Nel's New Day

May 23, 2020

DDT: Week 173 – Wall to Wall Corruption

For black humor about Dictator Donald Trump (DDT) and his fake cures, read Dana Milbank’s “If Trump Likes Hydroxychloroquine, He’ll Love Camel Urine.” And now to the real news which also read like black humor. 

What COVID-19 is covering up

Five agency watchdogs fired within less than two months to keep them investigating DDT’s corruption. (More about that later.)

A $1.3 billion federal contract for a small section of the southern wall with no bid to a firm that DDT found on Fox news when the owner begged for the contract. Note: the company’s earlier contract faced an inspector general audit over improper political influence—but firing the IG will take care of that.

One of the few medical experts, this one for vaccines, fired because he didn’t approve of DDT’s drug of choice, hydroxychloroquine.

Jared Kushner’s staffing of the PPE procurement team with young investment bankers who were told to prioritize DDT’s political allies and business cronies.

AG Bill Barr trying to drop charges against former National Security Adviser Michael Flynn who pled guilty twice about his corrupt vole in the Russia investigation with DDT’s lawyers arguing that he is above the law and immune from investigation.

DDT’s possibly launching the first nuclear weapon test since 1992 to threaten China and Russia.

DDT withdrawing from the Treaty on Open Skies, an almost 30-year pact to reduce accidental wars by permitting reconnaissance flights for the 34 countries in the agreement on short notice. DDT also doesn’t want to continue the START pact with Russia that limits nuclear platforms such as bombers, submarines, and intercontinental ballistic missiles. Gen. Michael V. Hayden, George W. Bush’s senior intelligence officials, tweeted about DDT’s withdrawal, “This is insane.”

Possibility of White House commission, the FEC, and the FCC investigating online bias and censorship by social media companies to force them into allowing more far-right material.

DDT celebrating almost 99,000 deaths from COVID-19 by golfing on his resort in Virginia two days after a spike in the state provided the largest number of cases in one day.

Michigan suffering from massive flooding because private companies failed to care for dams while DDT threatens to pull funding from blue states, including Michigan, if they insist on allowing people to vote by mail.

The husband of Sen. Kelly Loefler (D-GA), worried about her reelection this fall after her appointment earlier this year, giving $1 million to DDT’s super PAC.

Republicans spending $20 million to recruit 50,000 volunteers in 15 key states to “observe” (aka intimidate) voters on Election Day. Four confirmed cases of voter fraud in 2016 were three people caught trying to vote for DDT twice and an election worker caught trying to fill in a bubble on someone else’s ballot for mayor.

DDT’s campaign recruiting pro-DDT doctors for a coalition that supports his handling of a health crisis killing almost 100,000 people thus far to open up the country no matter what.  

DDT writing a letter to the World Health Organization (WHO) so filled with lies that the fact-checker required 2280 words and it was called “factually incorrect” by the highly reputable British medical journal, Lancet.  The letter lies about the reasons that DDT is removing the U.S. from WHO.  

DDT concealing his addition of workers for foreign arms sales to “essential work” in mid-April, a classification of people needed “to maintain the services and functions Americans depend on daily.” Employees questioned why they weren’t such essential items as masks and ventilators. COVID-19 cases and deaths occurred at the plants, probably because of lack of care in protecting workers.

Sen. Josh Hawley’s (R-MO) attempt to abolish the 164-member World Trade Organization (WTO) after 90 years of success, a move to damage U.S. businesses and give a victory to China. Hawley can only withdraw U.S. membership if he gets permission from Congress. Even USTR Robert Lighthizer finds the WTO important to the U.S.: global trade liberalization has increased U.S. economy by $1.2 billion between 1950 and 2016. Eliminating WTO and trade agreements would decrease $2.8 trillion in global GDP and put the U.S. at a serious financial and political disadvantage.

The VA refusing to remove Nazi symbols on markers in its national cemetery at For Sam Houston in San Antonio (TX) for two German POWs buried there in 1943. Swastikas cannot be legally displayed for the German display, and all known monuments that feature the Nazi symbol have been removed or replaced.

Eight weeks ago, DDT “dumped” Steve Linick, the fourth inspector general in a late Friday evening tweet. The news burgeoned throughout the week. First, the firing was attributed to an investigation into the way that Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and his wife used security agents as servants. The next investigation in the news was that DDT’s use of an emergency declaration last year to fast-track weapons sales to Saudi Arabia with no congressional permission at the request of Rep. Eliot Engel (D-NY) for the House Foreign Affairs Committee.  Congress passed three resolutions to block the sales and stop Saudi’s support for the war in Yemen, but DDT vetoed them. DDT catered to Saudi Arabia even after the Crown Prince’s murder of Jamal Khashoggi, a U.S. resident and journalist in its embassy in Turkey. Lawmakers—even some GOP ones such as Sens. Chuck Grassley (IA), Mitt Romney (UT), Lisa Murkowski (AK), Rob Portman (OH), and John Thune (SD)— want a justification for Linick’s firing.

Pompeo refused to be interviewed by Linick about his pressure for the “emergency” arms sale. Heather Cox Richardson wonders if the arms sales are connected to the nuclear deal that DDT made with Saudi Arabia. Lawmaker opposed that deal also, concerned that the Saudis will use the nuclear materials to develop weapons, but “Energy Secretary Rick Perry secretly approve six authorizations by March 2019.”

Next DDT told the media that he fired Linick because Pompeo asked him to do so. Pompeo said that “Linick wasn’t performing a function in a way that we had tried to get him to, that was additive for the State Department, very consistent with what the statute says he’s supposed to be doing.” Inspectors general are supposed to be independent, not follow the agencies’ directions.

By the middle of the week, the media released information about Linick investigating the highly expensive parties that Pompeo gave for possible donors for a political run, possibly senator from Kansas. The two dozen elite gatherings, known as “Madison Dinners” and regularly scheduled until the onset of the coronavirus, developed a master list of about 500 Republicans: 29 percent from the corporate world; 25 percent from media or entertainment; 30 percent from politics or government; and 14 percent diplomats or foreign officials. NBC has the list. No one has a record of any other secretary of State having these dinners that taxpayers funded. 

Pompeo’s diplomatic trips also included stops for campaigning, for example dropping off at a retirement area with GOP donors on his way to Latin America this year. In London, he also met with GP donors just after a trip to Kansas where he met with Charles Koch. The visits were not on his public schedule, and he didn’t tell reporters with him about the meeting.

To protect another Cabinet member, DDT fired the Transportation Department inspector general last week. Mitch Behm was investigating Secretary Elaine Chao for political favoritism for her husband, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY). Chao can fire the new acting IG, Howard “Skip” Elliott, a former railroad executive who also oversees the Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration, if she wishes. And it’s not the only conflict of interest that Chao has. Reps. Carolyn B. Maloney (D-NY), chair of the Committee on Oversight and Reform, and Peter A. DeFazio (D-OR), chair of the Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure, stated Chao’s office “actually seems to be trying to defend the idea that someone can serve both as a political appointee reporting directly to the Secretary and as an independent Inspector General charged with overseeing the Secretary’s actions.” DDT’s new appointee, Eric Soskin, is a DOJ trial lawyer “involved in some hot-button immigration and civil rights cases.”

“With the firings [of internal government oversight officials], [Trump] is demolishing the ideal that inspectors general can operate independently without fear of retribution as they attempt to uncover waste, fraud and abuse that does not serve the interests of the American people,” CNN’s Maeve Reston writes in an analysis of the consequences of Trump’s “oversight purge.” 

In his pursuit of collecting loyalists, DDT got John Ratcliffe confirmed by the GOP Senate, 49-44, for director of 17 intelligence agencies. Ratcliffe has a history of lying to make himself look better and protected a company a company accused of reprisal against a whistleblower to get donations. He also nominated a new U.S. attorney, Justin Herdman, to head up the Washington office to oversee cases that prosecute DDT’s friends. Timothy Shea, Herdman’s acting predecessor and AG Bill Barr’s friend whose time had run out, had protected Roger Stone and Michael Flynn.

And then there’s DDT’s threats against any blue states that allow mail-in voting—but that’s for another day.

May 23 COVID-19: 1,666,828 cases; 98,683 deaths.

April 20, 2020

Governments Starve, People Die

For over two decades, Republicans have fought to shrink the government. Published on April 10, 2020 is “When You Drown the Government in the Bathtub, People Die” from respected middle-of-the-road Washington Post columnist Dana Milbank:

I had been expecting this for 21 years.

“It’s not a matter of ‘if,’ but ‘when,’” the legendary epidemiologist D.A. Henderson told me in 1999 when we discussed the likelihood of a biological event causing mass destruction.

In 2001, I wrote about experts urging a “medical Manhattan Project” for new vaccines, antibiotics and antivirals.

Reporting on a congressional briefing in 2005, I quoted public health experts predicting a pandemic that would overwhelm hospitals and exhaust respirator supplies. “I want to emphasize the certainty that a pandemic will occur,” the Mayo Clinic’s Gregory Poland said.

In 2009, during the swine flu scare, I relayed warnings about “the nation’s patchwork of a public health system” and the need for better “vaccine and public-health infrastructure before a more severe pandemic comes along.”

I repeat these things not to pretend I was prescient but to show that the nation’s top scientists and public health experts were shouting these warnings from the rooftops—deafeningly, unanimously, and consistently. In the years after the 2001 terrorist attacks, the Bush and Obama administrations seemed to be listening.

