Friday Talking Points [488] -- Suffer The Little Children

[ Posted Friday, June 15th, 2018 – 18:20 PDT ]

Fox News unwittingly (how else?) spoke a deep truth this week. Or perhaps a deep fantasy -- it's tough to tell, coming from Fox anchors. As President Trump descended the stairs from Air Force One in Singapore, Fox And Friends gushed: "This is history. Regardless of what happens in that meeting between the two dictators, what we are seeing right now -- this is history." Um... how many dictators was that, again? The host later tried to walk back her unintentional gaffe, but is it really all that far off the mark?

Consider the following, just from the past week alone:

  • North Korea is no longer a nuclear threat (oh, excuse me, that should be "a Nuclear Threat"), because Trump said so. All hail the Dear Leader! No, not that one -- our Dear Leader!
  • Speaking of North Korean dictator Kim Jong Un, Trump recently said: "He speaks and his people sit up at attention. I want my people to do the same."
  • There is a "special place in Hell" for world leaders who stab Donald Trump in the back, because apparently Trump got promoted to God, or something. And speaking of things biblical, Jeff Sessions is ordained by God to do whatever he (Sessions, that is) feels like doing -- and if you don't agree, you probably aren't a good Christian.
  • Not to be outdone by the Hermit Kingdom, the White House created its own North Korea propaganda film. When it played -- with no explanation -- just before Trump's press conference, the reporters present thought it actually was North Korean propaganda. The video was purportedly from "Destiny Pictures," but nobody at the White House Propaganda Office bothered to find out that this is actually a real production company (who immediately disavowed the film). Maybe they'll sue? That would make an amusing court case, that's for sure.
  • Getting in the spirit of dictatorial regimes and totalitarian propaganda, the chair of the Republican National Committee tweeted out: "Complacency is our enemy. Anyone that does not embrace the @realDonaldTrump agenda of making America great again will be a mistake."
  • The State Department is getting in on all the totalitarian fun, too, as a senior advisor has been "quietly vetting career diplomats and American employees of international institutions to determine whether they are loyal to President Donald Trump and his political agenda, according to nearly a dozen current and former U.S. officials." Can loyalty oaths to Trump be all that far behind, really?
  • At a detention facility for immigrant children, there is a mural of Dear Leader Trump complete with a quote (in both English and Spanish) from his book, where he is talking about that time when he unsuccessfully tried to evict some tenants. You just can't make this stuff up, folks.
  • Ronald Reagan famously promised to "trust, but verify" with the Soviet Union. Donald Trump now so completely trusts Kim Jong Un that any questions about why there was nothing about verification in the agreement are, according to Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, "silly" and "insulting and ridiculous and frankly ludicrous." Because the Dear Leader has spoken, of course.
  • The president is for the so-called "moderate" Republican immigration bill in the House. Oh, wait -- now the president will not sign the moderate bill. No, that can't be right -- the president didn't understand the question, and now will indeed sign the bill. All in the space of a few hours. One assumes Trump's Ministry of Truth is working overtime to deal with all of this.
  • Obama bowing to a Saudi was the worst diplomatic mistake ever made, but Trump saluting a North Korean general was just "showing him respect."
  • There are two people who make more than $65,000 a year whose job it now is to tape all the papers back together than Trump keeps ripping into pieces. Nobody can stop Trump from doing this, but the papers have to be preserved, by law.

Putting all of this evidence together, the obvious conclusion is that maybe that "two dictators" gaffe isn't all that far off the mark. But let's put all that aside for the moment, because there was one big issue this week where Trump's attempts to get everyone to believe in his own personal reality are falling flat, as he flails around attempting to defend his own policy of separating children from their parents at the border.

Trump has convinced himself that there is a dastardly law that was passed by Democrats that forces children to be separated from their parents, even for asylum seekers (in other words, not just for people who illegally enter the country). There is no such law. The Washington Post fact checker actually called this claim "violently divorced from reality." When pressed about the issue, the people at the White House whose unenviable job it is to try to match actual reality with the president's various uninformed idiocy could only come up with a court ruling and a law which unanimously passed Congress and was signed by that well-known Democrat, George W. Bush. Neither the law nor the court case address the heart of the new policy, which was a Trump administration decision alone. One that Jeff Sessions used to brag about, in fact, just a few months ago.

