Trump’s Speech: A Noun, A Verb, and A Lie.

 

1448345588275-cachedI’m that annoying friend on Facebook who posts a lot of political content. Everyone has one. Most of them get blocked or hidden and that’s fine. I also jump on political threads that my friends post, ready to argue the nuances of the political discussion of the day. I don’t post photos of my dinner. Rarely post about my cats. The only sports team I follow has a two-month season in early Summer. No prayer requests. No vaguebooking about issues at work. No complaining about my family or friends. If that’s your bag, then more power to you. I’m a different breed of cat.

A couple of weeks ago, I got the idea to challenge my friends to get me to shut up about President Trump. I offered to refrain from posting about the president for an entire month if someone could point me to a speech he gave in which every fact he asserts is verifiably true. All they had to do was point to Trump telling the truth and I would let it go for a month.

So far, no takers. And that’s not surprising. Trump lies like most people breathe. It comes so easy to him, he doesn’t even realize he’s doing it.

Last night, he held a campaign rally in Cedar Rapids, Iowa. I call it a campaign rally because it was a rally, organized by his campaign team, and offered an opportunity for the crowd to contribute to Trump’s re-election fund. But Trump couldn’t even be honest about that. He said, “We’re not even campaigning and look at this crowd!”

Well, what are you doing up there? Your campaign staff seems to think this is a campaign event. You’re making a stump speech, making promises, and attacking Democrats just like you did during the campaign. What am I missing?

Speaking of attacking Democrats, Trump couldn’t even keep it straight in his head whether or not he wants to work with Democrats to achieve his agenda goals. When talking about the health care bill in the Senate, he said:

“If we had even a little Democrat support, just a little, like a couple of votes, you’d have everything. And you could give us a lot of votes and we’d even be willing to change it and move it around and try and make it even better. But again, They just want to stop, they just want to obstruct. A few votes from the Democrats, seriously, a few votes from the Democrats, it could be so easy, so beautiful, and you’d have cooperation.”|

First of all, you don’t vote on legislation and then change it. That’s not how legislation works, even when Republicans have a stranglehold on the process. Secondly, Sen. Mitch McConnell has cut out nearly everyone from the process on the health care bill, even members of the 13-member working group supposedly tasked with writing it. Zero Democrats have seen the bill, so how could they be obstructing it? But lastly, shortly after complaining that Democrats won’t work with him, he continued his criticism to the point where even he recognized the irony.

“I am making it a little bit hard to get their support, but who cares?”

So does he want the support of Democrats or doesn’t he? The answer is that he doesn’t care. What he wants is to give rally speeches where he can rag on Democrats. And if you point out the contradiction, you’re a snowflake who needs a safe space. I’m not a snowflake. I don’t need a safe space. I need some logical consistency in my president. I need for a grown up to be in charge.

As for promises, he made an interesting one about immigrants and welfare.

“I believe the time has come for new immigration rules which say those seeking admission into our country must be able to support themselves financially and should not use welfare for a period of at least five years. And we’ll be putting in legislation to that effect very shortly.”

Put aside the fact that whenever Trump promises something will happen “very shortly,” over a “very short period of time” or even “two weeks,” that he has a pattern of simply dropping it and we never see what he promises. In this particular case, he might as well drop it because the law has been on the books since 1996.

Now, that’s not a “lie” per se. Trump may very well propose new legislation that does the exact same thing a previous law already does. But it demonstrates an ignorance of a subject where Trump is supposed to be informed. Immigration reform is one of his big issues. Another is trade policy. But he doesn’t seem to understand that one either.

Look, I get it. He’s a showman! He’s Mr. Media! He’s the second coming of Reagan, the “Greater Communicator!” That’s why he likes to tease things out. He’s always going to tell you about it on the next episode. “Are there tapes of your conversations with FBI Director Comey?” “We’ll be releasing information about that very shortly.” “Do you have evidence President Obama ordered your phones tapped at Trump Tower?” “We’ll be releasing information about that in two weeks.” “Do you have evidence that five million illegal immigrants voted against you in the election?” “We’ll be releasing that information in a short period of time.” What a showman! What an impresario!

