My Brilliant Son

Trump Maladministration

My son Sean’s Underground Railroad tour is written up in the New York Times. You will read this today.

 “I watch my children watching Sean, who I have now decided is nothing short of exceptional, discuss the complexities of race, the importance of gathering, the genius and resilience of enslaved people.”

Any questions?

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Unprecedented Act of Totalitarianism

Trump Maladministration

This happened today:

Journalists from The New York Times and two other news organizations were prohibited from attending a briefing by President Trump’s press secretary on Friday, a highly unusual breach of relations between the White House and its press corps.

Reporters from The Times, CNN and Politico were not allowed to enter the West Wing office of the press secretary, Sean M. Spicer, for the scheduled briefing. Aides to Mr. Spicer allowed in reporters from only a handpicked group of news organizations that, the White House said, had been previously confirmed to attend.

Organizations allowed in included Breitbart News, the One America News Network and The Washington Times, all with conservative leanings. Journalists from ABC, CBS, The Wall Street Journal, Bloomberg, and Fox News also attended.

Reporters from Time magazine and The Associated Press, who were set to be allowed in to the briefing, chose not to attend in protest of the White House’s actions.

No presidential administration has ever pulled anything remotely like this in U.S. history.

This also happened today:

President Donald Trump criticized the media again on Friday while speaking at the 2017 Conservative Political Action Conference in National Harbor, Maryland.

Trump claimed it was wrongly reported that he called the media the “enemy of the people” last week, saying he’d actually called “fake news” the enemy. But he has branded such reputable media outlets as the The New York Times, CNN, NBC and others “fake news.”

The president argued that the First Amendment gives him “the right to criticize fake news and criticize it strongly.”

“[The media] say that we can’t criticize their dishonest coverage because of the First Amendment,” Trump said.

“I love the First Amendment. Nobody loves it better than me,” he added.

Trump also said he thinks news outlets should not use anonymous sources, despite using them himself to make claims that have been proven false.

For the record, Trump really did appear to call out several media outlets as “enemies of the people”

Josh Marshall wrote,

Authoritarians always portray attacks on a free press as a sign of strength when in fact it’s sign of cowardice and weakness. Perhaps another way to put it is that weakness and strength have a particular meaning for free people. Fear of free people or violence against their mores is weakness. In our tradition if you fear free society, if you run to toadying sycophants to avoid being challenged, or demand followers toast your every action with superlatives, you’re a coward. You’re weak. You lack the strength to lead. This isn’t Russia. It’s not Horthy’s Hungary. This is America.

See also —

What else happened recently? This was reported yesterday.

White House chief of staff Reince Priebus asked a top FBI official to push back against news stories about contacts between Trump aides and Russians during the presidential campaign, Trump administration officials acknowledged Friday, drawing accusations from Democrats of improper interference into a pending investigation.

The story is that Priebus asked the FBI to publicly debunk a story about the Trump campaign’s contacts with Russian intelligence officials. Priebus’s version of this is that the FBI contacted him to tell him the Russian-Trump campaign story is “garbage.” Of course, we have to take The Anagram’s word for that.

As many have pointed out, if someone connected to Hillary Clinton had been accused of asking the FBI to quash a story about alleged ties between her campaign and Russia, every committee in Congress would be holding hearings already. See also Charles Pierce.

Update: Turns out I am missing a chunk of the story. The story about Priebus asking the FBI to quash the story came out last night. Early this morning, the so-called president had a tweetfit about it.

“The FBI is totally unable to stop the national security ‘leakers’ that have permeated our government for a long time,” Trump wrote on Twitter, breaking his message up into multiple posts. “They can’t even find the leakers within the FBI itself. Classified information is being given to media that could have a devastating effect on U.S. FIND NOW.”

So, basically, Priebus tries to “fix” the story with the FBI and was rebuffed, and several news outlets got wind of it and published this. Priebus makes up another story to cover his ass. But this morning the so-called president has a fit that blew earlier talking points out of the water. And the news outlets that did most of the reporting on the FBI story are blocked from the press briefing.

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Obamacare May Survive

Trump Maladministration

Here’s a remarkable admission from former Speaker of the House John Boehner: The ACA will not be repealed.

Former Speaker of the House John Boehner said Thursday that the idea that Congress would completely repeal and replace the Affordable Care Act was “happy talk” and “not going to happen.”

Boehner was speaking at a health care conference in Orlando, according to Politico.

“Republicans never ever agree on health care,” he said. …

…Boehner on Thursday was not optimistic that repeal and replace would occur. Instead, congressional Republicans are “going to fix Obamacare – I shouldn’t call it repeal and replace, because it’s not going to happen,” he said.

He concluded, according to Politico: “Most of the framework of the Affordable Care Act … that’s going to be there.”

Put another way, the Republicans screwed themselves on Obamacare. They really are the dog that caught the car.

Let’s review:

This is from the Washington Post, January 17

Trump said his plan for replacing most aspects of Obama’s health-care law is all but finished. Although he was coy about its details — “lower numbers, much lower deductibles” — he said he is ready to unveil it alongside Ryan and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.).

