Saturday, February 25, 2017

Steve Bannon's agenda: "Deconstruction of the administrative state"

Igor Bobic reports that Steve Bannon spoke at the Conservative Political Action Conference and warned that the situation between the Trump administration and the "fourth estate" (the media) will only get worse.

And sure enough it did -- today.   A closed-door press briefing with Sean Spicer was held Friday afternoon that excluded the New York Times, CNN, the Huffington Postand Politico.  The Associated Press and Time magazine were allowed;  but, out of solidarity with the principle of freedom of the press, they did not attend.   A reporter for the Wall Street Journal did attend, but the paper announced that they will not attend such an event in the future.

This is a continuation of the Trump administration's war against a critical press.   He has said that the media is the opposition party;  and later he amended that to:  "The media is the enemy of the American people."

This president seems to have one criterion for evaluating the media:   whether they say nice things about him.   By his definition, critical news is fake news.  Need I add:  every step Trump takes to silence the press is an attack on democracy and a step toward totalitarianism.

Calling the press the fourth estate is saying that its importance ranks alongside the three major branches of government in a democracy.  In fact, its vital role in a democracy cannot be over-emphasized.

We should be very worried.   Steve Bannon is the mastermind behind the Trump throne.  In that same speech to the CPAC meeting, he clarified his intentions:  (1) the "deconstruction of the administrative state" and (2) defeat of the "corporatist, globalist media."

These are parlous times -- so much so that they call for fancy words like "parlous" that seem to be reserved for such dire circumstances.   It means perilous but, by its rarety, it conveys something extraordinary.   So I repeat:   These are parlous times.

We cannot do without a courageous, honest, and yes, a critical press.   Buy a newspaper.


Friday, February 24, 2017

DeVos loses fight on trans bathrooms to Sessions

We can't quite call Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos a hero, since she ultimately gave in to power, unlike Sally Yates who got fired by Trump for refusing to defend his immigration ban in court.   But DeVos at least took a stand in opposition to Attorney General Jeff Sessions' intention to overturn Obama's guidelines for schools on bathrooms for trans kids.

In doing so, she seemed to understand the plight of kids having to share bathrooms with what feels to them like the opposite sex.   For them, it's the same as a teenage girl having to use the boys' bathroom.  Think about that.

The right-wing lawmakers just don't seem to get this.   They're so fixated on their fantasy of randy men dressing up as women in order to gain access to women or girls in a restroom.   Whoo-eee !!!   Their fantasies must be wild.  Shame on you guys.  That is not the problem.

And its so far from the truth.  A better example for them to consider, since she's become so well known, would be the sexily dressed Caitlyn Jenner.  Which restroom do they think she should use?

Or, rather, the real example they should consider, is the shy, trans girl who severely restricted her intake of fluids so she could get through the school day without having to go to the bathroom, because it was such an uncomfortable experience for her.

In order to rescind Obama's directive, both the Education and the Justice Departments had to approve it.   DeVos initially opposed overturning it, but she was pressured by Sessions.  In the end, President Trump gave his support to his Attorney General.   And DeVos had to give in or . . . ?   So far the track record for displeasing the president seems to be getting fired, like Sally Yates.

Sessions fell back on the old dodge of kicking it down to the state and local people to decide.  What this means is that there is no longer any federal protection for the civil rights of trans people.   Jeff Sessions wins round one in reversing the Obama progress on civil rights.  Just wait until he starts in on not protecting voting rights.

DeVos did ask that the directive include a statement that schools must protect transgender students from bullying.  Whether it remains in the final version remains to be seen.  But she did seem genuinely to understand and to want protection for these kids.  Sessions, on the other hand, seems ready to gut, quite gleefully, any civil rights protections he can get away with.


Thursday, February 23, 2017

Muslims unite to repair Jewish cemetery

The shocking damage done by vandals to the Jewish cemetery in Missouri, where nearly 200 monuments and grave markers were damaged, has prompted another crowd-funding good works on the Muslim online site, "Launch Good."

This is a site I discovered a while back when they were raising money to help black churches damaged by arsonists.   In short, this is a site that provides a forum for anyone to start a crowd fund-raiser for various kinds of good works.   It is sponsored by Muslims, but more and more their good works are inspiring others to join them in contributions.

