Preserve, Protect, and Defend

The bottom line of this is that they protected an abuser. And guess what is a job qualification to work in this White House? To protect someone who talked favorably about sexual assault on the Access Hollywood tapes. That is a job qualification in this White House. There’s a pattern of behavior. … They protect abusers. There’s no way of getting around it, and I guess people will say, “Well, it doesn’t matter. You can still be a good president. You can still do your job.” No. If you are willing to defend someone who hurt somebody in this fashion, you have no boundaries. You have no restraint. You have no respect for the law.

Amanda Carpenter, former staffer for Jim DeMint and Ted Cruz

 

This week’s featured post is “Does the Exploding Federal Deficit Matter?

This week everybody was talking about the White House defending spousal abuse

Porter’s first wife

CNN summarizes the background:

Rob Porter, a top White House aide with regular access to President Donald Trump abruptly resigned on Wednesday amid abuse allegations from two ex-wives, who each detailed to CNN what they said were years of consistent abuse from Porter, including incidents of physical violence.

As so often happens with this White House, the move arises not because higher-ups found out — White House Counsel Don McGahn apparently knew already — but because the story was becoming public. CNN reports:

By early fall, it was widely known among Trump’s top aides — including chief of staff John Kelly — both that Porter was facing troubles in obtaining the clearance and that his ex-wives claimed he had abused them. No action was taken to remove him from the staff. Instead, Kelly and others oversaw an elevation in Porter’s standing. He was one of a handful of aides who helped draft last week’s State of the Union address.

Porter was serving in the White House on an interim security clearance. (Until this week, I didn’t know such a thing existed. I used to have a job that required a clearance, and you couldn’t wander around the building unescorted until your clearance came through. Your boss would have to go outside the security perimeter to visit you in your temporary office. Apparently this White House has a more lax attitude. Jared Kushner also has an interim clearance.) He hadn’t gotten a permanent clearance precisely because his ex-wives had told their stories to the FBI, who consequently worried that Porter could be blackmailed by America’s enemies.

So far, we don’t know exactly what Kelly knew when. (A Congress that was doing its job would ask him.) But he definitely had known for weeks that Porter wasn’t getting a clearance, and that the issue involved a court order against him by one of his wives. When the initial reports surfaced in the press Tuesday, Kelly’s first reaction Wednesday was to stand by Porter:

Rob Porter is a man of true integrity and honor and I can’t say enough good things about him. He is a friend, a confidante and a trusted professional. I am proud to serve alongside him.

Sarah Sanders echoed his sentiment:

I have worked directly with Rob Porter nearly every day for the last year and the person I know is someone of the highest integrity and exemplary character. Those of us who have the privilege of knowing him are better people because of it.

Only later in the day, when pictures like the one above started circulating, did Kelly change his tune — sort of.

I was shocked by the new allegations released today against Rob Porter. There is no place for domestic violence in our society. I stand by my previous comments of the Rob Porter that I have come to know since becoming Chief of Staff, and believe every individual deserves the right to defend their reputation.

The difference wasn’t that Kelly learned new facts, but that the pictures in the press made Porter indefensible.


A second White House staffer resigned Friday after abuse allegations by his ex-wife. Trump played defense Saturday morning:

Peoples lives are being shattered and destroyed by a mere allegation. Some are true and some are false. Some are old and some are new. There is no recovery for someone falsely accused – life and career are gone. Is there no such thing any longer as Due Process?

Porter’s second wife took that tweet personally. After all, Trump said “lives”, which indicates he’s talking about more than one case. In an op-ed in Time, Jennie Willloughby wrote:

The words “mere allegation” and “falsely accused” meant to imply that I am a liar. That Colbie Holderness is a liar. That the work Rob was doing in the White House was of higher value than our mental, emotional or physical wellbeing. That his professional contributions are worth more than the truth. That abuse is something to be questioned and doubted.


The really stunning part of this story is that Porter has been dating White House Communications Director Hope Hicks. Vanity Fair describes Hicks as: “one of the most powerful people in the White House, protected by Trump almost like a member of the Trump family.” We’re left with two possibilities: (1) Hicks knew that Porter had abused his two wives, and decided to date him anyway. (2) Hicks didn’t know, and Kelly was content to let her date Porter without knowing.


