Nel's New Day

May 10, 2018

Recent Federal Departures

Filed under: Donald Trump — trp2011 @ 8:49 PM
Tags: , , ,

The last two weeks have seen an inordinate number of people moved out of the government with very few arriving. (Another breakdown of disappearances from the White House.) One person did manage to keep his job.

Rev. Pat Conroy is back as U.S. House chaplain after a serious backlash to House Speaker Paul Ryan’s (R-WI) firing him. Ryan said that he was dissatisfied with Conroy’s “pastoral services,” but GOP evangelicals said that they wanted a Protestant instead of a Catholic in the job.  Conroy had prayed before the tax bill that lawmakers guarantee “there are not winners and losers under new tax laws, but benefits balanced and shared by all Americans.” Ryan warned Conroy to “stay out of politics.” Because the chaplain is selected by a majority vote of House members, Ryan couldn’t fire anyone in that position. Conroy was sworn back in on May 8, 2018, almost seven years after his first swearing in on May 25, 2011 after a unanimous vote. His prayer this week when House members returned from their week off:

“As the members return to Washington, may they be encouraged and empowered by their constituents to be their best selves in serving in the people’s House. May the disagreements that seem to perjure give way to good faith efforts to find solutions to the issues facing our nation in a manner consistent with the great traditions of our republican form of government.”

New York AG Eric Schneiderman has resigned. The man who was supposed to try DDT if he pardoned himself from federal charges has been accused of emotionally and physically abusing at least four women. One person suggested for replacing Schneiderman is Alphonso David, a gay man whose immigrant parents sought asylum from a military coup in Liberia. Another possibility, former U.S. attorney and aggressive prosecutor Preet Bharara, was fired last year by Dictator Donald Trump (DDT) while Bharara was investigating former HHS Secretary Tom Price. At that time, DDT’s lawyer Marc Kasowitz patted himself on the back for the firing.

Thomas Homan, DDT’s pick for the head of ICE who enthusiastically attacked immigrants, has resigned because he feels left out of administrative decisions. HHS has consistently failed to provide necessary information for a confirmation hearing, and Homan decided to spend more time with his family. Or he may find a more lucrative job: his predecessor, Daniel Ragsdale, works for GEO Group, the nation’s second-largest private prison and detention company. Under Homan, ICE forced separation of immigrant families in detention, tripled arrests of undocumented people without criminal records, prevented pregnant women in detention from appropriate health care, mistakenly arrested almost 1,500 people, and lost almost 1,500 immigrant children last year who were separated from their parents.

Dr. Jennifer Peña, VP Mike Pence’s doctor, disappeared as collateral damage from the controversy about DDT’s doctor, Ronny Jackson, that caused him to withdraw his name as nominee for VA Secretary. Last fall, she was among those who accused Jackson of workplace misconduct for possibly violating federal privacy protections in sharing medical details about Pence’s wife, Karen Pence.

Jackson is also gone as DDT’s personal physician. Also apparently gone are DDT’s medical records. Dr. Harold Bornstein, DDT’s former personal physician, said that DDT’s bodyguard Keith Schiller, who became director of Oval Office operations, seized all DDT-related medical records two days after Bornstein told a newspaper that he prescribed hair growth medication for DDT. Schiller had no form authorizing his action, thereby violating HIPAA, a 1996 privacy health care law. DDT is using the Jackson scandal to attack Sen. Jon Tester (D-MT), up for re-election this year, but Sen. Johnny Isakson (R-GA), also on the Veterans Affairs Committee as chairman, called foul and brought out the story of Jackson violating Karen Pence’s federal privacy protections. No nominee for Veterans Affairs has appeared although last week’s rumors suggested John Kelly so that DDT could get rid of him as chief of staff.

Lawyer Ty Cobb left DDT’s legal team just as Rudy Giuliani came on. Giuliani unexpectedly quit his job with law firm Greenberg Traurig, that became irritated by Giuliani’s insinuation the firm pays hush money for clients without their knowledge.

Emmitt Flood, recently hired for the legal team, represented Bill Clinton during his impeachment in the late 1990s. DDT’s legal team has no member with a security clearance to handle information in the Russian investigation and Mueller’s negotiations. With 4,095 lawsuits before his election, DDT settled lawsuits since then about a campaign aide leaking to the press, fraud at his university, and a restaurant deal in Washington. His former campaign head has been indicted, three advisers including the one for national security have pled guilty to federal charges, and a porn star and an Apprentice star are suing him for defamation. His son-in-law may be investigated for a bank loan, and his personal lawyer has had his office raided for federal agents.

