Friday Talking Points [474] -- "Trade Wars Are Good!" (As Hope Leaves The Building)

[ Posted Friday, March 2nd, 2018 – 18:18 PST ]

Once again, it is the end of another fun week at the White House. Let's see, we had the president's son-in-law stripped of his top secret security clearance (right as two brand new Jared Kushner scandals were revealed, just as icing on the cake). We had a cabinet member in hot water over buying a $31,000 table for his office, assumably so he could be more comfortable while slashing billions of dollars for poor people. The top North Korea expert at the State Department quit, out of frustration with Trump's incoherent policies. Trump met with the N.R.A., but then seemed to agree with everything Democrats proposed during a meeting on gun control -- after which, the N.R.A. met with Trump again in a desperate move to yank him back to their extreme positions. We had Trump smacking his own attorney general around again, and amusingly learned that Trump sometimes calls him "Mr. Magoo" behind his back. Trump so annoyed the president of Mexico in a phone call that he cancelled a planned meeting with Trump in Washington. We had Russia announce a new nuclear arms race, and Trump announce a new trade war -- apparently because he was so annoyed at all the other bad news that he wanted to create some of his own. After the inevitable pushback, he insisted on Twitter that "Trade wars are good, and easy to win!" Well, we're all about to find out, aren't we? And to cap the week off, one of Trump's closest advisors, Hope Hicks, testified before Congress that her job required her to tell "white lies" to the public on a regular basis. The next day, she announced she was leaving the White House.

In other words, business as usual!

Continue Reading »

A Short Greek Drama, For Your Amusement

[ Posted Thursday, March 1st, 2018 – 17:42 PST ]

The box had been opened quite a while ago, if truth be told. It was a big box, of course -- a beautiful box, a tremendous box, a box like nobody had ever seen -- with such alabaster construction (although strangely tinged with orange, in a certain light) that people took to calling it the White Box. Promises were made early on that only the best would be allowed to be inhabit the box.

But then the lid of the White Box was pried up from within. The beings within the box crawled slowly out, one by one, making their escape (either in terror or in shame). Soon it became a flood of entities exiting the box, each with their own various reasons for their departure.

Continue Reading »

Will The N.R.A. Attack Trump?

[ Posted Wednesday, February 28th, 2018 – 17:21 PST ]

The word "mercurial" is an elegant one, perhaps overly so. When used to describe President Donald Trump -- as it often is -- it lends him a certain majesty that he doesn't really deserve. Mercurial conjures up an image of quicksilver, liquid and shiny but impossible to pin down. Which is why so many in the media use the word to describe Trump, after all. But a more honest assessment would be that Trump just says whatever pops into his head at that particular moment, even if it blatantly contradicts something else he might have said minutes earlier.

Continue Reading »

All In The Family

[ Posted Tuesday, February 27th, 2018 – 18:16 PST ]

Jared Kushner's security clearance has been downgraded, the Washington Post reported today, from the highest level of access to the nation's secrets to the second-highest. This may not sound like much, but it will severely limit the information legally available to him -- he should no longer be able to read the president's daily briefing document put together by the national security apparatus, for example. This is important because it was recently disclosed that Kushner does actively read these daily briefings (or, at least, did so before last week). What it will mean in the larger sense for both Kushner and the rest of the Trump White House going forward is unclear, at this point.

Two Fridays ago, in the aftermath of the "wife-beaters in the White House" scandal, John Kelly sent out a memo stating that the highest security clearances which had been granted on a temporary basis (but had also been pending for the last eight months or more, to avoid new hires being unfairly swept up in the reclassification) would be revoked in one week's time. Last Friday, there was no official news out of the White House on Kushner's status, but President Trump was quoted essentially washing his hands of the issue. Trump could have overruled everybody and just granted Kushner his security clearance by fiat, but had apparently been convinced by advisors that it would harm him politically to do so. So Trump announced the decision was completely up to Kelly. And Kelly was apparently true to his word, and last week downgraded the highest security clearances for everyone covered by his memo. This included Jared Kushner.

Continue Reading »

CA Democrats Refuse To Endorse Dianne Feinstein

[ Posted Monday, February 26th, 2018 – 17:53 PST ]

Senator Dianne Feinstein, the senior senator from California, failed to get her own party's endorsement for re-election last weekend. In a stunning vote of no confidence, the California Democratic Party not only refused to endorse Feinstein, but came very close to endorsing her biggest primary opponent instead. A total of 60 percent of the votes was needed for an official party endorsement. Feinstein got only 37 percent, while challenger Kevin De León got 54 percent. That's a pretty sharp rebuke from the state party, obviously.

Of course, none of this means Feinstein isn't still the frontrunner, or that she is going to lose her re-election bid. Feinstein winning again is still the safe bet, to put this another way. De León still trails Feinstein in the polling by 29 points, although at this point the public isn't paying all that much attention yet, so that may just be due to name recognition more than anything else. Feinstein, who will be 85 years old on Election Day, is already about as well-known as a California politician can get. Feinstein is also a prodigious fundraiser, and at the last election finance report had 30 times De León's total in her campaign chest (a third of a million dollars versus $9.8 million). Statewide California races are notoriously expensive, with spending that can top $50 million for a single candidate at times. Like a few other big states (Texas and Florida spring to mind), there are multiple major media markets which are all very expensive to advertise in, due to the number of large metropolitan areas within the state. Feinstein is well aware of this. De León, a state legislator, will be running his first statewide race.

Continue Reading »

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.

Continue Reading »

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.

Continue Reading »

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.

Continue Reading »

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.

Continue Reading »

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.

Continue Reading »