Nel's New Day

July 19, 2017

DDT Dominates Media–Again

The interview of Dictator Donald Trump (DDT) by a New York Time report sucked the energy out of any other news today, perhaps for good reason because of the outrageous–and false–statements he made:

  • If he had known that current AG Jeff Sessions would have accused himself from the Russia investigation, he would not have appointment Sessions for his position. [Is the U.S. now on resignation watch for Sessions?]
  • The investigation in Russia’s involvement in the United States—including DDT’s campaign—suffers from conflicts of interest because the lead investigator, Robert Mueller, interviewed for FBI director. DDT claims for have far more conflicts of interest about Mueller that he will reveal “at some point.”
  • Mueller would cross a “red line” if he looks into DDT’s family finances.
  • Rod Rosenstein was wrong for appointing Mueller as special prosecutor because he’s only a “deputy,” and DDT was irritated after he learned that Rosenstein was from Baltimore. “There are very few Republicans in Baltimore, if any.”
  • He complained that Mr. Rosenstein had in effect been on both sides when it came to Mr. Comey. The deputy attorney general recommended Mr. Comey be fired but then appointed Mr. Mueller, who may be investigating whether the dismissal was an obstruction of justice. “Well, that’s a conflict of interest,” Mr. Trump said. “Do you know how many conflicts of interests there are?”
  • Former FBI director James Comey lied in his Senate Intelligence Committee testimony—according to DDT. Also Comey told DDT about the salacious allegations against him to gain leverage with DDT.

Senate Democrats need to be careful about voting to confirm Christopher Wray, a lawyer with a past in supporting money laundering and torture, for the FBI director. Wray gave all the right answers in his confirmation hearings, but so did others such as Supreme Court Chief Justice John Roberts who reversed their opinions the instant that they were confirmed. During his interview with the NYT, DDT delivered revisionist history about the FBI when he stated that the director reported “out of courtesy” to the Department of Justice during Richard Nixon’s presidential term. DDT said that “the FBI person really reports directly to the President of the United States.” The FBI website states:

“Within the U.S. Department of Justice, the FBI is responsible to the attorney general, and it reports its findings to U.S. Attorneys across the country. The FBI’s intelligence activities are overseen by the Director of National Intelligence.”

The president can fire the FBI director, as DDT proved a few months ago, but he can’t tell him what to do. DDT followed his falsehood with the statement, “I think we’re going to have a great new FBI director.” That discussion was interrupted by the appearance of DDT’s daughter, Ivanka, and his granddaughter, Arabella, but the allusion was obvious.

The interview also delved into DDT’s lengthy discussion with Russian President Vladimir Putin at a G20 Summit dinner almost two weeks ago but was just revealed yesterday. That talk had only three people in attendance—DDT, Putin, and Putin’s translator. DDT had no translator, and no one from the United States was a witness. In the interview, DDT described the hour-long conversation as about 15 minutes in length and concentrating on “pleasantries.” He mentioned that it was about adoption, originally given as the focus of a meeting of eight people, including DDT’s son-in-law Jared Kushner and son Donald Jr., a year ago. Jr. later said the meeting was really about Russia offering dirt on Hillary Clinton. Putin also banned adoptions of Russian children in 2012 because the U.S. sanctioned Russians about human rights abuses.

DDT gave Putin a gift today when he ended the CIA’s covert program to arm and train moderate Syrian rebels battling the government of Bashar al-Assad. President Obama started the program in 2013 to put pressure on Assad, so DDT accomplished two goals today—pleasing Putin and wiping out another program from the last administration. Putin and DDT had agreed to back the ceasefire in southwest Syria, but the plan did not require the elimination of the training program. Russia has been firing on the CIA-backed rebels fighting against ISIS, and a U.S. official said, “Putin won in Syria.” Charles Lister, senior fellow at the Middle East Institute, said the DDT’s actions “are making the moderate resistance more and more vulnerable…. We are really cutting them off at the neck.” The U.S. may no longer be able to stop other countries such as Turkey and Middle East allies from providing anti-Assad rebels and other more radical groups with sophisticated weapons. Officials have seen the program as a bargaining chip for Russian concessions about Syria’s future.

The NYT reported:

“The dinner discussion caught the attention of other leaders around the table, some of whom later remarked privately on the odd spectacle of an American president seeming to single out the Russian leader for special attention at a summit meeting that included some of the United States’ staunchest, oldest allies.”

No one has any notes from the meeting except for Putin, meaning that the U.S. has no record of discussions, disclosures, and promises. In his first meeting with Putin at G20, DD accepted Putin’s denials of Russian interference and claimed that the U.S. were “exaggerating” the affect of Russia on the presidential election.

Russia also gave DDT permission to name Jon Huntsman, former Utah governor and presidential candidate, as ambassador to Russia. His name was tossed out four months ago, but he wasn’t officially nominated until Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Ryabkov met at the State Department with Undersecretary of State Thomas Shannon.

Since DDT’s talk with Putin, Secretary of State Rex Tillerson is considering the elimination of his cybersecurity office. The U.S. was the first country to have a high-level cyber diplomat role. This week, Tillerson fired Christopher Painter, the person in this job. Doing away with the position would make the U.S. the only major country without a leader whose job is to reduce cyberattacks, abdicating the role to Russia and China.

DDT’s interview was a distraction from the “no confidence” resolution that 25 Democratic representatives filed today. The resolution has no chance of passing in the GOP-dominated chamber, but it publicizes the 88 reasons for declaring DDT unsuitable to hold his current office. Rep. Steve Cohen (D-TN) defined the resolution as “an attempt at political intervention.” He said that the resolution details “misdeeds and actions that give people lack of confidence in him and the direction he is taking our country.” Among them are DDT’s refusal to release his taxes, verbal attacks on women and the press, withdrawal from a vital climate agreement, payments from foreign powers, firing the FBI director during an investigation, and indiscriminate use of Twitter. Cohen said that DDT’s track record reveals “a president that you wouldn’t want your children to look up to.”

“The way he talks about women, the press, the language he uses, the use of Twitter — you don’t want him to be a role model. It’s injurious to our culture, and it’s injurious to … our foreign policy.”

Co-sponsor Judy Chu (D-CA) said:

“We have a president who actively undermines the very principles of our government, and a Republican Congress that makes excuses for him as though his behaviour were normal. It is not normal. Trump’s behavior is cruel, unethical and it is driving people’s faith in government to dangerously low levels.”

About DDT’s second, just revealed, meeting with Putin, Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee (D-TX) said, “This is not the behavior of the leader of the free world.”

The Democrats also criticized GOP representative for defending DDT’s actions. A bill to appoint an outside prosecutor has only two Republican supporters, Reps. Walter Jones (R-NC) and Justin Amash (R-MI).  Capitol Hill Republicans for defending Trump’s actions and his unconventional approach to governing.

In today’s news, a major story was Sen. John McCain’s diagnosis of brain cancer. He is indeed fortunate to have excellent health care provided by the government.

July 18, 2017

U.S. House Produces Mixed Results

Most media attention on Congress has targeted the Senate, but the House keeps chugging along. The 2018 budget plan goes to committee tomorrow with a partial repeal of Dodd-Frank in order to stop protecting consumers plus a reduction of $203 billion for financial industry regulations, federal employee benefits, the safety net, etc. to pay for tax cuts and military. Defense spending would increase over the next decade as nondefense discretionary declines to $424 billion from $554 billion. Like senators, representative factions are split between far more cuts to the safety net and opposition to the proposed ones.

Unlike Dictator Donald Trump’s (DDT) assumption of a four-percent growth, the House Budget Committee expects a 2.6 percent annual average. The nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office forecasts a 1.9 percent growth in the economy for the next decade.  The House budget plan also assumes that their repeal of the Affordable Care Act will pass.

Last week the House Appropriations Committee passed a $20 billion spending bill to fund federal agencies, including $1.6 billion to build DDT’s wall against Mexico. The bill includes a measure preventing the IRS from enforcing the 63-year-old law preventing churches from backing political candidates. Another provision in the bill is taking control of funding for the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau from the Federal Reserve.

Congress—meaning both chambers—must pass a budget by October 1 to avoid another embarrassing and expensive government shutdown similar to the one in 2013. Rep. Mark Meadows (R-NC), House Freedom Caucus chair, said that his members won’t vote for any budget without constructing the wall. They also claim that they won’t vote for the budget bill because they haven’t seen it. Ryan needs the Caucus because they comprise 31 of the 240 Republicans in the House; passing a bill requires 218 votes. Representatives from districts along the Mexico border are largely opposed to a wall between Mexico and the United States.

The House is still largely ignoring a Senate bill, passed 98-2, that imposes greater sanctions on Russia and limits DDT’s ability to lift them. House Speaker Paul Ryan (R-WI) said that the bill should have originated in the House after DDT lobbied the House to weaken the bill. Special interests in energy are now opposing the bill. Despite the Democratic support for the bill in the senate, Ryan is blaming Democrats for the slowdown.

The House did manage to pass two anti-immigration bills. The first cuts off some federal grants from cities that do not go beyond federal law in cooperating with immigration authorities, and the other creates tougher sentences for criminals illegally entering the U.S. several times.  The second bill was based on a woman killed by a man who had been deported to Mexico five times; DDT had used her as a symbol during his campaign. The Senate will probably not survive the Senate, especially the first one opposed by law enforcement groups. The National Fraternal Order of Police wrote House leaders that “withholding needed assistance to law enforcement agencies—which have no policymaking role—also hurts public safety efforts.”