James Baker, FBI’s top lawyer, and Liz Page, legal adviser to former FBI director James Comey and his deputy Andrew McCabe, have resigned. Baker will write for the Brookings Institution’s Lawfare blog.

EPA media aide John Konkus was the fourth aide to resign last week and the second in the media department. He follows resignations by EPA communications head, Liz Bowman and political aides Albert Kelly and Pasquale Perrotta as well as 700 other EPA employees. James Hewitt, son of Pruitt-defender Hugh Hewitt, columnist for Washington Post, and radio host for MSNBC remains at the agency. A friend of Pruitt, the elder Hewitt lobbied to clean up a toxic waste area near his California home. Scott Pruitt may be behind recent negative stories about Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke. Elaine Plott reported in The Atlantic that Michael Abboud, one of Pruitt’s press team, passed these stories about Zinke to several media outlets after an Interior staffer worked with former EPA deputy chief of staff Kevin Chmielewski to do the same for the EPA.  Pruitt has added a 14th investigation to his list of woes because he granted a financial hardship waiver to Carl Icahn’s oil refinery. The former DDT adviser left after he made more billions from his advice about investments. In this case, Icahn gains tens of millions of dollars from a regulation meant to help the environment and support corn farmers.

Michael Roman, the Koch brothers’ follower who was hired to vet judicial nominees for White House counselor Don McGahn, has left the WH sinking ship. Most people have never heard of Roman because he’s been secretive since he started working for DDT’s campaign. The primary requirement in selecting DDT’s nominees is loyalty to DDT by doing exactly what he wants and never having said anything negative about him. DDT picked Rex Tillerson as Secretary of State because he admired Tillerson’s swagger and business acumen, and he briefly chose Victoria Toensng and Josephn DiGenova because they defended him on television. Rob Porter, ousted for domestic abuse against two ex-wives, had no vetting file, and early choices only needed to be military generals. A White House official described DDT’s process as “ready, shoot, aim” because DDT announces his choices before they have been vetted. (A better description might be “shoot, ready, aim.”)

Gina Haspel, nominee for CIA director, threatened to withdraw her name last Friday, but DDT convinced her to stay. She worried about the confirmation hearing because she supported torture and destroyed videos showing U.S. torturing at a black site, the secret CIA detention facility in Thailand. Pressure during her hearings included questions from Sen. Kamala Harris (D-CA), a former prosecutor, especially the one about whether “the previous interrogation techniques were immoral.” Haspel tried to connect these techniques to preventing further attacks, something never proved. A review of her statements indicates contradictions: she stated that torture did not elicit useful information but believes that it helps prevent further attacks. She said that she wouldn’t restart the torture program but nothing about continuing it. She also said that she would not ask the CIA to do anything “immoral” but refused to answer a question about whether these “interrogations” are immoral. Sen. John McCain (R-AZ) issued a statement that “her refusal to acknowledge torture’s immorality is disqualifying.” After McCain’s statements, Kelly Sadler, who helps manage talking points for DDT allies, said in a White House meeting with two dozen staffers that McCain’s statement “doesn’t matter, he’s “dying anyway.”

Despite the objections of the only senator who has ever been tortured, Haspel will probably be confirmed, joining Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and National Security Adviser John Bolton to become DDT’s triumvirate of war mongering. Other vile comments about McCain show the conservatives’ moral deficiency. Fox guest retired Air Force Lt. Gen. Thomas McInerney tried to use McCain as an example of how torture works. He said:

“The fact is, is John McCain — it worked on John. That’s why they call him ‘Songbird John.’ The fact is is those methods can work and they’re effective, as former vice president [Dick] Cheney said. And if we have to use them to save a million American lives, we will do whatever we have to.”

A fact check with a great deal of evidence shows that McInerney’s claim, based on a false flyer to denigrate McCain during his presidential run, is wrong. The host of the program, Charles Payne, has issued an apology to McCain and his family, calling the comment “very false and derogatory.”


May 9, 2018

Take a Journey with ‘George

I love to read. Not just politics and other news that inundates my blog but also books. Each year, I read about 200 books for adults—mostly mysteries—and hundreds more books for youth, many of which I review for a local organization. My main requirement for a quality book is that the language has a cadence like music, that it sings. Although I lack that skill in writing, I greatly appreciate it in others.

Recently I talked with an author who had received editing notes on her most recent book from a first-time editor. The extensive notes provided hundreds of suggestions for improving the book, a few of them quite helpful in identifying inconsistencies, repetitions, and awkward writing.  Keeping track of these problems in a book of 80,000 words can be hard. An author grows very close to the writing and can overlook some of these problems; therefore a fresh reading is invaluable.

