Gage Skidmore / Flickr Donald Trump...
Gage Skidmore / Flickr

Trump’s Rose Garden Insanity

The shambling, incoherent “I don’t need to do this” hour Trump spent at the edge of the Rose Garden on Friday reminded enough people just why the 25th Amendment is a good thing, that I decided to create a category just for this thought.

Charles Pierce: Rails against how the press has normalized of the utterly bizarre. 

This is the headline at the website of the New York Times atop its story about El Caudillo del Mar-a-Lago’s appearance in the Rose Garden on Friday.

Trump Declares National Emergency to Build Border Wall

From the Washington Post, we get:

Shutdown averted: President Trump has signed a sweeping spending bill hours before funding expired for parts of the government

And from the Wall Street Journal:

Trump Declares Emergency, Plans to Allot Billions in Additional Wall Funds

There are fine journalists who work at all three of these respected publications. I know many of them and, most of the time, I hold their work in high regard. But I fear they missed the story that was staring them right between the eyes on Friday. To wit:

The President* is A Delusional Maniac With Sawdust Pouring Out Of Both Ears.

Even watching the absolutely terrifying display of incompetence and chaos, one thing that was amazing in the moment was just how many journalist played along. Trump talked about the Chinese trade deal so … journalists asked about that, rather than about the crazy, Constitution-busting action he had just taken. That anyone wrote about Trump’s performance on Friday as if it were in any way normal, is a sign of how poorly those journalists as serving the public.

My sweet bearded Lord, what a performance. I don’t know what my favorite part was. It might have been when he admitted to NBC’s Peter Alexander that he was only declaring an emergency because he wanted to get his mitts on the money as fast as possible. It might have been the moment when he recalled how Barack Obama told him that he was planning on launching a “very big war” on the Korean Peninsula.

I really, really want an actual on camera, on the record statement from Obama on this point.

Jonathan Chait: Trump’s emergency declaration is proof that he’s unfit for office.
New York Magazine

At worst, President Trump’s claim of emergency powers that would allow him to expand barriers on the southern border is a gross violation of democratic norms. At best, it is a craven ploy to cover his own blundering. Either way, it is a devastating indictment of his capacity to handle his job.

Begin with the worst-case scenario. As a matter of principle, the Constitution establishes a system that requires the House, Senate, and the president to approve new laws. In some cases, expediency requires the president to act unilaterally. Those rare cases are not defined as emergencies because they’re important — lots of policy is important, even life-threatening. The emergencies are cases where the executive needs to act in an especially urgent way, and where congressional involvement may not be practical.

Like most actions intended to prove that someone is “tough,” Trump’s declaration does the opposite—it shows that he’s weak. In this case, incredibly weak. Weak enough that he was unable to either convince Democrats in the House to give him what he wanted, or to convince Republicans in the Senate that his request was so valuable that it was worth a second shutdown. And the reason that Trump is so weak, is that what he’s asking for has no real value.

Most of the uses of emergency powers involve foreign policy, an area where Congress has (for better or worse) ceded most of its authority to the president anyway. Presidents have not been able to use emergency powers to simply roll over congressional opposition. Bill Clinton considered health-care reform an extremely vital problem with literal life-and-death consequences — and he was right — but he never contemplated using some form of emergency powers to impose the reforms he couldn’t get Congress to enact.

What Mitch McConnell is counting on at this point is that Democrats are so inherently more honest and rule-abiding than Republicans that they will not leverage Trump’s actions to obtain things that are blocked by Republicans in the Senate, but which are extremely popular with the public. That … is not a very solid bet by the turtle.

Mike Littwin: On the no-emergency emergency.
The Colorado Independent

I know it seems early in the game, but the argument over whether there is a real national emergency on the southern border — hint: there isn’t — is already over.

Done. Finished. Finito.

Don’t take my word or the word of any number of experts. For once, and this is the real shocker, you can take Donald Trump’s word.

