View Full Version : HELLO PRES TRUMP!

03-29-2017, 07:52 AM
Lets get this thread started with this one, from Huffington, just because it looks like it will set the tone for the rest of this administration:

Trump Blames Obamacare Defeat On Democrats Whom He Never Asked For Help

The president believes the opposition party should have given him votes to dismantle their legacy.

By Sam Stein

In the moments after it was announced that his health care bill was dead and pulled from consideration, President Donald Trump had pinpointed the culprit. Democrats, he explained, were to blame for the failure because they refused to provide him with any of their votes.

"We had no Democrat support. We had no votes from the Democrats," Trump explained. "With no Democrats on board, we couldn?t quite get there.?

"When you get no votes from the other side ― meaning the Democrats ― it is a very difficult situation," he said elsewhere.

Trump is right in noting that there was no bipartisan appetite for his health care proposal. And certainly, when you start without any support from the other side of the aisle, it is hard to pass much of anything.

But if the lack of Democratic support was to blame for this governing debacle, Trump has no one to blame but himself.

During the course of putting together the repeal-and-replace process for Obamacare, Trump never once reached out to a member of the Democratic leadership to discuss policy matters or vote counts. House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi?s office confirmed as much. So too did Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer?s office.

Ben Marter, a spokesman for Senate Minority Whip Dick Durbin (D-Ill.), noted that Trump had "called the Post and the Times today" to discuss health care reform defeats, ?but not us.?

Even the likely targets of bipartisan outreach said that during the course of the entire process they never heard from Trump. A spokesman for Sen. Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.) said a call never came.

Why Trump would expect to get Democratic votes when he was gunning to gut their primary domestic policy achievement and refusing to talk to them about doing so is not clear. But he clearly felt that it was in their self-interest to have worked with him even though he never asked. Speaking to reporters, the president said he expected Democrats to now be supportive of reform because they?d have no one else to blame when or if Obamacare collapsed.

"The losers are Nancy Pelosi and Chuck Schumer because now they own Obamacare," he explained. "This is not our bill. This is their bill."

03-29-2017, 08:15 AM
The incredible, shrinking Trump

Philippine Daily Inquirer / 12:28 AM March 29, 2017

Donald Trump?s health care debacle is a political train wreck that could not have been avoided, in large part because a clueless, couldn?t-care-less engineer was at the controls: Trump himself. There is plenty of blame to go around, but the main cause of the extraordinary defeat was Trump?s own leadership, or lack of it. His humiliation is an object lesson in what happens to lying, blustering, post-factual presidents: They lose the credibility they need to get things done.

To be sure, the entire attempt to "repeal and replace" Obamacare, as the landmark program known as the Affordable Care Act was better known, was a foolhardy undertaking from the start; once 20 million more Americans had enjoyed the benefits of the hard-fought law, it was politically difficult to reverse course. The repeal part was driven mainly by the politics of resentment?the same politics which fueled Trump?s unlikely presidential run. In previous terms, even when they did not have the right conditions for a repeal, Republicans sought repeatedly to undo one of Barack Obama's chief legacies. They kept voting symbolically to repeal it.

What makes the decision to pull the American Health Care Act, as Trumpcare was formally known, from consideration on the floor of the House of Representatives last Friday even more striking, then, was that all the political branches of the US federal government were in Republican hands. But many Republican senators went on record to say they could not support the measure, and both conservative and moderate Republican wings in the House opposed it. The new president of the United States, of course, is Republican.

It is true that the seven-year-long Republican dream to undo Obamacare proved to be an intraparty nightmare in real life. The House Freedom Caucus did not support the bill because it was not conservative enough and did not do enough damage to the Affordable Care Act. The moderates heeded the Congressional Budget Office?s warnings about leaving millions of people without insurance. The job was thus cut out for Trump: Balance his party's competing interests. Like never before, the spotlight focused on Trump's leadership style?and he wilted.

The self-proclaimed artful negotiator could not bring his own party to the table. Again, the internal divisions were serious and real. But Trump's approach to negotiation all but assured that the divisions remained in place. In lieu of detail, he offered bluster. Instead of compromise, he set take-it-or-leave-it deadlines. The candidate who promised that Americans would be "so tired of winning" under his presidency did not know how to win.

In the end, his own party failed to come together because Trump was a divisive figure rather an uniting one. His two attempts to impose a discriminatory anti-Muslim travel ban were stopped by the courts. His entirely unnecessary alienation of his country?s traditional allies has continued and now includes Germany. His campaign's unusual closeness to the Russian government is under investigation. He continues to tweet unpresidential tweets at odd hours. And his ratings keep plumbing historic new lows.

When political careers are at stake, who would rely on someone unreliable in the clutch like Trump? The lies, bluster, and post-factual assertions of the new president finally caught up with him.

Even after the stinging defeat, Trump could not manage to find his way to speak the truth. "The best thing that could happen is exactly what happened?watch," he said. His presidency invested a massive amount of political goodwill and government resources in the last few weeks to try to kill Obamacare; now he expects his country and the rest of the world to forget all of that happened. Trump needs some serious health care of his own.

03-29-2017, 09:55 AM
From my "hometown" LA Times ___

Trump's poll numbers are low. But the people who put him in office say it's not time to judge him ? yet

Noah Bierman

It?s been five months since the euphoria of a Donald Trump rally at the local arena brought optimism to this former Democratic stronghold. The snow from a long winter has begun melting into the rocky soil, and the digital sign in a torn-up parking lot blinks hopefully: "Warm days are coming."

President Trump has yet to deliver jobs or the repeal of Obamacare. But here, in an area crucial to his unexpected election victory, many residents are more frustrated with what they see as obstruction and a rush to judgment than they are with Trump.

Give him six months to prove himself, said an information technology supervisor. Give him a year, said a service manager. Give him four years, said a retired print shop owner.

"Give the man a chance," said Crystal Matthews, a 59-year-old hospital employee. "They?re just going to fight him tooth and nail, the whole way."