Other editing recommendations for this specific book, however, suggested eliminating much of the novel’s narrative, including conversations, descriptions, and events that break the linear nature of the plot. The editor also urged that the author rewrite the protagonist’s personality, making her more authoritarian to fit the editor’s image of realism. After long consideration, the book’s author chose to keep the approach that corresponds with how she perceived the personality and actions of her protagonist.

As I talked with the author, I began to think about her process in evaluating the editor’s recommendations for improving her book in the light of readers’ expectations and their relationships to books. Reading a book is like taking a road trip, I decided. One way might be to thoroughly study a map before departure, use a GPS in the car, and stay on interstate highways, stopping only for necessary stops such as meals. Totally in control of the passengers, the driver would keep to the speed limit and obey all other traffic laws. This would be one way to approach writing a novel. An alternative to writing fiction could be an expedition on back roads with side trips while different sights call for exploration. During the trek, the reader open to unexpected experiences could revel in a variety of perspectives.

Now when I pick up a book, whether fiction or nonfiction, I immediately contemplate that I don’t know what to expect. Each book is a different adventure with varying subjects, styles, and approaches. One example of that concept has recently been highlighted by the controversy in Oregon about a choice of a book for the state’s “Battle of the Books,” a reading program in which students volunteer to join teams, read the books, and compete in a gameshow-style tournament with questions about the books’ content. Each year, titles for the program are selected by professionals and vetted with public comment. Students are not required to participate in the program or read every book if they choose to compete. Yet one book chosen for the upcoming year has caused two Oregon school districts, Cascade and Hermiston, to refuse participation in the program, and Tigard-Tualatin School District considered requiring permission slips to take part in the program until parents objected.

The book causing some districts to reject the entire program is Alex Gino’s George. Kalpana Krishnamurthy, the national field and policy director at Forward Together, explains why she supports the book’s presence in the “Battle of the Books.”

My 10-year-old son and I love books. We can spend hours reading a new book—or re-reading one of our favorites again and again. We both get so engrossed in our book that we can’t even hear when people say our name or talk to us.

When I first heard about the Battle of the Books, I was jealous. Where was this kind of thing when I was a kid? I would’ve ruled at this sport.

For those that don’t know, the Battle of the Books is a reading event that grew out of a Chicago radio show in the 1940s and is now in school districts and libraries all over the country. Once a year, kids in grades three through five, six through eight and students in high school read selected books for their age range. Kids form teams and meet to battle in a game-show format, answering trivia questions about books on the Battle of the Books list.

The trivia questions are mind-bendingly detailed. As in, “In which book, did a character sneeze during the talent show?” And they have to be able to name the book and author. Yikes. I can’t even remember what I read this morning in the newspaper, let alone that level of detail.

Getting my son to read has never been a problem. But getting him to read new things—new genres, nonfiction, books that feature girl lead characters? That’s a problem. Left to his own devices, he would read adventure, spy stories, manga and anything by Rick Riordan.

But as part of his Battle of the Books team this year, he’s read almost all of the books on the list. My son never would have picked up Esperanza Rising and read about a girl and her mom who leave Mexico and go to work in a southern California agricultural labor camp before the Great Depression. He wouldn’t have read Dash and dove into Mitsi’s world, a Japanese American internment camp where she is separated from her home, classmates and her beloved dog. He wouldn’t have dug into the eruption of Mt. St. Helen’s or Helen Keller’s life.

As a young boy, I want him to see the world through these characters’ eyes. They have something to teach him about their experiences in the world. Even if it’s a fictional one.

That’s why the controversy around George, a book selected for the 2018-2019 Oregon Battle of the Books, is frustrating. George, written by transgender author Alex Gino, centers on a story about a transgender fourth-grader who increasingly learns to be herself, the reaction of the people in her life and the struggle to live her truth.

In the past few days, the Hermiston and Cascade School Districts both announced that they will not participate in the program because they felt the book wasn’t suitable for elementary students. In fact, George went through the entire selection process, which included time for public feedback. It met a rigorous selection criteria and was chosen by a committee of educators and librarians.

As any parent who is raising a child that has complicated identities will tell you, what our kids read and watch matters. We all want our children to see themselves reflected in popular culture. But the truth is, if you have biracial kids, a black nerd, gay or lesbian kids, or a kid with cerebral palsy—there just aren’t that many books out there that show your kid’s experience. And even fewer books are written by authors who share those same complex identities. Parents raising trans kids know that it matters to have a main character who is struggling to put into words the person they hold inside, who is navigating friendships and bullying. It shows trans kids they are not alone.

