Friday Talking Points [492] -- Super Callous Fragile Ego Trump You Are Atrocious

[ Posted Friday, July 13th, 2018 – 17:57 PDT ]

We certainly can't claim authorship for that rather brilliant title. It was seen on a protest sign in the midst of the 100,000 people who marched in London in opposition to President Donald Trump's visit to Britain. Accompanying the march was a giant "Trump Baby" blimp floating in the breeze, which depicted Trump in diapers with a cell phone in his tiny, tiny hand. The wranglers of the blimp all wore outfits with "Trump Babysitter" written on them, for extra emphasis. Where is Mary Poppins, when you need her the most?

The organizer of the blimp protest, Leo Murray, said he decided on the blimp because "we wanted to cheer people up." He added that it "would be an effective form of protest against Donald Trump, because he's famously vulnerable to personal insults." So how did it all work out? Trump responded in an interview with The Sun newspaper: "I guess when they put out blimps to make me feel unwelcome, no reason for me to go to London. I used to love London as a city. I haven't been there in a long time. But when they make you feel unwelcome, why would I stay there?" In other words, it worked out brilliantly. Murray agreed: "It's worked out spectacularly well. We've basically run him out of London. He's got the message: He's not wanted here."

But back to the rest of the week, which was a busy one, politically-speaking. It began with Trump's nomination to the Supreme Court and ended with the announcement of the indictment of another 12 Russians by Bob Mueller's team (bringing the total to 35 indictments, with 5 guilty pleas already. During the week, we saw Trump essentially make a fool of himself at the NATO meeting, the North Koreans make a fool of Mike Pompeo, and F.B.I. agent Peter Strzok make a fool of all the Republicans in Congress who keep trying to fit square pegs in round holes.

Chuck Schumer was all over the indictment news, responding less than an hour after the announcement: "President Trump should cancel his meeting with Vladimir Putin until Russia takes demonstrable and transparent steps to prove that they won't interfere in future elections." He added: "Glad-handling with Vladimir Putin on the heels of these indictments would be an insult to our democracy."

Speaking of people indicted by Mueller, Paul Manafort's attorneys displayed an astonishing amount of incompetence this week. Manafort, of course, has been stuck in jail after he attempted some ham-handed witness-tampering in advance of his two federal trials. But he's not exactly breaking rocks in the hot sun or anything, since he has plenty of VIP privileges: "a private, self-contained living unit, which is larger than other inmates' units, his own bathroom and shower facility, his own personal telephone and his own workspace to prepare for trial." He's not required to wear a prison uniform, and also has a personal laptop. Manafort has even developed a workaround to the rule that he's not allowed to send emails -- his lawyers shuttle a second laptop in and out of the facility, and after Manafort composes his emails, his lawyers later hook the machine up to the internet and send them for him. So, like we said, not exactly workin' on the chain gang or anything.

Even so, Manafort's lawyers complained and asked the judge to transfer him to a closer facility, since they had to drive for two hours to visit their client. When the judge granted their request, however, Manafort's lawyers had a change of heart and argued that he shouldn't be transferred, because "after further reflection, issues of distance and inconvenience must yield to concerns about his safety and, more importantly, the challenges he will face in adjusting to a new place of confinement." In other words: "We didn't mean it, we call takebacks!"

The judge was not amused, and denied the second request, stating: "It is surprising and confusing when counsel identifies a problem and then opposes the most logical solution to that problem. The dissonance between defendant's motion to continue and motion opposing transfer to the Alexandria Detention Center cannot easily be explained or resolved." So Manafort had to change jails anyway, which resulted in a rather embarrassing mug shot being released to the public. Poor Paul!

But let's return to Trump's big foreign policy week. Trump tried his "talking tough" approach to all of America's allies once again at the NATO meeting, which resulted in nothing more than an epidemic of eye-rolling among all the other participants. At the end, Trump loudly declared victory, even though he had not budged the status quo one inch. That's OK, because in Trump's mind he did, and that's all he really cares about. Just to be sure everyone knew this, he repeated the line: "I'm a very stable genius" to the media.

Representative Ted Lieu won the foreign policy week on Twitter, after he tweeted to Trump: "Dear @POTUS: In light of your comments about #NATO today, here's a simple one page memo with pictures and colors to remind you who our allies are." A photo was attached with images of Germany's and NATO's flags, with the heading: "Allies of the U.S. (also, did not attack us during the 2016 election)." Below this was a Russian flag with the heading: "NOT allies of the U.S. (attacked us during the 2016 election)."