“It’s very much formulated down to the final strokes. We haven’t put it in quite yet but we’re going to be doing it soon,” Trump said. He noted that he is waiting for his nominee for secretary of health and human services, Rep. Tom Price (R-Ga.), to be confirmed. That decision rests with the Senate Finance Committee, which hasn’t scheduled a hearing.

This is from a CNBC story dated just one week ago:

President Donald Trump said Thursday that he hopes to submit health care reform as soon as early March, giving a timeline to a key promise that has hit some stumbles in the first weeks of his administration.

“We’re doing Obamacare, we’re in the final stages,” Trump told reporters at the White House. “So, we will be submitting sometime in early March, mid-March.”

However, yesterday CNBC reported that Tom Price said there will be no bill coming from the White House.

Health Secretary Tom Price has told House Republicans “the administration wouldn’t be sending us a bill” after all, said Rep. Tom Cole of Oklahoma. Instead, Cole added, the White House “will cooperate and provide input into what we do.”

He didn’t have a plan; nobody in the White House was even working on a plan; he probably still has no clue what a plan might look like.

Why am I not surprised?

The first executive order the so-called president signed was a direction to repeal Obamacare.

The one-page order, which Mr. Trump signed in a hastily arranged Oval Office ceremony shortly before departing for the inaugural balls, gave no specifics about which aspects of the law it was targeting. But its broad language gave federal agencies wide latitude to change, delay or waive provisions of the law that they deemed overly costly for insurers, drug makers, doctors, patients or states, suggesting that it could have wide-ranging impact, and essentially allowing the dismantling of the law to begin even before Congress moves to repeal it.

The order states what Mr. Trump made clear during his campaign: that it is his administration’s policy to seek the “prompt repeal” of the law, which has come to be known as Obamacare. But he and Republicans on Capitol Hill have not yet devised a replacement, making such action unlikely in the immediate term.

“In the meantime,” the order said, “pending such repeal, it is imperative for the executive branch to ensure that the law is being efficiently implemented, take all actions consistent with law to minimize the unwarranted economic and regulatory burdens of the act, and prepare to afford the states more flexibility and control to create a more free and open health care market.”

The order has symbolic as well as substantive significance, allowing Mr. Trump to claim he acted immediately to do away with a health care law he has repeatedly called disastrous, even while it remains in place and he navigates the politically perilous process of repealing and replacing it.

So far, I understand the IRS says it will not be all that vigorous about punishing people for not buying insurance, but that’s about all I’ve heard. There was all kinds of consternation at the time about what this order might mean, but so far it hasn’t meant much of anything.

So the White House isn’t going to do anything, and Congress is stymied, because if Republicans do what they want to do it would cut millions of people off from access to health care. And they are not so stupid — most of ‘em, anyway — that they don’t dimly understand that, and realize it could come back to bite them.

See also “The Republican Congress Is Courting a Major Crisis” by Brian Beutler and “What’s Next For The Affordable Care Act? Your Questions Answered” at NPR.

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What Might Have Been

Trump Maladministration

When Barack Obama ran for president in 2008, one of the reasons I supported him was that I believed he could build a new progressive coalition that would remain active and push policies to the left.

But that didn’t happen. And now we’re getting a picture of why it didn’t happen. People involved in the Obama campaign in 2008 write that the usual Cool Kids strangled the progressive grassroots/new media movement that helped Obama win. What was originally supposed to be a separate organization was locked up inside the DNC, where it died.

Please do read “Obama’s Lost Army” by Micah Sifry at New Republic and “How the Cool Kids Killed Obama’s Grassroots Movement” by Kate Albright-Hanna at Civicist. Ms. Albright-Hanna’s piece is especially poignant. At the end, all of her hopes were dashed.

I ended up going to the White House Office of Health Care Reform to build a grassroots movement to pass legislation, but was sidelined while the Tea Party filled the void. (An operative on the Tea Party Express later told me that he learned how to mobilize supporters by studying the New Media approach on the Obama campaign). After getting lost inside the corridors of HHS trying to get the requisite twelve signatures it took to quit the job, a sort of Kafkaesque nightmare, I finally escaped the khaki beer pong culture blob.

Sifry writes that a lot of smart people with solid credentials were on board after the election hoping to sustain the movement. But the political culture of Washington killed it.

Obama’s army was eager to be put to work. Of the 550,000 people who responded to the survey, 86 percent said they wanted to help Obama pass legislation through grassroots support; 68 percent wanted to help elect state and local candidates who shared his vision. Most impressive of all, more than 50,000 said they personally wanted to run for elected office.

