Nel's New Day

June 27, 2018

Democracy in the United States – Gone?

With Justice Anthony Kennedy’s resignation from the Supreme Court and the GOP stolen seat for Neil Gorsuch, no one will have to wonder about decisions from the Supreme Court: they will always favor Christian and business conservatism. Gone are any careful deliberations about the constitutionality of the cases. The five conservative justices will legislate from the bench according to their united radically right-wing ideology. An appointment from Dictator Donald Trump (DDT) can ban legalized abortions and contraception, reverse LGBTQ rights, promote discrimination against minorities and women, and increase capital punishment and solitary confinement.

Despite Kennedy’s conservative leanings and his decision to appoint George W. Bush as president in 2000, Kennedy was the swing vote to legalize marriage equality and preserve—to some extent—Roe v. Wade.  On the other hand, he overturned DC’s handgun ban, allowed unlimited finance restrictions, and set in place the destruction of equal voting right. Recently he supported discrimination against Muslims and Christian opposition to abortions and birth control. The week of his resignation after 30 years in the U.S. Supreme Court, Kennedy contributed to the taint of the “Robert Court.”

Despite Republicans ranting against legislating from the bench, the conservative justices made conservative law today in deciding against public-sector unions. The decision of Janus v. American Federation of State, County, and Municipal Employees permits workers to take union protection for free despite the fact that the small fees they paid has no political influence. The takers, including Mark Janus, won. Even conservative Antonin Scalia, who died before he could hear the case, wrote in 1991 that public sector unions could compel agency fees. Forcing unions to help nonmembers who do not pay them, “mandated by government decree,” would be constitutionally problematic. [Left: Janus was the name for a two-faced god of transition.]

For 41 years, public sector unions could levy fair-share fees to pay for workers interests.  The only intention of the five conservative justices is to break the union in their goal to protect large businesses and hurt working people. The loser in this case is the future for women and young people in the nation because union workers have greater wages—up to 20 percent more. The winner is the group of foundations funded by rightwing billionaires such as the Koch Brothers and the DeVos family who want to make money from privatizing the public sector. Their actions cost people more because privatization always costs taxpayers more money. Therefore people have lower wages while paying more money for everything.

The restrictions in Janus follows the courts’ history of blocking worker freedom. Nineteenth-century courts ruled that workers’ collective action infringed on employers’ freedom of commerce guaranteed by antitrust laws. The Supreme Court’s ruling in Lochner v. New York (1905) decided that labor protections such as maximum-hour laws violated workers’ freedom of contract. The Depression of the 1930s encouraged courts to give labor protections, but the GOP soon gained success in destroying these rights, actions that greatly expanded since their success in electing Ronald Reagan.

Although the Janus ruling may feel like doom, Shaun Richman, a veteran union organizer, warned that the ruling might require public employers to allow multiple unions competing for workers instead of negotiating with just one. If unions go to great lengths to show that they are the best worker advocates, the results could be more union militancy and power.

“The American people should have a voice in the selection of their next Supreme Court Justice,”  Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) said two years ago when President Obama nominated a Supreme Court justice eleven months before the next president would be inaugurated. His position was that no nominee should be considered in an election year, and he refused a hearing for the nominee. For over a year, the Supreme Court was sometimes tied because of only eight justices voting on rulings. The next Congress is only six months away, but McConnell has abandoned his former belief. “We will vote to confirm Justice Kennedy’s successor this fall,” he said on the Senate floor with no idea of who that nominee will be.

Much has been said about the standard of whether a nominee will overturn Roe v. Wade, but McConnell’s standard is an approval by the NRA. In an interview with Fox, he said that he “can’t imagine that a Republican majority in the United States Senate would want to confirm, in a lame duck session, a nominee opposed by the National Rifle Association [and] the National Federation of Independent Businesses.” McConnell also told a crowd at a campaign rally:

“One of my proudest moments was when I looked at Barack Obama in the eye and I said, ‘Mr. President, you will not fill this Supreme Court vacancy.’”

The United States, which claims to be a democracy, now has a bogus president, a bogus Supreme Court justice, and a senate leader who decides which nominees can be confirmed.

Two days ago, the Supreme Court sent a gerrymandering case from North Carolina back to a trial court for further examination. Emboldened by other recent Supreme Court non-decisions on gerrymandering, North Carolina Republicans are asking SCOTUS to use the 2017 map plan that would inordinately favor the GOP.

DDT is fortunate that the media is not concentrating on some of the worst news for the United States because of DDT’s horrific policy separating children and families, his Russian scandals, and the recent disasters of the Supreme Court. During the time of President Obama, conservatives railed against the growing national debt after the president saved the U.S. economy that tanked from George W. Bush’s decreased taxes, $5 trillion wars, and the corruption of subprime mortgages. The last budget from President Obama, the one for 2017, increased the national debt by only $672 billion, a lot of money but much less than the projected deficit from DDT’s first budget in 2018. DDT’s first deficit is $1.233 trillion—almost twice that from President Obama—and his next year is about the same. DDT blamed President Obama for doubling the national debt after he took over Bush’s excesses, but now DDT is doubling President Obama’s debt.

Continuing deficits from tax cuts for the rich and big companies will come with increased dependence on foreign investors that weakens the world power of the U.S. Usually drastic debt increases result because of war and poor economy; the U.S. has neither at this time. After President Obama made progress in decreasing the deficit, however, Republicans’s huge tax cuts moved the nation to higher debt levels and erased its ability to respond to emergencies. Instead of addressing the problem, the GOP wants to make permanent the temporary taxes for individuals after 2026 to create even greater debt. Also contributing to greater debt and decline in the economy is DDT’s trade war with China, Mexico, Canada and Europe.

The GOP solution for the debt in the coming year will be to shred the safety net and established programs that people have paid into for decades. DDT ran on a campaign of preserving Medicare and Social Security, but the 2019 budget proposed by the GOP House now have drastically cuts many programs, including Medicare and Social Security, in order to pay for its tax cuts. Presenting these priorities that hurt the GOP voting block of older U.S. citizens is a brave move less than five months before Republicans try to keep the House majority in the midterm general elections. Republicans knew that the tax cuts could drive up the deficit, but they are now crying that the biggest domestic problem are debts and deficits. The GOP budget, called “A Brighter American Future,” goes back to House Speaker Paul Ryan’s (R-WI) desire of privatizing Medicare which supposedly reduces Medicare by $537 billion over the next decade. Considering that privatization always costs more than government programs, that’s a big slice out of health care for its recipients.

A new law that permits additional Medicare benefits for people with multiple chronic illnesses is a move toward privatization. These benefits may include home improvements such as wheelchair ramps, transportation to doctor’s offices, home delivery of hot meals, and other social and medical services. The catch is that only people with MedAdvantage programs, contracted with private companies, will have this “advantage.” Those who subscribe to traditional Medicare won’t have them available because Congress waived the requirement that all plans offer the same benefits for those with chronic illnesses.

Ryan is blaming God for taking benefits for people:

“Catholic social teaching … cautions us against allowing the state too great a reach into civil society. This is about saving souls, not dollars.”

Ryan’s college education was provided by his survivor’s benefits from the “state” after his father died. At the same time Ryan began “dreaming” about destroying Medicaid when he was “drinking out of kegs.” He plans to spend his last six months taking more money from people like him and ordered his team to provide reconciliation instructions to fast-track the budget without Democratic votes in the Senate—probably in the lame-duck session after the elections.

This June, the Supreme Court ended with a bang.

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May 25, 2018

DDT: Week 70 – New U.S. Foreign Policy

China wins. The Asian country has made no commitments about reducing the trade deficits, but Dictator Donald Trump (DDT) is saving jobs in China by lifting sanctions on the Chinese-owned company ZTE. The U.S. government had banned the company from buying U.S. components for seven years because the phones a security risk, used to track service members. ZTE officials as well as for foreign espionage and cyber attacks. Even with a 23-3 vote to keep DDT from lifting these sanctions, the Senate Banking Committee  failed to stop DDT.

During the last week, the U.S. foreign policy on China shifted daily—sometimes hourly. On Sunday, Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin said that the trade war was “on hold” because the U.S. had postponed tariffs on China. Hours later, U.S. trade representative Robert Lighthizer told China that DDT might impose tariffs. DDT’s chief economic adviser Larry Kudlow earlier said that China offered to shrink the trade deficit by $200 billion but followed up on Sunday by saying that the figure was a “rough ballpark estimate” and that the two countries never expected to reach an agreement.

