Trump’s Chicken Game

Trump is using children as a neogiating tool:

President Trump has calculated that he will gain political leverage in congressional negotiations by continuing to enforce a policy he claims to hate — separating immigrant parents from their young children at the southern border, according to White House officials.

On Friday, Trump suggested he would not change the policy unless Democrats agreed to his other immigration demands, which include funding a border wall, tightening the rules for border enforcement and curbing legal entry. He also is intent on pushing members of his party to vote for a compromise measure that would achieve those long-standing priorities.

Trump’s public acknowledgment that he was willing to let the policy continue as he pursued his political goals came as the president once again blamed Democrats for a policy enacted and touted by his own administration.

“The Democrats are forcing the breakup of families at the Border with their horrible and cruel legislative agenda,” he tweeted. After listing his demands in any immigration bill, he added, “Go for it! WIN!”

Exactly what game is Trump playing here? Does he think that Democrats will be so appalled at his policy that they will give him whatever he wants to stop it? Or does he think he actually can persuade the public to think the policy is the Democrats’ fault, so that he can use public opinion as leverage? Don’t ask which is more likely; ask yourself how Trump might see this. I’m honestly not sure.  And I haven’t seen any polling on this topic yet.

Democrats have latched onto the issue and vowed to fight in the court of public opinion, with leaders planning trips to the border to highlight the stories of separated families, already the focus of news media attention. Democratic candidates running for vulnerable Republican seats also have begun to make the harsh treatment of children a centerpiece of their campaigns.

The policy has cracked Trump’s usually united conservative base, with a wide array of religious leaders and groups denouncing it. The U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops and the Southern Baptist Convention issued statements critical of the practice.

The Rev. Samuel Rodriguez, who delivered a prayer at Trump’s inauguration, signed a letter calling the practice “horrible.” Pastor Franklin Graham of Samaritan’s Purse, a vocal supporter of the president’s who has brushed aside past Trump controversies, called it “terrible” and “disgraceful.”

So maybe this is the bridge too far; Trump finally is doing something so horrible that even Franklin Graham can’t make excuses for it. But it strikes me that Trump is using the suffering of children to play chicken. Who is going to swerve first?

Things got really bizarre when both Jeff Sessions and Sarah Sanders cited the Bible as an excuse for the policy. WTF? Sessions said on Thursday,

“I would cite you to the Apostle Paul and his clear and wise command in Romans 13, to obey the laws of the government because God has ordained the government for his purposes,” Sessions said during a speech to law enforcement officers in Fort Wayne, Ind. “Orderly and lawful processes are good in themselves. Consistent and fair application of the law is in itself a good and moral thing, and that protects the weak and protects the lawful.”

Next time a bunch of Fetus People zombies picket an abortion clinic, I want to see counter-protesters carrying signs saying “ROMANS 13.”

And then later when reporters asked Sarah Sanders about it, she said,

Pushing back, Sanders said: “I’m not aware of the attorney general’s comments or what he would be referencing, [but] I can say that it is very biblical to enforce the law. That is repeated throughout the Bible.”

A whole lot of people have pointed out that this cherry-picking of Paul’s words is a distortion of what he probably meant, and there are all kinds of examples of righteous civil disobedience in the Bible. And don’t get me started on why the Bible is irrelevant to government policies. See also This isn’t religion. It’s perversion.

Paul Waldman thinks that the administration is trying to blame Democrats to deflect criticism.

The ghastly prospect of children being torn from their parents’ arms wasn’t an unintended consequence of this policy, it was central to its intention. The cruelty of the policy would provide a deterrent to those contemplating coming to the U.S. border. That was the point. As Kelly said on May 11, family separation is “a tough deterrent.”

But as more and more journalists went to the border to see this “new initiative” in action, the administration’s rhetoric shifted. Now it began saying it wasn’t a new initiative at all, just an enforcement of existing law — and since Democrats (who, you might remember, control nothing in Washington) haven’t changed that law, it’s their fault.

But my Facebook friend Jeffrey Feldman expressed the view that the Bible reference was also part of a deliberate strategy.

Please read the whole post. What Jeffrey says here is that the child snatching policy is just one part of a plan to keep us all under the thumb of authoritiarianism, and it’s going to take more than winning a few elections to stop it.

Trump’s comments yesterday make me think that creating this horrible policy and then blaming Democrats for it is all of a piece.  Trump is trying to play chicken. He thinks the Democrats will swerve first and give him what he wants, including funding the stupid wall. He also probably thinks that being cruel to Latino families will play well with his base. And he’s probably right about that.

Update: The White House has released a document titled “Results of Congressional Democrats’ Dangerous Immigration Policies” that actually begins,

CONGRESSIONAL DEMOCRATS’ FAMILY SEPARATION POLICY: Too many American families have been permanently separated from loved ones lost to illegal alien crime.

More Orwellian than Orwell.

Media: Tell the Bleeping Truth

As I already wrote, Trump got a big boost out of the Singapore Summit when people were told, in headlines and chryons, the next morning that North Korea had agreed to denuclearize, which was no where close to the truth. The details and caveats that trickled out later would only have been noticed by politics nerds paying close attention.

Fareed Zacharia writes that the real headline should have been  “U.S. weakens its 70-year alliance with South Korea.”

The most striking elements of Trump’s initiative were not simply that he lavished praise on North Korea’s dictator, Kim Jong Un, but also that he announced the cancellation of military exercises with South Korea, adopting North Korea’s own rhetoric by calling them “provocative.”

