Wednesday, April 19, 2017

Trump's Broken Promises

As President Donald Trump closes in on his first 100 days in office he is scrambling to defend his inept performance so far in office.  Perhaps this is best illustrated by his announcement last week that he was sending an armada toward North Korea, only to  find out Monday that it was on its way to Australia.  

Candidate Trump made big promises on the campaign trail.  His promises were targeted at key voting blocks in order to mobilize them to vote last November.  A crackdown on illegal immigration, a border wall with Mexico, tax reform, repeal and replacement of Obamacare, better trade deals, a ban on Muslims, extreme vetting, and a stronger military are among the issues Trump ran on.  The strategy gave the GOP control of the White House and both houses of Congress in a bitterly fought election, which included an assist from Russia.

On Tuesday President Trump told a rally in Kenosha, Wisconsin, "No administration has accomplished more in the first 90 days."  Never one to let the truth get in the way of a good story, it appeared that the president was trying out his talking points in advance of the 100-day mark.  But the truth is President Trump has failed to truly deliver on most of his promises.   And a  recent Gallup Poll shows that just 45% of Americans believe Trump keeps his promises, a sharp decline in two months.   

For seven years Republicans demonized President Barack Obama and this eponymous health care bill.  Candidate Trump promised to repeal and replace Obamacare on his first day in office.   But Republicans could not bridge the deep divisions within their own party, especially with the conservative House Freedom Caucus.  In February, a frustrated President Trump told a meeting of governors, "Nobody knew health care could be so complicated."  

House Speaker Paul Ryan had to withdraw his healthcare bill, even following heavy lobbying from the president, in large part because polls showed it had the support of about 17% of Americans. The GOP alternative would have kicked 24 million people off of heath insurance.  This is in sharp contrast to what Trump told 60 Minutes in 2015.  "I am going to take care of everybody.  I don't care if it costs me votes or not," he said, adding, "Everybody is going to be taken care of much better than they're taken care of now." 

The GOP healthcare bill is linked by party leadership to tax reform.  A repeal of Obamacare would mean a $1 trillion cut in taxes for the wealthy.  Republicans would then have an easier task of finding savings in the budget to secure further tax cuts.   The fate of tax reform is now uncertain.

The wall along the U.S. border with Mexico became a battle cry for Trump supporters during the campaign.  And candidate Trump insisted that Mexico would pay for the wall, which he estimated would cost $8 to $12 billion.  Mexican officials have been consistently adamant that they will not pay for the wall, which Democratic Senator Claire McCaskill, who sits on the Senate Homeland Security Committee, now estimates could "soar" to $70 billion in construction costs.   And to what end, since a majority of immigrants in the U.S. illegally either overstayed their visas or came on a ship?

With much fanfare the president signed a controversial executive order in late January which suspended the U.S. Refugee Program and denied entry to citizens of Iraq, Iran, Libya, Somalia, Syria, Sudan and Yemen.  The EO led to chaos at airports around the world, and international denunciations.  A federal judge blocked the order because it unfairly targeted Muslims, as thousands of protestors jammed airports around the country to oppose the order.   The EO was poorly conceived and executed, and led to internal finger pointing.  A new updated EO was issued in March, but it is subject to an indefinite preliminary injunction.   So much for Trump's Muslim ban.  

The president campaigned passionately against the North American Free Trade Agreement, or NAFTA, which he has promised to renegotiate.  He said it was taking away American jobs.  But Trump will have great difficulty redoing this complex trade deal, and he knows it.  And now the president has reversed himself on his campaign charge that China is a currency manipulator.  Given the need to enlist China's support in dealing with North Korea, and following a meeting with the Chinese leader, Trump has flip-flopped.   Perhaps not so coincidentally, China approved three trademarks for Ivanka Trump's company on the same day she dined with her father and the Chinese president at Mar-a-Lago.  

The president has signed executive orders undoing some of President Obama's regulation, including related to the environment.  He was also able successfully appoint Judge Neil Gorsuch to the Supreme Court with an assist from the Senate Republicans.  But Trump has had the worst first 100-days of any modern era president.  To exacerbate his problems, the probes continue into whether the Russians had any ties to members of the Trump campaign.  Infighting between chief strategist Steve Bannon and son-in-law Jerod Kushner has broken into the open and spawned unprecedented leaks to the media.  Trump continues his attacks on the "fake" media while tweeting reckless and untrue comments, like President Obama wiretapped him.  And Trump has decided to keep the White House visitor logs secret, which now raises questions about transparency.  

