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Trump's for-profit enterprise isn't the 'Southern White House'

02/20/17 09:00AM

For the third consecutive weekend, Donald Trump departed the White House for Florida, spending time once again at Mar-a-Lago, one of the president's many business ventures. Last week, Trump and his team were casually referring to the club as the "Winter White House," but this week, the president rebranded it the "Southern White House."

Apparently, it's not just seasonal anymore.

The facilities at Mar-a-Lago have proven to be controversial of late, especially after Trump started conducting sensitive national security talks in front of club members, wait staff, and other civilians. But complicating matters is the broader ethical dynamic.

The New York Times noted over the weekend that Team Trump has created "an arena for potential political influence rarely seen in American history: a kind of Washington steakhouse on steroids, situated in a sunny playground of the rich and powerful, where members and their guests enjoy a level of access that could elude even the best-connected of lobbyists."
... Mr. Trump's weekend White House appears to be unprecedented in American history, as it is the first one with customers paying a company owned by the president, several historians said.

"Mar-a-Lago represents a commercialization of the presidency that has few if any precedents in American history," said Jon Meacham, a presidential historian and Andrew Jackson biographer. "Presidents have always spent time with the affluent," he added. "But a club where people pay you as president to spend time in his company is new. It is kind of amazing."
"Amazing" is a generous word under the circumstances. Nixon's California home came to be known as the "Western White House," and Lyndon Johnson and George W. Bush spent a considerable amount of time during their presidencies at their respective ranches. But in each of those cases, presidents had private properties where they had private homes. Trump's business operation, on the other hand, now charges $200,000 a person to join a club where members can gain access to the president, members of his team, and a front-row seat to foreign-policy talks in the wake of a North Korean missile launch.
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John McCain speaks during The Daily Beast's 2nd Annual Hero Summit at Andrew W. Mellon Auditorium on Oct. 10, 2013 in Washington, DC. (Photo by Kris Connor/Getty)

If only John McCain's actions matched John McCain's rhetoric

02/20/17 08:30AM

Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.), a steadfast Republican partisan for many years, is suddenly generating quite a bit of attention for raising concerns about a president from his own party.
Republican Sen. John McCain took a veiled swipe at President Donald Trump's attacks on the media, cautioning that suppressing the press "is how dictators get started."

McCain, who has broken with Trump on several issues, made the comments in an exclusive interview with NBC's "Meet the Press" host Chuck Todd, after being asked about the president's condemnation of several media outlets as "fake news" and "an enemy of the American people."
"I hate the press. I hate you especially," McCain joked. "But the fact is we need you. We need a free press. We must have it. It's vital." He added, "If you want to preserve -- I'm very serious now -- if you want to preserve democracy as we know it, you have to have a free and many times adversarial press. And without it, I am afraid that we would lose so much of our individual liberties over time. That's how dictators get started."

The senator did not, for the record, call Donald Trump a dictator, but the implications of McCain's rhetoric of late aren't exactly subtle. The Arizona Republican delivered striking remarks on Friday that took aim at the Trump White House's foreign policy; he had some provocative things to say about the infamous Russian dossier; he chastised the administration's approach to national security as "dysfunctional"; and he's separated himself from a variety of key elements of the Trump agenda.

The president himself has been annoyed enough with McCain to send a few snide tweets in his direction.

This, naturally, has led to a resurgence of media affection for the longtime senator -- with plenty of outlets dragging his "maverick" nickname out of storage. The New York Times today labeled McCain Trump's "Critic in Chief."

Before the gushing gets completely out of hand, it's worth pausing to appreciate the disconnect between McCain's rhetoric and his actions.
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President-elect Donald Trump arrives at a rally at the Crown Coliseum in Fayetteville, N.C., Dec. 6, 2016. (Photo by Andrew Harnik/AP)

Trump points to imagined violence at brazenly dishonest rally

02/20/17 08:00AM

Kellyanne Conway recently made repeated references to a "massacre" at Bowling Green that never actually happened. Sean Spicer similarly pointed several times to a terrorist attack in Atlanta that didn't occur. So perhaps it was inevitable that Donald Trump, fresh off his bizarre claims about U.S. murder rates that exist only in his imagination, would point to a Swedish incident with no basis in reality.

At a campaign rally in Florida on Saturday, incredibly the first official event of the 2020 presidential election cycle, the Republican president told a group of supporters:
"Here's the bottom line. We've got to keep our country safe. You look at what's happening. We've got to keep our country safe. You look at what's happening in Germany, you look at what's happening last night in Sweden. Sweden, who would believe this? Sweden."
It's likely that no one would believe this because there were no security incidents in Sweden on Friday night. In fact, Swedish officials, asked what in the world the U.S. president might have been referring to, seemed baffled. (The bizarre comments were  the result of something Trump saw on Fox News the night before. If only he had some federal agencies that might help keep him informed about international events, the president might be better informed. Oh wait, he does.)

If it makes Sweden feel any better, many Americans often have no idea what Trump is saying, either.

But the events "last night in Sweden" were really just the tip of a truly ridiculous iceberg. The president, speaking to a smaller-than-expected crowd -- I assume the White House will soon insist it was the largest campaign rally in the history of Western civilization -- seemed eager to paint a picture of an alternate reality in which the Obama administration did no vetting of refugees; the Trump White House is "running so smoothly"; and he "inherited one big mess."

