SESSIONS FAILS IN BID TO BE NAMED “CABINET’S WORST” — FINISHES IN DEAD HEAT FOR RUNNER-UP WITH EPA’S PRUITT — DE VOS JUST “TOO BAD TO LOSE!”

Sports fans, I thought I had this one pegged for sure! Jeff “Gonzo Apocalypto” Sessions was an early favorite in the NY Times/Gail Collins Reader’s Poll Competition for “Worst Cabinet Member.”  And, to be honest, I didn’t see any way he could blow this one (after all, it’s not like having to remember whether you met the Russian Ambassador a few months ago) despite the undeniably fierce and well-unqualified competition. But, in the end, Education Secretary Betsy DeVos wouldn’t be denied; she “out-worsted” the field. I have to admit that I had underestimated her worst characteristics (although not by much). Still, as pointed out below, timing could have hurt Sessions’s bid.

Collins reports:

“It was a hard-fought race, people. But the results of our Worst Trump Cabinet Member reader poll are in.

And the winner is — Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos!

With a near tie for second place between Scott Pruitt of the Environmental Protection Agency and Attorney General Jeff Sessions. “It’s hard to be worse than Sessions or Pruitt. But DeVos deals with … children,” wrote a Michigan reader.

DeVos really hates public schools — something you don’t find often in a secretary of education. Her goal seems to be replacing them with charter schools, none of which will need much oversight because, you know, the choice thing.

Many readers noted that our secretary of education does not seem to be … all that bright. (“DeVos is a solid choice based on irony alone.”)

But I can’t help thinking Sessions might have taken the prize if his appearance before the Senate Intelligence Committee had gone on just a little longer. He clearly wowed viewers with his alleged inability to remember things. (“Wins by a Pinocchio.”) Some were taken by his resemblance to a bad hobbit or gremlin (“malevolent pixie”). But others simply found Sessions … bad. (“He is detestable and should have little tiny horns on the back of his head.”)

. . . .

Let’s be extremely clear that this was not a scientific survey. In fact, it was pretty hard to get any count at all since many readers couldn’t resist the temptation to take the easy route and pick all of the above. (“I’ve seen better cabinets at Ikea.”) Or to name five. Or to complain that selecting one Worst was too hard. (“Trying to pick a winner from this bunch is like trying to knit a sweater with wet spaghetti.”)

It’s not that everyone was negative — there were a few kind words for James Mattis, the secretary of defense, and some mixed reviews on Secretary of State Rex Tillerson. But a lot of folks still seem to be in a state of trauma over that big meeting President Trump called last week, in which the cabinet members tried to one-up each other in the fulsomeness of their praise for their commander in chief. (“That cabinet meeting looked like one of those cheap TV ads you see where people praise a tomato slicer. …”)

Unfortunately, we couldn’t count the Worst Cabinet Member votes that were given to somebody who wasn’t actually in the cabinet. Donald Trump cannot get the prize. Nor can Jared or Ivanka or Omarosa. Also we cannot name Eric Trump’s wedding planner, even though she has just been named to one of the top jobs in the Department of Housing and Urban Development.

One reader was unnerved by rumors that Kansas Gov. Sam Brownback, after having finished wrecking his state’s economy, is now in line for a federal job and asked if he could be nominated Worst in advance.

Special tip of the hat to readers who chose Rick Perry. I have to admit I didn’t even mention him when I wrote the column proposing the Worst vote-off. But a number nominated him, generally pointing to the fact that when Perry took the job, he was unaware that the Department of Energy’s main responsibility was tending the nation’s nuclear arsenal, not traveling the world to boost the sale of American oil and gas.

Just as balloting came to a close, Perry gave an interview on CNBC in which he downplayed carbon dioxide’s role in global warming, explaining that “most likely the primary control knob is the ocean waters and this environment that we live in.”

This is a man who just keeps on campaigning. Plus, as one correspondent noted, if Perry ever won the Worst award “his acceptance speech would be epic.”

