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Thursday's Mini-Report, 8.17.17

08/17/17 05:30PM

Today's edition of quick hits:

* The latest out of Spain: "A terrorist-driven rental van plowed through a crowded pedestrian plaza in the heart of Barcelona on Thursday afternoon, killing at least 13 people and injuring dozens, the latest in a series of low-tech attacks in European cities."

* The end of an important case: "A settlement in the lawsuit against two psychologists who helped devise the Central Intelligence Agency's brutal interrogation program was announced on Thursday, bringing to an end an unusual effort to hold individuals accountable for the techniques the agency adopted after the Sept. 11 attacks."

* This probably won't make it to Trump's Twitter feed: "The Dow Jones took a triple-digit dive on Thursday afternoon as escalating worries about the Trump administration's ability to push through its agenda rattled investors. The Dow closed at 21,750, its biggest drop in three months and the second-worst day of the year."

* I wonder how a vote on this would turn out: "Sen. Cory Booker (D-N.J.) will introduce legislation after Congress reconvenes next month calling for the removal of at least a dozen statues of Confederate soldiers and politicians located inside the U.S. Capitol."

* On a related note: "Representative Nancy Pelosi of California, the House Democratic leader, called on Thursday for the removal of Confederate statues from the United States Capitol, opening a new front in the debate ignited by the deadly violence in Charlottesville, Va., over the weekend."

* Good decision: "A leading U.S. hospital pulled its annual fundraiser from Donald Trump's Mar-a-Lago resort on Thursday, reversing course after initially resisting pressure from health professionals and others over the president's support for repealing the Affordable Care Act and cutting federal budget dollars to medical research."

* Quite a sight: "Activists in Durham County, North Carolina, attempted to surrender en masse at a courthouse on Thursday morning in an act of solidarity with those charged for the act of pulling down a statue of a Confederate soldier on Monday, news reports and social media accounts say."

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Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump motions to the crowd following a speech at a rally on May 26, 2016 in Billings, Montana. (Photo by Spencer Platt/Getty)

Trump points to ahistorical nonsense following deadly terrorism

08/17/17 03:58PM

The news out of Barcelona this afternoon is heartbreaking: an apparent terrorist in van targeted a crowded pedestrian plaza, and according to Spanish officials, the current death toll is 13 people, with dozens more hospitalized. One suspect is already in custody.

It's against this backdrop that Donald Trump, who says he always wants to have all the "facts" before speaking on any subject, thought it'd be appropriate to highlight one of his favorite stories.

"Study what General Pershing of the United States did to terrorists when caught. There was no more Radical Islamic Terror for 35 years!"

For those who followed Trump's presidential campaign closely, this is familiar rhetoric. The Republican candidate loved to rile up far-right voters by telling them a myth about General John Pershing. Here, for example, is a Washington Post report from June 2016, following a Trump event in South Carolina.

As the crowd cheered him on, Trump told them about Pershing -- "rough guy, rough guy" -- who was fighting terrorism in the early 1900s. Trump didn't say where this happened, but variations of this story online usually state that it happened in the Philippines during the Philippine-American War -- part of the island nation's protracted battle for independence -- early in Pershing's career.

"They were having terrorism problems, just like we do," Trump said. "And he caught 50 terrorists who did tremendous damage and killed many people. And he took the 50 terrorists, and he took 50 men and he dipped 50 bullets in pigs' blood -- you heard that, right? He took 50 bullets, and he dipped them in pigs' blood. And he had his men load his rifles, and he lined up the 50 people, and they shot 49 of those people. And the 50th person, he said: You go back to your people, and you tell them what happened. And for 25 years, there wasn't a problem. Okay? Twenty-five years, there wasn't a problem."

The more Trump told the story, the more he'd change the details of the myth -- in several instances, he said Pershing's solution stopped terrorism for 42 years, or 35 years, or sometimes 25 years -- but ultimately, it doesn't much matter.

Because the myth isn't real.