DDT goes to the side that can most benefit him personally, in this case a $500 million loan from China for his personal business. Andrew Ross Sorkin described DDT’s negotiating style:

“Start with a headline-grabbing demand, beat chest loudly, then accept whatever is actually practical and call it a win.”

DDT seems to have forgotten a rule in his ghost-written book The Art of the Deal:

“You can’t con people, at least not for long. You can create excitement, you can do wonderful promotion and get all kinds of press, and you can throw in a little hyperbole. But if you don’t deliver the goods, people will eventually catch on.”

Jared Kushner, DDT’s son-in-law, is back in business—literally—after he got his permanence high security clearance. Foreign officials, including those from China and UAE, can return to planning ways to manipulate him as he can enrich his family business by classified intelligence and access to DDT.

North Korea wins. In his desire to get a Nobel Peace Prize, DDT claimed that the summit meeting with Kim Jong-Un might be back on after he pulled out of the agreement yesterday. In a letter refusing the meeting, DDT had used the excuse of Kim’s “tremendous anger and open hostility displayed in your most recent statement” as his excuse. Technically, the hostility came from John Bolton’s and VP Mike Pence’s statements about employing the “Libya model” for North Korea, an action that led to the death and dismemberment for Libya’s leader. DDT gave no warning to South Korea about his withdrawal which weakened South Korea after its buy-in to the summit. The U.S. State Department may not even have been aware of DDT’s letter to Kim that canceled the meeting.

North Korea already dismantled a nuclear test site, most likely because it had become unusable. History repeats itself as North Korea destroyed another site to get rid of George W. Bush’s sanctions, only to later back out of its agreement. DDT tried to look reasonable by not flying planes over North Korea in his military games, but Kim looked much better after he released U.S. prisoners, stopped nuclear and missile testing, and blew up his nuclear testing site. By announcing that the he was backing out of the talks and then backing down from his action a few hours earlier, DDT looks impulsive and rash. He has ignored briefings about North Korea and advice to move more slowly into diplomatic meetings, thus increasing the world’s negative perspective about the U.S. being a failure under his leadership. DDT made Kim into a world leader and proved himself again a quitter while Kim ended up with the moral high ground.

(STR/AFP/Getty Images)

North Korea also benefits from better trade relationships with China, which may take over talks with North Korea after DDT abandoned its leverage. Japan had been left out of the discussions, thus dropping the talks will leave that country less vulnerable. The coalition of Asian companies further isolates the United States. DDT’s letter made threats by implying that U.S. nuclear powers are more “massive and powerful,” a continuation of DDT’s earlier “my button is bigger than your button” comments to Kim. He also said that the U.S. military is “ready if necessary” to take action against North Korea if it engages in a “foolish or reckless act” and that South Korea and Japan are willing to shoulder the costs. The two Asian countries haven’t responded to DDT’s statements—South Korean President Moon Jae-in said he was “very perplexed and sorry.”

The Washington Post write in an editorial: “Never has such chaos attended the public behavior of a U.S. president on a matter of such gravity.” A history of the failing summit talks with North Korea.

DDT may meet with Kim so that he doesn’t waste this commemorative coin that’s already being sold for $85. Seth Meyers has a segment on this and other coins.

The back-and-forth approaches toward China and North Korea are DDT’s attempt to divert people from James Clapper’s interviews and new book, Facts and Fears: Hard Truths from a Life in Intelligence, and Clapper’s statement that Russia won the election for DDT, that he is an illegitimate president. Clapper’s interview with Rachel Maddow. Clapper, former Director of National Intelligence, also used the word “distorted” in describing DDT’s accusation that the FBI and DOJ infiltrated or surveilled his campaign. That was the subject of a meeting at the White House, first scheduled with only GOP congressional members. Protests led to a second meeting on the same day that included the “Gang of 8, the bipartisan leadership of both the Senate and House. One of the “eight” was missing; House Speaker Paul Ryan (R-WI) didn’t want to miss a fundraiser to be briefed on a confidential intelligence source in the Russian investigation. DDT’s lawyer Emmet Flood managed to attend the meeting about a government’s case against his client—an unethical and possibly illegal action.

DDT’s hope for diverting more attention was “Spygate,” but the FBI was investigating Russian involvement in DDT’s campaign, not DDT and the members of his campaign. Yet DDT ordered federal agencies to give sensitive information about a person in the investigation to lawmakers who, he was sure, would then give him all the information—all for purely political reasons and in violation of the law After the meeting, Rep. Adam Schiff (D-CA) said that the briefing had no evidence of “Spygate.” Republicans said nothing except Sen. John Cornyn (R-TX) twice defended false statements and accused Schiff of leaking classified information.  DDT’s other conspiracy theories to falsely and deliberately divert people from facts:

  • Obama wiretapped Trump Tower. (He didn’t.)
  • There were improper unmaskings. (There weren’t.)
  • The FISA warrants related to Carter Page were improper. (They weren’t).
  • It was Democrats who actually colluded with Russia. (They didn’t.)
  • Conspiring FBI officials may be guilty of “treason.” (They aren’t.)
  • “Uranium One” is a real scandal. (It isn’t.)
  • Senate Intelligence Vice Chair Mark Warner (D-Va.) had improper communications with a lobbyist for a Russian oligarch. (He didn’t.)
  • Every member of Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s team is a rabid Democratic partisan. (Mueller is a Republican.)
  • Law enforcement officials ”infiltrated” the Trump campaign, “implanting” a “spy” in the Republican operation. (They didn’t.)

The irony about DDT’s complaints about the FBI investigation into the campaign is that the FBI protected DDT. They concealed the campaign’s connections with Russia until after the election at the same time that they released information about Hillary Clinton with no reason that then led to her losing the election.

Other news from the current administration is so bizarre that most of it appears like satire—except for the disasters of the swamp/sewer facts. The latest piece had to be checked, and it’s true. A sinkhole on the North Laws of the White House outside the press briefing room is growing every day with another sinkhole nearby. These phenomena develop from loosened soil and can swallow cars, streets, and even homes. Exactly one year ago, a bigger pit opened in front of Mar-a-Lago.

According to religious lore, the Bible states in Numbers:

“But if the Lord brings about something totally new, and the earth opens its mouth and swallows them, with everything that belongs to them, and they go down alive into the realm of the dead, then you will know that these men have treated the Lord with contempt.”

The Book of Revelation has a more vivid description:

“When he opened the Abyss, smoke rose from it like the smoke from a gigantic furnace. The sun and sky were darkened by the smoke from the Abyss.”

In that case, the sinkhole might be followed by locusts and scorpions. The most entertaining tweets about DDT’s sinkhole.

Jess Phoenix, a volcanologist, geologist and candidate for a California congressional seat in California, said, “Blame the swamp.” Really.

 

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.”

April 24, 2018

DDT’s ‘Best People’

Filed under: Donald Trump,Uncategorized — trp2011 @ 2:54 PM
Tags: , ,

Dictator Donald Trump (DDT) frequently brags that he picks only “the best people.” Here’s a recent sample:

DDT’s latest disaster is Dr. Ronny Jackson, DDT’s pick for the fired VA director David Shulkin. Known as the man who performed DDT’s physical exam this year and pronounced him able to live to be 200 years old, Jackson’s confirmation hearing has been postponed because of “allegations related to improper conduct in various stages of his career.” Supposed concerns include “a hostile work environment,” “excessive drinking at work,” and “improperly dispensing medication.” If DDT got a glowing health report in exchange for the offer of a plum position, he isn’t paying off because he’s suggesting that Jackson resign because of the “ugly” process. Once again, a case of no due-diligence to vet a nominee.

Mira Ricardel, John Bolton’s first addition to his National Security Council staff as deputy, opens Bolton’s skirmish with Defense Secretary Jim Mattis, who threatened to resign after Ricardel blocked his picks for top Defense Department positions when she was in the Office of Presidential Personnel. Two of the three “Axis of Adults” aides—former Secretary of State Rex Tillerson and national security adviser H.R. McMaster—are gone, leaving only Mattis to oppose DDT’s impulsive foreign policies.