The president must have missed his briefing. In fact, it is North Korea that provokes and threatens South Korea, as it has done since it first invaded the South in 1950. North Korea is thought to have about 1 million active-duty troops, almost twice as many as the South, and it has constructed perhaps as many as 20 tunnels to possibly mount a surprise invasion. North Korea also has more than 6,000 pieces of artillery that can reach South Korea, including some whose range is so long that they endanger 32.5 million people, more than half the country’s population, according to a study by the Rand Corp. The Defense Department estimated in 2006 that if North Korea opened artillery fire on the South, 250,000 people would be killed in Seoul alone, the Rand study notes. Of course, about a decade later, North Korea now has up to 60 nuclear bombs, complete with the missiles to deliver them. South Korea’s “war games” with the United States are necessary defensive exercises undertaken in the shadow of an aggressive adversary.

Even worse, Trump signaled that he would like to end the U.S. troop presence in South Korea. He is wrong that this would save money, unless he plans to demobilize the troops — which would mean cutting the United States’ active-duty forces, the opposite of his policy. Since South Korea covers almost half the costs of U.S. troops stationed there, moving them to, say, Georgia would not be cheaper. But that’s beside the point. Through bitter experience, the United States has found that it is much better to have troops ready, battle-trained and with knowledge of the local geography rather than keeping them all in the United States, only to be sent abroad when trouble breaks out.

But Fareed Zacharia can shout this from the rooftops all he likes; the American people were told that North Korea is doing to denuclearize, and that’s all most of them will ever hear.

Major media outlets: You still have people on your staffs with in depth knowledge of the news events you cover, or at least I assume you do. Why not let them write the headlines and chryons? Or at least have them review what the junior staffers are doing before it’s made public?

See also We Are in a Linguistic Emergency When It Comes to Trump.

Update: Greg Sargent, How the conventions of political journalism help spread Trump’s lies

The report’s core finding is that the FBI’s decision not to prosecute Clinton was untainted by bias or politics. This lays waste to one of the most important narratives pushed by President Trump and his allies in the quest to undermine special counsel Robert S. Mueller III’s investigation by claiming law enforcement is riddled with anti-Trump corruption.

But in many of this morning’s accounts about the report, you find versions of this additional claim: The IG report nonetheless provides fodder and ammunition to Trump and his allies to discredit Mueller’s probe.

Trump’s allies have widely cited the inspector general’s findings about the now-infamous texts between an FBI agent and lawyer — which do show animus towards Trump’s candidacy — as not just proof of anti-Trump bias at the FBI during the Clinton investigation, but also to bolster Trump’s argument that the Mueller probe into Russia-Trump campaign collusion is suspect.

Many news accounts inadvertently grant these arguments credibility, not just by quoting them, but also by claiming as fact that the conduct in question actually does lend support to those arguments. Yes, they also convey that the inspector general’s overall conclusion undercuts the Trumpian narrative. But the straddle itself is the problem. It showcases a convention often relied upon in political journalism — the use of the “lends fodder” formulation to float false claims alongside true ones — that has to go.

Do read the whole thing.

You Don’t Get What You Don’t Pay For

The Inspector General report on the Hillary Clinton email investigation is supp0sed to be released today, and when it is it will probably eat the rest of the day’s news. Bloomberg has a preview:

Former FBI Director James Comey “deviated” from FBI and Justice Department procedures in handling the probe into Hillary Clinton, damaging the law enforcement agencies’ image of impartiality even though he wasn’t motivated by political bias, the department’s watchdog found in a highly anticipated report.

“While we did not find that these decisions were the result of political bias on Comey’s part, we nevertheless concluded that by departing so clearly and dramatically from FBI and department norms, the decisions negatively impacted the perception of the FBI and the department as fair administrators of justice,” Inspector General Michael Horowitz said in the report’s conclusions, which were obtained Thursday by Bloomberg News.

Probably few will notice that New York Attorney General Barbara Underwood just filed an interesting lawsuit.

The New York attorney general on Thursday filed suit against President Trump and his three eldest children alleging “persistently illegal conduct” at the president’s personal charity, saying Trump repeatedly misused the nonprofit — to pay off his businesses’ creditors, to decorate one of his golf clubs and to stage a multimillion dollar giveaway athis 2016 campaign events.

In the suit, filed Thursday morning, attorney general Barbara Underwood asked a state judge to dissolve the Donald J. Trump Foundation. She asked that its remaining $1 million in assets be distributed to other charities and that Trump be forced to pay at least $2.8 million in restitution and penalties.

No jail time, alas. But this gets to the topic I want to write about, which is that Donald Trump really hates to be parted from his own money.

It was reported yesterday that Michael Cohen is letting go of his legal team, and word is that this is partly because he’s struggling to pay them.  “The dispute between Mr. Cohen and his lawyers involves the payment of his legal bills, part of which are being financed by the Trump family,” says the New York Times.  He is likely to hire a smaller team with more criminal trial experience, it is said.

However, also, too:

One person with knowledge of the legal staffing change said Mr. Trump’s camp was “very displeased” with the way the Cohen investigation had so far been conducted. Mr. Trump himself has told people he is angry at Mr. Cohen over the messiness of the situation — especially those aspects involving Ms. Clifford. But the president has also indicated to allies that he is worried that if he pushes Mr. Cohen away too hard, it could increase the likelihood that Mr. Cohen will offer information to the government. ….

… Mr. Trump’s businesses have not been funding Mr. Cohen’s entire legal defense, but the Trump family has been paying for the time-consuming — and enormously expensive — process of reviewing the voluminous materials seized in the raids on Mr. Cohen, according to people familiar with the case. Recently, however, a dispute has erupted over the amount that Mr. Cohen’s lawyers want to charge the Trump family enterprises for the review, which the lawyers have said they are running with a large team of associates and data specialists. The disagreement could serve to further isolate Mr. Cohen from Mr. Trump — a risky move for the president.

