Media (273)

 

Shithouse and Chaos

(Door Hugo Kijne te Hoboken USA)

While Trump was playing golf on Martin Luther King Day and even once raked a bunker by way of social service, the White House was preparing a defense for his ‘shithole’ remark.  The story became that Trump didn’t say shithole but ‘shithouse,’ supposedly a real estate term for a building with suspect plumbing, so Trump was just falling back on his earlier life and had no racist intentions whatsoever.  The latter was confirmed by his son Eric, who told Fox News that the only color his father sees is green.  Unfortunately the new lie had not been coordinated with the senators Perdue and Cotton, who last week declared that they had not heard the president say shithole, and who now remembered that they had not heard him say anything that even resembled shithole.  The Homeland Security Secretary did them one better by telling a senate committee that she didn’t know Norwegians are predominantly white, which is surprising for someone with the name Kirstjen Nielsen.  It goes to show how contagious lying is in the era of Trump, who proved to still be the absolute master of the craft by telling reporters that he’s the least racist person they’ll ever interview, a statement that was followed by a painful silence.

After his physical exam Trump’s doctor declared him in excellent health, even though he is an overweight 71 years old man with an LDL of 143 who doesn’t exercise and eats lots of junkfood, but from then on his week went south.  The White House had to effectively impose a gag order on Steve Bannon to keep him from testifying for a House committee, but Bannon made it clear that he would tell Robert Mueller everything he knows.  Obviously Trump has much more to fear from Mueller than from the House, especially since the FBI is following leads out of Fusion GPS’s Glenn Simpson’s House testimony about how Russian money ended up in the Trump organization and if it involved money laundering.  Another avenue that’s being explored is if Russian money was channeled to the Trump campaign via the NRA, and with all that already in Mueller’s view it doesn’t help that Don Jr., who in the past has talked about all the money Trump was making from transactions with Russians, had meetings with a Russian Mafioso who runs a bank and is close to Putin.  It seems more than likely that Moscow has enough dirt on Trump to blackmail him until his presidency is over, which is clearly the United States’ primary security risk.

In the meantime Trump created complete chaos in Washington.  With a Saturday morning budget deadline looming he has taken just about every possible position on the issues at stake, such as DACA and CHIP, confusing both Republicans and Democrats and making bi-partisan solutions all but impossible.  With Republicans in control of the House, the US Senate and the White House, even Trump cannot expect Democrats to be blamed for a government shutdown, as much as he likes to suggest otherwise.

On his signature item, the wall on the southern border, Trump felt that he had to dress down John Kelly, who had told House members that during the campaign Trump was ‘uninformed’ and that his ideas were still evolving.   In strong public statements Trump emphasized that he still wanted a wall of at least 700 miles, for which Congress would have to provide the funding because it won’t come from Mexico.

As I write this Trump is meeting with Chuck Schumer to see if a shutdown can still be prevented, so that he can leave DC for a $100,000/plate party at Mar-a-Lago.  There he may have to answer his wife’s questions about his affair with porn star Stormy Daniels four months after Melania gave birth to Barron.

 
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A Stable Racist Genius

(Door Hugo Kijne te Hoboken USA)

The thrust of Michael Wolff’s book is that Trump is mentally too unstable and on top of that too dumb for the presidency. Since the book came out Trump has been trying to disprove its central thesis, first by sending the re-incarnation of Roy Cohn, Stephen Miller, to CNN, where he made a complete ass of himself by attacking Jake Tapper, and then by taking things in his own tiny hands. At an impromptu press conference in Camp David Trump called himself ‘like, really smart’ and a ‘stable genius.’ Before this could properly sink in Axios got hold of Trump’s real, not his official schedule, which shows that he spends the mornings watching television and tweeting, with the occasional phone call, and doesn’t get to the Oval Office until 11 am, leaving before 6 pm for more television. So now the story was that Trump is not only dumb and unstable, but also monumentally lazy, and he decided to do something about it. With a partly televised bipartisan meeting in the White House about immigration Trump tried to demonstrate that he is not only hard-working but also on top of things.
Unfortunately for him he succeeded in taking completely contradictory positions within a very short period of time, showing that he had absolutely no clue what was at stake. In the end, to emphasize how much he is in charge, Trump simply said that he would sign anything Congress would put in front of him.

Trump’s next blunder came when Fox News, the only broadcaster he trusts, did a number on him. One of the anchors of ‘Fox and Friends,’ his favorite show, questioned why Trump would sign a renewal of the FISA act, ‘because it was the program that had allowed Obama to spy on Trump during the campaign.’ Those words had the effect on Trump like a red flag on a bull, and within ten minutes he tweeted that FISA should not be renewed. Trump had forgotten, or probably never knew, that last week his administration had put out a statement that FISA should be renewed, and Paul Ryan had to spend half an hour on the phone with him to explain that FISA is about foreign, not domestic surveillance. Trump corrected himself with another tweet that ended with ‘Get smart,’ as if he was talking to himself. Having thus demonstrated that he gets most, if not all of his information from Fox News, Trump returned to the issue of immigration when he met in the Oval Office with a bipartisan group of senators, who had agreed on a comprehensive plan that would contain protections for the DACA population but also for immigrants from Haiti and some African countries. Trump refused to accept the plan and asked why the US should be so hospitable to immigrants from ‘shithole’ countries, instead of promoting immigration from a country like Norway.