But then came the tea party, the anti-government conservatism that infected the Republican Party in 2010 and triumphed with President Trump’s election. Perhaps the best articulation of its ideology came from the anti-tax activist Grover Norquist, who once said: “I don’t want to abolish government. I simply want to reduce it to the size where I can drag it into the bathroom and drown it in the bathtub.”

They got their wish. What you see today is your government, drowning—a government that couldn’t produce a rudimentary test for coronavirus, that couldn’t contain the pandemic as other countries have done, that couldn’t produce enough ventilators for the sick or even enough face masks and gowns for health-care workers.

Now it is time to drown this disastrous philosophy in the bathtub—and with it the poisonous attitude that the government is a harmful “beast” that must be “starved.” It is not an exaggeration to say that this ideology caused the current debacle with a deliberate strategy to sabotage government.

Overall, entitlement programs continued to grow, and the Pentagon’s many friends protected its budget. And Trump has abandoned responsible budgeting. But in one area, the tea party types, with their sequesters, debt-limit standoffs and other austerity schemes, did all too well. Between 2011 and 2018, nondefense discretionary spending fell by 12 percent—and, with it, the government’s already iffy ability to prevent and ameliorate public health emergencies unraveled.

John Auerbach, president of Trust for America’s Health, described for me the fallout: Over a dozen years, the Public Health Emergency Preparedness grants to state and local public health departments were cut by a third and the Hospital Preparedness Program cut in half, 60,000 jobs were lost at state and local public health departments, and similarly severe cuts were made to laboratories. A $15 billion grant program under the 2010 Affordable Care Act, the Prevention and Public Health Fund, was plundered for other purposes.

Now Americans are paying for this with their lives—and their livelihoods.

If the United States had more public health capacity, it “absolutely” would have been on par with Singapore, South Korea and Taiwan, which have far fewer cases, Auerbach said. South Korea has had 4 deaths per 1 million people, Singapore 1 death per million, and Taiwan 0.2 deaths per million. The United States: 39 per million—and rising fast.

To have mitigated the virus the way Singapore, South Korea and Taiwan did would have required spending about $4.5 billion a year on public health, Auerbach estimates. Instead, we’re spending trillions to rescue the economy.

Democrats aren’t blameless in pandemic preparedness. And some Republicans tried to be responsible–but the starve-the-beast crowd wouldn’t hear of it.

After Sen. Arlen Specter (R-Pa.) voted for the 2009 stimulus bill because he secured $10 billion for the National Institutes of Health, he was essentially forced out of the GOP. Rising in the party were people such as Rep. Jim Jordan (Ohio), whose far-right Republican Study Committee in 2011 proposed a plan, applauded by GOP leadership, to cut NIH funding by 40 percent.

In 2014, NIH chief Francis Collins said there likely would have been a vaccine for the Ebola outbreak if not for a 10 percent cut in NIH funding between 2010 and 2014 that included halving Ebola vaccine research. Republicans jeered.

In 2016, when President Barack Obama requested $1.9 billion to fight the Zika virus, Republicans in Congress sat on the request for seven months and then cut it nearly in half.

Since then, Trump has proposed cuts to the NIH and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention so severe even congressional Republicans rejected them. And last month they fed the “beast” a $2.2 trillion feast to fight the pandemic.

Now they know: When you drown the government in the bathtub, people die.

Jonathan Chait points out that Dictator Donald Trump (DDT) is starving state government in a blackmail scheme to force them to open their states.  He told his aides to develop economic plans allowing him to take credit for successes while creating flexibility for him to blame others for any failures. DDT’s task force gives him cover, and DDT’s allies are coordinating flag-waving protests to open the country through open violence, protests that DDT supports.

The last piece of DDT’s plan bringing states to heel starving them with no additional funding in the current disaster relief plan. According to DDT’s officials, any funding for these governments might keep them opening up their economies. Public health officials and business leaders want testing to find COVID-19 hot zones before opening other areas, and even DDT’s newest plan says that testing is the gate to all his amorphous ideas. Governors may be forced to omit testing to restart the economy because DDT wants to “starve the beast.” Public officials are concerned with long-term health of people; DDT needs success for only six months to get re-elected.

In defiance of health officials and subservience to DDT, some GOP governors are starting to lift restrictions:

  • Florida’s Jon DeSantis had already declared wrestling as “essential” and then opened the beaches under restricted hours, assuming that the virus can tell time as well as know how to stop at state borders. [The scene at Jacksonville two days ago.]
  • In Georgia, Brian Kemp opened such really important businesses as body art studios and massage therapy establishments along with their beaches. Kemp’s declaration has brought criticism because “it doesn’t meet the most basic guidelines,” according to Dr. Sanjay Gupta.
  • Tennessee and South Carolina followed Kemp’s example, including South Carolina’s beaches, although it doesn’t meet the White House criteria for doing so.
  • Oklahoma is now permitting elective surgery although the state has enough PPE for only ten percent needed for the virus.
  • Oklahoma elective surgeries but has only 10 percent of PPE it needs for the virus.
  • Texas has opened the parks and elective surgeries.
  • Nebraska is opening up a giant mall outside Omaha.  
  • Other states such as Alabama plan to meet DDT’s May Day deadline to open up their businesses.
  • States across the Midwest plan to keep its meat plants open.   

Even Democratic governors of Illinois and Louisiana, fourth in the nation for its rate of deaths from the virus, said that parts of their states might reopen.

DDT is getting antsy about being the White House for “months” and can’t remember his campaign rallies in February and March. Instead of working on more testing, he decided that he’ll lower the COVID-19 rate in the U.S. by banning immigration while opening businesses. At today’s briefing, DDT blamed calls for testing from states as a way to politically damage him. Concerns about lifting restrictions with no testing come from both GOP and Democratic states.

On April 20, the U.S. has 792,913 confirmed COVID-19 cases and 42,517 deaths. Fifty-eight percent of people polled are more concerned about rapid re-opening of the than how stay-at-home orders affect the country’s economy. Only 10 percent say people “should stop social distancing to stimulate the economy, even if it means increasing the spread of coronavirus.” Large majorities of both Republicans and Democrats disagree with this statement.  

August 24, 2019

DDT: Week 135 – Gone Crazy

August used to be a slow time for federal politics. Congress went back to their constituents, and the president went on vacation. Little happened. Not with Dictator Donald Trump (DDT). Jennifer Rubin summarized the past seven days in her Washington Post column:

“In the last week or so, we’ve witnessed President Trump deny there is a threat of recession; blame the Federal Reserve chairman for raising interest rates too high (!); deny, then admit, and then finally reject consideration of cuts to either payroll taxes or a capital-gains taxes. We’ve seen him seriously consider ‘buying’ Greenland, then cancel a trip to Denmark, and then finally insult Denmark’s female prime minister, Mette Frederiksen, whom Trump characterized as ‘nasty’ (his all-purpose insult to women who won’t do his bidding), and claimed that when she says his idea about purchasing Greenland was ‘absurd,’ she is offending the United States. He’s called Jews disloyal on consecutive days and proclaimed himself the ‘chosen one’ (or should it be ‘Chosen One’?), though he still insists the trade deficit means China has ‘sucked’ hundreds of billions of dollars out of our economy. He insists that kicking Russia out of the Group of 8 for its invasion of Ukraine was an overreaction by President Barack Obama (I guess that is what he means) and should be reversed.”

Dana Milbank pointed out that “along the way, he used shooting victims for self-promotion, said he wanted a medal for military valor, and more.” 

DDT also said he might sign an executive order to overturn part of the U.S. Constitution’s 14th Amendment guaranteeing U.S. birthright citizenship. For over 150 years, the constitution has declared:

“All persons born or naturalized in the United States and subject to the jurisdiction thereof, are citizens of the United States and of the State wherein they reside.”

The Supreme Court confirmed the constitutionality birthright in 1898. Despite DDT’s lies, over 30 countries have birthright citizenship.  More details here.

DDT may intend these insane actions as a distraction from publicity about his lies regarding his 2018 filings about the profit and value of his Scotland golf courses by $165 million. He claimed an income of $23.8 million, $31.1 million more than the loss of $6.3 million filed in Edinburgh. Instead of the over $50 million profit filed in the U.S., the balance sheets filed in the UK show debt exceeding assets by $64.8 million. DDT’s U.S. disclosure statement omitted $199.5 million in loans he made to those resorts, $54.9 million from himself personally to Trump International, Scotland in Aberdeenshire and $144.6 million from his trust to Trump Turnberry in Ayrshire. False or incomplete information on the U.S. form violates the Ethics in Government Act punishable by up to a year in jail. Alan Garten, Trump Organization Chief Legal Officer Alan Garten, responded that the two forms are filed under different accounting and legal standards. DDT has consistently filed forms with false and missing information.

After those disasters, DDT flew to France for what French President Emmanuel Macron, leader of the G7 Summit, calls the G6+1 Summit because of DDT’s refusal last year to sign the group’s joint resolution—the first time the group lacked consensus since it was formed in 1975. Macron doesn’t expect a unanimous joint resolution this year, citing “a very deep crisis of democracy” and calling it a “pointless” exercise. Joining DDT and Macron at Biarritz (France) are leaders of Britain, Canada, Germany, Italy, and Japan. Much to DDT’s dismay, Russia was removed from the former G8 after he militarily annexed Crimea and continues to support anti-Kiev rebels fighting the Ukrainian government. DDT’s sole goal at the summit is to reinstate Russia despite Russia’s interference in the U.S. elections, past and present. DDT blames President Obama for Russia’s loss of membership “because he got outsmarted.” 

