Friday Talking Points [473] -- Mueller's Busy Week

[ Posted Friday, February 23rd, 2018 – 18:28 PST ]

Bob Mueller has had a busy and productive week. His investigation is intensifying quickly, as it gains speed and moves closer and closer to the inner Trump circle. Just a week ago, Mueller's team dropped an indictment on 13 Russians for meddling in the 2016 election. By Tuesday, a previously-unmentioned lawyer reached a plea deal with Mueller. Yesterday, Mueller filed an indictment with 32 counts against Paul Manafort and Rick Gates. Today, Gates officially flipped, and pled guilty to two counts against him, conspiracy and lying to federal agents. Not just another #MuellerFriday, in other words, but a full-on #MuellerWeek. No word from President Trump's Twitter account yet (as of this writing), but if last weekend was any preview, it sure ought to be fun to see him flail around for the next few days as the noose gets tighter and tighter around his innermost circle.

Oh, and as icing on the cake, although nobody at the White House has come right out and admitted it on the record yet, Jared Kushner probably lost his top secret security clearance today, since it was the one-week deadline that John Kelly had set last week for revoking all temporary clearance access to the nation's highest secrets. So there's that for Trump to tweet about too, should he choose to do so.

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From The Archives -- No Silver Bullet

[ Posted Thursday, February 22nd, 2018 – 17:08 PST ]

The article below was written a few weeks after the Sandy Hook massacre of innocents in Newtown, Connecticut. I'm running it again today both because nothing much has changed since then, but also because I think it is a fairly realistic examination of what gun control laws can be expected to do, and what they cannot.

The only real update which is necessary to address current arguments being made is that now some people are actually calling for a ban on semiautomatic rifles, or even all semiautomatic guns. To define terms: a fully-automatic or "machine" gun is one that will repeatedly shoot with one trigger pull, until the magazine is empty. A semiautomatic gun requires an individual trigger pull for each shot, but does not require any other action by the shooter. I don't think a ban on semiautomatic guns -- or even just semiautomatic rifles -- is realistically going to happen, however. There are semiautomatic hunting rifles, without the oversized magazines, which can reasonably be classified as non-assault rifles, and there are a vast number of handguns sold today which are semiautomatic, probably for the reason that they are a lot easier to reload than a revolver. So a ban on all semiautomatic weapons is likely not going to happen.

One other point is worth making, as a supplement to the article below. The argument (which many pro-gun folks are falling back on once again) that "a good guy with a gun" is necessary to stop these shootings has already been proven wrong, or at least very short-sighted and overly optimistic. As the article notes, there was an armed police officer who actually exchanged gunfire with the shooters at Columbine. Neither side hit anybody in this shootout. In other words, it didn't work the way the pro-gun people are trying to sell it now. A handgun versus an assault rifle is an unbalanced equation, to state the obvious, at least outside of Hollywood movies.

I should also mention that, late last year, I wrote a much more pessimistic article titled "A Sad New Normal," which essentially threw in the towel on the entire gun control debate. I am slightly more optimistic now, seeing the reaction of the Florida students themselves and the movement they have instantaneously created. Something feels different this time. Maybe it'll only result in baby steps, but that's more than the Sandy Hook shooting reaction accomplished. In any case, I include this link to show my own progression from abject pessimism to a very cautious optimism now.


Originally published January 16, 2013

There is no silver bullet.
--Vice President Joe Biden

In a little-noticed remark just days before President Obama announced sweeping plans for gun control action and legislation, Joe Biden summed up the problem his task force was charged with tackling by using (depending on your reaction) either an incredibly appropriate phrase, or a wildly inappropriate phrase. After all, the subject is guns, so perhaps it isn't the time for bullet metaphors.

