January 31, 2017

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The Complicated Relevance of Dr. Seuss’s Political Cartoons

One of these in particular, a drawing lampooning the non-Interventionist America First movement, has been reemerging recently amid protests against President Trump’s executive order barring immigrants and refugees from seven Muslim-majority countries.

The cartoon, which mocks an apparent blithe naiveté about the dangers posed by Nazi Germany, as well as a callousness regarding the lives of children who aren’t American citizens, makes it a striking accompaniment to modern protests, not least of which is that Trump has named one of his own official platforms “America First.”


Donald Trump is purging career officials and surrounding himself with unqualified partisans

Currently, the five most powerful people that most have Trump’s ear are: a media propagandist in Breitbart’s Steve Bannon; a pollster in Kellyanne Conway; a general in Michael Flynn, who had such a penchant for conspiracy theories that his colleagues began to refer to them as “Flynn facts”; a lawyer who ran the national Republican Party in Reince Priebus; and Trump’s son-in-law, Jared Kushner. Those five are advising someone who has never served in government and who clearly does not understand government.


Continuing with the trend of painting Bannon as the power behind the throne…

Steve Bannon is calling the shots in the White House. That’s terrifying.

Bannon is not the president’s servant. The president is his tool. For years, Bannon cast about for the proper vehicle to carry the fight forward. Sarah Palin, Rick Perry –they were considered possible material. Now in Donald Trump he has found adequate if imperfect stuff. Both are workaholics. Both share a protectionist mindset. Both are combative.

But Bannon, in contrast to the president, is not easily distracted. He is intelligent, articulate, focused in his ideology and dedicated to the struggle.


We’re starting to see theories about the nefarious aims of the government emerge with analysis of recent events, reinforcing fears that preceded Trump’s inauguration. More along these lines should be expected.

The Immigration Ban is a Headfake, and We’re Falling For It

Jake Fuentes argues that the new administration is testing the boundaries of governmental checks and balances in an effort to consolidate power. He argues the playbook could look something like this:

We launch a series of Executive Orders in the first week. Beforehand, we identify one that our opponents will complain loudly about and will dominate the news cycle. Immigration ban. Perfect.

We craft the ban to be about 20% more extreme than we actually want it to be — say, let’s make the explicit decision to block green card holders from defined countries from entering the US, rather than just visa holders. We create some confusion so that we can walk back from that part later, but let’s make sure that it’s enforced to begin with.

We watch our opposition pour out into the streets protesting the extremes of our public measure, exactly as we intended. The protests dominate the news, but our base doesn’t watch CNN anyway. The ACLU will file motions to oppose the most extreme parts of our measure, that’s actually going to be useful too. We don’t actually care if we win, that’s why we made it more extreme than it needed to be. But in doing so, the lawsuit process will test the loyalty of those enforcing what we say.

While the nation’s attention is on our extreme EO, slip a few more nuanced moves through. For example, reconfigure the National Security Council so that it’s led by our inner circle. Or gut the State Department’s ability to resist more extreme moves. That will have massive benefits down the road — the NSC are the folks that authorize secret assassinations against enemies of the state, including American citizens. Almost nobody has time to analyze that move closely, and those that do can’t get coverage.

When the lawsuits filed by the ACLU inevitably succeed, stay silent. Don’t tell the DHS to abide by the what the federal judge says, see what they do on their own. If they capitulate to the courts, we know our power with the DHS is limited and we need to staff it with more loyal people. But if they continue enforcing our EO until we tell them not to, we know that we can completely ignore the judicial branch later on and the DHS will have our back.

Once the DHS has made their move, walk back from the 20% we didn’t want in the first place. Let the green card holders in, and pretend that’s what we meant all along. The protestors and the ACLU, both clamoring to display their efficacy, jump on the moment to declare a huge victory. The crowds dissipate, they have to go back to work.

When the dust settles, we have 100% of the Executive Order we originally wanted, we’ve tested the loyalty of a department we’ll need later on, we’ve proven we can ignore an entire branch of government, and we’ve slipped in some subtle moves that will make the next test even easier.

We’ve just tested the country’s willingness to capitulate to a fascist regime.


Along these lines, here is the much cited blog post from Google engineer Yonatan Zunger:

Trial Balloon for a Coup? (Medium.com)

That is to say, the administration is testing the extent to which the DHS (and other executive agencies) can act and ignore orders from the other branches of government. This is as serious as it can possibly get: all of the arguments about whether order X or Y is unconstitutional mean nothing if elements of the government are executing them and the courts are being ignored.


