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Trump Just Blurted Out the Real Reason He Hired Matt Whitaker

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Jonathan Chait explains, in New York:

“The inner workings of the Mueller investigation are a total mess,” tweetedPresident Trump this morning. But why would the president have access to the inner workings of the Mueller investigation, which is supposed to be firewalled away from his influence?

There’s a strong chance Trump is just making this up, of course. On the other hand, over the last week, the Mueller investigation has been supervised by acting attorney general Matt Whitaker, who would have access to the investigation’s inner workings. It might be the case that Trump actually has access to the inner workings of the Mueller investigation because he finally has somebody running the Justice Department who is pliant and unethical enough to give it to him.

There has been a persistent disbelief among many observers throughout the Trump presidency that the underlying reality is as bad as it appears on the surface. But the scumminess of the arrangement is increasingly naked. Here, lying about in plain  sight, is Trump’s response yesterday to a question from the conservative Daily Caller, which asked, “Could you tell us where your thinking is currently on the attorney general position? I know you’re happy with Matthew Whitaker, do you have any names? Chris Christie?”

In response Trump embarked on a rant about the Mueller investigation:

I knew [Whitaker] only as he pertained, you know, as he was with Jeff Sessions. And, um, you know, look, as far as I’m concerned this is an investigation that should have never been brought. It should have never been had.


It’s something that should have never been brought. It’s an illegal investigation. And you know, it’s very interesting because when you talk about not Senate confirmed, well, Mueller’s not Senate confirmed.

Trump is all but confessing that he hired Whitaker to stop the “illegal” Mueller probe.

Whitaker may not have the opportunity to squelch the Mueller probe. He has to clear two legal hurdles: First, the constitutionality of his appointment is being challenged — it is not clear whether a president has the authority to install an acting attorney general without Senate confirmation. Second, Whitaker might be required to recuse himself from the Russia investigation, since he knew and worked closely with Sam Clovis, a member of the campaign and a subject the of the investigation.

But what is almost certainly not going to stop Whitaker is any inherent sense of professional ethics. Whitaker’s history includes a stint with World Patent Marketing, a scam firm that was shut down by the Federal Trade Commission, and is currently under FBI investigation. Its basic business model appears to have consisted of finding people with ideas for inventions, persuading them that World Patent Marketing could turn the idea into a commercial success, and bilking them for large payments, in return for which they would get nothing. Whitaker’s role at the firm involved using his legal and political connections to threaten the defrauded customers.

The Washington Post goes deeper into the scam. The story confirms that, despite the Department’s official claim that “acting attorney general Matt Whitaker has said he was not aware of any fraudulent activity,” he was made aware of complaints of fraud at the time. “FTC investigators found that Whitaker received complaints about the company in his role as an advisory board member,” reports the Post.

If your assumption that somehow this will work out rests on the belief that Whitaker will conform to the ethical norms of the legal profession, you need to think about the people he has worked with in the past. You also need to consider  . . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

15 November 2018 at 8:04 pm

Trump’s Tax Cut Was Supposed to Change Corporate Behavior. Here’s What Happened.

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Jim Tankersley and Matt Phillips report in the NY Times:

The $1.5 trillion tax overhaul that President Trump signed into law late last year has already given the American economy a jolt, at least temporarily. It has fattened the paychecks of most American workers, padded the profits of large corporations and sped economic growth.

Those results weren’t a surprise. Economists across the ideological spectrum predicted the new law would fuel consumer spending, in classic fashion: When the government borrows money and dumps it into the economy, growth tends to accelerate. But Republicans did not sell the law as a sugar-high stimulus. They sold it as a refashioning of the incentives in the American economy — one that would unleash more investment, better efficiency and higher wages, along with enough growth to offset any revenue lost to the government from lower tax rates.

Ten months after the law took effect, that promised “supply-side” bump is harder to find than the sugar-high stimulus. It’s still early, but here’s what the numbers tell us so far:

Proponents of the tax overhaul said it would supercharge the recent lackluster pace of business spending on long-term investments like buildings, factories, equipment and technology.

Such spending is crucial to keeping economic growth strong. And strong growth is central to Republican claims that the tax cuts would ultimately pay for themselves.

Capital spending did pick up steam earlier this year. For companies in the S&P 500, capital expenditures rose roughly 20 percent in the first half of 2018. Much of that was concentrated: The spending of just five companies — Google’s parent, Alphabet, and Facebook, Intel, Exxon Mobil and Goldman Sachs — accounted for roughly a third of the entire rise. Much of that spending went toward technology, including increased investment in data centers and computing, server and networking capacity.