Even GOP representative couldn’t swallow the massive cuts to the UN peacekeeping budget that its ambassador Nikki Haley touted on behalf of DDT. Rep. Kay Granger (R-TX) pointed out “our leadership is irreplaceable.” Appropriations Committee Chair Rodney Frelinghuysen (R-NJ) said the cuts are not “sustainable or advisable” if the U.S. wants to maintain its status as a global leader.

The House did give DDT a bloated defense budget of $696 billion, more than his requested $603 billion. To survive, the budget needs to cut a deal to increase or repeal the sequestration caps that the GOP supported in 2013. A proposal to end the 2001 Authorization of Use of Military Force remained in the budget, but an amendment passed to require an administration strategy to defeat ISIS and an assessment of whether the 2001 AUMF is adequate to accomplish the strategy.

Rep. Vicky Hartzler (R-MO) lost her amendment to bar the Pentagon from paying for grender transition services when 24 Republicans joined Democrats to kill the measure. Twenty-seven GOP House representatives, including Oregon’s Greg Walden, joined the Democrats to oppose lawmakers who tried expand DDT’s religious profiling and Islamophobic policies. The failed amendment would have required the Secretary of Defense to “conduct strategic assessments of the use of violent or unorthodox Islamic religious doctrine to support extremist or terrorist messaging.”

Another loss for the GOP came from 46 Republicans voting against with their caucus to defeat an amendment to the Pentagon’s budget to eradicate language about climate change’s threat. The defense policy calls climate change a “direct threat” to national security and requires analysis about its affect on the military. The House voted 185-234 to keep this language by voting down the amendment. Justification for the language in the Defense Department included the rising sea levels threatening military installations and disasters of drought and floods that exacerbate instability and increase extremist insurrections and war. Defense Secretary James Mattis has already stated that climate change is “a real-time issue, not some distant what-if” and “impacting stability in areas of the world where our troops are operating today.”

One House member who may find himself embroiled in the DDT/Russia collusion is Oversight Committee Chair Trey Gowdy (SC). His super PAC accepted a great deal of money at the same time that the House Intelligence Committee began his investigation into the collusion. Gowdy defended himself by saying that “it’s not unusual for Russians to contact campaigns.” Yes, it is, and how does Gowdy know about these contacts? He also faces an ethics complaint about the possibility of bribes for his actions connected to Hillary Clinton’s debunked Benghazi investigation.

Gowdy has demanded that every DDT official disclose all communications with Russia before they come “out on the front page of the newspaper.” He wouldn’t admit that there is a problem with Russian collusion, but he wants the distraction to stop. Yet he admitted that “four or five statutes [could be] impacted” and “trusts” special investigator Robert Mueller “to sort all that out.” Mueller has 16 attorneys in his team of 25 people looking into Russian interference.

Things between the House and the White House may grow even more tense, if possible. Devil’s Bargain, a new book from Bloomberg’s Joshua Green, states that white supremacist Steve Bannon, back in WH favor, called Ryan “a limpd**k mother**ker.” Green wrote that the comment from DDT’s chief strategist came from the suggestion of Ryan as a DDT alternative is the RNC were contested. Breitbart.com, Bannon’s former website, launched critical pieces about Ryan. Can this be the first of “kiss and tell” books about DDT—without the kiss?

Ryan has expressed dismay at the senate failure to pass a healthcare bill after the House found 217 votes for Trumpcare months ago. He said that the House will move forward on tax “reform” (aka cuts for the wealthy). Passing the House health care bill has been profitable from some U.S. representative who bought stock in health insurance companies. As the bill moved forward in late March, GOP congressional members invested, i.e., Rep. Mike Conaway (R-TX), $30,000 and Sen. James Inhofe (R-OK), $50,000-$100,000.

Shortly after Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) pulled the vote on its second bill for Trumpcare, he declared that the Senate would vote for a repeal of the Affordable Care Act and then replace it later. That plan didn’t work either. Senators who opposed the harshness of the Trumpcare bill are already voicing their opposition. And one possible GOP vote—Sen. John McCain—is still in Arizona. Plus McConnell will need 60, not 50, votes because a repeal won’t fall under the reconciliation process. Yet McConnell plans to move ahead with a vote next week

Ryan was surprised when some women representatives objected to the enforcement of a dress code preventing sleeveless tops and open-toed shoe. Rep. Jackie Spiers (D-CA) initiated “Sleeveless Friday,” a day when the temperature in Washington, D.C. was 97 degrees. Twenty-five women gathered for a photo op on the steps of Congress. Three-fourths of the women in the House are Democrats, but the protest crossed party lines.

Some people may complain about the women making a big deal of a small thing. At this time, however, the Republicans in the House are making a small thing of a big deal—DDT’s conflicts of interest, lack of tax returns, violent and threatening tweets, Russian connections, etc.

July 17, 2017

Waiting for McCain: Senate Struggles

Senators were so desperate to avoid their constituents that they decided to stay in Washington, D.C. for two weeks of their summer recess, departing August 11 soon after DDT’s 200th day. Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) had planned to pass the health Trumpcare bill at the end of this week because he wanted major legislation by the end of Dictator Donald Trump’s (DDT) 200th day. That might make up for almost nothing done during DDT’s first 100 days. McConnell’s little train went off the rails, however.

First, McConnell had two definite defections from either end of the political spectra. Sen. Susan Collins (R-ME) opposed the second bill that McConnell’s staffers wrote because it was more punitive than the first one. Sen. Rand Paul (R-KY) said he wouldn’t vote for the bill because it gave people too much health care. The second senate bill came from Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX) who wants people to save money by buying substandard insurance plans. These would provide almost no care with prohibitively high deductibles, but the premiums might be lower.

Even big guns in the health insurance industry pointed out flaws in the new Trumpcare bill. In a letter to McConnell and Sen. Chuck Schumer (D-NY), Blue Cross/Blue Shield and the insurance industry lobby group America’s Health Insurance Plans (AHIP) called the most recent Trumpcare plan “unworkable in any form.” They wrote that the plan “would undermine protections for those with pre-existing medical conditions, increase premiums and lead to widespread terminations of coverage for people currently enrolled in the individual market.” The letter also asserted that a “single risk pool” would establish “two systems of insurance for healthy and sick people.” The bill has two pools—one for regular policyholders and another for the very sick. According to the letter’s authors, “millions of more individuals will become uninsured” with the proposed “risk pool.”

The second serious hitch for McConnell was Sen. John McCain’s (R-AZ) surgery in Arizona to remove a blood clot above his eye. McConnell delayed a vote to take healthcare from millions until McCain was back from his surgery paid for by the taxpayers. The first expectations were a week of recovery, but surgeons who performed the craniotomy are now less optimistic. He might not be able to vote on Trumpcare for several weeks. McCain’s blood clot was discovered during a routine physical, the kind of preventative care provided by the Affordable Care Act that Republicans hope to take from people if McCain gets back to Washington. The ACA Medicaid expansions in 30 states and D.C. increased preventative services for 5.4 percent more low-income childless adults in the past year.

If only Collins and Paul had defected, the remaining 50 GOP senators could have passed Trumpcare with VP Mike Pence casting the tie vote. But Sen. Ron Johnson (R-WI) indicated that he might join Collins and Paul because of  his irritation about McConnell’s assurances to moderate Republicans. The majority leader said, “The bill’s deepest Medicaid cuts are far into the future, and they’ll never go into effect anyway. McConnell finally pulled the vote on Trumpcare after Sens. Jerry Moran (R-KS) and Mike Lee (R-UT) dropped their support to even proceed to a vote. Moran stated:

“We should not put our stamp of approval on bad policy. Furthermore, if we leave the federal government in control of everyday healthcare decisions, it is more likely that our healthcare system will devolve into a single-payer system, which would require a massive federal spending increase.”

The senate debacle occurred after DDT hosted GOP senators for dinner at the White House. Sen. Lamar Alexander (R-TN), health committee chair, one of the invitees, was also one of those who wasn’t committed to voting in favor of the bill. A media whip count found only eleven GOP senators, mostly elected leaders and chairs of committees negotiating the bill, who fully supported Trumpcare. With Moran and Lee pairing up to deny Trumpcare, no GOP senator is in danger of being the third “no” in a vote.

Like the House, the Senate figured that if people didn’t like the first bill for healthcare, they would create a worse one. In addition to Cruz’s idea of ending federal subsidies and regulations, it still allows insurers to reject people with pre-existing conditions, reinstitutes lifetime coverage caps, and eliminates coverage of essential benefits such as maternity care. McConnell’s bill retains 80 percent of taxes that earlier versions would repeal, but reduction in Medicaid still offsets these taxes. The $100 billion tax break for people who open health care savings accounts gives to the wealthy, the only people who have enough money to establish these accounts. The bill also gives $70 billion to insurers as protection against the bill’s turbulence, but that action didn’t satisfy the health insurance industry. In its opposition to the bill, AHIP issued a press release entitled, “Policies that increase uncertainty or threaten instability should be avoided.”

