Win McNamee

Donald Trump on paying zero income tax: “That makes me smart.”

Yep, that’s what Trump said at the first presidential debate. He went on to claim that he was not saying it “in a bragadocious way,” but that the next leader of the United States should have “an idea about money.”

In spite of Trump’s attempts to diffuse the focus on his financials, Hillary Clinton and moderator Lester Holt relentlessly sunk their teeth into the fact that he has refused to release his tax returns. “It’s something that the American people deserve to see,” Clinton said. “There’s something he’s hiding.” That secret might be that he is neither as rich nor as charitable as he claims, she added.

February 28, 2017

It’s Jack Abramoff’s time to shine.

Abramoff is back! The disgraced former lobbyist/symbol of corruption/inspiration for James Spader’s character in The Blacklist/guy we should thank for making it impossible to wear a fedora is reportedly working with an African strongman and (arguably) America’s worst congressman Dana Rohrabacher. Per Politico (emphasis added):

Abramoff agreed to act as a liaison between his European friends whom he declined to name, the president of the Republic of Congo, and Rohrabacher to try to establish a coalition of African states to defeat the terrorist group Boko Haram. Abramoff’s friends—who Abramoff said he believes have financial investments in Congo—were in talks with the country’s controversial president, Denis Sassou Nguesso, to try to enlist the United States to support the coalition.

Abramoff approached Rohrabacher, whom he has known since the 1980s, with a proposal: Could the California Republican, who at one point was mentioned in news reports about a position in the Trump administration, help secure U.S. backing for the African alliance to defeat Boko Haram? At the behest of his European friends, Abramoff also wanted to see if Rohrabacher could arrange for a meeting between Sassou Nguesso and Trump, then the president-elect.

What is going on with the use of the word “friends” here? This reads like “friends of friends,” the antiquated and sinister mafioso term. But the real story here is that Abramoff has decided that forging links between strongmen and Trump—under the pretense of fighting terrorism—is the right career move right now. That shouldn’t be too surprising. If Abramoff was ever going to make a comeback, this is the time to do it. Abramoff is the id—or perhaps simply (with apologies to Paul Pierce) the truth—of the contemporary Republican Party. Perhaps only he can meld Trumpian corruption with Trumpian affection for authoritarians.

Fabrice Coffrini/Getty

Donald Trump loves that dirty water.

Axios has obtained a draft executive order slated for Tuesday that starts the long process of gutting one of President Barack Obama’s major rules to protect American waterways. The order directs EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt to begin rescinding the Waters of the United States (WOTUS) rule, a controversial regulation that gave Clean Water Act protections to 2 million miles of streams and 20 million acres of wetlands that link to drinking water systems across the country.

The Obama administration, environmentalists, sportsmen, and craft beer companies loved this rule, because one-third of Americans get their drinking water from sources connected to these smaller water sources. But the rule also saw unprecedented opposition from not the fossil fuel industry, farmers, ranchers, small business groups, and real estate developers who said the rule gave the feds too much control over really small bodies of water.

As it stands right now, though, the rule was not being implemented anyway. It was stayed by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit in 2015. And under Trump, the Justice Department will no longer defend the rule, according to Axios. This comes two weeks after Trump repealed an Obama-era regulation restricting coal companies from polluting waterways with mining waste.

You can get Donald Trump to say pretty much anything.

Trump is famously impressionable. Back in August, the Washington Post’s Robert Costa reported, “Trump tends to echo the words of whomever last spoke to him, making direct access to him even more valuable.” This is, to put it mildly, not a great quality for a chief executive. But we’ve already seen it on display a number of times during his short presidency—only a few days ago John Kasich came close to saving Obamacare during a conversation with the president:

After meeting with Ohio Gov. John Kasich last Friday, he seemed to show the governor support on his plan and had Secretary Tom Price meet with Kasich on Saturday, even though Kasich’s plan contrasted with current Washington thinking. Kasich came away unclear whether his plan would get any more traction.