But it’s not just parents raising trans kids who ought to be dismayed. As someone raising a child who doesn’t identify as transgender, this is an opportunity for my child to be immersed in the struggle and experience of a trans kid. It is a chance for him to put aside what he thinks or knows is true — and see the truth of someone else.

That’s called empathy. And it’s one of the most important lesson that any book teaches us.

Basic Rights Oregon has started a petition to show support for George and for trans inclusion in our schools across Oregon. If the selection of George can stir up this much controversy in our state, we must all pay attention to our schools and make sure that adult fears and transphobia don’t get in the way of kids learning and inclusion.

Several of the posted comments about Krishnamurthy’s op-ed in the Oregonian criticized the mother for pushing her agenda for social justice on her son (their opinion)—just as the commenters pushed their personal agenda of exclusion. They might be surprised that the Oregon Health Education Standards for grades K-12 designated Grades 3-5 for teaching students about gender identity and expression.

Books are journeys. As a former librarian and avid reader, I encourage everyone to take trips into the minds of others. As Krishnamurthy wrote, “That’s called empathy.”

May 8, 2018

DDT Drops Iran Denuclearization, Cohen Sells White House Access

Filed under: Foreign policy — trp2011 @ 9:54 PM
Tags: , , , ,

The U.S. has withdrawn from the six-country deal to stop Iran from developing nuclear weapons is dead, according to Dictator Donald Trump (DDT). He has no reason to take this action. Although DDT has claimed that the deal with Iran was “horrible,” Iran has reduced its stockpile of low-enriched uranium by 98 percent to only 300 pounds, far less than needed for even one bomb. Iran also removed about 13,000 of its centrifuges, leaving just over 5,000 of its oldest-model machines in place. It ceased all enrichment at its underground facility at Fordow, one of the nuclear sites which are continually monitored by the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) which repeatedly states that Iran is complying with the agreement’s restriction.

Last week, the White House released a statement that falsely declared Iran “has a robust, clandestine nuclear weapons program.” A backlash led to the change of one letter—“has” to “had”—that totally revised the false report. The White House excuse was a “typo,” but journalist Brian Beutler pointed out that the “original statement uses the word ‘has’ twice, strongly suggesting an intent to mislead the global public into believing Iran had covertly reactivated its nuclear weapons program in direct defiance of the agreement.”

The White House admitted in its correction that Iran no longer “has a robust, clandestine nuclear weapons program,” but DDT ignored all the evidence showing Iran is following its part of the bargain and made up lies about Iran not pursuing its nuclear program. This comment adds to the 3,000+ lies that he has told since he was inaugurated. DDT also ignored the 63 percent people in the U.S. who want the U.S. to stay in the Iran denuclearization agreement.

Last week, Netanyahu threw fuel on the conflagration by releasing Iranian documents showing that Iranians worked a decade ago to design a nuclear warhead. In more work to rationalize his decision to inflame Iran, DDT hired Black Cube, an Israeli-based private intelligence agency, to falsely smear U.S. negotiators of the agreement, including Ben Rhodes and Colin Kahl. The foreign spies also targeted Rhodes’ and Kahl’s spouses.

In his move toward regime change in Iran, DDT alienated major European and Asian countries but continued to forge a relationship with Saudi Arabia. His supporters include new lawyer Rudy Giuliani and new national security adviser, John Bolton; both are pushing toward the steps leading to more U.S. conflict in the Middle East. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu also pushed DDT to leave the Iran agreement although Netanyahu’s military and intelligence advisers assert that their country is safer with blocking nuclear bombs in Iran.

Lies led to the U.S. 2003 invasion of Iraq with serious fiscal and cultural repercussions fifteen years later, and comparisons are being made between those falsehoods and DDT’s current ones about Iran. John Bolton wants to bomb Iran—just as the George W. Bush era started an ongoing preemptive war against Iraq that has spread across the Middle East. Leaders of France, Germany, and the UK pointed out that a UN Security Council resolution supporting the Iran agreement “remains the binding international legal framework for the resolution of the dispute about the Iranian nuclear program.” Thus the U.S. has been the first country to violate the agreement.

Paul Waldman summarized DDT’s withdrawal:

“This decision is deeply uninformed, utterly illogical, inimical to the interests of the United States, taken for the pettiest of personal reasons and done with absolutely no plan for what to do next. In other words, it’s pure Trump.”

