Browsing the blog archives for January, 2018.

GOP Governor Delayed 2016 Tax Refunds Because the State Needed the Money

Trump Maladministration

Missouri is notoriously slow at paying tax refunds, but this year is one for the late records. I understand some people are still waiting. Yesterday Missouri Auditor Nicole Galloway accused Governor Eric Greitens of deliberately obstructing a routine but necessary audit and thereby slowing down refunds.  The Springfield News-Leader reports,

Auditor Nicole Galloway says Gov. Eric Greitens’ administration has made “unprecedented attempts” to “obstruct audit work” related to late tax refunds.

Missouri has been required to pay hundreds of thousands of dollars in interest in recent years to taxpayers who waited more than six weeks for refunds, Galloway’s office said in a new report.

“The state has paid individual income tax refunds in an increasingly untimely manner” and “does not have sufficient cash available” to refund taxpayers on time, the report said. Also, Missouri pays back larger returns first, regardless of the order in which refunds are processed, the auditor’s office said.

The delays are due to Missouri’s decision to pay other expenses before refunds, stalling $200 million in refunds at one point, according to Galloway’s office.

“The administration is balancing its checkbook on the backs of individual taxpaying Missourians — that is simply unacceptable,” Galloway said in a written statement. “Throughout this audit, my office received thousands of calls and e-mails from taxpayers who were rightfully frustrated because they were not receiving the money they were owed.”

You might recall that last year Greitens sold himself to Missouri voters with television ads that showed him shooting up cornfields with various military weapons.

Like any good wingnut, he’s all about tax cuts. Among other things, he has cut low-income housing tax credits because, you know, those poor folks take up too much space anyway.  He also ensured that people stay poor by blocking a St. Louis city ordinance that raised the minimum wage to $10 an hour in the city. Thanks to Greitens, many people who had already been enjoying larger paychecks saw their income cut back to $7.70 an hour. He also cut 8,000 elderly and disabled people off medical care  and cut millions out of the higher education budget. So he’s not what we’d call a sweetheart. The St. Louis Post-Dispatch also has been slamming him for his lack of transparency in campaign funding. He apparently received millions in dark money from lobbyists and corporations, so he’s not what we’d call a man of the people, either. But damn, that boy can shoot up a cornfield.

Getting back to the tax refund delays — the St. Louis Post-Dispatch reported,

Missouri Auditor Nicole Galloway on Monday said Gov. Eric Greitens’ administration obstructed and delayed her office’s audit of income tax refund processing even after she subpoenaed his Department of Revenue in April.

Despite this, Galloway, a Democrat, found that the amount of interest paid out to Missourians because the state processed their tax returns late rose 38 percent in one fiscal year — from $306,077 during fiscal year 2016, to $423,366 this past year. …

… The sparring started in April, when Galloway subpoenaed the state Department of Revenue seeking information about its processing of tax return refunds. Greitens, a Republican, called the move a “political stunt” and said his administration was preparing to turn over reams of documents to the auditor.

“My office was met with a lack of cooperation, numerous delays in responses and communication, refusal by the administration to even meet to discuss the audit, and more troubling, a refusal to confirm that all information was provided,” Galloway said at a Monday news conference.

Parker Briden, the governor’s spokesman, said in a statement that the criticisms were “another cheap ploy from a Democrat who is desperate for headlines.”

Did I mention that some people are still waiting for 2016 refunds?

Republicans have pointed out that the state was notoriously late refunding taxes when a Democrat, Jay Nixon, was governor. But they’ve never been this late before.

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Twilight of the Trump: Closing In

Trump Maladministration

There are reports that Mueller will be seeking an interview with Trump soon. There also are reports that Trump’s lawyers are trying to stop that from happening.

President Donald Trump has repeatedly said he would testify under oath about possible collusion between the Trump campaign and Russia during the 2016 presidential election. But now it looks like Trump’s lawyers are worried about a potential interview with special counsel Robert Mueller — and are seeking ways to avoid it.