For the full year, Goldman Sachs analysts expect that capital expenditures for companies in the S&P 500 will be up about 14 percent, to $715 billion. Research and development spending, another component of business investment, was expected to be up 12 percent, to $340 billion.

For the economy as a whole, the surge in business investment was a bit less impressive. It’s true that business spending on fixed investment — such as machinery, buildings and equipment — rose, jumping 11.5 percent and 8.7 percent during the first and second quarters. The first-quarter jump was the fastest for investment since 2011.

But that pace fizzled during the third quarter. Recently data showed third-quarter business investment rose at an annual pace of 0.8 percent. The last quarter of the year — traditionally a big one for capital spending — will fill out the picture, but that data won’t be released until early 2019.

It will likely take years to get a better sense of whether the law fundamentally reshaped American corporate investment. But there’s little clear evidence that it is drastically reshaping the way in which most companies invest and spend.

The results of a survey published in late October by the National Association for Business Economics showed that 81 percent of the 116 companies surveyed said they had not changed plans for investment or hiring because of the tax bill.

Cheerleaders for the tax cut argued that the heart of the law — cutting and restructuring taxes for corporations — would give the economy a positive bump, giving companies incentives to invest more, hire more workers and pay higher wages.

Skeptics said that the money companies saved through tax cuts would merely increase corporate profits, rather than trickling down to workers.

JPMorgan Chase analysts estimate that in the first half of 2018, about $270 billion in corporate profits previously held overseas were repatriated to the United States and spent as a result of changes to the tax code. Some 46 percent of that, JPMorgan Chase analysts said, was spent on $124 billion in stock buybacks. . .

Continue reading. There’s much more including more charts.

The tax cut failed except in transferring wealth from the public to corporations and the wealthy by driving up the federal deficit, which taxpayers must pay off.

Written by LeisureGuy

14 November 2018 at 2:49 pm

Trump lies again: Why he could not attend the 100th anniversary commemoration of the first Armistice Day

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The alert observer will note that Angela Merkel and Emmanuel Macron seemed to have no difficulties in attending, but for poor old President Trump it was impossible. His latest claim: It was the weather.” James Fallows gives the flight-weather reports for that day in the Atlantic:

Why, exactly, did Donald Trump not join Emmanuel Macron, Angela Merkel, and Justin Trudeau at Saturday’s commemoration of the 100th anniversary of the original Armistice Day? I don’t know, and I don’t think anyone outside the White House does at this point.

What I do know is that one hypothesis that has shown up in many stories about his no-show—that Marine One, the presidential helicopter, “can’t fly” in the rain—doesn’t make sense.

As you’re looking for explanations, you can dismiss this one. Helicopters can fly just fine in the rain, and in conditions way worse than prevailed in Paris on November 10.

First, about helicopters and weather. (What follows is based on my having held an instrument rating as an airplane pilot for the past 20 years, and having worked in the Carter-era White House and occasionally having been aboard the Marine One of that era.)

There is nothing special about the rain-worthiness of the helicopter any president normally uses. In principle, any helicopter can fly in clouds or rain. The complications would be:

Icing: This is one of the big weather-related perils of flying. (The other is thunderstorms.) If (a) an aircraft is inside the clouds, and (b) the temperature is at freezing or below (down to about -15 or -20 degrees Centigrade, when it becomes so cold that the water behaves differently), there’s a risk of icing: ice piling up on the wings, control surfaces, etc. This changes the shape of the airfoils, and it essentially makes a plane unable to fly. This was part of the story of the commuter plane that crashed going into Buffalo a few years ago. I did a long illustrated post about what icing looks like, and how it kills, back in 2011. Other posts are here and here.

But this only happens if a plane or helicopter is actually in the clouds (“visible moisture” is one of the requirements), and for a helicopter that, in turn, would mean a ceiling so low that a helicopter could not fly beneath it, clear of the clouds. Or it could occur if the temperature profile were such that you get “freezing rain”—rain falling through a supercooled atmospheric layer and being at or below 0 degrees Centigrade when it hits, thus instantly freezing on whatever surface it touches.

Extremely low ceiling: If the ground were essentially fog-covered, so the pilot couldn’t judge when he was about to touch down, that could be too dangerous to fly in. Think London pea-soup fog, or a bad day in Beijing.

So: Helicopters cannot safely fly inside the clouds when it’s below freezing, and they can’t safely or prudently land when there is dense fog or other very low-ceiling circumstances. And they cannot fly safely if it’s extremely windy and gusty—which can make it dangerous to land.

