Who Is In Charge Around Here?

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In the first 11 days of the Trump administration, the president has signed five executive orders, two presidential proclamations, eight presidential memorandums, and one actual bill. Some of these he did quietly, for others he put on a big show for the cameras. Gone are the days when Fox News complained about presidents leading by “executive fiat.” Also gone are the days when senators called the president “lawless” for exercising executive power.

There has been a lot of speculation that Trump is relying on official White House Nazi Steve Bannon and policy wonk Steve Miller to write many of these executive actions without consulting the relevant federal agencies, members of congress, or anyone really.

It would be scary, except that many of them don’t actually do anything. Let’s take a look at a sample:

Presidential Memorandum No. 1 — This puts on hold all new federal regulations for 60 days while the administration reviews them. That’s pretty standard. The new president wants to head off any regulations (or deregulations) that the previous administration tried to push through at the last minute.

Senate Bill 81 — This is a waiver to allow Gen. James Mattis (ret.) to become Secretary of Defense without having to wait the legally required seven years after leaving active duty. There is a reason why we have the law in place just as there is a reason why we have civilian leadership of our military. But Mattis is the least objectionable cabinet choice Trump has put forth, so what are you gonna do?

Executive Order No. 1 — Ostensibly, this order begins the process of repealing the Affordable Care Act by ordering the relevant federal agencies to “waive, defer, grant exemptions from, or delay” enforcement. But what does it really do? Not much. The provisions of the ACA are written into law. The president can’t change laws with executive orders as the Republicans screamed over and over again during the Obama administration (I’m looking at you Sen. Ted “Obama is lawless” Cruz). So it’s mostly a vaguely worded prop for a photo op.

Presidential Memorandum No. 2 — This one is a killer. Literally. People will die as a result of this executive action. This reinstates the “Mexico City Policy” which provides that non-governmental organizations around the world that receive federal funds, can’t provide any information about abortion to people. It doesn’t prohibit providing abortions (that’s covered by the Hyde Amendment). It prevents organizations from talking about abortion. It’s colloquially known as the “global gag rule” and it started with Reagan. Democratic presidents always rescind it. Republican presidents always enact it. When it is in effect, the number of unsafe abortions (particularly in Sub-Saharan Africa) increase, as does the death rate for women seeking unsafe abortions.

Presidential Memorandum No. 3 — This one hits veterans particularly hard. It instituted a federal hiring freeze. This is the sort of broad pronouncement that feels good on paper but has unforeseen consequences. For example, the federal government has a policy in place to help returning veterans by giving them priority in hiring. This makes that policy useless. The VA, which has been under fire for years now, is in the middle of trying to address its inadequacies by staffing up. “When you have a system that’s not working, and then going out and hiring additional people doesn’t seem to be the most efficient way of solving the problem,” said White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer, ignoring the fact that the problem with the VA is a backlog of cases due to the lack of staff. Again, people will die because of this policy.

Presidential Memorandum No. 4 — This is another prop for a photo opp. It says the United States will pull out of the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP). Whether you’re for it or against it, the US hasn’t ratified the TPP, so this memo accomplishes exactly nothing.

Presidential Memorandum No. 5 — Another photo opp prop. It was sold as a means of increasing manufacturing in the United States. But it doesn’t actually do anything, except tell federal agencies to hustle up and maybe get some public input or something about how to streamline the processes of approvals.

Executive Order No. 2 — Is another vaguely worded order to hustle up. This one aimed at infrastructure projects. Federal infrastructure projects are regulated by laws and executive orders can’t do much to speed up these processes. So, it’s another prop.

Presidential Memoranda Nos. 7 and 8 — These call for the Dakota Access Pipeline project and the Keystone XL pipeline project to continue. There is a conflict of interest here, in that Trump owns stock in the company that owns the pipelines. For Dakota Access, the construction will require bulldozing sacred Native American burial grounds (Do you want poltergeists? Because that’s how we get poltergeists.) and puts the water supply of thousands of people at risk. I have a hard time understanding why conservatives don’t seem to care about bulldozing burial sites when they also want to force women to have funeral services for aborted embryos. For Keystone XL, the company building it is unlikely to start the project again because they’re in the middle of a lawsuit against the US government for stopping it. Or they were anyway.

Executive Order No. 3 — This one is nefarious in that it calls for cutting off federal funds to so-called “sanctuary cities.” The head of DHS gets to decide what constitutes a “sanctuary city” and federal agencies are ordered to look for ways to cut off funds in order to force local law enforcement agencies to become immigration enforcement agencies. This has a number of problems, not the least of which being police forces across the country trying to build trust with the communities they serve. Then there are states like California (which pays more in federal taxes than it receives in federal benefits), who are looking at ways to cut off payments to the federal government in response to this action.

Executive Order No. 4 — “What are we going to do?” “BUILD THE WALL!” “And who’s going to pay for it?” “Well, I guess we are? I mean, Mexico says they’re not, so who’s left?”

Proclamation No. 2 — Trump declares “National School Choice Week.” This is nothing. It accomplishes nothing. It means nothing. It does nothing.

