McMaster out, Bolton in.
Trump’s chief lawyer quits.
China hit with $60 billion in tariffs.
Stocks tumble on news of China tariffs.
Toys R Us founder dies days after chain announces its closing.
Jonathan Chait has a concise summary of TV-pundit Lawrence Kudlow’s economic scholarship and history: He’s been wrong every time.
In 1993, when Bill Clinton proposed an increase in the top tax rate from 31 percent to 39.6 percent, Kudlow wrote, “There is no question that President Clinton’s across-the-board tax increases … will throw a wet blanket over the recovery and depress the economy’s long-run potential to grow.” This was wrong. Instead, a boom ensued. Rather than question his analysis, Kudlow switched to crediting the results to the great tax-cutter, Ronald Reagan. “The politician most responsible for laying the groundwork for this prosperous era is not Bill Clinton, but Ronald Reagan,” he argued in February, 2000.
By December 2000, the expansion had begun to slow. What had happened? According to Kudlow, it meant Reagan’s tax-cutting genius was no longer responsible for the economy’s performance. “The Clinton policies of rising tax burdens, high interest rates and re-regulation is responsible for the sinking stock market and the slumping economy,” he mourned, though no taxes or re-regulation had taken place since he had credited Reagan for the boom earlier that same year. By the time George W. Bush took office, Kudlow was plumping for his tax-cut plan. Kudlow not only endorsed Bush’s argument that the budget surplus he inherited from Clinton — the one Kudlow and his allies had insisted in 1993 could never happen, because the tax hikes would strangle the economy — would turn out to be even larger than forecast. “Faster economic growth and more profitable productivity returns will generate higher tax revenues at the new lower tax-rate levels. Future budget surpluses will rise, not fall.” This was wrong, too. (I have borrowed these quotes from my book, in which Kudlow plays a prominent role.)
Kudlow then began to relentlessly tout Bush’s economic program. “The shock therapy of decisive war will elevate the stock market by a couple-thousand points,” he predicted in 2002. That was wrong. He began to insist that the housing bubble that was forming was a hallucination imagined by Bush’s liberal critics who refused to appreciate the magic of the Bush boom. He made this case over and over (“There’s no recession coming. The pessimistas were wrong. It’s not going to happen. At a bare minimum, we are looking at Goldilocks 2.0. (And that’s a minimum). Goldilocks is alive and well. The Bush boom is alive and well.”) and over (“The Media Are Missing the Housing Bottom,” he wrote in July 2008). All of this was wrong. It was historically, massively wrong.
And now he’s Trump’s chief economic adviser. Why? Because he was on TV and he’s been sucking up to Trump since he got out of rehab.
The Cabinet loves fancy furniture and flying high.
During a Cabinet meeting at the White House last October, President Trump extolled the virtues of the men and women surrounding him at the table.
“A great trust has been placed upon each member of our Cabinet,” he declared. “We have a Cabinet that — there are those that are saying it’s one of the finest group of people ever assembled . . . as a Cabinet. And I happen to agree with that.”
Less than five months later, Trump finds himself presiding over a Cabinet in which a number of members stand accused of living large at taxpayer expense — often by aggressively embracing the trappings of their high government posts.
At least a half-dozen current or former Trump Cabinet officials have been mired in federal investigations over everything from high-end travel and spending on items such as a soundproof phone booth to the role of family members weighing in on official business. On Wednesday alone, newly disclosed documents revealed fresh details about spending scandals at both the Environmental Protection Agency and the Department of Housing and Urban Development.
Revelations about repeated use of chartered airplanes forced the resignation of Health and Human Services Secretary Tom Price in September. More recently, Veterans Affairs Secretary David Shulkin has continued to wrestle with the fallout of news that taxpayers covered the expenses for his wife during a 10-day trip to Europe last year — and more recently that his chief of staff doctored an email and made false statements to justify the payments.
Meanwhile, EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt has faced public criticism and the scrutiny of government investigators for his own frequent first-class travels and for other expenditures he made using public funding. The Washington Post reported Wednesday that records showed a soundproof phone booth installed in Pruitt’s office cost $43,000 — $18,000 more than previously disclosed.
