Saturday, December 23, 2017

It's Good to be King

The King and his retinue have departed the nation's capital and arrived at their royal vacation retreat, Castle Mar-a-Lago.  There the royal family will gather to celebrate the holiday season with wealthy dukes and duchesses who will loyally and unabashedly express their overwhelming adulation for their divine leader and his unsurpassed brilliance.

Fawning over their great leader seems especially appropriate this holiday season.  The King from Queens had just signed a tax bill that will give millions of dollars in tax breaks to His Royal Highness and members of the royal family, as well as to the nation's lords and ladies.  Of course, the vast majority of the citizens will receive crumbs, which will become apparent to them in the coming years.  All of this will be funded by huge deficits that will be passed on to their children.  

Shortly following the passage of the tax bill, His Royal Highness was besieged with the praise from Republican members of Congress and from his cabinet.   "You have spurred an optimism in this country that is setting records," said the vice president.   The King must receive devotion and fealty from those who serve him.  

But that optimism is limited to only a few.  The King is not popular among his country's masses.  He has continuously resorted to bullying and bluster to rule his subjects. He has demeaned opponents with schoolyard epithets, and he has humiliated others in order to get want he wants.  His daily rants and raves have unsettled even those closest to him.  

All of this has been to the delight of the Tsar of Russia, who up until recently was considered an enemy.   Now the King and the Tsar have formed a close bond. And the Tsar is pleased with how the King has disrupted democracy in his own country and around the world.   This is why he extended the King his help in winning the throne.  These men are so much alike.  And the King trusts the Tsar more than the servants in his own nation's justice and intelligence departments.

Many thoughtful observers are saddened by how the King has lowered the standards of his office.  They point to his self-dealing and manifest crudeness.  They cite the many scandals that have plagued his reign, his outrageous actions towards women and minorities, and the constant dishonesty and deception that the King has practiced.  His intemperate, impulsive and reckless behavior has taken global allies aback, and it has unnecessarily stirred the drums of war.  The King exploits fear naturally.  His instinct is always to divide in order to conquer.

For the nearly year since the King ascended to his throne the nation has continuously been on edge.  Most citizens have been shaken by the constant tumult, and have tired of the contemptuous antics. Meanwhile, under his rule meaningful government programs dealing with the environment, healthcare, consumer and basic human rights have been slashed or eliminated.   Corporations and the wealthy donors have been richly rewarded.  None more generously than members of the royal family and friends.

Many of his most ardent supporters will gather in Castle Mar-a-Lago this weekend to celebrate the holiday by kissing the ring of their great benefactor.   The dark clouds that have formed over His Royal Highness and his reign will be ignored.  Instead, it will be a scene reminiscent of the Romanov's.   And the King will thrive in this exclusive and alternate reality he has created as he soaks up the praise that will be lavished on him by his obsequious followers.

In the words of the late Tom Petty, an American icon, "It's good to be King and have your own way."

Friday, December 8, 2017

The GOP Targets Entitlement Programs

Republicans have long coveted deep cuts in federal entitlement programs.   Up to now Democrats have thwarted their attempts to slash America's social safety net.  But that may change in the coming year.

House Speaker Paul Ryan is openly making the case, and he has robust support from the Republican controlled Congress.  On Wednesday, Ryan said, "We have a welfare system that's trapping people in poverty and effectively paying people not to work.  We've got to work on that."   Ryan added, in an interview on Ross Kaminsky's radio show, "We're going to have to get back next year at entitlement reform, which is how you tackle the debt and deficit." 

Ironically, Ryan's bold pronouncement comes as Republicans in Congress work to reconcile their so-called tax reform legislation.  The hastily crafted bill, when enacted, will disproportionately benefit high-income earners and large corporations while adding up to $1.5 trillion to the national debt over the next decade.   Their justification is that the measure will increase economic activity, which will add jobs and grow wages.   But few economists agree with this misguided premise.  In fact, this tax bill is merely a sop to wealthy Republican donors who threatened to cut off their donations to the party unless taxes are cut.     

With even larger deficit spending as a result of the tax cuts, Republicans can turn their attention to reducing federal expenditures.  The largest drivers of federal spending are Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid, military spending and interest on the debt.  Defense and interest payments will not be cut.  That pretty much leaves the entitlement programs.  

"Starving the beast" is a political strategy conservatives developed decades ago for reducing government spending.  In 1978, economist and future Fed Chairman Alan Greenspan told a congressional committee, "Let us remember that the basic purpose of any tax cut program in today's environment is to reduce the momentum of expenditure growth by restraining the amount of revenue available and trust that there is a political limit to deficit spending."  Liberal economist Paul Krugman later observed, "Rather than proposing unpopular spending cuts, Republicans would push through popular tax cuts, with the deliberate intention of worsening the government's fiscal position.  Spending cuts could be sold as a necessity rather than a choice."   Speaker Ryan and Republicans are doing just that.  

Once the Republican tax proposal is passed and signed by President Donald Trump, there will be no going back.  Most Republicans in Congress have signed on to the Taxpayer Protection Pledge.  The pledge, authored by political activist Grover Norquist, states that the signatories will never vote to raise taxes under any circumstances or they will be challenged in their next Republican primary election.    

A possible hurdle to entitlement cuts could be President Trump, who as a candidate tweeted in 2015, "I was the first & only potential GOP candidate to state there will be no cuts to Social Security, Medicare & Medicaid."  But the president, who is obsessed with winning political victories, will likely endorse any GOP initiative, proclaiming that proposed changes to entitlements are meant to save the programs. 

The federal government and the states currently jointly fund Medicaid.  Medicaid provides health coverage to millions of Americans, including the elderly, low-income adults, children and people with disabilities.  Speaker Ryan favors converting Medicaid into a block grant program for states and then capping the grants.  But historical data on grants indicates that over time this will result in a decline in Medicaid funding.  And the nation's neediest citizens will feel the impact.    

Nonetheless, there is broad support among congressional Republicans and their wealthy donors for reducing the cost of entitlements.  Utah Senator Orrin Hatch, who is the Republican Senate Finance Committee Chair, summarized the sentiment of his colleagues last week in a speech on the Senate floor.  "I have a rough time wanting to spend billions and billions and trillions of dollars to help people who won't help themselves, won't lift a finger, and expect the federal government to do everything."  

Sadly, the Republican dream of undoing entitlement programs established by President Franklin Roosevelt's New Deal and President Lyndon Johnson's Great Society may finally be within their reach.     

Friday, November 3, 2017

The GOP Plan: Cut Taxes and then Entitlements

The Republicans proposed a tax reform package Thursday that would, if signed into law, radically alter current tax laws and provide a huge windfall for corporations and millionaires.  It would also add $1.5 trillion to the national debt over 10 years, so Republicans are already eyeing huge cuts in social programs to make up the difference.  It will be a transfer of wealth from the needy to the greedy.  