But now Trump's getting lots of bad press over the policy, so somehow Democrats must be responsible -- since the Dear Leader is incapable of making a mistake, of course. Jeff Sessions tried to help by explaining how it was all God's will:

Persons who violate the law of our nation are subject to prosecution. I would cite you to the Apostle Paul and his clear and wise command in Romans 13 to obey the laws of the government, because God has ordained them for the purpose of order. Orderly and lawful processes are good in themselves and protect the weak and lawful.

Only one problem: that particular Bible verse hasn't been used in American politics since slave-owners used it to justify slavery. Maybe it was flagged in the Sessions family Bible or something?

Church leaders immediately piled on in disgust, from the Pope on down. The Vatican tweeted:

"The Bible teaches that God 'loves the foreigner residing among you, giving them food and clothing. And you are to love those who are foreigners, for you yourselves were foreigners in Egypt' (Deuteronomy 10:18-19)." Pope Francis

One bishop at the U.S. Conference of Cardinals suggested that any Catholic who participated in the child-removal policy should be denied communion because it is so sinful. He helpfully pointed to Romans 12, and noted: "The fact that the Apostle Paul, who wrote Romans, wrote several epistles from jail suggests that he was occasionally on the wrong side of an unjust law."

Evangelist Franklin Graham, normally a staunch Trump supporter, said: "I think it's disgraceful, it's terrible to see families ripped apart and I don't support that one bit." The Southern Baptist Convention issued a strongly-worded statement (chock full of Bible citations that refute Sessions in various ways) which included the following: "We declare that any form of nativism, mistreatment, or exploitation is inconsistent with the gospel of Jesus Christ."

Just one of the Bible quotes they cited was Matthew 25:37-40, where Jesus is warning that God will sort out the goats from the sheep:

Then the righteous will answer him, "Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you something to drink? When did we see you a stranger and invite you in, or needing clothes and clothe you? When did we see you sick or in prison and go to visit you?"

The King will reply, "Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me."

It's pretty hard to square that with removing a breastfeeding baby from her mother's embrace, really. Some Republicans are aware of how bad this all looks, politically. In fact, they hastily added a "don't split up families" provision to their immigration bill, because they know full well how this is going to play in November with the crucial suburban women demographic.

With press this bad, no wonder Trump is blaming a non-existent law forced on him by Democrats, rather than his own hard-hearted policy. Again, Jeff Sessions used to be proud of this policy, at least before the backlash happened. Suffer the little children, indeed.

OK, this is already running long, so let's just whip through some of the rest of the political news of the week, then move along to the awards and the talking points. The week began, of course, with Trump picking an inane fight with Canada's Justin Trudeau, after Trump left the G-7 meeting early. In the short time he was there, he managed to antagonize pretty much all the other world leaders, but the Trudeau thing was notable for the level of Trump's pointless rage. Senator Tim Kaine had the best response: "The Trump administration is filled with people with glass jaws who they love to punch people, but if somebody punches back? They just can’t believe it. They're crybabies. President Trump can name-call everybody all day long. And somebody gets in his face a little bit and they melt into a pool of lukewarm water."

The Justice Department Inspector General put out a report this week on the F.B.I. investigation into Hillary Clinton's emails. It ripped into James Comey, but the main conclusion was that there was "no evidence that the conclusions by department prosecutors were affected by bias or other improper considerations." Oh, and just for irony's sake, the report also noted that James Comey used a private email account for official F.B.I. business, which was precisely what Clinton was being investigated for.

The attorney general of New York filed a lawsuit against the Trump Foundation, for essentially acting as Donald Trump's personal piggy bank. She stated in the lawsuit that "oversight of spending at Trump's foundation was so loose that its board of directors hadn't met in 19 years and its official treasurer wasn't even aware that he was on the board."

In other legal news, Trump just lost his latest appeal to the New York state supreme court, and the defamation lawsuit Summer Zervos brought against him can thus go forward -- which includes a judge's order that Trump be deposed by Summer's lawyers no later than the end of January. So there's that to look forward to.

Paul Manafort is now in prison, since he broke his bail agreement once again. More on this in a moment.

Michael Cohen is widely rumored to be about to flip and start giving evidence against Donald Trump, as well. To use a mixed avian metaphor, if Cohen starts singing like a canary, then Trump's goose is cooked.

