Browsing the blog archives for April, 2017.


Trump vs. The Constitution

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Trump Maladministration

According to Julian Borger at The Guardian, the so-called president doesn’t care much for the Constitution.

In an interview with Fox News to mark the 100-day mark, he declared himself “disappointed” with congressional Republicans, despite his many “great relationships” with them.

He blamed the constitutional checks and balances built in to US governance. “It’s a very rough system,” he said. “It’s an archaic system … It’s really a bad thing for the country.”

Unfortunately, Fox News doesn’t provide a transcript of the interview, and I’m not about to sit through the video.

But if that weren’t bad enough, we’re now hearing that Trump is frustrated because he can’t sue journalists.

White House chief of staff Reince Priebus on Sunday said that President Donald Trump’s administration has “looked at” changing the law so that Trump can sue the press, though Priebus offered few details.

ABC News’ Jon Karl questioned Priebus on “This Week” about Trump’s suggestion in March that he might “change libel laws” in order to go after the New York Times.

“That would require, as I understand it, a constitutional amendment,” Karl said. “Is he really going to pursue that?”

“I think it’s something that we’ve looked at, and how that gets executed or whether that goes anywhere is a different story,” Priebus said.

Why he wants to sue the New York Times in particular beats me; other major newspapers have been harder on Trump than the Times. Maybe he doesn’t know there are other newspapers.

In other news, Trump has invited murderous Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte to the White House. Apparently Trump admires Duterte for his policy of killing suspected drug criminals and anyone else in the vicinity without having to deal with that pesky due process of law thing.

This weekend Trump blew off the White House Correspondents dinner — just as well; he’s not very funny — and instead blasted news media at a post-campaign rally in Pennsylvania.

To raucous booing from the crowd, Trump trashed outlets such as CNN and MSNBC as “fake news” and called the wider Washington media elite “a disgrace.” He ripped the “totally failing New York Times,” which he said was getting gradually smaller and would soon “look like a comic book.”

The paper edition is smaller than it used to be, but that’s because the Times is moving most of its content online.

“Here’s the story: if the media’s job is to be honest and tell the truth, I think we can all agree the media deserves a very big fat failing grade,” Trump said. “Very dishonest people.”

Trump also slammed the media for being critical in its coverage of his recent meeting with China’s president, Xi Jinping. Although Trump had repeatedly in his campaign called the country a currency manipulator, he backed off the claim upon meeting Xi, saying it was important that China help the US in dealing with North Korea.

“China is helping us possibly or probably with the North Korean situation. Which is a great thing,” Trump said. “I think it’s not exactly the right time to call China a currency manipulator right now — do we agree with that?”

Yeah, it’s not like Trump ever called China out for currency manipulation or anything.

It doesn’t help that I’ve been watching “The Handmaid’s Tale,” otherwise called “Mike Pence’s America,” on Hulu. Very gripping; it’s what the country would really be if Pence and his ilk had absolute power. Between that and the so-called president’s obvious disrespect for the Constitution and rule of law, I’m more than alarmed.

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Born Every Minute

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Social Issues

Taking a brief break from snarking about Donald Trump. There are a couple of unrelated stories that seem to me to be related, under the topic of People With More Money Than Sense.

Recently there was a lot of hooting about Juicero, a “juicer” (a gadget that renders fruit into juice, presumably more efficiently than a “blender”) that originally retailed at $700 (but was later reduced to a mere $400) and only works with the company’s own specifically designed single-serving bags of fruit that cost $5 to $8 each.

Now, if you’re thinking, “Who the hell would pay that much for bleeping fruit juice,” you are not alone. However, lots of people didn’t ask that question and invested in the company.

Doug Evans, the company’s founder, would compare himself with Steve Jobs in his pursuit of juicing perfection. He declared that his juice press wields four tons of force—“enough to lift two Teslas,” he said. Google’s venture capital arm and other backers poured about $120 million into the startup. Juicero sells the machine for $400, plus the cost of individual juice packs delivered weekly. Tech blogs have dubbed it a “Keurig for juice.”

And here comes the “oops.”

But after the product hit the market, some investors were surprised to discover a much cheaper alternative: You can squeeze the Juicero bags with your bare hands. Two backers said the final device was bulkier than what was originally pitched and that they were puzzled to find that customers could achieve similar results without it. Bloomberg performed its own press test, pitting a Juicero machine against a reporter’s grip. The experiment found that squeezing the bag yields nearly the same amount of juice just as quickly—and in some cases, faster—than using the device.

Now the company is offering the refund the purchase price of the juicer if you mail it back in the next 30 days.

The company sells produce packs for $5 to $8 but limits sales to owners of Juicero hardware. The products were only available in three states until Tuesday, when the company expanded to 17. Packs can’t be shipped long distances because the contents are perishable.