President Donald Trump stands to be a big winner if the proposed bill passes.  The bill calls for the elimination of the estate tax by 2024.  Trump's estate is worth a little over $3 billion, so this would mean Trump's children stand to inherit well over $1 billion more than they will under current law.  The bill also eliminates the alternative minimum tax, which some individuals are subject to today.  Trump would have paid $30 million less in federal taxes had the AMT been eliminated in time for the 2005 returns.   No wonder the president is pushing Congress so hard to pass this bill.

Corporations are the big winners under the legislation.  They will see their federal tax rate reduced from 35 percent to 20 percent.  Republicans claim that the corporate tax rate is currently the highest in the world.  House Speaker Paul Ryan said Thursday, "With this plan, we are making pro-growth reforms, so that yes, America can compete with the rest of the world."   It should be noted that few U.S. corporations currently have to pay the full rate.  Meanwhile most small businesses, the main driver of jobs in the economy, will not benefit under the GOP proposal.   One special interest group spokesperson described the measure as a "war" on small businesses.

The proposal calls for only three tax brackets in an effort to "simplify" returns.  The top individual bracket, for those with the highest income, is reduced to 35 percent.   The lowest tax bracket goes from 10 percent to 12 percent, with individuals making up to $24 thousand annually paying no taxes.  Nonetheless, the benefits for individual taxpayers will depend on their income, where they live and the type of tax breaks they claim.  For instance, the measure caps the amount of state and local taxes that can be deducted from one's gross income.  The bill also ends the electric car tax credit while increasing taxes on wind and solar energy.

Congressional Republicans and the president are desperate for a win after having accomplished nothing legislatively this year, even though they control both houses of Congress and the White House.  So they must succeed with the tax cuts they promised last election or Republicans will be more vulnerable in the 2018-midterm elections.  An ABC/Washington Post poll released Thursday shows that half of all Americans oppose the GOP plan, while 75 percent of Republicans favor it.  Sixty percent of all Americans polled believe the plan favors the wealthy.  Another concern for congressional Republicans is the thin majority they have in the Senate.  To compound matters, Trump's harsh attacks against GOP Senators John McCain, Jeff Flake and John Corker has put the measure in further jeopardy. 

It is estimated that only $300 billion of the $1.5 trillion proposed tax cuts would go to individuals.   Corporations would get $1 trillion in cuts, and heirs to estates would get the remainder, about $200 billion (including the Trumps).  Nonetheless, enactment of the tax cuts will mean Republicans can move on to one of their favorite targets: entitlements.  They will use the exploding debt as a justification for deep cuts in Medicaid and Medicare; only they will call it "reform."  They will propose block grants and caps on the rate of growth.  It will amount to billions of dollars in reductions.  And people in need, especially seniors and the poor, will feel the impact.  

This is the GOP long game, it is consistent with their core philosophy of smaller government, and a win on taxes will give them a head of steam to rein in entitlements.   But to follow the Republican playbook will lead to an even larger disparity between rich and poor Americans.  And the immense income disparity in this country today, the richest nation in the world, is already an inexcusable tragedy!  

Wednesday, November 1, 2017

Trump's Moment of Truth Is Coming

President Donald Trump leaves this week for an important 12-day trip to Asia where he will visit Japan, South Korea, China, Vietnam and the Philippines.  But most of the president's attention is focused on the special counsel investigation into Russia's role in the 2016 Presidential Election following the indictments of two key Trump campaign officials and the guilty plea of a former campaign adviser.

U.S. intelligence agencies concluded in a report this past January that Russia interfered in the election at the direction of Russian President Vladimir Putin in an effort to help Trump win. Ultimately, Putin felt that Trump, if elected, would ease crippling U.S. sanctions on Russia that were initially imposed because of Russia's annexation of Crimea.  President Barack Obama imposed additional sanctions last January because of Russia's meddling in the election. 

Trump avoided criticizing Putin throughout his campaign, and, in fact, frequently praised him.  In August, Congress overwhelmingly passed additional sanctions against Russia for its election interference, which Trump signed even though he said he was opposed to the measure.  Of course, he had no choice because Congress would have overridden a Trump veto.

Questions arose throughout the campaign as to whether members of the Trump campaign had colluded with the Russians.  Suspicions heightened when several key members of the Trump campaign failed to report meetings with Russian officials.   Attorney General Jeff Sessions, former national security adviser General Michael Flynn and Trump son-in-law Jared Kushner all had to subsequently amend their disclosure forms. 

President Trump has frenetically tried to derail the Russia investigation and clear his name.   One of his first acts in office was to have a private diner with then FBI Director James Comey.  According to Comey, Trump sought Comey's personal loyalty and asked that the FBI director make a statement clearing him.  Comey had been investigating possible collusion between the Russians and the Trump campaign.  On May 9, Trump dismissed Comey and later told NBC News, "When I decided to do it, I said to myself, I said 'you know, this Russia thing with Trump and Russia is a made up story, it's an excuse by the Democrats for having lost an election that they should have won.'"  Critics immediately declared that Trump had obstructed justice, which is an impeachable offense.

The acting attorney general appointed Special Counsel Robert Mueller to take over the investigation.  Mueller, a Republican, is one of the most highly respected attorneys in Washington, yet he became the target of attacks from the White House.  Three congressional committees have been investigating Russia's role in the election since earlier this year. 

Mueller put together a top team of criminal attorneys and began interviewing witnesses.  Their efforts began to bear fruit this week with the announcement that a grand jury had indicted former Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort and his close associate, Rick Gates.  Manafort and Gates had done millions of dollars in business with Russian oligarchs that they failed to report on their federal tax forms.  Mueller may be using the indictments to squeeze Manafort for more information relating to Russian interference.  

A few hours later, Mueller revealed that Trump campaign foreign policy adviser George Papadopoulos had pleaded guilty to perjury.  Papadopoulos admitted that during the campaign he had tried to set up a meeting with Russian officials to obtain Hillary Clinton's "missing" emails in an effort to help the Trump campaign.  At about the same time during the campaign, Donald Trump Jr., Paul Manafort, and Jared Kushner took a meeting at Trump Tower in New York, which was arranged by Russians seeking to pass on "dirt" about Hillary Clinton.  Mueller has promised Papadopoulos a reduced sentence for his cooperation, and there is speculation that he has plenty more to offer about Trump campaign collusion with the Russians. 

Meanwhile, Trump and White House officials have tried to shift the story to Hillary Clinton for her alleged role as Secretary of State in approving the sale of uranium to a Canadian company controlled by Russians.  The Trump claim is that the Russians donated $145 million to the Clinton foundation in return for her approval.   The big flaw with this charge is that Clinton had no role in making the decision.  

Monday's indictments and guilty plea have many White House officials near panic.  There are internal debates over what the president should do next.  Some Trump allies are urging the president to fire Mueller.  But if he did so he would be inviting congressional Republicans to consider his impeachment.  This would create a constitutional crisis that the nation hasn't seen since Watergate.

