The Skinny

It was just another day in Trumpland so of course there was the Nazi:

The Forward reported Thursday that a far-right Hungarian group descended from a knightly order founded by a Nazi-allied, World War II-era leader claims White House aide Sebastian Gorka as one of its sworn members.

Two members of Vitézi Rend, or the Order of Vitéz, told the Forward that Gorka took a lifelong loyalty oath to become a full member of the organization.

“Of course he was sworn in,” Kornel Pintér, one of the group’s leaders in West Hungary, told the Forward of Gorka. “I met with him in [the city of] Sopron. His father introduced him.”

So, who are these guys? That would be these guys:

The Order of Vitéz was established by Miklós Horthy, the Hungarian admiral and statesman who oversaw the deportation of hundreds of thousands of Jews to Auschwitz during World War II. Though the original iteration of the Order of Vitéz was banned in 1947, two organizations claim to carry on its legacy today. Gorka is a member of the so-called “Historical Vitézi Rend,” according to the Forward.

Is he? Maybe, or maybe not:

The former Breitbart News-editor-turned-top-counterterrorism-adviser has acknowledged wearing a medal associated with the Order of Vitéz to one of President Donald Trump’s inaugural balls. But he has not acknowledged any personal association with the group, saying the medal was awarded to his father in 1979 in recognition of his anti-communist efforts. Gorka’s father was a spy for the British in Soviet-era Hungary.

Yeah, but the Soviets didn’t like Jews either – but never mind. Those guys say Trump’s top counterterrorism adviser swore a lifelong loyalty oath to them. Gorka says he did no such thing. Who are you going to believe? And the Forward is a Jewish newspaper, isn’t it? No, Gorka didn’t bring that up. He knows better, and the White House is silent about this.

This was just a curiosity, as was this:

Stephen Bannon, President Donald Trump’s chief strategist, recently spoke approvingly of the ideas of an anti-Semitic French intellectual who was sentenced to life in prison for cooperating with the Nazis during World War II.

That would be the French philosopher Charles Maurras:

Bannon approvingly cited Maurras’ distinction between what the French philosopher called the “real country” of the people and the “legal country” led by government officials. Maurras put Jews in the latter category and referred to all Jews as foreigners.

There’s much more at the link – it wasn’t all Sartre and Camus back in the day – but forget all that. There are the Russians:

Michael Flynn, who was forced to resign as national security adviser amid controversy over his contacts with Russia’s ambassador, collected nearly $68,000 in fees and expenses from Russia-related entities in 2015, a higher amount than was previously known, according to newly released documents.

The records show that the bulk of the money, more than $45,000, came from the Russian government-backed television network RT, in connection to a December 2015 trip Flynn took to Moscow. Flynn has acknowledged that RT sponsored his trip, during which he attended a gala celebrating the network’s 10th anniversary and was seated near Russian President Vladimir Putin.

Oops. But there’s more:

The newly released documents show that Flynn was also paid $11,250 that year by the U.S. subsidiary of a Russian cybersecurity firm, Kaspersky Lab, and another $11,250 by a U.S. air cargo company affiliated with the Volga-Dnepr Group, which is owned by a Russian businessman. The cyberfirm and the airline said the payments were made for speeches Flynn delivered in Washington.

The new disclosures come as Flynn’s interactions with Russia have been under scrutiny. Flynn resigned 24 days after taking office amid reports that he misled Vice President Pence about the nature of his contacts in December with the Russian ambassador.

This looks bad. What was Trump thinking when he hooked up with Flynn, and there’s that other matter:

This month, Flynn filed paperwork indicating that he had been a foreign agent during the months when he was a top adviser to Trump’s campaign. Flynn’s company was hired by a Dutch company owned by a Turkish businessman to do work related to Turkish government interests.

So he was paid by the Russians, and then he was simultaneously paid by the Turkish government and by Donald Trump. Trump wasn’t paying attention. If he were, he would have known about that television network:

The U.S. government has said RT, which receives Kremlin funding, is part of a network of propaganda outlets that help popularize a pro-Russian perspective on the news and has issued warning about the network dating to before Flynn entered the private sector. In January, the U.S. intelligence community concluded that RT propaganda played a role in Russia’s effort to influence the U.S. presidential election and help Donald Trump defeat Democrat Hillary Clinton.