"When the media lies to people, I will never, ever let them get away with it," he declared. Trump was less clear on what's supposed to happen when he lies to people, even while reading from his trusted Teleprompter.
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A visitor looks into a cage containing a model dinosaur inside a replica Noah's Ark at the Ark Encounter theme park during a media preview day, Tuesday, July 5, 2016, in Williamstown, Ky.

This Week in God, 2.18.17

02/18/17 08:11AM

First up from the God Machine this week is an update on a faith-based theme park regular readers are probably familiar with. The Huffington Post reported this week:
A new display going into the creationist Noah's Ark attraction in Kentucky shows what appears to be gladiator-style fights involving humans, giants and a dinosaur.

Ken Ham, founder of the group that runs the attraction, tweeted images of the new diorama on Thursday.... Ham, who believes in a strict literal interpretation of the Bible, claims the planet is roughly 6,000 years old, that humans existed alongside dinosaurs and that Noah even carried dinosaurs with him on the ark during a global flood roughly 4,300 years ago.
In fact, that appears to be one of the key points of the theme park itself. Revisiting our coverage from July, this isn’t just a fun excursion for tourists. The point of “Ark Encounter” is to promote a Christian ministry’s worldview, “share the gospel,” and encourage visitors to embrace young-earth creationism. This ark’s builders genuinely believe the story of Noah is literally true – complete with dinosaurs on the replica of the mythical boat.

And while everyone is free to choose their own spiritual path, the Christian ministry that built this park demanded and receivedtaxpayer subsidies for the project, despite the fact that all employees – including staff whose responsibilities have nothing to do with religion – will be required to be Christian and sign a written document professing “Christ as their savior.”
 
Indeed, those hoping to work at “Ark Encounter” must also submit a “creation belief statement” before being hired, which includes endorsing the idea that the planet is roughly 6,000 years old.
 
The fact that Kentucky taxpayers are subsidizing all of this may seem legally problematic, but a Bush/Cheney-appointed federal judge cleared the way for the public assistance, and Gov. Matt Bevin (R), delighted with the outcome, did not appeal the case that had been litigated by his Democratic predecessor.

Also from the God Machine this week:
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Friday's Mini-Report, 2.17.17

02/17/17 05:30PM

Today's edition of quick hits:

* A tough choice to defend: "The U.S. Senate Friday confirmed Oklahoma attorney General Scott Pruitt to head the EPA in a party-line 52-46 vote. Democrats did all they could to delay the final vote, holding another all-night session to highlight their opposition to the Oklahoma attorney general for his past battles with the regulatory agency he is now tasked to run."

* A nervous Europe: "European leaders Friday fired a salvo of warnings against Washington, cautioning it against hurting EU cohesion, abandoning shared values and seeking a rapprochement with Russia behind the backs of its allies."

* One of Flynn's many controversies: "The Pentagon hasn't found any documents indicating that Mike Flynn received authorization to accept money from a foreign government before traveling to Moscow in 2015 for a paid Russian state TV event, according to a letter from the acting Secretary of the Army."

* The right call: "A florist who refused to sell flowers for a same-sex wedding cannot claim religious belief as a defense under the state's anti-discrimination laws, Washington's high court said Thursday, in a case that has been watched around the nation by religious and civil rights groups."

* Also the right call: "Florida lawmakers violated the First Amendment when they passed a law prohibiting doctors generally from asking patients if they owned guns, a federal appeals court ruled on Thursday."

* A South Carolina man "was arrested in connection with planning a violent white supremacist attack 'in the spirit of Dylann Roof,' the FBI said in a complaint Thursday."
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Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump is seen during a press conference at Los Pinos on Aug. 31, 2016 in Mexico City, Mexico. (Photo by Hector Vivas/LatinContent/Getty)

Attacking news organizations, Trump sees an 'enemy' of the people

02/17/17 05:15PM

About an hour ago, Donald Trump published a tweet, which he deleted soon after. "The FAKE NEWS media (failing @nytimes, @CNN, @NBCNews and many more) is not my enemy, it is the enemy of the American people. SICK!"

The fact that it was discarded led some to hope that the president realized that the language may have had fascist overtones, which he reflected on and deleted accordingly. Those hopes were quickly dashed when Trump re-published the nearly identical message with slight edits:
"The FAKE NEWS media (failing @nytimes, @NBCNews, @ABC, @CBS, @CNN) is not my enemy, it is the enemy of the American People!"
How nice. He removed the all-caps "sick" reference the second time around, though he was more inclusive when attacking networks.

There is no doubt that every president has had conflicts with news organizations, but I hope it's obvious that no president has ever tried to label many of the nation's largest independent news organizations "the enemy" of the people.

Authoritarians speak this way; elected leaders in democracies do not. Trump isn't just demonstrating a contempt for American journalism and First Amendment principles; he's also playing a dangerous game by positioning himself as an authority figure who gets to label those who try to hold him accountable "the enemy."
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Launched in 2008, “The Rachel Maddow Show” follows the machinations of policy making in America, from local political activism to international diplomacy. Rachel Maddow looks past the distractions of political theater and stunts and focuses on the legislative proposals and policies that shape American life - as well as the people making and influencing those policies and their ultimate outcome, intended or otherwise.

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