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TODAY'S HEADLINES (click to jump there; use your browser's "Back" button to return here)
      •  Trump Builds His Wall, But out of Red Tape
      •  Trump Takes Shots at FBI
      •  White House Staff Could Soon Look Very Different
      •  Bannon for President?
      •  EPA Staff Fleeing in Droves
      •  Marine Corps Commandant: "Bigass Fight" Coming
      •  Trump Coin Screams "DONALD TRUMP"

Trump Builds His Wall, But out of Red Tape

The New York Times ran a lengthy, and well-researched, piece on Donald Trump's immigration policy on Saturday. Not surprisingly, the scurrilous portions of the article are getting all the attention. Reportedly, the President opined in closed-door meetings that Haitian immigrants "all have AIDS" and that Nigerian immigrants would never willingly "go back to their huts" in Africa. The White House issued its usual over-the-top denials, with Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders blasting the "outrageous claims" and saying that it is, "sad and telling the New York Times would print the lies of their anonymous 'sources'." This means that citizens are left to decide for themselves who is telling the truth, and whether it is plausible that a man who announced his campaign for the presidency by declaring that Mexican immigrants are "bringing drugs" and are "bringing crime" and are "rapists" could possibly say such terrible things about Haitians and Nigerians.

In any event, the squabbling over what the President did or did not say is serving to obscure the more important point of the article, namely that the administration is having enormous success in slowing the flow of immigrants into the country. There are the three Muslim travel bans, of course, and the suspension of DACA. But the real secret has been a geometric increase in the amount of red tape involved in immigrating to the United States. H-1B visas, which allow people with special skills to come to the U.S. for job opportunities, are getting much more scrutiny. People who ask for green cards are being required to sit for interviews and to provide evidence for the claims they make. This has made it particularly difficult for refugees. For them, "evidence" may not exist, or may have been destroyed, or may be too dangerous to get. And if someone has a complaint, they now get to take it to the office of the newly-appointed USCIS ombudsman, Julie Kirchner. Kirchner's last job, which she held for 10 years, was running the Federation for American Immigration Reform. That organization seeks to severely limit all forms of immigration to the United States, and is far-right enough that it's been labeled a "hate group" by the Southern Poverty Law Center. Needless to say, any immigrant or would-be immigrant who goes before Kirchner should probably not expect an impartial hearing.

The advantage to the administration's approach, which has Attorney General Jeff Sessions' fingerprints all over it, is that it allows them to achieve their goals without involving Congress or spending much money. But there are also downsides. As Trump will learn, this part of his legacy—as with many other parts—will prove fleeting when the next Democratic president changes everything with the stroke of a pen. Put another way, he who lives by the executive order, dies by the executive order. Further, Trump is striking at the folks who are arguably most beneficial to the United States and/or most worthy of being welcomed, including skilled professionals and family members of those who are already here. That seems counterproductive, particularly since stricter limits on legal immigration are likely to lead to an increase in illegal immigration. Given his obsession with MS-13 and other gangs, Trump might want to check which kind of immigrant is more likely to become a gang member. Yet another problem is that Congress might not have much say in what Team Trump is doing, but the courts do, and they continue to hand the administration high-profile defeats. On Saturday, yet another judge stayed yet another part of the Muslim travel bans, finding that the administration's policy illegally keeps people from being reunited with their families.

As immigration policy, then, the Trump approach is certainly wanting in some important ways. But what about as a matter of politics? After all, Trump campaigned as an anti-immigrant candidate, and now he's followed through on that and become an anti-immigrant president. The problem for him, though, is that immigrants were a symbol of "what's gone wrong with the United States." And the promised wall was a symbol of fighting back against that. A lot of the people who voted for Trump for xenophobic reasons have limited contact with actual immigrants. The swing states that powered the President to his narrow victory—Pennsylvania, Wisconsin, Michigan—have fewer immigrants, as a percentage of the population, than any states outside of the far northern reaches of New England. The question is: Will these people be sated with a wall built of red tape, rather than one made of brick or concrete? The odds aren't good. (Z)

Trump Takes Shots at FBI

FBI Deputy Director Andrew McCabe, who has been under withering fire from Republicans for the last year, was an obvious candidate for retirement once his pension maxes out in March. And on Saturday, he made it official, announcing that he will step down early next year.

This prompted a Twitter tantrum from Donald Trump, who bravely decided to take aim at people who will no longer be on active duty as of March 1:

Undoubtedly, Trump's pique was fueled, in part, by the fact that McCabe spent hours testifying behind closed doors last week, sharing a number of insights about the President and his dealings with James Comey. And if The Donald's anti-FBI tweets were not enough, he's also been working behind the scenes to undermine deputy AG Rod Rosenstein, perhaps laying the groundwork for an eventual termination.