In an August interview with the Washington Post, Flynn dismissed concerns about the news network’s Kremlin ties, comparing the network to independent U.S. outlets. “What’s CNN? What’s MSNBC? Come on!” he said.

That’s not the view of the intelligence community. Trump might have asked, but Flynn had been fired by our intelligence community for being both an asshole and bit of a maniac. Trump must have liked his swagger, and Trump does seem to worry that the CIA is out to get him. That must have sealed the deal, but there’s this:

Kaspersky Lab makes some of the world’s most popular anti-virus software. The U.S. intelligence community has long suspected that Kaspersky is used by Moscow to assist Russian espionage efforts – a charge Kaspersky has denied. In a twist, though, in December, a top Kaspersky Lab official was arrested by Russian authorities and accused of spying for U.S. companies and intelligence services.

That’s a bit mysterious. That’s also a bit of trouble for Trump, but not the only trouble:

President Donald Trump suffered the second bipartisan rebuke from Congress over his wiretapping claims in two days – and left it to his embattled spokesman, Sean Spicer, to explain that the president didn’t actually mean what he wrote.

The Republican chairman and top Democrat on the Senate Intelligence Committee on Thursday shot down Trump’s claim that former President Barack Obama wiretapped Trump Tower in the run-up to the 2016 presidential election.

Their statement comes a day after the Republican chairman of the House Intelligence Committee also cast doubt on Trump’s claim.

The stunning rebukes from senior Republicans are the latest sign that many in the GOP are increasingly frustrated with a president who has made a habit of hurling inflammatory insults on Twitter at his political rivals – or even his reality-television rivals – often without evidence and sometimes based on conspiracy theories.

A defiant Spicer on Thursday responded by accusing reporters of ignoring key information and the intelligence committee leaders of speaking before they have all the facts.

Trump sent him out there to be defiant, and the rest of this item covers the details of Spicer shouting at the press for a full ten minutes – Trump has evidence which he will reveal at the time and place of his choosing – stuff from Breitbart and InfoWars, based on what was implied in a New York Times article. The FBI and CIA and the rest of the Republicans are wrong. You’ll see. You’ll all see.

Sean Spicer has a tough job, and a demanding boss, but Nancy LeTourneau sums up what went wrong here:

Trump’s pattern is to pretend that evidence to support his lies is forthcoming and assume that our collective attention span is as short as his when it fails to materialize.

That’s not working, and Kevin Drum explains why:

This is a lesson Trump learned during his decades as a B-list celebrity. If you say something outrageous, it will get you attention from the Page Six crowd but it won’t last long. It doesn’t especially matter if it’s true or not true. It’s entertainment, and as long as it drives traffic it’s all good. In a few days it will get eclipsed by something else and everyone will lose interest.

Without giving it much thought, Trump probably figured the same was true of politics. And it is – but only up to a point. Even as a presidential candidate Trump could count on outrages dying out fairly quickly. But not as president. That’s the point where it’s not entertainment anymore.

That might be a fatal misunderstanding, but Drum wonders if Trump is trying to fail, considering events so far:

A health care bill so gratuitously brutal it seems almost intended to fail…

A budget that’s very plainly just a piece of performance art designed to outrage liberals…

A new immigration order so similar to the first one that Trump must have known it would be blocked in court…

A funding request for a border wall that’s basically a demand for a blank check that Congress will never pass…

A string of conspiracy theories (illegal voting, Trump Tower wiretaps, Obama is masterminding leaks) seemingly designed to waste congressional time – and, of course, an endless series of hollow executive orders, bombastic tweets, and sob stories about the media mistreating poor Donald…

This is puzzling:

Incompetence is the obvious explanation for all this, but you gotta wonder. Is Trump trying to fail so he can blame everyone else when things go to hell while he remains a populist hero? Just by accident you’d think he’d do a few things that might actually work.

That doesn’t seem to be the case, and of the budget, Drum adds this:

Don’t pay any more attention to President Trump’s budget than you do to his tweets. It’s not meant as a serious proposal. It’s just a way for him to send a message to his fans that he hates the EPA and the State Department and loves vets and the Pentagon.

