Wednesday, January 30, 2019

Agree To Disagree

There’s Trump and his assessment of threats from overseas, which seem to consist of brown people under the age of six from Central America, and then there’s the people he appointed to run the intelligence services and actually read and evaluate the information they’ve been getting from their assets overseas.

CIA Director Gina Haspel, FBI Director Christopher A. Wray and other top officials joined [Director of National Intelligence Daniel] Coats in a discussion that covered a wide array of national security challenges, including cyber attacks that will aim to disrupt the 2020 presidential election and the continued threat posed by the Islamic State and other terrorist groups.

Coats, speaking on behalf of the assembled officials, gave a global tour of national security challenges, focused mainly on Russia, China, Iran and North Korea.

He said that North Korea was “unlikely to completely give up its nuclear weapons and production capabilities,” which the country’s leaders consider “critical to the regime’s survival.”

That assessment threw cold water on the White House’s more optimistic view that the United States and North Korea will achieve a lasting peace and that the regime will ultimately give up its nuclear weapons.

It was not the first time that U.S. intelligence has determined North Korea is not on the path to surrendering its weapons. And throughout the hearing, officials found themselves repeating earlier assessments on subjects that also were at odds with the president’s public statements.

The statement on North Korea drew extra attention coming ahead of a planned summit meeting next month between Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong Un. Their first summit last year ended with a vague agreement that contained few concrete goals and deadlines.

The distance between the intelligence community and the White House extended to areas that have ignited fierce political debates in Washington.

None of the officials said there is a security crisis at the U.S.-Mexico border, where Trump has considered declaring a national emergency so that he can build a wall.

Coats noted that high crime rates and a weak job market are likely to spur migrants from Central America to cross into the United States. But he also sounded optimistic that Mexico will cooperate with the Trump administration to address violence and the flow of illegal drugs, problems that Trump has said Mexico isn’t addressing sufficiently.

Officials also warned that the Islamic State was capable of attacking the United States and painted a picture of a still-formidable organization. Trump has declared the group defeated and has said he wants to withdraw U.S. troops from Syria as a result.

So when the people who really know what’s going on are at odds with a president who refuses to read anything that doesn’t have pictures or coloring instructions, what happens when the non-nuclear North Korea launches an ICBM at Guam or the defeated ISIS loads up another 757 and heads towards the new World Trade Center?  Are we going to suddenly realize that building a mythical wall across the Sonora desert was a huge waste of resources and criminally negligent?

Sunday, January 27, 2019

Sunday Reading

Here Beginneth the Lesson — John Cassidy in The New Yorker on how Trump got schooled.

Perhaps the most disturbing lesson of the stupid and pointless five-week partial government shutdown, which ended on Friday, is that Donald Trump and his cronies—step forward, Wilbur Ross—are just who they appear to be: rich, out-of-touch old white guys who don’t have any conception of what it is like to be a regular government worker living from paycheck to paycheck. The other takeaway, a more encouraging one, is that Trump is also just a regular politician, subject to the normal laws of political gravity.

Speaking in the White House Rose Garden on Friday afternoon, the President said he would sign a temporary spending bill, which will enable shuttered federal agencies to reopen and allow about eight hundred thousand federal employees to start receiving back pay for the wages they have missed out on. He also expressed confidence that Republicans and Democrats on Capitol Hill would use the three weeks to reach a “fair deal” on additional spending for border security. And he claimed that the Democrats had “finally and fully acknowledged that having a barrier, a fence, a wall, or whatever you call it, will be an important part of the solution.”

The Democrats haven’t acknowledged anything of the sort. Earlier in the week, House Democrats indicated that, if the President agreed to reopen the government, they would support a $5.7-billion spending package—matching Trump’s figure—for over-all border security. They also made clear that this package wouldn’t include any money for a wall. With his poll ratings falling and some key Republican senators threatening to abandon the White House, Trump did what any other President who had dug himself into such a hole would do: he capitulated and tried to put a positive spin on things. But the lengthy, campaign-style speech that he delivered didn’t fool anybody on either side of the political divide. “This is the first time I’ve ever seen a President go to the Rose Garden and take a defeat lap,” the Democratic congressman Dan Kildee, the chief deputy whip, said, on CNN. Jonathan Swan, Axios’s White House correspondent, tweeted, “A former White House official texts me, unsolicited: ‘Trump looks pathetic…he just ceded his presidency to Nancy Pelosi.’”

That was going too far. Trump is still the President, and, at the end of his speech, he repeated his threat to use his Presidential powers to declare a national emergency if he doesn’t get what he wants out of the upcoming negotiations. But, whatever happens next, he’s just learned a pair of harsh lessons: how futile government shutdowns are, and how constricted Presidential power is when the opposition party controls at least one house of Congress. In the modern era, divided government has become the norm in Washington. At some point in their Presidencies, Trump’s four most recent predecessors—George H. W. Bush, Bill Clinton, George W. Bush, and Barack Obama—had to learn how to deal with it. Now it is Trump’s turn. In the words of Robert Reich, a former Labor Secretary in the Clinton Administration, “Nancy Pelosi just showed that Congress remains a coequal branch of government, despite Trump’s refusal to accept the limitations of his own power.”

The President can’t say he wasn’t warned about the risks he was taking. Back before Christmas, when he started the shutdown and indicated that he was prepared for it to be an extended one, he was apparently working on the theory that the longer it lasted, the more leverage he would have in his campaign to get the funding for his beloved border wall. Practically everybody else in Washington, including Mitch McConnell, the Senate Majority Leader, and Paul Ryan, the departing House Speaker, believed the political dynamic would work in the opposite direction—the longer the shutdown went on, the more angry the public would get, and the more pressure there would be for the President and his party to cave. Of course, he could try to blame Democratic obstructionism, but that was always going to be difficult, especially since he had preëmptively seized ownership of the shutdown during an Oval Office meeting with Nancy Pelosi and Chuck Schumer.

According to reports, McConnell and Ryan both advised Trump not to take the plunge. He ignored the advice, as he is apt to do. And, of course, the wizened old pols turned out to be right. As a two-week shutdown turned into a three-week shutdown, then a four-week shutdown, then a five-week shutdown, stories emerged of federal employees attending food banks and being unable to afford their chemotherapy sessions. Public opinion turned sharply against the President. By Friday morning, even Christopher Wray, the man Trump appointed to lead the F.B.I. after he fired James Comey, had had enough. “Making some people stay home when they don’t want to, and making others show up without pay, it’s mind-boggling, it’s shortsighted, and it’s unfair,” Wray said, in a video message to the Bureau’s thirty-five thousand employees, many of whom were working without pay. “It takes a lot to get me angry, but I’m about as angry as I’ve been in a long, long time.”

By that stage, Trump had already accepted the inevitable and decided to sue for peace. This was all but confirmed on Wednesday, when Pelosi refused to allow the President to deliver this year’s State of the Union address from the House chamber; rather than going into a rage, Trump responded more or less politely. At that point, McConnell, who had remained above the fray for weeks, reëngaged. The same night, Lindsey Graham, a Trump ally, floated the idea of using a temporary spending resolution to reopen the government and allow time for further negotiations on some sort of border-security package, even with no guarantees of any money for the wall.

Even though the President had stated repeatedly that he wouldn’t open the government until he received adequate funding for his wall, this was the deal that he ended up accepting. Once he made the announcement, it didn’t take long for the darts to start flying in from right field, including this one, from the columnist Ann Coulter, who was one of the people who encouraged him to start the shutdown in the first place: “Good news for George Herbert Walker Bush: As of today, he is no longer the biggest wimp ever to serve as President of the United States.”

