Monday, May 22, 2017

Someone is finally standing up for goons' rights

Turkey: Our goons were treated badly! Those protesters cruelly threw their faces in front of the goons' fists and put their necks inside the goons' chokeholds!

Missiling itself in its own foot

Last month when the U.S. shot 59 Tomahawk missiles at an air base in Syria I saw a few articles about how each missile costs about $1 million. Since then, every time that North Korea shoots one of its missiles into the sea, I wonder how much that is costing them. Does anyone know?

These medium-range missiles are probably more expensive than a short-range Tomahawk. Or at least they would be if made in the U.S. Thanks to slave labor, North Korea probably saves a lot on labor costs. But they still would have material costs. The country is under a lot of sanctions, many of which are designed to restrict the country's access to materials needed for its missile program. Those factors are going to drive the cost up even higher. Plus, North Korea is a really poor country.

So whenever Kim Jung Un fires a missile to make some kind of point to the outside world, how much of an economic hit does that impose on his country? I'm not sure what it is, but it must be something.

Why weren't there any protesters in Saudi Arabia?

Also the guard wanted a selfie. So the only possible explanation is that everyone loves Trump. It certainly couldn't have anything to do with this.

Friday, May 19, 2017

Maybe Trump already has bottomed out?

On Tuesday, the morning after it was revealed that Trump gave classified intelligence to the Russians, I wondered how much further his approval ratings could sink. As I wrote:
Because there is some portion of the public that will back Trump no matter what, there is a limit to how low he can go. But what is that floor? The lowest Trump has gone so far is 35%-59% on March 28. I suspect the floor is in the low-30s, at least until the next economic downturn. But maybe this revelation will be enough to push him into the upper-20s? We should know by the end of the week.
It is now the end of the week. Gallup's 3-day average has now fully absorbed all the news from when I wrote that post and Trump's approval/disapproval numbers have gone from 38% approval/57% disapproval to... 38%/56% this afternoon. In other words, it hasn't moved at all. Look at the chart for the poll in the past week. His disapproval number has been completely flat since Tuesday.

Does this mean that 38% is the portion of die-hard Trump supporters who can't be moved by news events no matter how bad they are? That's about 5-8 points higher than I thought. I still think it can go lower if we experience a serious economic downturn. But Trump's approval rating might have a 38% floor until that happens.

America First

Consider this scenario: A foreign leaders visits the U.S. and then watches as his goons beat the shit out of Americans who were peacefully protesting his visit. The D.C. cops briefly detained some of the goons, but they were promptly released "when it was determined that they held diplomatic status."

President Trump could not have prevented this from happening. But he could have, at least, raised the issue with Erdogan when they met after the incident.. I bet any other U.S. president would have done something to protest the abuse of U.S. citizens for exercising their constitutional rights by foreign security forces on U.S. soil.

A bag of crazy cats

North American Free Trump agreement

I predict that the new renegotiated NAFTA will be almost total bullshit. There may be a few tweaks, maybe some minor changes to update some specific provisions that the industry thinks need updating, but the basic framework will remain  and as a substantive matter, there will be little difference between the new NAFTA and the NAFTA we have right now.

Maybe all Trump will do is make sure the "T" stands for Trump rather than "trade" in the acronym. Then he will hold a big rally, proclaim victory, and never mention NAFTA again.

Measuring Joementum

I wonder if the fact that Joe Lieberman lacks any relevant experience or qualifications to be FBI Director will pose any barrier to him being confirmed. This Senate has already approved a bunch of cabinet members who completely lacked qualifications for their post. Will this be any different? Have the lessons of the last few months sunk in? Will the fact that we have crept slightly closer to the 2018 mid-term elections make a difference? Or will the fact that Holy Joe is well liked by several key Senate Republicans allow him to sail through to a major law enforcement post despite his complete lack of any law enforcement or background in criminal justice?

It looks like a lot of Democrats won't support the nomination, but the real question is whether any Republicans will defect.

Thursday, May 18, 2017

What Yglesias said

I totally agree with this. Trump is just an extreme example of a broader problem with how our society treats the wealthy.

Man on Turkish payroll didn't like the Kurds for some reason

I guess it matters when you put someone who is a paid agent of a foreign government on the National Security Council.

In my mind the biggest deal about Flynn is not the secret dealings with Russia or Turkey, it is the display of such incredibly bad judgment. The Trump people even knew Flynn was suspected to be a foreign agent when they brought him into the administration, and they put him in the most sensitive position they could anyway. The recklessness and irresponsibility is pretty astounding.