NBC News reports that Trump’s attorneys are in initial talks with federal investigators about how a possible interview might take place. Trump’s lawyers have suggested the president could provide written answers to Mueller’s questions instead of sitting down face-to-face with Mueller’s team. They’ve also floated the idea of not having the president take part in the interview at all. The Washington Post also reports that a Trump-Mueller interview could take place within weeks.

But legal experts I spoke to doubt Mueller would settle for anything less than a sit-down with Trump. “I highly doubt that Mueller will accept written questions and answers,” Renato Mariotti, who served as a federal prosecutor from 2007 to 2016, told me in an interview. “Prosecutors are interested in a subject’s responses to detailed lines of questioning without the opportunity to have lawyers carefully craft their client’s answer.”

Heh. In other news, Jonathan Swan at Axios reports that Trump spends most of his days watching television and tweeting.

President Trump is starting his official day much later than he did in the early days of his presidency, often around 11am, and holding far fewer meetings, according to copies of his private schedule shown to Axios. This is largely to meet Trump’s demands for more “Executive Time,” which almost always means TV and Twitter time alone in the residence, officials tell us. …

… Trump’s days in the Oval Office are relatively short – from around 11am to 6pm, then he’s back to the residence. During that time he usually has a meeting or two, but spends a good deal of time making phone calls and watching cable news in the dining room adjoining the Oval. Then he’s back to the residence for more phone calls and more TV.

The 11-to-6 schedule is not exactly jam-packed.

On Tuesday, Trump has his first meeting of the day with Chief of Staff John Kelly at 11am. He then has “Executive Time” for an hour followed by an hour lunch in the private dining room. Then it’s another 1 hour 15 minutes of “Executive Time” followed by a 45 minute meeting with National Security Adviser H.R. McMaster. Then another 15 minutes of “Executive Time” before Trump takes his last meeting of the day — a 3:45pm meeting with the head of Presidential Personnel Johnny DeStefano — before ending his official day at 4:15pm.

This is fairly typical, Swan says. So he has an official five-hour workday, during which time he has to sit through three meetings in between lunch and yelling at the TeeVee.

Basically, no one is doing the job of president of the U.S. In his case, that may be just as well. Steve M points out that very often stuff Trump says about his policies and the policies his officials present to Congress and the public bear no resemblance to each other. The officials appear to be working around him.

Ross Douthat believes that White House staff are (barely) keeping the government together. And he asks, “Can the people who surround Donald Trump work around his incapacity successfully enough to keep his unfitness from producing a historic calamity?” I repeat, this is Ross Douthat, people.

I could be wrong, but I’m predicting Trump’s presidency won’t survive the year.

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Twilight of the Trump?

Trump Maladministration

In the department of There Are None So Blind As Those Who Will Not See, some hack at the Washington Examiner actually asked, “Why hasn’t Michael Wolff’s dementia-Trump ever been seen in public?” Like there hasn’t been discussion about Trump’s mental health going back long before Wolff’s book came out. See, for example, “I’m a brain specialist. I think Trump should be tested for a degenerative brain disease,” published December 7.

The more pertinent question is, does it really matter what the diagnosis is? Josh Marshal writes,

We are now back on to the feverish debate about whether or not Donald Trump is mentally ill or suffering from the onset of dementia. The most important thing to know about this debate is that it simply doesn’t matter. Diagnoses are something for trained professionals and even they are challenged to make them without a proper in-person examination. But again, it doesn’t matter.

For public purposes, clinical diagnoses are only relevant as predictors of behavior. If the President has a cognitive deficiency or mental illness that might cause him to act in unpredictable or dangerous ways or simply be unable to do the job, we need to know. But My God, we do know! We see him acting in these ways every day – and not just in multiple news reports from an abundance of different news organizations. We see it with our own eyes: in his public actions, his public statements, his tweets. All the diagnosis of a mental illness could tell us is that Trump might be prone to act in ways that we literally see him acting in every day: impulsive, erratic, driven by petty aggressions and paranoia, showing poor impulsive control, an inability to moderate self-destructive behavior. He is frequently either frighteningly out of touch with reality or sufficiently pathological in his lying that it is impossible to tell. Both are very bad.