People are scratching their heads over why Trump would be so stingy, since he’s the one who will lose if Cohen flips. Josh Marshall wrote,

You can see all the frictions and resentments at work here. Trump is pissed that Cohen was so sloppy and that he got caught. He also must fear that Cohen will betray him. But he doesn’t want to let his anger over that potential betrayal drive Cohen to actual betrayal. It’s a bit of a bind! Meanwhile Cohen is apparently bouncing between sad-sackery and defiance, his own impossible predicament.

But what’s striking about these paragraphs is this: why have this dispute over money? Would it not be worth even a few million more dollars for even the hope of keeping Cohen on board? Can Trump possibly be this cheap? Don’t answer that. It seems like all the friction is leading him to push Cohen away over mere money.

Maybe Mr. “I Just Established World Peace” thinks he’s untouchable.

President Derp

Possibly the most frightening thing about the recent fiasco in Singapore is that Trump is now bragging that he has completely solved the whole world peace problem.

In tweets that began as Air Force One landed, Trump declared that there is “no longer” a nuclear threat from the rogue regime and lashed out at those who questioned what he had achieved, branding the media as “Our Country’s biggest enemy.” …

…“Just landed — a long trip, but everybody can now feel much safer than the day I took office. There is no longer a Nuclear Threat from North Korea,” the president said on Twitter.

From this we can reach three possible conclusions:

  1. Trump is a moron.
  2. Trump thinks everyone else is a moron.
  3. All of the above.

Since I don’t see a smart reason why Trump would so publicly brag about something that so easily and so probably will blow up in his face, I assume that #1 is true. Uri Friedman at Atlantic:

 “Before taking office people were assuming that we were going to War with North Korea,” Trump wrote on Twitter on Wednesday, even though fears of war mounted after Trump took office, as North Korea’s nuclear program advanced rapidly and Trump and his advisers threatened military action to stop it. “President Obama said that North Korea was our biggest and most dangerous problem. No longer—sleep well tonight!”

Well, in a way Trump is right. Our biggest and most dangeroous problem isn’t North Korea any more. It’s Donald Trump.

Quite the contrary, North Korea remains a big and dangerous problem. And it’s also dangerous that Trump, in his recent tweets at least, doesn’t seem fully aware of the pitfalls that American officials have repeatedly encountered over the last 25 years of nuclear talks with North Korea.

For example:

Hours before Trump’s summit with Kim, the Republican Senator Jim Risch, who has discussed North Korea with the president and his top aides numerous times in recent weeks, told me that “nobody” in the Trump administration was wearing “rose-colored glasses.” “We have been taken by the North Koreans at least a couple of times [in previous rounds of negotiations], and that’s not going to happen again,” he said. “We’re [not] at a point right now where they say, ‘Okay, we’re going to denuclearize the peninsula,’ and then the president says, ‘Well, okay, we’re going to lift the sanctions.’ That is not going to happen. The president has been very, very clear that there is going to have to be positive, doable, ongoing things that are happening before anything happens from our side.”


And yet, in Singapore, North Korea said exactly what Risch predicted: Sure, we’d love to eventually denuclearize the peninsula. And Donald Trump responded by proclaiming an end to the nuclear threat from North Korea.

Paul Waldman thinks that Trump, implicitly or explicitly, actually agreed to let North Korea keep its nukes.

 Let’s think about this from Trump’s perspective. He just came back from what he wants desperately to characterize as a huge success, so that’s precisely what he’ll do. He’ll say it was tremendous, fantastic, yuge, the greatest diplomatic victory in the history of human civilization. In the coming months, as the professionals try to work out concrete steps the two countries can take — a process that over the past few decades has produced endless frustration and broken promises — is Trump going to throw any wrenches into the works, say by tweeting nasty things at Kim and raising tensions again?

I seriously doubt it. Trump has plenty of other enemies he can pick fights with, and he wants to be able to pocket this as a victory, so he can say that he’s doing such a fantastic job because he cut taxes and moved toward getting rid of North Korea’s nukes. When people ask what the status of that denuclearization is, he’ll say, don’t worry, it’s happening, everything is going according to plan, it’s just that these things take time. Scientifically.

In other words, when the “agreement” falls apart in the weeds of the details, Trump is not about to admit his great achievement was a mirage and that Obama was right. He’d rip off his own lips before admitting that Obama was right.

U.S. President Donald Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong Un react at the Capella Hotel on Sentosa island in Singapore June 12, 2018. REUTERS/Jonathan Ernst

Yep, Trump Got Played

Although I had predicted Trump would get nothing, I was wrong; Trump got one thing. This morning the chryons running at the bottoms of our teevee screens declared that Kim Jong Un had agreed to denuclearization. It’s a lie, but it’s going to take a while for a lot of people to figure that out.

North Korea has committed to “work toward complete denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula.”  They’ve been saying exactly that for decades, even as they were building up their nuclear capability.  They made the same promise to Bill Clinton in 1994. They made the same promise in 2005:

North Korea agreed Monday to end its nuclear weapons program in return for security, economic and energy benefits, potentially easing tensions with the United States after a two-year standoff over the North’s efforts to build atomic bombs.

The United States, North Korea and four other nations participating in negotiations in Beijing signed a draft accord in which the North promised to abandon efforts to produce nuclear weapons and re-admit international inspectors to its nuclear facilities.

