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Fri Aug 10, 2018, 07:46 PM

Friday Talking Points (495) -- Lost In Space

President Donald Trump, when speaking of his idea to create a "Space Force" branch of the U.S. military, invariably sounds like an adolescent boy raving about his favorite science-fiction film. Perhaps this is why he sent Vice President Mike Pence and Secretary of Defense James Mattis out this week to announce that the Pentagon will (reluctantly) be going along with Trump's idiocy. Trump even unveiled six prototype logos for the new Space Force, all of which look like they were designed by someone who had just woken up from a coma entered into at some time in the early 1960s.

Smarter minds (which used to include Mattis himself) have repeatedly pointed out that (1) we already have military units dedicated to defending space, and (2) making such units their own branch of the military would do nothing more than introduce a massive and expensive bureaucracy on top of what already exists. Not since Ronald Reagan's "Strategic Defense Initiative" was ridiculed as "Star Wars" has any idea been so thoroughly laughed at in Washington, in fact. But (hopefully) this cockamamie idea will explode on the launch pad, since Congress is the one who would have to actually authorize the creation of a new branch of the military. It's just one more reason to get out in November and vote for Democrats, in other words.

Oh, and remember when people were saying the "adults in the room" (or "Trump's generals" ) were supposed to be the last line of defense against inane and idiotic ideas from the president? Mattis was always one of the adults mentioned, whenever this line of thinking was brought up. But apparently those hopes were misplaced, as Mattis has now shown he is not capable of doing so when it comes to serious military matters.

In other news, Donald Trump's in-laws became U.S. citizens this week. They did so by using family ties, or as Trump likes to put it, "chain migration." In other words, chain migration is a bad thing according to Trump and must be halted, but his own family will use it in the meantime. Or, alternatively, perhaps Trump wanted to end the policy a while back precisely because his in-laws were about to use it to become citizens? Insert your own in-law joke here, we suppose. Either way, the hypocrisy is pretty stunning -- but that's never stopped Trump previously.

Let's see, what else is going on? We have to admit we're playing a bit of catch-up this week, since the column was on hiatus last week for us to attend the Netroots Nation conference in New Orleans (where the bon temps did indeed rouler). So we've probably missed a whole bunch of news from last week, but this week (as always) had plenty to comment upon as the neverending frenzy that is the Trump administration continues to whirl at top speed.

The juiciest news is that Omarosa's tell-all book about working in the Trump White House is about to drop, and the bombshells have already begun. Apparently, she's got tapes of conversations inside the White House, including conversations she had with Trump himself. While Trump was paranoid about Barack Obama secretly taping him, apparently both Michael Cohen and Omarosa were the ones he should have been worried about. Omarosa reports that she was approached by a Trump relative and offered $15,000 a month to stay quiet and sign a non-disclosure agreement, which she obviously refused. She'll be a guest on this week's Meet The Press, which should be entertaining. By this time next week, she'll have appeared on pretty much every television show that'll have her, so that's something to look forward to.

The Trump White House is already pushing back, calling Omarosa a liar. However, when it comes to lying, nobody can hold a candle to Trump himself, as the Washington Post pointed out last week. They've updated their count to show that Trump has lied 4,229 times in his first 558 days in office, which works out to 7.6 lies per day -- a rate that has only increased over time. So who are you going to believe, Omarosa or the king of lies himself? Should be fun to watch Trump's Twitter feed next week.

Speaking of Trump tweets, he continues to blow holes in his own legal defense on Twitter, tweeting last week that Jeff Sessions should end the Russia probe "right now," and then somehow trying to walk back his open and blatantly public attempt at obstructing justice. Trump then iced the cake by openly admitting that his son conspired with the Russian government to influence the 2016 election, in an extraordinary tweet that ended:

This was a meeting to get information on an opponent, totally legal and done all the time in politics -- and it went nowhere. I did not know about it!

Except that getting information on an opponent from a foreign government is actually seriously illegal, of course, and not "done all the time in politics."

Trump also used Twitter to attack various African-American professional athletes, and took the time to endorse a guy who wasn't even on the ballot in Ohio:

Congressman Steve Stivers of Ohio has done a fantastic job as Chairman of @NRCC. He is a great Congressman who is tough on crime & borders & and inspiration to our Military & Vets. Big on 2nd Amendment. Get out and vote for Steve on Aug 7th. He has my full & total endorsement!

Stivers is running for a different seat, and wasn't on any Ohio ballot this Tuesday, because he's already won his primary race. Oops!

Other Trump idiocy on Twitter this week included a tweet which proved there is yet another subject (California fires and water management) that Trump had to prove to the world he knows less than nothing about. He didn't utter a peep of support for the frontline firefighters, even though there have been several deaths fighting the blazes. Stay classy, Mister President!