In other words, Washington Examiner hack, if you want to see what dementia looks like, just watch Trump for a while. If he’s not suffering some sort of brain impairment, he’s putting on a hell of an act. Or, if that’s his “normal,” then he’s always been dumb as a box of rocks. Either way, he shouldn’t be president.

And people are getting tired of the excuses. (Watch Jake Tapper cut short an interview with Stephen “I Even Look Like Fredo” Miller. Fun little clip.)

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Republicans Tilt at Steele Dossier/Clinton Windmills

Trump Maladministration

The Senate Judiciary Committee made a criminal referral to the Justice Department against Christopher Steele, the author of the infamous Steele Dossier. Yes, the first referral of their investigation into alleged Russian-Trump collusion is against one of the people who exposed it. Of course.

It’s a bit hazy as to exactly which crime Steele is alleged to have committed. The Judiciary Committee allege that Steele lied to federal authorities about his contacts with reporters, and they want it investigated, although to what end (except as a red herring) isn’t clear.

The Senate Judiciary Committee behaves as if the Steele Dossier is the lynchpin against all the anti-Trump allegations, and if it were discredited all would be resolved in Trump’s favor. But it seems to me the Steele Dossier is nearly irrelevant at this point. It wasn’t even the first clue of possible collusion that caught the FBI’s interest, as was once believed. We now know the first clue was Trump foreign policy adviser/coffee boy George Papadopoulos’s drunken bragging to an Australian ambassador that the Russians had dirt on Hillary Clinton.

Of course, it’s also the case, according to several sources, that Trump has been whining bitterly for months about the “fake” dossier, so the referral may have been made to mollify the man-baby.

Seems to me that if the Steele Dossier had never been written, we’d still be in about the same place regarding the several investigations. There’s plenty of publicly revealed evidence — especially of obstruction of justice — without it, and who knows what Mueller has by now that he’s keeping under his vest.

Meanwhile, the FBI (at Trump’s request, the NY Times says) has opened another investigation into the Clinton Foundation. Per the Times story there’s no new evidence of anything; the investigation will be re-plowing old fields. And the Department of Justice is once again investigating Hillary Clinton’s emails. Last week the right-wing Judicial Watch was practically crowing because the State Department released the emails found on Anthony Weiner’s laptop and, JW says, some of them were classified. (And the State Department released them? Well, they were heavily redacted.)

CNN reported December 30,

Then-FBI Director James Comey testified earlier this year that “Somehow, her emails were being forwarded to Anthony Weiner, including classified information by (Clinton’s) assistant, Huma Abedin,” he said.
But there was no indication that Abedin “had a sense that what she was doing was in violation of the law,” Comey added, and investigators couldn’t prove any sort of criminal intent.
The emails weren’t marked as classified, though the FBI later found classified information contained in some emails recovered from Weiner’s laptop.
CNN has previously reported it was likely that some of the emails stored on Weiner’s laptop contained classified information, and fired FBI Director Comey testified that there is no indication Abedin “had a sense that what she was doing was in violation of the law.”

So, again, nothing was found that wasn’t already known about and hasn’t already been investigated. The Justice Department might as well re-open the Lindbergh baby kidnapping case while they’re at it, since they seem to have nothing better to do.

As absurd as they are, these investigations could be used for sinister purposes. Jonathan Chait writes,

At minimum, the effect will be to feed the right-wing news media’s message that Trump’s opponents are the real criminals, in order to supply a distraction for his base. At maximum, the “charges” will allow Trump to have something to trade away — he could fire Mueller while “magnanimously” pardoning his enemies in the alleged spirit of letting old feuds die. In either case, the threat of investigation can be used to make any potential Trump critic think twice.

I’m not sure Trump has the political capital left to make deals like that, though. And, of course, a lot depends on the midterms …


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Literacy and Dementia and Trump

Trump Maladministration

In WaPo, Ruth Marcus says she asked Trump point blank, “Do you read?”