Get Your Programs — Laura Collins Hughes in The New York Times on what it means to hold a theatre program in your hands.

“Could I get a program, please?”

You can feel the bafflement percolating in the audience when ushers have nothing to give out before a performance in New York. We theatergoers have gotten used to the fact that some shows don’t want us getting our paws on a playbill until afterward — they don’t want us distracted, maybe, or a surprise spoiled — but the new twist is no program at all.

At least not one we can hold in our hands.

Often, they want us to go online to read a digital version — a money-saving move, surely, but one that shortchanges artists and audiences alike.

That lovely Palestinian actor, Khalifa Natour, who starred in “Grey Rock” at La MaMa in early January? I’d have loved to glance down at a piece of paper that evening and find out that he’d been in the movie “The Band’s Visit,” which I adored. But that fact was in the program, and the program was online.

I don’t mean to pick on La MaMa. Going digital has become such a trend Off and Off Off Broadway that I’m no longer surprised to be directed to a theater’s website if I want to know whose work I’m seeing. It’s not just a wrongheaded tack, though. It’s also counterintuitive, because it’s contrary to the spirit of live performance.

Theater is one of our most intimate art forms, one that asks us to step away from the outside world and — this sounds like yoga talk, but it’s valid anyway — be present for a while, our attention on what’s unfolding in the room.

But any information you access on a phone or tablet exists in a space that lets the whole restless world in, coming at you in a calm-shattering barrage of text messages, emails and news alerts. A digital program doesn’t stand a chance of holding someone’s attention against all that. It’s not a great place to send people to think about the art and artists they’ve just seen.

And an e-playbill, unlike a printed one, won’t ease anyone into the experience of seeing a show, acclimating them as surely as an overture would. If that sounds like an exaggeration, think about how focused you feel reading a physical book or newspaper, and how relentlessly interrupted when your eyes are on a digital device.

I don’t say that as a Luddite; I’m writing this on a digital device. It’s not that I’m unconcerned with saving trees, either, or unaware of the punishing economics of nonprofit theater.

But theaters have been alert for a long time to their need to compete for an audience that has a jillion other ways to spend its time. That’s part of the reason they devote such resources to engagement, with all the pre- and post-show programming, and all the fun extras that they put online.

Programs, though, aren’t extras; never mind what the British have decided, with their practice of charging for them. They’re essentials that help spectators navigate the production and process it afterward. (That’s why those one-sheet playbills can be so frustrating, with their frequent lack of bios and other crucial information.)

My youngest brother, who is in his 20s, isn’t a habitual theatergoer, at least not yet. But when he goes with me to a show, he sits down and opens his program right up, reading it to see which actors he knows and what the director might have to say. He peruses the ads for other shows, too, in case any of them appeal.

So it’s not just the oldsters who like a good paper program, though they can be downright poignant in their dismay when they don’t get one. Recently at Classic Stage Company, a good chunk of the row behind me went all aflutter when they thought for a moment that someone sitting nearby had printed out the online program.

I’m sure that wasn’t the effect Classic Stage intended. But when a theater bypasses paper playbills, it is outsourcing a job to its audience members — saying that if they want to know more, that’s on them. Why do that to people who’ve already proved their curiosity by their presence? If they don’t want to take the thing home, they can always give it back.

I’m not a program hoarder, either, actually; I hang onto all of them for a while, then keep the ones that mean the most to me. I find it comforting — and useful — that Playbill, the company, has an archive of its programs online, and that digitization is preserving other programs from long ago. But that’s for history. In the moment, I want that tangible souvenir.

When I admire something I’ve seen onstage, I often spend my subway ride home scouring the artists’ bios, my paper program in full view of fellow riders — advertising that doubles, sometimes, as a conversation starter. But honestly (and I’m talking here about shows I’m not writing about), if the onus is on me to track that information down, there’s an excellent chance I won’t do it. When I turn on my phone, I’ll probably use it to read the news.

Program-wise it seems lately that many theaters — whether they use e-playbills or not — are moving boldly in a direction to which the audience is meant to adjust. So it was heartening at the Public Theater’s Under the Radar festival to see an about-face midstream.

Early in the run, ushers politely told theatergoers that if they wanted a festival program, they could find one in the first-floor lobby — not the most helpful response if you’re two stories up at the time, and stymieing given the scarcity of booklets down there. (My personal quest to get one took two days.) Later in the festival, though, ushers would hand one right to you. Progress!

Still, after that, I caught myself feeling relieved at the Prototype Festival to be given a program with my ticket. And I was completely charmed by the buoyant young usher at “Colin Quinn: Red State Blue State” who greeted each person with: “Would you like some programs?” Plural.

The most sensible approach I’ve seen recently on the playbill front was at Rattlestick Playwrights Theater, where when I arrived for “Lewiston/Clarkston,” the box office offered a choice: Printed program, e-program or both?

I went with printed, of course, and what I got was nothing fancy — just a sheaf of pages stapled together. But, riffling through them, I found everything I needed.

Doonesbury — Vocal disconnect.

Thursday, January 24, 2019

For Every Action

From the Washington Post:

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi on Wednesday rescinded her invitation to President Trump to deliver the State of the Union in the House next week — denying him a national platform for the annual speech in an extraordinary standoff between the two most powerful figures in the nation.

Late Wednesday, the president signaled a retreat from the standoff, announcing on Twitter that he will wait till the shutdown is over to deliver the address to Congress.

The cancellation — part of an escalating and at times personal feud between the newly elected Democratic speaker and the Republican president — illustrates the extent of the dysfunction that has gripped Washington and America’s body politic amid the longest federal government shutdown in U.S. history.

The imbroglio also underscores the extent of the enmity that has developed between Trump and Pelosi, neither of whom appears ready to retreat in their standoff over the president’s demand for money to fund part of his promised wall along the U.S.-Mexico border.

Trump will come up with something to hit back at Speaker Pelosi, and if his past actions are any guide, it will be something petty and immature that will get the tongues wagging on cable TV and the tails wagging among the base.  He’ll also find some airplane hangar or empty sports arena to deliver a campaign-rally style speech to feed the slavering masses of smirking and shouting Redhats, making it clear that even without the shutdown, it was a good idea on the part of Ms. Pelosi to not invite him over to the House to shit on the carpet and trash the place.

And not for nothing, I take issue with the tone of that last paragraph of the article quoted above.  It makes it sound as if both sides are responsible for the standoff.  That, my friends, is the insidious creep of Broderism, named after the late David Broder, a columnist for the Post who was able to always blame both sides of an issue regardless of who actually picked a fight: “Well, you know, we really shouldn’t blame the Japanese for bombing Pearl Harbor; we bear some responsibility for provoking them.”  (No, he never said that — at least not on the record — but you get the idea.)  The current advocate for Broderism on the TV is MSNBC’s Chuck Todd who seems to be able to find a both-sides-now argument in just about everything.  It’s supposed to be a way to demonstrate fairness and objectivity, but in reality it’s feckless and lazy, and giving Trump and his minions an inch to make their case just encourages them to make their tantrums and rants more a legitimate part of the discussion.  That is bullshit.

I have no idea how Trump will hit back, but when he does, expect the Broderists to call it even.

Tuesday, January 22, 2019

Bare Minimum

In honor of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s birthday, Trump paid a visit to the memorial dedicated to the late civil rights leader.

He was there for approximately two minutes.