DDT bragged that the EU will give him anything he wants if he threatens to tariff European cars. Earlier this year, DDT made a deal to send U.S. beef to Europe duty-free in an effort to make up for the tariffs for his trade war with China.

According to Macron, a chief issue at the summit will be Brazil’s 85 percent increase in fires, half of them in the Amazon, which he called an “international crisis.” Water vapor from the Amazon rainforest help circulate water and weather patterns around the world, and it provides 20 percent of oxygen in the world. Loss of the rainforest causes acceleration in higher temperatures in the world and huge erradication of species found only there. Many of the 74,155 illegal fires in the rainforest—one new one each minute—are likely caused by cattle-farmers trying to clear more land. An avid deforester, Brazil’s far right president Jair Bolsonaro, called “the Trump of South America,” nicknamed himself “Captain Chainsaw.” Furious about the interference in his fires, he reluctantly said he would send in the military to fight fires for a month after Macron threatened to cancel a major trade deal between European and South American countries. 

While DDT tries to keep his voting base, polls ranking him overall between 36 percent and 43 percent all show an average two-percent reduction in his approval. that his approval is dropping. According to a recent AP poll, he is also underwater in approval about his handling these specific issues:

  • Economy (before his problems the past few days) – 46 percent
  • Immigration – 38 percent
  • Health care – 37 percent
  • Foreign policy – 36 percent
  • Gun policy – 36 percent

Other polls show that fewer racially intolerant people want to vote in the 2020 election that voters who don’t believe that whites are superior to blacks. In the midst of DDT’s racist rants, people in the U.S. are less likely to have feelings of racial anxiety and more likely to empathize with blacks, even among the demographics of white citizens and whites without college degrees. Whites are also 19 percent more supportive of a path to citizenship for undocumented immigrations and four percent less supportive of increased deportations than in 2015. Only 29 percent of whites agreed that “America must protect and preserve its White European heritage,” down seven points from August 2017 and nine points down from August 2018. Fewer whites and white Republicans think “white people are currently under attack in this country.”

While DDT causes more problems with his trade war, almost two-thirds of people want free trade now. The 27 percent of people who oppose free trade is down ten points since DDT started his trade war with China in 2017. Only eight percent of voters think DDT kept all his promises. Half of them, including 60 percent of independents think the reason is that he’s “distracted by other unimportant priorities like petty disagreements and Twitter.”

State polls give a darker picture than overall one. His approval rates are below disapproval in at least ten states where he got 189 electoral votes in 2016, several of the difference over ten points. In 2016, DDT took his winning 46 electoral votes in the three states of Pennsylvania, Michigan, and Wisconsin where he won by only 77,744 popular votes for all three states. 

DDT’s two main points for his campaign are immigration and the economy. His immigration policies are becoming increasing unpopular, and the economy is headed for serious problem unless he stops his trade war—an unlikely solution for him. He also returns from France to face calls for gun safety legislation. Enthusiastic about fighting mass shootings after two of them in one weekend, he has dropped the idea after several long talks with NRA’s CEO Wayne LaPierre. Over 70 percent of people support laws that would allow the removal of guns if the owners were considered by courts or law enforcement of being in danger of harming themselves or others.

A poll of suburban white women, a demographic that DDT wants back, reveals the following:

  • 72 percent: Gun laws should be stricter. said they think gun laws should be stricter, compared to four
  • 90 percent: Gun sales at gun shows and other private sales should require universal background checks; all gun owners should file with a national firearms registry.  
  • 88 percent: A 48-hour waiting period should be mandated between a firearm purchase and taking possession.  
  • 84 percent: Law enforcement should be permitted to temporarily retain firearms from a person who may present a danger to others or themselves.
  • 76 percent: Purchase and use of semi-automatic assault-style weapons like the AK-47 and the AR-15 should be banned.
  • And 72 percent: Sale and possession of high-capacity or extended ammunition magazines, which allow guns to shoot more than 10 bullets before needing to be reloaded, should be banned.

The 2020 campaign may pick up in the next few months: four Republicans—radio host Joe Walsh, former Arizona senator Jeff Flake, former South Carolina governor and representative Mark Sanford (think Appalachian Trail), and former Ohio governor John Kasich—consider joining former Massachusetts governor Bill Weld in opposition to DDT’s candidacy for the 2020 presidency.

July 2, 2019

Federal Appointment Replacements Worse for Democracy

Former Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders has left the White House for Arkansas after holding fewer briefings than during any of the previous five presidents’ terms—probably an average of one every other month. Dictator Donald Trump (DDT) told her last January not to bother to meet with press conferences. New Press Secretary, Stephanie Grisham, will do the job of not meeting with the press while staying on as spokesperson for Melanie Trump and becoming Communications Director, formerly Bill Shine.

Grisham cut her chops at the Korean DMZ Freedom House in an episode called “an all out brawl” with “body blows” as she elbowed and pushed a North Korean security guard. Her elegant diplomacy matches that of her employer when DDT pushed aside Montenegro’s Prime Minister Dusko Markovic at the 2017 NATO summit. 

Lying is another of DDT’s characteristic that Grisham emulates. She claimed that Melania Trump’s jacket stating “I really don’t care. Do U?” was just a jacket with no meaning before the First Lady said that it was “a message.” Trump said she wore it “for the people and for the left-wing media who are criticizing me. And I want to show them that I don’t care.” In July 2018, Grisham supported DDT’s false claim that he arrived in the UK on June 23, 2016, the day of the Brexit referendum, where he predicted the vote outcome. DDT wasn’t there until the next day. In his report, Robert Mueller documented Grisham’s serial lying.

Grisham has a strong anti-press background. As spokeswoman for the Arizona House of Representatives GOP, she implemented the policy banning reporters from the legislative floor if they “would not consent to extensive background checks.” The policy focused on Arizona reporter Hank Stephenson after he provided evidence that House Speaker David Gowan used state-owned vehicles for his congressional campaign and forced Gowan to return over $12,000 to the state. Misdemeanor trespassing was one reason for barring reporters because Stephenson pled guilty to the charge in 2014. Her policy lasted only a few days because some Republicans expressed concern and no member of the Phoenix press corps would sign the form. While a member of DDT’s transition team, Grisham did no work for Arizona but stayed on the state’s payroll.

In September 2018, Grisham was reprimanded for violating the Hatch Act that prevents White House employees from party-political activities. DDT promoted her with a raise in salary. 

In the EPA, one fossil fuel industry shill was traded for another. Bill Wehrum, formerly a lobbyist trying to destroy President Obama’s safeguards on polluters, could more easily do the job when he oversaw fossil fuel pollution regulations. Wehrum was confirmed with no Democratic votes to focus on “climate change, smog, and power plants’ mercury pollution.” Like his corrupt predecessor Scott Pruitt, Wehrum resigned after 19 months in the midst of a congressional investigation into his improperly helping his former industry clients after the media shined a light on his inappropriate activities. He slowed fuel-efficiency requirements for cars and trucks as well as rewriting methods of calculating costs and benefits to favor fossil fuel requirements. He also wrote the way that more coal-fired power plants could open.

Wehrun’s lack of ethics followed those of other Cabinet members who resigned—EPA’s Schott Pruitt, HHS’ Tom Price, Interior’s Ryan Zinke, and VA’s Davi Shulkin—and FEMA’s William “Brock” Long.” Other current ethics investigations include Interior’s new Secretary David Bernhardt plus six current or former top appointees for behavior like that of Wehrum.

Although at least one climate activist literally danced after Wehrum’s departure, the replacement has not brought joy. Anne Idsal, Wehrum’s deputy assistant, will continue EPA’s destruction and fall in line with DDT’s deregulation. She belongs to the dark ages belief that “climate has been changing since the dawn of time” and has strong ties to the Bush-Cheney administration. Her family owns the ranch where VP Dick Cheney shot a friend in the face while hunting ring-necked pheasants. Her connections extend to George P. Bush, George W. Bush’s nephew, who cleared out 11 top staffers of the General Land Office after he was elected in 2014 to manage Texas’ oil and gas resources. Idsal was one of 29 people hired for Bush’s Land Office without the jobs being posted, and she has ties to industry associations and Exxon Mobil.

Having lost with Herman Cain and Stephen Moore, DDT plans to appoint Christopher Waller and Judy Shelton for the two empty Federal Board seats. Both conservatives want to lower interest rates, and DDT’s close friend and Fed-hater Shelton wants to return to the gold standard, abandoned by Richard Nixon almost 50 years ago.

With White House aide and neo-Nazi Stephen Miller in charge of DHS, chaos continues to reign in the department, designed to protect U.S. security, supports DDT’s politics. Acting Customs and Border Protection Commissioner John Sanders for two months leaves after publicity of squalid living conditions for children at border stations that provide no child care, bedding, and hygiene items while submitting the children to sleep deprivation. Yet Sanders was fired because he wasn’t aggressive enough in blocking asylum seekers. In the past three months, DHS has also done away with its secretary (Kirstjen Nielsen), acting ICE chief (Ron Vitiello), acting deputy secretary (Claire Grady), and Citizenship and Immigration Services director (Lee Cissna). The House Oversight and Reform Committee ordered testimony on July 12 from DHS Acting Secretary Kevin McAleenan and acting Customs and Border Protection Commission Mark Morgan about the deplorable conditions for children held at the southern border. 