Foreign powers said they would provide aid, diplomatic assurances and security guarantees and consider North Korea’s demands for a light-water nuclear reactor.

This agreement fell apart in 2007 in a flurry of blame-casting. So what’s different about Kim’s newest promise? Nicholas Kristoff:

The most remarkable aspect of the joint statement was what it didn’t contain. There was nothing about North Korea freezing plutonium and uranium programs, nothing about destroying intercontinental ballistic missiles, nothing about allowing inspectors to return to nuclear sites, nothing about North Korea making a full declaration of its nuclear program, nothing about a timetable, nothing about verification, not even any clear pledge to permanently halt testing of nuclear weapons or long-range missiles.

Nobody with a functional cerebral cortex thinks Kim Jong Un is serious about denuclearization. He told Trump what Trump wanted to hear, and Trump is too stupid to see he was being conned. Here’s what Trump gave away:

Trump made a huge concession — the suspension of military exercises with South Korea. That’s on top of the broader concession of the summit meeting itself, security guarantees he gave North Korea and the legitimacy that the summit provides his counterpart, Kim Jong-un.

Within North Korea, the “very special bond” that Trump claimed to have formed with Kim will be portrayed this way: Kim forced the American president, through his nuclear and missile tests, to accept North Korea as a nuclear equal, to provide security guarantees to North Korea, and to cancel war games with South Korea that the North has protested for decades.

And then there’s this:

There was also something frankly weird about an American president savaging Canada’s prime minister one day and then embracing the leader of the most totalitarian country in the world.

“He’s a very talented man,” Trump said of Kim. “I also learned that he loves his country very much.”

In an interview with Voice of America, Trump said “I like him” and added: “He’s smart, loves his people, he loves his country.”

Trump praised Kim in the news conference and, astonishingly, even adopted North Korean positions as his own, saying that the United States military exercises in the region are “provocative.” That’s a standard North Korean propaganda line. Likewise, Trump acknowledged that human rights in North Korea constituted a “rough situation,” but quickly added that “it’s rough in a lot of places, by the way.” (Note that a 2014 United Nations report stated that North Korean human rights violations do “not have any parallel in the contemporary world.”)

Incredibly, Trump told Voice of America that he had this message for the North Korean people: “I think you have somebody that has a great feeling for them. He wants to do right by them and we got along really well.”

Now, you know that if a Democratic president had done this exact same thing, a Republican Congress would have him impeached and removed from office by the following afternoon. And what else does this remind us of?

Andy Kroll:

For Kim, the event was a coming out of sorts, a chance to show himself off to the world. He had a platform unlike any other – and far greater than anything available to him in the closed, impoverished nation he so cruelly presides over. Here was an opportunity to legitimize himself and his nation, to put North Korea on an equal footing with the mighty United States.

By all indications, Kim departed the summit on Tuesday having achieved exactly that. President Trump and the members of his administration validated the North Korean leader in a way like never before. “[Kim] is very talented,” Trump said at his post-summit press conference. “Anybody that takes over a situation like he did at 26 years of age and is able to run it and run it tough…You can take 1 out of 10,000 could not do it.” Later, Trump told ABC’s George Stephanopoulos: “He trusts me, and I trust him.”

And what did the U.S. get in exchange? A vague, four-point joint statement in which North Korea vaguely commits to the “complete denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula” with no way to verify that commitment. Trump got played by a dictator half his age.

See also Jonathan Freedland, “Trump really has achieved a historic breakthrough – for the Kim dynasty

Update: Well, this clears everything up. From a Trump press conference:

MEDIA: What timetable do you envision for their denuclearization and in the meantime are you thinking about easing any sanctions?

TRUMP: You know scientifically, I’ve been watching and reading a lot about this, and it does take a long time to pull off complete denuclearization, it takes a long time. Scientifically you have to wait certain periods of time and a lot of things happen. But despite that, once you start the process it means it’s pretty much over, you can’t use em. That’s the good news, and… I believe that’s going to start very soon. We will do it as fast as it can mechanically and physically be done, Steve.

The Singapore Summit: No Ponies

The Summit in Singapore is going so well that Trump is leaving early:

Donald Trump has decided to leave his historic summit with Kim Jong-un 15 hours earlier than expected, flying back to Washington on Tuesday night instead of Wednesday morning. The White House says that this change of plans is a product of talks moving more quickly than expected. But there’s reason to suspect that it is because they are barely moving at all.

Basically, before the face to face begins they’ve agreed to not agree. Everything is off the table. Human rights are off the table. Denuclearization is off the table. I’m not sure there is a table.

On May 30, Pompeo met with North Korean spy chief Kim Yong-chol in New York; their discussion concluded two hours earlier than expected, as Kim refused to make any commitment whatsoever on denuclearization, according to the Washington Post. Days earlier, in the North Korean village of Panmunjom, negotiations between diplomats from Washington and Pyongyang stalled when North Korea’s vice–foreign minister Choe Son-hui said that denuclearization “should not be on the table for the Singapore summit” — a demand that would nullify the meeting’s purpose from the White House’s perspective.

Now, both sides appear prepared to let Tuesday’s historic face-to-face between the sitting leaders of the U.S. and North Korea function as more of an ice-breaker (and photo op) than a high-stakes diplomatic showdown. “We are hopeful this summit will have set the conditions for future successful talks,” Pompeo said during his remarks Monday.

As it is, I’m not sure this summit will even rise to the level of a dog-and-pony show, but I suppose there’s hope. I’ll let you decide which one is the dog and which one is the pony.