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Image: Trump speaks at Trump Tower in New York

The world takes note of Trump's 'failure of character'

08/17/17 12:48PM

Former CIA Director John Brennan, watching Donald Trump's reaction to Charlottesville unfold in recent days, wrote a letter to CNN yesterday, arguing that the president, though "his words and his actions," is "putting our national security and our collective futures at grave risk."

Brennan added that Trump is poised to do "lasting harm to American society and to our standing in the world."

It's that last point that may need a brighter spotlight. Much of the American mainstream has recoiled in response to seeing a president defend racist activists, but no one should forget that we're not the only ones who've noticed.

The Economist, based in London, published a brutal piece in its new issue on Trump's "failure of character," featuring a cover in which Trump is depicted shouting into a white megaphone -- which also happens to be a Klansman's hood.

The Washington Post reported that the American president's latest offense "earned him another wave of backlash from world leaders."

British Prime Minister Theresa May didn't call Trump out by name but said in a statement Wednesday there was "no equivalence" between the two sides. [...]

"I see no equivalence between those who propound fascist views and those who oppose them," May said. "I think it is important for all those in positions of responsibility to condemn far right views wherever we hear them."

Trump's remarks renewed calls by some British leaders and activists for his state visit to the country to be canceled, according to the Guardian.

Some of the most heated criticisms came by way of Berlin, where German Justice Minister Heiko Maas said in a statement, "It is unbearable how Trump is now glossing over the violence of the right-wing hordes from Charlottesville. No one should trivialize anti-Semitism and racism by neo-Nazis."

There was even a demonstration yesterday at the Brandenburg Gate. Foreign Policy reported, "Hundreds of protesters gathered at Berlin's iconic Brandenburg Gate Wednesday to denounce white supremacy and express support for victims of the recent violence in Charlottesville."

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Thursday's Campaign Round-Up, 8.17.17

08/17/17 12:00PM

Today's installment of campaign-related news items from across the country.

* Ahead of Donald Trump's campaign rally in Arizona next week, the president touted Sen. Jeff Flake's Republican primary rival, Kelli Ward, this morning. Mocking the incumbent senator, Trump called the Arizonan "Flake Jeff Flake" and said the GOP lawmaker is "toxic." (Wouldn't it make more grammatical sense to call him "Flaky Jeff Flake"?)

* Also before 7 a.m. this morning, the president lashed out at another senator from his own party, blasting Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) for criticizing Trump's reaction to Charlottesville. "He just can't forget his election trouncing," the president said of Graham. "The people of South Carolina will remember!"

* Though it's unlikely the White House will care, Phoenix Mayor Greg Stanton (D) hopes Trump will postpone next week's event. "I am disappointed that President Trump has chosen to hold a campaign rally as our nation is still healing from the tragic events in Charlottesville," Stanton said in a statement. "It is my hope that more sound judgment prevails and that he delays his visit."

* Hot on the heels of his third-place finish in Alabama's Senate special-election primary, Rep. Mo Brooks (R-Ala.) announced he's running for re-election to the House next year. The far-right congressman has not yet endorsed either of the Republicans in the Senate race.

* Corey Lewandowski, Trump's former campaign manager, has apparently landed a new gig: the former CNN pundit is joining a pro-Trump super PAC called America First Action, where he'll serve as a senior adviser.

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Stephen Bannon, CEO of Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump's campaign, at Trump Tower in New York, N.Y. on Aug. 25, 2016. (Photo by Carlo Allegri/Reuters)

Steve Bannon opens up to an unlikely source

08/17/17 11:00AM

As a rule, the White House's media strategy follows a predictable path. Donald Trump and his team routinely lash out at major mainstream outlets, while praising, promoting, and providing access to the administration's conservative allies.

Once in a great while, though, a curve ball crosses the plate.

The United States is in an economic war with China, U.S. President Donald Trump's chief political strategist has said, warning Washington is losing the fight but is about to hit China hard over unfair trade practices.