With Trump's popularity low and a rocky start of his presidency, Republicans are beginning to speak out.  Senator Joni Ernst distanced herself in comments at a town hall in Iowa yesterday.   "I think we have a president that has a number of flaws," she stated with unusual candor.  "I support a majority of his policies, versus the actual person, but I decry any time a person is ugly towards another person, I don't think that's appropriate."  She also said Trump should release his taxes.


Republicans control the White House and both houses of Congress, so President Trump should have had an easy time achieving much of his agenda.  But governing takes a different set of skills than campaigning.  Trump's lying, personal attacks, distortion and distraction have worn thin on the very people he needs to support him.  So too, thankfully, has the list of unfulfilled promises, many of which would severely impact the very people who voted for Donald Trump because they mistakenly believed he alone could fix it. 

Wednesday, April 12, 2017

Killing "The O'Reilly Factor"

"Killing O'Reilly" could be the name of the next book Fox News commentator and host Bill O'Reilly writes.  O'Reilly announced on his broadcast Tuesday evening that he is immediately leaving on vacation, "I like to take time off around Easter, it's calming."  However, O'Reilly's announcement was anything but calming when it comes to the growing sexual harassment scandal involving him, as speculation increases that he will be leaving the network.   Fox News has said he will return April 24.

The New York Times published an article April 1 disclosing that O'Reilly and his network had paid $13 million to five women as settlements for sexual harassment complaints.   Since then dozens of advertisers have pulled their ads from "The O'Reilly Factor", which has been the network's highest rated program, regularly pulling in more than 3 million viewers.  Kantar Media reported that the program is now airing about seven national ads, which is significantly down from the usual 33 national ads.  

Last week Los Angeles radio personality Wendy Walsh, accompanied by attorney Lisa Bloom, said that O'Reilly had sexually harassed her.  The company says it is investigating this claim.   Meanwhile, Bloom told MSNBC Tuesday night that it is likely more women will come forward with additional allegations against O'Reilly.   O'Reilly has said that he is a target because he is famous, so he settled to "spare his children the pain of messy ordeals."  No other Fox News host has been similarly accused.  Perhaps the only other "famous" person to face such allegations is former Fox News Chairman and CEO Roger Ailes, who resigned last year amid scandal, but received a $40 million exit package from the company.  

While few noteworthy people have come to the defense of the temperamental O'Reilly, he did receive support from the president.  Speaking in the Oval Office last week, Trump described O'Reilly as a good person adding, "I don't think Bill did anything wrong."  He told the New York Times, "Personally, I think he shouldn't have settled."  Of course, the president has also been the target of sexual harassment charges, especially following the disclosure of audio from a video recording of him bragging about sexual assault. Trump later apologized for his remarks.

Fox News makes well over a billion dollars a year in gross profits.  The top rated "O'Reilly Factor" earns tens of millions of dollars in profit annually, and serves as a tent pole for those broadcasts adjacent to it.  O'Reilly's viewers are extremely loyal and his ratings have increased since the latest scandal broke.  But are the viewers loyal to the talent or to the Fox News brand?  Fox News executives will be monitoring the ratings during O'Reilly's vacation to see if his absence impacts the numbers.  They also know that ratings increased when controversial Fox News host Megyn Kelly was replaced by Tucker Carlson in the 9PM ET hour.

The sexual harassment charges are roiling the waters in Great Britain where 21st Century Fox is trying to take full control of Sky News.  The British regulator, Ofcom, is expected to announce by mid May whether it will let the deal go forward.  Ofcom could kill the deal if Rupert Murdoch and the company does not meet the standard of "fit and proper" owners, which can include any relevant misconduct.   Murdoch is still damaged by a hacking scandal in England which led a parliamentary committee to find in 2012 that he is "not a fit person to exercise stewardship of a major international company." 

Murdoch is also seeking to ease regulatory restrictions in Washington, where politicians are especially susceptible to public opinion.  Already New York City Public Advocate Letitia, who has led protests at Fox News headquarters, has sent letters the the city's Commission of Human Rights and the Securities and Exchange Commission requesting they investigate sexual harassment at the network.   Meanwhile, Fox News is being investigated by federal prosecutors to determine whether it broke any securities laws with its harassment settlements.

For the most part, Fox News has supported President Donald Trump.  Rupert Murdoch sees opportunity for his business interests because of a Trump presidency, and both men like nothing more than winning.  But, like Trump, some of Murdoch's children have a more moderate approach.   New York Magazine reporter Gabriel Sherman reports that a senior Fox News staffer said, "It's up to the family."  Sherman reports two Fox News sources say 21st Century Fox CEO James Murdoch wants O'Reilly out, while his brother, Lachlan, and father Rupert "are more inclined to keep him."