Mika Brzezinski and I had a tense meeting with Trump following what I considered to be a bumbling debate performance in September 2015. I asked the candidate a blunt question.

“Can you read?”

Awkward silence.

“I’m serious, Donald. Do you read?” I continued. “If someone wrote you a one-page paper on a policy, could you read it?”

Taken aback, Trump quietly responded that he could while holding up a Bible given to him by his mother. He then joked that he read it all the time.

I am apparently not the only one who has questioned the president’s ability to focus on the written word. “Trump didn’t read,” Wolff writes. “He didn’t really even skim. If it was print, it might as well not exist. Some believed that for all practical purposes he was no more than semiliterate. Others concluded that he didn’t read because he didn’t have to . . . He was postliterate — total television.”

This isn’t the first time we’ve heard that Trump doesn’t read. If you google “Trump doesn’t read” you get a ton of links to articles testifying to that. And then there’s this, from May 2017 Newsweek by Chris Riotta: “Trump Doesn’t Read His Daily Intelligence Briefings; Prefers Big Pictures Instead.”

Almost every day at about 10:30 a.m., President Donald Trump sits with the heads of the intelligence community and a fresh Diet Coke to discuss some of the world’s most highly classified information in the Oval Office. He prefers “killer graphics,” like pictures, videos and charts, and often interrupts the meeting with questions and unrelated asides, according to CIA Director Mike Pompeo and National Intelligence Director Daniel Coats.

The president also favors tiny “nuggets” of intelligence that pop out at him during his daily briefings, and information that can be boiled down to a single page. “That’s our task, right?” Pompeo asked in a Washington Post article published Sunday. “To deliver the material in a way that he can best understand the information we’re trying to communicate.”  …

… The president prefers “big pictures” during his intel meetings in more ways than one: Trump doesn’t care to read long narratives about developing events around the world, instead preferring imagery he can better understand.

This led to some speculation that perhaps he couldn’t read. He has been known to use a teleprompter from time to time, but not very skillfully.

It’s hard to imagine someone graduating college, even with so-so grades, without being able to read at all. But there’s another element to this reading thing; it’s a skill one can lose with dementia.

I’m thinking of my mother, who was very bright. In the 1940s he completed a five-year program to earn a bachelor’s degree in nursing from the University of Missouri. After a long career as a hospital nurse she ran a Licensed Practical Nursing program at our local community college. Although math was her strongest subject, she certainly could read perfectly well (including doctors’ handwriting).

I flew home for a visit in early summer 1999. My father was very ill and would die of congestive heart failure in a few weeks, but he was still living at home. He and my mother had been engaged in a long disagreement about the best places to go out to dinner. He liked to go to proper restaurants where he could sit down, order from a menu and be waited on. She always wanted to go to buffets.

At one point she and I went out to dinner. I am inclined toward my father’s preferences, and we ended up at a sit-down restaurant. Mom was quiet and seemed uncomfortable, and she barely looked at the menu. After I ordered from the menu she told the waitress that she would have the same dinner I was having.

Her Alzheimer’s wouldn’t be diagnosed for a few more months, although my brother, who was a psychologist, told me she had it the day after Dad’s funeral. That was when I realized she couldn’t read menus. And she was embarrassed to let anyone know.  So she preferred buffets, where she could see the food. It was a coping mechanism.

Oddly enough, she could still write. A professional to the hilt, she had been keeping nurse’s notes on my father’s medicines and treatments to the end. But she couldn’t read menus. And bills and bank statements confused her. But she could understand the labels on the pill bottles, at least for a little while longer. She also continued to do crossword puzzles, although with diminishing success.

I’m just throwing this out as something to think about. Of course I don’t know if Trump has Alzheimer’s or some other mental impairment. But it would explain a lot.

