Saturday, December 16, 2017

Trump losing favor among Fox watchers

Jonah Goldberg, a Fox News contributor and also a once "Never Trump-er," has written a column about Trump's slide in the polls, even among Fox watchers.  He quotes poll numbers from Suffolk University/USA Today in June, October, and this week:

Trump's favorable rating among people who trust Fox News the most:
   June             90%
   October        74%
   December    58%

That is dramatic !

Blue wave could overtake Ted Cruz too

NBC political analyst Jason Johnson drew the parallel between Roy Moore and Ted Cruz -- not accusing Cruz of sexual misconduct but of both being difficult people for fellow elected officials to deal with.   Johnson said:

"Look, everybody dislikes Ted Cruz because he's a know-it-all and he's obnoxious.   Roy Moore is like Ted Cruz with a Bible."   Johnson is not the only one to see the link.   Former San Antonio mayor and former Obama cabinet member Julian Castro tweeted out this message following Doug Jones' stunning win on Tuesday night:
   "Be afraid, Ted Cruz.  Be very afraid."

So what's this about?  MoveOn.org  has some stats:
   1.  "Donald Trump won Alabama by 28 points.  He won Texas by only 9 points.

   2.  "Trump's approval rating in this week's Alabama exit polls was 48%.   In Texas, it's 45% - and Cruz's approval rating among Texans is even worse -- 38%.

3.  "Jones was a first-time candidate, while Cruz's opponent [Beto O'Rourke] is a popular congressman who is already running neck and neck in the polls and keeping pace with Cruz in fundraising."

The MoveOn memo continues:
"Even before Tuesday, Texas Republicans were worried about Cruz's re-election.   Last month, Governor Greg Abbott's top adviser sent a memo to top donors worrying about a "blue wave" that could sweep away Texas Republicans who usually win easily.

"If they were worried before, they should be in full-on panic mode now. . . . Cruz has been called the most hated man in the Senate.  A lot of Republicans still haven't forgiven him for not endorsing Trump at the Republican National Convention.   And he shares Roy Moore's extremist views on just about every issue.

"If we can win back the Senate, it will cripple the Trump Republican agenda.  And replacing Ted Cruz with a progressive like Beto O'Rourke would make it all the sweeter."

With the Alabama seat flipping, Democrats need to flip only two more senate seats.   Good prospects are Jeff Flake (Arizona) and Dean Heller (Nevada),  Then there's Bob Corker, whose retirement leaves an open seat.   John McCain is not up for reelection, but his health may force him out.

Some are now saying that the senate is a toss-up for 2018.   It should be easier, but the oddities of who is up for re-election make this a terrible year for Democrats who have many more seats to defend than do Republicans.

But that was a powerful blue wave that swept over Alabama.   It wasn't just Roy Moore's scandal and ineptitude.   It was also Trump and the Republican Party itself.

Ralph

Friday, December 15, 2017

Two Trump appointees blocked by Judiciary Committee as unqualified

Two of President Trump's nominees for life-time, federal judge appointments have been blocked by the Senate Judiciary Committee.   The reason?   They were both deemed unqualified.

Initially, the American Bar Association's vetting committee had given them both a "not qualified" rating.   One is the man I wrote about before who has practiced law for only three years and has never tried a case in court.   It later turned out that he had not disclosed the fact that he is married to the chief of staff for President Trump's chief White House Lawyer, Don McGahan.

The other one has a rather checkered past, having conducted a blog that extolled the "first KKK," supposedly one that had a good purpose before they turned bad.  There were other unsavory factors like this, which didn't seem to have any offsetting strengths as a legal scholar or a judicial expert.

Does the Trump administration not vet these people?   Or do they just not care, as long as they can pass the test to vote the Trump way?   I think that field day is over.  After Alabama, the declining approval ratings, the infighting, and the Mueller investigation -- things are going from bad to worse.   And some of the senators are not willing to keep playing the Trump game.

Ralph

The battle over trans military recruits

One of the Obama administration's later accomplishments in its last year in office was the lifting of the ban on transgender people serving in the military services.   So, of course, ideology aside, President Trump would be compulsively driven to overturn the overturn of the ban -- i.e., he issued an executive order reinstating the ban.

It was almost comic in that Trump's first "order" was actually a tweet.  And it was months before he got around to actually issuing the executive order.   In the meantime, the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs responded to questions about their ignoring it by saying something to the effect of:    'a tweet is not an order.'

Then, when the formal order finally came, the Secretary of Defense Gen. Mattis sort of slow-walked it, saying that they would need some time to do an assessment and give the president their best recommendations on the matter.   You see, the military had already dealt with whatever resistance they initially had -- and they were really fine -- based on their own experience -- with accepting transgender troops.

 Someone sued the government over Trump's ban.   Two federal courts have already ruled against it, and [here's what's new] on Monday a federal court in Seattle refused the government's request to place a stay on the execution of the ban, while the lawsuit goes forward to an appeals court.   Refusing to put a stay on an order being appealed usually indicates that the judge doesn't think the appeal would likely win in the end.

Just to be clear, because of all the double negatives:   Obama lifted the ban on trans in the military.   What's being litigated is Trump's attempt to reinstate the ban.   Two courts have so far said No to Trump, and a third court said No to a temporary ban while it's being appealed.   The score thus far:   Trans troops and Obama 3;   Trump and ban 0.

A Pentagon spokesman then promptly announced that it would honor the January 1st date specified for accepting new transgender recruits, even while appeals go forward.  This is a big win -- and another defeat for Trump's efforts to rev up his base.

