• North Korea, U.S. Continue War of Words
• What Trump Is Actually Good At
• Sessions Says Reversing Erroneous Tax Credits Could Pay for Wall
• Ben Carson Disappoints at HUD
• Trump Says He Won't Fire Spicer
• France: It's Le Pen and Macron
Office of Management and Budget Director Mick Mulvaney was on "Fox News Sunday," and he dropped a bit of a bombshell: The White House is planning to unveil its ideas about tax reform on Wednesday. This news came as something of a surprise to the Treasury Department, and to the members of Congress, neither of whom were consulted about the plan.
The proposal is apparently going to include specific cuts, as well as a list of "generalities" for Congress to consider. Donald Trump says that the cuts he wants are "massive" and "bigger, I believe, than any tax cut ever." Mulvaney, for his part, says that no decision has been reached as to whether there will be cuts in the budget to offset the tax cuts, or if the plan will add to the national debt. They have about 48 hours to figure it out, which really should be plenty of time for decisions whose ramifications could be felt for decades and which would involve literally trillions of dollars.
This is clearly a non-starter. Once again, the White House is forging ahead in haphazard fashion, without involving any of the many stakeholders who view this as a life-and-death issue. There is zero chance that the biggest tax cut ever is going to get through Congress that way, particularly given the looming signs of a recession. The strategy here seems to be for the President to do "something," watch it founder on the shores of the Capitol building, and then to blame Speaker Paul Ryan (R-WI), et al. That's much easier than achieving actual tax reform. (Z)
The U.S.S. Carl Vinson still hasn't made it to North Korea; right now, it's in the Philippines (1,700 miles away) on maneuvers. That did not stop the North Koreans from responding, however. On Sunday, they placed an article in the national Workers' Party newspaper warning the Trump administration that, "Our revolutionary forces are combat-ready to sink a U.S. nuclear powered aircraft carrier with a single strike." The same article also claimed that North Korea has a working hydrogen bomb, as well as the means to deliver a warhead anywhere in the Pacific, or to the continental United States.
Presumably, not even Kim Jong-Un actually believes this. However, that did not stop the Pentagon from responding angrily: "We call on (North Korea) to refrain from provocative, destabilizing actions and rhetoric, and to make the strategic choice to fulfill its international obligations and commitments and return to serious talks," said a spokesman. The U.S. government also insisted that the Carl Vinson would be traveling to North Korea very soon.
The clash between the Kim administration and the Trump administration is not just limited to posturing, however. On Sunday, North Korea detained an American citizen as he tried to exit the country, the third time they have done so in week. All of this has South Korea very nervous; they are on "heightened alert" and are meeting with American and Japanese officials to discuss how to, "rein in North Korea's additional high-strength provocations, to maximize pressure on the North, and to ensure China's constructive role in resolving the North Korea nuclear issue." If President Trump was not already clear what kind of hornet's nest he was tangling with, presumably the South Koreans will set him straight. (Z)
Donald Trump's entire public image is built on the notion that he's a skillful businessman and negotiator. That was the core of his persona as a New York playboy in the 1980s and 1990s, was the justification for his hosting "The Apprentice" in the 2000s, and was a cornerstone of his case for the presidency last year.
And yet, as Politico's Michael Kruse observes, the evidence of his success as a businessman and negotiator is not all that abundant. What is abundant are his failures: the USFL team, the two divorces, the five-times-bankrupt casinos, the airline, the magazine, the vodka, the fraudulent university—the list goes on and on. His first 100 days have followed a similar pattern, a few scattered successes, but a lot of failures, and no particular evidence of the business acumen negotiating ability we've heard so much about.
So, how does he do it? Tim O'Brien, author of TrumpNation: The Art of Being the Donald has an answer: "He's not successful at what he claims to be successful at. He is, however, arguably the most successful self-promoter in United States business and political history. And that's a form of success." As O'Brien, and a dozen others interviewed by Kruse point out, Trump has a long history of covering up his failures by loudly and unabashedly declaring them to be successes. "He knows of no other way," says reporter George Rush, who covered Trump for many years. "[He] spins until he's woven some gossamer fabric out of garbage." This certainly squares very well with what we've seen of Trump the president so far; he's suffered reverse after reverse and accomplished virtually none of the things he promised to accomplish in his first 100 days. And yet, he has declared himself to be off the to best start in American history.