As bad as the Trumpcare bill is, the process may be even worse. Senate staffers wrote a health bill that even GOP members of the health care committee couldn’t see, and the GOP leaders said they were proud to be part of a “transparent and open” process. They declared that the Democrats were far more secretive about passing the bill. The Affordable Care Act had over 100 hearings; Trumpcare has none, despite suggestions for having hearings now that the vote has been delayed. Trumpcare is the least popular bill in 30 years and growing less popular every day. Twice as many people support “Obamacare” as “Trumpcare”—50 percent to 28 percent. Sixty-one percent of people disapprove of the Senate plan, and almost two-thirds in the survey oppose major reductions to federal funding for Medicaid. Seventy-one percent want Republicans in Congress to work with Democrats to improve, but not repeal, the ACA.

In another mystery surrounding Trumpcare, the mandatory score from the Congressional Budget Office (CBO) has been delayed from its expected release today. The report for the first bill revealed that Trumpcare would increase average premiums by 20 percent in 2018 and 10 percent the next year before going down in ten years. The CBO may be preparing a comparison with the two different senate bills, but Republicans are concerned about what the most recent bill may reveal.

Passing Trumpcare and DDT’s budget could create an epidemic of “super gonorrhea” caused by the overuse of antibiotics. Eliminating the Antibiotic Resistance Solutions Initiative (ARSI) to try to improve detection and containment of resistant infections across the nation could also limit modern medical advances in surgery and chemotherapy from the threat of infection. Nineteen of the leaders in the G20 are planning to coordinate a fight against this problem.

REUTERS/Kevin Lamarque

In another Senate story that keeps dripping, a D.C. judge overturned the conviction of a protester at the confirmation hearing of AG Jeff Sessions. Desiree Fairooz, 61, laughed when Sen. Richard Shelby (R-AL) claimed Sessions had a “clear and well-documented” record of “treating all Americans equally under the law.” The government had argued that her laugh was sufficient for a guilty verdict. The real disruption occurred when a rookie officer took her out of the room. A new trial has been set for Sept. 1.

In Senate confirmation hearings for FBI director last week, Christopher Wray said all the right things and impressed Democrats. Here is his background.

  • Defense of white collar defendants, including a major Swiss bank accused of laundering money for terrorists and helping Iran obtain nuclear weapons.
  • Lawyer for Russian companies Gazprom and Rosneft.
  • Deletion from his bio about representation of unnamed American “energy company executive in a criminal investigation by Russian authorities.”
  • Overseer of a deal with Chiquita, while he was in the Criminal Division, that exonerated executives of the company supporting terrorism in Colombia.
  • Support for Bush-era rules interrogating (torturing?) so-called “non-combatants.”
  • “Less-than-truthful” answers about the murder of a CIA-held detainee.
  • Defense attorney and “chief custodian of missing cell phones” for Gov. Chris Christie (NJ) during an investigation into the closure of the George Washington Bridge.
  • Extreme enthusiasm for the PATRIOT Act in opposition to civil liberties groups, indicating his using extensive surveillance for protesters.

E.J. Dionne gave an excellent rationale for not confirming Wray:

“There is good reason to feel uneasy about having anyone appointed by Trump lead the FBI at this moment. It is obvious to all except the willfully blind that we now have a president who observes none of the norms, rules or expectations of his office and will pressure anyone at any time if doing so serves his personal interests. We also know beyond doubt that this team will lie, and lie, and lie again whenever the matter of Russia’s exertions to elect Trump and defeat Hillary Clinton arises.”

But Wray said the right things to senators, and VP Mike Pence avows (falsely) that Trumpcare “secures Medicaid for the neediest in our society.” Our culture is dominated by “fake” claims.

July 16, 2017

Christians Fight Their Beliefs

With the removal of health care from people impending, religious supporters of Trumpcare forget that Jesus provided free medical care to lepers in a books that talked about him traveling with 12 men to give medicine to poor people. As Holly Wood wrote:

“Jesus was a homeless brown refugee who ran around giving people universal healthcare.”

This statement is a far cry from a statement made by Rep. Roger Marshall (R-KS):

“Just like Jesus said, ‘The poor will always be with us.’ There is a group of people that just don’t want health care and aren’t going to take care of themselves.”

Children in public school bible classes probably won’t learn about the Jesus that took care of the sick. But these Kentucky students can take an elective in the study of the bible, thanks to a new law—HB 128, the Bible Literacy Bill. In Kentucky, 2017 is also the “Year of the Bible,” according to another law, and Gov. Matt Begins encouraged people to take part in a bible-reading marathon.

Kentucky is also the state that subsidized a Noah’s ark-themed museum in Williamstown. Even with generous tax incentives and, Ken Ham, head of Answers in Genesis, said that his park is failing because of atheists and the media. Another conservative is blaming “fake news,” this time for the lack of investors. Despite the taxpayers support that hurts the community, employees must “confirm agreement with Ark Encounter’s Statement of Faith.” Applicants “must profess, interalia, that homosexuality is a sin on par with bestiality and incest, that the earth is only 6,000 years old, and that the bible is literally true in order to be considered for the job.”

One Alabama high school teacher is using a one-sided summer reading list to teach conservative religion and politics. Gene Ponder provided titles of over 30 books for his Spanish Fort High AP Government and Economics students that included authors such as Ann Coulter, Rand Paul, Michael Savage (five of the 30 titles), Steve Forbes, and Mark Levin. Richard Mack, author of The Magic of Gun Control, was one of the armed resister on the Bundy ranch in Nevada using a possible strategy of women and children as human shields. The focus on how liberals lie opposes secularism, abortion, taxation, left-wing politics, and the belief in climate change. Social media made members of the Baldwin County School System aware of the list, and it was recalled. Yet Ponder faces no repercussions and will undoubtedly pass along his extremist conservative views in the fall to the top students of a public school.

A goal of Dictator Donald Trump (DDT) is to permit houses of worship to endorse political candidates while keeping their tax-free status. A House Appropriations subcommittee has added a provision to a funding bill to the IRS that would remove money from to IRS to implement the 63-year-old so-called Johnson Amendment. In reality, churches have been violating the law against endorsements with impunity despite the 1954 law. It already allows religious ministries to promote and reject any issues, even ballot referenda.  Evangelicals however, want to become political machines and still avoid paying taxes on their churches. DDT’s success could lead to foreign powers funneling campaign donations through these tax-exempt churches.

Evangelicals might want to start giving their money to charity instead of building huge churches and mansions for their pastors. “Small-government” believers claim that churches should provide the money for the needy instead of the government. DDT’s budget cuts require every one of the 350,000 U.S. religious congregations to raise $714,000 a year for 10 years to offset cuts to programs that aid the needy. He isn’t the first: Rep. Paul Ryan’s (R-WI) 2012 budget called for eliminating $3.3 trillion in ten years. His excuse was a personal interpretation of subsidiarity, the philosophy rejecting any care for the poor. Although faith-based groups provide up to $50 billion worth of services each year for the needy, many of their initiatives count on government funding for operations. Catholic Charities USA gets half its operating budget from federal funds. A group called “Circle of Protection” issued a statement about DDT’s cuts:

 “We do not support sharp increases to defense spending that are made possible by corresponding reductions in non-defense discretionary spending, particularly in programs that help poor and vulnerable people. The biblical prophets teach us that our security depends in part on upholding justice for people in poverty.”

One corporation that moved the United States closer to Christian control with the help of five Supreme Court Justices is Hobby Lobby. They claimed religious beliefs in their restriction of insurance to not pay for contraceptives and won the case. With their wealth, they are building a “Bible Museum” near the Smithsonian museums in Washington, D.C. and got into trouble with smuggling acquisitions into the country from Iraq. The corporation was required to forfeit thousands of artifacts and pay $3 million. They also promised to stop making “mistakes.” The priceless archeological antiquities were sent to the U.S. through Israel and the United Arab Emirates in packages labeled such innocuous terms as “tile samples.” Instead of wiring money to a dealer, Hobby Lobby deposited money into several bank accounts under a number of different names. Just like DDT’s family and other colleagues, Hobby Lobby pled ignorance, and the U.S. government swallowed their excuse. The money may have gone to Daesh, an extremist group that destroys and/or sells its cultural heritage to fund its terrorism. People who go to the Hobby Lobby museum may want to remember the terrorism that the corporation supports.

In one piece of good news on the evangelical front, the Southern Baptist Convention took a huge step last week when it passed a resolution condemning white supremacy and the alt-right. At first, leaders refused to consider the proposal submitted by Dwight McKissic, a prominent black Texas pastor, but a backlash forced a reversal. The controversy came from divisions in a denomination founded to support slavery. Of the 15 million Southern Baptist members in 46,000 churches, 85 percent are white.

For centuries, Jewish and Christian religions have referred to “the curse of Ham” when justifying the white belief of superiority over blacks. The definition of this justification for slavery has no historical basis, but evangelicals have supported the concept that the “sons of Ham” are “darkened” by their sins. Baptists were split almost 200 years ago about this issue into northern and southern branches, and the perception of blacks came to a head again at the June convention when the Southern Baptists had to decide whether to leave their centuries’ old position.

The SBC is struggling toward racial equality. In 1995, it finally got around to apologizing for its foundational support for slavery. In 2015, it passed a resolution promoting reconciliation. Last year, it called on Christians to get rid of their Confederate flags. Now its policy has these positions:

RESOLVED, That we denounce and repudiate white supremacy and every form of racial and ethnic hatred as of the devil; and be it further

RESOLVED, That we acknowledge that we still must make progress in rooting out any remaining forms of intentional or unintentional racism in our midst; and be it further

RESOLVED, That we earnestly pray, both for those who advocate racist ideologies and those who are thereby deceived, that they may see their error through the light of the Gospel, repent of these hatreds, and come to know the peace and love of Christ through redeemed fellowship in the Kingdom of God, which is established from every nation, tribe, people, and language.

