Thursday Reads: Another Crazy Day in Trump World

Good Morning!!

Trump apparently worked himself up into a frenzy last night. He woke up an sent out a series of angry tweets, in one of which he admitted for the first time that Russia helped him get elected. He actually deleted the first tweet but sent out another in which he made the same admission.

A little later Trump emerged from the White House and unleashed a rage-filled 17 minute rant in which he angrily denigrated Robert Mueller. He also contradicted his own tweet, claiming that Russia didn’t help him in 2016.

The Washington Post: Trump attacks Mueller, says he would have brought charges if he had evidence of a crime.

“Robert Mueller should have never been chosen,” Trump said of the former special counsel, who was appointed by former deputy attorney general Rod J. Rosenstein, a Republican Trump appointee.

Trump told reporters that he considered Mueller “totally conflicted” because he had discussions about the position of FBI director early in the Trump administration and is friendly with former FBI director James B. Comey, whom Trump fired in 2017.

“He loves Comey,” Trump claimed. “Whether it’s love or a deep like, he was conflicted.” [….]

Trump also cited a “business dispute” with Mueller on which he did not elaborate. In the past, White House aides have pointed to an alleged dispute over membership fees at Trump National Golf Club in Northern Virginia….

“You know who got me elected? I got me elected,” he said. “Russia didn’t help me at all. Russia, if anything, I think, helped the other side.” [….]

In his comments to reporters, Trump downplayed the prospect of impeachment. A growing number of Democrats were advocating that course on Wednesday after Mueller’s appearance.

“It’s a dirty, filthy disgusting word and it has nothing to do with me,” Trump said. “There was no high crime and there was no misdemeanor.”

This morning’s rant continued as Trump unleashed a number of insults about McCain and how Trump was “never a fan.” He also denied demanding that John McCain’s name be hidden on the U.S. Navy battleship named after McCain’s father and grandfather while Trump was in Japan.

The New York Times: White House Asked Navy to Hide John McCain Warship During Trump’s Visit.

The White House asked the Navy to hide a destroyer named after Senator John McCain in order to avoid having the ship appear in photographs taken while President Trump was visiting Japan this week, White House and military officials said Wednesday.

Although Navy officials insisted they did not hide the ship, the John S. McCain, they did give all of the sailors aboard the day off on Tuesday as Mr. Trump visited Yokosuka Naval Base.

USS Battleship John McCain

Two Navy sailors, who spoke on the condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to speak publicly, said that the McCain sailors were not invited to hear Mr. Trump speak that day aboard the amphibious assault ship Wasp, while sailors from other American warships at the base were.

A Navy service member based on Yokosuka said that all of the American warships in the harbor were invited to send 60 to 70 sailors to hear Mr. Trump’s address, with the exception of the McCain. When several sailors from the McCain showed up anyway, wearing their uniforms with the ship’s insignia, they were turned away, the service member said.

White House aides, who spoke on the condition of anonymity because they were not permitted to speak publicly, confirmed the request was made but said that Mr. Trump did not know about it. A United States official said on Wednesday that the White House sent an email to the Navy with the request on May 15.

[Emphasis added] Raise your hand if you believe Trump had nothing to do with the request.

On the other hand, sailors wearing MAGA patches in support of Trump were allowed to attend the speech.

CNN: Navy reviewing ‘Make Aircrew Great Again’ patches worn by sailors during Trump visit.

The Navy is conducting a review to examine whether President Donald Trump-themed patches worn by sailors on their uniforms during the President’s visit to the USS Wasp violated Navy rules.

“Navy leadership is aware of the incident and reviewing to ensure the patch doesn’t violate DoD policy or uniform regulations,” US Navy spokesperson Lt. Sam Boyle told CNN.
Several service members aboard the USS Wasp were seen wearing the patches when Trump addressed sailors on Tuesday. The patches showed a Trump-like image and the slogan “Make Aircrew Great Again.” [….]

Close-up of the MAGA patch

Military personnel often wear unofficial unit patches, sometimes imbued with humorous images, as part of an effort to build unit cohesion and morale.

However, service members are prohibited from exhibiting political messages while in uniform.
Unit commanders are usually responsible for ensuring that the unofficial patches do not violate military regulations.
Department of Defense guidelines say that “active duty personnel may not engage in partisan political activities and all military personnel should avoid the inference that their political activities imply or appear to imply DoD sponsorship, approval, or endorsement of a political candidate, campaign, or cause.”

Trump faces more legal trouble about that massage parlor owner in Florida Cindy Yang.

The Miami Herald: Federal prosecutors demand Cindy Yang records from Mar-a-Lago, Trump campaign.

Federal prosecutors in Washington, D.C., this week sent subpoenas to Mar-a-Lago, President Donald Trump’s private club in Palm Beach, and Trump Victory, a political fundraising committee, demanding they turn over all records relating to Republican Party donor Li “Cindy” Yang and several of her associates and companies, the Miami Herald has learned.

Cindy Yang with Donald Trump

Yang, a South Florida massage-parlor entrepreneur, is the target of a public corruption investigation seeking to determine if she funneled money from China to the president’s re-election campaign or otherwise violated campaign-finance laws. She became a GOP donor in the 2016 election cycle and opened a consulting company that promised Chinese businesspeople the chance to attend events at Mar-a-Lago and gain access to Trump and his inner circle. Some of those events were campaign fundraisers that required guests to buy tickets for entry, payments that are considered political contributions. Foreign nationals are prohibited from donating to U.S. political campaigns.

Investigators are seeking evidence from Mar-a-Lago and Trump Victory as they build a potential case against Yang and possibly others close to her. The president’s club and the fundraising committee are not the targets of the investigation. The subpoenas cover records from January 2017 to the present. A spokeswoman for Yang did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

One subpoena, issued by a federal grand jury in West Palm Beach, compels Mar-a-Lago to turn over all documents, records and communications relating to Yang, as well as 11 other people, one charity and seven companies affiliated with her, according to a person familiar with the investigation who asked for anonymity to discuss an ongoing probe. The people named in that subpoena include Yang’s family members, former employees at her massage parlors and several donors to Trump Victory. Prosecutors were trying to serve the subpoena to Mar-a-Lago through a South Florida law firm, the source said.

The second subpoena, for Trump Victory, was served to attorneys at a Washington, D.C., law firm. It seeks campaign-finance records relating to Yang and her associates.