The summit will open at 9 a.m. Tuesday in Singapore (which is 9 p.m. tonight in Washington) with Kim and Trump shaking hands and taking a walk in the view of the media, according to an official who spoke with Bloomberg News.

Then the two leaders, accompanied only by translators, will meet one-on-one, an event I imagine will go something like this:

Okay, so they’re both dogs. There are no ponies.

Among those flanking Trump will be Pompeo and national security adviser John Bolton, whose belligerent rhetoric toward North Korea briefly derailed the summit last month.

At least, I hope they keep a muzzle on Bolton. But however the talk(s) go, it appears Kim has already won:

For Pyongyang, the summit is itself an affirmation of its nuclear program immense value. It is inconceivable that the world’s leading superpower would make time for an isolated, impoverished Chinese client state if said state did not have weapons of mass destruction. In leveraging the threat of its nuclear program, by contrast, Kim’s regime has secured Washington’s ostensible endorsement of its right to violate human rights in perpetuity.

Given the tangible benefits of retaining its nuclear weapons; the dearth of reasons to trust America’s promises; the high likelihood that Washington isn’t actually willing to risk a mass-casualty war to force denuclearization; and the fact that one of North Korea’s chief security demands — the withdrawal of American troops from the region — is something that Trump has suggested that he wants to do regardless,for “America first” reasons, it is hard to understand why Pyongyang would ever commit to total denuclearization.

As I see it, Trump has no leverage whatsoever. After his stunt in Quebec he can’t even claim to be able to lead a coalition of nations to do something about North Korea. Trump only wanted this  meeting because he heard people praising him for it.

Update: There are reports Larry Kudlow had a heart attack.

News from the World of Stupid: Larry Kudlow Edition

Best quote I’ve seen so far about Trump at the Charlevoix Fiasco: “He’s like Heath Ledger’s Joker–but without the operational excellence.” That was from a senior G7 official.

Larry Kudlow was on the morning bobblehead shows today complaining that no one is congratulating Trump for his “successful” G7 Summit. I suppose it was successful in the sense that Trump remembered to put on his pants. I’m not aware that he actually fell out of his high chair at any point. But that’s about all one can say for it.

Before going on to the postmortem of the Fiasco, let us review the economic genius of Larry Kudlow, who became a right-wing media pundit in the 1990s after cocaine and alcohol addiction destroyed his Wall Street career.

It was the eve of the biggest economic collapse since the Great Depression. Many on Wall Street worried that a recession loomed and that the housing bubble was bursting.

And then there was Larry Kudlow, the man President Trump just tapped to be his top economic adviser.

“Despite all the doom and gloom from the economic pessimistas, the resilient U.S. economy continues moving ahead,” Kudlow wrote on Dec. 7, 2007, in National Review, predicting that gloomy forecasters would “wind up with egg on their faces.” Kudlow, who previously derided as “bubbleheads” those who warned about a housing bubble, now wrote that “every positive” news in housing should “cushion” falling home sales and prices.

“There’s no recession coming. The pessimistas were wrong. It’s not going to happen,” wrote Kudlow. “ . . . The Bush boom is alive and well. It’s finishing up its sixth consecutive year with more to come. Yes, it’s still the greatest story never told.”

If that was the greatest story, this should be a close runner-up: Trump has just put the country’s economic fate in the hands of the man who has arguably been more publicly and consistently wrong about the economy than any person alive.

To be fair, the honor of being “publicly and consistently wrong about the economy” more than any person alive might arguably go to Jim Cramer of “Mad Money” on CNBC, but it’s close.

On one of the bobblehead shows this morning, Kudlow was indignant that the world wasn’t singing Trump’s praises for the successful G7 meeting. But what about the joint statment that Trump refused to sign? Kudlow said this on Face the Nation this morning:

LARRY KUDLOW: Well to be honest with you, Prime Minister Trudeau, who by the way, I respect. I’ve worked with him in good faith. Getting through a good communique on Friday and Saturday. So he holds a press conference. President is barely out of there, on the plane to North Korea and he starts insulting us. You know he starts talking about, U.S. is insulting Canada. We’re not- we, Canada, are not going to be pushed around.

MARGARET BRENNAN: He was talking about the U.S. tariffs?

LARRY KUDLOW: That’s correct- well, and in general, OK was an attack on the president. We’re going to have retaliatory tariffs. Now, these are things that Prime Minister has said before basically, but he didn’t say them before after a successful G-7 communique where President Trump and the others all worked in good faith to put a statement together- which by the way almost nobody expected to happen. In fact, reporters were asking me before the trip whether the president was going to show up at all. He did. He negotiated. He directed his team, myself and others. We worked it out. We used good language that was acceptable–

MARGARET BRENNAN: And then the president reneged on that G7 statement.

LARRY KUDLOW: No! No- I’m sorry. And then Trudeau decided to attack the president. That’s the key point. And yes, you know if you attack this president he’s going to fight back. But here’s the key point Margaret, president is going to negotiate with Kim of North Korea and Singapore. It is a historic negotiation and there is no way this president is not going to stand strong. Number one he’s not going to allow the people to suddenly take pot shots at him. Hours before that summit and number two Trudeau should’ve known better.

Kudlow also has been saying that Trudeau “stabbed us in the back.” Never mind that Trump stabbed Trudeau in the back first with his stupid tariffs. Basically, nobody messes with Trump, or he’ll break all your toys and take his ball and go home.