Meanwhile, Mueller and his team are continuing to interview witnesses, including White House staff, and more indictments are expected in the near future, according to some reports.  At some point the president may be questioned under oath about what he knows of obstruction of justice and collusion.  The criminal charge for collusion would be conspiracy.  Of course, lying to a grand jury is perjury.  So the president would then be facing his moment of truth. 

Thursday, October 5, 2017

Trump's Fake News Obsession

When he finds himself on the defensive, President Donald Trump's go-to tactic is to lash out at the press.  On Thursday, Trump once again went on Twitter to unleash his latest assault.  "Why isn't the Senate Intel Committee looking into the Fake News Networks in OUR country to see why so much of our news in just made up-FAKE!" he posted.  In Trump's world the press should provide a continuous stream of praise for his presidency.   

Trump is not ignorant about the Founding Father's original intent when they codified a free press in the Constitution.  He simply wishes to ignore it in order to manipulate public opinion on his own behalf.  Trump is obsessed with how he is perceived, and his regular Twitter storms, directed at the press and other critics, reveal an excessively narcissistic and thin-skinned man.   

Trump's latest Twitter tirade followed new developments in the many government investigations into Russian interference with last November's election, and whether the Trump campaign colluded with the Russians.  On Wednesday, Senate Intelligence Committee Chairman Richard Burr said, "The Russian intelligence service is determined - clever - and I recommend that every campaign and every election official take this very seriously."  As to whether anyone in the Trump campaign colluded, Burr said, "The issue of collusion is still open."  Along with the Senate committee, a House committee and a special counsel, headed by Robert Mueller, are also investigating Russian interference.  

Trump is frustrated with these investigations and has sought to end them, including firing former FBI Director James Comey.   That action and his other attempts to derail the probes have led to allegations that the president obstructed justice.   Major news organizations, including The New York Times and The Washington Post, have aggressively reported on the Russian investigations, many times breaking new ground while drawing the ire of the president.   Burr responded to Trump's tweet Thursday, saying he would hold the news organizations accountable, "If, in fact, we find news organizations have not covered it factually, I think you will see that in our report."  

White House news leaks and fierce infighting have also spilled into the press.  Secretary of State Rex Tillerson reportedly called the president a "moron" during a Pentagon meeting this summer, according to NBC News.  It is no secret that Tillerson and Trump have been at odds on staffing and policy issues for months, but it was noteworthy that, rather than denying he made the remark, the secretary told reporters Wednesday, "I'm not going to deal with petty stuff like that." Trump tweeted,  "The @NBCNews story has been totally refuted by Sec. Tillerson and @VP Pence. It is #FakeNews.  They should issue an apology to AMERICA!"  NBC News stands by their report. Republican Senator Bob Corker added to the controversy Wednesday when he told reporters, "I think Secretary Tillerson, Secretary (Jim) Mattis and Chief of Staff (John) Kelly are those people that help separate our country from chaos."

The Trump administration response in the aftermath of Hurricane Maria's devastation of Puerto Rico received sharp criticism, especially from the Mayor of San Juan, its capital and largest city.   While a majority of island's 3.4 million residents struggled with no power, water and food shortages, enormous destruction, Trump inexplicably blamed the problems on the mayor's poor leadership. 

When Trump visited Puerto Rico earlier this week he was more focused on the island's financial woes than comforting, telling local government officials, "you threw our budget a little out of whack, but that's fine." He then compared Hurricane Maria with Katrina, suggesting the hurricane that hit New Orleans more than a decade ago was worse.  Later, while visiting a relief shelter, the president tossed rolls of paper towels to residents, which humiliated many Puerto Ricans who watched.  His visit was widely criticized in the press, which led Trump to tweet,  "Wow, so many Fake News stories today.  No matter what I do of say, they will not write or speak the truth.  The Fake News Media is out of control!" 

In August the president lashed out at the press following its coverage of remarks he had made following the violence in Charlottesville, Virginia, several days earlier, which resulted in the death of one protester.  In those remarks, the president blamed "both sides" instead of singling out Nazis and white nationalist groups for the violence.  At a subsequent campaign rally in Phoenix, the president called the news media "sick people."  He added, "It's time to expose the crooked media deceptions and to challenge the media for their role in fomenting divisions and yes, by the way, they are trying to take our history away our history and our heritage." 

Could it be that more Americans are growing tired of the president's penchant to distort, twist and misstate the truth? According to a just released Reuters/Ipsos poll of more that 14,000 respondents, confidence in the news media is increasing.  Nearly half of those surveyed have at least some confidence in the press, and increase of nearly 10 percent over the past year.   Meanwhile, Trump's average approval rating is below 40 percent, according to Real Clear Politics.   

President Trump is a deeply flawed man whose beleaguered presidency has been filled with scandal, missteps and controversy.   Trump's extreme selfishness makes it impossible for him to be empathetic, self-reflective, mindful and truthful.   At her news briefing Thursday, White House Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders justified the president's press attacks, saying, "we should call on all media to a higher standard."  

No, Sarah, we should demand that President Trump apply the highest standards to his presidency.  

Thursday, September 21, 2017

The GOP Plays Politics With Your Health

President Donald Trump has had an awful first nine months in office.  His scandal plagued White House has been in a continuous state of chaos.  He has failed to unite the country, let alone his own party.  President Trump's approval ratings are at a historic low for any president, so he is desperate for a legislative win. 

Now beleaguered Republicans in Congress are hastily focusing their efforts on passing their latest repeal and replace measure for Obamacare in a effort to fulfill a longstanding political promise. The bill is sponsored by Republican Senators Lindsey Graham and Bill Cassidy.  The president, who has not read the measure, is enthusiastically cheering them on.  

The Republican's latest version of healthcare legislation will replace Obamacare with a measure that will leave untold millions of Americans without health coverage.   The exact impact and cost of their proposed legislation is not known because the GOP is rushing the bill through without an official scoring by the Congressional Budget Office.  They are also circumventing regular Senate procedures to take advantage of a short window that allows them to pass the measure with just 50 votes and a tie-breaking vote by Vice President Mike Pence.   Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell will bring the legislation up for a vote next week, according to his spokesperson.  

Under the GOP measure current expanded Medicaid funding for Obamacare recipients will be converted into block grants to the states that will be capped, putting states in the position of having to pay for any future shortfall.  Many state governors oppose the measure because they will immediately lose funding they have committed to paying, including Republicans.  New Jersey Governor Chris Christie said Wednesday, "I can't support a bill that takes $3.9 billion away from the people of the state of New Jersey." The authors of the bill seek to equalize the base per-person the federal government gives states.  But this would penalize those that are wealthier, for instance, Democratic states like New York, California and New Jersey, and benefit poorer Republican states like Mississippi and Alabama.   