The question, of course, is whether or not this can actually work for a politician. Barbara Res, who was once a vice president in the Trump Organization, thinks so. "I can't think of anything he hasn't been able to spin into some kind of success. I've always said he must have sold his soul to the devil. Because he wins all the time. He always wins. He seems to get away with everything." Historically, there's obviously no direct precedent for Trump, but there are at least two presidents in recent memory who were unusually adept at dodging blowback and bending the narrative to suit their needs: Ronald Reagan and Bill Clinton, both of whom were occasionally described as "The Teflon President." Each time their enemies thought they were dead in the water, Reagan and Clinton saw their approval ratings go up. It's not impossible that Trump could prove to be a new iteration of that sort of leader, essentially a Teflon President v2.0. (Z)
Attorney General Jefferson Beauregard Sessions III already made headlines this week for his flippant remarks about Hawaiian judge Derrick Watson. Though he was excoriated, he refused to apologize. On Sunday, Sessions seemed to put his foot in his mouth again, answering a question about the Mexican border wall thusly:
We're going to get paid for it one way or the other. I know there's $4 billion a year in excess payments, according to the Department of the Treasury's own inspector general several years ago, that are going to payments to people—tax credits that they shouldn't get. Now, these are mostly Mexicans. And those kind of things add up—$4 billion a year for 10 years is $40 billion.
This is nonsense, on a number of levels. First of all, the treasury report he's apparently referring to makes no mention of ethnicity—the assumption that the money is being claimed by "mostly Mexicans" is Sessions' own, and is utterly unsupported with evidence. Beyond that, if it were so easy to claw back every dollar of that money (for 10 straight years, no less), the IRS would already have done so.
So, what is going on with Sessions? Has the cheese finally slipped off the cracker? Probably not. Though he has a history of shooting from the hip, this week's apparent feet in the mouth actually seem to have been carefully planned. After the Sessions-Russia fiasco, and the Attorney General's decision to recuse himself from the investigation, the White House was furious with him and nearly asked for his resignation. So these days, everything Sessions says publicly is intended for an audience of one: Donald Trump. The complaint about how unfair it is that a mere judge "on an island in the Pacific" can block the president makes much more sense when viewed through that lens. So does Sunday's declaration, given that the same exact factoid was used in the same exact way in a 2015 speech by...Donald Trump. From here on out, we should probably keep this in mind whenever Sessions makes any public statements. (Z)
On the campaign trail, and in his public appearances in general, Ben Carson tended to underwhelm. He's something of a shrinking violet, does not convey much breadth of knowledge, and has demonstrated little ability to speak extemporaneously. That is not necessarily definitive—the same description could be applied to Henry Cavendish, for example, and he's one of the most brilliant minds of all time—but it certainly doesn't inspire confidence. Still, when Carson took the reins at the Department of Housing and Urban Development, his new staff were hopeful that his religion and his profession, both of which are rooted in compassion, along with his underprivileged upbringing, would lead to progress on the issue of affordable housing.
Now, we are two months in and Carson, currently in the midst of a "listening tour," has left his subordinates disappointed and demoralized. His addresses to staff invariably focus on exactly two subjects: God, and neurosurgery. He tends to start with the former, and then to transition to the latter in somewhat ham-fisted fashion: "We should be grateful that God gave us variety. But you know what he didn't give us variety in? The brain." Said one listener: "I was trying to take notes on what he was saying about housing. I could have filled a page with neurosurgery notes."
Thanks to his tendency to lean on these twin crutches, Carson's ideas about housing are still a mystery. He has yet to fill any of his undersecretary positions, and his agency's budget is scheduled to be slashed by nearly 15%. Indeed, his performance thus far has been so poor that it's given rise to a group of dedicated anti-Carson protesters called CarsonWatch. There's still time to turn it around, but it's up to Carson to show he's the man who can do it. (Z)
To complete our trio of items on Trump underlings whose job performance has been less-than-stellar, we now turn to White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer. His failings have been well documented here and on other blogs, in newspapers, on television talk shows, and, most notably, on "Saturday Night Live." It's been so bad that we and many others simply assumed he was a dead man walking, and it was only a matter of time until the ax fell. On Sunday, however, President Trump insisted that was not the case, and that Spicer's job is safe regardless of how badly he flails about. The reason: "That guy gets great ratings. Everyone tunes in."
That is spoken like a true reality television star, and an adherent of the school that says there is no such thing as bad publicity (except, maybe, your obituary). Unsaid by Trump, but possibly also on his mind, is that whenever people are talking about Spicer's blunders, they are not talking about Trump's blunders. With the obvious caveat that the Donald regularly makes 180-degree turns on a time, perhaps Spicer really will manage to survive to 2018. Or, at least, until July. (Z)
The people of France have registered their preferences, and have chosen Emmanuel Macron (23.9% of the vote) and Marine Le Pen (21.4%) to advance to the second and final round of voting for the presidency. The duo slightly outpaced François Fillon (19.9%) and Jean-Luc Mélenchon (19.6%).