John Bolton came out and admitted that North Korea hasn't taken the tiniest little step towards denuclearization, stating plainly on Fox News: "North Korea... has not taken the steps we feel are necessary to denuclearize." But... but... didn't Trump tell us all the nukes were gone forever and we could sleep safe at night? Sigh.

Devin Nunes didn't get caught lying this week, instead he got caught in a Washington gaffe -- or inadvertently telling the truth. He admitted at a fundraiser that the GOP majority in the House was dedicated to covering up anything and everything Trump does, rather than fulfilling its constitutional duty as a check and balance on the executive branch. This isn't all that surprising (since everyone knows that's what Nunes has been bending over backwards to do all along), but it was kind of shocking to hear him come out and admit it.

And finally, to wrap up the Trump news, we have Donald Junior, who was taken in by a really bad Photoshop job. CNN ran a story showing that Trump's approval rating (from Gallup) was indeed lower than Barack Obama's was at this point in his presidency (40 percent for Trump to Obama's 45), and the Trumpelstiltskins out there couldn't handle the truth. Somebody did a really poor job of editing a screen grab, by pasting a "50%" over the 40 percent spot in the graphic. Not only was the text misaligned, you can still see the "40%" underneath the new text. But this didn't stop Junior from tweeting the photo out, confident in his belief in things which are just not true. Oopsie!

Speaking of trolling, the woman who climbed up on the Statue of Liberty trolled Melania Trump this week during a court appearance, wearing a dress which had written on it: "I really care, why won't u? Be Best." Well done!

And someone mischievously realized last January that Maryland Republicans had changed their Twitter name, and parked a porn site ("Sexy Car Babes" ) on the old name. The national GOP.com website, however, didn't update its links, so for over half a year the national Republican Party site had a link to a porn account rather than the Maryland Republicans. Whoops!

And finally, some good news. Marijuana is being grown again at Mount Vernon. Weed historians know full well that George Washington grew hemp on his farm, but it wasn't until a few years ago that hemp cultivation was made legal once again. The horticulturalist at Mount Vernon was convinced to plant a crop this year, meaning that tourists can walk by a field of gently waving buds while exploring the historic home of our first president. Which is as it should be, really. You can even insert your own presidential "lost in space" joke here, if you'd like.

One quick note, before we begin our awards segment. Normally, we'd hand Danny O'Connor one of our awards, for his close finish in Ohio's 12th congressional district this week (in a special election). But since we don't know the ultimate outcome of the race (O'Connor is behind, but has so far refused to concede until all the votes are counted), we don't know which category to put him in. Maybe next week, in other words....

Donald Trump's first supporter in Congress, Representative Chris Collins, was arrested this week and charged with insider trading. He sat on the board of a drug company whose main product failed a big test, so he warned his son and his son-in-law's family to dump their stocks in the company before the news became public. It's pretty much an open-and-shut case, from everything reported so far. CBS even dug out film of what is quite possibly Collins making the actual phone call to his son, because at the time he was at a public event on the White House lawn. How appropriate!

The response was immediate from the Democrats, and leading the pack was Nancy Pelosi, who stated: "The charges against Congressman Collins show the rampant culture of corruption and self-enrichment among Republicans in Washington today. The American people deserve better than the GOP's corruption, cronyism and incompetence."

This is interesting for two reasons. The first is that Pelosi first became speaker by using almost the exact same language against Republicans in the 2006 midterms, which ushered in a Democratic takeover of the House. The second reason is that deciding to bang this particular drum again this time around makes even more sense now than it did then, because the swamp has only gotten swampier under Trump. Rather than "drain the swamp" (as he promised to do), he has in fact infested the swamp with his own cronies and fellow-travellers.

Here's just an abbreviated list, from within Trump's close circle: Michael Flynn pled guilty to lying to the F.B.I. and had to resign his job as national security advisor. Rob Porter had to quit his job as White House staff secretary after both his ex-wives accused him of physical abuse. Ronny Jackson withdrew his nomination for V.A. secretary after allegations of drinking on the job and handing out narcotics like candy. Michael Cohen, Trump's fixer, is under federal investigation for bank and tax fraud, and may soon be cooperating with Bob Mueller's investigation. George Papadopoulos is already doing so. And, of course, Paul Manafort's trial for bank and tax fraud has now gone to the jury.

In other words, it's a target-rich environment for Democrats to make some political hay out of. Was that metaphor mixed enough? Well, let's just double down and say that accusing the GOP of "corruption, cronyism, and incompetence" is now as easy as shooting fish in a barrel. And that's before the Manafort verdict, mind you.