This is not sounding to me like a workable business model, but what do I know? The article goes on to say that high-end hotels and restaurants have been buying the things. I guess they’re the sort of places that can get away with charging $10 or more for a glass of juice. I don’t go to those places.

The other story is about a “tech bro” who tried to put together a luxury music festival package in the Bahamas and failed spectacularly.

For tickets that started at $1,200 and went as high as $250,000, the young and rich signed up for passage to the doomed Fyre Festival, hyped for months by its co-founder, rapper turned aspiring mojito mogul Ja Rule.

Attendees were promised three days of luxury and performances by Blink-182, Desiigner, and Rae Sremmurd. Promotion for the festival launched in December, with a glamorous Instagram video of supermodels yachting and sipping champagne on a stunning coastal island.

What they got instead were cancelled acts, disaster relief tents and cheese sandwiches.

Basically, these people were sold a prix-fixe, ‘gram-ready vacation for thousands of dollars and showed up to a hastily assembled disaster zone with scant security, food or housing. On Friday, the Bahamas Ministry of Tourism went so far as to issue a statement distancing itself from the event it characterized as “total disorganization and chaos,” saying Fyre’s organizers “did not have the capacity to execute an event of this scale.”

The event doesn’t appear to have been a deliberate scam. It appears the organizers were just in way over their heads. They had some money and what sounded like a cool idea, but they didn’t have the experience or organizational skills to pull it off. Money is being refunded. But they’re planning another festival next year.

Like I said, more money than sense. See also “Jerks and the Start-Ups They Ruin.”

It does seem to me that there’s a larger issue here; something about how some people seem to have money to burn while others are struggling to get by, and hard work and merit have little association with who gets what.

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Capitalism Sucks

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economy

Or, what’s wrong with the world today:

On the same day that United Airlines reached a settlement with Dr. David Dao, the passenger recently physically dragged off of one of their overbooked flight, Wall Street investors in American Airlines punished the company for increasing the pay of its pilots and flight attendants.

Pending finalized contract negotiations, American Airlines will increase its payment of pilots and flight attendants by a total of nearly $1 billion over the next three years, according to a report by the Associated Press. American Airlines hopes this will quell employee discontent at the fact that their pay tends to be lower than that of employees at competing airlines.

After the plan was announced on Thursday, American Airline Group Inc.’s stock dropped by 5.2 percent, reaching $43.98. …

…As Citi analyst Kevin Crissey told clients in a note, the employee pay increases are “frustrating. Labor is being paid first again. Shareholders get leftovers.

Torches and pitchforks, I say.

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The Trump Tax Plan

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Trump Maladministration

I think Paul Waldman has Trump’s number — “Yesterday the Trump administration released its ‘plan’ for tax reform, one page of bullet points that was apparently rushed out because President Trump surprised everyone by promising that he’d have a plan to announce this week.”

One page of bullet points? Well, anyway, the plan, or the plan for the plan, apparently is a huge tax giveaway to the rich that will be paid for by the Magic Economic Growth Fairy. What it is not is a middle-class tax cut, as the administration is claiming. This is the NY Times Editorial board:

As a rule, Republican presidents like offering tax cuts, and President Trump is no different. But the skimpy one-page tax proposal his administration released on Wednesday is, by any historical standard, a laughable stunt by a gang of plutocrats looking to enrich themselves at the expense of the country’s future. …

…The proposal was so empty of illustrative detail that few people could even begin to calculate its impact on their pocketbooks. Further, depending on where they live, some middle-class families might not benefit much or at all, because the plan does away with important deductions like those for state and local taxes.

That last one would hit blue-staters especially hard. Back to the NY Times:

Here again, the long-term consequences were hard to figure, because Mr. Cohn and Mr. Mnuchin offered no estimates of the plan’s costs; guesswork by some analysts put the figure in the same ballpark as the tax plan Mr. Trump offered during the campaign, or about $7 trillion in additional debt over the first 10 years and nearly $21 trillion by 2036.

But the Magic Laffer Curve Fairy will pay for it! No problem!

Nicholas Kristoff:

Trump’s tax “plan” is a betrayal of his voters. He talks of helping ordinary Americans even as he enriches tycoons like himself.

For example, it’s great that the tax plan promises help with child care costs, a huge burden for low-income families, especially single moms. But Trump doesn’t explain what form his help will take.

Maybe he will eventually provide details, but in his campaign tax plan (which over all seems similar to the latest), fewer than 10 percent of low-income households with children would get anything at all, according to a study by the nonpartisan Tax Policy Center in February. It added that under the campaign plan, families earning between $10,000 and $30,000 a year would receive an average child care benefit of just $10.

You can’t even by a stupid baby monitor for $10.