You might hope for some tearful apology from Porter, maybe coupled with a statement about how he had found Jesus and turned his life around. But no, he denies everything. So it’s a he-said/she-said-and-she-said-and-has-pictures story. The second staffer (David Sorenson) says he was actually the victim of his wife’s violence.


As for the rumors that Kelly might be on his way out … I’ll believe that when he’s gone.

Kelly has long been able to hide behind his reputation as a Marine general. But it has been obvious for some while that he himself is not “a man of true integrity and honor” either. Back in October, when Trump was feuding with the wife of a soldier killed in action in Niger, Kelly supported Trump’s false account of their phone conversation, and then slandered Congresswoman Frederica Wilson, who heard the widow’s side of the call. When video proved that Kelly had lied about Wilson, he refused to apologize.

That’s the kind of man John Kelly is, and it’s totally consistent with what we’re seeing now.

and the budget deal

The government was actually shut down for a few hours after midnight on Friday, but hardly anybody noticed. Friday morning Congress passed and Trump signed a deal that did a few things:

  • kept the government funded until March 23
  • agreed on spending levels for the rest of FY 2018, which lasts through September
  • raised the debt ceiling for another year

The agreement blew away spending caps that have been around since the budget sequestration agreement that ended the 2013 debt-ceiling crisis. That deal had linked caps on defense spending with caps on non-defense spending. Republicans have long wanted to do away with the defense cap, which Democrats weren’t willing to do with the non-defense cap still in place. So they circumvented both: Each of the next two years, the Defense cap goes up by $160 billion to around $700 billion, and the non-defense cap goes up $128 billion to $591 billion.

Coupled with the recent tax cut, Congress is now looking at a deficit of around $1.2 trillion for FY 2019, not counting the infrastructure proposal Trump is making today. The featured post discusses just how worried we should be about that.

Raising the budget caps, though, doesn’t actually appropriate money. That has to happen in a separate bill that has to get worked out by March 23. The appropriation bill, called an “omnibus”, has to describe where the money goes in more detail.


Beyond just “making America great again”, I haven’t seen a detailed analysis of what the Pentagon needs more money for. The non-defense part includes money for disaster relief, community health centers, the opioid problem, and infrastructure.

and the Dreamers

One thing the budget deal didn’t include was a resolution to the problem of the Dreamers, who could start being deported next month (though probably not, because of certain court decisions). Certainly there is deportation risk later in the year.

Democrats sent mixed messages. Nancy Pelosi cited the lack of a DACA fix when she voted against the budget deal herself and gave a record-setting 8-hour speech on the floor of the House. But Democratic leadership did not try to hold House Democrats together to vote down the deal, which Democrats could have done if they had stuck together (given that some Republicans were also voting no for other reasons). I’m uncertain whether the caucus would have held together if Pelosi had tried.

In the deal that resolved the last shutdown, Democrats got a commitment from Mitch McConnell to let a DACA bill come to the floor, but the bipartisan group of senators who are supposed to write such a bill haven’t been able to agree on a text yet, so McConnell’s promise hasn’t been tested.


If you think the Dreamers won’t get deported even after DACA runs out, you need to understand the kind of things ICE is doing now: About a month ago, Dr. Lukasz Niec, “a physician specializing in internal medicine at Bronson Healthcare Group in Kalamazoo”, a legal permanent resident with a green card, and the father of a 12-year-old girl (who is an American citizen), got arrested in his home. The problem: the 43-year-old physician was convicted of two misdemeanors when he was a teen-ager, so he is “subject to removal” back to Poland, where he hasn’t lived since he was five years old, when his family escaped the Communist regime then in power.

He spent about three weeks in county jail and went back to work Thursday. His deportation case is still pending while a parole board considers whether to pardon him for his crimes.

So, Dr. Niec is one of the “bad hombres” Trump was talking about.


Another bad hombre is Syed Jamal, who lives in Lawrence, Kansas and teaches chemistry at Park University in Missouri. Jamal came to the U.S. legally in 1987 as a student from Bangladesh. He stayed after his student visa ran out, married, and is raising several children (U.S. citizens) between ages 7 and 14.