Otherwise, just about any helicopter can fly in rain, bad weather, etc.

From photos of Paris and the commemoration site Saturday, it didn’t appear that the ceiling was so low (or the temperature so cold) that icing would be a real factor. So just now I have dug up the archived “metars”—the aviation-related weather reports—for Saturday at Orly Airport in Paris, the closest reporting station to where Trump was. Here’s the raw data for Saturday’s Orly metars, at half-hour intervals essentially from dawn to dusk:

SA 10/11/2018 17:30-> METAR LFPO 101730Z 20010KT 9999 BKN012 12/10 Q1002 NOSIG=
SA 10/11/2018 17:00-> METAR LFPO 101700Z 20011KT 160V220 9999 BKN012 13/11 Q1002


SA 10/11/2018 16:30-> METAR LFPO 101630Z 20010KT 9999 BKN011 13/11 Q1002 NOSIG=
SA 10/11/2018 16:00-> METAR LFPO 101600Z 20010KT 9999 BKN011 13/11 Q1002 NOSIG=
SA 10/11/2018 15:30-> METAR LFPO 101530Z 23007KT 190V260 9999 BKN010 13/11 Q1001


SA 10/11/2018 15:00-> METAR LFPO 101500Z 20010KT 9999 BKN010 13/11 Q1001 NOSIG=
SA 10/11/2018 14:30-> METAR LFPO 101430Z 20010KT 170V230 7000 -RA BKN010 13/11

           Q1001 TEMPO 2500 RA BKN006=

SA 10/11/2018 14:00-> METAR LFPO 101400Z NIL=
SA 10/11/2018 13:30-> METAR LFPO 101330Z 21010KT 170V250 9999 -RA BKN011 12/11

           Q1001 TEMPO 2500 RA BKN006=

SA 10/11/2018 13:00-> METAR LFPO 101300Z 21009KT 180V250 9999 -RA BKN010 12/11

           Q1001 TEMPO 2500 RA BKN006=

SA 10/11/2018 12:30-> METAR LFPO 101230Z 25010KT 7000 -RA BKN010 12/11 Q1001 TEMPO

           2500 RA BKN006=

SA 10/11/2018 12:00-> METAR LFPO 101200Z 19012KT 9999 -RA BKN009 12/11 Q1001 TEMPO

           2500 RA BKN006=

SA 10/11/2018 11:30-> METAR LFPO 101130Z 20011KT 3000 -RA BR BKN006 OVC013 12/11

           Q1001 TEMPO 2500 RA BKN006=

SA 10/11/2018 11:00-> METAR LFPO 101100Z 19011KT 2700 -RA BR OVC006 11/11 Q1002


SA 10/11/2018 10:30-> METAR LFPO 101030Z NIL=
SA 10/11/2018 10:00-> METAR LFPO 101000Z 18011KT 6000 RA BKN008 11/10 Q1002 NOSIG=
SA 10/11/2018 09:30-> METAR LFPO 100930Z 19011KT 7000 RA BKN010 11/10 Q1002 TEMPO

           4000 RA BKN009=

SA 10/11/2018 09:00-> METAR LFPO 100900Z 18010KT 9999 -RA BKN010 11/10 Q1002 TEMPO

           4000 RA BKN009=

I am not going to bother to decode this all. (Being able to read metars is part of ground school in the learning-to-fly process.) But here are the essentials:

  • On Saturday morning, the weather in Paris was rainy and overcast—bad weather, but not any exceptional aeronautical challenge. The worst conditions during the day in Paris were at noon, when there was an overcast ceiling of 600 feet. (“101100Z 19011KT 2700 -RA BR OVC006.” The -RA means “light rain.” The BR means “mist,” and the mnemonic for remembering it is “Baby Rain.”) As a benchmark: To get an instrument rating, whether in an airplane or a helicopter, you have to show the ability to fly an approach “to minimums,” which (depending on the airport and the approach system) can be as low as 200 to 300 feet. Still, on Saturday morning, a helicopter trip from Paris would probably have meant spending part of the time in the clouds.
  • The temperature in Paris through the morning was 11 to 12 degrees Centigrade, or the low 50s Fahrenheit. That is not very cold. The normal “lapse rate” for air temperature is about 2 degrees Centigrade colder for each thousand feet you go up. In normal circumstances, that would mean the freezing level was at an altitude of around 6,000 feet. (To spell it out: 12 degrees Centigrade at ground level, minus 2 degrees for each thousand feet, means that you reach 0 degrees Centigrade around 6,000 feet up.) So at an altitude of 3,000 or 4,000 feet, this would not be an icing-peril scenario.
  • It was not very windy. Through the morning, the wind was reported at 11 or 12 knots—not enough to worry about.

