Friday Talking Points [422] -- Tiny Hands, Tiny Crowds

We're going to start today with a story that sounds like an urban myth, but actually happened. The state government of Indiana, 120 years ago, was almost taken in by a crank mathematician. He got them to introduce a bill he had written that would have changed state law to state that the value of pi was what he said it was. The language of the bill is inexact at best -- it might better be described as "completely incoherent" -- and actually suggests multiple ways of calculating pi, none of which are correct. The easiest to understand was to calculate it as a ratio of 5/4 to 4, which would give 3.2. The other methods are pretty indecipherable, to be polite.

The measure passed the Indiana House, by a unanimous vote of 67 to nothing. It headed over to the state Senate, where (luckily) a sane professor of mathematics happened to be wandering by at the crucial moment and explained the idiocy of legislating a natural value. When one of the legislators offered to introduce him to the crank mathematician who had written the bill, Professor Waldo reportedly "declined the courtesy with thanks, remarking that he was acquainted with as many crazy people as he cared to know."

The moral of this rather amusing bit of American history is you can't legislate facts out of existence (pi would have remained 3.14159265... even if the bill had passed, in other words). Also, crazy people can't be stopped from trying to legislate their own reality, at times. This story isn't a direct parallel (yet), but we thought it would be as good a way as any to lead off the coverage of President Donald Trump's first week in office.

Donald Trump, in true Trumpian fashion, began his presidency in a snit. It seems that the fact of how small the crowds were at his Inauguration didn't exactly match with how Trump saw the world. Trump is proving (to anyone who still harbored the tiniest shred of doubt) what a megalomaniac he truly is, from Day One. It's not enough that he won, it's got to be the biggest landslide of all time (which it wasn't -- it wasn't a landslide and it wasn't even close to the margins previous recent presidents of both parties racked up). The crowd at his Inauguration had to be the biggest of all time, too, naturally (it wasn't -- the crowd at Barack Obama's first Inauguration was). Later in the week, he insisted that he had really won the popular vote as well, because his own brain told him that there were three to five million fraudulent votes (of which there is absolutely no proof whatsoever, outside of Trump's cranium).

Think "megalomaniac" is a strong word? The most telling quote from Trump this week had to do with a speech he gave at C.I.A. headquarters. He stood in front of their memorial wall, with stars marking over 100 agents who had given their lives in the course of duty, and essentially read a campaign speech about how awesome his victory was. He had packed the first few rows with fervent supporters, who cheered on cue for the fearless leader. Later, he expressed his dismay at how the speech was reported in the media, in a television interview with ABC:

That speech was a home run. See what Fox said. They said it was one of the great speeches. They showed the people applauding and screaming.... I got a standing ovation. In fact, they said it was the biggest standing ovation since Peyton Manning had won the Super Bowl, and they said it was equal. I got a standing ovation. It lasted for a long period of time. You probably ran it live. I know when I do good speeches. I know when I do bad speeches. That speech was a total home run. They loved it.... People loved it. They loved it. They gave me a standing ovation for a long period of time. They never even sat down, most of them, during the speech. There was love in the room. You and other networks covered it very inaccurately.... That speech was a good speech. And you and a couple of other networks tried to downplay that speech. And it was very, very unfortunate that you did.

Still think megalomaniac is too strong a word? We don't. Seriously -- "the biggest standing ovation since Peyton Manning won the Super Bowl"? Wow. In front of a crowd of only 350 people, no less. This is a man who is very obviously deeply, deeply insecure, folks. Any suggestion that his presidency isn't the most stupendous of all time is simply not true, because how could it be?

CBS news reported how the C.I.A. actually felt about the speech:

An official said the visit "made relations with the intelligence community worse" and described the visit as "uncomfortable." Authorities are also pushing back against the perception that the C.I.A. workforce was cheering for the president. They say the first three rows in front of the president were largely made up of supporters of Mr. Trump's campaign.

Trump's presidency kicked off with Press Secretary Sean Spicer walking out in front of the press the day after Trump took office, to rant and blatantly lie about the size of Trump's inaugural crowd, taking no questions from the press afterwards. He got several easily-checkable facts wrong in this embarrassing display, including whether ground cover had ever been used before (it had, in 2013) on the Mall, and that Trump had gotten the "most Electoral College votes of any Republican president since Ronald Reagan" (wrong again, George H. W. Bush got a whopping 426, to Trump's 306). He also lied about Metro ridership -- the real numbers are: Obama (2009), 1.1 million Metro trips; Obama (2013), 783,000 trips, Trump (2017), 571,000 trips. Obama's first Inauguration was the highest ridership of all time on the Metro. You know what day came in second? Saturday's Women's March on Washington -- the post-Inauguration anti-Trump protest -- which had 1,001,613 Metro trips. Close to twice as many people took Metro downtown to protest Trump's Inauguration as did to attend it -- those are the real, non-alternative facts, Jack.