The real action is in Congress. They won’t pay any attention to Trump’s budget, and he knows it.

Drum is right about that:

Some of President Trump’s best friends in Congress sharply criticized his first budget Thursday, with defense hawks saying the proposed hike in Pentagon spending wasn’t big enough, while rural conservatives and others attacked plans to cut a wide range of federal agencies and programs.

The bad mood among Republican critics was tempered by a consensus that the president’s budget wasn’t going very far on Capitol Hill, where lawmakers reminded everybody that they ultimately control the nation’s purse strings.

“While we have a responsibility to reduce our federal deficit, I am disappointed that many of the reductions and eliminations proposed in the president’s skinny budget are draconian, careless and counterproductive,” Rep. Hal Rogers (R-Ky.) the former chairman of the House Appropriations Committee, said in a statement. “We will certainly review this budget proposal, but Congress ultimately has the power of the purse.”

Trump’s own party just said that he doesn’t matter, and there are specific worries:

Republicans worried that some of Trump’s cuts would undermine critical environmental programs in their states. Sen. Rob Portman (R-Ohio) said he plans to oppose major cuts to the $300 million Great Lakes Restoration Initiative.

“I’m committed to continuing to do everything I can to protect and preserve Lake Erie, including preserving this critical program and its funding,” Portman said in a statement.

The same could be said for Republicans from rural and agriculture-heavy states that stand to lose big under Trump’s proposed cuts. House Agriculture Committee Chairman K. Michael Conaway (R-Tex.) raised concerns that farmers could be hit hard at a time when farm income is already down 50 percent compared with four years ago.

Agriculture cuts are a particularly sensitive issue because periodically lawmakers spend months, if not years, hammering out the details of a comprehensive farm bill.

“Agriculture has done more than its fair share,” Conaway said in a statement. “The bottom line is this is the start of a longer, larger process. It is a proposal, not THE budget.”

And on the other side:

One of the greatest pockets of opposition to the Trump blueprint can be found among defense hawks. Defense and national security programs would see the biggest boost in funding under the president’s budget.

But these military-minded members are not satisfied, accusing the president of everything from accounting gimmicks to playing fast and loose with the lives of soldiers in war zones to follow through on his campaign promises.

Trump can’t win, and Jordan Weissmann covers the nonsense:

White House budget chief Mick Mulvaney faced a barrage of questions from reporters Thursday about the Trump administration’s desire to slash spending on domestic programs, including a number that help the poor, in order to finance a military buildup, which it outlined in its preliminary “skinny” budget. In the course of the cross-examination, Mulvaney managed to offer up one of the most deeply cynical justifications for yanking benefits from the needy that I have ever seen.

Early on in the Q-and-A, Mulvaney explained that the administration didn’t want to fund programs such as the Corporation for Public Broadcasting or the National Endowment for the Arts because it wasn’t fair to ask coal-mining families in West Virginia to pay for them with their tax dollars.

That was particularly absurd:

Reporter: You were talking about the steel worker in Ohio and the coal miner in Pennsylvania and so on. But those workers may have an elderly mother who depends on the Meals on Wheels program, who may have kids in Head Start. And yesterday or the day before you described this as a hard power budget but is it also a hard-headed budget?

Mulvaney: I don’t think so. I think it’s probably one of the most compassionate things we can do to –

Reporter: Cutting programs that help the elderly?

Mulvaney: You’re only focusing on half of the equation, right? You’re focusing on recipients of the money. We’re focusing on recipients of the money and people who give us the money in the first place. I think it’s fairly compassionate to go to them and say, look, we’re not going to ask you for your hard-earned money anymore. Single mom of two in Detroit, okay, “Give us your money!” We’re not going to do that anymore unless we can – please let me finish. Unless we can guarantee that money will be used in a proper function. That is about as compassionate as you can get.

Weissmann isn’t buying that:

Got that? Mulvaney says the White House is cutting Head Start to make sure it doesn’t waste the taxes of single mothers in Detroit, because it’s just that compassionate. Honestly, I would have more respect for the man if he’d stood up on stage with a stock pot and said the administration had decided that the poor should be boiled into bone broth. At least then he’d have the courage of his convictions.