Ralph

Thursday, December 14, 2017

Trump on Moore's defeat: "I was right!"

Donald Trump never admits to being wrong . . . about anything.   Having gone all out for Roy Moore in the senate race against Democrat Doug Jones, how was he going to handle another defeat that shows he has little political clout?   Here's how.  It came in a pre-dawn tweet.

"I said Roy Moore will not be able to win the General Election. I was right!  Roy worked hard but the deck was stacked against him!"

Duh.   From the wording, this quote has to be from the Republican Primary, when he was supporting Luther Strange against Roy Moore.    If Trump said that when he was supporting Moore as the Republican nominee in the General Election, why would he have said "in the General Election"?  And why would he have lent his presidential clout to backing someone he knew "couldn't win"?

Trump just can't say "My candidate lost."   But he backed Strange in the Primary, and lost.   He backed Moore in the General, and lost.  And he had previously backed Ed Gillespie for governor of Virginia;   Gillespie lost.

Loser.  Sad.   [irony intended].

Ralph

PS:  This is all part of the same psychodynamic that leads Trump to have (or to be) the greatest, biggest, or even the worst . . . of everything.  He's even tried out the line, regarding Mueller's investigation:   "It's the 'greatest' witch hunt against a sitting president in history."


Tillerson "ready to talk with North Korea without preconditions"

Secretary of State Rex Tillerson has set a new tone in saying the US is ready to begin exploratory talks with North Korea "without preconditions"  -- except for one:  talks would begin "only after a period of quiet" without any new nuclear or missile tests from North Korea.

This is a marked shift from President Trump's beligerent tone and rhetoric, in which he denounced and demeaned the North Korean leader and vowed to completely destroy his country if they attacked us.  And they would have to commit to full disarmament before diplomatic talks could begin.

Whether Trump has changed, or whether this is "bad cop/good cop" strategy, or whether Tillerson is going rogue without the president -- remains to be seen.

But, what a relief it feels.   That at least there is one important voice in this matter that seems to value talking, diplomacy, and negotiations.

I like Tillerson's laid back style.   Here's what he said:  "We are ready to talk anytime North Korea would like to talk.  We are ready to have the first meeting without preconditions.   Let's just meet . . .  It's not realistic to say we are only going to talk if you come to the table ready to give up your programThey have too much invested in it. . . .  Let's just meet and . . . talk about the weather . . . or whether it's going to be a square table or a round table if that's what you're excited about."

Tillerson did add that full disarmament is the ultimate goal and that containment is not workable with North Korea, because they would sell off their nuclear weapons to raise money for their impoverished economy.   Tillerson has been having talks  with China on long range plans to handle these and other matters with North Korea.

Ralph

PS:   A spokesman for the White House National Security Council told Reuters:  "Given North Korea's most recent missile test, clearly right now is not the time" to open talks.  So are Tillerson and the White House just not communicating?   Or is this good cop/bad cop tactics?

I'm not sure they are really far apart.   Tillerson says there would have to be "a period of quiet" before talks begin;  and he didn't specify how long that had to be.   So they could patch this up if they choose.   Or, if Trump wants to use it as an excuse to fire Tillerson -- we all, the whole world, will be the losers.    Tillerson's not my first choice for Sec. of State;   but he sure comes in ahead of Donald Trump.

Wednesday, December 13, 2017

A stunning win for Doug Jones in Alabama

It was a nail-biter kind of evening watching Steve Kornacki, with his magic digital board of election returns, calling the Alabama race for U.S. senator on MSNBC.    Guest and former New York Times editor Howell Raines speaking from his home in Alabama, said watching Steve was like watching the broadcast sportscaster of an Alabama Crimson Tide football game.  Yes, it was that exciting.

Jones took an early lead but was soon overtaken by Roy Moore, as the rural counties began to come in.   Then as returns from the college towns and then the big cities began to trickle in, Jones edged up -- until finally, with 98% reporting -- Jones took the lead with a margin of about 11,000.    When it became apparent that the still outstanding vote totals were in the urban areas of Jones' strength, the networks called the race for Doug Jones.

Throughout the evening, Kornacki's number-crunching showed Moore under-performing his own last statewide race which he only narrowly won.  This was true throughout the state.

Moore has a loyal following for whom he could do no wrong.   They see him as "a fine Christian man" who would not do what he is accused of doing by women who were teenagers when he allegedly dated or sexually assaulted them.  He has denied it.   His base say they are lying.

Many other Republicans "held their nose" and voted for him anyway;  because, for them, it was better to send a child molester than a Democrat to represent Alabama in the US Senate.   That vote for Supreme Court justices and anti-abortion legislation overrides anything else, for them.

This was an exciting result of a campaign by a good man running against a man who was unqualified to serve in congress, even if the women's accusations were not true.  (And I believe they are true.)

Moore was twice removed from his elected position as Chief Justice of the Alabama Supreme Court for refusing to obey a federal court decision -- where he put his own religious beliefs above the US Constitution and Supreme Court.  The first time was about separation of church and state, having to do with his Ten Commandments monument he defiantrly had installed in the Supreme Court building.   The other had to do with instructing the county clerks not to obey the US Supreme Court -- i.e., not to issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples following the Court's landmark ruling that recognized gay marriage.  He claimed at the time that the US Supreme Court did not superceed the Alabama state laws.

