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Fri Sep 6, 2019, 09:21 PM


Friday Talking Points -- The Whole Sharpiegate Timeline

{Program Note for DemocraticUnderground.com readers:
This is a weekly roundup column of what is going on in the political world. For the duration of the 2020 campaign, I've been instructed to post it under the "Democratic Primaries" category rather than the "General Discussion" category, whenever the primary race is discussed. This discussion may be a large part of the column, or a very small part. Just wanted to clarify this up front, to avoid any objections that most of the post is "off topic."}

This is, without doubt, the stupidest American political scandal, ever. Its incredible dumbassedness absolutely puts to shame any other possible contender for the title (such as, just to cite one example: "Barack Obama wore a tan suit! Everybody flee!" ). We have officially devolved into seriously moronic territory, folks.

Because it was so prominent all week, we are also pre-empting the rest of our recap of politics this week to focus like a laser beam on the storm of stupidity.

Last weekend, President Donald Trump tweeted out erroneous information that caused some of the residents of the state of Alabama to panic, thinking that Hurricane Dorian was heading for them. Weather scientists immediately corrected Trump's error, and told the citizens of Alabama not to panic, because the storm wasn't coming anywhere near them.

That should have been the end of it (well, after the president himself issued a correction and an apology, which any other United States president would have responsibly done). Sadly for us all, it was not the end of it, but merely the beginning of a Category 5 presidential tantrum with hurricane-force bluster and hot air.

This only reinforces our belief that what we suggested a few months ago would be the ideal Democratic campaign slogan: "Do you really want four more years of this?!?"


For those of you who have been residing under a rock all week, we're going to provide the whole stupid timeline of all the idiocy howling from the Oval Office this week.

August 28

Raw computer model data was provided to state and local governments which shows the possible storm paths for Hurricane Dorian. A small minority of these paths (five percent) could have affected Alabama.

August 29

Trump is briefed by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) on the status of Dorian. While this storm has now lasted more than a week, and while most presidents would get detailed briefings on such an emergency multiple times each day, this appears to be the only briefing Trump paid any attention to at all, as later events have proven. So all the briefings he got since last Thursday have gone in one ear and out the other.

This is consistent with his history on the subject, since Trump again showed amazement that Category 5 hurricanes even exist, despite Dorian being the fourth such storm during his presidency. In those previous cases, Trump also expressed surprise that Category 5 storms existed.

September 1

The tweet that launched a thousand denials appears:

In addition to Florida - South Carolina, North Carolina, Georgia, and Alabama, will most likely be hit (much) harder than anticipated. Looking like one of the largest hurricanes ever. Already Category 5. BE CAREFUL! GOD BLESS EVERYONE!

Quite obviously, Trump has completely ignored all the hurricane briefings he has received in the previous four days. Note the: "Alabama will most likely be hit (much) harder than anticipated."

While Trump was tweeting this, the National Hurricane Center forecast was calling for Dorian to miss even Georgia, and that the center of the storm would likely get no closer than 300 miles east of the Alabama border.

20 minutes later

The National Weather Service in (pause for dramatic effect...) Birmingham, Alabama tweets out a correction:

Alabama will NOT see any impacts from #Dorian. We repeat, no impacts from Hurricane #Dorian will be felt across Alabama. The system will remain too far east.

These guys are obviously frustrated that Trump hasn't been paying attention to any of his briefings for the past four days, during a Category 5 hurricane. By Sunday morning, the storm had already turned north and there was no possible scenario that involved Alabama. They weren't even in danger of experiencing tropical-storm-force winds.

Later that day

Trump answers a reporter's question outside the White House: "The original course was dead into Florida. Now it seems to be going up to toward South Carolina, toward North Carolina. Georgia is going to be hit. Alabama is going to get a piece of it, it looks like." Alabama was not, in fact going to "get a piece of it" by this point.

