Friday Talking Points [456] -- Rex Says What Everyone's Been Thinking

[ Posted Friday, October 6th, 2017 – 17:27 PDT ]

It's getting kind of hard to understand why Rex Tillerson is still secretary of state. He just had an extremely rough week, and that's even without counting the breaking news that he had previously called President Trump not just a "moron" but a "fucking moron." It's easy to get distracted by such salacious news (especially when Tillerson pointedly refused to deny the "moron" part of it), but even before that juicy leak, Tillerson was roundly being ridiculed for, once again, how his boss snarkily contradicted and belittled him on Twitter. Last weekend, Trump destroyed Tillerson's efforts to bring North Korea to the diplomatic table, tweeting that Tillerson was "wasting his time."

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Trump Can't Deal

[ Posted Thursday, October 5th, 2017 – 16:51 PDT ]

That headline should be taken literally, and not as slang. President Donald Trump, supposed dealmaker extraordinaire, the King Of The Deal, seems to be trying to prove to the world that he cannot successfully cut a deal with anyone on any subject. So, literally: Trump can't deal.

Trump, to date, has cut precisely zero deals on the foreign policy front. On domestic policy, he has (to the best of my recollection) cut two deals -- both largely with congressional Democrats. Both of these were on the budget, since Paul Ryan and Mitch McConnell have proven time and again how incapable they are of passing any sort of budget that has actual hard numbers contained within it. Earlier in the year, we hit one of those self-imposed budget deadlines and Trump essentially made a deal with Democrats to punt the can down the road, with virtually zero GOP agenda items included. A month ago, Trump cut yet another of these can-kicking deals with (as he put it) "Chuck and Nancy." Other than that, no deals have been struck at all, even with his own party in control of both houses of Congress. A pretty slim record, in other words, especially to a Republican partisan.

But even his abbreviated list of domestic deals stands out in comparison to his performance on the world stage, which, instead of "deal-making," so far consists solely of "deal-breaking." Trump pulled out of the Paris accords on climate change, he torpedoed the Trans-Pacific Partnership trade deal, he's been threatening to pull out of NAFTA, he even threatened to walk away from NATO, and he will reportedly soon "decertify" the Iran deal which prevents them from acquiring nuclear weapons. He's a one-man deal-wrecker, in other words.

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Why No Hurricane Maria National Telethon?

[ Posted Wednesday, October 4th, 2017 – 16:30 PDT ]

Donald Trump is rightfully getting slammed over his lackadaisical response to Hurricane Maria in Puerto Rico. The relief efforts were slow to start and are still pretty disappointing -- the Navy hospital ship just arrived in Puerto Rico yesterday, for instance, a full two weeks after the storm hit. Most of the island still has no electrical power or phone service. Drinking water is not universally available. The critics of Trump are right in pointing all of this out. But there's another glaring absence that also should be raising questions: where is the response from Hollywood? Where is the nationally-televised relief telethon? Why did this happen for Hurricanes Harvey and Irma, but has not happened for Hurricane Maria? Puerto Ricans are justified in calling attention to their second-class citizenship (as far as Donald Trump is concerned), but it's inexplicable why they are being also snubbed by the liberal artists who normally leap at an opportunity to be seen as doing good.

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The Rise And Fall Of Trump's Polling

[ Posted Tuesday, October 3rd, 2017 – 17:59 PDT ]

It's been two months since we last took a look at it, so it seemed like a good time to check in on President Donald Trump's job approval ratings. During this time period, Trump went down, then up, then back down again, finishing up within one point of where he started.

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A Sad New Normal

[ Posted Monday, October 2nd, 2017 – 16:53 PDT ]

Here we are again. We all know the drill by now. We all know pretty much what the eyewitnesses will say, what the talking heads on the television will say, and what the politicians will say. None of it ever seems to change, and none of it seems to change anything going forward, either. We go through the cycle of "mass gun attack" and hear the same words over again. We go through the cycle of grief which will then fade, right up to the time when it happens anew all over again. This is, sadly, the new normal for America.

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Friday Talking Points [455] -- Price Break!

[ Posted Friday, September 29th, 2017 – 17:49 PDT ]

As we sat down to write this, the news broke that Secretary of Health and Human Services Tom Price has resigned. So, of course, we immediately had to come up with a snappy "price" pun for our title. We could have gone with the Rolls Royce slogan ("If You Have To Ask The Price, You Can't Afford It"), or maybe "The High Price Of Airfare These Days," but both are kind of wordy. So we had to settle for "Price Break!" (we did consider "Price Cut," but that would have been more appropriate if he had actually been fired). The news of Price's resignation came immediately following the news that President Donald Trump was going to decide -- tonight -- whether to fire him or not. So, one way or another, the Price would have been lowered, so to speak.