The previous day Trump had hosted the Norwegian Prime Minister, but again he demonstrated his complete ignorance about something he was talking about. Norway is the wealthiest country in the world, thanks to oil and natural gas revenues, and most Norwegians probably consider the US a shithole, because of income inequality, the high poverty rate, homelessness, the lack of a safety net and the crumbling infrastructure.

While Trump was digging himself deeper in the manure his former Senior Strategist Steve Bannon lost his job at Breitbart under pressure of its main financiers, the Mercer family. Nobody has fallen harder the last couple of months than Bannon, and it couldn’t have happened to a nicer person, but although he lost his ‘weapons’ Bannon can still spell trouble for Trump when he testifies for the House Intelligence Committee next week.

Trump’s shithole remark hit particularly hard in Miami, which has a large Haitian community that was promised by Trump during the campaign that he would be their ‘champion.’ Yet it should not have shocked anybody who has followed Trump since he and his KKK father had to settle because they refused to rent apartments to black Americans.

 

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Eskimos in the White House

(Door Hugo Kijne te Hoboken USA)

The week started with a president who was full of new energy after his golfing vacation.  He demanded the prosecution of Huma Abedin for having been sloppy with secret passwords, and continued  his attacks on the FBI – after Hillary Clinton his second favorite target – suggesting that at least part of the agency was involved with the ‘deep state’ that opposes him.  Trump also took credit for the fact that in 2017 there had not been a deadly accident in commercial aviation, even though this was a streak that started in 2009.  When Kim Jong-un gave a speech in which he bragged about having a red button on his desk with which he could launch a nuclear attack on the US the president answered in kind, by declaring that he had a much bigger button and one that was working too.  There were echos of a dispute that Trump once had with Marco Rubio about the size of his hands and the rest of his anatomy, and people with a sense of responsibility were concerned about two mentally unstable leaders challenging each other with nuclear arms, but nothing happened until a local bomb exploded and an excerpt of Michael Wolff’s ‘Fire and Fury’ came out.

Wolff had been given almost unlimited access to the White House for months, and the thrust of his book was already well known: that Trump is an illiterate baboon who is totally unqualified to be president.  The book is interesting because that opinion is shared by most White House staffers, who were candid with Wolff and creative in their statements.  Just like the Eskimos have twenty different words for snow, it turns out that these staffers had many ways of calling Trump an idiot, of which Gary Cohn’s ‘dumbass shit’ is my favorite.  In the book Steve Bannon settles scores with Don Trump Jr., Jared Kushner and Ivanka, calling the latter ‘dumb as a brick’ and accusing the former of treason. What makes the book most fascinating are the salacious details:  Melania’s crying when Trump had won the election, the separate bedrooms, Ivanka’s jokes about her father’s hairdo – a comb-over that covers a surgically reduced bald spot – and the affair of Corey Lewandowski and Hope Hicks, whom Trump called to her face ‘the best piece of tail Corey ever had.’ And of course the Kushners decision that Ivanka would be the first female US President.

Trump was furious about the book, and issued a statement that Bannon had lost his mind when he lost his White House job.  He blamed Bannon for ‘only being in it for himself,’ which is amusing coming from this president.  True to form Trump took legal action and accused Bannon of having violated a confidentiality agreement, while he had a ‘cease and desist’ letter sent to the publisher, who, with so much help in marketing the book, decided to expedite the publication.

And the president’s troubles didn’t end there.  The New York Times reported that in March 2017 Trump had instructed White House Counsel McGahn to put pressure on Jeff Sessions not to recuse himself from the Russian collusion investigation.  It was Trump’s way of trying to keep control over the investigation and an attempt to obstruct justice by violating Department of Justice rules.

Sessions recused himself anyway and incurred Trump’s eternal wrath, and it is now clear that the memo about Don Jr.’s meeting with Russians in Trump Tower that was dictated by Trump on Air Force One was another attempt to obstruct justice.  Robert Mueller has a lot to work with in 2018.

 
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Trump’s Biggest Lie

(Door Hugo Kijne te Hoboken USA)

Towards the end of 2017 we can start making up the balance of Trump’s first year in office.  We already know that the current US President lies on average five times per day, or once every four hours, and that is undoubtedly more than any president before him.  It is the only real record he holds, but not surprisingly the only one he doesn’t take credit for.  The records he lies about are made up.  Trump claims that he signed more bills in his first year in office than even Harry Truman, the record holder, while in reality he signed fewer bills than Bill Clinton, George W. Bush and Barack Obama.  He also falsely claims that the economy has expanded more, that more jobs have been created, and that the stock market has risen faster than under Obama, while in fact since Trump became president the economy, job creation and Dow Jones have grown somewhat slower than in the final months of Obama’s presidency.  Trump started his presidency with the lie that he had the largest inauguration crowd ever, something that could easily be falsified, immediately followed by the lie that 3.5 million illegal immigrants had voted for Hillary Clinton.