Trump’s impressionability was on full display in an interview with Fox & Friends that aired on Tuesday morning, ahead of his anticipated not-State of the Union address. In that interview, Trump was asked by Brian Kilmeade if he thought Barack Obama was “behind” the protests that have erupted at town halls across the country:

The headlines that have accompanied this video have been accurate—usually along the lines of: “Trump: Obama possibly behind leaks, protests.” But it took a hell of a lot of prodding to get him there, through a briar patch of leading phrases. Trump is asked: “It turns out [Obama’s] organization seems to do a lot of these organizing to some of the protests that these Republicans are seeing around the country against you. Do you believe President Obama is behind it and if he is, is that a violation of the so-called unsaid presidents’ code?” (Organizing for America, the group being referred to here, has become a boogeyman on the right, but is nowhere near as all-powerful as conservatives would like it to be.)

When Trump still doesn’t take the bait—“I think it’s politics,” he shrugs—Kilmeade jumps in again: “But Bush wasn’t going after Clinton; Clinton wasn’t going after Bush.” And then, finally, the mind-meld is complete. Trump gives the answer that Kilmeade was looking for, which is that Obama and his people are behind both the leaks coming out of the White House and the protests.

So, yes, Trump is reading from the Nixon playbook once again, blaming one of his predecessors for his political troubles. But the other story here is that Trump is the kind of horse that will drink the water once you’ve brought him to it. In just a few seconds, if you prime him right, he will say whatever you want him to say.

Alex Wong/Getty Images

Donald Trump is now micromanaging Sean Spicer on national television.

The press secretary just had a very bad weekend. In an attempt to find out who has been leaking stories to the press, Spicer made his staffers dump their phones out on a table for lawyers and him to look through—a move that was quickly leaked to the press. When asked about the incident this morning in an interview with the smitten hosts of Fox & FriendsTrump told them, “I would have handled it differently than Sean.” He asserted that he would have had “one-on-one” sessions with suspected leakers. At these sessions, he might have done things that were “a hell of a lot worse” than checking their phones. In what could be described as the worst performance review compliment sandwich ever, Trump did at least grudgingly admit that “Sean Spicer is a fine human being.” (Not true.)  

Trump is clearly angry that the leaks are still happening, and it looks like Spicer’s miserable life is not going to get any less miserable any time soon. Of course, people are more likely to leak stories to the press when their bosses are being horrible to them. And at the White House, it’s horrible bosses all the way down.

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Betsy DeVos thinks Jim Crow-era black colleges were “school choice” pioneers.

After she and President Donald Trump met with leaders of Historically Black Colleges and Universities at the White House on Monday, the education secretary issued this statement:

They started from the fact that there were too many students in America who did not have equal access to education. They saw that the system wasn’t working, that there was an absence of opportunity, so they took it upon themselves to provide the solution.

HBCUs are real pioneers when it comes to school choice. They are living proof that when more options are provided to students, they are afforded greater access and greater quality.

There’s just one problem. These schools came about precisely because black Americans typically had no choice, no options, and no access to education under segregation. As Dartmouth College professor Brendan Nyhan‏ points out, DeVos’s own department website explains this: “Prior to the time of their establishment, and for many years afterwards, blacks were generally denied admission to traditionally white institutions.”

This isn’t DeVos’s first gaffe since her swearing-in earlier this month. (She managed to insult teachers on what should have been a routine visit to a Washington, D.C., public school.) Yet this incident reinforces a central concern that emerged from DeVos’s confirmation hearing—one that’s separate from the ideological fights over “choice,” charters, vouchers, and the like. Simply put, the education secretary doesn’t seem to know a whole lot about education.

This controversy also comes amid the Trump administration’s effort to increase support for historically black colleges and universities. Trump will reportedly sign an executive order on Tuesday moving an Education Department program promoting these schools under the White House’s purview. DeVos, meanwhile, is slated to speak at a Library of Congress summit congressional Republicans are holding with school leaders. That might be even more awkward than previously anticipated.

February 27, 2017

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Why did the New York Times publish this anti-abortion screed?

In a misleading and tendentious Times op-ed, the Human Coalition’s Lauren Enriquez condemns pro-choice women in “the new feminist resistance movement” for failing to make space for abortion opponents. This is not a new argument—indeed it is very old and very tired—which makes the Times’s decision to publish it all the more difficult to understand. Just consider Enriquez’s use of polling to make her argument:

According to the latest Knights of Columbus/Marist Poll, an annual survey of views on abortion, just over half of all women want to see further restrictions on abortion. To millions of women, including young people like myself, this is not just a policy stance; it informs many areas of our lives as women. To us, “resistance” has to include opposition to the lie that freedom can be bought with the blood of our preborn children.