According to the pool reports, he left the White House at 11:06 a.m., arrived at the memorial at 11:12, left at 11:15, and was back at the White House at 11:22.

He was gone just long enough to miss the commercial break on the “Charmed” re-runs but made it back in time for “Last Man Standing.”

Sunday, January 20, 2019

Sunday Reading

Dr. King’s Warning — Rev. Dr. William Barber II and Jonathan Wilson-Hartgrove.

Photo by Morton Broffman/Getty Images

For the first time since Congress passed legislation to make the third Monday of January a national holiday to honor the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., the National Mall—including the memorial dedicated to King’s honor—is closed due to President Trump’s insistence that Congress submit to his demand for a national monument to racism and fear. We must be clear that this is the impasse we face. Democrats cannot be blamed for failing to compromise.

On the opening day of the 116th Congress, Democratic leadership in the House took up bipartisan legislation to reopen the Congress that their colleagues in the Senate had already compromised to approve. Only one thing kept 800,000 federal employees from receiving their paychecks this past week: the refusal of Trump and his congressional enablers to consider that legislation.

Fifty-one years ago, Dr. King and the Poor People’s Campaign threatened to bring the federal government to standstill in order to demand that it serve everyone in America’s multi-ethnic democracy. In 2019, President Trump has shuttered the government to demand that we build a bulwark against the browning of America.

This is, as he promised it would be, Trump’s shutdown. But the president is not acting alone. Congressional Republicans who have been unwilling to stand up to the him for two years created the conditions for this present crisis. And all along the way, Trump’s white evangelical boosters have offered their blessing. Defending Trump on Fox News, the Rev. Robert Jeffress argued recently that Trump’s wall cannot be immoral because Heaven itself has walls. He did not mention the Bible’s testimony that Heaven’s gates are always open.

Though most religious leaders are not Trumpvangelicals like Jeffress, we must recognize the complicity of so-called moderates in a moment of crisis if we are to honor the memory of Dr. King. While most people today recognize Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. as both a great American and a great preacher, we would do well to remember that he was not affirmed by a majority of Christian leaders in his own day, black or white.

When we celebrate King, it is easy to conjure the image of a Klan preacher spewing hatred against the civil-rights movement, just as Trumpvangelicals offer a religious blessing to Trump’s white nationalism today. But segregationist preachers were not the only religious resistance to King’s efforts for systemic justice in America. Dr. King’s own denomination, the National Baptist Convention, pushed him out along with other Baptist preachers who insisted on the tactic of nonviolent direct action. Then as now, the opposition to reconstruction of American democracy claimed the moral narrative in our common life.

Dr. King objected—and his polemical response is what we remember half a century later. But the fact that the ecumenical leadership of the faith community in Alabama at the time felt self-assured in making this statement is a testimony to how prevalent their political “realism” was across theological traditions.

We must not deceive ourselves. Even as we gather in churches, synagogues, community centers, and university halls across America to honor the legacy of Dr. King this weekend, the so-called moderates’ call for compromise is drowning out King’s insistence that we cannot submit to the terms of white supremacy. Trump’s immoral demand for an unnecessary wall is an effort to concretize every lie that has been told about immigrants by this administration. Such a wall would be as poisonous to our common life as the “whites only” signs in 1960s Birmingham were to the citizens Dr. King and the Southern Christian Leadership Conference came to support in their campaign to tear down Jim Crow.

King understood that whenever we compromise with a lie about who people are, we empower the political forces that have exploited our nation’s divisions to cling to power. The same politicians who want a wall today are also blocking voting rights and the expansion of healthcare to all Americans; they are the same people who have deregulated corporate polluters and denied climate science—the same ones who insist on increasing investment in the war economy while slashing our nation’s safety net and denying workers the right to earn a living wage.

We must be clear: Trump’s demand for a wall is not about border security. It is about a lie as sinister as the claim at the heart of Jim Crow—that America’s future depends on the values of white rule, not the promise of the multi-ethnic democracy we have struggled toward in this land for 400 years. We must not make the same mistake that the clergy of Birmingham made in 1963. If we would honor King, then let us follow him in refusing to compromise with a lie.

Nothingburger — Jonathan Blitzer in The New Yorker.

On Saturday, the twenty-ninth day of the longest government shutdown in U.S. history, Donald Trump tried to make a deal. The President, trapped between his far-right bona fides and the general electorate, offered to support a limited measure called the Bridge Act, which would extend temporary legal protections for Dreamers in exchange for full funding of his $5.7-billion border wall. The offer was reportedly crafted by Mike Pence and Jared Kushner, and without the input of congressional Democrats. Yet, almost on cue, Trump’s supporters claimed that the President had effectively flipped the script on his partisan detractors. “Compromise in divided government means that everyone can’t get everything they want every time,” Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell said. “The President’s proposal reflects that. It strikes a fair compromise by incorporating priorities from both sides of the aisle.”

The problem was that the offer addressed none of the Democrats’ concerns, either on the issue of the Dreamers, whose legal status Trump has put in limbo, or the shutdown, which Trump precipitated by demanding funding for the wall. In 2017, when Trump cancelled DACA, he gave Congress six months to devise a solution to protect the legal status of some seven hundred thousand Dreamers. Of all the proposals under consideration, the most conservative was a provisional arrangement known as the Bridge Act. It offered to freeze DACA protections in place for three years to buy Congress time as it sought to devise a proper solution. One of the bill’s sponsors, a Colorado Republican named Mike Coffman, who lost his reëlection bid last November, told me at the time that the bill was a last resort. Moderate Republicans preferred a more comprehensive solution that included a path to citizenship for Dreamers; the Bridge Act was something to have in place in case a deal couldn’t be reached in time. For all of its insufficiencies, the previous version of the Bridge Act would have covered many more people (some 1.3 million Dreamers) than the iteration outlined by the President on Saturday (roughly seven hundred thousand existing DACA recipients). Predictably, Nancy Pelosi, the House Speaker, wasted no time in calling Trump’s latest proposal a “non-starter.” The question now is how long will the President, through clenched teeth, pretend he made the gesture in good faith?

It’s no accident that the White House has selected this measure to try to goad the Democrats, who, for the last several months, have been clear on one thing: no congressional deal on Dreamers would be acceptable unless it included a pathway to citizenship. The Bridge Act doesn’t just come up well short of that; in effect, it simply prolongs the status quo. Federal judges have already blocked the Trump Administration’s effort to cancel DACA, meaning the program is, for the time being, held in place. It’s a precarious situation—only existing recipients can renew their status, and new applications aren’t being accepted—but the Bridge Act is hardly a significant improvement. “The White House hasn’t released a bill yet, but the three years under the Bridge Act is not a three-year extension of DACA,” Kamal Essaheb, the policy director of the National Immigration Law Center, told me on Saturday. “Under the original Bridge Act, the protections end at a certain date in the future. So, if the Bridge Act is enacted today, all work permits would expire in January, 2022, for example. That’s not much of a give, because someone renewing their DACA status today would likely get a work permit into mid- to late 2021.” There’s a chance that the Supreme Court will hear the Trump Administration’s case for ending DACA, but as of now the Justices have not shown any sign that they will; it seems increasingly unlikely, therefore, that the Trump Administration’s appeal will be heard during the Court’s current term. An additional inducement offered by the President, on Saturday, has a similarly stale logic. He proposed a three-year extension of temporary protected status (T.P.S.), which allows victims of war and natural disasters to live and work in the United States, for the three hundred thousand people who lost it over the last two years because of Trump. In October, a federal judge in California blocked the Trump Administration’s efforts to end their T.P.S.

