Donald Trump has no grasp of what it means to be president

DEFENDERS of President Donald Trump offer two arguments in his favour—that he is a businessman who will curb the excesses of the state; and that he will help America stand tall again by demolishing the politically correct taboos of left-leaning, establishment elites. From the start, these arguments looked like wishful thinking. After Mr Trump’s press conference in New York on August 15th they lie in ruins.

The unscripted remarks were his third attempt to deal with violent clashes in Charlottesville, Virginia, over the weekend (see article). In them the president stepped back from Monday’s—scripted—condemnation of the white supremacists who had marched to protest against the removal of a statue of Robert E. Lee, a Confederate general, and fought with counter-demonstrators, including some from the left. In New York, as his new chief of staff looked on dejected, Mr Trump let rip, stressing once again that there was blame “on both sides”. He left no doubt which of those sides lies closer to his heart.

Far from being the saviour of the Republic, their president is politically inept, morally barren and temperamentally unfit for office.

Self-harm

Start with the ineptness. In last year’s presidential election Mr Trump campaigned against the political class to devastating effect. Yet this week he has bungled the simplest of political tests: finding a way to condemn Nazis. Having equivocated at his first press conference on Saturday, Mr Trump said what was needed on Monday and then undid all his good work on Tuesday—briefly uniting Fox News and Mother Jones in their criticism, surely a first. As business leaders started to resign enmasse from his advisory panels, the White House disbanded them. Mr Trump did, however, earn the endorsement of David Duke, a former Imperial Wizard of the Ku Klux Klan.

Mr Trump’s inept politics stem from a moral failure. Some counter-demonstrators were indeed violent, and Mr Trump could have included harsh words against them somewhere in his remarks. But to equate the protest and the counter-protest reveals his shallowness. Video footage shows marchers carrying fascist banners, waving torches, brandishing sticks and shields, chanting “Jews will not replace us”. Footage of the counter-demonstration mostly shows average citizens shouting down their opponents. And they were right to do so: white supremacists and neo-Nazis yearn for a society based on race, which America fought a world war to prevent. Mr Trump’s seemingly heartfelt defence of those marching to defend Confederate statues spoke to the degree to which white grievance and angry, sour nostalgia is part of his world view.

At the root of it all is Mr Trump’s temperament. In difficult times a president has a duty to unite the nation. Mr Trump tried in Monday’s press conference, but could not sustain the effort for even 24 hours because he cannot get beyond himself. A president needs to rise above the point-scoring and to act in the national interest. Mr Trump cannot see beyond the latest slight.

An Oval Office-shaped hole

For Republicans in Congress the choice should be clearer. Many held their noses and backed Mr Trump because they thought he would advance their agenda. That deal has not paid off. Mr Trump is not a Republican, but the solo star of his own drama. By tying their fate to his, they are harming their country and their party. His boorish attempts at plain speaking serve only to poison national life. Any gains from economic reform—and the booming stockmarket and low unemployment owe more to the global economy, tech firms and dollar weakness than to him—will come at an unacceptable price.

Read the complete article on The Economist magazine web site.

The Guardian view on Donald Trump and racism: a moral failure that shames America

‘Mr Trump utterly failed in his primary duty to uphold equality and speak the truth about the racist violence that had taken place.’ Photograph: Jonathan Ernst/Reuters

As George W Bush’s speechwriter put it this weekend, it is one of the “difficult but primary duties” of a political leader to speak for a nation in traumatic times. A space shuttle explodes, a school student goes on a shooting spree, a terrorist flies a plane into a building, a hurricane floods a city. When such things happen, Michael Gerson wrote in the Washington Post, “It falls to the president to express something of the nation’s soul.” Yet if Donald Trump’s words about the violent white extremist mobilisation in Virginia on Saturday – which an under-pressure White House was desperately trying to clarify on Sunday – are an expression of its soul, America may be on the road to perdition.

