The Slatest
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Dec. 6 2016 4:14 PM

Trump’s Affection for American Workers Still Doesn’t Extend to Hiring Them at His Palm Beach Resort


Frankly, I have little to add to the thorough reporting of this story by the Palm Beach Post besides my sarcastic headline. You can and should click here to see the piece on the Post's website to help it monetize eyeballs and generate $$$$. But if you're really in a hurry, here's the gist:

  • One of the central tenets of Donald Trump's campaign was that the American economy is being destroyed by unfair competition from foreign workers.
  • During the presidential campaign it was widely reported that Trump had hired hundreds of foreign individuals on temporary visas to staff his Mar-a-Lago resort despite the availability and interest of local (American) workers.
  • Trump won the election, somehow.
  • And, per the Post's new report, he's still hiring foreign workers to staff Mar-a-Lago this winter. This despite what one placement agency describes as the availability of "hundreds of qualified candidates" locally for the relevant positions.

A hypocritical politician! Can you imagine?

Dec. 6 2016 12:49 PM

In a Twist, Trump’s Disputed Twitter Claim About Air Force One Turns Out to Be Completely True


In a piece published Sunday, Slate's Julia Turner predicted that Donald Trump's presidency will be a series of dubious PR stunts that make headlines but have little actual impact on Americans' lives. This prediction seemed to have proved immediately correct when Trump tweeted this morning that Boeing is wasting $4 billion building a new Air Force One:

Boeing soon disputed the claim:

LOL, typical Trump, right? Not this time, friends! Here's Todd Harrison of the nonpartisan Center for Strategic and International Studies:

While it may be true that Boeing's current contract is for $170 million, what Harrison is saying is that the Pentagon (in publicly available documents) has budgeted $4 billion in total spending through 2021 to buy two new Air Force Ones from the company.

So, aside from referring to a single "Air Force One"—which everyone else does too even though there are already actually two such planes—you might say that Trump was ... right?!?!?!?!? I mean, it's subject to interpretation whether $4 billion is too much, but it's certainly a lot, and is the correct figure.

Also, is this the biggest day of Todd Harrison's professional life, or what?

Dec. 6 2016 11:19 AM

Trump Campaign Admits Pizza Sex Conspiracy Weirdo Was Involved in Transition


On Monday, Slate noted that incoming national security adviser Michael T. Flynn's son Michael G. Flynn (who's being referred to as Mike Flynn Jr. in press reports) has promoted, among many other conspiracy theories, the weird ongoing idea that a Washington, D.C., pizzeria is involved in a Hillary Clinton–related Satanic pedophile thing. (An individual who claimed he was present to "investigate" the situation fired a rifle inside the pizzeria on Sunday.) Flynn's son, our post noted, has been assigned a .gov presidential transition email address. Tuesday on Morning Joe, however, VP-elect Mike Pence said that the younger Flynn "has no involvement" in the transition process. Video above; here's the transcript, courtesy of the Washington Post:

MIKE BARNICLE: What’s the level of concern within the national security apparatus about Gen. Flynn’s son?
PENCE: Well, Gen. Flynn’s son has no involvement in the transition whatsoever. Ah, and …
BARNICLE: He has a transition email [address].
PENCE: Well, he has no involvement in the transition whatsoever.
JOE SCARBOROUGH: So you were saying, as the head of the transition, that Flynn’s son is not involved at all in the transition.
PENCE: No, he’s not.

CNN's Jake Tapper, however, reported that Flynn's son has done transition work:

Just a few minutes ago, Trump spokesman Jason Miller confirmed it:

Assuming it's true that Flynn Jr. is no longer working on the transition (we'll see), it looks like Pence was being sneaky by saying he "has no involvement," present tense, rather than "has had no involvement."

One conspiracy theory weirdo who's definitely still involved in the transition is the elder Flynn, who's promoted the Clinton child sex abuse hoax himself. Erratic New York real estate heir Donald Trump, who has praised Sandy Hook and 9/11 truther Alex Jones and who once insinuated on national television that private investigators he'd hired had uncovered evidence that Barack Obama was not born in America, is also expected to play a central role in the incoming administration.