There is a lot going on here! According to the poll Enriquez cites, 52 percent of American women generally support what we would consider to be the Republican position on abortion—that abortion should be illegal in all or most cases. That’s not really “most” women; it’s roughly half of them. Furthermore, there’s more data on the issue. According to Pew Research Center, 57 percent of American women actually believe abortion should be legal in “all or most cases” and only 39 percent believe that it should be illegal in all or most cases. This tracks with earlier Gallup reporting. Nevertheless, the Times allowed Enriquez’s hyperbole to run. Talk about fake news.

Enriquez also isn’t really asking feminists to accommodate her. The language she deploys is carefully chosen to frame abortion as murder—an act that spills the blood of preborn children. “We reject the pressure to believe that killing our children and living full lives are mutually inclusive,” she writes, which describes no pro-choicer’s position. The implication here is that pro-choice women are at least soft on murder, if they haven’t committed it themselves. This is not the language a person uses when seeking allies. This is the language of conversion.

But don’t worry. She’s got a Plan B. (It’s not the pill.)

At Human Coalition, where I work, we extend tangible, compassionate help to pregnant women who believe that abortion is the best or only option available to them.

The Human Coalition runs crisis pregnancy centers. And unless you scroll to the bio at the bottom of the piece, you wouldn’t know that she’s also the PR manager for the organization. The Times essentially ran a press release promoting the organization’s work. That’s a strange editorial decision.

Donald Trump used to be a better Oscar recapper.

Trump loves the Oscars. It was clear for most of the 2000s that he desperately wanted to host the ceremony, which is pathetic even by his standards. But the most pathetic thing about Trump is that he was also an Oscars recapper. This video from 2012 is one of the most amazing things I have ever seen, partly because Trump appears to be reading his insane hot take off of cue cards.

Still, ranting about how he wishes Sasha Baron Cohen got beat up and sent to the hospital, saying that the Oscars’ security guards should go to security guard school, and making the unbelievable claim that “many people are asking me about the Academy Awards”—this is some 🔥🔥🔥 shit. If you’re going to recap the Oscars, come out with guns blazing.

But Trump largely stayed quiet about last night’s Academy Awards, presumably because Reince Priebus shoved his phone down his pants or perhaps because he was promised a blackened, catsup-covered steak (or maybe a hairless cat?) if he could be a good boy and not tweet for 16 hours. (This is not as damning or as telling as Trump’s silence on other issues but it seems clear that Trump’s inner circle has grown very, very tired of his tendency to create unnecessary distractions.)

That changed on Monday afternoon, however, when Trump told former livejournal/current Tiger Beat of the white supremacist set Breitbart that he was not impressed with the Oscars. “I think they were focused so hard on politics that they didn’t get the act together at the end,” Trump told the website, referring to the screw-up that will define it forever. “It was a little sad. It took away from the glamour of the Oscars. It didn’t feel like a very glamorous evening. I’ve been to the Oscars. There was something very special missing, and then to end that way was sad.”

This is very funny! For one thing, Donald Trump is complaining about missing glamour—from an award show that four years ago kicked off with a song called “We Saw Your Boobs.” But it’s hard to get over just how sad this is. Donald Trump loved the Oscars more than anything, but now that he’s president, the Oscars are all about talking about how bad he is. This is Trump’s version of his favorite movie Citizen Kane—he got what he wanted most in the world, but in the process lost the thing he loved the most.

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Nancy Pelosi thinks Trump’s presidency might be a message from God.

Speaking at the National Press Club on Monday, the House Minority Leader invoked the Almighty while reflecting on the Republican Party’s rightward lurch under President Donald Trump. “God is always with us, so we have to be hopeful and prayerful,” said Pelosi, who is Catholic. “But maybe God is telling us that we have not done our job completely to rid our country of some of the negative attitudes, whether it’s xenophobia, anti-immigrant, anti-woman, racist, in whatever way. That is part of the task we have before us.”