At the Interior Department, Secretary Ryan Zinke has faced inquiries about his travel practices, and last fall an official in the agency’s inspector general office wrote that Zinke had failed to properly document his trips since taking office.
And at HUD, public records released this week detail how Carson’s wife was closely involved in the redecorating of his office at the agency, including the purchase of a $31,561 dining set.
And they all claim they had no idea it would cost this much to redecorate or fly first class and they’re pissed and insulted that we would dare question them about it.
Wow, the nerve of some people.
This is the very definition of a kleptocracy.
In the wake of yet another mass shooting and the endless cycle of “thoughts and prayers” emanating from elected officials and the perpetual “now is not the time” excuse for avoiding anything to do with gun control, it is time to change the focus from the abstract to the specific: who is paying them to utter their “thoughts and prayers”?
I have resolved to ask every elected official running for office from here on out, regardless of party and regardless of office, how much money they’ve received from the NRA or any other gun lobby. Then smile and patiently wait for their answer.
It’s a simple question, really, and they should know the answer. And it should be a matter of public record so if they fudge, we can pull it up and tell them how much they’ve gotten from them. Then ask them what they plan to do with it.
Asking them where they stand on gun control invites weaseling and mumbling about “defending the Second Amendment.” What they’re really saying is that being on the payroll of the NRA is more important than actually representing the rest of us who would rather not have to contemplate yet again another somber week of burying children because it’s easier in Florida to buy an AR-15 than it is to buy medicine to control diarrhea.
So ask them: “How much money did you get from the NRA?” and vote accordingly.
House Speaker Paul Ryan is trotting out an old lie about Social Security and Medicare in order to justify cutting “entitlements.”
He told Fox News Sunday that the only way to deal with the looming deficit caused by the GOP tax cuts that give millions of relief to the poor Koch brothers was to cut back on the payments to Social Security and Medicare recipients because, well, they don’t deserve them or something.
The truth is that both programs are designed to be self-sustaining; take a look at your paycheck and note the fine print that designates the deductions for FICA and Medicare. It totals about 15% and it goes into a separate fund that then pays out to the people who are receiving it. In other words, you are paying now for people who are getting it, and when you retire, the people who are working will be paying for you. The problem for these programs isn’t that they’re hitting the deficit, it’s that there are more people who are my age (65) and older who are drawing on the fund. It has nothing to do with whatever the hell the GOP did to assure us that by the time we get them out of office we’ll be back in debt up to our eyeballs.
And don’t get me started on the misuse of the word “entitlement.”
At any rate, Paul Ryan is a lying sack of shit who would starve his own granny to get the largess from the Kochs.
How about “creative inducement”?
Via The Hill:
An update to Ivanka Trump’s financial disclosure report reveals that she and her husband, Jared Kushner, have taken on millions of dollars in additional debt over the past year, Politico reported Tuesday.
Trump’s updated disclosure form shows that Kushner appears to have tapped three different lines of credit since he began working at the White House.
The changes up the couple’s debts from a range of $19 million to $98 million to being valued at between $31 million and $155 million, according to Politico.
Trump had initially reported the debts to be at the same levels Kushner had reported in March, but revised the form in December to show higher levels on the three credit lines.
The three lines of credit added to the form are held by Kushner. He holds the Bank of America and New York Community Bank lines with his father, and one from Signature Bank with his mother.
Another revision on Trump’s form did drop the amount owed for a Visa account from a range of $100,001 to $250,000 to one of $50,001 to $100,000.
It’s unclear if the raised credit lines are linked to recent financial issues at Kushner’s family business, Kushner Companies.
A spokesperson for Kushner and Trump’s attorneys declined to comment to Politico, as did a spokeswoman for Kushner Companies.
This is the part in the episode of “Law & Order: Criminal Intent” where the guy in the dark suit, dark shirt, and white tie and wearing a pinkie ring, accompanied by his well-muscled “administrative aide,” sits down across the table in the back of a little family restaurant in Brooklyn to have a little chat with the nervous white guy from Fifth Avenue who’s up to his eyeballs in debt. The guy in the dark suit makes a generous offer to help him get rid of all his problems if he’ll do him just one little favor. [Cha-chung!]