In international news, we are now officially in a trade war with China, as Trump levied a 25 percent tariff and the Chinese announced they would retaliate and that their focus will be on soybeans and other farm products. Trump's former top economic advisor, Gary Cohn, had this to say:

Gary Cohn, who served as Trump's director of the National Economic Council but left amid a rift over the president's trade policies, said that retaliatory tariffs between countries could drive up inflation and prompt American consumers to take on more debt, possibly pushing the country into another economic downturn.

"If you end up with a tariff battle, you will end up with price inflation, and you could end up with consumer debt," Cohn, a former Goldman Sachs executive, said at a Washington Post event. "Those are all historic ingredients for an economic slowdown."

Asked if the trade battle could erase the gains to the American economy from the tax law, Cohn said: "Yes, it could."

In election news, another round of primaries happened this Tuesday. Democrats picked up two special election victories in statehouses, which brings them to a total of 44 such seats flipped since Trump took office.

A defender of white supremacists won the nomination in Virginia for a Senate race, which should help a whole lot of down-ballot Democrats in November, if it serves to reduce Republican voter turnout, as expected.

California will be voting this November on whether the state will split into three, but as we noted earlier this week, nobody should be holding their breath waiting for it to actually happen, no matter what the result of the vote turns out to be.

The brothel owner in Nevada who is the star of the Cathouse reality-television show and the author of The Art of the Pimp won his Republican primary for a House seat, because of course he did. He calls himself "The Trump of Pahrump," which is actually kind of catchy (Pahrump is a Nevada town between Las Vegas and Death Valley).

And two more amusing notes to close on. The first was a tweet from an editor at The Atlantic, ostensibly about sports: "Excited for the World Cup opener between Russia and Saudi Arabia. It's a crucial game; the winner gets to run U.S. foreign policy." Heh.

And finally, the Democrats beat the Republicans by a whopping 21-5 at the annual congressional baseball game. Hopefully this will be a harbinger for November!


Most Impressive Democrat Of The Week

We thought about giving the MIDOTW this week to Barbara Underwood, New York's attorney general, for suing the Trump Foundation over rampant disregard for the rules non-profits are supposed to follow, but we consider this to be a non-partisan decision even if she is a Democrat. While we do applaud her bravery for filing the suit, we think it somehow doesn't qualify for a partisan award.

Instead, for a change, we're not going to award a Most Impressive Democrat Of The Week this week at all. Because instead we were most impressed this week not by a partisan politician or even technically a partisan idea, but rather by an innovation in voting that seems to be getting more popular with time.

In Maine's primary, voters not only got to use the new "ranked choice" voting system, but they also reaffirmed their support of the new system by passing another ballot initiative in favor of it. The system is somewhat more complicated than the way most Americans vote, because instead of one vote for one candidate, you get to rank your vote for all the candidates. If the candidate who gets your first choice doesn't do so well in the first round of counting, then he drops out of the count and your second-choice vote is used instead. This goes on until one candidate has a clear majority.

While not in use statewide in California, San Francisco just elected its first African-American woman mayor using ranked-choice voting, as well. The ballot-counting in this race went to nine rounds, giving an excellent textbook example of how the system is designed to work.

We do not live in a state or city with ranked-choice voting, so we have no personal experience with it, we should mention. But what we find fascinating is how popular it appears to be for an election innovation (there are plenty of election reform ideas which never reach this level of popularity, in other words), and how where it is used it has already changed the face of political campaigns. Two candidates (Smith and Jones, for example) can even work out a sort of non-aggression pact, where they appear in commercials with Smith saying: "I want your vote, but my own second choice will be for Candidate Jones," while Jones offers her second vote to Smith in her ad. Not only do candidates work for first-rank votes, they also try to convince their opponents' supporters to consider them for second or third place as well.

The only real drawback to the system is that it takes longer to declare a winner, but it isn't all that big an issue. It may take a few more days to see who wins, but nobody has to feel that voting for a minor candidate is "throwing your vote away" -- which outweighs having to wait a little longer, at times.

So we're handing a special Most Impressive Election Reform Of The Week award out this week, to the ranked-choice voting system.


