then explicitly denied having any indication that Mr. Trump was wiretapped by British intelligence at the request of Mr. Obama.
There you go. Another unique feature of the hearing was that Donald Trump was tweeting falsehoods or misinformation during the hearing itself.
The White House tweeted Monday that the directors of the FBI and the National Security Agency told Congress Russia did not influence the 2016 presidential election. But to borrow a phrase from the administration’s own parlance, that’s actually fake news.
The tweet, which came from the president's official government Twitter account and was sent out by his staff, tries to bolster the claim with a clip from Monday’s high-profile congressional hearing with FBI Director James Comey and NSA Director Adm. Michael Rogers.
 Of course, Comey and Rogers were commenting on the electoral process itself, the vote count, not whether the outcome -- how and why people voted as they did -- was altered by the Russians.

As long as "the president" chooses to misinform and deceive, by tweet or otherwise, he will be undermining his own standing, his own deteriorating credibility.

Oh, and do I need mention that after this damning testimony, Trump still, via his spokesman, insists that the final word about the Obama "wiretapping" is not in yet?


Sunday, March 19, 2017

Donald Trump Will Trash Alliances that Have Built Up over Decades, One Piece at a Time.

Never mind the small fry like Mexico, Canada, and Australia. When Trump upends long-standing relationships with allies like the UK, Germany, and Japan, he disrupts what has worked for the U.S. since World War II. And for what?

A picture worth a thousand words: How'd this guy even happen?

Simply put, Donald Trump is very, very bad at diplomacy. This lack of skill in a vital aspect of political life is quite evenly spread among his staff. Sean Spicer, for instance, blew a hole in our "special relationship" with the UK by suggesting their top spy agency helped bad (or sick) guy Barack Obama "tapp" Trump's wires.

Next, Trump used his notorious Twitter finger to insult Germany a mere handful of hours after Chancellor Angela Merkel finished up her dutiful trip to the Trump White House. Not surprisingly, the twin tweets, in which Trump claimed Germany owed NATO and the U.S. "vast sums," was utter nonsense:
Security experts quickly attacked the flaws in Trump’s logic. On Twitter, former U.S. ambassador to NATO Ivo Daalder wrote that increased defense budgets by Germany aren’t transferred to the United States. He also pointed out that NATO decided to make the 2 percent requirement mandatory just a couple of years ago. The alliance gave all member states until 2024 to reach that goal, and Germany is on track.
“Trump’s comments misrepresent the way NATO functions,” Daalder told us. “The President keeps saying that we need to be paid by the Europeans for the fact that we have troops in Europe or provide defense there. But that’s not how it works.”
Naturally Trump would be ignorant -- or simply dense -- of how we structure our defensive posture. Japan and Germany, who lost bigly in WWII, have built up a very small defense force as a grand statement of their permanent goal to settle disputes by peaceful means. This approach has stood the world in good stead for over seventy years. They remain non-violent and give us land to host military bases that expand our reach conveniently and inexpensively near our traditional rivals.

Now, with Trump's election, bull, meet china shop.

As for Japan, he's more than suggested that it should develop nuclear weapons, ostensibly to hold off China and North Korea. Smart!

And as for the UK, the rift about the wiretapping no doubt will heal -- mostly -- but the one serious effect will be that intelligence services across the world cannot trust Trump, who may not realize (what does he realize?) that we depend on international surveillance cooperation for our own national security.

Someone should tell him, someone who's not afraid to intimate that he's a fucking idiot, a dangerous one at that.

Saturday, March 18, 2017

How Donald Trump Is His Own Worst Enemy

Trump ran up against his own words when he issued the first travel ban, which cried out for injunctive relief because of who issued it, not because of what was issued. Here, then, is the person overruling his own interests. It's -- what would you call it? -- Trumpian.

Here's his Hugeness hugely blowing it. How long will his own words haunt him?

Indeed, it's Trump's own words that follow him around, most especially on the pair of travel bans that haven't passed muster with the courts. He may still win, especially in the Supreme Court, but so far his words are trampling on his hoped-for deeds.

