Tuesday, January 31, 2017


If it seems to you that the Trump administration has been unrelentingly punitive in its first week and a half, get ready for more of the same. First, there's this from the L.A. Times:
Even as confusion, internal dissent and widespread condemnation greeted President Trump’s travel ban and crackdown on refugees this weekend, senior White House aides say they are are only getting started.

Trump and his aides justified Friday’s executive order ... on security grounds.... But their ultimate goal is far broader.

Trump’s top advisors on immigration, including chief strategist Steve Bannon and senior advisor Stephen Miller, see themselves as launching a radical experiment to fundamentally transform how the U.S. decides who is allowed into the country and to block a generation of people who, in their view, won’t assimilate into American society.

... White House aides are considering new, onerous security checks that could effectively limit travel into the U.S. by people from majority-Muslim countries to a trickle.
And The Washington Post suggests that a larger goal is to limit all immigration to a trickle:
The Trump administration is considering a plan to weed out would-be immigrants who are likely to require public assistance, as well as to deport -- when possible -- immigrants already living in the United States who depend on taxpayer help, according to a draft executive order obtained by The Washington Post.

A second draft order under consideration calls for a substantial shake up in the system through which the United States administers immigrant and nonimmigrant visas overall, with the aim of tightly controlling who enters the country, and who can enter the workforce, and to reduce the social services burden on U.S. taxpayers....

Together, the orders would aim to give U.S. citizens priority in the job market from top to bottom by preventing immigrants from taking jobs and pushing some immigrants out of jobs they currently have.
This is what's being leaked in the administration's opening weeks. Notice what isn't being leaked, and certainly isn't the subject of any of the president's executive orders? A big infrastructure plan. Yes, there's the wall -- but what happened to all the wonderful deficit-financed building a lot of people think Trump is going to provide? It's said that Republicans in Congress don't want any such plan, but Trump doesn't seem averse to pissing them off on other matters, so why not this?

I think the answer is obvious: The folks driving the bus, Steve Bannon and Stephen Miller, don't give a crap about grand programs to employ Americans -- even their own voters. All they care about is revenge. They want everything to be punitive, and the president, who really enjoys fighting with people, is perfectly OK with that.

I'm thinking along these lines because David Frum has a gloomy piece in The Atlantic titled "How to Build an Autocracy." I haven't made my way through it yet, but I see from the opening paragraphs that Frum can imagine Trump winning reelection in 2020 without too much trouble. Here's the scenario he imagines, with some emphasis added:
It’s 2021, and President Donald Trump will shortly be sworn in for his second term....

Fortunately for him, he did not need to campaign hard for reelection. His has been a popular presidency: Big tax cuts, big spending, and big deficits have worked their familiar expansive magic. Wages have grown strongly in the Trump years, especially for men without a college degree, even if rising inflation is beginning to bite into the gains. The president’s supporters credit his restrictive immigration policies and his TrumpWorks infrastructure program.
But the majority in Congress doesn't want anything like TrumpWorks, and if I'm right about De Facto President Bannon, he doesn't either. If there were a TrumpWorks, Democrats might embrace it. Liberal pundits might grudgingly acknowledge its merits. To Bannon, that would be awful. He doesn't want to steal liberals' thunder in a bid for widespread appeal. He wants to infuriate liberals and make us squeal like stuck pigs, and he wants to make scapegoats out of foreigners and others Trump voters hate, because inflicting pain is the point of all this for him.

I tell myself that this might put a limit on how much support Trump can expect as president -- but then I see this Reuters poll:
Americans are sharply divided over President Donald Trump's order to temporarily block U.S. entry for all refugees and citizens of seven Muslim countries, with slightly more approving the measure than disapproving, according to a Reuters/Ipsos opinion poll released on Tuesday.

The Jan. 30-31 poll found that 49 percent of American adults said they either "strongly" or "somewhat" agreed with Trump's order, while 41 percent "strongly" or "somewhat" disagreed and another 10 percent said they don't know.
So the Muslim ban has plurality support, 49%-41%? Hey, that's better for Trump than the popular vote in November. If everything Trump does gets that kind of support, he won't have to make anyone's life better to be reelected -- he'll just have to worsen the lives of heartland whites' enemies, over and over again. That plus Democrat vote suppression will easily win him a second term.

In the long run, Middle Americans will realize that Trump never made their America great -- jobs never returned, wages never went = up, health insurance and Medicare and Social Security got worse and worse. But remember that it took six years for the heartland to reject George W. Bush. It could take at least that long for Trump to lose favor.


This Media Matters story by Matt Gertz deserves more attention:
Two executive orders signed by President Donald Trump last week include clauses that seem designed to provide Breitbart.com and other xenophobic right-wing media outlets with fearmongering content about the supposed criminality and dangerousness of immigrants, particularly Muslim ones.

A little-noticed clause in Trump’s executive order temporarily banning nationals from several Muslim-majority countries from entering the United States and barring admission of refugees, signed Friday, states that ... the federal government will release biannual reports detailing terrorism-related offenses and gender-based violence and honor killings committed in the U.S. by foreign nationals.

Trump’s executive order on immigration enforcement likewise included a clause calling for the weekly publication of “a comprehensive list of criminal actions committed by aliens” in jurisdictions that don’t honor federal requests to hold arrestees in jail due to their immigration status (so-called “sanctuary cities”).

... the purpose of these orders is not to provide the American people with accurate information in proper context. It’s to scare the hell out of them -- particularly Trump’s base -- by taking advantage of a network of right-wing outlets that have spent years driving their audiences into a frenzy with horror stories of crimes committed by foreign nationals.
We expect our government to generate dry but accurate reports rooted in statistical reality. We don't expect our government to replace data with emotion-driven anecdotes. But that may be what's about to happen.

This could be seen as Steve Bannon's way of using your tax dollars to find material for stories at Breitbart, which, as Gertz notes,
aggregates reports of Muslim “honor killings” from around the globe... they have an entire tag devoted to the subject. They have a similar tag for stories about child marriage in Muslim countries. And one detailing instances of “female genital mutilation.” They also regularly suggest that American Muslims are secret operatives of the Muslim Brotherhood.
But this isn't just about Breitbart. Fox and the Drudge Report have been obsessed with gathering anecdotes on these subjects. For more than a decade, Free Republic has used the tag "crimaliens" to collect stories such as "Illegal Alien Rapes Nuns."

To conservatives, anecdotes are the news. At right-wing sites, it's impossible to escape the impression that statistics on crime by the undocumented or violence by Muslims are somehow elitist -- the real truth is in the anecdotes, and only effete bubble-dwelling liberals object that these anecdotes may be unrepresentative.

Our new president, of course, is a voracious consumer of right-wing media. His public statements make clear that he draws conclusions based on emotion-stirring anecdotes rather than data. Judging from this past November's election results, this may be true for 46% of the electorate as well. The goal of the right-wing media -- and, now, the federal government -- is to get that number permanently over 50%.


After a couple of days when the party looked tough and forthright, we're learning that many Democrats would rather be spineless:
Senate Democrats are weighing whether to avoid an all-out war to block President Donald Trump's upcoming Supreme Court pick, instead considering delaying that battle for a future nomination that could shift the ideological balance of the court, sources say.

Democrats privately discussed their tactics during a closed-door retreat in West Virginia last week. And a number of Democrats are trying to persuade liberal firebrands to essentially let Republicans confirm Trump's pick after a vigorous confirmation process -- since Trump is likely to name a conservative to replace the late conservative Justice Antonin Scalia.
Or, in other words:

But the Republicans have also been owned by the Trump administration:
Senior staffers on the House Judiciary Committee helped Donald Trump's top aides draft the executive order curbing immigration from seven Muslim-majority nations, but the Republican committee chairman and party leadership were not informed, according to multiple sources involved in the process....

The work of the committee aides began during the transition period after the election and before Donald Trump was sworn in. The staffers signed nondisclosure agreements, according to two sources familiar with the matter.
We know that congressional Republicans weren't consulted on the Muslim ban:
President Trump’s temporary ban on refugees and other foreigners has significantly deepened fissures in his already fragile relationship with congressional Republicans, as GOP leaders on Capitol Hill complained angrily Monday that they were not consulted before the order was issued.

