Wednesday, December 23, 2020


CNN recently reported:
Conspiracist lawyer Sidney Powell, disgraced former national security adviser Michael Flynn, onetime chief strategist Steve Bannon, hawkish trade adviser Peter Navarro and the eccentric founder of the retail website Overstock have all recently found themselves in the Oval Office or on the telephone advising Trump on new last-ditch efforts to reverse his loss.
But what else are they talking to him about -- particularly Bannon and Navarro, Bannon's fellow anti-globalist? I think I detect their influence in Trump's attack on the coronavirus relief bill:
President Trump on Tuesday night asked Congress to amend the nearly $900 billion stimulus bill passed just one day before, describing the legislation as “a disgrace” and suggesting he would not immediately sign off on aid for millions of Americans.

In a video posted to Twitter, Trump called on Congress to increase the “ridiculously low” $600 stimulus checks to $2,000 and outlined a list of provisions in the overall package of legislation that he described as “wasteful spending and much more.”
Here's the video:

Most reporting on the video has focused on the demand for larger checks, which makes the president seem, at long last, like the potential ally to the Democrats that the mainstream media has always wanted him to be. But note how Trump begins his speech:
Throughout the summer, Democrats cruelly blocked COVID relief legislation in an effort to advance their extreme left wing agenda and influence the election. Then a few months ago, Congress started negotiations on a new package to get urgently needed help to the American people. It’s taken forever. However, the bill they are now planning to send back to my desk is much different than anticipated. It really is a disgrace.

For example, among the more than 5,000 pages in this bill, which nobody in Congress has read because of its length and complexity, it’s called the COVID Relief Bill, but it has almost nothing to do with COVID. This bill contains $85.5 million for assistance to Cambodia, $134 million to Burma, $1.3 billion for Egypt and the Egyptian military, which will go out and buy almost exclusively Russian military equipment. $25 million for democracy and gender programs in Pakistan, $505 million to Belize, Costa Rica, El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras, Nicaragua, and Panama.
It's a classic paleoconservative complaint about the very existence of foreign aid.

These provisions are in the bill because Congress folded COVID relief into a larger spending bill. The New York Times reports:
The president ... seized on congressional leaders’ decision to pass the relief bill by combining it with a broader spending plan to fund government operations and the military.
That implies that a well-informed Trump critiqued Congress for putting COVID relief in a larger bill. There's no evidence that Trump actually understands that that's what happened. As far as I can tell, he just thinks Congress called it a COVID bill and then loaded it up with unrelated goodies.

Trump went to complain:
$40 million for the Kennedy Center in Washington, DC, which is not even open for business. $1 billion for the Smithsonian and an additional $154 million for the National Gallery of Art. Likewise, these facilities are essentially not open.

$7 million for reef fish management, $25 billion to combat Asian carp, $2.5 million to count the number of amberjack fish in the Gulf of Mexico. A provision to promote the breeding of fish in federal hatcheries, $3 million in poultry production technology, $2 million to research the impact of down trees, $566 million for construction projects at the FBI.
These are old-fashioned right-wing complaints about the very existence of government spending. Only after this do we get a complaint about the size of the checks, and it's folded into Bannonesque (or possibly Stephen Miller-esque) immigrant-bashing.
The bill also allows stimulus checks for the family members of illegal aliens, allowing them to get up to $1,800 each. This is far more than the Americans are given. Despite all of this wasteful spending and much more, the $900 billion package provides hardworking taxpayers with only $600 each in relief payments and not enough money is given to small businesses.
Bannon postures as a populist. (Remember 2017, when he was a White House adviser and he let it be known that he favored raising the top marginal tax rate on rich people from 39.6% to 44%? And then it dropped to 37%?) Bannon is a cultural nationalist. Bannon wants everything blown up, because he's looking forward to some sort of historical "turning" that he expects to Change Everything.

I'm not saying that the entire video was Bannon's idea. One part of the speech seemed to come straight from Trump's heart:
And in particular, restaurants, whose owners have suffered so grievously. They were only given a deduction for others to use in business, their restaurant, for two years. This two year period must be withdrawn, which will allow the owners to obtain financing and get their restaurants back in condition. Congress can terminate it at a much later date, but two years is not acceptable. It’s not enough.
But I suspect Bannon was a major influence.


ON THE OTHER HAND: There's this:
On Tuesday’s broadcast of the Fox News Channel’s “Hannity,” House Freedom Caucus Chairman Andy Biggs (R-AZ) stated that the coronavirus relief bill “should be vetoed” by President Donald Trump via a pocket veto, “and I’m hoping it will be.”

Biggs said, “Well, I — this is the worst bill, and it typifies the swamp. Because it’s terrible, both from a process and a substantive point of view.”
Biggs is one of several House crazies Trump has been meeting with in his efforts to get the election results overturned. I'm sure they all hate the bill and have told him it's bad. But I don't think any of them would recommend larger stimulus checks.


UPDATE: I'm probably wrong to ascribe this to Bannon. The list of foreign aid appropriations seems to have been making the right-wing rounds for a couple of days. Here's a Monday post in the comments section of a Breitbart story that provides a different list of foreign aid recipients:

And also from Monday, in the comments for an AP story in Maryland's Free Lance-Star:

Cambodia and Burma top these commenters' lists of outrages, as they top Trump's. I'm not sure where this ultimately comes from, though.

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