But Trump just can't let this go, even though it is undeniable that his crowd was smaller in size than Obama's, by pretty much any measurement you choose. This prompted the very-conservative Weekly Standard to admonish Trump:

If media reports about crowd size are so important to Trump that he'd push Spicer out there to lie for him, then it means that all the tinpot-dictator, authoritarian, characterological tics that people worried about during the campaign are still very much active. You know who obsessed about crowd size? Fidel Castro. You know who did not? George Washington, John Adams, Andrew Jackson, F.D.R., Truman, Eisenhower, Reagan, Clinton, and every other man to ever serve as president of these United States of America.

Kellyanne Conway helpfully explained in a television interview that Trump was offering up "alternative facts." So far, it doesn't seem like the public is buying them. One poll showed only 7 percent of Americans believe that Trump got a bigger crowd than Obama's first Inauguration. A full 56 percent think Obama's crowd was bigger. So it's tough to understand why Trump is spending so much time and energy on this, other than to feed his massively oversized ego, of course. Trump even personally called the acting head of the National Parks Service to find out if there were photographs which showed the million-plus crowd Trump saw in his head (there weren't any such photos, obviously -- if there were, Fox News would surely have dug them out by now).

We've got a lot more to get through, seeing how packed this week in politics was, so we're going to shift into a higher gear and resort to merely hitting the high (and low) points very briefly.

President Trump also is obsessed over all the "voter fraud" his brain is certain exists, and he spent the first 10 minutes of his first meeting with congressional leadership ranting about it. He is certain that all "3 to 5 million" of the fraudulent votes were for Hillary, as well. He knows this, apparently, because a guy -- who was not an American citizen and was trying to vote, incredibly -- got annoyed (after he was denied the chance to commit voter fraud) when: "voters who did not look as if they should be allowed to vote, Mr. Trump said, according to the staff members -- but they were nonetheless permitted to cast provisional ballots. The president threw out the names of Latin American countries that the voters might have come from." This was notably greeted with uncomfortable silence from the congressional leadership.

Later in the week, Trump put out a statement on Holocaust Remembrance Day that -- astonishingly -- didn't mention the words "Jew," "Jewish," or "anti-Semitism" once. Whoops!

It's only been a week, but already there are stories of infighting among the Trump administration, and struggles for power. They also seem to be leaking like a sieve, so we fully expect to hear more of these juicy stories in the near future.

President Trump issued a slew of executive orders in his first week in office, although many of them are merely lip service, because:

Many of the sweeping actions President Trump vowed this week through his executive orders and proclamations are unlikely to happen, either because they are impractical, opposed by Congress and members of his Cabinet, or full of legal holes.

Red meat for his fervent supporters, in other words, but (as Obama found out) executive orders only go so far. Amusingly, Republicans now seem to be big fans of executive orders after denouncing Obama as a tyrant for issuing them.

We've probably missed a few, but here's a quick list of Trump's executive orders so far:

Build those two pipelines that Obama halted -- with American steel, dammit! -- even though that would violate W.T.O. rules.

Withdrawal from the Trans-Pacific Partnership trade deal.

Abortion gag rule once again instituted worldwide (this one goes back and forth, depending on which party is in the White House).

The E.P.A. has been instructed to freeze all grants and contracts until further notice.

The C.D.C. abruptly (and with no explanation) cancelled a conference on climate change.

Federal hiring freeze, except for national security jobs.

Sanctuary cities threatened with loss of federal funding.

And, of course, start building that wall (and we'll figure out how not to pay for it later).

These all happened. There were other ideas floated that haven't so far happened, including reinstituting torture as an American policy and reopening those C.I.A. "black site" prisons overseas. The Muslim ban (or "extreme vetting") was also discussed, but hasn't been instituted yet. [Correction: this was just signed by Trump, as this article was being written.] No action yet on whether Trump will overturn the DACA rules for undocumented immigrants who came here as children. Oh, and Trump is threatening to "send in the Feds" (whatever that means) to police the streets of Chicago.

The Trump administration is cracking down, all over the executive branch, on what federal employees can say to the public, from the E.P.A. to the N.I.H. to the National Parks. This sort of thing is probably going to become more widespread, as time goes on, one would assume. If Trump can't handle reality about the size of his Inaugural crowd, then why should he have to look at facts which otherwise contradict what his brain tells him?

There's been a clean sweep of high-ranking officials at the State Department, as the Trump team "accepted the resignations" of several key people who have served under both Democratic and Republican administrations. Looks like Rex Tillerson's going to bring in his own team, in other words, to run the world.