Donald Trump once famously said, "I could stand in the middle of 5th Avenue and shoot somebody and I wouldn't lose voters."   But the invincible Bill O'Reilly has lost advertisers and his program will take a huge financial hit.  At this point, advertisers clearly have a greater sense of social responsibility than does Fox News.  What do the O'Reilly settlements and the Ailes termination say about the corporate culture at Fox News?   

Fox News must rid itself of the stigma associated with this well established pattern and all of its bad actors. As the leading cable news channel, which serves millions of viewers every day, Fox News must act responsibly by making a powerful statement that sexual harassment is unacceptable.  

Killing "The O'Reilly Factor" and terminating Bill O'Reilly would be an important first step for 21st Century Fox.  

Tuesday, March 28, 2017

Chairman Nunes: Recuse Thyself

As a former member of the Donald Trump transition team's executive committee, Rep. Devin Nunes briefed Trump and his team on intelligence matters, as he had done during the campaign.  He worked closely in that role with General Michael Flynn, who resigned in February because he lied about having conversations with the Russian ambassador.  Yet, despite the appearance of a conflict of interest, Chairman Nunes has been serving as Republican Chairman of the House Intelligence Committee, which is investigating links between key Russians and the Trump campaign and transition.   

Questions about Chairman Nunes' ability to lead an objective investigation have increased because of his strange behavior since F.B.I. Director James Comey and the director of the N.S.A., Admiral Michael Rogers, appeared before his committee last week. Comey's sworn testimony was devastating for President Trump.  

Comey was asked to respond to a tweets Trump had sent to his followers accusing President Barack Obama of having him wiretapped.   Comey responded, "I have no information that supports those tweets and we have looked carefully inside the FBI. The Department of Justice has asked me to share with you that the answer is the same for the Department of Justice and all its components. The department has no information that supports those tweets."  Comey did confirm that the F.B.I. is investigating the Russian government's interference with the November election, and "that includes investigating the nature of any links between individuals associated with the Trump campaign and the Russian government and whether there was any coordination between the campaign and Russia's efforts."   

Two days following Comey's testimony, Chairman Nunes announced that communications by members of President Trump's transition team were included in the "incidental collection" of foreign surveillance. At a Capitol Hill press conference he said he had learned this through a source, which he did not identify, and then headed to the White House to inform the president.  Subsequently, Chairman Nunes' spokesperson revealed, "Chairman Nunes met with his source at the White House grounds in order to have proximity to a secure location where he could view the information provided by the source."  The spokesperson added, "The chairman is extremely concerned about the improper masking of names of U.S. citizens."

Chairman Nunes has still not shared the information or the identity of its source with any other members of his committee.  Nor has he sufficiently explained why he couldn't have used a secure area on Capitol Hill.   But President Trump said last Wednesday he felt somewhat "vindicated" by the announcement.   It all appears to be a perfect Trump tactic; change the subject from his unhinged tweets, thanks to the cover provided him by his former transition team member, Chairman Nunes.  

Chairman Nunes then cancelled all House Intelligence hearings scheduled for this week.  He explained, "There are just questions that we have for Director Comey and Admiral Rogers probably that they just couldn't answer in a public setting but it's necessary to get both of them back down here before we can move on to other interviews."  He said that the cancellation had nothing to do with the documents he had viewed in the secure location at the White House.   But Chairman Nunes did announce that former Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort had agreed to testify before the committee.  Manafort has come under new scrutiny because of his alleged ties to the Russian backed former president of Ukraine.  

Chairman Nunes is reported to believe that the documents he was shown suggest that the Obama administration may have been using its foreign intelligence powers to shadow the Trump campaign.  He has said he is concerned that the identities of Trump officials were "unmasked" and widely transmitted to people who had no need to see them, and had "little or no foreign intelligence value."

In January the Director of National Intelligence released a report that found that Russian President Vladimir Putin had tried to influence the outcome of the November election.  The report said, “Russia’s goals were to undermine public faith in the US democratic process, denigrate Secretary Clinton, and harm her electability and potential presidency. We further assess Putin and the Russian Government developed a clear preference for President-elect Trump.”  

The Comey revelation last week that the F.B.I. is investigating whether there was any coordination between the Russians and members of the Trump campaign has shaken Washington.  How did Trump advisor Roger Stone know in advance that Wikileaks would release damaging emails from Hillary Clinton Campaign Chairman John Podesta?   The torrent of embarrassing emails was devastating for the Clinton campaign.  