Public opinion polls show Trump at historic lows. That's largely because, unlike most presidents, he has failed to attract new support since election day. Instead, his actions have energized his opposition and turned off some who had ambivalent feelings.

But while some supporters have abandoned the president amid an FBI investigation, a string of political defeats and diplomatic flare-ups, most of those who voted for Trump have stuck with him.

Wilkes-Barre, in a valley along the Susquehanna River, is emblematic of the mid-sized cities in the rust belt that proved decisive to Trump's winning electoral formula and the tenacity of his support.

The region once drew prosperity from coal and remains dependent on industry including, in recent years, warehouse distribution and hydraulic fracturing, or fracking. The late 19th century brick factories lend downtown a historic quality that sets it apart from the chain stores atop the hill overlooking town.

Jim Haggerty, a 63-year old resident of nearby Forty Fort, sat in Sweet Treet diner on a recent weekday morning, reading the local newspaper and lamenting that two of his three children left the area after obtaining college degrees. His third may have no choice but to do the same when he graduates.

"This area lacks quality jobs," said Haggerty, who retired from the printing business he owned. "We?ve got blue collar, after blue collar, after blue collar."

Luzerne County, which includes Wilkes-Barre, gave nearly 60% of its vote to Trump, four years after supporting Obama. Among the three Pennsylvania counties that flipped from blue to red in 2016, playing a key role in delivering the state to Trump, Luzerne had the largest Republican uptick ? nearly 12 percentage points.

Trump built loyalty here. He held two rallies in Wilkes-Barre; the second came during the lowest point in his campaign, after a recording emerged in which he bragged about grabbing women against their will.

The crowd at the Mohegan Sun Arena chanted "CNN sucks" that day in October, a sign that they were more angry with the news media than with Trump.

Many of those who stood in the same arena this week to watch the Wilkes-Barre-Scranton Penguins face off against the Utica Comets in a minor league hockey game said they remained disgusted with the coverage of Trump. One man acidly rattled off the names of network anchors ? Lester Holt, Wolf Blitzer ? naming them as among the people conspiring to stop Trump from breaking the mold of "bought and paid for" politicians.

"They?re going to do anything they have to do to make sure Trump doesn?t succeed," said Rich Martini, a 51-year-old book printer, sipping a beer in the hallway amid the smell of glazed nuts and mustard.

"There?s a bias," said David Ambrulavage, a 50-year-old IT manager, wearing a white Penguins jersey in the nosebleed seats as the Zamboni cleared the floor and Aerosmith?s ?Dream On? blasted from the sound system.

Are Trump and his family making money off the presidency? He wouldn't be the first, Ambrulavage said.

Did the Trump campaign collaborate with Russians to influence the election? They didn?t invent the emails that embarrassed Clinton, he said. Those were drafted by Democrats.

Ambrulavage was also annoyed by the attention paid to smaller issues, like Kellyanne Conway, the Trump advisor, casually sitting on the president?s couch with her shoes on while snapping a picture of a group of visitors to the Oval Office.

Yet he does not leave Trump blameless. Like many here, Ambrulavage believes some of Trump?s wounds are self-inflicted, the result of tweeting unfounded claims and making provocative statements when he doesn?t have to.

"He would be wise to cool it, stop doing it," he said. "It only adds fuel to the fire."

To Ambrulavage, those problems do not outweigh Trump?s focus on beefing up military spending, approving a crude oil pipeline from Canada and trying to prevent companies from moving their workforces overseas.

Ambrulavage wants to get rid of Obamacare and believes the president hurt his ability to win votes in Congress by creating a "lot of noise" with his tweets and outspoken comments.

Trump and Republicans in Congress pledged to quickly repeal Obamacare, but last week, amid GOP infighting, pulled a bill that would have done so.

Healthcare is no longer at the top of Trump?s agenda, but several Trump supporters here remain adamant that the Affordable Care Act has to go, suggesting they may punish Trump and Republican lawmakers if they fail to live up to their promise.

Yet the definition of repeal, or what comes after it, demonstrates why the topic is so thorny for Republicans.

And then there?s Mike Stewart, who voted for Trump but celebrated the president?s failure to repeal Obamacare.

"The only thing I have from the government is Obamacare," said Stewart, a retired insurance salesman and construction worker.

Stewart said he only learned after the election that he qualified for an Obamacare insurance subsidy, which he says saves him more than $700 a month. He added that he still would have cast a vote for Trump, who he believes will improve education and care for the homeless.

Stewart?s approval for Trump is not unlimited. He just wants to give him time to prove he can learn politics. But he said he dared not raise any complaints about Trump with his friends, who uniformly defend the president.

"It?s an absolute joke. He has no idea what he?s doing," said Jeanne Laktash, a 34-year-old Internet copywriter from Dickson City, a small city northeast of Wilkes-Barre. She reeled off a list of grievances against Trump, including a budget that proposed slashing Meals on Wheels.

"It seems like he could do anything, and they wouldn?t care," she said ruefully. "I haven?t seen a lot of buyers? remorse."

03-30-2017, 08:13 AM
Spy fiction? Russia tale of election interference grips US

01:04 AM March 30, 2017

WASHINGTON, DC ? Secret meetings, phone taps, Russian oil money and mysterious intelligence dossiers: the swirling scandal over US President Donald Trump's ties to Moscow has all the makings of a classic spy novel?whose ending has yet to be written.

But the maelstrom engulfing Washington over Russia?s interference in the US election last year is very real, and the political stakes have never been higher: Trump's presidency itself.

Increasingly the story is turning to one of deliberate misinformation, leaks to the media, and worries of a high-level cover-up.

The plot appears simple: Moscow, aiming to damage the presidential prospects of Democrat Hillary Clinton, deployed hacked documents and misinformation to boost the campaign of rival Trump.

But underlying that is the explosive question: Did Trump's campaign collude with Moscow?

That's where the wiretaps, a former British spy's dossier on contacts between Trump's campaign and Russian intelligence, Trump's business dealings with Russian tycoons, and cryptic statements by US spy chiefs, take hold of the plot.