But Trump wasn't the only White House figure having a disastrous foreign policy week. There was Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, who was supposed to meet with the North Koreans to start to define some details of the vague Singapore agreement. He utterly failed in this task, which is not too surprising. First, Kim Jong Un snubbed him in order to visit a potato farm instead. Then, the North Koreans taunted Pompeo to his face, and finally they badmouthed him unmercifully after the meeting was done (and after Pompeo had declared he had made lots of progress to the press). Pompeo was excoriated by the North Koreans as being "gangster-like" and "cancerous," which isn't exactly a positive development.

Not to be outdone, Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin appeared before Congress and admitted that, in the midst of Trump's ever-escalating trade war with China, the trade talks with China had completely "broken down." Mnuchin essentially said the ball is now in China's court and they're the ones who must offer up concessions. China responded by accusing America of "acting erratically" and insisting on fighting a trade war rather than negotiating. Tired of all the winning yet, Trump voters? Oh, and how is that futures market for soybeans looking now, hmm?

Of course, the Republican Senate is too timid to actually do anything to rein Trump in. Instead of directly challenging Trump's authority, they instead passed a milquetoast non-binding "sense of the Senate" resolution nagging Trump for using national security as a pathetically-thin excuse for unilaterally waging this trade war. Trump must be quaking in his boots over that, right? Sigh.

Of course, all sorts of other things were going on in the political world, so we're just going to have to whip through them in abbreviated fashion (as this is running too long already).

FEMA finally admitted what everyone with eyes could see: that they had royally screwed up their response to Hurricane Maria in Puerto Rico. According to an after-action report just released, FEMA didn't have enough people, didn't have enough aid supplies, couldn't handle the logistics, and had no idea of the true scope of the disaster. According to Trump at the time, of course, FEMA's response rated a "10 out of 10," and "was nothing like Katrina." Turns out he was right -- it was far worse than Katrina.

Mark Short, the White House's legislative affairs director, announced he's going to retire. Short has been with Trump since the beginning of his term, and anyone who has seen him on television knows he's a lot more intelligent in how he defends Trump than people like Sarah Huckabee Sanders or Kellyanne Conway ever could hope to be. But he's moving on now, like many other competent people who left before him.

It was reported that Jared Kushner still doesn't have the highest security clearance, which begs the question why he was denied such top clearance. Something we still haven't heard about, perhaps?

Trump's personal driver just sued him for thousands of dollars of unpaid overtime, adding one more lawsuit to the already-growing stack. Speaking of people suing Trump, Stormy Daniels was arrested in Ohio for her actions at a strip club, but then immediately released when no charges were filed. It sure got her name back in the news, though, meaning the detectives who arrested her (out of political spite, it appears) saw their whole plan backfire spectacularly.

Democrats are once again widening their lead in the generic congressional polling, and the gap now stands at 8.4 percent in their favor. This could be good news for the big blue wave in November. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, rather astonishingly, won another primary, in the House district next door to the one she's actively running in. She won a third-party nomination by getting nine write-in votes, so it's not that momentous a deal, but even so it's an amusing footnote!

One disgusting note from the Republican side of the campaign -- a San Bernardino County prosecutor had to be placed on leave after it was revealed that he had posted the following comment on social media about Representative Maxine Waters: "Being a loud-mouthed c#nt in the ghetto you would think someone would have shot this bitch by now." Nothing like that famous Republican outreach to minorities and women, eh?

And we close with a good old-fashioned "it couldn't have happened to a nicer guy" feel-good story. Paul Ryan reported that his Chevy Suburban was now defunct, after a family of woodchucks ate through the car's wiring. "My car was eaten by animals," Ryan reported. "It's just dead." Somewhere, Mother Nature is doubled over, laughing hysterically.


Most Impressive Democrat Of The Week

We're just going to assume, for the sake of this award, that Peter Strzok is a Democrat. He certainly sounds like one, in his tweets to his girlfriend, that's for sure, and the Republicans are sure treating him like one, so that is qualification enough for us, at least.