At least a dozen key GOP lawmakers and aides said Trump’s order took them by surprise, even as the White House insisted that it collaborated with Congress.
But using their staffers and legally requiring those staffers not to inform the leadership? That's rubbing their faces in their own powerlessness.

There should be consequences for this. But there won't be. Trump would sign those sweet, sweet tax cuts for the rich into law even if Republican members of Congress challenged him on this, but they won't. It's just not in Republicans' nature. In the past, they've genuflected before Rush Limbaugh and before the Tea Party, and Limbaugh and the 'baggers weren't even president.

Eliot Cohen, who was in the State Department in the George W. Bush administration, predicts that the Trump administration will eventually "fail" because, among other things, "even the most timid senator sooner or later will say 'enough.'" I don't believe it. Members of Congress from both parties appear willing to let Trump walk all over them. Why would that ever change?

Monday, January 30, 2017


Sally Yates has been fired:
President Trump fired Acting Attorney General Sally Yates Monday night, after Yates ordered Justice Department lawyers Monday not to defend his immigration order temporarily banning entry into the United States for citizens of seven Muslim-majority countries and refugees from around the world....

Earlier on Monday, Yates ordered Justice Department not to defend President Trump’s immigration order temporarily banning entry into the United States for citizens of seven Muslim-majority countries and refugees from around the world, declaring in a memo that she is not convinced the order is lawful....

“At present, I am not convinced that the defense of the Executive Order is consistent with these responsibilities nor am I convinced that the Executive Order is lawful,” Yates wrote. She wrote that “for as long as I am the Acting Attorney General, the Department of Justice will not present arguments in defense of the Executive Order, unless and until I become convinced that it is appropriate to do so.”
I agree that this is a horrible executive order. I just wonder how the Yates situation will play with most Americans. I don't think they'll focus on it for very long -- the Trump administration is determined to create a new form of chaos every day or two, so I think this act of refusal and this firing will be all but forgotten within a week -- but for the moment I suspect Trump's position might seem reasonable to a lot of ordinary Americans, even those who are finding many of the victims of the executive order sympathetic.

A lot of Americans will reason that Trump is the president and therefore he deserves accommodation of his actions by other government officials. It's true that the attorney general is supposed to maintain independence from the White House, but I don't think most people grasp that. They know Trump has appointed an attorney general, and they probably think Jeff Sessions should be allowed to get on with his work -- except among progressives, there regrettably doesn't seem to be any national outrage at Sessions. But until the confirmation process is concluded, I'm guessing most Americans will think that Trump deserves some deference from government officials.

Also, after a week of wild, flailing administration activity, we have Trump being the guy everyone knows from TV. Headline at Fox News:
SHE’S FIRED! Trump ousts acting AG over refusal to defend refugee order
Headline at Breitbart:
You’re Fired: Trump Fires AG for ‘Betrayal’
For the moment, this lets Trump seem like the decisive CEO rather than the impulsive brat leading a government full of other impulsive brats, all of whom enjoy kicking hornets' nests just to see what happens.

Maybe I'm wrong about how this will be perceived. But in any case, this won't be an enduring story. There'll be new chaos any minute now.


Joe Scarborough says he spent much of the weekend talking to President Trump and members of his administration. He's now blaming West Wing bomb-thrower Stephen Miller for the inept rollout of the Muslim ban.
MSNBC's Joe Scarborough on Monday singled out Stephen Miller, saying President Trump's senior adviser had gone on a "power trip."

"Why did Stephen Miller fight so hard to put out this order on Friday without talking to any of the other agencies?" Scarborough asked Monday during MSNBC's "Morning Joe," referring to the president's immigration executive order.

"It was Stephen Miller sitting in the White House saying, 'We're not going to go to the other agencies. We're not going to talk to the lawyers. We're going to do this all alone,'" Scarborough continued.

"You've got a very young person in the White House on a power trip thinking that you can just write executive orders and tell all of your Cabinet agencies to go to hell."

Scarborough said Washington is in an "uproar" this morning because Miller decided "he was going to do this without going through the regular agency process."
Scarborough prefaced this by saying that senior members of the foreign policy team insist they won't put up with this sort of thing anymore:

SCARBOROUGH: I think the biggest takeaway this weekend from all the discussions had to do from that foreign policy team [sic], who said, "Basically, we hope the staff, the young staff members at the White House, enjoyed their time trying to make policy on their own without talking to us, because that will never happen again. The chain" -- the exact quote is "The chain is tightening quickly."
There's also grumbling in this New York Times story about the executive order rollout:
White House officials ... insisted to reporters at a briefing that Mr. Trump’s advisers had been in contact with officials at the State and Homeland Security Departments for “many weeks.”

One official added, “Everyone who needed to know was informed.”

But that apparently did not include members of the president’s own cabinet.

Jim Mattis, the new secretary of defense, did not see a final version of the order until Friday morning, only hours before Mr. Trump arrived to sign it at the Pentagon.

Mr. Mattis, according to administration officials familiar with the deliberations, was not consulted by the White House during the preparation of the order and was not given an opportunity to provide input while the order was being drafted. Last summer, Mr. Mattis sharply criticized Mr. Trump’s proposed ban on Muslim immigration as a move that was “causing us great damage right now, and it’s sending shock waves through the international system.”
And today we see this:
Defense Secretary Jim Mattis has requested some broad categories of Iraqis be exempted from President Trump's 90-day travel ban, a Pentagon official tells the Washington Examiner.

The categories would include interpreters who risked their lives alongside U.S. troops in Iraq, as well as Iraqi pilots who have been traveling to the United States to learn to fly F-16s.
Asking for that after the fact had to be humiliating for him.

So top foreign policy staff is upset at Miller (though not, as far we know so far, at Steve Bannon) -- and a separate Times story tells us there's another source of tension in the White House:
People close to Mr. Bannon said he is not accumulating power for power’s sake, but is instead helping to fill a staff leadership vacuum created, in part, by Mr. Flynn’s stumbling performance as national security adviser.

... Mr. Flynn ... has gotten on the nerves of Mr. Trump and other administration officials because of his sometimes overbearing demeanor, and has further diminished his internal standing by presiding over a chaotic and opaque N.S.C. transition process that prioritized the hiring of military officials over civilian experts recommended to him by his own team.

... the episode that did the most damage to the Trump-Flynn relationship occurred in early December when Mr. Flynn’s son, also named Michael, unleashed a series of tweets pushing a discredited conspiracy theory that Clinton associates had run a child sex-slave ring out of a Washington pizza restaurant.

Mr. Trump told his staff to get rid of the younger Mr. Flynn, who had been hired by his father to help during the transition. But Mr. Trump did so reluctantly because of his loyalty during the campaign....
I can't figure out who's stabbing Flynn in the back here. We're told it isn't Bannon.
Both Mr. Trump and Mr. Bannon still regard Mr. Flynn as an asset. “In the room and out of the room, Steve Bannon is General Flynn’s biggest defender,” said Kellyanne Conway, another top adviser to the president.
Maybe it's Jared Kushner.
But it is unclear when the maneuvers to reduce Mr. Flynn’s role began. Two Obama administration officials said Trump transition officials inquired about expanded national security roles for Mr. Bannon and Mr. Kushner at the earliest stages of the transition in November -- before the younger Mr. Flynn became a liability -- but after Mr. Flynn had begun to chafe on the nerves of his colleagues on the team.
This all makes my head spin. We know that intra-agency information-sharing failures were part of the reason the Bush administration didn't see 9/11 coming. Trump's clowns seem as if they're not even going to be willing to share information with whoever's in the office next door.

Well, we can't say we weren't warned. Here's New York magazine's Gabriel Sherman in early December:
As the least experienced, least ideological, and therefore perhaps most malleable president-elect in history prepares to take office, all eyes are on who is influencing his decisions. And so far, Donald Trump’s administration is shaping up to be like his campaign: full of clashing egos and agendas.

... “In this administration, titles will not matter,” one transition staffer said. “It’s like Game of Thrones.”
Also see Politico's Eliana Johnson a week before Inauguration Day:
[Chris] Christie is one among dozens of high-level Trump campaign aides and former Republican administration officials who find themselves excluded from the Trump administration -- for now -- but who expect their fortunes to change.

... many are already talking about a “second wave” of aides and staffers that is likely to replace the volatile or inexperienced loyalists Trump has tapped.