Going after Republicans for corruption has worked before, and while it will not be the main focus of Democratic campaigns this time around, it still should be seen as a potent message to the voters: "Are you sick of all this? Elect us, and we'll end it."

For showing other Democrats how to get on top of the issue and hammer it home, Nancy Pelosi deserves at least an Honorable Mention this week.

But our Most Impressive Democrat Of The Week this week goes to what we believe is the youngest-ever winner of this award: a 14-year-old boy from Vermont.

Due to the vagueness of the candidate requirements (no stated age restriction), Ethan Sonneborn is running for governor of Vermont. There's a residency requirement, but Sonneborn easily meets this test since he's lived in the Green Mountain State his entire life. All 14 years of it. He has reportedly held his own against the adults in the race, "in several candidate forums."

That is pretty impressive. What were you doing when you were 14? We can bet that "running for governor" wasn't one of them (we certainly can't make such a claim ourselves). And not only running, but apparently doing well enough beside his other Democratic contenders.

We certainly have never laid down any sort of age requirements for our awards, which is why we don't even have to hesitate to give Ethan Sonneborn this week's Most Impressive Democrat Of The Week award. And, at this stage in American history, it wouldn't even surprise us one bit if he actually won the race. Stranger things haven't just happened, they are happening right now -- so why not?

{As a rule, we do not provide links to candidate websites (and truth be told we'd have to come up with a new policy on providing links to minors as well), so if you'd like to congratulate Ethan Sonneborn, you'll have to search out his contact information yourself, sorry.}

We have a (Dis-)Honorable Mention award before we get to the main one this week. Ben Jealous, who is running for governor in Maryland against a surprisingly popular Republican (for such a blue state). This week, he got a little frustrated with a reporter asking him whether he identified with the term "socialist," and responded: "Are you fucking kidding me?"

Now, Jealous did immediately apologize, but he has been in the public eye for a long time (he was previously the head of the N.A.A.C.P.), so he really should know better. But these days, it's hard to get too worked up about a single f-bomb (even when being interviewed on the record), because Trump and his ilk have lowered this particular bar so far that it's tough to clutch our pearls at such language anymore.

But there still are lines that shouldn't be crossed, and our Most Disappointing Democrat Of The Week this week certainly crossed a big one. Representative Steve Cohen of Tennessee was appearing at a prayer breakfast and decided to make a joke about the Republican running for Senate, Marsha Blackburn. At a prayer breakfast, mind you, Cohen said the following: "The big orange president.... He's going to come down here and he is going to endorse Marsha Blackburn, because Marsha Blackburn, if he says, 'Jump off the Harahan Bridge,' she'll jump off the Harahan Bridge. I wish he'd say that."

Granted, the remark "was met with laughter," but even so....

We have always believed that there are unwritten rules politicians should all follow, and one of the biggest of these is to never, ever joke about the death of any other politician. You don't joke about assassination, you don't joke about suicide, you don't joke about an opponent's death, period. Even if you have no shred of human decency (many politicians admittedly lack this function), you should at least be aware of the inevitable political blowback such ill-thought-out statements provoke.

For breaking this cardinal rule of politics, Steve Cohen is our Most Disappointing Democrat Of The Week. We would have awarded this to him even if he hadn't made the joke at a prayer breakfast, but that just made it all that much easier.

{Contact Representative Steve Cohen on his House contact page, to let him know what you think of his actions.}

Volume 495 (8/10/18)

A mixed bag this week, which ends with two talking points served up by those on the right -- one of which compares Trump to Stalin, and one of which calls him "weak, petty, and impotent." Enjoy, as always, and use responsibly (and liberally).

Manafort only the first....

It seems highly likely that the jury is going to convict Paul Manafort next week on the corruption charges in his first federal court case. So Democrats should be ready to respond.

"It doesn't surprise me in the least to see someone that Donald Trump trusted to run his campaign was just convicted of serious fraud charges. After all, Trump constantly surrounds himself with some of the sleaziest people in politics, so it really isn't all that big a shock to see the first of them go down for rampant corruption. From his ostrich jackets to his million-dollar Persian rug habit, it was pretty obvious that Paul Manafort wasn't exactly someone the jury could relate to. And please remember -- this is only the first of Manafort's federal trials. He's got another one coming up in a month or two. And also please remember, Manafort is only the first from Trump's campaign to get convicted of wrongdoing -- there will doubtless be plenty more such trials and sentencing hearings in the future."

Why the economy isn't the political issue Republicans thought it would be

This is worth hammering home, precisely because some Republicans still think it is why they'll avoid a blue wave in November.

