The Daily Parker

Politics, Weather, Photography, and the Dog

Trump's Federal Guest Worker Program

An alarming number of executive agencies have no Senate-confirmed leadership right now:

The president’s nominees to lead federal agencies must be confirmed by the Senate before they can exercise the duties of the office. There’s an exception, however: The Federal Vacancies Reform Act of 1998 (FVRA) gives the president a certain amount of leeway to install other top federal officials into posts on a temporary basis.

Perhaps the most glaring example of Trump circumventing the Senate’s constitutional duty came earlier this month. In May, White House officials confirmed that Trump intended to pick Ken Cuccinelli, the former Virginia attorney general, to lead U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS). But the prospect quickly faced strong opposition from Senate Republicans, many of whom Cuccinelli targeted from the right as president of the Senate Conservatives Fund. Facing near-certain defeat, Trump didn’t formally nominate Cuccinelli, naming him to the post in an acting capacity instead.

The Constitution’s framers saw the danger in letting the president staff the executive branch without oversight and gave the Senate the power to advise and consent to nominations. But the FVRA short-circuits this process. Generally speaking, it allows the president to name an acting replacement if a Senate-confirmed official “dies, resigns, or is otherwise unable to perform the functions and duties of the office.” There are limits, including a restriction that an acting head can only serve for 210 days, but there are also exceptions that can extend that length of time.

Once again, a perfectly reasonable statute has allowed perfectly unreasonable results under this president. A law exists to solve a specific problem; this administration sees how to abuse it; they abuse it; a future Congress will have to curtail it.

Woe to thee, o land, when thy king is a child.

The Laffer-stock of real economists

In a move one can bet the President Trump himself doesn't really understand, he will later today confer the Presidential Medal of Freedom—our nation's highest civilian honor—on fraud economist Art Laffer:

Laffer's journey to this moment began 45 years ago with a round of drinks in a Washington cocktail lounge. At the time, Laffer was a young economist at the University of Chicago, trying to persuade President Ford's deputy chief of staff — a guy named Dick Cheney — that lowering taxes could actually boost government revenue.

"Art was trying to explain to Cheney how the Laffer Curve works," recalls Grace-Marie Turner, a journalist who later went to work on Ford's reelection campaign.

Cheney was struggling with the idea, so Laffer resorted to a visual aid.

"He sketched out this Laffer Curve on a paper cocktail napkin at the Hotel Washington, just across the street from the White House," Turner said.

Nobel laureate economist Paul Krugman has had a lot to say about Laffer over the years. For example:

Back in 1980 George H. W. Bush famously described supply-side economics — the claim that cutting taxes on rich people will conjure up an economic miracle, so much so that revenues will actually rise — as “voodoo economic policy.” Yet it soon became the official doctrine of the Republican Party, and still is. That shows an impressive level of commitment. But what makes this commitment even more impressive is that it’s a doctrine that has been tested again and again — and has failed every time.

Yes, the U.S. economy rebounded quickly from the slump of 1979-82. But was that the result of the Reagan tax cuts, or was it, as most economists think, the result of interest rate cuts by the Federal Reserve? Bill Clinton provided a clear test, by raising taxes on the rich. Republicans predicted disaster, but instead the economy boomed, creating more jobs than under Reagan.

Then George W. Bush cut taxes again, with the usual suspects predicting a “Bush boom”; what we actually got was lackluster growth followed by a severe financial crisis. Barack Obama reversed many of the Bush tax cuts and added new taxes to pay for Obamacare — and oversaw a far better jobs record, at least in the private sector, than his predecessor.

So history offers not a shred of support for faith in the pro-growth effects of tax cuts.

The recent history of Kansas also provides just the evidence you need to conclude the Laffer curve is laughable.

Essentially, then, the president is handing out a medal to a party stalwart, much as previous authoritarian rulers would have handed out the Order of Lenin. We can no doubt expect more of this over the next two years.

Between Iraq and a hard place

The Daily Parker will have a bit of activity today, so let me get the two political stories out of the way immediately.

First, Josh Marshall points out a yuge consequence of President Trump's constant lying: people have a hard time believing the administration's claim that Iran had anything to do with the attacks on oil tankers in the Gulf of Oman. He connects the dots:

[Y]ou don’t need to assume irrationality or perfidy on the part of the Iranians for them to be behind this. We had a deal with the Iranians backed by all the global powers. We broke the agreement and are now trying to strangle the Iranian economy with new sanctions. By historical standards those actions are reasonably understood to be acts of war. Low level attacks on commercial shipping just under the level that might trigger direct US retaliation has a clear logic to it.

On the other hand, pretty much every regional adversary has a strong incentive to mount some kind of false flag operation, or rush to blame the Iranians. At least a couple have recent histories of reckless, high-risk gambits to advance their perceived goals. The obvious player here is Saudi Arabia and its de facto ruler Mohammad bin Salman. Others seem possible as well.