It is not normal, of course, for a President to be feuding with his own law enforcement apparatus. In part, that is because it is generally considered beneath the dignity of the office. And in part, it is because that is one fight that a President will generally lose. Former Republican congressman Joe Walsh, for example, offered this advice free of charge:

The problem, first of all, is that the executive branch needs an effective FBI in order to, well, solve crimes and defuse threats to the United States. The president cannot undermine the Bureau part of the time, and prop it up the rest—it's an all-or-none proposition. Newly-appointed director Christopher A. Wray has pleaded with the President to stop cutting him off at the knees, but his pleas have clearly fallen on deaf ears.

Another problem with aggravating the FBI is that they are in the business of knowing secrets. And they are pretty good at letting those secrets leak, if it serves their needs. Trump might want to pick up a biography of J. Edgar Hoover, who was the Picasso of using other people's skeletons to his own ends. Or maybe one of Mark Felt, aka "Deep Throat," who helped bring down Richard Nixon. Of course, the President doesn't like to read, so he might just want to reflect for a few minutes on what happened when he crossed James Comey. (Z)

White House Staff Could Soon Look Very Different

Donald Trump likes to be surrounded by people he knows, particularly if they are sycophants. He does not like to deal with people he doesn't trust, particularly if they ever dare to be critical, or to tell him "no." After a year working with a rag-tag bunch of folks, which includes both some of the former group and some of the latter, the President is now leaning strongly toward cleaning house of some of the people he doesn't trust and bringing in some more sycophants.

The deadest man walking is probably Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, whose relationship with the President has turned sour. National Economic Adviser Gary Cohn is also in the doghouse. Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin and Defense Secretary James Mattis could also go if Tillerson does, since the trio reportedly has a "suicide pact." Mnuchin could also decide that, now that the tax code has been overhauled, his work is done. At the lower levels of the administration, Deputy National Security Adviser Dina Powell and Domestic Policy Council Deputy Director Paul Winfree have already said they are leaving, and Deputy Chief of Staff Rick Dearborn is expected to join them.

Who in the inner circle might be tapped to fill some of these jobs? Conservative economist and Trump adviser Larry Kudlow is the likely successor to Cohn. Former campaign spokesman Jason Miller and former campaign adviser David Urban are also strong possibilities for a White House post. Matt Schlapp, who currently leads the American Conservative Union, and whose wife already works in the White House, was an unabashed Trump cheerleader from the beginning, and one of the few people who loudly downplayed the pu**ygate tape. He could be tapped. Another possible blast from the past is former campaign chair Corey Lewandowski, who has been a regular and vocal presence around the White House in the past several months. That said, his ascendancy might be compromised by reports that he made inappropriate advances on conservative singer and pundit Joy Villa at a recent party.

Over the course of the next week, Trump will spend all his time at Mar-a-Lago, where he is surrounded by friends and acolytes, and is out from under the watchful gaze of Chief of Staff John Kelly. Meanwhile, his beleaguered staffers are going to spend a week remembering what it's like to be outside the Washington pressure cooker. And the one-year mark of Trump's term arrives just two weeks after everyone returns to work. Add it all up, and change is coming. (Z)

Bannon for President?

One person from Donald Trump's past who definitely will not be making a return is Steve Bannon. This week, Vanity Fair ran a lengthy profile of the Breitbart publisher and former White House senior adviser. It's all over the place, but here are some of the highlights:

  • He disdains Trump's "shambolic" governing style
  • Trump, for his part, thinks Bannon is a shameless self-promoter (pot, meet kettle)
  • He calls the people he has recruited for 2018 "The League of Extraordinary Candidates"
  • Other than Bannon, most GOP insiders think his candidates are far from extraordinary
  • His least-favorite president is George W. Bush
  • He loathes Jared Kushner and Ivanka Trump, and calls them "Javanka"
  • He convinced Jeff Sessions not to quit because God wants him running the Justice Dept.
  • If Trump doesn't run in 2020, Bannon might
  • Anytime a Bannon campaign fails, it doesn't mean anything because he's "not a political operative," he's a "revolutionary"

While all of this is very interesting, the single most important lesson from the article is this: Trump and Bannon may have an uneasy peace right now, but once we get to 2018 campaign season—when the President and his former adviser will often be backing different candidates—it's not going to last. (Z)

EPA Staff Fleeing in Droves

The current management of the Environmental Protection Agency has little interest in the environment, and to the extent that they do have interest, it's not in protecting it. A lot of the staffers who work at the EPA, meanwhile, took those jobs because it was a chance to put their green-centric beliefs into practice, and to try and make a change for the better. Given the contradictory philosophies of management and staff, it was inevitable that an exodus would eventually get underway, and indeed it has begun.