Again, pointing out the many mixed signals, contradictory statements, and outright lies this president tells, is futile because what’s important to his ever-shrinking base is that people like me are mad about it. They’d much rather see me cry my liberal tears than hungry children fed or poor people get health care. And I know. I know. I heard the same thing from them during the election: “Hillary voters don’t care that she lies or that she’s a criminal.” They may even believe that’s true. But the difference is that Hillary isn’t president and her FBI investigation ended without charges. PRESIDENT Trump is still under investigation and his voters don’t care.

Last night, he suggested again that he was going to build a wall along the southern border. He hasn’t been able to convince his own party to fund it. In fact, the latest continuing resolution on the budget specifically said no money for the wall. But last night he said he wanted to make it a solar wall so that it will generate funds to save Mexico some money. There is never going to be a border wall. It is too impractical to exist. For example, there is a section of Texas that borders Mexico where the divide is the Rio Grande River. The border between our countries goes right down the middle of the river. Do we build the wall in Texas and yield the river to Mexico? Or do we build the wall in Mexico and yield that section of the wall to a country that doesn’t want it? Or do we leave a big old hole in our beautiful solar wall? It’s just a dumb idea and the grown-ups know this. The grown-ups understand that to achieve three percent annual growth in the economy, we have to hire more Mexicans.

Here’s a fun lie he told last night:

“When I’m signing for the XL Pipeline and the Dakota I said, ‘By the way, who made the pipe? But I put a little clause, handwritten. It said, ‘Anybody builds a pipeline in the United States will use American steel and fabricate in America.’ No more taking it over on boats!”

Mr. President, we have tape of you signing that Executive Order. You never asked “By the way, who made the pipe?” and you held it up for everyone to see your signature. There was no “little clause, handwritten” that said anything. It’s just a lie. But listen to that crowd roar! What a showman! What a raconteur!

He talked about pulling out of the Paris Agreement:

“They all say it’s ‘nonbinding. Like Hell it’s nonbinding. When we get sued by everybody because we thought it was nonbinding, then you can tell me it was nonbinding,”

But when the president held a Rose Garden speech to announce he wanted to leave the Paris Agreement, he said:

“Thus, as of today, the United States will cease all implementation of the nonbinding Paris accord and the draconian financial and economic burdens the agreement imposes on our country.”

He is a liar. He lies about little things. He lies about big things. He lies when he doesn’t have to. He lies about the lies he tells. So I feel pretty confident that none of my friends on social media will accept my challenge. Which, I admit, is a little unfair. But I don’t believe the bar is set too high. Just don’t lie to us. Make one speech where you tell the truth. The bar can’t get much lower. But you’d think I was asking him to build his border wall on the moon.

So, to sum up: our president is a liar, his slobbering masses don’t care, and there is no reason for me to ever worry about anyone proving me wrong because, while he may be capable of telling the truth, he feels no need to even try.

Can You Get A Retroactive Waiver For Your Ethics?

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Appointees to the Trump administration pledge an oath to a set of ethics laid out in an executive order titled “Ethics Commitments By Executive Branch Employees.” There are nine rules. This is No. 6:

6.  I will not for a period of 2 years from the date of my appointment participate in any particular matter involving specific parties that is directly and substantially related to my former employer or former clients, including regulations and contracts.

I looked it up because of reporting from Business Insider saying White House Chief Strategist Stephen Bannon contacted Breitbart Washington Editor Mathew Boyle and “instructed” him to write no more stories critical of White House Chief of Staff Reince Priebus. Evidently, the last one was a doozy.

According to the two sources, Bannon was so furious that he phoned Boyle after the story was published and unloaded on him. Boyle hadn’t sought to notify Bannon he was publishing the story in advance, the sources said.

Bannon further aggravated Boyle that week when he instructed him not to publish additional articles critical of Priebus, prompting the Washington editor to tell others that Bannon had betrayed Breitbart and was guilty of “treason,” according to a source.

If Bannon picked up that phone and called Doyle to instruct him to lay off Priebus, he violated his ethical pledge. If this pledge is indeed a condition of employment, then Bannon should be fired. If he’ll fudge on his ethics, what won’t he fudge on?