The losers?    Roy Moore, of course.   Steve Bannon, who is largely responsible for getting Moore the Republican nomination and has promised to remake congress by "primary-ing" any Republicans who are not loyal to Donald Trump.   And then Donald Trump, who endorsed Moore, campaigned for him, and recorded a robo call.   It was a stinging repudiation of the president, who won the state by 28% just one year ago.

The winners?    Doug Jones ran a campaign where they did everything right.   Few people thought he could win, but he did it right, helped by the scandal that apparently did hurt Moore.   Beyond that, the campaign tone was right, the message was good -- especially where a progressive Democrat was running for an office that had not elected a Democrat in 25 years in one of the reddest states that Trump won by  26   28 points just a year ago,

The turnout was the key, especially in the African-American community, which initially was not that energized.   The campaign won them over, and they turned out in bigger numbers than they did for Hillary Clinton.    The national party also played it right -- giving behind the scenes help and funneling money -- but not having a very visible presence in the state.   Alabama strategists know that their people don't like to be told what to do by "outsiders."

Jones' win reduces the political balance in the Senate to 51 to 49, although Mitch McConnell has already declared that Luther Strange, the temporary senator, will remain in office until the new term begins in January.   Which means that they will still have that vote for the tax bill they plan to vote on before the Christmas break.    That's probably legal, because the election vote has to be certified by an election commission before he can be seated, and Republicans are in charge of that, although some special elections have led to the winner being seating the next day.

This election also excites the Democrats with a can-do conviction that they can win again.   We have become so beaten down in spirit by the constant flood of Trumpism, the daily drumbeat of some disaster he has done or said or provoked.  Hey, we won in ALABAMA.   If we can win there, nothing is beyond trying.

And just for the sheer joy of winning again.   Of good and right triumphing over the lies and hypocrisy, and of stopping the destruction of the norms of our civic life.

Congratulations to Doug Jones, a good man who can make Alabamians proud again.

Ralph

Tuesday, December 12, 2017

North Korea signals that it's ready to talk

The Guardian newpaper reported last week that "North Korea is open to direct talks with the US over their nuclear standoff."   Russian foreign minister Sergei Lavrov reportedly passed this message on to Secretary of State Rex Tillerson.

Lavrov was the visiting foreign minister who, along with the Russian ambassador Sergei Kislyak, visited Donald Trump in the Oval Office, where they seemed to have a jolly good time with their ? old friend ? the president.   Who, incidentally, told them that the "Russia thing" had been weighing on him, and he was relieved to have it lifted.

It seems to be reasonable, given that White House connection, that the North Koreans would see Lavrov as a good person to convey this message.   This is a delicate time.  E J. Dionne, writing in the Washington Post, says that we are closer to war than we've been in this conflict with North Korea.   Let's hope that there's someone left in the State Department who knows North Korea, and that Tillerson and Kelly and McMasters can convince Trump not to mess it up.

Ralph

United States UN ambassador says women accusing Trump have a right to be heard

Ambassador to the United Nations Nikki Haley is emerging as one of the best members of the Trump cabinet.    She has developed some influence and power at the U.N., and she seems to have earned Trump's confidence as well -- even when she has not always totally matched his words in speaking about issues.   She's rumored to be the likely replacement as Secretary of State when Tillerson leaves.

On Sunday's "Face the Nation," she was asked about the women who have come forward to accuse their powerful bosses of sexual violations.   She spoke about the cultural shift that has changed the conversation;  and, specifically about the women, she said she applauded them:   "I'm proud of their strength.  I'm proud of their courage."

And what about the women who have accused the president, they asked her how people should assess the president's accusers?   Her answer, according to a Reuters report:   "The same.   Women who accuse anyone should be heard.  They should be heard and they should be dealt with;  and I think we heard them prior to the election.   I think any woman who has felt violated or felt mistreated in any way -- they have every right to speak up.   I know that he was elected, but women should always feel comfortable coming forward and we should all be willing to listen to them."

Haley is threading a delicate needle here.   The White House line is that this was "litigated" during the campaign, and the people elected Donald Trump despite these allegations.   So -- the implication is -- that should settle it.    They've been heard, and the American people still preferred Trump.

Well, no they didn't.    Three million more of us voted for Hillary Clinton.   Trump may have won the electoral college vote to make him president (whether he had help from the Russians is another question.)   But that is not a measure of what the American people want on any other issue.   The electoral college does not decide decency, integrity, and truth.

The fact is, though, Nikki Haley has her job at the pleasure of Donald Trump.  She left a little wiggle room by mentioning the election -- without using it as the dodge that Trump team is doing.   But she was taking some risk.   Good for her.   Let's see what happens.

Ralph

Monday, December 11, 2017

Trump stumps for Moore

President Trump is endorsing Roy Moore, telling a rally crowd that they should vote for Moore.   He also recorded a robo call to be sent out on Monday, saying:  "We need Roy voting for us and stopping illegal immigration and crime, rebuilding a stronger military and protecting the Second Amendment and our pro-life values.

Protect the primitive, undeveloped embryo . . . but not the 14 year old girl she might become, huh?

On a Sunday talk show, Alabama's Republican Senator Richard Shelby said that "Alabama deserves better" than Roy Moore.   He said he voted a write-in candidate and encouraged others to do the same.

Playing "dress-up" with the Middle East

You know how little kids play "dress-up," pretending to be grown-ups and acting out their fantasies of how grown-ups act.   Fortunately, they don't have the power to actually make these things happen . . . which is the main difference that makes our White House's Middle East actions so dangerous.    Donald Trump and Jared Kushner, are like those little kids playing dress-up, thinking they know what to do in the Middle East -- the difference being they have the power to set the whole place on fire.   Real fire.  As in rockets, bombs, and guns.