During a briefing at the Federal Emergency Management Agency headquarters, Trump again insisted that Alabama was at risk:

{Hurricane Dorian} may get a little piece of a great place: It's called Alabama. And Alabama could even be in for at least some very strong winds and something more than that, it could be. This just came up, unfortunately. It's the size of -- the storm that we're talking about. So, for Alabama, just please be careful also.

Note that "This just came up" lie, in there, even though this information was four days old and no longer valid.

Still later

NOAA, perhaps being pressured by the White House, issues a projection that showed a five percent chance that a tiny sliver of Alabama could get winds exceeding 39 miles per hour, described as: "enough to break twigs off trees and not much more."

September 2

Trump tweets, in reaction to the media calling out his Alabama lie: "under certain original scenarios, it was in fact correct that Alabama could have received some 'hurt.'" Note that: "Alabama will most likely be hit (much) harder than anticipated" has now become: "under certain original scenarios... Alabama could have received some hurt."

September 2, 3

Trump cancels his trip to Poland and heads to the golf course during the hurricane crisis. When running for president, he promised he'd never play golf if he were elected. He often ripped Barack Obama for golfing, as well.

London Mayor Sadiq Khan slammed Trump in brutal fashion, stating: "{President Trump} is clearly busy dealing with a hurricane out on the golf course."

Trump tweets back the next day:

The incompetent Mayor of London, Sadiq Khan, was bothered that I played a very fast round of golf yesterday. Many Pols exercise for hours, or travel for weeks. Me, I run through one of my courses (very inexpensive). President Obama would fly to Hawaii. Khan should focus on 'knife crime,' which is totally out of control in London. People are afraid to even walk the streets. He is a terrible mayor who should stay out of our business!

We're surprised Trump didn't also insult Khan's golf game. It certainly would have been in character.

September 4

Sharpiegate day!

The White House releases a video of Trump talking about the storm. He displays a National Hurricane Center map which he has altered with a Sharpie pen, so that the storm's projected cone of uncertainty includes Alabama. Trump explains: "We had, actually, our original chart was that it was going to be hit -- hitting Florida directly. That was the original chart. It could've, uh, was going towards the Gulf."

Note that during a hurricane actively skirting the Atlantic coast -- an ongoing event during all of this idiocy -- Trump is still fixated on a map that is now almost a week old. And since the map didn't show what he wanted it to show, he just drew on it to make it conform with his altered reality.

When later asked about the altered map, Trump said the following:

I know that Alabama was in the original forecast. They thought it would get it, as a piece of it. We have a better map than that, which is going to be presented where we had many lines going directly, many models -- each line being a model -- and they were going directly through. And in all cases Alabama was hit, if not likely, in some cases pretty hard. It was a different route... they actually gave that a 95 percent chance probability. It turned out that was not what happened. It made the right turn up the coast, but Alabama was hit very hard -- was going to be hit very hard.

As previously noted, there was a five percent chance that Alabama would have gotten enough wind to knock some small branches off of trees, while multiple other states were still being hit hard by Dorian's hurricane-force winds. Trump flipped "1-in-20" to "19-in-20," just because he thought it sounded better.

When asked whether the map had been drawn on with a Sharpie, Trump said: "I don't know. I don't know." Later reporting confirmed that Trump himself was the one to draw on the chart. One Washington Post columnist summed up the stupidity brilliantly: "As smooth moves go, it was lamer than trying to forge a $100 bill by taking a Monopoly $1 bill and writing a couple of extra zeros on it."

Legal footnote

Trump apparently broke another law with his fantasy map. From 18 U.S. Code 2074:

Whoever knowingly issues or publishes any counterfeit weather forecast or warning of weather conditions falsely representing such forecast or warning to have been issued or published by the Weather Bureau, United States Signal Service, or other branch of the Government service, shall be fined under this title or imprisoned not more than ninety days, or both.


Journalists tried to get NOAA to correct the president's altered map, but the political screws had been tightened. NOAA declined to comment, and referred all questions to the White House, leading one Los Angeles Times reporter to tweet: "Right now we have a U.S. president sharing disinformation about a life-threatening hurricane, and a U.S. government that is declining to correct him."