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The Wolff Book and Its Fallout

Trump Maladministration

First, some background. Michael Wolff wrote a puff piece on Trump for the Hollywood Reporter that was published in June 2016. So when he talked to Trump about writing a book about him, Trump assumed he would write a flattering book about him and gave him all kinds of access. As Wolff described it,

interviewed Donald Trump for The Hollywood Reporter in June 2016, and he seemed to have liked — or not disliked — the piece I wrote. “Great cover!” his press assistant, Hope Hicks, emailed me after it came out (it was a picture of a belligerent Trump in mirrored sunglasses). After the election, I proposed to him that I come to the White House and report an inside story for later publication — journalistically, as a fly on the wall — which he seemed to misconstrue as a request for a job. No, I said. I’d like to just watch and write a book. “A book?” he responded, losing interest. “I hear a lot of people want to write books,” he added, clearly not understanding why anybody would. “Do you know Ed Klein?”— author of several virulently anti-Hillary books. “Great guy. I think he should write a book about me.” But sure, Trump seemed to say, knock yourself out.

So Wolff was allowed to hang out with the Trump campaign and transition team and in the White House itself. The staff was encouraged to cooperate with him.

Can we trust that what Wolff wrote was accurate? Josh Marshall wrote,

One of the many oddities and comedies of this moment is that Michael Wolff is anything but a reliable narrator of the Trumpian moment. A year ago he was effusively and conspicuously praising himself as a practitioner of sycophancy-based access journalism, the only journo who would or could cover Trump on the merits rather than be swept up with the preening opposition and grandiose efforts to destroy the real estate hawker turned politician. Now this. It makes perfect sense. Never trust an ingratiating reporter. But to keep ourselves on our own toes, again, I don’t think we should see him as an entirely reliable narrator of the story. The key points though, the quotes? They probably bear out. In any case, according to Mike Allen at Axios, Wolff has tapes. I’m sure he does.

Wolff doesn’t strike me as someone with a political agenda. He is a clever writer, and as a clever writer he must have realized from the get-go that the real story, the money story, was not a puff story. There already are a bunch of puff books out about Trump, most of which you have probably never heard of.  Wolff realized that the big ticket story was a freak show story, a Holy Bleep These People Are Crazier Than Bleep story.  And I’m sure he’s clever enough to know that he was dealing with very powerful and even ruthless people, so he’d damn well better have tapes.

Say what you will about Wolff: Unless the book is wholesale invention, something in his I’m-with-the-band swagger in the West Wing attracted awesomely sordid material from Trump’s scurvy syndicate. In John Sterling at Macmillan, the book has a masterful editor, and three fact-checkers reviewed it. So I’m betting “Fire and Fury” will withstand whatever charges of journalistic impropriety come at it.

I will add that publishers crank out exposés about politicians all the time. The trash-talking books about Hillary Clinton alone are so common they make up their own genre. They sell enough copies to make a profit, because people who hate Politician X will buy them and maybe read a few pages and leave them on the coffee table for awhile. This book is already a best-seller and appears to be turning into a sure-enough phenomenon.  Lots of people want to read it.

It’s also the case that, in a meta sense, Wolff is not telling us anything we don’t already know. James Fallows writes at The Atlantic:

The details in Michael Wolff’s new book Fire and Fury make it unforgettable, and potentially historic. We’ll see how many of them fully stand up, and in what particulars, but even at a heavy discount, it’s a remarkable tale.

But what Wolff is describing is an open secret.

Based on the excerpts now available, Fire and Fury presents a man in the White House who is profoundly ignorant of politics, policy, and anything resembling the substance of perhaps the world’s most demanding job. He is temperamentally unstable. Most of what he says in public is at odds with provable fact, from “biggest inaugural crowd in history” onward. Whether he is aware of it or not, much of what he asserts is a lie. His functional vocabulary is markedly smaller than it was 20 years ago; the oldest person ever to begin service in the White House, he is increasingly prone to repeat anecdotes and phrases. He is aswirl in foreign and financial complications. He has ignored countless norms of modern governance, from the expectation of financial disclosure to the importance of remaining separate from law-enforcement activities. He relies on immediate family members to an unusual degree; he has an exceptionally thin roster of experienced advisers and assistants; his White House staff operations have more in common with an episode of The Apprentice than with any real-world counterpart. He has a shallower reserve of historical or functional information than previous presidents, and a more restricted supply of ongoing information than many citizens. He views all events through the prism of whether they make him look strong and famous, and thus he is laughably susceptible to flattering treatment from the likes of Putin and Xi Jinping abroad or courtiers at home.

