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Fri Dec 1, 2017, 09:52 PM

Friday Talking Points (463) -- Lock Him Up!

This morning, Donald Trump's first National Security Advisor, Michael Flynn, pled guilty to charges of lying to the F.B.I. He is now the highest-ranking Trump aide to be targeted by Robert Mueller, and also the highest-ranking person to have flipped on Trump. Flynn is still at risk of being prosecuted for other charges as well, including lying about his foreign lobbying on government forms. But he's now apparently cut a deal with the prosecution to possibly avoid further charges and also reportedly to avoid charges for his son.

The main assumption, however, is that he is now singing like a little birdie to the investigators. Trump (as of this writing) has yet to respond on Twitter, which likely won't be pretty when it does happen. Already, news reports surfaced this week of Trump's increasingly unhinged behavior, including (astonishingly) trying to tell people the infamous Billy Bush Access Hollywood tape wasn't actually his voice. But there was one interesting bit about the "is Trump losing it?" story, as it relates to the entire Mueller investigation:

Hanging out at {Mar-a-Lago}, Trump told friends, "This investigation's going to be over with pretty soon," adding that his lawyers, whom he praised as "brilliant," had assured him of it.... Some Trump aides and confidants worry about the president's optimistic assessment of the situation, which he has repeated in conversations in recent weeks. One outside adviser to Trump warned that the president would "blow a gasket" if there is no statement of exoneration by year's end.


With Flynn's guilty plea today, the possibility of Trump being publicly exonerated by Mueller by year's end just went from slim to none. Maybe there'll be fireworks at the White House this year for New Year's Eve, as Trump explodes in pyrotechnic fury?

Of course, the irony of Flynn pleading guilty to federal crimes is delicious for another reason. Flynn gave a hearty speech in support of Trump at last year's Republican National Convention, in which he led the audience in a round of chanting "Lock her up!" (referring to Hillary Clinton). Flynn has already faced crowds of people who showed up today to change that to "Lock him up!" in response. Turn-about is certainly fair play, in this case.

Speaking of turnabouts, Lindsey Graham seems to be arguing with his former self about Trump's sanity. This week on CNN, Graham said of the media's treatment of Trump: "You know what concerns me about the American press is this endless, endless attempt to label the guy as some kind of kook not fit to be president." From February of 2016, here is the very same Graham on Fox: "I think he's a kook. I think he's crazy.... He's not fit to be president." So maybe the press isn't so much to blame, Lindsey, as that guy who stares back at you in the mirror each morning? We're just sayin'....

Joe Scarborough has a somewhat different take, however. On yesterday's Morning Joe, Scarborough said Trump is now "completely detached from reality," and according to his sources: "people close to {Trump} say he is mentally unfit... people close to him during the campaign told me had early stages of dementia."

Of course, with Trump, it's hard to tell. Was this just another average week for Trump, or is he hitting new lows? Earlier in the week, he was supposed to be honoring Navajo Code Talkers, but he held the ceremony in front of a picture of Andrew Jackson and insulted Elizabeth Warren by calling her "Pocahontas." Trump also retweeted some racist anti-Muslim videos from a British nationalist, and then when the British prime minister sternly rebuked him, Trump tweeted back -- to the wrong "Theresa May" on Twitter (the one he originally chose had only six followers, a pretty rookie mistake for someone who uses Twitter as much as Trump). He also issued an "AIDS Day" proclamation which failed to mention the gay community at all. So is that just a par-for-the-course insensitive week for Trump, or indications of truly losing it? You decide.

John McCain, in response to the Navajo incident, tweeted his disgust: "Our nation owes a debt of gratitude to the Navajo Code Talkers, whose bravery, skill & tenacity helped secure our decisive victory over tyranny & oppression during WWII. Politicizing these genuine American heroes is an insult to their sacrifice." We would have to agree.

