Nel's New Day

February 10, 2020

Week 159: Beyond Impeachment

The impeachment trial, the outrageous speeches of Dictator Donald Trump (DDT), and Democratic candidates in Iowa and New Hampshire have consumed most of the media. Yet DDT keeps wreaking havoc in other ways. 

The “peace plan” that Jared Kushner orchestrated for Israel without any Palestinian input is not going smoothly. In a spike of violence, Israeli forces killed a Palestinian teenager in the contested West Bank that Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has threatened to illegally annex, the fifth killing in the West Bank and Jerusalem since DDT tried to give Palestinian territory to Israel. Two Palestinians were killed during a protest against the Israeli’s demolition of a Palestinian house. Israeli police prevented Palestinians from worshipping at the Al-Aqsa Mosque at the Jerusalem location which Jews call the Temple Mount.

A week ago, at the Arab League headquarters in the Egyptian capital Cairo, Palestinian Authority president Mahmoud Abbas announced to its members that Palestine would immediately cut ties with the U.S. Palestine Authority’s security forces have long joined Israel to police the occupied West Bank under Palestinian control. The PA also has intelligence cooperation agreements with the CIA which it is stopping at this time. [Right: Abbas shows the Arab League how Palestine has lost land in the last century.]

The Arab League foreign ministers said the U.S.-Israel plan would not lead to a comprehensive and just peace and the League will not support its implementation. It does not meet Palestinians’ minimum aspirations. The foreign ministers affirmed that peace requires a future Palestinian state with East Jerusalem as capital and based on borders before Israel captured land in the 1967 Middle East War.

David Friedman, U.S. ambassador to Israel, said that Israel cannot annex the West Bank without U.S. permission. He didn’t mention Palestinian’s rights to keep their land. Most of the world sees Israel’s occupation of East Jerusalem and the West Bank as illegal. Netanyahu has temporarily backed down, possibly endangering his chances for reelection on March 2.

DDT’s assassination of Iranian leader Qasem Soleimani won’t go away: Iraqi officials are now saying that ISIS is responsible for the rocket attack that DDT used to justify the murder. Soleimani was fighting ISIS.

A former Air Force drone operator called the U.S. military “worse than Nazis” in the atrocities that they inflict in the Middle East. From a small room near Las Vegas, he remotely fired missiles over 7,000 miles way. He said his breaking point was killing a child in Afghanistan that his superiors said was a “dog.” He quit the military and spoke against the drone program after directly killing 13 people while his squadron fired on 1,626 targets that included women and children. In his training, he was told to “kill people and break things.” Superiors kept him in line with punitive measures and mockery. He wants people to understand how the drone program dehumanizes the operators.

DDT has a plan for “Making Federal Buildings Beautiful Again” in an executive order requiring Greek and Roman architectural style for all federal buildings costing over $50 million in Washington and throughout the U.S.  His goal is supposedly to “inspire … respect for our system of self-government.” Smithsonian-funded museums will escape the order. The “inspiration” comes from the “National Civic Art Society” that argues contemporary design in buildings is “dehumanizing.” All designs will be subject to White House approval.

For Architect of the Capitol, DDT nominated J. Brett Blanton, an engineer in airport operations and construction management who is not a licensed or practicing architect and was confirmed in mid-January by a voice vote on the day that the impeachment trial began. Blanton also served as a transportation engineer for the military. His first project will be overseeing the renewal project for the 111-year-old Beaux-Arts office building Cannon House Office Building (left), designed by architects for the New York Public Library and other early 19th-century buildings. Only one senator, Rules Committee Chair Roy Blunt (R-MO), appeared at Blanton’s hearing.