Click the link to read the rest.

As Trump focuses on attacking the people on his enemies list, John Bolton and Mike Pompeo are moving us closer to war with Iran.

USA Today: Escalating Iran crisis looks a lot like the path US took to Iraq war.

March 20, 2003 – War With Iraq – Shock & Awe . . . And Then Invasion.

The U.S. military’s guided bombs brought “shock and awe” to Baghdad in 2003 when American forces invaded Iraq 16 years ago to hunt for weapons of mass destruction. They never found any. Many observers, today, consider that war a failure.

Now, half of all Americans believe the U.S. will go to war with Iran “within the next few years,” according to a Reuters/Ipsos public opinion poll released in late May amid increased tensions between the two countries, longtime geopolitical foes.

The escalating Tehran-Washington crisis comes as the White House claims, without providing detail or public evidence, that Iran poses an increased threat to American forces and facilities in the Middle East – one year after Trump withdrew from an accord between Iran and world powers aimed at limiting Tehran’s nuclear capabilities.

Is Iran doomed to be an Iraq redux? This is just one of the questions raised by a crisis that has eerie parallels to the missteps that led to the Iraq War in 2003, where the buildup to conflict was precipitated by faulty intelligence and confrontational foreign policymakers such as John Bolton in President George W. Bush’s administration.

Read all about it at the link above. Meanwhile, does anyone know what Trump foreign policy is?

Fred Kaplan at Slate: Who Speaks for the United States?

Tuesday’s New York Times story on the serious disagreements between President Donald Trump and national security adviser John Bolton misses the bigger picture—namely, that Trump is having disagreements with his entire foreign policy team. To put it another way, it is impossible to say just what U.S. foreign policy is—or, to put it more starkly still, the United States has no foreign policy.

The Times story focuses on disputes over Iran and North Korea.
Bolton has described North Korean leader Kim Jong-un’s latest short-range missile tests as violations of a U.N. Security Council resolution; Trump says they’re no big deal. Bolton has called for regime change in Iran; Trump said last week in Japan that he’s fine with the current regime, as long as it stays away from nuclear weapons.

But this dispute involves more players than Trump and Bolton. State Department spokespeople, as well as National Intelligence Director Dan Coats, have said—in agreement with Bolton—that the North Korean tests violated a Security Council resolution. Trump stands utterly alone in his view that Kim is an honorable, trustworthy partner.

On Iran, in contrast with what Trump says now, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo recently laid out 12 preconditions for holding talks. Among the demands were that Tehran stop testing ballistic missiles, stop assisting militias in the region, and make several other concessions that would amount, in effect, to a regime change.

And of course, there are his long-standing disputes, over a host of issues, with the Joint Chiefs of Staff, various combatant commands, and pretty much the entire intelligence community.

Imagine if you were a world leader who wants to align, or improve relations, with the United States. What do you do? Do you agree with—and act in ways that advance the policies of—the president, the secretary of state, or the national security adviser? It’s impossible to placate all of them simultaneously. So you begin to wonder: Who speaks for the United States?

Please read the whole thing.

So . . . that’s what’s happening so far this morning. What stories are you following?


Friday Reads: Headlines I never thought I’d read in this country

Barbara Stevenson, Apple Vendor, 1933-1934

Good Morning Sky Dancers!

It’s a sunny,crisp, cold morning here in New Orleans. I start this day like most others. Temple has had her morning walk. I have been blessed by the gifts bestowed by the morning’s first cup of coffee. Now I do what my parents and grandparents did before me.  I reach for the morning news before starting my work of grading student homework. I think about the the headlines that have greeted the last four or five generations of my family. I still marvel thinking about waking up to the Dust Bowl like my father’s family did or waking up to the start and end of two world wars like both sets of grandparents.

I was already settled into this family pattern in high school when all the Watergate goings on and the Vietnam war news filled the pages. It has been a couple of bombastic modern centuries but some of the worst of it was never quite in everyone’s backyard here. This is when we always would find the gumption–eventually–to be neighborly and come to the support of a neighbor in need. We frequently stumbled on the path to right our country’s wrongs. But,we eventually muster the righteousness to move–eventually and frequently with Judicial encouragement–in that direction.

Today’s art is “Public Art” that was commissioned during The New Deal.  It is something with no future in Trump’s America.   I don’t mean the angst of the artists living through the Great Depression but the relief they must’ve felt when they were paid to produce these great works in public spaces.  Reading through today’s headlines I feel the chill of the season and of the times. Ours is a country that no longer helps its neighbors at all. We’re a country that turns its backs on every one but the extremely wealthy who pass laws to take and keep what they want. The topmost government political officials are nothing more than grifters.

This makes me profoundly sad.

Mutiny on the Amistad,Hale Woodruff.,1938

Here’s a WAPO headline for you to think about. “Now on Craigslist, Facebook: Household items from furloughed workers trying to make ends meet.”  These are members of the US coast Guard tasked with protecting our shores and water. They are officials that look for contraband and bad people at ports like the TSO and the customs folks. They are our park rangers who protect everything in the borders of our national parks.  We are failing them as they do our work.

A federal worker in Morgantown, W.Va., took to Facebook this week to sell welding tools, left behind by his deceased father-in-law. Another, a die-hard Star Wars fan in Woodbridge, Va., did the same with a life-size replica of Kylo Ren’s lightsaber. A single father in Indiana hosted a sale on eBay with five pages of things found around the house, including Bibles, Nintendo bedsheets and Dr. Seuss neckties.

“Sells for $93.88 at Walmart. Asking $10,” a government worker wrote on a Craigslist ad for a Lulu Ladybug rocking chair. “We need money to pay bills.”

As hundreds of thousands of federal workers brace for their first missed paychecks of the government shutdown this week, some have become immersed in the frantic financial calculus of choosing what they can live without.

In the United States, living paycheck to paycheck is disturbingly common, regardless of profession or location. A recent report from the Federal Reserve revealed how little cushion most Americans have in their budgets: Four in 10 adults say they couldn’t produce $400 in an emergency without sliding into debt or selling something, according to the figures that surveyed households in 2017, a relatively prosperous year for the American economy.

But the shutdown, which began just before Christmas, took many federal workers by surprise and is lasting longer than most expected. That has left furloughed employees stuck at home, sifting through garages and closets, basements and bookshelves to find possessions and personal treasures to sell.