One other interesting bit of fallout from Trump's week was seeing Sarah Huckabee Sanders straight-up admit that propaganda (or "fake news," in its original meaning) is just fine with the White House, as long as it feeds into their agenda. When asked about the fact that the videos in question were not actually what they were stated to be, Sanders answered: "Whether it's a real video, the threat is real. His goal is to promote strong border security and strong national security." Got that? Fake news is okeley-dokeley as long as Trump believes it is real. Next question?

Speaking of Trump fantasies, the Republicans are slouching forward with their tax bill. Trump held a campaign-style rally to promote it, where he laughably claimed: "This is going to cost me a fortune, this thing, believe me. This is not good for me! ... I think my accountants are going crazy right now."

There is craziness in that statement, but it's not coming from Trump's accountants. The fact-checker for the Washington Post responded bluntly: "If anyone believes this line, we have a bridge in Brooklyn available for them." He then went on to crunch the numbers, from Trump's leaked 2005 tax return: "Trump would have saved as much as $42 million on his 2005 taxes under the House bill and $35.1 million under the Senate bill. A big part of the savings is from elimination of the alternative minimum tax." As we've pointed out before, the A.M.T. elimination alone would have saved Trump a whopping 81 percent of the taxes he paid that year. A "fortune" will indeed be changing hands between Trump and the I.R.S., but it's going to move in the opposite direction of what Trump is telling his die-hard fans.

Maybe some of them are starting to notice. Chuck Jones, a Union leader from Indiana, wrote a piece for the Post this week pointing out it's been a year since Trump promised to save all the Carrier jobs, and has not done so at all. From his article:

Beyond Indiana, workers across the country feel like they too are victims of a false Trumpian bargain, in which they were invited to trade their votes to keep their jobs. In fact, according to new research conducted by Good Jobs Nation, more than 91,000 jobs have been sent overseas since Trump was elected, the highest rate of jobs lost to outsourcing in five years.

This summer, I traveled across the Midwest, from Indianapolis to Kalamazoo to Racine, to talk with hundreds of manufacturing workers who lost their jobs to foreign countries. Many of them (some wearing "Make America Great Again" hats) agreed that Trump hasn't lived up to his end of the deal.

"I don't think he's really going to come through, even though I hoped he would," one laid-off worker told me.

"He pulled a bait-and-switch on us," another said.


Just like he and all the other Republicans are currently attempting on tax cuts. As we write this, the wheeling and dealing has reached a fever pitch, and Republicans seem confident they'll pass it out of the Senate tonight. But we'll get to all of that later, in the talking points segment of the program.

What else is happening? Secretary of State Rex Tillerson was undermined once again by the White House leaking a story about how they're ready to go with a plan to replace him, but then Trump walked the story back later on. Will there be a "Rexit" or not? Your guess is as good as ours.

North Korea launched an I.C.B.M. which could hit pretty much anywhere in America, and Trump (once again) had absolutely no idea what to do about it. He swore "We will take care of it," but (once again) did not specify how. It's times like these when an effective secretary of State would be an asset, right? Instead of, you know, actively undermining his authority in the press.

Roy Moore is back up in the polls in Alabama, so nobody should be surprised if he actually wins the special Senate election this month. However, he's drawn a powerful new enemy in Jimmy Kimmel, who not only sent someone from his late-night show to Alabama to spoof Moore supporters, but is now engaged in a full-on war of words with him. This started on Twitter, but soon spread to Kimmel's nightly monologue, which was absolutely brutal in response. Are the two men going to settle it "man to man" (as Moore offered)? Stay tuned!

And finally, two amusing notes to close on: Bernie Sanders has been nominated for an Emmy, for the audio version of his book. And Donald Trump hosted the National Christmas Tree lighting ceremony, where the turnout was rather pathetic, as photos plainly showed. Of course, if Trump sees the picture, he'll doubtlessly claim that it was the "largest audience EVER" to see such a spectacle, "both in person and around the globe."





This was a pretty easy call this week. We do have to start with two Honorable Mention awards for Nancy Pelosi and Chuck Schumer for snubbing President Trump's White House photo op (after Trump had tweeted earlier in the day that no deal would be possible with Democrats). But the obvious winner for the Most Impressive Democrat Of The Week award this week is a woman named Dana Nessel.