It looks like we can anticipate even tighter immigration restrictions…

Trump administration circulates more draft immigration restrictions, focusing on protecting U.S. jobs

The Trump administration is considering a plan to weed out would-be immigrants who are likely to require public assistance, as well as to deport — when possible — immigrants already living in the United States who depend on taxpayer help, according to a draft executive order obtained by The Washington Post.

A second draft order under consideration calls for a substantial shake-up in the system through which the United States administers immigrant and nonimmigrant visas, with the aim of tightly controlling who enters the country and who can enter the workforce, and reducing the social-services burden on U.S. taxpayers.


Anddd… it’s Supreme Court nominee day…

What Neil Gorsuch, Trump’s SCOTUS Pick, Means for American Women (Slate)

Gorsuch may end up ruling on laws that ban abortions after a certain pre-viability gestation threshold, force abortion providers to get admitting privileges at nearby hospitals, or require abortion clinics abide by unnecessary building codes. Several states already have laws like these percolating through the courts…

Gorsuch is also likely to face cases that put contraceptive access and insurance coverage on the chopping block. Whether or not Republicans follow through on their promise to repeal the Affordable Care Act, they are likely to continue trying to make birth control and abortion care more expensive and difficult to get. Just last week, they passed a House bill that would discourage insurance providers from covering abortion in their plans.


Trump’s Grand Strategic Train Wreck (Foreign Policy)

Quoting this one a little more.

First, the framework:

At a minimum, a grand strategy consists of an understanding of the basic contours of the international environment, a country’s highest interests and objectives within that environment, the most pressing threats to those interests, and the actions that a country can take in order to address threats and promote national security and well-being. Grand strategy, then, is both diagnostic and prescriptive. It combines an analysis of what is happening in the world and how it impacts one’s country, with a more forward-looking concept of how a country might employ its various forms of power — hard or soft, military or economic — to sustain or improve its global position. Every grand strategy has a “what” dimension, a notion of what constitutes national security in the first place, and a “how” dimension, a theory of how to produce security in a dynamic international environment and given the tools at hand.

Trump see the world in terms of three dangers:

The first is the threat from “Radical Islam” — which, for the president and many of his closest advisors, poses an existential and “civilizational” threat to the United States that must be “eradicated” from the face of the Earth….

Second, Trump portrays unfair trade deals and the trade practices of key competitors as grave threats to the U.S. economy and therefore a national security priority….

Third, and finally, Trump has consistently railed against illegal immigration, arguing that the pace and scale of migration has cost American jobs, lowered wages, and put unsustainable strains on housing, schools, tax bills, and general living conditions. He has also consistently framed immigration as an issue of personal and national security, arguing that illegal immigration is associated with crime, drugs, and terrorism — and claiming, without providing supporting evidence, that “countless Americans” have died as a consequence. And, tying the issue back to his diagnosis of the terrorist threat, Trump has consistently portrayed Muslim refugees, immigrants, and the children of immigrants as a “Trojan Horse” for the spread of radical Islam in the United States.

There are four key pillars to the Trump Doctrine:

The first is what White House chief strategist Stephen Bannon proudly calls“economic nationalism.” Trump has signaled a willingness to embrace a protectionist and mercantilist foreign policy more familiar to the 19th and early 20th centuries than to the 21st. In his inaugural address, for example, Trump declared: “From this day forward, it’s going to be only America first, America first. Every decision on trade, on taxes, on immigration, on foreign affairs will be made to benefit American workers and American families. We must protect our borders from the ravages of other countries making our product, stealing our companies and destroying our jobs. Protection will lead to great prosperity and strength.”…

A second key pillar is what might be called “extreme” homeland security. This includes the infamous wall along the U.S.-Mexico border and other investments in stepped-up border security. It includes Trump’s threat of mass deportations of illegal immigrants, starting with those with a criminal record. And his approach calls for an indefinite ban on Syrian refugees, a temporary ban on all refugees, and a suspension of legal immigration from several Muslim countries until such time as “extreme vetting” procedures can be put in place to ensure that entrants to the United States “share our values and love our people.”…

What we call “amoral transactionalism” represents the third, and perhaps most central, feature of Trump’s grand strategy. In Trump’s view, the United States should be willing to cut deals with any actors that share American interests, regardless of how transactional that relationship is, and regardless of whether they share — or act in accordance with — American values.