We saw a lot of votes for Tom Price, the secretary of health and human services, for his heroic efforts to ruin national health care and the social safety net. And Ben Carson got a surprising amount of support, considering that we barely ever hear about him doing anything. One reader was apparently won over by the painting the secretary of housing and urban development has in his home, showing Jesus with his arm around Ben Carson.

But DeVos is definitely our Worst Cabinet winner. For now. Do you think we should do this every few months? And what should the award look like? Anything’s possible. After all, we’ve got another three and a half years.”

You can read Collin’s entire piece (I “shorted” the coverage of Scott Pruitt) at this link: https://www.nytimes.com/2017/06/22/opinion/betsy-devos-trump-worst-cabinet-member.html?em_pos=small&emc=edit_ty_20170622&nl=opinion-today&nl_art=1&nlid=79213886&ref=headline&te=1

If Trump doesn’t fire him or force him to resign first, I think Gonzo has a realistic shot at destroying the entire U.S. legal system that it has taken us more than 200 years to build and putting half our population in privately run prisons or detention centers to boot. Now, that would have to make him the hands-down “winner!”

PWS

06-22-17

WashPost: Trump Actually Has A Strategy — It’s Ugly!

https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/powerpost/paloma/daily-202/2017/06/06/daily-202-trump-signals-to-his-base-that-he-is-a-man-of-action/5935fccce9b69b2fb981dc64/?utm_term=.90d201c44030

James Hohmann writes in the PowerPost:

“THE BIG IDEA: Some have called him crazy. He thinks he’s crazy like a fox.

Let’s dispense once and for all with the fiction that Donald Trump doesn’t have a strategy. It may be a deeply-flawed strategy for reasons the neophyte president is not yet savvy enough to appreciate, but make no mistake: there is a strategy.

The conventional wisdom around Washington is that Trump is being impulsive as he disregards the counsel of his lawyers, who are correctly warning him that the travel ban may not survive a Supreme Court review if he continues to talk about it the way he does.

Yet the president has now explicitly called for a “TRAVEL BAN” five separate times on Twitter over the past four days. Undercutting the spin that he was just reacting to a morning cable segment he saw on TV before coming downstairs to work, his social media team posted a video on Facebook (an account he doesn’t personally control) that featured the tweets set to dramatic music.

He posted this at 9:20 p.m. last night:

If Trump truly cared about the underlying ban and wanted it to be in place for the country’s security, as he claims, he would not be speaking so freely. The billionaire businessman has been mired in litigation off and on for decades and has demonstrated an ability – when his own money was at stake – to be self-disciplined.

The only explanation, then, is that he cares less about winning the case than reassuring his base. The number of posts reflects the degree to which Trump thinks the travel ban is a political winner. He is trying to signal for his 24 million Facebook fans and 31.7 million Twitter followers that he’s fighting for them, regardless of what the judges, the media and the Democrats say. As Trump put it this morning:

— Bigger picture, the president is trying to maintain his populist street cred and show his true believers that he’s not going wobbly on them after five months in Washington, despite back-tracking on more of his campaign promises than he’s kept.

Trump has always been a flashy show horse. Why would anyone think a septuagenarian is suddenly going to buckle down to become a work horse? As a developer, biographers and former associates say, he consistently cared more about the gold-plated façade than the foundation. This is why Trump could obsess about how the lobbies of his properties looked, even as his business ventures careened toward bankruptcy under the weight of bad loans and poor bookkeeping. (Marc Fisher explored this dynamic in February.)

— With his agenda imperiled, Trump increasingly seems determined to create an aura of effectiveness in the hopes that core supporters already inclined to support him won’t be able to tell the difference between optics and substance. Remember, this is the same candidate who once boasted that he could shoot someone on Fifth Avenue and his voters would stick with him.