Of course, safety considerations are different when a president is traveling. The pilots and maintenance practices of Marine One are presumably the best that can be found, but the play-it-safe factor when carrying a president has to be larger than for other missions. So who knows whether some aviation official really said: Sorry, this is no-go.

But precisely because of those cautions and complexities, any known-universe past presidential travel plan would have a bad-weather option, or several of those, already lined up. This is the way it has worked in any White House I’ve been aware of.

Why didn’t an American president go to a once-in-a-lifetime ceremony? Might it have been a still-undisclosed security threat? Something else that Donald Trump had to do?

I don’t know. I do know that whatever the obstacle was, it wasn’t that “helicopters can’t fly in the clouds and rain.”

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

13 November 2018 at 12:36 pm

Jeff Sessions, the doughty bigot

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Radley Balko writes in the Washington Post:

Jeff Sessions’s final act as attorney general was perfectly on-brand. On the way out of office, he signed an order making it more difficult for the Justice Department to investigate and implement reform at police departments with patterns of abuse, questionable shootings, racism, and other constitutional violations. Sessions once called such investigations — like those that turned up jaw-dropping abuses in places such as Ferguson, Mo., Baltimore and Chicago — “one of the most dangerous, and rarely discussed, exercises of raw power.” He has had only cursory criticism of the horrific abuses actually described in those reports (which he later conceded he sometimes didn’t bother to read), which disproportionately affect blacks and Latinos. For Sessions, it is the federal government’s investigation of such abuses that amounts to not just an unjustified “exercise of raw power,” but a “most dangerous” one.

When President-elect Donald Trump first nominated Sessions, critics raised questions about things in his record that suggested he was racist. Defenders dutifully recited talking points — such as that Sessions had once prosecuted a Klansman for murder — that were later shown to be not entirely accurate. Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) even cited these accusations as one of his reasons for voting for Sessions, despite Sessions being diametrically opposed to Paul on a host of criminal-justice issues, from asset forfeiture to sentencing reform to restoration of voting rights for the formerly incarcerated.

Paul’s claim to have been deeply offended by the accusation that Sessions might be racist was keeping in tradition with the Senate’s country-club mentality. Never mind the evidence. Polite senators simply didn’t make such accusations of other senators. So Sessions was confirmed. And he then set about pushing for policies indistinguishable from those that would have been pursued by an attorney general every bit the bigot Sessions’s critics accused him of being.

Take those Justice Department investigations of police departments. These probes aren’t about charging or accusing individual officers. They’re about exposing, documenting and reforming routine abuses. The evidence to whether the consent decrees often enacted after the investigations bring real change is mixed. But there’s no question that the investigations themselves have exposed and documented what the Justice Department calls “patterns and practices” of constitutional violations. For the mostly black and brown people on the receiving end of police harassment, corruption, abuse and lethal force, for the people routinely ignored, intimidated, threatened or mocked when they’ve tried to file complaints — or simply be heard — those reports are validation. The federal government — a division called the “Department of Justice” had put its imprimatur on their reality. It’s an acknowledgment of these communities’ suffering.

But for someone such as Sessions, who once said he was offended by the very term prosecutorial misconduct, any oversight of law enforcement is an affront to law enforcement. When it comes to cops and the communities they serve, the rights that matter aren’t those enshrined in the Fourth or Fourteenth amendments, but the “rights” of police officers — the armed agents of the state entrusted with the power to detain, harm, and kill — to do their jobs without restraint, oversight or scrutiny. When Sessions took office, two U.S. cities were in the process of negotiating consent decrees with the Justice Department — Baltimore and Chicago. Shortly after taking office, Sessions trashed those negotiations and the investigations that preceded them, even as new revelations exposed yet more examples of corruptionabuse and misconduct in both cities — many of which never would have been exposed without federal intervention.

Sessions claims that his opposition to federal oversight of local policing comes from a respect for federalism, or the historically blighted and somewhat less accurate phrase, “states’ rights.” Put simply, he doesn’t think the federal government should be micromanaging local police departments.

