Friday, February 24, 2017

Take the press out of the press briefings

The White House press briefings have always been a bit of a joke. They have always been nothing more than the official word from whatever administration is in power followed by a series of questions posed to a press secretary who does not have the authority to do anything but hue to whatever the official position as best he or she can. In the Trump era, when the press secretary has no problem lying shamelessly in his answers, they have become even more of a joke. Now that they are barring news sources they don't like, can the media finally ask whether this is an event worth covering at all?

We will see Trump's tax returns some day

I think we will eventually see Donald Trump's tax returns. Either they will be subpoenaed by a Congressional committee, released under that obscure 1924 law,  obtained in discovery in one of the many lawsuits that Trump already is or will be involved in, or just leaked. Those first two options would probably have to wait until after Democrats retake one of the chambers of Congress (but not necessarily!)

The most likely way for it to come out is with some leak because the Trump administration has been leaking like crazy. One side effect of deconstructing the administrative state is that it makes enemies of the administrators of the administrative state, people who have worked for years and generally believe in what they have been doing. That's why we have all these alt-gov twitter accounts, as well as other those other leaks that have driven the news since inauguration day. I don't know how many IRS employees would be able to retrieve Trump's tax returns, but some set of people in the IRS could do it. Even though it is a criminal offense to publicly release someone's return, I would not be surprised if eventually someone tried it.

And that's only counting the people in the IRS. Trump did not prepare his own tax return. I bet his accountants and lawyers have copies as well. Those firms have file clerks, secretaries, janitors, and plenty of other under-the-radar people who could squirrel away copies if they notice an extremely recognizable name on a file.

I really think it will happen eventually. The only question is how long it will take before we see them.

What's the deal with the Russian Trump flags?

Was this a prank by people trying to embarrass Trump? A serious (meaning not a joke) infiltration of pro-Russian conservatives? An innocent mistake made by some schwag-manufacturer who wanted to use American colors but had no idea what the Russian flag looks like?

All three seem equally plausible to me.

UPDATE: And here is the answer.

Thursday, February 23, 2017

The M. Night Shyamalan of political pranks

James O'Keefe managed to pull off that Acorn sting in 2009 and do some real damage to the organization. (He is the primary reason that ACORN no longer exists, and the reason that ACORN is so demonized on the right, it still gets regularly defunded by Congress notwithstanding the fact that it no longer exists). He had more limited success with his NPR sting in 2011, which caused two NPR executives to resign, but did not any lasting damage to NPR. But other than those two, O'Keefe has tried almost a dozen other stings, all of which either fizzled or blew up in his face. (e.g. that time he tried to break into a Senator's office)

The latest much-hyped CNN sting turns out to be (surprise!) a big nothing. So are are people still paying attention to this guy?

Wednesday, February 22, 2017

Boom times for foreign policy hacks

At least the Trump Administration is giving a boost to the careers to a bunch of underqualified and unrespected self-declared experts in foreign policy.

UPDATE (2/23/17): Icing on the cake. Trump really does have a talent for attracting mentally unhinged people to work for him.

I guess Trump thinks that all undocumented immigrants are Mexican

I don't completely understand how deportation works, but couldn't the Mexican government simply refuse to admit any non-Mexicans that ICE tries to deport to Mexico? Then they would stay in ICE custody, who would have to figure out what to do with them (like, for example, deporting them to the country they are actually from).

Monday, February 20, 2017

The apologizing for America tour

How much of Mattis' and Tillerson's time in the cabinet will be spent traveling the world to tell foreign leaders that Trump did not mean what he said?

In trade talks, the ruling monarchs considers sending their relatives to live with the pelicans

If you don't follow sports, sometimes the headlines raise intriguing possibilities.

What's the deal?

Does anyone else think it odd that today's front-page NY Times article about these shadowy Trump associates pushing a secret plan to resolve the conflict between Russia and Ukraine never bothers to tell us what that plan says?

Maybe they don't know and I realize that Times' scoop is just the fact that the Trump administration is resorting to that cast of characters. But my thoughts about how shady the deal is would be affected by seeing how much this proposed deal with give to Russia.

Friday, February 17, 2017

I'm a sucker for all things Turkic

Thanks to the always interesting Strange Maps blog, today I learned about Gagauzia. So I spent my lunch break learning about the mystery of the Gagauz people and where their language fits into the Turkic tree.

El Presidente does not want his eyes sullied with dissenting messages

I just requested two tickets (the maximum) for Trump's idiotic 30 months early campaign rally in Florida tomorrow. Not planning on showing up, but I want them to reserve an empty seat for me! You can do it too! (Note: you need to give a cell phone number and an email address. I gave my Russian email that I created when I was in KZ. The cell number has to be real because they text you an authorization code before you can get the tickets)

Anyway, I got my two tickets and this is what it says at the bottom:

What a fucking coward.

Flynn's replacement will not be much better

Anyone smart enough to do a competent job will be able to see that replacing Flynn is a shit sandwich. So Trump will either immediately or eventually (after some more competent people turn it down) appoint some wild-eyed Bannonite for the national security post.

Maybe not leader of the free world, but champion of WTFs

Yesterday's press conference got 18 WTFs. Can he beat that next time?

Actually, my absolute favorite was the last one on the list, when he asked an African-American reporter if she could set up a meeting for him with the Congressional Black Caucus. Apparently the president thinks that: (a) it is a reporter's job to set up meetings for him with members of Congress, and (b) all black people know each other.