That evening

Late-night comedians have an absolute field day with Sharpiegate. Because, of course, this is the stupidest political scandal ever.

September 5

Trump just can't let it go. He again attempts to justify his idiocy by tweeting:

In the early days of the hurricane, when it was predicted that Dorian would go through Miami or West Palm Beach, even before it reached the Bahamas, certain models strongly suggested that Alabama & Georgia would be hit as it made its way through Florida & to the Gulf. Instead it turned North and went up the coast, where it continues now. In the one model through Florida, the Great State of Alabama would have been hit or grazed. In the path it took, no. Read my FULL FEMA statement. What I said was accurate! All Fake News in order to demean!

So now it has changed from: "Alabama will most likely be hit (much) harder than anticipated" to: "In the one model... Alabama would have been hit or grazed." Initially, Trump tweeted out false information on Sunday -- that Alabama was likely to be hit hard by Dorian -- when all the models showed at the time that it would turn north. He is now arguing that the state at one point in the past was projected to get "hit or grazed."

Trump continues to tweet out maps that are a week or more old.

Meanwhile, the coasts of Florida, Georgia, South Carolina, and North Carolina all sustained damage from the storm. Trump is virtually silent about this, preferring instead to obsess over what he said last Sunday, now changing it to argue about what was said last Thursday.

Comic relief interlude

Priceless. You just can't make this stuff up, folks:

Late Thursday morning, White House press secretary Stephanie Grisham ribbed CNN about a map that was part of its storm coverage that mistakenly labeled Alabama as Mississippi.

"Hi @CNN, I know you guys are busy analyzing lines on a map, but perhaps you use your time to study up on U.S. geography?" Grisham wrote on Twitter.

CNN responded early Thursday afternoon.

"Thanks, Stephanie," the network's communications team said in a tweet. "Yes, we made a mistake (which we fixed in less than 30 seconds). And now we are admitting it. You all should try it sometime."

Media stands up for the truth

Fox News White House correspondent John Roberts reports the actual facts:

The president tweeted out a graphic of hurricane model plots... to prove that Alabama was at risk and some of those tracks did come very close to the eastern part of Alabama. But those spaghetti models were from Thursday, August 28th. By the time the president tweeted about Alabama at 10:51 a.m. on Sunday, the forecast track had moved well east. This is the 8:00 in the morning warning on Sunday the 1st, and you can see they're indicating that Dorian would stay well-off shore and well away from Alabama.

Et tu, Brute? Even Fox News is pointing out the stupidity, which shows you just how egregiously stupid things have gotten. Later in the day, apparently, Trump summoned Roberts to his office, after which Roberts wrote an internal email about the meeting that later got leaked, in which he says that Trump was: "just looking for acknowledgment that he was not wrong for saying that at some point, Alabama was at risk -- even if the situation had changed by the time he issued the tweet. He insisted that it is unfair to say Alabama was never threatened by the storm."


Trump's petulance at being proven laughably wrong continues in his storm surge of tweets:

This nonsense has never happened to another President. Four days of corrupt reporting, still without an apology. But there are many things that the Fake News Media has not apologized to me for, like the Witch Hunt, or SpyGate! The LameStream Media and their Democrat partner should start playing it straight. It would be so much better for our Country!

The two best reactions, outside of the late-night comedy shows

Pete Buttigieg had the best Democratic response to this storm of idiocy:

What we're seeing there is literally pathetic. It makes you feel a kind of pity for everybody involved, and that's not how I want to feel about the president -- whether it's for my party or the other. This is humiliating. This is an embarrassing moment for our country, and we seem to see a new national embarrassment every day.