This result means that the final matchup will mirror the U.S. presidential election, inasmuch as it pits a Hillary Clinton-style moderate leftist (Macron) against a Donald Trump-style populist reactionary (Le Pen). However, there are two significant differences, and both would seem to favor Macron. The first of these is that Macron, and not Le Pen, is the political Johnny-come-lately, having only launched his career a few years ago, and having served largely behind the scenes. Le Pen has been a leading figure in the National Front Party (which her father founded) for decades, and so has had time (like Clinton) to alienate lots of French citizens.
The second difference is that neither Macron nor Le Pen comes from France's major political parties, so they cannot automatically expect to acquire votes from their vanquished foes. When Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX) dropped out of the U.S. election, for example, Donald Trump could reasonably assume that most Cruz voters would jump on board the S.S. Make America Great Again. In France, by contrast, the Ted Cruz-like candidate (Fillon) has already urged supporters to vote for Macron, declaring, "The party created by Jean-Marie Le Pen has a history known for its violence and intolerance. Its economic and social program will lead our country to failure." The candidate who is like Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT), Mélenchon, has also endorsed Macron, as has the Jill Stein-like candidate, Benoìt Hamon (6.3%), who said that his supporters simply must vote for Macron in the next round of voting "even if he is not left-wing" because it is imperative that Le Pen be defeated.
The final result, which will be determined on May 7, will be of great interest beyond France's borders. First, because it's another chapter in the current struggle between liberal democracy and reactionary nationalism that has been playing out across the West over the past several years. Second, because Le Pen hates the EU even more than Theresa May. If she wins, France will likely withdraw, and the EU may well collapse. The French media, for their part, are already assuming that Le Pen's defeat is a done deal, and have turned their attention to the question of whether or not Macron can build a parliamentary majority. Two weeks until we find out. (Z)Email a link to a friend or share:
---The Votemaster and Zenger
Apr23 Retail Decline Presages Trouble for Trump
Apr23 Why Did Trump Win? Racism
Apr23 Surgeon General Asked to Resign
Apr23 Trump Will Hold 100th Day Rally
Apr23 Democrats' Eyes Turn to Montana
Apr23 Trumps' Marriage in Trouble?
Apr22 Russians Tried to Infiltrate Trump Campaign
Apr22 Trump Shifts Gears on North Korea
Apr22 Trump Slams "100 Days"
Apr22 Chaffetz Wants Answers
Apr22 Schiff Is on the Rise
Apr22 Conservative Media Think They Can Dictate Staffing; White House Apparently Agrees
Apr22 French Head to the Polls Tomorrow
Apr21 Russians Tried to Infiltrate Trump Campaign
Apr21 Trump Shifts Gears on North Korea
Apr21 Trump Slams "100 Days"
Apr21 Chaffetz Wants Answers
Apr21 Schiff Is on the Rise
Apr21 Conservative Media Think They Can Dictate Staffing; White House Apparently Agrees
Apr21 French Head to the Polls Tomorrow
Apr20 Russian Smoke Getting Closer to Being a Smoking Gun
Apr20 Trump Administration Deports First DREAMer
Apr20 Vinson Plot Thickens
Apr20 Bye, Bye Jason!
Apr20 Bye, Bye Bill!
Apr20 Ricketts Withdraws Name from Consideration
Apr20 New England Patriots Visit White House
Apr19 Ossoff Comes Up Short
Apr19 Warships Headed to North Korea Are in...Australia
Apr19 China Hands Out Trump Trademarks Like Candy
Apr19 Hypocrisy, Thy Name Is Trump
Apr19 O'Reilly May Be Done at Fox
Apr19 Trump Signs "Buy American, Hire American" Executive Order
Apr19 Scientists to March on Washington
Apr19 UK Will Hold Elections
Apr18 Everyone's Watching GA-06 Today
Apr18 Nothing Has Changed with Trump's Tax Returns
Apr18 Gorsuch Hits the Ground Running
Apr18 New Polls Are Mostly Bad News for Trump
Apr18 Democrat Wants to Amend Presidential Removal Procedure
Apr18 Chris Christie: He's Baaaaaack
Apr18 How Does Spicer Feel About McCarthy's Impersonation?
Apr17 Everyone's Watching GA-06 Today
Apr17 Nothing Has Changed with Trump's Tax Returns
Apr17 Gorsuch Hits the Ground Running
Apr17 New Polls Are Mostly Bad News for Trump
Apr17 Democrat Wants to Amend Presidential Removal Procedure
Apr17 Chris Christie: He's Baaaaaack
Apr17 How Does Spicer Feel About McCarthy's Impersonation?