The Graham-Cassidy bill would end Obamacare's individual mandate that requires everyone to buy health insurance or pay a penalty.  A pool including both healthy and unhealthy people was set up to help control insurance costs.  However, this bill will provide no incentive for healthy individuals to enroll in the market, which means only those in need of health care are likely to sign up. The cost burden would fall heaviest on seniors, a fact not lost on AARP, which said in a statement on Wednesday, the bill "could increase premiums and out-of-pocket cost by as much as $16,174 a year for a 60-year-old earning $25,000 annually if the wanted to keep their current coverage."  The AMA put it more bluntly in a tweet Tuesday, "Graham-Cassidy would result in millions losing coverage, destabilize insurance markets, decrease access to affordable care." 

Obamacare had protections for those individuals with pre-existing health conditions, they could not be denied health insurance. Trump, who during his campaign said that insurers should not be able to deny insurance to those with a pre-existing condition, tweeted Wednesday; "I would not sign Graham-Cassidy if it did not include coverage for pre-existing conditions.  It does.  A great Bill.  Repeal & Replace."  Technically the bill says it will not repeal Obamacare's rules about pre-existing conditions.  However, it does allow states opt out of rules, like a ban on charging higher premiums for sick people, the requirements on prescription drugs, the rules around how much insurers can increase premiums because of a customers age--elderly are more likely to have pre-existing conditions.  In a statement, the Blue Cross Blue Shield Association warned, "The bill contains provisions that would allow states to waive key consumer protections, as well as safeguards for those with pre-existing medical conditions."

This last ditch effort by Republicans comes two months after the Senate failed to pass a Republican repeal to Obamacare.  Meanwhile, bi-partisan health care negotiations, that had been proceeding in the Senate, came to an abrupt halt as Republican Lamar Alexander announced the talks had reached an impasse.   This came as a surprise to Democrats who charge that this is a tactic to get wavering GOP senators to vote for Graham-Cassidy.   Nonetheless, a group of 10 bipartisan governors sent a letter Wednesday to the Senate leadership arguing for a bipartisan solution and against Graham-Cassidy.  Some observers say that if Graham-Cassidy passes, it will be with a strictly party line vote just like Obamacare was. They say that will add chaos to implementation because the bill does not have broad support.

Clearly, the best alternative is to fix the problems that exist in Obamacare.  But that would be anathema for Republicans who are largely focused on getting entitlement spending under control.  They are determined to reduce the size of the federal government.  They are committed to shifting responsibility to the states.  Of course, they need the projected savings Graham-Cassidy would provide to help finance their tax "reform" proposal, which would largely benefit the wealthy.  And those wealthy Republican donors have threatened to withhold campaign contributions unless a health care bill signed into law.  Furthermore, House Speaker Paul Ryan says he has greased the skids for the bill in his chamber.     

So the GOP leadership is intensely focused on fulfilling their campaign promise of repealing Obamacare. Kansas Republican Senator Pat Roberts told Vox, "Restoring decision-making back to the states is always a good idea, but this is not the best possible bill--this is the best bill possible under the circumstances."  He added, "If we do nothing, I think it has a tremendous impact on the 2018 elections--and whether Republicans still maintain control and we have to gavel."  

In other words, passing and enacting Graham-Cassidy is not about doing what's best for the American people, it's about doing what's best for the Republican Party.  It is not about doing the right thing; it is all about fulfilling a political promise.   

No wonder nearly 70% of all Americans disapprove of Congress.   And it's only going to get worse if Graham-Cassidy passes.  

Saturday, August 26, 2017

Trump Undermines America's Core Values

President Donald Trump promises to "Make America Great Again," but his words are nothing more than an advertising slogan.  Rather, his actions since taking office are undoing decades of progress towards a better America and undermining the very core values enshrined its Constitution: liberty, equality, justice and democracy.  

In the Declaration of Independence, the Founding Fathers wrote, "We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness."  But under Trump all men are not created equal.  

For instance, last week Trump directed the military to stop an Obama-era directive that allowed transgender individuals to be recruited into the armed forces.  The order also bans the Department of Defense from providing medical treatment for transgender individuals currently serving in the military.  In July Trump caught the military by surprise when he tweeted, "Our military must be focused on decisive and overwhelming victory and cannot be burdened with the tremendous medical costs and disruption that transgenders in the military would entail."  But a 2016 Rand Corp study commissioned by the Defense Department concluded that letting transgender people serve would have "minimal impact" on readiness and healthcare costs.  There are currently several thousand transgender people serving their country in the military.  

Voting rights are also being assaulted by the Trump administration.  Just weeks after winning the election but losing the popular vote, Trump took to Twitter to claim,  "In addition to winning the Electoral College in a landslide, I won the popular vote if you deduct the millions of people who voted illegally."   Trump assembled a commission in May to substantiate his false claims about voter fraud.  New York University's Brennan Center for Justice found, "examination after examination of voter fraud claims reveal fraud is very rare, voter impersonation is nearly nonexistent, and much of the problems associated with alleged fraud relates to unintentional mistakes by voters or election administrators."  Why is the Trump administration intent on spending millions of taxpayer dollars in search of a problem that doesn't exist?   The answer is voter suppression.  They are determined to impose policies that will discourage or make it harder for millions of eligible Americans to vote, especially minorities and the elderly who tend to vote for Democrats.  

Trump has used anti-immigrant rhetoric to fuel anger in his base supporters, especially against Hispanics and Muslims, the latter for whom his has issued a travel ban affecting six predominantly Muslim countries.  Former Maricopa County, Arizona, Sheriff Joe Arpaio regularly violated the rights of undocumented Hispanic immigrants, using racial profiling and inhumane treatment against them.  Last month he was convicted of criminal contempt of court by a federal district court judge for failing to stop using these tactics.   But crassly under the cover of Hurricane Harvey, on Friday President Trump issued a controversial pardon for Arpaio, an early Trump supporter, tweeting, "I am pleased to inform you that I have just granted a full Pardon to 85 year old American patriot Sheriff Joe Arpaio.  He kept Arizona safe!"  The pardon received bipartisan condemnation, including from Arizona Senator John McCain, who said in a statement, "The president has the authority to make this pardon, but doing so at this time undermines his claim for the respect of rule of law as Mr. Arpaio has shown no remorse for his actions."   Alas, this may be just a precursor for pardons Trump will issue in the future for his loyalists and family members who are under investigation in the expanding Russia probe.  

The president has gone to great lengths recently to explain his failure to attack white supremacists and the KKK, blaming the "fake media" for misrepresenting what he said.  However, the president regularly whips up supporters at his rallies with attacks on the press.  At a rally last week in Phoenix, the president leveled his latest assault, saying, "It's time to expose the crooked media deceptions...they're very dishonest people."  He added, "The only people giving a platform to these hate groups is the media itself and the fake news."   Yet the remarks he says were misrepresented were delivered by him on television and viewed by millions of viewers.   When Trump's back is against the wall he needs an enemy to lash out against, and the media is an easy target.  But his rages against the news media are deeply concerning as they may have a chilling affect or worse on a free press.  