Thus far, this particular project has raised $100,000, five times what their initial goal was.   One of the sponsors is Linda Sarsour, a Muslim activist who has been a guest several times on MSNBC new shows.   She's a very impressive, highly intelligent and well-informed young woman.  She was one of the sponsors of the Women's March.   In fact, she's become well known enough that she is now receiving death threats.    For doing good works -- her offense apparently being that her work exposes the hatred that she opposes.   And perhaps for destroying the false image the anti-Muslim crowd tries to instill of all Muslims as terrorists.

Anyone who might want to join me in contributing to this fund started by Muslims to help Jews, go to the web site:


Blatant abuse of power and conflict of interest

We've been worried about this president's conflicts of interest, but mostly in how he might make decisions, or use his influence, as president to benefit his private business.  Here's an example of a different type -- the abuse of power that he has as president to influence the way he is covered by the media.

When it was announced that son-in-law Jared Kushner would become a senior adviser to the president, I had mixed feelings about it.  On the one hand, for all the reasons we think nepotism is a bad thing and actually have laws that forbid it for every government official except the president.

On the other hand, Jared seems like such a nice guy, and there are all those reports that he and Ivanka were really liberals and maybe even Democrats before Daddy decided to levitate to the Oval Office.    It seemed like the two of them were among the few rational people that Trump might listen to.  So, I thought, maybe all in all, Jared would be a good influencemaybe even a calming and reasoning influence.

Well, now it looks like the influence has gone the other way around.  Yes, I'm suggesting that daddy-in-law may have corrupted son-in-law.   Because here is such a blatant example of abuse of power, executed by Jared for the president, that I am dumbfounded that it hasn't gotten more coverage.

It's well known that Trump is furious with CNN and its coverage of him.   He's barred CNN from the press room, he broadcasts derogatory tweets about them, he denounces them at his rallies.

It turns out that CNN's parent company is Time-Warner.   And Time-Warner is in negotiations to be bought out by AT&T in an $88.4 billion deal.   There's one hold-up.  The deal is awaiting government approval.   Mergers and buyouts at this high level that might affect the overall economy or a particular industry are regulated and must be approved.

You see the set up here?    Time-Warner very much wants this deal to go through.   Their subsidiary company CNN is displeasing the president.   Or, as one reporter (whose name I regret got lost in my transferring saved articles) put it:   "What the fuck is the WH doing whining to a corporation about bad press from their owned subsidiary when that corporation is right now under federal review for a proposed merger?

That's right.   According to a Wall Street Journal report, Jared Kushner "met with top executives at Time Warner . . . to express his concern about 'unfair coverage slanted against the president.'"   Kushner met with Time Warner VP of corporate marketing and communications Gary Ginsberg in a meeting at the White House and complained about the 'unfair coverage slanted against the president.'  Kushner has also met with Jeff Zucker, CNN Worldwide President, the same Jeff Zucker who first put Trump's "The Apprentice" on the air. 

Add to this the fact that, during the campaign, Trump himself had said that he would not allow this deal to go through.  Is there any mistake in the current message from the Trump administration?   If you want this dealcall off your reporters and pundits and make them say nice things about the president.

Apparently, despite his clean-cut, devoutly observant, Nice Jewish Boy image, Kushner is quite willing to use the power of the presidency to get what the president wants.

According to the reports, the complaint was general about the CNN coverage but also specifically referred to Ana Navarro and Van Jones.   Navarro was not silenced.   Using the president's favorite means of communicating, she sent out scathing tweets, calling him "Little Jared" and "baby boy," laughing out loud that "Little boy Kushner, tough guy who's supposed to achieve Middle East peace, is complaining about me to CNN.   Boo-hoo!"

Risky?  Probably not.   By going so public with it, she practically guarantees that CNN cannot fire her, or even publicly chastise her, without exposing the Trump team's attempt to blackmail a network.


Wednesday, February 22, 2017

"I've been angry, I've been sad, been disappointed. But I've never been ashamed, until now."