But they never got that chance. In late December, Plouffe and a small group of senior staffers finally made the call, which was endorsed by Obama. The entire campaign machine, renamed Organizing for America, would be folded into the DNC, where it would operate as a fully controlled subsidiary of the Democratic Party. …

…Obama unveiled OFA a week before his inauguration. “Volunteers, grassroots leaders, and ordinary citizens will continue to drive the organization,” he promised. But that’s not what happened. Shunted into the DNC, MyBO’s tools for self-organizing were dismantled within a year. Instead of calling on supporters to launch a voter registration drive or build a network of small donors or back state and local candidates, OFA deployed the campaign’s vast email list to hawk coffee mugs and generate thank-you notes to Democratic members of Congress who backed Obama’s initiatives. As a result, when the political going got rough, much of Obama’s once-mighty army was AWOL. When the fight over Obama’s health care plan was at its peak, OFA was able to drum up only 300,000 phone calls to Congress. After the midterm debacle in 2010, when Democrats suffered their biggest losses since the Great Depression, Obama essentially had to build a new campaign machine from scratch in time for his reelection effort in 2012.

People complained because progressives didn’t turn out for the 2010 midterms, but this tells us why. I’ve complained for years about the shabby way the Democrats treat their base. They don’t seem to want to be seen with us in public, but they perpetually ask us for money.

And, of course, the disconnect goes both ways. The Democratic Party was hopelessly out of touch with too many leftie voters, and those voters felt disconnected from the Democratic Party.  Much has been written about how the Obama Coalition failed to show up for Hillary Clinton, but the bigger picture is that the Democratic Party had allowed the Obama Coalition to dissipate back in 2009. Obama pulled out a win in 2012 mostly because Mitt Romney was such a horse’s ass and even more out of touch with America than the DNC.

I found an article yesterday at The American Conservative called “The Meaning of Trump,” and while I don’t agree with everything the author says, I think he got this exactly right:

As the surprise-laden year unfolded, more and more analysts cast their thinking toward the angers and frustrations within the electorate that were driving the country in entirely unanticipated directions. Elements of the crisis now were seen and probed. But few captured its full magnitude.

It was nothing less than a crisis of the old order, a crisis of the crumbling status quo. Its most significant manifestation was the political deadlock that gripped official Washington and rendered it incapable of political action. Many saw this as a problem in itself, but in reality it was merely a stark manifestation of the status quo crisis. As the old order of American politics began to disintegrate, the two parties clung ever more tenaciously to their familiar and time-tested positions, defaulting to an increasingly rigid groupthink stubbornness and shunning any thought of political compromise. Far from grappling with the crisis of the old order that had descended upon America and the world, the party elites couldn’t even acknowledge its existence.

And this:

As for Clinton, she not only couldn’t speak in a political idiom that showed an understanding of the underlying realities of America’s crisis politics. She actually put herself forward as a champion of the status quo and, through some unfathomable utterances, a scourge of that working-class contingent that once had been such an integral part of her party. That helped open the way for Bernie Sanders, who spoke to the realities of our time and thus resonated with large numbers of liberal Democrats deeply concerned about the plight of the working class and the growing income and wealth disparities bedeviling the country.

But Is the Democrats Learning? I guess we’ll have to see…

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New Evidence of the Trump-Putin-Mob Connections

Trump Maladministration

The New York Times reports that Trump aides had a scheme to secure peace in Ukraine that would have allowed Putin to keep Crimea. Even better,

… the proposal, a peace plan for Ukraine and Russia, remains, along with those pushing it: Michael D. Cohen, the president’s personal lawyer, who delivered the document; Felix H. Sater, a business associate who helped Mr. Trump scout deals in Russia; and a Ukrainian lawmaker trying to rise in a political opposition movement shaped in part by Mr. Trump’s former campaign manager Paul Manafort.

In case you haven’t heard of Felix Sater

The Russian-born Sater served a year in prison for stabbing a man in the face with a margarita glass during a bar fight, pleaded guilty to racketeering as part of a mafia-driven “pump-and-dump” stock fraud and then escaped jail time by becoming a highly valued government informant.

He was also an important figure at Bayrock, a development company and key Trump real estate partner during the 2000s, notably with the Trump SoHo hotel-condominium in New York City, and has said under oath that he represented Trump in Russia and subsequently billed himself as a senior Trump advisor, with an office in Trump Tower.

Sater is a mob-connected hustler, this article from Forbes says. On several occasions Trump has either denied knowing Sater or says he barely knows him, but in fact they’ve done a lot of business together, much of it concerning Russia.

Josh Marshall explains,

First, let’s review a bit about Felix Sater. Sater was born in the Soviet Union in 1966 and emigrated to the US with his parents at the age of 8. He is an American citizen. He dropped out of college and began working as a stock broker. But in his late 20s he got into bar fight where he stabbed a fellow broker in the face with a shattered glass. He did time in prison for this attack. After he got out he got involved in a major securities fraud scheme (basically a ‘pump and dump’ operation) tied to the Genovese and Colombo crime families. He got caught. And that’s where things get interesting.

After Sater got busted, somehow he managed to offer his services to the FBI and supposedly the CIA to work on their behalf purchasing stinger missiles and other weapons on the then wild and free-wheeling Russian black market. Whatever Sater was doing for the CIA in the black market arms smuggling world seems to have become much more important after 9/11 – thus Sater’s high value to the US government.