The President proposed a raft of other measures, few of them new or meaningfully different than the terms already being haggled over. He wanted to add more border agents; invest in immigration judges; increase drug-detection technology at the border. The Democrats, who on Friday proposed to add a billion dollars to border-security funding, shouldn’t be particularly opposed to any of these details on their own. Their objection, however, is both more general and more explicit: they want to reopen the government first, and then deal with Homeland Security policies.

Ultimately, the most revealing aspect of Saturday’s proposal is the bland predictability of it. Last year, around this time, the President backed himself into the same corner: he agreed, in an Oval Office meeting with Chuck Schumer, to trade close to five times the wall funding he wants now for a path to citizenship for Dreamers. Immediately afterward, he changed his mind, triggering a government shutdown. Earlier that month, Republicans and Democrats in the Senate came to him with a bipartisan solution for Dreamers, which included changes to legal immigration and redoubled funding for border security—in short, all the measures the President had publicly demanded. He responded by blowing up the deal on the spot. Once more, Trump is hoping that the Democrats will flinch, and that no one will remember how we got here in the first place.

Doonesbury — More twitterpation.

Friday, January 18, 2019

Tell Them Lies

Buzzfeed breaks major news.

President Donald Trump directed his longtime attorney Michael Cohen to lie to Congress about negotiations to build a Trump Tower in Moscow, according to two federal law enforcement officials involved in an investigation of the matter.

Trump also supported a plan, set up by Cohen, to visit Russia during the presidential campaign, in order to personally meet President Vladimir Putin and jump-start the tower negotiations. “Make it happen,” the sources said Trump told Cohen.

And even as Trump told the public he had no business deals with Russia, the sources said Trump and his children Ivanka and Donald Trump Jr. received regular, detailed updates about the real estate development from Cohen, whom they put in charge of the project.

Cohen pleaded guilty in November to lying about the deal in testimony and in a two-page statement to the Senate and House intelligence committees. Special counsel Robert Mueller noted that Cohen’s false claim that the project ended in January 2016 was an attempt to “minimize links between the Moscow Project and Individual 1” — widely understood to be Trump — “in hopes of limiting the ongoing Russia investigations.”

Now the two sources have told BuzzFeed News that Cohen also told the special counsel that after the election, the president personally instructed him to lie — by claiming that negotiations ended months earlier than they actually did — in order to obscure Trump’s involvement.

It’s going to interesting to hear what Mr. Cohen has to tell Congress when he testifies next month.

And yes, telling someone to lie to Congress is obstruction of justice.  It’s what the House drafted articles of impeachment on for Richard Nixon.

Twit For Tat

Oh, you knew he would come up with something like this to get back at Speaker Pelosi.

The fight over the weeks-long government shutdown hit a bizarre new low as President Trump on Thursday canceled a planned trip to Afghanistan by House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, a day after she angered Republicans by suggesting the president delay his State of the Union Address.

Hours before Pelosi and top Democrats were set to depart for a visit to military leaders in Brussels and to troops in Afghanistan, Trump released a letter canceling what he termed a “public relations event.”

“I also feel that, during this period, it would be better if you were in Washington negotiating with me and joining the Strong Border Security movement to end the Shutdown,” he wrote. “We will reschedule this seven-day excursion when the Shutdown is over.”

The president’s letter to Pelosi (D-Calif.) followed one she wrote to him Wednesday suggesting he postpone his State of the Union address, set for Jan. 29, if the partial government shutdown does not end this week, citing security concerns because of Secret Service and other personnel who are working without pay.

Trump uncharacteristically did not respond Wednesday to Pelosi’s suggestion that he postpone his speech. Instead he struck back Thursday afternoon, canceling a trip that for security reasons had not yet been made public.

As just about everyone one has noted, Ms. Pelosi has been to Afghanistan numerous times to see the troops and find out how they are doing first-hand while Trump has never been.  But he is going to Florida for the long weekend on a military transport.

All Trump is doing is making Ms. Pelosi look better.

Tuesday, January 15, 2019

You Want Fries With That?

Having the team over for snacks?  Why not have it catered?  Oh, wait, it’s the White House and there’s a government shut-down.

The Clemson Tigers, fresh off their Jan. 7 victory over Alabama in the College Football Playoff national championship game, arrived Monday for a White House visit with President Trump. The team was served a variety of fast-food items, for which the White House said Trump paid out of his own pocket.

“I think we are going to serve McDonald’s, Wendy’s and Burger King’s with some pizza. I really mean it,” Trump had said earlier in the day. “It will be interesting. I would think that’s their favorite food. So we’ll see what happens.”

According to White House press secretary Sarah Sanders (via The Washington Post’s Josh Dawsey), Trump was “personally paying for the event to be catered with some of everyone’s favorite fast foods” because the partial government shutdown meant that some of the White House staff who might have handled the catering for this type of event are on furlough.

“The president wanted to host a fun event to celebrate the College Football National Champion Clemson Tigers,” deputy press secretary Hogan Gidley said in a statement to CNN, adding that Trump’s gesture came about because “the Democrats refuse to negotiate on border security.”

Describing the fare as “great American food,” per a pool report, Trump said: “If it’s American, I like it. It’s all American stuff.”

Hey, everybody has to sacrifice in a pinch, but if memory serves — going back to when I was an undergrad at the University of Miami in the early 1970’s — the football team was on a really strict diet and junk food, no matter who served it or where, was off the menu.

And of course the White House had to throw in a dig at the Democrats and their refusal to pay for the mythical wall, so a nice if somewhat cholesterol-riddled gesture was tainted with Trumpian bullshit.  That’s off the diet, too.

Sunday, January 13, 2019

Sunday Reading

Why Hasn’t He Folded? — David A. Graham in The Atlantic.

Saturday marks the 22nd day of the government shutdown, the longest closure in American history. And with neither Democrats nor the White House budging from their positions, and the president threatening to keep the government closed for months or years, there’s no end in sight.Which is all the more remarkable in light of how the shutdown began—or rather how it almost didn’t. As the nation approached the end of government funding in late December, President Donald Trump was on the verge of giving in. Then he reversed course, announced he’d shut down the government, and hasn’t blinked since. Why has Trump decided to hold firm this time, and what does it mean for the likelihood of a deal?

The proximate cause for his decision to shut the government down is relatively clear: firm pressure from his hard-line allies. In early December, during a meeting with the Democratic congressional leaders Nancy Pelosi and Chuck Schumer, Trump said that he would be “proud to shut down the government for border security.” But for 10 days afterward, the White House tried to slowly walk that back. Aides said that Trump was looking for ways to build the wall using funds from other departments, and they signaled that he’d sign a clean bill that kept the lights on without money for the wall. On December 19, immigration hard-liners mounted a counterattack.

“This is textbook,” Rush Limbaugh fumed. “It’s a textbook example of what the Drive-By Media calls compromise. Trump gets nothing and the Democrats get everything, including control of the House in a few short weeks.”Ann Coulter blasted the president as “gutless” (earning herself a Twitter unfollow). Even Laura Ingraham was critical. “It was supposed to be a ‘big beautiful wall’ with a ‘big beautiful door,’” she tweeted. “Now it’s just an open door with no frame. Unreal.” Representative Mark Meadows, the chair of the conservative House Freedom Caucus, held out hope that Trump might still veto the bill. Followed by what? “Renegotiating.”