Since Donald Trump took office, 700 employees have left the agency, about 5% of the total number employed. And that doesn't tell the full story, as the folks who are leaving are the backbones of the EPA's research and enforcement missions, including more than 200 scientists and nearly 100 environmental protection specialists. While there has been some hiring to replace the departed employees, the focus has been rather different. The 200 departed scientists, for example, have been replaced by seven scientists.

Of course, the departures are exactly what the administration is hoping for, and both departing and current staffers know it. Ronnie B. Levin, for example, retired in November after 37 years with the EPA, as she could no longer cope with the "low morale." Speaking to the New York Times, she explained that, "This is exactly what they wanted, which is my biggest misgiving about leaving. They want the people there to be more docile and nervous and less invested in the agency."

As noted above, some of the things done by the Trump administration will not last long beyond The Donald. For fans of the EPA, however, the future isn't so bright. Once a 37-year employee retires, or a former EPA scientist takes a job at a university, they don't generally return. Once an oil derrick is built in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, it doesn't get torn down. And that's before we talk about the impact of four or eight more years of unchecked global warming. (Z)

Marine Corps Commandant: "Bigass Fight" Coming

Gen. Robert Neller, who is Commandant of the Marine Corps, and thus an ex officio member of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, delivered a speech before 300 marines in Norway earlier this week. And during that speech, he sounded a bellicose note, thundering that the soldiers in the room should be preparing for a "bigass fight," and that "there's a war coming."

Given Neller's high station, his remarks attracted immediate attention. One possibility is that a high-ranking member of the U.S. military establishment just let slip that some sort of invasion or pre-emptive attack is imminent. A second possibility is that a career military officer with 42 years of active duty experience has evaluated the information at hand (including information that most of us don't have) and has concluded that some sort of war is inevitable. Pressed by reporters, the General said that his speech was just a "pep talk," and that he wasn't predicting anything. If so, that is some very odd, and very careless, verbiage. (Z)

Trump Coin Screams "DONALD TRUMP"

Off an on, over the centuries, various military entities have engaged in a tradition of giving "challenge coins" to soldiers as proof of membership in a particular unit, corps, division, army, or service branch. The custom grew particularly widespread in World War I, and has remained common ever since. It's not a serious security measure, since anyone could steal a coin, and serves primarily to heighten morale, create cohesion among soldiers, and facilitate a little bit of fun. For example, a common custom is that any soldier who cannot "meet" the challenge and show the coin buys a round of drinks for everyone.

The last several presidents have joined in on this tradition, with each of them commissioning coins bearing the presidential seal and their names. Naturally, Donald Trump, who loves everything about the military besides serving in it, was going to jump in with both feet. And so he has, with a challenge coin that is as Trump-esque (Trumpian? Trumptastic?) as one could possibly imagine:

Presidential coins

There are, quite obviously, some rather sizable differences between the Trump coin and other presidential and vice-presidential coins. Trump loves to be flashy (or vulgar, depending on whom you ask), and so his coin is gold-plated, as opposed to being a more understated copper. It's also twice as thick as Obama's, which is odd, because that should make it more difficult for someone with small hands to handle. Trump's name appears three times, rather than the usual once. And to do that, the President had to abandon the "coin" concept somewhat, and add a banner underneath. For reasons that are unclear, the eagle's head is turned in the wrong direction, looking rightward rather than to the left, as is the case on the official presidential seal. Reasons that are unclear to most of us, that is; undoubtedly Opus Dei knows exactly what it means.

The decision that is attracting the most comment, however, is Trump's decision to replace the national motto of the United States—"E Pluribus Unum"—with "Make America Great Again." He probably doesn't know this, but that's a choice that has some very worrisome historical precedents:

Hitler and Mussolini coins

The German medal translates as, "One people, one empire, one leader," while the Italian coin says, "It is better to live one day as a lion than 100 years as a sheep." And while some might find a comparison to the Führer or Il Duce to be a bit too much, we should recall this tweet from 2016:

So, maybe Trump knows exactly what he's doing here. (Z)

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---The Votemaster and Zenger
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Dec23 Trump's Political Advisers Argue with Each Other
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Dec21 Taxpayers Won't Know How the Bill Affects Them Until after the Midterms
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Dec21 Next Up: Big Problems
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Dec21 White House Takes Petitions Offline
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