But the heart of Trump’s “plan” is to lower taxes for corporations and the affluent. It would eliminate the alternative minimum tax, without which Trump would have paid less than 4 percent in taxes for 2005; with it, he paid 25 percent.

Do tell? See also Trump’s Tax Plan Is a Reckoning for Republican Deficit Hawks.

The White House insists that economic growth will cover the cost, which could be as high as $7 trillion over a decade. But the question will dog Republicans and could fracture their party as they face the prospect of endorsing a plan that many economists and budget analysts warn will increase the deficit. After years of fiscal hawkishness, conservatives now face a moment of truth about whether they truly believe America’s economy is drowning in debt.

Of course it’s a travesty — we would expect nothing less from Trump. But there’s also a long road between one page of bullet points and an actual bill, so the bullet points are likely just an opening offer. The interesting part will be if anything resembling any of this ends up in a bill that Congress actually votes on.

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Daddy’s Little Girl

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Trump Maladministration

Mike Allen reports at Axios:

Ivanka Trump told me yesterday from Berlin that she has begun building a massive fund that will benefit female entrepreneurs around the globe. Both countries and companies will contribute to create a pool of capital to economically empower women. …

Under the radar: Canadians, Germans and a few Middle Eastern countries have already made quiet commitments, as have several corporations, a source said.

Allegra Kirkland at TPM:

A spokesman for the World Bank confirmed to TPM that Kim and Ivanka Trump are currently in talks about how to finance it.  …

… But what exactly Ivanka Trump’s fund will look like and how it will operate remains a giant question mark. Ethics experts told TPM that Axios’ description leaves it unclear if the fund will be a private, for-profit endeavor or if it will be run through a federal government agency.

Jennifer Rubin … seriously, Jennifer Rubin … wrote of the foreign donations,

If true, this is egregious and potentially illegal, according to multiple ethics and legal experts. “If the donation would be a quid pro quo bribe, then asking for it is certainly solicitation of a bribe, which is every bit as criminal as the bribe itself,” Harvard Law professor Laurence Tribe tells me via email. “But I started that sentence with ‘if’ because I don’t have enough facts about the donation request to opine on the ultimate bribe issue.” Nevertheless, he says:

At the very least, though, a donation is a “present,” which – if made by a foreign government or an agent of such a government or an entity controlled by it – is expressly banned by the text of the Foreign Emoluments Clause with respect to anyone holding “any Office of Profit or Trust” under the United States. Whether it counts as an “emolument” becomes irrelevant if it’s a “present,” which any donation would at least be.

Tribe explains, “Even if the First Daughter and Assistant to the President somehow manages to create formal distance between herself and that version of the Clinton Foundation, which of course her father denounced endlessly during the campaign, the hypocrisy of the move is jaw-dropping.” He adds, “Such contributions would surely constitute a financial benefit to … her brand, and her family’s brand even if she is unable to spend a penny of the contributions themselves. As such, soliciting such contributions violates at least the spirit of the Foreign Emoluments Clause.”

Many have pointed out that what Ivanka appears to be planning would amount to pretty much the same thing her father was slamming Hillary Clinton for doing last year.

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The Michael Flynn Saga Continues

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Trump Maladministration

Today’s top story:

Michael T. Flynn, President Trump’s first national security adviser, may have violated federal law by not fully disclosing his business dealings with Russia when seeking a security clearance to work in the administration, the top oversight lawmakers from both parties in the House said Tuesday.

Also, too, the White House is refusing to provide documents on Flynn requested by the House Oversight Committee.

Cummings, the ranking Democrat on the committee, said the White House is refusing to provide documents related to Flynn.

“Despite all of these very troubling developments…we received a response from the White House refusing to provide any of the documents we requested,” Cummings told reporters Tuesday. “So we received no internal documents relating to what Gen. Flynn reported to the White House when they vetted him to become national security adviser, and we received no documents relating to his termination as national security adviser for concealing his discussion with the Russian ambassador.”

CNN reported Tuesday morning that White House Director of Legislative Affairs Marc Short told the House committee in a letter that some of the documents originated with other agencies and therefore would have to be provided by them. He added that concerning the relevant White House documents, “we are unable to accommodate” the request.

 

Committee chair Jason Chaffetz seems to have decided to stop being a toady.

After the White House denied the House Oversight Committee’s request for documents related to former national security adviser Michael Flynn’s disclosure of foreign payments on Tuesday, the committee’s leadership delivered a remarkable, bipartisan rebuke of President Donald Trump’s vetting of his top advisers.

Flynn “was supposed to seek permission and receive permission from the both the secretary of state and the secretary from the Army prior to traveling to Russia to not only accept that payment but to engage in that activity,” the Republican committee chairman, Jason Chaffetz, said in a joint news conference with the ranking Democrat on the committee, Maryland Rep. Elijah Cummings. “I see no evidence that he actually did that.”