Consider this: “Trump employed all the trappings traditionally reserved for signing major bills into law as he kicked off ‘infrastructure week’ on Monday: the stately East Room full of dignitaries, a four-piece military band to serenade, celebratory handshakes and souvenir presidential pens for lawmakers, promises of ‘a great new era’ and a ‘revolution’ in technology. Yet the documents Trump signed amid all the pomp were not new laws or even an executive order. They were routine letters to Congress, relaying support for a minimally detailed plan in Trump’s budget to transfer control of the nation’s air traffic control system to a private nonprofit group,” the Los Angeles Times’s Noah Bierman reports.

But low-information voters may not be able to tell the difference when they see the b-roll of the ceremony on TV or an image in the paper.

It follows a pattern of Trump over-promising and under-delivering: “He touted the unveiling of his tax overhaul in April but released only a one-page set of bulleted talking points,” Noah writes. “Just last week, he tweeted that his tax bill is proceeding ‘ahead of schedule,’ though he has submitted no bill to Congress … Trump held a Rose Garden ceremony in May to celebrate House passage of a bill to repeal Obamacare … even as Republicans in the Senate served notice that the House bill was unacceptable. His promised ‘beautiful wall’ on the southern border is not yet on a drawing board. Likewise, many of the executive orders Trump has signed failed to live up to the president’s rhetoric.”

Bloomberg’s Toluse Olorunnipa noticed an amusing pattern and just posted a smart trend story about it: “From overhauling the tax code to releasing an infrastructure package to making decisions on NAFTA and the Paris climate agreement, Trump has a common refrain: A big announcement is coming in just ‘two weeks.’ It rarely does. … Trump’s habit of self-imposing — then missing — two-week deadlines for major announcements has become a staple of his administration … The president has used two-week timelines to sidestep questions from reporters or brag to CEOs at the White House. But his pronouncements have also flummoxed investors, Congress and occasionally even members of his staff.”

Is this strategy gimmicky and cynical? Absolutely. Does it work? For millions of people, yes.

Trump hands off a pen after signing a &quot;decision memo&quot; and a letter to members of Congress outlining broad principles of his plan to privatize the nation&#39;s air traffic control system. (Jabin Botsford/The Washington Post)</p>

Trump hands off a pen after signing a “decision memo” and a letter to members of Congress outlining broad principles of his plan to privatize the nation’s air traffic control system. (Jabin Botsford/The Washington Post)

— To be sure, Trump’s talent for showmanship has gotten him this far. He developed a valuable brand as a reality TV star and has leveraged his celebrity to get through rough patches before. He brought that skillset to the presidential race and assumes it will continue to work in Washington.

Indeed, White House officials defend Trump by arguing that he’s simply governing as he campaigned. “The president won an election by being somebody who is not a conformist candidate,” Marc Short, the White House director of legislative affairs, told reporters during a conference call last night. “He won by being somebody who the American people were anxious to change the culture in D.C. They understand that they were asking for disruption to the way D.C. operates. And I think that they’re anxious, the American people are anxious to see progress in this town. So he may not have conventional style in doing that, but many of his efforts are extremely helpful to, I think, getting our legislation accomplished.”

Short’s explanation offers a deeply revealing window into Trump’s theory of the case: All of the let-‘er-rip tweets in the wake of the attack on London Bridge have been focused on ginning up the GOP base. The president believes that, so long as grassroots activists back him, his adopted party’s lawmakers will have no choice but to follow. The fact that so many politicians have caved and capitulated over the past two years has taught him that he can get away with his unusual behavior. What the Republican governing class has never understood is that Trump doesn’t really respect people who kowtow to him; he sees it as a sign of their weakness. Seeing such timidity has only emboldened this president to pursue this bottom-up, outside-in approach. There is no evidence he will change until elected Republicans buck him en masse.

— Here’s the rub: There are some fresh signs that Trump’s act is wearing thin. While Trump’s floor of support has thus far stayed surprisingly high, the percentage of Americans who “strongly” approve of the president has continued to slip – from 30 percent earlier in the spring to about 20 percent now.

