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TODAY'S HEADLINES (click to jump there; use your browser's "Back" button to return here)
      •  Fight with Mexico Heats Up
      •  Theresa May Meets Donald Today
      •  Trump's Staff and Family Registered to Vote in Two States
      •  Dow Hits 20,000
      •  DeVos Might Be in Trouble
      •  Why Does Trump Ask His Staff to Lie?
      •  Is Donald Trump Just Plain Crazy?
      •  Mar-a-Lago Raises Prices

Fight with Mexico Heats Up

Two developments yesterday have major implications for U.S.-Mexican relations. First, Mexican President Enrique Peña Nieto was so incensed by President Trump's executive order to build a wall between the U.S. and Mexico that he canceled his upcoming trip to D.C. to speak with the President. This incident is one of the most serious rifts with between the two countries in memory and could have serious ramifications going forward.

Second, Press Secretary Sean Spicer finally explained how Trump would get Mexico to "pay" for the wall: Trump wants to impose a 20% tariff on all goods imported from Mexico. The wall is expected to cost $20 billion, but given how difficult much of the terrain is and how many lawsuits there will be from landowners whose property must be seized using eminent domain, probably $30 billion is a safer bet. To raise $30 billion with a 20% tariff would require taxing $150 billion worth of goods entering the U.S. In theory, that should be easy, since Mexican exports to the U.S. are about $290 billion a year. In practice, the vast majority of those exports are products made by American companies. Many of the products, especially vehicles, machines, electronic equipment, and furniture are assembled in Mexico using components originating in complex supply chains involving many countries.

The American companies affected by such a tariff are not going to take this lying down, as it will suddenly make their products 20% more expensive. American cars assembled in Mexico that compete against Japanese cars not made in Mexico will suddenly be at a huge price disadvantage. Many affected companies will respond by moving their manufacturing out of Mexico to other countries. Some will build highly automated factories in the U.S., which will create some jobs for mechanical engineers and computer engineers, but not so many for blue-collar workers. Others will move their facilities to other low-wage countries. In any event, the tariff will be highly disruptive and the affected companies are sure to let Congress know about their thoughts on the subject.

Oops. Maybe they already did. Only hours after Spicer announced the new tariff he began walking it back. If there isn't going to be a tariff after all, it is not clear how Trump will get Mexico to pay for the wall. Maybe somebody pointed out to him that while a tariff would certainly hurt Mexico badly, it would be American consumers who pay for the wall through higher prices for Mexican-made goods. (V)

Theresa May Meets Donald Today

British Prime Minister Theresa May will become the first world leader to meet Donald Trump in the Oval Office today. Many people are comparing their meeting to the famous meetings between Margaret Thatcher and Ronald Reagan, but that is way off base. Thatcher and Reagan genuinely liked and respected each other. Reagan famously insisted that Thatcher call him "Ron," not "Mr. President." Thatcher and Reagan were both conservative, but experienced politicians with similar world views. May and Trump couldn't be more different. May is an experienced, low-key, pragmatic career politician. That description does not fit Trump so well. Also, May loves NATO and dislikes Russia; Trump's positions are the opposite. They also disagree on climate change and Iran, to name just a few topics.

Nevertheless, May will probably try to ignore all these topics and focus on making a bilateral trade deal between the U.S. and the U.K., knowing that Trump loves to make deals and would see this deal as an attempt help break up the European Union, which he dislikes and distrusts. May is nevertheless in a tight spot. If she antagonizes the famously thin-skinned Trump, she won't get the deal she wants. But if she sucks up to him, she sill be pilloried at home for groveling before someone quite unpopular in the U.K. (V)

Trump's Staff and Family Registered to Vote in Two States

President Trump just won't let go on his completely false idea that millions of people voted illegally, including those registered to vote in two states. In particular, on Wednesday he sent out this tweet:

If he starts a major investigation, he could begin close to home, as two of his close relatives and two staff members are (or were) registered to vote in two states. These superpatriotic people are:

  • Daughter Tiffany Trump is registered in Pennsylvania (where she attended college) and New York
  • Son-in-law Jared Kushner is registered in New York and New Jersey
  • Incoming Secretary of the Treasury Steven Mnuchin is registered in New York and California
  • Senior adviser Steve Bannon was registered in New York and Florida, until changing that just this week

It is not against the law to be registered in two states as long as you don't vote in both of them, but Trump's tweet certainly suggests that being registered in two states is fraudulent. It will be interesting to see if he goes after the four above-mentioned people in his quest to stop (nonexistent) voter fraud. (V)

Dow Hits 20,000

The Dow Jones Industrial Index hit 20,000 for the first time this week, and Donald Trump treated that as a major feather in his cap. "We just hit a record, and a number that's never been hit before. So I was very honored by that," he declared. "Now we have to go up, up, up." This is a rather different tune from the one he was singing in September, when he said that the market (then hovering around 19,500) was "in a big, fat, ugly bubble."

