Friday Talking Points -- Stress Conference

Before we begin, two quick notes. That subtitle above isn't ours, but when we heard what CNN's Brian Stelter called the hot mess we saw yesterday, we had to agree it was the perfect description. Stress conference indeed! Secondly, our opening metaphor to describe our own personal reaction is going to need a rather roundabout explanation, just to warn everyone in advance.

In Silicon Valley, there's a pretty common interview question that is supposed to test whether a techie job candidate is capable of creative (or "outside the box") thinking. The question: If you were standing in front of a rather tall multi-story apartment building and (for some unspecified reason) had to know its exact height -- but all you had to work with was a barometer -- how would you go about doing it?

There's one fairly obvious answer, but in reality it'd require an incredibly precise barometer. Since a barometer measures change in air pressure, take a reading from the sidewalk, then take it up to the roof and take another reading, and figure the height from the differential in air pressure.

There are many more creative (and less obvious) answers to the problem, however. Such as: Go buy a long rope, head up to the roof, tie the barometer to the rope and lower it to the sidewalk. Mark and measure the length of the rope used. Our favorite was always the most pragmatic and non-mathematical answer possible: Go find the building's supervisor or manager and offer him or her a swell barometer if they'll tell you the exact height of the building. Problem solved, and you get the exact height rather than an approximation!

But there's one possible answer to the problem which sprang to mind after Donald Trump's press conference yesterday: Go up to the roof and drop the barometer to the sidewalk. Count the seconds before impact, and then use the formula for the acceleration of gravity to figure out the correct height.

That's the image that Trump's use of the phrase "fine-tuned machine" brought to mind -- a fine-tuned machine, tumbling to Earth, to inevitably be shattered into a million pieces.

It's pretty easy to understand why Trump is so visibly frustrated. All his life he's surrounded himself with yes-men and yes-women, and as president he's now got a lot of people telling him: "No." As in: "Sorry, you can't do that, it's illegal and unconstitutional," or: "Well, things don't really work that way, you can't just sign a piece of paper and make it happen," or: "The judge ruled against you," or even: "Thanks a bunch for offering me the job you just fired a guy from, but somehow it doesn't seem all that tempting an offer."

The frustration is getting so bad, Trump is going to retreat into his comfort zone and hold a campaign rally. Because that's all he really wanted in the first place -- crowds of supporters cheering his every word, no matter how unhinged from reality it was. Maybe Mike Pence can run things while Trump goes on an endless campaign tour, who knows? With Trump, anything's possible.

Because (as is becoming the new normal) there was so much political news this week, we're going to have to run through it all rather quickly. Everyone can play along at home, counting the seconds until the fine-tuned machine Trump insists his White House truly is smashes to the ground. To the sound of music, no less, but we're getting way ahead of ourselves. Everyone ready? Start counting....

The whole concept of Trump's fine-tuned machine was utterly dismantled by the folks over at the Washington Post, which has a pretty extensive list of why it's a laughable concept. The last bullet point on their list:

Of the 696 government positions that require Senate confirmation, Trump has nominated 34 people, 13 of whom have been confirmed, leaving 662 positions where no one has even been nominated.

The funniest bit was what one commenter had to say, however:

I grew up in farm country. I've seen those fine-tuned machines, they hang on the back of wagons and are used to spread smelly stuff on the fields.

Couldn't have put it better!

The scariest quote from the Trump presser, to our ears at least, was the following:

You know what uranium is, right? It's this thing called nuclear weapons. And other things. Like lots of things are done with uranium. Including some bad things.

Hoo boy. That may have topped all the inane things George W. Bush, Mitt Romney, and Ronald Reagan ever said combined.

Here's the inevitable fact-checking article, in case anyone out there can actually handle the truth. We wrote our column yesterday on the most easily-disprovable lie Trump uttered, but if that's not enough for you, the Post also has a helpful article explaining (contrary to Trump's claim) that drugs aren't actually cheaper than candy bars. Just in case you were wondering.

