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Trump Administration Plans to Speed Deportations

The Department of Homeland Security has drawn up new guidance for immigration agents that may speed up deportations. The new guidelines specify that when people seeking asylum show up asking to be admitted, the immigration agents are to ask for evidence that the asylum seeker has a credible fear of persecution back home based on race, religion, nationality, membership in some social group, or political opinion. People who can make a case that they will be persecuted if they are sent home, will be allowed to make their case in a U.S. court. Those who can't are detained and then sent back.

The logistics of sending people back is not so simple, however. People detained on the Mexican or Canadian borders can be put in a bus, driven over the border, and released there. People from other countries, however, have to be housed in a detention facility until a flight home can be arranged. None of this is free. To carry out the plan, Congress will have to appropriate more funds for more and bigger detention facilities, as well as for plane tickets.

Another complication is that rejectees have the right of appeal and may request to have a judge overturn their rejection. All in all, the new guidelines may not actually result in stopping the flow of asylum seekers all that much. (V)

Another Day, Another Non-Existent Terrorist Attack

Kellyanne Conway gave us the non-existent "Bowling Green Massacre." Sean Spicer added the never-happened "Atlanta attacks." Donald Trump joined the party Saturday night, lamenting imaginary terrorism in Sweden: "Sweden, who would believe this? Sweden. They took in large numbers [of refugees]. They're having problems like they never thought possible."

This has now happened enough times that the pattern is clear. Team Trump wants to believe that the world is going to hell in a (terrorist) handbasket, and so they grasp onto any reporting that serves to corroborate their pre-conceived notions. This is a classic example of confirmation bias. Confirmation bias is something that all humans need to guard against; what makes it worse in this case is that much of Trump's inner circle does not appear to be particularly skilled consumers of information. Conway got her "news" from unreliable sources (Breitbart). Spicer badly jumbled his facts (he apparently meant Orlando rather than Atlanta). And Trump apparently watched a Fox News report on Friday, in which a filmmaker tried to equate refugees with an increase in crime in Sweden, and then repeated that thesis as fact, in very garbled fashion. He has acknowledged this; Swedish authorities have affirmed that the accusation has no basis. A lot of administrations would be embarrassed by errors like these, but this one—not so much, it would seem. Just label any pushback "fake news" and call it a day. (Z)

Trump Searching for New National Security Advisor

Presumably hoping to avoid any further embarrassment after having one National Security Advisor resign and another one decline the appointment, Donald Trump is taking his time interviewing potential candidates for his third attempt to fill the job. Retired generals David Petraeus and Stanley McChrystal are already out of the running; here are the four interviewees whose names are confirmed:

  • Keith Kellogg: Kellogg, as we have already noted, is serving as National Security Advisor on an interim basis. He's got a lengthy and diverse resume, but also some significant liabilities, particularly his role in the disastrous occupation of Iraq, and his work with some of the most controversial defense contractors in America.

  • Robert Caslen: A career army officer and current lieutenant general, Caslen is presently serving as superintendent of West Point. He's got broad experience in security, logistics, and combat, and is heavily decorated, having earned particular attention for entering the wreckage of the Pentagon several times on September 11 in search of injured people. He's also run afoul of ethics rules, however, having endorsed the evangelical organization Christian Embassy in violation of army policies forbidding public support of private organizations.

  • H.R. McMaster: Another career army officer and lieutenant general, McMaster is an expert in logistics and in building supply chains. He first earned attention for his doctoral thesis-turned-book, Dereliction of Duty: Lyndon Johnson, Robert McNamara, The Joint Chiefs of Staff, and the Lies that Led to Vietnam, in which he was hypercritical of the military leadership of that war. Unsurprisingly, McMaster has developed a reputation for his willingness to question military orthodoxy and to challenge his superiors when appropriate. For this, he is known as "The Iconoclast General."

  • John Bolton: Bolton is the best-known name on the list, having served for a little more than a year as U.S. ambassador to the United Nations under George W. Bush. Bolton was a recess appointment; the Senate refused to confirm him permanently because of his arch-conservative views, reckless verbiage, and abusive personality. The generally-reticent Colin Powell came out against him, while State Department official Carl W. Ford, Jr., said, "I've never seen anybody quite like [him]; I don't have a second, third or fourth in terms of the way that he abuses his power and authority with little people."