(AP Photo/Alex Brandon)

Rep. James Bridenstine (R-OK) barely squeaked by with a confirmation vote of 50-49 to become the NASA director after senators learned that, as executive director, he had run the Oklahoma nonprofit Tulsa Air and Space Museum and Planetarium in into huge losses while using funds to pay $372,000 to a company he co-owned. Senators changed the rules to allow Sen. Tammy Duckworth (D-IL) to bring her ten-day-old daughter (right) onto the Senate floor so that Duckworth could cast a vote against Bridenstine running the $18.5 billion NASA budget. DDT has decided to drop the International Space Station by looking for commercial alternatives and then to go back to the moon. Bridenstine, lacking scientific expertise, is also known as a denier of climate change and an opponent of LGBTQ rights. In an odd reason for changing his ” no” vote, Sen. Marco Rubio (R-FL) said that “the more important the job, the more discretion the president deserves.”

Wendy Vitter, nominee for a federal judge position, would not say whether she agreed with the decision in Brown v. Board of Education during her confirmation hearings. Sen. Richard Blumenthal (D-CT) tweeted: “If you can’t affirm that the Supreme Court was right in desegregating schools, you don’t belong on the federal bench.”

A Senate party vote of 50-48 put anti-union John Ring on the National Labor Relations Board, giving Republicans the 3-2 edge. The NLRB has oversight over all private-sector union elections and legal disputes between workers, unions and companies.

Susan Combs, appointed as assistant secretary of fish, wildlife and parks, has a tradition of opposing enforcement of the Endangered Species Act as rancher and Texas comptroller with strong ties to the oil industry. Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke earlier failed to make her an assistant secretary for policy, management and budget after bipartisan opposition in the Senate because of bipartisan opposition.

Former White House aide Ezra Cohen-Watnick managed to get a job in the DOJ as Jeff Sessions’ national security adviser after National Security Advisor H.R. McMaster fired him last August. Both Steve Bannon and Jared Kushner protected Cohen-Watnick for months, and DDT ordered the new hire. Cohen-Watnick came with Michael Flynn because he shared the former National Security Advisor’s distrust for the CIA, love for Russia, and hatred for Iran. With ties to Rep. Devin Nunes (R-CA), who shut down the House Intelligence Committee investigation into the Russian scandal, Cohen-Watnick will advise Sessions on counterintelligence and counterterrorism, putting him in a prime position to pass along highly secret information about the Russian investigation to DDT. (Nunes’ latest plan to protect DDT is to impeach FBI Director Christopher Wray and Rosenstein.)

Scott Pruitt fired Mario Carballo from the EPA because he approved an internal report that didn’t support Pruitt’s wishes for multimillion-dollar security protection such as 24/7 bodyguards. An example of a “threat” was a postcard including “CLIMATE CHANGE IS REAL!!! We are watching you.” Sen. John Barrasso (R-WY) considered this a death threat although the Secret Service identified no “reports of behaviors of interest” against Pruitt. Pruitt was also concerned about a person yelling at him in the Atlanta airport: “Scott Pruitt, you’re f—ing up the environment.”

Kevin Chmielewski has told senators that Scott Pruitt fired him from the EPA in March after he alerted people about Pruitt’s excessive travel expenses:

  • Flying first class on airlines not on government’s approved list to get frequent flying points;
  • Insisting on staying in hotels 300 times more expensive than the government’s per diem;
  • Booking more expensive hotels with less on-site security in order to bring personal bodyguards;
  • Asking staff to “find me something to do” in locations throughout the country to justify spending taxpayer money;
  • Asking staff to find official reasons for him to be in Oklahoma when he wanted to spend long weekends at home;
  • Purchasing new SUVs for transport instead of obtaining vehicles through the General Services Administration;
  • Spending over the $5,000 limit to redecorate his office which includes the $43,000 phone booth.

Once a strong Chmielewski supporter, DDT still supports Pruitt, according to DDT’s legislative affairs director Marc Short, but White House officials are warning conservative members of Congress not to defend Pruitt. Other probes into Pruitt’ actions may include his use of three epa.gov email addresses plus his public government-issued address which may violate the Federal Records Act. Between DDT’s inauguration and the end of 2017, 11,431 FOIA requests were filed to the EPA.

Elliott Broidy has resigned as RNC deputy finance chair after publicity about Michael Cohen striking a deal to pay a Playboy “playmate” who said Broidy had impregnated her.

Ximena Baretto, put on leave from deputy director of communications at HHS last December, pushed the Pizzagate conspiracy purporting that Hillary Clinton ran a child-sex ring in Washington, D.C., called Islam a “cult,” and posted the message that “our forefathers would have hung” Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton for treason. In a tweet, she wrote that President Obama was a “pansy and a traitor” and shared the conspiracy that French President Emmanuel Macron is “a political puppet” of the Rothschild family.

Jon Lerner was hired and fired as national security adviser for VP Mike Pence within two days. The GOP pollster with no national security experience had a job as deputy to UN Ambassador Nikki Haley but was willing to take on a second responsibility for Pence. DDT told his chief of staff, John Kelly, “to get rid of Lerner” because he had created attack anti-DDT ads for Club for Growth. Lerner stays with Haley but is “withdrawing from coming on board” with Pence. The vice president has already lost his chief of staff, press secretary, chief counsel, and domestic policy director.

Retired Army Lt. Gen. Keith Kellogg has been selected for the job that Lerner lost. VP Mike Pence picked Kellogg after he became the fifth person to leave John Bolton’s national security council. The question is whether DDT lets Pence keep this national security adviser. Ricky Waddell left prior to Kellogg.

The Trump University fraud case with two class-action lawsuits and a civil lawsuit from New York is finally settled, and DDT had to write a $25 million check to students. DDT is suffering in so many other places that the media barely noticed the settlement. During his campaign, DDT said, “I don’t settle cases.” The only winner is former Texas Deputy AG David Morale, who dropped the state’s investigation of Trump University for bilking Texas taxpayers out of over $2.6 million. DDT just appointed him to a lifetime judgeship on a Corpus Christi trial bench.

CIA Director Mike Pompeo has passed the Senate Foreign Relations Committee and moved on to a floor vote for Secretary of State after Sen. Rand Paul (R-KY) did his usual “I’ll never vote for … to of course, I’ll vote for …..” Paul’s excuse was DDT’s reassurances to him; Paul said that he’ll “take [DDT] at his word.” As a hawk, Pompeo pushes for regime change in Iran and wants to overthrow the six-country nuclear agreement keeping Iran from developing these weapons. Pompeo also has ties with an anti-Muslim conspiracy theorist and contemplates overthrowing North Korean leader Kim Jong-Un. DDT described Kim as “very honorable.” World War III anyone?

The Dow Jones roller-coaster dropped over 400 points today as government bond yields hit 3 percent and a Caterpillar executive said that its first quarter profit “will be the high-water mark for the year.” S&P and Nasdaq joined the Dow in falling between one and two percent. The recent volatility of stocks could lead to inflation, recession, and higher interest rates.

April 12, 2018

Washington Legislators, Officials Flee

Filed under: Uncategorized — trp2011 @ 12:14 AM
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Just when I think that the GOP world cannot get more bizarre, something happens to amaze me more. Today was one of those days. No, it wasn’t House Speaker Paul Ryan’s (R-WI) announcement that he’ll stay home with the kids who haven’t had this attention for over a decade. My astonishment came from an earlier GOP House Speaker—John Boehner. Seven years ago, he said that he was “unalterably opposed” to legalizing marijuana. Boehner altered when he joined the board of advisers of Acreage Holdings, the cannabis corporation operating in 11 states. He tweeted:

“I’m convinced de-scheduling the drug is needed so we can do research, help our veterans, and reverse the opioid epidemic ravaging our communities.”

Over 60 percent of people in the United States want legalized cannabis, and over 90 percent support legalized cannabis for medical use. Watching Boehner joining these percentages at a time when the DOJ wants to clamp down on cannabis and Dictator Donald Trump (DDT) wants to kill all the drug dealers—presumably also those selling cannabis—is nothing short of mind-boggling.

But yes, Paul Ryan finally admitted that he won’t be running for re-election in 2018. He leaves a legacy of close to a $1 trillion deficit this coming year and exceeding $1 trillion every year after that for the next decade. In Ryan’s announcement of his departure, he called the tax cuts, causing much of the deficit, one of his proudest achievements. Abandoning past conservative fiscal policy, he decided that tax cuts and spending increases are good for electing Republicans. Ryan’s current competition in the primary is an anti-Semite white supremacist.

