Nel's New Day

April 14, 2017

DDT: Week Twelve, More Failures Plus War-Mongering

Dictator Donald Trump (DDT) went by himself to Mar-a-Lago this weekend—no senior staffers to monitor him and his tweets. You can keep track of his trips there—seven out of weekends thus far—and expenditures to taxpayers. He left after referring to the U.S. armed forces as “my” military and glowing about the “most beautiful” cake in his restaurant there while talking about bombing Syrians to Chinese President Xi Jinping. Hopefully, Xi didn’t get sick while he was at Mar-a-Lago because health inspectors has found undercooked meat and dangerous fish at the resort, one time before the state visit of Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe. Among two broken coolers, 13 violations, three of them high priority, were found in the kitchen were a record for a resort that charges $200,000 in initiation fees.

Distraction of the Week: DDT’s polls rose only four percent with the Syrian bombing so he dropped the “mother of all bombs” on Afghanistan, the first time that the nation’s largest non-nuclear bomb was used. The nickname supposedly comes from an acronym for the Massive Ordnance Air Blast bomb, but considering that the most destructive device outside of nuclear bombs was developed by men, built by men, and dropped by men, it might more appropriately be called “father of all bombs.” The replacement cost is $16 million; the number of ISIS fighters killed is 36. Each death costs almost one-half million dollars in replacement charges for the bomb. Asked about whether he approved the strike, DDT refused to answer.

At the same time, DDT’s bullying tweets about North Korea are causing increasing tension with a country that could easily release nuclear bombs on the United States. Han Song Ryol, North Korea’s vice foreign minister, said, “Trump is always making provocations with his aggressive words. We will go to war if they choose,” he added. Without DDT keepers for a long weekend at Mar-a-Lago, the U.S. could be at war with North Korea by Monday.

Steep Learning Curve: About the healthcare plan, DDT said, “Who knew it was so complicated?” After talking with Chinese President Xi Jinping for ten minutes, he said that “it’s not so easy” for Beijing to quickly take care of North Korea. DDT told Xi that he “should let North Korean leader Kim Jong Un know the U.S. doesn’t just have aircraft carriers, but also nuclear submarines.” As if the entire world doesn’t know?! Then he protested that “you cannot allow a country like that to have … nuclear weapons.” First, North Korea already has these weapons, and second, DDT said during his campaign that all countries should have nuclear weapons and just fight with them. have nuclear weapons.

Whither Syria: Last week, DDT bombed Syria after warning Russia to get out of the way and probably letting Russia warn Syria. This week, he bombed Syria again, killing 18 members of the ISIS-opposition team. He claims that “we’re not going into Syria,” but the U.S. already has at least 1,000 members of the military stationed in the country. DDT’s Syrian policy during the past two weeks could cause whiplash:

  • March 30, 2017 – Bashar Assad can stay in power; the U.S. won’t take part in another Middle Eastern conflict against a leader backed by Russia.
  • April 5-6, 2017 –  Assad must leave power because of his alleged chemical attack that killed about 80 people; DDT bombed the Shayrat airbase in Syria.
  • April 6-10, 2017: The issue is not Assad but chemical weapons use.
  • April 9, 2017: Attack Isis first and let Assad stay or go depending on the Russian position; (Tillerson) the priority is the defeat of ISIS, and overthrowing Assad would be disastrous.
  • April 9, 2017: The country should have multiple priorities beyond defeating ISIS.
  • April 10, 2017: The U.S. will respond to barrel bombs by bombing Syria.
  • April 10, 2017: No, the U.S. will not respond to barrel bombs.

Erasing the Holocaust: In an effort to justify DDT’s Syrian bombings, Press Secretary Sean Spicer called Bashar Assad worse than Adolf Hitler because the Nazi leader did not “sink to the level of using chemical weapons.” Questioned about his statement, Spicer apologized and said that the Hitler used gas in the “Holocaust centers.” Yet he maintained that Assad’s acts were worse because Hitler didn’t use “airplanes to drop chemical weapons on innocent people.” On the first day of Passover, commemorating the Jewish flight from Egypt in 1313 BCE, Spicer didn’t mention the six million Jews killed during the Nazi regime, but he personally called Jewish donor Sheldon Adelson to apologize—but no one else.

