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TODAY'S HEADLINES (click to jump there; use your browser's "Back" button to return here)
      •  Trump Signs Two Executive Orders
      •  Trump Is Preparing More Executive Orders
      •  Trump Wants to Investigate Voter Fraud
      •  Congressional Republicans to Trump: Get with the Program
      •  Trump Says He Wants to Expand Gitmo, Resume Torture
      •  Trump's Inaugural Speech Was Well Received
      •  Another Path to Trump's Tax Returns
      •  Gillibrand 2020?
      •  The Clocks Are Striking Thirteen

Trump Signs Two Executive Orders

President Trump signed two more important executive orders yesterday, saying: "I just signed two executive orders that will save thousands of lives, millions of jobs and billions and billions of dollars."

As with Trump's previous executive orders, these are more for show than anything else. The first order instructs the DHS to start building the wall with Mexico. Such a wall is a massive infrastructure project and will cost something like $20-30 billion, an amount the Republican Congress is very unlikely to fork over one-two-three. There are also huge logistical barriers, since a goodly portion of the boundary is in rugged desolate mountains and another large piece is the Rio Grande River. Other portions are on private land, which will almost certainly require taking it using eminent domain, a procedure Republicans hate and which will be tied up in the courts for years. Tenders for competitive bids have to be written. The whole idea that the wall can just start with a stroke of Trump's pen is nonsense. It might well happen, but only if Congress decides it wants to draw up a detailed plan of action and appropriates the needed funds.

The second executive order calls for an end to "catch-and-release," but not as applied to fish. In the past, sometimes federal agents would inadvertently come across an undocumented immigrant who wasn't causing any trouble and let him go rather than start up the deportation machinery. Trump wants that to stop and have every undocumented immigrant sent home, assuming it can be determined where "home" is and assuming that country is willing to accept the person. Remember, these people are undocumented, that is, they don't have any identifying documents, like passports. The number of people affected by this order is small. If Trump wants to set up a deportation force that would systematically go around looking for undocumented immigrants to deport, it would require an act of Congress and a lot of money. The order also bans people from Iraq, Syria, Iran, Sudan, Libya, Somalia, or Yemen from being admitted to the U.S., unless they are persecuted Christians. Again, this will be tough to carry out, as everyone from those countries seeking admission is suddenly going to claim to be a persecuted Christian. All it will take is carrying a miniature New Testament to show to the immigration officer.

But what Trump understands better than most people is that it doesn't matter that his orders have little effect. He gets a huge amount of publicity and credit with his followers for taking action, even if the action doesn't achieve anything. It's all about appearances, and Trump is a master of that. (V)

Trump Is Preparing More Executive Orders

More executive orders are in the pipeline. Some of these could have an actual impact. One of them would reduce or eliminate U.S. funding to international organizations that give full membership to the Palestinian Authority or the Palestine Liberation Organization, or support programs that fund abortions, or circumvent sanctions on Iran or North Korea. Notably, circumventing sanctions on Russia is not a problem. The goal is a 40% decrease in overall funding.

The order also establishes a committee to determine what should be cut. Among other possible targets are the International Criminal Court and peacekeeping operations around the world. What Trump doesn't see coming down the road is that other countries, especially China, might try to help fill the gap, greatly increasing the relative power of China and decreasing the power of the U.S. in these organizations.

The second pending executive order calls for a review and possible moratorium on multilateral treaties. Trump is known to prefer bilateral treaties, where the relative negotiating power of the U.S. against one other country is much greater than if it is five against one or ten against one. One of the "treaties" (although it is not formally a treaty) that will be reviewed is the Paris climate agreement. Others that Trump doesn't especially like are the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women and also the Convention on the Rights of the Child. (V)

Trump Wants to Investigate Voter Fraud

By all evidence, Donald Trump is going to keep loudly insisting that he actually won the popular vote in November. He doubled down on the matter yet again on Wednesday, calling for a "major investigation" into voter fraud. This certainly does little to dispel our hypothesis that he's got Narcissistic Personality Disorder.

In any event, if Trump really wants an investigation, he'll get one. The DOJ staff would be the obvious candidate to look into it, and they all work for The Donald. Presumably, he does not realize, or does not care, how very badly this could backfire on him. There is, of course, the embarrassment and derision that will follow if the investigation turns up nothing. More importantly, though, he risks undermining the case for voter ID laws, which have been a key part of GOP strategy since the Voting Rights Act was struck down in 2013. Presumably, Trump advisers and GOP leaders will both prevail upon him to drop the issue, but—judging by the available evidence—he may simply be incapable of doing so.

Of course, once the report is finished, Trump may actually read it and order the attorney general to delete the word "no" in some important sentences, such as "We have found no credible evidence of large-scale voter fraud." The new attorney general, Jeff Sessions, might well agree to that but if someone lower down the totem pole decides to leak the unexpurgated version, there could be some blowback. (Z & V)

Congressional Republicans to Trump: Get with the Program

Republican leaders attending the party's annual retreat are already frustrated with their new president. In particular, they are unhappy that he has wasted the first week of his tenure talking about crowd size, voter fraud, building walls, and torture, issues they don't care a whit about. They are annoyed that he hasn't focused on the issues that are a priority with them, especially cutting taxes and repealing the Affordable Care Act. The hints from the Senate leadership are gentle, but unmistakable. Sen. John Thune (R-SD), who is #3 in the Senate Republican leadership team, said: "This is obviously a transition that's underway here. I expect you'll see probably better coordination over time" (English translation: We will have to work much harder to get this guy to understand what is actually important).

