Saturday, January 28, 2017

Who is Stephen Bannon? Some surprises here.

In the shock of Donald Trump's win in November, the one man assumed to be the mastermind behind it all is Stephen Bannon, who came on board in mid-campaign as the CEO and chief strategist.   In most people's minds he is the darkness, combining Darth Vader, Dick Cheney, and Satan.   But is he the reflection of all that coming from Trump himself?    Or is he the source?

[Spoiler alert:   I suspect that, with Trump and Bannon, each thinks that he is using the other one to carry out his own purposes.   With Bannon, it's ideological, and he sees Trump as "a blunt instrument" that he can influence;   with Trump, it's power and winning, and he doesn't care much now he gets there.]

Most people don't know much about Bannon except that he was the head of Breitbart News when he agreed to take over the Trump campaign.   Breitbart News implies Alt-Right, ultra-nationalism, right wing -- even flirting with the KKK and White Supremacists.  
Michael Woolf wrote an article in the Hollywood Reporter several weeks back that sheds some light.   But we're still left with more questions than answers about whether and how this can work.

Woolf first met with Bannon in late summer, soon after he had formally joined the Trump campaign.  At that time, he predicted that Trump would do surprisingly well with voters who were expected to shun him:  women, Hispanics, and African-Americans.   He predicted a win by taking Florida, Ohio, Pennsylvania and Michigan.  When Woolf made a return visit after the election, Bannon greeted him with "I told you so."

The typical liberal attitude toward Trump and his team, as Woolf points out, was that they were all too disorganized, outlandish, out of touch, and lacking in nuance.   Bannon only added to the image of dark danger he brought with him from Breitbart News, along with the white-power anger of its constituents.    How did someone described by the New York Times, as it did Bannon, as "so wrong -- not just wrong, but inappropriate, unfit and loathsome" come to be the most powerful person behind the new president, and thus in large measure virtually in control of the White House?

And what of Bannon's recent phone-call to the Times, in which he ordered the news media to 'just shut your mouth'?   What does this imply about his role, or about how dire they perceive the situation to be?   Was it really meant as a threat to freedom of the press?

In trying to understand Bannon, according to Woolf, we begin with the fact that Bannon does not look the part.  His usual office garb, even in the White House, is rumpled and scruffy, with no tie, open shirt collar, and a "tatty blue blazer," looking like a "62 year old graduate student."    Bannon is fond of saying things like "Darkness is good" and expounding on the "myopia of the media" that only tells the story that confirms its own view -- and is therefore incapable of seeing an alternate outcome.   Woolf refers to the "parallel realities in which liberals, in their view of themselves, represent a morally superior character and Bannon - immortalized on Twitter as a white nationalist, racist, anti-Semite thug -- the ultimate depravity of Trumpism."

Woolf continues:  "[Bannon] is the man with the idea.   If Trumpism is to represent something intellectually and historically coherent, it's Bannon's job to make it so. In this, he could not be a less reassuring or more confusing figure for liberals - fiercely intelligent and yet reflexively drawn to the inverse of every liberal assumption and shibboleth. A working class kid, he enlists in the navy after high school, gets a degree from Virginia Tech, then Georgetown, then Harvard Business School. Then it's Goldman Sachs, then he's a dealmaker and entrepreneur in Hollywood - where, in an unlikely and very lucky deal match-up, he gets a lucrative piece of Seinfeld royalties, ensuring his own small fortune - then into the otherworld of the right wing conspiracy and conservative media. (He partners with David Bossie, a congressional investigator of President Clinton, who later spearheaded the Citizens United lawsuit that effectively removed the cap on campaign spending. . . .  And then to the Breitbart News Network, which . . . he pushes to the inner circle of conservative media . . . 

"What he seems to have carried from a boyhood in a blue-collar, union and Democratic family in Norfolk, Va., and through his tour of the American establishment, is an unreconstructed sense of class awareness, or bitterness - or betrayal. The Democratic Party betrayed its working-man roots, just as Hillary Clinton betrayed the long-time Clinton connection - Bill Clinton's connection - to the working man. . . .  And, likewise, the Republican party would come to betray its working-man constituency forged under Reagan. In sum, the working man was betrayed by the establishment, or what he dismisses as the 'donor class.'"

So, in this article, Woolf portrays Bannon as the man who has been a part of the working class as a Democrat, then been part of the Wall Street and Hollywood "elites," and landed squarely on "the battle line of the great American divide - and one of the people to have most clearly seen this battle line.