“There’s waves in everything,” said one senior transition aide. “There’s waves in campaigns. There was [Corey] Lewandowski. Then, there was Paul Manafort. Then, there was [David] Bossie, [Stephen] Bannon, and Kellyanne [Conway]. That’s how Trump operates. It’s ‘Game of Thrones,’ ‘The Apprentice’ and ‘Survivor’ all mixed into one.”
Feel safe with these folks in charge?


Over the weekend, The New York Times published a good story by Caitlin Dickerson about how the right-wing media makes its audience angry and hateful.
Anxiety About Muslim Refugees Is Stoked Online by the Far-Right Media

Type the word refugees into Facebook and some alarming “news” will appear about a refugee rape crisis, a refugee flesh-eating disease epidemic and a refugee-related risk of female genital mutilation -- none of it true.

For the months leading up to the presidential election, and in the days since President Trump took office, ultraconservative websites like Breitbart News and Infowars have published a cycle of eye-popping stories with misleading claims about refugees. And it is beginning to influence public perception, experts say.
Headlines are quoted, including these:
Breitbart, May 31, 2016: Syrian Refugees Spreading Flesh-Eating Disease, Polio, Measles, Tuberculosis, Hepatitis...

Freedom’s Final Stand, Oct. 3, 2016: Muslim Refugee Beats and Rapes Woman in North Dakota While Yelling ‘Allahu Akbar’
And we hear from a consumer of this news, an Oklahoma police officer named Mike Eason, who responded to the latter story:
The post, which was shared 14,000 times, linked to a story about a case in which the authorities have not described the immigration status of the suspect, or said that he was a noncitizen. They have also discredited the claim that the man yelled “Allahu akbar” during the episode.

Nevertheless, the comment that Mr. Eason posted on the site, which he later said he could not remember making, garnered 87 likes. “If Muslims are taught hate by their religion,” he wrote, “then all Muslims are potential terrorists and should be treated accordingly. TRUMP will stop this kind of stuff.”
This is important. Republicans don't win office because their ideas are better. They reach office because the right-wing media scares and agitates white voters with anecdotes that substitute for data and half-truths (or outright lies) that substitute for reality. Some of this is what we now call "fake news," but much of it is a distortion of reality for propaganda effect. Breitbart, for instance, ran a story titled "Muslim Immigration Puts Half a Million U.S. Girls at Risk of Genital Mutilation." Reality:
... the Breitbart article about genital mutilation was based on a study that estimated that a half-million women currently living in the United States have had their genitals mutilated. But most of them were immigrants who had fled here because of such treatment in their home countries.
(The Times story doesn't mention it, but please note the strategic use of "U.S." in that headline. It's a legitimate cause for concern that those who come to America from communities where female genital mutilation is accepted practice might continue the practice here. But the headline wants to plant the suggestion that immigrants are going to mutilate the genitals of native-born American girls. That's outright deception.)

The Times story is good, but it's twenty years too late. Mainstream journalists have been ignoring the right-wing media since the Clinton years, with disastrous results.

Back in the 1990s, the mainstream press generally shrugged off the stream of disinformation on the right -- the "Clinton body count," the reports of sex toys on the White House Christmas tree, and so on. Regnery published book after book filled with disinformation, quite a few of which hit #1 on the New York Times bestseller list, but they weren't reviewed and they weren't debunked. The belief seemed to be that they were too ridiculous to be acknowledged by serious people.

But in the past two decades, disinformation (in book form, online, and on Fox and talk radio) has the been the main way the GOP has built brand loyalty. And now it's worse: We have a president who's not a cynical beneficiary of right-wing disinformation, he's an eager consumer. The president of the United States gets his ideas from this garbage.

More like this story, please. But it's probably too late.

Sunday, January 29, 2017


Politico's Blake Hounshell is making a premature call:
President Trump’s First Defeat

"It's working out very nicely,” President Donald Trump said on Saturday afternoon as he signed his latest batch of executive actions. “You see it in the airports.”

It was the usual confident swagger from a man accustomed to getting his way. But by then, a revolt against the president’s immigration order was already brewing.... By 7:30 in the evening, protests at major airports across the United States had swollen, a federal judge was hearing a legal challenge, and cable news networks -- with one notable exception -- were covering the stunning events live....

Was this what Trump had in mind? ...

... what was meant as a bold assertion of presidential prerogative and a down payment on his promise to “eradicate radical Islamic terrorism from the face of the Earth” has dealt President Trump his first political defeat, and energized his opponents....
The judge’s ruling blocked part of the president’s actions, preventing the government from deporting some arrivals who found themselves ensnared by the presidential order. But it stopped short of letting them into the country or issuing a broader ruling on the constitutionality of Mr. Trump’s actions.
The ACLU is getting “multiple reports” that federal customs agents are siding with President Trump -- and willfully ignoring a Brooklyn federal judge’s demand that travelers from seven Muslim countries not be deported from the nation’s airports.
Which has a Brooklyn/Queens congressman (and possible mayoral candidate) concerned:

Politico's Hounshell thinks this is a problem for the administration because it wasn't handled smoothly:
... as a sheer matter of governance, it augurs poorly. Other administrations might have carefully briefed reporters on the details of the new policy, prepared the public, put exemptions in place, clarified exactly who would be affected. They might have crafted an outreach strategy to key allies to explain the president’s reasoning and hear out any concerns. The Trump team seems to have done none of that.

White House aides briefing the press on Saturday afternoon claimed they had worked for weeks with key officials in the relevant agencies, but there were few signs of that....

The Trump administration also seemed surprisingly unprepared to argue its case in court. During her hearing, Judge Donnelly reportedly asked the government’s lawyers whether they considered if those detained -- about 200 people, in the ACLU’s estimation -- would suffer harm if they were sent back to their home countries. When they didn’t come up with a persuasive answer, she responded, "I think the government hasn't had a full chance to think about this."
Conservative Washington Post writer Jennifer Rubin, a consistent critic of Trump, thinks the lack of consultation with officials outside a tiny West Wing cabal ought to pose problems for two of Trump's Cabinet appointees:

But Hounshell and Rubin have a pre-11/8/16 mindset. No Republican is going to challenge Sessions or Tillerson on this -- every Republican in the Senate will vote for both of them, and they'll be confirmed. There'll be only scattered Republican criticism of the executive order, which is still very much in effect. Hounshell writes:
Judge Donnelly’s stay is only temporary; she made no ruling on whether Trump’s executive order is unconstitutional, as the ACLU claims. And her ruling has no impact on those who have yet to board flights to the United States, and will presumably be barred from doing so. Presidents are usually granted broad authority in setting immigration policy, and the Trump administration can probably retool its order even if the courts take further action.
And yet he concludes:
But on Saturday night, for at least a few hours, the president’s opponents tasted a rare victory.
Nope. Not good enough. The order has to be overturned and the president has to be prevented from either modifying it slightly or ignoring the courts altogether. And the damage to America's reputation as a place where Muslims are welcome has suffered irreparable damage in any case.

The administration has suffered a setback. It's not nearly enough.

Saturday, January 28, 2017


Very few Republicans have denounced President Trump's Muslim ban, and the ones who have denounced it have done so with a lot of "both sides do it" language:

For the most part, Republicans are saying nothing, even though a number of them -- Paul Ryan, Mitch McConnell, Mike Pence -- denounced the idea when Trump first raised it in late 2015. A lot of people on the left are responding to this the way Daily Kos's David Nir has:
Cowardly Republicans go utterly silent in the face of Trump's cruelty to refugees and immigrants
Nahhh -- these people aren't cowards. They're worse.

They don't fear speaking out. They just don't care about the people affected by the ban. All they care about is what Republicans have focused on for years: power for themselves and tax and regulatory cuts for their donors. Nothing else matters.

This isn't a moral issue for them. For them, it's like the moral puzzle that forms the basis of the movie The Box and the Twilight Zone episode "Button, Button": Imagine if you could obtain a million dollars, and all you had to do was remotely kill someone you've never met. Would you do it?

That's what tacit support for Trump's policies is now: You give him leeway, you get those tax and regulatory cuts for the rich, and the only downside is the suffering of people you don't care about.

Yes, as I noted, many prominent Republicans denounced this idea in 2015. But that was when they believed that Trump wouldn't win the nomination, much less the general election, and they thought his advocacy of this policy would hurt their chances of being in a position to cut rich people's taxes and regulations. Now that they know that this wasn't an impediment, they're back to not caring who gets hurt.