"The Republican Party was going to run their midterm campaign on the economy, and how wonderful the tax cuts they passed for millionaires were. But the reality is that the economy has been stagnant for most Americans who work for a living. Figures just released show that over the past year, under Trump's policies, wages have grown by 2.7 percent -- but inflation has been running at 2.9 percent, which not only wipes out the wage growth but actually leaves families worse off than before. This is why most Republicans have all but abandoned trying to convince voters that the economy is helping everyone, because the voters know that this just isn't true -- at least, not for those who aren't already millionaires or billionaires."

Border policy also not working

Yet another issue Republicans thought would be a winner for them is not actually panning out.

"Donald Trump thinks his border control policies are making things better, but when you put aside his bluster and look at the numbers, you can easily see that this isn't true. More families with children have already arrived illegally in America in the first 10 months of the fiscal year than during any full year under President Obama. Trump isn't even deporting people as fast as Obama did at his peak. Trump's family separation policy was supposed to act as a deterrent to others attempting to enter, but figures show that the number of families taken into custody remained unchanged from June to July. Illegal border crossings did go down in Trump's first year of being president, but they've spiked back up again. So for all the mean-spirited things Trump both says and does, he's doing a worse job at controlling the border than his predecessor, Barack Obama. In other words, he's completely failing at the one thing he actually appears to care about as president. Oh, and he hasn't gotten a thin dime from Congress for his wall, either -- or, for that matter, from Mexico."

Insert head in sand....

This might just come back to haunt them.

"Even though the intelligence community is unified in stating that not only did Russia attack the 2016 presidential election, they are also currently doing so again in advance of the 2018 midterms. Our country -- our elections -- are under attack from a foreign adversary. And yet the Republicans in the Senate, following the lead of the House Republicans, just voted against providing the states with more money to protect our election systems. Yes, you read that right -- in the midst of an ongoing attack against us, the Republicans are unified in hiding their heads in the sand in the hopes that it'll all go away somehow. They are shirking their sworn duty, there's just no other way to put it. They are absent without leave while America is under attack, simply because they fear what Donald Trump will say about them if they stood up and did the right thing. This shameful cowardice is nothing short of disgraceful, and history will not be kind to them, that's my guess."

Surf's up!

Less than 100 days, and counting...

"In last week's election results, a Democrat almost flipped a Republican House seat in Ohio that they've held for over three decades -- a district that went for Trump by 11 points. The first Muslim woman ever was essentially elected to the House in Michigan, because the Republicans are too afraid to even run someone against her in her district (meaning the primary race was really the only contest). An anti-Union 'right to work' law was also scrapped by an overwhelming majority of the voters in Missouri. Republican Senator Lindsey Graham can see the blue wave coming, as this week he told the New York Times that there was 'a real likelihood' that Democrats are going to win the House 'by 10 or 12 more seats than they need.' He went on to state: 'If I was a House guy in an R+10 or less seat, I'd be getting on the phone and raising money and putting a sign on my dog.' In other words, as Washington state's governor tweeted this week, 'Surf's up!' for Democrats. Is it November yet? Can't get here fast enough...."

Karl Rove is worried, too

Once again, the strongest denunciations of the president come from within his own party. First up, from Karl Rove:

"After President Trump this week tweeted out -- once again -- that the press is the, quote, enemy of the people, unquote, none other than Karl Rove weighed in on Trump's rhetoric, calling it 'over the top,' and warning him to rein it in, saying it 'just grates on me.' Rove then went on to add some historical perspective: 'I grew up during the time of the Cold War. That is a phrase used by Stalin against the enemies of the Communist regime. I think the president would be well advised to tone down the rhetoric.' The interviewer missed a chance at a great follow-up question, though, because what Rove should have immediately been asked was whether he thought Trump would have tried to make friends with Stalin or not."

Even Trump voters are pushing back

No details were provided, so we have no idea who this guy is.

"Things have gotten so bad that Trump supporters are using their own money to place ads on television shows they know Trump watches, in a desperate bid for his attention. An ad ran this week on Fox & Friends, where a self-described Trump supporter begs the president: 'After eight years of President Obama’s weak leadership, I was ready for a tough leader. Now I hear you're thinking of firing Bob Mueller or {Rod Rosenstein,} the deputy attorney general. It makes you look weak, petty, and impotent to us Trump supporters. We don't want someone that's weak, petty, or impotent -- that's why we voted for you instead of those other guys.' Man, things have really gotten bad when Trump's own supporters are spending a whole lot of money to call him 'weak, petty, or impotent' on national television."

Chris Weigant blogs at: ChrisWeigant.com
Follow Chris on Twitter: ChrisWeigant
Full archives of FTP columns: FridayTalkingPoints.com
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