But Sessions’s allegiance to federalism is negotiable at best. For example, city officials in Chicago, including the superintendent of police, have tried for months to voluntarily implement reforms to that city’s policing practices. These reforms were negotiated among city leaders, activists groups and police groups. The reforms are a product of local government, and endorsed by local government officials. Yet Sessions’s Justice Department has actively opposed them. Sessions also ended a Justice Department program in which police departments could get grants to voluntarily implement reforms aimed bringing their policies in line with the Constitution. The change was not born of some allegiance to smaller government. The grants weren’t eliminated, but redirected to “membership-based” police organizations.

Police chiefs in “sanctuary cities” all over the country have pleaded with Sessions to respect their policies regarding immigration enforcement. They say — with good data to back their claims — that aggressive local enforcement of immigration law makes undocumented people less likely to cooperate in police investigations and less likely to report even serious crimes like murder. Sessions, who professes to take an “originalist” approach to the Constitution, insisted that local law enforcement shoulder the burden for a duty the Constitution specifically delegates to the federal government (immigration enforcement), while shirking his own Fourteenth Amendment obligation as attorney general to protect the rights of citizens when state and local governments refuse to do so.

Sessions also abandoned his allegiance to federalism when it comes to marijuana. He once called for the execution of drug dealers and, as a U.S. attorney, prosecuted drug offenders (including possession crimes) at a rate twice the national average. If Sessions had his way, the Justice Department would have cracked down on the states that have legalized marijuana. Some might argue that Sessions was merely following federal law as laid out by the Supreme Court. But then, this is the man who once said, “It is not an act of courage but supreme arrogance to pretend that the wisdom of five judges is greater than all the men and women who have voted upon this issue in the 50 states.” Of course, Sessions was then talking not about pot, but gay marriage.

Sessions also abandoned (or at least tried to) the Obama administration’s modest reforms to civil-asset forfeiture, the policy that allows police to seize and keep property without ever charging the property’s owner with a crime. President Barack Obama had sought to phase out a policy known as “adoption,” in which local police agencies partner with a federal agency such as the Drug Enforcement Administration in order to circumvent laws enacted by state legislatures aimed at protecting property owners from unjust seizures by local police. The adoption policy is a direct affront to the will of state legislatures; it is a direct attack on federalism. Obama tried to end it. Sessions tried to bring it back.

Sessions has also cited federalism and “equal protection under the law” in explaining his opposition to federal hate-crimes laws. Yet when he was a senator, Sessions introduced bills to add police and military members to the classes of people protected by federal hate-crimes laws. He’s opposed to hate crimes, but also apparently willing to expand them. Sessions has also cited federalism in his opposition to federal investigations into possible violations of the voting rights of black people but, over the course of his career, has called for federal intervention into allegations of political discrimination against churches and the Christian right. On this past Election Day, the Justice Department sent voting rights monitors to 19 states. Just three were former confederate states (Virginia, Florida and Georgia) and, in two of the three, the monitors were sent to the bluest counties in those states.

Moving beyond federalism and states’ rights, there is the child separation policy, one of the cruelest, needlessly punitive immigration policies in modern memory. Sessions has been widely reported as its chief architect. The wrenching images of screaming children and sobbing parents we’ve seen have sometimes been portrayed as a public relations nightmare for the Trump administration. That isn’t true. Early on, Sessions himself described the policy as a “deterrent” to asylum seekers. For a policy to deter, it needs to (a) inflict pain on current asylum seekers, and (b) make sure future asylum seekers are aware of that pain. As Sessions would later say, “We’ve got to get this message out.”

In other words, those images weren’t a PR nightmare; they were part of the plan. Jeff Sessions, a man who has spent his entire political career claiming to be a voice for families and children, oversaw a policy of official child abuse, one of inflicting lifelong psychological damage on children, all because the parents of those children came to the United States in search of asylum, and because Sessions doesn’t want the United States to be the sort of place where desperate people go to seek protection. He then cracked a poorly delivered joke about it all.

Sessions’s originalism is also hard to square with his sharp criticism of Obama for granting clemency to drug offenders. The Constitution is explicit about the president’s power to grant pardons and clemency. It is absolute. Yet Sessions claimed Obama had abused “executive power in an unprecedented, reckless manner.”

And as Mark Joseph Stern writes at Slate, while Sessions positioned himselfas a champion of free speech on campus, as attorney general of Alabama, he tried to bar LGBTQ student groups from meeting on campus at state schools. It turns out, he’s only in favor of speech from favored groups.