That's not cowardice. It's amorality, which is worse.


I'm sure I don't have to tell you about yesterday's Trump administration executive order blocking entry to the U.S. by immigrants, refugees, and non-citizen returnees from seven majority-Muslim countries. (Not included on the list: Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Turkey, the United Arab Emirates, and Azerbaijan, countries where Donald Trump either has done business or has pursued deals.) Already, refugees who were in flight to America are being detained, and they're people on our side, or at least they have been until now:
The lawyers said that one of the Iraqis detained at Kennedy Airport, Hameed Khalid Darweesh, had worked on behalf of the U.S. government in Iraq for 10 years. The other, Haider Sameer Abdulkhaleq Alshawi, was coming to the United States to join his wife, who had worked for a U.S. contractor, and young son, the lawyers said. They said both men were detained at the airport Friday night after arriving on separate flights....

Mr. Darweesh worked as an interpreter for the Army’s 101st Airborne Division in Baghdad and Mosul starting shortly after the invasion of Iraq on April 1, 2003. The filing said he had been directly targeted twice for working with the American military....

Mr. Alshawi was supposed to be reunited with his wife, who has been living in Texas....

She pulled out her cellphone and flipped through her pictures while seated on the couch. She wanted to show a reporter a picture she took of her son’s letter to Santa Claus. In November, at a Macy’s Santa-letter display at a nearby mall, the boy wrote out his wish: “Dear Santa: Can you bring my Dad from Sweden pls.” He has not seen his father in three years.
Here's a ProPublica report saying that half a million legal U.S. residents might be banned from returning to America from overseas trips, because their visas and green cards no longer allow them reentry. Here's a story about an Iraq-born refugee who works as a software engineer for Facebook in Seattle and can no longer see his family just across the border in Canada. Here's Google telling foreign-born workers from affected countries who've traveled overseas to return to America ASAP, a warning that already seems futile. And on and on.

Former State Department counterterrorrism coordinator Daniel Benjamin is right:
The executive order is ... likely to erode trust in the government, which will set back law enforcement’s efforts to build stronger bridges to Muslim communities. Those ties ... are essential to U.S. domestic counterterrorism....

We should also expect the order to anger Muslim partners around the world. Shutting the door on Iraqis, on whom we are relying in the ground fight against ISIL, isn’t going to help in that ongoing conflict.... At a moment when U.S. influence in the region is at a low ebb, and Russia, Iran and Turkey are collaborating in Syria and excluding the U.S., the American president should be concerned with building goodwill, not eroding it.
As is Connecticut senatior Chris Murphy:
ISIS, the most dangerous of a global array of radical Islamic terrorist groups, is in retreat. Every day, they lose more territory, and it is only a matter of time before their self-proclaimed caliphate disappears before the world’s eyes....

But ISIS has a second purpose -- to take part in an imagined global struggle of civilizations between Christians and Muslims. President Obama and President Bush before him knew the danger of stoking talk of war between east and west. Obama knew how important this kind of talk was to ISIS’s recruitment and expansion, and he went out of his way to tamp it down.

Trump has now handed ISIS a path to rebirth. They can and will use his announcement today as confirmation that America is at war with Muslims, especially those Muslims living in desperate circumstances. Their recruitment bulletin boards will light up with new material. Their entreaties to would-be lone wolf attackers in America will have new energy and purpose.

All the work we have done to cut down on extremist recruitment at home and abroad now goes out the window. It’s a new day for terrorist recruiters.
As is Massachusetts congressman and Iraq War vet Seth Moulton:

So, Democrats in Congress, how are you all feeling about your degree of cooperation with this administration? For a while, only one Democratic senator -- Kirsten Gillibrand of New York -- had voted against every Trump Cabinet nominee, but now even she has broken that streak, voting for Nikki Haley as UN ambassador.

After which Haley rewarded her trust with this:
The American ambassador to the United Nations, Nikki R. Haley, issued a stark warning on Friday to allies and rivals abroad, saying in her first remarks at the headquarters of the world body that the Trump administration would hold to account those who do not back the United States.

“You’re going to see a change in the way we do business,” Ms. Haley said. “Our goal with the administration is to show value at the U.N., and the way we’ll show value is to show our strength, show our voice, have the backs of our allies and make sure our allies have our back as well.”

“For those who don’t have our back,” she added, “we’re taking names; we will make points to respond to that accordingly.”
If you're a decent human being, there is no possibility of compromise with this administration. Everything this administration does will be an act of conservative revenge against real or perceived enemies, foreign and domestic. If you're a Democrat, that very much includes you.

If you're a Democratic senator in a red state, it won't help you to try to cover your ass with a few pro-Trump votes -- the Trumpers and the rest of the GOP are gunning for you whatever you do. And if you're a blue-state Democrat, I don't want to hear about "promises" you may have heard from this or that appointee. This administration is beyond the pale, and it's just going to get worse.

The only principled stand is a constant reminder to the public that all this is unacceptable, accompanied by as much resistance as you can manage. Reject the notion that it's possible to make a reasonable accommodation with these people. It isn't. It's now obvious that the only reasonable response to these people is no, every time. At the very least, you need to vote agaiunst every Trump appointee from now on. History will judge you on the basis of how much you collaborated.

Friday, January 27, 2017


A report by The Washington Post's Mike deBonis suggests that the pressure (after seven years) to actually produce an alternative to Obamacare is freaking Republicans out:
Republican lawmakers aired sharp concerns about their party’s quick push to repeal the Affordable Care Act inside a closed-door meeting Thursday, according to a recording of the session obtained by The Washington Post....

Senators and House members expressed a range of concerns about the task ahead: how to prepare a replacement plan that can be ready to launch at the time of repeal; how to avoid deep damage to the health insurance market; how to keep premiums affordable for middle-class families; even how to avoid the political consequences of defunding Planned Parenthood, the women’s health-care organization, as many Republicans hope to do with the repeal of the ACA.

“We’d better be sure that we’re prepared to live with the market we’ve created” with repeal, said Rep. Tom McClintock (R-Calif.). “That’s going to be called Trumpcare....”
Are Republicans going to hammer an awful plan together or just tiptoe away from this? Or will they go back to the "repeal and infinitely delay" approach they seemed to be following before that began to scare them? I don't know.

But if they do cough up some plan or other, I hope Democrats avoid the temptation to call it "Trumpcare."

It should always be called "Republicare."

For years, Democrats have failed to make the case that the problems in this country are problems created by the Republican Party -- not by "Washington" or "gridlock," and not by a current Republican Party leader who might happen to be unpopular. Democrats' unwillingness to attack the entire GOP explains why Republicans always make very quick comebacks after periods of unpopularity. (See the Gingrich victory two years after George H.W. Bush's electoral wipeout, the George W. Bush victory two years after Gingrich flameout, and the Tea Party victory two years after Bush's departure in disgrace.)

It's going to happen again if everything terrible that's about to take place in America is blamed exclusively on Donald Trump. Yes, Trump might be a one-term president. Yes, as a result Democrats might regain their electoral mojo. But then the GOP will rebrand itself again, as if Trump never existed, just the way it did in 1994 and 2000 and 2010.

If there's a terrible healthcare plan, it won't be "Trumpcare" anyway. Trump isn't detail-oriented enough to make intelligent recommendations on the makeup of such a plan. He's just going to make broad demands and then sign whatever passes.

Whatever passes will be a Republican plan. It will exist because Republicans -- long before Trump became a candidate -- made it their life's work to dismantle Obamacare, even though they had no better ideas. The terrible healthcare plan we're about to be presented with will be the quintessence of contemporary Republicanism.

So call it by the appropriate name: Republicare.


It's easy to take Steve Bannon's "The media should be embarrassed and humiliated and keep its mouth shut" hissyfit at face value -- i.e., as a dominance challenge on behalf of his boss -- but this bit of shameless flackery by Mike Allen at Axios suggests that something else is going on:

White House and Hill GOP leaders are astonished by the unambiguous, far-reaching power of Steve Bannon and policy guru Stephen Miller over, well, just about everything.

* They wrote the Inaugural speech and set in fast motion a series of moves to cement Trump as an America-first Nationalist.

*They maneuvered to get more key allies inside the White House and positioned for top agency jobs.