Executive Order No. 5 — This one should be called “It’s so bad thousands of people voluntarily went to the airport.” This was poorly worded, poorly vetted, and made no sense. It barred entry to the US for people coming from nine majority Muslim countries. And while Trump supporters say it isn’t a “Muslim ban” Trump himself said Christians will be given priority. Rudy Guiliani said the president asked him to figure out how to legally implement a Muslim ban. The best defense Trump supporters can make is “Well, at least he’s trying something.” By all accounts, Bannon and Miller scribbled this together without consulting the agencies charged with enforcing it. They also didn’t consult congressional leaders, but did consult congressional staff? The result has been a fiasco including whole families with children handcuffed and detained. A federal judge issued a stay the night the ban went into effect to prevent the deportation of those being detained. The Acting Attorney General Sally Yates declared the DoJ wouldn’t defend the ban because she wasn’t sure it was legal, so Trump fired her.  Customs and Border Protection agents defied the court order. Now Trump is losing support among Republicans.

Presidential Memorandum No. 9Trump wants Soviet and Chinese-style military parades through the streets of Washington, D.C. During the campaign, he called the military a “disaster” and complained at how they have been degraded and aren’t as big as they used to be. This memo does nothing to fix that (and one could argue that it doesn’t need fixing). It’s a prop for a photo opp. The president can’t spend money that congress hasn’t appropriated and this memo doesn’t change that. Also, Trump’s stated goal is to cut federal spending by $10.5 TRILLION over ten years. That’s inconsistent with a military build up.

All these executive actions amount to either nothing or a Constitutional crisis. In any case, the administration seems to be lumbering around crashing into reality, causing the president to reach majority disapproval status in record time, dozens of rogue federal agency twitter accounts to spring up, and a West Wing that leaks more than any in recent memory.

 

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Our President is Unbelievable

lovitz-flanaganDavid Muir conducted the first sit-down interview with President Trump since he moved into the Oval Office. It was unbelievable. That’s not hyperbole. It was literally unbelievable that a sitting president would be so obsessed with his own popularity.

Trump interview with ABC News

Trump hasn’t had a great first week in office. His administration has been leaking like a sieve, with the New York Times and the Washington Post both posting anonymous insider-sourced stories about the goings on in the West Wing. These accounts talk of a man who obsesses over poll numbers, TV ratings, and benchmarks. Someone who was unhappy with the media and surprised they didn’t treat him nicer since he was sworn in. And while most presidents do enjoy a honeymoon once in office, Trump almost assuredly squandered his over fights with the press corps about insignificant things like the size of the crowd at his inauguration.

All In All We’re Just Another Brick in the Wall.

Muir did his best to keep the president on topic and focused, which wasn’t easy because Trump tends to take off on flights of fancy. Trump signed an executive order calling for the construction of a southern border wall for the United States. Now, you may recall that during the campaign one of Trump’s favorite call-and-response bits was to get the crowd yelling about the wall. “Who’s going to pay for it?” “MEXICO!!!!” But the EO has asked Congress to appropriate $14 billion to begin planning and construction.

Trump assured Muir not only that Mexico would reimburse us for the wall, but that he never said Mexico would pay for it up front:

DAVID MUIR: What are you gonna say to some of your supporters who might say, “Wait a minute, I thought Mexico was going to pay for this right at the start.”

PRESIDENT TRUMP: Well, I’d say very simply that they are going to pay for it. I never said they’re gonna pay from the start. I said Mexico will pay for the wall. 

Trump seems to think it’s *our* fault if we didn’t interpret “Mexico is going to pay for the wall” as “Mexico is going to reimburse us for the wall through a complex payment structure that we will decide on later.” Admittedly, it isn’t easy to get a crowd to chant that.

But there are a couple of things to unpack there. The EO Trump signed comes at an unfortunate time — the first day of talks between top officials in Mexico and the US ahead of a planned visit from President Enrique Peña Nieto to the White House.  Peña Nieto responded with a video message denying that Mexico will pay for the wall. “It is evident that we have differences with the new United States government on some issues, such as a wall that Mexico absolutely will not pay for,” Peña Nieto said. “At no time will we accept anything that goes against our dignity as a country and our dignity as Mexicans.”

Trump’s response was, “He has to say that” but they’re gonna pay for it. They just don’t know it, yet, saying the reimbursement will be part of a complicated “transaction” with Mexico, that will result in them paying “100 percent” for the wall and it will cost us “nothing.” Additionally, though the Mexican president claims the wall would be an affront to their dignity, Trump says it will be “good for Mexico.” Peña Nieto said he is considering canceling his US trip. To which Trump replied through a tweet that if Mexico didn’t want to pay for the wall he *should* cancel the trip.

Speaker of the House Paul Ryan confirmed that Congress is willing to put up $14 billion for this project, saying, “We’re going to pay for the wall and front the money.” This is troubling since that’s nearly twice as much money as President Obama requested for the EPA in his last budget and was told by congress it was unaffordable. We can’t spend $8 billion to protect our environment, but we can front $14 billion on what is essentially a boondoggle? Unbelievable.

It’s a Major Award!

Muir brought up another executive order President Trump signed calling for a “major investigation” into voter fraud. Let me just say as an aside that normally presidents and government officials don’t use words like “major investigation.” These are left to pundits and media hacks. When the president says “major investigation” I’m left with questions such as what constitutes “major?” Is there a threshold in terms of manpower? Agencies involved? Scope? Or is this just our superlative and hyperbolic president trying to reassure us of his seriousness?

There are no details about this investigation because an EO doesn’t cover things like the budget or a timeline. But with a $14 billion wall to pay for, one wonders if we can afford vanity projects like this. And make no mistake, this is all in service of Trump’s ego. He will not move on from the fact that he won the election, but lost the vote by nearly 3 million.