Added Chaffetz: “This is something General Flynn was supposed to do as a former officer. . . . No former military officer is allowed to accept payments from a foreign government.”

The really juicy bit — Last week while I was in blog bardo, Rep. Jason Chaffetz announced he wanted to spend more time with his family.

Jason Chaffetz is so ambitious that his last name is a verb.

In the political world, to Chaffetz means to throw a former mentor under the bus in order to get ahead, and various prominent Republicans, from former Utah governor and presidential candidate Jon Huntsman Jr. to House Majority Leader Rep. Kevin McCarthy, have experienced what it’s like to get Chaffetzed. But the five-term Utah Republican and powerful chairman of the House oversight committee shocked Washington on Wednesday when he announced he would not seek reelection in 2018 or run for any other political office that year in order to spend more time with his family. …

… Chaffetz, a canny political operator, has surely read the tea leaves, wagering that it is in his best interests to sit out the bruising political fights of the Trump administration’s first term lest Trump bring Chaffetz down with him. Given Chaffetz’s talent for self-promotion, it’s likely that he won’t veer too far from the public eye. Talk on Capitol Hill is that he may take the path of other high-profile members of Congress and nab a lucrative contract with one of the networks, where he can maintain his visibility, build up his bank account, and bide his time for the right moment to get back in the political game. Chaffetz has been less than subtle in hinting he’s interested. “I’d be thrilled to have a television relationship,” Chaffetz told Politico on Thursday.

But even as he announced that he was stepping away from politics, Chaffetz and his supporters seemed to be quietly planning his political future. In early April, his campaign committee registered the domains Jason2028.com and JasonChaffetz2028.com.

Interesting. Of course, it’s possible Chaffetz has personal reasons for bailing out of Washington, but it does appear he’s trying to create some space between himself and Trump.

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Trump’s Tantrum

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Trump Maladministration

Lots of stuff has happened in the past couple of weeks while I’ve been in blog bardo. Much of this is real significant stuff with lots of implications. But after all the stress of dealing with web host tech support, right now I’m not up to taking on anything more complicated than beer. Maybe tomorrow.

Right now I’m just going to snark a bit about an interview of the so-called president by the Associated Press last Friday.  A lot of it is unintelligible. Really.

The AP released part of the interview last week, but made a fuller transcript available late Sunday. You can read it in full here, but beware: It’s a doozy. The phrase “Donald Trump is unintelligible” was even a top trending topic on Twitter early Monday ― referring to the 16 instances where the AP marked parts of the transcript “unintelligible.” (Pace later told the Toronto Star that one of Trump’s aides was talking over him at those moments, and that the aide did not want their comments included in the transcript. The Star notes that “this is itself highly unusual.”)

I’m wondering who the aide was and what his or her function was.  But the interview is all Trump. He’s bragging about how he’s the most wonderful president who ever was, and he’s genuinely surprised the press isn’t nicer to him (see Josh Marshall, “Trump: They Were Supposed to Love Me“).

At Vanity Fair, Tina Nguyen points out some of the more jaw-dropping moments of the interview. Like this one.

They had a quote from me that NATO’s obsolete. But they didn’t say why it was obsolete. I was on Wolf Blitzer, very fair interview, the first time I was ever asked about NATO, because I wasn’t in government. People don’t go around asking about NATO if I’m building a building in Manhattan, right? So they asked me, Wolf . . . asked me about NATO, and I said two things. NATO’s obsolete—not knowing much about NATO, now I know a lot about NATO—NATO is obsolete, and I said, ‘And the reason it’s obsolete is because of the fact they don’t focus on terrorism.’ You know, back when they did NATO there was no such thing as terrorism.”

Terrifying, right? It’s the verbal equivalent of mangled, three-day-old road kill.

We also learn that Rep. Elijah Cummings, off all people, told Trump he would be the greatest president ever.  Somehow, I think Trump misheard.

Nguyeb also tells us that at one point, while Trump was off record, he discussed something he saw on CNN. Then later in the interview, he denied ever watching CNN. This stuff goes on and on; see also “Seven Baffling Moments From Donald Trump’s AP Interview” at HuffPo. See also the annotated transcript at Washington Post.

Please snark away. The comments are working now.

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We’re Back!

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Trump Maladministration

Okay, the links work now. I think everything is back the way it was before the Great Migration.

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Glitches

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Trump Maladministration

I see that the comment link isn’t working, and also links to archived things don’t work. I’ll get back on the phone to tech support tomorrow.

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This Is It

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Trump Maladministration

If you are reading this, we’ve made it to the new server. I feel as if I’ve dragged every byte myself, over the Alps. Whew!

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