The House of Representatives very quietly shredded an ethics rule, and now they solely own (as "personal property") all their office's official paperwork (meaning it can't be used against them in court, somehow). This may make it impossible to prove things like using campaign funds for your own purposes, in the future. Not sure how this qualifies as "draining the swamp," personally.

You'd think that'd be a big story, but so far it hasn't been. There are quite a number of stories that haven't gotten much media attention this week, in fact.

But let's end on a more amusing note or three (and one final goodbye). Kellyanne Conway is many things, but we never thought that "bouncer" would be one of them. But apparently Kellyanne broke up a fight at an Inaugural ball -- by punching a guy in the face three times! So she's not just a pretty face, guys -- watch out!

One Inaugural demonstration was wildly successful, as eight thousand free joints were handed out to the crowd by a pro-marijuana group. Get fired up for Trump! Or something....

And at the local level, Republican Lan Diep was sworn in to the San Jose city council this week. With his Captain America shield in hand, no less! We have to applaud Diep not only for his political theater, but also his honesty. After stating that the shield "represents America's ideals and I do hope to aspire to those ideals of fair play, equal justice, and democracy during my term," Diep truthfully admitted: "But really, I just had this awesome shield and I wanted a chance to show it off." Nice.

And finally, the best memorial to Mary Tyler Moore came from Senator Al Franken, who tweeted out a photo of her statue in Minneapolis (at the intersection where the famous hat-flinging video was shot). We've actually seen this statue (when Netroots Nation was held in the city), and it was the first thing we thought of upon hearing the news of her death. She will indeed be missed.


We've got three Honorable Mention awards this week, before we get to the main event.

California Governor Jerry Brown gave a rip-snortin' "State of the State" speech this week, in which he denounced "alternative facts" and Trumpism in general. Democrats everywhere should follow Brown's eloquent lead.

Cenk Uygur is attempting to form what might be called the "Tea Party of the Left," launching a new group calling itself Justice Democrats. The purpose of this group is to run primary candidates against "corporate Democrats" who put Big Business and Wall Street ahead of protecting the little guy. Uygur explains further: "The aim in 2018 is to put a significant number of Justice Democrats in the Congress. The aim for 2020 is to more significantly take over the Democratic Party. If they're going to continue to be corporate Democrats, that's doomed for failure for the rest of time." First in their sights are the 13 Senate Democrats (Cory Booker among them) who recently voted against allowing prescription drugs to be purchased in Canada by Americans. We hope this group grows in influence over time, because it is exactly what the Democratic Party needs right now, in our opinion.

And the organizers and attendees of the hundreds of anti-Trump rallies last Saturday certainly deserve some kind of award. Worldwide, millions of people protested America's new president, which has got to have set records both for absolute size of demonstrations as well as how quickly they happened (one day after Trump was sworn in!). So everyone involved should give themselves a pat on the back, and we're going to give everyone a virtual Honorable Mention as well.

But the Most Impressive Democrat Of The Week this week is Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer and everyone else who put together a Democratic infrastructure bill to the tune of a trillion dollars. Schumer put his plan out before Trump could, which is good news, because now Trump's plan will have something to be compared to. If Trump truly is going to govern as a dealmaker, then this is how the process should start: Democrats lay down their own marker as a bargaining position at the start of the process. They likely won't get all they're asking for, but they'll also likely get Trump on board with stuff he probably would have ignored, as well.

For being so pro-active, and for approaching the table with a solid plan already in hand, Chuck Schumer and the rest of the Senate Democrats deserve this week's Most Impressive Democrat Of The Week award. We have no idea what the deal will look like in the end, but for now Schumer is making the right moves at the right time.

[Congratulate Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer on his Senate contact page, to let him know you appreciate his efforts.]


We've likewise got two (Dis-)Honorable Mention awards to give out, for the widespread disappointment that was caused by Senators Elizabeth Warren and Sherrod Brown when they announced they'd be voting to confirm Ben Carson as head of Housing and Urban Development. Warren and Brown are highly regarded by progressives, so this was seen as a big slap in the face.

But we've got another progressive in mind for the Most Disappointing Democrat Of The Week award. Representative Tulsi Gabbard -- a strong supporter of Bernie Sanders herself -- traveled this week to Syria and met with President Bashar al-Assad. While there, she seemingly was fed propaganda by the regime, as CNN reported:

Democratic Rep. Tulsi Gabbard of Hawaii met with President Bashar al-Assad during her secret trip to Syria last week and, now that she's returned, is downplaying his responsibility for the deaths of hundreds of thousands of civilians. "Whatever you think about President Assad, the fact is that he is the president of Syria," she told CNN's Jake Tapper last night. "In order for any possibility of a viable peace agreement to occur, there has to be a conversation with him." She added that the Syrians she met with told her there are "no moderate rebels" in the country.