Jamal was arrested while walking his children to school, and was whisked away to a jail in El Paso, from which he could have been flown back to Bangladesh at any moment. (Sometimes ICE grabs people off the street and deports them the same day.) A judge has granted him a temporary stay until Thursday, at which point no one knows what will happen.

If the Iraq War taught us anything, it should have taught us that dragging fathers away while their sons watch is a good way to nurture future terrorism.


Roberto Beristain, who lived in the U.S. for 20 years, and owned and operated Eddie’s Steak Shed in Granger, Indiana, was deported to Mexico in April. His wife, a citizen, now regrets voting for Trump; she had believed his promise that he was only interested in deporting criminals. They were raising three children together, including one from her previous marriage.

CNN talked to Beristain’s attorney, who told this story:

Beristain bounced between detention facilities — Indiana, Wisconsin, Illinois, Louisiana, New Mexico and Texas — making it more difficult for his attorneys to file legal motions in one jurisdiction. Then on Wednesday, as his legal team was expecting a ruling, they got the news: ICE had deported him to Juarez in the middle of the night.

From an immigrant shelter in Mexico, Beristain describes how it went down:

“They suddenly told me it was time to go,” Roberto Beristain was quoted as saying. “They told me to get my stuff, they put me in the back of a van and sped toward the border. They took me to another facility while in transport to sign paperwork. I asked to speak with my attorney, but was told there wasn’t time for that. At around 10 p.m., I was dropped off at the Mexico-US border and walked into Mexico.”

and the stock market

The stock market drop of the last couple weeks has been unnerving, but so far the problem seems to be more about the market economy than the real economy. In other words: Investors are worried that stock prices got too high, not that there is something wrong with the economy.

I don’t make market predictions, and you shouldn’t trust me if I did. But if you are invested in the market, you shouldn’t panic, you should just ask yourself why you own what you own. If the reasons you bought a stock are still valid — you believe in the product, the earnings and dividend numbers look good, and so on — then stand pat. But if you bought stocks because stocks were going up, well, lately they’ve been they’re going down. I don’t know what to tell you.

and (still) the Nunes memo

Last week I dissected the Republican memo that tried (and failed) to de-legitimize the Mueller investigation. This week Trump refused to allow the release of the Democrats’ memo critiquing the Republican memo. That’s where we are: The administration is openly cherry-picking classified information, releasing stuff that supports Trump and keeping secret anything it can that makes him look bad. National security is a secondary concern; propaganda comes first.


When Trump said he was “looking forward” to talking to Robert Mueller, and would do so under oath, I didn’t buy it.

If anybody expects to see Trump under oath without (or even with) an order from the Supreme Court, let me remind you of all the times he has said he would release his tax returns.

This week, we found out that Trump’s lawyers are laying the groundwork to resist a Mueller/Trump interview. Ultimately, it will probably come down to whether or not he invokes the Fifth Amendment. Lawyer Seth Abramson explains the legal issues involved.


Vox listed all the stories that slipped under the radar last week while everybody was arguing about the memo: A Labor Department analysis shows that a new rule will result in restaurants stealing billions from their workers, but it isn’t releasing that information. The CDC is facing a huge cut to programs that address foreign epidemics; I guess Trump’s Wall will stop all those germs from getting here. People in public housing will face higher rents and more red tape. Ben Carson’s son is benefiting from his Dad’s job as HUD secretary. The payday lending industry is rewarding Trump for favorable treatment by holding a big conference at one of Trump’s clubs.

and you also might be interested in …

Amazing article this week in the NYT Magazine: “What Teens Are Learning From Online Porn“. Some Boston teens from a variety of high schools attended a Porn Literacy class; their conversations have a lot to teach adults. Pretty much everybody understands that the plotlines of porn videos are ridiculous. (Delivering pizzas to lonely housewives is not a good strategy for losing your virginity.) But inexperienced teens are taking porn seriously as a lesson in what kinds of things their future partners will expect them to do, and what kinds of things s/he will enjoy. And since adults refuse to recognize that kids are seeing this stuff, the lessons don’t get critiqued.