In a wide-ranging interview with [The American Prospect] published Wednesday, Steve Bannon also weighed in on worsening tensions between the U.S. and North Korea, and the furor caused by white nationalist marches in Charlottesville, Virginia, over the weekend.

For those who don't know, The American Prospect is an unapologetically progressive political magazine. The fact that Bannon called its co-editor and co-founder, Robert Kuttner, unprompted and out of the blue, is unexpected. (The liberal journalists concedes in the piece he was "stunned.")

And yet, Trump's controversial chief strategist didn't just reach out to Kuttner; Bannon also had all kinds of insights to share. Among the highlights:

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A "Help Wanted" sign is posted in the window of an automotive service shop on March 8, 2013 in El Cerrito, California.

The fatal flaw in Trump's vision on improving race relations

08/17/17 10:14AM

At Donald Trump's bizarre press conference this week, before defending racist activists, a reporter asked the president how concerned he is about race relations in America. Trump started by taking another cheap shot at President Obama -- the subject of his ongoing obsession -- before sharing his vision on how race relations can improve.

"I believe that the fact that I brought in -- it will be soon, millions of jobs, you see where companies are moving back into our country, I think that's going to have a tremendous positive impact on race relations," Trump said. After a series of related economic claims, he added, "I think that's going to have a huge, positive impact on race relations. You know why? It's jobs. What people want now, they want jobs. They want great jobs with good pay. And when they have that, you watch how race relations will be."

There are, of course, a couple of glaring problems here. First, job creation since he took office isn't nearly as good as he thinks it is. Second, as the Washington Post noted, Trump's plan for improving race relations is at odds with reality.

Jobs are not magic fairy dust that can cure everything. Racism is a deeper problem than just economics. Even in periods of strong employment and economic growth, the United States and other nations have still experienced ugly flare ups of hate crimes and riots.

“Jobs don't cure the fundamental problems that ail us,” says economist Diane Swonk, who runs DS Economics. [...]

Jobs are not enough to bridge the deep racial divide. In theory, a booming economy should help reduce poverty and inequality, but racial tensions are more than just an inequality problem.

Vox had a related piece yesterday, highlighting a 1998 study that found, throughout American history, there's been no meaningful correlation between the strength of the economy and domestic racial tensions.

Even at face value, Trump's pitch is odd. As the president is quick to remind the public, the current employment rate is at a 16-year low. By his reasoning, this should mean that race relations in the United States are great and getting better.

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The Pentagon, the headquarters of the United States Department of Defense, Arlington County, Virginia.

Trump, Joint Chiefs have very different responses to Charlottesville

08/17/17 09:22AM

How isolated is Donald Trump in the wake of his public defense of bigoted activists? Even U.S. military leaders are making clear their reactions to violence in Charlottesville are not in line with the president's.

A group of military leaders broke with President Donald Trump and rebuked the "Unite the Right" rally in Charlottesville over the weekend -- a near-historic development for U.S. civil-military relations.

Since Sunday, five U.S. service chiefs -- representing the Army, Air Force, Navy, Marines and National Guard -- have tweeted their denunciation of the white nationalists whose rally led to the killing of a counter-protester on Saturday. Two police officers covering the rally also died when their helicopter crashed.

At face value, seeing U.S. military leaders denounce racists and their twisted ideas may seem obvious and unremarkable, but the broader context is important. For one thing, service chiefs do not always weigh in publicly in response to national events. On the contrary, their goal is generally to remain as apolitical as possible.

But just as important is the fact that the service chiefs are no doubt aware of the national controversy surrounding Donald Trump's inflammatory reaction to Charlottesville, and the military leaders' condemnations of the racist activists appears intended to put some distance between the brass and the president.

And that's no small development. As the New York Times put it, the services chiefs "did not mention Mr. Trump by name, but their messages were a highly unusual counter to the commander in chief."