I know that sounds all but incredible. The details of Sater’s alleged work for the CIA are contained in this September 2012 article in The Miami Herald. A good bit of the story emerges from an account by Sater’s accomplice, Salvatore Lauria. Lauria was Sater’s accomplice in the pump and dump scheme and was also there the night he stabbed the guy in the face at the bar. And yes, we’ll hear more from him in a moment. Because Lauria was also involved with Sater and Trump in the Trump SoHo building project.

The Miami Heraldarticle I’m referring to is no longer online. I’ve linked to a copy of it on a Yahoo groups page. But I’ve read it in the Nexis news database; it’s legit. There’s more and overlapping detail on both the securities fraud case and the alleged work for the CIA in Central Asia in this December 2007 piece in The New York Times.

Back to the New York Times

A week before Michael T. Flynn resigned as national security adviser, a sealed proposal was hand-delivered to his office, outlining a way for President Trump to lift sanctions against Russia. …

…The amateur diplomats say their goal is simply to help settle a grueling, three-year conflict that has cost 10,000 lives. “Who doesn’t want to help bring about peace?” Mr. Cohen asked.

But the proposal contains more than just a peace plan. Andrii V. Artemenko, the Ukrainian lawmaker, who sees himself as a Trump-style leader of a future Ukraine, claims to have evidence — “names of companies, wire transfers” — showing corruption by the Ukrainian president, Petro O. Poroshenko, that could help oust him. And Mr. Artemenko said he had received encouragement for his plans from top aides to Mr. Putin.

The devil would be in the details … Oh, and did I mention that Cohen is under FBI investigation for his ties to Russia? Read the rest of the NY Times article for details.

Oh, and Ukraine is kind of pissed off about all this.

Back to Josh Marshall.

Having spent some time studying the matter, the biggest red flags about Donald Trump’s ties to Russia and businessmen around Vladimir Putin have always been tied to the Trump SoHo building project in Lower Manhattan, from the first decade of this century. I base my knowledge of this on this rather cursory but still quite good April 2016 article from the Times and my own limited snooping around the Outer Boroughs Russian and Ukrainian emigre press. (I summarized the most salient details of the earlier Times article in Item #3 of this post.) This was a key project, perhaps the key project in the post-bankruptcy era in which Trump appeared heavily reliant on Russian funds to finance his projects. Sater was at the center of that project. The details only came to light after the project got bogged down in a complicated series of lawsuits.

After the lawyers got involved, Trump said he barely knew who Sater was. But there is voluminous evidence that Sater, a Russian emigrant, was key to channeling Russian capital to Trump for years. Sater is also a multiple felon and at least a one-time FBI informant. Bayrock Capital, where he worked was located in Trump Tower and he himself worked as a special advisor to Trump. Again, read the Timesarticle to get a flavor of his ties to Trump, the Trump SoHo project and Russia. For my money there’s no better place to start to understand the Trump/Russia issue.

On its own, Trump’s relationship with Sater might be written off (albeit not terribly plausibly) as simply a sleazy relationship Trump entered into to get access to capital he needed to finance his projects. Whatever shadowy ties Sater might have and whatever his criminal background, Trump has long since washed his hands of him. (Again, we’re talking about most generous reads here.)

But now we learn that Sater is still very much in the Trump orbit and acting as a go-between linking Trump and a pro-Putin Ukrainian parliamentarian pitching ‘peace plans’ for settling the dispute between Russia and Ukraine. (Artemenko is part of the political faction which Manafort helped build up in the aftermath of the ouster of his Ukrainian benefactor, deposed President Viktor Yanukovych.) Indeed, far, far more important, Cohen – who is very close to Trump and known for dealing with delicate matters – is in contact with Sater and hand delivering political and policy plans from him to the President.

Were Cohen not involved, one might speculate that Sater is just up to yet another hustle, looking to parlay his one-time association with Trump into influence with the new President. Cohen hand delivering his messages to the President changes the picture considerably. How or why Cohen would do this, if for no other reason than the current massive scrutiny of Trump’s ties to Russia and Sater’s scandals, almost defies belief. But here we are.

The Times reported that the plans actually were hand delivered to Michael Flynn, and it’s not clear if he passed them on. But it’s interesting that Michael Flynn’s depature signalled a change in policy in Russia. Russian media have cooled on Trump, on orders from Putin himself, this report says. Russia may have been trying to use Flynn do an end-run around the State Department and build backchannels to President Trump.

But Trump keeps the State Department out of his loop anyway, so I don’t know why they bothered. Putin could probably just call Trump on his private cell phone and dictate what he wants.

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Believe It, or Not

Trump Maladministration

If there were any clearer indication that we’ve entered the Twilight Zone, read Ruth Marcus. Yes, that Ruth Marcus. Yesterday she wrote,

That view of cancer — not as a metastatic killer but as a dangerous problem requiring vigilant control — may be the best way of understanding, and dealing with, the Trump administration. In the alarming month since he took office, it has become clear, if it were not already, that President Trump is dishonest, unprepared and undisciplined. His presidency poses an enormous risk to the country — to its safety, standing in the world and relations with allies, just for a start.