Paul Krugman linked to this fascinating post on a legal blog operated in part by Harvard law professor Jack Goldsmith questioning the legal rationale for ruling against Donald Trump on his legal ban:
But also there is a third possibility, and we should be candid about it: Perhaps everything Blackman and Margulies and Bybee are saying [in their dissents against injunctions of the travel bans] is right as a matter of law in the regular order, but there’s an unexpressed legal principle functionally at work here: That President Trump is a crazy person whose oath of office large numbers of judges simply don’t trust and to whom, therefore, a whole lot of normal rules of judicial conduct do not apply.
In this scenario, the underlying law is not actually moving much, or moving or at all, but the normal rules of deference and presumption of regularity in presidential conduct—the rules that underlie norms like not looking behind a facially valid purpose for a visa issuance decision—simply don’t apply to Trump. As we’ve argued, these norms are a function of the president’s oath of office and the working assumption that the President is bound by the Take Care Clause. If the judiciary doesn’t trust the sincerity of the president’s oath and doesn’t have any presumption that the president will take care that the laws are faithfully executed, why on earth would it assume that a facially valid purpose of the executive is its actual purpose?
In this scenario, there are really two presidencies for purposes of judicial review: One is the presidency when judges believe the president’s oath—that is, a presidency in which all sorts of norms of deference apply—and the other is a presidency in which judges don’t believe the oath. What we may be watching here is the development of a new body of law for this second type of presidency.
This, we suspect, is the true significance of all of the references in both district court opinions to the many statements made by Trump and his aides about the Muslim ban and the true purpose of the policy effectuated in both orders. These references present, of course, as discussions of whether there is truly a secular purpose to the policy in an Establishment Clause analysis using the Lemon test. But there’s at least a little more going on here than that. The lengthy recitations of large numbers of perfectly objectionable presidential statements about Muslims coexist with a bunch of other textual indicia showing not merely that the judges doubt Trump’s secular purpose but that they doubt the good faith of his purpose at all—indeed, that they suspect that he is simply lying about his own motivations.
A few points. One, a president could normally be afforded deference and granted the right -- on its face -- to assume a national security interest in determining who enters the U.S. Two, what stands in Trump's way is his own widely expressed animus toward the religion in question, Islam. Three, the Lemon test to which the author refers derives from a Supreme Court case that tested the limits of government interference either for or against a religion. (Such interference can be neither.)

Barack Obama would have been afforded that deference. Donald Trump, due to his clear statements wanting to ban Muslims from entering the country, can hardly expect the same deference. And were a court or a judge to wonder how to decide, Trump, because of his numerous statements on the subject, has no doubt illustrated that his travel ban(s) utterly fail a Lemon test.

Those who want Trump to prevail in these disputes state plainly that the law does not allow a policy to be set aside simply because one president is different from another. But anyone who looks at Donald Trump can't help but notice that he's not like other presidents. In many ways, he's thrown the office of the presidency into a kind of chaos by his clearly demonstrated untrustworthiness. His lack of veracity calls into question his actual adherence to his oath of office.

In the end,Trump's faithful adherence to the so-called Take Care clause -- to actually follow the law -- cannot be relied on. Judges trust Trump at their peril. Oh, what a new normal that is.

Friday, March 17, 2017

Trump Tweets Nonsense about "Wiretapping." Why? So Jeff Sessions Lying to Congress Would Fall Off the Front Pages.

Mission accomplished.

Bastard lied to Congress three times to get Attorney General gig. It worked.

I hate to admit that Donald Trump knows what he's doing. It's rancid, embarrassing, but often crudely effective. So it was with his tweets about Obama -- the bad (or sick) guy! -- wiretapping him. Clearly Trump did it to kick the Sessions perjury charges off the front page of every "newspaper" in the country. It worked.

There are consequences, though. Trump, with his continuing denials, has left so many allies and staffers out to dry:
Determining a culprit is an increasingly lonely effort. Initially, a number of Republican lawmakers went out on a limb to defend Trump, saying his wiretapping allegations may well have merit. But after congressional intelligence committees investigating the matter came up empty-handed, Trump's allies went silent or walked their remarks back, leaving senior White House staffers and diehard pro-Trump pundits hanging.
White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer spent much of his Thursday briefing filibustering reporters who tried to get him to reconcile Trump's wild allegations with congressional leaders' insistence that they'd seen no evidence to support them. For about seven minutes, Spicer read directly from media reports that he said supported the President’s claims, concluding that “putting the published accounts and common sense together, this leads to a lot.”
Jeff Sessions' job at the DOJ may have been saved, but all of this manipulative behavior by a president that rules by tweets has costs.

At some point, allies and staffers alike will begin to balk at following Trump down his various rabbit holes. When staffers do this, they'll either resign or get fired. If that happens, it will signal the unraveling of this presidency. But that may have begun on day one.

It's degenerated into a third-rate soap opera. That doesn't mean it isn't serious business. Can you say "nuclear codes?"

Thursday, March 16, 2017

If You Read One Thing Today, Read This about Trump's Budget

A true holy crap moment. If we wondered whether Donald Trump gave a damn about anything besides national security, we can stop wondering.

Trump probably didn't write his budget proposal. I'd be surprised if he's read it.

The Donald Trump administration released its budget proposal document -- non-binding, merely a guide to the Congress, which determines how and where the money is spent -- and, to nobody's surprise, it blows a hole in practically everything except defense and national security.

Here's a good place to see it all in quick order.

There are others I'm sure you can find.