More Spicer Statements:  Earlier in the week, Spicer had to take back his statement that DDT’s bombing took out 20 percent of Syria’s entire air force by explaining it was 20 percent of one wing—about 12 planes out of several hundred. He said he didn’t want to draw attention away from DDT’s attempts to “destabilize” the Middle East. No, that’s not a typo. More of Spicer’s gaffes here. At a townhall meeting, Rep. Mike Coffman (R-CO) said that Spicer “needs to go.”

Ally Russia: Spicer also referred to Russia as one of our allies. At a G7 meeting in Italy with six other industrialized nations, Secretary of State Rex Tillerson said, “Why should U.S. taxpayers be interested in Ukraine?” Abandoning Ukraine would give Tillerson a lot of money from Russian oil. Asked what Tillerson meant by his question, State Department spokesman R.C. Hammond said, “Rhetorical device.”

Another Firing: The National Security Council is still suffering from shifting members. Michael Flynn was fired, Steve Bannon was demoted, and now GOP pundit K.T. McFarland got the axe. Known for bragging in a meeting about “wearing shoes from Ivanka Trump’s brand,” she early on in her brief tenure told seasoned staff members that they needed to “make America great again.” Her disappearance follows several other potential major DDT-chosen players in the administration during just a few months. Evidently she was offered a job as ambassador to Singapore.

No More Data to Shame “Sanctuary Cities”: After only three weeks of publishing a weekly report about cities that supposedly refused to cooperate with ICE, DDT has stopped this effort because of massive mistakes. Another reason may be that the reports show the incompetency of ICE as they confused different counties in statistics and blamed some areas for events in others.

Texas Voters Win: Veasy v. Abbott has been wandering the courts for years, but the 5th Circuit Court of Appeals has concluded that the Texas voter ID law’s intent is discriminatory against minorities. If the court order is upheld on appeal, the entire law would be thrown out, and Texas would be brought back under federal supervision. The question now is whether five SCOTUS justices will agree if the high court takes the case.

Iran Deal Successful: One of DDT’s virulent criticisms during the campaign was President Obama’s agreement with Iran to control its nuclear weapons. Iran is following the agreement—probably to the disappointment of DDT who would like to see failure for all the former president’s actions.

Lawsuit of the Week: Watchdog groups plan to sue DDT because he has stopped releasing logs of visitors to the White House, including lobbyists. The problem became obvious last week when Rep. Devin Nunes (R-CA) reviewed intelligence reports on the White House grounds before he briefed DDT about what DDT’s staff told him. In the past, exceptions to the visitor logs have been private visits to the family. The defendant is the Department of Homeland Security, overseeing the Secret Service, which is subject to freedom of information requests. Information is also being sought from DDT properties where he holds meetings such as Mar-a-Lago.

Climate Lawsuits against DDT: Seventeen states are suing the federal administration regarding DDT’s orders to promote climate change, including the implementation of President Obama’s Clean Power Plan that sets standards for power plants. The group also notified Secretary of Energy, Rick Perry, that they will sue to if the government stalls on standards requiring specific electrical items meet low-carbon emission goals. In addition, it has petitioned New York federal courts to force DDT to implement efficiency standards for other goods, citing no justifiable reason for delaying these regulations for another six months.

Resistance: Lest DDT think that the protesting against him and his policies have been quelled, three protest marches are scheduled for the second half of April, one of them tomorrow:

  • April 15: Tax March, demanding that DDT release his tax returns.
  • April 22: March for Science, building a “broad, nonpartisan, and diverse coalition of organizations and individuals who stand up for science. We are advocating for evidence-based policymaking, science education, research funding, and inclusive and accessible science.”
  • April 29: People’s Climate March, defending the environment and mitigating the harmful effects of climate change.

More failures and bit more of Trumpia tomorrow.

May 15, 2015

House Gives DOD $612 with No Audit

When sequestration spending caps were passed in 2011 to avoid the debt ceiling crisis, over 200 congressional Republicans voted in favor of the law. Since then, the GOP has not changed the law, but today the House defied it by passing a $612 billion defense bill with all except eight Republicans  in favor of the budget. Ceilings on everything else–infrastructure, safety net, etc.–are just fine, according to these Republicans, but the war industry needs more money.

Speaker John Boehner (R-OH) moaned about Democrats ignoring all “the sacrifices [the troops] make,” calling the Dems opposition “indefensible.”  The word “indefensible” is appropriate for the GOP’s refusal to protect military personnel and their families from predatory lending. After Defense Department officials created new safeguards last fall to implement new protections in this area, House GOP members tried to add a provision to the defense bill that would delay the new rules for at least a year. When that failed, Rep. Steve Stivers (R-OH) introduced legislation to again block the DOD from putting its rules into effect. Payday loan companies gave almost $70,000 to Stivers’ campaign.