Now Trump could issue him an ethics waiver. That’s covered in the ethics oath — a waiver. For your ethics. All it requires is for Trump to sign it, keep a copy, and give one to Bannon. Did that happen already? Can you get a retroactive waiver — for your ethics?

To placate Doyle, the White House arranged interviews with Press Secretary Sean Spicer, Deputy Chief of Staff Katie Walsh, and even a one-on-one with Trump. Trading access for favorable coverage is a standard operating procedure. It has been for years. It’s the only reason Sean Hannity has a job.

Then came the American Health Care Act, which is supposed to both repeal and replace Obamacare. To use the president’s terms, the rollout has been a disaster. Officially, the White House was holding it at arm’s length, Kelly Ann Conway asked that it not be called “Trumpcare,” but Trump called it “our bill” in a tweet, so . . .

Breitbart called the AHCA “Obamacare-lite.” They have been hugely critical of it and key Republicans who’ve championed it. I wonder if that will have any effect on Doyle’s access to senior White House officials?

I imagine Breitbart is already on the president’s shit list over the wiretapping story. This played out in such an odd, yet somehow typical way. President Trump, angry over Attorney General Jeff Sessions recusing himself from any investigations of the Trump campaign, chewed out Bannon and Priebus before taking off to Florida leaving them behind in the dog house.

The next morning, Trump woke up angry and was given a copy of a Breitbart story that summarized radio host Mark Levin’s theory about an unverified report in the British press saying the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court granted a warrant for a server in Philadelphia belonging to Trump. Probably this one.

Trump responded by tweeting:

Boom. Drunk uncle strikes again. Trump accused President Obama of tapping his phone, of interfering in the election, and of being “bad” and “sick.” All this over a breathless headline on Breitbart. The only difference is that when your uncle forwards you the crazy crap he reads, you can ignore it. President Trump called on the House Oversight Committee to investigate Obama. To which Rep. Jason Chaffetz (who just said he wasn’t going to investigate Trump’s claims that 3-5 million people voted illegally) said, he hasn’t seen any evidence to support an investigation but he didn’t say no.

Consider this for a second: In his view, Trump has uncovered a “Nixon/Watergate” level scandal in his own White House involving his predecessor. Fewer than 30 minutes later he tweets about Swartzeneggar quitting “The Apprentice” and goes out for a round of golf. Does he not understand the seriousness of the charge? Does he not believe the charge? Does no one hold him accountable for his actions?

The White House scrambled to find a justification for the accusations and presented a list of news clippings that all depended on the reporting of the original (and unverified) story in Heatstreet. So, rather than come up empty handed, Trump punted it to Chaffetz. Let him come up empty handed. FBI Director James Comey asked the DoJ to refuse the request for an investigation. The White House said they’re done talking about it until Congress does its oversight job.

I can’t believe that my friends who voted for Trump were voting for this — a paranoid old man who flies to Florida every weekend to play golf? A president who parades his cabinet members around his private club in Palm Beach so that members who have paid him $200,000 have access? A man who may have to issue a bunch of retroactive ethics waivers for his inner circle?

 

Where’s my check from Soros?

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Ever since the Age of Orange we’ve seen an uptick in protests. Some are big and organized, some are big and spontaneous, some are violent, and some are making history. And while you may not understand why someone might be protesting, it isn’t cool to just assume their reason doesn’t matter. But worse than that is to assume the only reason so many people would get together to voice their outrage at this administration is because they’re being paid.

The president himself tweeted about “professional anarchists” agitating against his administration. I don’t think he knows the meanings of both those words. White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer said protesting was a profession now. “You know the Tea Party was a very organic movement. This has become a very paid astroturf-type movement.”

Sen. Corey Gardner (R-Colo.) said the flood of calls to his office were from paid protesters.

Pat Robertson said the people protesting the Muslim ban are paid by George Soros.

In my home state of Tennessee, Senator Paul Baily said the protesters at the Capitol admitted to being paid.

Just the other day someone on Facebook made the claim to me that the people at the Nashville airport protesting the Muslim ban were paid by George Soros. I swear, every time three liberals get together, a conservative thinks Soros wrote a check.

