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Fri May 10, 2019, 09:09 PM

Friday Talking Points -- Trump Flails On World Stage

Most Fridays, we tend to focus on President Donald Trump's flailings and failings on domestic issues, but this week his buffoonery on the world stage was really what was front and center. Sure, there's an ongoing constitutional crisis between the White House and the House of Representatives, but this week in particular seemed to be "foreign policy mishap week" for Team Trump.

After absolutely no progress whatsoever in the two months since Trump's failed North Korea summit, Kim Jong Un reminded Trump he was still alive by playfully launching a bunch of missiles into the sea. On two separate occasions over the past week, the North Korean dictator oversaw test launches of short-range missiles. This doesn't end his self-declared moratorium on I.C.B.M. launches, but it is still pretty provocative behavior which is obviously designed to embarrass Trump.

Down in Venezuela, John Bolton seemed to think it'd be real easy to stage a "coup" and then see if a real one developed to match the propaganda effort. This failed pretty miserably, all around. What was kind of astonishing is that some big names in the mainstream American media went along for the ride. Both CNN and the New York Times credulously reported "facts" that were nothing short of falsehoods. Stories appeared stating that the opposition leader had taken over a military airbase and had given a speech to "thousands" of cheering defecting soldiers and officers. The reality was that he gave a speech on a highway overpass near the airbase (not actually on it), and the crowd was closer to two dozen people, well under the "thousands" reported. The rebels never took over the airbase, and soon afterwards most of them retreated to foreign embassies, where they claimed political asylum. That's not much of a coup, but you certainly wouldn't have known it by what was reported at the time. This was a rare instance of Bolton and the White House crew pushing "fake news" (in its original definition) and the "liberal media" not bothering to check the actual facts on the ground. At the end of the day, it looked like nothing short of a fiasco.

Meanwhile, Bolton has also been rattling the war sabers with Iran, and it was announced that an aircraft carrier group and a detachment of heavy bombers had been dispatched to the region, just in case. As Salon reported:

Bolton announced that the U.S. would be sending carrier strike group and a bomber task force to the Persian Gulf out of fear that Iran would target American forces in the region. But the Daily Beast reported that some officials see this response as an overreaction to intelligence that was less serious than Bolton suggested -- an allegation that would be consistent with the national security adviser's aggressive and dubious history, which eventually even turned President George W. Bush against him.

Remember the glory days of: "Saddam Hussein has weapons of mass destruction!"? Seems like déjà vu all over again....

But the biggest news of the week was how trade talks with China all but collapsed. There was supposed to be a round of final meetings at the end of the week and then a big trade agreement announcement, but instead that all crashed and burned and what we got was Trump upping the tariffs already in place from 10 percent to 25 percent, while threatening to also slap tariffs on every other product China sells us, while China darkly threatened unspecified retaliation.

Trump continues to insist on repeating a bald-faced lie, that "China pays" the tariffs, therefore it's actually a good thing and helping put money in American government coffers. In reality, the tariffs are paid by the company importing the goods right here in the U.S. of A., and then this tax is passed along 100 percent to American consumers. Nobody in China pays a dime -- not the exporting company or the Chinese government. Just another "Big Lie" from Trump's 2020 campaign, we suppose.

Speaking of Trump's war on the truth, Politico reported on an exodus of economists from the Agriculture Department, because they had dared to publish facts which put Trump's trade war in a bad light. From a summary of this story which ran in Salon:

At least six Agriculture Department economists quit on a single day in April after claiming that the administration was retaliating against them for publishing reports showing that President Trump's tariffs have hurt farmers, according to a Politico report.

The Economic Research Service, the USDA's research arm, has drawn the ire of the administration and Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue after publishing reports showing that farmers are being harmed by Trump's trade wars as well as the Republican tax overhaul, current and former employees told Politico.

The reports shone a light on how Trump's tariffs have led to a decline in farm income, which the economists noted has already fallen by 50 percent since 2013. Another report showed that Republican tax cuts only benefited the wealthiest farmers.