“You have to take a kind of coldhearted look at things around you and decide what would be marketable to someone else,” said Jay Elhard, on furlough from his job as a media specialist at Acadia National Park in Maine.

Baseball at Night by Morris Kantor, 1934

This is behavior deemed appropriate and necessary by a President of the United States so he can get his way on something that all evidence says is a complete waste of treasure. Today, millions of Federal Workers have missed a paycheck. Many are working. A lawsuit has been filed by a Federal Worker’s union.  There was a protest this week by workers. The Senate passed a law to guarantee backpay but for many that could be too little and too late. I’ve watched my pay erode and my work load increase over the last 7 years at this teaching job. I’m beyond pay check to pay check because I never know when the terms of my pay will change and they definitely have and so have benefits and it’s never been for the  better.

These  workers will return to a pay freeze this year when they do get starting getting paid.  However, the accumulating interest and late fees on loans and other payments will not freeze and I’ve yet to go a year when life’s little essentials like electricity, water, and access to the internet or tv hasn’t gone up way more than any one’s salary. I’m not sure how much longer these things can continue before a recession really takes hold.  Main Street does not depend on the Trump family’s buying whims.  It depends on every day people.  (Via VOX)

As an official for the American Federation of Government Employees union recently laid out, it takes at least two to three days for the government to process payroll, so workers would likely receive their back pay after at least that much time elapsed.

While Trump has refused to sign a package of seven appropriations bills, forcing about a quarter of the federalgovernment into a lengthy shutdown over this fight, he’s already agreed to sign this back pay legislation, according to a spokesperson for Sen. Tim Kaine (D-VA). Kaine, who was one of more than 20 sponsors for the unanimously passed bill, is optimistic the House will take it up soon, the spokesperson added.

The bill aims to address one of the chief pain points of the shutdown, which has left federal workers scrambling to cover day-to-day costs like rent, utilities, and medication while they wait for their next paycheck to come in. Its benefits, however, won’t be felt for some time since workers won’t receive the back pay until the shutdown has been resolved.

In the interim,Democrats have also proposed other measures to protect workers from the fallout of what will soon be the longest shutdown in US history. Sen. Brian Schatz (D-HI) and Rep. Derek Kilmer (D-WA) have introduced legislation, according to HuffPost, that would “prohibit landlords and creditors from taking action against federal workers or contractors who are hurt by the shutdown and cannot pay rent or repay loans.” And Sen. Tina Smith (D-MN) is drafting a bill that would cover back pay for federal contractors as well.

The shutdown is now in its 20th day and there still isn’t a clear end in sight. At the very least, the Senate’s latest action helps ensure that hundreds of thousands of federal workers will get the pay they missed once it’s over.

WPA Mural “New Deal”, Charles Wells,1935

Now, Trump is threatening to take Federal Disaster Relief funds for his misadventure along the Southern Border. How many lives and livelihoods will this mean?  (Via NBC)

President Donald Trump has been briefed on a plan that would use the Army Corps of Engineers and a portion of $13.9 billion of Army Corps funding to build 315 miles of barrier along the U.S.-Mexico border, according to three U.S. officials familiar with the briefing.

The money was set aside to fund projects all over the country including storm-damaged areas of Puerto Rico through fiscal year 2020, but the checks have not been written yet and, under an emergency declaration, the president could take the money from these civil works projects and use it to build the border wall, said officials familiar with the briefing and two congressional sources.

The plan could be implemented if Trump declares a national emergency in order to build the wall and would use more money and build more miles than the administration has requested from Congress. The president had requested $5.7 billion for a wall stretching 234 miles.

Under the proposal, the officials said, Trump could dip into the $2.4 billion allocated to projects in California, including flood prevention and protection projects along the Yuba River Basin and the Folsom Dam, as well as the $2.5 billion set aside for reconstruction projects in Pueto Rico, which is still recovering from Hurricane Maria.

There are other headlines I find deeply disturbing today.  Here are a few.

New York Times:  Prosecutors Examining Ukrainians Who Flocked to Trump Inaugural

Associated PressUS official says troop withdrawal from Syria has started

 Colleen Long / Associated PressAPNewsBreak: US approved thousands of child bride requests

Laura Rozen / Al-MonitorPompeo’s Cairo speech panned as ‘tone-deaf,’ ‘hyper-partisan,’ ‘offensive’

Bob Bauer / The Atlantic

Matt Lewis / The Daily Beast:

Frank Bruni / New York Times:

The Pompeo Speech at American University in Cairo is particularly offensive and disturbing.  I don’t think it does much use to place a xenophobic religious nutter as the face of American outreach to the world.

Subway, Lily Furedi, 1934

It’s really difficult not to be embarrassed by the realization that your country’s chief diplomat is a shining example of the “ugly American”.

Pompeo’s speech “was a regurgitation of what they have been saying for two years. There was nothing new, and it was offensive,” former career US diplomat and ambassador to Yemen Gerald Feierstein told Al-Monitor. “That they think that anyone still wants to hear about Barack Obama’s 2009 Cairo speech — get over it.”

“You own the issue now, you own the policy,” Feierstein continued. “People want to know what you are going to do, not what you think Barack Obama did wrong. And on that score, there was nothing there, Just a lot of empty rhetoric of all things they are going to do and how wonderful the United States is and it never occupied anybody. So what.”

Pompeo’s speech is unlikely to reassure American allies and partners frustrated by constantly shifting Donald Trump administration positions on the region that they are not properly consulted about, said former FBI and Treasury Department official Matthew Levitt.

“I do not think they [the Trump administration] fully appreciate the level of anxiety among our allies and potential allies in the region and beyond in Europe in terms of how reliable we are as a partner,” Levitt, now with the Washington Institute for Near East Policy, told Al-Monitor.

“It is not just the decision to withdraw US forces in Syria,” Levitt continued. “Much more than that, it is the way the decision was arrived at and announced. [US Syria envoy Jim] Jeffrey said one thing one day, Trump says the opposite the next day. … People can’t keep up with the pace of the back and forth, ping pong. The lack of clarity, the lack of procedure in the policy making process — the allies see that.”

“While it is great to go to the region in a time of anxiety to reassure people you mean to have a reinvigorated role in the Middle East, it is not enough to say it,” Levitt said.