In any case, a booming (for now?) stock market is the good news. Now the bad: The success of the market does not directly benefit the majority of Americans. A recent study shows that 54% of American adults do not have money in the market in any form: no stocks, no index funds, no retirement accounts, nothing. So, their boats do not rise with the Dow Jones' tide. For these individuals—and surely many are Trump voters—what really matters is jobs. A rising stock market will help some with job creation, but the effect is indirect, and somewhat weak. In other words, a 5% rise in market value does not translate into 5% more jobs. So, whether it is a bubble or not, Trump still has his work cut out for him. (Z)

DeVos Might Be in Trouble

Sen. Al Franken (D-MN) is leading the charge against Secretary of Education-designate Betsy DeVos, telling Rachel Maddow that no Democrat will vote for her, and that he's working to find a few Republican defectors. Meanwhile, most members of the Senate are getting more phone calls about her—well into the thousands—than about any other appointee (apparently, Attorney General-designate Jeff Sessions is a close second).

So, could this spell doom for DeVos? It's possible, but not probable. Would two or three GOP senators (depending on whether or not Sessions abstains) be willing to stick their necks out over a second-tier cabinet department? Maybe if they wanted to send a message to Donald Trump, or if their state has an unusually large number of right-leaning teachers. Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-SC) seems a possibility, as does Sen. Marco Rubio (R-FL), or Sen. Susan Collins (R-ME). Actually, Collins is probably the opposition forces' best hope, since she could potentially torpedo the nomination at the committee level. The odds still favor DeVos, but if any Trump nominee is turned down, it looks like it will be she. (Z)

Why Does Trump Ask His Staff to Lie?

All politicians mislead the public from time to time, but Donald Trump has asked multiple people on his staff to tell outright lies that are easy to disprove. Matthew Yglesias has a compelling theory why Trump does this. He makes two points. First, willingness to do whatever your leader tells you to do, no matter how embarrassing it is and how much it damages your reputation, is a test of loyalty. If Press Secretary Sean Spicer is willing to tell a baldfaced lie about the size the inaugural crowd, knowing full well that everyone in the audience has seen proof that he is saying something he knows to be false, than Spicer is prepared to do almost anything he is instructed to do. Since Trump prizes loyalty over everything else, Spicer passed the test. In a somewhat similar vein, the Mafia is reputed to ask new applicants to go kill someone on its hit list as a test of loyalty. College fraternities are famous for making new pledges swallow a live goldfish to test their loyalty.

Second, by forcing Spicer, Kellyanne Conway, and others to make fools of themselves in public, he destroys their credibility with the outside world, making it harder for them to get another job later (except maybe with Breitbart) and thus ties them tightly to him. They then rise or sink with him. It's not quite the same as a company having a profit-sharing program or giving all employees stock options, but it does increase their motivation to be loyal to the team.

Ironically, while loyalty means everything to Trump, it also means nothing to Trump. He discards people at the drop of a hat. He dumped campaign managers Corey Lewandowski and Paul Manafort as soon as they were no longer of any use to him. Worse yet, Gov. Chris Christie (R-NJ), former NYC Mayor Rudy Giuliani, and former House Speaker Newt Gingrich basically prostrated themselves at his feet for months, defending him against all attacks, hoping for good jobs in his administration. None of them got anything. So Trump demands blind loyalty from his subordinates, but it is clearly a one-way street. (V)

Is Donald Trump Just Plain Crazy?

That's the title of a provocative op-ed from the Washington Post's Eugene Robinson. And he's hardly the only one raising that question these days. His conservative colleague Jennifer Rubin wrote a similar piece. Washington Monthly's Nancy LeTourneau also wrote one. Nobel winning economist and liberal columnist Paul Krugman took to Twitter to declare that Trump was, "obviously mentally ill the moment he took office." And legendary reporter Carl Bernstein says that, "[T]here is open discussion by members of the President of the United States' own party about his emotional maturity, stability." The White House is already leaking like a sieve, suggesting low morale and high unhappiness, and there have been rumors that Reince Priebus came close to resigning over the weekend.

At best, this is not a good look for new president—to have multiple sources from across the political spectrum questioning one's sanity. At worst, however, it's the prologue to a constitutional crisis. If we imagine that Donald Trump really does have significant mental impairment—that he cannot, for example, easily distinguish between reality and fantasy—then he is not fit to occupy his office. And the Constitution very clearly allows for the removal of a disabled president; Article II establishes this possibility, and the 25th Amendment further clarifies the process. Here is the wording of Sec. 4 of the 25th Amendment:

Whenever the Vice President and a majority of either the principal officers of the executive departments or of such other body as Congress may by law provide, transmit to the President pro tempore of the Senate and the Speaker of the House of Representatives their written declaration that the President is unable to discharge the powers and duties of his office, the Vice President shall immediately assume the powers and duties of the office as Acting President.