On the first day of the 114th Congress, Republicans made a rules change to cut 20 percent in Social Security disability benefits, hurting disabled veterans. The proposed GOP change in food stamps will deny 60,000 veterans this life-saving benefit. This year’s GOP funding bill is $1 billion short on providing care and services to veterans.

Last year the GOP failed to support bills that would help veterans have job security, retraining, counseling, and scholarships. Another failed bill because of the GOP would increase VA funding for home structural improvements for those veterans more than 50 percent disabled—for example, those who need a wheelchair ramp in order to live at home.

One of the 135 amendments that passed was a provision by Rep. Frank Lucas (R-OK) to stop the re-listing of the lesser prairie chicken on the endangered species list until 2021, unless the Interior Department determines that a conservation plan is not working. It passed 229-190. Someone might want to ask him how the lesser prairie chicken is related to defense.

A proposed amendment to consider undocumented immigrants with work permits through the DREAMERS program to serve in the military was voted down. Rep. Mo Brooks (R-AL) said the rejection was a jobs issue because the military is downsizing.

Also voted down was an amendment “in the form of a limited and narrow authorization against ISIS” because “the defense bill was not the place to debate the war,” according  Rep. Adam Schiff (D-CA).  As he added, “If not here, where?” President Obama’s airstrikes against ISIL began nine months ago, and he sent a proposal about this authorization three months ago. The GOP has avoided any discussion of this issue in Congress that has cost $2.1 billion with 3,700 airstrikes and about 3,000 military personal sent to Iraq. While the House GOP members are suing the president for his other actions, they oppose reining in his war authority. Rep. Jim McGovern (D-MA) claims that the GOP can’t find 218 votes for any action.

As the GOP pushes the defense funding increase through the House, the Republicans ignore the history of DOD waste. The $400 billion Pentagon’s F-35 Joint Strike Fighter can’t pass even the most basic requirements necessary for flying in combat. At this time, it’s $170 billion over budget, and the only thing soaring about it is the cost. Auditors question whether it can serve its purpose as the Pentagon continues to throw more money at it. The jet is vulnerable to engine fires because of its design and the “precision-guided Small Diameter Bomb II doesn’t even fit on the Marine’s version of the jet,” according to Military.com. Software necessary to operate the bomb won’t be operational for another seven years–2022.

Recently appointed Secretary of Defense, Ashton Carter, oversaw the development of the F-35 fighter jet, which will cost the United States an unprecedented $1.5 trillion. He also oversaw production of $50 billion worth of MRAP armored vehicles with thousands of them scrapped almost immediately at a loss of over $2 billion. The 27,000 MRAPs sent to Iraq and Afghanistan resulted in an over-supply and were then decommissioned to militarize U.S. police departments in places as small as Dundee (MI), population 3,900. To Carter, “nuclear weapons don’t actually cost that much.” This is the program that will cost up to $1 trillion in the next three decades.

Federal auditors found a loss of $43 billion in Afghanistan reconstruction. The Pentagon has no answer for the missing funds other than it may have gone to more direct war needs. John F. Sopko, special inspector general for Afghanistan reconstruction, said, “It’s like you gave your credit card to your teenage daughter or son and then you just never looked at the bills.” Tracking the $100 billion allocated for relief and reconstruction has been almost impossible. “We don’t even have a list from (the Defense Department) of where they spent the money. We have no centralized list of where the taxpayer money went in Afghanistan,” Sopko said.

A never-used $600 million C-27 aircraft sits on runways in Kabul and Germany, and a massive $34 million command center in Helmand has never been used and will probably be leveled. The empty 64,000-square-foot command center with an expensive air-conditioning system can hold over 1,000 people. Its incinerators cost $11.5 million, but no one was hired to run the machines. The military burned its trash in an open-air pit.

The Pentagon spent $7.6 billion fighting a war on opium in Afghanistan where the poppy crop is bigger than ever. The U.S. Air Force bought half a billion dollars worth of transport planes and scrapped them for six cents a pound. The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers built thousands of buildings for the Afghan military where contractors used low-quality insulation that’s so flammable that international codes prohibit its use. When contractors promised to stop its use and replace the faulty insulation, Maj. Gen. Michael Eyre stopped them. He wrote in a 2014 memo:

 “The typical occupant populations for these facilities are young, fit Afghan soldiers and recruits who have the physical ability to make a hasty retreat during a developing situation.”

