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Eating the Meatloaf

There was a time when I was fond of Chris Christie. But the struggles of his New Jersey governorship and his embrace of Trump soured me. (The thing that soured most people — his embrace of Obama after Hurricane Sandy — did not bother me. Politicians working together during a crisis used to be uncontroversial.)

So it’s somewhat satisfying to see the ritual humiliation of Christie. He hasn’t gotten a role in the Administration, likely due to the ongoing Bridegate scandal. And then there’s this:

The Republican governor said while guest hosting a New York sports talk radio show Thursday that Trump pointed out the menu and told people to get whatever they want. Then he said he and Christie were going to have the meatloaf.

‘‘This is what it’s like to be with Trump,’’ Christie said. ‘‘He says, ‘There’s the menu, you guys order whatever you want.’ And then he says, ‘Chris, you and I are going to have the meatloaf.’’’

Trump said ‘‘I’m telling you, the meatloaf is fabulous,’’ according to Christie.

Trump and Christie discussed the nation’s opioid epidemic during the lunch.

This is, of course, part of Trump’s 1980’s alpha-male business bullshit. It also shows up in his weird handshakes where he pulls people toward him and won’t let go. But it has to be humiliating for Christie, who once thought he would be Trump’s Vice-President.

It’s also given me a new phrase. From now, any time the Republicans acquiesce to a bad Trump policy, I shall call it “eating the meatloaf”. For example, if the Republicans agree to reopen NAFTA, I will say, “It looks like the Republicans are eating the meatloaf on trade.”

(Aside: Christie’s opioid policy is a mix of decent ideas and incredibly dumb ones. Dumb ones are restricting access to prescription pain meds. This sounds smart but one of the things that has caused the surge in heroin use is restrictions on prescription pain killers. People get addicted to prescription meds, are cut off and then turn to heroin. It’s depressing how we keep making the same mistakes over and over again.)

Flynn Out

I just stepped off a plane in Brisbane and have had very little sleep. But the news this morning is that Mike Flynn has resigned as Trump’s NSC due to his contact with the Russians about sanctions and his deceptions regarding said communications.

There is an instinct among Republicans to be defensive, but this is a good thing. Mike Flynn was part of what I call Camp Crazy Trump, the people who come up with ill-considered crackpot ideas like barring green card holders from entering the country. He’s a conspiracy theorist, cozy with the Russians and, apparently a liar. Good riddance.

One theme I’ve been hitting on Twitter is that we should be trying to keep Trump surrounded by good people. I’m disappointed when I see people pressuring Musk or Kalanik to refuse to work with the Administration. Because, like it or not, Trump is going to be President for the next four years. And we should want the people advising him to be smart and of good character. I realize that a lot of Trump opponents want his Administration to be a flaming disaster. But is this about what’s best for the country? Or is this just about getting Democrats elected? Because if it’s the former, you should be encouraging good people to work with Trump. And if it’s the latter, go get stuffed because the country is more important than Team Blue.

Ninth Circuit Rules Against Trump

The Ninth Circuit issued a ruling on Trump’ immigration EO, maintaining a nationwide suspension of the order.

While I think that Trump’s ban was poorly reasoned and executed with the skill of a brass band falling down a flight of stairs, I’m a bit bothered by this decision for reasons David French gets into here:

Finally, and crucially, the court made a statement near the end of its opinion that is deeply, deeply troubling. In discussing the evidence before the court, the panel says this:

The Government has pointed to no evidence that any alien from any of the countries named in the Order has perpetrated a terrorist attack in the United States.

Putting aside, for the moment, the administration’s inexplicable failure to include in the executive order or the record the extensive documentation and evidence demonstrating the threat of jihad from the seven identified countries (including terror attacks in the U.S., plots in the U.S., and a record of plots and attacks abroad), whether an attack has been completed in this country is not the standard for implementing heightened security measures. The president doesn’t have to wait for completed attacks to protect the U.S. from dangerous immigrants. He can see the deteriorating security situation on the ground, evaluate the intentions and capabilities of the enemy, and then act before the enemy can strike. Indeed, that’s the goal of national defense — to prevent attacks, not respond after the carnage.