Of course, Marcus is still Marcus — a professional concern troll who works for the Washington Post. She doesn’t think the situation is grim enough to consider removing the so-called president from office. He can be managed, she believes. Still, for Marcus, the paragraph above is quite a leap.

In another sign that reality ain’t what it used to be, the bleeping Voice of America is running a column comparing the so-called current president of the United States to Stalin. Imagine going back to the 1950s and explaining that to your younger self, or your parents, whichever applies.

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Trump Is the Boss From Hell

Trump Maladministration

Last month Benjamin Wittes of Lawfare said the Trump maladministration is “malevolence tempered by incompetence.” Brilliant, and on the money, I think.

A lot of people have analyzed the actions of the so-called president looking for a grand plan behind the lies, schemes and general floundering around. But IMO the White House crew are more maladroit than Machiavellian. (See Sincerely, Niccolo Machiavelli: An open letter to Donald Trump, from the guy who wrote the book on power moves.) There may be a plan in there somewhere, but they’re too driven by their psychological issues, and too lost in their delusions, to make it work.

See also “Trump’s White House Is Falling Apart” by Jonathan Bernstein.

Nor is there any particular reason to expect things to get better, at least not without massive outside interference. And not just because the Russia scandal is hardly over just because Flynn is gone. The factionalized, inept White House remains just as dysfunctional as ever. Executive branch nominations have slowed to a crawl, with just one submitted since Feb. 1 — balanced by the withdrawal of the former selection for secretary of the army, Vincent Viola. They can’t find anyone willing to handle communications. Did you know they still don’t appear to have formally submitted the nomination of Sonny Perdue, the choice for agriculture secretary, to the Senate? Did they just forget? Who knows?

Then there’s an increasing obsession with leaks — Trump tweeted about it this morning. That’s a classic White House mistake. Things go wrong, and it triggers people (in the permanent bureaucracy, or from one or another faction within the administration) to talk to the press. A good president will use these leaks as sources of information — who is upset, and why? A poor president will circle the wagons, trying to keep knowledge of what’s happening within the administration within a tighter and tighter circle, which only serves to make those who legitimately are supposed to be part of the policy-making process even more upset, and the policy made without proper inputs even less likely to succeed. Guess which one Trump is choosing? Hey, at least on this he’s making a normal presidenting mistake, albeit one which helped cost Richard Nixon his presidency.

The worst of it, perhaps, is that hardly anything that has happened since Nov. 9 has been truly surprising. Look at the White House. The president of the United States has no government experience and demonstrated during the campaign only a very limited understanding of the U.S. government and public policy. The top players within the White House — Reince Priebus, Steve Bannon, and the president’s son-in-law, Jared Kushner — also have no government experience at all. Why should anyone expect that to work?

The Republican Party and conservative media will do their best keeping the Trumpettes propped up for a while. And genuinely dysfunctional organizations can stay in business for a surprisingly long time under some circumstances. I have seen this myself.

Trump actually could have a successful administration if he were surrounded by competent people, and if he allowed those competent people to do their jobs. I’ve seen that, too.

Many years ago I worked as an editor for a small book publisher being run by the founder’s son, and Son was something of a dweeb. He was a nice guy, actually, but not the sharpest tack in the box. Any project he got personally involved with was pretty much screwed. But for the most part (there were a few gawdawful exceptions) the managers and staff were competent people who effeciently turned out salable products. Over time, Son figured out that it was okay if he just stayed out of things and enjoyed his tastefully decorated office. He trusted his people to do their jobs. Many years after I left it, the little company was bought out by a bigger company for a nice sum, and it’s still around.

On the other hand, some years after that I went to work for another small publisher in New Jersey as their production manager. This is something I’d always wanted to do. By then I’d worked as a production manager — one of many — for departments within big corporations, but I thought it would be cool to run the whole show in a small company so that I could set up all the prodedures and do things My Way. I’d had tons of experience by then and knew my stuff, you see.

However, I found myself reporting to a vice president who had no experience in publishing whatsoever. The company specialized in books for lawyers, and this guy was a lawyer who was an old buddy of the owners. And this guy wouldn’t let me do my job. He micromanaged me to death and reversed my decisions. He wouldn’t allow me to follow sensible, cost-effective procedures, mostly because he didn’t understand them. I despaired that he would ever get out of my way long enough to allow any books to be printed and bound, so I left after fewer than six months and took another job with a big corporation.

The little legal book company went belly up at some point; at least, it doesn’t seem to exist any more. I see that their name and logo have been taken over by some law firm headhunters in California.

And then three years after I left the law book ccompany the corporation laid off my division, and after some thrashing around I ended up working for another small company as production manager. This was for the Dragon Lady, an honest-to-gosh sociopath. She had a lot of Trump characteristics, including the lying, the temper, the blatant cheating of vendors and clients, and the narcissism. (I was never in her apartment, but those who were said it was decorated by nude paintings of Herself.)