Except this time it’s a little Russian tea shop in Brighton Beach and the guy in debt is the son-in-law of the president and has a provisional security clearance and would do anything to stay out of trouble as well as out of the East River.
Josh Marshall on Republicans and deficits.
It’s remarkable the degree to which television commentators are embracing interpretations of Republican fiscal profligacy which are either oblivious, unschooled or simply dishonest. One line has it that Republicans are shedding their former obsession with spending and deficits. Another had it that Republicans are realizing that their ‘base’ doesn’t really care as much about deficits as they thought. They really agree with Trump, who doesn’t care about deficits. All of this is nonsense – not based on a theory or interpretation but simple history and experience. In a word, facts. Deficits go up, often dramatically, under Republican governance and usually go down under Democrats. This isn’t an interpretation. It’s a simple fact. Nor is it an artifact of history or coincidence. It is because Republicans don’t care about deficits.
Modern American deficit spending began under Reagan. It was brought under some control under the first President Bush. This was largely because of pressure from congressional Democrats. But in his defense, Bush made major and highly difficult decisions to make this possible. It was largely by doing so that he started a war in his own party that played at least a large contributing role in his reelection defeat. The deficit went down dramatically under Bill Clinton and then exploded under George W. Bush. The deficit went up dramatically in the first year of President Obama’s presidency but almost entirely because of the financial crisis. It went down consistently over the course of his presidency. From 2008 to 2009, the deficit close to tripled to $1.413 trillion. It fell in each subsequent year both in dollar terms and in the more important measure of the percentage of GDP. Now we have it going up again. (Historical numbers here. Again, deficit as a percentage of GDP is the best measure.)
There’s an interesting and not implausible argument that it is divided government that is the best for the deficit. Let’s take the Clinton example. The argument here would be that what was critical were three things: First there’s the 1990 Bush/Dems budget deal. Then there’s the 1993 Clinton tax hike. Then it gets more complicated. Some would argue that it was the combination of Clinton’s tax increase followed by Republicans coming into power in 1995 and putting a brake on more Democratic spending. There’s some plausibility to this. And it may have played some role in enforcing spending restraint in the late 90s. The problem is that deficits have gone up most under unified Republican control. The early Bush years are the key example (as is today). President Bush came into office and pushed through a big tax cut which promptly pushed the country back into deficits. Spending also went up dramatically, both on the military (which at least in theory was driven by 9/11) but also on domestic spending.
After Bush left office and Republicans had seen their congressional majorities wiped away, they began to talk about Bush as some sort of outlier or heretic from Republican orthodoxy, embracing something called ‘big government conservatism’. But this was entirely retrospective and basically bunk.
The argument also doesn’t hold up on the Democratic side of the ledger. There’s a large faction of Democrats who do think Democrats should spend substantially more and not feel so bound by budget balancing. But in practice, this is not how Democrats govern, even when they have total control of the government.
Obamacare is a case in point. Democrats went to great lengths to make sure that the Affordable Care Act was deficit neutral, even marginally reducing the deficit. The same pattern applied generally under Clinton. Why do they do this? Partly this is because they feel cowed by decades of ‘tax and spend’ criticism. More importantly, the kind of people who believe in fiscal restraint and budgetary probity on principle are now mainly Democrats. You can see this in policy terms. But more interesting historically is that you can see it in geographical terms. That wasn’t always the case. Many or even most of those people were once Republicans. But this isn’t something that changed four or five years ago. You have to go back forty and even fifty years to find that. This is a decades-old change – almost as old as the segregationist Dixiecrat exodus from the Democratic party to the GOP. Indeed, they are all part of the same transformation.
The simple reality is that Republicans don’t like taxes. Full stop.
Deficits are a stalking horse Republicans use as a political cudgel when they are out of power. Again. Full stop. You simply cannot argue with the fact that deficits have risen dramatically under Reagan and Bush and now under Trump. Republicans do not care about deficits. They care about keeping taxes as low as possible. What has changed slightly over the last forty years is a marginal difference in attitudes toward spending. Since the late 70s, the guiding star of Republican politics is getting taxes as low as possible. Spending was basically an afterthought, except for the degree to which spending might create upward pressure on taxes.