The original United States of America was built on white supremacy. The US constitution of 1787 treated black slaves as equivalent to three-fifths of a free white and gave no rights at all to Native Americans, who were regarded as belonging to their own nations. After the civil war, Jim Crow laws enforced segregation across the defeated south and comprehensively disfranchised African Americans for nearly a century. Writing Mein Kampf in the 1920s, Adolf Hitler praised America’s institutional racism as a model from which Nazi Germany could learn. Only in the postwar period, and then slowly and incompletely, was meaningful racial equality pursued by the land of the free.

Yet, while American racism has extremely deep and tenacious historical roots, without which the events in Virginia on Saturday cannot be properly understood, some large things have changed for the better over the past 60 or so years. Equal rights have been enforced. Equality has been embraced. America has elected a black president. It would be difficult to imagine any US president of this more recent period, of whatever party, who would not have responded to the neo-Nazis and white supremacists in Charlottesville with anything except explicit condemnation and disgust. Any president, that is, until this one.

There is absolutely no moral equivalence between the fanatical white supremacists who rallied in the Virginia city on Saturday and the equality defenders who demonstrated peacefully against them, one of whom was rammed and killed by a speeding car allegedly driven by a man who had attended the neo-Nazi rally. The supremacists hate black people and Jews, and regard white people as superior. They talk portentously about blood, soil and the right to bear arms. They admire Hitler and give Nazi salutes. They fly the flags of the pro-slavery Confederacy – the ostensible cause of their rallies this summer is Charlottesville’s decision, more than 150 years after the south’s surrender, to remove a statue of Robert E Lee from a park. And one of them committed the sort of act that was rightly called terrorism when it occurred in Nice, Berlin and London.

Yet, in his first response on Saturday, Mr Trump utterly failed in his primary duty to uphold equality and speak the truth about the racist violence that had taken place. Instead of placing the blame where it belonged, on the supremacists and Klansmen who triggered these events, and rather than stand up for the indivisibility of equality and tolerance before the law, Mr Trump’s words were by turns slippery, banal and morally compromised. It was not true that the violence in Charlottesville came from “many sides”, as Mr Trump evasively said, before repeating his evasion. It is the head of state’s duty to stand up, explicitly and unequivocally, against racists and those who promote racial violence. Mr Trump was found wanting.

Read the complete article in The Guardian newspaper.

How Trump’s paranoid White House sees ‘deep state’ enemies on all sides

Internal document shows the ‘alt-right’ Steve Bannon wing of the administration’s fervent belief that America is at risk from ‘the Opposition’ – a cabal of bankers, globalists, the media and even Republican leaders.

An extraordinary memo by a former national security official contains a list of Donald Trump’s perceived enemies within, offering an insight into paranoia gripping the White House.

The author, Rich Higgins, was ousted last month by the national security adviser, HR McMaster. But the president reportedly saw the memo when it was passed to him by his son, Donald Trump Jr, and was said to be “furious” at Higgins’s forced departure.

Entitled POTUS & Political Warfare and written in florid pseudo-intellectual language, the memo illustrates the siege mentality that fuels Trump, his chief strategist, Steve Bannon, and the “alt-right” in their endless running battles with the media, the so-called “deep state” and others.

The seven-page document – leaked to Foreign Policy magazine – claims the Trump administration is suffering under “withering information campaigns designed to first undermine, then delegitimize and ultimately remove the president”.

It continues: “Recognizing in candidate Trump an existential threat to cultural Marxist memes that dominate the prevailing cultural narrative, those that benefit recognize the threat he poses and seek his destruction.”

Writing in May this year, Higgins, who was in the strategic planning office at the National Security Council, goes on to identify seven groups that he claims are part of a huge conspiracy to bring the president down.

Higgins’s memo, full of academic jargon and numerous references to Marxism, concludes that the “defense of President Trump is the defense of America” and compares him to Abraham Lincoln, although the hyper-suspicious Richard Nixon might be more accurate.

The memo produced a combination of amusement and fear among analysts. Ken Gude, a senior fellow on the national security team at the Center for American Progress thinktank in Washington, said: “It’s the craziest thing I’ve seen come out of the National Security Council staff, that’s for sure. It’s the bizarre ramblings of a conspiracy theorist. It’s unhinged.”