It is a watered-down version of McKissic’s proposal (below) but it is a start:

Affirms that “there has arisen in the United States a growing menace to political order and justice that seeks to reignite social animosities, reverse improvements in race relations, divide our people, and foment hatred, classism, and ethnic cleansing.”

Identifies this “toxic menace” as white nationalism and the alt-right and urges the denomination to oppose its “totalitarian impulses, xenophobic biases, and bigoted ideologies that infect the minds and actions of its violent disciples.”

Claims that the origin of white supremacy in Christian communities is a once-popular theory known as the “curse of Ham,” which taught that “God through Noah ordained descendants of Africa to be subservient to Anglos” and was used as justification for slavery and segregation.

Calls on the denomination to denounce nationalism and “reject the retrograde ideologies, xenophobic biases, and racial bigotries of the so-called ‘alt-right’ that seek to subvert our government, destabilize society, and infect our political system.”

Even passing the resolution was not satisfactory for McKissic. He said his proposal’s rejection “showed a fault line. It showed that maybe, just maybe, you aren’t where you’re supposed to be on this.” The vote at the convention may have felt like a success, but the SBC doesn’t bind members to its resolutions. It uses “congregationalist” polity with decentralized power focused within separate churches. They can retain their racist policy.

July 15, 2017

DDT: Week Twenty-Five – To Paris with Love, Other Awkward Situations

At the end of the G20 (or G19+1) summit in Hamburg (Germany) just one week ago, leaders of 19 of the world’s largest economies reaffirmed their commitment to the Paris climate accords to slow climate change. Dictator Donald Trump (DDT) had pushed for wording about how the “USA will endeavor to work closely with other partners to help their access to and use of fossil fuels….” It didn’t wash with the other 19 countries that keep moving forward in trade and climate while the U.S. becomes increasingly on the fringe—just as DDT was at the summit. For example, Japan and Europe have agreed to a huge trade deal covering almost 30 percent of global economy for ten percent of the planet’s population and 40 percent of its trade—comparable to NAFTA. [In this photo, he’s standing far right from the others.]

While DDT was in Poland holding up the West as “civilization,” Gov. Jerry Brown (D-CA) announced his plans for a global environmental summit in San Francisco next year in his speech to over 12,000 environmental activists at the Global Citizen Festival Hamburg. He told his audience that DDT “doesn’t speak” for the United States.

Back to Europe this past week, DDT avoided the Russian scandal surrounding his oldest son with the simple claim that “by son is a wonderful young man,” “he’s a good boy,” and “he’s a good kid.” The “kid” is 39 years old, the same age as DDT’s host in Paris, French president Emmanuel Macron. As usual, DDT behaved like a boor, trying to one-up Macron in handshaking, invading the private space of Macron’s wife Brigitte, and complimenting her on being in “such good physical shape.”  [Full video of the attack here.] Brigitte  Basically DDT played tourist in Paris and again made the United States the laughingstock of the world.

Back in the United States, Attorney General Jeff Sessions was telling a judge to ignore her earlier ruling. In Texas, federal courts ruled three times that the voter ID law is discriminatory. Sessions wrote U.S. District Judge Nelva Gonzales, who has twice ruled against the law, that she should end all challenges to it and cancel the interim fix agreed to in the state and permit discrimination without penalties. Gonzales will decide whether she will follow his directions.

DDT’s travel ban, partially upheld by the Supreme Court’s decision to limit DDT’s travel ban to “close relatives,” would have sent 1,400 Chaldean Christians back to Iraq to be persecuted and killed without a federal court order. Iraqi leaders said they would take back nationals with outstanding removal orders.  The U.S. Federal Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) started rounding up these members of a subset of the Catholic Church in early June and designated them for deportation. The federal government argued that courts can’t stop deportations, but U.S. Judge Mark Goldsmith of the Eastern District of Michigan ruled that the Iraqi nationals may have their day in court.

A federal judge in Hawaii had sent DDT’s travel ban back to court with a ruling that “grandparents, grandchildren, brothers-in-law, sisters-in-law, aunts, uncles, nieces, nephews, and cousins of persons in the United States” have a close enough family relationship to allow entry into the United States. Since the Supreme Court ruling permitted only “close” family members, DDT’s definition of “close” that excludes grandparents has caused disbelief throughout the nation.  DDT wants to skip the 9th Circuit Court in its appeals and go directly back to the Supreme Court.

DDT-supporting conservatives claim that “libstards” don’t do anything but stand around and protest. In reality, they go to court. A major lawsuit this week against DDT’s “voter fraud” commission alleges a violation of a federal transparency law because its first “public” meeting is available only through a video livestream. The first meeting was without notice or availability to the public. DDT created the commission because he believed that three to five million undocumented immigrants kept him from winning the popular vote, another issue in the lawsuit. Such committees “will not be inappropriately influenced by the appointing authority or by any special interest, but will instead be the result of the advisory committee’s independent judgment,” according to the ACLU. At this time, at least 46 states have refused to send the commission’s vice-chair, Kris Kobach, all the information that he requested—including his own state of Kansas.

Kobach’s demand for extensive voting information—including birth dates and Social Security numbers—has created a concern for privacy. Some voters are withdrawing their registration. The presidential commission validated this concern: it released 112 unredacted emails of public comment with email address, names, home addresses, telephone numbers, and places of employment. Half the published emails were sent before he publication of an announcement that the emails would be made public.

J. Christian Adams has been appointed to the voting commission. The conservative attorney led efforts throughout the U.S. to purge voters from the rolls through threatening letters and lawsuits against countries that he claims have too many names on the voter rolls. His target is rural counties with large minority populations and areas with Democratic populations in swing states. The commission’s data collection has been stopped in a lawsuit alleging violation of the E-Government Act of 2002, requiring federal agencies to have sufficient data protections before collecting person information through information technology.

DDT’s maybe lawyer, Marc Kasowitz, is trying to get rid of the “pussy” grabbing lawsuit against DDT.  The argument is that these statements—made in 2005 and ten years before DDT ran for his current position—are legally protected speech as a level of hyperbole in a political campaign. In other words, this “heated campaign rhetoric” was intended to get votes and thus covered by the First Amendment. Lawyers have used the same excuse in lawsuits about DDT’s Muslim ban, his order on “sanctuary cities,” violence at his campaign rallies, and even fraud allegations in the Trump University case.

Kasowitz may disappear from DDT’s employ because the lawyer selected to defend the Russian collusion scandal can’t even get a security clearance for access to government secrets. Several of Kasowitz’s colleagues have talked about his struggle with alcohol abuse and his risky behavior, sometimes sexual assaulting women. Defense attorneys for Washington clients are frequently required to get security clearances because of classified information. Although Kasowitz has denied these allegations, these emails indicate an unhinged mind.

DDT’s lawyers have difficulty because DDT refuses to follow their advice. In one meeting, they told him to avoid a topic, but he tweeted about it before they got back to their offices. DDT wants the RNC to pay for his legal defense. To avoid a public statement about the issue, the RNC is researching whether any of their funding can pay for expenditures related to Russia.

After being turned down by a variety of other legal firms and lawyers, DDT has hired Ty Cobb as White House special counsel to head up the “war room” regarding DDT’s Russian problems. That makes three lawyers on DDT’s team unless he fires one of them. Cobb will coordinate with lawyers for other DDT associates such as son Don Jr. and son-in-law Jared Kushner as well a field media questions. Charles Tiefer of Forbes has a variety of questions. Who pays? Does he have control over the DOJ? Can he use executive privilege to obstruct the Russian investigation?  Can he subpoena documents from Congress? What other powers will he have?

DDT’s attempted distracting tweets keep rolling. Last Monday when his son’s Russian meeting was revealed, DDT accused former FBI Director James Comey of revealing classified information in the memos he prepared about meetings with DDT. Comey didn’t. Any “classified information” in the memos were “retroactively classified,” just as Hillary Clinton’s were. One of Comey’s memos now classified was about his encouraging DDT to end the FBI investigation into Michael Flynn. The FBI director has authority to declare classified information. DDT got his “information” on Fox and Friends; they retracted the story a day later. DDT didn’t.

This weekend, DDT is at his Bedminster (NJ) resort, tweeting about attending the U.S. Women’s Open there. As the Russian scandal grows, DDT calls it a “hoax,” a word he also used for climate change. He also pushed for the health care bill, Trumpcare, to pass, but it has run into another problem. Two GOP defectors mean that all the other Republican senators must vote for the bill in order for it to pass. Sen. John McCain (R-AZ) is gone this week after surgery for a blood clot above his eye, and the bill has been postponed for another week, giving it time to become even weaker.

Missing from DDT’s tweets are his problems with the travel ban, his son’s growing problem with Russian collusion (other than Don Jr. is a “good kid”), the ongoing crisis in Qatar, a congressional bill regarding increased sanctions on Russia, continuing issues with North Korea—the list goes on.

That’s DDT’s week—tourism in Paris, vague defense of his oldest son, back to his resort, hiring and ignoring legal defense, and angry tweets.