But beginning in the Bush years, accelerating in the Obama years and now coming into its own in the Trump years spending has become more of a positive as long as it is being spent on Republican stakeholders, as long as it is being spent on the right people. Largely this means the military but also border walls and a bunch of other things. That is an interesting change and transformation which has tracked the GOP’s transformation from anti-government to ethno-nationalist orientations. But the one thing that has never changed in almost fifty years is that Republican do not care about deficits. Deficits will rise under Republican rule, especially under unified Republican rule, as surely as night follows day.
John Nichols on the need to get rid of John Kelly.
No one who was paying attention ever thought that John Kelly was going to make things better in the Trump administration when he abandoned his miserable tenure as Homeland Security secretary to take over as White House chief of staff. Kelly had already proven to be an enabler of Trump’s worst instincts on immigration, global relationships, and privacy rights, and there was no reason to assume that closer proximity to the president would make Kelly any less of a “yes man” for Trumpism at its worst.
But Kelly really has outdone himself.
With his scorchingly dishonest and demeaning attacks on one of the most honorable members of the House, Florida Congresswoman Frederica Wilson, to his deliberately ignorant claim that a “lack of appreciation of history” inspired efforts to remove monuments honoring the Confederacy, to his ahistorical suggestion that “the lack of an ability to compromise” led to the Civil War, to his efforts (with alt-right favorite Stephen Miller) to derail negotiations on immigration reform, to his recent claim that many Dreamers were “too lazy” to apply for the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program, Kelly has accomplished something remarkable. He has established that, as wrongheaded as Donald Trump may be, the president is being advised by people who are more wrongheaded.
As Congressman Luis Gutiérrez, the Illinois Democrat who serves as head of the immigration task force for the Congressional Hispanic Caucus, says, the retired general who many thought would “[steer] a steady course and bring some balance to the White House, Mr. Kelly, is not that person, and he is clearly part of the xenophobic right that is entrenched in this White House.”
Kelly is not merely xenophobic, however. He has proven to be an atrocious player on multiple fronts.
This week, as reports of White House Staff Secretary Rob Porter’s physical abuse of women became public, CNN notes that “Kelly, who encouraged Porter to remain in his post despite the allegations, did not alter his effusive statement.” The “effusive statement” from Kelly read: “Rob Porter is a man of true integrity and honor and I can’t say enough good things about him. He is a friend, a confidante and a trusted professional. I am proud to serve alongside him.”
Only after Porter resigned was it announced that the chief of staff was “shocked” by the “new allegations” about his top aide. When pressed about reports that Kelly knew as early as last fall that both of Porter’s ex-wives had accused him of abusing them, CNN said, “The White House declined to comment on Wednesday when asked about Kelly’s knowledge of the allegations against Porter.”
Democratic members of the House, led by California Congressman Ted Lieu have sent a letter to Kelly asking him to explain when he had knowledge of the allegations of domestic abuse by Porter and what actions he took given that knowledge.
The letter to Kelly, which was signed by Lieu and Representatives Pramila Jayapal of Washington, Jamie Raskin of Maryland and Brenda Lawrence of Michigan, noted that:
As White House Chief of Staff, you are intimately involved in the hiring and subsequent management of senior level presidential personnel. As such, we respectfully request responses to the following questions:
• When did you learn of the allegations that Mr. Porter had abused one or both of his ex-wives?
• After you learned of these allegations, did you take any steps to remove or suspend Mr. Porter from the White House staff?
• At any point after you learned of these allegations, did you encourage Mr. Porter to remain on staff?
• At any point after you learned of these allegations, did you offer Mr. Porter a promotion or expand his responsibilities?
• Were you aware that Mr. Porter was unable to obtain a permanent security clearance, or was not in possession of a permanent clearance during his time at the White House?
• Why was Mr. Porter allowed to handle and view our nation’s most sensitive materials without a permanent security clearance?
Senator Jon Tester, D-Montana, responded to reports on the Porter affair by saying, “If John Kelly is covering this up, he needs to be held accountable. He better have a really good reason. Otherwise, he’s gone, too.”