So let’s take these claims with a grain of salt. One of the earliest sources of the “paid protester” story was a “satirical” news site called “abc News” (as opposed to ABC News). This story dates from November 2016 and purports to interview a protester who answered a CraigsList ad and received $3,500 to protest Trump. It was garbage. The actual definition of fake news. It was also tweeted by Trump’s campaign manager to millions of people.

Lots of people make these claims, but none of them offer proof. Gardner’s evidence of paid protesters was the fact that people calling into his office were reading similar scripts. That’s evidence of organized protests against you, sure. But that’s not an indication that anyone was getting paid to call.

In Tennessee, Senator Baily’s evidence of paid protesters were the city shuttle buses parked near the Capitol. But it turns out they were there to shuttle lawmakers like himself to the Ryman for a fundraiser meet-and-greet with the cast of “Nashville.” He has since withdrawn his “evidence.”

Pat Robertson just made the claim without any evidence because I guess his viewers are used to that sort of thing.

Spicer says these protesters aren’t like the Tea Party which sprang up organically. The Tea Party sprang from Dick Armey’s “FreedomWorks” (which bussed in protesters to congressional town hall events and distributed “action plans” and talking points for people to disrupt meetings) and the Koch Brothers’ “Americans For Prosperity” (which bankrolled Tea Party events). The Tea Party was astroturf. If it was organic, there’d still be one.

I can understand why Trump might think the protesters were paid. His own campaign hired people to cheer for him when he announced his candidacy. That’s right out of his FEC filings. Trump hired a firm that specialized in extras for movie and TV scenes. He offered them $50 apiece to stand and cheer as he rode his escalator down to a podium where he bragged about the size of the crowd. In true Trump fashion, the company didn’t get paid for months.

We also know that James O’Keefe of Project Veritas (and various criminal acts) attempted to pay some liberal groups to act out at the Trump Inauguration. This is the sort of unethical claptrap we’ve come to expect from the right’s favorite fake pimp. He had someone try to infiltrate a progressive group planning to protest and offered them money to disrupt the news cycle and take attention from Trump. No doubt both sides were secretly recording each other the whole time.

We know a website called Demand Protest claimed to hire and pay professional protesters to agitate for the left. That one got picked up by Drudge, Breitbart, GatewayPundit, InfoWars, and the Federalist Papers. It turns out Demand Protest was a hoax.

I have yet to see any legitimate evidence that a single protester got a dime from Soros or any other liberal boogeyman the right likes to use to scare their children. Evidence, as we’re learning from this administration, doesn’t count for much. What’s important is media strategy and spin. If you can get the slavering hordes to retweet a message threatening a sitting judge, the facts become secondary. Suddenly, the story becomes the judge instead of his legal opinion. That’s called an ad hominem and it’s a logical fallacy.

George Soros is a billionaire hedge fund manager. He’s got way more important things to spend his money on than paying protesters — especially since so many are willing to do it for free.

 

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.

 

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.

This way lies madness: Tennessee, the Affordable Care Act and the Nullifiers

The Affordable Care Act is the law that created both the federal health insurance exchanges and the state health insurance exchanges. It also created mandates for some business owners and people to buy health insurance. It isn’t socialized medicine (where the government owns the hospitals) and it isn’t single-payer health care (where the government pays private companies to provide health care). The exchanges are a hybrid where healthy people who might not feel like they need health insurance are required to buy it to support the costs of older, less-healthy people who really need health insurance to keep from being bankrupted by medical bills. It is the result of a compromise reached after months of negotiations. It is imperfect, but it is the law.

The result of the ACA is insurance companies can no longer discriminate against people who have “pre-existing conditions.” They can no longer charge women more money for the same care. They can no longer kick you out of your plan when you become ill. There are no more lifetime caps to benefits. Your children can remain on your health care plan until they’re 25. But you have to buy insurance or pay a fee for not buying it. The ACA set up government subsidies for people who can’t afford insurance and produced a web site, healthcare.gov, for people to shop for plans if their state chose not to set up a state-based exchange.

The ACA also provides money to states to expand medicare coverage for the poor, uninsured residents. The federal government offered to pay 100 percent of the costs of the expansion for the first three years and then reduce the subsidy thereafter. Some states with the largest populations of poor, uninsured residents (*cough* Texas *cough*) refused the expansion.