A few other obvious non-fine-tuned idiocies from the past week, in what might be called "adventures in creative spelling." Betsy DeVos wasted no time in proving to every critic that questioned her fitness for office that they were absolutely right (not that there was any real doubt). The Department of Education tweeted out a quote this week, from "W. E. B. DeBois." When it was pointed out to them that they'd misspelled his name (should be "W. E. B. Du Bois"), they tweeted a correction, with the text: "Post updated -- our deepest apologizes for the earlier typo." Wow -- DeVos just started, and they already can't tell the difference between a verb and a noun? In a tweet where they were supposed to be correcting a typo? Wow, that's just... wow.

This follows the news that a poster from Trump's inauguration had to be pulled from the shelves because it read: "No dream is too big, no challenge is to [sic] great. Nothing we want for the future is beyond our reach." This was advertised as a photo that "captures the essence of Donald Trump’s campaign for the presidency of the United States." Oh, we'd have to agree.

The Republican Party got in on the fun as well, by tweeting out a fake Abraham Lincoln quote for his birthday! Maybe next time they'll just stick to Lincoln's words: "For score and seventh years ago...".

Spelling idiocy aside, there was plenty of other grinding noises coming from Trump's "well-tuned machine" this week -- which started with a disastrous round of interviews for Stephen Miller on the Sunday shows. His most jaw-dropping line was that Trump's powers "are beyond question" on the whole Muslim ban issue. By week's end, however, the White House had thrown in the towel and announced it would not fight the Ninth Circuit Court's order any more, instead choosing to issue a new Muslim ban next week. Maybe the second time's the charm, eh?

In other fine-tuned news, Trump's choice for Labor secretary had to withdraw in shame, after a dozen or more Republican senators indicated they wouldn't be voting to confirm him. This followed the firing of Trump's national security advisor, earlier in the week. After Michael Flynn was fired, it was revealed that he had indeed lied to the F.B.I. about that phone call to Russia where sanctions were discussed. Lying to the F.B.I. is supposed to be a felony, but we're not exactly holding our breath waiting for Jeff Sessions to bring charges any time soon, if you know what we mean.

Trump tried to quickly replace Flynn, but the first guy he offered the job to turned him down cold, confiding in a close friend that Trump's offer was nothing more than "a shit sandwich." And topping all the week's personnel problems was the news that six White House staffers were suddenly shown the door when they failed their background checks. The door hit their hindquarters on the way out like a fine-tuned machine, one assumes.

What else? A national security crisis broke out when North Korea test-launched a ballistic missile, which Trump responded to by holding a secure meeting in the midst of a roomful of diners who had no security clearances at all. This was followed by a hastily-arranged press conference where Trump merely stated America was "100 percent behind Japan" -- nothing like leading from behind, eh? Russia buzzed an American destroyer this week with some military jets, and Trump also did absolutely nothing in response. And word leaked out that Trump likes his national security briefings to be on a single page, with short bullet points, and lots of maps and graphics ("The president likes maps") -- because who doesn't prefer looking at pretty pictures over reading boring text?

In other military news, a memo draft surfaced with a new plan to use 100,000 National Guard troops in 11 states to round up all those immigrants Trump doesn't approve of. See, we knew that "deportation force" would pop up sooner or later! In a fine-tuned way, of course.

Trump's job approval rating sank below 40 percent in multiple polls this week, which is probably a big reason (big-league reason?) that he's heading back out on the campaign trail -- which is so much more fun than doing the job. Hmm, that reminds us... didn't Trump once have a few words to say on the subject? Actually, he wouldn't shut up about it last year -- here's just one random example:

I watched Obama yesterday. Why isn't he working? Why isn't he working instead of campaigning for crooked Hillary? Why? Why? Unbelievable. Who's paying for that big plane that comes in? I just wonder.