US claims are further undermined by statements from the owner of the Japanese tanker. The President of the company didn’t dispute or validate the US accusations about who was at fault but contradicted how the US claims the attack happened. The US says it was a mine. The tanker owner said it was a flying object (presumably a missile or projectile of some sort) which had an impact entirely above the ship’s waterline. That doesn’t inspire a lot of confidence in the US version of events.

The truth is all the players involved have huge incentives to lie. And a few of them have very recent histories of the most flagrant falsehoods and dirty tricks on an international scale.

Second, the Atlantic's Adam Serwer bemoans the right wing trend to abandon democracy when they lose their arguments:

The tide of illiberalism sweeping over Western countries and the election of Donald Trump have since renewed hope among some on the religious right that it might revive its cultural control through the power of the state. Inspired by Viktor Orbán in Hungary and Vladimir Putin in Russia, a faction of the religious right now looks to sectarian ethno-nationalism to restore its beliefs to their rightful primacy, and to rescue a degraded and degenerate culture. All that stands in their way is democracy, and the fact that most Americans reject what they have to offer.

The past few weeks have witnessed a nasty internecine fight among religious conservatives about whether liberal democracy’s time has passed. Sohrab Ahmari, writing at First Things, attacked National Review’s David French for adhering to a traditional commitment to liberal democracy while “the overall balance of forces has tilted inexorably away from us.” Would the left have stood by liberal democracy in the face of such circumstances? In fact, the balance of forces tilted away from the left’s cultural priorities for most of my lifetime, and the left’s response was to win arguments—slowly, painfully, and at incalculable personal cost.

We've always known the right were crybabies. And we've always known that they are on the losing side of history. But they're not going quietly into the night; nor are they trying to convince anyone through logic. Same as always.

Getting away with it

President Trump's two biggest liars supporters made news today, one by quitting, and the other by refusing to.

First, the president announced yesterday that Press Secretary Sarah Sanders would leave at the end of the month. Though it remained unclear whether Sanders knew about this before the Tweet, she confirmed she will depart government service in two weeks, after successfully destroying the credibility of her office over the past two years:

The White House press secretary—the office, if not the person—is an outgrowth of the idea that, in a democracy, information matters, and facts matter, and while politicians and the press may tangle and tussle, they are ultimately on the same team. Sanders, who ascended to the press-secretary role in July of 2017, after the brief and peevish tenure of Sean Spicer, publicly rejected that idea. To watch a Sanders press conference, or to watch her representing the White House on cable news, was to be confronted with a vision of America that is guided by political Darwinism—an environment in which everything is a competition, with the winner determined by who can shout the loudest, who can distract the most effectively, who can get in the best insult before the time for questioning is over.

Here is some of the misinformation Sanders has spread on behalf of the White House: She has insisted that her boss never “promoted or encouraged violence,” although Donald Trump, among many other such promotions, said of a protester who’d been ejected from a 2016 rally, “I’d like to punch him in the face.” She has outright dismissed the stories of the multiple women who have accused Trump of sexual abuse as lies. She has told reporters that she’d heard from “countless” FBI agents who were happy that Trump had fired James Comey in 2017; she would later characterize that, to Robert Mueller, as a mere “slip of the tongue.”

Her broader legacy, though, is an acquiescence to the idea that facts themselves have a political bias. The agent of a president who has transformed “fake news” from an offhanded insult into a democratic anxiety, Sanders has used her powerful pulpit to promote the “Fake News Awards,” her boss’s carnivalesque attempt to institutionalize his mockery of the American media. She has accused reporters of “purposefully misleading the American people.” She has deflected; she has belittled; she has eye-rolled; she has condescended; she has obfuscated; she has misled; she has lied. And she has treated it all as a battle to be won. So many of the public interactions Sanders has conducted with reporters—whether Acosta or April Ryan or Jim Sciutto or Brian Karem or the many other members of the press who are charged with reporting on the daily doings of the White House—have been wars in miniature. And, day by day, the martial logic lurking in the way Americans talk about their politics—the campaign and the press corps, the war room—has been made ever more literal. What is true about the world we all navigate, together? That becomes a less important question than who is winning in it.

Margaret Sullivan calls Sanders "the disdainful Queen of Gaslighting."

Meanwhile, after years of obvious, repeated violations of the Hatch Act (prohibiting government employees from making public political statements), the Office of Special Counsel recommended that the White House fire Kellyanne Conway. The Trump-appointed OSC head made this recommendation. Conway's response? "Blah, blah, blah:"

It’s not that Conway is unaware of the rules. She’s openly thumbed her nose at them. In a May interview, when asked about overstepping the rules, she replied, “If you’re trying to silence me through the Hatch Act, it’s not going to work … Let me know when the jail sentence starts.”