— More and more GOP lawmakers are also getting sick and tired of either defending the president or dodging questions about his latest provocative statement. “Trump’s refusal to disengage from the daily storm of news — coming ahead of former FBI director James B. Comey’s highly anticipated public testimony before the Senate Intelligence Committee on Thursday — is both unsurprising and unsettling to many Republicans (on the Hill), who are already skittish about the questions they may confront in the aftermath of the hearing,” Robert Costa reports on the front page of today’s Post. “In particular, they foresee Democratic accusations that Trump’s exchanges with Comey about the FBI probe into Russian meddling in the 2016 presidential campaign were an effort to obstruct justice. Some Republicans fear that Trump’s reactions will only worsen the potential damage.”

  • “It’s a distraction, and he needs to focus,” said former Trump campaign adviser Barry Bennett. “Every day and moment he spends on anything other than a rising economy is a waste that disrupts everything.”
  • “Unfortunately, the president has, I think, created problems for himself by his Twitter habit,” John Cornyn, the second highest-ranking Senate Republican, said with characteristic understatement during a Sunday interview on the Dallas TV station WFAA.
  • “We live in a world today where unfortunately a lot of communication is taking place with 140 characters. Probably it’s best to refrain from communicating with 140 characters on topics that are so important,” Bob Corker, chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, said one day after golfing with the president.

— Efforts to create a “war room” stocked with former campaign officials and top-flight lawyers have stalled.“Three people briefed on the matter said the process has been bogged down by a lack of decision-making in the West Wing over how to proceed, as well as reluctance from some of those the White House hoped to recruit about serving a president who keeps getting in his own way,” the AP’s Julie Pace reports. “The White House has made a conscious decision to avoid answering questions about the Russia probes, referring inquiries to Marc Kasowitz, the president’s outside counsel. Kasowitz has so far had no comment on the investigations, leaving those questions unanswered.”

“Anybody with press chops looks at this and they’re fearful there’s not a path to succeed,” said Sara Fagen, former White House political director for George W. Bush.

— Top lawyers with at least four major law firms rebuffed White House overtures to represent Trump in the Russia investigations, in part over concerns that the president would be unwilling to listen to their advice, Michael Isikoff reports for Yahoo News this morning. “Before Kasowitz was retained, however, some of the biggest law firms and their best known attorneys turned down overtures when they were sounded out by White House officials to see if they would be willing to represent the president.”

Jerry Moran leaves a closed-door GOP caucus luncheon at the Capitol.&nbsp;(J. Scott Applewhite/AP)</p>

Jerry Moran leaves a closed-door GOP caucus luncheon at the Capitol. (J. Scott Applewhite/AP)

— Trump wants to blame Democrats for blocking his agenda, but the truth is that he cannot even get 50 Republican senators onboard for his biggest priorities. Consider these two other quotes from yesterday:

Kansas Sen. Jerry Moran, a former NRSC chairman and one of the most reliable votes in the Republican conference, put out a stinging statement about Trump’s push to privatize the country’s air traffic control system: “Proposals to privatize air traffic control threaten the reliable transportation options provided by small airports and the general aviation community for millions of Americans. All but our largest airports nationwide stand to be hurt by this proposal. Privatization eliminates the chance for Congress and the American people to provide oversight, creates uncertainty in the marketplace and is likely to raise costs for consumers.”

On health care: “I just don’t think we can put it together among ourselves,” South Carolina Sen. Lindsey Graham told a gaggle of reporters, joining a growing chorus of Republicans who publicly and privately say that Obamacare repeal is unlikely to happen. (Last week, Richard Burr (R-N.C.) made a similar comment and Jeff Flake (R-Ariz.) said he doubted a bill could pass before the August recess.)

— “The most effective opponent of the Trump Presidency is Donald J. Trump,” the conservative Wall Street Journal editorial board opines this morning. “If Mr. Trump’s action is legal on the merits, he seems to be angry that his lawyers are trying to vindicate the rule of law. Attorney General Jeff Sessions would be justified if he resigned. … If this pattern continues, Mr. Trump may find himself running an Administration with no one but his family and the Breitbart staff. People of talent and integrity won’t work for a boss who undermines them in public without thinking about the consequences. And whatever happened to the buck stops here?”