The extensive swipes in the speech at the previous administration were also discomfiting, Levitt said.

Whether it is done by Republicans or Democrats, “I always felt uncomfortable when Americans travel abroad and hang out dirty laundry,” he said.

“Embarrassing and shameful speech by the small, hyper-partisan Trump suck-up Pompeo,” Ellen Tauscher, a former undersecretary of state for arms control in the Obama administration and a former member of Congress, wrote on Twitter. “There’s not a ‘non-partisan statesman’ pore in his body.”

While I don’t think our country has to send our soldiers to every corner of the globe, I don’t think our country has ever been so small and headed towards insignificance.   If the goal was to get us off the international stage, that’s been done.  But how is ruining day to day life for ordinary Americans making us ‘great again’? The regime of Tariffs is killing many US businesses.  The combination of tariffs and shutdowns is probably hitting US farmers worse than any industry. I’m pretty sure they aren’t getting what they voted for.

In Georgia, a pecan farmer lost out on his chance to buy his first orchard. The local Farm Service Agency office that would have processed his loan application was shut down.

In Wisconsin’s dairy country, a 55-year-old woman sat inside her new dream home, worried she would not be able to pay her mortgage. Her loan had come from an Agriculture Department program for low-income residents in rural areas, but all of the account information she needed to make her first payment was locked away in an empty government office.

And in upstate New York, Pam Moore was feeding hay to her black-and-white cows at a small dairy that tottered on the brink of ruin. She and her husband had run up $350,000 in debt to keep the dairy running after 31 of their cows died of pneumonia, and their last lifeline was an emergency federal farm loan. But the money had been derailed by the government shutdown.

“It has just been one thing after another, after another, after another,” Ms. Moore, 57, said.

Farm country has stood by President Trump, even as farmers have strained under two years of slumping incomes and billions in losses from his trade wars. But as the government shutdown now drags into a third week, some farmers say the loss of crucial loans, payments and other services has pushed them — and their support — to a breaking point.

They thing Trump country never really understood is they’re the ones that need their neighboring states and their beneficence more than any one.  I assume they’re learning that painful lesson with the rest of us whose livelihood is running the stuff of the country instead of selling it stuff it really doesn’t need.

What’s on you reading and blogging list today?

 


Tuesday Reads: Trump Tantrum Live From The Oval Office Tonight

Good Morning!!

The TV networks are giving Trump free time tonight to spout lies about a non-existent “crisis” at the Southern border. Fortunately, they are also giving equal time to Democrats to respond. But they should have just said no. After all, they refused to carry an Oval Office speech by Obama in 2014. Matthew Yglesias at Vox:

In 2014, Obama was ready to announce a series of executive actions on immigration in the wake of the collapse in negotiations over a bipartisan comprehensive immigration reform bill. The plan had a lot of moving parts, but the centerpiece was to give work permits and formal protection from deportation to millions of unauthorized immigrants while focusing the nation’s immigration enforcement resources on immigrants who’d committed violent crimes.

This was, naturally, very controversial. And Obama, naturally, wanted to try to make it less controversial by convincing people that it was a good idea.

Conservative pundits were, at the time, pushing the notion that Obama was essentially seizing power like a Latin American dictator, so essentially anything that refocused the conversation on banal policy details would have played to his advantage. TV networks, however, didn’t give him what he wanted, in part because it was November sweeps time, but officially because he was playing partisan politics rather than addressing a true national emergency.

So why are they running Trump’s obviously political speech? Because they’re scared. This is what what one anonymous network executive told CNN’s Brian Stelter.

This “exec” didn’t even have the guts to let Stelter use his name!

Here’s what the U.S. Secretary of State thinks of what Trump plans to say tonight.

These people are pathetic. Meanwhile, in Turkey, more pathetic incompetence from National Security Adviser John Bolton.

Bloomberg: Erdogan Snubs Trump Adviser Bolton for Blocking Syria Roadmap.

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, frustrated by evolving U.S. conditions for quitting Syria, refused to meet with visiting National Security Adviser John Bolton and ripped into U.S. proposals to give Kurds a key role in Syria after the withdrawal.

Turkey is angered that Bolton, Secretary of State Michael Pompeo and top American military officials are slowing what President Donald Trump suggested only weeks ago would be a quick exit. The delay would restrict Turkey’s ability to launch an offensive against Syrian Kurdish fighters it considers enemies but who allied with a U.S. coalition to oust the Islamic State terrorist group from Syria.

“Although we made a clear agreement with U.S. President Trump, different voices are emerging from different parts of the administration,” Erdogan said as Bolton prepared to leave Ankara, where he met with other Turkish officials. “Trump’s remarks continue to be the main point of reference for us.”

It looks like attempts to walk back Trump’s insane policy decisions are no longer working.

Will Trump try to declare a national emergency tonight? I have no idea, but if he does it’s going to cause more problems than any of us can predict. Here are some opinions about what could happen, beginning with the worst case scenarios

Elizabeth Goitein at The Atlantic: What the President Could Do If He Declares a State of Emergency. A brief excerpt:

It would be nice to think that America is protected from the worst excesses of Trump’s impulses by its democratic laws and institutions. After all, Trump can do only so much without bumping up against the limits set by the Constitution and Congress and enforced by the courts. Those who see Trump as a threat to democracy comfort themselves with the belief that these limits will hold him in check.

But will they? Unknown to most Americans, a parallel legal regime allows the president to sidestep many of the constraints that normally apply. The moment the president declares a “national emergency”—a decision that is entirely within his discretion—more than 100 special provisions become available to him. While many of these tee up reasonable responses to genuine emergencies, some appear dangerously suited to a leader bent on amassing or retaining power. For instance, the president can, with the flick of his pen, activate laws allowing him to shut down many kinds of electronic communications inside the United States or freeze Americans’ bank accounts. Other powers are available even without a declaration of emergency, including laws that allow the president to deploy troops inside the country to subdue domestic unrest.

This edifice of extraordinary powers has historically rested on the assumption that the president will act in the country’s best interest when using them. With a handful of noteworthy exceptions, this assumption has held up. But what if a president, backed into a corner and facing electoral defeat or impeachment, were to declare an emergency for the sake of holding on to power? In that scenario, our laws and institutions might not save us from a presidential power grab. They might be what takes us down.

Read the whole thing at The Atlantic.