Dec. 6 2016 9:35 AM

Joe Biden May or May Not Have Announced That He’s Running for President in 2020

On Monday night, Joe Biden announced (kind of) that he is planning (maybe) to run for president in 2020. Or something.

NBC’s Kelly O’Donnell and other reporters were with Biden as he left the Senate after presiding over the renaming of the administration’s Cancer Moonshot initiative in honor of his son Beau, who died of brain cancer last year.

Dec. 5 2016 10:33 PM

LeBron James and Teammates Will Boycott Trump-Branded Team Hotel When Playing in New York

The Cleveland Cavs have made alternative accommodation arrangements for its players that do not want to stay at the team hotel, the Trump SoHo, when the team plays the New York Knicks this season, the team general manager David Griffin told Griffin said it’s not totally clear how many of the team’s 14-man traveling squad will boycott the Trump hotel, which was booked before the election, but the team expects LeBron James and “upwards of half the team” to stay elsewhere.

James endorsed Hillary Clinton for president and some of his Cavs teammates, most vocally Iman Shumpert, have said they would consider not going to the White House for the traditional champions celebration, if they won another title during a Trump presidency.  Three other teams—the Dallas Mavericks, the Milwaukee Bucks, and the Memphis Grizzlies—have indicated they will avoid using Trump-branded properties on the road.*

The first of two meetings between the Cavs and the Knicks in New York City is Wednesday.

*Correction, Dec. 7, 2016: This post originally misspelled Milwaukee.

Dec. 5 2016 8:52 PM

Pentagon Commissioned, Then Buried, Report Showing $125 Billion in Bureaucratic Waste

The Washington Post published a lengthy investigation Monday evening into how a Pentagon-commissioned study that found the Department of Defense could save $125 billion in administrative waste was effectively buried by the DoD because it feared the findings would spur Congress to cut its funding. The study produced by the Defense Business Board and McKinsey and Company was issued in January 2015 and, according to the Post, outlined a 5-year plan to save money that “would not have required layoffs of civil servants or reductions in military personnel [and] [i]nstead [-] would have streamlined the bureaucracy through attrition and early retirements, curtailed high-priced contractors and made better use of information technology.”

The report did exactly what it was commissioned to do—find wastage and inefficiency in the non-combat, administrative and support roles within the Defense Department. The report was ordered by the second-highest ranking official at the Pentagon, Deputy Defense Secretary Robert Work. The investigation discovered a tangled bureaucratic web and "that the Pentagon was spending almost a quarter of its $580 billion budget on overhead and core business operations such as accounting, human resources, logistics and property management,” according to the Post. In sum, more than one million contractors were employed doing back-office support tasks for 1.3 million active duty troops.

Here’s more of what was found (via the Post):

In a confidential August 2014 memo, McKinsey noted that while the Defense Department was “the world’s largest corporate enterprise,” it had never “rigorously measured” the “cost-effectiveness, speed, agility or quality” of its business operations. Nor did the Pentagon have even a remotely accurate idea of what it was paying for those operations, which McKinsey divided into five categories: human resources; health-care management; supply chain and logistics; acquisition and procurement; and financial-flow management… The board added a sixth category of business operations — real property management. That alone covered 192,000 jobs and annual expenses of $22.6 billion…
Almost half of the Pentagon’s back-office personnel — 457,000 full-time employees — were assigned to logistics or supply-chain jobs. That alone exceeded the size of United Parcel Service’s global workforce. The Pentagon’s purchasing bureaucracy counted 207,000 full-time workers. By itself, that would rank among the top 30 private employers in the United States. More than 192,000 people worked in property management. About 84,000 people held human-resources jobs…
But the McKinsey consultants had also collected data that exposed how the military services themselves were spending princely sums to hire hordes of defense contractors. For example, the Army employed 199,661 full-time contractors, according to a confidential McKinsey report obtained by The Post. That alone exceeded the combined civil workforce for the Departments of State, Agriculture, Commerce, Education, Energy, and Housing and Urban Development. The average cost to the Army for each contractor that year: $189,188, including salary, benefits and other expenses. The Navy was not much better. It had 197,093 contractors on its payroll. On average, each cost $170,865. In comparison, the Air Force had 122,470 contractors. Each cost, on average, $186,142.