The Guardian has just posted online an article by Moustafa Bayoumi, an Arab-American writer of "Being Young and Arab in America."
*     *     *     *     *
". . . .  In his role as the president's special advisor, [Jared] Kushner seems to have decided he can remake the entire Middle Ease, and he is wreaking his havoc with his new best friend, Saudi Arabia's crown prince, Mohammed bin Salman, the 32 year old who burst on to the international scene by jailing many members of his country's ruling elite, including from his own family, on corruption charges.

"Days before Salman's unprecedented move, Kushner was with the crown prince in Riyadh on an unannounced trip.  The men are reported to have stayed up late, planning strategy while swapping stories.  We don't know what exactly the two were plotting, but Donald Trump later tweeted his "great confidence" in Salman.

"But the Kushner-Salman alliance moves far beyond Riyadh.  The Saudis and Americans are now privately pushing a new "peace" deal to various Palestinian and Arab leaders that is more lop-sided toward Israel than ever before.

"Ahmad Tibi, a Palestinian parliamentarian in the Israeli Knessdet, explained the basic contours of the deal to the New York Times:   no full statehood for Palestinians, only 'moral sovereignty.'  Control over disconnected segments of the occupied territories only.  No capital in East Jerusalem.  No right of return for Palestinian refugees.

"This is, of course, not a deal at all.  It's an insult to the Palestinian people.  Another Arab official cited in the Times story explained that the proposal came from someone lacking experience but attempting to flatter the family of the American president.  In other words, it's as if Mohammed bin Salman is trying to gift Palestine to Jared Kushner, Palestinians be damned.

"Next came Donald Trump throwing both caution and international law to the wind by recognizing Jerusalem as the capital of Israel."
*     *     *     *     *

Let me interject here for emphasis.   Jared Kushner is an observant, orthodox Jew whose family has known Israeli president Benjamin Netanyahu since Jared was a small boy and Netanyahu visited them in their home in New Jersey.   Mohammed bin Salman is the crown prince of the powerful Arab nation, Saudi Arabia, which practices a conservative branch of Islam, Wahhabism.  This contributes to their rivalry with the Shia majority nation of Iran.

So a deal cooked up by Kushner and Salman -- a conservative Jew and a conservative Muslim -- might seem to have the blessing of both Israelis and Palestinians.   Far from it.

The Kushner/Netanyahu alliance would be selling out what many Israelis -- and most Palestinians, as well as the international community -- want to see as the eventual two state solution.

To add to the complexity religion brings in the region, the Arab Saudis are more closely aligned religiously with the Sunni Palestinians than with the non-Arab, Shia Iranians, but they still have religious differences.   Wahhabism began as a reform movement within the Sunni sect, advocating a return to a purer form of Islam.  Hence, although the Wahhabi Saudis and the Sunni Palestinians have Shia Iran as a common enemy, they are not natural religious allies either.

In short, who is looking out for the interests of the Palestinians?  This complexity seems borne out in the comment above that the Kushner-Salman  plan is "more lop-sided toward Israel than ever before."

Bayoumi goes on to discuss the Saudi's brutal war against Yemen, which has been brought to the brink of humanitarian disaster.  And now the Saudi's are participating with the Emiratis in the blockade against Qatar, which is having a devastating effect on that country's economy.   Bayoumi asserts that the Saudis and Emiratis believe that they have the tacit approval of the Trump administration, even though Trump very belatedly and half-heartedly criticized the blockade.

The Trump-Kushner tilt toward Saudi Arabia -- and these actions of the Saudis -- begin to look like Trump may be encouraging a proxy war between Saudi Arabia and Iran, which backs some of the rebel forces in Yemen and Qatar.

The point for us here is that we have two young men in their thirties, with little knowledge or experience in the complex geopolitical and religious history and culture, who seem to be in charge of a concerted effort to bring peace to the region.   In Bayoumi's inimitable phrase:  ordinarily this "would be the time to bring in the State Department."

But no.   Because, under Donald Trump and Rex Tillerson, the State Department has been hollowed out of the knowledgeable people that would ordinarily be intimately involved in such advisory and negotiating roles.   Trump has not yet appointed ambassadors for:   Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Jordan, Morocco, or Qatar.   The vital post of assistant secretary for Near Eastern affairs is vacant.  No one has been nominated for those positions.

Tillerson himself has been shut out of all of these negotiations that Kushner seemingly is carrying out for his assignment to "bring Middle East Peace."   Even if he were involved, however, Tillerson no longer has the expert under-secretaries  to advise him, as John Kerry and Hillary Clinton did.  Not that Jared Kushner does either.

It's way past time to bring back the adults, to benefit from the experience and knowledge of career diplomats who know the region and its problems.   But Donald Trump likes to play dress-up and pretend to be an adult.   A year ago, the voters recklessly gave him the adult power to go with the dress up role.  He passed some of it on to his son-in-law, just as an aging Saudi king gave a favored young prince the adult power over his kingdom. 

So we are at the mercy of the children . . . . in a complex problem that has evaded even the best of the expert adults.  

Ralph

Sunday, December 10, 2017

Ponder this. Or just chuckle.

Reddit has site by Lee Moran called "Shower Thoughts" that invites people to submit those odd, pithy thoughts that come to you while you're showering -- or any activity that allows your mind to run free when you're separated from your digital devices.    Irony is prized.  Here's my favorite of their "year's best" list.