The Dragon Lady also was a micromanager. She didn’t trust any of us to be able to do anything without her watching. I knew I’d picked the wrong job when she discovered I’d met with one of the vendors to go over bid specifications while she was out of the office, and she hauled me into her office and screamed herself purple for 20 minutes. I’d been meeting with vendors for years and considered it part of the normal functions of a production manager, but the Dragon Lady considered any outside communication without her direct supervision to be something underhanded; to her, it was going behind her back.

And I was stuck in that job for a year and a half before I could find another and bail out. My year and a half was a record, I understand; some of her previous managers had left after a few days. I’d like to be able to say that her business went belly up, but I understand she sold it at a profit.

The moral to all this is that the worst boss, in my experience, is one who doesn’t trust other people to do their jobs; he has to be in complete control, even if he doesn’t know what he’s doing. And that’s usually because untrustworthy people are very distrustful. And when you put such people in charge, expect dysfunction.

I’m saying that if Trump were surrounded by old Washington hands with lots of experience, people who knew how to work the bureaucracy and interact with Congress, he probably could be as outrageous as he wanted to be and still have a successful administration. But he’s surrounded by toadies and True Believer ideologues.

The heart, blood and bones of a big, sprawling bureaucracy are made up of well-internalized procedure and deep institutional memory. Without those, everything falls apart. The people at the head can come and go, and they can change policy and steer the whole shebang into new directions. But if they are disconnected from the levels of bureaucracy below them, or if those levels are gutted out, the beast ain’t goin’ nowhere.

And everything that’s going on tells me the Trumpettes have no appreciation of the beast they are supposed to be heading.

CNN reported yesterday,

The administration of President Donald Trump remains largely unfilled four weeks into his presidency, with just 34 of nearly 700 key Senate-confirmed positions even having a candidate announced.

According to data from the nonprofit Partnership for Public Service hosted by The Washington Post, Trump has 14 officials confirmed by the Senate and 20 others are awaiting a vote, out of 696 top leadership positions in the administration.

Not a good sign. And they’re having trouble finding a replacement for Michael Flynn. For example,

Ret. Vice Adm. Bob Harward turned down President Donald Trump’s offer to be national security adviser Thursday, depriving the administration of a top candidate for a critical foreign policy post days after Trump fired Michael Flynn. …

… A friend of Harward’s said he was reluctant to take the job because the White House seems so chaotic. Harward called the offer a “s*** sandwich,” the friend said.
A Republican official told CNN that Harward made it a condition of taking the job that he could form his own team. In the end, he didn’t feel that was the case.
And a senior Republican familiar with the process added that “a question of clarity regarding the lines of authority” was central in Harward’s decision.

It’s also said that Harward bailed after seeing Trump’s unhinged press conference this week.

It turns out the cabinet heads are not being allowed to choose their own staffs, even though the White House is struggling to hire staff themselves. I understand a lot of Obama Administration holdovers still are keeping the lights turned on in the White House, so to speak. Some appointees are being un-appointed after back ground checks found they had written something critical about Trump. Only toadies need apply.

And stuff like this happens:

President Donald Trump this week abruptly dropped the nation’s commitment to a two-state solution for Middle East peace — without reviewing the specifics of his new strategy with Secretary of State Rex Tillerson.

State Department officials and Tillerson’s top aides learned about the president’s comments in real time, according to two sources with knowledge of the situation. Tillerson himself was in the air when Trump announced the change in the longstanding U.S. position on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. At the White House, there was little thought about notifying the nation’s top diplomat because, as one senior staffer put it, “everyone knows Jared [Kushner] is running point on the Israel stuff.”

Jared Kushner being the 30-something trust fund brat who bought the once-respected New York Observer and turned it into a vapid tabloid-shopper before killing the print edition completely. He’s in charge of Israel stuff, not the State Department.

If Tillerson has any self-respect, he’ll resign before the year is out.

Update: See Trump, an Outsider Demanding Loyalty, Struggles to Fill Top Posts

It is not just the State Department that has no deputy secretary, much less Trump-appointed under secretaries or assistant secretaries. Neither do the Treasury Department, the Education Department or any of the other cabinet departments. Only three of the 15 have even named a nominee for deputy secretary. Defense Secretary Jim Mattis has a deputy only because he kept the one left over from President Barack Obama’s administration.

That does not even begin to cover the rest of the more than 4,000 appointments that a president typically makes. In some cases, the Trump administration is even going in reverse. A senior political appointee at the housing department, who had already started the job, was fired this past week and marched out of the building when someone discovered his previous statements critical of Mr. Trump. The State Department laid off six top career officials in recent days, apparently out of questions about their loyalty to Mr. Trump.

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How Dear Leader Might Be Deposed

Trump Maladministration

I don’t know how significant this is, but Even David Brooks doesn’t think the Trump Maladministration is sustainable.

I still have trouble seeing how the Trump administration survives a full term. Judging by his Thursday press conference, President Trump’s mental state is like a train that long ago left freewheeling and iconoclastic, has raced through indulgent, chaotic and unnerving, and is now careening past unhinged, unmoored and unglued.