Even though there was no clear plan for how Trump would get money out of the new Democratic House majority once it took office in early January, the pushback got his attention, and he announced that he wouldn’t sign any legislation without wall funding. Positions have been stuck since then. Democrats have not shown any weakened resolve; neither has Trump.

On the Democratic side, the X factor seems to be Pelosi and her newly empowered caucus. Schumer has been inclined to negotiate with Trump in the past, but the House Dems, having campaigned against the president and his wall, show no appetite for compromise.

What’s less clear is why this is the moment Trump has decided to take a stand. Though he styled himself a master dealmaker in the business world, he’s been far softer in politics, showing a surprisingly deferential side at the negotiation table, whether his interlocutor is domestic or foreign. He backed down after promising to go after the National Rifle Association on gun control; he shied away from branding China a currency manipulator; he didn’t follow through on threats to investigate the Justice Department or withdraw foreign aid as retaliation for UN votes.

The timing is also peculiar. Trump’s best opportunity to get funding was when Republicans controlled both houses of Congress, during the first two years of his term. But Congress refused, and while Trump griped about it, he never pushed the issue as far as a shutdown. As my colleague Peter Beinart has written, the president shows little interest in actually building the wall. Instead, he appears to view it as an effective political bludgeon against Democrats.

Whether it actually is effective is unclear. Polling since the start of the shutdown has shown that more Americans blame Trump than Democrats for the deadlock, though Democrats haven’t escaped blame altogether. But a Morning Consult poll this week showed a four-point increase in the share of voters who see Trump as the culprit. Even if Trump is losing, there’s no massive shift against him that polls are picking up, and both sides seem to believe that they are winning.

Some Senate Republicans, however, may not be so certain. A small but growing number, especially those up for reelection in 2020, have begun saying that the government should reopen while negotiations over the wall continue—which is tantamount to surrender, since Trump would be giving up his leverage. (A few House Democratic freshmen are nervous as well.)None of this offers much insight into the way the impasse might break. The negotiation tactics that Trump imported from the private sector have, yet again, failed to deliver much in the way of results in politics. During a meeting this week, Trump walked out after Democrats once again said they wouldn’t compromise on the wall. (It’s a sign of how poorly the talks are going that the two sides promptly got into a quarrel over whether Trump had stormed out or merely politely departed.) Trump’s allies claim that this tactic worked well in his last job, but Democrats seem only to have been delighted by the incident, which demonstrated their resolve.

By the end of the week, it seemed that the most likely outcome was for Trump to sidestep the shutdown by declaring a national emergency and using those extraordinary powers to build the wall, perhaps with the help of the military. While that would open up a new front of legal and political crisis as he tested the limits of presidential powers, it would also likely end the shutdown, as it would obviate the need for Congress to grant funding.

“If this doesn’t work out, I probably will do it, maybe definitely,” Trump said Thursday while visiting the border. But Friday afternoon, Trump demurred. “What we’re not looking to do right now is national emergency,” he said.

Once again, Trump had signaled one intention and then swerved at the last minute, a mirror image of his reversal on the shutdown in December. With negotiations frozen and the president ruling out a national emergency—at least for now—the shutdown that almost didn’t happen looks like it’s here to stay.

Old Story — Leonard Pitts, Jr. on the right wing’s rehash of personal attacks.

Haven’t we seen this movie before?

Certainly, there is a sense of déjà vuall over again as one watches the right wing hyperventilate over a certain freshman congresswoman from New York. The attacks on Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez have been frequent and furious, but also petty, silly and (in the mental-health sense) hysterical.

Just days ago, The Daily Caller tweeted “the photo some people are calling a nude selfie of Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez.” But it turns out “some people” are morons. The so-called “nude selfie,” depicts only a woman’s feet in a bathtub. Yes, some observers claim her bare breasts are visible in a reflection on the faucet, but if that’s true, your humble correspondent lacks the eyesight — and the interest — to make them out.

Not that it matters, because Ocasio-Cortez is actually not the woman in the image, as The Daily Caller was eventually forced to concede. So this was a political hit job wrapped in a Three Stooges routine. She seems to attract a lot of those.

On Jan. 6, for example, conservative blogger Jim Hoft tweeted the “news” that Ocasio-Cortez “Went by ‘Sandy’ Well into College.” This guy touted as an “EXCLUSIVE” the fact that the woman has a nickname — like he thought he had solved the Hoffa case or something.

Then there’s the since-suspended Twitter account that tweeted a video of Ocasio-Cortez dancing on a rooftop when she was in college. “America’s favorite commie know-it-all acting like the clueless nitwit she is,” the tweet said. Apparently, we’re meant to be apoplectic to learn she once suffered boogie fever.

And so it goes. Republicans in Congress boo when her name is called. Her wardrobe and lodging are scrutinized. GOP operative Ed Rollins dubs her “the little girl.” Rush Limbaugh calls her “some young uppity.”

All this lavish abuse, it bears repeating, is for a freshman representative who, at this writing, has yet to do much of anything in Congress. Yes, like Bernie Sanders — and Martin Luther King Jr. — Ocasio-Cortez is drawn to democratic socialism. It’s fair to question her ideology. It’s fair to question anyone’s ideology. But that’s not what this is.

No, this is that movie we’ve seen before where the right wing, alarmed by the rise of the scary Other, seeks to manufacture scandal, spread rumor, sow confusion, impute some sense of the sinister. The less they have to work with, the more shrill, desperate and idiotic they become.

Back then, it was Barack Obama. He wore a tan suit, and conservatives sank onto their fainting couches. He greeted his wife with a fist bump and Fox “News” thought it might be terrorism. And how many conservatives, with furrowed brows and studious miens, pretended to believe there was some reason to doubt that he was born in Hawaii?

Obama’s “otherness” came of being a black guy with a funny name. Ocasio-Cortez, though, hits the trifecta. She is young (29), a woman and of Puerto Rican heritage. Add her ideology to that mix, and you have a perfect storm of panic for those who consider power the birthright of gray-haired white men.

Ocasio-Cortez is another unwelcome reminder for them that change is here — and that power will henceforth no longer be the province of a favored few. They’ve had over a decade to acclimate themselves to that, so it is sad to see the right wing retreat instead to the same old script — especially since it inevitably reveals more about them and their fraidy-cat bigotry than anything else.

Yes, we have, indeed, seen this movie before. It was a lousy film the first time around.

It has not improved.

Doonesbury — And the winner is…

Friday, January 11, 2019

“I Never Said That”

Sheesh:

It was a foundational promise of Donald Trump’s historic presidential campaign: Mexico would pay for his 2,000-mile border wall. But as he desperately fights for $5.7 billion in taxpayer money for the project, Trump now claims he never said Mexico would directly foot the bill.

“Obviously, I never said this, and I never meant they’re going to write out a check,” the president told reporters Thursday at the White House.

He did say it — at least 212 times during his campaign and dozens more since he took office. And he put it in writing — in a March 2016 memo to news outlets that was then posted on his campaign website.

Lord Byron:

And if I laugh at any mortal thing, ’tis that I may not weep.

Wednesday, January 9, 2019

Tuesday, January 8, 2019

Broadcast Nutsery

Via NBC:

Trump’s planned prime-time address on immigration Tuesday night put the broadcast networks in a difficult — and familiar — position as they debated whether to carry the address live. But in the end, they agreed to the White House request and will air the speech.

The White House asked the broadcast networks to set aside at least eight minutes at 9 p.m. ET on Tuesday for an Oval Office address in which Trump may declare a state of national emergency at the U.S.-Mexico border.