Victor Klemperer's grandfather was only 8 years old when he fled the pogroms in Russia and came to the United States all by himself.

Years later, the young Victor listened to his grandfather's stories about the pogroms and the concentration camps, and he was terrified that the same could happen to him, even though they lived in the United States, the world's greatest democracy.

He was eventually able to overcome this fear by reasoning that their home was only three hours from Canada.  They could always escape across the border to freedom in Canada.

Now the adult Victor works with the Sanctuary Movement, helping refugees resettle in the U.S.   But suddenly a new president and his supporters are demonizing refugees as dangerous, possibly terrorists.  This rhetoric coming from the highest office -- now coupled with stories of ICE deportation squads rounding up immigrants, handcuffing them, separating families to send the "illegals" back to where they came from -- makes it hard for refugees to feel safe, even those who have already passed "extreme vetting."  If this new president and his angry supporters don't want them here, how can they feel safe, given what they've been through?

And now there are stories in the news that some of them, out of fear, are trying to escape from the United Statesacross the border into Canada.  What a travesty that public opinion and deliberate misinformation have created a fear of deportation even among those who have passed all the vetting tests and have a right to be here.

Klemperer writes:  "I realize the old demons are back  This time they are not the product of an overwrought child's imagination.  This time they are walking among us.  They are working in plain sight.  They saturate our airwaves and news feeds.  They are not coy about their agenda. . . .  They are clear as a winter day and twice as cold.  This time is different and it's different in a very specific and disturbing way.  The difference between what I see now and what I imagined as a child is this:  I'm not scared.  I'm ashamed."

Klemperer continues:  "The stories of people risking their lives to escape over the U.S. border for freedom in Canada makes it painfully clear.  We are no longer claiming the mantle of "land of the free" or "the shining city on the hill" for the huddled masses yearning to breathe free.  I hate to say it, but I'm glad Grandpa didn't live to see this.  It would have broken his heart."

It's not clear to me whether those in the news stories trying to get over the Canadian border are actual refugees or whether they are undocumented immigrants who are being rounded up by the ICE deportation squads.   In truth, the conflation of those two groups in the misinformation chatter is making it all much worse.

My point is the changing perception of what our country stands for.  In a short span of time, Trump has changed that.

In contrast, many thanks to the compassionate people all over the country who are standing up for refugees who are here legally -- and also standing up for those who have lived here for years as law-abiding, hard-working contributors to our society, even if undocumented.  Let's figure out a humane immigration reform that does not divide families, while still keeping us safe.   Creating terror in young children -- for political gain -- is not the answer, Mr. Trump.


Tuesday, February 21, 2017

Trump's associates contradict what he has said

We know that President Trump speaks in falsehoods on a daily basis.   Some of them are minor, but some of them affect international relations.  His closest staff (Priebus, Spicer, Conway, Bannon) back him up, usually repeating the lies.

But lately, some of his non-political staff have begun to simply say contradictory things, without bothering to call attention to the discrepancy.   For example:  Defense Secretary Mattis simply told the Iraqis that the U.S. has no intention of taking its oil (despite Trump saying that's what we should have done).   He has also stated that the press is not the enemy of the American people and that we need an independent press, even if they sometimes become our adversaries.   Even before being nominated, Mattis told Trump that torture does not work, which -- for a day or two -- seemed to have influenced Trump's thinking, before he began saying that he still believes it works, but he will defer to his Defense Secretary on the question.

Vice President Pence has also spent some time on his European trip trying to reassure our allies that the U.S. will fully and vigorously back NATO, despite Trump's earlier threats to pull out.   And our United Nations Ambassador Nikki Haley has made several statements to that group that differ from what Trump has said.  Former campaign manager Corey Lewandowski said that there were no buses bringing people over the Massachusetts border to vote illegally in New Hampshire, a claim that Trump repeated as late as last week.

We need these adults to try to undo the damage done by child Donny when he dresses up and pretends to be President.   But it is embarrassing to have elected someone who needs this kind of "handling."


Monday, February 20, 2017

Republican Sen. John McCain and Fox News host Shep Smith both take on Trump

The debacle that is the Trump presidency is no longer just a concern of Democrats.   Behind the scenes reports describe Republican congress members as increasingly horrified and worried.  This weekend, two important voices went public.