But now that Trump's president, it is no longer an issue -- because he's not just having fun using the plane, he's also going to cost taxpayers hundreds of millions of dollars in extra security costs. He's gone to his Florida resort three times already, which "have likely cost the federal treasury about $10 million." And that doesn't even count the extra money it takes in local security and traffic (which Palm Beach officials want reimbursement for). Guarding Trump Tower in New York City is going to cost us all over $180 million per year, too. Oh, and when Eric Trump took a trip to Uruguay, it cost $100,000 in hotel bills alone for the security detail. Boy, don't you miss the old Trump who used to worry about taxpayer money getting squandered?

If it seems like there is nothing else going on in Washington, that's because there isn't. The long saga of Republicans being absolutely incapable of coming up with a replacement plan for Obamacare continues (seven years and counting!), although so far few have noticed their continuing inability to write a single word of actual legislation. This is going to be a bigger deal next month, so stay tuned!

And finally, a bit of cheerful news. The Morning Joe program -- one that Trump regularly watches -- has bitten the bullet and just flat-out banished Kellyanne Conway from their studio. Here's what Mika Brzezinski had to say about their reasons for permanently disinviting Conway:

We know for a fact she tries to book herself on this show. I won't do it, because I don't believe in fake news or information that is not true. And that is -- every time I've ever seen her on television, something's askew, off or incorrect.

Here's what co-host Joe Scarborough had to say about Kellyanne:

She's in none of the key meetings. She goes out and books herself often.... I don't even think she's saying something that she knows to be untrue. She's just saying things, just to get in front of the TV set and prove her relevance because behind the scenes -- behind the scenes, she's not in these meetings.

Looks like the fine-tuned machine slipped a rather noticeable cog, there!


We have three Honorable Mention awards to give out this week, both for amusing quotes.

Al Franken hinted that a few Republican senators think Trump has mental health problems: "It's not the majority of them, it's a few. We all have this suspicion that he... that he lies a lot, that he says things that aren't true. That is not the norm for a president of the United States, or actually for a human being."

Not to be outdone, Bernie Sanders made a similar case last Sunday morning:

We have a president who is delusional in many respects, a pathological liar.... It is very harsh, but I think that's the truth. When somebody goes before you and says that 3 to 5 million people voted illegally -- nobody believes that. There is not a scintilla of evidence to believe that. What would you call that remark? It's a lie. It's a delusion.

He later followed up on Twitter: "I disagreed with President Bush all the time. I never called him a pathological liar. He was just conservative. But Trump lies all the time." Good point, Bernie!

Trump told some falsehoods about both Elijah Cummings and the Congressional Black Caucus, right before he asked an African-American reporter to set up a meeting with them (more on that later, down in the talking points). Cummings quickly called Trump on his nonsense, but the C.B.C. decided to use Trumpian language in their response on Twitter: "Hi, @realDonaldTrump. We're the CBC. We sent you a letter on January 19, but you never wrote us back. Sad!" They included a link to the letter, which requested a meeting -- which the White House hadn't responded to as of yesterday, when Trump was seemingly informed that they even existed, by a black reporter. Gotta love that "Sad!" at the end....

But the Most Impressive Democrat Of The Week award goes to Representatives Jared Polis and Earl Blumenauer. If it weren't a partisan award, we would also give out two others -- to Republicans Dana Rohrabacher and Don Young.

These four House members just formed the "Cannabis Caucus" this week. Like all other issues-oriented caucuses (caucii?), it will be dedicated to one single subject: reforming the Draconian (and almost antediluvian) federal marijuana laws.

Up until very recently, the formation of such a caucus would never been even remotely possible. The times they are a changin', though, and getting cannabis policy right at the federal level has never been more important. With state laws clashing with federal laws, and with a new president and attorney general who seem to be salivating over ramping up a bigger and fiercer Drug War than ever, now is indeed the crucial time for politicians -- of any party -- to stand up and interject some sanity into the conversation.

In fact, we'd strongly urge people not only to use the link at the bottom, but also to contact your own congressional representatives and ask them why they aren't in the Cannabis Caucus yet. There are a lot of single-issue voters on this subject, and it is time to make their own voices heard.