To build support for his agenda, Sessions has stoked the fear of crime — particularly urban crime in cities such as Chicago. You could argue that his rhetoric comes straight out of Richard M. Nixon’s notoriously racist 1968 presidential campaign, except that Nixon was, at least, stoking white fear of crimes that were actually occurring. Sessions consistently exaggerates crime rates, and bends the data to fit his narrative. He blamed the American Civil Liberties Union for a spike in Chicago murders, citing a study that has since been widely debunked. He falsely attributed a two-year uptick in violent crime nationally to the allegedly lenient federal drug-sentencing policies of former attorney general Eric H. Holder Jr. (He also inaccurately characterized the Holder memo that laid out those policies.) A report from the Justice Department’s Office of Inspector General later thoroughly refuted those claims. And in support of the family separation policy, Sessions cited “massive increases in illegal crossings” and warned that the country was in danger of being “overwhelmed.” In truth, border apprehensions remain at near-historic lows.

The common factor in the policies that made up Sessions’s Justice Department agenda, then, isn’t federalism or equal protection or “states’ rights.” When states or local officials are accused of violating the rights of minorities and other marginalized groups — blacks, Latinos, the LGBTQ community — Sessions has opposed federal intervention, citing states’ rights. When state and local officials want to opt out of federal policies many believe to be oppressive or discriminatory against those groups — immigration enforcement, marijuana legalization, asset forfeiture — Sessions cites the supremacy of federal law. There is only one consistent principle in play here: bigotry.

Sessions has shown a truly disturbing commitment to pursuing these ugly policies.  . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

13 November 2018 at 10:13 am

Is Something Neurologically Wrong With Donald Trump?

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James Hamblin writes in the Atlantic:

resident donald trump’s decision to brag in a tweet about the size of his “nuclear button” compared with North Korea’s was widely condemned as bellicose and reckless. The comments are also part of a larger pattern of odd and often alarming behavior for a person in the nation’s highest office.

Trump’s grandiosity and impulsivity has made him a constant subject of speculation among those concerned with his mental health. But after more than a year of talking to doctors and researchers about whether and how the cognitive sciences could offer a lens to explain Trump’s behavior, I’ve come to believe there should be a role for professional evaluation beyond speculating from afar.

I’m not alone. Viewers of Trump’s recent speeches have begun noticing minor abnormalities in his movements. In November, he used his free hand to steady a small Fiji bottle as he brought it to his mouth. Onlookers described the movement as “awkward” and made jokes about hand size. Some called out Trump for doing the exact thing he had mocked Senator Marco Rubio for during the presidential primary—conspicuously drinking water during a speech. [photos of the awkward drinking in the article at the link – LG]

By comparison, Rubio’s movement was smooth, effortless. The Senator noticed that Trump had stared at the Fiji bottle as he slowly brought it to his lips, jokingly chiding that Trump “needs work on his form. Has to be done in one single motion, and eyes should never leave the camera.”

Then in December, speaking about his national-security plan in Washington, D.C., Trump reached under his podium and grabbed a glass with both hands. This time he kept them on the glass the entire time he drank, and as he put the glass down. This drew even more attention. The gesture was like that of an extremely cold person cradling a mug of cocoa. Some viewers likened him to a child just learning to handle a cup.

Then there was an incident of slurred speech. Announcing the relocation of the American embassy in Israel from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem—a dramatic foreign-policy move—Trump became difficult to understand at a phonetic level, which did little to reassure many observers of the soundness of his decision.

Experts compelled to offer opinions on the nature of the episode were vague: The neurosurgeon Sanjay Gupta described it as “clearly some abnormalities of his speech.” This sort of slurring could result from anything from a dry mouth to a displaced denture to an acute stroke.

Though these moments could be inconsequential, they call attention to the alarming absence of a system to evaluate elected officials’ fitness for office—to reassure concerned citizens that the “leader of the free world” is not cognitively impaired, and on a path of continuous decline.

Proposals for such a system have been made in the past, but never implemented. The job of the presidency is not what it used to be. For most of America’s history, it was not possible for the commander in chief to unilaterally destroy a continent, or the entire planet, with one quick decision. Today, even the country’s missileers—whose job is to sit in bunkers and await a signal—are tested three times per month on their ability to execute protocols. They are required to score at least 90 percent. Testing is not required for their commander in chief to be able to execute a protocol, much less testing to execute the sort of high-level decision that would set this process in motion.