Wednesday, May 17, 2017

Trump's wavy plan

So Trump has this idea for an "Arab NATO" (can't we just call it ATO?). Is he aware that just over one year ago the Saudis announced a new Islamic Military Alliance? The alliance still exists, although it doesn't seem to do anything but bomb the shit out of Yemen, which is what member states were already doing before December 2016. Would ATO be a subset of the IMA, only allowing the IMA members which are ruled by ethnic Arabs? Or will ATO let in the Arab nation of Iraq, which has been excluded from the IMA because it is ruled by icky Shi'ites?

Surely our great Preznit has thought through these questions and knows the answer because he is a thinking through and answering kinda guy! This is totally a full-assed proposal.

ASIDE: "Arab Treaty Organization" would be "منظمة المعاهدة العربية" and the Arab acronym could be "ممع", not a word I know but google translate says it means "wavy."

What could possibly go wrong?

The New York Times on Trump's upcoming trip to Israel:
“He’s in real danger of blowing up Jerusalem as an issue that divides rather than unites two of the Abrahamic religions,” said Martin S. Indyk, an American ambassador to Israel under Mr. Clinton. “That part of the visit needs to be handled with extreme care.”
First, in what sense has the issue of Jerusalem "unite[d] two of the Abrahamic religions" even before Trump came long?

Second, is there anyone on the planet who believes that Trump will be capable of handing any middle eastern issues "with extreme care"? This is a conflict where the wrong turn of phrase can cause chaos. So we are sending in our loudmouthed President, who knows nothing about the region, its issues, or its history, has surrounded himself with extremists, and who regularly blurts out completely inaccurate ignorant comments about any issue he encounters.

So what will be the biggest debacle of Trump's Middle Eastern trip? His bull in a china shop approach to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, or when our country's most powerful anti-Muslim bigot gives a speech about Islam in Saudi Arabia?

The argument for an independent counsel

The bottom line is that any president who would do this should not be permitted to appoint the next FBI director who will be in charge of an investigation of that president.

The President does have the legal right to appoint an FBI Director, but the Director has to be confirmed by the Senate, so the Senate should refuse to confirm anyone unless all investigations of the President, his associates, the members of his campaign, and the members of his administration are assigned to an independent investigator and taken out of the hand of the FBI Director.

There is chatter that Trump's support among some Senate Republicans is starting to crack. (My own otherwise useless Republican Senator has called for Trump to appoint a Democrat). If just three Republicans are serious, then they need to insist upon an independent counsel before we get a new FBI Director.

Tuesday, May 16, 2017

Ladies and Gentlemen, the President of the United States

It's the he's-too-stupid-to-commit-actual-treason defense:
In private, three administration officials conceded that they could not publicly articulate their most compelling — and honest — defense of the president: that Mr. Trump, a hasty and indifferent reader of printed briefing materials, simply did not possess the interest or knowledge of the granular details of intelligence gathering to leak specific sources and methods of intelligence gathering that would do harm to United States allies.
Those three administration officials sure have a great view of their boss! So why do they remain administration officials? Isn't there a point at which they realize they don't have to put up with his nonsense? Anyone who leave right now is sure to have some nice lucrative opportunities as talkative Trump administration defector. Grab those opportunities now, before the market is saturated!

Legality is not the big issue

President Trump totally misses the point when he focuses on the fact that, as President, it is legal for him to disclose classified information (because the president can declassify things at will, by disclosing information, the President automatically declassifies that information) The scandal is not about whether he was allowed to do it, it is about whether it was a good idea for him to do it. Because the intelligence in question was obtained from an allied country, on the condition that it not be shared even with other allies, Trump broke that agreement by telling the Russians. If the U.S. accepts intelligence from allies with conditions and then breaks those conditions, allies will stop sharing intelligence with the U.S.

A lot of intelligence that the U.S. has it gets from other countries as part of intelligence-sharing deals. The Five Eyes agreement is just the best known example, but the U.S. has intelligence-sharing deals with a variety of countries

Just this story alone has severely hampered America's ability to get intelligence because it shows that Trump is not capable of telling secrets or inclined to honor intelligence-sharing agreements. Because he is unable to keep his trap shut, Trump could endanger the lives of agents of allied countries and the allied countries know that. This story is already doing damage to the U.S. intelligence-gathering abilities.

UPDATE: It looks like Israel was the country that supplied the intelligence that Trump passed on to the Russians. I wonder if they will try to bring up the problems he caused them by blabbing when Trump is in Israel next week. If they're smart they won't bother. Trump won't understand their point, but if he interprets their comments as critical, he is going to react badly. There's no possible up-side to treating the President of the United States as a person to have a rational conversation with. (ADDING: This seems really prescient.)