July 14, 2017

That Russia ‘Thing’

The drip-drip of information about collusion between Dictator Donald Trump (DDT) and Russia has developed into a steady flow as the dam against information starts to break down. Last week saw the publicity about a meeting between DDT associates at Trump Tower on June 9, 2016, with Kremlin-connected lawyer Natalia Veselnitskaya because she promised that she could provide them damaging information about Hillary Clinton’s campaign. Early information showed that those attending included DDT’s son Donald Trump, Jr., DDT’s son-in-law Jared Kushner, who helps run both DDT and the family business, and one-time DDT campaign manager Paul Manafort, who has a history of business ties with Russian and pro-Russia Ukrainian kleptocrats. Now it appears that more people were present, including Russian businessman and former counterintelligence officer Rinat Akhmetshin.

The story put Jr. on the cover of Time. It began with Jr. claiming that he didn’t meet and then moved on to his claim that it was just about foster children, followed by admission that she Veselnitskaya offered information but didn’t provide any useful information against Clinton. Paul Manafort told his investigators about the meeting and that Jr. had set it up.

Jr. blatantly released emails proving he knew the offer to the meeting came directly from the Russian government and that possible information about be “very high level and sensitive.” The emails explicitly refer to “Russia and its government’s support for Mr. Trump” as well as Jr. agreeing to a meeting with a “Russian government attorney” to obtain documents from the Russian government. Jr.’s response to the emails is that “I love it especially later in the summer,” the time when the hacked emails from the DNC were released to the public.

The shifting story about DDT’s involvement with Russia to meddle in the presidential election: no, we didn’t talk to anybody; yes, we talked to somebody but it wasn’t about the election; yes, we talked about the election but didn’t get any useful information. The question is what’s next. That’s why all these people need lawyers. This fascinating view of who hired whom is missing the latest hire, Alan Futerfas. The lawyer for organized crime mobs including the Gambino, Genovese, and Colombo families is representing Jr.

Jr.’s emails support the chain of people from the Kremlin to DDT. The timeline of 20 denials about Russian collusion in the past year is accompanied by six more lies about Jr.’s meeting.

DDT claimed he knew nothing about the meeting, but a trail exists. Four hours after Jr. confirmed his meeting with Veselnitskaya on June 7, DDT promised a speech “discussing all of the things that have taken place with the Clintons.” He said that it would be “very, very informative.” Two days later, DDT lacked the information and talked about national security. A few hours after the meeting,  DDT asked Russia to find Hillary Clinton’s so-called “deleted” 33,000 emails.

DDT’s spin on the meeting is blaming former AG Loretta Lynch for allowing the lawyer into the country. Veselnitskaya came to the U.S. with the claim that she was an attorney for Prevezon Holdings, a Russian company accused of money-laundering for the mob by buying expensive real estate. Prevezon’s actions are related to DDT’s firing Preet Bharara, U.S. attorney for New York’s Southern District, while he was overseeing a money laundering case against Russian mobsters who allegedly hid $230 million in NYC real estate, some of it belong to DDT. The Russian lawyer who revealed the fraud met a suspicious death. Veselnitskaya called the DOJ settlement of $5.9 million in lieu of $230 million “almost an apology from the [U.S.] government.”

Richard Painter, George H.W. Bush’s ethics counsel, described Jr.’s actions as “treason.” As to the question of collusion, the term is defined as “secret or illegal cooperation or conspiracy, especially in order to cheat or deceive others.” Ryan Goodman, former Defense Department special counsel, declared that the meeting was prohibited by federal criminal law.

“The law states that no person shall knowingly solicit or accept from a foreign national any contribution to a campaign of an item of value. There is now a clear case that Donald Trump Jr. has met all the elements of the law, which is a criminally enforced federal statute.”

The statute governing foreign contributions to U.S. campaigns, 52 USC 30121, 36 USC 510, has two key passages. The first:

“A foreign national shall not, directly or indirectly, make a contribution or a donation of money or other thing of value, or expressly or impliedly promise to make a contribution or a donation, in connection with any Federal, State, or local election.”

The second:

“No person shall knowingly solicit, accept, or receive from a foreign national any contribution or donation prohibited by [this law].”

The term “solicit” has a specific meaning in this context:

“A solicitation is an oral or written communication that, construed as reasonably understood in the context in which it is made, contains a clear message asking, requesting, or recommending that another person make a contribution, donation, transfer of funds, or otherwise provide anything of value.”

The Committee of the Federal Register defines “solicitation”:

“To ask, request, or recommend, explicitly or implicitly, that another person make a contribution, donation, transfer of funds, or otherwise provide anything of value.”

Jr. knew that he was soliciting information from a foreign source and that damaging information in “political opposition research” would cost a great deal of money. The illegal part was trying to get the information, not Jr.’s success. Everyone at the meeting was trying to solicit information from a foreign government, i.e., the Russians. Jr. may have solicited other times because he told Sean Hannity on Fox that he “probably met with other people from Russia” during the campaign.

Charles Krauthammer said:

 “If you get a call to go to a certain place in the middle of the night to pick up stolen goods, and it turns out stolen goods don’t show up but the cops show up, I think you’re going to have a weak story saying, ‘well, I got swindled here….’ It’s a hell of a defense to say your collusion wasn’t competent and it didn’t work out.”

DDT counsel Kellyanne Conway may be expecting more drips in her use of the word “yet”:

“‘Collusion’? No. We don’t have that yet.”

Most  congressional Republicans are trying to cover DDT’s illegal acts of Russian collusion. They ignore the questions, refuse to answer them, or obfuscate. Denials of DDT’s collusion have morphed into claims that collusion isn’t illegal. Jr.’s emails about collusion with Russia? No problem? Hillary Clinton’s private email service? Horrifying! Rep. Steve King (R-IA) threatens to investigate Anthony Weiner’s 650,000 emails if the Democrats won’t ignore Jr.’s emails. GOP senators such as Ted Cruz (TX), John Cornyn (R-TX), and Lindsey Graham (SC) used Senate hearing time to question witnesses about Clinton instead of Russian collusion. GOP leaders of the intelligence committees in the House and Senate have called the media to challenge stories about the collusion.

Early reporting from the Fox network omitted any reference to Russia in Jr.’s emails.

Most of the attention surrounding the meeting has been on Jr., but Kushner may be in trouble too. His security clearance is based on lies about his past meetings, and Democrats want Kushner’s access to classified information rescinded. Since his presence at the meeting was revealed, Kushner remembered over 100 foreign contacts that he had omitted from earlier high-security clearance applications.

VP Mike Pence might also be in hot water. On Fox, his press secretary Marc Lotter refused to respond to a question about whether Pence met with the Russians. Six months ago, Pence denied that anyone with DDT’s campaign had met with Russians trying to meddle in the election, but now the world knows differently.

Two Democratic donors and a DNC staffer are suing DDT and his longtime adviser Roger Stone for their public release of emails stolen from the DNC. Congressional committees are competing to be the first to question Jr.

For several days, this was DDT’s only response to Jr.’s scandal: “My son is a high-quality person and I applaud his transparency.” He left for Paris and embarrassed the people of the United States there.

Last February, New York Times David Leonhardt wrote:

“This combination—an anti-democratic president and a quiescent Congress—is very dangerous. Even though many members of Congress think [Trump’s] approach is wrong, they have refused to confront him because he is a member of their party. He has the power to sign bills that Republican legislators have long favored, and their political fortunes are tied to his popularity.”

Most Republicans just want to keep DDT healthy enough to sign papers—and right now they’re in control. But the hacking continues.

July 13, 2017

Four Days Remain to Protest No Net Neutrality

Filed under: net neutrality — trp2011 @ 8:42 PM
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In May, the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) began its process to repeal the 2015 network neutrality rules and Title II of the Communications Act of 1934. These rules guarantee that internet users have the right to access online content and services without interference from ISPs like Comcast, AT&T, Verizon, and Charter. The deadline for commenting on the FCC repeal proposal is July 17. You can still join the over 7 million people who have submitted comments—almost two million in the past month—during the next four days.

A majority of FCC members wants to reverse the classification of broadband internet access services as “telecommunications services. Another of their goals is to eliminate the “general conduct standard” prohibiting ISP practices that “unreasonably interfere or unreasonably disadvantage” the abilities of consumers to access online content and services and of online content and service providers to freely access customers. These members question whether rules regarding blocking, transparency, and other ISP restrictions are even necessary. Their excuse is that these regulations will limit investment—meaning that members want the big companies to make more money.

In describing current problems about investment, the FCC used studies funded by ISPs that cite “only four articulated examples” of harm from their discrimination. The FCC position is that such “isolated examples” are not enough to place regulations on the internet. In addition, the FCC states that the agency has no authority in keeping or replacing net neutrality rules. They want to abandon all overseeing of the broadband market.

Yesterday was a day of protest for the repeal of internet rules. Both large and small tech companies coordinated the online action to remove the regulation that broadband service providers equally treat all internet traffic. Small companies joined big one such as Google and Netflix in the “Day of Action” to publicize the issue to the public and rally people to send comments to GOP FCC Chair Ajit Pai. Major internet companies took part Wednesday in a “Day of Action” to show their support for the Federal Communications Commission’s net neutrality rules.

Internet nonprofit Mozilla explains the reasons for keeping current internet rules:

Net neutrality is fundamental to free speech: Without net neutrality, big companies could censor people and perspectives online. Net neutrality has been called the “First Amendment of the Internet.”

