Friday Talking Points [440] -- Liar, Liar!

[ Posted Friday, June 9th, 2017 – 17:20 PDT ]

President Donald Trump and former F.B.I. chief James Comey engaged this week in an extended game of "Liar, liar!" Or, more properly: "Liar!" "No, you're a liar!" Yes, it was "Super Bowl" week in Washington, folks!

For the first time in quite a few years, all the big broadcast television networks carried the Senate Intelligence Committee hearing with Comey live from start to finish. That's pretty extraordinary, but then so was the testimony.

Comey began -- within the first 10 or 15 minutes -- by explaining that he wrote notes after meetings with Trump for three reasons. The third was the "nature of the person" he was talking to:

I was honestly concerned [President Trump] might lie about the nature of our meeting. I knew that there might come a day where I might need a record of what happened, not just to defend myself and F.B.I. and the integrity of our situation, and the independence of our function.

I don't know why Comey would think that of Trump... unless, of course, it is related to the 623 documented times Trump has lied to the public, in just his first 137 days in office. Come to think of it, that might just have something to do with it!

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The Curious Incident During Comey's Testimony

[ Posted Thursday, June 8th, 2017 – 18:01 PDT ]

On a day chock full of breaking news from Washington, it's rather extraordinary that one of the biggest stories was about something which didn't happen. Not unlike Sherlock Holmes noting the significance of the dog which did not bark in the night, one of the most astonishing things about this morning's congressional testimony by fired F.B.I. director James Comey was that President Donald Trump did not angrily tweet about it while it was happening. Yes, this is precisely where we now find ourselves as a nation -- it's a big story that the president didn't fly off the handle publicly, in reaction to seeing something he didn't like, on television.

The temptation for Trump to do so must have been intense. Comey, in answer to one of the first questions asked of him this morning, straight-up called the president a liar. He repeated this more than once, in reference to both the announced White House story for why Trump fired Comey and also to Trump's smearing Comey's reputation within the F.B.I. in an interview with Lester Holt (which Comey called "lies, plain and simple"). To me, at least, that was one of the biggest takeaways from Comey's testimony. Comey suspected immediately that Trump was going to lie, which is what prompted him to take notes covering all of their meetings; and then Trump proved Comey's suspicions correct when he did lie, after the firing. It's an old Washington game called "Cover Your Ass," and Comey clearly played it in expert fashion.

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Islamic State's State Nearing An End

[ Posted Wednesday, June 7th, 2017 – 17:06 PDT ]

The Islamic State (also known as ISIS, ISIL, or Daesh) always differed from other radical Islamist movements in their willingness to create a "caliphate," or a geographical state of their own. At their strongest, they swept through large portions of Iraq and Syria, taking over and holding territory that at one point reached almost to the outskirts of Baghdad. But we are now at the point where the end is in sight for the group's territorial holdings. The opponents of the Islamic State have been rolling back their borders and soon will liberate all of the Islamic State's territory. The aftermath, both for the Islamic State and for the territories involved, is going to be even more complicated than the fighting has so far been. But it's now time to consider what will happen when the Islamic State no longer has a state.

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Trump's Polling Remarkably Flat

[ Posted Tuesday, June 6th, 2017 – 17:25 PDT ]

We need to begin with a few program notes before I start in with the actual article. First; no, I haven't yet put the time and effort into creating graphs to show President Donald Trump's polling averages. I may at some point, but we have not yet reached that point (this is a fancy way of saying I've been too lazy to do so until now, I should in all honesty mention). Second; I wrote about Trump's polls only a few weeks ago, but I'm not sticking to a "once a month" schedule with him, the way I used to for President Obama. Instead, I'm attempting to identify turning points in the graphs, which can come after long periods or very short periods. Third; all numbers (as always) come from the Real Clear Politics rolling average webpage. Fourth; I felt it was time to write this -- in all fairness -- because Trump's doing better than I thought he'd be, by this point. OK, with all of that understood, let's take a look at Trump's recent job approval polling.


Flatter than expected

That'd have to be my sum-up of Trump's polling numbers since the last time I looked at them. Trump has lost roughly a point in job approval, and has lowered his own floor to 39 percent from 40 percent. But once the initial slide happened, Trump has had one of the most stable polling periods he's ever seen -- his polls for the past few weeks are almost perfectly flat, with both his job approval number and his job disapproval rating falling within a range of a single point for the whole time. For Trump, that's an achievement.

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Let Trump Be Trump, Kellyanne

[ Posted Monday, June 5th, 2017 – 15:25 PDT ]

Kellyanne Conway is right -- the media obsesses over presidential tweets from Donald Trump. What she fails to understand, though, is that there's a very good reason for this obsession. Trump tweets make news because they are newsworthy. If Trump tweets were bland and boring repetitions of White House policy, pre-vetted by the communications team, then it's likely nobody would pay any attention to them. But they're not. They are, as one interviewer pointed out to Kellyanne this morning, Trump's preferred method of communication to the American public. And what he's got to say makes news because nobody else in the administration can speak for Trump.