The Director of National Intelligence and the heads of the FBI, CIA and National Security Agency announced on Jan. 6 that they were convinced that Russian President Vladimir Putin had masterminded the effort to manipulate the November election.

But they held back their evidence. Nor did they comment on the report by Christopher Steele, a former British MI6 agent, that details numerous alleged communications between Trump advisers and Russian officials during 2016.

The Steele report, which has not been substantiated and has been rejected by the White House as "fake news," lies at the heart of suspicions of collusion. It also, provocatively, suggests Putin has possession of a sex video secretly filmed in 2013 while Trump was in Moscow.

Cast of characters

Like any good political yarn, the story has unfolded with a kaleidoscopic cast of characters.

A key mystery man throughout is Russia's chummy ambassador, Sergey Kislyak, who appears to have met Trump and everyone around him during the campaign.

There is Michael Flynn, a former US military intelligence chief who was generously paid to attend a gala of Russia's RT television in December 2015, where he sat together with Putin.

It was Flynn's half-truths about his calls with Kislyak that forced him out of his new job as White House national security adviser in February.

Another key person is Paul Manafort, who spent years working for Moscow-backed Ukraine leader Viktor Yanukovych before becoming Trump's campaign chief. Did he also have contact with Russian intelligence, as the New York Times suggests?

Jared Kushner, Trump's son-in-law, met with Russia?s ambassador and a top Russian banker in December.

Jeff Sessions, Trump's attorney general, first said he never met Kislyak during the campaign and then admitted to doing so. Carter Page, a Trump adviser and former Moscow-based banker, also met the omnipresent Moscow envoy and other Russian officials.

Stonewalled probes?

The question now is whether various investigations will go ahead, without interference.

The FBI is conducting a counterintelligence probe, under the lead of a director already under a cloud for his own alleged interference in the election, which hurt Clinton.

The House and Senate intelligence committees, which are privy to classified intelligence, are also investigating.

But the House committee probe appears under threat.

Its chief, Republican Devin Nunes, canceled a planned open hearing this week after he "discovered" secret surveillance documents that he said showed Trump and associates were picked up in "incidental collections" by US intelligence agencies.

Nunes later admitted having received the documents during a surreptitious visit to a White House "safe" room last week.

Charge vindicated

Rather than share the information with his committee, Nunes made a very visible trip to present it to Trump, who said it "somewhat" vindicated his unproven charge that then President Barack Obama had ordered the intelligence agencies to wiretap Trump Tower during the campaign.

Since then Nunes has revealed nothing about the information he received, drawing sharp criticism and calls to step down.

Jackie Speier, a Democratic member of the committee, said the moves smacked of an effort by the White House and Nunes to shut down the House investigation.

"I don?t think the president wants this investigation to go forward," she told MSNBC on Tuesday.

At the center, of course, is Trump, who has animated the story with his off-the-cuff tweets. But he perpetuates suspicions by criticizing US intelligence bodies, the media and Democrats, while praising the Russians.

His focus has been to defend his election victory as legitimate while changing the subject. ?AFP

04-07-2017, 08:46 AM
Trump, Xi in Florida for high-stakes summit

Agence France-Presse / 06:44 AM April 07, 2017

PALM BEACH, United States ? Presidents Donald Trump and Xi Jinping arrived in Florida Thursday for a first face-to-face summit, eying a basket full of "tweetable" deals to help avoid a public clash.

Xi touched down at Palm Beach airport, where he received red carpet treatment and a military honor guard that offered no hint of the tensions that permeate this high-stakes superpower pow-wow.

Trump arrived a little later and headed to his Mar-a-Lago resort - dubbed the "Winter White House" - where he will host Xi for what promises to be a masterclass in studied informality.

The agenda for the 24 hour summit has purposely been left open, allowing the leaders to freewheel and build a rapport. Thursday's main event is a joint dinner.

Matt Pottinger, a top White House Asia expert who was tasked with planning the summit, promised a "relaxed interaction" despite a backdrop of tensions over trade and North Korea.

"Spouses will be there" said Pottinger, indicating the leaders will be joined Thursday evening by US first lady and former model Melania Trump and Peng Liyuan - a celebrated folk singer who was once more famous than her husband.

The group will "have an opportunity to have tea together, meet some of their senior cabinet officials, so to speak, on both sides, and have a dinner," Pottinger added.

Talks will continue up to a working lunch on Friday.

Amid concerns about security and public perceptions, officials said Xi and his wife will not be staying at Mar-a-Lago, but at a resort and spa a short drive down the palm-fringed coast that is, for now, watched by snipers, tactical units and a coastguard cutter.

The carefully choreographed dinners and displays of bonhomie mask an almost palpable anxiety about how the meeting will go.

Peace offerings

No one - neither diplomats nor aides - can be sure what will happen when the most powerful Chinese leader in a generation meets a mercurial American president who has been in office less than 100 days and is capable of unraveling the most carefully-laid plans with a single 140-character tweet.

For that reason Xi is arriving with a gift-basket of "tweetable deliverables", sources say, peace offerings on Trump's signature issues - trade and jobs - that he hopes will smooth over a relationship that began on shaky ground following disagreements over Taiwan.

Top of the list, according to a source briefed on Xi's plans, will be a package of Chinese investments aimed at creating more than 700,000 American jobs - the number pledged to Trump by China's regional rival Japan, during Prime Minister Shinzo Abe's February Mar-a-Lago visit.

There may also be offers to further open China's auto and agricultural markets, insiders say, and even some concessions on Chinese banks' transactions with North Korea, a vital financial lifeline for the country.

In return, Xi hopes to get assurances from Trump on punitive tariffs and that an American arms sale to Taiwan will be delayed, at least until after a major Communist Party meeting later this year.

Trump?s position on the democratically-ruled Taiwan, which China considers a breakaway province, has been a major irritant since the billionaire politician accepted a protocol-breaking phone call from the Taiwanese president after his election victory.