Trump held a meeting with congressional leaders in which he told them he would have won the popular vote but for three to five million illegal votes cast. The press corp asked Sean Spicer if the president really believes that, then why aren’t we investigating it.

Boom. “Major investigation.” Muir asked him about the meeting and Trump spun off into how he won the election, how he could have won the popular vote easily if that was his goal, but it wasn’t. He talked about how many states he went to. How he didn’t campaign in New York or California and how voter fraud in this country is rampant and pervasive. Muir pressed him for evidence of his claims and we got one of the more interesting exchanges:

DAVID MUIR: What you have presented so far has been debunked. It’s been called false.

PRESIDENT TRUMP: No, it hasn’t. Take a look at the Pew reports.

DAVID MUIR: I called the author of the Pew report last night. And he told me that they found no evidence of voter fraud.

PRESIDENT TRUMP: Really? Then why did he write the report?

DAVID MUIR: He said no evidence of voter fraud.

PRESIDENT TRUMP: Excuse me, then why did he write the report? According to Pew report, then he’s — then he’s groveling again. You know, I always talk about the reporters that grovel when they wanna write something that you wanna hear but not necessarily millions of people wanna hear or have to hear.

The Pew Report on the States, published in 2012, was headed up by David Becker. Becker (who is not a reporter, by the way) has repeatedly said the conclusions of the report were misconstrued and that they found no evidence of voter fraud. He has consistently said this. The problem is that Trump hasn’t read the report. He’s been told about it, most likely by Kris Kobach, secretary of state for Kansas who has a real hard-on for making it harder to vote. Kobach likes to wave that report around and say it says what it doesn’t say (generally by citing the anomalies in the data and extrapolating from them. Becker said they rechecked the anomalies and can account for most of them).

But if we look at what Trump believes is happening, he’s describing problems with voter registration and voter rolls, not actual voter fraud.

PRESIDENT TRUMP: In fact, I heard one of the other side, they were saying it’s not 3 to 5. It’s not 3 to 5. I said, “Well, Mr. Trump is talking about registration, tell–” He said, “You know we don’t wanna talk about registration.” They don’t wanna talk about registration.

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 New Jersey. They vote twice. There are millions of votes, in my opinion.

The reason “they don’t want to talk about registration” is because registration isn’t voter fraud. It isn’t unusual for people to be registered in two states because when you move from one state to another, you don’t unregister from your old state. You just register with your new one. So your name may remain on the voter rolls in your old home for years before they get around to removing it. That’s not nefarious. The problem is that Trump has convinced himself that people regularly cross state lines to vote twice.

Interestingly enough, Trump’s daughter Tiffany, White House advisor and Nazi sympathizer Steve Bannon, and Treasury Secretary-Designate Steve Mnuchin are all registered to vote in two different states. Bannon, by the way, registered to vote at a Florida address belonging to someone else (Bannon never lived there).

But to Trump, the accuracy of his claims takes a back seat to the popularity of his claims as evidenced by this exchange:

DAVID MUIR: House Speaker Paul Ryan has said, “I have seen no evidence. I have made this very, very clear.” Senator Lindsey Graham saying, “It’s the most inappropriate thing for a president to say without proof. He seems obsessed with the idea that he could not have possibly lost the popular vote without cheating and fraud.” I wanna ask you about something bigger here. Does it matter more now …

PRESIDENT TRUMP: There’s nothing bigger. There’s nothing bigger.

DAVID MUIR: But it is important because …

PRESIDENT TRUMP: Let me just tell you, you know what’s important, millions of people agree with me when I say that if you would’ve looked on one of the other networks and all of the people that were calling in they’re saying, “We agree with Mr. Trump. We agree.” They’re very smart people.

No, Mr. President, that’s not important. Being popular on FOX doesn’t make you right. Not that “millions of people” called into FOX to say they agreed with you. This is a running theme with Trump. He puts more stock in anecdotal evidence than he does in hard data. If someone tells him a story that he likes (especially if a celebrity does it) then it is as good as gold. For example, at the meeting with the congressional leaders, Trump related a story told to him by his “friend” professional golfer Bernhard Langer.

According to the people there, Trump said Langer tried to vote in Florida and was told he wouldn’t be allowed to. He said that there were people in line in front and behind him “that looked like they shouldn’t be allowed to vote” but they were given ballots. They said Trump threw out the names of some South American countries where he speculated these people came from.

Now think about that for a second. That’s a racist story. In Trump’s mind, it was an outrage that brown people were allowed to vote and a white man wasn’t. But this is Florida, which has a large Hispanic citizenry. And Langer isn’t a citizen! He’s from Germany. And the story didn’t happen to him, but to a friend of his.

A senior White House staff member, who was not at the Monday reception but has heard Mr. Trump tell the story, said Mr. Langer saw Mr. Trump in Florida during the Thanksgiving break and told him the story of a friend of Mr. Langer’s who had been blocked from voting. …

The story, the aide added, had made a big impression on Mr. Trump.

So Trump bases his convictions on a second-hand account that he misunderstood and cites as evidence a second-hand account of a report he hasn’t read that doesn’t say what he thinks. But that doesn’t matter as much as his impression that “millions” of people agree with him. That’s nuts. Our president is nuts.