Her comments were roundly condemned by other Democrats as being incredibly naive (at best). We have to agree, which is why Tulsi Gabbard is our Most Disappointing Democrat Of The Week.

[Contact Representative Tulsi Gabbard on her House contact page, to let her know what you think of her actions.]


Volume 422 (1/27/17)

OK, we've got a mixed bag here this week. To tell you the truth, so much has been happening that it's hard to keep track of it all. This is somewhat normal for the beginning of a new president's term, so hopefully things will calm down a bit in the coming weeks. For now, here's what we've got. As the battles in Congress shape up, Democratic talking points will have to get a lot more focused, but for now we're kind of all over the map (as is Trump).


   Were they grabbed?

Kellyanne Conway certainly turned some heads on Inauguration Day.

"Did you see Kellyanne Conway's dress for the Inauguration? At first glance, it looked like she was trying on what could be called the 'Minuteman look,' but when you looked closer you could see that those shiny buttons were actually... um... 'kitties,' let's say. No word yet on whether any of them were grabbed by our new president."


   Tiny is as tiny does

This obviously bugs Trump, so Democrats should bring it up at every conceivable opportunity.

"Anyone with eyes to see can tell that Donald Trump had only a small fraction of the crowd that came to see Barack Obama get sworn in to office. I mean, just look at any of the photos of the crowd size -- it's obvious! Trump may be incapable of seeing past his 'alternative facts,' but the rest of us can view reality just fine, thank you. Trump's crowd was as tiny as his little hands, in fact."


   Voter fraud begins at home

This is just too, too funny.

"Donald Trump is also on a rampage against what he calls 'voter fraud,' although that was later dialed back to just being concerned about the accuracy of the voter registration rolls. He's up in arms over things like people being registered in two states at the same time. Well, he won't have to look very far to begin to fix this particular problem, because two of his top advisors -- Steve Bannon and Steven Mnuchin -- are currently registered in two states. Even worse, Trump's own daughter Tiffany is also registered in two states. So it looks like all that 'voter fraud' hits pretty close to home, eh?"


   44,000 per year

This could become a rallying cry, if Democrats start using it regularly.

"I see that reality seems to be sinking in to the Republican caucus, as they are reportedly very worried that their so-called 'replacement' for Obamacare doesn't actually exist or doesn't cover nearly as many people. They're beginning to realize the reality of the situation, and are starting to get very worried about it is going to play out politically. Of course, this isn't stopping them from going ahead with their repeal efforts, even though a recent study showed that repealing Obamacare with no replacement would lead to the deaths of almost 44,000 people each and every year. So that's the stark choice Republicans are facing: be complicit in 44,000 unnecessary deaths every year, or perhaps rethink their basic position."


   What could possibly go wrong?

This is another nugget that needs a lot more exposure.

"I guess email security is only an issue when it affects Democrats. When Republican administrations do it, congressional Republicans just yawn and turn away. When George W. Bush was in office, members of his administration had private email accounts on private R.N.C. servers. This led to a whopping 22 million of them being erased at the end of his term. Now news comes that at least four key Trump advisors -- Kellyanne Conway, Jared Kushner, Sean Spicer and Steve Bannon -- all still have private accounts on the R.N.C. servers. So I guess all that hyperventilating over private emails during the presidential campaign is over now, huh?"


   Wait, who will pay?!?

This one is ripe for ridicule.

"Donald Trump's press secretary told the press that Trump is going to pay for his wall by slapping a tax of 20 percent on all products imported from Mexico. Somehow, this money will pay for his wall. There's only one thing, though -- this tax would not actually be paid by Mexico. It won't even be paid by companies in Mexico. It will, in fact, be paid by American consumers who have to shell out more for these products. So the American taxpayers are going to wind up paying for this wall one way or another, no matter what Trump may tell you differently."


   The secret plan

This last one is from the Washington Post "Plum Line" blog. Call it an expansion of the "Underpants Gnome Theory of Government," if you will. Here is Donald Trump's secret plan to build a border wall and make Mexico pay for it, in all its glory:

  1. Build something that is kind of a wall, even though it's really a wall only in a few places, but mostly a fence in other places, and some electronic surveillance in other places, and nothing at all in yet other places.

  2. Claim you've built the wall.

  3. Even though Mexico refuses to pay for it, find some fee or tax you can impose that relates to Mexico in some way, even if it's a fraction of the cost of your sort-of-wall, and even if it's paid by American taxpayers.

  4. Claim that Mexico paid for the wall.

  5. Victory!

Okay, this isn't the actual secret Trump plan, because as has become more than clear, there is no Trump plan. They're flying by the seat of their pants. But it's what’s going to happen.


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