I’ve been hearing versions of this argument over and over again. “No refugee has launched a terror attack against the US!” “No one from those seven countries has attacked the US soil!” “Since 9/11, more people have been killed by Right Wing terrorism than Jihadists!” For a while, I was swayed by these arguments. But I’ve come to realize that they are complete horse manure.

First, as French notes, the job of the federal government is to prevent attacks, not close the barn door after the horse has been stolen. If they have credible intelligence of an attack or a danger, they are supposed to act (within Constitutional limits).

Second, terrorist attacks are, by their very nature, stochastic. They are thankfully few and when you try to do any analysis of them, you are immediately swallowed by small number statistics. This is obvious when you think about it. Any sentence that starts with, “well, excluding 9/11 …” is just silly. 9/11 was the biggest terrorist attack in American history. It completely dominates the discussion. Our entire anti-terrorism policy is designed around preventing another 9/11. You simply can not exclude it from consideration and act like you’re clever for doing so.

It would take only one successful Jihadist attack to upset those numbers (indeed, the numbers changed dramatically after San Bernardino and Orlando). It would take only one attack by a refugee from, say, Somalia, to make those arguments completely moot. When your argument can be rendered useless by a singular event, it’s a terrible argument.

Think about where we were on 9/10. At that point, the most successful attack on American soil was the Oklahoma City bombing. Should Bush have therefore ignored the threat of Jihadists? On the contrary, many liberals slammed him for paying insufficient attention to the “Al-Qaeda determined to strike in US” memo.

Just to be clear: I think the danger presented by people coming into this country with visas or as refugees is low. But it is not zero. Can we quit pretending that it is?

(I would note, in passing, that deciding on the wisdom of a policy is not the Court’s job. Antonin Scalia used to note that the Courts were required to uphold laws that were ill-advised but passed Constitutional muster. He joked that he wished he had a stamp: “Stupid but Constitutional.” I’m not quite familiar enough with this case to opine on whether Trump’s order is legal or Constitutional. It may be dumb. I know many on this blog disagree. But even if we assume it’s dumb, it’s not the Court’s job to stop stupidity.)

Australia, Mexico and the Hysteria Cycle

So yesterday, the internet erupted with claims that Donald Trump had threatened to invade Mexico and had a testy phone call with the Prime Minister of Australia. I tweeted a little bit about but was a bit skeptical. But I did keep my policy on blogging about Trump-related news, which is this:

I will not blog about anything bad Trump supposedly does until it is confirmed, either by audio, video or in writing. I do this for my own sanity, if not for the sake of the debate.

To give you an example, I tweeted and blogged very quickly about last weekend’s airport debacle because it was obviously real. People were being detained and sent back, an EO had gone out, Whitehouse spokesmen had gone on record that it applied to green card holders. But I didn’t blog about rumors about an anti-LGBT EO that was supposedly on the way because it was all anonymous sourcing.

Now it turns out that the Australia phone call was a bit overblown. Trump is upset about the deal to send 1250 refugees here. But we have no idea how often world leaders get into these sort of tiffs and the Australian PM downplayed it. Trump took to Twitter to complain and it does appear he lashed out at the PM in some fashion. So it’s a bit concerning, but not exactly the start of a war. Meanwhile, Mexican and US authorities have denied that the phone call was confrontational and the transcript indicates that his “threat” to send troops down there was more of light-hearted joke and both sides saw it as such.

This is becoming a very big problem in the Trump Era. Things have moved very fast for the last two weeks. And, unfortunately, there has developed a tendency for the entire internet to jump at shadows. Garbage stories flourish with thousands of retweets and posts. The corrections are buried. The opposition is losing their damned minds, freaking out over everything Trump supposedly does only to find out later that at least half of it was fake news.