Support for bureaucratic reform began to crumble when the final tally of potential wastage came in and the agency went about discrediting and discarding its findings. The Pentagon yanked the then-public report from its website and slapped secrecy restrictions on the data.

Dec. 5 2016 5:56 PM

Mistrial for Cop Who Shot Walter Scott in the Back


The trial of ex-police officer Michael Slager, who fatally shot unarmed 50-year-old Walter Scott after pulling him over for a broken taillight on April 4, 2015, has ended with a hung jury, forcing the judge who presided over the case for the past month to declare a mistrial.

The outcome leaves prosecutors with the option of putting Slager on trial a second time, with a new jury, and hoping for a different result. According to a press release from the office of Ninth Judicial Circuit Solicitor Scarlett A. Wilson, they will take that bet, and are committed to trying Slager again.

A bystander with a cell phone camera caught Slager firing his gun at Scott eight times as Scott ran from him. The release of the videotape swiftly led to Slager being charged with murder. The fact that the seemingly open-and-shut case against Slager has, for now, ended in a mistrial provides new evidence that the criminal justice system is simply not set up to deliver justice to victims of police misconduct.

Slager’s non-conviction marks at least the third trial in recent memory in which a white police officer charged with killing an unarmed black civilian ended in a hung jury. One of the others took place last month in Cincinnati, Ohio, and centered on the death of Sam Dubose; the second, involving the death of Jonathan Ferrell, happened last year in Charlotte, North Carolina. Last December, in Baltimore, Maryland, the trial of one of the six officers charged in the death of Freddie Gray ended in a mistrial as well.

The jurors tasked with reaching a verdict in the Walter Scott case had three options before them: find Slager guilty of murder, find him guilty of voluntary manslaughter, or acquit him of both. It’s not clear at this point how many of the 12 jurors voted to convict and how many voted to acquit, though an unusual letter written to the judge by one of the jurors on Friday suggested that he or she was the lone holdout arguing for acquittal. That letter prompted Judge Clifton Newman to float the possibility of a mistrial, but at the last second the jury foreman indicated that a unanimous verdict might still be possible if the jury was allowed to continue deliberating. Judge Newman encouraged them to do so, shortly before adjourning court for the weekend.

On Monday morning, the jury submitted a note to the judge asking a set of questions about the law, and reporting that, for the time being, the “majority” of the jurors were “still undecided.” It was not immediately clear whether that meant some of the jurors who appeared to be supportive of a conviction on Friday had changed their minds, or whether earlier reports of an 11-1 split had been incorrect. Several hours after sending the note, the jury informed the court that they still could not reach a unanimous verdict, moving Newman to declare a mistrial.

Slager’s legal defense, as presented to the jury over the past several weeks, was that he had acted in self-defense, and had fired at Scott because Scott had put him in fear for his life by stealing his stun gun from him during a struggle. That claim of self-defense—which would have required the jury to decide Slager had "no other probable way to avoid the danger of death or serious bodily injury"—seemed like it couldn’t possibly fly given that Scott could clearly be seen on the video tape running away from Slager when the officer shot him. And yet, for at least one person on the jury, it did, and that was enough to prevent Slager from being convicted.

Dec. 5 2016 4:57 PM

A Utah Republican Is Challenging Trump More Effectively Than 99 Percent of Democrats


Evan McMullin is the Utah Republican operative who ran for president as a self-described conservative independent. He received 21.5 percent of the vote in Utah but only totaled about 600,000 votes nationwide. In other words, he is 1) not especially well-known and 2) not a Democrat. And yet in the past day alone he has done more than almost any Democratic figure to organize opposition to Donald Trump's kleptocratic and Constitution-hostile tendencies.

Example 1 is this series of tweets that McMullin wrote on Sunday, outlining a set of principles for civic life in Trump's America. Example 2 is the op-ed he wrote Monday in the New York Times called "Trump's Threat to the Constitution." An excerpt:

We cannot allow Mr. Trump to normalize the idea that he is the ultimate arbiter of our rights. Those who can will need to speak out boldly and suffer possible retaliation. Others will need to offer hands of kindness and friendship across the traditional political divide, as well as to those who may become targets because of who they are or what they believe.