After the reports were presented, Perdue "stunned" the agency by announcing that he would put a USDA official who reports directly to the secretary in charge of the Economic Research Service and move the agency out of Washington to a location closer to the "US heartland," according to Politico.

They couldn't stop the bad news from coming in from outside the administration, though. The Washington Post reported that experts at the nonpartisan Peterson Institute concluded that for every job either created or saved by Trump's steel tariffs, American consumers paid a whopping $900,000:

The cost is more than 13 times the typical salary of a steelworker, according to Labor Department data, and it is similar to other economists' estimates that Trump's tariffs on washing machines are costing consumers $815,000 per job created.... Many economists and business leaders point out that jobs in steel-using industries outnumber those in steel production by about 80 to 1, according to experts at Harvard University and the University of California at Davis.

But, please remember, Donald Trump is a genius businessman.

Or maybe not. The New York Times got its hands on hard data from Trump's income tax returns covering a decade from the mid-1980s to the mid-90s, and it showed that even during an economic boom, Trump lost more money than pretty much any other taxpayer in the entire country. All told, he lost almost $1.2 billion over a decade. He paid no income tax at all in eight out of these ten years.

Now, while the internet had a field day ridiculing Trump (the most popular suggestion was that his television show really should have been named "The Biggest Loser" ), what occurred to us personally was the possibility of other shoes dropping in the very near future. The Times very carefully stated that it hadn't seen Trump's actual physical tax returns (the pieces of paper he sent in, in other words) but instead printouts from the I.R.S. database which showed all the numbers Trump had entered on those forms. They obtained these printouts from someone who had "legal access" to them, according to the Times. But this begs the question -- if they've got a source who was able to pull all of these tax records out of the database, what would be stopping them from pulling all the other years of Trump's taxes? Maybe this article might just become "the first in a series" and we'll all get to see Trump's taxes one decade at a time, until we get caught up to the present day. Now there's an interesting thought!

We probably won't be seeing Trump's federal returns any time soon through House committees, because Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin just broke the law this week by refusing to turn over this information. But we might just get to see all of Trump's recent taxes anyway, courtesy of the state of New York. The legislature moved a bill this week which would create a law authorizing the release of New York state tax returns to three U.S. House of Representatives committees, should they ever ask for them. Since Trump had to fill out both federal and state returns, this would likely provide exactly the same information as his federal returns. So there's that to look forward to, as well.

Speaking of tax fraud, Trump's former personal lawyer Michael Cohen reported to federal prison to serve his sentence, and former Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort was officially disbarred. But please remember, Trump only hires the best people!

Let's see, what else is going on? The White House is now in full-on stonewall mode, and can be expected to ignore any and all subpoenas and demands from House committees from now on. As Nancy Pelosi pointed out, Trump himself seems to be begging to be impeached on a daily basis.

Pelosi's not letting the grass grow under her feet in the meantime, however. The House this week passed two notable bills, one a disaster relief bill which -- much to the anger of Trump -- contained more money for storm-ravaged Puerto Rico. Despite a last-ditch effort by Trump, 34 Republicans voted with the Democrats, for a final vote of 257 to 150. The other bill the House passed will protect people with pre-existing conditions from states that are being allowed "waivers" on this important Obamacare protection. This is an important step, because many House Democrats specifically ran on this issue. Trump says he also wants to protect people with pre-existing conditions, but it's doubtful even he can convince Mitch McConnell to move on the bill.

The overall picture this week was pretty clear: Democrats are getting things done and pushing forward in their investigations, while Trump is lying and flailing around on the world stage. Just another week in Trump's Washington, in other words.

Before we get to the main award, we've got a few Honorable Mention awards to hand out first. A bill was introduced in both houses of Congress this week to institute a ceiling of 15 percent on what banks are allowed to charge in credit card interest. This is a pretty bold idea (which we wrote about earlier in the week), and one we'd bet would be wildly popular with the general public. In the House, Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez sponsored the bill while Bernie Sanders introduced it in the Senate. Both deserve at least an Honorable Mention for championing this issue.

Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer introduced a bill he's sponsored before, which would completely "deschedule" marijuana, removing it from the list of dangerous controlled substances altogether, which would allow each individual state to set their own marijuana laws without running afoul of federal law. Also deserving of an Honorable Mention is House Democratic Caucus Chairman Hakeem Jeffries, who sponsored the same bill in the House. That's some pretty impressive leadership on both sides of the Capitol.

But we're giving the Most Impressive Democrat Of The Week to Illinois Governor J. B. Pritzker, for his own commendable work on marijuana reform:

Illinois could legalize recreational marijuana by January 1, 2020, thanks to a new bill Gov. J.B. Pritzker touted as central to criminal justice reform.

The proposed legislation announced by Pritzker and Democratic lawmakers Saturday would allow people 21 and over to purchase recreational marijuana at a licensed dispensary in Illinois, which currently has a statewide prohibition on the drug with an exception for medical use. Residents would be able to possess up to 30 grams of marijuana and grow up to five plants at home, and nonresidents would be able to possess up to 15 grams.

Most notably, details of the plan include expunging what lawmakers estimate will be about 800,000 marijuana convictions and allow people with such convictions to work in the cannabis industry. The proposal also mentions a $20 million low-interest loan program for minority-owned businesses, promoting what the proposal calls "social equity" in a predominantly white industry.

"We are taking a major step forward to legalize adult use cannabis and to celebrate the fact that Illinois is going to have the most equity-centric law in the nation," Pritzker said during a press conference Saturday at the Black United Fund's office in Chicago. "For the many individuals and families whose lives have been changed -- indeed hurt -- because the nation's war on drugs discriminated against people of color, this day belongs to you too."

That is all very impressive indeed, especially the fact that the new law will come from the legislature (rather than, as with most such state efforts, through a voter referendum) and how focused it is on social equity. But to us, the really impressive line came later in the article:

During his gubernatorial campaign, Pritzker made equity-centric marijuana legalization one of the most important aspects of his platform.

We've been saying it for years, and we'll keep saying it until every Democrat gets on board -- not only is being pro-legalization now politically safe for prominent politicians, it is in fact a big campaign asset and should be treated as such. The people have long been way out in front of the politicians, and voters respond very positively to politicians who are brave enough to champion the issue wholeheartedly. This has been a radical sea-change over the past decade or so (Barack Obama never fully backed recreational legalization in either of his two elections, just to remind everyone), and it needs to be embraced by Democrats before Republicans wise up and steal the issue for themselves (footnote: former Senate Majority Leader John Boehner is now a marijuana industry lobbyist).

Which is why we'd like to honor Governor Pritzker with this week's Most Impressive Democrat Of The Week. Not only is he pro-legalization, he "made equity-centric marijuana legalization one of the most important aspects of his platform." And now he is following through on his promises. That's about as impressive as it gets.

{Congratulate Illinois Governor J. B. Pritzker on his official contact page, to let him know you appreciate his efforts.}

We are happy to announce that no prominent Democrat disappointed us this week at all. Now, as always, we might have missed someone in the maelstrom that is the political news world these days, so if you'd like to nominate someone, please feel free to do so down in the comments.

Volume 526 (5/10/19)

We're going to mostly engage in some Trump-bashing this week, just because. But then down at the end, we've got two rather amusing talking points, just because it's been that kind of week. Enjoy as always, and use responsibly.

Trump's puppetmaster

This one is always guaranteed to get under Trump's skin.

"It seems to me that John Bolton is now running America's foreign policy, while Trump impotently flails around. Bolton has been the lead on the Venezuela policy (such as it is) and on trying to get Iran to provoke a shooting war by overstating the intelligence (shades of Iraq's non-existent 'weapons of mass destruction'). And who knows how much influence he has over the collapse of the trade talks with China? It's pretty obvious that Donald Trump has no real clue what goes on in the rest of the world, which is why it is so easy for puppetmasters like Bolton to pull his strings and make him dance. Trump ran on pulling back militarily overseas, but if he's not careful, Bolton is going to get American involved in two separate new wars."


Again, guaranteed to get under Trump's skin.