The DOD wastes billions of dollars in just spare parts. For example, Boeing overcharges up to 177,000 percent; Hamilton Sundstrand is more reasonable at only 900 percent. A redacted version of a July 2014 report showed that the Pentagon overpaid Bell Helicopter 395 percent-$9 million–just on 33 of 35 sole-source commercial parts.

GOP legislators and presidential candidates are being lobbied by arms dealers to raise the defense budget and go to war. Former Rep. Mike Rogers (R-MI), ex-chair of the House Intelligence Committee, heads up the group called Americans for Peace, Prosperity and Security to front for the military-industrial complex. Known for claiming that Edward Snowden was a Russian double agent, Rogers pushed for unlimited surveillance through the CISPA bill and support of NSA.

Rogers’ wife, Kristi Rogers, serves as President and CEO of Aegis LLC, a defense contractor with a $10 billion contract to provide security and intelligence-gathering services to the State Department. The board of his lobbying group is a virtual who’s who of the defense industry and a prominent partner of the New Hampshire GOP.  The situation is reminiscent of former Vice President Dick Cheney’s $34 million pay-off oilfield services provider Halliburton before he instigated the 2003 invasion of Iraq.

The Pentagon doesn’t even want some of the things that Congress is pushing on them. For example, this $8.76 billion:

  • $4.7 billion: refueling the USS George Washington.
  • $1.46 billion:  15 EA-18G Growler electronic warfare planes.
  • $1 billion: starting on an additional San Antonio-class amphibious transport dock ship.
  • $479 million: four F-35 fighter jets raising the total to 38).
  • $341 million: modernizing 12 Apache helicopters and nine Black Hawk helicopters.
  • $200 million:  another Joint High Speed Vessel ship.
  • $155 million: 12 more MQ-9 Reaper drones.
  • $154 million: another P-8A Poseidon Navy surveillance aircraft.
  • $120 million: M1 Abrams tank upgrades.
  • $150 million: medium and heavy tactical vehicles.

In the past 46 years, food stamps have cost taxpayers $1.035 trillion. That’s less than three times the annual defense budget that the House passed today. Wisconsin is trying to keep people on food stamps from buying shredded cheese while the $43 billion lost in Afghanistan is negligible. At the same time that Congress adds to the defense budget, it cuts security for embassies.

The following chart shows how the U.S. defense budget compares to those in the countries nearest the U.S. in expenditures:

military 2015

The House plans to throw at least $612 billion at the Pentagon without knowing where the taxpayer monies go. In 1990, Congress passed a law requiring all government agencies to achieve audit-readiness. Only the Pentagon has not achieved this within the ensuing two and a half decades. Since the first audit was due in 1997, Congress has extended the deadline several times, most recently until 2017. Boehner and the other House members who voted for the bloated defense budget must instinctively know that the Pentagon needs $612 billion. If Amtrak can survive on an 18-percent reduction, so can the Department of Defense.

July 24, 2012

GOP Vision for America

Yesterday I had breakfast with a friend who used to be a Republican, and I realized how lucky Democrats are these days. Not everyone in the party is  enamored with everything that Obama does, and the Democrat lawmakers are sometimes irritating. But the old-guard Republicans are lost.

During our discussion she said, “I’ve lost my party! I don’t tell anybody that I’m a Republican any more. I say that I’m an independent.” So I thought about the Republican vision for the United States: miserly, selfish, controlling, and violent. Conservatives are changing the United States from the “can do” to the “won’t do” beliefs.

Violence, of course, comes from the conservatives’ attitude toward gun control. It’s not just that they want everybody to have one or two guns in the house to protect themselves and use for recreational hunting. Instead, they want everyone to have as much fire power as they can afford to buy without considering that a restriction in this–or even licensing guns–might result in fewer deaths. The recently deposed head of the Arizona state senate, Russell Pearce, accuses the people in the Aurora (CO) theater of being cowards for not taking down the young man with four weapons and unlimited rounds for them at his disposal.

As for the current war in Afghanistan, the one that costs us $88.5 a year and where the country wants us to leave, the House managed to debate our situation there—for one hour. That’s all the nation’s destiny is worth to these people.

The conservatives’ craving for control has been clearly shown through the conservatives’ drive to eradicate unions, primarily for teachers, and contraception availability. Both these destroy salaries for women because teaching has been one place in the past where women can come closer to achieving economic equality. Without a decent salary, without the fair pay act which would require that women are paid the same as men for the same work, and without the chance to avoid pregnancy, women are losing the ability to stay out of poverty, where the conservatives think that they don’t deserve help. They want to control women.