Some people, as they get older, stop caring about other people’s approval and just say what’s on their minds. Check out this interview with 84-year-old musician Quincy Jones.


Jonathan Rauch and Benjamin Wittes argue that the Republican Party has passed a point of no return:

This, then, is the article we thought we would never write: a frank statement that a certain form of partisanship is now a moral necessity. The Republican Party, as an institution, has become a danger to the rule of law and the integrity of our democracy. The problem is not just Donald Trump; it’s the larger political apparatus that made a conscious decision to enable him. In a two-party system, nonpartisanship works only if both parties are consistent democratic actors. If one of them is not predictably so, the space for nonpartisans evaporates. We’re thus driven to believe that the best hope of defending the country from Trump’s Republican enablers, and of saving the Republican Party from itself, is to do as Toren Beasley did: vote mindlessly and mechanically against Republicans at every opportunity, until the party either rights itself or implodes

Jennifer Rubin, who used to work at The Weekly Standard and was a strong Mitt Romney supporter in 2012, comes pretty close to saying the same thing. She connects defending spouse-abusers in the White House with the abuse of classified documents, the abuse of Senate procedure, and the whole raft of norm-violations that have been going on for a while now. “The core mission of the GOP is now to defend abusers,” she writes.


EPA Director Scott Pruitt was interviewed by KSNV in Las Vegas. Here’s some of what he said:

We know humans have most flourished during times of what, warming trends. So I think there’s assumptions made that because the climate is warming, that that necessarily is a bad thing. Do we really know what the ideal surface temperature should be in the year 2100, in the year 2018? That’s fairly arrogant for us to think that we know exactly what it should be in 2100.

The stupidity here is subtle, so it probably gets past people who don’t want to think about the climate, or who have vested interests in the fossil-fuel industry.

  • The problem isn’t just that we’re in a warming trend, it’s that the speed of the warming is unprecedented. If global average temperature went up 4 degrees over 10,000 years or 100,000 years, various natural and human systems might adjust smoothly. But the same warming in 100 years is catastrophic.
  • The warming trend isn’t just happening to us, we’re causing it. So he’s got the arrogance exactly backwards: It’s arrogant to think that we can cause drastic climate change and not think about the consequences.

Closing the hole in the ozone layer is usually considered one of the victories of environmental regulation. But now there might be a new problem.


John Quiggen argues that Bitcoin disproves the idea that markets are efficient. The objects of previous bubbles — dot-com stocks, market derivatives — had plausible (if ultimately false) claims to value.

The contrast with Bitcoin is stark. The Bitcoin bubble rests on no plausible premise…. Hardly anyone now suggests that Bitcoin has value as a currency. Rather, the new claim is that Bitcoin is a “store of value” and that its price reflects its inherent scarcity. … If Bitcoin is a “store of value,” then asset prices are entirely arbitrary. As the proliferation of cryptocurrencies has shown, nothing is easier than creating a scarce asset.


Here’s the kind of clever entrepreneurship our country needs: A Girl Scout sold 300 boxes of cookies in six hours by setting up outside a legal marijuana shop in San Diego.

and let’s close with something unexpected

In New Zealand, elderly people (and others who think they might die sooner rather than later) have started forming “coffin clubs“. With help from the other members, they build their own coffins and decorate them creatively, preparing for funerals that will be celebrations of their lives rather than somber and depressing affairs. And they publicized the idea with a jazzy music video.

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Comments

  • Dan  On February 12, 2018 at 12:13 pm

    Regarding Trump’s comments about Porter, I haven’t heard anyone mention the bald hypocrisy of the man who had crowds baselessly chanting “Lock her up!” and who tweeted about how President Obama had him illegally wiretapped; now lamenting the damage caused by ‘mere allegations’ and the lack of due process. His accusations against Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama are just the tip of a massive iceberg.

  • cgordon  On February 12, 2018 at 12:27 pm

    By far the most important thing that nobody was paying attention to because of the Nunes memo is that Trump has stopped federal regulatory agencies from suing on the basis of the agencies published interpretations of federal law. This is huge.