Satirist Andy Borowitz wrote that the Koch brothers—who actually gave Ryan’s campaign $500,000 in exchange for his tax cuts—have put Ryan up for sale on eBay with a $500 asking price. The humorist pointed out that Ryan’ “current high bid [is] seventeen dollars.” Borowitz wrote:

“The eBay listing suggested several possible uses for the former House Speaker, including as a Halloween ornament or garden gnome.”

The fight for his job is on, with Kevin McCarthy (R-CA) and Steve Scalise (R-LA) currently in the forefront while others bolt. One hour after Ryan’s departure announcement, Rep. Dennis Ross (R-FL) said he won’t run for re-election. Retirements in the House are already far above normal, and the general election isn’t for almost seven months. One resignation, Rep. Ryan Costello (R-PA), was made after the deadline to register for candidacy.

DJ Gribbin, DDT’s infrastructure policy adviser, left the White House after Congress largely ignored his plans for private and public partnerships. DDT has also told the GOP that these partnerships for infrastructure funding projects won’t work.

DDT claims that former VA Secretary David Shulkin resigned, but Shulkin disagrees, saying, “I did not resign.” Much was made earlier about his taking his wife with him on a business trip to Europe and his inability to get along with his staff. Yet that one trip was a drop in the bucket compared to other costs by other cabinet members; his conflict came from DDT staff hires who fought to privatize the VA health care. Replacement Ronny Jackson, the fawning doctor who gave DDT his physical examination, had said that he could live 200 years and had “incredibly good genes.” (DDT’s father died of dementia.) The biggest problem with Jackson, however, is his total lack of experience. If confirmed, Jackson will administer 360,000 employees, a $186 billion budget, and health care for nine million veterans. Fortunately for him, Shulkin had already stabilized the VA system of hospitals and health clinics, but Jackson’s sycophantic personality may cause him to dismantle everything. Veterans are coming out en masse in opposition to the privatization of health care that Jackson will rubber stamp for DDT and the Koch brothers.

John Bolton, appointed for National Security Adviser, may not be a shoe-in because of earlier political activity. He supposedly ended political activity with his PACs and stepped down as chair of his anti-Muslim Foundation for American Security and Freedom, but the PACs won’t be dissolved. He may also have a problem in his connection with Cambridge Analytica in electing Sens. Thom Tillis (R-NC) and Tom Cotton (R-AR) whose campaign may have been orchestrated by foreign workers. Bolton also appeared in a 2013 video for a Russian gun rights organization.

At least 3,000 Russia-linked ads from Cambridge Analytica reached over 126 million people during the 2016 U.S. election. HuffPo’s profile of white nationalist ”Ricky Vaughn”—28-year-old Douglass Mackey from Waterbury (VT)—shows how influential a few ads can be. C.A. also helped vicious Philippine dictator Roderigo Duterte win his election and participated in elections in Nigeria, Kenya, Trinidad & Tobago, and Latvia by creating ethnic tensions online by creating fear and misinformation online and entrapping political opponents with videos of sex workers.

The arrival of Bolton has led to at least three resignations/firings from the national security council. Tom Bossert may not be a great loss: the day before his firing, Bossert touted the movement of National Guard troops to the Mexico border and said that rape is the “price of entry” for women crossing the border.Michael Anton was known for writing DDT-supporting “American First” blog posts and essays under the pseudonym of Publius Decius Mus. Nadia Schadlow, trusted confidante of the fired H.R. McMaster who helped write DDT’s national security strategy, lasted only a few months after she replaced Dina Powell in January. Her mistake is believing in diplomacy. Here’s a list of people leaving DDT prior to that of Schadlow.

Ohio House Speaker Cliff Rosenberger (R) announced his resignation as of May 1 after an FBI inquiry into his spending and travel, including a trip to London with payday lending industry representatives. He finds his actions “ethical and lawful” but left as soon as the suggestion came from Ohio Attorney General Mike DeWine (R).

Dan Scavino, DDT’s former caddy turned into White House social media director, has replaced Hope Hicks as White House Communications Director. He is the last remaining staffer from DDT’s campaign launch.

Air Force Secretary Heather Wilson, appointed almost a year ago, will stay because she claims that following “sincerely held religious beliefs” don’t break the law. She exonerated Col. Leland Bohannon for his refusal to sign a certificate of spousal appreciation for a retiring gay subordinate because because someone else signed the certificate that recognizes sacrifices of military spouses. Bohannon signs certificates for only heterosexual spouses. Discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation is against policy. Wilson’s history of LGBTQ discrimination as a senatorial candidate includes opposition to a bill reducing anti-LGBTQ bullying.

DDT’s problematic appointments may be directly connected to the Presidential Personnel Office (PPO), DDT’s office to recruit and vet over 4,000 political appointees. In 62 weeks, it has found 309 candidates for 343 Cabinet agency positions requiring Senate approval. Of 1,200 positions requiring confirmation, only 387 from DDT have been approved, compared to 548 for President Obama and 615 for George W. Bush. Several DDT appointees have resigned after problems with comments, backgrounds, and qualifications. DDT’s PPO has a small staff of only 30—less than one-third of previous ones—and a serious lack of experience, mostly young people who worked on DDT’s campaign. They commonly have “happy hours” and held a frat drinking game called “Icing.”

During DDT’s transition, 100 researchers and lawyers under the supervision of New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie prepared a list of candidates and hundreds of pages establishing a framework. DDT fired their leader, discarded all the information, and hired political operative John DeStefano as headhunter who required only loyalty to DDT as a job requirement. Even before DeStefano was hired, the database had only 87,000 applicants, compared to President Obama’s 300,000.

One of the most successful member of PPO is 75-year-old Katja Bullock. Her son became deputy assistant administrator at the U.S. Agency for International Development, his wife is White House liaison at the Office of Personnel Management, and their sons are “confidential assistant” at the Social Security Administration and “staff assistant” at the Millennium Challenge Corporation, a U.S. foreign aid agency that works to end global poverty.

Scott Pruitt is still clinging to his position as EPA Secretary, but his departure could leave Andrew Wheeler in charge if the Senate confirms him for the second-highest-ranking person in the agency. As a coal lobbyist, Wheeler is well known to the GOP senators, especially former boss Sen. James Inhofe (R-OK).  His climate denying is so carefully phrased that Democrats haven’t really objected to his positions. Daniel Best, a former pharma insider, will be HHS Secretary Alex Azar’s pick to lower drug prices.

The media has paid little attention to either one of these people. Instead we focus on DDT’s promises to fire missiles at Syria while telling Russia that they can’t stop them. DDT seems to be having a spat with Vladimir Putin that can drive the United States into a war with the Middle East.

March 24, 2018

DDT: Week Sixty-one – Tweeting, Hiding from Protests

Late Friday evening has become the time for Dictator Donald Trump (DDT) to drop bombs, usually in order to steer the media away from news that he doesn’t like. DDT’s news last night before the massive March for Our Lives gatherings today was to once again ban transgender military members in the military. His ban of several months ago has been overturned in court, but DDT executed an order supporting the new memo from Defense Secretary Jim Mattis that disqualifies U.S. troops who have had gender confirmation surgery because “military service requires sacrifice.” Transgender troops without surgery can stay if they have been medically stable for 36 consecutive months before joining the military or if they were diagnosed with gender dysphoria after President Obama’s end of the ban in 2016. Four lawsuits are already opposing DDT’s earlier ruling.

Facebook’s providing Cambridge Analytica with data consumed much of the news during the past week. Clips of C.A.’s officials were caught on a hidden camera explaining their blackmail to put conservative candidates into office. Last Sunday, CBS reported that DDT’s campaign never used any data from Cambridge Analytica, but suspended C.A. CEO president Alexander Nix disagreed, saying that C.A. put DDT the winner in the presidential election. Brad Parscale, DDT’s current campaign director, worked with C.A. to turn women and black voters against Hillary Clinton with fake stories.