All politics is loca
The summit stakes, both domestic and international, are high.

Disagreements over approaches to North Korea or bilateral trade could, if mishandled, destabilize North East Asia or tank the global economy.

On the domestic political front, Xi is heading into a critical year. Ahead of a party congress that could cement his grip on power for years to come, he needs to show that he can deal with the US leader as an equal.

He "cannot afford to lose face while China aspires to be the new center of gravity for the world order," China political analyst Willy Lam told AFP.

Meanwhile, Trump - who is reeling from legislative defeats, low approval ratings and unrelenting scandals - desperately needs a win.

He may not have much room to maneuver, however, with a country he has castigated for "stealing" American jobs and doing "little" to rein in North Korea's nuclear program.

Even though the two leaders "want to project themselves as very forceful, very decisive and also getting the best for the benefit of their own countries, they are also anxious not to get into difficult negotiating positions," according to Lam.

On the US side, however, North Korea will likely top the agenda following a provocative missile launch Wednesday - barely 48 hours before the summit.

Different interests

The Trump White House worries Pyongyang is just months away from marrying nuclear and long-range missile technology and putting the west coast of the United States within striking distance.

The tough-talking new president has repeatedly and very publicly indicated his openness to military action.

While Beijing has condemned the missile tests, it has hesitated to take dramatic action against Pyongyang, fearing that the country's collapse would generate a flood of refugees across its borders and leave the US military on its doorstep.

But coming to an agreement on the issue will not be easy, according to Bonnie Glaser, a China expert at the Washington-based Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS).

"I don?t think they?re talking about solutions? at the end of the day, their interests are not really the same as the United States.'" CBB

11-23-2017, 10:53 AM
Trump's loss, China's gain?

By: Bobby M. Tuazon - @inquirerdotnet

Philippine Daily Inquirer / 05:20 AM November 23, 2017

Is superpower America losing its grip on Asia?

US President Donald Trump's presence at the Asean Summit was ponderous compared to the demeanor of other delegates. He also missed the East Asian Summit on Nov. 14, leaving many Asean leaders clueless on whether the region was in his interest radar. Outside the summit, Filipino and American activists burned his effigy. At the Nov. 11 Apec Summit in Da Nang, his unsolicited offer to mediate maritime feuds was nixed by President Duterte and Vietnam Prime Minister Nguyen Xuan Phuc.

Trump's 11-day swing through Asia showed signs of an America way off the changes sweeping the region. In the Korean nuke crisis, China's diplomacy is gaining traction over Trump's tough approach. Japan's Shinzo Abe and South Korea's Moon Jae-in fly to Beijing early in 2018 for talks on the Korean crisis. Aware of Beijing's key role in defusing the crisis, Japan has downplayed its dispute with China over islands, as well as on the South China Sea (SCS). At the Apec Summit, Abe and China's Xi Jinping shook hands to jump-start their trade ties. This came on the heels of America's withdrawal from the Trans-Pacific Partnership - a move that did not sap Tokyo's resolve to push the agreement along with 10 other countries.

Asean and China will begin talks in 2018 on the Code of Conduct based on the framework agreement signed last August. But amid the momentum in forging a final Code, the SCS maritime issue was not raised at the summit. Reason: Some claimant countries such as Vietnam and the Philippines are now in bilateral talks with Beijing to resolve the disputes and explore cooperation for energy development in the disputed waters. All these fit into Beijing's "dual track" route on the SCS: Maritime rifts should be settled bilaterally among claimants, and China and Asean should work together to ensure peace and stability.

During his tour, Trump brandished the triumphalist "America First" and threatened to rework "unfair" trade deals with Asian countries. Typical of China's soft power, Xi Jinping spoke on multilateralism, "international cooperation" and "economic openness," which appealed to Asian countries. Trump's "trade barbs" are pushing Asians "closer to China's orbit," says Bloomberg. Today, Asean is China's leading trade partner, accounting for 15 percent of its total trade. China is also the Philippines' No. 1 trade partner this year. Welded by trade integration, China and its neighbors are a major driver of global GDP growth.

Asean countries look to China for economic growth and to America to counterbalance China's power. This is the conventional theory. US strategists are aware of America's receding economic influence in Asia, but US military supremacy will stay indefinitely. Without any coherent Asian policy, Trump will continue his predecessor's rebalance strategy which aims to preposition 60 percent of US forces in the Asia-Pacific by 2020. He has also affirmed a US defense alliance with Japan and South Korea. Joint war exercises with the Philippines will be enhanced in 2018 and US facilities will rise inside five Philippine military camps.

But what is new is China and Asean will hold joint naval drills next year. Does this signal that China is no longer a security threat in the region? (In 2015, Asean refused the US 7th Fleet's plan for a regional maritime force to patrol the SCS.) Mr. Duterte has dropped joint US-PH patrols in the SCS so as not to anger China. Countries that have military ties with America avoid being dragged in a war with China at the risk of losing their dynamic economic ties with Beijing.

Growing perceptions in Asia of waning US economic and even security clout in the region are sound. US economic hegemony under neoliberal globalization has been hurt by the 2008 financial crisis, leading to sluggish growth and large-scale underemployment. US armed intervention in many countries has spawned extremism and ruined economies in fragile states. Today, US global credibility is at its lowest point.

But far from diminishing strategic interests, America remains the world's No. 1 economic and military power. In due time, Asia's evolving role as the world's growth center will make US power here irrelevant.

* * *

Bobby Tuazon, is director for policy studies of the Center for People Empowerment in Governance, a book author, and UP professor.

11-24-2017, 11:22 AM
Profiles in discouragement

By: Bernard-Henri Levy - @inquirerdotnet 05:14 AM November 24, 2017

New York - Some specialists in the life sciences say that no one is ever fully cured of any injury or disease, because our cells forever retain traces, memories, of even the slightest attacks on the body?s integrity. So it will be with the United States.