But Joe Scarborough had the most scathing reaction of all:

So much of this is just farce, and I have gotten to the point -- I pull my hair out at the ignorance and the nonsense. But in a case like this, he panicked people in Alabama, now he's lying about it, and he's doing that instead of doing what every president I ever dealt with during these storms -- whether it was Bill Clinton or George W. Bush, or governors like Lawton Chiles or Jeb Bush -- I mean, when those storms are about to hit shore, all of their attention and focus was on protecting the people that were in the path of the storm.

Donald Trump, bizarrely enough, was focused on a Sharpie doodle that he had done several days before. And there are of course -- the whole world is watching. There are consequences in Russia and China and Saudi Arabia and across the world that our leader seems this detached and this unstable emotionally.

Thus endeth our timeline. For the time being, at least -- we're sure Trump will soon be tweeting something equally as inane as what he's been spewing all week. Trump still hasn't gotten over the lie he told on his first day in office about the size of his inauguration crowd, and it's a pretty safe bet he's not going to let this one go either.

To summarize: the president of the United States barely pays attention to briefings about a deadly storm bearing down on the country. He hears the words "Alabama" and "five percent chance" and that's about all he takes away from a week of briefings. Four days later -- after obviously totally ignoring all the other briefings he got on the storm -- he tweeted out false information that panicked some Alabama residents. Trump didn't care in the least, and has spent the entire rest of the week trying to fit the square peg of his lie into the round hole of reality. Oh, and he also took time off to play golf -- can't forget that one. To prove his lie was the truth, he ham-handedly drew a new line on a weather map that was, at the time, a week old. This broke federal law. Then he silenced the federal scientists whose job it is to provide accurate weather information to the public, because suddenly the whole thing had turned into a political nightmare. Trump continued -- while Dorian was lashing the southeastern Atlantic coast -- to focus on week-old maps and redefining what he originally tweeted so that it bore some (any!) resemblance to the truth.

The only thing that remains to put this incredibly stupid week behind us in just-as-spectacularly-stupid fashion as the rest of the week would be for Trump to travel to Alabama to visit the storm victims.

Think that's too idiotic to happen? Up until this week, we would have thought so too. But no longer. Indeed, it would be the ultimate finale to a week of monumental egotistical stupidity. In fact, we'd put the chances of it happening at 95 percent. Heh.

It's not exactly impressive, but it certainly is a relief to hear that Howard Schultz, head Starbucks honcho, has decided not to launch an independent bid for the presidency. This could have thrown a real monkey wrench in the general election, so it is indeed a relief to hear he's decided not to do so.

They're not Democrats (well, not officially...), but CNN certainly deserves some kudos for putting on a monster of a town hall on climate change this week. The Democratic National Committee laid down rules that any candidate who participates in an unsanctioned debate will be barred from all the official debates, so the candidates could not stand on stage at the same time. Instead, the top 10 candidates appeared for 40 minutes each over a town hall that lasted an astonishing seven hours on CNN. The D.N.C. had also rejected the idea of holding a debate on the single subject of climate change, which is why it was necessary for CNN to step up to the plate. Which they did, and which they really deserve credit for.

Out of all that time, though, only one soundbite will probably be remembered. Which is why Senator Elizabeth Warren wins this week's Most Impressive Democrat Of The Week award for her answer, although we're going to wait until the talking points section of the program to explain why (and to reprint her brilliant answer).

{Congratulate Senator Elizabeth Warren on her Senate contact page, to let her know you appreciate her efforts.}

Joe Biden deserves at least a (Dis-)Honorable Mention for a fundraiser he held this week, which was also pointed out during the CNN debate. One of the people putting the fundraiser on is a former fossil fuel company executive, and a longtime friend of Biden's. Biden had previously signed a pledge not to raise fossil fuel money for his campaign, and his excuses for why he was going ahead with the fundraiser anyway were pretty downright Clintonian in nature.

But in keeping with the spirit of Sharpiegate week, we're going to give the Most Disappointing Democrat Of The Week to Marianne Williamson, who singlehandedly proved that Trump isn't the only one capable of tweeting ridiculous things about hurricanes.