Weissmann, however, isn’t that surprised:

Much to the frustration of conservatives like Mulvaney, we have progressive taxation in this country, which means that low-income single mothers in cities like Detroit tend not to pay much in income taxes. If anything, they owe federal payroll taxes, which fund things like Social Security and Medicare, programs that aren’t even dealt with in the partial budget the White House just released. The Trump administration is not saving struggling parents a dime by cutting the Head Start or Community Development Block Grant funding that helps their kids get into pre-K or that feeds their parents. You can argue at length about whether some of these programs work as intended – I certainly don’t have much faith that this White House will pay attention to the best social science out there – but nobody can say with a straight face that the administration is simply looking after the interests of needy mothers. Mulvaney’s rhetorical crocodile tears are plain vile.

Weissmann then gets specific about the problem with this budget:

In order to fund a $54 billion increase in defense spending, it takes a machete to all manner of federal programs – aid for the poor and elderly, cancer research, public television, job training, and so forth. It gouges away 31 percent of the Environmental Protection Agency’s budget and 29 percent of the State Department’s funding. This would all be horrifying, if it weren’t already being written off by Republicans who will have the power to entirely ignore it.

That’s the saving grace here:

Congress votes on appropriations. Presidential budgets, on the other hand, are mostly exercises in political messaging meant to outline the White House’s priorities, which in the case of the current administration mostly entails bug-eyed nationalist posturing. The budget is literally titled “America First.” Wimpy liberal priorities like environmental protection and the arts get the ax. (It not only eliminates funding for the Corporation for Public Broadcasting – Big Bird is in the crosshairs yet again – but also the endowments for the arts and humanities.) Money for international aid and diplomacy take a deadly cut in favor of more ships for the Navy and more soldiers in the Army and Marines.

“Make no mistake about it, this is a hard-power budget, not a soft-power budget,” Mick Mulvaney, director of the White House Office of Management and Budget, the man largely responsible for the document, said. “That is what the president wanted and that’s what we gave him.”

And that’s not what anyone else wanted:

When reporters asked South Carolina Sen. Lindsey Graham about reductions to State Department funding, he responded. “It’s dead on arrival. It’s not going to happen. It would be a disaster. If you take soft power off the table you’re never going to win the war.”

Graham continued, “What’s most disturbing about the cut in the State Department’s budget, it shows a lack of understanding of what it takes to win the war.”

Contemplate that. The Trump administration somehow managed to write a budget that amps up military spending and simultaneously pissed off Lindsey Graham. This is the guy who loves war so much he wanted to put American boots on the ground in Syria. It’s like handing Cheech Marin a bag of weed and having him throw it back at you in disgust.

There was no planning here:

According to the New York Times, GOP staffers on Capitol Hill are pissed off the chronically disorganized White House dropped the budget while giving them zero “guidance on its details or how to sell the plan.” Meanwhile, half its contents are obvious attack-ad fodder.

That’s not going to fly:

Trump supposedly wants to reduce the budget for the National Institutes of Health, the major funder of biomedical science in the United States, and general symbol of bipartisan pride, by 18 percent. Does anybody in Congress really want to be the guy who decimated cancer research? And what senator wants to explain to the pharma lobby why they took a hatchet to the basic science that fuels their drug pipeline? Trump also supposedly wants to abolish the Community Development Block Grant, which funds meals on wheels for seniors among other cherished initiatives, and the Low-Income Home Energy Assistance program, which helps a whole lot of old people pay for heat in the winter. There you go – a budget literally designed to leave elderly Americans eating cat food in the cold. Enjoy that one come campaign season. Meanwhile, even the current head of the EPA, former Oklahoma Attorney General Scott Pruitt, who was selected for his job precisely because he hates the EPA and thinks climate change isn’t really a matter of grave concern, reportedly asked for a smaller budget reduction than what he got here. The man Trump brought in to dismantle this agency thinks the president is overdoing it.

I say Trump supposedly wants these things, because I personally doubt he’s actually read his own budget.