One day, America will turn the page on Donald Trump. But it will never recover completely from the wound that his presidency's baseness, bull-headed stupidity, and puzzling passivity in the face of China?s global ambitions have inflicted on its culture and international standing. Is Trump a symptom? Or a terminal disease?

Demoralization and defeatism have not spared the Democrats, as I found in New York and on a recent visit to Chicago to address a seminar at the University of Chicago's Institute of Politics. At the home of the Iranian-American Nazee Moinian, whose Manhattan apartment recalls the patrician abodes of the members of the Algonquin Round Table, the assembled elites are in agreement. Trump, by not backing the Kurds in their bid for independence from Iraq, committed not just a moral error but also an irreparable political mistake. He betrayed his Kurdish ally. He strengthened his Iranian adversary.

The German legal and political theorist Carl Schmitt might say that Trump had confused his friend and his enemy, dealing with the former as he should have dealt with the latter. Inexplicably, Trump sacrificed (once again) a crucial US national interest, this time by abandoning the sole force in the Middle East (outside of Israel) on which America could safely and seriously rely.

How does one respond to such a forfeiture? With what resources? Was there really no way to counter the club of bad neighbors who refuse to countenance any discussion of Kurdish sovereignty?

Some Democrats swallow their national pride and say that France's young president, Emmanuel Macron, newly crowned by Time magazine as king of Europe, is in a better position to step in and stay the hand of Iraq and Iran. Older Democrats express not the slightest reservation about the use of US power during the Cold War. But here they are, paralyzed, disarmed, when the time comes to raise their voice - merely their voice! - against the sinister but motley gang of four (Iran, Iraq, Turkey, Syria) blocking Kurdish independence.

At Temple Emanu-El on Fifth Avenue, the most beautiful synagogue in New York and one of the largest in the world, I was recently interviewed by Pamela Paul, editor of the New York Times Book Review. The conversation again turned to Macron. I tried to explain that his trademark phrase, en m?me temps (at the same time), which tends to be heard here as an expression of American-style pragmatism, may instead be one of the most visible traces of his doctrinal proximity to the French Protestant philosopher Paul Ric?ur. Far from reflecting careful deliberation over an ambiguous choice, "at the same time" is the credo of someone suspended in fear and trembling before the unsolvable and terrifying mystery of the double nature - physical and spiritual, mortal and resurrected - of the tormented body of Christ.

But very soon we arrive at the question of anti-Semitism in America. On one hand, it is to be found in that horde of nativists, white supremacists, and neoconfederates who descended on Charlottesville, Virginia, in August to break some black and Jewish heads. On the other hand, it is seen among leftists on US campuses who have caught the fever of BDS (Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions), the global campaign against Israeli products that is becoming increasingly difficult to differentiate from a quasi-overt campaign against products and businesses that are just plain Jewish.

In this sense, are we living in the ?poque of Trump, in which his revival of the "America First" slogan of the American Nazis in the 1930s has encouraged a loosening of bigoted tongues? Could it be that Trump himself, despite his officially pro-Israel positions, is a closeted anti-Semite?

The truth is that the question of Trump - the enigma of the man and even his very name - takes up much too much space in public debate. The truth is that in spending time wondering whether he is insane, or, like an overstuffed and obscene Hamlet, he feigns madness to confuse his adversaries, we are all falling into the trap of a narcissism that, here in the United States, is the new face of nihilism. Project Syndicate

Bernard-Henri Levy is one of the founders of the "Nouveaux Philosophes" (New Philosophers) movement. His books include "Left in Dark Times: A Stand Against the New Barbarism," "American Vertigo: Traveling America in the Footsteps of Tocqueville," and most recently, "The Genius of Judaism."

01-09-2018, 02:39 PM
I knew everything in Wolff's 'Fire and Fury' even before it was published. Here's how

Michael Hiltzik

The publishing sensation of this young year is Michael Wolff's inside-the-West-Wing tell-all, "Fire and Fury: Inside the Trump White House."

Within days of its publication date, which was moved up by several days to meet frenzied demand, the book was sold out at stores; it dominated the Sunday cable talk shows; provoked President Trump and his minions to a string of furious attacks; and has the official chroniclers of White House dysfunction at big East Coast newspapers crabbing about trivial inaccuracies (a sure sign that it has struck a nerve).

"Fire and Fury" was destined for success for several reasons. It fits the prevailing narrative about the Trump administration as perfectly as the last piece fits a jigsaw puzzle. It goes down easy, slathered over with the moist lubricant of gossip. It's not too heavily freighted with serious stuff like policy, and what's there is given a once-over-lightly treatment that affords readers the sensation of knowing just enough about that stuff for dinner-party conversation.

But having spent hours this weekend absorbing the book cover-to-over (figuratively speaking - my version was on a Kindle), I can tell you that there's absolutely nothing new of any importance in "Fire and Fury." If you've been following the Trump administration over the last 12 months, you already know everything in it.

Oh, sure, there are a few fresh nuggets here or there, sprinkled about like the hard bits in the Christmas fruitcake you cracked a tooth on over the holidays, but most are scarcely more interesting than the one about the internal architecture of Trump's hairdo (page 79 on Kindle).

None of that may be important, however, because the proper way to think about "Fire and Fury" is not as a book, but as an event. The vast majority of people discussing it over the next few weeks - assuming the furor lasts that long - will not have read it. When the Sunday cable talk shows went into full cry over it, they focused largely on the West Wing's reaction to it.

The drama was all about whether Trump would throw a conniption, or did Stephen K. Bannon permanently blot his copybook by getting quoted saying stuff not too far from what he's said in public, etc., etc. It was no longer even necessary to read "Fire and Fury," because you could learn all you needed to know about its text from the bare context provided by the Sunday hosts before they brought in their "roundtables" of Washington insiders and political pundits to masticate the gristle of what it all means.

But having done the reading homework myself, I can tell you that the first 30% of "Fire and Fury" is an engaging read, full of little frissons of revelation. It's not badly written, though portions show the effects of hasty editing to meet a deadline.