Chairman Nunes is clearly slow-walking his committee's investigation, he has cancelled important public hearings with key witnesses, and he has failed to share information with his committee members while keeping President Donald Trump fully informed.   Many in Washington, especially Democrats, have called on Chairman Nunes to recuse himself from the investigation.  Chairman Nunes refuses to do so, responding, "I'm not sure the Democrats do want me to quit because they know that I am quite effective at getting to the bottom."  But from all appearances, so far his leadership has been quite ineffective.  

Chairman Nunes, remember you are no longer serving Donald Trump, you are serving the American people.  You must recuse yourself.  

Sunday, March 5, 2017

Is Trump Losing It?

"The best defense is a strong offense" is a centuries old military tactic that can lead to a strategic advantage.   But it is hard to understand how President Donald Trump will benefit from tweeting as a fact Saturday that President Barack Obama had Trump Tower wiretapped shortly before the November election.   The tweet left surprised White House aides scrambling for details, put the Democrats on attack mode, and led the head of the FBI to request the Justice Department publicly reject the claim.

Deputy White House Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders defended her boss but did not provide any supporting evidence on ABC's This Week Sunday.   "Look, I think he's going off of information that he has seen that has led him to believe that this is a very real potential," she said.  "And if it is, this would be the greatest overreach and the greatest abuse of power that I think we have ever seen and a huge attack on democracy itself."   In a statement Sunday, White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer said, "President Donald J. Trump is requesting that as part of their investigation into Russian activity, the congressional intelligence committees exercise their oversight authority to determine whether executive branch investigative powers were abused in 2016."   He added that the president would not comment any further until such oversight is conducted.

A spokesperson for President Obama called Trump's accusation false.  He also noted that the president cannot order such a wiretap.   President Obama's Director of National Intelligence, James R. Clapper, denied Sunday that Trump Tower was tapped.  Speaking on NBC's Meet The Press, Clapper said, "There was no such wiretap activity mounted against the president, the president-elect at the time, or as a candidate, or against his campaign."  Any such wiretap would have to have been authorized by the Federal Intelligence Surveillance Court Act (FISA) based upon some evidence.   Clapper was asked if such a FISA order existed.  He responded, "I can deny it."

House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi attacked President Trump for using wild accusations to deflect attention away from the growing investigations into his administration's ties to the Russians.  Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer said Sunday on Meet The Press, "It's beneath the dignity of the presidency.  It is something that really hurts people's view of government."

Meanwhile, Republican Senators Marco Rubio and Tom Cotton said Sunday they had seen no evidence to support Trump's claims.  Republican Senator Lindsay Graham said Saturday, "If the former president of the United States was able to obtain a warrant lawfully to monitor Trump's campaign for violating the law, that would be the biggest scandal since Watergate."  Republican Senator Ben Sasse said Saturday, "The president should ask that this full (FISA) application regarding surveillance of foreign operatives of operations be made available, ideally to the full public, and a bare minimum to the U.S. Senate."  And House Intelligence Committee chairman Devin Nunes, a Trump loyalist, said Sunday his committee will include Trump's allegations in its current investigation into Russian meddling.  

Late Sunday the New York Times reported that FBI Director James Comey asked the Justice Department to "publicly reject President Trump's unsubstantiated claim that former President Barack Obama ordered his phones to be tapped."  This report was later confirmed by several news organizations, and is a remarkable action by an FBI chief .  Comey reportedly thinks the Trump claim suggests the FBI broke the law.  The Justice Department has so far not commented.  

President Trump has been dealing with a growing scandal involving past and present members of his administration and Russia.  U.S. intelligence agencies have already determined that Russia meddled in the U.S. elections to tilt the race toward Trump.  Despite repeated denials from Trump and his spokespersons, members of Trump's team had repeated contacts with Russian officials, even before the election.   In 2008, Donald Trump Jr. was quoted by a travel industry news website making comments about Russian investment in Trump businesses.   "Russians make up a pretty disproportionate cross-section of a lot of our assets; say in Dubai, and certainly with our project in SoHo and anywhere in New York."  He concluded, "We see a lot of money pouring in from Russia."   No wonder President Trump has never said anything bad about Russian President Vladimir Putin.  No wonder Trump wants the whole Russia issue to go away.  Da!

Of course, Americans could get a better understanding of Trump's complex business ties with the Russians if he released his tax returns.  During the campaign Trump said he could not release the returns because he is under audit, but promised he would do so when the audit is complete.  However, an audit does not preclude someone from releasing their tax returns to the public.   And Trump has refused to release a copy of the IRS audit letter.  The whole IRS audit claim may be a lie.  However, now his campaign says that Trump will never release his taxes because the American people elected him and they don't care.