    • Bill Camarda  On February 12, 2018 at 12:48 pm

      That was Rachel Brand’s nasty gift to America on her way out the door to Wal-Mart — and yes, it’s huge.

    • Alan  On February 12, 2018 at 4:18 pm

      “Consumer advocates say the policy change will crimp enforcement of cruicial protections, but defense lawyers contend it gives them a powerful tool to fend off claims of wrongdoing against their clients.”

      Not a bad summary, NYT, although I think the word you want is “because”, not “but.”

  • Bill Camarda  On February 12, 2018 at 1:09 pm

    I found Pruitt’s comments, and those of many other conservatives concerning the allegedly benign impact of global warming, to be rather more revealing than they might wish. Not only did previous eras of warming and cooling take longer, they also led to migrations of small human populations to new locations. In some cases, those populations may have collided, leading to warfare between bands or tribes; in other cases, newcomers may have found uninhabited or very lightly inhabited areas, and resettled peacefully over time. We don’t really know.

    That was then. We now live in a world with 7+ billion people. Where will people move? Who will let them move there en masse, likely in numbers far in excess of America’s undocumented? We’re looking at mass death and starvation — not to mention entire island nations underwater, with all their people forced to move or die.

    Somehow one senses that this hasn’t even occurred to people like Pruitt. The likely victims don’t even rise to the level of an abstraction with them: those men, women, and children simply don’t exist. It’s like imagining that global warming isn’t happening because it’s cold and snowy where you are. It doesn’t even occur to wonder what’s happening elsewhere, or on the planet as a whole.

  • DMoses  On February 12, 2018 at 3:18 pm

    Regarding the market its almost certainly about interest rate expectations.

    Explaining it is rather simple. Suppose that an asset is expected to have a fixed value at some point in the future, lets say $100 dollars in 1 year to make things easy. In order to attain a certain interest rate on your money, were you to buy that asset now you would have to pay a different amount of money depending on the interest rate.

    If the interest rate were 5% then you would want to pay $95.23 dollars $95.23 x 1.5= $100
    If the interest rate were 10% then you would want to pay $90.91 dollars. $90.91 x 1.1 = $100

    So when the interest rate goes UP the price of stocks goes down. If you owned a stock worth $95.23 dollars and the interest rate went up from 5% to 10% you would want to sell it and then purchase a 10% bond. With no transaction costs this would give you $104.75 in one year better than if you had held.

    Now the markets probably are softly efficient, (which is to say they’re not efficient in the immediate term but are in the long term) and because of this the value of a stock in the future, even if we don’t know what it is, should be a “fixed” value, so the rest holds. The volatility and immediate term shocks are just some of the immediate term inefficiencies. And unless there is something fairly obviously wrong with an asset class as a whole, the entire thing is unlikely to come crashing down.

  • janinmi  On February 13, 2018 at 7:01 am

    Thanks for the coffin club video. It’s a brilliant idea! I’ll be adding instructions for similar to the will I’m preparing to write.

  • Abby  On February 16, 2018 at 7:57 pm

    This is when Hope Hicks finds out just how much she’s really worth to the patriarchs in the White House. They knew that Porter had abused two wives and a girlfriend before, and nobody gave her a heads-up when she started dating him. So they are happy to have her contribute her work to them, but she isn’t really someone they care about.

  • Anonymous  On February 17, 2018 at 9:07 pm

    “vote mindlessly and mechanically against Republicans at every opportunity, until the party either rights itself or implodes”

    And if you would like to not just vote against the Republican party, but also help fund the candidates who run against it, you might be interested in It Starts Today/Subscribe to a Better Congress.

    You make a recurring monthly contribution. They collect everyone’s money and distribute it evenly to the Democrats running in the 2018 mid-term elections.

    From their website:
    “Why are we doing this?

    For decades, the DNC and other organizations have focused on the handful of swing districts they thought were “winnable.”

    This is important, but it’s not enough — because of this strategy, the Democratic candidate in hundreds of districts is just a name on a ballot, abandoned and unable to spread a message about common-sense policies to the people who need to hear about them most. Activists in those districts are left without a cause to rally around, and voters are left without a real choice.

    We can change that.”

    https://contribute.itstarts.today/2018

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