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Image: U.S. President Donald Trump walks along the Rose Garden as he returns from a day trip to Atlanta on the South Lawn of the White House in Washington, U.S.

Trump's choice in lawyers suggests he doesn't hire 'the best people'

08/17/17 08:41AM

As a presidential candidate, Donald Trump assured voters he'd surround himself "only with the best and most serious people." The Republican even wrote about it on Facebook, vowing he "will hire the best people."

Now that Trump's in office, there's plenty of evidence to suggest these promises weren't true -- and I'm not just talking about the president's White House team and cabinet.

Consider, for example, the outside legal team Trump has hired to lead his defense in the Russia scandal. As Rachel noted on the show, the New York Times reported overnight:

President Trump's personal lawyer on Wednesday forwarded an email to conservative journalists, government officials and friends that echoed secessionist Civil War propaganda and declared that the group Black Lives Matter "has been totally infiltrated by terrorist groups."

The email forwarded by John Dowd, who is leading the president's legal team, painted the Confederate general Robert E. Lee in glowing terms and equated the South's rebellion to that of the American Revolution against England. Its subject line -- "The Information that Validates President Trump on Charlottesville" -- was a reference to comments Mr. Trump made earlier this week in the aftermath of protests in the Virginia college town.

The ridiculous email told recipients, "You cannot be against General Lee and be for General Washington, there literally is no difference between the two men."

Trump World really is getting stranger. One would assume that the lawyer overseeing the president's legal defense in the most serious political scandal in at least a generation would be pretty busy. The fact that Dowd is making time to promote a racially inflammatory message, helping spread neo-Confederate propaganda, is truly bizarre.

It's worth emphasizing that the president's chief outside counsel didn't write the contents of the email; he forwarded it to a group of journalists and public officials. The author of the message Dowd apparently liked is a guy named Jerome Almon, who reportedly "runs several websites alleging government conspiracies and arguing that the F.B.I. has been infiltrated by Islamic terrorists."

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Image: US President Trump addresses Joint Session of Congress in Washington

Trump censure resolution challenges the GOP to do more than talk

08/17/17 08:00AM

In the wake of Donald Trump's public defense of racist activists, plenty of Republicans have registered their dissatisfaction. They've tweeted, they've criticized, they've wrung their hands and furrowed their brow. They have not, however, been willing to go any further.

Perhaps what they need is an opportunity to do something more meaningful. As Rachel noted on the show last night, three House Democrats -- Jerrold Nadler (D-N.Y.), Bonnie Watson Coleman (D-N.J.), and Pramila Jayapal (D-Wash.) -- will introduce a congressional censure resolution tomorrow, condemning the president's response to the violence in Charlottesville.

The editorial board of USA Today makes a compelling case that it should pass. The editorial read in part:

Expressing disapproval in 140 characters or fewer is insufficient when the president angrily asserts that there were some "very fine people" among the bigots waving Confederate battle flags and swastika banners; when torch-bearing marchers chanted "Jews will not replace us"; and when police said one Nazi sympathizer rammed a sports car into a crowd, killing an innocent counterprotester. The victim, 32-year-old Heather Heyer, was remembered Wednesday at a heartbreaking memorial service.

When these things happen in the United States, and the president blames "both sides," more formal condemnation is necessary. This is a moment of reckoning for members of the Party of Lincoln: Do they want to stand up for American values, or do they want to keep enabling a president whose understanding of right and wrong has slipped dangerously off the rails?

If congressional Republicans choose the former -- and history will be watching -- they should join together with Democrats to censure Trump.

Don't assume the argument will necessarily fall along partisan or ideological lines. Steve Schmidt, a longtime GOP strategist and former aide to John McCain, said on Tuesday's show that congressional Republican leaders "have to censure him, or they risk sliding into a moral abyss with him."

Jennifer Rubin, a conservative Washington Post writer, echoed the sentiment, arguing yesterday, "Any Republican not willing to sign on [to the censure resolution] should be voted out. Period. It's the only litmus test that matters."

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