— “The man is out of control,” Eugene Robinson writes in his column today. “I know his unorthodox use of social media is thought by some, including the president himself, to be brilliant. But I don’t see political genius in the invective coming from Trump these days. I see an angry man lashing out at enemies real and imagined — a man dangerously overwhelmed.”

— “The president has gone rogue,” adds Dana Milbank.“Though Trump’s ineffectiveness comes as a relief, his isolation is no cause for celebration. Whenever his back is to the wall, he becomes even more aggressive. The further he falls, and the more alienated he grows, the greater the danger that he will do something desperate — and there is much that a desperate commander in chief can do.”

Dana flags that an unnamed Trump confidant told CNN’s Gloria Borger last week that the president is a lost man:“He now lives within himself, which is a dangerous place for Donald Trump to be. I see him emotionally withdrawing. He’s gained weight. He doesn’t have anybody whom he trusts.”

***************************************************

Pretty grim outlook for the President, for the country, and for the world. Elections have consequences. And, in this case they are as bad as it gets.

PWS

06-08-17

 

GRIFTER REPORT: Kushner Family Hawks EB-5 Visas In PRC — “Hurry, hurry, hurry, folks, step right up and buy your visa before Jared’s Daddy-In-Law ends immigration forever! Not to worry, we’ve got “connections!”

https://flipboard.com/@flipboard/flip.it%2F1jpx-y-kushner-family-in-beijing-invest-500000/f-b48e7285ec%2Fcnn.com

From CNN:

“THE KUSHNER FAMILY HOPES TO LURE INVESTMENTS FROM WEALTHY BUSINESS OWNERS IN CHINA WITH THE PROMISE OF AMERICAN VISAS.

Nicole Kushner Meyer, the sister of White House adviser and President Trump’s son-in-law Jared Kushner, spoke at an event in Beijing on Saturday. She was marketing a Kushner-owned property in New Jersey — invest in the development and get into the United States on a so-called EB-5 visa.

The EB-5 visa allows immigrants a path to a green card if they invest more than $500,000 in a project that creates jobs in the United States.

An ad for the event, held at a Ritz-Carlton hotel, said “Invest $500,000 and immigrate to the United States.”

An advertisement for the Beijing event touts a Kushner Company investment opportunity.

The EB-5 visa has been used by the Trump and Kushner family businesses. Foreigners, particularly wealthy Chinese nationals, have used the EB-5 program as a ticket into the states. And that promise has helped attract foreign investments for U.S. real estate projects.

President Trump has taken an anti-immigration stance and vowed to severely tighten the use of work visas. The EB-5 program has come under fire by members of Congress on both sides of the aisle.

Lawmakers say the program essentially sells citizenship to high-income foreigners.

On Saturday, potential investors in the Kushner project were told they should act quickly because possible policy changes to the EB-5 program might raise the required minimum investment.

Nicole Kushner Meyer also told the crowd how her grandfather immigrated to the United States and built a business from the ground up.

And she mentioned Jared’s new position in the White House. Though she did not reference President Trump by name, his photo appeared on a slide that listed the “key decision makers” on the EB-5 program.

“In 2008, my brother Jared Kushner joined the family company as CEO, and recently moved to Washington to join the administration,” she said.

Jared Kushner serves as an influential senior adviser to the president. Trump has at various times said he would lead or play a key role in many policy areas from foreign affairs to business innovation.

The event was meant to draw investors for 1 Journal Square, a $976.4 million residential and commercial project underway in New Jersey. The company says about 15% of it will be funded through the EB-5 program.

Jared Kushner has stepped away from the business since taking a key role in Trump’s White House.

His attorney, Blake Roberts, said Kushner is not involved in the operation of Kushner Companies and divested his interests in the Journal Square project by selling them to a family trust that he, his wife and his children are not beneficiaries of, which was suggested by the Office of Government Ethics.

“As previously stated, he will recuse from particular matters concerning the EB-5 visa program,” Roberts said in a statement.