After DDT praised Super Bowl victors, the Kansas City Chiefs, for represented the “Great State of Kansas,” Fox & Friends hosts defended the geographically challenged man in the Oval Office despite the Chiefs’ location in Kansas City, Missouri. It’s not his first gaffe

  • At a UN luncheon with African leaders, he praised the health care in the non-existent country of Nambia.
  • He told his foreign policy advisers that Nepal and Bhutan are parts of India, instead of separate countries. [He also called them Nipple and Button.]
  • He also doesn’t know that Ireland isn’t part of the United Kingdom.
  • When talking to Indian Prime Minister Narenra Modi, he said, “[I]t’s not as though you have China right on your border.” [The India-China border is 2521 miles.]
  • He announced that he is building a border wall in Colorado, 1,193 miles from the Mexico border.
  • He thinks that Belgium is a “beautiful city” instead of a country.
  • Paris is still in Germany instead of France, according to DDT.
  • In talking to people from the Baltic states, he thought he was talking to the Balkans. This explains the difference.
  • When DDT bombed Syria, he thought he was bombing Iraq.
  • Recently at Davos, he thought he was talking with a Syrian Kurd when he was having a conversation with the president of Iraqi Kurdistan.
  • He announced that his call from South Korea was from North Korea.

Secretary of State Mike Pompeo may keep a map without names for the countries to educate DDT. Pompeo used it after he lost his temper with NPR reporter Mary Louise Kelly, walked out of his interview, and swore at her in private before he demanded she identify Ukraine on his unmarked map. She had no trouble complying because of her education, but Pompeo tried to make it appear as if she didn’t. DDT was delighted with Pompeo’s lying, rudeness, and swearing by calling it “impressive.” He added, “I think you did a good job on [the reporter].”

In retaliation against Kelly, Pompeo removed NPR reporter Michele Kelemen from his trip to Europe and said in an interview in Kazakhstan that revoking her press credentials for the trip sends “a perfect message about press freedoms” to the world. He added that the State Department only grants press credentials when it believes reporters are “telling the truth and being honest.” [Pompeo’s altercation was with Kelly, not Kelemen.] Despite his behavior, Pompeo said that journalists are allowed to ask him anything they want. Kelly’s brilliant response to the Pompeo debacle in a NYT op-ed explains the substance of the interview that got lost after Pompeo’s temper tantrum and how his personal attack on her is “not the point.”

On his tour, Pompeo ironically praised Kazakhstan for taking in refugees fleeing persecution and said:

“The protection of basic human rights defines the soul of a nation.” 

Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross likes the novel coronavirus sweeping China that has killed over 1,000 people And affected another 40,000+. He said:  

“I think it will help to accelerate the return of jobs to North America.”

DDT told states and local officials that they could block refugees, Texas took him up on it, people got riled at the governor, and a judge told states they couldn’t block refugees. A Maryland U.S. District judge called DDT’s policy “unlawful” and “does not appear to serve the overall public interest. [It] flies in the face of clear Congressional intent.” Although 42 states and over 100 local governments agreed to acceptance refugees, seven states were thus far noncommittal. DDT already lowered the annual national refugee cap to 18,000, down from 110,000 in 2016.

DHS has put non-violent protesters who committed acts of civil disobedience on its “extremist” list of white supremacists and mass killers.

DDT’s Labor Department, run by the son of former Justice Antonin Scalia, has changed rules so that workers will have a harder time suing for wage theft and other violations.

DDT’s tariffs will hurt everyone in the nation. The nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office (CBO) reduces the average family’s real income by $1,277 in 2020 by reducing the GDP level and raising consumer prices. The projection is over double that of last year’s $580 report.

On the campaign trail, DDT said, “If we don’t win, your farms are going to hell.” DDT had told farmer that they might have some “pain” from his trade wars, but he didn’t warn them about the eight-year high of farm bankruptcy rates that spiked 20 percent in 2019. Earlier in a campaign speech in Warren (MI), DDT declared that F-35 jets are literally invisible.