It's also worth mentioning where we heard about this effort, if you'd like to participate a different way. Tom Angell, our favorite marijuana reform advocate, has begun a daily newsletter covering all marijuana news items. You can sign up to receive this newsletter at, if you'd like such news in your inbox every day. Here's an example to check out -- yesterday's newsletter, with links to the live-streamed press conference announcing the Cannabis Caucus. We intend to become regular readers of this newsletter, so we don't miss such important marijuana/political news in the future!

We also hope to see the Cannabis Caucus grow... well, like a weed (couldn't resist). Seriously, though -- for bravely taking this pioneering step in Congress, this week's Most Impressive Democrat Of The Week awards go to Earl Blumenauer and Jared Polis. Keep up the good work, guys, and hopefully you'll soon have lots of company in those caucus meetings.

[Congratulate Representative Earl Blumenauer on his House contact page, and Representative Jared Polis on his House contact page, to let them know you appreciate their efforts.]


This week's Most Disappointing Democrat Of The Week is going to be a generic award, given out to clueless Democrats everywhere.

The vote for Democratic National Committee chair is going to be held in a week. The contest may be a close one, and may signal which direction the party heads in the near future. But there is still a lot of rampant denial among the party bigwigs over what Donald Trump's victory meant, and additionally over what the movement Bernie Sanders led means for the changing priorities of the electorate.

To be blunt, many Democratic leaders still have their heads in the sand. They firmly believe that they lost the 2016 election because they just didn't have a great message. No policy adjustments are necessary, just better framing. To shift metaphors, this isn't just missing the forest for the trees, this is bending over intently to look at an acorn while smacking your head into an oaken tree trunk. Think this is too harsh? Here's a shocking quote from a Democratic Party insider:

A former aide to Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama cautioned the Democratic Party against "moving policy to the left" in response to the wave of public protests targeting President Donald Trump, telling MSNBC: "You are wrong to look at these crowds and think that means everyone wants $15 an hour."

"I actually think the real energy is not just with the base. These are apolitical people that are turning out," Jennifer Palmieri said in an appearance on Chuck Todd's show last week. Palmieri served as communications director for both the Obama White House and Clinton's presidential campaign.

This is stunning in its shortsightedness and inability to see what is happening out there. But what was even more disheartening was hearing what some top Democrats had to say to Bernie Sanders in a recent leadership meeting. Senator Joe Manchin was the one who leaked the story, but it's impossible to say who exactly he was talking about:

"They basically explained to Bernie, it looks like you could be the person that could calm down and make sure their energy and all this enthusiasm is directed in all the right proper channels," Manchin said. "Bernie has a voice, and if [protesters] want to be active, then direct them to where the problem may be or where they anticipate a problem."

Got that? Bernie Sanders has a following of robots, who do exactly what he tells them to do. Because why else would anyone be out there protesting? They still want to see Bernie beat Hillary in the primaries, or something.


The Democrats are facing a wave of public anger. So far, the anger has mostly been directed at Donald Trump and his Republican enablers. This has been so successful that Republican officeholders are running scared from the entire concept of facing their constituents in town hall meetings. There's something happening out there, in other words, that could grow into a force as potent as the Tea Party was on the right.

But some Democratic leaders seem to think the protesters are all nothing short of just being Bernie's useful idiots. Manchin didn't say who led this boneheaded request, merely using the generic "they." As well as Manchin and Sanders, the group also included Chuck Schumer, Dick Durbin, Patty Murray, Debbie Stabenow, Elizabeth Warren, Mark Warner, "among others." So absent another leak, we have no idea which of these Democrats deserve this week's MDDOTW award. Which is why we're giving it to every Democrat who just fundamentally does not understand that there's a grassroots movement out there, that it could be a very powerful political force which could help the Democratic Party out immensely, and that Democrats need to lead, follow, or get out of the way.