My home state, Tennessee, refused to accept the federal expansion and did not set up a state-based exchange. So Tennessee residents had to shop on healthcare.gov. So far about 36,000 of us did.

The ACA isn’t health insurance. It is a marketplace where people can compare insurance plans available and make an informed decision. They can also find out if they qualify for subsidies to help defray the costs. But when you’re done, what you have is a health insurance plan sold by a private company to an individual or family. The plans are the same as the ones sold out in the world by agents and brokers. The ACA doesn’t reform health care. It reforms health insurance, establishing minimum standards of coverage, encouraging people to buy plans and helping those who can’t afford them.

Enter State Senator Mae Beavers and State Representative Mark Pody. These two have cooked up a bill to make it illegal to use healthcare.gov to buy insurance. Specifically, the bill states:

…no powers, assets, employees, agents or contractors of the state or its local government subdivisions, including higher education institutions, can be used to implement or administer the federal health care program; bans Obamacare healthcare exchanges in the state; prohibits local governments in Tennessee from participating in or purchasing insurance from an ObamaCare health insurance exchange;
provides that any health insurance contracts purchased in violation shall be void in a court of law in Tennessee; and empowers the General Assembly to enact sanctions, fines and penalties for violation of the proposed law and gives the state’s Attorney General the right to file a lawsuit against violators;

So, even though my insurance (which is employer-based) is identical to your insurance (which you purchased through healthcare.gov) mine is fine and legal, but yours is null and void. Plus, you could be sued by the state for buying it and state-sponsored hospitals can by sued by the state for honoring it. As Betsy Phillips points out in the Nashville Scene, the University of Tennessee Medical Center would, under this law, have a nightmare responsibility to not only verify that patients have insurance, but where they bought it.

Why? Because reasons, that’s why. Beavers and Pody claim that Tennesseans don’t want the ACA and that the federal government cannot force state agencies to comply with federal laws. They believe, based on Printz v. US that the state can nullify federal law. And oooooh do right wingers love the idea of nullification. Beavers’ Facebook page (find your own link) is full of people commenting in all caps “NULLIFY!!!!”

Quick review: Printz v. US was a Supreme Court case in which state law enforcement officers sued the government over the Brady Law, which established the federal criminal background check requirement for gun purchases from licensed dealers. Specifically, before the instant check system was implemented, there were interim regulations requiring gun sellers to fill out of a form on the buyer and submit it to law enforcement who was compelled to run a background check within five days. The court ruled that the federal government cannot commandeer state law enforcement to enforce federal law.

Beavers and Pody believe this decision can be applied to the ACA so that the feds cannot require that the state implement Obamacare. But here’s the thing: Printz v. US does establish a precedent that the fed can’t commandeer the state’s assets to enforce federal law, but it doesn’t allow for nullification of the law. Nor does it allow the state to block federal officials from enforcing federal law in the state. Nullification allows states to ignore unconstitutional laws, but the ACA has been upheld by the Supreme Court as constitutional.

See, if states could just ignore any federal laws they wanted to, we’d still have segregated schools in the South and Chicago and Washington, D.C. would still have a ban on guns. In 1960, the Supreme Court found in Bush v. Orleans School Board that the concept of nullification was  an “illegal defiance of constitutional authority.” So you can scream in all caps on Facebook “NULLIFICATION” all you want, but the courts are going to smack you down.

When Beavers and Pody announced the bill, they were asked some basic questions:

Have they talked with the governor’s office about this? No. Not yet.
Have they talked to state officials who implement TennCare — the state’s Medicaid program for the uninsured poor (which uses healthcare.gov to help people find insurance plans and subsidies)? No. But they’ll probably come to us.
How will this affect the 36,000 or so Tennesseans who have already purchased insurance through the federal exchange? It isn’t clear.

Well, shouldn’t it be clear before you go and make them criminals after the fact? What about the people who go along with you and decide not to buy health insurance? When the federal government imposes a fine, will the state be there to pay it? Or defend against it? The ACA allows that fine to be taken from federal tax refunds. How will this law affect them?

My gut tells me that Beavers and Pody don’t believe this bill will ever become law. They introduced it as a way to fend off primary challengers from the right. But it begs the question if my insurance is the same as your insurance, why does it matter where either of us bought it?