Woolf continues:  "He absolutely - mockingly - rejects the idea that this is a racial line. 'I'm not a white nationalist, I'm a nationalist. I'm an economic nationalist,' he tells me. 'The globalists gutted the American working class and created a middle class in Asia. The issue now is about Americans looking to not get f - ed over. . . .  It's everything related to jobs. The conservatives are going to go crazy. I'm the guy pushing a trillion-dollar infrastructure plan. . . .  it's the greatest opportunity to rebuild everything. Ship yards, iron works, get them all jacked up. We're just going to throw it up against the wall and see if it sticks. It will be as exciting as the 1930s, greater than the Reagan revolution - conservatives, plus populists, in an economic nationalist movement."

Bannon sees the enemy as the establishment and the media.  "The media bubble is the ultimate symbol of what's wrong with this country," he continues. "It's just a circle of people talking to themselves who have no f - ing idea what's going on. . . . .  It's a closed circle of information from which Hillary Clinton got all her information - and her confidence. That was our opening."

*     *     *
So that's Steve Bannon.   Someone who has known him well for years, and who is a liberal herself, says:  He is not a racist. . . .  I think he is using the alt-right for political purposes."  Several family and friends insist that he is not a bigot but that he "was infuriated when people like his father, a longtime phone company worker, saw their retirement funds shrink because of the 2008 financial crisis."    His brother describes him as "the man for the forgotten man."

But, my question is this:   How do Bannon and Trump actually mesh, not so much their views as in their lived experiences?    I can see how Trump took up the blue-collar rage and fanned the flames for political purposes.    But does he really get it, so that his instincts are influenced by it as he makes decisions?  Bannon insists that Trump does "get it intuitively."

Then why has he appointed billionaires to his cabinet?    Why, instead of a labor leader for Secretary of Labor, did he choose a big business owner who fights unions?  Why for Treasury a man who embodies the worst of Wall Street over Main Street?   Why talk about "infrastructure improvements" that will be funded by tax incentives to wealthy investors, rather than government spending on projects that create jobs.    Every choice he has made so far seems to be an effort to reward the establishment, the wealthy donor class -- not to fix the problems of the working class or the real infrastructure needs that are not profitable for investors -- like repairing water systems, rebuilding bridges, repairing roads.

Are Trump and Bannon on the same page?   Who is really calling the shots?   I don't see how this ends.   It's certainly not beginning very well.


Friday, January 27, 2017

Bannon to NYT: Shut up !!!

[Lots of news, coming fast and furious.   So two long blogs today.]

The Trump White House is hurtling into chaos, it seems.   The past few days have seen Trump signing executive orders that have not been vetted as to whether they are legal and/or violate the constitution.   Some clearly do not pass these tests.

One order was to start building The Wall, and he still insists that Mexico will pay for it . . . eventually, even though our taxpayers will have to pay for it initially.  In response, the Mexican president cancelled the meeting he was to have this weekend with President Trump in Washington.    Trump then put out a statement, saying that the meeting had been cancelled by mutual agreement.

Then he said there would be a 20% import tax on goods coming in from Mexico;  a couple of hours later, that was retracted.   There were other back and forth statements and retractions.

Then it was revealed that the top tier of civil service veterans in the State Department have been removed and told to leave by Friday.   One was on his way to Italy and was told to get off the plane and return immediately.   There is always some turnover when a new Secretary comes in;   but not this kind of wholesale purge and not in such a hostile manner.

The vote on Rex Tillerson to be Secretary of State hasn't even been taken yet, although his confirmation is almost certain.   This purge sounds like something Putin would do, and it is even more disturbing knowing that Tillerson has such a close relationship with Putin.   Are they about to set up a Russia-friendly State Department?

And that's just some of what's going on.   And then there was this.

Trump's chief strategist and senior adviser, and former CEO of Breitbart News, Steve Bannon, usually stays out of the spotlight.   He rarely comments to the media, never goes on television, leaving that to Kellyanne Conway and, now, press secretary Sean Spicer.    So this action from Bannon, yesterday, must indicate something rather drastic.   My guess is that Trump insisted that Bannon had to do it, because Spicer is not effective enough and doesn't command the authority.