If Democrats truly believe that these throngs don't really care about things like a $15-an-hour minimum wage, then they are just as delusional as Republicans who insist (without one tiny shred of evidence anywhere in the entire country, of course) that every progressive protester is somehow on the payroll of George Soros.

No matter who wins the D.N.C. chair position next week, we sincerely hope they are a little more in tune with what is going on out there. Because the Democratic Party is never going to win until they start to listen to the anger brewing. Even if that means "primarying" a few of them to get the point across.

[With such a vague group of winners, we cannot provide accurate contact information so you can let them know what you think. Instead, we would suggest joining in the nearest protest march and tell them out in the streets! Maybe eventually they'll hear the message.]


Volume 425 (2/17/17)

Last week in this space, we bemoaned the lack of a better label for what some journalists were beginning to call "the Tea Party of the left" -- the swelling wave of protest and political activism that is sweeping the country in opposition to Trump. We asked for suggestions for a better label to use, and we got a pretty good response to the contest.

Since that time, however, we've been informed that there is at least one motivating force behind the movement, the Indivisible Guide website which lays out concrete steps progressive citizens can take to make their voices heard. So we do apologize for not using the Indivisible name, which (so far) seems to be what people are increasingly beginning to call the movement as a whole.

Indivisible meets the criteria for any good political label, in that it is short and snappy, and reaches for a lofty goal. All that is to the good, and we promise we'll be using "the Indivisible movement" ourselves in the near future.

But we still think any political movement can't have enough snappy slogans and rally cries, so we're actually expanding the contest this week to challenge people to come up with what they'd like to see either chanted at Republican town halls (such as the now-famous "Do your job!" for Jason Chaffetz) or soon appearing on a large banner at a protest rally near you. What should the Indivisible movement's rallying cry be? As we said, the more the merrier, really, so let everyone know your thoughts in the comments this week, and we'll put together a list of our favorites next Friday.

OK, with that out of the way, let's get to this week's talking points for Democrats everywhere to use profusely.


   Blacks don't actually all meet at Oprah's house every month

This was one of the most cringe-worthy moments from Trump's presser.

"What planet is Donald Trump from? What is it with white people who seem to sincerely believe that all African-Americans in the entire country know each other personally, perhaps from those famous monthly 'all the black people' parties at Oprah's house? Do you even realize how stupid that makes you sound? When Trump told an African-American reporter to go ahead and set up a meeting with the Congressional Black Caucus, it was offensive on multiple levels. That woman is a national political reporter, and is definitely not your appointments secretary, Mr. Trump! It is simply not her job to schedule meetings for you -- which you might realize if you had even the faintest idea of what a journalist actually does."


   Some good news

In the midst of all this fine-tuned chaos, there was one bright bit of news.

"The yearly ranking by historians of our past presidents just came out -- the first one to include Barack Obama on the list. Here's how recent presidents measure up, according to the professionals. George W. Bush moved up three places, from 36th to 33rd (out of 44). His father ranked significantly better, in 20th place. Bill Clinton beat both Bushes out in 15th place. But the real news is that Barack Obama, in his first appearance on the list, placed an impressive 12th-highest out of all our past presidents. That's a legacy he can be proud of!"


   If it's Tuesday...

Trump isn't the only one moving at top speed, it seems.

"The flood of scandals spewing forth from the Trump administration is likely to set historical records. We're only four weeks in, and investigations are becoming necessary for all sorts of things. Just last Tuesday alone news was made on three of these -- Kellyanne Conway shilling 'buy Ivanka!' on television, the 'room situation' of a national security crisis being handled in full view of diners down at Mar-a-Lago, and how the Russian influence investigation is moving forward. That's all just one day in the Trump administration. folks! It's gonna be a long four years, that's for sure."



Of course, not everyone is pulling their weight in this respect.