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Advice For The Florida Teen Activists

[ Posted Wednesday, February 21st, 2018 – 18:56 PST ]

In the aftermath of the horrific slaughter at a Florida high school, the survivors of the massacre have moved onto center stage in the American political debate in a big way. This has happened with astonishing swiftness and with astonishing breadth. Television news producers are falling all over themselves to book the spokespeople for the teens, they've already tried their hand at lobbying (on the state legislator level), they've staged protests, they've come up with a plan for nationwide events to take place next month, and their nascent movement has already attracted millions of dollars of pledges from liberal celebrities. That is an immensely impressive list, especially considering it all took place in the time span of a single week. These kids have achieved more in one week's time than many advocacy groups have ever achieved from years of effort.

It should come as no surprise to regular readers that I heartily applaud their progress. Not only because I happen to agree with their cause, but because I regularly applaud (and offer unsolicited but friendly advice to) all protest movements with such spectacular early success -- from the Occupy Wall Street crowd to the Tea Party movement, in fact. I've long been a student of protest movements and political theater, and their relative effectiveness in changing the national political debate.

In the same spirit, I offer up the following pointers for the survivors of the Florida school shooting and all others wishing to either support or join their growing movement.

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Slaying The Gerrymander

[ Posted Tuesday, February 20th, 2018 – 17:49 PST ]

The "Gerry-Mander," originally, was a flying lizard -- or, one might say, a dragon. In March of 1812, the Boston Gazette published a cartoon based on a district the governor at the time (Elbridge Gerry) had approved. The cartoonist thought it looked like a salamander, drew the winged lizard, and thus introduced the word "gerrymander" to the politician lexicon. In current American politics, a wide group of citizens are now girding their loins and seeking to slay the gerrymander dragon, once and for all.

All eyes are currently on Pennsylvania in this epic battle. Every ten years, as directed by the U.S. Constitution, a state's House districts can be redrawn. Sometimes seats are added or lost, but even if the number stays the same the districts can be adjusted when the results of the decennial Census come in. In the 2010 election, Republicans won big in the Pennsylvania state legislature, so they decided to draw a district map that outrageously favored them.

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Presidential Mythmaking

[ Posted Monday, February 19th, 2018 – 18:23 PST ]

Since it's fun to do, and since today's a good day for it, let's take a look at one particular moment in American history. A Republican president sits in the White House. His very presence terrifies liberals, who consider him an intellectual lightweight (and even that's being polite) and not up to the job in any way. He cares more for his television presence than actual policy matters, it seems. Both the president and his wife seem elitist to the core and disdainful of reining in their excesses after moving to the White House. He is seen as a total puppet, and the only question members of the media have to explore is who the puppetmaster pulling his strings currently is. He packed his White House with his buddies, and they spend a lot of time fighting with Washington insiders. The rest of the world is horrified that we elected such a man president. There are even rumors that his campaign cut a deal with a tyrannical foreign government in order to help him get elected. In fact, there are very real fears he could start a nuclear war at any time, since his foreign policy is both erratic and belligerent. About the only thing he can get done in Congress is to pass a massive tax cut. That's what the prevailing opinion was at the time, inside the Beltway. His name? Ronald Reagan.

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Friday Talking Points [472] -- Infrastructure Week!

[ Posted Friday, February 16th, 2018 – 18:04 PST ]

Before we get to all the rest of the news, here's an interesting anniversary: it has been exactly one year since Trump's last solo press conference. In all the time he's been president, he has held a grand total of precisely one press conference, a month after he was sworn in. So what is he afraid of?

Of course, Trump has hijacked joint press appearances on two other occasions, turning them into de facto solo pressers. The most memorable was when Trump appeared at Trump Tower to introduce "Infrastructure Week," and instead wound up offering praise for white supremacists in Charlottesville, Virginia. The Infrastructure Week he tried to have before that one was buried by the news of James Comey testifying on Capitol Hill. So perhaps in the future even the phrase "Infrastructure Week" will become an inside-politics joke, meaning: "a screwed-up, scandal-packed week that was originally supposed to be about something else," who knows? Or maybe it'll just become a new swear word in politics: "Oh yeah? Well infrastructure you, Buddy!"