Gude noted that the list of Trump’s foes “could be read to describe just about everybody except for loyalists. It’s quite alarming to think this is how people close to the president view the world and view the country.”

He added: “It’s in some ways reassuring that this individual was removed but it’s deeply troubling he got there in the first place and it seems to be a reflection of some individuals close to the president. Steve Bannon doesn’t descend into the depths of lunacy this memo expresses but it is a similar worldview that links globalists and Islamists in a world conspiracy.”

Higgins’s removal has been taken as a sign that McMaster, currently under fire from Breitbart, has gained the upper hand in the White House power struggle. The national security adviser has been with Trump at his golf club in Bedminister, New Jersey, this week, whereas Bannon has not. But the so-called Breitbart wing has shown before it should not be counted out.

Gude added: “This faction is losing but as long as they have the ear of the president, and they appear to and he may be one of them, they won’t be talking without influence, so it’s something to be concerned about.”

The overwrought language of the memo – “political warfare as understood by the Maoist Insurgency model” – suggests an author who was trying too hard to impress Bannon and potentially Trump himself. But the broad outline of its ideas are in keeping with the “alt-right” echo chamber.

Joshua Green, author of the new bestseller Devil’s Bargain: Steve Bannon, Donald Trump, and the Storming of the Presidency, said: “The memo itself is so overheated and batty that it doesn’t sound like Bannon. Or it sounds like Bannon if Bannon took a bong before writing it. I’ve never heard him use phrases like ‘cultural Marxist memes’ that Higgins does.”

But he added: “I’m not sure I entirely understand what the point of the memo is or who it’s meant to be read by, but the general paranoia that Trump is under assault by enemies including people in the administration is certainly something in the thinking of people around Bannon.”

Read the complete article on The Guardian newspaper web site.

A new old knitting help site

Sheep at mysimpleknitting.com

A friend of mine has been running a knitting site with tons of knitting instructions and lots of knitting videos since 2011 and needed to expand the site to meet the needs of the million-plus visitors now coming to her site.

For the past several months she and I have been making changes and additions to her knitting site, including a new name; mysimpleknitting.com. We expect it to be finished soon and open to the general public, perhaps in the next week or so.

We have moved her site to her own server, no more shared hosting, increased her offerings to visitors, all the while retaining the fun of knitting and friendliness which so many visitors liked about her site.

Besides the vast amount of knitting instructions and knitting videos she has on her new site there is now an included knitting forum and other handy things for knitters.

In celebration of her six years successfully running her knitting site and to add a little more fun to her new web site, she is offering a playful knitting-related contest in which all her knitting community members can partake in and perhaps win the monthly prize.

Her new site, mysimpleknitting.com, is expected to be open in the next week or two. We’re keeping our fingers crossed that nothing unexpected pops up to delay the opening.

Good coffee is a grind

The Baratza Virtuoso, a $230 coffee grinder, delivered nearly identical results as a $2,700 grinder. Credit Michael Hession

The staff at The Wirecutter and Sweethome, The New York Times’s product evaluation sites, seem just a little obsessed with coffee. They have evaluated a lot of brewing and grinding equipment, so I spoke with Michael Zhao, senior editor at The Wirecutter, about their findings.

Does the equipment make a difference to the coffee?

That depends on the type of coffee drinker you are. Running a $20 bag of freshly roasted single-origin coffee through a blade grinder and a $30 drip machine is like listening to a symphony through a cellphone speaker. If you’re just looking for a quick caffeine fix to get out the door in the morning, a cheaper coffee maker and a bag of preground Dunkin’ Donuts house blend tastes about the same regardless of how you brew it.

Grinders are serious business. Even the best coffee maker will produce bitter or sour results if you start with unevenly ground coffee. Unfortunately, most grinders aren’t consistent, so we borrowed a $2,700 Mahlkonig EK43 grinder and compared its grounds with that of some of the most popular coffee grinders designed for home use.