Trump is clearly angry about his news coverage and frustrated with his lack of legislative success since taking office.  He has tried to derail the many investigations underway into Russian interference in last November's election, and, according to the Washington Post, he has made more than 1,000 false or misleading claims over the past eight months.  One of his biggest lies is that he has had one of the most successful presidencies in history.  To the extent Trump has accomplished anything, regretfully it is to undermine civil rights, human rights, voting rights, and press freedoms.  

Popular author Stephen King hit the nail on the head when he tweeted last month, "The news is real. The president is fake."  But, sadly, Donald J. Trump is the president.  

Saturday, August 12, 2017

Trump: The Divider-in-Chief

The man who promised "I alone can fix it" in his acceptance speech at the Republican National Convention last July has accomplished very little after six months in office as president.   Instead, President Donald Trump has instilled a culture of chaotic infighting at the White House, he has failed to articulate a coherent foreign policy and unnerved America's closest allies, and he has fueled unprecedented divisiveness within the Republican Party.  

Trump's bombastic campaign rhetoric mobilized millions of frustrated Americans to vote for him last November and secure him an Electoral College victory.   He made many brash and unrealistic promises, but thankfully he has failed to deliver on most of them.   Trump has not drained the swamp in Washington; he has only muddied the waters.  He has not built a wall along the U.S.-Mexican border.  He has not reformed taxes, he has not fixed healthcare, and he has done nothing with the nation's infrastructure despite the fact that Republicans control both houses of Congress and the presidency.  Instead, he has blamed Congress for his lack of progress.

Trump has been on the defensive about Russia's interference on his behalf in the presidential election. He fired FBI Director James Comey, he has considered firing Attorney General Jeff Sessions for recusing himself from the Russian investigation, and he has harshly attacked Russia special counsel Robert Mueller for his widening probe into the scandal.   Yet he thanked Russian President Vladimir Putin for expelling 755 people from the American embassy in Moscow in response to new economic sanctions approved by Congress.  "I'm very thankful that he let go of a large number of people because now we have a smaller payroll," Trump inexplicably said apparently not knowing that these diplomats and staff will continue to be paid.  Where's the outrage Mr. President?

While the stock market has reached a record high in anticipation to reduced corporate taxes and regulations, there is a growing concern about the future.  Trump's favorability rating in the national polls has slumped to a record low for any modern day president.   Even some of his most loyal supporters are beginning to raise their eyebrows.   But Trump has tried to manipulate public opinion through his constant use of Twitter, often attacking the "fake media" and his opponents.  The tweeter-in-chief explained his reason last month, "My use of social media in not Presidential - it's MODERN DAY PRESIDENTIAL.  Make America Great Again!"

Last December, then President-Elect Donald Trump laid out his military policy.  "We will stop racing to topple foreign regimes that we know nothing about, that we shouldn't be involved with," he said at Ft. Bragg.  "Instead, our focus must be on defeating terrorism and destroying ISIS, and we will."   But Trump's failure to effectively govern the country, and his inability to stop investigations into Russian interference and possible collusion with his campaign, may have changed his perspective.    

A timely leak that a U.S. intelligence agency "assesses North Korea has produced nuclear weapons for ballistic missile delivery, to include delivery by ICBM-class missiles," triggered a brash response from the president.  "North Korea best not make any more threats against the United States," he said at a meeting on the opioid crisis at his New Jersey golf club.  "They will be met with fire and fury like the world has never seen."   Trump's shoot from the hip response rattled diplomats and military experts because an attack on North Korea would lead to millions of casualties in South Korea and the region, including Americans.  Nonetheless, Trump continued his threats on Friday saying the U.S. was "locked and loaded," although the military had taken no additional action.  

But the president was not done issuing threats.  Following a meeting with Secretary of State Rex Tillerson and UN Ambassador Nikki Hailey the president directed remarks at Venezuela, which has been in a state of crisis under its president, Nicolas Maduro.  "You know, we are all over the world and we have troops all over the world in places that are very, very far away," he said.  "Venezuela is not very far away and the people are suffering, and they are dying.  We have many options for Venezuela, including a possible military option if necessary."  

Suddenly the man who had campaigned vigorously against senseless wars was warmongering.  American diplomats scrambled to ease growing tensions in both Asia and South America.  Meanwhile, Chinese President Xi Jinping warned Trump by phone on Saturday to "avoid remarks and actions that escalate tensions on the Korean peninsula."   And Peru's foreign minister, Ricardo Luna, who has been a vocal critic of the Venezuelan government, issued a statement, saying in part,  "All foreign and domestic threats to resort to force undermine the goal of reinstating democratic governance in Venezuela, as well as the principles enshrined in the UN charter." 

As tensions escalated with North Korea and Venezuela, violence broke out in Charlottesville, Virginia, led by hundreds of white nationalists protesting the removal of a statue of Robert E. Lee, a Confederate army general.  The Virginia governor declared at state of emergency.  The former imperial wizard of the Ku Klux Klan, David Duke, was among the protestors.  "We are going to fulfill the promises of Donald Trump," Duke told reporters Saturday, to "take our country back."   President Trump, who failed to denounce David Duke and the KKK during his campaign, tweeted a response on Saturday that failed to specifically mention the KKK.  "We ALL must be united & condemn all that hate stands for.  There is no place for this kind of violence in America!  Let's all come together as one!"   

As events around the world continue to spin out of control the man who bragged "I alone can fix it" has once again revealed himself to the world as unqualified to be president.  Trump told Reuters reporters last April, "I thought it would be easier."  Unfortunately, the longer Trump is president the tougher it gets for everyone else.  

Thursday, July 20, 2017

"Very Unfair to the President"

President Donald Trump has completed the first six months of his scandal plagued and underachieving presidency on the defensive about Russia, health care, his temperament and Twitter. Recent polls show that Trump's overall favorability is at an all-time low, and up to now his loyal supporters have continued to back him, although a small minority of them is beginning to have doubts according to a Reuters/Ipsos poll.  

In an interview with the New York Times Wednesday the president was in full attack mode, his default tactic when he feels pressure.  Attorney General Jeff Sessions was among the first members of Congress to support then candidate Donald Trump.  His support was rewarded with one of the most important cabinet posts, but Sessions recused himself from overseeing the Russian investigation, which was the right thing to do.  But not according to the president. "Sessions should have never recused himself, and if he was going to recuse himself, he should have told me before he took the job and I would have picked somebody else," Trump said.   He then added, "It's extremely unfair, and that's a mild word, to the president.  So he recuses himself, I then end up with a second man, who's a deputy." 