The Beijing event, which was organized by Chinese immigration agency Qiaowai, was open to the public. Reporters from the Washington Post and the New York Times attended but said they were later asked to leave.

Kushner Companies declined to comment. Qiaowai could not be immediately reached for comment.”

***************************************

These folks are shameless. But, try as they might, they will never be able to achieve the level of the “Grifter-In-Chief!” Thanks to Nolan Rappaport for alerting me to this!

PWS

05-07-17

 

LA TIMES EDITORIAL #5: “Conspiracy Theorist In Chief”

http://www.latimes.com/projects/la-ed-conspiracy-theorist-in-chief/

“It was bad enough back in 2011 when Donald Trump began peddling the crackpot conspiracy theory that President Barack Obama was not a native-born American. But at least Trump was just a private citizen then.

By the time he tweeted last month that Obama had sunk so low as to “tapp [sic] my phones during the very sacred election process,” Trump was a sitting president accusing a predecessor of what would have been an impeachable offense.

Trump went public with this absurd accusation without consulting the law enforcement and intelligence officials who would have disabused him of a conspiracy theory he apparently imbibed from right-wing media. After the FBI director debunked it, Trump held fast, claiming he hadn’t meant that he had been literally wiretapped.

Most people know by now that the new president of the United States trafficks in untruths and half-truths, and that his word cannot be taken at face value.

Even more troubling, though, is that much of his misinformation is of the creepiest kind. Implausible conspiracy theories from fly-by-night websites; unsubstantiated speculations from supermarket tabloids. Bigoted stories he may have simply made up; stuff he heard on TV talk shows.

. . . .
This is pathetic, but it’s also alarming. If Trump feels free to take to Twitter to make wild, paranoid, unsubstantiated accusations against his predecessor, why should the nation believe what he says about a North Korean missile test, Russian troop movements in Europe or a natural disaster in the United States?

Trump’s willingness to embrace unproven, conspiratorial and even racist theories became clear during the campaign, when he repeatedly told tall tales that seemed to reinforce ugly stereotypes about minorities. Take his now famous assertion that he watched thousands of people in “a heavy Arab population” in New Jersey cheer the collapse of the World Trade Center on 9/11, an astonishing account that no one has been able to verify. PolitiFact rated that as “Pants on Fire.”

Or his retweeting of a bogus crime statistic purporting to show that 81% of white homicide victims are killed by blacks. (The correct figure was 15%.)

On several occasions he retweeted white nationalists. (Remember the image of Hillary Clinton and the star of David, for instance?)

His engagement with, to put it politely, out-of-the-mainstream ideas has attracted some strange bedfellows. It may not be fair to attribute to his senior aide, Steve Bannon, all the views that were published on the controversial alt-right site Breitbart.com, of which Bannon was the executive chairman. But it is certainly fair to wonder why Trump has elevated to a senior West Wing position a man who has trafficked in nonsense, bigotry and rank speculation.”

*******************************************

Read the entire editorial, part of a series that has been posted on this blog, at the above link.

For me, the key quote: “But it is certainly fair to wonder why Trump has elevated to a senior West Wing position a man who has trafficked in nonsense, bigotry and rank speculation.”

Apparently, Bannon and his crowd are now locked in a “death struggle” with the “Trump-Kushner Family” over who gets the President’s ear. Consider Bannon’s ouster from the NSC, where he had absolutely no business being in the first place (does this guy really have a security clearance?), as a victory for Kushner and Gen. McMaster. That’s notwithstanding planted “fake news” from the Bannon faction downplaying the move and absurdly attempting to pass it off as “normal evolution.”

But, Bannon is a lifetime “conspirator” and not someone who takes slights in stride (just like his boss). Probably only Kellyanne Conway had more to do with Trump being in the White House today. And, Bannon isn’t someone Trump wants on the “outside” lobbing bombs and grenades back at to Oval Office and talking trash to Trump’s Breitbart-reading base. So, I wouldn’t count him out.

PWS

04/06/17