Peter Strzok wins the Most Impressive Democrat Of The Week for not shirking from a big political fight. When he emerged at the center of House Republicans' conspiracy theories (which, believe it or not, go something like: "An F.B.I. agent talked about politics with his girlfriend, therefore Bob Mueller's investigation is totally illegitimate and should be stopped forthwith"), he declared himself eager to rebut the nonsensical charges flung willy-nilly against him. He did not wait for a subpoena, but declared he was more than willing to testify in front of any congressional committee that wanted to hear from him -- voluntarily, and publicly. That's what set up this week's confrontation, which was one of the wildest congressional hearings in recent memory. We had House Republicans sanctimoniously deciding that they cared once again about extramarital affairs [pause for laughter], and we had Democrats fighting back hard. After Louie Gohmert castigated Strzok for his "little smirk" by attacking him for his affair, Democrats erupted in disgust, with one yelling to Gohmert: "You need your medication."

During the course of the hearing, Republicans bizarrely threatened Strzok with contempt charges because he wouldn't answer specific questions about an ongoing investigation, and then later refused Democratic demands to release all of Strzok's former testimony (which was given in a closed session) because it was part of an ongoing investigation by the committee.

Throughout the entire hearing, Strzok more than held his own against the Republican conspiracy-mongering. No wonder he was so confident of appearing before them -- he proved he was well up to the task, and more.

His own testimony totally discredited the entire storyline the Republicans have talked themselves into believing, in fact, as the Washington Post helpfully pointed out:

In a written statement offered before he testified before the House Oversight Committee on Thursday, Strzok pointedly noted that there was no effort on his part to keep Trump from winning the White House -- and, further, that he was one of only a few people who could have potentially leaked details from the investigation in an effort to block Trump's victory.

"In the summer of 2016," Strzok wrote, "I was one of a handful of people who knew the details of Russian election interference and its possible connections with members of the Trump campaign. This information had the potential to derail, and quite possibly, defeat Mr. Trump. But the thought of exposing that information never crossed my mind."

This is a nearly impossible point to rebut.

. . .

Since Americans only learned about the scale of the investigation into the Trump campaign after the campaign was over, it's been common to look at Strzok's obviously anti-Trump texts in the context of what we know now. Put another way, there's been a concerted effort to explain away precisely the contradiction that Strzok notes: If he didn't want Trump to win, why didn't he do something to keep Trump from winning? (And by extension, why do something that seemed very likely to hurt Clinton's chances?)

. . .

If you were an F.B.I. agent in possession of information about how an adviser to Trump's campaign knew about the existence of emails stolen by the Russians that disparaged Clinton, or who knew about the extent of the relationship between Trump's former campaign chairman and Russian interests, or who knew that there was an active surveillance operation underway targeting another former adviser to the campaign, or who knew God-knows-what-else the F.B.I. knows that hasn't been made public -- why would you not interject that information in the few days before the election as the results were obviously tightening?

In other words, just like millions of other Americans at the time, Strzok was merely venting his frustration to his girlfriend. If he had been dedicated to Trump's downfall (as the Republicans have charged), then why didn't he do anything about it, when he had a prime opportunity to do so?

For utterly undermining the GOP conspiracy theory in such unruffled style and for making so many Republican heads explode during the hearing, Peter Strzok is easily our Most Impressive Democrat Of The Week.

[Peter Strzok is still employed by the F.B.I., but his is not a political job, and our policy is not to provide contact information for non-political federal workers, so you'll have to search for contact information for him on your own if you'd like to let him know you appreciate his efforts.]


Most Disappointing Democrat Of The Week

This goes beyond disappointing to downright disturbing. Here's the whole sordid story, so far:

Archie Parnell resisted calls that he end his U.S. House candidacy in South Carolina after a local newspaper revealed in May that he had beaten his first wife in 1973. His two paid staff members quit. But the Democrat, who had attracted national attention after performing surprisingly well in a 2017 special election, stayed in the race, insisting he was "not the same person" his first wife divorced for "acts of physical cruelty."

But six former paid Parnell staffers who spoke to HuffPost anonymously to protect their employment prospects described a candidate still plagued by a hair-trigger temper that occasionally caused them to fear for their physical safety.

"I was not surprised at all when I saw the [divorce] documents," said one of the former aides. "I was surprised about the details. But to see that Archie could lose his temper and act out in an irrational way did not surprise me at all."