Wolff provides us with more specific examples and details, but, seriously — we knew all this. Didn’t we? Of course, the book won’t be released publicly until tomorrow, so we don’t yet know about everything in it.

As far as the fallout is concerned, I’m sure that even as we speak right-wing interests are working overtime to find whatever dirt they can find on Michael Wolff to discredit him, so we’ll see what comes out. Once the online herd of Trump supporters get their hands on the book, they will be combing through it for any detail they can refute, and I’m sure there will be something. And the bobbleheads on Fox News will discuss those details to death over the next several days. But if the copyeditors at Macmillan did their jobs, those details will be mostly inconsequential things.

We’re already seeing much of the Right taking sides with Trump against Bannon. How the Alt Right feels about that, I do not know. I don’t expect Bannon to disappear entirely, but especially after the debacle (for him) of the Roy Moore loss, I expect that from now on most Republicans and what’s left of movement conservatism will keep him at arm’s length. Maybe he and Karl Rove can form a Loser’s Club.

I expect the book may accelerate some ongoing trends. Editorialists already have been less hesitant to question Trump’s basic mental competence, and those voices will grow louder.  It also will likely accelerate Trump’s mental deterioration. I don’t see him getting through this year without a complete meltdown requiring, at least, confinement from public view or hospitalization.

We may learn there are breadcrumbs in the book for Bob Mueller to follow.

If the book is as big a money-maker for the publisher as it appears so far, expect more publishers to come out with books and magazine features talking trash about Trump.

Can you think of anything else?

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WWE Trump-Bannon Smackdown!

Trump Maladministration

Boy howdy, have we got some news today. A new book by Michael Wolff titled Fire and Fury: Inside the Trump White House has set Trump and his minions at each other’s throats.  In the book, Steve Bannon called Junior’s Trump Tower meeting with a pack of Russians “treasonous” and added there was no way Trump didn’t know about it. In response, Trump says Bannon lost his mind.

Here’s just one excerpt:

Few people who knew Trump had illusions about him. That was his appeal: He was what he was. Twinkle in his eye, larceny in his soul. Everybody in his rich-guy social circle knew about his wide-ranging ignorance. Early in the campaign, Sam Nunberg was sent to explain the Constitution to the candidate. “I got as far as the Fourth Amendment,” Nunberg recalled, “before his finger is pulling down on his lip and his eyes are rolling back in his head.”

The day after the election, the bare-bones transition team that had been set up during the campaign hurriedly shifted from Washington to Trump Tower. The building — now the headquarters of a populist revolution —­ suddenly seemed like an alien spaceship on Fifth Avenue. But its otherworldly air helped obscure the fact that few in Trump’s inner circle, with their overnight responsibility for assembling a government, had any relevant experience.

Ailes, a veteran of the Nixon, Reagan, and Bush 41 administrations, tried to impress on Trump the need to create a White House structure that could serve and protect him. “You need a son of a bitch as your chief of staff,” he told Trump. “And you need a son of a bitch who knows Washington. You’ll want to be your own son of a bitch, but you don’t know Washington.” Ailes had a suggestion: John Boehner, who had stepped down as Speaker of the House only a year earlier.

“Who’s that?” asked Trump.

We also learn that Rupert Murdoch once called Trump a “f—ing idiot.” Will I be reading this book? You betcha.

From Bloomberg:

President Donald Trump denounced his former top strategist, Steve Bannon, on Wednesday, saying that he ‘lost his mind’ after leaving the White House last summer.

“When he was fired, he not only lost his job, he lost his mind,” Trump said of Bannon in a statement the White House issued. “Now that he is on his own, Steve is learning that winning isn’t as easy as I make it look.”