Hardliner Morgan, who claims that he can predict future gang members by looking into the eyes of children, left ICE after five weeks to replace Sanders. While head of ICE, Morgan pushed for raids to deport undocumented families. Earlier, McAleenan had opposed Miller’s directive to appoint Morgan head of Customs and Border Protection but caved under pressure. When Morgan disagreed with his boss, McAleenan, he circumvented him by going directly to DDT. Matthew Albence, ICE’s deputy director who was noted for saying that family detention centers are “more like a summer camp,” is now acting director of the agency. https://www.buzzfeednews.com/article/hamedaleaziz/ice-director-matthew-albence-trump-immigration-enforcement

DDT loves officials to be “acting.” Dana Milbank explains: 

“Without stature or protection of Senate confirmation [for officials] … allows Trump to demand absolute subservience from appointees. Because he can replace them at will, they don’t contradict him. But this tentative status also means they lack authority within their agencies and the stature to stand up to Trump when he’s wrong.”

An ”acting” official leads every major border- and immigration-related agency in DHS. DDT said, “I do burn out on people, I do.” McAleenan may be close to DDT’s burnout because of his more reasonable approach toward enforcing immigration, for example opposition to mass ICE raids rounding up migrant families, although he supported DDT’s separation of families.

DDT prefers Ken Cuccinelli, former Virginia AG who lost his run for governor, as acting director of U.S. Citizenship and Immigration services with his record of climate crisis denial, anti-LGBT discrimination, opposition to women’s reproductive rights, censorship for safe sex information, obstruction to the Catholic Church’s care for vulnerable populations, blocks to all gun violence reduction efforts, and anti-immigration. Cuccinelli matches Miller in lack of human decency, for example blaming the man who died with his toddler daughter in the Rio Grande River because he wouldn’t wait for the asylum process. After waiting two months in Mexico for asylum, Óscar Alberto Martínez Ramírez became desperate because of the punitive months-long waiting period.

The union representing federal works with asylum seekers criticizes DDT’s policies, specifically the one returning migrants seeking refuge to Mexico until decisions are made on their applications. In a court filing, the union wrote:

“By forcing a vulnerable population to return to a hostile territory where they are likely to face persecution, the [Migrant Protection Protocols] abandons our tradition of providing a safe haven to the persecuted and violates our international and domestic legal obligations.”

Less compassionate are the 9,500 current and former members of the Border Patrol who joke about the deaths of migrants on a secret Facebook group and share derogatory comments about Latinx lawmakers visiting a detention facility. Calling them “scum buckets” and “hoes,” agents joke about throwing burritos at them and posted a drawing of Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-NY) having oral sex with a detained migrant. Revelations about these agents, including at least one supervisor, follow an investigation into the hundreds of active-duty and retired law enforcement officers connected to extremist Facebook sources, including white supremacist and anti-government groups. House Oversight Chair Elijah Cummings (D-MD) requested information from Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg about the Border Patrol agents secret Facebook group with vulgar sexist and racist content mocking immigrants and congressional members.

After Ocasio-Cortez left one of the facilities, she said that she did not feel safe from the officers. Border Patrol Chief of Operations Brian Hastings said, “Agents are under a great deal of stress.” After the Border Patrol agents’ Facebook group asked for protesters to come abuse legislators, Ocasio-Cortez needed an escort back to her vehicle. Border agents feel comfortable threatening everyone, including elected members of Congress. 

Welcome to the United States of America under DDT. 

May 9, 2019

White House Threatens Freedom of the Press

Filed under: Media — trp2011 @ 8:57 PM
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Does DDT think that the media won’t find out about him if reporters can’t go to the increasingly rare press conferences? Yesterday, the White House eliminated passes for most of the press corps and then said they would take requests for “exceptions.” Columnist Dana Milbank was the only one of seven Washington Post pass holders who wasn’t granted an “exception.” No reason was given. Milbank wrote, “There’s something wrong with a president having the power to decide which journalists can cover him.”

“Exceptions” can be revoked at any time without justification. Last year, a judge described the revocation of Jim Acosta’s press pass as “shrouded in mystery.” New credential requirements include presence in the White House at least 90 out of the previous 180 days—seventy percent of the workdays. DDT may not even be there for that many days, and new policies prevent journalists from attending events—forcing them to miss the quota. The new guidelines also fail to recognize campaign-trail reporting or presidential trips abroad. Those possibly losing their livelihood are freelance camera operators and technicians. Those not granted “exceptions” receive a six-month pass which doesn’t necessary offer access.

Sen. Jeff Merkley (D-OR) tweeted that DDT’s “curtailing a free press and undermining the public’s access to government is a hallmark of authoritarianism & has no place in America. This purge of reporters is un-American and needs to be reversed ASAP.” Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-VT) agreed, “This is what dictators do.”

Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders may not listen to her words; she celebrated the release of two Reuters journalists jailed over 500 days in Myanmar, calling it a victory for the freedom of the press. She said:

“A free press, freedom of religion and the rule of law are fundamental principles for any democracy.”

DDT had ordered all his administrative officials to boycott the White House Correspondents’ Association Dinner, a fundraiser for scholarships. In the past, members have expressed great concern for the lack of free press throughout the world, but some statements this year focused on the United States. On April 27, 2019, Olivier Knox, the WHCA’s president and chief Washington correspondent for SiriusXM radio, said that his son was concerned about whether DDT would imprison his father. Knox said that the threats on his life as a foreign correspondent and to his career by former political administrations pale in comparison to DDT’s hostility toward reporters and the hostile environment DDT created. He said:

“And that’s because February 2017 is when the president of the United States called us the ‘enemies of the people. A few days later I was driving my then-11-year-old son somewhere, probably soccer practice, when he burst into tears and asked me, ‘Is Donald Trump going to put you in prison?’”

Knox said that later his son promised him that if Knox is ever thrown out of the U.S., one of the family’s relatives, who’s “a really good lawyer,” would be able to get him back into the country. Knox added:

“I’ve had to tell my family not to touch packages on our stoop. I’ve had death threats, including one this week. Too many of us have. It shouldn’t need to be said in a room full of people who understand the power of words, but ‘fake news’ and ‘enemies of the people’ are not pet names, punchlines, or presidential.”

Like at all his other rallies, DDT repeated the word “fake” to describe the press in Green Bay (WI) last week, and, like always, the hateful terminology brought cheers from the crowd. DDT complained about the harsh humor directed toward him and his administration by the comedian selected to entertain the audience at last year’s dinner so WHCA selected as keynote speaker an historian, a scholar who has written several books on powerful people in U.S. history. His 2004 of Alexander Hamilton inspired the Broadway musical hit Hamilton. In his speech, Chernow said:

“The thing that worries me most is the sustained assault on truth. What is happening today is … a relentless campaign against the very credibility of the news media.”

For credibility, the press needs to attend DDT’s press conferences, but the one today shows how useless these events are. Although the intended purpose was medical billing, DDT wandered away from its purpose:

He described his treatment of Puerto Rico as generous after the Hurricane Maria devastation, claiming that he gave them “91 billion.” Thus far, Puerto Rico has received about $11 billion. Hurricane Katrina cost $200 billion, most of it going to Louisiana.

He accused John Kerry of violating the Logan Act, which bans private citizens from negotiating with foreign governments without permission, and called for his prosecution. Last year, Kerry, a former Secretary of State, said he spoke with the Iranian foreign minister a few times since leaving office. Two people were indicted under the 1799 law, one in 1802 and the other in 1852, but no one was ever convicted

He deferred to Barr on Mueller testimony after he said that Mueller should not testify to Congress after he deferred to Barr about Mueller’s testimony.

He attacked Mueller, accusing him of a conflict of interest because Mueller had been considered a replacement for the fired former FBI director James Comey.

He claimed his son Donald Trump, Jr. was “exonerated” by Mueller.

He said he had been going easy on China and “gave China a break” on the tariffs. After tariffs are increased, DDT said, “We’re going to be taking in more money than we’ve ever taken in.”

About medical billing, not so much.

DDT attempts to hide the fact that U.S. consumers, not China, are paying for the fees and lies about the trade deficit size. DDT’s threat also caused his beloved stock market to drop the next day. Immediately before DDT tweeted his new tariffs, DDT met with Republicans who told him to end tariffs and not impose new ones. Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-IA) even tacitly held up the proposed North American trade deal as a bargaining chip. Earlier, GOP incumbents up for re-election argued against DDT’s efforts to overturn the Affordable Care Act.

Because of DDT’s tariffs, taxpayers have paid $900,000 for every job created in the steel/uranium industry—over 14 times a steelworker’s salary and an additional $11.5 billion cost to the economy per year. Steelworker jobs averaged 3,000 jobs per month this year. Consumers are paying $815,000 for every job created in making washing machines. Legally DDT can declare tariffs only for national defense, which makes his fist tariffs that were on washing machines questionable, and the World Trade Organization may stop him. No matter what DDT says, consumers are paying the taxes on the tariffs.

DDT’s steel and aluminum tariffs added 9 percent to the price of steel products sold in the U.S. last year, for a total of $5.6 billion in extra costs passed along to consumers. Tariffs added about $11.5 billion in annual costs to the U.S. economy. Yet the government isn’t making much more money. Additional tariffs should add about $32.5 billion a year, but the reality is less than half that amount at $15 billion. And that’s a small percentage of the $3 trillion annual revenue for the United States.