Edit: It turns out that even that story was wrong.

To sum up: The author of the Pew Report says there was no evidence of voter fraud. The Speaker of the House said there was no evidence of voter fraud. Trump’s own attorneys who were fighting the Jill Stein-led recount said “all available evidence suggests that the 2016 general election was not tainted by fraud.”

But if you want to ignore all that, before you go spending money on a “major investigation,” shouldn’t you look at the results of the previous investigation of voter fraud? The Bush Administration did a five-year study and found “virtually no evidence” of voter fraud. Justin Levitt of Loyola Law School conducted one of the most comprehensive multi-year studies of voter fraud and found 31 instances of voter impersonation out of a billion ballots cast. That’s 1 in 32 million votes.

Iowa did their own two-year study in 2012 and found no evidence of significant voter fraud (27 instances, mostly related to misunderstandings about voting regulations). The Washington Post did a review of cases in the 2016 elections and found four out of 136 million (two of those were Trump voters trying to vote twice, even though Trump said in his interview that “none of ’em come to me. None of ’em come to me. They would all be for the other side. None of ’em come to me.”)

Dartmouth did a study of voting patterns in the 2016 elections looking for the fraud Trump says happened. “Our research focuses on non-citizen populations, deceased individuals, the timing of results, and voting technology, and we do not uncover any evidence consistent with Trump’s assertions about widespread voter fraud.

The National Association of Secretaries of State released a statement saying they were unaware of any evidence supporting Trump’s claims. Kris Kobach of Kansas did his own review of 84 million votes cast in 22 states looking for duplicate registrations. He found 14. Wisconsin prosecuted 20 felons who voted illegally in 2008.

What no one asks Trump and what would be harder to explain away is that why would Democrats organize five million illegal votes and not put them in states where Clinton needed to win the electoral college? And why didn’t they also vote for down-ballot Democrats to help take back the Senate or the House?

It doesn’t make sense. But for Trump, it doesn’t have to make sense. A professional golfer told him a story and “millions” of people agree with him. So let’s have a “major investigation.” Sean Spicer said the investigation will concentrate on “bigger states” and “Urban areas.” Trump wants to look for fraud in places where he lost. That’s not an ethical use of the president’s power.

The Standing O

From a personal standpoint, one of the most telling sections of the ABC interview was when Trump spoke about his speech at the CIA. Nothing illustrates the delusion behind his tired, old eyes quite like his insistence that he was not only warmly welcomed, but that he was given a huge standing ovation.

 

PRESIDENT TRUMP: That speech was a home run. That speech, if you look at Fox, OK, I’ll mention you — we see what Fox said. They said it was one of the great speeches. They showed the people applauding and screaming and — and they were all CIA. There was — somebody was asking Sean — “Well, were they Trump people that were put–” we don’t have Trump people. They were CIA people.

Not according to news reports. CBS said Trump and Pence brought 40 people with them to the meeting which took up the front two rows. But beyond that, “screaming?” Why does Trump say these CIA officers were “screaming” for him? He’s truly the hyperbolic president.

PRESIDENT TRUMP: I got a standing ovation. In fact, they said it was the biggest standing ovation since Peyton Manning had won the Super Bowl and they said it was equal. I got a standing ovation. It lasted for a long period of time. What you do is take — take out your tape — you probably ran it live. I know when I do good speeches. I know when I do bad speeches. That speech was a total home run. They loved it. People loved it. They loved it. They gave me a standing ovation for a long period of time. They never even sat down, most of them, during the speech. There was love in the room. You and other networks covered it very inaccurately. I hate to say this to you and you probably won’t put it on but turn on Fox and see how it was covered. And see how people respond to that speech.

Okay, couple of things.

1) What the hell are you talking about with the Peyton Manning SuperBowl ovation? How could a room with fewer than 400 people in it, give “the biggest standing ovation since Peyton Manning had won the Super Bowl and they said it was equal.” What? What does that even mean? Who said that?

2) If they never sat down during the speech, then they didn’t give you a standing ovation at the end.

3) Why does this matter so much to you? Why do you insist on repeating this obvious lie over and over? Is your ego so fragile that you have to waste your time and energy dying on *this* hill?

Our president is unbelievable and I mean that in the most literal sense of the word. It is impossible to believe him because he talks in hyperbole. He lies for no reason. He lies like breathing. He’s unbelievable.

 

 

 

President Trump Should Nominate Merrick Garland for the US Supreme Court

Mr. President:

ap_501931260981In your inaugural address, which by some estimates was seen by more people than any other inaugural event in our nation’s history, you said, “A new national pride will stir ourselves, lift our sights and heal our divisions.” Those are worthy goals for a new president. I believe you mean them.

One way you could begin the process of healing our divisions is to correct an injustice visited upon your predecessor and in the process ensure it doesn’t happen to yourself should the situation arise.

President Obama nominated Merrick Garland, chief judge for the US Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit, to the US Supreme Court on March 16, 2016. Republicans in the senate declared even before Garland’s nomination that they wouldn’t consider anyone. Your predecessor had 311 days left in his second term and the senate decided he didn’t deserve to have a nominee.

Mr. President, we’ve heard you speak of fairness, of niceness, and for the respect the office of the president deserves. Would you not agree that the president should expect his nominee to get a fair hearing and a vote? Do you believe the senate has the power to dictate terms to the president over his Constitutional duties?