Another lie from the SOTU: Wooing black voters, Dictator Donald Trump (DDT) gave a “scholarship” to fourth-grader Janiyah Davis to let her escape from a “failed government school.” She already attends one of Philadelphia’s most sought-after schools, Math, Science and Technology Community Charter School III, a public school.  Last year, she moved from a Christian school with tuition. Janiyah and her mother were invited to the SOTU after the principal in he former school was asked for names for youth who might want scholarships. No one checked to see where Janiyah attended school, explained why they were invited, or warned them that they would be in the spotlight. After the SOTU, Janiyah’s mother said:

“I don’t view MaST as a school you want to get out of at all. I view it as a great opportunity.”

DDT was angry with Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Wolf for vetoing tax credits for students in private religious schools.

February 20, 2019

First Amendment Contorted by Love for Saudi Arabia, Clarence Thomas

Remember Jeff Bezos? For a week, the media focused on his “junk,” his battle with the National Enquirer, and his search for the person who ripped off his photos and documents such as texts and emails. Turns out that the guilty person is Bezos’ girlfriend’s gay brother. Then Bezos generated more media buzz when he pulled the Amazon headquarters from New York City, much to the disgust of some and delight of others.

The Bezos scandal highlighted the tie between the Enquirer and the Saudi government through Bezos’ letter to AMI, the owner of the tabloid. In its mandate that Bezos state he had “no knowledge” that the Enquirer’s coverage of his affair was “politically motivated or influenced by political forces,” people guessed that the issue was Dictator Donald Trump (DDT). David Pecker, AMI’s owner and DDT’s close associate, had an immunity deal with the DOJ for their criminal suppression of stories about DDT during his campaign, paying people for stories and then not printing them. Karen McDougal’s alleged affair with DDT was one of these articles that were killed before the election.

But Pecker may wanted the Washington Post, owned by Bezos, to stop printing negative news about Saudi Arabia. Pecker used his ties with DDT to cultivate Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman (MBS) for business opportunities, including borrowing money to buy major publications such as Sports Illustrated, Time Magazine, Fortune, and Money.  magazine. AMI’s 97-page glossy propaganda about Saudi Arabia and featuring MBS on the cover sold at Walmarts across the nation as part of Pecker’s pandering.

Jamal Khashoggi, U.S. resident and journalist, worked for the WaPo, and his writings were highly critical of MBS. Before the Saudis tortured and dismembered Khashoggi, MBS had said that he would use a “bullet” on Khashoggi if he got the chance, according to WaPo reporting. On the same day the Wall Street Journal wrote that MBS was actively enlisting U.S. media outlets to remake his image in the West and met with Vice Media co-founder Shane Smith on a yacht to discuss “an international media empire to combat the kingdom’s rivals and remake its image in the West.”

“For reasons still to be better understood, the Saudi angle seems to hit a particularly sensitive nerve,” Bezos wrote. Former longtime Enquirer editor Jerry George said that Pecker was using Bezo’ damaging photos and documents as bargaining chips. As the story unraveled, Pecker failed because Bezos refused to give into blackmail. George cited AMI’s pro-Saudi propaganda as “suspicious” because the company was “cash poor” and “suddenly” got an “influx of cash.” He suggested that “there’s another shoe to drop,” referring to Robert Mueller’s investigation into “the Saudis’ role in all of this.” A restriction of AMI’s immunity included the company staying out of politics, and WaPo revealed that the company may not have lived up to its promises.

Last year, AMI contacted the DOJ to see if the company should register as a foreign agent but said that it didn’t get any Saudi funding for their Saudi propaganda. The DOJ said probably not, but AMI wrote that a Saudi adviser submitted content for its publication and then made changes to the final version after receiving an early draft. AMI’s extortion of Bezos has brought its relation to the Saudis has brought the issue back into visibility.

DDT, who denied his own intelligence showing that MBS was responsible for Khashoggi, now faces an investigation by House Democrats about DDT’s illegal push to sell nuclear power plants to Saudi Arabia over objections by national security officials and attorneys, a plan that may have directly benefited his son-in-law, Jared Kushner. Despite warnings of “potential conflicts of interest, national security risks and legal hurdles” in 2017, Energy Secretary Rick Perry and other DDT employees push for the sales. DDT plans to bypass Congress with an illegal technology transfer that can spread nuclear weapons throughout the Middle East.