Whatever the backstage story, Bannon initiated a phone call to the New York Times   And his message was this:    "The media is now the opposition party in America, and the American media should "keep its mouth shut" and listen more.

I don't know what they thought this was going to do, but it sounds to me like throwing gasoline on a dumpster fire.   Muzzling the press sounds like more first steps toward a totalitarian regime.


Who would register to vote in two states?

President Trump has tried to make a monster out of a mosquito.

He claimed that millions of illegal voters gave Hillary Clinton the popular vote win -- and robbed him of it.   But he only wanted to use that as a politically outrageous "alternate fact."   It's not clear whether he actually believes it happened.    But, as we're learning:   if it serves his purpose of the moment, then Trump believes it.

Then a reporter asked why he wasn't demanding an investigation into what would be the biggest election scandal in recent history.    And others began demanding the evidence on which he made the charges -- i.e., they called his bluff.  This was an example of Trump wanting to be taken seriously but not literally;  and now that he is president, we're insisting on taking him seriously and literally.   And it's caught him in a trap that's going to awkward to get out of.

His people cited a 2012 study, which actually had nothing to do with voter fraud.    It did find that 2.8 million people had either died or were registered in more than one jurisdiction, usually because they had moved and registered at the new address without getting rid of the old registration.   The study's author has repeated his conclusions:   that it had nothing to do with fraudulent voting.  It was a study of the inefficiency in maintaining voter registration lists

These people didn't try to vote twice;   most of them probably didn't even realize that they were registered in two places.  In fact, I was under the impression that the registration process included asking if you were registered and where -- and that the election boards themselves took care of canceling the old one.

So now Pres. Trump is in the awkward spot of having proved either (1) that he was repeating a lie knowingly for political gain;   or (2) that he is making policy based on data that he is incapable of interpreting correctly;  or (3) that he was going to ignore what would be a big election scandal only because he didn't lose.

When he thought he was going to lose, he yelled about the "rigged" election.   But then people kept pointing out that, although he won the electoral college and therefore the presidency, he did not win the popular vote.   That got to him, so he trotted out the old "rigged election" -- not because it mattered, but because it wounded his fragile pride.

But here's why I say he's making a monster out of a mosquito.   Here's a list of Trump family members or top staff people that are registered to vote in more than one place:

Son-in-law and Senior Adviser Jared Kushner.

Daughter Tiffany Trump.
Chief Strategist Stephen Bannon.
Press Secretary Sean Spicer.
Nominee for Secretary of the Treasury Steven Mnuchin.

Perhaps the investigation President Trump is demanding should start at home.   After all, these are some of the monsters that he has characterized as "illegals."  If any of them voted twice, then we should proceed with the investigation.    If not, then just chalk it up to another embarrassing exposure of the president's ignorance and and incompetence to run our government.


Thursday, January 26, 2017

"The System Has Failed, and a Con Artist Has Won"

Here is a very blunt warning from a very good writer, Jonathan Chait, from New York magazine.   I had been thinking about the danger of "normalizing" Donald Trump's lies and grandiose boasting.   It's one thing to recognize them and to know that is what we can expect from him.   It's another to become so inured to lies and empty promises that we just stop thinking about them.  We accept them as "normal" for him.

So I say it's important that we keep Jonathan Chait's assessment ready at hand for the next four years -- and view everything-Trump through this lens of "con artist."   If we have to contend with a con artist as president, then let's call it what it is . . . and not delude ourselves that he's just a colorful character -- like some reality TV star.

"The System Has Failed and a Con Artist Has Won"
by Jonathan Chait

          - “This guy is a con artist. He’s always making things up. No one holds him accountable for it.” —Marco Rubio

          “It’s called a confidence game. Why? Because you give me your confidence? No. Because I give you mine.” —House of Games

"Presidential inaugurations are occasion for repeating certain pieties. As Thanksgiving is to gratitude, and New Year’s for hope, the quadrennial 20th of January is for paeans to the peaceful transfer of power. But Donald Trump’s inauguration is not evidence the system worked. Trump is president because the system failed.

"Barack Obama governed wisely and honestly, and presided over peace and prosperity, and was rewarded with an approval rating of 60 percent. He is being replaced by a swindler who has been consistently opposed by a clear majority of the public. This happened because of a combination of oddities and systemic abuses: an Electoral College system that allows the second-place candidate to win if his supporters happen to be distributed more optimally; the dramatic intervention of the FBI on behalf of the Republican challenger; the Twenty-second Amendment, which prevents the popular incumbent from running again. All these factors in combination have produced a dramatic transfer of power from a president who has the support of a clear majority of the country to one who does not.