Reading the tea leaves, Bolton is probably the favorite, because he has the support of Vice President Mike Pence and CIA Director Mike Pompeo. However, he's also the most likely to generate controversy and/or scandal, and Trump may not want to go there so soon after Flynn left in disgrace. McMaster and Caslen are safe picks, though a guy who is known for pushing back against his superiors does not seem to be the President's cup of tea, so McMaster is probably behind Caslen. If Kellogg were acceptable, he surely would already have been hired. Ergo, the guess here is that it's Bolton if Pence and Pompeo get their way, and otherwise it's Caslen. Of course, Trump likes his surprises, so it could also be "none of the above." Someone should check with Kid Rock to see if he's been contacted. (Z)

Trump about to Discover that Dealing with China Isn't So Easy

During the campaign, Donald Trump argued that China is a currency manipulator and should be punished. Trump has the authority to declare China a currency manipulator on his own, which could result in punitive tariffs to correct the situation. There is probably bipartisan support in Congress for doing so. Such support isn't needed, but not having an angry Congress trying to strip the president of that power would be a plus.

However—and actual governing is full of "howevers"— North Korea claims it is getting close to having a nuclear missile that could reach the United States. Trump has basically four options for dealing with North Korea:

  • A military strike
  • Talks with North Korea
  • Missile Defense
  • Playing the China card

Option 1, a military strike, could lead to Korean War II, and possible nuclear attacks on U.S. allies such as South Korea and Japan. Millions could be killed. This is not an attractive option.

Option 2, talks, is not likely to get anywhere. North Korea is not going to give up its nuclear program voluntarily. With nuclear missiles, it is an important country to be reckoned with; without them, it is just another desperately poor country that is easily ignored.

Option 3, building a missile defense system, will cost a fortune and probably won't work when it is needed. Imagine trying to shoot a speeding bullet out of the air by aiming a gun at the bullet and firing. It's just too complicated and can't be effectively tested in advance.

Finally, we come to option 4: getting China to help. About 20% of North Korea's total exports consist of coal shipped to China. China doesn't really need the coal and wouldn't be hurt much if it banned all imports of North Korean coal, something it says it will do until the end of this year. In addition, North Korea gets nearly all its oil and much of its food from China. If China were to stop exporting oil and food to North Koreas, that country would collapse.

This is where things get tricky. If Trump declares China to be a currency manipulator and imposes a tariff on Chinese exports to the U.S., he is not likely to get a lot of cooperation in the matter of North Korea. Given that options 1-3 are very unlikely to work, giving up option 4 is probably not a wise idea. That is not to say Trump won't try, but he may be quite surprised that China has its own interests as well as its pride, and after being punished by the U.S. China might decide not to help out with respect to North Korea. (V)

Could Trump Jail Reporters Who Publish Leaks?

No president has even been happy with the media, but at his rally in Florida on Friday, Donald Trump moved in uncharted territory when he called the media "the enemy of the American people." No president has ever come even close to saying anything like that before, at least, not in public. He also said he had called the Justice Dept. to look into the leaks.

Historically, the Justice Dept. has always chosen the cases it wants to pursue on its own. It is not supposed to take orders from the president and then report back to him on the results. But there is no law prohibiting the president from asking the attorney general to pursue a certain case and no law preventing the AG from doing it.

The First Amendment protects freedom of the press, but how that could be applied to a case when a reporter published an unsourced leak that the president claimed was untrue is uncertain. Ultimately, it might be up to the Supreme Court to determine what the First Amendment really means, if anything. (V)

Why Should America Trust You?

There is no question, at this point, that Donald Trump is engaged in a systemic campaign to undermine "the media"—by limiting access to him, by threatening punishments against those who offend, and by persuading his base that reporters are liars and/or "the enemy." He does this, of course, because the outlets he does not like produce unfriendly stories, many of which undermine his image or his agenda. They also challenge him in person—this weekend, for example, after Trump misstated his electoral vote tally, NBC News' Peter Alexander asked: "Why should Americans trust you when you accuse the information they've received of being fake [but then] you're providing information that's not accurate?" Trump hemmed and hawed in response to this question, then blamed his staff. The Donald's previous career simply has not prepared him for this situation; his business partners undoubtedly rolled with whatever lines he chose to peddle, while keeping their eyes on the pot of gold at the end of the Trump-branded rainbow.

