Tag: Donald Trump

The Budget “Deal”

So Congress has put out their budget deal. It includes gigantic massive cuts to … um, nothing. Spending will go up. And it includes important reforms to … um, nothing. Entitlements will go on as scheduled. But at least it has full funding for … um, Planned Parenthood? And the EPA will get … um, almost all of its funding.

I’m not sure why I expected anything different. Congress is spineless and the only way spending has been cut in the past is through intense showdowns with the President. This President is so eager to reach a deal that he immediately abandoned his “skinny budget”. And whatever political capital the GOP had has been burned on ham-fisted poorly-executed attempts at a travel ban and ACA repeal.

We’re 100 days into the Trump term. I’m unwilling to pronounce him a failure only 1/16th into his term. But something is going to have to change and soon. The vital issue of overhauling Obamacare has now ended in not one but two legislative implosions. The vital issue of tax reform came down to a one-page outline that wouldn’t pass muster in a freshman economics class. The issue of illegal immigration is descending into ham-fisted deportations. Our foreign policy is a mess, with Trump heaving praise at such luminaries as Kim Jong-un and and mass murderer Rodrigo Duterte. You occasionally see glimpses of competence (Gorsuch, Trump’s dealings with China). But we need a lot more.

This is one of the reasons I was NeverTrump: political outsiders sound good but you need someone who is willing to learn the system and use it. Trump is not that man and never has been. If Rubio or Kasich or anyone else had won, we’d be seeing a much more competent agenda advanced.

Still, recriminations get us nowhere. Someone needs to step up and take the helm here. I had hoped that Paul Ryan would be that man but, so far, we haven’t seen much from him other than catering to Trump’s politics of the moment.

I suspect, however that this is how the next four years will play out. Not with disasters — although that possibility always looms — but with four years of rudderless government that gets nothing done. A GOP that is in gridlock with itself. Sometimes, that’s preferable. But I think our economy and our country need more than just benign neglect right now.

In Which I … Kinda Side With Trump

This weekend saw a somewhat concerning diplomatic faceoff. North Korea indicated they were going to test a nuclear weapon and Trump had hinted at the possibility of pre-emptive or retaliatory strikes, sparking fears of a second Korean War. It wasn’t clear exactly what was going on because it was all rumors and innuendo. Ultimately, the Nork’s nuclear test failed (possibly due to US cyberwarfare) and the situation was defused.

Today, however, a new chapter in the saga came out. Trump is apparently talking to China to try get them to reign in North Korea. We’ve done that before but Trump is apparently breaking with long-standing US policy and offering trade concessions to China if they reign in Kim.

And … I’m actually not averse to that.

Look, we all know that Kim is China’s pet. China provides almost all their energy and trade. China has long had the ability to at least threaten North Korea, if not reign it in. Trump has been talking big on China for some time. He’s apparently reversed a number of positions after talking to Xi, including backing down on labeling China a currency manipulator. That’s another kettle of fish, of course. But if get China to clamp on Kim AND not have a trade war … that’s a win-win, isn’t it?

I’d like to hear why I’m wrong about this. But if my criticisms of Trump are to have any meaning, I have to point out when he’s done something right. Avoiding a trade war and getting North Korea in line is exactly the kind of “deal” Trump promised.

Virtue Signaling with Bombs

It would appear that we are moving toward getting involved with Syria. Images have emerged of a horrific chemical weapons attack on Syrian civilians, including children. Multiple independent organizations are pointing the finger at Assad. And various Trump officials are making noise about attacking Syria in retaliation. So far, a number of politicians have indicated support for such an action, including Hillary Clinton and John McCain, even though it carries the danger of a conflict — by proxy or directly — with Russia.

I have long been wary of intervention in Syria. The reason is not because I am insensitive to the suffering of Syrian civilians or the house of horrors that is Assad. It’s because it’s not clear to me what the hell the goal would be. Sean Davis raised 14 questions that our leaders need to answer before they commit to military action — all good questions that no one has answered. The logic seems to be:

  1. What’s happening is awful.
  2. Let’s drop some bombs.

But what will that do? If we destroy his air force, does that simply drag the war out? If we remove Assad, do we just get more chaos for ISIS to move into? Is this virtue signaling with bombs?

I find myself agreeing with our friend Thrill:

My other thought is that one of the top five reasons I voted for Trump was that I thought he was less War Crazed of the two major candidates. You can argue with me all you like, but Clinton was creaming her pantsuit in anticipation of dragging us into more international conflicts. Trump convinced me that he wasn’t interested in any further needless military interventions and I’d prefer not to be proven wrong.

I’ve seen the images coming out of Syria. Yeah, it’s awful.

But it isn’t our war.

It isn’t our fault either. There’s nothing we stand to gain from it. It isn’t even within our ability to resolve. I’m not indifferent to human suffering, but I don’t support any war that doesn’t further the best interests of the United States. There’s no way I support Trump if he moves forward with military action against the Assad regime.