After the first third, however, it becomes boring, repetitious and, ultimately, depressing. There just isn't much for Wolff to say about the White House after he's said it once, and the discouraging thought that his cast of characters are in place because of a quirk of the American presidential electoral system that surprised them as much as it shocked outsiders soon outweighs any pleasure one might get from watching them bite each others' heads off.

Let's take a quick look at the basic narrative threads of "Fire and Fury." Stop me if you?ve heard these before.

Trump didn?t want to win the election, and no one around him thought he would. Duh. If it wasn't evident from the performance-art nature of his election campaign, the notion that Trump was serious about governing couldn?t survive his immigration executive order, issued seven days after the inauguration. There was the slipshod drafting of the order, the failure to run it past the people who would be responsible for implementation, and its taking immediate effect, which created massive chaos at major airports coast-to-coast and around the world. No one who cared about governing would do anything this way.

Then there's the ludicrous collection of numbskulls and vandals walking the hallways and heading government departments and agencies. It's one thing to put people in place with the intention of refashioning government health, environmental and educational policy; quite another to give the job to people who have absolutely no executive experience or, in fact, knowledge about their jobs, and who instantly go to war with their own staffs. Step forward, former Health and Human Services Secretary Tom Price, Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Scott Pruitt and Education Secretary Betsy DeVos. Now please sit down again.

In any event, Wolff isn't much more interested in government than Trump; important issues such as healthcare repeal, education policy and the environment make walk-on appearances in "Fire and Fury" mostly in the course of the book's real topic, which is the internecine squabbling over them.

Everyone around him treats Trump like a child. Duh. One of the money quotes from the book retailed endlessly by commentators is that dealing with Trump is like "trying to figure out what a child wants." Wolff attributes it to Katie Walsh, a Republican Party functionary who spent a brief period on the White House staff before being exiled, ostensibly to her own relief, to a post at the Republican National Committee. But is this apercu supposed to be new? To my recollection, scarcely a single anonymously sourced inside-the-White-House story appearing over the last 12 months lacks a similar quote, or at least the same implication.

Everyone around him thinks Trump is an idiot. Duh. Kevin Drum of Mother Jones had fun last week by posting a quiz in which readers were asked to match a description of Trump?s intellect ("fool," "idiot," "moron," with various profane qualifiers appended), to the person who uttered it. A few came from the book, but a few were preexisting. The sources included Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, Treasury Secretary Steven T. Mnuchin, and 21st Century Fox Executive Chairman Rupert Murdoch. Anyway, clearly not news.

Trump's eruption over the weekend to the effect that he's real smart and a "stable genius" may have had the air of Fredo Corleone's equivalent pleading in "The Godfather, Part II," as numerous cinema experts pointed out, but that wasn't the first time that he's tried to establish his intellectual bona fides by assertion, rather than action. Anyway, there's been plenty of reporting over the months about the need to present information to Trump in pictorial form rather than via the written word. Nor are questions about his reading ability new; a friend of mine who brought a lawsuit against Trump over a business deal came away from a deposition convinced Trump was illiterate, and that was decades ago, when he was still swanking around as a big shot in New York real estate circles.

01-09-2018, 02:40 PM
^ Continued from above

The White House is rent by war among advisors. Wolff identifies the principal camps during his time as a fly on the wall as those of Bannon; first daughter Ivanka Trump and her husband, Jared Kushner; and former Chief of Staff Reince Priebus, who was replaced by John F. Kelly at the end of July. This started to be widely known even before inauguration day.

But Wolff may actually have made a signal contribution to Trumpology here by making clear how much each gang leaked to undermine the others. Despite the obligatory paragraphs in all those inside-the-West-Wing scoops in the big papers about how many sources they were based on (how many people work in the White House, anyway?), it appears from Wolff?s book that those stories really all emanate from the power jockeying among those three groups; sometimes it's one camp leaking against the other two, sometimes two camps in temporary alliance against the third.

This just tells you that the correct rule of thumb to apply when reading any of these yarns is the Latin term "Cui bono?" (Who gains?) The one notable aspect of all this is Wolff's obsession with Bannon, which almost approaches Bannon's obsession with himself. Bannon emerges as the hub around all the White House intrigue spins, which may or may not have been true. But it's Bannon's view, which makes it a teeny bit suspect as it comes through Wolff.

The bottom line is that much of "Fire and Fury" reads like warmed-over gruel. Some anecdotes have been widely reported in the past - high-level disagreement over Afghanistan policy, the hash Trump made of his response to the Charlottesville racial violence, the 10 days of Anthony Scaramucci - and are repeated by Wolff with a soupcon of insider spin as though being seasoned to make them appear to be his own discoveries.

None of this makes "Fire and Fury" unimportant. For one thing, it's notable that the book has ticked off everybody in or near the White House. Trump is incensed for obvious reasons. Bannon and others directly quoted are embarrassed to the point they fear for their futures in the Trump-iverse.

The official chroniclers of Trump dysfunction are worried about their book contracts and sales because Wolff got there first - more so because he stripped the inside story of the decorous veneer that weighs down the accounts appearing in the serious press and applied the shiv to his sources with maximal viciousness and cruelty. After "Fire and Fury," no one will need another inside-the-White-House book. Wolff collected all the stories and let it rip.

The last thing to be said about "Fire and Fury" is the curious vacuum at its center. One character fails to emerge from its pages with any color: Donald Trump. Wolff claims to have interviewed him directly, but that doesn?t come through at all. The Trump around whom all these satellites orbit remains a black hole. No one really explains what he thinks, what he does, who he is.

As a result, the book ends up being mostly about everyone else?s interactions with each other, and very little about their interactions with the president of the United States. Maybe Trump meant it that way, or maybe there's simply no one there. That wouldn't be news, either.

01-09-2018, 02:52 PM
Oprah for president? Have we learned nothing?

The Times Editorial Board

We don't know whether the idea of Oprah Winfrey for president, inspired by Winfrey's eloquent speech Sunday at the Golden Globe Awards, will prove an ephemeral excitation or a movement with staying power. But we find it depressing.