"Conservatives have made a series of attempts to convey democratic legitimacy upon Trump by depicting him as a tribune of the People rather than the elites. 'Progressives are doing Mr. Trump the great favor of displaying their contempt for not only him but his voters,' writes conservative apparatchik Heather Higgins in The Wall Street Journal, in a typical example of this kind of doggerel. 'That will make it easier for him to be the People’s President. The more successful he is, the more the left will try to distract with attacks on him and his legitimacy.'

"The system did 'work' in the most minimal fashion. Power was transferred nonviolently in accordance with the law, and the result was openly accepted by the opposing candidate and the incumbent president. But this small comfort is smaller than it might appear. Trump has consistently expressed the belief that a process that does not end in his chosen fashion is illegitimate. When it appeared briefly in 2012 that Obama would lose the popular vote while winning reelection, he [Trump] called for revolt. When he lost primaries to other Republicans, he called them rigged. He invented voting-fraud conspiracies in the fall, telling wild lies about millions of fraudulent votes for his opponent.

"The system appears to be working because the candidate who refuses to accept defeat was not defeated. But this merely postpones rather than answers the test of American democracy.

"In his presidential announcement speech in 2015, Trump hired actors to pretend to be supporters, and then, characteristically, refused to pay them. He boasted this week that he was writing his inauguration speech, even displaying a photo of himself purportedly working in Mar-a-Lago. (In a touch that could have come straight from a David Mamet film, the backdrop to Trump’s speechwriting scene turns out to be a corridor, the desk belongs to an administrative staffer.) Trump is a con artist, and a very good one. It requires enormous talent of a kind to successfully identify and exploit new marks, for decades, without their catching on to you. Constantly luring new contractors, partners, and customers to place their faith in Trump so he can exploit them is a difficult ruse to sustain.

"The gall of Trump’s populism is astonishing. 'For too long, a small group in our nation’s capital has reaped the rewards of government while the people have borne the cost,' he announced, shamelessly. 'Washington flourished, but the people did not share in its wealth. Politicians prospered, but the jobs left and the factories closed.' This from the first president in decades to refuse to disclose his tax returns, and the first in centuries to use the presidency to enrich himself and his family!

"The presidency raises the stakes of Trump’s con game to a completely new level. In his inaugural address, Trump declared his fealty to the People, promising to unleash untold wealth to them that was being held by elites in Washington and by foreigners. 'We will bring back our jobs,' he said. 'We will bring back our wealth.' He promised to quash crime and 'eradicate' Islamic terrorism 'from the face of the Earth.' 

"The grandiosity of these promises is necessary to get even the minority of the electorate that can tolerate Trump to overlook his overt grossness and corruption.The methods of a skilled con artist have worked just barely well enough to deliver the presidency to Trump. But what happens when his grandiose promises fail to materialize? And when the aspects of his program that he never mentioned in his speech — tax cuts for the rich, stripping away health insurance from millions, massive graft — do take place? A con artist who always escaped his old victims and found new ones has reached the maximal limits of his strategy. What happens when the marks are demanding that the promises he made be redeemed, and there is nowhere for him to go, and he commands the powers of the state?"


That last is the most chilling of all:   what happens when the con runs out of new marks, and there's no place for him to run to for a new batch?   And when "he commands the powers of the state"?


PS:   After this was written, with Chait's reference to Washington elites' benefiting almost buried in the overall narrative, news came out about the membership fee at Trump's exclusive Mar-a-Lago club doubling from $100,000 to $200,000 -- because there is such demand for membership since the election.   That on top of the news that his new Washington hotel is in great demand by foreign government representatives, as well as Americans who want to stay at the president's hotel.  Both are blatant examples that place Donald Trump squarely in that group he pretends to rant against for his base.    And, incidentally, isn't that against the law?

Wednesday, January 25, 2017

We have a president who lies blatantly, every day

What do you do with a president who lies, even when there is valid evidence that they are lies . . . and who then continues to repeat the lies, despite the obvious facts?    That's what Donald Trump does, and the TV news hosts are beginning to call him on it.

On Monday night, according to three sources who were there, President Trump used his first official meeting with congressional leaders to go on at some length about his great election win.  He repeated the debunked claim that he really won the popular vote, except for the 3 to 5 million "illegals" who voted for Hillary Clinton.