Something else to think about: why is Assad’s use of chemical weapons the red line here? Why is it so much more horrible than the bombs he’s been dropping on his people or years, bombs that have left many children dead or screaming in pain or maimed for life? Let’s say we eliminate all his chemical weapons — hey, remember when John Kerry said we’d gotten rid of them all? Will that ameliorate the suffering of Syria’s children? Will he not just drop more conventional bombs?

The more I turn this over, the more I think this is virtue signaling with bombs. Something horrible has happened and we want to show that we don’t like it. But that’s not enough for me. You’re going to need more than that for me to support committing blood and treasure to what looks like a massive dangerous quagmire.

Update: As I was writing this post, CNN announced that we have launched 50 tomahawk missiles against airfields in Syria. That was fast. And there was no approval from Congress.

The Flynn Flip

The internet is filled with the new that General Mike Flynn is seeking immunity in exchange for testifying about the Trump campaign’s ties to Russia. What exactly he would testify about it a bit unclear. And so far, no one has taken him up on the offer.

The Democrats are salivating over this, but let’s keep something in mind: Flynn may not know shit. He may just be trying desperately to evade any consequences of his own actions which, at the very least, included undisclosed lobbying on behalf of Turkey. Even is he does know something, that something may not be the thing that leads to the downfall of Trump.

I’m reminded a bit of Oliver North. During the Iran-Contra Affair, North was given immunity to testify to Congress. In the end, he didn’t give them what they wanted: nothing implicated Reagan. The prosecutors went after North himself and got a conviction but it was subsequently overturned because of the immunity Congress had given him.

Maybe Flynn cracks the Russia thing open. But I suspect this will go the same way. If he is given immunity, the stuff he will reveal will be less than damning or, at worst, implicate Manafort.

As I’ve said many times, the Russia thing demands full independent investigation (especially with Nunes going off the reservation). But I’m not going to say, “This is the end of Trump!” until it’s the end of Trump.

Breaking Up the Order

I’ve been toying with a post on Trump’s foreign policy so far but it keeps running aground on the problem that Trumps doesn’t seem to have a foreign policy apart from pissing off all our allies and sucking up to Russia. In the past few weeks:

  • Trump rejected free trade ideals at the G-20, causing a major rift between us and our major economic partners. I understand being opposed to TPP or even NAFTA. But the principle of free trade is something we should commit to whole-heartedly.
  • Trump hurled baseless accusations that the British GCHQ wire-tapped Trump tower at Obama’s behest, an accusation so stupid the Administration eventually had to apologize for it. I have no doubt the British spy on us, just as we spy on them. But you can’t just run around randomly accusing our allies of spying on you because you misunderstood a Breitbart post. In hearings yesterday, multiple members of the intelligence community indicated there was absolutely no basis to Trump’s accusations.
  • The Secretary of State will reportedly skip out on a critical NATO in order to meet with Russia.
  • FBI Directory Comey indicated that they are investigating ties between the Trump campaign and Russia (not ties between Trump himself and Russia; a critical distinction). Trump responded with his usual blarney.
  • Trump had a bad meeting with Angel Merkel, head of one of our key military and economic partners.
  • He had an awkward meeting with the Irish PM.
  • Has still not filled many key positions at the State Department, including critical ambassadorships.

None of this is particularly lethal to the country, of course. But it betrays an Administration that remains inept, amateurish and unable to learn.

We’re two months into the Trump years. I understand he’s an outsider but so far we are seeing little indication that he’s learning how this works or has any inclination of learning how it works. I raised this same criticism during the campaign: my problem with Trump was less that he was ignorant about government but that he showed no inclination to learn. And we’re still seeing that he has no inclination to learn.

And it also exposes, yet again, the hypocrisy of at least half the criticism of Obama over the last eight years. If half of this stuff had happened under Obama, the Right Wing would be foaming at the mouth about how he was turning his back on our allies and undoing seven decades of building a functional peaceful prosperous international order.

(The hypocrisy goes way beyond that, of course. We heard for years about Obama’s expensive trips but now hear nothing about Trump spending twice as much to go to Mar-A-Lago every weekend. Ivanka is getting a security clearance and an office despite not having a position; you can imagine the fury if Chelsea had done the same. Pundits raged about Obama’s golfing and have nothing to say on Trump’s golfing. These things didn’t matter so much to me — any time a President spends on a golf course is time he’s not spending interfering with our lives. But some consistency … any consistency .. would be nice.)