At Bloomberg, Noah Feldman disagrees, because only Congress can authorize spending: No ‘Emergency’ Will Allow Trump to Build His Wall.

President Donald Trump has said that he can declare a national emergency and order his border wall to be built. He’s wrong. The U.S. Constitution doesn’t contain any national emergency provision that would allow the president to spend money for purposes not allocated by Congress. And it’s clearer than clear that Congress not only hasn’t authorized money for a wall along the border with Mexico but also doesn’t intend to do so.

The upshot is that any attempt by Trump to get around Congress by using invented emergency powers would violate the Constitution. It almost certainly would be blocked by the courts. And it would constitute a high crime and misdemeanor qualifying him for impeachment.

Of course, Trump may not care. He’s established a pattern of taking clearly unconstitutional action, waiting for the courts to block it, and winning (at least in his estimation) political points with his Republican base regardless. It would be perfectly within that pattern for Trump to announce that he can do whatever he wants in a national emergency. He is expected to lay the groundwork for such a declaration in a prime-time address Tuesday. But we should recognize any such action for what it is: a usurpation of clear constitutional commands for the purposes of political grandstanding.

A bit more detail:

The Constitution does contain an emergency powers clause. Article I, Section 9 allows for the suspension of habeas corpus in cases of rebellion or invasion.

Those emergency powers are unsurprisingly varied and broad. But none of them can displace the Constitution itself. And it is the Constitution that says the Congress appropriates money and the executive spends it.

If there were some statutory provision saying that in an emergency the president could do things Congress otherwise has told him he can’t do, that would pose an intriguing constitutional question: Which law would prevail in a conflict between one saying the president could do something and another saying he couldn’t?

But I know of no law that says the president can spend money on purposes that Congress doesn’t want him to spend it on.

From the fact that the suspension clause exists, you can deduce something very basic to the U.S. constitutional system: There are no other inherent constitutional emergency powers. Yes, the president is commander in chief, with the power to defend the United States — but he can only do that with an army authorized and paid for by Congress.

That means any emergency power the president might have must come directly from Congress. The National Emergencies Act of 1976 is Congress’s last word on what emergency powers it gives the president. That law was enacted after Senate staffers’ research revealed some 470 emergency provisions across the whole of the U.S. Code.

As Trump often says, “we’ll see what happens.”

Trump thinks he knows better than anyone about anything, and yet we can all see that he knows almost nothing about what his job entails. This video has been floating around lately.

How to explain Trump’s illusion of competency? Seemingly in answer to this question, The Washington Post has posted an article on the Dunning-Kruger effect: What’s behind the confidence of the incompetent? This suddenly popular psychological phenomenon.

You may have witnessed this scene at work, while socializing with friends or over a holiday dinner with extended family: Someone who has very little knowledge in a subject claims to know a lot. That person might even boast about being an expert.

This phenomenon has a name: the Dunning-Kruger effect. It’s not a disease, syndrome or mental illness; it is present in everybody to some extent, and it’s been around as long as human cognition, though only recently has it been studied and documented in social psychology.

In their 1999 paper, published in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, David Dunning and Justin Kruger put data to what has been known by philosophers since Socrates, who supposedly said something along the lines of “the only true wisdom is knowing you know nothing.” Charles Darwin followed that up in 1871 with “ignorance more frequently begets confidence than does knowledge.”

Put simply, incompetent people think they know more than they really do, and they tend to be more boastful about it.

To test Darwin’s theory, the researchers quizzed people on several topics, such as grammar, logical reasoning and humor. After each test, they asked the participants how they thought they did. Specifically, participants were asked how many of the other quiz-takers they beat.

Dunning was shocked by the results, even though it confirmed his hypothesis. Time after time, no matter the subject, the people who did poorly on the tests ranked their competence much higher. On average, test takers who scored as low as the 10th percentile ranked themselves near the 70th percentile. Those least likely to know what they were talking about believed they knew as much as the experts.

That’s it for me today. I’m trying to decide whether to leave the TV off tonight or just mute it until the Democratic response begins. What are you going to do?


Tuesday Reads: White Privilege and Trump’s “Best People”

Good Morning!!

White privilege is a powerful thing, and here’s some proof.

WGN9 Chicago: Waffle House shooting suspect held on $2M bail.

A man accused of killing four people with an AR-15 rifle at a Tennessee Waffle House has been formally charged with four counts of criminal homicide and is being held on $2 million bail.

Court records say 29-year-old Travis Reinking was charged Monday. He is due in court Wednesday.

Police say Reinking was wearing a green jacket and nothing else Sunday when he stormed the restaurant in southeast Nashville and opened fire with the military assault-style rifle, first in the parking lot and then inside. Police credited a quick-thinking customer who wrestled the gun away from preventing more bloodshed.

Authorities say Reinking fled the scene after the scuffle with the restaurant patron. The suspect was captured Monday after an intense manhunt with local and federal police officers that lasted more than a day.

And yet, the judge gave him bail. Let’s hope his father (who reportedly returned the assault weapon to his son after the Secret Service took it away during an arrest at the White House) doesn’t raise the money to get him released.

Meanwhile, in Pennsylvania, a golf club called the police on four black women members for allegedly playing too slowly. AP:

“I felt we were discriminated against,” one of the women, Myneca Ojo, told the York Daily Record. “It was a horrific experience.”

Sandra Thompson and four friends met up Saturday to play a round of golf at the Grandview Golf Club, where they are all members, she told the newspaper.

At the second hole, a white man whose son co-owns the club came up to them twice to complain that they weren’t keeping up with the pace of play. Thompson, an attorney and the head of the York chapter of the NAACP, told the newspaper it was untrue.

On the same hole, another member of the group, Sandra Harrison, said she spoke with a Grandview golf pro, who said they were fine since they were keeping pace with the group ahead of them.

Despite that, the women skipped the third hole to avoid any other issues, she said….

The five are part of a larger group of local women known as Sisters in the Fairway. The group has been around for at least a decade, and all of its members are experienced players who have golfed all over the county and world, Thompson said. They’re very familiar with golf etiquette, she said.

After the ninth hole, where it is customary to take a break before continuing on the next nine holes, three of the group decided to leave because they were so shaken up by the earlier treatment, the women told the paper.

Thompson said the man from the second hole, identified as former York County Commissioner Steve Chronister, his son, club co-owner Jordan Chronister and several other white, male employees approached the remaining two women and said they took too long of a break and they needed to leave the course.