How low can he go?

Trump is currently at 38% approval-57% disapproval in the Gallup presidential approval tracking poll, (although it has only been updated to include polling data since May 14). The poll is a three day average, so it reflects the Comey firing, but does not reflect last night's revelation that the President passed on classified information to Russian officials.

Because there is some portion of the public that will back Trump no matter what, there is a limit to how low he can go. But what is that floor? The lowest Trump has gone so far is 35%-59% on March 28. I suspect the floor is in the low-30s, at least until the next economic downturn. But maybe this revelation will be enough to push him into the upper-20s? We should know by the end of the week.

The President is an easily manipulated pushover

This is a nice follow-up to yesterday's post.

If this presidency manages to survive for its entire term, I fully expect the Trump White House to become a battlefield of various interests, both foreign and domestic, with each interested party trying to manipulate the President into doing what they want, while the increasingly befuddled commander-in-chief doing a chaotic dance, lurching from one inconsistent decision to another.

Monday, May 15, 2017

An easily manipulated president is a huge opportunity for everyone else

I would not be surprised if every foreign intelligence agency is trying to get an agent inside the West Wing just so that person can slip articles to the President to manipulate his actions. Seriously, every single country. It is not likely that the world's most powerful nation will be led by someone this easily manipulated ever again. So this is their big chance to pull the strings of our presidential puppet.

Every nation has something they could use the U.S. to help them with, even allies. If you're Uganda and you want to finally resolve that dispute with the DRC over Rukawanzi Island, get an agent to put a pro-Uganda article about the dispute in Trump's reading pile, along with a clipping about the public approval spike Trump got when he shot missiles at Syria. If you're Tajikistan and want to get Uzbekistan off your back in the Rogun Dam dispute, just get the right article into Trump's pile so he makes an enraged call to Mirziyoyev. If you're Japan and upset that South Korea keeps bringing up comfort women, maybe the right article will get America to put more pressure on Seoul for you. The sky's the limit. Trump has so few core beliefs and is so moved by the stuff he reads, even things that would be obvious fakes to most other people, this has got to be too big of an opportunity to pass up.

Friday, May 12, 2017

If life were a movie...

...the last scene of this Trump horror show would be Jeff Sessions being given the most severe sentence possible for perjury because of his own policy.

Garland for FBI Director is a terrible idea

I was going to write out an argument, but I can't get more succinct than Dahlia Lithwick:
Garland probably won’t want to give up his lifetime tenure as the chief judge of the second-most important court in the land, and surely the most significant bulwark against Trump administration overreach, in exchange for a 12-minute gig on The Apprentice before he uses the wrong color highlighter and gets fired by a crazy person.
So stop it with the Garland idea. All it would do is give Trump another Judge on the D.C. Circuit.

ADDING: Weigel dumps more cold water on the idea.

No, he does not have a recording of the Comey dinner

Why are so many people reading this tweet to mean that Trump has a recording of his dnner with Comey? Trump regularly just tosses ideas out there that have no basis in fact in an effort to intimidate people. I doubt Trump has the technical know-how to record a conversation (yes, I realize with today's phones it takes almost no technical prowess to record people talking). I doubt he would have had the foresight to try to record a call or that he thought that particular meeting should be recorded (unless he records every conversation he has, but we have seen no indication of that yet).

Given what we know about Donald, isn't it more plausible that he is just trying to scare Comey into not speaking publicly about their dinner? It might not even be as coherent as that. He might just be lashing out to lash out. That certainly would be more in character of the president than some scheme to record the FBI Director's conversation and keeping it secret for four whole months.

ADDING: Exactly. This is what the President does when he feels under the gun. He makes shit up and tries to threaten people.

Keep this in mind

If there's one constant in politics, it is that the Democrats have an unending capacity to go into something with a big advantage and then to completely blow it. Trumps dumpster-fire presidency is creating a major opportunity for the Democrats in every election (both on year and off) between now and 2020. Yes, even if Trump resigns, is impeached, or is removed for mental incapacity, the Democrats should still be able to stick the Republican Party and President Pence with the stink of Trump. And 2020 is particularly important because whoever controls the state houses in the 2020 census is going to set the stage for the next decade of congressional districts.

But Democrats can screw it up. They might not, and it is hard to see how they could if Trump keeps shooting himself in both feet every other second. But never underestimate Democrats' ability to fuck up their best opportunities.