There are now dozens of Twitter accounts claiming to be “rogue” accounts inside NASA, the Parks Service and even the White House itself. There is zero evidence that these accounts are anything but trolls. In fact, one Tweeter contends that the spelling and diction indicate they are being run out of Russia (and Trump thought Putin was his friend). And yet these unsourced unreliable accounts have thousands of followers and every time they tweet something that confirms liberal biases, they get tens of thousands of retweets. Anonymous sourcing is taken as gospel. Rumors become headline news. It’s insane. It’s exhausting. It’s so discrediting that many people think it’s Trump’s team doing it to make the media look unreliable.

I realize that Trump scares a lot of people (including me). But if you turn the volume up to 11 on every whisper of malfeasance, you will exhaust yourself and everyone else. People who support Trump or are in the middle or are not political junkies will tune out. It’s not like there’s a shortage of real stuff to get mad about.

During the Obama years, I cautioned against screaming over everything he did. The same goes double for Trump. Focus on the bad stuff that’s real, not rumors. Support him when he does something right. Don’t burn your energy up and exhaust the nation chasing phantoms.

It’s Gorsuch

Well, it was done like an Apprentice finale, but we finally got Trump’s nominee to replace Scalia: Neil Gorsuch. So far, the conservative wing is extremely pleased. Gorsuch is a textualist, an independent thinker and a good writer. He clerked for Kennedy. He’s another member of the Harvard-Yale axis, unfortunately. I will have to read up more but my initial impression is that this is a solid nomination by Trump.

I thought that the GOP should have considered Garland. And I think the Senate should move forward on Gorsuch. Grill him. Vet him. Question his rulings and opinions. That’s their job. But if he’s qualified and has not serious issues, he should be our next Supreme Court justice. I expect the Democrats to put up a bit of a fight but, as he’s replacing Scalia, it will probably not be too bad. If they’re smart, they’ll save it for if/when Trump has to replace a liberal or moderate.

Trump Fires Yates

A few thoughts on Trump firing Sally Yates, the acting AG.

First, he is well within his rights to do so. The Attorney General answers to the President and, if she won’t obey his instructions, should resign. I have frequently defended politicians who are criticized for legal arguments they made while attorneys general, pointing out that arguing the state’s position is their job, whether they agree with it or not. If Yates didn’t want to defend Trump’s EO, she should have resigned, as Elliott Richardson once did.

That having been said, his statement on the matter is a bit odd, referring to her “betrayal” and trying to argue for the policy. This is politics, not some personality cult. We had enough of that nonsense with the last President. But I guess we’re going to have to get used to these Trump temper tantrums.

Finally, if there is one candidate I hope can be scuttled, it’s Jeff Sessions.

President Clusterfrack

I said this in the comments on my last post, but wanted to put it above the fold. This is from Charles Cooke on the refugee ban:

The way that this was rolled out showed a staggering incompetence by the Administration. According to detailed reports, this was crafted by Rudy Giuliani as a way to get a Muslim ban through the side door. It was put out without vetting by the Office of Legal Counsel or the Department of Homeland Security (according to DHS, they were literally discussing on the phone when Trump signed the order). I know there are those of you who will say, “Good! Fuck the bureaucrats!” But those bureaucrats exist for a reason: to prevent screwups like this; to execute the President’s orders within the bounds of the law and the Constitution. The initial order exempted green card holders, but racist conspiracy-theorist Steve Bannon and Trump confidant Steve Miller overrode that. It was rolled out on a Friday with minimal instructions given to customs agents.

As a result, there was total chaos. Border agents had no idea what they were supposed to be doing and were detaining people at random, trying to pressure them into surrendering their green cards and asking them questions about politics. People in transit — including children, people visiting sick relatives, PhD students, volunteers who helped us in Iraq — were suddenly thrown into an unknown situation. Airports erupted in protests and confusion. There are even reports of federal agents refusing to comply with the court order to cease or the later DHS Secretary’s order to let in green card holders.

The engine of state is vast and complicated. You can’t just issue executive orders like you’re playing an online Be The President game. Our federal agents and agencies need what the hell they are supposed to be doing. Citizens, permanents residents and immigrants need to know what the rules are, not have the rug jerked out from them when they get off of a plane.