As of early Monday evening, CBS, ABC, Fox and NBC had decided to air Trump’s address, according to sources familiar with the decisions who were not authorized to speak publicly. Late Monday, PBS and Telemundo confirmed plans to broadcast Trump’s remarks. The major cable news channels — MSNBC, CNN and Fox News — were also planning to air the speech.

Even if I didn’t have a meeting to go to, I’d skip this live broadcast of id-blather for TV that’s really important: Season 6, Episode 4 of “Downton Abbey,” which I had to stop watching when the cable went out.

Besides, the only thing I want to hear from Trump is a quote from another president: “Therefore, I shall resign the presidency effective at noon tomorrow.”

Friday, January 4, 2019

The Real Work Begins Now

Charles P. Pierce in Esquire via Balloon Juice:

Besides Tlaib, Illan Omar, a Somali immigrant from Minnesota, also was sworn in, resplendent in a white-and-gold hijab. A few rows in front of Omar in the House chamber was Deb Haaland of New Mexico, dressed in turquoise jewelry and traditional Pueblo Native costume. Along with Sharice Davids of Kansas, Haaland is one of the first two Native American women to be elected to the Congress. After the morning’s business was concluded, the two women enfolded each other, weeping, in a long embrace, Haaland using David’s scarf to wipe away her tears.

All of these new members of the House, it needn’t be said, were members of the Democratic Party. So was virtually every person of color in the chamber. On the other side of the hall was a largely monochromatic new Republican minority that channelled its foul mood through the person of Congresswoman Liz Cheney, child of the Undead, who spit up a bitter, Trumpian nominating speech on behalf of Republican leader Kevin McCarthy’s candidacy for the speakership. She even went to “build that wall,” which got her a hoot and a holler from her fellow Republicans, but which was drowned out by the sound of happy children and grandchildren from the other side of the aisle. It was as though someone had grafted a Chuck E. Cheese onto a funeral parlor.

Nancy Pelosi, because she is smarter than everyone in the House, and much smarter than anyone in the White House, god knows, was re-elected easily to be the new Speaker, although the balloting was not devoid of hilarity. Pelosi and McCarthy were the only two announced candidates, but votes also were cast for Reps. Jim Jordan, Cheri Bustos, and Marcia Fudge, as well as for Senator Tammy Duckworth, defeated Georgia gubernatorial candidate Stacey Abrams, and former Vice President Joe Biden.

Conor Lamb, the rookie from Pennsylvania, voted for Rep. Joe Kennedy, who got a good laugh out of it, and Ron Kind, Democrat of Wisconsin, voted for Rep. John Lewis, who looked rather frosty about it. Two Democratic House members voted “Present.” And Jeff Van Drew of New Jersey haplessly voted, “No,” which was not on the menu. Tim Ryan of Ohio and Seth Moulton of Massachusetts, both of whom made noises months ago about challenging Pelosi, both voted for her. And, when Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez voted for Pelosi, there was some kind of organized whoo-hoo from the Republican side. She simply makes them completely crazy.

The most touching moment of the balloting came when Lucy McBath of Georgia dedicated her vote for Pelosi to her late son, Jordan, murdered for the offense of playing his music too loudly for the white guy in the next car. McBath threw herself into the fight for sensible gun laws, and that culminated in her election in November. This was quite a moment, as was the embrace between Davids and Haaland. It took 240 years for people like the two of them to represent their fellow citizens in a government that did so much bloody damage to their people…

It is a different place now, this House of Representatives. There is something of the future in it, and god alone knows where it will lead, but the work, the real work, begins now.

Let’s do this.

Thursday, January 3, 2019

New Day Dawning

I’m safely ensconced in my hotel in Blue Ash after an uneventful flight from MIA to CVG and picking up a very nice rented Cadillac (!) for the drive here.  (The Cadillac XTS was priced below the econo-box so of course I snapped it up.  It’s like driving a Barcalounger with a dashboard from an iPhone, but handles like a Mustang.)

I’ll be spending the day with Mom and Dad, visiting friends and running errands, such as doing bird-feeder maintenance and helping put away the Christmas decorations.

But in the background there will be the chatter from TV as the new Congress gets underway, getting the House back into safe hands.  And after seeing clips from the weird cabinet meeting at the White House yesterday, it will be like taking the keys to the Oldsmobile away from a relative who is piteously descending into the fog and setting off Silver Alerts from the highway patrol.

Normalization means seeing the POTUS ramble incoherently on important policy matters, watching the grifter he put in charge of the Department of Justice give a cringeworthy performance during the morning’s televised “dear leader” session, and yet being completely unsurprised.

[…]

This Trump press conference is like one of those viral videos where the kid in the back seat just got out of the dentist.

If it wasn’t for the fact that our safety, security, and financial future are in jeopardy by being run by a whackjob, this would be a laugh-riot worthy of Mel Brooks and Larry, Moe and Curly.

Monday, December 31, 2018

Looking Back/Looking Forward

Time for my annual recap and predictions for this year and next.  Let’s look back at how I did a year ago.

  • There will be indictments at a very high level in the administration as the Mueller investigation rumbles on.  Plea bargains and deals will be made and revelations will come forth, and by summer there will be genuine questions about whether or not the administration will survive.  But there won’t be a move to impeach Trump as long as there are Republican majorities in the Congress, and invoking the 25th Amendment is a non-starter.

I’ll give myself a B on that since it was pretty much that way a year ago and the gears of justice grind slowly but irresistibly.  No high-level members of the administration were indicted, but shame and scandal did bring down an impressive number of folks who had hard passes to the West Wing.

  • The Democrats will make great gains in the mid-term elections in November.  This is a safe bet because the party out of power usually does in the first mid-term of new president.  The Democrats will take back the Senate and narrow the gap in the House to the point that Speaker Paul Ryan with either quit or be so powerless that he’s just hanging around to collect pension points.  (No, he will not lose his re-election bid.)

I’ll go with a C on that since I hit the nail on the head in the first sentence; I should have just left it there.  But no; I had it backwards: the House flipped but the GOP still has the Senate, and who knew that Paul Ryan would decide to quit?

  • There will be a vacancy on the Supreme Court, but it won’t happen until after the mid-terms and Trump’s appointment will flail as the Democrats in the Senate block the confirmation on the grounds that the next president gets to choose the replacement.

I’ll take an A- on that since I got the timing wrong, but I think Brett Kavanaugh did a great job of flailing (“I like beer!”) before the Senate Judiciary Committee.  The predator still got on the court, though, and we all hold RBG in the Light for at least another two years.

  • There will be irrefutable proof that the Russians not only meddled in the 2016 U.S. election, but they’ve had a hand in elections in Europe as well and will be a factor in the U.S. mid-terms.  Vladimir Putin will be re-elected, of course.

A+ Duh.

  • Raul Castro will figure out a way to still run Cuba even if he steps down as president, and there will be no lessening of the authoritarian rule.

Another A+, but what did anyone expect?  Trump’s half-assed attempts to restrain trade with Cuba, along with Marco Rubio doing his yapping perrito act, only make it more ironic when it’s the administration’s policy to cozy up to dictators like Putin and the Saudis.  If Trump owned a hotel in Havana he’d be down there in a second sucking up to the regime with video to prove it.

  • The U.S. economy will continue to grow, but there will be dark clouds on the horizon as the deficit grows thanks to the giveaways in the GOP tax bill.  If the GOP engineers cuts to entitlement programs and the number of uninsured for healthcare increases, the strain on the economy will be too much.