Sen. John McCain (R-AZ) told NBC News' Chuck Todd on "Meet the Press" that:  "We need a free press.  We must have it.  It's vital. . . .  If you want to preserve democracy as we know it, you have to have a free, and many times adversarial, press. . . .  Without it, I am afraid that we would lose so much of our individual liberties over time.   That's how dictators get started.

"They get started by suppressing the free press, in other words, a consolidation of power.   When you look at history, the first thing that dictators do is shut down the press.  And I'm not saying that President Trump is trying to be a dictator.  I'm just saying we need to learn the lessons of history."

We get the message, Sen. McCain.   You can't say it, but we can.  Trump may not think he is trying to be a dictator.   But his concept of himself as president is coming closer and closer to what actually defines a dictator.

Meanwhile, over at Fox News, news anchor Shep Smith responded to the Trump press conference of last Thursday.   Smith has often proved himself to be a voice of sanity among the crowded din that is Fox News.   He proves himself once again.   Saying "It's sort of our job to let you know when things are said that aren't true, especially by people that you've elected.  And this president keeps telling untrue things, and he does it every single time he's in front of the microphone.  It's demonstrable.  I can rewrap the tape for you.   There were a lot of them today.  Some of them aren't very big, but they're coming from the president of the United States.

"Today, he said "I had the biggest electoral win since Ronald Reagan.   He didn't.  But he says it repeatedly, over and over again,  And every time he says it, it's not true. . . again.   Is it a big thing?   No.  But he's the one who brings it up.  Nobody asked about his electoral college win.  

"And here's another thing.  One of the biggest questions that people asking questions have right now is, 'What is this relationship with Russia?'   When Russia was hacking into the  election . . . your guys were on the phone with the Russians.   Did you talk about that?  We don't get a straight answer on this question, which leads us to keep asking the question.   And then he says that Russia is a ruse, it's fake news.  'The leaks are real, but the news is fake.'  So, that's impossible. . . . It's very confusing."

Smith then criticized Trump for trying to blame the reporters and to delegitimize negative stories.  "It's crazy what we're watching every single day.  It's absolutely crazy. . . . He keeps repeating ridiculous throwaway lines that are not true at all . . . avoiding this issue of Russia as if we're some kind of fools for asking the question.  Really?   We're fools for asking the questions?  No sir, we are not fools for asking the questions.  And we demand to know the answer to this question."
*     *     *
WOW !    That's stronger language than I've heard on MSNBC.   But right on target, Shep.   Keep it up.


Sunday, February 19, 2017

Something lighter for the weekend

Pulitzer Prize winning novelist and short story writer Annie Proulx ("Brokeback Mountain") often works humorous set pieces into her stories.  Here's one from The Shipping News.

A man is moving a grandfather clock along an icy street, and it gets away from him.  He's hanging on as it slides down a hill, and he and the clock bump into an old lady, and they all fall into a snowbank.  The old lady brushes herself off and says to the guy:  "Why don't you wear a wristwatch like everybody else?"

What do we know about Trump and Russia?

Credit to Mark Sumner of DailyKos for some of the background on this.

In his Thursday press conference, President Trump was extravagant in his denial that he had anything to do with Russia or Russians:   "I have no business in Russia.  I don't owe money to Russians.  I don't talk to anyone in Russia, because I don't know anyone to talk to."  He insisted that all the fake news about him and Russia, is "a ruse."

Methinks he doth protest too much.   It's well known that he has done business in Russia.  He used to brag about it and his Miss Universe pageant in Moscow, claiming that he knew how to negotiate with the Russians.   We know that Paul Manafort, his second campaign manager, has a long history and financial connections with Russian-leaning Ukrainians.  We know that his Secretary of State, Rex Tillerson, as chairman of Exxon-Mobile, had a huge oil contract in Russia that raised concerns about that influencing his work for the government in such a sensitive position.

We know that Gen. Mike Flynn, who just had to resign for lying about his contacts with the Russians, had sat next to Vladimir Putin at a dinner meeting in Russia, and then during the transition had talked with the Russian ambassador on the very day Obama imposed sanctions.  We know that other, less central advisers to Trump (like Roger Stone) are deeply involved with Russians.