*They wrote many of the executive orders, sometimes with little input from others helping with the transition.

* They egged on Trump to take a combative approach with the media, China, Mexico and critics.

* And Bannon punctuated the week with a full-throated, Trump-pleasing bashing of the media.
Allen, as was obvious to anyone who read him in his Politico days, is regularly willing to forgo journalism in order to be a publicist for some of his sources. I think he's doing that now to convey the message that the Bannon wing of the White House is winning and the Reince Priebus establishmentarian wing is losing. "White House and Hill GOP leaders are astonished by the unambiguous, far-reaching power of Steve Bannon" seems like an attempt to make something true by asserting it.

Here's where this becomes obvious:
Pre-conventional wisdom: A conservative leader told Axios' Jonathan Swan that Reince Priebus' people were feeling like they "won November and December," having filled the White House with so many loyalists. The spin was that Reince was outmaneuvering Bannon and would be the real power source. But now it's dawning on them, as Trump makes his early moves, that maybe they spoke too soon.
There's some truth here -- Bannon has been throwing his weight around since the inaugural, although that's meant that the administration has tripped over its own feet a number of times. But I'm puzzled at how Allen can say that Priebus and his people "filled the White House with so many loyalists" and also that Bannon and Miller "maneuvered to get more key allies inside the White House and positioned for top agency jobs" -- isn't that a contradiction? In any case, I question why Bannon felt the need to instigate the "keep its mouth shut" fight with The New York Times in the first place -- clearly he thought it would impress the boss, but if Bannon is as powerful as Mike Allen says he is, why does he need to do that? Doesn't the boss like him already?

I believe that the battle for Trump's brain is ongoing, that the Bannon and Priebus wings are going to keep fighting, and that now we're coming to the time in the presidency when actually knowing how to advance legislation confers an advantage -- one that Bannon and his bomb-throwers don't have. I wonder whether some of the recent leaks about Trump's own tantrums were meant to shame the people --probably Bannon and his crew -- who encourage the president's rage (about crowd size, about vote totals, etc.).

The intramural war, in other words, rages on. I think Bannon's recent media appearances are a part of that war.


Jennifer Steinhauer of The New York Times sustains the myth that Donald Trump is a radical break from GOP orthodoxy in a report from the GOP's Philadelphia retreat published under the headline "Republicans Now Marching With Trump on Ideas They Had Opposed":
From the time Donald J. Trump became their candidate until he took the oath of office, congressional Republicans treated his policy pronouncements -- largely out of step with Republican dogma -- as essentially a distraction. He would talk. They would drive the policies.

But now, the question of whether congressional Republicans would change President Trump or Mr. Trump would change them has an early answer. Mr. Trump cheerfully addressed the group here at their policy retreat on Thursday, and they responded with applause to many proposals they have long opposed.

Republican lawmakers appear more than ready to open up the coffers for a $12 billion to $15 billion border wall, perhaps without the commensurate spending cuts that they demanded when it came to disaster aid, money to fight the Zika virus or funds for the tainted water system in Flint, Mich. They also seem to back a swelling of the federal payroll that Mr. Trump has called for in the form of a larger military and 5,000 more border patrol agents.
Seriously? Steinhauer thinks pre-Trump Republicans opposed expanding the military or increasing the number of Border Patrol agents? Or even barriers on the border? Did she miss the largely Republican-driven shutdowns of immigration reform efforts in both the Bush and Obama years? Or anti-immigration anger so vociferous that it led John McCain, once a supporter of reform, to demand that the government "complete the danged fence"?

And Steinhauer is shocked that Republicans are suddenly willing to engage in deficit spending for Trump when they wouldn't for President Obama? I thought Jonathan Chait covered this very succinctly in November:
Republicans blew up the deficit under Ronald Reagan, then fomented hysterical warnings of insolvency under Bill Clinton. When Clinton’s policies structurally balanced the budget, they unbalanced it with massive tax cuts, a military and security buildup, and a prescription drug benefit, all entirely debt-financed. When the first signs of recession appeared in early 2008, Republicans did support a Keynesian stimulus bill. As Obama entered office, the seeming mild recession that had spurred both parties to action a year before had spiraled into a bottomless crisis unlike any in memory. But at the moment the justification for Keynesian stimulus had become stronger than at any time in the previous 80 years, Republicans embraced austerity, insisting temporary deficit spending would worsen the economy. They held to that stance -- with the exception of tax cuts for the rich, which they support regardless of circumstance -- throughout Obama’s presidency....
Steinhauer continues:
... Once fierce promoters of the separation of powers, Republicans are now embracing Mr. Trump’s early governing by executive order, something they loudly decried during Mr. Obama’s second term.
But as we continue to learn from BuzzFeed's Chris Geidner, executive orders (including some of the specific orders emanating from the Trump White House) were part of a strategy intended for a Mitt Romney presidency in 2012:
When White House press secretary Sean Spicer was asked Wednesday about a potential executive order that would revive Bush-era detention and interrogation policies, he flatly denied any knowledge of its existence....

But the document is one of more than four dozen potential executive orders prepared for a would-be President Mitt Romney during his unsuccessful 2012 presidential campaign, BuzzFeed News has learned. Several of these documents appear to have been used by the Trump administration in the president’s first week in office...

Former Utah Gov. Mike Leavitt, who led Romney’s transition planning efforts, told BuzzFeed News that the documents were part of extensive transition planning aimed at creating “executive order drafts prepared on various subjects related to commitments Romney made during the campaign.”
More from Steinhauer:
Many Republicans, who have been longstanding opponents of Russia and written laws that prohibit torture, have chosen to overlook, or even concur with, Mr. Trump’s embrace of both. Even on the subject of Mr. Trump’s call for an investigation into voter fraud, a widely debunked claim, Republicans have often demurred. “The notion that election fraud is a fiction is not true,” said the Senate majority leader, Mitch McConnell of Kentucky.
I'll give her Russia -- Trump's love of Vladimir Putin is a big break with GOP orthodoxy. (And I'll give her trade, which she mentions elsewhere -- protectionism isn't mainstream in the GOP.)

But torture and an obsession with voter fraud? Has Steinhauer forgotten, um, the last Republican president of the United States, who brought back torture as official U.S. policy and whose administration became obsessed with prosecuting alleged electoral irregularities? Has Steinhauer paid no attention to the fixation on voter fraud in states controlled by Republicans?

Trump is, in a number of ways, not a typical Republican. But in far more ways he's just the modern GOP on rage-inducing drugs. I know the press continues to believe that the GOP would be a nice, collegial party in Trump's absence, but it's not true. Conservatism made him. He's a Republican evolution, not an aberration.

Thursday, January 26, 2017


This chest-thumping is meant to intimidate, but in reality it's laughable:
Stephen K. Bannon, President Trump’s chief White House strategist, laced into the American press during an interview on Wednesday evening, arguing that news organizations had been “humiliated” by an election outcome few anticipated, and repeatedly describing the media as “the opposition party” of the current administration.

“The media should be embarrassed and humiliated and keep its mouth shut and just listen for a while,” Mr. Bannon said during a telephone call.
Big tough man!
“I want you to quote this,” Mr. Bannon added. “The media here is the opposition party. They don’t understand this country. They still do not understand why Donald Trump is the president of the United States.” ...

“The elite media got it dead wrong, 100 percent dead wrong,” Mr. Bannon said of the election, calling it “a humiliating defeat that they will never wash away, that will always be there.”

“The mainstream media has not fired or terminated anyone associated with following our campaign,” Mr. Bannon said. “Look at the Twitter feeds of those people: they were outright activists of the Clinton campaign.” (He did not name specific reporters or editors.)

“That’s why you have no power,” Mr. Bannon added. “You were humiliated.”
A couple of questions for you, Stevie. You want the mainstream media to "shut up" -- and yet you're asking the MSM to quote you. Isn't that a contradiction? Shutting up would mean not publishing anything, including your words of spittle-flecked rage. So which is it: Do you want to be quoted in the MSM or not?

And if you want to be quoted in the MSM, why, if you say the MSM has "no power"?

The answer is obvious: You still believe the MSM still does have power, and it's killing you. You've got this great gig, and the backing of the most powerful man on the planet, and still you just can't be happy, because you know you're under media scruitiny every day. If you had an adult's temperament, like the previous president and many of his aides, you'd just put your head down and do your job. But you can't, because the fact that you can't completely crush the media eats away at you.