In a rare moment of Trumpian candor, Trump told the truth about his bogus emergency declaration — with the surprising reveal that there is no emergency at all. In telling the truth, he didn’t just undercut his declaration. He put a knife through the heart of it. He basically conceded that he was, uh, appropriating $7 billion that Congress had appropriated for other uses, much of it from the Pentagon. And he was doing this because Congress — a co-equal branch of government, which constitutionally controls the purse — had overwhelmingly voted that he couldn’t.

It’s not the only time Trump told the truth in that speech. He also admitted that he was only doing it because of politics and that he didn’t care about the military families he was hurting by taking away money to build their homes. Neither of these things decreased the insanity of the speech.

Dana Milbank: On why Trump’s performance was 25th Amendment worthy.
Washington Post

His topic demanded utmost solemnity: The situation on the border is so dire, such a crisis, that he must invoke emergency powers to circumvent Congress, testing the boundary between constitutional democracy and autocracy. But with the nation watching, Trump instead delivered a bizarre, 47-minute variant of his campaign speech.

He boasted about the economy, military spending and the stock markets (“we have all the records”), and he applauded the Chinese president’s pledge to execute people who deal fentanyl (“one of the things I’m most excited about in our trade deal”). He said Japan’s prime minister had nominated him for the Nobel Peace Prize. He declared Ann Coulter “off the reservation” but praised his favorite Fox News hosts and celebrated Rush Limbaugh’s endurance (“try speaking for three hours without taking calls”).

Both the Atlantic and the Washington Post have now provided complete transcripts of the event. And I hope the writers assigned to the task are being an appropriate amount of time to recover in appropriately quiet, well-padded rooms.

Oh, and he also mentioned his emergency declaration — specifically, that it isn’t necessary. “I didn’t need to do this,” he said in response to a question from NBC’s Peter Alexander. It’s just that the emergency declaration lets him build a border wall “faster.” He acknowledged that “I don’t know what to do with all the money” Congress gave him for border security, and he said that even if he only gets an amount closer to the $1.35 billion Congress authorized for barriers, “it’s going to build a lot of wall.”

Somehow, I bet Trump finds a way to spend that money.

New Green Deals

Will Bunch: Is looking for more Green New Deals at the state level.
Philadelphia Inquirer

If a foreign adversary announced to the world that it had a new arsenal of destructive nuclear weapons and threatened the imminent doom of the United States, what would we do? Push for a peace deal that would limit and hopefully end the atomic threat? Invest heavily in missile defense?

If you were running the state of Pennsylvania, you’d probably propose a brand-new radioactivity tax — the more rads, the more tax dollars flowing into Keystone State coffers — and scheme to spend all that new revenue on 15 million protective suits, or a giant glass dome to save Altoona.

Wait. I know the answer to this. You’d take the agency that was supposed to protect everyone from this threat, and give it the mission of actually handing out centrifuges and bomb casings to terrorists. Right? That’s pretty much how we’ve treated the EPA under Trump.

That sounds crazy, but how else to describe the ironically named Restore Pennsylvania, Gov. Wolf’s newest plan for taxing the state’s robust fracking industry. It proposes a severance tax to pay for a bridge repair here and some sewage treatment there — and would lock in fossil-fuel production just as the rest of the world is focused on the all-too-real planetary threat of climate change.

If Pennsylvania wants to look at what happens when you bind your economy to an extraction industry on its way out, check one state south — with West Virginia.


Hamid Dabashi: The Iranian Revolution enters middle age.
Al Jazeera

“Death to fascism! Death to fascism!” That is all we could scream, a crowd of a few thousand gathered at the football field of Tehran University to rally against the Islamists trying to claim the revolution for themselves. We were an eclectic crowd – some were leftists, some were not; more than half of us were women, some scarfed, many not; some men wore beards, many not – but we all had one thing in common: We could all recite the poetry of Forough Farrokhzad and Ahmad Shamlou faster than we could any verse of the Quran. And we too had a claim on this revolution.