Then the police arrived, but they took no action. Read more at the link.

During the 2016 campaign, Trump repeatedly told his followers that he knew “the best people” and would hire the very best to work for his administration. That’s not working out so well.

EPA chief Scott Pruitt is still hanging in there, but for how much longer?

CNBC: Embattled EPA chief Scott Pruitt faces public grilling this week as GOP support erodes.

EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt reports to Capitol Hill on Thursday for a pair of hearings on his agency’s 2018 budget proposal, but the embattled Trump deputy is likely to face as many questions about his personal conduct as EPA’s spending priorities.

Since the hearings were announced, revelations about Pruitt’s rental of a Washington apartment linked to an energy lobbyist have sparked a near-daily trickle of reports detailing alleged ethics abuses and lavish spending that have put the EPA chief’s political future in peril.

In just the last few weeks, Pruitt has been accused of retaliating against EPA staff, arranging official trips to fulfill his personal travel whims and orchestrating pay raises for aides in defiance of the White House. The number of investigations into his conduct has expanded to five, and the government’s top watchdog determined last week that the agency violated the law by installing a $43,000 soundproof phone booth in Pruitt’s office.

The hearings could be a make-or-break moment for Pruitt, who has already sat through a combative Fox News interview that reportedly bruised his standing in the administration. Pruitt goes before the House Committee on Energy and Commerce’s subcommittee on Environment in the morning and the Committee on Appropriation’s subcommittee on Interior, Environment and Related Agencies in the afternoon.

And, according to Bloomberg, the White House is telling Republicans not to defend Pruitt.

White House officials are cautioning Republican lawmakers and other conservative allies to temper their defense of Scott Pruitt, according to two people familiar with the discussions, in a sign that administration support for the embattled EPA chief may be waning.

The warnings come as several top GOP lawmakers have stepped forward to publicly criticize Pruitt in recent days, marking a dramatic turn of fortune for one of the most conservative members of President Donald Trump’s cabinet who has been heralded for dismantling Obama-era regulations.

Republicans are now sharpening their criticisms about Pruitt amid a revelation that he met at least once with the lobbyist whose wife rented him a bedroom on Capitol Hill.

Last night the news broke that White House physician Ronny Jackson, Trump’s pick to lead the VA, is in trouble.

The New York Times: Ronny Jackson, Trump’s V.A. Nominee, Faces Claims of Overprescription and Hostile Work Environment.

The Senate Veterans Affairs Committee is examining allegations that President Trump’s nominee to lead the Veterans Affairs Department oversaw a hostile work environment as the White House physician and allowed the overprescribing of drugs, according to congressional officials briefed on the committee’s work.

They have also received claims that Dr. Ronny L. Jackson drank too much on the job.

The allegations, which have been under investigation since last week, forced the postponement of Dr. Jackson’s confirmation hearing, planned for this Wednesday as senators scrutinize the nominee’s time leading the White House medical staff. Officials familiar with the allegations against Dr. Jackson declined to offer precise details but said that they suggest a pattern of behavior, not just one or two isolated incidents.

How do you “drink too much on the job” at the White House? Shouldn’t any drinking on the job be forbidden?

Dr. Jackson, a rear admiral in the Navy who serves as the White House physician, was already expected to face difficult questioning during his testimony before the committee. Last month, Mr. Trump fired his first Veterans Affairs secretary, David J. Shulkin, an experienced hospital administrator and veteran of the V.A. medical system, and then chose Dr. Jackson largely out of personal affinity.

The White House did little or no vetting of his background before announcing his nomination on Twitter. Before serving as a White House physician, Dr. Jackson had deployed as an emergency medicine physician to Taqaddum, Iraq, during the Iraq war.

The Senate only received paperwork from the Trump administration formalizing Dr. Jackson’s nomination last week.

Read more at the NYT. Do you suppose this job could have been a bribe to get Jackson to lie about Trump’s height and weight and the state of his health? Or did Trump knew about the drinking and use it as blackmail?

And then there’s Mike Pompeo, current Director of the CIA and nominee for Secretary of State. Frankly, I think this guy is terrifying; and, unfortunately, it looks like he’ll be confirmed. Here’s some background on Pompeo and his scary religious beliefs:

Michelle Golberg at Slate, January 2017: “This Evil Is All Around Us.” Trump’s pick for the CIA, Mike Pompeo, sees foreign policy as a vehicle for holy war.

In June 2015, Rep. Mike Pompeo, a Kansas congressman, headlined a “God and Country Rally” at Wichita’s Summit Church. “To worship our lord and celebrate our nation at the same place is not only our right, it is our duty,” he began. Pompeo’s speech was a mishmash of domestic culture war callouts and dark warnings about the danger of radical Islam. He cited an inflammatory prayer that a pastor named the Rev. Joe Wright once delivered before the Kansas State Legislature: “America had worshipped other Gods and called it multiculturalism. We’d endorsed perversion and called it an alternative lifestyle.” He lamented government efforts to “rip faith from our schools” and then segued immediately into a discussion of the jihadi threat: “This evil is all around us.” Pompeo concluded by describing politics as “a never-ending struggle … until the rapture.” [….]

Like Trump, Pompeo has been a fierce critic of efforts to rein in the CIA’s torture program and a champion of keeping Guantanamo Bay open. While in Congress, he was a frequent guest on the radio show of famously paranoid Frank Gaffney, a man disinvited from the right-wing Conservative Political Action Conference after claiming that the Muslim Brotherhood had infiltrated its parent organization, the American Conservative Union. (In the Trump era, Gaffney has been brought in from the cold: After the election, the New York Times reported that he was informally advising Trump’s inner circle on national security hires.) Gaffney once called Pompeo “one of the most intelligent men I know in public life,” and the two see the world similarly. In February 2015, they spoke about President Obama’s use of the term “violent extremism” instead of “radical Islam,” a linguistic choice that some on the right see as a secret message of solidarity with jihad. Gaffney suggested that Obama might be conveying “an affinity” for ISIS’s cause, if not all its tactics: “the raising up of the Muslim Ummah, a grand rebalancing of America’s role in the world.” Pompeo relied, “Frank, every place you stare at the president’s policies and statements, you see what you just described … every policy of this administration has treated America as if we are the problem and not the solution.”