Second-saddest thing about this?
The conversation was initiated by Mr. Bannon....
Really now? Bannon arranged to talk to someone he thinks has no power, because he wanted to be quoted in a medium he thinks has no credibility? Tell me another one, Stevie Boy.

Saddest thing about this?
Mr. Bannon mostly referred to the “elite” or “mainstream” media, but he cited The New York Times and The Washington Post by name.

“The paper of record for our beloved republic, The New York Times, should be absolutely ashamed and humiliated,” Mr. Bannon said. “They got it 100 percent wrong.”
Wait for it...
He added that he has been a reader of The Times for most of his adult life.


Democrats are at a party retreat in Shepherdstown, West Virginia. Politico has a brief story about how they're seeking to improve their outreach to Trump voters:
Senate Democrats geared up for battle with President Donald Trump by preparing to talk to people who voted for him....

Sen. Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.) moderated a “discussion with Trump voters," according to a draft [retreat] schedule obtained by POLITICO....

Former Kentucky Gov. Steve Beshear (D), along with Sens. Heidi Heitkamp (D-N.D.) and Michael Bennet (D-Colo.), held a session on “speaking to those who feel invisible in rural America," according to the schedule. Other sessions were along similar lines: “Listening to those feel unheard” and “Rising America -- They feel unheard too.”
Well, fine. I don't think Democrats should focus on this to the exclusion of all else, but it's okay if they do it.

But I do object to Politico's headline for this:
Democrats hold lessons on how to talk to real people
Oh, right -- none of the nearly 66 million Hillary Clinton voters are "real people." Democrats never are. Democrats are all privileged white coast-dwellers in an elitist bubble, regardless of race, income level, or how far away from an ocean they live. The intersection of "real people" and regular Democratic voters is the null set.

Respondents to a new Public Policy Polling survey give Donald Trump 44% approval and 50% disapproval on his job performance -- which means that half the country simply isn't real. No one demonstrating against Trump right now -- minimum-wage workers, schoolteachers, whoever -- is real. We're all just fake people cooked up in a Soros-funded lab. Want to be real? Vote Republican, dummy. How hard is that to understand?


Many of us are horrified at the proposal being floated in the Trump administration to bring back torture and the CIA's "black sites." Only a president as appalling as Donald Trump would seriously consider something like that, right? Well, no, that's not quite true, as BuzzFeed's Ali Watkins and Chris Geidner make clear:
That New “Black Site” Plan Isn’t New, It Came From Mitt Romney’s Campaign

A draft executive order reviving Bush-era detention and interrogation policies that circulated on Wednesday is a revised version of the “most comprehensive” executive action on the topic proposed for the first 100 days of a Mitt Romney White House.

The original text of the document was prepared in September 2012 by then-presidential candidate Romney’s legal and policy advisers as a potential executive order....

Most of the text that appears in the Trump document appears in the 2012 document as part of a package of options, “ranging from the narrowest (Option 1) to the most comprehensive (Option 2)” to address “the fight against international jihadist terrorist groups.”
This brings me back to an argument that I found infuriating during the campaign. Many pundits, and at least one Democratic strategist, argued that the receptiveness of Republican voters to Donald Trump was all the fault of Democrats. According to this argument, we'd said such horrible things about other Republican candidates that the GOP electorate had no reason to believe us when we said the same things about Trump. We had, in other words, "cried wolf."

Here was Frank Bruni making the case in The New York Times back in September:
Conservative commentators and die-hard Republicans often brush off denunciations of Donald Trump as an unprincipled hatemonger by saying: Yeah, yeah, that’s what Democrats wail about every Republican they’re trying to take down....

Howard Wolfson would be outraged by that response if he didn’t recognize its aptness.

“There’s enough truth to it to compel some self-reflection,” Wolfson, who was the communications director for Hillary Clinton’s presidential bid in 2008, told me this week....

“I worked on the presidential campaign in 2004,” he said, referring to John Kerry’s contest against George W. Bush. He added that he was also “active in discussing” John McCain when he ran for the presidency in 2008 and Mitt Romney in 2012.

“And I’m quite confident I employed language that, in retrospect, was hyperbolic and inaccurate, language that cheapened my ability -- our ability -- to talk about this moment with accuracy and credibility.”
There are a lot of problems with this argument -- it doesn't explain, for example, why Dempocrats don't turn to dangerous demagogues, given the fact that our candidates are routinely described as civilization-destroying Antichrists. But maybe the best reason to reject the argument is a simple one: Previous Republicans really were very, very dangerous.

Here's torture advocate Trump proposing to bring back black sites -- and he's following a blueprint prepared for the Romney campaign. Here's Trump's extreme Cabinet -- and we see that many of his most dangerous appointees have deeper roots in the GOP than he does, advocating what are now the Trump administration's most nakedly ideological policies as officeholders (Tom Price, Scott Pruitt) or donors (Betsy DeVos). Trump's policies are scary, but nearly all of them are long-time Republican policies.

The Wichita Eagle is reporting that extremist Kansas secretary of state Kris Kobach is claiming a role in both Trump's voter-fraud probe and his anti-immigration executive orders. Kobach, of course, was a top Romney adviser on immigration in 2012, a year when Romney backed "self-deportation" and Arizona's "papers, please" law and opposed the DREAM Act.

So this is the pattern: Trump seems to be at the extreme edge, but he's where many Republicans, including some we were said to have "cried wolf" about, have been all along. We know how extreme Republicans have been at the state level in Kobach's Kansas, in Scott Walker's Wisconsin, in Bobby Jindal's Louisiana. They've been extreme even when the figureheads haven't been loose-tongued bomb-throwers like Trump. So why shouldn't we have cried wolf in previous elections when there's good reason to believe that even "nice"-seeming Republicans are wolves at the door?

Wednesday, January 25, 2017


The thing is, I think Trump actually believes this:
In an exclusive interview with ABC News, President Trump insisted there is “a lot to look into” as he said he will call for an investigation into alleged voter fraud following his unsubstantiated claim that millions of people illegally cast ballots during the 2016 election.

“You have people that are registered who are dead, who are illegals, who are in two states. You have people registered in two states. They're registered in a New York and a New Jersey. They vote twice. There are millions of votes, in my opinion,” Trump told "World News Tonight" Anchor David Muir during an interview today at the White House.

The president later added, “When you look at the people that are registered: dead, illegal and two states, and some cases maybe three states -- we have a lot to look into.”
He believes it because he'll believe any suspicion-confirming wingnut tale, however absurd. And he says there's "a lot to look into" because the people feeding him this tale -- Greg Phillips and his allies at the Koch-affiliated True the Vote -- swear they can prove that all this fraud took place, but just not yet, though any day now they will, they totally swear:
Gregg Phillips, the ... apparent source for President Trump's unsupported claim that 3 million or more "illegal voters" cost him the popular vote, says he might be changing his mind about releasing the names of those voters to everyone on the internet.

“If I had my druthers, and they said, ‘Gregg, you can release your list or you can give it to [the Department of Justice],’ I’d instantly agree to give it over to DOJ. They could bump it up against the Homeland Security file,” Phillips told The Daily Beast on Tuesday. “There’s a group of us who don’t think we should release the names at all.”

As of right now, however, releasing the names is the plan, said Phillips, who identifies himself on Twitter as the founder of a voter-fraud reporting app....

Here’s the problem: No one has seen any of the data, nor the algorithm Phillips and his group have put it through, let alone confirmed if it’s even possible for any part of it to be true....

Phillips claims his group, a band of volunteers loosely affiliated with a right-wing organization called True the Vote, has “184 million voting records we’ve collected over time.” ...

He said his team has “worked on various projects and analysis and plenty of different methodologies on key components on the valuations such as verifying identity and verifying citizenship.” ...

Phillips said he doesn’t want to accuse someone of felony voter fraud who isn’t a felon.

“That’s exactly what’s taking so long. Rather than publishing things that might be wrong, we not only just want to do a quality check on our own algorithm, we want to do an internal audit, if you will,” he said.

Still, at the beginning of his conversation with The Daily Beast, he insisted he’d release the data and algorithm to the public once he was sure the data was fine-tuned. (He didn’t give a timeline for any of this when pressed.) ...