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DACA Bills Fail In Senate

[ Posted Thursday, February 15th, 2018 – 17:24 PST ]

The best chance to save DACA failed today in the Senate. Three more Republican votes would have been necessary for it to have had a chance, even though it did prove to be the most bipartisan plan out there with anywhere near the support needed to pass the Senate. What happens next is uncertain, although "Congress takes yet another week off with a serious deadline staring them in the face" would probably be a safe guess.

There were four immigration votes held in the Senate today, although one was largely unrelated to DACA and the Dreamer problem. There was a DACA bill from Republicans which closely mirrored the wish list from the White House, there was a centrist DACA bill put together by a large bipartisan group (led by Susan Collins of Maine), and there was a minimalist DACA bill from Chris Coons of Delaware and John McCain of Arizona.

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What About All The Others In The White House Without Permanent Security Clearances?

[ Posted Wednesday, February 14th, 2018 – 17:55 PST ]

Donald Trump's White House is, once again, making a bad news story worse by the day. That's quite an accomplishment this time around, since the bad news story was pretty bad to begin with -- the White House having to fire two accused wife-beaters in the same week. But all the missteps and lies told since then have only served to make things much worse, to the point where the entire White House security clearance process itself is now under a microscope. This raises all kinds of questions that Trump really should have tried to avoid, such as why his son-in-law still only has a temporary security clearance, and indeed how many other White House staffers haven't been cleared yet. But if you take a wider view, as many are now beginning to do, you'd have to conclude that any president influences his entire administration, or (to put it more colorfully) the fish rots from the head.

The sad fact at the heart of this ongoing scandal is that Donald Trump himself most likely couldn't pass a security check. If the voters hadn't put him in office, he would probably not be able to get a job in someone else's administration, for multiple reasons. Trump refuses to release his tax returns, indicating there are things contained within that would (at the very least) embarrass him. Trump has been accused by over a dozen women of sexual misconduct, and his lawyer paid a porn star $130,000 in hush money right before the election. His ex-wife accused him of marital rape in divorce proceedings. Trump has lied under oath several times, in various court cases. Trump's business dealings with Russian mobsters and other unsavory characters worldwide would be a goldmine of possible blackmail. And that's before we even consider what Vladimir Putin might be holding over Trump's head. Any one of these might normally disqualify someone from getting a security clearance to handle classified information in the White House, for anyone not actually elected president. With Trump setting all these examples, it is really no wonder that he wouldn't really care what peccadilloes people who work for him might have hiding in their past. They're just following his lead, really.

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Trump's Record-Setting Burn Rate

[ Posted Tuesday, February 13th, 2018 – 18:26 PST ]

The conventional wisdom in Washington is that President Donald Trump, unlike his television persona, actually has a hard time firing people. He reportedly doesn't like such personal confrontation, which can lead him to keep people on long past when they should have been let go. The current episode with Rob Porter and David Sorensen seemed to confirm this view. But whether Trump personally enjoys saying "You're fired!" or not, he is setting records for having higher turnover in top White House jobs than his predecessors.

A new study out by the Brookings Institute shows that the Trump White House has had to either fire (or "accept the resignation of") more top officials than any of the five presidents before him. In fact, over one-third of the top people in the Trump administration have left at some point during the past year.

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Trump Budget Has No Fairy-Tale Ending

[ Posted Monday, February 12th, 2018 – 18:16 PST ]

The Trump administration released its budget proposal today, and it is nothing more than a bad joke. Or a badly-written fairy tale, perhaps. Like most presidential budget requests, it is going to wind up bearing little resemblance to reality -- that's almost a given -- but even at its most fantastical, they couldn't make the numbers magically add up. Rapunzel lets her hair down, but it turns out to be fifteen feet short of the ground. Sad!

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