Don't be afraid to admit you've never heard of her. We hadn't either, right up until she released a campaign ad (she's running for attorney general of Michigan) which, well, cuts right to the bone. So to speak.

Here's the full story (and the video of the ad):

Dana Nessel sits in front of a fireplace in her YouTube ad for Michigan attorney general, posted this week. She runs through a few recent headlines about famous fallen men. An image of Trump kissing a beauty pageant winner floats above her head and she says:

"When you're choosing Michigan's next attorney general, ask yourself this: Who can you trust most not to show you their penis in a professional setting?

"Is it the candidate who doesn't have a penis?

"I'd say so."


The whole ad is simultaneously hilarious and quite serious. Harassment (and worse) is no laughing matter, of course, but her treatment of it truly is. She explicitly promises that, if elected, she will not show anyone the penis she doesn't have. Also, that she won't walk around wearing nothing but an open bathrobe.

She gets a bit more to the point when countering the notion that Michigan Democrats shouldn't have an all-female ticket next year (which she seems sick of hearing), pointing out that electing as many women as possible to high office right now is probably a better idea, instead.

As we said, it's tough to walk the line between seriousness about sexual harassment and humor (and making political hay, for that matter), but Nessel manages it beautifully. So her "candidate who doesn't have a penis" ad makes her the easy choice for the Most Impressive Democrat Of The Week award. Look for this to become a hot topic for any female running for office next year, in fact. Nessel can now claim to have pioneered the way. Well done!

{As a general rule, we don't link to campaign sites, so you'll have to search Dana Nessel's contact information yourself if you'd like to let her know you appreciate her efforts.}





Alas, this one was also pretty easy to figure out. The past two weeks have seen an acceleration of the sex scandals, which are now happening so fast it's almost time for the accusers to start coordinating schedules so that nobody gets overshadowed in any one news cycle.

Two weeks ago, this new phase started in the world of journalism, with Charlie Rose crashing and burning at both CBS and PBS. This was swiftly followed by the ouster of Matt Lauer from NBC and the downfall of Garrison Keillor of Prairie Home Companion fame on the same day. So many entertainment figures have also had their comeuppance that we've stopped even noting them, as well.

But in the political world, the past two weeks has seen multiple other accusers of Al Franken come forward, and what is looking like the end of the career of John Conyers -- currently the longest-serving member of the House.

The last time we wrote a Friday article, we gave the Most Disappointing Democrat Of The Week award to Franken, so it is only fair that we give this week's MDDOTW to Conyers. His transgressions, at least so far, were much more serious than Franken's, since he was caught trying to hide tens of thousands of dollars of payout money to one of his victims in his payroll accounting. Nancy Pelosi joined the growing ranks of Democrats calling on Conyers to step down, but so far he's remaining fairly defiant.

While he contemplates his future, he'll have a brand-new Most Disappointing Democrat Of The Week award to hang on his wall, though.

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




Volume 463 (12/1/17)

We're back after a two-week hiatus (to eat some turkey), but once again Democrats should be laser-focused on denouncing what the Republicans are attempting to do on taxes. By the time you read this, their odious bill may have made it through the Senate, which brings up the scary possibility that at any time the House could just pass the Senate version and put it on Trump's desk. All that talk you're hearing of a conference committee may not actually happen, in other words, especially if the GOP gets backed into a corner just before the year-end holidays.

This needs to be an all-hands-on-deck effort for Democrats. Luckily, the GOP tax monstrosity is -- much like the "repeal and replace Obamacare" bill before it -- massively unpopular with the public, and getting less popular by the day as more people hear what it contains. So this one is teed up and waiting to be smacked down the old fairway. Here are a few suggestions for how to do so. As always, use responsibly.



;Trickle-down has never worked

This one starts with a quote that every Democratic politician should have readily available when being interviewed over the next week or so.