Like every such story, what happened then — what happened immediately — was a heartbreaking destruction of idealism and an elevation of the most violent, most extreme elements.

Today the ruling regime in Iran is celebrating the 40th anniversary of the successful establishment of the Islamic Republic on the ruins of a collective dream for a free and open Iran whose tragic death Iranians at large have been mourning for the last four decades.

This story is repeated so often, so identically, in counties that are world’s apart geographically, socially, in religion, and in history … that it’s a wonder any revolution ever throws up anything else. There’s a particularly nasty form of selection going on in such events. One with a very small tolerance for people seeking non-violence, justice, and equality.

Nancy LeTourneau: Trump’s effort to start a war with Iran isn’t getting many takers.
Washington Monthly

When Trump pulled the United States out of the Iran nuclear agreement, he didn’t just reimpose sanctions on that country. The administration also set up arrangements to sanction our allies who continued to do business with Iran. Last month Britain, France, and Germany—three countries who were also signatories to the Iran deal—found a way to get around those.

Saudi Arabia is already engaged in a proxy war in Yemen using weapons supplied by Trump. Israel is happy enough to cheer on a conflict. But Trump and company have not just failed to get European partners to sign on to a new war, they’ve encouraged US allies to make closer ties with Iran.

Earlier this week I noted that national security advisor John Bolton made a provocative claim that Iran continued to seek nuclear weapons, which is a lie. Given the fact that he has been advocating for military intervention in Iran for years now, I speculated that one of the things stopping Trump from going along with that is the fact that Russia is such a strong ally of Iran. That is what makes Secretary of State Pompeo’s statements in Warsaw so significant.

These particular comments were criticisms of Russia. But … they’re coming from Pompeo, not Trump. Starting a conflict with Iran would be a big deal, and even with Bolton slobbering in the corner, that likely remains obvious.

Border Security

Laurie Roberts: Isn’t surprised that her Senators won’t comment on the “emergency.”
Arizona Republic

The president of the United States has declared a national emergency, a crisis of unprecedented and apparently cataclysmic proportion right here in our own state.

Fortunately, Arizona’s senators stand ready to boldly confront this emergency, to lead us in this troubling time of national turmoil.

Here’s what Republican Sen. Martha McSally had to say Friday, after President Donald Trump declared this national emergency – one that allows him to go around Congress and spend billions of dollars on a border wall.

Democratic Sen. Kyrsten Sinema was similarly bold in her response:

“Congress just did its job, approving more resources for border security. Congress has more work to do on immigration and border security, and I will keep working with my colleagues to get it done.”

Not since their non-leadership on last month’s government shutdown have I see such bold and decisive unwillingness to take a stand.

That’s a seriously awful amount of non-comment from Sinema. She may be convinced that heads-down is the best political posture. She shouldn’t be.

Racism and politics

Renée Graham: White women: from slave owners to Trump voters
Boston Globe

When 52 percent of white women who voted helped Donald Trump win the presidency in 2016, pundit jaws hit the floor. Despite months of polls, few predicted that a majority of white women would shun Hillary Clinton in favor of a racist and misogynist who bragged about his non-consensual grabbing of women’s vaginas and faced multiple accusations of sexual assault and misconduct.

Stephanie E. Jones-Rogers was only shocked that anyone was shocked.

“A small majority, but nevertheless an important majority of white women embraced Trump and what he stands for – embracing, ultimately, white supremacy,” Jones-Rogers, author of the compelling new book “They Were Her Property: White Women as Slave Owners in the American South,” told me when I interviewed her. For the past decade, she researched the role of many white women during the slavery era, and finds modern parallels with women who support Trump.

There’s no discussion of slavery or racism that’s comfortable. There’s no such discussion that should be comfortable.