Worse news from C.A.: key players have a new company, Emerdata, with C.A. primary funder Robert Mercer’s daughters, C.A.’s suspended CEO Alexander Nix as director, C.A.’s chief data officer Alexander Tayler, and Julian Wheatland, chairman of Cambridge Analytica parent firm SCL Group. Connected to Emerdata is Erik Prince, founder of Blackwater and now chairing the private security firm operating mostly in Africa. Prince is the brother of Secretary of State Betsy DeVos. George Nadar, who organized a meeting in the Seychelles between Erik Prince and a high-level Russian banker to set up a secret DDT-Russia back channel, has been granted immunity and is now singing to Mueller. Before he became FBI Director, discovered that Prince had probably broken the law by trying to sell secretly modified paramilitary attack aircraft to Azerbaijan’s military.

DDT’s keeps tweeting continual denial that “there was no collusion between Russia and the Trump campaign,” Rep. Adam Schiff (D-CA), minority leader of the House Intelligence Committee, responded:

“Mr. President, the Committee reached no such conclusion — only Republicans. In fact, we did find evidence of collusion, despite GOP members being more interested in protecting you than learning the truth. When accusing others of lying, best not to misrepresent facts yourself.”

DDT’s increasingly frantic tweets about Mueller indicates that he is closing in on the truth about DDT’s corruption, fraud, and Russian collusion. The messages from DDT, stuck in the White House for last weekend, hit a new high for him, and desperate aides took him to a golf course after the Sunday morning tweet storm. DDT came back with more vituperative tweets by Wednesday.

Excited about Vladimir Putin’s being “re-elected” for another six years, DDT called the dictator to congratulate him, ignoring warnings from his national security advisers. Briefing materials stated “DO NOT CONGRATULATE” and condemn the recent poisoning of a former Russian spy in Britain. Sen. John McCain (R-AZ) tweeted:

“An American president does not lead the Free World by congratulating dictators on winning sham elections. And by doing so with Vladimir Putin, President Trump insulted every Russian citizen who was denied the right to vote in a free and fair election.”

DDT took pride in being on good terms with the Russian president and not bringing up anything negative such as the Kremlin’s murders and meddling in the U.S. elections. Republicans such as retiring Sen. Bob Corker (R-TN) treated DDT’s turning his belly up to Russia as the new normal. Videos showed ballot-stuffing at polling stations; earlier, viable candidates were either arrested on sham charges or killed. The story escalated when DDT became furious about his actions becoming public, and he is again determined to discover who did the leaking, calling it criminal.

Although the White House staff does not work for him personally, DDT has required them to sign “non-disclosure” agreements with threats if they reveal anything about him. Earlier DDT failed to force reporters to sign NDAs when they traveled with VP Mike Pence. As rumors run rampant, some people think that Chief of Staff John Kelly is behind the leaking because of past inappropriate statements to the press. DDT took pride in being on good terms with the Russian president and not bringing up anything negative such as the Kremlin’s murders and meddling in the U.S. elections.

More revelations about Russia’ interference in the U.S. elections:

The hacker that stole Democratic National Committee emails, Guccifer 2.0, was “an officer of Russia’s military intelligence directorate (GRU),” connecting the hack to the Kremlin.

Andrew McCabe, fired by the DOJ with the blessing of AG Jeff Sessions, had authorized a criminal investigation into Sessions last year because he “lacked candor when testifying before Congress about contacts with Russian operatives.” Sessions said under oath that he had no contacts with any Russian officials during the campaign until he began to remember that he talked to the Russian ambassador twice. After Mueller was appointed as special investigator, McCabe’s investigation moved on to him. Other Sessions’ “lack of candor” comes from his claim under oath to the House Judiciary Committee that he “pushed back against a suggestion to meet with Russians during DDT’s campaign. Three people have told investigator Robert Mueller that Sessions never objected to arranging a meeting with Russia. Emails show that DDT’s campaign urged George Papadopoulos to reach out for a “partnership with Russia.” Although Sessions recused himself from all things Russian, he fired McCabe to defend DDT from Mueller’s Russian investigation. Former Sen. Al Franken (D-MN) has written a thought-provoking description of Sessions’ “lack of candor.”

Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-SC) has called for a Senate Judiciary Committee hearing about McCabe’s firing. Even Sen. Marco Rubio (R-FL) said that McCabe should have been allowed to finish his last 26 hours.

As GOP congressional leadership shy away from protecting the investigation into the Russian scandal, the conservative WashPo chides their refusal to declare Robert Mueller off-limits from DDT’s firing machine:

“The president treats government as purely a tribal battle between one side and the other and expects public servants to put loyalty to him before loyalty to country or the rule of law. Republican congressional leaders should not remain complicit in this debasement.”

Columnist Eugene Robinson wrote:

“If Trump does try to fire Mueller, [Ryan] and [McConnell] should get much of the blame. They have given Trump no reason to believe they will ever stand up to him.”

This past week, DDT hosted Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman (MBS), who gained his new position in a coup that involved torture and imprisonment of his family members. Former Secretary of State Rex Tillerson and national security adviser H.R. McMaster expressed concerns about the relation of Jared Kushner, DDT’s son-in-law, with MBS who bragged about having Kushner “in his pocket.” MBS may also have used classified information from DDT’s daily briefings to determine who MBS imprisoned. Tillerson and McMaster are gone; Kushner remains in the White House, and the Senate failed to stop the U.S. part in a bloody, three-year war in Yemen. Despite a bipartisan effort, 45 GOP and 10 Democratic senators voted to continue its support for Saudi Arabia’s bombing missions.

With Jared Kushner head of his family business, it filed at least 80 false applications for construction permits in a three-year period ending in 2016 lying about the rent-regulated tenants in its buildings to make it easier to push them out and sell a building with higher rents.

The Dow Jones index dropped 1,460 points this past week after the Feds raised the prime rate a quarter of a percent, Facebook suffered from public knowledge that it provided information to Cambridge Analytica, and DDT escalated the trade war by placing tariffs on $60 billion of Chinese goods and limiting China’s freedom to invest in U.S. tech. China threatened tariffs on $3 billion in U.S. goods, most of them agricultural, hitting the states that voted for DDT. The 1930 Smoot-Hawley Tariff Act may be a harbinger of our future. Yet DDT caved on most of his steel and aluminum tariffs, exempting countries for two-thirds of steel and over half of aluminum imports.

Capping the week was March for Our Lives, a movement by young people protesting unlimited gun ownership with the message “Enough Is Enough.” Millions of people, almost one million just in Washington, D.C., marched around the world with 800 different protests in the United States alone. DDT escaped to Mar-a-Lago before the event this morning, detouring around any protesters on his way back from the golf course. Most legislators went home yesterday immediately after a $1.3 trillion spending bill passed Congress. [Above: the view from the Washington, D.C. stage.]

Two GOP congressional members gave lukewarm praise for the young people although Sen. Marco Rubio (R-FL) misrepresented their mission. Others idly commented about sports, farmers, and praise for the spending bill and tax cuts for the wealthy and corporations. Democrats were seen attending the marches. For the first time in almost two decades, more people have a negative view of the NRA than positive, according to a recent NBC/Wall Street Journal poll. It found that 37 percent see the NRA in a positive light with 44 percent viewing it negatively. The greatest drop came from white married women.

March 23, 2018

What’s in the Omnibus Spending Bill?

Filed under: Budget,Uncategorized — trp2011 @ 9:49 PM
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Dictator Donald Trump (DDT) cried crocodile tears about the poor Dreamers and blasted Congress for passing the 2,233-page spending bill that they hadn’t read as if he didn’t cause the DACA disaster and ever read any of the bills he signed. DDT ended DACA nearly 7 months ago and continually sabotaged solutions by rejecting multiple popular bipartisan solutions. He’s demanding line-item veto power for spending bills that SCOTUS ruled unconstitutional 20 years ago and the end to the Senate filibuster rule, but he kept the United States from the shutdown that he earlier said he wanted. DDT also bragged about the $1.6 billion for his “wall”—although he had demanded $25 billion—but that money doesn’t build his “big beautiful wall.” Funding goes to levees, existing fencing repair, and double fencing for existing barriers. Not one additional foot of the wall because the law prevents DDT from making any of the wall prototypes he has admired.

DDT had said he would sign the bill but then threatened to change his mind after watching Pete Hegseth denouncing it on Fox & Friends. (Hegseth may have even more control over DDT if he becomes Veterans Affairs Secretary.)  Several congressional members have already left town for their two-week vacation as the drama unrolled. House Speaker Paul Ryan (R-WI) was already back in Wisconsin when he made the call to DDT about signing the bill.