But enough silliness. Tom Price is one of an increasing number of high-ranking Trump officials who are getting shamed for their use of extremely expensive private charter jets and military aircraft to move around -- travel that most such officials are supposed to use commercial airlines to accomplish. Price was the worst so far, having spent over a million taxpayer bucks on both charters and military flights so far (about half of the total, for each). Of this princely sum, he announced this week he would be reimbursing the Treasury for a little under $52,000. The optics, as even Trump admitted, were pretty bad and getting worse.

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How About Some "Regular Order" On Taxes, GOP?

[ Posted Thursday, September 28th, 2017 – 17:07 PDT ]

There's an old saying that when all you have is a hammer, pretty soon every problem starts to resemble a nail. Which brings us to the subject of Republicans and tax cuts, of course. For approximately the past 35 years or so, there has been no problem the GOP doesn't think can be fixed with a good old fashioned gigantic tax cut, mostly for the wealthiest Americans. Even their recent failed efforts on "repeal and replace Obamacare" were mostly just an excuse to slash taxes on the wealthy. Now that that's over with (for now, at least), Republicans no longer have to even pretend to have any other goal than slashing taxes on the well-off. But perhaps the process will improve. And then again, perhaps that is overly optimistic.

John McCain is right. That's a rare sentence for me to type, but McCain had every reason to be outraged over the process (if you can even call it that) that the Republican leadership has used for the entire year, most notably on healthcare. This process involves no hearings, no congressional committees, no experts, no C.B.O. scores (if possible), not a shred or hint of bipartisanship, and even rampant secrecy among the Republican caucus right up to the last minute. A small group of Republicans retreats to a back room and hammers out a bill. Then this is presented as a do-or-die effort to the rest of the Republicans in Congress. Within hours, a floor vote is called, with little if any chance to amend the bill's text. The entire process could be summed up as "take it or leave it," in fact. McCain decried this lack of (as he puts it) "regular order" while explaining why he was voting "No." Congress isn't supposed to work this way, he insisted. And, again, he is right.

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Trump Tries To Cut His Own Taxes 81%!

[ Posted Wednesday, September 27th, 2017 – 17:05 PDT ]

The Alternative Minimum Tax (as Rodney Dangerfield might have put it) don't get no respect. Few who don't pay it have ever even heard of it. Those who do pay it hate it. The A.M.T. has no real champions among the political class, because there are so many other facets of tax policy to get worked up about. Take the estate tax, for instance -- a tax only paid at death, but one with a rousing political chorus on both sides (Republicans scornfully refer to it as the "death tax"). The estate tax gets some respect in Washington, both pro and anti. The A.M.T., not so much. But it should get a whole lot more attention now that the GOP has released their new tax-cutting outline. Because Donald Trump is effectively trying to cut his own taxes by a whopping 81 percent -- and, really, that's just the minimum tax break Trump would receive.

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Third And Long For GOP

[ Posted Tuesday, September 26th, 2017 – 16:51 PDT ]

Since football and politics collided on the gridiron last weekend, it now must officially be considered "football metaphor season." So, to get in the spirit: Republicans in Congress are facing third down with a long way to go, right before the end of the first half.

The game so far, for those who may have missed it: Republicans won the coin toss (by putting their own referee on the Supreme Court), but since then have put zero points on the board, failing spectacularly in multiple drives (using their healthcare reform playbook). The Democrats have put the only points on the board, scoring twice (since the only two big pieces of legislation that Trump has signed have been largely written by Democrats). Their last touchdown was a spectacular interception (by "Chuck and Nancy") which was run in for a touchdown (hurricane relief) with a two-point conversion (the budget and debt ceiling extensions).

We're almost halfway between congressional elections, meaning we're fast approaching the first two-minute warning. And while Republicans are still deep in their own territory and face third and long, they're feeling a bit optimistic, because the next play they're going to run (tax cuts) is their favorite play of all time. It's worked well for them repeatedly in the past and they usually function smoothly as a team on this particular play, so it could do wonders for them right now (they hope).

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The Kurds' Historic Vote In Iraq

[ Posted Monday, September 25th, 2017 – 18:03 PDT ]

Most Americans alive today have no memory of our country ever changing its borders. And the last time it happened, many Americans alive at the time had no memory of the country adding previous states, either. The 47th state (Arizona) was admitted to the Union in 1912. Hawai'i and Alaska joined in 1959. Since then, we've now gone 57 years without the United States of America changing its outline on the world map. "This sort of history happens to other people in the world, not us," we tell ourselves. I was thinking of this while watching the muted attention given to Puerto Rico after it got hammered by Hurricane Maria this weekend. But that's a really subject for another column. What made me think about our historic cartological stability again today was the vote for independence being conducted in the parts of Iraq under Kurdish control.

The Kurds are voting either for or against becoming their own country. As of this writing, the results of the vote are not known, but most predict an overwhelming majority will indeed vote for independence.

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