"If it's a silent night and you sing Silent Night
 it's no longer a silent night."


Republicans "forced" to cut social network spending to pay for tax cuts.

Only the naive or willfully ignorant are surprised.  After all, didn't candidate Trump promise not to touch Social Security and Medicare?

But . . .  isn't this the same Donald Trump who is proven to be one of the world's great con men?  So much so that no New York bank would lend him money any more.

And, of course, it was part of the Republicans' plan from the beginning.   Give tax cuts that mostly benefit the wealthy -- aka "job creators" --  plus a few cosmetic cuts for middle class to make it look generous to all.   And then: "oh-my-gosh, look at the deficit."   Well, we'll just have to cut all those entitlement programs (Social Security and Medicare) to reduce this terrible deficit.

In an article in the Washington Post, Heather Long gives us the numbers.  Just with the proposed tax bill itself:  "Most Americans making less than $86,000 would be worse off, according to a new report by the Tax Policy Center, a nonpartisan think tank."   And that's even before they try to pay for the tax cuts.

Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin's argument that the tax cut would completely pay for itself through economic growth has not been backed up by any independent research, according to Long;  and, in fact, Mnuchin never did release the report he promised from his "hundreds of staff working night and day" to analyze the proposal.    Of course this is true.  It's exactly what they planned.

So now what?   Heather Long continues:   "Trump and House Speaker Paul D. Ryan (R-Wis.) have indicated they plan to take a hard look at welfare spending and other safety-net programs for potential trimming."

Exactly.  That's step 2 in the plan.   You're forced to look for savings.   Perhaps the social safety net can be trimmed of waste, eliminate the fraudulent payments, close the loopholes;  get people off welfare.    But . . . 

"The Tax Policy Center warns in its 'Winners and Losers' report released Friday that paying for the tax cut by reducing programs that help the poor and lower middle class would leave many Americans in the bottom 60 percent in a worse spot than they would have been without the GOP tax bill. . . .  

“In other words, they will lose more from the financing mechanisms than they will gain from the tax cuts themselves."

The Tax Policy Center analyzed the figures using three different scenarios:  (1) each household pays the same amount to fund the tax cuts;  (2) each household pays the same percentage of its income to fund the cuts;  and (3)  each household pays in proportion to its taxable income.   Their conclusion:   the three scenarios produced similar results for the Senate tax bill.  "These results emphasize that there are no free lunches in tax reform."

Arguments from the White House Economic Adviser, Gary Cohn, and from most Republicans, emphasize the nebulous idea of "growth stimulus," with wild predictions for economic growth that are disputed by droves of economists.  If you really want to stimulate the economy, it's been proven again and again:   give the money to people who will spend it;  not the people who will invest it or save it or buy real estate -- give it to people who will buy things, thus increasing demand, and thus stimulating growth.   The other way is for the government to spend money on things like infrastructure, thus creating jobs.

But Republicans still cling to their precious trickle down economics that just does not work.    And they're trying it . . . once again.     It all exposes their real purpose in this "tax reform:"    Tax cuts for the very very rich.

Ralph

Saturday, December 9, 2017

Sometimes they say the strangest things

[I wrote this several days ago, but kept postponing it as bigger news broke each day.   So it may be a little stale.]

1.  One of Trump's lawyers, John Dowd, says that he himself authored Trump's email which some have interpreted as evidence of obstruction of justice [implying that Trump knew Flynn lied to the FBI earlier than he has acknowledged.]  But Dowd went further and declared that "The president cannot obstruct justice because he is the chief law enforcement officer under the Constitution and has every right to express his view of any case."   The sounds ominously like Richard Nixon's "When the president does it, it's not a crime."   Team Trump is in dangerous territory when echoes of Nixon are the natural response to what they claim.

2.  Billy Bush, -- the former TV host who was Trump's enabler (and eager audience) on the Hollywood Access tape -- has said about that tape:   "Of course he (Trump) said it."   He was referring to Trump's recent attempt to claim that it's not really his voice, suggesting it was a doctored tape.    But his prime witness has now said, oh course it was him.   Bush has more than a little reason to be pissed:   he lost his job over  just listening (and giggling) to Trump's bragging  -- while Trump, the grabber, got elected president.

3.  Iowa Senator Chuck Grassley, a member of the Senate Finance Committee, told the Des Moines Register why he favors getting rid of the estate tax.  "I think not having the estate tax recognizes the people that are investing as opposed to those that are just spending every penny they have, whether it's on booze or women or movies."    Indignant responses have been swift, especially from people who say they spend every penny on rent, groceries, and medical bills.   It's not the first time Grassley has been tone deaf, but this may be his worst.  In effect, he's saying:  People are poor because they're lazy and self-indulgent and just want someone to take care of them.

4.  The Alabama Republicans are in a dilemma.   Since they were unable to get Moore to drop out of the race for senator, and since write-in candidates usually lose, what to do?   In a recent article in the conservative publication The Federalist, Tully Borland suggests electing Moore and then supporting the Senate in not seating him.  As to the objection some might have for "voting for a sex offender," he says:  "All voting is voting for the lesser of two evils."   He frames the choice between "a child molester" or a "baby killer," referring to Doug Jones' strong pro-choice position.   Another writer for The Federalist, Hans Fiene, objected to Borland's point;  instead, he says, "The lesser of two evils is still evil. . . . [and] his name is on the ballot because we put it there," and we should take responsibility for it.   Yes, and what about all the other reasons that Moore is unfit for the position (see ShrinkRap, Dec 4).