The House passed the bill 256-167, with 145 Republicans and 111 Democrats voting yes, and 90 Republicans and 77 Democrats voting no.  The Senate passed the 2,232-page spending bill 65-32 with 23 Republicans, eight Democrats, and one Independent voting against the bill. The $1.3 trillion spending law puts $700 billion into the military, a ten percent increase from last year, and $591 to the people in the U.S. in another ten percent raise. Republicans don’t expect to pass any other major legislation before the midterm elections, but this law expires in six months.

On the GOP side, conservative are furious about the deficit despite promoting it with their tax cut for the wealthy and corporations, hawks are pleased with the biggest increase in defense in 15 years, and moderates are accepting. Democrat leaders are happy about the domestic funding, moderates believe in compromise, and all of the Dems are disappointment about missing major movement in guns and immigration issues.

Losers:  

Lack of Affordable Care Act market stabilization: The GOP refusal to compromise on their anti-choice positions will bring large increases in health premiums.

Immigration: Nothing about DACA because the GOP won’t compromise.

Sen. James E. Risch (R-ID): He held up the bill for hours because he didn’t want a federal wilderness area named after a dead political rival, Cecil Andrus, a Democratic governor of Idaho and Secretary of the Interior under President Jimmy Carter.

DDT: No money for his wall and no attention to his personal budget while Congress increased spending for items that he had slashed, including seed cash for a New York-New Jersey tunnel project that he tried to kill.

Winners:

Immigration: The GOP didn’t get 1,000 more beds for immigrant deportees and an additional 500 ICE agents to 1,000 and border agents to an additional 500. They lost detention beds and got only 328 more border agents. And ICE can’t fill the current quota of border agents even with a $10,000 hiring bonus. So-called “sanctuary” cities and states didn’t lose funding.

Low-income housing: The Rental Assistance Demonstration (RAD) Program doubles the number of public housing units. Despite HUD Ben Carson’s inability to track financing for public housing repairs in 1.1 million units and enforce tenants’ rights, the law lifts the cap from 225,000 to 455,000.  Expansion of the tax credit to build more affordable housing came in exchange for fixing the “grain glitch” in the GOP tax cuts that gave more tax deductions to farm coops such as Ocean Spray Cranberries instead of privately-owned farms.

IRS: An extra $196 million to help with the new tax law.

Education: Education Secretary Betsy Devos didn’t get her $1 billion moved from public to private religious schools. The law also allocates an additional $8.5 million to the Office of Civil Rights, keeps before and after school programs, retains the grant program for school-based mental health services, and boosts education funding by $3.9 billion. Congress also kept the grant program for low-income students to attend college, slightly raised the ceiling for Pell Grant awards, and boosted the federal work-study program. DeVos’ hoped-of budget cuts turned into increases.

Government Data: The Census Bureau gets an additional $1.34 billion for its nationwide survey. It also requires the Congressional Research Service to post all its reports online. 

Gun Background Checks: The law increases enforcement of the National Instant Criminal Background Check System (NICS), expands requirements for updating records, gives incentives for NICS reports, and penalizes agencies that don’t add records to NICS.

The National Institutes of Health: A $3 billion funding increase.

The Community Development Block Grant: The program nearly doubled from $2.8 billion to $5.2 billion after DDT tried to eliminate it to help fund projects such as Meals on Wheels.

TIGER: The grant program for transportation projects is tripled to $1.5 billion.

The STOP School Violence Act of 2018: Increased grants for security training, metal detectors, stronger locks, emergency notifications, and other efforts meant to improve school safety.

Gun Violence Research: The law lifts funding bans for research about firearms imposed with the 1996 Dickey Amendment. The sponsor of this law has since regretted his action.

Tipped Workers: Workers won’t have to give up their tips to their employers, as DDT wanted although employers can require them to share with other workers if they are paid the full minimum wage, $2.13 for tipped workers who would have lost $5.8 billion a year if DDT had succeeded. Sen. Claire McCaskill (D-MO) called Risch’s delaying tantrum “the most like a Saturday Night Live skit” she’s ever witnessed in her 12 years in the Senate.

Government Workers: The military gets a 2.4 percent pay raise, and civilian personnel get a 1.9 percent bump.

Funding for the EPA/Energy: The law kept the EPA’s $8.1 billion budget despite DDT’s desire to cut it by one-third. The Advanced Research Projects Agency-Energy, eliminated in DDT’s budget, got a $47 million increase to $353 million, and the DOE’s Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy office, on DDT’s chopping block, increased 15 percent to $2.3 billion. There were a few losses regarding energy: the declares biomass as a carbon-neutral energy source, still debated by scientists, and livestock are now unfettered because they are exempted from the EPA’s greenhouse gas regulations.

Election Security Grants to States: Funded by $380 million.

Opioid Treatment/prevention: An increase of $3 billion.

Libraries: Restoration and increases of almost $400 million with another $700 million for Title IV education which could help school libraries.

Social Security Administrative Budget: A $480 increase for general operations.

Funding for public broadcasting and the National Endowment for the Art.

Mammograms: Women can continue this procedure with no insurance copay.

Title X: The federal family planning program that helps provide contraception, breast and cervical cancer screenings and STI and HIV testing to a diverse, low-income population continues, but DDT’s abstinence-only Title X chief, Valerie Huber, is in charge of the funds. The law does not end all federal funding for Planned Parenthood or ban life-saving research on fetal tissue donated from abortions and does not expand discriminatory abortion restrictions into the private insurance market.

Republicans complained about the process, but they were in charge. House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) accused them of accelerating the process to leave town before the March for Our Lives about gun control in Washington tomorrow.

Buried deep in the 2,232 pages are stiff new sanctions against Russia, barring a number of federal agencies from dealing with Russia and sanctioning Russia for a large number of grievances. The law punishes Russia for its 2014 annexation of Crimea by barring funds from supporting all countries that back the annexation and directing Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin to push Americans on certain financial boards to disallow funds from flowing to programs supportive of Russia’s annexation. It also blocks federal funds from “enter[ing] into new contracts with, or new agreements for Federal assistance to, the Russian Federation” and allocates $250 million to the Countering Russian Influence Fund—a 150 percent increase from last year. Nobody knows who put these sanctions into the bill, but they have wide bipartisan support.

Something else may crawl out of the law’s 2,232 pages, but right now I’m with the moderates. It could have been worse.

March 15, 2018

Russian Interference in U.S. to Expand Chaos

No matter how bad the Russia collusion and hacking have gotten, the Republicans have seemed rather blasé about this involvement, even supporting Russia over the people in the United States. Will these Republicans change their position if they lose their electric power? Russian hackers have been attacking the U.S. infrastructure, including electricity, water, and transportation as well as nuclear and manufacturing sectors, and the federal government is getting worried. Last summer, the news that Russia had gotten into over a dozen power plants in seven states didn’t get much attention in the first year of Dictator Donald Trump (DDT) in the Oval Office. Now Russians have moved into dozens of states with their attacks on the infrastructure. Eric Chien, a security technology director at the digital security firm Symantec, said:

“We now have evidence they’re sitting on the machines, connected to industrial control infrastructure, that allow them to effectively turn the power off or affect sabotage…. They have the ability to shut the power off.”

Today’s public alert from the Department of Homeland Security and the FBI warned that these hackers have been targeting U.S. infrastructure for the past two years. They started by staging malware and spear phishing at small commercial networks before obtaining remote access in energy sector networks which allowed them to collect information connected with Industrial Control Systems. At least three simultaneous Russian cyber hacking attacks are going into infrastructure controls, stealing documents and using a “troll farm” called the Internet Research Agency to spread misinformation on social media for chaos and discord, and focusing on disrupting the infrastructure of U.S. and European countries.

Last summer, Congress passed a law mandating that DDT place sanctions on Russia, but he  ignored the law.  A letter from 140 House Democrats asked DDT to impose these sanctions on Russia, an action that the Treasury Department took after the chemical attack on a Russian double agent in Britain followed by the death of a Russian exile. Even these sanctions are weak, because they are only on the entities and people indicted by Robert Mueller. The State Department also released a condemnation of Russia’s “campaign of coercion and violence” in the Russian annexation of Crimea four years ago this week, but no sanctions.