We mean no disrespect to Winfrey, who strikes us as much better informed and more intellectually curious and presumably less reckless or dishonest than the incumbent president. But it's bizarre that Americans who are appalled by Trump's oafish and ignorant conduct of the nation's highest office would gravitate to another television star untested in politics.

That's what many of them did Sunday evening. Twitter throbbed with speculation that Winfrey's speech accepting the Cecil B. DeMille Award was the beginning of a presidential run. Winfrey's friends didn't discourage the idea.

"It's up to the people," Winfrey's longtime partner, Stedman Graham, told the Los Angeles Times. "She would absolutely do it." The speculation snowballed on Monday, to the extent that a White House spokesman felt obliged to tell reporters that "we welcome the challenge, whether it be Oprah Winfrey or anybody else."

Again, this may just be a passing, Golden-Globes-inspired moment of Twitter hype. But it is also a reminder that when the last out-of-the-blue celebrity candidate entered a presidential race, the media shrugged him off as a joke.

Winfrey is a skilled interviewer, a talented actress, a successful businesswoman and an inspiring orator. In her speech Sunday, she compellingly wove together recognition of victims of sexual assault - not just in Hollywood - with a tribute to racial diversity and a defense of a free press that "is under siege these days." A Washington Post reporter wrote: "Close your eyes and picture this speech being delivered in Des Moines. It's not difficult."

Maybe not, but there is more to being president than the ability to deliver a stirring speech. Also, as the first year of the Trump presidency demonstrated, there are colossal risks in electing a political neophyte to the most demanding public office in the world. Just because the Republicans were foolish enough to travel down this dangerous road - in the process sacrificing many of their party's best qualities and most valuable principles in a desperate, craven hunt for votes - doesn't mean the Democrats should follow suit.

Winfrey might possess a more stable temperament than Trump - who doesn't? - and her political positions would undoubtedly be more in line with those of liberals, Democrats and The Times editorial page, but she would face the same steep learning curve in dealing with foreign and domestic issues. What is there to suggest that she is any better prepared than Trump was to work productively with Congress or tackle international trade negotiations, the North Korean nuclear threat or the complexities of the Arab-Israeli conflict?

It's a measure of the trauma inflicted on the country by Trump's election that some people honestly believe that the way to unseat a celebrity president is to nominate another celebrity. Back in September, John Podhoretz wrote in the New York Post: "If you need to set a thief to catch a thief, you need a star - a grand, outsized, fearless star whom Trump can neither intimidate nor outshine - to catch a star." Podhoretz called Winfrey the mirror image of Trump - "America's generous aunt" to "America's crazy uncle."

But the United States doesn't need another TV star running the country - even a talented and accomplished star such as Oprah Winfrey. What it needs is someone who has prepared for the job, who has made tough decisions, who is familiar with the issues, who has a history of public service. Not all senators or governors make good presidents, to be sure, but they're a better bet, by and large, than the typical movie star or businessman. Here's the kind of resume that more closely approximates what we tend to look for in a candidate (and forgive us if it sounds familiar): former U.S. senator, former secretary of state.

It would be better for the party, and country, if voters thought they could put their trust in potential presidents who shared their views and their passions, but also had experience in government. We still cling to the hope that elections for the president haven't been permanently transformed into an episode of "Celebrity Apprentice."

01-09-2018, 03:20 PM
Democrats' plan to help California taxpayers doesn't pass the smell test. They should still go for it

George Skelton

Capitol Journal

Even for California government, this seems nutty: calling a state income tax payment a "charitable contribution" so it can be deducted on a federal tax return.

I recently wrote that the idea was cockamamie. Then last week, it was actually introduced as legislation by state Senate leader Kevin de Leon (D-Los Angeles).

On second thought, maybe the concept isn't so screwy. And even if it is, given the pugnacious, polarized time we're caught in, it's probably a justifiable tax dodge in an effort to defend millions of California taxpayers from President Trump and the Republican Congress.

It fits snugly with the current shoot-first, ask-questions-later political climate.

Under the new GOP tax law, 6.1 million Californians who itemize their federal income taxes stand to lose an average of $8,438 in state and local tax deductions. That's because the law caps state and local tax deductions - mainly on income and property - at $10,000 total. The average California deduction was $18,438 in 2015, the latest year with complete data, according to the Government Finance Officers Assn.

De Leon's solution, gleaned from academicians, is to allow Californians to take advantage of a federal loophole and deduct more than the $10,000 cap. They'd do that by claiming the amount over the limit as a charitable contribution to a state California Excellence Fund. There's no dollar limit on charitable contributions.

California government would treat the so-called contribution as a state income tax payment. There'd be a 100% state tax credit for the "donation." All the money would flow into the general fund for regular government programs. And the taxpayer could soften the federal tax bite by exceeding the deductions cap.

At least that's the theory. Trump and Congress probably would have a different idea: Forget it. The IRS could quash it, or Republican lawmakers could amend the law.

"This isn't a pie-in-the-sky idea," insists UC Davis tax law professor Darien Shanske. "It could fit comfortably with existing law. That's not to say Congress wouldn't change existing law."

UCLA law professor Kirk Stark has studied this concept for years and notes "it's not a new thing. Many states have charitable tax credits." Even California does. But no state has anything approaching the scale that De Leon proposes.

In all, 21 states have programs that offer tax credits for donations to specific causes. Popular in some Southern red states are generous credits for funding private school vouchers.

In California, there's a program - created by a De Leon bill in 2014 - that offers a 50% tax credit for donations to the Cal Grant college scholarship fund. There's also a program that allows a private property owner to grant an easement to a land conservancy and receive a 55% tax credit. Several states offer that.

All that's OK with the IRS. But concocting a scheme so millions of Californians can deduct untold additional thousands of dollars on their federal returns would undoubtedly rattle the IRS and Trump.

But the president would need to use a scalpel targeted at California and other blue states trying to evade federal taxes, rather than taking a meat cleaver to every tax credit in the country. Trump presumably wouldn't want to anger loyal red states that use tax credits to fund pet conservative causes.