Most Disappointing Democrat Of The Week

Democrats really weren't in the news much this week, for good or for bad. There was so much else going on in Trumpland that Democrats were mostly swept aside. This leaves us without much to choose from for Most Disappointing Democrat Of The Week, but we're going to go ahead and give it to the same guy we gave it to last week.

Bob Mulholland, Democratic bigwig from California, won the previous award for comparing a technical change in how superdelegates will vote at the Democratic National Convention to the Civil Rights movement and getting beaten up by thugs.

This week, he's spiraled even further into Looney Tunes Land, by claiming -- without a scintilla of evidence, mind you -- that Vladimir Putin and the Rooskies were behind the proposed superdelegate changes. No, really. Here's the story:

Mulholland, a DNC member and longtime key player in California Democratic politics, sent an email Friday to other DNC members from the Golden State that implied Russian President Vladimir Putin might be behind the reform effort.

The basis for his claim? An activist from West Virginia promoting the changes, who he had seen at two national party gatherings, admitted to him that she was a Green Party member and had voted for its nominee, Jill Stein, in the 2016 election.

"I concluded someone is picking up her expenses but there she and others are, demanding we change our Rules," Mulholland wrote. "The Putin operation is still active."

Contacted by HuffPost on Sunday, Mulholland conceded he had no evidence the woman, who he did not name, was bankrolled by Putin.

But he said that "when people show up who have no connection to the party and they show up at events, requiring transportation of hundreds of miles, I always think they're working for somebody."

He added, "I'm a big believer that Putin has not let off the gas. Anyone who thinks Putin would not be interfering with future elections needs to have their head examined."

Michael Kapp, a fellow DNC member from California, blasted what he called Mulholland's "completely unsubstantiated allegation," saying "it would be laughable if it wasn't so embarrassing."

For embarrassing himself two weeks running, Mulholland is hereby awarded his second consecutive Most Disappointing Democrat Of The Week. Is somebody making sure he takes his meds? We're getting a little worried about him, frankly.

[Contact Bob Mulholland through the official California Democratic Party's contact page, to let him know what you think of his actions.]


Friday Talking Points

Volume 488 (6/15/18)

Our talking points are all rather negative this week, but then there's a lot of idiocy out there to fight back against, currently. The motto of the story: Every time you think Republicans can't sink any lower, they usually do. And they're usually led there by Trump.



The Trump team seems to be crossing a rather strange line of late.

"First we had a senior presidential advisor say on national television that there was a 'special place in Hell' for world leaders that don't bow down and publicly kiss Donald Trump's ring, as if Trump himself had been elevated to the position of deciding who goes to Hell and who does not. Then we saw the spectacle of Jeff Sessions attempting to teach religious leaders what was Christian and what was not, as he tried to morally defend the morally indefensible Trump administration policy that he himself implemented of needlessly separating refugee children from their parents. This policy is so mean-spirited and downright cruel that even religious leaders who normally support Trump had to speak out against it. But it didn't stop Sessions from attempting to use a Bible verse last used in American politics to defend slavery in almost blasphemous fashion. What it brought to my mind was the old saying that the Devil himself can quote scripture in his own defense, more than anything else."


   Cult of personality

There's really only one word for what Trump has managed to create.

"Some Republicans are now bemoaning the hard, cold fact that it is now the Trump Party more than the Republican Party they remember. Bob Corker put it more plainly, saying: 'It's not a good place for any party to end up with a cultlike situation as it relates to a president that happens to be of -- purportedly -- of the same party.' In the same week that Donald Trump became best friends with another totalitarian dictator -- so much that he openly admired the slavish devotion that Kim Jong Un demands from his people -- the phrase 'cult of personality' seems entirely appropriate for what used to be the Republican Party."


   Manafort? Hardly knew him.

Who? Him? Gosh, I might have met him once, or something....

"In what is becoming almost a cliché, Donald Trump now claims he barely knew Paul Manafort. Maybe he was the guy who went for coffee during the campaign, or something? Manafort was unceremoniously chucked into jail today, to await his multiple federal trials after he -- yet again -- violated the terms of his bail, this time by attempting to get possible witnesses to lie for him. Afterwards, Trump said Manafort was being treated 'very unfairly.' Guess all that law-and-order lock-him-up stuff doesn't apply to people who worked for him, eh? Trump also incredulously stated that Manafort only worked for him 'for a short period of time... 49 days or something?' although Manafort was actually Trump's campaign chairman for 144 days -- meaning Trump understated his tenure by a factor of three. Which included the Republican National Convention. But now Trump can barely remember the guy, of course."