First Return Out

So Rachel Maddow had a HUGE announcement tonight that she had secured two pages of one of Trump’s tax returns, apparently leaked to MSNBC in violation of federal law. I didn’t watch her broadcast since I have a low tolerance for her smugness. I knew how it would go: twenty minutes of connect-the-dots condescending intro, a dud of a revelation and back-patting for the remainder. Well, I was right:

Donald Trump earned more than $150 million in the year 2005—and paid just a small percentage of that in regular federal income taxes. Daily Beast contributor David Cay Johnston has obtained what appear to be the first two pages of Trump’s 2005 federal income tax return, and published an analysis of those pages on his website, DCReport.org. The Daily Beast could not independently verify these documents.

The documents show Trump and his wife Melania paying $5.3 million in regular federal income tax—a rate of less than 4% However, the Trumps paid an additional $31 million in the “alternative minimum tax,” or AMT. Trump has previously called for the elimination of this tax.

This is less than a nothingburger. This almost makes Trump look good. So much so that almost everyone in my feeds think that Trump himself was the source of the leak (the White House responded almost instantaneously to the report). 2005 was the last year Trump has a big business deal, selling off two of his assets. It was also before several sources insist he became entangled with Russian interests.

A large segment of the Left, having realize what a dud this was, are now praising Maddow for “keeping the issue at the forefront”. Pfft. The issue was never a big deal for Trump’s supporters. I think we can now make the argument that Trump should release all of his tax returns. But that argument has not changed.

No, Guys, This is Normal

So the Trump Administration announced that they have asked 46 of the US Attorneys to resign. There’s been some moaning from the Left but as no less than Vox reminds us, this is normal. Janet Reno asked all the USAs to resign when Clinton did office. So did Bush 43. Obama waited a few months but eventually replaced them all. The USAs are political appointees. Most administrations will let them hold over long enough to finish any important business and for a replacement to be chosen. But all Presidents want the 94 USAs to reflect their law enforcement priorities. Trump won the election, he gets to pick his prosecutors.

There was a mini-scandal when Bush fired some USAs midway through his term. That was a bit different as he was firing his own appointees, apparently for not moving fast enough on cases against his political opponents. Several members of the Justice Department ended up resigning over it, including AG Gonzalez. But Trump’s firing are not that. This is typical house-cleaning for a new Administration.

Today, however, USA Preet Bharara decided to make his bid for jumping into politics. That’s the only reason I can think of that he decided to tell the press he would refuse to resign. This was somewhat unprecedented. USAs serve at the pleasures of the President and he can ask them to resign at any time. He was apparently miffed that Trump told him he’d be allowed to stay on, then changed his mind.

Bharara has been immediately proclaimed a hero in some quarters, with many calling for him to run for public office. But as I pointed out on Twitter this was not “bold defiance”. This was a USA refusing to follow lawful instructions to make himself look like a hero. I said Trump should fire his ass.

Well, Bharara just tweeted out that Trump fired his ass. Good. Trump is perfectly within his rights here. I only hope the replacement is better. Bharara may sound familiar to you. He was the overreaching prosecutor who tried to force The Best Magazine on the Planet to reveal the identities of blog commenters who said things he didn’t like, then silenced Reason about even the existence of the subpoena. Anyone who would abuse his power that way does not belong in government. And the Left should not try making this guy into a hero just because he stuck a thumb in Trump’s eye.

How Trump Won

This is amazing. A couple of college professors did an experiment where they recreated the 2016 debates with actors replicating the exact words and gestures of the candidates. But there was one twist: Trump was played by a woman and Clinton by a man. They wanted to see how sexism played into our perception of the debates.

Yeah, it’s not how you’re thinking:

We heard a lot of “now I understand how this happened”—meaning how Trump won the election. People got upset. There was a guy two rows in front of me who was literally holding his head in his hands, and the person with him was rubbing his back. The simplicity of Trump’s message became easier for people to hear when it was coming from a woman—that was a theme. One person said, “I’m just so struck by how precise Trump’s technique is.” Another—a musical theater composer, actually—said that Trump created “hummable lyrics,” while Clinton talked a lot, and everything she was was true and factual, but there was no “hook” to it. Another theme was about not liking either candidate—you know, “I wouldn’t vote for either one.” Someone said that Jonathan Gordon [the male Hillary Clinton] was “really punchable” because of all the smiling. And a lot of people were just very surprised by the way it upended their expectations about what they thought they would feel or experience. There was someone who described Brenda King [the female Donald Trump] as his Jewish aunt who would take care of him, even though he might not like his aunt. Someone else described her as the middle school principal who you don’t like, but you know is doing good things for you.

This reflects something I heard from a lot of my friends and family who supported Trump. All the pundits (including me) concluded that Trump’s debate performances were disastrous. And certainly there were times when he flailed badly. His grasp of facts was non-existent. Had this been a high-school debate team match, he would have lost.

But this wasn’t a high-school debate. This was two highly unlikable candidates trying to win our trust. And for all of Trump’s bumbling, he was straight-forward and had a clear message. Clinton had reams of policy details but no real message other than, as Dave Barry noted, “I’m a woman and I will fight for families or something”.