Former national security adviser Michael Flynn, who pled guilty of lying to the FBI, was an early advocate for these sales after DDT’s inauguration and recommended that Barrack, who raised $107 million for DDT’s corrupt inaugural committee, be a special representative to carry out his nuclear plan. Appearing to be from DDT, a memo told federal agencies to do Barrack’s bidding.

The House reports Flynn’s working with retired military officers to circumvent U.S. law. After he resigned, the National Security Council continued with its plan in opposition to advice from its own ethics counsel. The next adviser, H.R. McMaster, said that the illegal work must stop, but McMaster left almost two months ago. Robert Mueller’s ongoing investigation has examined the possibility of Middle Eastern monarchies financially influencing DDT’s political activities, starting with his presidential campaign. Congress has not look at claims about the nuclear sales until this year because of GOP control.

In more First Amendment issues, the Covington Catholic High School (KY) teenager who appeared to harass Nathan Phillips, a Native American elder and veteran, is suing WaPo for $250 million. The defamation lawsuit alleges that the newspaper “engaged in a modern-day form of McCarthyism” and “wrongfully targeted and bullied” the “innocent child” Nick Sandmann. According to his lawyers, Sandmann is suffering from “the pain and destruction its attacks would cause to his life.”

The lawsuit reads like a political polemic:

“[The Post wanted to advance its well-known and easily documented, biased agenda against President Donald J. Trump (“the President”) by impugning individuals perceived to be supporters of the President…. [The Post’s coverage was] in furtherance of its political agenda … carried out by using its vast financial resources to enter the bully pulpit by publishing a series of false and defamatory print and online articles which effectively provided a worldwide megaphone to Phillips and other anti-Trump individuals and entities to smear a young boy who was in its view an acceptable casualty in their war against the President.”

Earlier this month, the Sandmann lawyers sent letters warning litigation to over 50 media organizations, celebrities, and politicians. As the wealthiest man in the world, WaPo owner Jeff Bezos has the most money and is considered DDT’s biggest media enemy, and the $250 million is the same amount that Bezos paid for the Post in 2013. Nick’s parents, Ted and Julie Sandmanns, say they want to “teach the Post a lesson it will never forget.” They argue that Nick is not a public figure, lowering the bar for winning their lawsuit.

While Nick was described as a “child,” the lawsuit calls Nathan Phillips “a phony war hero” who “targeted and bullied” Sandmann. Phillips said that Sandmann and his peers from Covington surrounded him after he tried to stop possible violence between them and a few Hebrew Israelites. About Sandmann’s comment on the Today show, Phillips used the terms “insincerity, lack of responsibility”—“coached and written up for him.” About the encounter, Phillips said that he was trying to get out of an ugly situation. “That guy in the hat [Sandmann] stood in my way, and we were at an impasse.” Phillips added, “Then I went to go pray about it …. I forgive him.”

The Sandmanns may find support in their war on freedom of the press from Supreme Court Clarence Thomas. He hopes to attack the media through his proposal to reconsider the 1964 case New York Times v. Sullivan which determined that public figures must have greater proof to claim libel. Thomas’ “roadmap” to  helping DDT’s change in libel laws permitting him to sue news organizations came after Thomas and his far-right activist wife Ginni Thomas had dinner with DDT and his wife Melania Trump. Trump’s pledge to change libel laws so he can sue news organizations for their reporting.

Last Tuesday, Thomas expressed concern about the high court’s refusal to hear an appeal from Katherine McKee, who claimed Bill Cosby’s lawyer leaked a letter that distorted her background and damaged her reputation after she claimed that Cosby raped her. Lower courts cited the Times v. Sullivan precedent in dismissing her case with the justification that disclosing her accusation required her to meet a higher libel standard of malice that applies to public figures. The decision to not take the case was unanimous, but Thomas wrote a sole opinion that the 1964 case was wrongly decided.