In the meantime, though, he’s mostly gone dark.
There are two possibilities here: (1) these folks have no data whatsoever; (2) they have data that will turn out to be riddled with errors if it's ever released -- and if it's ever released, you're going to find innocent people being harassed and threatened by right-wing goons for allegedly committing voter fraud that they never actually engaged in. Did you live with an dying parent who cast an absentee ballot and then died before Election Day? These folks will get you and your dead parent accused of fraud by anonymous harassers. Or maybe that'll happen just because the last state you lived in never took you off the rolls. Or for no reason at all except that these clowns need to pad their stats.

Assuming there ever have been any stats.

I've written about True the Vote several times, most recently in November, when Phillips's claim first surfaced. As I explain in that post, the group, headed by a Texas Republican activist named Catherine Engelbrecht, is nakedly partisan -- it categorically describes voter fraud as a Democratic problem -- yet right-wing media outlets have regularly published sob stories about how the poor dears couldn't get tax-exempt status as a non-partisan group from the allegedly evil Obama IRS. And not just the low-rent outlets -- Peggy Noonan and John Fund at The Wall Street Journal have shed tears over Engelbrecht's heroic suffering. This is a crock, but it's a crock that might end up in a mass doxxing of mostly innocent people -- that is, if there's anything at all behind these claims apart from smoke and mirrors.


A senior White House adviser to Donald Trump is registered to vote in two different states, a practice that the US president wrongly claimed amounted to electoral fraud on Wednesday as he called for an inquiry.

Stephen Bannon ... whose registration lists a rented apartment in Manhattan as his address, cast his ballot for Trump in New York, according to a source familiar with his arrangements, who was not authorized to speak to the media.

Bannon, however, also remains registered to vote in Florida, according to state records. His registration lists as his address the home of Andy Badolato, a friend of Bannon’s who has worked on some of his political documentary films and written for Breitbart News....
Bannon used to have a Florida registration at his ex-wife's house, but when this was discovered, he registered at his pal's place instead of giving up the registration altogether.

President Trump, of course, tweeted today that that amounts to voter fraud -- whoops, sorry, I meant VOTER FRAUD.

But at least one other member of the Trump administration has done the same thing, K.T. McFarland, who was named deputy national security adviser by the Trump transition team back in November, was found to have maintained a double voter registration for a decade when she announced a run for the U.S. Senate back in 2006. The New York Post reported at the time:
Just-announced Republican Senate hopeful Kathleen McFarland ... has maintained two voting addresses since 1996: at her posh Park Avenue home and at her family's stunning second home on a small island near Southampton, according to the records.

She pingponged her vote from Manhattan to Southampton in various years, casting her ballot from the Ram Island address in 1998 and 1999, but voting from Park Avenue in 2000 and 2001.

She skipped the 2002 and 2003 elections, and then it was back to voting in Southampton in 2004, according to the records.

State law makes it a felony to be registered at two addresses during the same election cycle, according to state Board of Elections spokesman Lee Daghlian.

"When you change the place you've been voting, a new registration has to be filed, showing that you've changed your address," Daghlian said....
Enterprising reporters, you might want to check the voter registrations of all the Trumpers (and, for that matter, all the Trumps). I'm sure many have multiple residences. Let's eradicate Republican voter fraud!


UPDATE: Ahem...

UPDATE: Steven Mnuchin too.

Though it occurs to me that the plan might be to say, "See? States are not purging inactive voters from the rolls. In most cases, this is perfectly innocent, as in the case of these fine, honorable Trumpers, but the risks are so great that we simply must order massive purges of voters who are Democrats inactive...." Attention to these duplicate registrants might be exactly what the smarter folks in the administration wanted.


After an awkward first weekend, the Trump administration is hitting its stride:
U.S. President Donald Trump is expected to sign executive orders starting on Wednesday that include a temporary ban on most refugees and a suspension of visas for citizens of Syria and six other Middle Eastern and African countries....

Trump ... is expected to ban for several months the entry of refugees into the United States, except for religious minorities escaping persecution, until more aggressive vetting is in place.

Another order will block visas being issued to anyone from Syria, Iraq, Iran, Libya, Somalia, Sudan and Yemen....
The orders are among an array of national security directives Mr. Trump is considering issuing in the coming days, according to people who have seen the orders. They include reviewing whether to resume the once-secret “black site” detention program; keep open the prison at Guantánamo Bay; and designate the Muslim Brotherhood a terrorist organization.
Trump may be threatening martial law in Chicago (tweet from Trump last night: "If Chicago doesn't fix the horrible 'carnage' going on, 228 shootings in 2017 with 42 killings (up 24% from 2016), I will send in the Feds!"). He's promising an investigation into (nonexistent) voter fraud that seems likely to conclude that you're part of a massive threat to democracy if you moved from Cincinnati to Denver and they never took you off the Cincinnati voter rolls, even though you're registered in Denver and do your voting there.

And there's the approval of the Keystone and Dakota Access pipelines, the gagging of many federal agencies, the upcoming Supreme Court pick, or the likelihood that every Trump Cabinet pick will be approved relatively easily.

Adam Serwer is right (and I was wrong in a few recent posts):

The conflicts I've noted within the administration don't seem to matter, at least in these first flush days: the populist-nationalist bomb-throwers are getting their wall and their de facto Muslim ban, while the Kochite establishmentarians are getting Kochism sold Trump-style.

Trump brazened his way into the White House, and he has continued to be an unhinged, unchecked id. Right now it seems to be working pretty well for him.

So you'd think that his opposition might have to be equally heedless and unrestrained. Ahhh, but, according to Frank Bruni in The New York Times today, you'd be wrong:
You know how Donald Trump wins? I don’t mean a second term or major legislative victories. I’m talking about the battle between incivility and dignity.

He triumphs when opponents trade righteous anger for crude tantrums. When they lose sight of the line between protest and catcalls.
Really? It sure looked to me as if he triumphed all the way through the primaries and the general election when people fought him following Marquess of Queensberry rules. But go on, Frank.
When a writer for “Saturday Night Live” jokes publicly that Trump’s 10-year-old son has the mien and makings of a killer.

“Barron will be this country’s first home-school shooter,” the writer, Katie Rich, tweeted. I cringe at repeating it. But there’s no other way to take proper note of its ugliness.

That tweet ignited a firestorm -- and rightly so -- but it didn’t really surprise me. It was just a matter of time. This is the trajectory that we’re traveling. This, increasingly, is what passes for impassioned advocacy.
Is it? I marched in New York over the weekend. I heard no mentions of that joke. I didn't see a single sign referring to Barron in any way. The joke mattered only within the media demimonde. Most of America didn't even know about it until we were told to be outraged. (For the record, I agree that non-adult president's kids should be off limits.)
Look elsewhere on Twitter. Or on Facebook.
No, Frank, you look. You're the highly paid columnist. If they're a cesspool of anti-Trump speech that gives you the vapors, quote some or shut up.
Or at Madonna, whose many positive contributions don’t include her turn at the microphone at the Women’s March in Washington, where she said that she’d “thought an awful lot about blowing up the White House,” erupted into profanity and tweaked the lyrics to one of her songs so that they instructed Trump to perform a particular sex act....

All of this plays right into Trump’s hands.
The obvious point is that equally crude, equally threatening talk by Donald Trump himself (or by alt-rightist goons) somehow has never played into our hands. The less obvious point is that even before Trump, when a Ted Nugent made crude and threatening remarks against a Democrat it might inspire a brief flurry of news, but no mainstream media hand-wringer ever said that it tainted the entire Republican Party and conservative movement. When right-wingers go bad, they're like white men who become mass murderers: Every one is just an isolated case. When someone on our side steps over the line, we're all guilty. And we have to maintain decorum even during the presidency of Donald Trump.

I actually don't think you should make a speech saying you want to blow up the White House. But Madonna was not the central figure on Saturday. No celebrity was. The marches belonged to ordinary women (and girls, and also men and boys) who were peaceful and earnest and hopeful, if a occasionally too cheeky for Bruni's delicate sensibilities.

But this is how a large portion of the "liberal media" reacts when we're in a political war. When the roles were reversed, the conservative press unfailingly took the Tea Party's side against President Obama. Right-wing media voices had one answer for charges that the teabaggers were violent or racist: Lies, all lies. There was no self-criticism -- on the right, there never is, except when conservatives lose, and then they're faulted for being insufficiently relentless. That's one big reason the right wins.