The lack of a system to evaluate presidential fitness only stands to become more consequential as the average age of leaders increases. The Constitution sets finite lower limits on age but gives no hint of an upper limit. At the time of its writing, septuagenarians were relatively rare, and having survived so long was a sign of hardiness and cautiousness. Now it is the norm. In 2016 the top three presidential candidates turned 69, 70, and 75. By the time of the 2021 inauguration, a President Joe Biden would be 78.

After age 40, the brain decreases in volume by about 5 percent every decade. The most noticeable loss is in the frontal lobes. These control motor functioning of the sort that would direct a hand to a cup and a cup to the mouth in one fluid motion—in most cases without even looking at the cup

These lobes also control much more important processes, from language to judgment to impulsivity. Everyone experiences at least some degree of cognitive and motor decline over time, and some 8.8 percent of Americans over 65 now have dementia. An annual presidential physical exam at Walter Reed National Military Medical Center is customary, and Trump’s is set for January 12. But the utility of a standard physical exam—knowing a president’s blood pressure and weight and the like—is meager compared with the value of comprehensive neurologic, psychological, and psychiatric evaluation. These are not part of a standard physical.

Even if they were voluntarily undertaken, there would be no requirement to disclose the results. A president could be actively hallucinating, threatening to launch a nuclear attack based on intelligence he had just obtained from David Bowie, and the medical community could be relegated to speculation from afar.

Even if the country’s psychiatrists were to make a unanimous statement regarding the president’s mental health, their words may be written off as partisan in today’s political environment. With declining support for fact-based discourse and trust in expert assessments, would there be any way of convincing Americans that these doctors weren’t simply lying, treasonous “liberals”—globalist snowflakes who got triggered?

The downplaying of a president’s compromised neurologic status would not be without precedent. Franklin Delano Roosevelt famously disguised his paralysis from polio to avoid appearing “weak or helpless.” He staged public appearances to give the impression that he could walk, leaning on aides and concealing a crutch. Instead of a traditional wheelchair, he used an inconspicuous dining chair with wheels attached. According to the FDR Presidential Library, “The Secret Service was assigned to purposely interfere with anyone who tried to snap a photo of FDR in a ‘disabled or weak’ state.” . . .

Continue reading. There’s much more—and it’s both important and somewhat urgent.

Written by LeisureGuy

12 November 2018 at 2:47 pm

Disadvantage of having an ignoramus as President: Trump Confused the Baltics with Balkans—and Accused Confused Leaders of Starting Yugoslav Wars

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Tom Porter reports in Newsweek:

President Donald Trump confused the Baltic states in Europe with the Balkans—and chastised leaders of the former for starting wars in the 1990s that lead to the break-up of Yugoslavia, French daily Le Monde reported.

Trump reportedly made the mistake in a White House meeting with Dalia Grybauskaitė of Lithuania, Kersti Kaljulaid of Estonia and Raimonds Vējonis of Latvia in April.

The leaders were reportedly confused by the president’s accusation, and it took them a minute to realize he had confused the Balkans and the Baltics.

The Baltic states lie in northern Europe, on the eastern coast of the Baltic Sea.

Around 1,000 miles away sits the Balkan region in south-eastern Europe. It comprises states including Croatia, Bosnia-Herzegovina and Serbia.

Much of the region was incorporated into the state of Yugoslavia, which became a socialist state after German occupying forces were ousted following World War II.

In the 1990s Yugoslavia disintegrated and the region was torn apart in a series of civil wars, culminating with the Kosovo war of 1998-1999.

Trump’s mistake is perhaps more surprising given that his wife, Melania, was born in Slovenia, a state that was part of Yugoslavia until 1991.

Trump, according to the Le Monde report, remained “apparently uneducated in the matter by his wife, Melania, originally from the former Yugoslavia”.

The report comes with new tensions emerging this weekend between Trump and the U.S.’s traditional European allies. The president is in Europe this weekend for events marking the centenary of the end of the First World War.

On Friday, Trump attacked French president Emanuel Macron on Twitter, after the French leader said that Europe needed to take more responsibility for its own security.

The president faced widespread criticism Saturday for canceling a visit to Belleau, where 2,000 U.S. Marines were killed in combat in 1918, because it was raining.

In a speech in Paris on Sunday, Macron criticised nationalism—with self-declared nationalist Trump sitting only meters away. . .

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Written by LeisureGuy

12 November 2018 at 8:24 am

Trump’s Evangelical Advisers Hear from the Saudi Crown Prince on Khashoggi

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Sigal Samuel writes in the Atlantic:

A delegation of American evangelical Christians met with Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman last week in Riyadh. The group included some of President Trump’s top evangelical advisers, though they weren’t there in any official capacity. They’d come to talk about religious freedom with the young, self-styled reformer. But they found the trip overshadowed by the killing of Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi.