Since 1964, public officials can sue for libel only if the person responsible for the statement knows that the statement is false or if the person recklessly disregarded its falsehood. Subsequent Supreme Court cases have added all public figures to public officials to protect journalists and media organizations from intimidation by wealthy and/or powerful public figures wishing to exploit minor errors in reporting. That Supreme Court decision protect the media reporting on Thomas sexual harassment by Anita Hill. Thomas, who claims to be an originalist, following only the word of the U.S. Constitution and not its meaning, said, “We should carefully examine the original meaning [of the First Amendment.]” An early interpretation of this right, as shown by the first Sedition Act in 1798, was that the government could punish any published story, and the Sedition Act still exists. If the Supreme Court supports Thomas, the First Amendment could disappear.

May 15, 2013

GOP Searches for Prey

The Komodo dragon is the biggest lizard in the world, about 10 feet long and weighing about 150 pounds. Their size puts them in control of their environment, ambushing their prey, although they tend to eat a great deal of carrion. Their teeth allow them to tear huge chunks of flesh, eating up to 80 percent of their weight in one meal. Dragons of equal size may wrestle, with the losers either retreating or getting killed and eaten by the victor. They also eat their young if the juveniles don’t hide in trees. These creatures have a great deal of trouble hearing and very bad night vision. In captivity, they almost never breed.

Watching the GOP party makes me think of the Komodo dragons, starting with former Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld. He’s on the road with his new book, Rumsfeld’s Rules: Leadership Lessons in Business, Politics, War, and Life, a collection of 380 personal and professional rules. One of these  is “You never want a serious crisis [to] go to waste.”

About this rule, Rumsfeld said, “A crisis can permit you to do things you couldn’t absent an opportunity like that to change the nature of things.” That’s what the GOP party has done since Barack Obama became president, and right now they’re working even harder on it that usual.

Seemingly unable to cause a disaster with their Benghazi pseudo-investigation, they moved on to the latest controversies, the IRS targeting specific groups for additional investigation and the DoJ’s examination of Associated Press’s telephone logs.

Despite the president’s declaration that the IRS targeting these groups is “intolerable and inexcusable” and the IRS acting commissioner’s resigning, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) and House Speaker John Boehner (R-OH) are out for blood. They are positive that the IRS has committed criminal acts and are calling for an investigation. McConnell’s approach is bearing fruit because the Tea Party has finally endorsed him as the GOP Senate candidate in 2014.

Their declarations have a few problems. First, the IRS targeted liberal groups as well as conservative ones for additional scrutiny. Conservatives may not realize this because USA Today didn’t mention this fact until the 18th paragraph of its article and then just a few words. But Emerge America was denied tax-exempt status and forced to disclose its donors and pay taxes. None of the GOP groups have complained about having their applications rejected. Progress Texas and Clean Elections Texas had the same kind of scrutiny. Subjected groups from all political spectra removes the onus from the IRS.

Nobody has even called the IRS efficient or competent so it shouldn’t come as a surprise now that it isn’t. Perhaps a permanent commissioner at the IRS agency would help. Sen. Marco Rubio (R-FL), in his “look-at-me-for-president” demeanor, called for the commissioner to be fired. In fact, there is currently no commissioner because Bush’s appointee—in charge while the Tea Party felt targeted—resigned last November, and the Senate, including Rubio, was clear that they wouldn’t approve any of the president’s nominations. It’s status quo for Senate approvals: the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives hasn’t had a director since 2006 because of Senate refusal to act on nominees.

This is the first time that the IRS targetings have become a national scandal, but it isn’t the first time that they have done this targeting. Rep. Adam Schiff (D-CA) found only one Republican, Rep. Walter Jones (NC), to join him in an investigation during the George W. Bush administration when the IRS threatened to revoke the tax-exempt status of All Saints Episcopal in Pasadena after an anti-Iraq War sermon the Sunday before the 2004 election. At the same time conservative churches across the country were mobilizing voters to support Bush.