5.  In Donald Trump, Jr. testimony before the House Intelligence Committee this week, he acknowledge that he had talked with his father about the June 9th meeting in Trump Tower with the Russian group.   But he declined to say what was said, based on his bizarre claim of "lawyer-client" privilege -- despite the fact that neither he nor his father is an attorney.   But, you see, they had a lawyer listening in to the conversation.   Numerous legal experts have said this is ludicrous.   To me, such evasion is an admission that one or both of them would be in serious legal jeopardy if the content became known.

Ralph

Since I wrote the above, Roy Moore has dug his hole a little deeper.   A comment he made back in September has resurfaced, and it has sparked a storm on social media.  When asked when he thought America was last great, Moore chose the period in our history that included slavery.  As reported by the LA Times in September, Moore said:  I think it was great at the time when families were united.  Even though we had slavery, they cared for one another. ... Our families were strong, our country had a direction,”

FAMILIES  WERE  UNITED?    United?  Like the ones left behind in Africa when one family member was kidnapped and shipped to America on a slave ship?   Or the ones that might appear together in the US on a slave auction block -- and then be separated as bidders bought some of the family and not others, often separating parent from child, husband from wife?

OUR  COUNTRY  HAD  A  DIRECTION?    Until 13 states seceded and our country fought a bloody civil war . . . over slavery.

If this man gets elected;   and if the Senate agrees to let him in -- then he should be required to take a course on US History and study the Constitution . . .  and then pass an exam on both.                                    

Friday, December 8, 2017

Something to heed -- and worry about.

Roger Cohen, writing in the New York Times about the plight of the Rohingya Muslims in Myanmar, had this worrisome, important point we should heed:

"The destruction in the distinction between
truth and falsehood
is the foundation of dictatorship."


Jerusalem decision was more political than diplomatic

The New York Times says that, for Trump, "the status of Jerusalem was always more a political imperative than a diplomatic dilemma."'  Trump spent much of his first year courting Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Jordan, and some of the Gulf States.   Now it was time to keep the promise he had made to his Jeiwish supporters.

When we speak of Trump's base, we usually mean the angry, working class white people and evangelical Christians.   But Trump had specifically made a campaign promise to the powerful American-Israel lobby -- and, particularly to casino billionaire and supporter of Israel, Sheldon Adelson, who had given $20 million to a Trump political action committee, as well as another $1.5 million to the RNC organizing committee.   Adelson has stayed in touch, always reminding Trump of his promise.

Thursday, one day after the announcement, Trump got his reward:   a full page ad in the New York Times, proclaiming in big letters:

"President TrumpYou PromisedYou Delivered." 

"Thank you for courageously recognizing Jerisalem
as Israel's Eternal Capital"

"Mr. President, history will honor you as one of
Israel's greatest friends.

It's signed:  "Republican Jewish Coalition."

Trump has exchanged the possibility of Middle East peace for one day of glory for himself, plus guaranteed financing for his 2020 campaign . . .  if he's still around to run.

Ralph

Thursday, December 7, 2017

Trump's recognizing Jerusalem as Israel's capital = "an act of diplomatic arson"

On Wednesday afternoon, President Trump formally announced:  "It is time to officially recognize Jerusalem as the capital of Israel," thus reversing seven decades of U.S. policy and going against the pleading advice and dire predictions of world leaders from Arab countries (Palestine, Jordan, Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Turkey. etc.), as well as leaders of France, Britain, China, the European Union, Pope Francis, and other of our close allies.  Tue U.N. expressed grave concern.   Only Israel -- and billionaire and Israel supporter, Sheldon Adelson -- have praised the move.

But Trump said that past approaches to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict had not moved the peace process forward.  "This is a long overdue step to advance the peace process and to work towards a lasting agreement."   He also indicated that the process of moving the U.S. embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem would begin.

To contextualize Trump's action, I quote at length from the excellent article by Jonathan Freedand, a columnist for The Quardian.  He published this prior to Trump's formal announcement but with the understanding that it was coming.
*     *     *     *     *  
"Not content with taking the US to the brink of nuclear conflict with North Korea, Donald Trump is now set to apply his strategy of international vandalism to perhaps the most sensitive geopolitical hotspot in the world.  With a speech [in which he is] expected to recognize Jerusalem as the capital of Israel and reaffirm a pledge to move the US embassy to the city, he is walking into a bone-dry forest with a naked flame.

"For the status of Jerusalem is the most intractable issue in what is often described as the world's most intractable conflict.  It is the issue that has foiled multiple efforts at peacemaking over several decades.  Both Israelis and Palestinians insist that Jerusalem must be the capital of their states, present and future, and that that status is non-negotiable.

"Bur it's not just important to them.  The Old City of Jerusalem contains the holiest site in Judaism and the third holiest mosque in Islam, to say nothing of its enormous significance to Christians, meaning that even the slightest move there is felt by billions.   It is a place where diplomats have learned to tread with extreme care.   There is a reason why no US administration, no matter how pro-Israel, has changed its policy toward the city in the nearly 70 years since Israel's founding.

"But here comes Trump, oblivious to precedent and indeed history -- even in a place where history is a matter of life and death -- stomping through this delicate thicket, trampling over every sensitivity.   The risk is obvious, with every Arab government -- including those loyal to Washington -- now issuing sharp warnings on the perils of this move, almost all of them using the same word:  'dangerous'.