Net neutrality protects small businesses and innovators who are just getting started: Without net neutrality, creators and entrepreneurs could struggle to reach new users. Investment in new ideas would dry up and only the big companies would survive, stifling innovation.

Net neutrality allows consumers—not big companies—to choose what they watch & do online: Without net neutrality, ISPs could decide you watched too many videos on Netflix in one day and throttle your Internet speeds, while keeping their own video apps running smooth.

Battle for the Net, a consortium of advocacy groups, announced the need for yesterday’s action:

“The FCC wants to destroy net neutrality and give big cable companies control over what we see and do online. If they get their way, they’ll allow widespread throttling, blocking, censorship, and extra fees. On July 12th, the Internet will come together to stop them.”

Ryan Grenoble wrote about possible consequences of the FCC’s repeal:

“Without net neutrality, for instance, Comcast could hypothetically prioritize content produced by NBC, which it owns, while slowing access to Netflix. Similarly, Verizon, which owns HuffPost’s parent company, Oath, could allot extra bandwidth to HuffPost content at the expense of others.”

Mignon Clyburn, the only remaining Democrat on the FCC, described the FCC repeal of internet regulations a being on the wrong side of history. She reiterated her opposition to repeal in her support for the Day of Action:

“Today I stand with those who believe that a free and open internet is a foundational principle of our democracy. That is why I am excited that on this day consumers, entrepreneurs and companies of all sizes, including broadband providers and internet startups, are speaking out with a unified voice in favor of strong net neutrality rules grounded in Title II.”

In case the FCC backs down, GOP senators have proposed a bill, Restoring Internet Freedom Act, to prevent the FCC from regulating ISPs actions of blocking, throttling, and favoring websites and apps in exchange for money.  Both Texas senators, Ted Cruz and John Cornyn, co-sponsored the bill. The bill’s title is misleading because removal to the regulations makes the internet less free to consumers. Congress has already passed a resolution allowing ISPs to track and sell an individual’s data to third parties without that person’s permission. ISPs have given $160,000 to Cornyn and $115,000 to Cruz in the past four years.

The Washington Post warned that the disappearance of net neutrality regulations would could have dire consequences: “deep-pocketed corporations will upend how we get our news, watch our favorite shows, use social media or run our businesses.” The GOP internet law would make the internet much less free.

Despite the GOP attempt to eradicate net neutrality, people in the United States support its protections. Only 48 percent of DDT voters and 51 percent of GOP say that they want net neutrality, but 75 percent of the voters and 72 percent of GOP voters think that ISPs should be “prohibited from slowing or blocking websites or video services like Netflix.” Overall 81 percent like the net neutrality protections. Other polls go as high as 88 percent support for net neutrality protections.

What the GOP FCC members don’t consider about net neutrality:

 Growing ISP monopolies make the protections even more important. Verizon owns Yahoo and AOL, and Comcast owns NBCUniversal, the parent company of NBC, MSNBC and Universal Pictures. AT&T is trying to buy Time Warner which would give AT&T control of HBO, CNN, and Warner Bros.

Capital investment by publicly-traded ISPs were five percent higher since net neutrality protections were enacted than in the two years earlier, and telecom-company spending on fiber-to-the-home network terminals and terminal ports rose nearly 50 percent during 2016 alone. Not one ISP told investors that the regulations have a negative financial impact.

The FCC has tried to portray net neutrality supporters as members of the “Black Bloc” protest group. If this were accurate, the anarchist group would comprise over four-fifths of people in the nation.

FCC Chair Pai claims that no problem exists without internet protections, but ISPs have tried to violate net neutrality. Comcast blocked access in peer-to-peer technologies (2005), AT&T forced Apple to block Skype and other competing VOIP phone services (2007-09), and Verizon Wireless blocked people from putting apps on their phones (2012). Verizon testified in court that ISPs should be able to edit the internet. Before the regulations, the huge ISPs deliberated congested their networks to degrade speeds so that they could require new payments for better connections. Those are only a few attempts to eliminate internet choice.

Net neutrality is not government regulation of the internet: it is a set of safeguards stopping ISPs from selecting priority and speed for online content. Rules regulate companies, not the internet itself, so that carriers don’t interfere with speech.

In “Net Neutrality: In A Corporatist Government, Corporate Censorship Is State Censorship,” Caitlin Johnstone wrote:

Net neutrality is an obstacle for US oligarchs in that it hamstrings their ability to manipulate web traffic away from information which challenges their rule. By dismantling it, [they may] strangle the media revolution which for the first time in history caused America’s unelected power establishment to completely lose control of the narrative on both ends of the political spectrum in 2016.”

Sen. Al Franken (D-MN) gives a shred of hope about keeping net neutrality. He said that he believes the courts will protect the current regulations if the Republicans overturn them. A year ago the DC District Court of Appeals supported net neutrality. It might again.

People need to fight the oligarchy and keep access to information.

July 9, 2017

DDT’s European Trip Isolates U.S.

After embarrassing the United States for four days in Europe, Dictator Donald Trump (DDT) is home again. He had so many disasters that pundits referred  to the G-20 Summit as the “G-19 plus one.”

  • One major problem was DDT’s lack of hotel reservations for the grand event. He and Melania were forced to stay at the city of Hamburg’s Senate guest house.
  • Melania missed a photo session and a tour because protesters blocked their digs.
  • A brief talk with Russia’s Vladimir Putin lasted so long that White House staffers sent DDT’s wife in to end it; she failed, and the session lasted another hour.
  • Daughter Ivanka Trump took the place of real U.S. officials in replacing her father during a session called “Partnership with Africa, Migration and Health” so that DDT could meet with Putin. Former president of Mexico Vincente Fox Quesada tweeted that “a G20 summit isn’t a ‘bring your child to work and let her attend high level meetings’ day.”
  • Photos of DDT at the summit illustrate his goal to make America alone.  matches his own appearance at the event.
  • Another remarkable video shows Germany Chancellor Angela Merkel, host of the summit, rolling her eyes at a patronizing Putin.

This collection of photos demonstrates how the United States has lost any relationship with allies, including this image of President Obama at the 2015 G7 summit.

Two events stood out during DDT’s four-day offshore trip in Europe: his visit to Poland and his meeting with Russia’s president.  DDT began his trip in an environment where he felt most comfortable: Poles were bused into Warsaw with the sole purpose of cheering DDT for his speech much like the ones he gives to xenophobic audiences in the United States. DDT’s popularity in Poland is actually 23 percent.

A major premise of the speech was the survival of the West against the Middle East (aka Christians against Muslims). DDT’s image of the terrorism conflict as a clash of civilizations has been avoided by both GOP and Democratic predecessors. The Trump manifesto seems to be the “dire threat” against Western civilization. The language comes directly from white supremacists Steve Bannon and Stephen Miller. DDT’s anti-Semitic audience were surely pleased when he was the first sitting president in decades to avoid a stop at Warsaw’s monument to the Jewish Ghetto uprising.

DDT is on the same page as Poland’s leading party, Law & Justice (PiS). The party has inundated civil service and diplomatic corps with their loyalists and weakened the judiciary’s independence. The national broadcaster is a mouthpiece of the state, and independent journalists are restricted. Together DDT and Polish president, Andrzej Duda, based the media with DDT repeating his mantra of “fake news.” The EU calls Polish reforms “a systemic risk to the rule of law.”

Conservative Jonathan Turley wrote about the exchange between DDT and Duda regarding their hatred for the media:

“To have such an exchange with a man like Putin about the free press is a truly low moment for our country.  The men and women in front of the two leaders represent a profession that has lost dozens of journalists who fought to publish the truth about the Putin regime. Thousands more have died around the world in the struggle for free speech and the free press.  I understand the need to deal with figures like Putin in diplomacy but commiserating with the likes of Vladimir Putin about the free press is a terrible image for any American president.  Putin is not a great man and the media is not the enemy.  We can (and should) criticize the media for their loss of objectivity but even casual moments like this one with Putin carry a chilling message both in Russia and the United States. There remain committed journalists in Russia who look to the United States as their ally in the fight for a free press.   For them, these comments must be chilling and demoralizing.”

As usual, DDT displayed his weak vocabulary during the speech—even when someone else wrote it—by describing the losses in Poland during World War II as “tough” and “trouble.” Almost six million Poles, about 20 percent of the country’s population, died during the war.

Possibly worse than DDT’s speech was his press conference before the speech. In opposition to U.S. intelligence reports, he continued to claim that “nobody really knows” who was responsible for the cyberattacks around the November 2016 election and refused to admit that Russia was responsible. “It could have been other people in other countries,” he said. Yet he kept laying the blame on President Obama for something that he wouldn’t admit had happened. His claim that only “three or four” agencies believed that Russia was responsible. These agencies are the FBI, CIA, and NSA; no others disagreed, and some weren’t involved. In the conference, Polish officials cut off NBC reporter Hallie Jackson’s mike to keep her from asking a follow-up question.

Once again, DDT’s staff disagrees with his perception. In an interview for State of the Union, the nation’s UN ambassador, Nikki Haley, said, “Everybody knows that Russia meddled in our elections.” Her comments followed DDT’s amicable meeting with Putin on Friday. Haley continued by explaining that Russia is meddling “across multiple continents … in a way that they’re trying to cause chaos within the countries.”