Like Gaffney, Pompeo believes that radical networks have wormed their way into every corner of the country. “There are organizations and networks here in the United States tied to radical Islam in deep and fundamental ways,” he said on Gaffney’s show. “They’re not just in places like Libya and Syria and Iraq, but in places like Coldwater, Kansas, and small towns all throughout America.”

From Vox, March 15, 2018: Mike Pompeo, Trump’s pick for secretary of state, talks about politics as a battle of good and evil.

That Pompeo is an evangelical Christian is, on its face, not particularly notable; 25 percentof Americans are. But Pompeo’s specific brand of evangelical Christianity, with its insistence on seeing Muslim-Christian relations as an apocalyptic holy war, makes him an unnerving choice for such a senior foreign policy position.

During his tenure as CIA director, and before that as a member of the House of Representatives, Pompeo has consistently used language that casts the war on terrorism as a cosmic divine battle of good and evil. He’s referred to Islamic terrorists as destined to“continue to press against us until we make sure that we pray and stand and fight and make sure that we know that Jesus Christ is our savior is truly the only solution for our world.”

Pompeo clarified that only a small percentage of Muslims were, in fact, terrorists (although in a 2013 speech, he called them potentially complicit in terrorism). Still, his language echoes a wider point: that the war against terrorism can be fought, in part, with Christian faith.

In other speeches, he’s characterized American domestic politics as a similarly apocalyptic struggle between good and evil, in which other (non-Christian) faiths and political views were signs of cultural decay. He cited a sermon previously delivered by Pastor Joe Wright in front of the Kansas state legislature: “‘America had worshipped other Gods and called it multiculturalism. We’d endorsed perversion and called it an alternative lifestyle.’” Sources inside the CIA told Foreign Policy that Pompeo’s speeches within the CIA are no less loaded with explicitly religious language.

Please go read the rest.

Now, what else is happening? What stories are you following today?


Tuesday Reads: Trump Being Trump Is Going To Kill Us All

Good Morning!!

I’ve been feeling almost catatonic with shock for the past few days, ever since Trump appointed John Bolton as National Security Adviser. And that was on top of his nomination of Mike Pompeo as Secretary of State.

It just feels as if we’re inching closer and closer to a real world-wide disaster. With those two in charge, it seems likely Trump will pull us out of the Iran agreement and maybe even get us into wars in Iran and North Korea. The joke’s over, folks. This is getting way too real.

The photos of baby elephants in this post are an attempt to keep me from going completely around the bend.

At The Daily Beast, Michael Tomasky writes: Trump Does Trump, and Things Get Worse. Tomasky notes that Trump appears to have concluded that he doesn’t need advisers who tell him he can’t do what he wants to do. He’s decided to run the country the way he the business that he repeatedly drove into bankruptcy.

The hiring of John Bolton highlights Donald Trump’s instability, his total lack of any coherent worldview, and most of all—and most dangerously of all—his need to feel that no limits are being imposed on him. Here’s what I mean. When talking foreign policy, sometimes Trump sounds like Bolton, with all that overheated rhetoric he’s thrown at Kim Jong Un. But at other times, he’s an isolationist. At still other times, like when he’s agreeing to meet with Kim with no preconditions, he’s a Neville Chamberlain in the making. (By the way, is Lloyd’s of London taking odds yet on whether that summit will actually happen?)

So if he wasn’t happy with H.R. McMaster and wanted new blood, he could have gone in any number of ways. That he chose the guy who will reinforce his worst instincts tells us, I think, that what he values most (aside from unquestioning loyalty) is someone who won’t hem him in; in other words, Trump may decide to launch a first strike against North Korea, or he may not. But if he does, by God, he doesn’t want some globalist ninny telling him not to. So the principle at work here is not hawkishness per se. It’s having someone who won’t tell him no.

Tomasky discusses Trump’s ludicrous handling of economic issues, and his total lack of knowledge and understanding of how legislation is crafted. Now Trump is facing the Stormy Daniels problem, and it may get him into real trouble:

The Stormy Daniels story was kind of non-newsy on certain levels. That Trump slept with a porn star and behaved crudely toward her is about the least shocking thing in the world. But the threats made against her are the real story here. That’s going to be the new iteration of this story, and depending on how it plays out it stands the chance of reminding the country of something that many have forgotten, or never knew: The president of the United States has mob ties.

Here’s David Cay Johnston cataloguing a few of them, like how Trump went out of his way to use Mafia-controlled companies to pour the concrete for Trump Tower. The great Wayne Barrett was the master chronicler of all this, going back to the 1990s. All you need to know for now is that back in the day, the government of Australia denied him a permit to open a casino in Sydney because the government deemed him to be too mobbed up. Trump will say of this failure that he lost interest in Australia, but Australia also lost interest in him.

How can anyone who is paying attention not be frightened to have this idiot running our government?

At Vox, Zach Beauchamp writes about one serious problem with Trump’s two recent appointments: How John Bolton and Mike Pompeo mainstreamed Islamophobia.

John Bolton, President Trump’s pick for his next national security adviser, and Mike Pompeo, Trump’s pick to be the next secretary of state, are well-known hawks. Less well known are their deep and extensive ties to an organized group of anti-Muslim writers and activists.

The members of the so-called “counter-jihad” movement aren’t exactly household names. But its leading lights — people like Reagan Defense Department official Frank Gaffney, activist Brigitte Gabriel, and blogger Pamela Geller — are surprisingly well-financed and influential. Their major arguments include the idea that Islam is an intrinsically violent religion and that most mainstream American Muslim organizations are involved in a secret plot to replace American law with Islamic law. One “study” published by Gaffney’s organization, the Center for Security Policy, argued that 80 percent of mosques in America “are incubators of, at best, subversion and, at worst, violence and should be treated accordingly.”

Neither Bolton nor Pompeo has endorsed views this radical, though both have come relatively close. In February 2015, Pompeo appeared on Gaffney’s radio show and warned darkly of an Islamic conspiracy against America.

“There are organizations and networks here in the United States tied to radical Islam in deep and fundamental ways,” Pompeo said in a February 2015 interview on Gaffney’s radio program. “They’re not just in places like Libya and Syria and Iraq, but in places like Coldwater, Kansas, and small towns all throughout America.”