Of course, Brooks is a rare old-school wingnut who insists that wingnuttery maintain the conventions of civility under the auspicses of Harvard grads. Plebian guns & gawd wingnuttery isn’t really his milieu.

The good news for today is that in the Gallup daily tracking approval/disapproval poll, the so-called president has finally dipped below the 40 percent mark. Today he’s at 38 percent approve/56 percent disapprove. Philip Bump points out that right now Trump’s approval numbers match Barack Obama’s all-time low.

Philip Bump also rights that Trump’s biggest threat is likely to come from moderate Republicans.

Like any president, Trump has a large base of people who will always like him, and a large base of people who will always hate him. In Trump’s case, the latter group may be larger than normal. But neither of these is the group that will decide his fate.

Trump’s presidency lies in the hands of the Trump-curious: the approximately 15% of Americans who dislike him but tell pollsters they think he might do a good job. A lot of these are people who voted for Trump despite having an unfavorable view of him.

With these voters on his side, Trump can wield a fearsome coalition that would help him retain Congress in two years and persuade Republicans and Democrats in Congress to bend to his agenda in the meantime. Without them, he is unpopular and ridiculous.

The “Trump-curious” were discussed by Josh Barro at Business Insider.

These polls show that a surprisingly large group of people — perhaps 15% of registered American voters — disapprove of Trump but are open to the idea that he will be a good president.

This isn’t the largest slice of the electorate. Both Trump superfans and Trump loathers are larger groups than the Trump-curious.

But the median voter is Trump-curious. The next presidential election — and the midterm election to come in 2018, as well the actions of legislators who are driven by perceptions of whether Trump and his agenda are popular — will be determined by how Trump-curious voters feel Trump is doing.

This past election was also decided by the Trump-curious: Trump won overwhelmingly among the substantial number of voters who viewed both him and Hillary Clinton negatively.

I would guess these are not people who pay much attention to politics news. Anyway, Barro says, to keep these voters on his side, Trump will actually have to accomplish things. This voter demographic seems willing to overlook Trump’s many character and psychological flaws, but if he is seen as ineffectual, he’s toast.

To me, this says it’s up to Congress. Trump is not going to change. Never in human history has a man been in so over his head while remaining utterly oblivious to it.

The Republican Party is not happy. And Republicans in Congress are losing the big  mo. They’re still not sure where to go with health care, for example. They’re stalled on a “replacement,” and I take it they’re getting no help whatsoever with the White House. House Republicans also are at war with each other over a tax bill, I understand.

Paul Ryan showed up to Senate Republicans’ weekly lunch on Tuesday hoping to salvage a controversial pillar of his tax reform plan that would change how imports and exports are taxed. “Keep your powder dry,” the House speaker pleaded.

The next day, Sen. Tom Cotton took to the Senate floor to slam Ryan’s so-called border adjustment tax, saying “some ideas are so stupid only an intellectual could believe them.”

It’s going to be a miracle if anything resembling a viable Obamacare replacement or tax bill emerges in the next six months. Meanwhile, the maladministration is going to remain bogged down in investigations over the Russian connection and whatever stupid thing emerges from Dear Leader’s mouth every day.

Congressional Republicans need an actual Republican president to forward their agenda. Trump is not that person. However, Mike Pence would do nicely.

So, if the Russian investigations don’t kill the maladministration, the GOP might. Once they get Gorsuch confirmed for SCOTUS — I’m sure Republicans are over the moon for Gorsuch —  I think the move to remove the so-called president will take shape.

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All in the Trump Family

Trump Maladministration

Sidney Blumenthal has a long article at London Review of Books about the Trump family that’s worth reading. Among other things, there are details I hadn’t heard about Trump’s odious and dysfunctional relations and about his extensive ties to the mob and Roy Cohn. I just want to zero in on this part for now —

Trump’s business has always operated organisationally like a prototypical Mafia, with a tight circle of family, friends and flunkies, bearing little resemblance to a modern corporation. As Masha Gessen put it in the New York Review of Books, borrowing from the Hungarian sociologist Bálint Magyar, the ‘post-communist mafia state’ is ‘run like a family by a patriarch who distributes money, power and favours’. Usually, the ‘family’ is ‘built on loyalty, not blood relations, but Trump is bringing his literal family into the White House. By inviting a few hand-picked people into the areas that interest him personally, he may be creating a mafia state within a state.’

Here is the Masha Gessen piece, btw, and I may have more to say about it later. But it notes that while Michael Flynn was heading the Defense Intelligence Agency, a parallel power structure developed to keep the agency functioning. Government agencies don’t work like the Mafia.

The Guardian is reporting that Secretary of State Tillerson already is out of the loop. He’s not part of the Family.

Rex Tillerson began his first foreign outing as US secretary of state on Thursday, meeting counterparts from G20 countries in Bonn, but he has left behind in Washington a department that is severely weakened and cut out of key policy decisions.