We started by dialing in the Mahlkonig to optimal drip machine settings according to the roasters at Lofted Coffee in Brooklyn. Then we adjusted our testing units to come as close to that grind as possible. We ground 25 grams with each machine and used a sediment analysis tool to determine how much of the sample fell in the ideal grind size range. The result was pretty shocking. We found a $230 coffee grinder, the Baratza Virtuoso, delivered nearly identical results as the $2,700 grinder.

We went a bit overboard testing the best cheap coffee maker. We brought in seven of the most popular and best-reviewed sub-$100 coffee machines and compared them with what our blind-tasting panel of coffee nerds liked: the $200 Oxo On 9-cup coffee maker.

We started by tasting a single-origin coffee to determine which cheap machine was most acceptable to discerning coffee drinkers, then ran the panel a second time with preground Dunkin’ Donuts house blend from the corner store. The Hamilton Beach 12-Cup Coffee Maker (46201) swept both rounds of testing. It placed second to the Oxo in Round 1 and actually beat the Oxo during the Dunkin’ round.

Read the complete article in The New York Times.

Government Report Finds Drastic Impact of Climate Change on U.S.

A draft report by government scientists concludes that Americans are feeling the effects of climate change right now. Credit Branden Camp/Associated Press

WASHINGTON — The average temperature in the United States has risen rapidly and drastically since 1980, and recent decades have been the warmest of the past 1,500 years, according to a sweeping federal climate change report awaiting approval by the Trump administration.

The draft report by scientists from 13 federal agencies, which has not yet been made public, concludes that Americans are feeling the effects of climate change right now. It directly contradicts claims by President Trump and members of his cabinet who say that the human contribution to climate change is uncertain, and that the ability to predict the effects is limited.

“Evidence for a changing climate abounds, from the top of the atmosphere to the depths of the oceans,” a draft of the report states. A copy of it was obtained by The New York Times.

The report was completed this year and is a special science section of the National Climate Assessment, which is congressionally mandated every four years. The National Academy of Sciences has signed off on the draft report, and the authors are awaiting permission from the Trump administration to release it.

The White House and the Environmental Protection Agency did not immediately return calls or respond to emails requesting comment on Monday night.

The report concludes that even if humans immediately stopped emitting greenhouse gases into the atmosphere, the world would still feel at least an additional 0.50 degrees Fahrenheit (0.30 degrees Celsius) of warming over this century compared with today. The projected actual rise, scientists say, will be as much as 2 degrees Celsius.

A small difference in global temperatures can make a big difference in the climate: The difference between a rise in global temperatures of 1.5 degrees Celsius and one of 2 degrees Celsius, for example, could mean longer heat waves, more intense rainstorms and the faster disintegration of coral reefs.

In the United States, the authors write, the heat wave that broiled Texas in 2011 was more complicated. That year was Texas’ driest on record, and one study cited in the report said local weather variability and La Niña were the primary causes, with a “relatively small” warming contribution. Another study had concluded that climate change made extreme events 20 times more likely in Texas.

Based on those and other conflicting studies, the federal draft concludes that there was a medium likelihood that climate change played a role in the Texas heat wave. But it avoids assessing other individual weather events for their link to climate change. Generally, the report described linking recent major droughts in the United States to human activity as “complicated,” saying that while many droughts have been long and severe, they have not been unprecedented in the earth’s hydrologic natural variation.

Worldwide, the draft report finds it “extremely likely” that more than half of the global mean temperature increase since 1951 can be linked to human influence.

Read the Draft of the Climate Change Report

Read the complete article in the New York Times.

 

Three Donald Trump appointees owe IRS back taxes

At least three of President Donald Trump’s political appointees are drawing taxpayer-funded paychecks while owing the Internal Revenue Service tens of thousands of dollars, a Center for Public Integrity review of federal financial disclosures reveals.

Trump’s appointment of federal debtors to his administration perpetuates a pattern that’s dogged presidential administrations — including that of President Barack Obama — for decades.

Trump himself has yet to address the issue in any meaningful way. Meanwhile, a bill aimed in part at disqualifying serious tax scofflaws from federal employment has languished since Rep. Jason Chaffetz, R-Utah, introduced it in January. (Chaffetz resigned in June.)