Bolton, for his part, has defended the Islamophobic attacks against Huma Abedin, a Muslim American who spent years as a top aide to Hillary Clinton. Some Republican members of Congress accused Abedin being a secret Islamist operative (which, it goes without saying, is wholly unfounded) in 2012; that July, Bolton went on Gaffney’s show and said there was nothing wrong with that line of attack. “What is wrong with raising the question?” Bolton asked.

Read all the scary details at Vox.

The Economist on Pompeo’s religious views:

Even among broadly conservative watchers of American foreign policy, there is worry that Mr Pompeo’s apparent sectarian sentiment might be a problem. In the words of Robert D. Kaplan, a veteran global-affairs writer, Mr Pompeo “emblemises an increasingly theological bent in American politics, and in particular in a strand of American conservatism.” This contrasted with earlier eras when “American leaders were often churchgoers but their governing spirit was refreshingly secular.”

As is noted by Shadi Hamid, a senior fellow of the Brookings Institution think-tank, Mr Pompeo comes across as an educated person whose negative ideas about Islam are more thought-through, and hence perhaps more worrisome, than the “visceral, almost incoherent” suspicion of that faith which Mr Trump exuded as a candidate. “It is not a good thing when the public face of American diplomacy holds views which demean an entire religion,” says Mr Hamid.

Several things have earned Mr Pompeo the reputation of being a kind of latter-day Crusader. One is a video clip in which he argues vigorously that at least some individuals are motivated by their Muslim beliefs, and by things they read in the Koran, to commit terrible violence. Watched closely, the video does not show him to believe that all Muslims think that way. What is more striking is the remedy of Christian solidarity he proposes: Islam-inspired terrorists “will continue to press against us until we make sure…we know that Jesus Christ is the only solution for our world.”

There is also concern about Mr Pompeo’s reaction to the bomb attack on the Boston marathon in 2013. As a Congressman, he said Muslim leaders who failed to condemn the outrage, and to call it incompatible with Muhammad’s teaching, were “potentially complicit”. Arsalan Iftikhar, a writer and lawyer who helps run an anti-Islamophobia programme at Georgetown University, was one of many Muslim-Americans who found those comments insulting to leaders of Islam in America, who used all their authority to excoriate the bombing.

Read the rest at link.

Could Trump’s behavior with women finally be causing serious problems for the GOP? The New York Times: After Stormy Daniels, Republicans Face a Referendum on Trump’s Conduct.

When Representative Ryan Costello of Pennsylvania announced on Sunday that he would join more than 40 other congressional Republicans not seeking re-election in November, he left no doubt about the reason: President Trump’s conduct made it impossible to talk about anything else.

Were he running, Mr. Costello said in an interview, he would be inundated with questions about Stephanie Clifford, the pornographic film actress known as Stormy Daniels, who has said she had an affair with Mr. Trump and was threatened to stay silent about it.

“If I had a town hall this week, it would be question after question,” Mr. Costello said. “‘Do you believe him or do you believe her? Why don’t you believe her?’”

While Republicans have been bracing for months for a punishing election in November, they are increasingly alarmed that their losses may be even worse than feared because the midterm campaign appears destined to turn more on the behavior of the man in the White House than any other in decades.

As much as gun control, immigration, the sweeping tax overhaul and other issues are mobilizing voters on the left and the right, the seamy sex allegations and Mr. Trump’s erratic style could end up alienating crucial blocs of suburban voters and politically moderate women who might be drawn to some Republican policies but find the president’s purported sex antics to be reprehensible.

Some funny quotes from the article:

“Trump is way more than the proverbial elephant in the room — he’s the elephant in the room with political bad breath, B.O. and a foul mouth,” said Ace Smith, a veteran Democratic consultant, who argued that the last time a president’s conduct loomed so large in congressional midterms was in the post-Watergate election of 1974….

“I don’t see headlines with: ‘Porn star sues Nancy Pelosi,’” said Representative Cedric Richmond, a Louisiana Democrat, when asked about his party’s polarizing House leader.

Trump’s new “trust his gut” approach has talking about bringing back fired staffer Rob Porter. I’ll bet that would be a big hit with women voters. Wonkette reacts: Sad And Lonely Trump Misses His Old Wife-Beaty Friend Rob 😦

A few days/years back, the White House unceremoniously fired a guy whose main fault seems to be that he loves Donald Trump for some reason. His name was Johnny Feelgood, Johnny Right On, Johnny Miss You, Johnny Light On, Johnny Makes Me Feel Strangely Good About Myself, AKA Johnny McEntee. He was Donald Trump’s body man, and he is very pretty, and UH OH seems to have gotten himself into some fraudy financial trouble of some sort, for which he is being investigated by the Secret Service.

We only bring up Johnny McEntee to point out that that he would be a completely reasonable person for Donald Trump to be pining for, wandering the halls of the West Wing with a Big Mac stuffed down the front of his pants and a lost look in his eyes. Instead, Donald Trump is reportedly broken-hearted and lost without Rob Porter, the guy who got fired from the White House because he couldn’t stop beating his wives all the time, which meant he couldn’t get a permanent security clearance. Yeah, THAT guy.

Maggie Haberman reports, because of course it is Maggie Haberman:

President Trump has stayed in touch with Rob Porter, the former White House staff secretary who stepped down after allegations that he had abused his two former wives came to light, according to three people familiar with the conversations, and has told some advisers he hopes Mr. Porter returns to work in the West Wing.

Oh for Christ’s sake. Without a security clearance? Because remember how Rob Porter can’t get a security clearance because he’s a rage douche who couldn’t stop beating his wives all the time?

Haberman reports that Trump ‘n’ Rob are always on the phone talking about clothes and boys and tariffs because, big sadface, Trump has fired everybody else, or else they have quit. Hope-y Hicks is gone, McMaster has cleared out his office to make room for John Bolton’s mustache grooming table, and of course Johnny Feelgood is off being hot in greener pastures, and though many of the people who have left the White House were fired in petulant fits of rage by the historically stupid man known as President Poop Waffle, that doesn’t mean the president doesn’t hate to see them go. This is because the president of the United States is a pathetic and lonely person who doesn’t have real friends.

Now look, don’t assume Trump is going to let his head get ahead of his heart and sneak Rob into the White House or anything:

The president has told the advisers he has talked with that he knows he probably cannot bring Mr. Porter back.

Because of the whole wife-beater thing. 😦

This is our reality now. This moron is the “president.” What stories are you following?