Sanders, who has held only two press conferences in the first four months of 2019, denied the guidelines. She said, “No one’s access is being limited.” Maybe it was just another one of those offensive trial balloons to see if anyone noticed.

April 21, 2016

Hillary Clinton Faces More Media Censure

Hillary Clinton was declared the most untrustworthy of the presidential candidates two months ago and has received negative ratings in favorability in ten recent polls. That’s this year. Three years ago, when she stepped down from the position of Secretary of State, her approval rating was 69 percent, making her the most popular politician in the country and the second-most popular secretary of state since 1948. The year before, the Washington Post called on President Obama to replace VP Joe Biden with Clinton for his second presidential run.

In Quartz, Sady Doyle has a theory for why this happened:

“[Clinton’s] public approval plummets whenever she applies for a new position. Then it soars when she gets the job. The wild difference between the way we talk about Clinton when she campaigns and the way we talk about her when she’s in office can’t be explained as ordinary political mud-slinging. Rather, the predictable swings of public opinion reveal Americans’ continued prejudice against women caught in the act of asking for power.”

Karen Blumenthal’s Hillary Rodham Clinton: A Woman Living History, written for teenagers over 15 years old, follows Clinton’s rise and fall throughout her lifetime, starting when she was a bright, competent, confident high school student who wanted to make the world a better place. At Wellesley, she made friends with one of the six black students in the school population of 400, and they became roommates. Her friendship with black activist Marian Wright Edelman led her to become an advocate for children. At the same time, she campaigned for candidates, changing her allegiance from the GOP as a “Goldwater Girl” to fighting for Democrats. In her twenties, she was a member of the House Judiciary Committee legal staff to work on the Nixon inquiry into Watergate.

Clinton’s marriage to Bill Clinton led her to massive ridicule from people in Arkansas, including Bill Clinton’s mother, for her clothing, hair, makeup, etc.—issues that men never face. She kept a job but maintained a low-key presence because of the disapproval. And she tried to change her appearance to satisfy the critics. The same ridicule came from politicians and pundits across the United States when she supported her husband in his campaign for president. Forced to give up her career while she was in the White House, she face further cruelty when she worked to improve conditions for people in the nation. Early in the first term, she and her husband faced five inquiries about the death of a close friend who killed himself because of the persecution he faced in Washington, D.C. The persecution continued as she faced criticism for not divorcing her philandering husband.

People told Hillary Clinton to be more open. She complied, and they heaped more derision on her. She became increasingly private, resulting in even more contempt. Nothing she did suited her critics. As she runs for president in 2016, both Republican candidates and her Democratic opponent, Bernie Sanders, talk about how much people dislike her. Sanders calls her a liar and unqualified to be president before his aides and consultants talk about how Sanders plans to take over the Democratic candidacy at the July convention because Clinton is unpopular.

Hillary Clinton opponents now realize that ridiculing her hair and dress might be seen as sexist so they complain about her “shrill” voice and ask that she smile more. Chris Matthews (Hardball), who I sometimes respect, recommended that Clinton select John Kasich (check out the last two blogs) for a vice-president if she wants to win.

The conservative media has attempted to dodge he belief that any treatment of Clinton is sexist. Instead, as Brian Birdnow claims, her “vaunted achievements in public life materialized because her now-estranged husband was going places, and she went along for the ride.” According to Birdnow, “the Clintons have been the beneficiaries of adoring media coverage beginning in 1991.” Blumenthal’s book records how hard Hillary Clinton worked before meeting Bill Clinton and since then. As for the “adoring media coverage,” it may have been so for Bill Clinton, but not for his hated wife, “Billary.” Birdnow wrote that “the critics cannot help that she sounds like a screeching harridan when she tries to give a political speech, or that her hoarse voice grates like fingernails scratching on a chalkboard.”

Sanders has given conservatives fuel against Clinton by his repetitive complaining that she took money for speeches on Wall Street. He has never come up with any ways in which she has personally benefited Wall Street, but his insinuation is enough to taint her. Sanders himself voted to deregulate Wall Street in 2000.

The GOP has further plans to shred Clinton’s reputation. Over six months ago, Rep. Trey Gowdy (R-SC) led Clinton through an 11-hour inquisition—at least the ninth time—into the death of four people at a diplomatic outpost in Benghazi in 2012. Almost two years ago, Gowdy had said that his investigation would be completed by the end of 2015, but that wasn’t an election year. Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy bragged that the purpose of the inquiry is to destroy Hillary Clinton.

Fox network Greta van Susteren wrote a year ago that “dragging the investigation into 2016 looks political” and that releasing the report right before the election “looks awful” and “sends a bad message about fairness.” If the report comes out in 2016, she wrote, “it is fair to draw an adverse inference against the Committee—an adverse inference of playing politics. . . . Whatever the findings are in this investigation—it will forever be plagued by allegations of unfairness, and politics if this investigation is dragged into 2016.”

Gowdy said then that “it’s not going to come out in the middle of 2016.” He recently announced that the Benghazi report will be released during this summer–the middle of 2016. Democrats on the committee aren’t allowed to see transcripts of witness interviews, and they won’t see the final report before it’s released either in July just before the Democratic convention or in September as the presidential campaign goes into full swing. Gowdy promises that the report will be “eye-opening.”

In a recent column, Dana Milbank pointed out one “eye-opening” event:

“Gregory Hicks, the U.S. diplomat in Libya who criticized the administration response, is now on detail from the State Department working as a legislative assistant to Rep. Devin Nunes (R-CA) who previously said Hicks’s ‘shocking testimony’ confirmed a ‘Benghazi whitewash’ by the administration.”

Also eye-opening is the $6.5 million expenditure thus far in a probe that “quickly devolved into the mix of unfounded allegations, selective leaks and partisan sniping that characterized the preceding Benghazi investigation by Rep. Darrel Issa’s oversight panel.”

Gowdy swore transparency that never occurred. Sixteen months ago, he promised monthly hearings that didn’t happen. In its 700+ days, the committee had only four public hearings and only one since January 2015. At the same time, mysterious leaks, damaging and false, are fed to the press from GOP members. Remember? Democrats aren’t allowed to know what’s happening.

Gowdy has dragged out his committee “work” longer than investigations into 9/11, Watergate, and the JFK assassination. No male has ever been investigated in this manner despite their greater transgressions.

Milbank provided a background of the Benghazi investigation up to Clinton’s testimony in October.

Blanche Wiesen Cook, author of the acclaimed biography of Eleanor Roosevelt, said of Hillary Clinton, “I don’t think there is a First Lady who has been treated as rudely and meanly except for Eleanor Roosevelt. Both of these women boldly risked the scorn of “those threatened by the image of a woman carrying the fight for social justice into the public arena.” Karen Weaver, the mayor of Flint (MI) said about the water crisis that Hillary Clinton “has actually been the only candidate, whether we’re talking Democratic or Republican, to reach out and talk with us about, ‘What can I do? What kind of help do you need?’”

Hillary Clinton graduated high in her Yale Law School class and became partner in a top law firm through her own hard work. Throughout her life, she has worked hard and energetically, showing competence, intelligence, stamina, courage, and knowledge of the issues. In her current campaign, she demonstrates a consideration of alternatives leading to successful endings rather than latching on to only one solution. She has experience in working with countries across the world and has been highly praised for these accomplishments. Clinton understands that a plan is necessary to accomplish goals—universal health care, higher taxes for the wealthy, gun sensible laws, equal pay, reduction of income inequality, clean energy, etc. Just hoping that people will rise up isn’t a successful way to improve the lot of over 300 million people in 50 disparate states.

One question is how people would view Clinton today if the media and other politicians had not spent billions of dollars to trash her. Another is how they would treat her if she were a man. The miracle is that she is doing so well with all these forces against her.

March 18, 2015

Congressional Budgets Separate GOP Legislators

The House budget blue-print for next year was unveiled yesterday, waiting to go through the sorry “sausage” process of legislating. Its usefulness lies in demonstrating the GOP disregard for most of the people in the United States. Rep. Paul Ryan (R-WI) is no longer chair of the House Budget Committee, but his replacement, Rep. Tom Price (R-GA) mouths the same unbelievable excuses for trashing the safety net of people in the United States. In Washington-speak, Price said, “When Washington forgets the limits of its own understanding and power … social and safety net programs stop being a bridge to a more secure future and rather become a barrier to success.” The translation is that the GOP excuses its stripping benefits for people by saying that it’s all for everyone’s own good, perhaps similar telling children they will be more independent if they are hungry.

The budget plans to move Medicaid and food stamps (SNAP) into “block grants” for states. In that way, states can use the money that they get for the poor and then transfer the funding into the general fund that has been depleted by giving huge tax subsidies to corporations and huge tax cuts for the wealthy. The Kaiser Family Foundation estimates that block grants for Medicaid would increase the uninsured numbers to between 14.3 million and 20.5 million by 2022. The same block grant process was used during the 1990s for Temporary Assistance for Needy Families Program (TANF), leaving spending for that program flat after far more people fell into poverty and should have been eligible for benefits. The Price budget also made a ten-year $165 billion cut in mandatory outside health and retirement programs; SNP is the biggest program in that area. Ryan’s budget cut of $137 billion last year was an 18-percent reduction.