Tuesday, January 24, 2017


Here's David Brooks today, dismissing the anti-Trump movement as an abject failure after one day's worth of significant nationwide (and worldwide) protest:
Sometimes social change happens through grass-roots movements -- the civil rights movement. But most of the time change happens through political parties: The New Deal, the Great Society, the Reagan Revolution. Change happens when people run for office, amass coalitions of interest groups, engage in the messy practice of politics.

Without the discipline of party politics, social movements devolve into mere feeling, especially in our age of expressive individualism. People march and feel good and think they have accomplished something. They have a social experience with a lot of people and fool themselves into thinking they are members of a coherent and demanding community. Such movements descend to the language of mass therapy.
Now, here's David Brooks in May 2010, writing about the Tea Party:
Moreover, the tea party movement has passion. Think back on the recent decades of American history -- the way the hippies defined the 1960s; the feminists, the 1970s; the Christian conservatives, the 1980s. American history is often driven by passionate outsiders who force themselves into the center of American life.
Emphasis added in both cases, obviously.

Brooks was wrong, of course, when he described the Koch-led, Fox-bred, ultimately loyal-Republican teabaggers as "outsiders." But please note for the record that when it suited him, he thought being outside the party structure was just fine for a movement that wanted to have an impact on American politics.

There are a hundred things wrong with Brooks's column on Saturday's marches, from the premature dismissal (yes, let's write off the civil rights movement because the Montgomery buses were still segregated after one day's boycott) to this:
In the first place, this movement focuses on the wrong issues. Of course, many marchers came with broad anti-Trump agendas, but they were marching under the conventional structure in which the central issues were clear. As The Washington Post reported, they were “reproductive rights, equal pay, affordable health care, action on climate change.”

These are all important matters, and they tend to be voting issues for many upper-middle-class voters in university towns and coastal cities. But this is 2017. Ethnic populism is rising around the world. The crucial problems today concern the way technology and globalization are decimating jobs and tearing the social fabric; the way migration is redefining nation-states; the way the post-World War II order is increasingly being rejected as a means to keep the peace.

All the big things that were once taken for granted are now under assault: globalization, capitalism, adherence to the Constitution, the American-led global order. If you’re not engaging these issues first, you’re not going to be in the main arena of national life.
First, Brooks is relying on a Washington Post editorial (not a news story) for an assessment of what the demonstrations were about rather than, y'know, actually showing up to see for himself. Second, he's engaging in one of the cheapest forms of trollery, familiar to those of us who maintain online comments sections: You have just made an assertion about Subject A for which I have no intelligent rebuttal, so I'm just going to stamp my foot very loudly and demand that you address Subject B, on which I believe you are quite vulnerable. Oh, so you won't talk about Subject B? Why are you evading the issue? This form of trolling isn't limited to comments sections, of course -- it's the go-to Fox News response whenever there are protests after the police shooting of an unarmed black person (Hey, why aren't you talking about the murder rate in Chicago?).

Furthermore, Brooks's insistence that the anti-Trump movement can't talk about some vital issues because (in his opinion) there are other issues that are even more vital ignores the right's skill at making us change the political conversation to completely irrelevant issues -- birth certificate authenticity during the Obama years, the Massachusetts furlough program during the Dukakis campaign, email record-keeping during the Hillary Clinton campaign (although the right had a huge assist on that one from the mainstream media and the purist left).

Basically, the vital issues are whatever a lot of people say they are. A few dozen wingnut malcontents with semiautomatic weapons can occupy a bird sanctuary and suddenly we're all talking about federal land management. Why aren't a million-plus angry progressives allowed to set the terms of the debate that way?


A Washington Post story about the first few days of the Trump administration really doesn't put the president in a very flattering light -- and it's clear that Trump aides are leaking the unflattering details to the Post's reporters:
As his press secretary, Sean Spicer, was still unpacking boxes in his spacious new West Wing office, Trump grew increasingly and visibly enraged.

Pundits were dissing his turnout. The National Park Service had retweeted a photo unfavorably comparing the size of his inauguration crowd with the one that attended Barack Obama’s swearing-in ceremony in 2009....

Trump’s advisers suggested that he could push back in a simple tweet....

But Trump was adamant, aides said. Over the objections of his aides and advisers -- who urged him to focus on policy and the broader goals of his presidency -- the new president issued a decree: He wanted a fiery public response, and he wanted it to come from his press secretary....

At the center, as always, is Trump himself, whose ascent to the White House seems to have only heightened his acute sensitivity to criticism....

Trump has been resentful, even furious, at what he views as the media’s failure to reflect the magnitude of his achievements, and he feels demoralized that the public’s perception of his presidency so far does not necessarily align with his own sense of accomplishment.
As Josh Marshall writes, citing this story and other recent insider accounts,
... the Trump White House leaks not so much like a sieve as a bucket with no bottom.

The Trump White House not only leaks like crazy. It casually leaks the most intimate and humiliating details about the President -- hurt feelings, ego injury, childlike behavior, self-destructive rages over tweets, media failure to credit his own grandiosity. We have simply never seen this level of leaking, with this little respect for the President's dignity or reputation, this early.
But beyond that, the staffers are stabbing one another in the back. The head of the inaugural committee makes it known to the Post that he recommended only a mild response to the inaugural coverage:
Trump’s advisers suggested that he could push back in a simple tweet. Thomas J. Barrack Jr., a Trump confidant and the chairman of the Presidential Inaugural Committee, offered to deliver a statement addressing the crowd size.
But then Sean Spicer makes it known that blames the inaugural committee for bad data:
By most standards, Spicer’s statement Saturday did not go well.... He publicly gave faulty facts and figures -- which he said were provided to him by the Presidential Inaugural Committee -- that prompted a new round of media scrutiny.
Further intrigues are aired:
Unlike other senior aides -- Chief of Staff Reince Priebus, chief strategist Stephen K. Bannon, counselor Kellyanne Conway and senior adviser Jared Kushner, the president’s son-in-law -- Spicer does not enjoy a close and long-standing personal relationship with Trump.

During the campaign, Trump was suspicious of both Priebus and Spicer, who ran the Republican National Committee and were seen as more loyal to the party than to its nominee. Some privately wonder whether Conway is now trying to undermine Spicer.
And clearly someone who's pro-Spicer is trying to undermine Conway by saying that Conway is trying to undermine Spicer.
As Trump thought about staffing his administration following his surprise victory, he hesitated over selecting Spicer as White House press secretary. He did not see Spicer as particularly telegenic and preferred a woman for the position, asking Conway to do it and also considering conservative commentators Laura Ingraham and Monica Crowley -- who ultimately stepped down from an administration job because of charges of plagiarism -- before settling on Spicer at the urging of Priebus and others.
"Trump never really liked you, Sean." (Although we're told that Trump was pleased with the news conference Spicer conducted yesterday.)

Oh, and here's more backstabbing:
Two people close to the transition also said a number of Trump’s most loyal campaign aides have been alarmed by Kushner’s efforts to elbow aside anyone he perceives as a possible threat to his role as Trump’s chief consigliere. At one point during the transition, Kushner had argued internally against giving Conway a White House role, these two people said.

Because Conway operates outside of the official communications department, some aides grumble that she can go rogue when she pleases, offering her own message and promoting herself as much as the president. One suggested that Conway’s office on the second floor of the West Wing, as opposed to one closer to the Oval Office, was a sign of her diminished standing. Though Conway took over the workspace previously occupied by Valerie Jarrett, who had been Obama’s closest adviser, the confidant dismissively predicted that Trump would rarely climb a flight of stairs.
Trump, we're told, is very pleased with Conway (which we didn't need to be told, given how prominent a role she continues to play is his permanent disinformation campaign). But one or more of her haters just had to get all this in.

This is fine for now, I guess. But do you want this to be the team in the event of another 9/11, another Cuban missile crisis, or even another Katrina? If you're in the military or have kids who are serving, do you want this crew running a war?

Trump, we're told, runs his businesses this way, with competing power centers. But there isn't incessant interest -- daily interest -- in the inner workings of the Trump Organization, even in New York. Unless something really juicy happens, no one wants to read how daily meetings at Trump's offices are going. This is different. It's the White House. Leaks become news on an ongoing basis.

This is going to be an ongoing national and global embarrassment.