In the tweet, which she subsequently deleted (after the backlash), Williamson said:

The Bahamas, Florida, Georgia and the Carolinas...may all be in our prayers now. Millions of us seeing Dorian turn away from land is not a wacky idea; it is a creative use of the power of the mind. Two minutes of prayer, visualization, meditation for those in the way of the storm.

The phrase that got the most attention was the "creative use of the power of the mind." Williamson has struggled throughout her candidacy to be seen as not flaky, and this really didn't help that effort one bit.

But others have piled on to such a degree that we're merely going to award her this week's MDDOTW and move quickly on.

{Marianne Williamson is not a public official, and as a rule we do not provide links to candidates' websites, so you'll have to search her contact information out yourself if you'd like to respond to her.}

Volume 541 (9/6/19)

OK, before we begin, we've got an amusing item from across the pond. Boris Johnson is having a pretty rough first week as the new British prime minister, including his very own brother quitting his seat in Parliament. This led pretty much everyone on the internet to make the same joke, which is indeed pretty funny: "Boris Johnson's brother is quitting politics to spend less time with his family." Heh.

OK, enough silliness. This week's talking points are all suggestions for how Democrats should practice answering inane questions posed to them at next week's debate.

We feel this is necessary, for two reasons. The first, as mentioned above, is that Elizabeth Warren just absolutely schooled everyone else on how this should be done (her quote is our first talking point this week).

Here's the problem, in a nutshell. The television networks who put on the official Democratic debates want high ratings. To achieve this, they want as much conflict on stage as possible. To generate such conflict, they bend over backwards in an attempt to get the candidates to attack each other, or to answer Republican talking points. Almost every question is baited to spur some on-stage fireworks.

Democrats need to learn how to deflect the entire framing of such inane questions, and to do so in a way that points out what the journalists are missing (or ignoring). This mostly means pivoting to talking about what the candidate feels about a core issue, or to put Democratic conflict into the context of the man they're all running to defeat.

So here are just a few ways Democrats should consider doing so, in next week's debate.

Give me a break!

The CNN moderators focused on three really silly subjects, in what was supposed to be a discussion about climate change. Two of these subjects were whether we should all start using paper straws instead of plastic, and whether cheeseburgers would somehow be outlawed by the Green New Deal. The third was brought up in a question to Warren: "Do you think that the government should be in the business of telling you what kind of light bulb you can have?" Elizabeth Warren refused to take the bait, and knocked her answer out of the park.

Oh come on, give me a break. Look, there are a lot of ways that we try to change our energy consumption and our pollution, and God bless all of those ways. Some of it is with light bulbs, some of it is on straws, some of it, dang, is on cheeseburgers. But this is exactly what the fossil-fuel industry hopes we're all talking about. They want to be able to stir up a lot of controversy around your light bulbs, around your straws, and around your cheeseburgers, when 70 percent of the pollution, of the carbon that we're throwing into the air, comes from three industries. That's where we need to focus.

We are absolutely united

This answer has already been given by a few Democrats in the first two debate rounds, but it bears repeating. When the moderators try to make Democrats fight over the differences in their respective healthcare reform plans, a larger point really needs to be made instead.

"You ask that in the hopes that all of us up here are going to gloriously squabble over the slight differences in our vision for the future of America's healthcare. But you know what? Any Democratic president who attempts major changes in our healthcare system is going to have to get his or her proposal through Congress. So there will be plenty of time to hash over the differences between one plan and the others during that congressional debate. But what is most important is that every Democrat on this stage is trying to make healthcare better and more affordable for all Americans. We are absolutely united in this goal, no matter what our differences over how it should be done. Donald Trump and the Republican Party, on the other hand, are in a death spiral of trying to rip health insurance away from as many people as they think they can get away with. For some unfathomable reason, they don't want people to have health insurance, and every single one of their plans reflects this. They would cover far fewer people than are covered today, they would allow the insurance companies to go back to the bad old days when they could refuse coverage to the sick and gouge anyone they wanted to. Democrats are against that sort of thing, and Republicans are for it -- as they've proven time and time again. I think that's what really matters to the voters, not minor differences in implementation."