I’ll take a B on this since I didn’t factor in tariffs and the trade war(s) he’s launched that led to wild uncertainty in the markets, not to mention Trump’s bashing of the Fed chair that he appointed and told him to do what he’s doing.

  • This “America First” foreign policy will backfire.  All it does is tell our allies “You’re on your own.”  If we ever need them, they’re more likely to turn their backs on us.

I get an A on this because it has and they are.

  • The white supremacist movement will not abate.  Count on seeing more violence against minorities and more mass shootings.

Sadly, a very predictable A on that.

  • A viable Democratic candidate will emerge as a major contender for the 2020 election, and it will most likely be a woman.  Sen. Elizabeth Warren is considered to be the default, but I wouldn’t rule out Sen. Kamala Harris of California or Sen. Kristen Gillibrand of New York just yet.  (Sen. Gillibrand would drive Trump even further around the bend.  She was appointed to the Senate to fill Hillary Clinton’s seat when she became Secretary of State in 2009.)

I get a B on this because it was rather easy to spot and I’m already getting begging e-mails from Ms. Harris.

  • On a personal level, this will be a busy year for my work in theatre with a full production of “All Together Now” opening in March and several other works out there for consideration.  I will also be entering my last full year of employment in my present job (retirement happens in August 2019) but I’ll keep working.

This was a great year for my playwriting with a lot of new friends and opportunities out there and more to come in 2019 (see below).

  • People and fads we never heard about will have their fifteen minutes.

Yep.  I’ve already blocked them out.

Okay, on to the predictions.

  • Barring natural causes or intervention from an outside force, Trump will still be in office on December 31, 2019.  There is no way he will leave voluntarily and even with the House of Representatives in Democratic control and articles of impeachment being drafted they will not get to the Senate floor because the Republicans are either too afraid to rile up the base or they’re too enamored of their own grip on power to care about the government being headed by a poor imitation of a tin-pot banana republic authoritarian douche-canoe.
  • The Mueller Report will be released to Congress and even though it’s supposed to be classified it will be leaked with great fanfare and pundit predictions of the end of the Trump administration with calls for frog-marching him and his minions out of the West Wing.  Despite that, see above.
  • There will be no wall.  There never will be.  Immigration will still be a triggering issue as even more refugees die in U.S. custody.
  • There will be no meaningful changes to gun laws even if the NRA goes broke.  There will be more mass shootings, thoughts and prayers will be offered, and we’ll be told yet again that now is not the time to talk about it.
  • Obamacare will survive its latest challenge because the ruling by the judge in Texas declaring the entire law unconstitutional will be tossed and turned into a case study in law schools everywhere on the topic of exasperatingly stupid reasoning.
  • Roe vs. Wade will still stand.
  • With the Democrats in control of the House, the government will be in permanent gridlock even after they work out some sort of deal to end the current shutdown over the mythological wall.  House Speaker Nancy Pelosi will become the Willie Horton for the GOP base and blamed for everything from budget deficits to the toast falling butter-side down.
  • We will have a pretty good idea who the Democratic front-runner will be in 2020.  I think Sen. Elizabeth Warren’s chances are still good (she announced her exploratory committee as I was writing this), as are Sen. Kamala Harris’s, and don’t count out Sen. Sherrod Brown of Ohio, but who knew that Beto O’Rourke, a charismatic loser in the Texas senate race, would raise a lot of hopes?  That said, fifteen years ago when I started this blog, Howard Dean looked like the guy who was going to beat George W. Bush.
  • The economy will continue with its wild gyrations, pretty much following the gyrations of the mood of Trump and his thumb-driven Twitter-fed economic exhortations.  The tax cuts and the tariffs will land on the backs of the people who provide the income to the government and the deficit will soon be out there beyond the Tesla in outer space.  But unlike that Martian-bound convertible, the economy will come crashing back to Earth (probably about the time I retire in August) and Trump will blame everyone else.
  • There will be a natural event that will convince even skeptics that climate change and sea level rise is real and happening.  Unfortunately, nothing will be done about it even if lots of lives are lost because [spoiler alert] nothing ever is done.
  • I’m going out on a limb here with foreign affairs predictions, but I have a feeling that Brexit will end up in the dustbin of history.
  • Personally, this will be a transition year.  My retirement from Miami-Dade County Public Schools occurs officially on August 31, 2019, and I’m already actively looking for something both meaningful and income-producing to do after that.  (E-mail me for a copy of my resume; nothing ventured, nothing sprained.)  My play “Can’t Live Without You” opens at the Willow Theatre in Boca Raton, Florida, for a two-week run on March 30, and I’m planning on returning to the William Inge Theatre Festival for the 28th time, either with a play or most assuredly with a scholarly paper.  I have my bid in for a variety of other theatre events and productions; I think I’m getting the hang of this playwriting thing.
  • I will do this again next year.  I hope.  As Bobby says, “Hope is my greatest weakness.”

Okay, your turn.  Meanwhile, I wish continued good health and a long life to all of you and hope you make it through 2019 none the worse for wear.

Monday, December 17, 2018

He Said It

The new “acting” White House chief of staff, Mick Mulvaney, once offered this opinion of his boss: He’s a terrible human being.

Mick Mulvaney, the Office of Management and Budget director who President Donald Trump tweeted Friday would serve as acting chief of staff after John Kelly departs in January, has been a loyal Trump supporter—but he didn’t always like him so much.

During a debate with his then-congressional challenger, Democrat Fran Person, on Nov. 2 of 2016, less than a week before Trump was elected president, then-congressman Mulvaney was blunt with those gathered at York Middle School in York, South Carolina.

After decrying the Democratic nominee, former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, as a liberal who would take the country in the wrong direction, Mulvaney said he was supporting Trump, essentially by default.

“Yes, I am supporting Donald Trump, but I’m doing so despite the fact that I think he’s a terrible human being,” he said, according to a report in The State newspaper.

In a perverse way, that may actually help him do his job; there’s no point in being a sycophant if your job is to actually run the White House and be the one to tell the president “no” on various occasions.

Well, that’s how it’s supposed to work, anyway.

Thursday, December 13, 2018

In Charge

After Tuesday’s meeting in which Nancy Pelosi basically ran the table, why would there be any doubt from anyone — Democrat or Republican — that she has the power and the smarts to be the leader of her party and Speaker of the House?

In contrast to Trump, she knows how to lead, she knows what she’s doing, and most importantly, she knows how to negotiate.

Rep. Nancy Pelosi clinched the votes for a second stint as House speaker on Wednesday after agreeing to serve no more than four years in a deal with a group of Democratic rebels — a significant concession to their demands for generational change.

The group of insurgents wanted new blood in the top Democratic ranks and maneuvered for months to deny Pelosi (D-Calif.) the votes she would need. After weeks of behind-the-scenes negotiating, Pelosi backed off her resistance to setting a date for her departure but avoided becoming an immediate lame duck.

“Over the summer, I made it clear that I see myself as a bridge to the next generation of leaders, a recognition of my continuing responsibility to mentor and advance new members into positions of power and responsibility in the House Democratic Caucus,” Pelosi said in a statement.

Almost immediately, seven Democratic holdouts said they would back Pelosi. Their support would be enough to secure the House majority that she needs for her election to speaker on Jan. 3 — 218 votes if all members are present and voting for an individual.

That’s true leadership and confidence in your abilities and knowing when to leave.

And the way things are going with Trump, by 2022, she might be in the middle of her first term as president.