Little of what McMullin is saying is radical or surprising. His guidelines are instructions like "Hold members of Congress accountable for protecting our rights and democracy through elections and by making public demands of them now." But there's one part of his analysis that sticks out as relatively original:

We can no longer assume that all Americans understand the origins of their rights and the importance of liberal democracy. We need a new era of civic engagement that will reawaken us to the cause of liberty and equality.

McMullin has been keeping close tabs on the details of Trump's transition, and he compliments and engages with liberals who share his Trump-related concerns. He clearly thinks of himself as being involved on a day-to-day level in a new movement, one with the goal of restrengthening the democratic, constitutional, and not-being-openly-racist norms that Trump and his army of white nationalist hacks have spent the last 18 months peeing on. And it should embarrass the Democratic Party, which reacted to Trump's election by recertifying the longstanding leader of its perennially irrelevant House minority that a Utah Republican is doing a more active job of organizing this new opposition coalition than most of the party's ostensible leaders. (Look at that list—and ignore Harry Reid, who's retiring—and you'll get all the way to Elizabeth Warren before you find someone who's done anything in the past month that's registered in the national news.)

I was recently and appropriately chastised, in a despondent email exchange with a friend who works in Democratic politics, for being too smug in my 20-20 hindsight criticism of the people who worked to elect Hillary Clinton and/or believed in her candidacy. But it's simply a statement of fact to say that the current Democratic Party—the one that has produced such classic object lessons in failed play-it-safe-ism as "vice presidential nominee Tim Kaine"—isn't reaching enough voters to adequately defend basic American principles.

There are, fortunately, a huge number of Americans who abhor Trump and what he's doing—but most of them exist outside the apparatus of the existing Democratic Party. I don't know for certain that Democrats could rally them and retake Congress in 2018 by giving more power and attention to figures like Bernie Sanders, Elizabeth Warren, and Chris Murphy, whose personalities and positions resonate on Facebook, or by organizing new activist groups and communities around opposition to Trumpism and commitment to equality before the law. But I do know that the other party has successfully used that model—has ridden its own social-media-fueled wave of popular discontent—into control of all three branches of government. Shouldn't the Democrats at the least be trying out something other than business as usual?

Dec. 5 2016 4:00 PM

How the Close U.S.-Mexico Partnership Could Unravel Under Trump

This is the fifth in a series of posts looking at how Donald Trump’s presidency could impact countries and regions around the world.

Where would Donald Trump be without Mexico to beat up on? As a candidate, Trump loved to make fun of his competitors—from little Marco to lyin’ Ted to Jeb Bush. He never had a nice word to say about Muslims and threatened to jail Hillary Clinton. But his absolute favorite punching bag, which he returned to with remarkable consistency for such an inconsistent guy, was Mexico.

Trump announced his candidacy with an infamous description of Mexican immigrants as criminals and rapists. The construction of a wall along the southern U.S. border became his signature pledge, along with the bizarre insistence that Mexico, those wussies, would pay for it. And he used the North American Free Trade Agreement as a highly-effective bludgeon against both his Republican primary rivals and Hillary Clinton.

Since Trump’s unexpected election, Mexico has reacted with dismay. The value of the peso, which rose and fell throughout the U.S. campaign in inverse correlation with Trump’s poll numbers, has plummeted. Mexico’s Central Bank has cut the country’s growth forecast, with its chief comparing Trump to a “category five hurricane” for the Mexican economy just before announcing his resignation. The government has also instructed its consulates in the United States to step up services to protect immigrants from harassment and deportation.  

At home, President Enrique Pena Nieto’s government has been downplaying the impact of Trump, saying it’s too soon to know what he’ll do once he’s in office. “This contrasts radically with what people in Mexico are feeling,” says John Ackerman, a professor at the Institute for Legal Research of the National Autonomous University of Mexico. “There’s a generalized fear and anger at Pena Nieto himself for having played a part in bringing Trump to power and for his total passivity to defend Mexican interests, sovereignty, and the rights of Mexicans in the United States.”