The many investigations into Trump's Russian ties appear to be making progress, which may explain why he is tweeting unsubstantiated and outrageous charges about President Obama.  The man who once said "I alone can fix it!" is in a fix, and he is not going to be able to tweet his way out of it.   It appears that he may be losing it.  

There is now an urgent need to get to the truth about President Trump's latest allegations accusing a former U.S. president of illegal wiretapping.  And about the true nature of his ties to Russia.  It is also time for all members of Congress to demand Trump publicly release his taxes so that all potential conflicts of interest are disclosed.  

This is about putting America first--not Donald J. Trump!

Monday, February 20, 2017

Trump's First Month

"I don't think there's ever been a president elected who in this short period of time has done what we've done," declared President Donald Trump in his news conference last week. It is hard to dispute that statement given the unprecedented confusion that has plagued the Trump administration during its first month.  

So far, the Trump transition has been ineptly problematic.  The incompetent rolling out of Trump's travel ban, which appeared to target Muslims, caused enormous chaos at the nation's airports.  The intensified rounding up of immigrants illegally in the U.S. has been heartless and perplexing.  The shaky efforts to "repeal and immediately replace" the Affordable Care Act have mobilized thousands of Obamacare supporters to protest at town halls throughout the country.

Perhaps no president has generated as many widespread global protests against his administration in so little time.   Thousands of protesters took to the streets across America Monday for "Not My President's Day" rallies against Trump's policies.  The opposition covered a wide range of issues, including immigration, women's reproductive rights and climate change.  History was made on the day following Trump's inauguration when an estimated 2.6 million people protested Trump in 673 marches in all 50 states and 32 different countries.

Protests overseas against the president have attracted huge crowds.  President Trump's intention to visit England has activated large protests.  More than 1.85 million people have signed a petition entitled "Prevent Donald Trump from making a State Visit to the United Kingdom."  The petition claimed that the president's vulgar comments about women would "cause embarrassment to Her Majesty the Queen."  As the British Parliament debated whether to withdraw an invitation to the president extended by their prime minister during her recent visit, thousands of protesters rallied outside. 

Trump caused confusion and hard feelings in Sweden when at a Florida rally he called attention to "what is happening last night in Sweden."  The reference was at best oblique, but Trump later tweeted it was the result of a Fox News report linking that country's increase in crime to its acceptance of asylum seekers.  The Swedish embassy responded on Twitter, "We look forward to informing the US administration about Swedish immigration and integration policies."

Trump's praise of Russia's President Vladimir Putin and his frequent criticism of NATO, both running counter to long-standing U.S. policy, have unsettled European allies.  There have been persistent reports that the Trump administration will ease sanctions on Russia relating to its illegal annexation of Crimea and military actions in Ukraine.  This weekend, Vice President Mike Pence attempted to reassure allies.  Speaking at the Munich Security Conference, Pence said, "Know this: The United States will continue to hold Russia accountable, even as we search for new common ground which as you know President Trump believes can be found." 

During a January appearance at CIA headquarters, Trump suggested that the U.S. should have seized the oil during its 2003 invasion of Iraq. "We should have kept the oil," he said, "But okay.  Maybe we'll have another chance."   This played right into the propaganda claims of Mideast opponent's who have always charged that the U.S. only wants the oil.  On his way to Iraq, Defense Secretary Jim Mattis told reporters, "We're not going to seize anybody's oil."   He added, "All of us in America have generally paid for our gas and oil all along and I am sure we will continue to do so in the future." 

Trump has tried to divert attention away from his rocky presidency by blaming the press--a stunt he utilized regularly during his campaign.  Last week Trump tweeted, "The FAKE NEWS media (failing @nytimes, @NBCNews, @ABC, @CBS, @CNN) is not my enemy, it is the enemy of the American People!"   Defense Secretary Mattis disagreed with his boss, saying, "The press, as far as I'm concerned, are a constituency that we deal with, and I don't have any issues with the press myself."   Vice President Pence said he supports a free and independent press while in Brussels.  He added, "But you can anticipate that the president and all of us will continue to call out the media when they play fast and loose with the facts."  Calling out the media is one thing, but declaring it to be the enemy is outrageous.  In Thomas Jefferson's words, "Our liberty cannot be guarded but by the freedom of the press."

In his news conference last week, Trump said, "This administration is running like a fine-tuned machine." But Trump lives in an alternate reality filled with alternative facts.  His popularity ratings are at an historic low for an incoming president since such polls have been taken.  

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If this were a television show, the title would be, "The Apprentice goes to Washington."