He presents no evidence for this, and election officials have said they have no evidence of intentional voter fraud.   In fact, officials have said that only a few cases were reported;  and each one proved to be some mixup, like the woman who had voted early and was told by an election worker that her vote had not been recorded and advised her to vote again.   Then it turned out the first vote was later also recorded.

There are many disturbing aspects to this presidential lying;   one that concerns me most is that (1) either he actually believes the lie, which raises the alarming assumption that he is relying on partisan liars who feed him such distortions, which he then appropriates without any skepticism;   or (2) he knows what he's saying is false but thinks he can get away with lies if he repeats them enough.    Either possibility does not bode well for what's coming.

Some have even suggested that he literally cannot distinguish between what his inner world and the external real world -- i.e., if he thinks it, it's true.   Think about that possibility when there is some world crisis that requires a quick decision that could mean the difference in the survival of millions of people.

Trump's press secretary, Sean Spicer, insisted that Trump really believes that 3 to 5 million "illegals" voted for Clinton, which is why he lost the popular vote.   But we already know that Spicer will repeat Trump's lies, as he's told to do;   so should we believe this?   Or is this just another (perhaps lying) tactic?   This issue, like the size of the inauguration crowd, does not rise to a serious level.   But the issue of the president's mental processes is a very serious issue.

Fortunately, it looks like the media is beginning to do its job of holding the powerful accountable.   Trump got away with his lies during the campaign, because he always had an enthusiastic rally crowd to reassure him.   But now that he is president, he will be under sharper scrutiny with higher standards of truth.

This meeting with congressional leaders is but another example of his inappropriate choices in meeting with government officials.   When he went to the CIA headquarters and met with high level CIA officials in the room that honors those CIA men and women who have died in action, he showed minimal respect and understanding of the sacredness that this memorial room has for the CIA.

Instead, he spent most of his time on what former CIA Director John Brennan called disgraceful self-aggrandizement.  Can't you see it now?    The first national tragedy, like the Sandy Hook school shooting;   and President Trump goes to console the families but winds up bragging about himself the whole time.

Completely aside from important policy positions, both domestic and foreign, and completely aside from whatever this connection with Russia is, we have a president who has no clue, or maybe just doesn't care, about "being presidential."    Ronald Reagan at least knew how to play the part, even when he was lying about 'welfare queens in their limousines."

And it matters.   


PS:   Here's an example of our tendency to just accept, to "normalize," Trump's lying -- as members of Congress are now doing by just ignoring it and moving on.   And as I was doing. . . . Until watching TV feed of Sean Spicer's Tuesday press meeting, I had not considered this very cogent question one journalist brought up:    If Trump really believes that 3 to 5 million non-citizens voted illegally in the election, then why is he not initiating an investigation of such a major scandal?

Asking this question flings down the gauntlet.    Show us the evidence that led you to believe this.   If you have no evidence, then this is a serious problem to have a president who accepts such obvious falsehoods -- or who can't think critically enough to realize it is not credible.   Or, even worse, that he knows it's false and yet insists (according to insider accounts) that his press secretary go out there and lie to the world.

Update:   By mid-morning on Wednesday, Trump had called for an investigation into the voting fraud in the 2016 election.    Don't say he doesn't listen to the voice of the people.   Investigating probably hadn't occurred to him before someone cited that as suggestion that he didn't really believe what he was saying.

Tuesday, January 24, 2017

Updating the protest crowd size -- over 3 million

The estimatethat I quoted on Monday of the numbers who participated in Saturday's Women's Marches were way too small.   Organizers of the Washington march now say that they believe that there were about 1.2 million people in the D. C. march alone.

They also estimate the total of all the marches and rallies in the U.S. cities exceeded 3 million.    These new estimates make this by far the largest and most enthusiastic of any protest in the history of the U.S.    One reason so many came:   it was so inclusive.   They encouraged people who wanted to speak out -- not just on the treatment of women -- but on other issues as well, such as racial discrimination, immigration, LGBT rights, voting rights, criminal justice reform.   All of the good progressive causes -- especially those that Donald Trump and the Republican Congress oppose.