A serious problem for Republicans this week comes from the House Intelligence Committee GOP announcement that it closed down its investigation into the Russian scandal before finishing its job. The committee issued a brief summary with a 150-page report supposedly to follow, explaining the GOP position that intelligence agencies were wrong in its evidence of how Russia supported DDT in the presidential election. DDT saw the GOP whitewash as a vindication.

Committee Chair Devin Nunes (R-CA), forced from leadership of the committee after he briefed White House officials on committee information, has always protected DDT, even leaking information, and announced last June that they wouldn’t find any collusion. GOP members limited topics under discussion and witnesses’ questions while following White House restrictions and refusing to investigate phone and bank records corroborating witness claims. Nunes consistently undermined Robert Mueller’s investigation with false information. The person ostensibly in charge of the House Intelligence Committee investigation claimed ignorance of George Nadar, a key witness about secret meetings in the Seychelles.

The report was so biased that hard-right GOP Rep. Trey Gowdy (R-SC), who led the Benghazi/private email server email against Hillary Clinton said that the GOP evidence was “motivated in whole or in part by a desire to harm [Clinton’s] candidacy or undermine her Presidency had she prevailed.” Rep. Tom Rooney (R-Fla.), a member of the House Intelligence Committee, said on Monday that “there is evidence” showing the Russians attempted to help President Trump during the 2016 presidential election, contradicting a draft report from the panel. Rooney also warned that the government needs to act to prevent foreign interference in the upcoming midterm elections.

The GOP spin from other committee members, however, is that the intelligence community is wrong about Russian interference just as they were about Iraq weapons—ignoring the fact that the intelligence community denied “specific information” about Saddam Hussein’s weapons of mass destruction before George W. Bush invaded Iraq. Then, as now with the GOP members of the “no Russian interference” group, the politicians were wrong in their perspective about the documents given them.

Deputy White House press secretary Raj Shah made an awkward statement by saying that DDT would have been aware of any such collusion if it did occur. In Shah’s words, proof of collusion would also be proof of DDT’s knowledge about it. Luckily for him, it appears to be an opinion.

Democrats on the committee had not seen the report when it was released and were not told about the conclusion before it was made public. Following the release of the GOP summary, the minority members of the House intelligence Committee released a 21-page “Status of the Russia Investigation.” The majority of the document is composed of four appendices, beginning in Appendix A with the outstanding lines of inquiry which have been partially or not at all addressed:

  • Hacking and dissemination of campaign emails by Russia to determine the specific of this cyber operation.
  • DDT’s campaign knowledge of the email hacks.
  • Elections security—or lack thereof.
  • Russian social media campaign.
  • Financial leverage in DDT’s business deals, perhaps for Russian money laundering and DDT’s actively negotiating a business deal in Moscow with a sanctioned Russian bank during the election, despite his assertion that he had no business dealings with Russia.
  • Money-laundering and foreign payments, already somewhat revealed by Robert Mueller’s special investigation which includes charges against Paul Manafort and Rick Gates.
  • Post-election effects and obstruction of justice, including intervention from and lies by Michael Flynn in U.S. affairs with Russia, DDT attempts to block James Comey to investigate Flynn, and DDT’s writing a memo to cover the June 2016 meeting in which his son Donald Trump Jr. and two other senior campaign advisers intended to get damaging information about Hillary Clinton.

Appendix B lists over 30 key witnesses which had not been interviewed with brief descriptions of their potential involvement which needs further inquiry. Appendix C gives over 20 entities, including Deutsche Bank, which should be sent “indispensable” documents that directly connect to Russian election interference.  Fifteen other people and entities that should appear and/or present documents are in Appendix D. This list includes DDT, Jared Kushner, Hope Hicks, Erik Prince, and the White House. A key line in the most recent report from this committee:

The Minority has a good faith reason to believe that the White House does in fact possess such documentation memorializing President Trump’s conversations with Director Comey.  Subsequent press reporting revealed the existence of a memorandum reportedly composed by President Trump and Stephen Miller that referenced President Trump’s communications with Director Comey.”

British Prime Minister Theresa May says that it is “highly likely” former double agent Sergei Skripal and his daughter were poisoned in Salisbury, England by Russia. DDT refuses to mention the word “Russia” in connection with the poisoning although Secretary of State Secretary Rex Tillerson said that the attack “clearly came from Russia.”

Today, National Security Adviser H.R. McMaster used strong language to decry Russia’s actions and blamed the Kremlin for “the abhorrent nerve agent attack” in England. It may be his last speech because rumors from the White House indicate he is to be fired by the end of the month, despite the press secretary’s denial. DDT has told Chief of Staff John Kelly that McMaster is too rigid and his briefings are too long.

Earlier, Nunes tried to protect DDT with a GOP committee memo about the Russian investigation that DDT erroneously used to proclaim exoneration for himself. It was followed by a heavily redacted response from the Democrats showing the GOP’s “distortions and misrepresentations.” Complaints that Christopher Steele’s dossier on DDT were responsible for a warrant to surveil DDT’s associate and suspected foreign agent Carter Page where shown to be totally bogus.

Meanwhile Robert Mueller is continuing his investigation, this week with subpoenas to the Trump Organization for documents, some related to Russia, in its first approach to DDT’s business affairs. Despite DDT’s denial that it has no holdings in Russia, witnesses have been asked about DDT’s business plans to build in Moscow. DDT has talked to Emmet Flood, the lawyer who represented Bill Clinton during his impeachment, about hiring him. Lawyers have advised DDT not to talk with Mueller, but he may be considering an interview if Mueller restricts the scope of questioning and concludes the DDT-involved part of the investigation within 60 days of the interview. Good luck!

Meanwhile Conor Lamb defeated Vladimir Putin in a U.S. House race last Tuesday in the far southwest Pennsylvania district with an almost 96 percent white population and so badly gerrymandered that no Democrat ran against the Republican in the past two elections. DDT won that district by 20 points in the presidential election. The former representative resigned after the publicity that the anti-abortion Republican encouraged his lover to have an abortion. This news was followed by multiple stories of his inappropriate action from his staff. Murphy is a developmental psychologist with a wife and adult daughter.

February 28, 2018

Ben Carson’s Furniture: Your Tax Dollars at Work

Filed under: Uncategorized — trp2011 @ 10:18 PM
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Tom Price was fired as HHS secretary for using expensive transportation, and other Cabinet members selected by Dictator Donald Trump (DDT) such as Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke, EPA Secretary Scott Pruitt, and Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin are well known for their extravagant appropriation of taxpayer monies for personal pleasure. DDT outdoes them all with his frequent expensive trips to his personal properties, primarily Mar-a-Lago in Florida. But the crowd of grifters in Washington, D.C. filling DDT’s personal swamp has a new entry in wasting taxes while DDT gives money to the wealthy and large corporations at the expense of low-income and middle-class families.

The wasteful expenditures of HUD Secretary Ben Carson came to light when senior HUD official Helen Foster filed a complaint about her demotion, allegedly caused by her refusal to spend more than legally permitted to redecorate Carson’s office. When she told her boss, Craig Clemmensen, that the limit was $5,000, he told her to “find money” for the project, that “$5,000 will not even buy a decent chair. [Here’s an example of a chair for under $5,000.]

Foster’s reasons for her demotion in her complaint letter also listed retaliations for exposing a $10 million budget shortfall and protesting that she couldn’t deal with freedom of information act (FOIA) requests relating to DDT. But the furniture costs for furniture have caught on in the media.

The first outlay noted was $31,561 for a dining room set of table, chairs, and hutch. This $31,561 is more than the cost of over 200 homes listed for sale in 31 states on the Department of Housing and Urban Development’s website cost. Ohio alone had 26 available homes.

When asked about the expenditure for Carson’s new furniture, HUD spokesman Raffi Williams first said that this was false. Williams, the former deputy to Sean Spicer at the RNC and son of Fox presenter Juan Williams, answered:

“When it comes to the secretary’s office, the only money HUD spent was $3,200 to put up new blinds in his office and the deputy secretary’s office.”

Caught in the lie, HUD then justified the purchase by saying that the table inside Carson’s 10th-floor office suite served a “building-wide need.” That was their excuse for not requesting approval from the House or Senate Appropriations Committee, mandated for any expenditure over the $5,000. Williams declared that the decision for the expenditure was by a “career staffer” who selected Sebree and Associates, a company based in Carson’s hometown of Baltimore. The new table was listed as “household furniture” in the procurement documents, and the contract called it “secretary’s furniture.”