"The snake oil the Republicans are trying to sell is not new, of course, I'd like to read a quote from William Jennings Bryan's famous 'Cross Of Gold' speech, if I may:

There are two ideas of government. There are those who believe that if you will only legislate to make the well-to-do prosperous, their prosperity will leak through on those below. The Democratic idea, however, has been that if you legislate to make the masses prosperous their prosperity will find its way up through every class which rests upon them.


"This speech was given in 1896, mind you. 'Leak through on those below' would be read today as 'trickle-down' -- it's the same exact metaphor, in fact. This economic philosophy did not work in the 1890s, it did not work in the 1920s, it did not work in the 1980s, and it did not work in the 2000s under George W. Bush. More recently, it spectacularly failed in the state of Kansas, to the point where Republicans had to desperately raise taxes after all their promised economic growth did not materialize. Democrats have known trickle-down does not work for over a century, but Republicans keep trying to convince everyone that it'll work this time, because if we all clap our hands hard enough Tinker Bell will boost our G.D.P.!"



A lump of coal

Republicans, rather inexplicably, will be raising taxes for millions of middle-class Americans. Normally they spread a few crumbs around the lower tax brackets, so that they can claim "tax cuts for all," but this time they didn't even pretend to do so. This is making the bill a much harder sell, of course -- even among conservatives. Here is Marc Thiessen, former Republican speechwriter to both George W. Bush and Donald Rumsfeld -- who on most political matters might be described as "somewhat to the right of Attila the Hun" -- on the Republican tax bill:

President Trump has promised to "give the American people a huge tax cut for Christmas -- hopefully that will be a great, big, beautiful Christmas present." Unfortunately for millions of Americans, what they will be getting instead is a lump of coal in the form of a tax increase -- courtesy of the GOP.

When George W. Bush campaigned for his 2001 tax cuts, he was able to truthfully say that "everybody who pays taxes is going to get tax relief." Republicans can't say that today, because it isn't true.




Tax hikes more popular than this bill!

This one is just truly stunning. From fivethirtyeight.com, some astounding polling statistics:

"Five Thirty Eight ran an article which showed that not only is the Republican tax bill the least-popular tax cut ever, with less than a third of the public supporting it, this bill is actually less popular than two tax hikes. When both George H. W. Bush and Bill Clinton raised taxes in the early 1990s, more of the public supported them than now support the Republican tax bill. That's pretty astonishing when you think about it. The public has been fooled so many times by unkept GOP promises of wealth trickling down from the skies that they now put such claims in the same place as the boy who cried 'wolf.' As the Washington Post recently put it:

Republicans (22 percent approval as a party) move a tax bill (25 percent approval) out of Congress (13 percent approval) thanks to Republican leaders (20 percent approval) and members of the party (also 22 percent approval) to be signed into law by Trump (37 percent approval). When Trump is the most popular part of the equation, you've got a problem.


"And please remember, the Republican Party is absolutely convinced that this is the magic bullet which will propel them to political victory in next year's midterms. Good luck with that, is all I have to say!"



A kick in the face to the middle class

That phrasing came from a Washington Post opinion piece entitled "Apparently Republicans Want To Kick The Middle Class In The Face," to give credit where it is due.

"You know, it would have been fairly easy to insure that every American who pays taxes gets at least a small tax cut. Which makes you wonder why, instead, the Republicans seem bent on delivering a kick in the face to so many middle-class working families. Let's run down some numbers. People making $40,000 to $50,000 are going to wind up paying a whopping $5.3 billion in taxes, while at the same time people making more than a million bucks a year will get all that money back and more -- a $5.8 billion cut in their taxes. This is Robin Hood in reverse, and the numbers prove it. The little guy pays more, so the fatcats can buy another yacht. From the Congressional Budget Office's numbers, by 2019 people earning less than $30,000 a year would be paying more taxes. But 2021, people making less than $40,000 will lose out. By the time the bill has done all its damage, most Americans earning $75,000 a year or less would be worse off. While those making between $100,000 and $500,000 will make out like bandits. According to the Wall Street Journal -- hardly some wide-eyed liberal news source -- a California family hit by the loss of the state and local tax deduction would wind up paying $720 a year more, while a family in Iowa hit with high medical costs would see their taxes rise by $2,600 a year. It's like the Republicans set out to be as mean and heartless as they possibly could be -- there's simply no other explanation for it. This tax plan would be more than a disaster for millions in the middle class, it would actually be a real kick in the teeth."