"Let us be clear.   Most advocates of an eventual two-state solution believe the only way to resolve the Jerusalem issue is for it to serve as the capital of both states:  East Jerusalem as the capital of Palestine, West Jerusalem as the capital of Israel.  Then, and only then, would be the right moment to start moving embassies and issuing statements of recognition.  Until that day, any act that pre-empts an agreement between the two parties on the city's future is reckless and needlessly incendiary.

"How incendiary?   Recall that the second intifada -- which turned into a bloody two or more years of death for Israelis at the hands of Palestinian suicide bombers, and death for Palestinians at the hands of the Israeli military -- started after a 45 minutes visit in late 2000 by the then leader of the Israeli opposition, Ariel Sharon, to the place that represents the nuclear core of this most radioactive conflict, the site Muslims call the Haram al-Sharif and Jews call the Temple Mount.  Bear that in mind when you hear the Palestinian ambassador to London say that Trump's move amounts to 'declaring war on 1.5 billion Muslims'.

"Why is Trump doing it?   Perhaps he wants to show that he's honouring his campaign pledges:  now, along with his tax cut for the rich and his travel ban from mainly Muslim countries, he can tick the box marked Jerusalem.  He said he would do it, and now he's doing it, and to hell with the consequences.  That's a style of politics his base -- including those Christian evangelicals hawkish on Israel -- seem to like.

"The rest of the world will draw some comfort from the fact that no immediate move of the embassy is imminent;  that it may not even happen before Trump's term expires in January 2021.  Perhaps this will be like Trump's break from the Paris accords on climate change -- more symbolic than concrete.

"But that is to forget that in the Israel-Palestine conflict, symbols matter.  Which is why other world leaders, and senior US politicians, need to close ranks in saying this act is wrong and does not speak for them.   They need to signal that a saner policy might prevail once Trump has gone.  The trouble is that by then, given the way violence in that region can spread and escalate, it might be too late."

*     *     *     *     *
Yes.  Now, what will he break next?    "Bull in a china shop" is not the right metaphor for Donald Trump.   It's more like a child having a continuous tantrum -- just lashing out and destroying everything, just because the grown-ups tell you not to do it.

Ralph

PS:  On the other hand, a later article on Vox.com -- while decrying Trump's action and saying he "touched the third rail of Israeli-Palestinian conflict" -- also said that Trump's announcement could have been worse.   First, he did not, as he might have, speak of an "undivided" Jerusalem.  Second, he did call for keeping the status quo for now, and his rhetoric was more restrained than usual.  Third, he left open the possibility for a two state solution with West Jerusalem and East Jerusalem as the capitals for Israel and Palestine, respectively.   But that's not much comfort when most commentators are using metaphors of this setting off fires and explosions and violent protests. 

Wednesday, December 6, 2017

Mueller and Trump both cross a red line

Some time back, in response to a question to Trump as to whether there was a red line that Mueller might cross that would lead to his firing, Trump agreed that it could be going into his and his family's financial history.  According to a report by Reuters, Mueller has begun to do just that.

Mueller has asked Deutsche Bank for information on accounts held by the Trump family.   Because Trump is considered such a poor loan risk -- after six bankruptcies and a reputation for not paying what he owes contractors -- no bank in New York has been willing to lend him money for years.  None, that is, other than Deutsche Bank, a German bank that has a branch in New York.

On Tuesday afternoon, Trump ignored reporters' questions about this.   His personal lawyer, Jay Sekulow, released a statement saying they had confirmed with the bank that there had been "no subpoena" for financial records.   That does not rule out what was reported:   that Mueller had "asked" the bank for information on the accounts.

However, the reporter for Bloomberg News who broke the story was interviewed by MSNBC's Ari Melber.  He reaffirmed his story, saying that he had a source who works in Deutsche Bank who said they had received a subpoena.  Reuters news service and others had also said that the back was actually quite willing to cooperate and welcomed the official order to produce records on the Trumps.   Lacking a subpoena from congressional committees, they had had to deny their request for the same thing earlier.
*     *     *
The red line that Trump seems to have crossed on Tuesday was his decision to move the U.S. embassy in Israel from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem and recognize it as the capital of Israel.   According to a report by Reuter's news:
"U.S. endorsement of Israel's claim to all of Jerusalem as its capital would reverse long-standing U.S. policy that the city's status must be decided in negotiations with the Palestinians, who want East Jerusalem as the capital of their future state.   The international community does not recognize Israeli sovereignty over the entire city, home to sites holy to the Muslim, Jewish and Christian religions.
"Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, Jordan's King Abdullah, Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi and Saudi Arabia's King Salman, who all received phone calls from Trump, joined a mounting chorus of voices warning that unilateral U.S. steps on Jerusalem would derail a fledgling U.S.-led peace effort and unleash turmoil in the region."
Israel already claimed Jerusalem proper, and they captured the Palestinian East Jerusalem during the 1967 war.   It's fate has been a subject of bitter contention ever since.   Reuter's reports that the European Union, the Palestinian Authority, Saudi Arabia and the Arab League -- as well as some career officers in the U.S. State Department -- all have warned that such U.S. action would have serious repercussions across the region.  So did France's president Macron.

One of Trump's campaign promises was that he would move the embassy to Jerusalem, which would satisfy the Israeli's and the pro-Israeli lobby in the U.S.  Officials had hoped that Trump would settle for the less drastic announcement of recognizing Jerusalem as the capital but delaying the embassy move for at least another six months.