Wednesday, December 12, 2018

Live From The Oval Office

Via the Washington Post:

In his first two years in office, President Trump operated without a clear check on his power. With his party controlling both houses of Congress, he issued demands from his bedroom in the form of early-morning tweets, and legislative leaders got in line. He rarely was personally confronted about his untruths and misstatements. And he mostly ignored congressional Democrats, choosing to spar instead with journalists.

That all came to a crashing halt Tuesday. In an extraordinarily heated public fight with the nation’s top two Democratic leaders, the combustible president confronted for the first time the enormity of the challenge he will face over the next two years: divided government.

House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.), the likely next speaker, and Senate Minority Leader Charles E. Schumer (D-N.Y.) called out Trump’s falsehoods. They exposed him as malleable about his promised border wall. They lectured him about the legislative process and reiterated to him that he lacked the votes to secure the $5 billion he seeks for the wall.

The Democrats also needled him for his party winning Senate contests last month only in reliably red states. They provoked him by highlighting the softening of the economy and the gyrations in the stock market. And they extracted from him a claim of personal responsibility for the current budget brinkmanship.

“I am proud to shut down the government for border security,” Trump said. “I will take the mantle. I will be the one to shut it down.”

During 17 extraordinary minutes of raised voices, pointed fingers and boorish interruptions in the Oval Office on Tuesday, Pelosi and Schumer introduced Trump to Washington’s new dynamic.

And no apparent progress was made — perhaps a harbinger for what lies ahead.

“Unfortunately, this has spiraled downward,” Pelosi interjected midway through the televised meeting.

Once she returned to the Capitol, the speaker-in-waiting told some of her Democratic colleagues that she felt like she had been in “a tinkle contest with a skunk” — and even questioned the president’s manhood, according to a Democratic aide in the room.

“It’s like a manhood thing for him,” Pelosi said in reference to the wall, according to the aide. “As if manhood could ever be associated with him.”

Is there any doubt as to what will be the cold opening for SNL this week?  Alec Baldwin, please report to make-up.

What’s extraordinary about this is that no one from the White House press office or staff moved in to hustle the TV crews out.  Usually they’re herded in, given a moment to get a few shots while the president and his guests nod and smile, then get shuffled out before they get down to business.  Not this time.  My guess is that Trump wanted to the show the world who was in charge and it promptly went south, he got owned, and by a woman.  Yeowch.

By the way, I think Mike Pence’s Secret Service code name is Potted Plant.

Tuesday, December 11, 2018

The Never-Ending Mission

Glenn Kessler, the Fact Checker at the Washington Post, has had to come up with a new measure for the number of lies a politician tells and how often they repeat them.

The scale used to be one to four Pinocchios: one Pinocchio was a fib; four was a blatant falsehood.  But now we’re in the Trump era and that quaint measurement is shot to hell.

To accurately reflect this phenomenon, The Washington Post Fact Checker is introducing a new category — the Bottomless Pinocchio. That dubious distinction will be awarded to politicians who repeat a false claim so many times that they are, in effect, engaging in campaigns of disinformation.

The bar for the Bottomless Pinocchio is high: The claims must have received three or four Pinocchios from The Fact Checker, and they must have been repeated at least 20 times. Twenty is a sufficiently robust number that there can be no question the politician is aware that his or her facts are wrong. The list of Bottomless Pinocchios will be maintained on its own landing page.

The Fact Checker has not identified statements from any other current elected official who meets the standard other than Trump. In fact, 14 statements made by the president immediately qualify for the list.

The president’s most-repeated falsehoods fall into a handful of broad categories — claiming credit for promises he has not fulfilled; false assertions that provide a rationale for his agenda; and political weaponry against perceived enemies such as Democrats or special counsel Robert S. Mueller III.

The number of Bottomless Pinocchios is legion, ranging from Mexico building the Wall to car companies building new plants to the number of people that showed up at his inauguration, and on and on.

The problem with fact checking Trump is two-fold: it’s never-ending (as it should be for any public figure who can change our lives) and the lies never die.  They’re zombies; no matter how often they’re debunked, disproved, and even mocked, they still get repeated and passed on by the gullible or those who would rather repeat a flaming lie than accept the boring truth.  (And, like zombies, they’re in search of brains.)

So while I applaud Mr. Kessler and his mission to expose the lies and the lying liars who tell them, he’s like Voyager 2: there’s no end in sight to his mission.

Wednesday, December 5, 2018

A Long Slow Slog

Every time there’s a bombshell about the corruption in the Trump administration, pundits and those who get paid to put them on the air tell us that this is the last straw; the walls will come a-tumbling down and the whole sordid affair will, at long last, be over.

Not so fast, say Mikhaila Fogel and Benjamin Wittes in The Atlantic:

We need to stop thinking of it as a fragile structure waiting for the right poke to fall in on itself. Think instead of the myriad investigations and legal proceedings surrounding the president as a multi-front siege on a walled city that is, in fact, relatively well fortified.

Siege warfare is not a matter of striking precisely the correct blow at the correct moment at a particular stone in the wall. It is a campaign of degradation over a substantial period of time. While those inside the fortified city may rely only on the strength of their walls and their stored resources, the attackers can take their time. Volleys of projectiles—arrows or trebuchets—pepper the city walls and those atop them, while the strength of the defending army diminishes as soldiers slip away and food dwindles. Moreover, active conflict is an episodic, not a constant, feature of siege warfare; the enemy army can encamp outside the walled city and blockade it without firing a shot. Over time, the walls and defending forces become degraded to such a degree that the invaders are able to scale the walls and sack the city.

No, Mueller and his forces are not a Mongol horde, but the Trump White House is very much under siege.

[…]

So what will the big one look like, if not some Mueller-lobbed bombshell? When the walls are finally breached, how will we know that it really is the beginning of the end? Here’s a hint: The big one will not be a legal development, an indictment, or a plea. It will be a political development—that moment when the American political system decides not to tolerate the facts available to it any longer. What does that look like? It looks like impeachment. It looks like enough Republicans breaking with the president to seriously jeopardize his chances of renomination or reelection. The legal developments will degrade the walls. But only this sort of political battering ram can breach them.

I wouldn’t sit around waiting for the Republicans to break away from Trump unless they see that standing with him jeopardizes their own livelihood, and as long as there’s Fox Nation and the 40% who see nothing wrong with being a white nationalist and playing footsie with murderous thugs from Saudi Arabia and Russia, they’ve got no reason to turn on him.  Nixon had that much support on August 8, 1974; the only thing that convinced the Republicans on Capitol Hill to come to the White House and tell him to resign — and he acknowledged as much in his resignation speech — was that he had lost the support of the party.  The GOP was staring down the barrel of the 1974 mid-terms and a Democratic House that was ready to vote out articles of impeachment.  The GOP leadership didn’t give a damn about the rule of law; they saw their doom riding full force at them.  So it will take a similar situation — the GOP facing electoral carnage — that will make them turn on Trump.

And no, the 2018 mid-terms, at least to Trump and the GOP leadership, was not a warning, even though they lost 40 seats in the House and the Democrats will start issuing subpoenas next year.  Delusion and denial is a powerful cocktail, so if the Mueller investigation and the rest emanating from the Southern District of New York is the siege, then the White House becomes the bunker where the leader hunkers down and assures himself and his few remaining loyalists that they can still fend off the horde; troops are on the march to defend us!

The only way to truly win is by beating him and the rest of the GOP in an election.  There’s one coming up in less than two years.

The question then becomes, will Trump concede and actually leave?  That’s another question, but then, the Secret Service works for us, not him.