The statement represented an emphatic break from the person considered the architect of Trump’s presidential campaign. Bannon continued to enjoy access to the president after he left the White House, but that has ended, one person familiar with the matter said.

Earlier on Wednesday, New York Magazine published excerpts of a forthcoming book by author Michael Wolff in which Bannon criticizes Trump’s campaign as well as the president and his family. The Guardian published excerpts of the book in which Bannon predicts that Special Counsel Robert Mueller will “crack Don Junior like an egg on national TV” over the president’s son’s meeting with a Russian lawyer at Trump Tower in June 2016.

Bannon also called Donald Trump Jr.’s meeting with the lawyer, in which he expected to receive damaging information on Trump’s election opponent Hillary Clinton, “treasonous” and “unpatriotic,” according to the Guardian.

Here is the official White House statement from Trump on Bannon:

Steve Bannon has nothing to do with me or my Presidency. When he was fired, he not only lost his job, he lost his mind. Steve was a staffer who worked for me after I had already won the nomination by defeating seventeen candidates, often described as the most talented field ever assembled in the Republican party.

Now that he is on his own, Steve is learning that winning isn’t as easy as I make it look. Steve had very little to do with our historic victory, which was delivered by the forgotten men and women of this country. Yet Steve had everything to do with the loss of a Senate seat in Alabama held for more than thirty years by Republicans.

Steve doesn’t represent my base—he’s only in it for himself.

Steve pretends to be at war with the media, which he calls the opposition party, yet he spent his time at the White House leaking false information to the media to make himself seem far more important than he was. It is the only thing he does well. Steve was rarely in a one-on-one meeting with me and only pretends to have had influence to fool a few people with no access and no clue, whom he helped write phony books.

We have many great Republican members of Congress and candidates who are very supportive of the Make America Great Again agenda. Like me, they love the United States of America and are helping to finally take our country back and build it up, rather than simply seeking to burn it all down.

Officially, Bannon was chief executive officer of Trump’s campaign, beginning August 2016. After Trump was inaugurated Bannon became White House Chief Strategist and sat on the Principals Committee of the National Security Council. It will be interesting to see if the Alt Right sides with Bannon or with Trump.

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Trump’s Infrastructure Grift

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Trump is supposed to unveil his infrastructure plan some time this month. Trump has made grandiose noises about investing $1 trillion to fix the nation’s infrastructure. However, so far he has only allocated $200 billion in federal funds for infrastructure repair.

So, as with all things Trump, one must ask — where’s the grift?

Nicole Goodkind at Newsweek:

Sources told Politico that Trump will split the infrastructure bill into three sections: streamlining bureaucracy, increasing funding and ending the agency review process. He would like to allocate $200 billion for infrastructure projects over the next decade, Politico reported, and expects the rest of the money to come from private-public partnerships and state and local funding.

$200 billion for infrastructure projects over the next decade? For the entire country? Might as well fund it all with Home Depot coupons.

Cohn [Gary Cohn, director of the White House National Economic Council] claimed that states and localities already have the money to complete large-scale infrastructure projects but are hindered by red tape at the federal level. White House officials have said states and municipalities that want such things as new bridges or broadband internet access will be asked to compete for federal assistance by proving they’re willing to put their own money down and raise revenue from taxes, fees and other sources.

States and localities already have the money? On what planet?

Even better, Trump may be getting some of his ideas from Mike Pence.  Lydia O’Neal and David Sirota at Newsweek:

President Donald Trump’s $1 trillion plan to rebuild America’s infrastructure may be unprecedented in size and ambition, but it mimics a controversial scheme championed by Vice President Mike Pence when he was the governor of Indiana. That’s why Pence is the public face of the Trump initiative, and executives from financial firms that helped privatize Indiana’s toll road are in the White House, busily sculpting Trump’s national plan.

Pence and his allies like to boast about how Indiana sold control of major roads to private firms, claiming the move prompted corporations to invest money in infrastructure that would otherwise have been funded by taxpayers. But opponents say Indiana made some bad deals that offer a cautionary tale of get-rich-quick scheming, secrecy and cronyism that led the state to sell off valuable assets that were then wildly mismanaged.