Knowing that Trump's decisions often are either just impulsive or are made for some other effect, one has to wonder if these two red-line crossings are related.   I don't mean to imply a substantive link -- just that, with Trump increasingly enraged over the Mueller investigation and his inability to squash it, perhaps he was unable to restrain his impulsiveness on this question.

In the end, his motivation doesn't really matter.    The important thing is that it's one more example of Trump dismantling policy and tossing a match into a gasoline can.   In the case of Israel's capital and our embassy, he just reversed the U.S. policy of seven decades duration.  It has now become as dependable as sunset:   If there is anything that Barack Obama did or stood for, Trump will try to undo it, oppose it, or destroy it.

This one could really blow up any Middle East peace efforts for some time.   An Arab-Israeli lawmaker sent out a statement calling Trump "a pyromaniac who could set the region on fire with his madness.  It proves that the US can't be the sponsor of negotiations."  The US consulate in Jerusalem warned its employees and all American citizens to be prepared for violent protests and possible attacks.

Poor Jared.  Leading the Middle East peace effort was perhaps his most cherished project in the ridiculously extensive portfolio assigned to him by his father-in-law.   Just last week he gave an optimistic report to a group of Arab leaders about the prospects for his peace plan actually working.  Trump just blew that one up.

Ralph

Tuesday, December 5, 2017

The astonishing hypocrisy of Republicans on budget deficits -- Ezra Klein

Ezra Klein, co-founder of Vox.com, is one of my favorite truth-tellers.   He's known, not for hyping sensational news, but for carefully explaining major stories, their backgrounds, and what to expect going forward.    Hence the importance of his comments on the Senate budget bill, as well as Republicans' general approach to legislating these days.    Here are some excerpts:

"There is a long-running, almost metaphysical, argument about the GOP's deficit hawkery.   One school of thought holds that it has always been pure cynicism.   Republicans passed the Bush tax cuts without offsets and paid for neither Medicare Part D nor the Iraq War.    When they began decrying the deficit and debt during President Obama's administration, under this theory, it was nothing but opportunistic political attacks, and it was obvious they would be abandoned as soon as Republicans regained power.

"The response many Republicans gave was that the party had lost its way under George W. Bush, but it had recognized its mistakes and rediscovered its fiscally conservative soul.   The Tea Party and its relentless campaign of primary challenges was proof the Republican Party had changed, and would stay changed.

"The House and Senate passage of the GOP tax bills shows the cynics had it right."

Klein goes on to illustrate conservatives' obeisance -- during the Obama era -- to the mantra of debt horror.   He quotes from a 2011 Paul Ryan speech, proclaiming, "The facts are very, very clear.   The United States is headed towards a debt crisis."  And yet . . . . [back to Klein's article]:

"Today, Paul Ryan is the speaker of the House of Representatives , , , , shepherding forward a tax bill that is expected to add more than a trillion [with a T] dollars to the national debt in the first 10 years and, if their tax cuts are extended as they hope, far more after that.  They are doing so despite years of arguing that the national debt is the most severe problem facing the United States, despite running for reelection promising balanced budgets and fiscal restraint.

"'The hypocrisy is astounding,' says Marc Goldwein, policy director at the Center for a Responsible Federal Budget. . . .  The nihilism extends to process too.   Republicans complained bitterly during the Obama administration that Democrats weren't holding enough hearings, that they weren't leaving sufficient time to read final bill text, that they were passing important legislation on party-line votes, that they were using the budget reconciliation process improperly.

"Now they are passing sweeping tax reform through the budget reconciliation process with no hearings, no effort at bipartisan compromise, and bill text that was not made public until hours before the final vote.   In a darkly comic twist, changes were handwritten into legislation in the final hours."

[A video was tweeted out by Democratic Senator Jon Tester holding his copy of the 479 page bill, which he said he had received just 25 minutes before the scheduled vote on the bill.   And then he showed a page with margins filled with handwritten, sometimes unreadable changes in the margins.]   Back to Klein:

"There is no framework under which these moves appear principled, no explanation under which the cynicism abates.    Some Republicans have tried to argue that the tax bill will pay for itself through increased economic growth;  but there is not a single economic analysis that agrees;  the Joint Committee on Taxation, for instance, says the law will add a trillion dollars to the deficit even accounting for economic growth.

"Perhaps that is why even Paul Ryan sounds embarrassed making these claims.  'I'm telling you that's what I believe will happen;  I'm not going to tell you I'm sure,' he said."
*     *     *
I'll summarize the rest of Klein's article, generally on the theme of "Nihilism begets nihilism," and "hypocrisy begets hypocrisy."   In short, Democrats got loudly chastised by Republicans for the growing deficit, which had largely resulted from Bush's unpaid-for Medicare Rx drug plan, for the Iraq war, and for the economic recession that Bush left for Obama to handle.

In spite of that, Democrats worked extra hard to find ways to pay for the Affordable Care Act, even to being criticized especially for the parts that were put in to make it work and largely pay for itself, rather than just running up the deficit as the Republicans did . . . . and are now about to repeat.

So Klein wonders what the Democrats will do when they come back into power?   Will they say we were fools to play by the rules when our opponents don't -- and adopt Republican ways with the budget?

Here's the other thing that Klein did not focus on but I will.   It's as sure as death and taxes that Republicans are already planning to use the expanding deficit and debt -- that they are causing -- by insisting they have to cut entitlement spendingAnd then there goes Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid -- as well as much else in the social safety net.   Some of it is already in these tax bills they're passing.

Ralph