Her cavalier attitude toward the law, while galling, is also probably safe. The Hatch Act is written with the understanding that the president would not want his aides flagrantly and wantonly violating the law, and only the president can fire a senior aide for violating the law. In the Trump administration, that has been revealed as a loophole, since this particular president has no inclination to punish violations that benefit him. (One of the most outspoken critics of Trump’s disrespect for laws and regulations has been the longtime Republican lawyer George Conway, who has used his Twitter feed to criticize the president. He also happens to be married to Kellyanne Conway. As of this writing, George Conway had not yet commented.)

We need to get these people out of office as soon as legally possible. Unfortunately, they can still do a lot of damage between now and January 2021.

A fun rant to read

Not a lot new in David Roth's takedown of the president today, but he does have a few good bits:

The spectacle of expert analysts and thought leaders parsing the actions of a man with no expertise or capacity for analysis is the purest acid satire—but less because of how badly that expert analysis has failed than because of how sincerely misplaced it is. Trump represents an extraordinary challenge to political media precisely because there is nothing here to parse, no hidden meanings or tactical elisions or slow-rolled strategic campaign. Mainstream political media and Trump’s opponents in the Democratic Party conceive of politics as chess, a matter of feints and sacrifices and moves made so as to open the way for other moves. There’s an element of romance to this vision, which is a crucial tenet in a certain type of big-D Democratic thought and also something like the reason why anyone would need to employ a political analyst. But Trump is not playing chess. The man is playing Hungry Hungry Hippos.

And here at last we are beginning to circle around Trump’s true superpower, and are closer to identifying the small and stubborn thing that defines him. It’s what binds his deliriously incoherent politics, and helps him thread together his wildly far-flung grievances—Trump never forgets a slight, and pursues ancient grudges against bygone New York showbiz figures with the same tireless vigor that he brings to his campaigns against his various Deep State persecutors—into a single rancid system of being. There is nothing artful or concealed about Donald Trump, which is one of the secrets of his strange success as a politician. His lies are preposterous and glaring and never anything but the obvious opposite of what is actually true; his unquestioned desires and deeply held, deeply unreasoning bigotries and petty fixations are all absolutely untouched from the 1988 Rich Guy factory settings; the sheer mass of his annihilating selfishness leaves no room for anything like subtext. Trump is nothing but what he appears to be, and his superpower comes from this. His superpower is getting upset.

It's comforting that the latest polls show him losing to at least five of the Democratic candidates running against him, with Biden and Sanders mopping the floor with him. But it's also a long way to the election.

Today's reading list

If only it weren't another beautiful early-summer day in Chicago, I might spend some time indoors reading these articles:

Time to go outside...

Meanwhile, in London...

As the only president we have leaves the UK after a bizarre visit, he leaves behind a collection of inventive and colorful protest effigies:

A giant rendering of US President Donald Trump astride a golden toilet while tweeting has appeared in Central London ahead of protests against Mr Trump’s state visit.

The 16-foot model, nicknamed “Dump Trump”, reportedly also has an audio function that makes fart noises and repeats the president's most famous statements, including “no collusion”, “witch-hunt”, “you are fake news” and “I’m a very stable genius.”

“Dump Trump” appeared early on Tuesday in Trafalgar Square, ahead of the planned demonstration.

More seriously, when speaking with an uncomfortable Irish premier Leo Varadkar, the president compared the Irish/UK border with his own fantasy of a wall between the US and Mexico. I can imagine how well that went over well in Derry:

“I think it will all work out very well, and also for you with your wall, your border,” he said at a joint press conference. “I mean, we have a border situation in the United States, and you have one over here. But I hear it’s going to work out very well here.”

Varadkar interjected that Ireland wished to avoid a border or a wall, a keystone of Irish government policy.

“I think you do, I think you do,” Trump said. “The way it works now is good, you want to try and to keep it that way. I know that’s a big point of contention with respect to Brexit. I’m sure it’s going to work out very well. I know they’re focused very heavily on it.”

In London on Tuesday Trump met the Brexiter politicians Nigel Farage, Iain Duncan Smith and Owen Paterson, all of whom have played down the idea that the border between Ireland and Northern Ireland will be a problem after the UK leaves the EU.

The Irish government has mounted an intense, three-year diplomatic effort arguing the opposite, that Brexit threatens peace and prosperity on the island of Ireland.

I find it baffling how vulnerable he is to other charlatans and frauds. I doubt anyone with a sense of...well, sense would trust anything Farage or Smith say about...well, anything. And that's true of Trump as well.