The ex-staff members compared Parnell to Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde. One moment he was normal; the next he was unleashing on a staffer for a perceived slight.

. . .

The candidate "did not seem to think this behavior was a problem and that's what really struck me about it," said a former aide who witnessed his explosive temper more than once. "There was never any remorse that I saw, anyway."

In the 1973 abuse incident, Parnell broke into a friend's home and struck his then-wife, Kathleen Parnell. Kathleen Parnell's divorce filings stated that their marriage had deteriorated "by reason of certain difficulties and differences caused by [Parnell's] unwarranted accusations" against her.

After breaking into the apartment, where Kathleen had been hiding from him, Parnell made "further accusations" against his then-wife before beating her "with such force as to cause her acute physical injury," according to the filing. He found Kathleen on a second occasion that night and struck her again, the filing said.

Is this really the candidate that Democrats should be getting behind in the era of #MeToo? No, it is not. For past violence against women and present uncontrollable hotheadedness, Archie Parnell is easily our Most Disappointing Democrat Of The Week.

[Our blanket policy is to not provide candidate information, so you'll also have to search for Archie Parnell's contact information if you'd like to let him know what you think of his actions.]


Friday Talking Points

Volume 492 (7/13/18)

Somewhat of an eclectic set of talking points this week, from how Democrats should be campaigning for the midterms, to Republicans denouncing their own president, to Joe Scarborough's amazing real-time fact-checking of Trump. Sit back, buckle up, and enjoy the ride!


   They're screwing us all

Things are heating up in the House over a bill introduced this week to abolish ICE and hand over its duties to other agencies. Paul Ryan reacted with glee, promising to hold a vote on the bill, because he thinks it'll hurt Democrats politically in the midterms. Frank Sharry, executive director of America's Voice, offered up a talking point to rebut how Republicans "want to define Democrats as for 'illegals' and against you." We thought it was an excellent way to redirect the subject back to what Democrats are actually running on, so we reproduced it in full:

Trump is putting children in cages and breaking up immigrant families. We're going to stand up for immigrants and for you. Republicans are dehumanizing immigrants to distract from the fact that they're screwing all of us, by lining the pockets of billionaires with tax cuts and threatening health care and education for all.


   Rubbing salt in the wound

We thought we'd take Sharry's lead and run with it, for the next two talking points.

"The Trump administration is adding insult to injury to the parents whose children have been forcibly removed from them. By Tuesday of this week, they were supposed to have reunited the 100 children under the age of five years old with their parents. The Trump administration was supposed to do so with public reunions of the families, but then backtracked and did them in secret. They only managed to reunite something like half the toddlers with their parents, and -- just to rub salt in the wound -- after removing these youngsters from their parents and shipping them thousands of miles away, the parents had to pay for their own travel expenses to be reunited with their children, rather than having their children returned to them where they currently were. The A.C.L.U. has filed a court case challenging this extortionate situation, which is just wrong and cruel -- like everything else about Trump's policy of forcibly splitting up refugee families. The distinctions between what Trump is doing and outright kidnapping continue to shrink."


   Trump doesn't want your family to have health insurance

Democrats should practice pivoting to health care, because that's the field they really should be fighting this midterm election on.

"Donald Trump doesn't want you or your family to have health insurance. He's proven this time and time again, as he works to undo all the good things that Obamacare has brought. From joining a lawsuit to overturn the protections for those with pre-existing conditions to actively keeping people in the dark about their options, Trump is doing everything he can to destroy the healthcare system. This week, it was just announced that the budget for grants to inform people of how to sign up on the Obamacare exchanges would be slashed to the bone. The last year President Obama was in office, the government spent $62.5 million in grants to help people obtain the health insurance they had a right to. Last year, Trump cut this budget to $36.8 million, while slashing the budget for advertising by 90 percent. This year, Trump will further decimate this budget to only $10 million -- a total reduction of almost 85 percent. Republicans from Trump on down have shown over and over again what their true goal is when it comes to healthcare -- they don't want you to know your options, because they really don't want you to have health insurance. If you value your family's healthcare, vote Democratic in November."