Sir, I was not a supporter before the election. I haven’t been a supporter up to now. But I am a part of the divisions you want to heal. I believe you are serious when you tell us you want to bring us all together. This would be a tremendous first step — a hand across the divide.

If you will permit me a conceit, let me appeal to your love of the deal.

Garland is imminently qualified. The American Bar Association said “unanimously well-qualified” which is their highest rating. When he was appointed to the federal bench, a Republican-controlled Senate voted 76-23 to approve the nomination. The 23 votes were all Republicans who weren’t sure if they wanted to fill the seat at all. No one said he wasn’t qualified.

Garland’s reputation on the court is one of a congenial moderate with a brilliant legal mind.

In regulatory cases, he tends to favor the government. And while he seems to like whistleblowers and broad interpretation of the first amendment, in his time on the DC Circuit he’s ruled on 14 cases that weren’t unanimous. In ten of those cases, he sided with the prosecution.

As part of the DC Circuit, he’s heard national security cases, including every court case out of Guantanamo Bay. You might not agree with some of his decisions, Mr. President, but you know you have an honest, above-board, experienced justice in Merrick Garland.

In fact, Senator Orin Hatch called on President Obama to nominate Garland from the senate floor, describing him as “a fine man.”

Mr. President, I want you to imagine something. You are nearing the end of your second term. It has been a long haul and though you’ve faced unprecedented challenges, you’ve kept this country together and strong. You’ve made America great again. A vacancy opens on the Supreme Court and you have a chance to extend your legacy in government beyond your term. You announce your nominee — a highly regarded jurist who you feel will be an asset to the highest court in the land.

Would you be okay with the leader of the senate telling the press, “no hearings, no votes, no action whatsoever” on your nominee? Is that something the senate should be able to tell a president?

I believe one of the most magnanimous moves you could make right now is to nominate Merrick Garland. Tell the senate that they were wrong to shirk their duty. Put them on notice that President Trump will not stand for an intrusion into executive power and privilege.

Sir, there will be other Supreme Court nominees. Correct this injustice. Give Merrick Garland his vote and President Obama his nominee. You’ll be getting an excellent justice, sending a message to the Senate, and showing your critics that you can be a reasonable and fair man.

I feel very strongly that you understand this is the right thing to do. After all, you are literally the only person on the planet that this could happen to a few years down the road. Do it for the presidents who will come after you. Begin your legacy now with this important gesture. People will see President Trump in a new light.

I know I will.

 

We Have Always Been At War With Oceana

img_6821During the first two days of the Age of Orange, women around the world gathered in a show of solidarity, putting the new administration on notice that they will fight to keep all the progress made up to now. It was big. By some estimates, the biggest inaugural protest in history. My wife, daughter, and mother-in-law went to Asheville, NC to join in. I’m proud of them.
President Trump took the opportunity to tweet about it. Then he tweeted about how great his ratings were. One gets the impression that he turned on the cable news the day after his inauguration to see all the stories about him and saw he had to share the news cycle with millions of people protesting him.

This led to a double whammy: Trump goes to Langley to complain to the CIA about the media, and White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer calls an unscheduled press briefing to complain about the media.


Trump’s speech

But Enough About Me

Trump and Vice President Pence showed up with some extra donald-trump-cia-1staff and while it’s normal for POTUS to have an entourage, it isn’t normal to have them stand and clap for you. Well, wasn’t normal. Three times is a pattern, right?

Pence’s speech was boilerplate. He was respectful, humble, and supportive of the intelligence community. Trump’s speech, which was in front of the CIA’s memorial wall where stars representing the 117 agents killed in action provided his backdrop, was about . . . a lot of things, but Trump mostly.

He started by saying this was his first stop as president if you don’t count the inaugural balls or the other speeches he gave. Then he complained that the media doesn’t treat him fairly. Next, he said there was “nobody that feels stronger about the intelligence community and the CIA than Donald Trump. There’s nobody.” He talked about how many votes he got from the military and law enforcement. He mentioned ISIS and how we were “going to end it.”

He spoke about how hard it is to pick people to be “Secretary of this or secretary of that.” And you have to talk to a bunch of people and a bunch of staff have to weigh in. But he didn’t do that with Mike Pompeo. Mike Pompeo is a smart guy. He was first in his class at West Point, which gave Trump an opening to talk about how smart he is and how young he feels.

He described the CIA by saying, “if I had to name the most important, this would certainly be perhaps — you know, in certain ways, you could say my most important.” He called the generals and the fighting “wonderful” and spoke about how many people came to his rallies and how many speeches he gave and all that self-congratulatory stuff presidents usually leave behind them after they get elected.

Then came a scary part. He spoke about how when he was young America was winning, but we don’t win anymore.

The old expression, “to the victor belong the spoils” — you remember. I always used to say, keep the oil. I wasn’t a fan of Iraq. I didn’t want to go into Iraq. But I will tell you, when we were in, we got out wrong. And I always said, in addition to that, keep the oil. Now, I said it for economic reasons. But if you think about it, Mike, if we kept the oil you probably wouldn’t have ISIS because that’s where they made their money in the first place. So we should have kept the oil. But okay. (Laughter.) Maybe you’ll have another chance. But the fact is, should have kept the oil.

That was an off-the-cuff remark. But the president of the United States made it and now it carries weight. So while it didn’t even make a ripple in this country. It will make headlines in the Middle East.ISIS will make sure every Muslim in the region hears those words.