Sunday news hosts begin to focus on Trump's lying

On Monday, the first regular work day in the Oval Office, President Trump signed a lot of papers to get rid of some of his predecessors' executive orders.    Among these were:   (1)  Withdrawing from the PPT (Pacific Partnership Trade) agreement;  (2)  An order that put a freeze on federal hiring.   (3)  An order to reinstate the so-called Mexico City policy -- a Reagen-era gag order that prohibits giving any U.S. funds to NGOs (non-government organizations) for international programs that offer or advise on family planning and reproductive health, if those organizations also offer abortions, even though U.S. funds do not fund the abortions.

A photograph of Trump signing this last order showed him sitting at his desk, surrounded by seven white men, and Huffington Post's headline was:  "Room Full of Men Screws Women."  In addition, Trump had a busy day of meetings that included one with a group of corporate CEOs and another with labor union leaders.   So -- a mixed score on optics.    Seeing both CEOs and labor leaders is good;  a group of white men taking away women's rights . . . bad.

But the hot topic of the day Monday was a continuation of the controversy that boiled over on the Sunday news shows over Trump surrogates (Priebus, Conway, and Spicer) being confronted with the president's lying and their repeating his lies.   Of course that was a staple of the campaign, but now that he is president, it seems the news media feels strongly that the president should tell the truth.

It's really over a petty disagreement -- about the size of the inauguration crowd -- but the principle is yuuge.    Here's how Huffington Post's Amanda Terkel framed it:

"President Donald Trump’s administration has spent its first days in office aggressively attacking the media for what it calls attempts to “delegitimize” the country’s new leader. On Sunday, the hosts of the network public affairs shows hit right back and essentially called out the administration for lying.

"Both Trump and Press Secretary Sean Spicer insisted on Saturday that the crowd that watched the inauguration this year was the biggest ever. . . .  'This was the largest audience to ever witness an inauguration — period — both in person and around the globe,' Spicer said at his first press briefing."

Terkel points out that those statements are not true -- and there is photographic and other evidence to prove they're not.   Nevertheless, surrogates Reince Priebus and Kellyanne Conway both had to answer for them on Sunday morning news shows.   Their attempts to shift the narrative to the "dishonest media" didn't work with this newly aggressive news host approach.

Chuck Todd pressed Conway on why the president would send his new press secretary out as his first official duty "to utter a provable falsehood?"    When continuing to attack the media for "being dishonest" did not make Todd back down, Conway then tried to say that Sean Spicer had simply given "alternative facts."

Todd wouldn't let that go.  Alternative facts are not facts, they’re falsehoods,” he said;  and Conway quickly changed the subject to the Affordable Care Act.    George Stephanopoulos took a similar tone, telling Conway that the media is going to be watching what the president says and what he does.

Chris Wallace on Fox News Sunday joined in, his guest being Chief of Staff Reince Priebus.   Wallace told Priebus that Trump had made statements that were "flat wrong" and that there needed to be discussion about "the president's honesty."'

Wallace continued, saying that there's a legitimate debate about whether crowd size matters.  But the important point, he said, was that the Trump administration, and the president himself lied about a matter that was easily verifiable.    Wallace even made it personal, saying that he had been there on the mall and that he had seen the difference "with my own eyes."   Priebus also tried to change the subject.

Not part of the media himself, but former CIA Director John Brennan on Sunday also blasted Mr. Trump for using the occasion of a visit to the CIA headquarters "for self-aggrandizement," when he had supposedly gone there to repair his contentious relationship with the agency.   Trump had inexplicably deviated from his task of rebuilding trust with the agency into an attack on the media over what he calls dishonest reporting on him.   Why he was saying this to the CIA leaders was not clear.

Then on Monday, Sean Spicer had to face the White House press corps for his regular briefing.  It did not go well.  After lying to them and taking no questions on Saturday, he was unapologetic on Monday, although his wording had become a little more vague -- insisting that "more people had watched" the inauguration than ever before, which gave him some wiggle room to claim that he was including the television audience.   But that's also not true.    Spicer stuck to this line:   "I believe that we have to be honest with the American people, but I think sometimes we can disagree with the facts."

I don't know whether that was careless or calculated.   Yes, you can disagree about the facts -- i.e., argue about what the facts are, when they are not verifiable;   but when facts are clearly factual, as they were here, you cannot "argue with the facts."