In 2004, the IRS went after the NAACP because its chairman criticized Bush for being the first sitting president since Herbert Hoover not to address the organization. In 2006, Public Interest Watch, with 97 percent of its funding from Exxon Mobile, got the IRS to investigate Green Peace, who had labeled the oil company the “No. 1 Climate Criminal.” At about that time, Sen. Charles Grassley (R-IA) wanted “legislative changes” to define the differences between politics and social welfare, but the Senate never got around to it, leaving the IRS auditors to make up their own rules.

The second problem is that decades of laws, regulations, and court decisions are vague and contradictory. The tax code requires that a 501(c)(4) must operate “exclusively” to promote social welfare, a category that excludes political spending. Some court decisions ruled that a minimal amount of political spending would be permissible, but the I.R.S. has for years maintained that groups meet that rule as long as they are not “primarily engaged” in election work, a substantially different threshold. Nobody knows what “primarily engaged” means.

Meanwhile huge SuperPACs are getting away with being tax-exempt while doing massive advertising campaigns. Crossroads has the tax-exempt status, claiming involvement primarily on research and educational activities, but spends most of its money on political advertising.  American Tradition Partnership doesn’t even bother to file federal tax returns.

The third problem, according to Lawrence O’Donnell, started with the Republicans in 1959 when the meaning of the section related to Section 501(c)(4) was changed from “exclusively” to “primarily.” Ezra Klein wrote in the Wonkblog, a great summary of the current IRS troubles:

“The IRS does need some kind of test that helps them weed out political organizations attempting to register as tax-exempt 501(c)4  social welfare groups. But that test has to be studiously, unquestionably neutral.”

O’Donnell said, “If in 2010, there was a flood of Tea Party applications for tax exempt status and many fewer applications for tax exempt status from liberal political groups, then it only makes mathematical sense that more questions would be directed at Tea Party applications.”

Yet the GOP is determined to pin the IRS problems on the president. Although he has no proof, Grassley said that the IRS was “getting pressure from somebody either high up in the Obama campaign or high up in the White House.” There’s nothing to support his position, but GOP love conspiracy theories.

While the GOP is up in arms about the IRS scandal, they have stayed quiet about the phone logs subpoenaed from Associated Press. Even critics of Attorney General Eric Holder like Sen. John Cornyn (R-TX) just say they’ll see “how this plays out.” Even the other Texas senator, Ted Cruz, is silent about it. There’s a good reason. Last year, Republicans called for an explanation of the national security leaks—in short, they asked for exactly what happened to AP. Rep. Trey Gowdy (R-SC) insisted on reporters being subpoenaed.

With their interest in subpoenaing the media, the GOP certainly won’t approve of the “reporter shield” bill that the Obama administration has requested Sen. Chuck Schumer (D-NY) to reintroduce. Such a law would help reporters protect the identity of their sources. Republicans killed similar bills in 2008 and 2010.

The situation can be summarized within the length of a tweet: “GOP calls on Holder to investigate leaks. Holder appoints US Attorney. US Att. subpoenas AP records. GOP calls on Holder to resign.” Steve Benen adds “that the U.S. attorney subpoenaed AP records thanks to an existing vulnerability the administration doesn’t support, but can’t fix thanks to Republican opposition.”

Even Bush’s former AG Albert Gonzalez, who couldn’t even find a law firm to hire him, entered the discussion. He cited a time when he decided against subpoenaing a reporter’s notes but skipped over his massive domestic wiretapping program and “improperly gained access to reporters’ calling records as part of leak investigations”—a lot, according to the New York Times. 

Thus the GOP, feeding on carrion, are stuck with a non-existent Benghazi investigation, an IRS debacle coming from the GOP lack of ability to take action, and a press-government interaction that’s bound to make them look bad. We can guarantee, however, that they’ll continue to tear huge chunks out of the first two while ignoring the third one, that is a serious problem for continued democracy in the United States. And of course, the GOP won’t do anything about finding jobs for the people in the United States.

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