Here is a clip.

I always disliked Clinton and found her debate performances to be poor. I couldn’t understand how the media proclaimed her to be such a great politician and the clear winner of each debate. Having a male actor play her enhances my perception, driving home why I dislike her performance. She was smug, entitled and disconnected from ordinary concerns. It jumps a little more strongly when the opponent isn’t an asshole as well.

But what surprises me is how much this changes my perception of Trump. With his personal baggage removed, his message becomes much clearer. I still disagree with it but I can understand why it appealed to people and why many could overlook his personal/political/financial shortcomings.

There are caveats here: it’s only one experiment and could be entirely a result of the actor and actress chosen for the roles. Perhaps, with different actors, we would perceive it differently. But even with those caveats, I think it’s an astonishing result. It shows just how thick the liberal bubble was and just how much their perception of Clinton was shaded by their hatred of Trump and their heartfelt desire to see a woman become President. It really illustrates a point one Trump supporter made to me right before the election: if you took away Clinton’s gender, what was left? An ethically-dubious philosophically-muddled long-time political insider who couldn’t understand why the country was so angry.

Tapping Trump

So this happened:

President Trump on Saturday angrily accused former president Barack Obama of orchestrating a “Nixon/Watergate” plot to tap the phones at his Trump Tower headquarters last fall in the run-up to the election.

While citing no evidence to support his explosive allegation, Trump said in a series of four tweets sent Saturday morning that Obama was “wire tapping” his New York offices before the election in a move he compared to McCarthyism. “Bad (or sick) guy!” he said of his predecessor, adding that the surveillance resulted in “nothing found.”

This appears to be a result of internet telephone. Last summer, Louise Mensch revealed that the FBI (not Obama) has sought a FISA warrant to investigate members of Trump’s team’s ties to the Russians (this was after it was discovered that a server in Trump tower was communicating with Russian banks). The FISA Court rejected the initial warrant, then granted one more narrowly focused on four members of the Trump team. These details have been reported on many times. A few days ago, Mark Levin did one of his connect-the-dots pieces alleging a conspiracy to derail Trump. It showed up today on Breitbart and thus went into Trump’s brain.

If that’s all there is to it, Trump is being incredibly stupid here because he is reminding the public that his campaign staff were under investigation for espionage owing to credible accusations that they were working with the Russians to enable Trump’s election. If there’s more, then Trump needs to provide the evidence because warrantless wiretapping by Obama would indeed be a gigantic political scandal.

More Money for … What Exactly?

Donald Trump has now proposed a $54 billion increase in defense spending to be offset by as yet unspecified cuts in discretionary spending (supposedly from Foreign Aid, the EPA, etc. — the usual Republican bete noires. There’s a lot to unpack here even without specifics. National Review gets into the budget specifics, pointing out that Trump is already promising big tax cuts and infrastructure spending. Moreover, Trump is punting on the biggest budget issue: entitlements. On Twitter, my e-migo Kevin Wilson noted:

This is an important to keep in mind with EPA budget cuts. Without change to regulations (promised by Trump but not yet delivered), all EPA budget cuts will do is drag out paperwork cycles and prevent some laws from being actively enforced (laws that we might want to be enforced, e.g., lead restrictions).

However, our friend Thrill hits a very important point that seems to be being glossed over.

Trump is following Reagan by developing a stronger military, pursuing a nuclear arms race, and other policies. What was different with Reagan is that we knew who we were arming against, what was at stake, and what would be the horrible outcome of a war with them. A strong military had been a core US Cold War policy held by presidents in both parties from when Truman had to convince a reluctant, war weary nation to accept it.

What I can’t figure out is whether anyone believes that our gigantic, sophisticated, and well-trained military just isn’t already good enough compared to what’s out there in the world. Who exactly are we trying to deter?

Exactly. Ronald Reagan didn’t just increase military spending. He increased in specific ways to counter potential Soviet aggression. The arms buildup made a Soviet invasion of central Europe impossible, made their nuclear arsenal unwieldily and put them into a potential race for “Star Wars” that they couldn’t possibly win. Moreover, they had to try to keep up with a much weaker economy. In the end, the arms race bankrupted them. And the weapons systems developed in the 80’s were so effective than when we finally did get a face-off between Soviet and American weapons during the Gulf War, it was no contest. Those weapons are still with us today and still outclass almost everything in the world.

A military spending budget should not just be some amount we send to defense contractors. That’s what’s gotten us into the F-35 debacle. You need to start with a strategic vision and work forward from there. Maybe you find that we’re spending too much. Maybe you find we’re spending too little. Maybe (very likely) you find we’re spending on the wrong things. But you don’t just increase military spending to increase military spending. That’s DemocratThink: hope spending money solves problems, maybe even ones that don’t exist.