Jennifer Rubin:

Trump — after departing the G-7 meeting early — reversed his earlier decision to sign on to the joint statement with other member nations. He no doubt was reacting to the public tongue-lashing from Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, who told the press, “I highlighted directly to the president that Canadians did not take it lightly that the United States has moved forward with significant tariffs on our steel and aluminum industry.” Trudeau continued by declaring that the Trump administration’s decision to invoke “national security” to justify tariffs was “insulting” given Canada’s alliance with the United States in multiple wars. As Trudeau put it, “Canadians, we’re polite, we’re reasonable, but we also will not be pushed around.” Trump can never tolerate criticism, let alone such public and direct criticism, so he accused Trudeau of making “false statements” and reneged on the decision to sign the joint communique.

That’s a good point about national security. Remember, Trump has assumed the power to impose tariffs without going through Congress, even though the Constitution gives exclusive powers to impose tariffs to Congress, because of an exception created during the Cold War that allows presidents to impose tariffs when national security is on the line. So Trump is imposing tariffs through executive power based on some vague national security interest. And, yeah, one could see how that would be taken in Canada as an insult.

Back to David Frum:

Remember, Trump holds authority to impose tariffs on steel and aluminum because—and only because—of a Kennedy-era special exemption to normal trade law for national-security purposes. Trump has signed documents attesting that he imposed tariffs to protect vital defense interests of the United States. Now he has changed his story. The tariffs on steel and aluminum from Germany, the U.K., Mexico, and all the others were not a national-security measure, but a retaliation for Canada’s restrictions on dairy imports. Whatever you think of Canada’s milk protectionism (and few Canadians who don’t directly profit from it will defend it), it is not a threat to U.S. national security.

Wait, what? Trump is afraid of Canadian milk cows?

Trump has attacked Canada’s protected dairy industry before, calling it a “disgrace” and blaming it for widespread hardship among US farmers. Although the entire trade in dairy products between the two countries is worth less than US$600m, ideological division has sharpened the ongoing dispute. His negotiators have demanded the dismantlement of Canada’s openly dirigiste system of supply management in agriculture – a complicated nexus of production quotas and import tariffs designed to ensure Canadian dairy, egg and poultry farmers receive fair prices for their products.

Actual Canadian with potential weaponized terrorist bovine.

But the Canadians are no less determined to retain one of the last vestiges of their otherwise-abandoned collectivist traditions. Canadian cows are sacred, and the farmers who care for them enjoy outsized influence in national politics. Expert observers have said that Justin Trudeau’s government would abandon the treaty altogether before sacrificing supply management.

“It’s just too sensitive for the Canadians,” Kevin Carmichael, a senior fellow at the Centre for International Governance Innovation in Waterloo, recently told CNBC news.

Jocularity aside, it’s true that Canadian dairy protectionism has been hard on the U.S. dairy industry, but IMO the reasonable thing for the U.S. to do is consider internal policies to give U.S. dairy farmers a break, not tryng to bully Canada into changing policies it’s not going to change.

It appears that France, Britain and Germany are siding with Trudeau.

Diplomacy cannot be dictated by “fits of anger”, French President Emmanuel Macron has warned after the G7 summit in Canada ended in acrimony.

In tweets, US President Donald Trump described host Justin Trudeau as “dishonest and weak” and retracted his endorsement of the joint communique.

That statement sought to overcome deep disagreements, notably over trade.

Mr Macron’s office said France and other EU countries would maintain their support for the final G7 communique.

“Let’s be serious and worthy of our people. We make commitments and keep to them,” a statement from the French presidency quoted by AFP news agency said.

I wouldn’t want to be Shinzo Abe for anything today. He knows that Kim Jong Un and his silent partner, Xi Jinping, are going to try to maneuver Trump into withdrawing ships and troops from Japan and the Korean Peninsula during the Singapore Summit. But even Shinzo Abe released an anti-tariff and anti-protectionism statement. Only the new PM of Italy seems a bit squishy, clearly not wanting to piss anybody off.

According to Bloomberg this morning, a German official just said this about Trump:

“Donald Trump has dealt a further heavy blow to the Western community of states with his behavior after the G-7 summit,” said Johann Wadephul, a deputy caucus leader of Merkel’s bloc. “Despite the completely incomprehensible reaction of the American president, Germany remains a close partner and ally of the USA. We know that a non-partisan majority in Congress and the Senate and above all in the U.S. public feels just the same.”

So, as far as I can tell this Sunday morning, Trump is still refusing to sign any joint statement. But maybe there are still negotiations going on about the joint statement.

According to David Frum, Trump’s behavior while he was at the summit wasn’t quite as bad as how it came across at a distance.

Not even the president’s testy Saturday morning attack-CNN press conference shook the assembly. On his way to the podium, he winked and joked—a performer about to mount a show. “Trump’s gonna Trump,” an official from another G7 government quipped to the official to whom I spoke.

The G6 leaders felt that at least a facade of normal had been maintained. But  it all fell apart after plus one Trump left.

From Air Force One, the president emitted a vituperative series of tweets aimed at his Canadian counterpart. What had triggered him? Had he belatedly seen that photograph of Angela Merkel looming over him? As many have said: Trump thinks in images, not ideas. Who could ever know? Trump probably does not know himself.

Ominously too: Once Trump started tweeting out abuse, the snakepit of hissing, warring aides around the president suddenly competed to amplify and deepen the quarrel. At 6:56 pm, National-Security Adviser John Bolton tweeted out his own version of the offending image of Merkel topping Trump—only with a caption reinterpreting the scene as proof of Trump’s strength and defiance. “Just another #G7 where other countries expect America will always be their bank. The President made it clear today. No more.” On pro-Trump Twitter—and then on pro-Trump TV and radio—that would almost instantly consolidate the new message line. The allies had tried to muscle the strong-willed president. But he had held firm.