Worse than that, Trump noted that Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein is from Baltimore.  "So his deputy he (Sessions) hardly knew," Trump recalled.  "Rod Rosenstein, who is from Baltimore.
There are very few Republicans in Baltimore, if any."  Then he points out that Rosenstein appoints Special Counsel Robert Mueller to look into Russian interference in the election.  Mueller had interviewed for FBI Director with the president the day before he was appointed to head the investigation.  In his New York Times interview Trump reveals he reacted, "I said, what the hell is this all about?  Talk about conflicts."  Then Trump made a threat relating to Mueller.  "There were many other conflicts that I haven't said, but I will at some point," he said.  

President Trump accused Comey of trying to use as leverage a secret dossier with sensational but uncorroborated allegations regarding the president.   "When he brought it to me, I said this is really made-up junk," Trump said of the allegations.  Comey had earlier told a Congressional hearing that he told the president of the dossier because he thought the media may be publishing it soon. Trump said Comey's testimony was "loaded up with lies."

Trump's interview reflects a man who is concerned that the special counsel has expanded his investigation into the financial dealings of Trump businesses.  U.S. banking regulators are reviewing hundreds of millions of dollars in loans the Trump organization received from Deutsche Bank, according to the New York Times.   Deutsche Bank recently paid more than $600 million in penalties to U.S. and British regulators for laundering money for Russian entities.  

Bloomberg reports, quoting a person familiar with the investigation, that "FBI investigators and others are looking at Russian purchases of apartments in Trump buildings, Trump's involvement in a controversial SoHo development in New York with Russian associates, the 2013 Miss Universe pageant in Moscow and Trump's sale of a Florida mansion (at a huge profit) to a Russian oligarch." 

Trump was asked by the New York Times, "If Mueller was looking at your finances, and at your family's finances, unrelated to Russia, is that a red line?"  Trump responded, "I think that's a violation. Look, this is about Russia."  But then the reporters followed up asking if he would fire Mueller, Trump said, "I can't answer that question because I don't think it's going to happen."

Trump could not directly fire Mueller.  He would have to order Rosenstein to do it, the man who appointed the special counsel in the first place.  Rosenstein has testified to Congress he will not fire Mueller.  Meanwhile, Attorney General Jeff Sessions vowed at a news conference Thursday to stay on, "We are serving right now.  The work we are doing today is the kind of work that we intend to continue."   

With a constitutional crisis involving the investigation into Trump finances looming over the horizon, the president's comments and actions betray a man with something to hide.  He is scared, he is vulnerable, he is angry.  The Washington Post reported late Thursday that Trump's lawyers are "actively building a case" against what they believe to be Mueller's conflicts of interest.  The paper also reports that Trump has asked about his power to pardon aides and family members. 

Sure, Trump can feel like the victim, he can feel that he is being treated unfairly, but he has brought it all upon himself.   Nothing will stop the special counsel.  And if Trump fires Mueller, another will be appointed.   If he pardons aides and family members from criminal charges, he will risk being removed from office.  

The truth will be revealed, justice will be done.  America will be great again.  

Saturday, July 1, 2017

Trump's Twitter Tirades

President Donald Trump's latest vicious personal attacks on Twitter are abusive, demeaning and shameful.  Yet the president and many of his supporters approve of his tactics, saying that he is just fighting back against the daily barrage of "fake media" attacks.  The president hopes to discredit his media critics with schoolyard taunts and mudslinging because he believes it will appeal to his most ardent supporters.   

The president has focused his latest assault of insults on MSNBC anchors Joe Scarborough and Mika Brzezinski, the hosts of the weekday program "Morning Joe."  Saturday he tweeted, "Crazy Joe Scarborough and dumb as a rock Mika are not bad people, but their low rated show is dominated by their bosses.  Too bad!"   Scarborough is a former Republican Congressman and Brzezinski is an experienced news anchor who is the daughter of the late Zbigniew Brzezinski, a highly respected foreign policy expert and American diplomat.  "Morning Joe" is the second highest rated cable news program in the morning, drawing nearly one million daily viewers. 

The conflict with Scarborough and Brzezinski has been intensifying since Trump took office.   The anchors have been increasingly vocal about Trump's lies and many of his actions as president.   Last week The Washington Post revealed that a fake Time Magazine cover showing Trump was hanging in the bar of his Doral Golf Resort in Florida.  The cover displayed a large headline: "Donald Trump: The 'Apprentice" is a television smash."  That cover has since been removed.

Brzezinski and Scarborough talked about the phony cover last week on their program.   Trump pounced with a series of morning tweets Thursday.  "I heard poorly rated @Morning_Joe speaks badly of me (don't watch anymore). The how come low I.Q. Crazy Mika, along with Psycho Joe, came," he began with his first tweet.  He continued with a second tweet, " Mar-a-Lago 3 nights in a row around New Year's Eve, and insisted on joining me.  She was bleeding badly from a face-lift.  I said no!"

These tweets shook Washington as even many frustrated Republicans described them as inappropriate.  Scarborough and Brzezinski, who recently got engaged, delayed their scheduled vacation to respond to Trump Friday morning.  Both anchors denied Trump's account of what happened New Year's Eve, saying it was Trump who asked them to come by.  Then Scarborough revealed that the White House had asked him to seek forgiveness of the president for his critical coverage or The National Enquirer would publish an article revealing his then secret relationship with Brzezinski. The publisher of The National Enquirer is David Pecker, a close friend of the president.   Trump soon responded on Twitter to their appearance.  "Watched low rated @Morning_Joe for the first time in a long time.  FAKE NEWS.  He called me to stop a National Enquirer article.  I said no!  Bad show," Trump wrote.  

Sadly Trump's outrageous behavior is sexist and it is just the latest in a series of misogynistic attacks he has leveled against women over the years.  Last August in a debate Fox News anchor Megyn Kelly confronted Trump.   "You've called women you don't like 'fat pigs,' 'dogs,' 'slobs' and disgusting animals," she noted.  Trump interrupted, "Only Rosie O'Donnell."   "Look at that face," he said last year of his then opponent Carly Fiorina.  "Would anyone vote for that?  Can you imagine that, the face of our next president?"   Early last year his tweeted an unflattering picture of Senator Ted Cruz's wife next to one of Melania Trump, adding "a picture s worth a thousand words."  

When he feels cornered or he is getting criticized, Trump's default position is to get mean.  There are no limits to his impulsive strikes.  This is the way he has operated throughout his life.  Businessmen who have dealt with him describe what they call Trump's "punch-hug."  In intense negotiations he has yelled, used personal insults and foul language, only to later come back with a hug, as if to say "Come on, don't you see it my way?"    White House press spokesperson Sarah Huckabee Sanders told reporters Thursday, "I don't think you can expect someone to be personally attacked day after day, minute by minute and sit back," she said.  "The American people elected a fighter, they didn't elect somebody to sit back and do nothing."  