But now we come to the "crisis" part of the equation: proving the existence of mental disability beyond all doubt. Physical incapacity, of course, is considerably more black and white. Several presidents in recent memory—Reagan, both Bushes—had medical procedures that required anesthesia while they were in office. They signed paperwork yielding presidential power before going under, and then took it back once they awakened. Easy, peasy. Mental disability is considerably more amorphous, and so much harder to diagnose with complete confidence. What would the standard be to declare Trump (or any other president) to be mentally compromised? The sworn statements of three psychiatrists? Five? Ten? Maybe, or maybe not, since the patient (e. g., Trump) would presumably be unwilling to submit to an examination. And in the absence of a diagnosis that leaves no doubt, then Mike Pence and the eight (or more) Cabinet secretaries who tried to remove Trump would be taking an enormous risk. If they were not sustained, their careers would be over, and they might well be charged with a federal crime.

The U.S. has had presidents who were clearly incapacitated before. Woodrow Wilson had a stroke and his wife, Edith Wilson, was de facto president for a year and a half at the end of his second term. Richard Nixon spent much of his last month in office drunk. Calvin Coolidge suffered from severe clinical depression throughout his second term, following the untimely death of his son. Franklin Pierce was depressed and drunk through his entire tenure, also due to a dead son. Nixon, of course, pushed the eject button himself, but the other three men lingered until their time in office was up. It's true that the 25th Amendment did not exist then, but the problem is not all that much different today. And so, if Donald Trump does not remove himself, then his underlings will likely have to take just about any unstable behavior and bear it. (Z & V)

Mar-a-Lago Raises Prices

Donald Trump's Florida resort, the Mar-a-Lago, has announced plans to double its membership fees. The initiation fee used to be $100,000, but now it will be $200,000. So, those who were hoping to join will probably have to spend some more time going through the couch cushions for spare change.

Not surprisingly, to a lot of people, this looks like Trump is trying to profit off the presidency. Mar-a-Lago management claims that the price change was decided last year, though that defense does not entirely resolve the problem, since Trump was already a presidential candidate back then. And even if the price increase is entirely unrelated to Trump's political career, it's still not a good look. But as we know at this point, tone deafness is epidemic in Washington these days. (Z)

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---The Votemaster and Zenger
Jan26 Trump Signs Two Executive Orders
Jan26 Trump Is Preparing More Executive Orders
Jan26 Trump Wants to Investigate Voter Fraud
Jan26 Congressional Republicans to Trump: Get with the Program
Jan26 Trump Says He Wants to Expand Gitmo, Resume Torture
Jan26 Trump's Inaugural Speech Was Well Received
Jan26 Another Path to Trump's Tax Returns
Jan26 Gillibrand 2020?
Jan26 The Clocks Are Striking Thirteen
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
Jan25 Flynn May Not Last
Jan25 Secret Service Agent Wouldn't Take a Bullet for Trump
Jan25 Opponent of Net Neutrality Named FCC Chairman
Jan25 Oil Pipelines Are Back On, Maybe
Jan25 Jerry Brown Declares War on Donald Trump
Jan24 Trump Offers Red Meat to Three Key Constituencies
Jan24 Trump's Actions So Far Are Largely Symbolic
Jan24 McCain, Graham, and Rubio Will Back Tillerson
Jan24 Pompeo is Confirmed
Jan24 CIA Reactions to Trump's Visit are Mixed
Jan24 Trump Harps on Voter Fraud Again
Jan24 Media Are Starting to Call Out Trump on His Lies
Jan24 Did Obama Keep His Promises?
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
Jan22 Does Trump Deserve This?
Jan22 The Left Will Rise Again?
Jan22 Five Takeaways from the Inauguration
Jan22 Trump Visits the CIA and Boasts about Himself
Jan22 Trump vs. the Media: It's War
Jan22 Justice Department Says Kushner Is Allowed to Advise Trump
Jan22 Can You Plagiarize a Cake?
Jan22 Now, When Trump Deletes Tweets, He May Be Breaking the Law
Jan21 Donald Trump is Inaugurated
Jan21 The Trump Administration Gets Underway
Jan21 Protests are Numerous, Mostly Peaceful
Jan21 First Ethics Complaint Filed Against Trump
Jan21 What Will Trumponomics Be Like?
Jan21 How to Know If America Has Been Made Great Again
Jan20 Trump Will Inherit a Deeply Polarized Country
Jan20 Trump Starts with Half an Administration