You’ve probably seen the image being talked about, which is from Angela Merkel’s Instagram account. It appears that Principal Merkel is giving Trump two weeks’ detention for setting fire to the 2nd floor boys’ bathroom. FYI, here’s a post of other photographs of the same scene.

German Chancellor Angela Merkel speaks to U.S. President Donald Trump during the second day of the G7 meeting in Charlevoix city of La Malbaie, Quebec, Canada, June 9, 2018. Bundesregierung/Jesco Denzel/Handout via REUTERS

The most recent news is that one of Trump’s eager little sycophants, White House trade adviser Peter Navarro, is ingratiating himself with his boss by going even further than Kudlow.

“There’s a special place in hell for any foreign leader that engages in bad diplomacy with president Donald J. Trump and then tries to stop them in the back on the way out the door,” Navarro told “Fox News Sunday”’s Chris Wallace. “And that’s what bad faith Justin Trudeau did with that stunt press conference.”

“That’s what weak, dishonest Justin Trudeau did, and that comes right from Air Force One.”

So if we end up at war with Canada over dairy prices, this is why.

News from the World of Stupid

First item — right-wing news outlets are worked up into a tizzy over a link between Iran and the 9/11 attacks. The usual suspects — Breitbart, Gateway Pundit, Townhall, RedState, Washington Free Beacon, Jihad Watch, etc.  — are running screaming headlines about it with photos of the burning towers. I’m not linking to most of these bozos because it just encourages them.

What is this link between Iran and 9/11? If you carefully pick through the thickets of overheated verbiage, it turns out that some politician stated that Iranian authorities had allowed the 9/11 perps to change planes in an Iranian airport without stamping their passports. Whether these Iranian authorities had any idea of what the perps were planning, the articles do not say. I rather doubt it, though. A couple of the articles say that Iran often didn’t stamp Saudi passports in those days if people were just passing through, for complicated reasons that don’t involve the U.S.

This is from the Washington Free Beacon:

Mohammad-Javad Larijani, an international affairs assistant in the Iran’s judiciary, disclosed in Farsi-language remarks broadcast on Iran’s state-controlled television that Iranian intelligence officials secretly helped provide the al Qaeda attackers with passage and gave them refuge in the Islamic Republic, according to an English translation published by Al Arabiya.

“Our government agreed not to stamp the passports of some of them because they were on transit flights for two hours, and they were resuming their flights without having their passports stamped. However their movements were under the complete supervision of the Iranian intelligence,” Larijani was quoted as saying.

The remarks represent the first time senior Iranian officials have publicly admitted to aiding al Qaeda and playing a direct role in facilitating the 9/11 attacks.

Several of the articles tell us triumphantly that this detail confirms something in the 9/11 Commission report. And, indeed, it does. I looked it up. The 9/11 Commission expressed the opinion that al Qaeda operatives from Saudi Arabia, including the 9/11 perps, routinely traveled to and from Afghanistan through Iran to avoid getting their passports stamped. Mohammad-Javad Larijani was just saying “yeah, but we were keeping tabs on them.” This is hardly an admission that Iran played a direct role in the 9/11 attack.

The 9/11 Commission report also states, “We have found no evidence that Iran or Hezbollah was aware of the planning for what later became the 9/11 attack. At the time of their travel through Iran, the al Qaeda operatives themselves were probably not aware of the specific details of their future operation.” In other words, if Iran was guilty of “facilitating” the 9/11 attacks, so were the U.S. airlines who sold the perps their tickets. They “facilitated” the attack, but they weren’t in on it.

Try as I might, I can’t work myself into a state of alarm over this. Or even mild concern, at this point. It’s not even really news. Watch the Creatures from the Fever Swamps try to use it to whip the Right into a foaming-at-the-mouth determination to invade Iran, however.

Item #2: Donald at the G6 plus 1 meeting in Quebec. Where do I start? Reading between the lines of this Politico article, one gets the impression that the G6 leaders spent most of their time yesterday trying to explain to the plus 1, Trump, what a “trade deficit” is.

During the private gathering, Europe’s major economic powers pushed back hard against Trump’s repeated assertions that the U.S. is a victim of unfair trade practices.

“We should at least consider no tariffs, no barriers — scrapping all of it,” Trump said, according to officials who were listening and taking notes.

Trump floated the idea — which was received as somewhat rhetorical — as the meeting was breaking up and was quickly challenged by Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, who asked, “What about subsidies?”

The other G7 leaders — from Britain, Canada, France, Germany, Italy and Japan, as well as the presidents of the European Commission and European Council — have been trying to impress upon Trump the complexity of trade issues, insisting that his oft-repeated complaint about the trade imbalance between the U.S. and allies on many manufactured goods is only part of the picture. …

… The leaders came armed with an array of their own statistics aimed at demonstrating to Trump that he was not right to view the U.S. as a victim. Macron, in particular, implored Trump to understand that tariffs alone were not a cause of trade imbalances. He explained that France runs trade deficits with Germany and the United Kingdom on manufactured goods, even though all three countries are part of the EU single market and have zero tariffs between them.

“Why is this happening?” Macron asked, according to an official. “Because French like German cars.”

To everyone’s relief, Trump is leaving early. There are indications that the participants will skip the traditional joint statement at the end of the meeting rather than ask Trump to sign anything. See also Trump hits the world stage, Day 1: Come late, leave early, offend host, alienate allies.

Trump’s next stop is, of course, Singapore, where he is to meet with Kim Jong Un. Since Trump is totally unprepared for such a meeting and too stupid to realize it, the Singapore Summit promises to be a Cavalcade of Derp.