Yesterday’s House budget plan also proposed repealing the Affordable Care Act. At this time, the number of uninsured people in the United States has dropped by 16 million people to 34 million because of expanded Medicaid in many states, cheaper insurance, and young adults’ ability to stay on their parents’ plan. Keeping the law would drop the number of uninsured to about 26 million. The GOP wants the number of uninsured to increase to 50 million people, as would happen without the ACA according to the CBO. This is 50 million uninsured people plus the 20 million who have lost Medicaid for a total of 70 million uninsured people by 2022. The GOP is talking about an Obamacare “replacement,” but legislators have no plans for one. Although the budget proposal included the ACA repeal, it kept the savings that the ACA brings to the federal government.

Without itemizing cuts, the budget cuts $400 billion from Ryan’s budget by cutting mandatory spending, consolidating programs, streamlining regulations, and eliminating waste, fraud and abuse, according to Price’s report. The $1.017 trillion ceiling on spending in the fiscal year beginning on October 1 would be divided between $493 billion for domestic discretionary programs and $523 billion for the Pentagon’s base budget with $90 billion added to the base in the overseas contingency operations (OCO) fund.

Today’s Senate release of their budget also repealed the ACA, created block grants for Medicaid and food stamps, and cut domestic programs. As Jonathan Weisman wrote in the NYT, “the first Senate Republican budget since 2006 is long on ambition but short on details. It foresees cutting $4.3 trillion from mandatory programs like Medicare, food stamps and Medicaid, but unlike the House budget, it does not make specific policy prescriptions, such as converting Medicare into a voucherlike program that would allow recipients to buy subsidized insurance on the private health care market.” The Senate also proposed gaining billions of dollars by reducing education programs, freezing Pell Grants, and stopping regulatory actions under the Dodd-Frank Wall Street law.

The budget has caused a war, according to Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-SC), within the GOP congressional members between the fiscal hawks and defense hawks. Congress cannot overturn the Budget Control Act of 2011—better known as the sequester—which established ten years of spending caps and across-the-board spending cuts without another act of Congress. The war is even more embarrassing because the GOP bitterly criticized the Democrats for their failure to pass budgets while they controlled Congress. President Obama has proposed raising spending caps for the next fiscal year by $80 billion with half going to domestic programs, but the GOP wants defense to get everything. Sen. Thom Tillis (R-NC) called the caps “a disaster” which “thematically” must go. This is his first year for the process.

Like the House,  GOP Senate defense hawks demand that the budget include the “deficit-neutral reserve fund,” allowing the Pentagon to break budget ceilings set by law almost four years ago. A deal in 2013 between then-House Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan (R-WI) and then-Senate Budget Committee Chairwoman Patty Murray (D-WA) gave two years of escape from the spending caps, but that deal has now disappeared for future budgets.

The fanatical GOP cry for more austerity will drive the economy back into the hole as it fails to create jobs and put money into workers’ pockets. Long-term economic growth could come from a strong surface transportation reauthorization bill, one which the GOP refuses to address. The $11 billion transportation funding expires on May 31, and lawmakers are making noises about a short-term extension blocking contractors from any long-term projects. Construction typically begins in the spring, and Rep. Peter DeFazio (D-OR) said, “States have already notified the federal government that they will be delaying or postponing or canceling projects.”

At the same time, GOP policy is to lower taxes and raise subsidies for the wealthy and corporation, putting more stress and probably higher taxes on the middle class and poor—again shrinking the economy.

In analyzing tax subsidies for different economic levels, the Corporation for Enterprise Development found that the top 1 percent received $95 billion in tax subsidies for housing, education, retirement and savings in 2013, $5 billion more than the $90 billion received by the bottom 80 percent. The top 0.1 percent, with an average annual income of $7.6 million, received an average of $33,391 in federal tax payouts in these areas compared with the $1,000 for the bottom 60 percent, who earn less than $65,000. President Obama met a firestorm when he proposed doing away with tax benefits for 529 college savings plans in which families can contribute up to $14,000 a year. Households with incomes above $150,000 received 80 percent of that program’s tax benefit. Seventy percent of deductions for mortgage interest payments and property taxes, a total of $98.5 billion cost to the government in 2014, went to the top 20 percent of earners; the average gain for a household in the bottom 20 percent, earning less than $21,000 a year, was $3.

Meanwhile the nation reached its statutory debt limit last Monday. The Treasury Department is hunting for money to keep paying bills with a catastrophic default about the same time this fall that the GOP needs to stop—or start—another government shutdown. The GOP has the majority in both chambers, but neither leader has shown much ability in managing their caucuses. Some GOP senators such as Jeff Flake (AZ) and Orrin Hatch (UT) have expressed no enthusiasm for using the debt limit as leverage for immigration. Hatch even understands that blocking the limit doesn’t stop spending already authorized. On the other hand, Sen. Mike Crapo (R-ID) wants the debt ceiling as leverage for “further reforms,” and Price wants the “Boehner Rule,” demanding one dollar in spending cuts for every dollar in extra borrowing.

Both budgets rely on the GOP’s euphemistic term “economic feedback.” The term used by the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office of “dynamic scoring” isn’t any better. That means that increased revenue in the budget is based on a guess of increase in such areas as tax cuts that the GOP think will occur—no substance, just assumption. In other words, Congress claims that tax cuts for corporations will provide more revenue so it put their guess into their budgets.

Dana Milbank described the House budget—rolled out on St. Patrick’s Day—as a “gimmick” in which the creators “employed lucky charms and mystical pots of gold to make them appear more sober about balancing the budget than they actually are.” His analysis of the budget:

  • It pretends to keep strict limits on defense spending — so-called “sequestration”–but then pumps tens of billions of extra dollars into a slush fund called “Overseas Contingency Operations.”
  • It assumes that current tax cuts will be allowed to expire as scheduled — which would amount to a $900 billion tax increase that nobody believes would be allowed to go into effect.
  • It proposes to repeal Obamacare but then counts revenues and savings from Obamacare as if the law remained in effect.
  • It claims to save $5.5 trillion over 10 years, but in the fine print—the budget plan’s instructions to committees—it asks them to identify only about $5 billion in savings over that time.
  • It assumes more than $1 trillion in cuts to a category known as “other mandatory” programs—but doesn’t specify what those cuts would be.
  • It relies on $147 billion in additional revenue from “dynamic scoring,” a more generous accounting method.
  • It doesn’t account for the $200 billion plan now being negotiated to increase doctor payments under Medicare and to extend a children’s health care program.

As Milbanks concluded, “[The budget] was the latest instance of the Republicans discovering how difficult it is to govern now that they have unified control of Congress.” When asked about specifics at the press conference rolling out the budget, Price answered questions with this statement: “Because we believe in the American people, and we believe in growth.” replied Price, predicting that higher-than-expected economic growth would boost tax revenues.

Again, the GOP has shown that they aren’t ready for prime time; they just show that their priorities aren’t most of the people in the United States.

September 9, 2014

‘Meet the Press’ Has a Long Way to Go

Martha Routree began moderating  Meet the Press on radio almost 70 years ago, two years before it moved to television. Her format was to invite a leading public figure to face a panel of reporters; Rountree persuaded such luminaries as Sen. Joseph McCarthy, California governor and future chief justice Earl Warren, and President Harry Truman to be on the program. Co-producer Lawrence E. Spivak was a “permanent panelist,” and the television show won at least three awards in six years before Rountree lost the show in a coin-toss to Spivak in 1953. Followed by eight male moderators, she has been the only woman to host the program.

After NBC sent David Gregory, the program’s recent host, packing, it picked another man, Chuck Todd. During the hiatus between Gregory and Todd, Andrea Mitchell, NBC News chief foreign correspondent, and Chris Jansing, NBC News Chief White House Correspondent, both did excellent jobs as substitute hosts. They provided a refreshing change from both Gregory and Todd, who attack progressives and give passes to the conservatives.

When Rep. Mike Rogers (R-MI) lamented the country’s serious problems from ISIS and claimed that they are “just a plane ticket away from the United States,” Jansing asked him, “But we’ve heard the Pentagon say that, right now, they are not in a position to launch an attack on the United States. Is there any credible intelligence that ISIS is either planning that or has the capability to do it.” Rogers said that he disagreed but didn’t have any facts to back his position. Neither Gregory nor Todd would most likely have challenged Rogers.

A year ago Todd said that correcting GOP lies that he repeats is not his job. On MSNBC’s Morning Joe, he agreed that Republicans repeat the party’s false message about the Affordable Care Act, but he blamed the president for not selling the ACA. Todd gives lies the same weight as facts. When Todd made that statement, he was political director for NBC news, meaning that this philosophy was leading the political coverage. Now it will lead Meet the Press.

On his first show last Sunday, Todd  repeated the tired statement about Kentucky’s Democratic candidate for U.S. Senate, Alison Grimes, having “a lot of money” without pointing out that her opponent, Sen. Mitch McConnell, has three times as much campaign funding as Grimes. Todd talked about the horrible gridlock in Washington before he did a puff piece on how well three mayors in the country are working with their elected officials. When two of them, a Republican and an independent, slammed the president by saying they were successful because the executive is in charge of successful cooperation, Todd just sagely nodded. Nothing was mentioned about how the GOP will do everything possible to tear down the president and then blame him for not being bipartisan. When Scarborough said that the midterm elections really don’t matter, everyone again just nodded.