Of course, when Trump blasts "the media," he doesn't really mean "the media." Breitbart News, Fox, Rush Limbaugh, etc. are also "the media," but Trump is unconcerned with them because they are friendly. In fact, his real strategy is not to shut "the media" down, but instead to supplant critical outlets with fawning ones. That was particularly clear this weekend when the White House credentialed The Gateway Pundit, an unabashedly pro-Trump blog. Their chief Washington correspondent, Lucian B. Wintrich, is close with Milo Yiannopoulos, and was previously best known for his "Twinks4Trump" photos of young, nearly nude men posing in Trump regalia. Wintrich, who prefers to call Trump "daddy," said that, "We will be doing a little trolling of the media in general here." Needless to say, eliminating critical media and surrounding oneself with only friendly mouthpieces is something straight out of the Vladimir Putin playbook (not to mention the playbooks of Fidel Castro, Mao Zedong, Hugo Chávez, Adolf Hitler, et al.). (Z)

"Impeach President Bannon" Signs Appear around the Country

Signs reading "Impeach President Bannon" have been appearing around the country, including New York, D.C., San Francisco, and Los Angeles. The implication is that senior adviser to the president, Steve Bannon, is effectively running the country and Donald Trump is just his puppet. One example of his enormous power is that he appointed himself to the National Security Council, while at the same time demoting the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff to a subordinate position in which he will be allowed to attend when needed, but otherwise is not welcome. Another example of Bannon's power is the executive order banning people from seven majority-Muslim countries from entering the U.S. The courts have shot it down. A third example of Bannon's work is a statement on Holocaust Remembrance Day that didn't mention Jews. (V)

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---The Votemaster and Zenger
Feb19 Trump Continues to Ignore the Grown-Ups in His Cabinet
Feb19 Priebus Is All In on Trump
Feb19 Keep an Eye on Mike Pence
Feb19 Trump Retreats from Governing, Goes Back to Campaigning
Feb19 Trump Travel Costs Skyrocketing
Feb19 Trump's Pick for Navy Secretary Reportedly About to Withdraw
Feb19 Milo Yiannopoulos Will Be Keynote Speaker at CPAC Conference
Feb18 Senate Confirms Pruitt
Feb18 Business and Politics Keep Colliding
Feb18 Ryan's Tax Plan Is Running into Trouble
Feb18 Veteran John McCain is Back at War--with Donald Trump
Feb18 Russian Headache Getting Worse for Trump
Feb18 Could Mark Sanford Tell Trump to Take a Hike?
Feb18 Score Settling Continues as Trump Administration Staffs Up
Feb17 Trump Holds a Chaotic News Conference
Feb17 Harward Says, No Thanks
Feb17 Trump Names Alexander Acosta to be Secretary of Labor
Feb17 Mike Dubke Chosen as Communications Director
Feb17 Publications Are Offering Ways to Provide Tips Anonymously
Feb17 Chaffetz Gets to Work
Feb17 Current Wall is Full of Holes
Feb16 Puzder Withdraws Nomination
Feb16 Trump Picks Harward for NSA
Feb16 Who Told Flynn to Talk to the Russians?
Feb16 What Is Pence's Role Now and Going Forward?
Feb16 Trump Says Palestinian State Not Needed
Feb16 Trump Rambles in Press Conference
Feb16 Bannon v. Breitbart
Feb16 Anyone's a Candidate for Office These Days. Anyone.
Feb15 What Did the President Know and When Did He Know It?
Feb15 More Russian Headaches for Trump
Feb15 Perez Claims to Have 180 of the 224 Votes Needed to Be Elected DNC Chairman
Feb15 Hillary 2020?
Feb15 House Freedom Caucus Throws Up a Roadblock to Repealing the ACA
Feb15 Puzder Told Ex-Wife: I Will See You in the Gutter
Feb15 More Protests Are Coming
Feb15 Trump Will Have Huge Power to Reshape the Courts
Feb15 Ethics Office Recommends Punishing Conway
Feb14 Out Like Flynn
Feb14 Mnuchin, Shulkin Confirmed by Senate
Feb14 Four GOP Senators Undecided about Puzder
Feb14 What Does Trump Really Believe?
Feb14 Trump's Approval Rating Hits New Low in Gallup Poll
Feb14 Strange New Senator
Feb13 Cornyn: A Physical Wall on the U.S.-Mexico Border Would Not Rate High among Texans
Feb13 Trump Beats Voter Fraud Drum Again, and Again
Feb13 Trump's Good Friend Says Priebus Has to Go
Feb13 Conway Knows Exactly What She is Doing
Feb13 Impeach Trump!
Feb13 Thus Far, the Presidency Has Been Bad for Business