Still reeling from DDT’s denial that Russia meddled in the U.S. election, people of the U.S. watched him go into a long meeting with Putin. Only four people attended with the two leaders—Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov, and two translators. No one took notes, and only Russians reported much of what happened in the two and a half hours. Headlines have declared that DDT “confronted” Putin, but the end result did not seem like a confrontation. Supposedly DDT questioned Putin about the meddling. Putin said he didn’t have anything to do it and followed that with the statement that DDT agreed with him.

Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin didn’t attend the meeting but repeatedly said that DDT “handled it brilliantly.” Putin followed earlier statements by claiming that Russia and the United States agreed to work together to “prevent interference in the domestic affairs of foreign states, primarily in Russia and the U.S.” Tillerson said that the two leaders selected officials to collaborate on a resolution to the Ukraine conflict and reached a “de-escalation agreement” about part of Syria near Daraa and Quneitra.

Even Republicans are disgusted with DDT’s plan to team with Putin in creating a “cyber security unit.” Sen. John McCain (R-AZ) said, “I am sure that Vladimir Putin could be of enormous assistance in that effort since he’s doing the hacking.” Once again, bad press may have forced DDT to back down on his idea. Today he tweeted, “The fact that President Putin and I discussed a Cyber Security unit doesn’t mean I think it can happen.” Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-SC) said the partnership isn’t “the dumbest idea I’ve ever heard, but it’s pretty close.” On the other hand, Mnuchin called the idea “a very significant accomplishment for President Trump.” He wants to “coordinate with Russia.”

Putin picked up popularity in the United States with DDT’s election, but it’s receding again, perhaps because of the hacking reports. Meanwhile, the number of Russian spies gathering intelligence in the United States has gone up to at least 150 from temporary duty visas issued by the DDT administration. Law enforcement officials have reported that some Russian diplomats are violating protocol by leaving the Washington, D.C. area with notifying the State Department. President Obama had shut down Russian compounds in December that were allegedly outfitted with high-power surveillance equipment and evicted 35 spies. Officials say that countering the threat is difficult because DDT doesn’t accept intelligence information about Russian meddling.

DDT completed his embarrassing four days by referring to his “wonderful relationship” with Xi Jinping. The White House used the wrong title for Xi, however. Instead of his correct title, president of the People’s Republic of China, he was identified as president of the Republic of China, the official name for Taiwan. The elected leader of Taiwan is Tsai Ing-wen, the most powerful woman in the Chinese-speaking world and one of Xi Jinpin’s greatest rivals. DDT is currently trying to persuade China to pressure North Korea for the U.S. benefit.

As always, Melania Trump looked lovely in her expensive fashion designs, but she shouldn’t try to wear them on Capitol Hill. House Speaker Paul Ryan (R-WI) is reinforcing a patriarchal ban on sleeveless clothes for women—at least female reporters—in the speaker’s lobby. Although many conservatives have poo-pooed the story, report, Independent Journal Review‘s Haley Byrd was refused entrance. She was offered a cardigan but also told that open-toed shoes are also a no-no.

July 8, 2017

DDT: Week Twenty-Four – Mostly Russia!

The last week of Dictator Donald Trump (DDT) was dominated by North Korea, his world trip, the fallout from his commission’s demand to garner all the states’ voting data, GOP’s lies in their attempt to destroy health care, and, of course, his tweets. But there’s more.

The U.S. is rapidly losing its world leadership: a majority of people in the U.S. have more confidence in Angela Merkel, the chancellor of the country poised to take over the U.S.’s former position, than in DDT.

The White House publication of all its employees’ salaries shows a 37 percent discrepancy in male and female median earnings. Women’s median wage is $72,650 while men get $115,000. DDT’s gap is more than double the national gap of 17 percent and the largest since 2003. Of 22 staffers paid the highest in the White House, only five are women. In April, DDT revoked President Obama’s Fair Pay and Safe Workplaces order requiring companies with federal contracts to comply with labor and civil rights laws. DDT made it possible for all companies to pay workers unfairly.

Science has literally left the White House. The last three employees departed the science division of DDT’s Office of Science and Technology Policy (OSTP).

Although 222,000 jobs were added in June, new manufacturing jobs were half those in February, and 59,000 of the new jobs were in health and services—the area on the GOP chopping block with Trumpcare. DDT promised at least a four-percent increase in the economy in his first year, but Wall Street is forecasting half that or lower, about the average since President Obama brought the nation out of its Bush recession. The recent slump of the dollar comes from the world view of U.S. economy. As the Fed normalizes monetary policy by raising interest rates, the government has lost its opportunity for cheap loans to repair the nation’s infrastructure. Less federal tax revenue indicates faltering personal income. Although people think that the country is in good shape because of rising stock markets, some experts have expressed concern about the future of stocks.

DDT is clinging to his travel ban, but it’s alienating people—even grandparents—because of the highly restrictive definition of “close” relatives connected to people applying to come into the country. The exclusion of grandparents as “close family members” has hit social media.

The extremist radical policies from DDT are facing courts and sometimes losing. Scott Pruitt’s EPA huge favor to the oil and gas industry last month has been overturned. The Washington, D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that Pruitt lacked authority to delay an Obama-era regulation cracking down on pollutants from drilling operations. /The EPA admitted that Pruitt’s two-year delay would have a bad affect on the health of children near oil and gas operations.

Tom Price’s HHS agency reported that the Affordable Care Act is “working as intended” because it protects insurers from big risks and moderates consumer premiums. The charge on plans with lower average risks that is transferred to higher-risk plans is neutral within every state. Another temporary plan, reinsurance, protects insurers from high-cost enrollees by paying companies for the first three years. Both plans are permanent in George W. Bush’s Medicare’s prescription program, Part D. Medicare Part D also assesses insurers collecting huge profits from the program and paying them to insurers with commensurate losses, but the GOP maintains that this is an insurer “bailout” for the ACA. Reinsurance reduced net claim costs by four to six percent in 2016. Stopping the program is driving up premiums for 2017 and 2018, thus the GOP is causing the infamous “death spiral” of health care.

Eighteen states plus the District of Columbia are suing Betsy DeVos because of her delay in regulations to protect federal student loan borrowers who have been defrauded by their schools. The rules, set to take effect last July 1, prohibit colleges from forcing students to settle complaints through arbitration instead of court and make it easier for the borrowers to seek debt forgiveness.

The Hatch Act prevents government officials in the executive branch from involvement in political activity; a 2012 amendment added disciplinary action to its violation. Dan Scorvino, DDT’s social media director, may have broken this law when he tweeted in April that DDT’s supporters should defeat Rep. Justin Amash (MI) in the primary. It goes far beyond his vicious tweets that almost equal those of DDT. During DDT’s campaign, Scorvino tweeted an anti-Semitic image of Hillary Clinton atop piles of hundred-dollar bills and a Jewish Star of David that read, “Most Corrupt Candidate Ever!” Another violator is UN Ambassador Nikki Haley for her retweeting a DDT message endorsing Ralph Norman, the Republican running for Congress in South Carolina’s 5th District. Norman won the special election.

Russia stays in the news:

Jared Kushner, DDT’s son-in-law, finalized a $285 million refinancing loan from Deutsche Bank the month before last November’s election when the bank was in court answering a federal mortgage fraud case and charges that it aided a possible Russian money-laundering scheme. DDT has also garnered almost $8 million from Russian government official Igor Zorin for Florida properties.

DDT’s longtime buddy Michael Cohen has lost his place in DDT’s inner circle to separate DDT from Russian connections. Cohen bought apartments from DDT, bullied DDT’s condo board into submission, and acted as intermediary with mafia-linked DDT business partner, Felix Sater, and Ukraine parliamentarian, Andrii Artemenko, soon after DDT’s inauguration. Artemenko gave Cohen documents to deliver to Michael Flynn before he was fired for Russian connections. Cohen denies reports that he met overseas with Russian officials and operatives, but he has acquired his own lawyer and refuses to provide documents to or appear before congressional intelligence committees.

Sater, a Russia-born real estate dealmaker who allegedly has organized crime links, is agreeing to testify in an international investigation into a Kazakh family’s dealings in the U.S. including the Trump SoHo in downtown New York City. Sater is a known mob informant who fled to Russia to avoid criminal charges. He was also in prison for slashing a man’s face with a broken cocktail glass. His history is here. DDT has said, “I am not involved in Russia.” That doesn’t mean that Russia isn’t involved with DDT. Others are also willing to report on DDT’s connection with financing the Trump SoHo in a front for money laundering.

Although Peter Smith, the man who may have been involved in Russian hacking, has died, the news about his attempts to get Hillary Clinton emails continues. A document of involved people lists senior members of DDT’s campaign, some of them now serving in the White House. Included are white supremacist Steve Bannon. DDT’s counselor Kellyanne Conway, senior Agriculture Department adviser Sam Clovis, and the fired national security adviser, Michael Flynn.  Security consultant Matt Tait, a Smith colleague, gave reasons “that the group was formed with the blessing of the Trump campaign.” The UK cyber-analyst wrote about how Smith recruited him to verify the accuracy of emails.

What has DDT’s Department of Homeland Security to investigate Russian cyber attacks on U.S. voting machines? Nothing.

Hackers from a foreign government—probably Russia—hacked at least a dozen U.S. power plants, including a nuclear facility in Kansas. DDT still hasn’t addressed the problem with Russian president, Vladimir Putin. After DDT’s talk with Putin in Hamburg (Germany) this past week, Putin came away with the impression that DDT agreed that there had been no hacking into the U.S. election.