"Jason Chaffetz, who chairs the governmental oversight committee in the House, is apparently more interested in investigating cartoon characters than anything the Trump administration has been doing. The Centers for Disease Control was going to have the PBS children's television cartoon character Sid the Science Guy help raise awareness of the Zika virus, which doesn't seem all that controversial to me. But Chaffetz has sent them a letter demanding to know what's going on. As the Washington Post brutally put it: 'Sid, for readers not familiar with PBS children's programming, is a preschool cartoon character. Like President Trump, Sid is orange. Unlike Trump, he is highly inquisitive.' This article raised many other unanswered questions for Chaffetz to probe, including: 'Does Snuffleupagus really exist?' and 'Are Ernie and Bert just friends?' We realize that once Donald Trump took office, Washington was going to take on a rather cartoonish tone, but at some point the joke isn't all that funny anymore. Chaffetz doesn't have time to investigate Russian involvement with our elections or the Trump administration, but he's got time to probe a cartoon character? Wow."


   Problem solved!

Echoes of the past....

"It seems that people are showing up at Republican town halls to let their duly-elected representatives have an earful about the Republican agenda -- especially the whole business about leaving people out in the woods to die rather than allowing them to have health insurance. Donald Trump had a rather unique perspective on this in his presser, saying: 'I mean, they fill up our alleys with people that you wonder how they get there, but they are not Republican people that our representatives are representing.' Not sure what 'alleys' he's talking about, but it's pretty clear that, according to Trump, people in Congress are supposed to only be there to represent, quote, Republican people, unquote. That's rather frightening when you think about it. But the Republicans have an even better answer -- they're just not going to listen to anyone, because they're running scared from the whole idea of town halls -- in fear of such protests. Yeah, that's the way to get re-elected -- ignore your constituents!"


   Competency tests for all!

Calling for Trump to have his head examined is only the beginning....

"The Republican Congress moved with blinding speed on what is obviously one of their biggest priorities -- making sure that mentally incompetent people have full access to guns. You just cannot make this stuff up, sadly. The Obama administration moved to add people who had been judicially deemed to not be competent enough to manage their own affairs to the list of people who probably shouldn't be able to buy a gun, but the Republicans in Congress just overturned this sane idea. Every time some right-wing nutjob shoots up a crowd full of people, Republicans fall back on the 'he was mentally ill' excuse, which is why it is stunning for them to be making it easier for mentally incompetent people to acquire firearms. I mean, what could possibly go wrong? Democrats will be reminding them of this when the next preventable tragedy strikes, you can be sure of that."


   A flibbertigibbet, a will-o'-the-wisp, a clown

The hills are alive... with the sound of a fine-tuned machine hitting the sidewalk and smashing into a million tiny pieces. OK, how many seconds did that take? Did everybody count? Heh.

The following comes from a real news story, published by the Palm Beach Daily News. It is not satire from a late-night comedy show, sadly enough. Any of these quotes can easily be used as a Democratic talking point, for obvious reasons.

Patrick Park is an avid fan of The Sound of Music. You might say he's obsessed with it. "Really, I've seen it like 75 times," the concert pianist/industrialist said. "I know every single word and song by heart. I've always wanted to live in the Von Trapp house." Well, if he can't live there, at least he'll be close enough to visit. Park has received unofficial word from President Donald Trump -- well, as unofficial as a handwritten note saying "on to your next chapter, Ambassador!" can be -- that he is the president's choice to be U.S. ambassador to Austria. The president said he thought it would be a good match for Park because it is steeped in musical culture....

Park said he's already started boning up in order to be ready if and when the call comes. "I had a chance to talk to the Swiss and Hungarian ambassadors at the Red Cross Ball and at the diplomats' dinner the night before," he said. "They want me to visit them in Washington, and the Austrian ambassador in Washington said he wants us to go for lunch. See? I'm already working!" First thing on his unofficial to-do list? "I'm flying to Vienna to check out the embassy, and then I'm going to Salzburg to see if the Von Trapp house is for rent," he said, laughing. "And then I'm going to learn to like schnitzel and sachertorte."


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