Infrastructure is another problem area, but it is the reverse here. Trump has repeatedly promised to spend $1 trillion over the next 10 years to improve the nation's crumbling infrastructure. Republican leaders in Congress are appalled by the idea of such spending, which would make the deficit explode. They would prefer he stop talking about infrastructure, preferably permanently. Now it is always possible that Trump and Hill Republicans will compromise, except that both see "compromise" as a dirty word. (V)

Trump Says He Wants to Expand Gitmo, Resume Torture

Donald Trump was interviewed by ABC News yesterday, and did some of his usual improvising on policy matters. In particular, he declared that torture "absolutely" works, and that he will give serious consideration to overturning Barack Obama's ban on the practice. He also wants to resume sending prisoners to Guantanamo Bay, and possibly to reopen CIA-run "black site" prisons in other countries (e. g., places not subject to American law).

The new position on torture is a reversal of Trump's previous anti-torture position, which was itself a reversal of his previous pro-torture position. So, who knows what he really believes? It is the case, however, that (1) the weight of the evidence suggests that torture does not work, and that it primarily serves to weaken America's moral authority and to undermine the morale of American personnel, and (2) several members of Trump's administration, notably Secretary of Defense James Mattis, are strongly anti-torture. So, cooler heads may still prevail. And if the President runs roughshod over the former general, he could find himself with a resignation on his hands. (Z)

Trump's Inaugural Speech Was Well Received

While much of the media panned President Trump's inaugural speech, saying it was mean-spirited and divisive, the voters seem to have liked it. A new Politico/Morning Consult poll showed that 49% of the people who watched it or heard about it said it was excellent or good. In contrast, only 39% said it was fair or poor. In addition, 65% reacted positively to Trump's repeated use of "America First," a slogan popularized by a pro-Nazi American group in the 1940s. Needless to say, "those who watched Trump's speech" are a self-selected, Trump-leaning group, so the main lesson here is that the President successfully connected with his base. (V)

Another Path to Trump's Tax Returns

Donald Trump is absolutely not going to release his tax returns. Or, wait, maybe he is. Obviously he would rather not do so.

However, it could happen that they become public knowledge anyhow. We previously suggested two possibilities: Another leaker from inside the Trump organization (or inside his accounting firm), or a state law requiring him to release his returns in order to be on that state's 2020 ballot. However, we missed a big one. Trump is already facing a lawsuit over potential violations of the emoluments clause of the Constitution, and he will surely face other conflict-of-interest suits of various sorts. Eventually, one of those suits will move forward to the discovery process, at which point opposing counsel will go after (and possibly get) the returns over the strenuous objects of Trump's lawyers.

Speaking of lawsuits, an electrical contractor who did work on Trump's Washington hotel is now suing Trump over an unpaid bill of $2 million. As the hotel was nearing its completion and Trump was worried that it would not be ready for his planned opening date, he instructed the contractor to work seven days a week, 10-14 hours a day to be ready on time. The contractor was willing to do this, and did, but now expects to be paid for the overtime. This lawsuit probably isn't going to be the one in which Trump's tax returns are subpoenaed, but there are surely more suits to come.

Given the large number of pending and likely future lawsuits, Trump might be smart to release the tax returns now and make it "old news" by 2020. Saturday nights are where news goes to die in general, and the Saturday night before the Super Bowl (February 4) is the king of "nobody's paying attention to the news" nights. But it is unlikely Trump will do this because either (1) he thinks he can keep them secret forever or (2) there is something so damning in there that it would destroy his presidency immediately. Possible candidates are that he is not rich at all or that he owes the Russians a billion dollars. (Z & V)

Gillibrand 2020?

Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY) is the only senator who has voted no on all but one of Donald Trump's cabinet nominees. The one she approved of was Nikki Haley for U.N. ambassador. Already there is speculation that she is preparing for a 2020 presidential run and wants to take a position in the Sanders-Warren wing of the party by opposing everything the president proposes or does. One very big thing Gillibrand has going for her is her age: she is only 50. Senators Sanders (I-VT) and Warren (D-MA) are 75 and 67 respectively. (V)

The Clocks Are Striking Thirteen

It would seem that every pundit on the planet did what we did when Kellyanne Conway enlightened us as to the existence of "alternative facts." Namely, they drew the obvious parallel to George Orwell's 1984, in which war is peace, freedom is slavery, and ignorance is strength. Either the references piqued people's interest, or else they're looking for a possible preview of what America will look like six months from now, because the book is now the best-selling one on Amazon's list. (Z)

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---The Votemaster and Zenger
Jan25 Three Candidates Emerge as Top Contenders for Scalia's Seat
Jan25 Trump Doubles Down on Voter Fraud
Jan25 Trump Administration Continues to Fall into Place
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Jan24 Trump Harps on Voter Fraud Again
Jan24 Media Are Starting to Call Out Trump on His Lies
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Jan23 Alternative Facts Are the New Normal
Jan23 Trump Aides Find First Weekend Worrisome
Jan23 Trump Temporarily Silences Park Service
Jan23 Trump Invites Netanyahu to the White House
Jan23 Donald Trump, Defendant-in-Chief
Jan23 Conway: No Tax Returns, Ever
Jan23 Zuckerberg 2020?
Jan23 Women's Marches in Pictures
Jan22 Massive Protests All over the Country
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Jan22 The Left Will Rise Again?
Jan22 Five Takeaways from the Inauguration
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Jan22 Trump vs. the Media: It's War
Jan22 Justice Department Says Kushner Is Allowed to Advise Trump
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Jan21 First Ethics Complaint Filed Against Trump
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Jan20 Trump Will Inherit a Deeply Polarized Country
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Jan20 Trump to Get the Nuclear Launch Codes Today
Jan20 What Kind of Man Is Trump?
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Jan20 Yellen: Economy Near Maximum Employment
Jan20 How Did this Happen? (Part I)
Jan20 How Did this Happen? (Part II)
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