Trump explained that he’s feuding with the press and it was their fault people had the impression he had beef with the intelligence community. Now recall that, ten days earlier, Trump tweeted that intelligence agencies were leaking information about him like in Nazi Germany, but if you think he’s not a fan, then that’s the fault of the dishonest media.

That’s when he moved on to “explaining the numbers.” Trump spun a yarn that was interesting for its creativity and foreshadowing, if not accuracy. He talked of God holding back the rain so what looked to Trump like “a million, million and a half people” could hear the speech for which he has gotten “good reviews.”

He complained that the initial media reports from inside the Oval Office said he’d removed the bust of MLK (the pool reporter corrected the error and apologized within an hour of the initial report). His name is Zeke Miller and he’s with TIME. This gave Trump an opening to say he’d been on the cover more than two dozen times this year and “I don’t think that’s a record, Mike, that can ever be broken. Do you agree with that? What do you think?”

He wrapped up the speech by criticizing the architecture of the building and telling them he was going to put them on the front lines in the fight against ISIS.

Who Are You Going To Believe? Me or Your Lying Eyes?

size-matters-to-white-house-press-secretary-sean-spicer-2017-imagesSean Spicer’s Statement

At the White House, newly minted press secretary Sean Spicer called an unscheduled press briefing. Before it began, CNN’s Jim Acosta (you remember him, right?) tweeted that they were displaying crowd-size photos in the briefing room. These were taken down and then put back up before Spicer came in. Unlike the president, Spicer was direct and to-the-point: “some members of the media were engaged in deliberately false reporting.”

He called out the MLK bust report (“irresponsible and reckless”) and then started doing what Trump called “explaining the numbers.” Spicer said unnamed members of the media posted photos of the crowd that were deliberately framed in such a way as to “minimize the enormous support that had gathered on the National Mall.” He then gave a list of excuses as to why the crowds didn’t look as big as they were:

Ground Cover:
“This was the first time in our nation’s history that floor coverings have been used to protect the grass on the Mall. That had the effect of highlighting any areas where people were not standing, while in years past the grass eliminated this visual.”
Jim Acosta debunked that one

Fencing and Magnetometers:
“This was also the first time that fencing and magnetometers went as far back on the Mall, preventing hundreds of thousands of people from being able to access the Mall as quickly as they had in inaugurations past.”
Jim Acosta debunked that one, too.

No one had accurate numbers:
“Inaccurate numbers involving crowd size were also tweeted. No one had numbers, because the National Park Service, which controls the National Mall, does not put any out. By the way, this applies to any attempts to try to count the number of protestors today in the same fashion.” (Let’s not forget a dig at the Women’s March).

Wait, we have accurate numbers:
“We know that from the platform where the President was sworn in, to 4th Street, it holds about 250,000 people. From 4th Street to the media tent is about another 220,000. And from the media tent to the Washington Monument, another 250,000 people. All of this space was full when the President took the Oath of Office. We know that 420,000 people used the D.C. Metro public transit yesterday, which actually compares to 317,000 that used it for President Obama’s last inaugural.”
Yeah, no. Jim Acosta again.

In short, Spicer said, “This was the largest audience to ever witness an inauguration — period — both in person and around the globe.” He accused the media of trying to “lessen the enthusiasm of the inauguration.” This is an objectively and demonstrably false statement. The man is complaining that the media isn’t reporting his objectively and demonstrably false statement.

Next, he described the president’s visit to the CIA using a lot of enthusiasm, but very little by way of accuracy, claiming the crowd “gave him a five-minute standing ovation at the end in a display of their patriotism and their enthusiasm for his presidency.” That just didn’t happen. For one thing, claiming an event where no one was sitting ended in a “standing ovation” is dumb. For another, it didn’t happen.

He explained that Trump wants to unify the country and “this kind of dishonesty in the media, the challenging — that bringing about our nation together is making it more difficult.” Challenging the president makes the job harder. Remember, earlier that day Trump told the CIA he was “at war” with the media. Now Spicer is calling for everyone to join hands and sing “Kumbaya” in order to unify the country, not that Trump needs any of you because he can “take his message directly to the American people where his focus will always be.”

He gave some updates on the president’s schedule and then left without taking questions. This was roundly viewed as nutzo. Speculation flew about Trump’s battered ego, how the press would deal with this new power dynamic, and why would the White House burn so much credibility over something as minor as the size of the crowd? Let’s bring out Kelly Ann Conway to straighten us all out.

There Are Four Lights

Kelly Ann Conway, “Meet The Press” interview

59289965Today, Kelly Ann Conway introduced a new phrase into our lexicon during “Meet the Press.” Chuck Todd asked her about Spicer’s “falsehoods” pointing out that the statements he made were objectively and demonstrably false. So Conway threatened to cut off access.

“Chuck, I mean, if we’re going to keep referring to our press secretary in those types of terms I think that we’re going to have to rethink our relationship here. I want to have a great open relationship with our press. But look what happened the day before talking about falsehoods.”

She brought up the MLK bust and they argued back and forth about the significance of that mistake and the immediacy of the correction, but Todd finally got her to refocus on the question he asked. Why make Spicer come out and lie? That’s when Conway went full George Orwell.

“Don’t be so overly dramatic about it, Chuck. What– You’re saying it’s a falsehood. And they’re giving Sean Spicer, our press secretary, gave alternative facts to that.