This is not a good start.   Trump's most urgent tasks should be building a relationship of mutual trust with our intelligence and security agencies -- and credibility with the American people.   We don't have to like him or agree with him.    But we do need to know that the president is working from a similar understanding of reality.   He's not there yet -- and his surrogates just look foolish parroting his lies.    If they lie about crowd sizes, what happens when they want us to believe the Russians are really our best friends?  Or that Iran is cheating on the nuclear agreement?


Monday, January 23, 2017

Saturday Night Live's "Putin" nails it

Even if you're not a fan of NBC's "Saturday Night Live," it's satirical comedy show, you might want to watch what they're doing now with the Trump impression, played by Alec Baldwin.   It's very good -- and pretty close to getting the impersonation just right.

But actor Beck Bennett went him even one better on Jan. 21st with his bare-chested impression of Vladimir Putin -- of course focusing on his relationship with Trump.  Here's a sample:

Putin speaking to the American people:  "You are worried that your country is in the hands of this unpredictable man.   But don't worry.   It's not. . . .   Relax.   I've got this."

Reassuring us that he'd take good care of America:   "It's the most expensive thing we've ever bought. . . .  It's going to be a long four years for many of you, but remember, we're in this together."

If only it were just funny . . . and not so true.


Trump defensive about Women's Protest Marches, which exceeded all expectations in participation

Estimates are now coming in from the 700+ protest marches and rallies held not only in the U.S. but in countries around the world.   In almost every case, the size of the crowds vastly exceeded expectations, sometimes as much as a magnitude of eight times.

The quotes that follow are from an enthusiastic, left-leaning group, so they may be on the high end.   But most people seem to agree that the Washington, D.C. crowd exceeded 500,000, and some would put it over 600,000.   Los Angeles estimated crowd size:  750,000;  New York City 400,000;  Chicago 150,000;   Portland, Oregon 100,000;  Minneapolis 90,000;  Madison, WI 75,000;  Atlanta 60,000 (which included four of my family).

Worldwide estimates, including the U.S.,  are now creeping up toward 3 million.   A friend of mine who lives in Victoria, British Columbia, Canada attended a protest march there.  The city's mayor, Elizabeth May, participated and adamantly declared that Trump will be called on every move where an injustice occurs.    That's from our Canadian friends.

Donald Trump expressed puzzlement over the Women's March, tweeting out:   "Why didn't these people vote?"   He's implying what he has said explicitly:   that he won the vote overwhelmly.

But he didn't.  Not at all.  Get this straight, Mr. President.   You won the Electoral College vote.   You lost the popular vote by somewhere between 2.8 million and 3 million votes to Hillary Clinton.    So, when you say, "why didn't these people vote?" -- the answer is that they probably did.   And that's why Clinton won the popular vote.

Until he acknowledges that and begins to speak to all the people, there is no chance for unity -- no matter how many times he or Kellyanne Conway or Sean Spicer say the meaningless words that are not backed up by actions.


Sunday, January 22, 2017

Fighting over who had bigger crowds

One of Trump's campaign tactics was to turn a small problem into a "bright, shiny object" to distract attention from some other, more incriminating or embarrassing problem.    They tried that Saturday by arguing over the size of the inauguration crowd.    Trump bragged that it was the largest ever -- over a million, he said.

However, most observers, aerial photographs, hotel registrations, and Metro ridership concluded that the crowd was smaller than Obama's first inauguration, probably less than half a million.

What they wanted to distract us from was the size of Saturday's Women's March on Washington, which seems to have swelled to more than half a million.  Bad enough if Trump's was smaller than Obama's.   What if it was also smaller than the Women's March?

And it wasn't just Washington.   There were women's marches planned in 670 U.S. cities and another 70 from Alaska to Mexico City to Berlin.   In all, more than 2 million people marched in protest of the Trump presidency.   Trump can't hide this story. Michael Moore was on the job, and we can be sure that he had some cameras working too.

Trump's inaugural address: dark, accusatory, boastful -- and with little relation to reality

I did not watch any of the inauguration in real time, nor did I listen to Donald Trump's speech.   But I've read it -- and read a lot of commentary about it.   Mostly, I agree with this opinion from the Editorial Board of the New York Times, published on Wednesday.

"President Trump presented such a graceless and disturbingly ahistoric vision of America on Friday that his Inaugural Address cast more doubt than hope on his presidency.

"Instead of summoning the best in America’s ideals, Mr. Trump offered a fantastical version of America losing its promise, military dominance and middle-class wealth to 'the ravages of other countries making our products, stealing our companies and destroying our jobs.'