The mayor segment is entitled “Who Needs Washington?” And as Dana Milbank pointed out:

 “We all need Washington. And though it’s standard for politicians to campaign against Washington, it’s a bit cynical for Todd and Meet the Press to be vessels of populist outrage against a Washington media elite of which they are very much a part.

“Washington isn’t dysfunctional because people who live here are out of touch. Washington is broken because of the increasingly belligerent assortment of 537 politicians the rest of the country sends here. The problem is not that Washington is too insular. If anything, Washington isn’t insular enough.

“For most of the nation’s history, lawmakers spent long stretches of time in the capital, getting to know each other as people rather than partisans. The friendships and goodwill they developed helped them to cut the necessary deals. But when “Washington insider” became a political liability two decades ago, politicians began jetting into town for three-day workweeks — long enough to demonize their opponents but not to know them.”

To give Todd a pass, we’ll assume that he was just clueless instead of lying when he cheerfully attacked President Obama for not mentioning “Syria.” Todd directly said, “You’ve not said the word, ‘Syria’ so far in our conversation.” A check of the transcript shows that the president had used the word four times before Todd made his statement.

“… ISIL poses a broader threat because of its territorial ambitions in Iraq and Syria…”

“… And we’ve seen the savagery not just in terms of how they dealt with the two Americans that had been taken hostage but the killing of thousands of innocents in– in Iraq thousands of innocents in Syria, the kidnapping of women the complete disruption of entire villages …”

“… But what is absolutely clear in ISIL, which started as Al Qaeda in Iraq and arose out of the U.S. invasion there and was contained because of the enormous efforts of our troops there then shifted to Syria, has metastasized …”

“We’ve got to do more effective diplomatic work to eliminate the schism between Sunni and Shia that has been fueling so much of the violence in Syria, in Iraq. And so we put together a plan that is compatible with the kind of work that we’re doing now.”

David Letterman honored this gaffe by creating a new segment, “Chuck Todd on It” and pointed out Todd’s mistake. This could become a weekly piece. Letterman’s leaving won’t stop Todd from being a punch line; Stephen Colbert steps up to the plate then.

Todd also falsely accused President Obama of using the term “ISIL” instead of the term “ISIS” because the president wants to avoid the word Syria. Todd said to Andrea Mitchell, who uses the abbreviation ISIL, “Obviously we refer to it at NBC News as ISIS. The Obama administration, president says the word ISIL. The last ‘S’ stands for Syria, the last L they don’t want to have stand for Syria.”

According to the Associated Press regarding AP’s use of ISIL:

“In Arabic, the group is known as Al-Dawla Al-Islamiya fi al-Iraq wa al-Sham, or the Islamic State of Iraq and al-Sham. The term “al-Sham” refers to a region stretching from southern Turkey through Syria to Egypt (also including Lebanon, Israel, the Palestinian territories and Jordan). The group’s stated goal is to restore an Islamic state, or caliphate, in this entire area.”

The final “S” in ISIS does not translate to Syria because the word Syria is not in the original Arabic language. Todd claims to be a journalist. He should be ashamed for not being aware of such a simple fact.

In another attack, Todd, like many other conservatives, slammed the president for discussing the beheading of journalist James Foley while President Obama was golfing. During Todd’s gig on the National Journal Hotline, he never objected to George W. Bush golfing in 2002 while he talked about five U.S. citizens being bombed to death. Bush had left for a month-long vacation at his parents’ home in Kennebunkport (ME) two days after a bomb exploded at Jerusalem’s Hebrew University. Two days after that, another suicide bomb blew up in Israel. The following day, Bush took a break from his golfing to say that he was “distressed” and thought that we should “stop the terror.” He finished by saying, “Thank you…. Now, watch this [golf] drive.” He finished his drive and then said, “See you at church.”

To further add to the “good old boys” club, NBC promoted former Rep. Joe Scarborough to senior NBC political analyst and contributor to Meet the Press. Todd may think that Scarborough can provide “robust conversation,” but this ultra-conservative primarily passes along the GOP talking points on his morning fluff show, Morning Joe. One rumor is that he got the job to calm him after he failed to become the host. Scarborough will move Meet the Press even farther to the right than David Gregory did. NBC expects Todd to boost ratings, but Scarborough may be waiting in the wings in case Todd fails.

The only new thing about Meet the Press is the furniture rearrangement, but the program might experience more success by returning to Tim Russet’s format. He used archival tapes to confront a guest who had moved on to another position and then asked about the shift. “Meet the talking points,” critic Jay Rosen called the show then. The same right-wing guests weren’t given the same passes every Sunday. Now GE clearly controls the show, and the television advertising by Koch Industries shown another influence.

Ratings went up this past Sunday; the question is whether it was a fluke to see how Todd would do. His slogan is “it’s not politics that people hate, it’s that they hate the politicians that don’t know how to practice the art of it.” In my case, it’s not Meet the Press that I hate, but the way that the hosts have moderated it since Tim Russert died. Leslie Savan suggests watching John Oliver’s new show, Last Week Tonight. Maybe Oliver could take over the show when NBC isn’t satisfied. Now that would help the ratings and deliver substance.

October 22, 2013

SCOTUS May Put Democracy Up for Sale

More than $100 million—that’s how much the ten highest-paid CEOs in the U.S. each received last year. Two of them each got at least $1 billion. Together these ten men collectively took home over $4.7 billion. A poll shows that 2,259 U.S. CEOs saw an average income rise of 8.47 percent last year, although that was less than the two previous years.

Of the top 10 earners in 2012 all received the majority of their compensation for the year from share schemes. One executive, George Maffei, received $254.8 million as CEO of Liberty Media Corporation and another $136.4 million as CEO of sister company Liberty Interactive. He also profited more than $250 million on the exercise of 3.1 million options at Liberty Media Corporation in 2012. As head of Liberty Interactive, Maffei exercised an additional 12.3 million options for a profit of more than $132 million.

For the rest of us, the median household income was $51,017 in 2012, unchanged from the prior year. Wages fell about 9 percent from an inflation-adjusted peak of $56,080 in 1999. Last year’s average pay package of a Standard & Poor 500 CEO was $13.7 million.

These ten CEOS are part of the 500 people who can buy democracy from the United States if SCOTUS strikes down almost all remaining limits on donations to political campaigns. Two weeks ago, at the height of the government shutdown, the U.S. Supreme Court heard McCutcheon v. Federal Election Commission. McCutcheon wants to eliminate aggregate limits on individual contributions, claiming that these violate free speech.

Burt Neuborne, law professor and founding legal director of the Brennan Center for Justice at New York University Law School, said, “If these advocate limitations go down, 500 people will control American democracy. It would be ‘government for the 500 people,’ not for anybody else.” Both Chief Justice John Roberts and Scalia appear ready to hand over the country to these 500 people, eradicating the past 225 years of democracy in the nation.

Current law, thanks to Citizens United, has uncontrolled expenditures in campaigns, but contributions are limited through the amount given to any particular candidate or committee and through the total that can be given to everyone. At this time, the limit in an election cycle is $5,200 an individual candidate, $32,400 to a national political party, $10,000 to the state party, and $5,000 to as many PACs as the donor wants. The aggregate comes to about $123,200, which McCutcheon says is too small.

Without the aggregate limit, one person could donate up to $3.6 million, an amount that Justice Antonin Scalia says isn’t much money. He might be right when if he’s talking about someone like George Maffei because that sum is only 0.0035 percent of his annual income. But for the rest of people, it’s an annual salary for almost 70 people combined. A big difference in power.

Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg pointed out that aggregate limits promotes “democratic participation” that keeps the “super-affluent as the speakers that will control the elections.” Scalia used his snarky attitude to respond, “I assume that a law that only—only prohibits the speech of 2 percent of the country is okay.” Better to “control the speech” of 2 percent than 98 percent.

When Roberts was questioned as a nominee for SCOTUS justice, he said that he didn’t believe in overturning precedents. His history since being approved shows a different perspective. Ruling in favor of McCutcheon would be another rejection of an earlier Supreme Court decision. The ruling of Buckley v. Valeo, a 1976 case, decided that limits on contributions “entail only a marginal restriction” on speech because contributions to political debate “involves speech by someone other than the contributor.”

An amicus brief from Reps. Chris Van Hollen (D-MD) and David Price (D-NC) argues that allowing larger individual contributions would create the reality or appearance of corruption, and the government has a compelling interest in preventing this corruption. “Very large political contributions create both the risk that officeholders and potential officeholders will be tempted to forsake their public duties and the opportunity for corrupt bargains.”

Seven Supreme Court justices, including Justice Anthony Kennedy who wrote the Citizens United decision, voted to uphold the federal ban on soliciting large contributions in McConnell v. Federal Election Commission: “Very large contributions for national parties presented corruption concerns regardless of how those contributions were ultimately used.”

Van Hollen and Price concluded:

“Permitting the parties and their candidates to solicit and receive contributions of millions of dollars from individual donors would again foster the appearance that our officeholders and our government are for sale.”

A February 2013 YouGov poll found 44 percent of Americans think the 2012 election cycle’s aggregate limit of $46,200—raised to $48,600 this cycle—to federal candidates was already too high. Just 12 percent think there should be no limit. A 2012 Brennan Center for Justice survey found that 69 percent of respondents disapproved of the Citizens United decision, making it one of the most unpopular Supreme Court decisions in history. A poll also shows that 55 percent of people in the United States reject the concept that money is equivalent to speech. Citizens United, giving the wealthy the right to excessive campaign donations, was a catalyst in dropping public confidence in the Supreme Court to 28 percent.