Alternative facts. That’s where we are at this point. Trump is mad about press coverage, so his whole team is focused on pushing back against the press and the best they can say about the objectively and demonstrably false statements made by the White House press secretary during his first briefing was that he was offering “alternative facts” to what everyone else could see with their own eyes.

“The Party told you to reject all evidence of your eyes and ears. It was their final, most essential command.” ~ George Orwell, 1984

The Age of Orange is Upon Us

trump-sketchPresident Trump has inspired me to relaunch my political blog. It is going to be a bumpy four years. But like all things, we must start at the beginning. So here is President Trump’s Inaugural Address to which I have added some annotations:

Chief Justice Roberts, President Carter, President Clinton, President Bush, President Obama, fellow Americans, and people of the world, thank you. We the citizens of America are now joined in a great national effort to rebuild our country and restore its promise for all of our people [Unless you are gay, female, Mexican, Muslim, or a member of any number of groups I’ve labeled “loser”]. Together we will determine the course of America, and the world, for many, many years to come. We will face challenges. We will confront hardships, but we will get the job done.

Every four years, we gather on these steps to carry out the orderly and peaceful transfer of power, and we are grateful to President Obama and First Lady Michelle Obama for their gracious aid throughout this transition. They have been magnificent. Thank you.

Today’s ceremony, however, has very special meaning, because today we are not merely transferring power from one administration to another, or from one party to another, but we are transferring power from Washington, D.C., and giving it back to you, the people. [This is the same promise Bane made to the frightened citizens of Gotham City.]

For too long, a small group in our nation’s capital has reaped the rewards of government, while the people have borne the cost [Those people are still in power in the House of Representatives and the Senate]. Washington flourished, but the people did not share in its wealth. Politicians prospered, but the jobs left and the factories closed. The establishment protected itself, but not the citizens of our country. Their victories have not been your victories. Their triumphs have not been your triumphs, and while they celebrated in our nation’s capital, there was little to celebrate for struggling families all across our land. That all changes, starting right here and right now, because this moment is your moment — it belongs to you. It belongs to everyone gathered here today, and everyone watching, all across America. This is your day. This is your celebration, and this, the United States of America, is your country.

What truly matters is not which party controls our government, but whether our government is controlled by the people [This is probably the best line of the speech]. January 20th, 2017 will be remembered as the day the people became the rulers of this nation again [The same people are still in power in the House and Senate. Their agenga hasn’t changed. Trump keeps claiming to be one of the people, but he lives in a golden tower on 5th Avenue]. The forgotten men and women of our country will be forgotten no longer [Unless you are gay, female, Mexican, Muslim, or a member of any number of groups I’ve labeled “loser”]. Everyone is listening to you now. You came by the tens of millions to become part of a historic movement, the likes of which the world has never seen before [We’ve seen demagogues before. We’ve even elected a few]. At the center of this movement is a crucial conviction, that a nation exists to serve its citizens. Americans want great schools for their children, safe neighborhoods for their families, and good jobs for themselves. These are just and reasonable demands of righteous people and a righteous public, but for too many of our citizens, a different reality exists. Mothers and children trapped in poverty in our inner cities [Trump’s only proposal during the campaign to help them was a maternity leave policy that excluded single mothers.] rusted out factories [Trump manufactures the majority of his products in other countries], scattered like tombstones across the across the landscape of our nation, an education system flush with cash [What? Says who?], but which leaves our young and beautiful students deprived of all knowledge [This is typical Trump hyperbole. “Deprived of all knowledge?” Really?], and the crime, and the gangs, and the drugs that have stolen too many lives and robbed our country of so much unrealized potential. This American carnage stops right here and stops right now [Bold claim for someone about to take the next two days off].

We are one nation and their pain is our pain. Their dreams are our dreams and their success will be our success. We share one heart, one home, and one glorious destiny. The oath of office, I take today, is an oath of allegiance to all Americans [Unless you are gay, female, Mexican, Muslim, or a member of any number of groups I’ve labeled “loser”.] For many decades, we’ve enriched foreign industry at the expense of American industry [Trump has done this personally], subsidized the armies of other countries, while allowing for the very sad depletion of our military [This will come as a surprise to the military, our veterans, and the Defense Department]. We’ve defended other nation’s borders while refusing to defend our own [The military is not in charge of defending our borders. Net immigration from Mexico to the US is zero (or maybe less)]. And spent trillions and trillions of dollars overseas, while America’s infrastructure has fallen into disrepair and decay [It’s only trillions if you count the unnecessary wars we’ve been dragged into by Republicans — the same party that blocked bills designed to help rebuild infrastructure]. We’ve made other countries rich while the wealth, strength, and confidence of our country has dissipated over the horizon. One by one, the factories shuddered and left our shores, with not even a thought about the millions and millions of American workers that were left behind [Again, Trump manufactures his products in 12 different countries]. The wealth of our middle class has been ripped from their homes and then redistributed all across the world [The wealth of the middle class has been redistributed to the one-percent].

But that is the past, and now we are looking only to the future. We assembled here today are issuing a new decree to be heard in every city, in every foreign capital, and in every hall of power, from this day forward [Well, starting Monday, anyway]: a new vision will govern our land, from this day forward, it’s going to be only America first. America first [“Germany first” was Adolf Hitler’s campaign slogan along with “Make Germany great again”].