Our man in London, part 2

Britons' revulsion of President Trump knows few bounds. Fortunately they seem to have drawn a distinction between him and the country he represents:

But despite the sense of (bad) business as usual, two things are already becoming clear that both highlight the particularly disturbed nature of current British politics, and the U.S.’s general loss of global standing under Trump. Firstly, the president’s popularity in Britain is so low that attacking him has become an easy way for local officials to build political capital. And secondly, that even among potential allies, Trump is now mainly seen as an agent of chaos.

A few pro-Brexit words from Trump might help this future leader sell the process to a doubtful and divided electorate—or at least the small part of it that will vote for a new Conservative leader—but so far, they’re not getting it. Indeed, on Sunday, U.S. ambassador to the U.K. and Trump ally Woody Johnson did the exact opposite. In an interview with the BBC, Johnson said “all aspects” of the U.K. economy would be up for negotiation during a post-Brexit U.S./U.K. trade deal—including healthcare. By this he meant opening up Britain’s National Health Service to tenders from U.S. health companies, a move that could well presage the break-up of the system as we know it. Whatever party they support, this kind of talk turns most British people’s blood to ice.

Yes, that's right. And the president doubled down on putting NHS "on the table" in his news conference today with soon-to-be-ex PM Theresa May.

But this is Trump. Protests? What protests?

11:27 a.m. EDT: Trump dismissed a news conference question about London protests during his trip. “As far as the protests, I have to tell you… yesterday we left the prime minister, the queen, the royal family,” he said. “There were thousands of people on the streets cheering.”

“Even coming over today, there were thousands of people cheering, and then I heard that there were protests. I said, ‘Where are the protests? I don’t see any protests.’ I did see a small protest today when I came. Very small. So a lot of it is fake news, I hate to say.”

“You saw people waving the American flag, waving your flag. I was tremendous spirit and love. There was great love. It was an alliance.”

Washington Post London correspondent Karla Adam has been out in the streets with demonstrators all day. She writes: “A giant blimp of a diaper-clad “baby Trump” and a talking “Trump robot” sitting on a toilet were among the most vivid props on Tuesday as protesters descended on central London to register their disapproval of President Trump.” Read her full report.

Oh, dear.

Britain, on behalf of the majority of voters in the U.S., I apologize.

Sadiq Khan on Trump

I mentioned earlier that President Trump had insulted the Mayor of London. Here's what Khan wrote to make Trump so angry:

Praising the “very fine people on both sides” when torch-wielding white supremacists and antisemites marched through the streets clashing with anti-racist campaigners. Threatening to veto a ban on the use of rape as a weapon of war. Setting an immigration policy that forcefully separates young children from their parents at the border. The deliberate use of xenophobia, racism and “otherness” as an electoral tactic. Introducing a travel ban to a number of predominately Muslim countries. Lying deliberately and repeatedly to the public.

No, these are not the actions of European dictators of the 1930s and 40s. Nor the military juntas of the 1970s and 80s. I’m not talking about Vladimir Putin or Kim Jong-un. These are the actions of the leader of our closest ally, the president of the United States of America.

I am proud of our historic special relationship, which I’m certain will survive long after President Trump leaves office. The US is a country I love and have visited on many occasions. I still greatly admire the culture, the people and the principles articulated by the founding fathers. But America is like a best friend, and with a best friend you have a responsibility to be direct and honest when you believe they are making a mistake.

History teaches us of the danger of being afraid to speak truth to power and the risk of failing to defend our values from the rise of the far right. At this challenging time in global politics, it’s more important than ever that we remember that lesson.

Spot on.

Our man in London

The president, only slightly less popular than Nigel Farage, called London's mayor a "stone cold loser" and berated accurate news sources before HM The Queen hosted him at a state dinner this evening. Huzzah:

However, by the time the president’s helicopter, Marine One, landed at Buckingham Palace for his long-desired ceremonial visit, he was wreathed in smiles, with his arrival marked by two 41-gun salutes, a guard of honour and a white-tie-and-tiara banquet.

More than 100 protesters demonstrated outside the gates of Buckingham Palace against the US president being handed “the red-carpet treatment” and more than 250,000 protesters are expected to take to London’s streets on Tuesday, when the Trump baby blimp is expected to appear once again.

The Labour leader, Jeremy Corbyn, who will address the protesters in London, tweeted: “Tomorrow’s protest against Donald Trump’s state visit is an opportunity to stand in solidarity with those he’s attacked in America, around the world and in our own country – including, just this morning, @SadiqKhan”.

The Queen presented him with a first edition of The Second World War by Winston Churchill and a three-piece pen set bearing the royal cypher.

What an odd gift for an illiterate.

Meanwhile, the Economist believes that Brexit will cause a constitutional crisis in the UK, despite the constitution's inherent, ah, flexibility. Maybe they should write it down?