The company that provides cybersecurity for the U.S. government, including the Pentagon, may lose its contract. Kaspersky Lab, based in Moscow, has certifications issued by the Russian Security Service (FSB) which allows the Russian government to examine anything from Kaspersky. Its security software is also sold at U.S. retail outlets such as Target and Walmart. U.S. intelligence is increasingly concerned that Kaspersky software could cyberattack U.S. infrastructure such as the electric grid, airlines, water utilities, etc. Former CIA station chief in Moscow, Steve Hall, pointed out the Russian control over all of Kasperky’s data:

“Any time [Russian President Vladimir Putin] wants Kaspersky to do something – anything – he’ll remind them that’s where their families are and where their bank accounts are. There’s no doubt in my mind it could be, if it’s not already, under the control of Putin.”

Last Sunday, Sen. Bill Cassidy (R-LA) said, “I get so frustrated when we get focused on tweets.” DDT is responsible for Cassidy’s frustration, and over two-thirds of people in the United States wish that DDT would stop the tweeting. The miserable attacks on Mika Brzezinski and Joe Scarborough were followed by a view of DDT’s fat ass in the air while he pummels a character labeled CNN. He didn’t create the video, but he retweeted it which makes it an official communication from the White House.

While in Germany, DDT attacked Hillary Clinton’s campaign chair, John Podesta, claiming that all the foreign powers were talking about her email serve and tweeting that he “refused to give the DNC server to the FBI and the CIA.” A few DDT mistakes: Podesta’s emails were not on the DNC server; he was not involved with the DNC; the CIA spies on foreign governments and wasn’t investigating cyber-attacks on Clinton.  And DDT continually says that Russia wasn’t involved in the hacking.

“‘The president of the United States is the most powerful person in the world. The president is the spokesman for democracy and liberty. Isn’t it time we brought back the pomp and circumstance and the sense of awe for that office that we all held?’”

The above quotation is from DDT’s 2015 book, Crippled America: How to Make America Great Again. He should read it sometime.

 

July 7, 2017

DDT’s Swamp Becomes More Ethics-Challenged

Some people say that they go inside an institution because it’s the best place to fight injustice. Walter Shaub took the opposite direction. The Office of Government Ethics director who fought the ethic-challenged practices of Dictator Donald Trump (DDT) has now resigned. In his resignation letter to DDT, Shaub wrote that the staff and the community of the Office of Government Ethics is “committed to protecting that principle that public service is a public trust, requiring employees to place loyalty in the Constitution, the laws and ethical principles above private gain.” Appointed by George W. Bush, Shaub had only six months left, and it’s unlikely that DDT would ask him to continue in the position.

The resignation, however, gives him the opportunity to immediately being a struggle against the massive conflicts of interest initiated with DDT’s inauguration less than six months ago. Upon his departure, Shaub will become the senior director for ethics at the Campaign Legal Center (CLC), a group that watches politicians, super PACs, and dark money groups giving money to elections. The CLC also tracks voting rights and efforts to suppress voting through ID laws and gerrymandering. Shaub said he would greater freedom to push for stronger ethics. His current office can only advise and recommend without any power to enforce rules. Only Congress and the Department of Justice has any ability to enforce ethics rules.

“At the Campaign Legal Center, I’ll have more freedom to push for reform. I’ll also be broadening my focus to include ethics issues at all levels of government.

“There isn’t much more I could accomplish at the Office of Government Ethics, given the current situation.”

Unconstitutional ethics issues addressed regarding DDT:

  • No “blind trust” for his business because DDT’s sons are running his businesses and telling him about them.
  • Operation of the Trump hotel in Washington, D.C. that DDT leases from the government.
  • DDT’s appointments to key federal officers who fail to submit appropriate materials before confirmation hearings and votes.
  • Failure to require DDT family members to comply with conflict of interest laws even if they don’t take salaries.
  • DDT’s family members use of White House contacts to enhance their businesses.
  • Refusal to release ethics waivers for at least 16 former lobbyists and industry insiders who continue to be involved in policy decisions regarding former clients.
  • Presidential advisor Kellyanne Conway’s hawking First Daughter (Lady?) Ivanka Trump’s fashion on Fox.

DDT’s holdings include 16 hotels, 17 golf courses, a modeling agency, a production agency, and at least 25 residential real estate properties (a minimum of 17 domestically and eight overseas). He has over 500 companies with dealings in 25 countries. He leases his DC hotel from the federal government and appoints the head of the agency that monitors his lease. And he owes millions in loans, including over $300 million in loans to Deutsche Bank, under investigation by the federal government, and to at least seven other banks for his heavily mortgaged properties, one from the state-owned Bank of China.

As Shaub knows, a 1962 law forbids federal executive branch employees from involvement in government matters in which they or their immediate family members have a financial interest. A 1974 decision from the Justice Department exempted the president and vice-president from that law, and laws in 1978 and 1979 reinforced that position. The Emoluments Clause of the U.S. Constitution, however, prevents gifts “from any king, prince, or foreign state” to any “person holding a federal office of profit or trust.” The supreme Court has never ruled on whether the Emoluments Clause applies to the president.

Presidents since Lyndon B. Johnson have voluntarily put the assets in blind trusts managed by an independent entity or liquidated assets. President Obama did not put assets in this kind of trust because the money was in U.S. treasury bonds and other funds without conflict. These practices are not required by law, and DDT has maintained ownership and knowledge of his assets.

Richard Nixon’s Watergate was the reason for the founding of the ethics office. The Office of Government Ethics has a staff of 80 FTE and a $15 million budget. The director is nominated by the president. DDT has made Walter Shaub famous because DDT began his office of president-elect by claiming that a president cannot be guilty of conflict of interest.

Shaub is not alone in his resignation. Last month, Hui Chen left her position as the top lawyer for compliance in the Justice Department. She said that she could not demand that companies behave in an ethical manner if the administration refused to comply. She wrote:

“To sit across the table from companies and question how committed they were to ethics and compliance felt not only hypocritical, but very much like shuffling the deck chair on the Titanic.”

DDT may decide to leave Shaub’s position empty to follow white supremacist Steve Bannon’s goal, “deconstruction of the administrative state.”

Shaub’s letter of resignation was dated July 6, 2017, two days after the celebration for the founding of the country. One event on the 4th of July demonstrated the anger and ignorance of people who support DDT and his corruption. On that day, National Public Radio tweeted the Declaration of Independence in 113 posts. It has communicated this document to the public for the past 28 years, but this year the words hit a nerve with DDT supporters. They called on NPR to be defunded (government provides only five percent of its funding) and described it as biased, propaganda, and even trash. Evidently the reference to King George III in 1776 as a “tyrant” made them suspicious of NPR.

These are some parts of the Declaration of Independence that DDT supporters found offensive:

“He has obstructed the administration of justice, by refusing his assent to laws for establishing judiciary powers.

“A Prince whose character is thus marked by every act which may define a Tyrant, is unfit to be the ruler of a free people.”

NPR’s Morning Edition has broadcast the Declaration of Independence aloud for almost three decades, this year from over two dozen NPR journalists reading the document. As broadcaster Mary Louise Kelly noted that it is “a document from a deeply divided time. It was a time when Americans turned against each other.”

Although the document that NPR read and tweeted is about the founding of the United States 241 years ago, DDT supporters may be right in its reference to the man inaugurated as president less than six months ago. Two of his appointments for the five-member National Labor Relations Board are a management attorney and a former GOP staffer who can help kill the ability of workers to unionize. The 3-2 GOP majority will allow DDT to control his own employees as well as shrink the 6.4 percent of unionized private sector workers as well as risking the ability of workers in franchises and graduate students at private universities to unionize.

DDT’s proposed budget slashes programs of housing for the poor and continues to reward wealthy landlords—including DDT who takes millions of dollars a year a part owner of Starrett City, the country’s largest subsidized housing complex. He has made $38 million since his inauguration, a steady income that has kept him solvent throughout his large number of bankruptcies. Starrett City was an inheritance from his father.

The proposed tax plan (reform meaning tax cuts for the wealthy) would be to the DDT’s advantage. Cutting the corporate rate from 35 percent to 15 percent and then applying the lower rate to “pass-throughs,” such as LLCs and S corporations, could give DDT $65 million a year in reduced taxes. The repeal of the estate tax on large inheritances that affects only 0.2 percent of people in the U.S. could enhance his children by $10 billion. (Of course, he’s had to die first.) The repeal of the alternative minimum tax, created to guarantee that rich people don’t avoid their taxes, could drop his tax rate by 80 percent. DDT would have saved $31 million in just 2005 without that tax.

And these few items are just the tip of the iceberg of DDT’s conflicts of interest.

Noah Bookbinder, executive director of Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington, said:

“[Ethics] sort of starts from the premise that everybody wants to be in compliance. This idea of, ‘What if they’re not interested in getting into compliance?’ has not really been tested.”

Alexis de Tocqueville, the great author of Democracy in America,  wrote:

“The best laws cannot make a constitution work in spite of customs; and customs can make advantage of the worst laws.”

DDT has filled his personal swamp in the capital with crocodiles like him, and there’s no one with teeth to enforce any ethics laws. Unfortunately, people like that always find ways around any ethics laws. The only way to maintain ethics is to elect people with appropriate intentions. DDT has destroyed all faith in politicians.

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