Trump's an asshole. Read this piece by Jordan Weissmann in Slate for a more elegant statement on the viciousness of the proposal. Here's a taste:
It should be said that this is not even a full budget. Rather, it's a “skinny” version that presidents issue early in their first year that doesn't include line-by-line spending details or deal with issues like entitlements. In that respect, it's even more of a glorified press release than your typical presidential appropriations request. And in this case all it tells us is that Trump wants to spend bigger on guns, boats, and bombs, and doesn't care much about whether the planet fries. And yet, while espousing those perfectly conventional conservative values, it's still managed to alienate other Republicans who will be essential to implementing the administration's vision. Insofar as they refuse to go along with his plan, it will be another example of Trump's inability to lead his own party. If this is an administration whose malevolence is only tempered by its incompetence, as Lawfare's Benjamin Witte so perfectly put it, this budget doc is its perfect symbol.
Malevolent and incompetent. Hmm. That's rougher, actually, than what I called Trump. Weissmann basically calls him an incompetent asshole. That's rough, all right.

Wednesday, March 15, 2017

Hey, Fredo, Wanna Go Fishing?

Paul Ryan was very, very proud and excited about his healthcare plan. That was before it started taking on water. Now he tells people Trump was on board from the beginning, and, and so were a lot of people. Wonder why the change in tune?

On this fishing trip, only one is coming home? Yeah, well, at least in one piece.

Funny how this works. Paul Ryan rolls out his American Health Care Act -- it's very American in that it fucks a lot of Americans -- and now that it's in trouble, he wants to spread the glory around:
Here's where we are. Speaker Ryan from about an hour ago: "This is something we wrote with President Trump."
In other words, let me invite you back on my sinking boat. Ryan went on to say: "This is something we wrote with the Senate committees. So just so you know, Maria (Bartiromo), this is the plan we ran on all last year." So he wants to invite a lot of people onboard.
As the Trumpcare/Ryan bill has endured a murderous three days, there's been a growing move, from various feral and high profile Trump supporters outside the White House, as well as Breitbart News, to say the bill is at least politically a disaster and that Ryan is to blame.
Ooh, snap. Is Bannon making Ryan his bitch? It wouldn't surprise me. More important, though, is that someone is giving permission to Republicans to abandon the "Ryan plan."

For a little more insight, also read Josh Marshall's post on the politics of it. I get a kick out of Josh calling the GOP healthcare plan the "Trumptanic." Ha!

The GOP Calls Medicaid Cuts "Innovation Grants." We Call Them Tax Cuts for the Wealthy. Who's Right? (Hint: We Are.)

Watching and listening to Republicans trying to sell their new "healthcare" bill -- largely with deception -- is like listening to the worst car salesman you've ever met. And yet they persist.

From the very beginning, Paul Ryan was selling tax cuts paid for by
destroying the safety net. Why exactly? Personal responsibility. (He
went to college on his dead father's Social Security. Republicanism!)

Day after day, Republican congressmen have to go out and ramble on about how they'll going to save healthcare with "innovation grants" (cuts to Medicaid), "giving people more choice" (hollowing out coverage to make it more affordable), and "letting states make their own decisions" (leaving them high and dry with much less money to work with). at least you have to admire their grit and determination to sell a plan that's full of holes by plugging them up with bullshit.

What's the truth? Healthcare cuts that allow tax cuts for the wealthy. Surprise, surprise:
The House Republicans’ plan to replace the Affordable Care Act is messy and confusing. No one is sure exactly how Americans will be affected and how much more health insurance will cost them.

But there are two certainties. Their health care plan provides a tax cut for the wealthiest Americans. And it will make it easier for Republicans to pass more tax cuts this year. It would also break some of the populist campaign promises President Trump made to lift up the country’s “forgotten men and women.”
The repeal of the taxes levied by the Affordable Care Act is necessary for Republicans to move forward with an even more ambitious part of their agenda: tax reform. “Doing this first shrinks the amount of revenue they are going to have to raise to make their tax bill add up,” said Howard Gleckman, a fellow at the Tax Policy Center.

In order to get any tax overhaul through the Senate with a simple majority, the tax bill under Senate rules can’t increase the federal deficit. Since the health care bill would cut the federal deficit it makes it easier to come back later and pass more tax cuts.

“This dramatically helps us for tax reform,” Speaker Paul D. Ryan said on Fox News last week.
So, cutting the taxes that pay for Obamacare helps set up the "tax reform" that the GOP and Trump plan for later this year.

By "tax reform" they mean tax cuts for the wealthy. Got it.

Let's get this straight: Cutting taxes that previously paid for expanding healthcare to millions -- and thus taking that healthcare away -- will help the Republicans and Trump institute more tax cuts for the wealthy.

Just so we're clear.