Had Trump said something like this: “One week from now, we will temporarily stop immigration from the seven countries that Obama designated as problems. Green card holders, dual citizens and those in transit will be allowed in. After we review our vetting procedures, we will consider whether or not to lift the ban,” people would have opposed it. But there would not have been the chaotic angry scene we saw this weekend.

(Trump is on Twitter saying that if he’d done this, a bunch of “bad hombres” would have rushed to get in under the ban. This is a monumentally ignorant thing to say. It is a very long and time-consuming process to get visas from those countries — to say nothing of booking travel. You can’t do it in a week. This a fantasy concocted to give post facto justification to his incompetence.)

Trump’s first week has been marred by these kind of unforced errors. And it may get worse, with him having elevated Bannon to the NSC in place of the DNI and Chairman of the Joint Chiefs. Is this what we elected? Is this what we want? Chaos, protests and confusion? A President who rules by executive orders put together by crackpots? Four (or God help us eight) years of blunders, mistakes and Constitutional violations?

Maybe some people want that. But don’t call it conservatism.

The Wheat from the Chaff

Trump has been in office for one week, but it’s an eventful one. Before I get into the heavy stuff, I wanted to take a second to note that, on occasion, we all need to take a deep breath. Yes, some of the things he’s already done are misguided and some of his proposals are poor. He’s showing an alarming egotism and disregard for existing institutions, the law and the Constitution.

But … we’ve got 1460 days of this (at least). It’s important to figure out what to be alarmed by and what not to be alarmed by. Ken White has a great post on this, pointing out that the media and the American people have a tendency to react to stories of government abuse as though they are unprecedented, mainly because they weren’t paying attention while a President they liked was the in the Oval Office.

The urge to indulge in this habit under the thoroughly loathsome Trump Administration is overpowering. Trump and his underlings are scornful of rights and openly fantasize about abusing them. They require dedicated scrutiny. But not every ugly thing that happens now is the result of a Trumpism. Take, for instance, the concern about members of the press being arrested at anti-Trump protests. We should absolutely be vigilant for signs of the criminal justice system being abused to suppress the press and dissent. But cops have always indiscriminately arrested people at protests — including journalists — and falsified masses of improbable riot or assault or obstruction charges afterwards. Reporters have been charged plenty of times before. Sometimes it’s a reflection of law enforcement’s indiscriminate approach to arrests at protests and sometimes it’s a reflection of entrenched law enforcement hostility to press scrutiny. Is the latest incident actually a change — or is the press just noticing because this time they got caught up in it, and they are primed to expect tyranny?

Examples are legion, and not just in the criminal justice arena. Every day you’ll see old policies being cited as new Trump atrocities. Before it happened to Obama, and Bush, and so on ad infinitum.

I’ve decided to impose a 12-hour moratorium on tweeting or blogging any Trump outrage (unless it is something said or done by Trump or his surrogates). Because we’ve developed a huge problem with identifying real Trump outrages from phony ones. Just a few examples

  • Last week, the internet erupted because Trump had “scrubbed” pages from the White House website on climate change and LGBT rights. But it turned out that this was not unusual. When Trump assumed office, all of Obama’s web pages were moved to a new site and the only pages that went up were ones Trump’s team had put together. You could complain that this means LGBT rights and climate change are not priorities with Trump (which we already knew). But saying they’d been “scrubbed” was ignorant.
  • A day later, the internet erupted because Trump had declared his inauguration day a “National Day Of Patriotic Devotion”. This was creepy, but … Obama declared his to be a “National Day of Renewal and Reconciliation”. So this was ultimately much ado about nothing.
  • Yesterday, the Bulletin of Atomic Scientists advanced the “Doomsday Clock” to 2.5 minutes to midnight. This is utterly meaningless.
  • Yesterday, the internet also erupted because several senior State Department staff resigned. This is a bit alarming because Trump has not filled almost all the senior positions at State (and even the most ardent small-government conservative would admit that foreign relations are the Federal Government’s job). But, as Alex noted, the resignations were not unusual or unprecedented. In fact, most senior government officials resign when a new Administration takes office. Some are just held on for continuity.
  • There’s been a bit of hubbub over the Administration telling government scientists not to communicate with the public. It’s not clear how common this is or how extensive. I am very concerned that the Administration may be politicizing science. But this is not unprecedented — the previous Administration was more than happy to indulge in pseudo-scientific trafficking “studies”. For the moment, I am holding back on a full-scale blast until it’s clear what’s going on.