A bit more googling led me to a June 2017 news story at the Indianapolis Star about the unmitigated disaster that was Mike Pence’s experiment in infrastructure upgrades.

At first, it sounded like a good idea: Indiana would use a public-private partnership to extend I-69 from Bloomington to Martinsville, relying on private sector ingenuity to bring it in on time and under budget.

But the project is two years behind schedule. The prolonged construction has increased traffic accidents and lengthened commute times. And, now, as the state is dissolving the partnership — which some argue could end up costing Hoosiers millions of dollars — a difficult question needs to be asked:

How did this once-touted project — pitched and promoted by then-Gov. Mike Pence as a model for smart infrastructure planning — become such an embarrassing mess?

It became an embarrassing mess because officials in Pence’s administration inexplicably awarded the contract to a Spanish company that had no clue what it was doing. The project added new meaning to the word “boondoggle.” The Spanish company, Isolux Corsan, gave an absurdly lowball bid that was $22 million less than the state’s own cost estimate. And the Pence Administration seems to have done no vetting of this company at all. However …

A mere three weeks after the contract was finalized, before bonds were floated to finance the work, nine company and public officials in Spain were arrested on embezzlement charges. The allegation? They had profited illegally from a bribery scheme related to a high-speed rail project built by Isolux, a scandal that’s still unfolding in Spain.

State officials did not respond when asked by IndyStar if they were aware of the arrests.

One suspects those Pence Administration officials did quite well. One suspect Trump and his cohorts expect to do quite well also.

However, there also are indications that Trump expects to dump all the responsibilities and burdens for making his plan work on states and cities. Laura Bliss writes for The Atlantic:

Trump began to emphatically state that private investment would not be the focus of his eventual infrastructure plan. In a White House meeting September, The Washington Post reported that the president pointed to well-known examples in Vice President Mike Pence’s home state of Indiana of how private-public partnerships can leave the government saddled with debt if contracts aren’t carefully negotiated at the start. The new funding focus: states and cities.

‘Listen, if you as a state or local elected official are willing to create a new revenue stream for infrastructure, we as the federal government want to partner with you in doing that’ — What does that even mean? Well, basically, it means that states and localities will be expected to jack up taxes and user fees to pay for whatever they want repaired, and the Trump Administration will dribble out some of its $200 billion budgeted for a whole bleeping decade for the whole bleeping country to sweeten the pot.

On what planet would that even work?

Gribbin has said the White House plan will lay out “clear, measurable, objective criteria” for how localities and states would win money. But Tomer [Adie Tomer, a fellow at the Brookings Institution’s Metropolitan Policy Program] said the details he’s seen place less stress on the nature of the projects it would fund, and more on who would be paying for them. “The more you come up with new revenue, the more likely you are to get help from the feds. This is going to be the key to the details,” he said.

In other words, the poorest parts of the country that need the most help can kiss Trump’s ass. And there’s no prioritizing of any sort.

By effectively dangling infrastructure grants to the highest bidder, the White House’s proposal could pressure those same layers of government to corral what few resources they have into paying their share of an infrastructure plan. Cities that never financially recovered from the recession, like Detroit, Cleveland, Stockton, and Memphis, may feel especially limited in their spending options if federal grants are only available for big spenders.

“It’s an interesting time to be asking this sector to be more creative with revenue sources,” Gordon said. “Trying to get them to share more of the funding burden is probably not going to go over that well.”

It’s not going to help that this let-the-states-pay-for-it plan is coming on the heels of the Tax Law of Doom.

The new law, signed by President Trump on the Friday before Christmas, will add nearly $1.5 trillion to the federal budget deficit over the next decade, according to the Congressional Budget Office. That in turn is likely to trigger cuts to discretionary programs that help communities build roads, fly planes, drink clean water, and connect to the internet.

And, of course, a whole lot of vital infrastructure is interstate. How’s that going to work out?

The Brooklyn Bridge: Maybe they’ll really have to sell it

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