The final pillar of Trump’s grand strategy is a muscular but aloof militarism. For decades, Trump has advocated “extreme military strength.” On the campaign trail and during the transition, Trump called for larger U.S. naval, air, and ground forces, and significant new investments in cyber warfare capabilities and nuclear weapons. (On January 27, Trump announced an executive order to follow through on this commitment, but the details remain unclear.) Yet Trump’s stated purpose is not to engage in military adventures, or to bolster U.S. alliances, but rather to deter potential adversaries and defeat those who attack the United States.

Now go read the rest for the analysis of what this means…

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President Bannon

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As I mentioned in my last post, we’re seeing a new tactic popping up – the elevation of Bannon as the defacto King with Trump as mere mouthpiece and one has to wonder how long Trump will indulge this narrative if it really gathers steam. I think it will be an effective strategy for sowing division between the two, as Trump is a textbook narcissist who will tolerate no challenge to the idea that he is the ultimate captain of the ship.

To that end, here’s some of the narrative so far…

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Is Donald Trump Just a Pawn in Steve Bannon’s Game? (Vanity Fair)

But Bannon, who jokingly refers to himself as “Darth Vader,” is perhaps alone in viewing the Trump administration as a means to a specific philosophical end.

This strategy so far has worked for Bannon, either because Trump understands he needs him or hasn’t caught wind of the fact that he might be being played. The reason why Kushner rose to prominence so quickly, after all, is the fact that Trump knows where his loyalty lies, and that is squarely behind him. If Trump feels that Bannon’s own motives are setting him up to lose, then it’s anyone’s bet as to how topsy-turvy this West Wing could get.


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January 28th, 2017

Trump rewrites American valuesPolitical cartoon courtesy of Peter Brookes.

Your daily Trump news for January 28th:

A Sweeping Order Unlikely to Reduce Terrorist Threat (NYT)

Since the Sept. 11 attacks, no one has been killed in this country in a terrorist attack by anyone who emigrated from, or whose parents emigrated from, any of the seven countries named in the order’s four-month visa ban: Syria, Iraq, Iran, Libya, Somalia, Sudan and Yemen…

Justin Trudeau posted a pointed rebuke on Facebook today:

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As Trump’s draconian executive order began to have real world effects, the news picked up fast with impact stories…

Banned From U.S.: ‘You Need to Go Back to Your Country’

Seyed Soheil Saeedi Saravi, Iran

Mr. Saravi, a young scientist in Iran, had been scheduled to travel to Boston, where he was awarded a fellowship at Harvard to study cardiovascular medicine, according to Thomas Michel, the professor who was to supervise his research. Then the visas for Mr. Saravi and his wife were suspended, Professor Michel said.

“This outstanding young scientist has enormous potential to make contributions that will improve our understanding of heart disease, and he has already been thoroughly vetted,” Professor Michel wrote to The New York Times. “This country and this city have a long history of providing research training to the best young scientists in the world, many of whom have stayed in the U.S.A. and made tremendous contributions in biomedicine and other disciplines.”

A Doctor Waits For the Plane Carrying His Wife, A Syrian Refugee, to Land 

At JFK, the Times reports, International Refugee Assistance Project supervising attorney Mark Doss asked a border agent who to call.

“Call Mr. Trump,” the agent replied.

According to flight trackers, Salem’s wife’s plane is currently halfway across the Atlantic Ocean, and running about 25 minutes ahead of schedule. What will happen to her once the flight lands at Dulles is anyone’s guess. A number listed for Dulles media relations rang through to a broken voicemail.

Salem is now racing against the clock to save her from being turned away, but he’s having trouble finding a way to get her representation.

“I spoke to lawyers but in the airport they don’t allow any lawyers,” he said.

On the lighter side of things:

FBI Uncovers Al-Qaeda Plot To Just Sit Back And Enjoy Collapse Of United States (The Onion)

Multiple intelligence agencies confirmed that the militant Islamist organization and its numerous affiliates intend to carry out a massive, coordinated plan to stand aside and watch America’s increasingly rapid decline, with terrorist operatives across the globe reportedly mobilizing to take it easy, relax, and savor the spectacle as it unfolds.

How Does Trump’s Immigration Freeze Square With His Business Interests?

He has significant commercial interests in Turkey and Azerbaijan, is developing properties in Indonesia and Dubai, and has formed companies in Egypt and Saudi Arabia. His daughter Ivanka said in 2015 that the company was looking at “multiple opportunities in Dubai, Abu Dhabi, Qatar, Saudi Arabia — the four areas where we are seeing the most interest.”

Terry McAuliffe Statement at Dulles Airport (YouTube)

Discriminatory tactics breed hatred… This is not the nation that we know, this is not the nation that we love.