After his announcement, DDT signed an executive memorandum for the 180-day withdrawal process to impose all sanctions on Iran relaxed under the agreement. On the 90-day mark of August 6, these sanctions will be reinstated:

  • Iran buying or acquiring U.S. dollars
  • Iran trading gold and other precious metals
  • Iran’s sale, supply or trade of metals such as aluminum and steel, as well as graphite, coal and certain software for “integrating industrial processes”
  • “Significant” sales or purchases of Iranian rials, or the maintenance of significant funds or accounts outside the country using Iranian rials
  • Issuing Iranian debt
  • Auto sanctions

The U.S. will also halt Iran’s ability to export its carpets and foods into the U.S. and end certain licensing-related transactions.

  • Further sanctions imposed after 180 days on November 4:
  • Iran’s ports, as well as the country’s shipping and shipping sectors
  • Buying petroleum and petrochemical products with a number of Iranian oil companies
  • Foreign financial institutions transacting with the Central Bank of Iran and other Iranian financial institutions
  • Certain financial messaging services to Iran’s central bank and other Iranian financial institutions
  • Provision of underwriting services, insurance, or reinsurance
  • Iran’s energy sector

On Nov. 5, the U.S. will prevent U.S.-owned foreign entities from being allowed to engage in certain transactions with Iran and reimpose certain Iranian individuals.

DDT’s speech about the evil in Iran overlooks the way that the U.S. has violated its own denuclearization agreements. While DDT is demanding that North Korea comply with the 1968 Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT), the U.S. violates the NPT, and Israel refuses to sign the treaty because it maintains a massive hidden nuclear arsenal obtained through deceit. The U.S. also consistently attempts to change regimes in violation of international law and the UN charter, most recently in Iraq and Libya which had complied with U.S. demands to close their nuclear programs.

What happens now that DDT has refused to recertify the deal? Uri Friedman presented three possibilities over six months ago:

Congress Ends the Iran Deal: Congress has 60 days to introduce legislation that imposes nuclear-related sanctions on Iran, including those against the banking system and oil exports. Doing so would breach the Iran deal, possibly unraveling the agreement depending on whether other countries in the agreement join or resist the sanctions. Sanctions would most likely cause Iran to no longer comply with the deal and return to their nuclear program. At that point, the U.S. could either bomb Iran or do nothing. Bolton would certainly not accept doing nothing. The withdrawal from an agreement with Iran negatively impacts any denuclearization agreement with North Korea, disturbed about DDT’s decision because they may not be able to trust the United States’ agreements. Iranian President Hassan Rouhani plans to negotiate with the deal’s three European countries, Russia, and China—once more leaving the United States out in the cold. If negotiations don’t work, Iran is ready to start unlimited uranium enrichment in a few weeks, and the U.S. could be fighting both Iran and North Korea.

Congress Seeks to Improve the Iran Deal: Congress could decide not to reimpose sanctions on Iran at this time. Last October, Republicans—including Sens. Rand Paul (KY), Susan Collins (ME), and Bob Corker (TN)—are in a quandary about quitting the deal, but none of them is particularly reliable in sticking to their positions.

Congress Does Nothing: The agreement can die from inaction—a death “by a thousand cuts.” Because Congress can’t agree on anything, this scenario is most likely.

DDT’s withdrawal from the Iran deal puts the rest of the world in control. Iran can build nuclear weapons if the other four five countries cannot persuade the nation to do otherwise. No nation will trust the United States in any of DDT’s promises, and all nations will understand that DDT is incapable of planning. DDT’s actions may even isolate Israel with the Israelis being blamed for outbreaks of hostilities. And DDT owns responsibility for any issues that come from his withdrawal.

Oil prices rose today after DDT’s announcement with the possibility of future spikes, and lack of Iranian oil can lead to inflation and slower economic growth in the U.S. Gas prices typically rise in the summer, and DDT’s withdrawal can make the problem even worse for consumers. As they pay more for gas, they are able to pay less for other purchases. Gas costs re made even worse from all the gas-guzzling cars consumers purchased after the gas prices dropped by over one-third in the past six years.

DDT managed to avoid some of the media attention from the actions of his personal attorney Michael Cohen, who may have been paid hundreds of thousands of dollars by both corporate clients and the Russian billionaire Viktor Vekselberg through the New York investment firm Columbus Nova. The Russian oligarch may also have provided the payoff in hush money for Stormy Daniels, according to her lawyer Michael Avenatti in documents supported by the media. The drug company Novartis and Korea Aerospace Industries, both with U.S. business relationships, also paid Cohen. Soon after the last Novartis payment, DDT met with the company’s incoming CEO; Korea Aerospace, which had no comment, is in competition for a multibillion-dollar joint contract to product U.S. Air Force jet trainers.

These episodes of The Apprentice in the White House may lead to more legal charges and World War III.


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