Every decision on trade, on taxes, on immigration, on foreign affairs will be made to benefit American workers and American families [Trump used Chinese steel to build his buildings and his son has applied for waivers from the Department of Labor to bring in foreign workers for his vineyard]. We must protect our borders from the ravages of other countries making our products, stealing our companies and destroying our jobs [Such as The Donald J. Trump Collection (made in China, Bangladesh, Honduras, Mexico, Vietnam, and India.] Protection will lead to great prosperity and strength [Protectionism is completely at odds with Republican orthodoxy, which favors free trade.] I will fight for you with every breath in my body, and I will never, ever let you down [So when will you announce that you’re moving all your manufacturing to the US?]. America will start winning again, winning like never before [Which is it? Will we win again or win like never before?]. We will bring back our jobs [You mean the ones you sent overseas to make your cheap suits, ties, home furnishings, eyeglasses etc…?]. We will bring back our borders [The borders haven’t gone anywhere]. We will bring back our wealth, and we will bring back our dreams. We will build new roads and highways and bridges and airports and tunnels, and railways, all across our wonderful nation [Trump’s infrastructure plan is to privatize our highway system, letting private companies take tax dollars to fix roads and then charge tolls which the corporations keep]. We will get our people off of welfare and back to work, rebuilding our country with American hands and American labor [Except in Trump’s hotels, golf courses, and the vinyard].

We will follow two simple rules: buy American [So no Trump products, except maybe those dumb red hats], and hire American [But not at Trump hotels, golf courses, or vineyard]. We will seek friendship and goodwill with the nations of the world [I’m looking at you, Vladimir], but we do so with the understanding that it is the right of all nations to put their own interests first. We do not seek to impose our way of life on anyone, but rather to let it shine as an example. We will shine for everyone to follow. We will reinforce old alliances [Except NATO] and form new ones [Vladimir again], and you unite the civilized world against radical Islamic terrorism [He said the magic words, so I guess ISIS is over now? Or did they just get a soundbite for their new recruitment video?], which we will eradicate completely from the face of the Earth.

At the bedrock of our politics will be a total allegiance to the United States of America [Except for those members of my staff who are in Putin’s pocket], and through our loyalty to our country [*cough*], we will rediscover our loyalty to each other. When you open your heart to patriotism, there is no room for prejudice [Tell that to the “patriots” who were harassing gays and Hispanics before the inauguration]. The Bible tells us, how good and pleasant it is when God’s people live together in unity [Unless you are gay, female, Mexican, Muslim, or a member of any number of groups I’ve labeled “loser”]. We must speak our minds openly, debate our disagreements, but always pursue solidarity [Says the man who condemned CNN as “fake news” and then took a question from Brietbart about what sort of “media reforms” Trump would like to impose]. When America is united, America is totally unstoppable. There should be no fear. We are protected, and we will always be protected. We will be protected by the great men and women of our military [The same military that has been so “sadly depleted?”] and law enforcement. And most importantly, we will be protected by God [Tell it to members of your spiritual advisory council who threatened everyone with God’s wrath if we didn’t vote for you].

Finally, we must think big and dream even bigger. In America, we understand that a nation is only living as long as it is striving. We will no longer accept politicians who are all talk and no action [If that’s another shot at John Lewis, I swear . . . If it isn’t, then is it a shot at the radical obstructionist Republicans in Congress who accomplished so little in eight years?], constantly complaining but never doing anything about it. The time for empty talk is over. Now arrives the hour of action [Well, Monday, anyway]. Do not allow anyone to tell you that it cannot be done. No challenge can match the heart and fight and spirit of America. We will not fail. Our country will thrive and prosper again [Some economists would suggest that we are thriving and prospering right now].

We stand at the birth of a new millennium [That was 17 years ago, children born at the birth of the new millennium will be graduating high school this year], ready to unlock the mysteries of space [Provided Congress doesn’t cut NASA’s budget again], to free the Earth from the miseries of disease [Trump believes there is a link between vaccinations and autism] and to harness the industries and technologies of tomorrow [Trump wants to double down on fossil fuels and the “clean coal” fairytale. He also believes climate change is a hoax.]. A new national pride will stir our souls, lift our sights and heal our divisions[Unless you are gay, female, Mexican, Muslim, or a member of any number of groups I’ve labeled “loser”]. It’s time to remember that old wisdom our soldiers will never forget, that whether we are black, or brown, or white, we all bleed the same red blood of patriots [He keeps wanting to appeal to our patriotism as a means to get to unity rather than understanding]. We all enjoy the same glorious freedoms [Unless you are gay, female, Mexican, Muslim, or a member of any number of groups I’ve labeled “loser”], and we all salute the same, great American flag. And whether a child is born in the urban sprawl of Detroit or the windswept plains of Nebraska, they look up at the at the same night sky, they fill their heart with the same dreams and they are infused with the breath of life by the same almighty creator.

So to all Americans, in every city near and far, small and large, from mountain to mountain, from ocean to ocean, hear these words. You will never be ignored again [One of his first acts as president was to suspend an FHA program to help low-income people afford houses]. Your voice, your hopes, and your dreams will define our American destiny. And your courage and goodness and love, will forever guide us along the way. Together, we will make America strong again. We will make America wealthy again. We will make America proud again We will make America safe again, And yes, together, we will make we will make America great again. Thank you. God bless you. And god bless America. Thank you. God bless America.