Trump was supposed to morph, somehow, into a more presidential figure after being sworn in. That didn't happen, obviously. Trump is still Trump. Part of being Trump is his id-fueled communications to his supporters, often via Twitter. Nobody knows what Trump'll tweet next, which is part of the obsession Kellyanne complains about, but is also due to how many times Trump has previously made news for himself and his administration -- good or bad -- by tweeting. If there wasn't the potential for breaking news, then there would be no media obsession (or, at the very least, Kellyanne's disapproval of it would then be justified).

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Friday Talking Points [439] -- We're All Covfefeed Now

[ Posted Friday, June 2nd, 2017 – 17:45 PDT ]

Yesterday, Donald Trump finished off a two-week stretch of diminishing America's standing in the world by announcing he was pulling out of the historic Paris climate agreement. In Trumpian terms, this means we're all covfefeed now.

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Farewell, Scott Pelley

[ Posted Thursday, June 1st, 2017 – 17:11 PDT ]

While I realize a momentous event happened in Washington today, I am choosing to let President Trump's announcement he's withdrawing the United States from the Paris climate agreement sink in for a bit before commenting upon it. Instead, I'd like to offer up a personal farewell to Scott Pelley, since it was announced this week that CBS is demoting him from the anchor chair of their evening news broadcast. I, for one, will miss Pelley.

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Off With Her Head!

[ Posted Wednesday, May 31st, 2017 – 17:17 PDT ]

So, comedienne Kathy Griffin's head appears to be on the chopping block. That's a metaphor, of course, and as of now it is even inaccurate, since CNN has already parted ways with Griffin (she co-hosted their New Year's Eve show with Anderson Cooper, one of the most bizarre television matchups since Al Franken and Arianna Huffington appeared "in bed" together, doing their version of election coverage in 1996). Since CNN's announcement, the proper metaphor becomes: "Kathy Griffin axed by CNN." Or, perhaps: "her head has already rolled." These aren't really political metaphors, they're instead business-related. Speaking of getting "axed" rather than getting fired is merely poetic hyperbole, and who among us hasn't ever used the "heads are going to roll" or "on the chopping block" line ourselves? Does this kind of conflation cross a moral or ethical line? Or is it merely what used to be called "gallows humor" -- attempting to make light of the worst of situations?

Having said all of that, I am not going to defend Griffin today. This is not really a column about free speech or artistic license. It could have been, but I prefer to leave commentary on artists and comedians to those who know what they're talking about. While an occasional consumer of both art and comedy, I am certainly no expert and thus don't have anything interesting to add to the conversation of comedic propriety surrounding Griffin's shocking photo with the (fake) bloody, severed head of Donald Trump. But I did want to begin with a reminder that while most of us have never posed for such a photo, the decapitation concept isn't completely out of bounds in polite society, otherwise you wouldn't even recognize what a metaphor such as "heads are going to roll" even means.

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Debt Ceiling Battle Looms

[ Posted Tuesday, May 30th, 2017 – 16:42 PDT ]

These days, Congress rarely does much of anything without a deadline staring them in the face. The only substantive piece of legislation Congress has so far put on President Trump's desk (four months into his term) has been a continuing resolution to fund the government through the end of the fiscal year. Not exactly a spectacular record of achievement for the GOP to be proud of, but then that's pretty much par for the course for the Republican Congress these days. What will quite likely be the second major piece of legislation that gets passed, at this rate, will be raising the debt ceiling.

Of course, it wasn't supposed to be this way. In Paul Ryan's dream scenario, Republicans were supposed to line up several items on their wish list, crank them out, and put them on Trump's desk to sign. So far, that hasn't happened. The health care bill limped out of the House, but nothing else has yet been achieved. Even their revised schedule now looks rather dubious, as Senate action on health care and a grand overhaul of the tax code keep getting pushed further and further back. None of this Republican agenda really has a built-in deadline, however, so things can be endlessly punted with no real consequence (other than political fallout).

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From The Archives -- The How-Many-Years' War

[ Posted Monday, May 29th, 2017 – 17:10 PDT ]

Below is the Memorial Day column I wrote last year. Sadly, it doesn't need much updating. Change it to "Sixteen Years' War" and most of the rest is still just as valid today.

The only section (and the only bright spot) is the paragraphs on Iraq. One year later, the battle to liberate Mosul from the Islamic State is almost over, and the Iraqi forces (with American air support and other help) have retaken almost their entire country back from the Islamic State. All that remains is one stretch of highway heading to the Syrian border, the towns (and surrounding areas) of Tal Afar and Hawija, and a few desert towns south of Sinjar. That's a lot of progress, and the end is now in sight. That's something to be thankful for, at least.

In any case, here's hoping you and yours have a wonderful Memorial Day!


Originally published May 30, 2016

Being in the midst of history sometimes mean events are not seen in the "big picture" view that historians often later take, when looking back at the period. Case in point: what will America's ongoing war eventually be known as? To date, we've been at war since October 2001, or a mind-boggling period of 15 years. This war was initially called "The Global War On Terror" by the Bush administration, which lumped in the conflicts in Afghanistan and Iraq with all the skirmishes in various other North African and Middle East countries. The Obama administration has dropped the term, but they've never really replaced it with anything else. But what I wonder this Memorial Day is what it will be called in the future. Right now, it'd be the "Fifteen Years' War" -- but few expect all conflicts will end by the time the next president is sworn in, so eventually that number will likely be higher.

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