Magic math

Even with their patented pixie-dust-and-moonbeam math, the numbers just don't add up for the GOP plan.

"Republicans are lying in so many ways about this bill, it is hard to keep them all straight. But no matter what stories they spin, the math just does not add up to anything more than blowing a gigantic hole in the deficit and the debt. All the former Republican 'deficit hawks' have turned out to be nothing more than chickenhawks, it seems. If you take them at their word, then none of their tax cuts will ever expire because future Congresses will extend them. This is so they can cook the books and not show a hole of over $2 trillion over the next decade. But even without that particular lie, from the White House on down, they've been swearing up and down that 'the tax cuts will pay for themselves' rather than blowing a $1.5 trillion hole in the budget. They even directed the numbers-crunchers to use their magic math which assumes all sorts of economic growth -- and the numbers still showed a trillion-dollar hole. This reflects exactly what every other economist has said -- these tax cuts simply will not pay for themselves at all. To believe that is to believe in unicorns and pixies. Even when they tried to cook the books, they still came up a trillion dollars short."



What is Mnuchin hiding?

This could become a rather large story, but it'll probably arrive too late to do anything about it.

"Is Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin hiding a report which contradicts all his rosy promises on the tax bill? The New York Times reports that: 'An economist at the Office of Tax Analysis, who spoke on the condition of anonymity so as not to jeopardize his job, said Treasury had not released a "dynamic" analysis showing that the tax plan would be paid for with economic growth because one did not exist.' Or maybe it does, but Mnuchin just doesn't want anyone to see it? Senator Elizabeth Warren wrote a letter to the Treasury's Inspector General pointing out: 'Either the Treasury Department has used extensive taxpayer funds to conduct economic analyses that it refuses to release because those analyses would contradict the Treasury secretary's claims, or Secretary Mnuchin has grossly misled the public about the extent of the Treasury Department's analysis.' In response to the letter, the I.G.'s office has opened an investigation. So even using magic math, one assumes that Mnuchin also couldn't make the numbers add up the way his trickle-down fantasy insisted they should. Will we find out later that Mnuchin covered up an analysis which showed he was flat-out lying to the American people about the impact of this tax bill? If so, he should immediately be removed from office."



Well, it's something, right?

There were two very funny articles this week skewering the current state of the GOP. The first might appeal more to a literary crowd, as it is a satire of one of the most famous bits of satire of all time, on Jonathan Swift's 350th birthday, no less. Alexandra Petri's modest proposal is for the proper use of Democratic babies in Alabama, of course.

But then Petri outdid herself with today's article, which is even funnier. It's a takedown of the GOP tax plan, so to remain on subject we will close with the opening to her hilarious spoof (the whole thing is well worth reading, as the bit on John McCain alone is worth it):

Look, the Senate GOP wishes very much that it did not have to pass this bill providing for the entire middle class to assemble outdoors and be struck by an immense meteor, but it is important that they not close the year without any legislative accomplishments.

The bill has been the subject of heated debate. On the one hand, millions of people will be struck by a giant rock from space, which will probably make for some close midterms and heated town halls back home, in those towns that survive. On the other hand, are the tax cuts for corporations (also included in the bill) sufficiently large? On the one hand, people like the middle class and do not want them to suffer, and destroying their homes with a gigantic rock (which would also, curiously, trigger cuts to Medicare) does not seem like something that will help them. On the other hand, you have to show that you're using your time in the Senate for something. Everyone can agree that a meteor is something.





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