Ahead of Trump’s first joint address to Congress on Tuesday, Pelosi is stressing that the new administration has “done nothing” positive for the American people in its first 40 days. Here, too, she sees spiritual significance. Forty days—it’s almost biblical,” she said on Monday, in reference to the time since Trump’s inauguration. “You know, 40 hours, we as Catholics observe, 40 days in the desert, Christ was there, 40 years in the desert that Moses was there—40 is fraught with meaning.”

Pelosi and Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer—who spoke alongside her at the Press Club—are casting Trump’s first 40 days as a betrayal of the working class constituency he pledged to champion in his populist campaign. They said he’s engaged in a bait-and-switch: staffing his administration with Wall Street bankers and billionaires and advancing what Schumer called a “hard, hard right” agenda, including slashing social programs. But Schumer predicted Republicans will fail in one of their biggest goals: “making America sick again” by repealing the Affordable Care Act. “The odds are very high we will keep the ACA,” he said. “It will not be repealed.”

God willing.

Dominick Reuter/ Getty Images

Donald Trump’s silence is even more telling than his outbursts.

Less than a week ago, the president made his first, belated statement addressing the anti-Semitism that has bubbled into vandalism and bomb threats in the early days of his presidency. As The New Republic reported at the time, the statement—following a tour of the National Museum of African-American History and Culture—achieved the bare acceptable minimum and was received tepidly by Jewish groups and the press. One of the strongest critics of the statement, the Anne Frank Center for Mutual Respect, wrote, “When President Trump responds to anti-Semitism proactively and in real time, and without pleas and pressure, that’s when we’ll be able to say this president has turned a corner. This is not that moment.”

In the six days since, the wave of hate and prejudice has not abated. On Wednesday, two Indian engineers in Kansas were shot—one fatally—by a gunman who interrogated the two men about their immigration status and shouted “go back to your country” before opening fire. Yesterday, more than 100 gravestones were knocked down in a Jewish cemetery in Philadelphia, mirroring the cemetery attack in St. Louis that preceded Trump’s statement.

And so far, after pledging to “fight bigotry, intolerance, and hatred in all of its very ugly forms,” Trump has said nothing to acknowledge or condemn either incident. If the Trump administration had any particular interest in combatting the perception that the president’s statement (issued after weeks of public pressure) was anything other than obligatory, his silence in the wake of these incidents has killed its chance.

Of course, the day before the statement, Trump alluded to a nonexistent terrorist incident in Sweden, and two days later returned to his dog-whistle condemnation of gun violence in Chicago. Trump’s choices on what incidents merit his comment reaffirm what we suspected: He condemns hate and violence when it bolsters his narratives about who is and is not vulnerable in America, when it can be manipulated into support for his positions, and when he is absolutely backed into a corner.

Bill Nye and Bernie Sanders make the anti-government case for climate action.

Most proposed solutions to human-caused climate change—emissions regulation; carbon taxes; incentives for clean energy—are dependent on government intervention. Bill Nye the Science Guy knows that. But in a wide-ranging conversation with Senator Bernie Sanders on Tuesday, Nye made the case that you don’t have to love government to love climate action.

Asked by Sanders how America needs to transform its energy system to effectively slow global warming, Nye described a country in which “virtually every big building” and every home “has solar panels on the roof oriented a little bit south.” When that happens, Nye said, most people will be generating the majority of their own electricity, paying only for stored solar energy delivered to their homes when the sun isn’t shining as bright as it needs to be.

You can hate Senator Sanders, you can hate me, you can hate everything, you can just be a miserable hater person,” Nye said. “But when you get an electric bill in California—which doesn’t have especially cheap electricity—for 10 bucks every 60 days, that’s just fun. That’s just fun.”

This description of a “solar panel on every roof” is a bit more complicated that it sounds. For it to work, communities across the country would need extremely large energy storage capacity for when the sun is not shining. Nye acknowledged this. “If you’re a young person in engineering school If you want to get crazy rich, make a battery that’s even a little better than what we have now,” he said. He also acknowledged that America would need to transform its electrical grid to be able to accept and distribute energy produced from a massive amount of solar panels. That type of infrastructure overhaul would be insanely expensive.

The idea’s practicality aside, Nye was trying to win conservative hearts. “Who is the strongest environmentalist? The guy who just built his log cabin,” he said. “From an optimistic point of view, I think if we can get these people to look at the world a little differently, they will be on the side of domestically produced renewable electricity in very short order.”