On Phil Robertson and the First Amendment

Yesterday, GQ published an interview with Phil Robertson, patriarch of the family featured on A&E’s “Duck Dynasty.” In it, Robertson expressed his views on sin, based on his Christian faith. In the article, Robertson “preached” about how America was going downhill and should repent. He said standards were slipping and that it seemed “sin was fine” now. When asked what he specifically meant by “sin” he listed several, beginning with homosexuality and suggesting that all the others branch off from there: bestiality, fornication etc…

“Start with homosexual behavior and just morph out from there. Bestiality, sleeping around with this woman and that woman and that woman and those men,” he says. Then he paraphrases Corinthians: “Don’t be deceived. Neither the adulterers, the idolaters, the male prostitutes, the homosexual offenders, the greedy, the drunkards, the slanderers, the swindlers—they won’t inherit the kingdom of God. Don’t deceive yourself. It’s not right.”

He then demonstrated his ignorance of homosexuality by suggesting that it was a choice, saying that “for me anyway” the vagina offers so much more for a man than a man’s anus. Obviously, Robertson doesn’t understand how being gay works. Gays aren’t attracted to women, so their body parts do not arouse the gay libido, just like a “man’s anus” doesn’t arouse Phil Robertson (presumably).

He didn’t stop with the gays, either. He claimed that, because he didn’t personally witness anyone mistreating blacks in pre-civil rights era Louisiana, then everything must have been okay for the blacks.

“I never, with my eyes, saw the mistreatment of any black person. Not once. Where we lived was all farmers. The blacks worked for the farmers. I hoed cotton with them. I’m with the blacks, because we’re white trash. We’re going across the field…. They’re singing and happy. I never heard one of them, one black person, say, ‘I tell you what: These doggone white people’—not a word!… Pre-entitlement, pre-welfare, you say: Were they happy? They were godly; they were happy; no one was singing the blues.”

In response, the Human Rights Campaign and the NAACP issued a joint letter to A&E calling on the network to repudiate the comments and on Phil Robertson to apologize. It should be noted that they never asked A&E to suspend him or do anything other than protect the network’s reputation for support of the LGBT community by addressing the situation. A&E responded by saying Robertson’s views do not reflect those of A&E or “Duck Dynasty.” So they suspended him indefinitely from the show about him and his family.

The entire drama played out in just a few hours. The social media response made the Paula Deen brouhaha look like an Easter parade.

“Duck Dynasty” is arguably the most popular show on cable television. They pull down crazy numbers. The Christmas special had something like 9 million viewers. Walmart has become a defacto “Duck Dynasty” outlet store. People love this show and they’re angry that A&E would suspend Robertson over his expression of what has been referred to alternately as “his opinion,” “his expression of faith,” or simply “the truth.”

I don’t watch the show. I don’t watch that particular genre of show. I prefer my entertainment scripted. So I don’t have a dog in this fight. But I do have an understanding of the First Amendment and this, despite what soooooo many on Facebook and Twitter think, is not a free speech issue.

The First Amendment says that the government can’t arrest you or punish you for what you say. A&E is not the government. They are a corporation and as such, the people who work on their programs are representative of that corporation. This includes Phil Robertson. So, if they think his remarks reflect poorly on the company, they are within their rights to pull the leash, which is what this suspension is — a reminder that Robertson works for A&E.

So, when Sarah Palin gets all high and mighty about how “freedom of speech is an endangered species” because Robertson’s leash got tugged, then she demonstrates her ignorance of what the First Amendment says. When Louisiana Governor Bobby Jindall says “I remember when TV networks believed in the First Amendment” he is demonstrating his ignorance of the First Amendment. This is not a free speech issue. If Robertson wanted to go on TV today and say the exact same thing, he would be free to do so. No one is stopping him from speaking. A&E just decided they didn’t want to put him on TV anymore. That’s not dampening his speech. That’s tugging his leash.

So go ahead, conservatives. Cry havoc and let slip the dogs of culture war. Rally around the old fake redneck and teach us all a lesson about intolerance and censorship. Just remember that Facebook and Twitter never forget, so if you screamed for Martin Bashir and Alec Baldwin to lose their jobs over their stupid comments, you don’t have a leg to stand on here.