But Americans don't want Trump to tweet.   Before his most recent spat with Brzezinski, Fox News released a poll showing just 13 percent of Americans approve of Trump's tweeting, while 46 percent disapproved.  A slim majority of those polled said they consider the president's online posts as official statements.   

The Trump White House has struggled to accomplish its agenda.   Its efforts to repeal and replace Obamacare have failed.  Its efforts for tax reform have been stalled, and its controversial immigration ban has struggled in the courts.  Meanwhile, the president has insulted allies, demeaned NATO, and he has failed to stop North Korea's nuclear program.   He is described as furious about the ongoing investigations into the role Russia played in the American elections, and whether members of the Trump campaign colluded in that effort.  He has frequently used Twitter to attack the investigations and those conducting them.  

It will be interesting to see how Trump handles Russian President Vladimir Putin when they meet next week for the first time since he took office.  Will he even bring up the Russian interference?   Will he use his punch-hug technique on Putin to insist he end Russian meddling in America's elections, to withdraw from Crimea and Ukraine, and that he end his support for Syrian President Bashar Al-Assad?   

It is probably more likely he will ask Putin what steps he would suggest to control the American press.   Then after the meeting he will tweet, "Vlad and I had a GREAT meeting! We are going to work together to make America GREAT again!"

Thursday, June 29, 2017

On Being Presidential

President Donald J. Trump:

In a two-part tweet, Trump said he “heard poorly rated @Morning_Joe speaks badly of me (don't watch anymore).” He then went on to hit Brzezinski: “how come low I.Q. Crazy Mika, along with Psycho Joe, came … to Mar-a-Lago 3 nights in a row around New Year's Eve, and insisted on joining me. She was bleeding badly from a face-lift. I said no!”

This is cyberbullying, and indicative of the president's severe lack of character and sanity. 

Monday, June 26, 2017

GOP Senators: Where's Your Heart?

Senate Republicans are pushing hard for a vote this week on their plan to repeal and replace Obamacare, aka the ACA.   But the Senate plan takes coverage away from 22 million Americans, according to a report from the Congressional Budget Office released on Monday.  The CBO also projects the plan will reduce the deficit by $321 billion over the next decade.  And the bill's authors utilized some trickery to get their bill scored slightly better than its House counterpart proposal, which President Donald Trump called "mean."   

The Senate GOP proposal will phase out Medicaid's expansion, it will cap Medicaid spending to the states, it will repeal Obamacare taxes used to fund the program, and it will restructure subsidies to insurance customers.   The federal government currently picks up between 50 and 100 percent of the states' healthcare costs.  The Republicans want to reduce these costs through block grants that are capped to slow growth.  This will leave it to the states to cover any difference and administer healthcare.  But the effect will be to reduce federal Medicaid spending over time, leaving millions of those who need support most without health insurance.   

In January President Donald Trump told The Washington Post, "We are going to have insurance for everybody.  There was a philosophy in some circles that if you can't pay for it, you don't get it.  That's not going to happen with us."   The House GOP earlier had passed their version of health care, which President Trump feted at a White House ceremony with Congressional Republicans.  But later he turned on them by describing the bill as "mean."  Now he is pushing for passage of the Senate Republican bill, which is not dissimilar to the House version.  

Health care represents one sixth of the U.S. gross domestic product, or more than $2.6 trillion.   Medicaid spending has reached $575 billion annually.  The Health Insurance Association of America defines Medicaid as a "government insurance program for persons of all ages whose income and resources are insufficient to pay for health care."  Republicans have long strived to cut Medicaid costs in an effort to reduce the U.S. deficit.   They believe that block granting it to the states will make it more efficient.

The federal government's options for reducing Medicaid costs are limited.  It can reduce the number of people covered, it can reduce the benefit coverage, it can pay less for benefits, it can get doctors and hospitals to accept less in reimbursement, or it can ask beneficiaries to pay more.  Both the House and Senate bills would have a devastating impact millions of Americans by throwing the problem to the states and cutting the growth of Medicaid subsidies over time through a cap on spending.    While the CBO shows that healthcare price increases will in a couple years be less under the Senate version than Obamacare, those covered will get less for their money.  

For more than seven years Republicans have railed against Obamacare.  President Trump campaigned heavily against Obamacare, pledging at a Florida rally in October to repeal and replace it.  "That begins with immediately repealing and replacing the disaster known as Obamacare," he promised.  "You're going to have such great health care, at a tiny fraction of the cost--and it's going to be so easy."   Four months later a frustrated President Trump told reporters,  "It's an unbelievably complex subject.  Nobody knew health care could be so complicated."   

Senate Republican leadership turned this complicated task over to thirteen of its members, all men, who then crafted its health care bill behind closed doors.  The measure was released to the public last Thursday, leaving little time for public scrutiny.  The Affordable Care Act, by contrast, was debated over months of hearings and Republicans added more than one hundred amendments to the legislation.   Clearly Senate Leader Mitch McConnell knew his caucus's bill would be unpopular.  But now President Trump is championing the Senate bill, even though it will adversely impact millions of his own supporters while giving tax breaks to the rich, like the Trump family.  All Trump, a self-proclaimed dealmaker, cares about is making a deal.

Ultimately, someone has to pay if health care is to cover those who can least afford it.  The American Medical Association sent a letter to Leader McConnell warning that the Senate's Obamacare repeal plan could hurt America's "most vulnerable citizens."  The key to covering more Americans while lowering health insurance costs is risk sharing, where the healthy contribute to pay the costs.  But Congressional Republicans are more focused on fulfilling their campaign promise to repeal Obamacare, even at the risk of losing Congressional seats in the 2018 Midterm elections, especially in those states that have already accepted Medicaid coverage.  

Yet President Trump is exhorting Republicans on Twitter--driving them to close the deal and perhaps off the cliff in 2018.  "Republican Senators are working very hard to get there, with no help from the Democrats.  Not easy!  Perhaps just let OCare crash & burn!" he tweeted Monday.   Of course it would be easier to fix Obamacare, and former House Speaker John Boehner warned Republicans that once you give people and entitlement you can't take it away.

So Republicans have replaced a "mean" proposal with a less mean proposal.  Now passage rests in the hands of a handful of uncommitted Senate Republicans.   Were Hippocrates, the father of medicine in Western Culture, alive today he would give each of them this advice:  "Do no harm."

But this is politics, and nobody knew it could be so complicated.    

Monday, June 12, 2017

Trump's Tangled Web

President Donald Trump's tangled web of scandals has plagued his administration, paralyzed his domestic agenda and undermined America's long cherished global relationships.   Arizona Senator John McCain, a Republican and no fan of Trump's, criticized the president in an interview with the Guardian.  Asked if America's global standing was much better under President Barack Obama he responded,  "As far as American leadership is concerned, yes."