Immigrants are not invaders

Likewise on immigration, which always comes up during these debates.

"You know what? Perhaps I don't agree with Senator Warren or Secretary Castro on every single detail of immigration policy, but what I think we all agree upon is that hatred and xenophobia and bigotry and fear is simply not how America should view immigrants. Donald Trump has stoked fear and hatred of immigrants almost every time he opens his mouth on the subject. His racism runs deep, because it is so obviously apparent in any sentence with the word 'Mexicans' in it. What Democrats believe, and I think I'm speaking for everybody here, is that America should not tear babies from their mothers' arms, we should not put children in cages, we should not separate families, and we should not see immigrants as invaders. We can talk about our slight differences in how we would restore America's moral leadership on the world stage, but that restoration will happen if anyone standing here tonight is elected president -- but if Trump wins, we're in for four more years of hanging our heads in shame before the rest of the world."

The whole damn river

Here's one to answer some baited question on gun control.

"You know, the N.R.A. and their bought-and-paid-for Republicans always try to paint Democrats as somehow far outside the mainstream of American political beliefs. But the reality is that we're all in agreement over one basic fundamental change that absolutely needs to take place. Every time a gun changes hands, there should be a background check. Period. No exceptions. No loopholes. And you know what? An astounding ninety-three percent of the public agrees -- in a country where the two sides generally can't agree on much of anything. Over nine in ten Americans support universal background checks, including a majority of Republicans and a majority of gun owners. Our position is not just the mainstream position, it's the whole damn river. Democrats have been fighting to pass universal background checks for years, the people are behind us, and only the N.R.A. and the cravenness of the Republicans are standing in our way. That's just a fact."

Someone human, in other words

This one could be used in response to all sorts of silly questions.

"You know what I think America is crying out for right now? A president who understands the concept of empathy. A president who doesn't visit mass shooting victims only to boast of his crowd size. A president who understands that when people are hurting and their lives have been devastated, the correct thing to do is not to playfully toss paper towels at them. A president who understands that times of crisis are times when politics should absolutely be set aside, and not fought bitterly over while millions are still in danger. A president who doesn't have a Category 5 ego. In short, America really needs a president who is humanly capable of feeling another's pain. And anyone up on this stage is capable of that, unlike the current resident of 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue, who never saw a crisis he couldn't make worse by the insertion of his own gargantuan ego."

The no golf pledge

Want one that's short and sweet? Here you go.

"You know what? I will pledge right here and now -- and I'd bet that everyone else here tonight would join me in this -- that if a Category 5 hurricane is threatening America's shores, I will not duck out to play a round of golf. I would do everything in my power to help people survive the storm rather than working on my putting game."

Let's move the bar back up

And one final one, just because.

"That's a pretty silly question to ask, when we've got a president who thinks he can change reality by drawing on a week-old map with a Sharpie pen. If I am elected, I will hold as many briefings as it takes to understand each issue and every crisis, instead of forcing everyone to boil it all down to a single page with lots of graphics. I promise I will read not only whole paragraphs, but entire briefing books on serious problems. Anyone with a reading level above the fourth grade could do better than what we've got now. And if I ever inadvertently get something wrong -- especially a warning of danger to people who are not at risk -- then I will immediately correct my mistake, and also quickly apologize for making it. I will not spend the entire following week trying to bend reality to match the mistake I made. I do not have an ego which demands that every word I say has to be the truth, because when facts show otherwise, I admit my mistake and move on with the new information. Any sane leader would make such a promise. I mean, each time I think Trump can't possibly set the bar any lower, he goes right ahead and moves it even further downwards. If I'm elected president, I swear to set the bar as high as possible instead of searching for creative new ways to embarrass myself, my political party, and the entire United States of America."

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