Nieto controversially invited Trump to a meeting in Mexico City in August. It was a grave miscalculation: The trip accomplished the impressive task of making Trump looks somewhat statesmanlike, while doing almost nothing to moderate his rhetoric on trade or immigration. The result of the election is a further blow to an already unpopular government’s standing.

So what will Trump’s election actually mean for Mexico? Right now, Mexican officials are scrambling to figure just how serious Trump was about those campaign pledges. Is Trump really going to build the wall? He and his surrogates are already backing away from the idea that the entire border will be walled, but given how central it was to his campaign, it’s hard to imagine the idea will be abandoned completely. “The symbolism of it is much more important than the physical wall,” says Tom Payan, director of the Mexico Center at Rice University’s Baker Institute for Public Policy. “Mexico saw itself as becoming a true strategic partner of the United States. And all of a sudden, there’s a wall going up, whether it’s partial or total or whatever, it sends a signal that ‘you do not belong here.’”

Mexico has presidential elections in 2018 and is certainly not immune to the anti-establishment mood sweeping democracies everywhere. Payan notes that there’s been “remarkable consensus” between Nieto’s PRI party, and its main rival, the PAN, on the U.S.-Mexico relationship. “They really believed that they were becoming part of a larger North American platform with the United States and Canada,” he told me. But then, “all of a sudden they realized that the relationship is more frail then they thought.”

If Mexicans turn on both parties, the likely beneficiary is more in the mold of Bernie Sanders than Trump: Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador, the left-wing former Mayor of Mexico City and perennial presidential candidate. “He is the one person in Mexico that is perfectly well positioned to take advantage of this,” says Payan. “He is perfectly positioned to take up a more nationalistic discourse. He can say that he is the rescuer of dignity, because Mexicans are feeling a little humiliated.” Obrador is no Hugo Chavez, but his election following Trump’s would likely mark the end of the ever closer political and economic partnership between the U.S. and Mexico.

In Trump’s mercantilist worldview, trade is a zero-sum game and Mexico is “beating” the U.S. by undercutting American manufacturers. This is why Trump says he wants to get rid of NAFTA. But Mexico also buys more American products than any country except Canada, and many of the goods that are counted as imports are actually partly produced in the United States. An estimated 6 million U.S. jobs depend on trade with Mexico. A complete trade breakdown could be disastrous for both countries.

Unlike other deals Trump says he will renegotiate or cancel—the Paris Agreement on climate change, the Iran nuclear agreement, the diplomatic opening to Cuba, to name a few—Trump would need Congressional approval to renegotiate NAFTA, which, given how difficult the deal was to get approved in the first place, could bog down his entire presidency. Nieto says Mexico is not open to renegotiating this agreement. If Trump simply pulls the U.S. out of the deal, the impact might not be massive, since tariffs would still be low between the two countries, who are both in the World Trade Organization. If Trump starts imposing tariffs on Mexican imports, the likely result would be a trade war with Mexico imposing tariffs on its own. This would wreak havoc on the U.S. markets and likely increase the prices of many U.S. goods. It would also grind the Mexican economy—heavily dependent on exports, 80 percent of which go to the U.S.—to a halt, which could have the ironic effect of driving more increasingly desperate Mexican workers to seek jobs north of the border.

There’s one more way the deterioration of ties with Mexico could actually lead to more immigrants coming to the U.S. Contrary to Trump’s campaign rhetoric, immigration from Mexico has been slowing and even saw a net loss last year. But the number of migrants from Central American countries coming to the U.S. through Mexico, including the well-documented cases of unaccompanied minors seeking asylum, have been high. Under U.S. pressure, Mexico launched a program in 2014 to block these migrants. It hasn’t been particularly effective and has been rife with corruption and human rights abuses, but under a Trump administration, Mexico could conceivably abandon the program altogether, leading to more migrants making the trip to the U.S. border.

Earlier in Slate:

Dec. 5 2016 3:02 PM

It’s Not Just Pizzagate. Son of Trump’s National Security Adviser Believes Other Vile Things Too.