Since starting the job two weeks ago, Tillerson, a former ExxonMobil executive, has soothed nerves at the state department by consulting widely with regional and country experts, but it has been hard to disguise the gap between the department headquarters at Washington’s Foggy Bottom and the White House where far-reaching foreign policy decisions are being made.

Senior state department officials who would normally be called to the White House for their views on key policy issues, are not being asked their opinion. They have resorted to asking foreign diplomats, who now have better access to President Trump’s immediate circle of advisers, what new decisions are imminent.

This article is worth reading also. Basically Bannon and Kushner are making foreign policy decisions and not even bothering to inform State of what’s going on, never mind consult with State. They must view the State Department as some kind of ceremonial thing.

Tillerson had previously assured Bob Corker, the chairman of the Senate foreign relations committee, that he would have a free hand in choosing staff. He has brought a handful of personal aides with him but many of the state department senior staff either resigned or were summarily dismissed days before Tillerson arrived in the building, and there is no list of nominees to replace them. Given the time vetting and congressional confirmation takes, Tillerson is now facing many months of working with a severely depleted team of senior staff.

One suspects Tillerson is already regretting he left Exxon. Remember, the entire senior administrative team at the State Department resigned before Tillerson took over as Secretary. My understanding is that those positions, and similar positions at other agencies, are being left unfilled, because the so-called president and his team can’t be bothered to fill them. (Not that Tillerson’s choices were that great; he wanted to hire Elliot Abrams.)

Leaving key positions unfilled is one way of kneecapping the agencies and keeping them from functioning. They are less likely to form a parallel power structure to challenge the White House.  Whether that’s the intention or just the result of family dysfunction I cannot say.

Update: Inside Donald Trump’s White House Chaos

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Can This Administration Function at All?

Trump Maladministration

Michael Gerson functions as a right-wing tool most of the time, but in this column I think he exhibits actual insight. It’s worth reading.

For example:

This seems to be the dynamic unfolding on the weekend political talk shows. These have traditionally been venues for an administration to communicate with media and political elites (whose religion dedicates Sunday morning to the gods of policy, scandal and pith). But Trump surrogates are clearly appealing to a different audience: an audience of one, who may well tweet them a nice pat on the back. The goal — as Miller demonstrated over the weekend — is not to persuade or even explain. It is to confidently repeat Trump’s most absurd or unsubstantiated claims from the previous week.

The inane ravings of Conway and Spicer certainly do come to mind. As I wrote yesterday, Spicer is very careful to not assign any human failure to Trump. He cannot be deceived; he cannot be mistaken. He instinctively knows what’s right. And as William Saletan wrote at Slate:

Conway’s spin on Monday (that Flynn still had Trump’s confidence) and her spin on Tuesday morning (that Flynn had lost Trump’s confidence but was still a stand-up guy) had been replaced by a third account from Press Secretary Sean Spicer: that Trump had been “reviewing and evaluating this issue with respect to Gen. Flynn on a daily basis for a few weeks, trying to ascertain the truth.” The tale of Trump’s heroism in standing by Flynn had evolved into a tale of Trump’s heroism in investigating Flynn. Maybe Conway will tell this story in her next round of interviews. Or maybe, by then, she’ll have come up with another.

Only one thing stays constant in Conway’s propaganda: Trump is the hero. The pathologies she demonstrated on Tuesday have infected the entire White House. They consumed Trump and his aides during the campaign, and they have driven the administration’s conduct in office. On every principle—loyalty, secrecy, truth, right and wrong—Trump’s circle acknowledges only one standard and one master: Trump.

Trump’s own pathology on that score is evidenced by the fact that he’s stopped calling on any but right-wing media at press conferences.  And the White House is now giving press credentials to right-wing blogs; Gateway Pundit, for example. Seriously.

Back to Michael Gerson,

Trump has run a family business but never a large organization. Nor has he seen such an organization as an employee. “Trump,” says another former official, “is ill-suited to appreciate the importance of a coherent chain of command and decision-making process. On the contrary, his instincts run instead toward multiple mini power centers, which rewards competing aggressively for Trump’s favor.” …

… The president may thrive in chaos, but the presidency does not. A president needs aides who will give him honest information and analysis, not compete for his favor. This may even involve checking a president’s mistaken instincts.

But no one in Trump’s little hothouse of a White House is ever going to check his mistaken instincts, are they? They’re a clump of pathologically co-dependent losers enabling each other.

It’s too soon to expect many Trump voters to admit they were had. But if the White House continues to lurch from one absurd crisis to another — many over relatively trivial things like Ivanka’s products being nixed by Nordstrom — that’s going to wear thin, sooner or later. It’s also the case that he’s not likely to accomplish any of the things he promised. And if he does — like end Obamacare — that’s likely to bite him even worse.

The more he founders, the weaker he looks. And perceived weakness will kill his brand. Unless he possesses a lot more intelligence and fortitude than he’s exhibited so far, the first real crisis could do him in. This is not a president people are likely to rally around.

BTW, today he answered a question from an Israeli reporter about anti-Semitism in his administration by bragging about his election victory. He can’t let it go.

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