Thursday, February 16, 2017

"Russia is fake news"`

I thought Russia was a country.

It would be more funny to watch Donald Trump lose his mind if he weren't President of the United States.

Thought Experiment

Trump will only be impeached if the Congressional Republicans think that Trump in the Oval Office is doing them more harm to their agenda than the hit their brand would take during the impeachment process. It might happen because they could at least tell themselves they would end up with Pence, who is much more of the kind of Republican the Congressional leaders are than Trump is.

What if Trump saw that coming, fired Pence, and replaced him with someone who the Congressional Republicans hated just as much? What if Trump replaced Pence with Bannon or some other breitbartian flame-thrower? Would that just get more Congressional Republicans to turn away from him, or would it be an effective insurance policy against impeachment (and also removal for incompetence under the 25th Amendment, because that process has to be initiated by the Vice President)

If we assume that Trump actually wants to remain president, would that be a savvy move? Is Trump smart enough to think of something like that?

ADDING: Never mind. See the comments. I wasn't thinking. Trump can't fire Pence because Pence was election. Pence can either resign or be removed involuntarily through the impeachment process. Trump doesn't have control of either.

What a fucking idiot

Q: Thank you very much. Mr. President, in your vision for the new Middle East peace, are you ready to give up the notion of two-state solution that was adopted by previous administration? And will you be willing to hear different ideas from the Prime Minister, as some of his partners are asking him to do, for example, annexation of parts of the West Bank and unrestricted settlement constructions? And one more question: Are you going to fulfill your promise to move the U.S. embassy in Israel to Jerusalem? And if so, when?
And, Mr. Prime Minister, did you come here tonight to tell the President that you’re backing off the two-state solution?
Thank you.
PRESIDENT TRUMP: So I’m looking at two-state and one-state, and I like the one that both parties like. (Laughter.) I’m very happy with the one that both parties like. I can live with either one.
I thought for a while the two-state looked like it may be the easier of the two. But honestly, if Bibi and if the Palestinians — if Israel and the Palestinians are happy, I’m happy with the one they like the best.

Trump's entire vision for Middle East peace: One state, two state, red state, blue state.

ADDING: I think calling this "back[ing] away from a Palestinian state" gives Trump way too much credit. He doesn't have a coherent policy at all. I think his actual words (quoted above) make it clear that Trump has no idea what "two-state" or "one-state" mean. The man is a policy vacuum, which makes his extremist friends and advisers all the more dangerous.

Wednesday, February 15, 2017

Is Puzder really in trouble?

Just last week I thought that, while probably every Trump cabinet appointment would be confirmed, Betsy DeVos was the most vulnerable of the bunch. DeVos was confirmed, just barely, but last week's thesis could still be right if everyone else gets confirmed too by a less narrow vote.

On the other hand, that was last week's theory. This week I am not so sure. First, four GOP Senators have expressed reservations about Labor Secretary nominee Andrew Puzder. Okay, that's kind of bullshit. We have seen this act before. A Republican Senator publicly expresses some concern and then votes for the nominee anyway, a song and dance just designed to make it look like the Senator is not a rubber stamp. (e.g. Rubio with Tillerson)

But Puzder has multiple problems. There's a serious allegation of domestic violence (which was retracted, but only as part of a settlement). There's the fact that Puzder broke many of the laws he would be called on to enforce as Labor Secretary. And there's the fact that he employed an undocumented alien as a housekeeper and did not pay taxes for her work. The latter is potentially another eruption of nannygate, which has sunk several cabinet nominations or near nominations in the recent past (e.g. Zoe Baird and Kimba Wood in the Clinton Administration, and Linda Chavez and Bernie Kerik in the W. Bush Administration (Kerik had multiple problems beyond just his nannygate issue)). The undocumented alien angle cuts right to the heart of a major issue for Trump supporters. That's why even the National Review opposes the nomination.

The National Review has lost a lot of its pull on the right. It famously led the charge of the #NeverTrump movement and we can all see how that turned out. But the National Review's reasons for opposing Puzder will resonate well beyond the shrinking number of GOPers who give a shit what the NR writes. Plus, the current re-eruptions of the Flynnghazi scandal may cause Republicans to reconsider the merits of giving uncritical support to a sinking administration. Puzder could actually be the one Trump cabinet nominee that does not make it.

Here's hoping.

Beware the Ides of February

So much for Donald's bromance with Vladimir

The Trump administration is uniquely unqualified to deal with this, especially right now.

Pointing out that Russia is brazenly violating an arms reduction treaty right now is a nice rejoinder to this:

Donald Trump is increasing your kid's tuition bills

That line at the end is absolutely right. People don't realize this, but foreign college students subsidize college costs for American students. The U.S. happens to have a college and university system that attracts a lot of foreign students. Almost every American college and university does not give financial aid to foreigners. Which means they1 pay the full sticker price for college whereas quite a lot of American college students get some kind of aid. A lot of the aid packages given to American students are only possible because of all the tuition dollars received for foreign students. If the foreign students don't come, that means less money for financial aid, which means Americans' real college costs will go up.

Trump's draconian restrictions on legal immigrants (even if blocked indefinitely by the courts) is going to scare away foreigners and make college cost more for American students.

1- "They" doesn't necessarily mean the foreign student. A lot of foreign governments have scholarships to pay to send their students to U.S. institutions. But the U.S. institutions usually get the full tuition for foreign students, regardless who is paying.