Friday Talking Points [426] -- Who To Believe?

[ Posted Friday, February 24th, 2017 – 18:29 PST ]

That question is becoming more and more acute for the rest of the world, in reference to President Donald Trump versus the rest of the Trump administration. If you were the foreign minister from a country in Europe, for example, would you believe what Trump says about American policy towards Europe and Russia, or would you believe his minions, such as the Vice President Mike Pence or Secretary of State Rex Tillerson? This dilemma could become a sort of low-level ongoing crisis, since Trump's comments are so far removed from what others in his administration are saying. Who are you going to believe? The boss, or the underling who is making much more sense? That's a pretty risky geopolitical gamble to make, no matter which side you choose to believe.

Since the Trump regime assumed office, the president has disparaged NATO (as he had repeatedly done on the campaign trail). This had to be walked back by Pence, who assured European leaders that Trump really didn't mean what he said. The Europeans are awfully nervous about Russia, and every time the Trump-Putin bromance gets chummier, they get more worried. Tillerson and Pence both tried to reassure the Europeans, but skepticism remains high that they don't truly speak for the president. Understandably so.

Tillerson went down to Mexico this week to make a desperate attempt at healing wounds south of the border. He immediately had to walk back a statement by Trump that deportations were proceeding as "a military operation." Tillerson was left to weakly insist that of course this wasn't true, and the U.S. military wouldn't be rounding people up in America. Again, who would you believe?

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A Very Long Wait

[ Posted Thursday, February 23rd, 2017 – 19:53 PST ]

I thought I'd take a little break from politics today to address some scientific news. Astronomers recently announced (with much fanfare) that they had identified a planetary system with seven possible Earthlike planets orbiting it. This, inevitably, gave rise to claims such as "[it] could be the best place in the galaxy to search for life beyond Earth." That's a pretty superlative statement, but we'll ignore it for now (hey, even scientists like to create media buzz, right?). Because in all the stories I read about the discovery, there was a significant lack of some necessary context. Namely, the sheer distances involved.

The planetary system is being called TRAPPIST-1, for the telescope they used to discover it. Now, they really had to stretch the whole "making an acronym" rules here, since the telescope is named (with the odd capitalization you'd need) the "TRAnsiting Planets and PlanetesImals Small Telescope." It gets even more amusing, since the Belgian researchers are planning to look for similar planets in a project they've called SPECULOOS (also the name of a Belgian cookie): the "Search for habitable Planets EClipsing ULtracOOl Stars." As one article noted wryly, pointing out the fact that Belgians also love Trappist beer, the researchers' "next effort will have to be called WAFFLES."

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Don't Try To Co-opt Indivisible Movement, Fulfill It

[ Posted Wednesday, February 22nd, 2017 – 18:29 PST ]

There are two things currently happening in the world of Democratic and progressive politics, which are happening independently of each other, for the most part. This weekend, the Democratic National Committee will meet to elect a new chair. Meanwhile, out in the hinterlands, the progressive wave of energy and resistance to Donald Trump and his agenda shows no signs of abating. But I would extend a word of caution to whomever becomes the next D.N.C. chair: Don't attempt to corral or co-opt the burgeoning Indivisible movement -- instead, just do your damnedest to fulfill their expectations.

Although the new movement is only one month old (like Trump's presidency, which is no coincidence), it's already had an impact on the national political debate. Establishment Democrats, so far, are caught between hoping the movement sustains its energy all the way to the midterm congressional elections and worrying about how to "harness" the movement for their own ends. This is the very same dilemma the Republican Party faced when the Tea Party began (although I'm not suggesting Indivisible is a complete parallel or mirror-image of the Tea Party, because it's so early that it's impossible to make such comparisons). But Democrats should be worrying more about living up to the movement's goals than somehow grabbing the reins of the movement in any way.

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From The Archives -- Our Forgotten "Presidents"

[ Posted Tuesday, February 21st, 2017 – 19:03 PST ]

[Program Note: Since yesterday was a holiday for others, and yet I still wrote a new article, I decided to take today off to deal with a lot of other chores that had been building up, chez Weigant. In place of a new column, here is a Presidents' Day column from a number of years ago. Enjoy, and regular columns will resume tomorrow.]


Originally Published February 21, 2011

Happy Presidents' Day, everyone!

The two formerly-individual holidays celebrating Washington's Birthday and Lincoln's Birthday have been merged into a single federal holiday -- a holiday which, while intended to honor both Washington and Lincoln, has now become somewhat "genericized" (in name, at least) into a celebration of all our presidents. But what about the forgotten presidents? [Or, to be scrupulously accurate, "presidents"?]

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Rocky Starts In Presidential History

[ Posted Monday, February 20th, 2017 – 18:52 PST ]

Since it is Presidents' Day (or whatever else you call today, apostrophized or not), I thought I'd take it easy on our current president, and take a break from the regular ridicule I've been heaping upon him since he was sworn in. Today's supposed to be a noble holiday, after all, so I thought I'd make an extra effort at evenhandedness, and take a look back through history at some of the rocky starts various American presidents have had on the job.