Justice Stephen Breyer wants to dodge making a decision. His suggestion, not well taken, was to send the case back to the lower court to create an actual factual record.

Justice Elena Kagan came up with the best idea, rolling back the court’s Citizens United ruling: “I suppose that if this court is having second thoughts about its rulings that independent expenditures are not corrupting, we could change that part of the law.”

In an op-ed piece, Dana Milbank addressed the irony of the Supreme Court staying open and hearing a case that will most likely continue the high level of dysfunction in Congress.

“The court has failed to undo the partisan redistricting that has left the House of Representatives hopelessly polarized. It has furthered Americans’ cynicism toward politics with nakedly political rulings such as Bush v. Gore. Above all, it has created a campaign finance system that is directly responsible for the rise of uncompromising leaders on both sides of the Capitol.”

Scalia, with his “$3.6 million isn’t much money” statement, stays in his bubble through ultra-conservative media sources such as The Wall Street Journal, The Washington Times, and Bill Bennett’s talk radio. He objects to The New York Times as “often nasty.” Those sources don’t point out that most GOP congressional seats are safe because of the SCOTUS-sanctioned gerrymandering.

As Milbank wrote, “A few billionaires have purchased a Congress full of unbending extremists, and the Supreme Court made it all legal.”

The day of the arguments, President Obama said, “There aren’t a lot of functioning democracies around the world that work this way, where you can basically have millionaires and billionaires bankrolling whoever they want, however they want, in some cases undisclosed.” The last time he objected to a SCOTUS ruling on campaign finances, the conservative justices threatened to boycott the president’s State of the Union speech.

A Supreme Court ruling that eliminates federal aggregate donations would likely create havoc in the states currently capping overall contributions. Nine states–Arizona, Connecticut, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, New York, Rhode Island, Wisconsin, and Wyoming–had aggregate limits in place for the last two election cycles, but Arizona eliminated the state’s limits. The vast majority, 81 percent, of the 2010 donors reaching state aggregate limits did so in Wisconsin. A donor is fighting in court to overturn the limits, and state legislators are working to double the aggregate limit.

During the argument, the justices appeared to line up on conservative and progressive camps with Roberts toward the middle but leaning toward his usual conservative bent. I doubt if he learned his lesson from Citizens United. 

April 11, 2013

Gun Vote, Not a Victory

People cheered at today’s vote in the Senate: in a 68-31 vote, the Senate passed a motion to allow debate on the proposed gun legislation. The cheers show how dysfunctional Congress has become when a victory is allowing a bill to move forward to a vote to proceed. Two Democrats (Mark Begich from Alaska and Mark Pryor from Arkansas) opposed the vote to just debate the bill, and 16 Republicans voted in favor. In the week that marks four months after the Sandy Hook massacre in Newtown (CT), 31 GOP senators tried to block even debating a bill to make life safer for people in this country.

This vote, however, doesn’t mean that the bill is now up for debate. It was only on “cloture,” meaning that there now has to be a vote on a motion to proceed, which could be put off for as much as 30 hours. If Senate has a majority vote to proceed, then the chamber begins debate, starting with an amendment changing the provisions regarding background checks.

The amendment comes from the NRA’s success in watering down the universal background check requirement for buying guns. Under the pretense of supporting a bill, the NRA persuaded two senators, Joe Manchin (D-WV) and Pat Toomey (R-PA), to omit background check for private sales. Once they agreed on this change, NRA came out in strong opposition to the bill (roughly translated as “hell no!”). Commercial sales require background checks, but others do not.

Adam Winkler, a law professor at UCLA and author of Gunfight: The Battle over the Right to Bear Arms in America, said that the proposal “doesn’t ‘close’ the private sale loophole” but merely “reshape[s] it.” He added:

“Private sales still won’t require a background check, so long as they occur outside a gun show or without a publicized advertisement. There’s nothing in the law that prevents someone from going to a gun show, finding the gun he likes, then meeting the seller off-site to complete the sale without a background check.”

There actually is no victory because the GOP plans a plethora of amendments to bog down the bill. Even if anything survives the Senate, there’s a 99.5 percent guarantee that the House will quash any gun legislation.

Legislators who opposes tighter gun legislation should be forced to watch a video from  Adam Gadahn, an American-born spokesperson for al Qaeda, who endorses our current lax gun control in the United States:

“America is absolutely awash with easily obtainable firearms. You can go down to a gun show at the local convention center and come away with a fully automatic assault rifle, without a background check, and most likely without having to show an identification card. So what are you waiting for?”

Gadahn is slightly wrong. People can buy only a semi-automatic rifle at a gun show. Even if the proposed bill is passed, however, anyone can just wander over to a neighbor and buy these weapons. Sure it might be illegal, but terrorists tend not to follow all the nation’s laws.

Republicans are considering their own gun legislation. Sen. Lindsay Graham (R-SC) wants to tighten background checks on people with mental illness and reform health care privacy laws “so we can get better access to troubled folks–the Virginia Tech situation.” He hasn’t said how his bill would differ from the one that will now move into debate because of today’s vote.

Even with a watered down bill, any Senate decision puts House Speaker John Boehner (R-OH) in an awkward position. Trying to look more professional, the harried leader turned all decisions over to the Senate, assuming that the gridlocked chamber could send the House no bills. If the Senate passes gun legislation, then the ball is tossed over to the highly split Republicans in the House. If he doesn’t move on legislation sent by the Senate, he looks as if he’s obstructing the will of the people. If he does—and fails—then he looks worse than he does now. Boehner, like all the other House members, is up for re-election in a year.

Rep. Charlie Dent (R-PA), who supported a Pennsylvania background checks law in the state Legislature almost 20 years ago, expressed support for the Senate background checks measure. On the other hand Reps. Doug LaMalfa (R-CA) and Phil Gingrey (R-GA) didn’t want anything to do with the Senate bill and wanted a plan.

Sources indicated four House options if the Senate sends them anything: pass it along to the House Judiciary Committee for a markup (to procrastinate and then gut the bill); ask that committee for its own bill (to match whatever the NRA wants); ignore the bill (unlikely because they’ll get in trouble); or move it directly to the floor (if the GOP gets in trouble without doing that).

In the meantime, anti-gun legislation people are moving along in their own way that displays their mental illness. Last week, after the U.N. passed its first international Arms Trade Treaty by 154 to 3 with 23 abstentions, saber-rattling GOP senators started their opposition. The Senate must ratify the treaty by a two-thirds vote—67 senators voting in favor—before the United States can be a party to the treaty. Last month, the Senate added an amendment to the budget plan to stop this from happening.  The treaty cannot take effect until at least 50 countries ratify it.

As usual, conservative senators use misinformation to oppose what they don’t want. The treaty would not control the domestic use of weapons anywhere, but it would require countries that ratify it to have federal regulations to control gun transfers and regulate arms brokers. The purpose of the treaty is to regulate the multibillion-dollar international arms trade by keeping illicit weapons out of the hands of terrorists, insurgent fighters, and organized crime. The United States is responsible for 30 percent of international gun transfers.

The three countries who voted against the treaty? Iran, North Korea, and Syria. Because of the U.S. conservatives, the United States is adopting the policies of countries that Bush labeled the “axis of evil.” Last summer, conservatives said they needed more time to consider the treat. Their position was immediately echoed by Russia and China.

One bright spot comes from Maine. Following the lead of four other states, its state legislature took up two dozen gun bills. One bill would ban carrying weapons “in a public place in a manner that causes a reasonable person to suffer intimidation or alarm.” Another would limit the size of magazines to 10 rounds. (There is a backlash, one bill preventing governments from destroying firearms and ammunition received from gun buybacks and another exempting firearms and ammunition from federal laws.) Since Democrats regained control of Maine’s legislature, GOP Gov. Paul LePage has generally refused to meet with it or sign any bills that it passes.

Mayors against Illegal Guns plans to take a page out of NRA’s book and grade lawmakers on their support for gun safety regulations. For decades, the NRA has operated a reign of terror to bully legislators who oppose their draconian positions on lax gun regulation. Now Mayors will have a scorecard to show voters and donors.

How afraid are the GOP senators who promised to filibuster any gun legislation? CBS News contacted all 14 of them, and all 14 refused to be interviewed about the filibuster. That includes Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) who desperately wants publicity. Last December NBC’s Meet the Press  and CBS’s Face the Nation both commented on gun-rights backers’ refusing to appear on their programs. It looks like fear to me.

NRA’s fear was palpable when the association presented its grand new plan to stopping gun violence by making schools safer through more guns and fixing mental illness in the nation. The rollout of “National School Shield” was accompanied by security guards at the National Press Club. About 20 of them, approximately one for every three reporters attending the event, presented an unusual spectacle with uniforms, exposed gun holsters, earpieces, and bulges under their suit jackets, according to Dana Milbank.

The plan, replete with guns at school and supposedly in “full independence” from the NRA, was pretty much like the plan that the NRA proposed three days after the Sandy Hook massacre. Background checks weren’t part of it.

Milbank wrote:

“A reporter asked Hutchinson what he was afraid of.

“’There’s nothing I’m afraid of. I’m very wide open,’ Hutchinson replied, separated from his unarmed questioners by an eight-foot buffer zone, a lectern, a raised podium, a red-velvet rope and a score of gun-toting men. ‘There’s nothing I’m nervous about.’”

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