On Sunday, Edgar Maddison Welch walked into a popular pizzeria in Washington, D.C., carrying an assault rifle and opened fire, according to police. His reason? Authorities say the 28-year-old man from North Carolina claims he was there to “self-investigate” a conspiracy theory that Hillary Clinton was running a child sex ring out of the back of the neighborhood restaurant.

First thing’s first: There is absolutely no credible evidence—zero—that Clinton or anyone else is running a child sex ring out of Comet Ping Pong. The establishment’s owner, James Alefantis, is friends with a few prominent Democrats and was a Clinton supporter, but as the New York Times reported last month, “he has never met her, does not sell or abuse children, and is not being investigated by law enforcement for any of these claims.”

That, however, hasn’t stopped the fact-free “Pizzagate” conspiracy theory from gaining purchase in the more extreme corners of the internet, and Alefantis and his employees have increasingly been the subject of harassment online and off in recent weeks, culminating in Sunday’s shooting. Thankfully, no one was physically injured during that incident, but the fact it happened at all would hopefully be enough to convince people to stop spreading the spurious story. Of course that’s not the world we live in these days.

Exhibit A: Michael G. Flynn, the son of retired Lt. Gen. Michael T. Flynn, whom President-elect Donald Trump has tapped to be his national security adviser. Flynn Jr. sent this out after the attack:

Flynn subsequently retweeted a message from a Trump supporter suggesting that he was simply urging the news media to fully debunk the story, though he quickly abandoned any such pretense when he spent part of Sunday retweeting other Pizzagate peddlers. He also shared direct messages purportedly from CNN’s Jake Tapper, who appears to have admirably taken Flynn to task.* Tapper, according to the shared screenshots, privately told Flynn “spreading this nonsense is dangerous”; Flynn responded publicly by claiming Tapper was “trolling” his family.

Junior is more than just his father’s son. He’s also served as his dad’s chief of staff, an employee at his consulting firm, and an editor of his books. This is the man who will advise the man who will advise Donald Trump on issues of national security. What he thinks—and, sadly, what he tweets—matters. It’s worth noting, then, that his foray into Pizzagate was hardly an isolated trip into the land of dangerous speculation and hate.

The younger Flynn’s social feeds are a hot bed of conspiracy theories along with homophobic and/or racially charged missives, as CNN’s Andrew Kaczynski and Nathan McDermott documented on Monday:

Flynn frequently shares unfounded conspiracy theories, like ones claiming Hillary Clinton and President Obama would be tried for treason if Trump is elected. He also posted a unfounded story claiming hackers would release a video of former President Bill Clinton raping a teenage girl. In one post, he called alt-right social commentator Mike Cernovich, who frequently shares unfounded news stories, "a source I trust."
In a Facebook post from October, Flynn shared a fake news story claiming Obama flaunted an erection to female reporters in 2008. Flynn tweeted multiple times unfounded claims about Sen. Marco Rubio's "coke house, gayish dance troupe, and foam parties." These tweets included a baseless article about Rubio being a homosexual who lived in a drug house and went to "foam parties" where "mutual masturbation is an occasional component, generally beneath the cover of foam."

None of that is grounded in anything resembling reality. But it’s stuff Flynn Jr. thinks the world, and presumably his father, should know about.

The younger Flynn often peppers his Twitter timeline and Facebook page with references and links to InfoWars, an online clearinghouse of conspiracy theories, and CNN captured screenshots of since-deleted tweets from him that were racially charged. One replied to a Vox story about whites-only dating sites with this rejoinder in January 2016: "soooo African Americans can have B.E.T. but whites can't have their own dating site? Hmmm.” The other, posted the day after the 2012 Election Day, claimed that “the only reason minorities voted for [Barack Obama] is the color of his skin and NOT for the issues.”

The elder Flynn will not need Senate confirmation to become Trump’s national security adviser. Flynn Jr., according to CNN, already has a presidential transition email address. It seems both will fit in just fine with their new boss.

*Correction, Dec. 5, 2016: An earlier version of this post misspelled Tapper's first name.