Williams said that Carson had complained that the table he inherited (above) had “scratches, scuff marks and cracks.”  Sebree isn’t telling anyone what $31,561 will provide.

Carson said that he thought the cost of that furniture was not very expensive, but he hasn’t commented on the new lounge furniture for his HUD digs. That costs another $165,000.

This profligacy would be bad enough on its own, but it comes on top of HUD budget cuts of 14 percent–$6.8 billion. Last April, Carson vowed to make HUD “the most honest department in the government,” declaring that he was “putting in place a structure so that we can monitor where every penny goes.” In September, Carson said:

“It doesn’t matter what the final budget is. We are looking at how we spend the money efficiently. How do we protect the taxpayers and get the maximum bang for the buck? If we get $10, we will spend it extremely well. If we get $10 trillion, we will spend it extremely well.”

Carson also said that the government shouldn’t “make housing for the poor too cozy.” Compassion, Carson added, means not giving people “a comfortable setting that would make somebody want to say: ‘I’ll just stay here. They will take care of me.’” Since becoming HUD secretary, he has claimed that poverty is “a state of mind.”

GQ pointed out that Carson, unqualified for his job, had initially turned it down, and his spokesperson said that he “has no government experience” and “has never run a federal agency.” In his first speech to his new staff, he called slaves “immigrants” who came to America to pursue their dreams.

From Carson’s hometown newspaper, the Baltimore Sun:

“Not good, right? You are about to make decisions about how many Americans deserve to live on heating grates and in cardboard boxes while simultaneously picking out that just-so mix of mahogany and leather. Dr. Carson’s defense is that he didn’t have much direct involvement (it was a Charm City-based federally-approved contractor picking out that fancy dining room table, by the way) and that the cost isn’t out of line for such furniture. Here’s what his defense should be: I’m just following the example set by my boss and fellow cabinet members.

“If there’s one thing that has defined Donald Trump’s first year in office—aside from the incompetence, erratic behavior and frequent lies, of course—it’s how in both policy and appearance this president and his minions have favored the wealthy and shamelessly gamed the system for their personal benefit. The tax plan approved by Congress last fall is surely the centerpiece of policies side so lopsidedly tilted to the rich that investor Warren E. Buffett recently estimated his company’s windfall at $29 billion. So how’s that slightly lower income tax withholding rate working out for the rest of us?”

As Carson spends hundreds of thousands of dollars for his office furniture and allows his budget to shrink, HUD housing is becoming so unfit that it cannot be salvaged. Evictions will leave hundreds of thousands of people on the streets.

Carson is merely one example of the new administration totally out of touch with the needs of people throughout the United States, an administration that considers taxpayer funds from “we the people” as their own personal slush fund.

February 19, 2018

Presidents Day 2018

Today is Presidents Day. It is a good time to consider the prescient speech given by Dwight Eisenhower, a Republican, on October 17, 1960:

“In many countries of the free world private enterprise is greatly different from what we know here. In some, a few families are fabulously wealthy, contribute far less than they should in taxes, and are indifferent to the poverty of the great masses of the people. Broad purchasing power does not, therefore, exist, even for the domestic products of the nation. A country in this situation is fraught with continual instability. It is ripe for revolution.”

Three months later, Eisenhower said in his farewell address:

“In the councils of government, we must guard against the acquisition of unwarranted influence, whether sought or unsought, by the military–industrial complex. The potential for the disastrous rise of misplaced power exists, and will persist. We must never let the weight of this combination endanger our liberties or democratic processes. We should take nothing for granted. Only an alert and knowledgeable citizenry can compel the proper meshing of the huge industrial and military machinery of defense with our peaceful methods and goals so that security and liberty may prosper together.”

Presidential warnings about Dictator Donald Trump (DDT) began with George Washington’s farewell speech. He warned about false patriotism, special interests, extreme partisanship, fake news, disunity, foreign hatreds, and the national debt. His other concerns were foreign influence over the U.S. political system and a despotic president whose avarice and ego transcended the national interest. Washington cautioned about the danger of one group, “sharpened by the spirit of revenge,” gaining dominion over another that could lead to “a more formal and permanent despotism.” Its “disorders and miseries” would push citizens “to seek security and repose in the absolute power of an individual.” He concluded:

 “Sooner or later, the chief of some prevailing faction, more able and more fortunate than his competitors, turns this disposition to the purpose of his own elevation on the ruins of public liberty.”

In one of his greatest worries, he counseled that hyperpartisanship could lead “to foreign influence and corruption, which find a facilitated access to the government itself through the channels of party passions. Thus the policy and the will of one country are subjected to the policy and will of another.”

Every year since 1896, the Senate has marked Washington’s birthday by reading his farewell speech on the floor of the Senate, annually alternating the reading senator between political parties. The House of Representatives stopped this commemoration many years ago because of their lack of interest. The current “dominant” party has no interest in how Russian involvement, gerrymandering, voter suppression, and fake news led to their victory because they are more preoccupied about their own personal interests than protecting democracy in the United States.

The 2018 Presidents & Executive Politics Presidential Greatness Survey ranks the current occupant of the Oval Office at the bottom of all presidents, replacing James Buchanan and rating 12 points out of 100. Even among only Republican respondents, he came in fifth from the bottom while Bill Clinton and Barack Obama were #15 and 16.  In the biggest overall shift, President Obama has gone up to 8 from 18 since 2014.

Today is Presidents Day, and the Great Tweeter led up to the day by making these official statements yesterday:

  1. “Just watched a very insecure Oprah Winfrey, who at one point I knew very well, interview a panel of people on 60 Minutes. The questions were biased and slanted, the facts incorrect. Hope Oprah runs so she can be exposed and defeated just like all of the others!” (8:28 am about 60 Minutes segment)
  2. “Thank you to KenStarr, former Independent Counsel, Whitewater, for your insight and powerful words on FISA abuse, Russian meddling etc. Really great interview with @MariaBartiromo” (9:10 am about Fox network)
  3. “The Fake News of big ratings loser CNN” (5:46 am about a cartoon of Wolf Blitzer in 2038 not available)
  4. “If it was the GOAL of Russia to create discord, disruption and chaos within the US then, with all of the Committee Hearings, Investigations and Party hatred, they have succeeded beyond their wildest dreams. They are laughing their asses off in Moscow. Get smart America!” (5:11 am)
  5. “Now that Adam Schiff is starting to blame President Obama for Russian meddling in the election, he is probably doing so as yet another excuse that the Democrats, lead by their fearless leader, Crooked Hillary Clinton, lost the 2016 election. But wasn’t I a great candidate?” (4:43 am)
  6. “I never said Russia did not meddle in the election, I said ‘it may be Russia, or China or another country or group, or it may be a 400 pound genius sitting in bed and playing with his computer.’ The Russian ‘hoax’ was that the Trump campaign colluded with Russia – it never did!” (4:33 am)
  7. “Finally, Liddle’ Adam Schiff, the leakin’ monster of no control, is now blaming the Obama Administration for Russian meddling in the 2016 Election. He is finally right about something. Obama was President, knew of the threat, and did nothing. Thank you Adam!” (4:22 am)

Today’s tweets were “Have a great, but very reflective, President’s Day!” (13 minutes before his motorcade left for the golf course) and

 “Obama was President up to, and beyond, the 2016 Election. So why didn’t he do something about Russian meddling?”

President Obama took some action about the meddling when he discovered it, but Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) refused to join him in warning people about Russian interference. Last summer WaPo published an article about how President Obama discovered Russian interference in 2016 and wanted to release the information. He did not speak out publicly because McConnell would not agree to sign a bipartisan statement about Russian meddling. The former president was concerned that without a united front that it would appear he was attempting to illegitimatize the presidential election. Instead he created sanctions against Russia that the newly elected president tried to prevent and expelled Russians from the United States. In the meantime, McConnell kept the voters from knowing that Russia was supporting Hillary Clinton’s opponent. McConnell merely sent out a letter to states about possible hacking into their voting machines.

The question on Presidents Day 2018 is why the man inaugurated over a year ago isn’t doing anything now about the Russian meddling this year.

For his supporters, the best thing about President’s Day is that there’s a 30-percent off sale on all his MAGA merchandise. Get your caps and cups!

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