   King of the Deal?

Trump went with what he knows best with Kim Jong Un, apparently.

"Donald Trump apparently tried to treat nuclear negotiations with the leader of North Korea as just another real estate deal to be made. He created a propaganda video to show Kim Jong Un what wonderful condos at the beach would look like, he talked about what a wonderful real estate location North Korea was in during his press conference ('right between China and South Korea!') and Lindsey Graham even admitted as much on the plane home, saying: '[Trump] is selling condos, that's what he's doing. He's approaching North Korea as a distressed property with a cash-flow problem. Here's how we can fix it.' The only problem was that after the meeting, Trump had given the North Koreans one of the biggest things on their wish list -- an end to America's joint military exercises with South Korea -- and didn't get much of anything in return. If you read the actual language of the agreement they signed, the North Koreans merely 'reaffirmed' a previous agreement to 'work towards complete denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula.' So Trump didn't even get anything new out of the deal, while giving up one of the biggest pieces of leverage the United States had. As the magazine The Economist put it, on their cover: 'Kim Jong Won.' Oh, and it doesn't look like there will be Trump condos on North Korean beaches any time soon, either."


   Thousands of 110-year-olds?

Speaking of that presser...

"Donald Trump did make history this week, because he gave only the second solo press conference of his entire presidency after meeting with Kim Jong Un. During it, he trotted out a brazen lie that he talked Kim into repatriating American soldiers' remains from the Korean War because thousands and thousands of parents begged him to bring 'their sons' home. The only problem with this is that any parent of a Korean War soldier would have had to have been over 100 years old during the campaign, and more likely over 110 years old. Maybe Trump needs a few propaganda lessons from Kim, because Trump's effort just fell flat on its face."


   Got your sheet for the rally?

As if coddling dictators wasn't enough for one week, the Republican Party is apparently now openly flirting with white supremacy.

"Bob Corker said this week that the Republican Party was starting to resemble a cult, and there's a very ugly side of that which isn't being given enough attention. A Republican member of Arizona's state government this week got caught on tape saying: 'Sixty percent of public school children in the state of Arizona today are minorities. That complicates racial integration because there aren’t enough white kids to go around.... Immigration today represents an existential threat to the United States.' In New Jersey, the Republican nominee for a House seat went one further: 'The whole idea of diversity is a bunch of crap and un-American.' Diversity efforts, he continued, are 'an excuse by Democrats, communists and socialists, basically, to say that we’re not all created equal, that some people, if somebody is lesser qualified, they will get a job anyway or they’ll get into college anyway because of the tribe that they’re with, what group, what box they fit into.' Tribe? Really? Meanwhile, Representative Steve King retweeted a British white supremacist this week, a man who 'makes YouTube videos ranting about Jews and downplaying the historical significance of slavery and the Holocaust,' and then King refused to talk about it to reporters. And Virginia Republicans just nominated a man to take on Senator Tim Kaine who -- like Trump -- defended the white supremacists in Charlottesville. Trump has already tweeted out his support for the guy. Trump has led the effort to demonize all black and brown people in America, from his announcement he was running for president right up to the present day, so it really should come as no surprise that white supremacy is getting closer and closer to becoming an actual Republican Party plank in their platform. It's a sad state of affairs, but that is precisely where Trump has led the party."


   Leading by example?


"Fox News, being Fox News, decided to hold a big celebration for Flag Day. They rented a 30-by-50-foot flag and had an Army marching band pass by playing the National Anthem. One assumes this was a not-so-subtle continuation of their extended campaign to show how football players taking a knee is so unpatriotic. But while the band played and marched by, the three Fox morning show hosts sat in their chairs with their hands by their side. By their own reasoning, they must hate America, hate the military, hate all our soldiers, hate the president, and hate apple pie and mothers, for good measure. Right? I mean, they have made such an enormous deal out of castigating others for dishonoring the flag and the anthem, and then they can't even stand for it themselves?!? Oh, the hypocrisy!"

-- Chris Weigant


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Cross-posted at: Democratic Underground