Related to all of this, I urge you to read “We’ve Got a Problem. A Big Problem.” by Josh Marshall at TPM. A snip:

Over the course of 16+ months, President Trump has acted consistently and with some success to destabilize and break up the western alliance (both its formal manifestation in NATO) but also its less formal dimensions in trade and other partnerships. He has also worked consistently on really every front to advance the interests of Russia.

Less obviously to many Americans, he’s been doing something similar in East Asia. The U.S. alliance with Japan and South Korea, which in recent years we’ve taken steps to extend to other states on the periphery of the East Asian landmass (which is basically to say, China) is not simply to protect against North Korea. It is to build a series of security relationships with countries on that periphery to act as a counterweight to the regional (perhaps world) great power, China. Allies in the region are closely watching President Trump’s apparent desire to remove U.S. troops from South Korea for that reason, among others.

The last twenty four hours of attacks on our closest allies capped by President Trump’s seemingly out of the blue demand to bring Russia back into the G-7 (making it again the G-8 which it was for most of the post-Cold War era until Russia was expelled over the annexation of Crimea) simply brings the matter into a newly sharp relief. If candidate Trump and President Putin had made a corrupt bargain which obligated President Trump to destabilize all U.S. security and trade alliances (especially NATO, which has been Russia’s primary strategic goal for 70 years) and advance the strategic interests of Russia, there’s really nothing more remotely realistic he could have done to accomplish that than what he has in fact done.

As Josh Marshall says, let that sink in.


Democrats and Obsolescence

Steney Hoyer and Nancy Pelosi

Steney Hoyer and Nancy Pelosi

Do you want to know why Nancy Pelosi should retire already? This is why.

House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (Calif.) and other top Democrats are vowing to abide by fiscally hawkish pay-as-you-go rules if they seize the majority next year, rejecting calls from liberals who feel they’d be an impediment to big legislative gains.

Pelosi, who adopted “pay-go” rules when she held the Speaker’s gavel more than a decade ago, says she’ll push to do it again if the Democrats win the House in November’s midterm elections.

“Democrats are committed to pay-as-you-go,” Pelosi spokesman Drew Hammill said Tuesday, affirming the policy would be a 2019 priority.

Rep. Steny Hoyer (D-Md.), the minority whip, is also endorsing the notion that a Democratic majority should adopt the budget-neutral rules next year. “The pay-go rule is a good rule and we ought to reinstitute it,” Hoyer told The Hill last week.

This was a good rule 20 years ago. Now, it’s a disaster.

Chalres Pierce:

In fact, it’s a stupid rule. It is entirely counter-productive to progressive policy goals. It puts the Democratic Party in conflict with the blog’s First Law Of Economics – Fck The Deficit. People Got No Jobs. People Got No Money – and it revives Zombie Simpson-Bowles to stalk the halls of Congress again. In case nobody in the Democratic leadership has noticed, the rising energy in the party is not coming out of the budget-hawk cryptkeepers. This takes seriously the laughable fiction that the Republicans care about deficits and will use them as an effective club on the Democrats. Right now, the country is giving serious consideration to things like Medicare-for-all and some sort of free college. This isn’t the time to go all Al From again. It also guarantees a serious intraparty skirmish that’s already underway.

Paul Waldman:

Now that Republicans have stopped pretending to care about the deficit, it’s time for Democrats to stop actually caring about the deficit.

Unfortunately, we have a situation where one party invariably balloons the deficit whenever it takes power, yet somehow retains a reputation for “fiscal conservatism,” while the other party works hard to make sure everything it does when it’s in power is fully paid for, yet somehow gets tagged as profligate spenders squandering taxpayer resources.

The way out of this losing game would be for Democrats to stop playing. …

…Pay-go has its origins in a 1990 budget agreement, but when Republicans have been in charge, they’ve tended to waive it so they could pass what they wanted. When Democrats took back Congress in 2006 (under Pelosi’s leadership), they proclaimed their commitment to pay-go as evidence that unlike George W. Bush — who used deficit spending to fund a couple of wars and a couple of tax cuts — they’d bring back fiscal probity. In 2010, they even passed a law, which President Barack Obama signed, mandating that new spending had to be paid for with tax increases or cuts elsewhere (there’s more of an explanation here).

So it winds up being something that binds Democrats but has no effect on Republicans, who are happy to waive the requirements whenever they like or find some other way around them. Only Democrats ever bother answering the “How are you going to pay for this?” question for their legislative priorities.

Once again, Democrats think they have to cater to the mythical center while telling their own base to go play in traffic.

So what are the consequences of Democrats making this pledge? If they’re successful in winning back Congress this year and winning the White House next year, it could seriously hamper their ability to pass progressive legislation without imposing spending cuts. And given the metronomic swings of power that have characterized Washington in recent years — one party wins the White House, then two years later the other party wins Congress, then as soon at the opposition takes back the White House it loses Congress, repeat ad infinitum — they may only have two years starting in 2021 to advance the progressive goals they’re in the process of formulating. Every one of those efforts that involves federal spending could be bogged down in excruciating negotiations about where spending cuts or tax increases are going to be made to pay for it all.

Politically, this serves almost no purpose. Whatever tiny benefit Democrats might get from telling everyone how responsible they’re being will be dramatically offset by the risk that they’ll have trouble passing their (extremely popular) agenda. Are they really foolish enough to think that it matters whether some corporate-funded centrist think tanks scolds them for not holding the line on deficits? Who cares?

Yesterday at a press conference, Pelosi was asked about Medicare for All and promised to evaluate it. Yeah, that’ll fire up the base.