Some of Trump’s lies are silly.  Before his inauguration he blamed Obama for having played too much golf and declared that he would have no time for that because the presidency would demand all his attention, but to date Trump has played golf 89 times, compared to Obama’s 26 times in the same period of his presidency.  He also said in an interview that as president he would go on Twitter only sporadically and show a lot of restraint in his tweets, and we know how that worked out.  Twitter is in fact the main tool with which Trump disseminates his lies, and occasionally he produces a tweet that is so absurd that you cannot even call it lying, like when he called the Pope ‘a modest man,’ and added ‘just like myself, maybe that’s why I like him so much.’ Trump got deeply in trouble when he accidentally tweeted the truth, namely that he knew that Flynn had lied to the FBI when he fired him, and his lawyer had to fall on the sword with a statement that he, not Trump, had written that tweet.  That, of course, was another lie, and it is a perfect example of how Trump makes everybody around him lie to protect the president.

With so much choice it is not easy to determine what has been Trump’s biggest lie so far, but I chose his statements about the tax bill that was recently passed by congress, because they are his most consequential lies so far.  Trump declared that the bill would be ‘not so good’ for him but that ‘that didn’t matter,’ and that his wealthy friends were very unhappy with him, while at Mar-a-Lago for the holidays he told those friends that he had just ‘made them a lot of money.’

And when Trump isn’t lying he is bragging. In a spontaneous interview with a New York Times reporter this week, clearly buoyed by the passing of the tax bill, he said that he understands tax legislation better than the best CPA, and that he understands health care better than almost anyone.   It shows how even minor achievements can trigger major insanity in a narcissist.

In the same interview Trump said that he could make the Department of Justice do anything he wants, but that he expected Robert Mueller to treat him fairly and therefore would not interfere with his investigation.  I predict that next year we’ll find out that that was another lie, hopefully the last one.

 

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Equity Theory

(Door Hugo Kijne te Hoboken USA)

Last Wednesday Donald Trump finally got what he wanted: a huge tax cut for corporations and the wealthiest Americans.  The passing of the bill was celebrated in front of the White House, with speeches by Paul Ryan, Mitch McConnell and Orrin Hatch.  Ryan praised the president for his ’exquisite’ leadership, McConnell said that never a president has achieved so much during his first year in office, and Hatch, who is clearly losing his marbles, said that Trump was everything he could dream of in a president, and that he probably would become the greatest president ever.  During a cabinet meeting in the White House Mike Pence did all of them one better,  by, at Trump’s invitation, praising the president in language that in Evangelical circles is normally reserved for God the Father.  Trump took all the praise that would have made any normal person say ‘stop, please’ – and that would have made even Kim Jong-un blush – in stride, as if it was the most normal thing in the world.  The usual insanity was dripping off his face, and in his own speech he repeated all the lies he has been telling about the tax bill since its first inception.

Instead of being a Christmas gift for the American people the tax bill is a scam.  The bulk of the benefits goes to the richest one percent of the population, while the working poor and the middle class get some crumbs that fell off the table – and that only temporarily.  Not surprisingly the bill is very unpopular, but Republicans hope that when American workers see a small increase in their after-tax wages they will start appreciating it.  They misjudge the situation, however, as do the pundits who believe the bill is simply unpopular because Trump is so unpopular.  Republicans think that people only look at what is in it for them individually, and if they get a raise, no matter how small, they’ll be satisfied, but in an elegant theory formulated in the 1960s J. Stacy Adams showed that workers are very aware of the balance between their own efforts or ‘inputs’ and rewards or ‘outcomes,’ and compare that balance with the balance of other people’s inputs and outcomes, a comparison that will determine if they’re satisfied or not.  Therefor, when someone with a middle class income receives a minimal raise while a retired investor gets a windfall, dissatisfaction is the inevitable result.

So while the tax bill won’t generate public support it succeeded in destroying some reputations in congress.  Susan Collins was bamboozled by McConnell, who promised her that Obamacare subsidies would be secure while they are not, but voted for the bill anyway, with as result that she’ll never be taken seriously anymore when she pretends to take a principled stand.  ‘Deficit hawk’ Bob Corker accepted a $1.5 trillion increase of the national debt in exchange for a golden handshake for his real estate business.

And Trump may pretend to be happy about the tax bill but Robert Mueller’s investigation must be keeping him awake at night.  More proof is emerging that the president knew Flynn had lied to the FBI before he asked Comey to go easy on Flynn, and there are signs that next to collusion with Russia and obstruction of justice Mueller is also investigating money laundering by the Trump organization.

Flynn’s guilty plea and cooperation with Mueller started a host of overt and covert attempts to discredit the FBI and the Department of Justice, as a prelude to eventually fire Mueller.  Mark Warner gave an impressive speech on the senate floor warning for the constitutional crisis such an action would result in.

 
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