"With sweeping exaggeration, Mr. Trump spoke of 'carnage' in the inner cities. He deplored all of this decline as a betrayal of America, implicitly trashing the four former presidents who sat listening behind him at the inaugural ceremony. Those presidents, Democratic and Republican, must have put Mexico first, or perhaps Sweden, or China. Offering himself as a kind of savior, the leader of a historic movement, the likes of which the world has never seen before,' Mr. Trump proclaimed he would have a different priority: 'America First! America First!'

"Though expectations couldn’t have been terribly high, the opening moments of Mr. Trump’s presidency were beyond disappointing. He spoke to a nation in need of moving past the divisiveness that, not so incidentally, was his hallmark during the campaign. But what President Trump presented was more of candidate Trump, now more ominous in bearing the power of the White House, yet no less intent on inspiring only his base of aggrieved or anxious white Americans.

"The new president offered a tortured rewrite of American history — ignoring the injustices of the past as well as the nation’s economic resilience and social achievements in recent decades.

"One longed, as Mr. Trump spoke, for a special kind of simultaneous translation, one that would convert Trumpian myth into concrete fact. . . ."

[The editorial then goes on to list some of his outlandish claims -- and fact-checks them.  For example:

[1.  He promises to "get our people off welfare and back to work."   In fact, the number of people receiving assistance "fell by more than 70 percent" between 1996 and 2016.    The unemployment rate "has fallen from 10 percent in 2009 . . . to less than 5 percent."   And I would also add that the U.S. budget deficit (which Republicans claim is such a problem) has decreased from 9.8% of GDP in 2009 to 3.2% in 2016.

[2.  Trump spoke of closed factories and jobs hemorrhaged t0 overseas companies;  and he promises to get those jobs back.   In fact, manufacturing jobs have declined by 5 million in the past 30 years, but at the same time manufacturing "output has increased by more than 86%."   This is due to better efficiencies and particularly , in recent years, to automation.    It's not likely that production companies are going to give up automation.

[3.  Trump was also misleading in saying that Washington "subsidized the armies of other countries while allowing for the very sad depletion of our military."  In fact, the U.S. spends more on its own military than the next seven nations combined, including China and Russia.

[4.  Trump paints an apocalyptic picture of crime in our inner cities and insists that "this American carnage" will stop "right here and right now."    In fact, crime statistics have shown a significant decline in crime over the past couple of decades.

[Returning to the text of the editorial:]

"There was little music in his speech, and no gentleness in his jackhammer delivery, but Mr. Trump did promise that 'a new national pride will stir ourselves, lift our sights and heal our divisions.' Yet he said nothing about such practical needs as effective enforcement of civil rights and police reforms by the Justice Department he will oversee.

"It was hard to make sense of Mr. Trump’s distorted vision of America’s past and present. But the passion was familiar in his promise to 'make America great again,' as if the nation were in despair and yearning to retreat somewhere with him. The crowd cheered him repeatedly, particularly when he vowed to 'unite the civilized world against radical Islamic terrorism, which we will eradicate from the face of the earth.'

"Vainglorious on a podium where other presidents have presented themselves as fellow citizens, preening where they have been humble, Mr. Trump declared that under him America will 'bring back our jobs' and 'bring back our borders,' 'bring back our wealth' and 'bring back our dreams.'  This country has its challenges, and we fervently hope Mr. Trump will address them. But America had dreams before Friday. It was great before Mr. Trump became president, and with his help — or, if necessary, in spite of his folly — Americans will find ways to make it greater in years to come."

It's appalling to read such distortions of fact that Trump uses to fire up his base.   It must have been infuriating for those former presidents sitting there behind him, minutely observed by any camera pointed their way, as a captive audience being subtly excoriated by their unworthy successor, using lies and distortions to build himself up as the savior.

Not just President Obama.  Yochi Dreazen, writing for Vox news site, says that an analysis of what Trump was criticizing would really make his target George W. Bush, more than Barack Obama.

Trump was obviously speaking to his base of angry, white working men.   His rhetoric aims to appeal to them;   but his policies (tax cuts for the rich, repeal Obamacare, reduce social spending) are going to hurt them more than help.   And he can't just "bring back their jobs" as he promises.   So who will he have left when they realize he's given them empty promises he can't deliver?   They were gullible voters to him, nothing more.