Another control from the Republicans is the rash of laws mandating restrictive photo IDs for voting. Initially conservatives said the purpose was to prevent voter fraud, but by now they are admitting, as all sane people knew, that there was no fraud. Pennsylvania Republican House Leader Mike Turzai said,  “[…] Voter ID, which is gonna allow Governor Romney to win the state of Pennsylvania, done.” Conservatives simply tried to remove as many progressive voters from participating in the election as possible.

Michigan is now a prime battleground against Republican control of municipalities and school districts by dictators appointed by the governor. The process started over a year ago with Public Act 4, signed by Gov. Rick Snyder, that extended emergency manager laws. In Michigan, an emergency manager gives all orders in the town or school district and can break contracts and fire elected officials. The first city that Snyder took over, in the name of fiscal problems, was a tiny, largely black town because a wealthy developer wanted to build a golf course on a public park along the lake.

In protest to the Michigan law, a coalition called Stand Up for Democracy submitted 226,000 signatures for a referendum to overturn the law. They needed just under 162,000, and the Bureau of Elections found 203,238 valid signatures. Another organization challenged the petitions on the basis of wrong font size. The Republicans on the Board of Canvassers succeeded in declaring all petitions invalid. Last month the state Court of Appeals ruled that the signatures should be accepted, allowing a public vote in November. That decision has been appealed to the Michigan Supreme Court which will hear the case tomorrow. Part of the debate will be how the “point” and “type” should be measured, whether by size of the printer’s block or the actual printed character. This comes from the anti-regulation party.

In its supposed craving for austerity, conservative lawmakers have one response for any action that would help the country: we can’t afford it. And they use this excuse with no justification. Health care won’t bankrupt the country as demonstrated by all the other countries with universal health care, but we can be bankrupted with escalating costs and a sick workforce with lost work days and productivity. In fact, repealing the health care act will cost the country $109 billion that the taxpayers will save if we keep the law. The World Health Organization reports that the United States spends 16 percent of its GDP, the highest portion of any country, on health care but ranks 37th out of 191 countries in performance. By contrast the United Kingdom spends 6 percent of its GDP but rates 18th in performance, almost 20 places higher than the U.S.

Social Security isn’t bankrupting the country; it just needs some tweaking the way that President Reagan did 30 years ago. And green energy isn’t too expensive; it hasn’t bankrupted Denmark. Start-up costs for anything are more expensive as the country found out with technology such as television and computers. This area combines austerity with selfishness because those huge corporations that present everyone with high utility bills, charge high gas prices, and give everyone dirty air and water don’t want to lose their customers. Republicans keep talking about all the money that the government lost in solar companies going bankrupt. Facts show companies lost less than 4 percent of the total program funding for alternative energy. Because Chinese companies got massive government subsidies, they were able to flood the U.S. market with solar equipment. Yet this is the time to continue the program because the drop in prices because of Chinese solar panels greatly reduces installation costs.

In its austerity, conservatives balk at providing sufficient education for the nation’s young people. In 2003 the US ranked 15th of 29 in reading literacy, 21st of 30 in scientific literacy, 25th of 30 in mathematics, 24th of 29 in problem solving. Conservatives claim that the United States has bad teachers as conservative lawmakers continue to starve the schools and increase the number of students in classes. The United States conservatives also want to charge high interest rates on student loans for higher education while Europe and Russia have tuition-free colleges and universities free to reduce the shortage of workers in specific fields.

In their selfishness, conservatives frequently avoid addressing a need. The farm bill expires on September 30, but House Republican leaders don’t plan to do anything about it. The bill would save $35 billion during the next 10 years, but Republicans don’t want to touch it until after the November election—an attitude that they seem to have for any legislative activity. Nothing like this has happened for at least a half century. Doing this will put the farmers suffering from the worst drought since the middle of the last century with Medicare doctors whose pay will run out, fired workers who worry about jobless benefits, and possibly millions of families whose tax breaks may expire. The Senate has already approved its farm bill so that the House needs to stop whining about the Senate not taking any action.

If the conservatives want to save the country, they need to take a hard look at the defense budget. The United States not only spends more money than any other country but also spends more than the next 14 nations combined. This nation’s military budget accounts for 41% of the total military spending in the entire world. This is the conservatives’ “dream for America.” T

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