The kingdom has acknowledged responsibility for the murder. The crown prince, known as MbS, says he did not authorize it. While the delegation knew it would be controversial to visit him in the wake of the crisis, they decided to go ahead with the trip, which was planned before the Khashoggi affair came to light.

“I think it would have been immoral not to accept this invitation, because of the potential implications of it in the long-run,” Johnnie Moore, a delegate who serves on the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom, told me. He’d come to advocate for the religious rights of the 1.4 million Christians who are estimated to live in Saudi Arabia, though reliable figures are difficult to find (legally, all citizens are required to be Muslim).

This wasn’t his first such trip: He and his fellow evangelical delegates had just visited the United Arab Emirates, and last year they traveled to Egypt to meet with President Abdel Fattah El Sisi. Moore told me they aim to build bridges between Islamic and Christian communities across the Middle East as a means of “making sure our community is thought of and represented.”

Yet one could see his group’s decision to sit down with MbS at such a precarious moment as legitimizing the kingdom’s human-rights violations. Moore and I discussed that risk, as well as his impressions of the crown prince, whom he described as philosophical and introspective. Our conversation has been edited for clarity and length.

Sigal Samuel: What was the goal of your trip?

Johnnie Moore: Evangelicals are now 60 million in the United States, and there are at least 600 million around the world. It’s one of the largest segments of the Christian Church. So for a group of evangelicals to be invited for a dialogue in what has long been considered one of the most restrictive countries in the world as it relates to religious freedom, that’s really important to us.

Religious freedom was the focus. We all had the opportunity to ask questions along the way, and my specific questions related to churches in Saudi Arabia. Of course, right now, there isn’t a single church building, there’s certainly not a synagogue, it’s a country full of countless thousands of mosques. … That’s not to say there isn’t worship of other kinds that takes place quietly, in people’s homes. … But when it comes to public worship it’s a different story.

Samuel: What did MbS say about the possibility of churches being built in the kingdom?

Moore: He said, “I’m not prepared to do that now. And the reason is because it’s the one thing that al-Qaeda and [the Islamic State] and the terrorists want. If I did it now, bombs would fall, and it would not be the right thing for the safety of our people.” … He made the point that it would embolden the terrorists and extremists, so you shouldn’t plan on it anytime in the future.

I found it to be a thoughtful, logical response even though it’s not the response I hoped for. … It wasn’t this visceral anti-Christian sentiment.

On the contrary, he made it a point to mention the wonderful meetings he’d had with the Coptic pope and the Archbishop of Canterbury. … You can’t deny the significance of those actions. And I think they were not actions principally meant to send a message to the West. They were principally meant to send a message within his own country, that this is an appropriate and reasonable thing for Saudi leaders to do. And I believe that even more because it fits into the greater context of our discussion, which was about very strategic actions they’re taking to move the country in the direction of reform.

Samuel: Did you ask MbS about the murder of Jamal Khashoggi?

Moore: It was the first question we asked. We knew we were going in this context … so we weren’t going to dodge it. We just asked it outright. He was totally consistent with what he’d said publicly before—he said this is a terrible and heinous act and they were going to find and prosecute everyone involved with it. He emphatically denied involvement.

But then he got sort of introspective and he said, “I may have caused some of our people to love our kingdom too much, and therefore to take their delegated authority and do something heinous that they absurdly thought would be pleasing.”

He was making sort of a philosophical observation—which he did quite a bit actually—he’s a really interesting figure.

Samuel: Do you believe MbS when he says he didn’t authorize the murder?

Moore: I’m choosing not to have an opinion on that, because I’m focused on other things. My focus is on the long game, on the long-term status of religious freedom in the region. It’s not that I’m not disgusted by the whole thing, but … my choice is to take at face value what the Saudis are saying, and focus on the area that I can actually have an impact on.

I’m very much a realist in this way: I’m a religious freedom advocate. That’s the only thing I am.

Samuel: It seems to me that there’s an unbundling of religious freedom from human rights. Religious freedom is one part of human rights. It seems that under the Trump administration especially, there’s been a lot of talk about religious freedom, almost in a one-to-one mapping with human rights—as if the two are coextensive. But can we justify fighting solely for religious freedom concerns and putting to the side human-rights concerns like the war in Yemen, like the imprisonment of women’s-rights activists? . . .

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Written by LeisureGuy

9 November 2018 at 5:16 pm

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