“What begins in the colonial period is the emergence of a racially divided social order where whiteness has a value that being a woman just does not have,” Jones-Rogers says. “I see time and time again in my research that when white women are given a choice, they overwhelmingly choose to be empowered by whiteness, and to embrace white supremacy.”

Please, let this be one trend that is over.

Joan Walsh: Plots a chart for Virginia Democrats.
The Nation

The state of Virginia delivered a decisive anti-Trump counterpunch in November 2017. Fifteen new Democrats, 11 of them women, won election to the House of Delegates, and three Democratic men—Governor Ralph Northam, Lieutenant Governor Justin Fairfax, and Attorney General Mark Herring—aced their races decisively, powered at least partly by the “reverse coattails” of those female insurgents, and an unprecedented turnout by black and women voters behind them.

A little over a year since those new leaders went to Richmond, the promise of their transformative energy has been subverted into managing a crisis, given the unexpected transgressions of Northam, Fairfax, and Herring. For those who’ve just emerged from seclusion: In a few days last week we learned that Northam and Herring, white Virginians nearing 60, had dressed in blackface in early adulthood. At first, the next steps seemed clear: Northam should resign, and Fairfax, a rising African-American political star, would take his place. But almost immediately Fairfax found himself credibly accused of sexual assault by first one and now two women (he denies the accusations). Northam refused to resign, denying that he wore blackface in an offensive yearbook photo but admitting he darkened his skin for a Michael Jackson costume, and apologizing, promising to devote the rest of his term to “healing” Virginia’s racial divisions.

Republicans are wrong to think that problems for the top Democrats is going to reverse the trend that has been moving the state ever more blue. But that doesn’t make the situation any less of a mess.

For Republicans to profit politically from Democrats’ higher standards on racial issues strikes many people as perverse. After all, the state’s GOP voters in 2018 chose anti-immigrant, pro-Confederate monument right-winger Corey Stewart as their Senate nominee—and he lost overwhelmingly to Senator Tim Kaine. Virginia voters have shown their dislike for the GOP’s racial politics in multiple elections over the last decade, going back to Allen’s 2006 loss, followed by Barack Obama’s victories in 2008 and 2012, Governor Terry McAuliffe’s victory in 2013, and increasing Democratic dominance ever since. Is putting the party of voter suppression and economic inequality in full control of state government really a just and fair solution to the Democrats’ internal crisis?

Universal Basic Income

Christine Emba: On a Finnish experiment that’s producing interesting results.
Washington Post

Is the idea of unconditional economic security really so extraordinary? In fact, Finland recently completed a landmark basic income project aimed at just that. And while the results are preliminary, they give us reason to reflect on our own values.

The concept of a universal basic income (UBI) isn’t new, but interest has picked up in recent years. A state-dispensed, unconditional cash stipend for every single citizen — whether willing to work or not — has been touted as a way to decrease welfare bureaucracy, give workers more bargaining power and perhaps end deep poverty as a whole.

One of the main goals of the Finnish project was to test whether a basic income would promote employment. The program handed 2,000 unemployed citizens 560 euros (about $635) per month for two years, from January 2017 to December 2018. The money was unconditional: Participants would continue to get the stipend even if they found work.

The thing about the results in Finland is not that they’re unusual, but that they agree with results from smaller and more limited studies.

Findings from the first year of the program were released Feb. 8. On the work front, the program wasn’t much of a success: During the first 12 months, at least, basic income recipients fared no better or worse at finding employment than a control group.

Wait for it.

But it made a radical difference in other ways.

“The basic income recipients of the test group reported better well being in every way,” chief researcher Olli Kangas told Reuters. They experienced fewer problems related to health, stress and ability to concentrate. They were more confident in their futures and their ability to influence social matters. Their trust in institutions increased.

We’ve built a system that is so dependent on jobs that “getting a job” is regarded as the primary goal, even of a study on paying people who do not have a job. But that how we should be shaping our society, especially at a time when automation is threatening to reduce the availability of work, while further concentrating wealth?

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