Donald Trump has unquestionably had a rocky start. But he certainly hasn't faced the worst rocky start of any president in history, not by a long shot. Abraham Lincoln wins this honor hands-down, since the crisis started before he was even sworn in. Between Lincoln's Election Day and his Inauguration Day, seven Southern states seceded from the Union. Lincoln was sworn in on March 4, 1861, and five weeks later Fort Sumter happened, officially kicking off the Civil War. One certainly hopes that no other United States president ever has such a rocky start to his or her term, that's for sure.

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Friday Talking Points [425] -- Stress Conference

[ Posted Friday, February 17th, 2017 – 19:32 PST ]

Before we begin, two quick notes. That subtitle above isn't ours, but when we heard what CNN's Brian Stelter called the hot mess we saw yesterday, we had to agree it was the perfect description. Stress conference indeed! Secondly, our opening metaphor to describe our own personal reaction is going to need a rather roundabout explanation, just to warn everyone in advance.

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Trump's Easily-Debunked Lie

[ Posted Thursday, February 16th, 2017 – 17:53 PST ]

President Donald Trump gave a press conference today, in which he uttered more than one blatant falsehood. The fact-checkers are, once again, going to have to pull an all-nighter just to keep up with them all. But while they're busy disproving the weightier of these lies, I thought I'd concentrate on just the easiest to debunk. Call me lazy if you will, but this one is just so laughably wrong that it would be downright hilarious if it weren't so obvious that Trump has such a deep-seated need to believe in it.

Donald Trump's victory in the Electoral College was one of the closest wins in American history. It was not "the biggest since Ronald Reagan" at all. It was one of the smallest, in fact, of all time. It was definitely not (as Trump has insisted many times) a "landslide" in any way, shape, or form. He squeaked by, and nothing he says (or believes) is going to change that fact.

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Too Little From Congress, Too Much From Trump

[ Posted Wednesday, February 15th, 2017 – 17:54 PST ]

The relative speed differential between the Trump White House and the Republican Congress is already starting to cause problems, it seems. Because the Trump administration is moving so quickly and Congress historically moves at a pretty glacial pace, the unspoken bargain between congressional Republicans and President Trump is already showing cracks. The basic deal was going to be that GOP leaders in Congress would back Trump up on some of his (shall we say) more esoteric campaign promises, while Trump's end of the bargain would be to sign pretty much anything Republicans could manage to get past Congress, even if it contradicted some of what Trump promised his supporters (like gutting Medicare and Medicaid, to cite the most obvious candidate). GOP leaders would allow Trump to build his wall in exchange for Trump allowing them to shred the safety net and bestow generous tax breaks to the ultra-wealthy. That was the plan, at any rate.

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Just The First To Go

[ Posted Tuesday, February 14th, 2017 – 18:11 PST ]

It hasn't even been four weeks yet, and the first top aide to President Donald Trump has been forced to resign. This must be some kind of historical record, folks. The exit of Michael Flynn was no real surprise -- he's been relieved of high-level duties before, for what would be described on an elementary school report card as: "does not play well with others." But the speed of his departure and the fact that he was the first out the door was a bit surprising, since Flynn has been loyal to Trump for some time now, and Trump values such loyalty above all else.

To restate the obvious: Flynn is merely the first out the door -- there will doubtless be others following on the same walk of shame. This, in and of itself, isn't all that unusual. All presidents usually wind up having to fire top aides at times, sometimes forcing them to fall on their swords to protect the president and sometimes for screwing up so badly it simply can't be ignored or swept under the carpet. But the exit of Flynn before even one month had passed seems to signify that this sort of thing might become a lot more usual in the Trump administration. The pace Trump has set may mean that the scandals happen a lot faster and more often, but only time will tell if this will be the case (to be fair).

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Trump Should Cut His Losses

[ Posted Monday, February 13th, 2017 – 17:24 PST ]

While much of Washington is currently atwitter (and a-Twitter, of course) over the growing possibility that in the near future, one or more top White House advisors may be shown the door (centering, so far, around Mike Flynn, Sean Spicer, and Reince Priebus), I personally think Trump should consider cutting his losses in a different way. Palace intrigue is always fun to speculate about, of course, but aside from personalities, President Donald Trump should really consider just cutting his losses on the whole idea of a "temporary ban" on immigration. He should, in short, declare victory and move on.

For those of you laughing loudly at that previous sentence, allow me to explain. Yes, Trump has now lost twice in the courts. This means the chances he'll lose again -- no matter what next legal step he takes -- are quite high. He could appeal the decision to the entire Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals. He could appeal the decision directly to the Supreme Court. He could continue fighting at the District Court level. All of these strategies are likely to fail, however. The full Ninth Circuit is not likely to overturn a decision that, so far, has been made by two Democratically-appointed judges and two Republican-appointed judges. That's not likely to happen, and would just waste time. Pushing it to the Supreme Court might get a 4-4 split decision, which would just uphold last week's decision against Trump. The District Court judge obviously thinks Trump is going to lose on the merits of the case (hence the initial temporary restraining order in the first place), so Trump's not likely to find judicial joy there, either.

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