   Putin is America's enemy

These next two talking points actually come from prominent Senate Republicans. The first is from John McCain, who was horrified at Trump's performance during the NATO meeting. McCain minces no words in telling the president what he thinks:

Putin is not America's friend, nor merely a competitor. Putin is America's enemy -- not because we wish it so, but because he has chosen to be. The president's task is to reverse his disturbing tendency to show America's adversaries the deference and esteem that should be reserved for our closest allies.... It is up to President Trump to hold Putin accountable for his actions during the meeting in Helsinki. Failure to do so would be a serious indictment of his stewardship of American leadership in the world.


   I don't worry about Robert Mueller

This next one is from former Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist, who is not happy at all over Trump's repeated attacks on Bob Mueller. This is fairly long for a talking point, but the entire essay was so strong it was hard to pare down. Also please note, this was written before the most recent 12 indictments were handed down, so Frist's number is already outdated.

It isn't easy to tell a president of your own party that he is wrong. But the assault on [Special Counsel Robert] Mueller's investigation does not help the president or his party. When Trump talks about firing the special counsel or his power to pardon himself, he makes it seem as though he has something to hide. The president must remember that only Mueller's exoneration can lift the cloud hanging over the White House.

The special counsel's investigation is not about Trump. It is about our national security. Every American should be rooting for Mueller's success in determining precisely how Russia interfered in our fundamental democratic process. I had no illusions about the Soviet Union during the Cold War, and I have none about [Vladimir] Putin now. Mueller's most recent court filings indicate that Putin is seeking to meddle in this year's elections. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, Director of National Intelligence Daniel Coats and F.B.I. Director Christopher A. Wray -- all Trump appointees confirmed by the Republican-led Senate -- have also warned of foreign interference. We should heed these warnings and empower Mueller to see his important work through to its conclusion.

I have worried over the years about runaway legal authority, and I've battled against activist judges. I don't worry about Robert Mueller. He is a lifelong Republican with a career of distinguished service running the Criminal Division of the Justice Department for President Ronald Reagan and serving as President George W. Bush's F.B.I. director, twice unanimously confirmed by the Senate. And his investigation is getting results: By any objective standard, he has moved swiftly, obtaining 23 indictments and five guilty pleas in just more than a year.


   Morning Joe tries something new

Joe Scarborough decided to try something new, during Trump's impromptu press conference at the NATO meeting. He decided to fact-check the president in real time, breaking into the audio of what Trump was saying to rebut his many and obvious falsehoods. We've reproduced two of these below, both of which are notable for the stark language used. The first was in response to Trump stating that NATO member contributions were headed down (before Trump knocked their heads), and the second was in response to Trump's repeated claim that Ronald Reagan didn't win Wisconsin in the 1984 election, and that you had to go back to Eisenhower to find a Republican who had won the state. The only problem with this novel approach to countering Trump's lies is that while Scarborough was interrupting, Trump could have been telling more whoppers -- sort of a reductio ad absurdum situation. Still, he's to be commended for the effort, and we hope other news personalities decide to copy it.

In response to Trump on NATO contributions:

Actually what the president just said there about all of the contributions going down is a lie. They continued to go up under Barack Obama.... He was lying when he said that. Back to the president.

And in response to Trump's better-than-Reagan boasting:

The president, of course, wrong again. I don't know how many times he can get this wrong. In 1984, Ronald Reagan won 49 states, including Wisconsin. He only lost to Walter Mondale's Minnesota. The president continuing to lie about basic election results, American results. Ronald Reagan, again, for the 15th time, White House staff: Ronald Reagan won Wisconsin in 1984. Richard Nixon won Wisconsin as well. You don't have to go back to Dwight Eisenhower. Again, he once again lies about election results. Now back to the president's press conference, already in progress.


   Three out of four times, Trump is lying

Not to be outdone, the Washington Post did a deep dive into a recent Trump rally in Montana.

"Joe Scarborough is right to flat-out call Trump's lies exactly what they are. In fact, more people should do so on a regular basis. The Washington Post just analyzed Trump's most-recent political rally in Montana, and found that out of 98 factual statements Trump made (without even counting duplicate statements), a full 76 percent of them were 'false, misleading, or unsupported by evidence.' Out of almost 100 statements, 45 were flat-out false, 25 were misleading, and four were unsupported by any evidence. That sounds about right -- whenever Trump speaks, fully three out of every four things he says are lies. That's a good yardstick for the media to keep in mind, when covering him."

-- Chris Weigant


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Cross-posted at: Democratic Underground