South Carolina's Senator Lindsay Graham, who ran against Trump in the GOP primaries last year, expressed his frustration with the president on Face the Nation Sunday.  "Well, I think it was true that he's not under investigation for colluding with the Russians, and I don't think what was said amounts to obstruction of justice. Now, what the president did was inappropriate," he said.  Then, perhaps addressing Trump, he added, "You may be the first president in history to go down because you can't stop inappropriately talking about an investigation that if you just were quiet, would clear you."

Following reports that the president may have shared classified information with the Russian foreign minister and ambassador last month, Tennessee's Senator Bob Corker provided reporters a gloomy characterization of the White House.  "Obviously, they're in a downward spiral right now and have got to figure out a way to come to grips with all that's happening."   Following former FBI Director James Comey's damning testimony about the president last week, some Republicans are straining to explain their continued support for Trump even though he reportedly asked Comey to publicly exonerate him.  House Speaker Paul Ryan explained, "The president's new at this.  He's new to government, and so he probably wasn't steeped in the long-running protocols that establish the relationships between the Department of Justice, FBI and the White House.  He's just new to this."  

As the dark cloud of scandal hangs over the White House,  the president is having difficulty filling key positions throughout his administration.  Staff shakeups are rumored, with the latest being a report by Politico that White House Chief of Staff Reince Priebus has until July 4th to clean up the mess.  Meanwhile, against the advice of his advisers, Trump continues to strike out on Twitter.  "I believe the James Comey leaks will be far more prevalent than anyone ever thought possible.  Totally illegal?  Very 'cowardly!'" he wrote Sunday.

The president has repeatedly hinted for weeks that there may be tapes of his conversations with James Comey.  If tapes do exist they could set the record straight on exactly whether he asked Comey in their private meetings to end the investigation into former national security adviser Michael Flynn, whom he fired last month.   Skeptics note that it is hard to believe that the president would not immediately release a tape that supports his account of the Comey meetings.  

Meanwhile, the White House is doing all it can to change the subject, but with little success.   On Monday, President Trump held his first meeting with his full cabinet, reminding his team, "We're here to change Washington."  He called Democrats "obstructionists" and went on to tout his own accomplishments as president.  With news cameras rolling on the proceeding, he said, "Never has there been a president--with few exceptions, in the case of FDR he had a major Depression to handle--who passed more legislation, who's done more things than what we've done."   Well President Trump, you are certainly no FDR, President Harry Truman passed more legislation than you, and much of what you have passed is not significant.  

New York Times correspondent Glenn Thrush tweeted about the event, "This interminable cabinet (camera) spray, where everybody pays tribute to Trump, is one of the most exquisitely awkward public events I've ever seen."  The beleaguered Reince Priebus even thanked Trump for the "blessing" of being able to work for him.  Maybe that will buy Priebus more time?   

On Tuesday the nation's attention will turn to Attorney General Jeff Session's public testimony before the Senate Intelligence Committee, which he requested.   Session has said he wants to answer questions raised by Comey's testimony last Thursday. Session's knows his most important audience will be the president.  Trump was reportedly angry at Sessions for recusing himself from the Russia investigation, and there have been rumors that the attorney general is on thin ice.  Sessions had earlier failed to report meetings that he had with Russian officials during the transition.   Before recusing himself, Sessions said, "I never had meetings with Russian operatives or Russian intermediaries about the Trump campaign."  That was not true.

Can Jefferson Beauregard Sessions really be trusted to answer Senator's questions accurately in a public hearing with Donald Trump holding the sword of Damocles over his head?  Oh, what a tangled web we weave when first we practice to deceive.  

Saturday, May 27, 2017

Trump Staff Shake Up

The crisis surrounding the Trump White House and its possible ties to Russia deepened with the disclosure of unreported meetings between the Russian ambassador and Jared Kushner, President Donald Trump’s son-in-law and senior adviser. The disclosure raises questions about whether Kushner was intentionally concealing the meetings, and, if so, why?  Meanwhile, President Trump has retained private legal counsel, and he is reported to be considering a major staff shakeup.
The Washington Post reported Friday that Kushner proposed setting up a back-door channel to the Russians using their facilities during the transition.  He did so in a meeting last December with Russian Ambassador Sergey I. Kislyak and Michael Flynn, who served as national security adviser to the president briefly before he was fired.   The Washington Post reported that Kushner’s proposal took Kislyak by surprise.   A former U.S. intelligence official quoted in the paper called Kushner’s idea, “extremely naive or absolutely crazy.”
Meanwhile, the Senate Intelligence Committee has stepped up its inquiry into Russian interference into the 2016 presidential race by requesting all Russian related documents, emails and phone records beginning June 2015 from the Trump organization, according to the Post.   Investigations are being conducted by committees in the Senate and House, as well as by the FBI.
The number of leaks pertaining to these investigations is extraordinary, and some appear to come from within the White House.   Below the surface members of Trump’s team have been deeply divided, which is not surprising given Trump’s management style.  Moreover, the sheer weight of these daily revelations is taking attention away from other issues, and they have disrupted any progress with Trump’s agenda.
The Russians want economic sanctions imposed on it by the U.S. eased, including those imposed by President Obama for its meddling in the U.S. elections.   In a meeting during the transition last December, Mike Flynn gave the Russian ambassador the impression that sanctions could be revisited after Trump took office.  U.S. intelligence has concluded that the Russians interfered in the November election to tip the scales in favor of Trump over Hillary Clinton.  Russian President Vladimir Putin has accused Clinton of being behind anti-government protests in his country and tough on sanctions.
Kushner also held a previously undisclosed meeting with Russian banker Sergey Gorkov, who is chairman of VneshEconomBank, a Russian government institution that is under U.S. sanctions.  Putin used that bank to finance the 2014 Sochi Winter Olympics, which cost a record $50 billion, and he and Gorkov are close.
In March, Reuters reported that, “at least 63 individuals with Russian passports or addresses have bought at least $98.4 million worth of property in seven Trump-branded towers in southern Florida.”   Both Kushner and Trump have had to raise money to fund their extensive real estate businesses.  Last week, The Washington Post revealed, “The investigative work now being done by the FBI also includes determining whether any financial crimes were committed by people close to the president.”   In a written statement, Kushner’s attorney said, “Mr. Kushner previously volunteered to share with Congress what he knows about these meetings. He will do the same if he is contacted in connection with any other inquiry.”
President Trump held no news conferences during his just completed trip overseas, leaving his aides to fend with reporter questions about Russia. Conservative Bill Kristol tweeted Saturday, “It’s not only that the Trump administration wanted a back channel to Russia, it’s that the Trump family did.”
Next week President Trump will have many tough issues to deal with.  They include his unrealistic and callous budget proposal, his ineptness in dealing with health insurance, and whether the U.S. should withdraw from the Paris Accord on climate change.  But no issues will be more difficult than the intensifying investigations into Russian interference in the U.S. Election, questions about Trump’s firing of FBI Director James Comey, and Russia’s relationships with the Trump administration and family.
Not even a staff shakeup will bring the president any relief.