But maybe that doesn’t matter:

It should be said that this is not even a full budget. Rather, it’s a “skinny” version that presidents issue early in their first year that doesn’t include line-by-line spending details or deal with issues like entitlements. In that respect, it’s even more of a glorified press release than your typical presidential appropriations request. And in this case all it tells us is that Trump wants to spend bigger on guns, boats, and bombs, and doesn’t care much about whether the planet fries. And yet, while espousing those perfectly conventional conservative values, it’s still managed to alienate other Republicans who will be essential to implementing the administration’s vision. Insofar as they refuse to go along with his plan, it will be another example of Trump’s inability to lead his own party.

Yeah, it was just another day in Trumpland – Nazis and Russians and whatnot everywhere – Trump claiming everyone is out to get him, led by Obama – an absurd budget that was assembled for him, from clips from his campaign speeches, a budget that he might not have even read – and Republicans, now in charge of the government, in disarray.

The budget had a title. America First: A Budget Blueprint to Make America Great Again.. Fareed Zakaria wonders about that:

The Trump administration’s vision for disengagement from the world is a godsend for China. Look at Trump’s proposed budget, which would cut spending on “soft power” – diplomacy, foreign aid, international organizations – by 28 percent. Beijing, by contrast, has tripled the budget of its foreign ministry in the past decade. And that doesn’t include its massive spending on aid and development across Asia and Africa. Just tallying some of Beijing’s key development commitments, George Washington University’s David Shambaugh estimates the total at $1.4 trillion, compared with the Marshall Plan, which in today’s dollars would cost about $100 billion.

That’s a worry:

China’s growing diplomatic strength matters. An Asian head of government recently told me that at every regional conference, “Washington sends a couple of diplomats, whereas Beijing sends dozens. The Chinese are there at every committee meeting, and you are not.” The result, he said, is that Beijing is increasingly setting the Asian agenda.

The Trump administration wants to skimp on U.S. funding for the United Nations. This is music to Chinese ears. Beijing has been trying to gain influence in the global body for years. It has increased its funding for the U.N. across the board and would likely be delighted to pick up the slack as the United States withdraws. As Foreign Policy magazine’s Colum Lynch observes, China has already become the second-largest funder of U.N. peacekeeping and has more peacekeepers than the other four permanent Security Council members combined. Of course, in return for this, China will gain increased influence, from key appointments to shifts in policy throughout the U.N. system.

This is Make America Not Matter:

The United States’ global role has always meant being at the cutting edge in science, education and culture. Here again, Washington is scaling back while Beijing is ramping up. In Trump’s proposed budget, the National Institutes of Health, NASA and the national laboratories face crippling cuts, as do many exchange programs that have brought generations of young leaders to be trained in the United States and exposed to American values. Beijing, meanwhile, has continued to expand “Confucius Institutes” around the world and now offers 20,000 scholarships for foreign students to go to China. Its funding for big science rises every year. The world’s largest telescope is in China, not the United States.

This is also a Reverse-Reagan:

The Trump administration does want a bigger military. But that has never been how China has sought to compete with U.S. power. Chinese leaders have pointed out to me that this was the Soviet strategy during the Cold War, one that failed miserably. The implication was: Let Washington waste resources on the Pentagon, while Beijing would focus on economics, technology and soft power.

And here everyone thought that Trump was working for the Russians. Nope. Maybe he is, in an odd sort of tangential way. Maybe he isn’t. But when the dust settles, if it ever does, China wins it all. That’s the skinny here.

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About Alan

The editor is a former systems manager for a large California-based HMO, and a former senior systems manager for Northrop, Hughes-Raytheon, Computer Sciences Corporation, Perot Systems and other such organizations. One position was managing the financial and payroll systems for a large hospital chain. And somewhere in there was a two-year stint in Canada running the systems shop at a General Motors locomotive factory - in London, Ontario. That explains Canadian matters scattered through these pages. Otherwise, think large-scale HR, payroll, financial and manufacturing systems. A résumé is available if you wish. The editor has a graduate degree in Eighteenth-Century British Literature from Duke University where he was a National Woodrow Wilson Fellow, and taught English and music in upstate New York in the seventies, and then in the early eighties moved to California and left teaching. The editor currently resides in Hollywood California, a block north of the Sunset Strip.
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