“The Trump administration is proving to be no different than any of the others,” said Marcus Owens, a partner at law firm Loeb & Loeb and former director of the IRS’ exempt organizations division. “For senior executives, particularly, there should be some requirement that they should stay current on their taxes.”

White House spokeswoman Natalie Strom declined to answer questions about the White House’s policies on employing people who owe the IRS money or whether Trump himself would like his appointees to retire their IRS debts.

The Trump administration officials’ IRS debts were spotted by reporters and volunteers for #CitizenSleuth, a project launched last month by the Center for Public Integrity and Reveal from the Center for Investigative Reporting. The crowd-sourced investigation is examining detailed financial disclosures from more than 400 top Trump administration officials and nominees, including nearly 190 who reported owing someone money — from student loans to mortgages to credit card debt.

The Trump appointees reporting money owed to the federal government include Justin Clark, a prominent Trump White House aide, who owes up to $50,000 in back taxes, according to disclosure records.

A financial disclosure filed by Clark, the White House director of intergovernmental affairs and a deputy assistant to the president, does not indicate he’s actively paying off his debts through an IRS-approved payment plan. In his role, Clark serves as the White House’s liaison to state, local and tribal governments.

U.S. Department of Agriculture Special Assistant Joe Alexander and White House Liaison for the Corporation for National and Community Service Deborah Cox-Roush, who each also reported owing up to $50,000 in federal taxes, indicate they are on payment plans, according to their financial disclosures.

Reached by phone, Cox-Roush explained that she didn’t withhold enough money from her income earlier this decade, and therefore, got behind on her taxes. She expects to clear her debts in full by September. The White House expressed no concerns to Cox-Roush about her tax situation, she added.

“It’s not been an issue, and I’ve done what the law has allowed me to do,” said Cox-Roush, who according to her LinkedIn resume also serves as director of the Senior Corps. Until June, she worked as a special assistant to U.S. Department of Education Secretary Betsy DeVos.

Clark earns a taxpayer-funded annual salary of $165,000, according to White House records. Alexander, whom ProPublica identified as a “GS-15” employee on the federal pay scale, would earn somewhere from $103,672 and $134,776, based on that designation.

Cox-Roush was a GS-15 employee during her stint at the Department of Education, although it’s unclear how much she earns at her new job. Clark and Alexander, as well as representatives of the Department of Agriculture, did not return requests for comment.

IRS spokesman Bruce Friedland declined to comment on the matter, citing federal privacy laws. In general, the IRS advises that “those who receive a bill from the IRS should not ignore it.”

Strom, the White House spokeswoman, emphasized that federal officials owing the IRS money is “hardly a new practice,” adding: “I’m just wondering why it’s such a big deal that these three people voluntarily disclosed that they owe the IRS money, especially when two of them are even already on a payment plan with the IRS as your records show.”

Indeed, the issue of key federal government officials owing the IRS money isn’t new and dogged the Obama administration, as well.

As for the IRS, Trump is angling to shrink it: His 2018 budget proposal calls for staffing cuts to the bureau. Trump also wants to cut the IRS’ overall budget to $9.65 billion, down from $12.1 billion six years ago and about $11.2 billion last fiscal year. (Congress has indicated it probably won’t cut IRS funding as deeply as Trump would like.)

Trump himself reported no IRS debt on a personal financial disclosure form he filed in June.

He is, however, no stranger to debt, writ large: His latest personal financial disclosures indicate he has at least $315 million of it, largely stemming from business ventures and owed to a variety of foreign and domestic creditors.

Trump, citing an ongoing audit by the IRS, has categorically refused to release his personal tax returns, bucking a practice followed by every major presidential candidate since the 1960s. The IRS itself has stated that “nothing prevents individuals from sharing their own tax information.”

Such documents would reveal Trump’s tax rate, overall tax payments and charitable giving, among other financial information not contained within standard personal financial disclosure documents.

Source: The Centre for Public Integrity.