"With the release of Donald Trump's tax returns for the 1980s and 1990s, it's obvious that even in a booming economy, Trump is a complete failure at making money. When everyone else was making profits hand over fist, Trump was a big fat loser. There's just no other way to put it. He may have even won the crown for Most Money Lost By A Single Taxpayer, in fact, since his losses were so breathtakingly huge. How can anyone lose over one billion dollars in ten years? Well, it takes a special kind of failure to reach such astronomic proportions, which is why all the teasing on Twitter is entirely justified -- Trump's television show should really have been called 'The Biggest Loser,' since that is exactly and literally what he was, back in the 80s and 90s."

It's YOU who are paying this tax!

Democrats really should make this a much bigger deal than they currently are.

"Donald Trump stands up in front of adoring crowds and lies his face off. OK, well, that's nothing new, really, but this time the lie he's feeding them is just laughable. Trump tells the rubes that the tariff on Chinese goods is a great thing because it puts a bazillion dollars into the Treasury. As he tells it, he's really sticking it to the Chinese government, who has to pony up all this hard cash. But that's nothing short of a great big lie, because they don't pay a dime of it. Instead, the American public pays in higher prices on all kinds of goods. The tariff is paid by whatever company imports the Chinese goods -- like Walmart, for instance -- and then gets passed right along to the consumer in higher prices. So what all these people are cheering is the fact that they are paying the tariffs themselves, not China. I mean, you can fool some of the people some of the time, right?"

Hundreds of prosecutors agree Trump should have been indicted

This one is one of those stories that, in normal times, would have been the lead story for days. Nowadays, however, it was barely even noticed.

"This week, over six hundred federal prosecutors signed a letter which stated that what was revealed in the Mueller report should have led to indictments of Donald Trump. If he wasn't currently president, charges of obstruction of justice should clearly have been brought against him, in other words. This group was completely nonpartisan, consisting of hundreds of federal prosecutors who served and were hired by both Republican and Democratic administrations. The sheer number of signatories to this letter is just stunning. To hearken back to Nixonian language, hundreds of prosecutors have now agreed that the president is indeed a crook."

Hard to call this one partisan, too

Twist this particular knife for all it's worth.

"Yet another subpoena emerged from Congress this week demanding the testimony of one of Donald Trump's minions and partners in crime. The only surprising thing was that the subpoena for Trump's son Donnie Junior didn't come from a House committee led by a Democrat, but instead from a Senate committee chaired by Republican Richard Burr. That's right -- the head of the Senate Intelligence Committee just subpoenaed Trump's own son, to answer for his lies before the committee which the Mueller Report exposed. Reportedly, he's considering taking the Fifth Amendment, which is probably a good idea since he obviously perjured himself the last time he spoke with the committee. Republicans have been whining that all the investigations of Trump are nothing short of partisan witch hunts, but one of their own just proved that to be a lie."

Maybe you should get it ready for some inmates?

Too, too funny.

"When Nancy Pelosi was publicly interviewed by Washington Post reporter Bob Costas recently, he asked her what she would do about Steve Mnuchin clearly breaking federal law by refusing to allow the I.R.S. to furnish Trump's tax returns to a House committee. When he pointed out that some Democrats 'have even raised the prospect of arresting the Treasury Secretary,' Pelosi responded by pointing out that while possible, this might soon wind up being impractical. 'Well, let me just say that we do have a little jail down in the basement of the Capitol,' Pelosi responded, before pointing out, 'but if we were arresting all of the people in the administration' who deserved it, 'we would have an overcrowded jail situation, and I'm not for that.' The reaction to this quip was, quote, a roomful of laughter, unquote."

Holy idiocy, Batman!

Not that Trump was going to get very many votes in New England anyway....

"This week, in one day, the White House welcomed the Boston Red Sox to the White House to celebrate their championship victory. All but one of the players who is a minority refused to even attend the event, while all the white players did attend. But that wasn't even the most embarrassing thing for Trump. In the notice for the event, the Boston Red S-O-C-K-S were congratulated, and later on -- you just can't make this stuff up, folks -- the White House listed them as 'World Cup Series Champions.' How boneheaded do you have to be to make not just one but two such idiotic mistakes on the same day?"

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