The Senate cannot remove Kelly, as the chief of staff is a direct presidential appointee who is not required to go through the confirmation process that is required for cabinet members and agency heads. So the issue of removal goes to Trump.
Or Kelly could resign.
“White House Chief of Staff John Kelly must resign. His pathetic defense of staff secretary Rob Porter reveals his true nature—an enabler of sexual abusers, a betrayer of trust and an avoider of responsibility,” says Van Pelt, who asks: “Why did John Kelly continue to support Rob Porter after he was told about Porter’s history of abuse? Why did he allow a man who was denied a security clearance because of his history of violence against women to continue in a high ranking position of trust? Why did he talk Rob Porter out of resigning, telling him he could ‘weather the storm,’ according to press accounts?”
Van Pelt concludes that
General Kelly should know better. As a military commander, he took pride in protecting his troops. As chief of staff, it is his duty to protect the people who serve in the White House. Women who work for John Kelly are asking themselves today if they can trust General Kelly to protect them from sexual predators.
Clearly, they can’t. John Kelly has shown his true colors. He’s on Team ‘Grab Them By The Pussy,’ leaving women who are victimized by sexual violence to fend for themselves.
John Kelly must go. Today.
I Am The Very Model — Matthew Dessem in Slate.
I am the very model of a New York Times contrarian,
My intellect is polished but my soul’s authoritarian,
From Allen down to Exxon, bullies’ water I am carrying,
Except for Donald Trump’s, because I find him a vulgarian.
I’m very well acquainted, too, with arguments political,
I love to mount defenses for the vile and hypocritical,
I filigree each sentence till its meaning I am burying,
My job is to distract you from the rising smell of carrion.
My eagerness to stand up for the powerful is frightening,
I’m always showing up when a sepulcher needs some whitening,
In short, with polished intellect and soul authoritarian,
I am the very model of a New York Times contrarian!
There’s nothing I like more than the chance to play Devil’s advocate,
My beat is moral virtue comma complete, total lack of it,
I’ll only call you “victim” if it’s clear that you’re a predator,
I’m lucky to have landed with a sympathetic editor.
Hate-reading makes my columns all go viral like canarypox,
Present me with the truth and I will turn it to a paradox,
I’ll spew undoubted bullshit till you’ll swear that it’s veracity,
Sometimes vocabulary gets confused for perspicacity.
I’ll never have to worry about financial adversity,
My sinecure’s secured by “intellectual diversity,”
In short, with polished sentences and soul authoritarian,
I am the very model of a New York Times contrarian!
I introduce myself in verse based on a comic opera,
Even though tragedy might strike my critics as more proper-a,
But cheerful, frantic forms can help obscure a darkness visible,
And keep people from noticing my arguments are risible.
I’m confident that confidence is all I need to dominate,
I’ll gladly share my theories with your business or conglomerate,
For money I will tell you money’s good for the environment,
Or argue that a safety net is nothing but entitlement!
The best people all know me and my pedigree’s immaculate,
That’s good, because my takes are generally quite inaccurate,
But still, with polished intellect and soul authoritarian,
I am the very model of a New York Times contrarian!
Doonesbury — Dreams dying on the vine.
This may all be over by the time the sun comes up today, but for now we have another shutdown.
The Senate passed a sweeping bipartisan spending bill Friday morning, but not before the federal government shut down when Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) delayed the vote past midnight to complain about the budget deficit. It was the second government shutdown in less than three weeks.
The spending legislation passed 71-28, with wide bipartisan support. The bill would reopen the government while showering hundreds of billions of dollars on defense and domestic priorities, speeding disaster aid to hurricane-hit regions, and lifting the federal borrowing limit for a year. But first it must pass the House, where opposition from the left and the right made the outcome uncertain.
House votes were expected later Friday morning.
The shutdown was so unanticipated that the Office of Management and Budget didn’t tell federal agencies to prepare for it until Thursday evening. But depending on House action the closure could end up being brief and having little impact on federal workers and the public.
Or not. You never know with these flakes. So we wait and wonder why they get paid as much as they do to do as little as possible.
Update: And we’re back in business, such as it is.