The problem with these pseudo- or semi-controversies is that they obscure really bad stuff the Administration is actually doing that is not in question at all. To wit:

  • Issuing an executive order last week that has HHS grant more waivers to insurance mandates under Obamacare. That may sounds good. But since insurance companies are still forbidden from blocking insurance due to pre-existing conditions, this is only going to enhance the insurance death spiral.
  • Wallowing in conspiracy theories about voter fraud. Trump is obsessed with his popularity and is now proposing a massive investigation into mythical millions of illegal aliens voting. If masses of illegal aliens voted in 2016, they were just as skilled as the mythical Russian hackers who supposedly stole the election for Trump. They somehow disguised themselves as well-established demographic trends, voted Republican down-ballot and concentrated all their power in California, which Clinton was going to win anyway. This fantasy of Trump’s ends in one place: a national ID card and national voter database.
  • Reopening CIA black sites and resuming torture. This was one of my biggest breaks with the Republican Party and remains so. The black sites create a space where torturers can operate outside of the law, outside of the Geneva convention and outside of the rules of war. And the CIA’s record in defense of their program — destroying evidence, lying to Congress, spying on Congress — is a huge black mark against them. Trump has decreed that torture “absolutely” works despite overwhelming evidence to the contrary. And whether it works or not, it is a violation of the law, our treaty obligations and basic human decency. He’s talking as though to defeat ISIS, we need to become ISIS.
  • Trump, a supposed Culture War moderate, restored the gag order that prevents NGO’s from getting money if they perform abortions or even counsel women about abortions. But he extended it further to all international health organizations, not just those involved with family planning. Organizations fighting HIV/AIDS could see their funding cut if they even mention abortion. (To be fair, this reeks of that Culture War dunderhead Pence. But Trump signed it, probably not knowing what he was signing.) This seemingly innocuous move could kill thousands, even potentially undoing Bush 43’s greatest legacy: the tremendous progress made in fighting AIDS in Africa.
  • Trump, as promised, banned immigration from several Muslim countries, including countries where we created the refugee crisis and applying even to people who helped us and are now at risk of retaliation. Oddly, or maybe not so oddly, the ban does not apply to countries where Trump has business interests.
  • He continued to make false claims about surging crime, saying DC and Philadelphia are experiencing huge surges in murder (they aren’t). He also threatened to send in the feds to deal with Chicago, which really is seeing a surge of violence. But as Radley Balko pointed out, the Feds already did look into Chicago and concluded that the policing culture, which includes such “politically correct” things as black sites, beatings, smashed dash cams and cover-ups, is the biggest problem.
  • Trump cancelled TPP, to the delight of China and the despair of the people who would have benefitted. And he’s now supporting a “border adjustment tax” that will spike the cost of consumer goods. Yesterday, it was touted as the way Mexico will pay for his stupid wall although it does not such thing. And his angry tweeting about Mexico caused the Mexican President to cancel a meeting — not a good thing for our third biggest trading partner.

Since I wrote the above, I’ve been trying to think of anything good Trump has done in the first week. He froze regulations, which is sorta good but there are few on things like airline safety that we kind of need. He froze government hiring, which is fine. He removed the ban on the Keystone Pipeline, which is fine, but not nearly the economic stimulus he thinks it will be. That’s pretty much it and all stuff we could have gotten out of a generic Republican sans the bullshit.

Look, there are bunch of you that support Trump. I get that. But you can’t claim that a man who wants political control of science, torture, baseless investigations into supposed voter fraud, hard restraints on immigration, a global gag order on abortion and a thousand other policies that clamp down on us is, in any way, a supporter of freedom or the Constitution. I said before the election that Trump had the makings of a thug. We’re only a week in but I’ve seen nothing to make me reassess that opinion.