And now we know that there is some evidence that members of the Trump campaign had multiple contacts with Russian security officials during the campaign.  Here I quote Mark Sumner:

*     *     *     *     *
"According to the consensus assessment of US intelligence agencies, Russian intelligence, under the orders of Vladimir Putin, mounted an extensive operation to influence the 2016 campaign to benefit Donald Trump. This was a widespread covert campaign that included hacking Democratic targets and publishing swiped emails via WikiLeaks. And it achieved its objectives. 

"That this story is constantly forgotten behind a barrage of daily nonsense is both maddening and astounding. At the very least, we know that ...

• "Trump’s campaign manager [Manafort] worked directly for Russia to subvert the government of the Ukraine, and was paid millions of dollars to generate “spontaneous demonstrations” in which US Marines were attacked in order to give Putin an excuse to seize Crimea.

• "The Russian assistant ambassador is on record saying that, despite numerous denials, Russia was in contact with the Trump campaign on a regular basis.

•"The only item where the Trump campaign forced a change in the Republican platform—the only item—was in modifying a plank to weaken the party’s stance on opposing Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. And Trump representatives said that concern came from Trump personally.

"And yes, out there is a supposed folio of kompromat containing items that Russia feels it can use to put pressure on Trump and his team. . . .

"We know that Russians didn’t just 'make up a pretty disproportionate cross-section of a lot of our assets' as Donald Trump Jr. stated proudly, but that Russian oligarchs bailed out a failing Trump and secured both real estate and connections for their investment. Several Trump projects were Russian projects with a Trump brand.

"The money to build these projects flowed almost entirely from Russian sources. In other words, after his business crashed, Trump was floated and made to appear to operate a successful business enterprise through the infusion of hundreds in millions of cash from dark Russian sources.

"And that doesn’t even touch on Trump’s involvement with the emails stolen from the DNC and private individuals to assist Trump. In fact, that’s not even close to everything. 

"Let’s review:

"Donald Trump has frequently expressed admiration for Vladimir Putin, viewing him as a 'strong' leader who Trump 'admires.'  Trump has also given wildly differing statements on his personal relationship with Putin.

"Trump has, on multiple occasions, suggested a weakening of the NATO alliance.

"Despite this, Trump previously expressed support for Ukraine.

"After Trump hired Paul Manafort, a man who had worked for—and may still be working for—pro-Russian forces seeking to destroy the democratic government of Ukraine, Trump’s position on Ukraine changed to one that is far more friendly to Russia.

"Trump campaign staff, including former Rumsfeld assistant J. D. Gordon, halted the implementation of pro-Ukraine language in the GOP platform, and insisted on language that was much more supportive of Russia after saying they had to speak directly to Trump about the policy.

"One week after the change was written into the GOP platform, emails hacked from the DNC were released through Wikileaks. Both government and independent investigators have identified the hackers as being associated with the Russian government.

"Donald Trump suggested that Russia might also hack Hillary Clinton’s email server and recover 30,000 emails (which are not 'missing,' but were personal emails deleted by a team of lawyers who reviewed the server). 

"Trump later claimed he was being sarcastic, but within a week of his request, further hacks took place at the DCCC and the Hillary Clinton campaign. These hacks have also been identified as coming from Russian sources.

"Both Manafort and Trump issued denials that they had anything to do with the changes to the Republican platform, despite the many witnesses and despite having made no objection to the news as it was reported at the time.

"Trump, in an interview, seemed not only confused about the two-year-old invasion of the Ukraine, but gave apparently contradictory indications that, were he elected, he would cede the occupied Crimea to Russia, and that the Russians would w
ithdraw from the Ukraine.

"None of that is speculation. Not one word of it is theory."

*     *     *     *     *

So that was the situation on Thursday when Trump denied any connections to Russia and when the Senate Intelligence Committee held that Friday afternoon meeting with FBI Director Jim Comey.    And when Donald Trump is seeming to be increasingly unhinged.

So, to use his own words:   "What - is - going - on?   What is going on, folks?"