Democrats suspect Trump of vengefully picking on high-tax blue states anyway.

"The Republican tax scam offers corporations and hedge fund managers massive tax breaks and expects California taxpayers to pick up the costs," says De Le?n, who's running against veteran U.S. Sen. Dianne Feinstein, a fellow Democrat.

But, I asked him, is his bill really good tax policy?

"What is not good tax policy," he replied, "is what happened in Congress. It's the worst tax policy in the history of this country. Perhaps the world."

Actually, California's current tax policy is pretty rotten - literally rotted out from decay - and the Legislature should be focused on rebuilding it. But very few are interested. It's too tough politically.

As I've often written, the state tax system leans too heavily on high-end income taxes and ignores California's growing service economy. There's virtually no sales tax on services. The result is a highly volatile system that produces gushes of revenue in good times, but slows to a trickle when the economy?s bad. It's periodically boom or bust for the state budget.

What's needed is to lower income and sales tax rates and make up the lost revenue by extending the sales tax to services.

Sen. Bob Hertzberg (D-Van Nuys) is drafting a bill to do some of that. It would extend the sales tax to services used by businesses, but not by individuals. He'd also lower middle-class income taxes.

"Under Trump's plan, the business tax is going down," Hertzberg says. "So add a little extra state cost. It would still be deductible."

But his bill would require a two-thirds majority vote. So it's doomed.

De Leon's bill needs only a simple majority vote. So it can pass.

Would Gov. Jerry Brown sign it? He hasn't said. It's not the kind of gimmicky stunt Brown would ordinarily sanction these days. But given that it's a dagger at Trump and Republicans, and is drawing national attention, he just might.

It doesn't pass the smell test. But hardly anything political does these days. And it could save California taxpayers money. So open the windows and go for it.

01-09-2018, 03:32 PM
The Republican tax plan is a victory for the Democrats - maybe

George Skelton

Capitol Journal

Republicans won the tax fight in Congress by overpowering Democrats. Now the battle begins to retain that power in next year's elections. Their celebrated victory could cost them control of the House.

Theoretically anyway.

Democrats need to pick up 24 Republican seats nationally to take back the House and end the GOP's control of Washington.

Seven congressional races in California will be crucial. In all of those districts, voters elected Republicans to Congress last year, but they snubbed then-candidate Donald Trump and voted for Democrat Hillary Clinton.

So the Democratic strategy is a no-brainer. The tax bill is unpopular in California and across the country. Trump is equally disliked in this state. Tie both around the Republican House incumbent and this makes a nice Democratic victory package. Maybe.

How much does voting for the GOP tax bill really hurt vulnerable California Republicans?

"The quick and easy answer is that 12 Republicans [who voted for the bill] just committed hari-kari," says Darry Sragow, a veteran Democratic strategist who publishes the nonpartisan California Target Book, which handicaps congressional and legislative races. "But whether that's true or not is unclear. There are an incredible number of unknowns."

No one really knows how the Republican tax plan will play out. Few even seem to know precisely what's in it. One thing is certain, however: Individuals in high-tax Democratic states like California and New York will be worse off than people in lower-tax GOP states because of new limits on state and local tax deductions.

In the final days of Republicans compromising among themselves, the GOP wisely softened the bill's impact on taxpayers who itemize deductions, as a third of California taxpayers do.

The final bill will allow up to $10,000 in deductions of state and local taxes, which is especially important in California. There's currently no limit on those deductions. And the bill will permit mortgage interest deductions on new loans up to $750,000, rather than $500,000 as originally planned.

Two of the most threatened California Republicans played it smart. Reps. Darrell Issa of Vista and Dana Rohrabacher of Costa Mesa took no chance on a voter backlash and shielded themselves by voting "no" on the bill.

"The bill was improved, but not enough for a significant # of my constituents," Rohrabacher tweeted.

Issa also tweeted that "the changes do not go far enough to guarantee tax relief for constituents in my district."

The Cook Political Report, a national tip sheet for political junkies, rates the Issa and Rohrabacher races as toss-ups. Also rated a toss-up is the reelection bid of Republican Steve Knight of Palmdale. Knight joined all the other California Republicans in voting for the tax bill.

Three other Republicans representing districts that voted for Clinton are rated by Cook as "leaning" their way for reelection. They're Reps. Mimi Walters of Irvine, Ed Royce of Fullerton and Jeff Denham of Turlock. A fourth, David Valadao of Hanford, is considered by Cook a likely winner for another term.

But it's very early. What happens next November will depend on the quality of candidates and campaigns.

Bombastic Democratic rhetoric - such as Gov. Jerry Brown likening Republican congressional leaders to "a bunch of Mafia thugs" - probably just drives GOP voters deeper into their party corner.

There's enough natural California fear of the new tax law and resentment of President Trump to propel Democratic campaigns without hyperventilating.

A poll released this week by the nonpartisan UC Berkeley Institute of Governmental Studies showed California's dislike for both the tax plan and the president. That's a potentially fatal combo for at-risk Republicans who voted for the bill. The tax plan was supported by only 30% of registered voters. It was opposed by 51%, including 42% who disliked it strongly. Opinions broke along party lines - with 60% of Republicans supporting it, 67% of Democrats against. But only one-third of Republicans felt that the bill will have a positive impact on California.

A mere 30% of voters approved of Trump's job performance; 66% disapproved. Again, it was party line: 73% of Republicans approving but 93% of Democrats disapproving.

In much worse shape was Congress: 15% approval, 76% disapproval. Even 70% of Republicans disapproved of the GOP Congress.

"It's not a great year to run for reelection to Congress with congressional approval so low," says Mark DiCamillo, the poll director.

Especially for a California Republican.

But Wayne Johnson, a longtime Republican consultant, says his prognosis of the tax bill's political impact has changed. He's now more optimistic.

Asked whether it could hurt Republicans' reelection efforts, Johnson replied: "The first reaction I had was probably yes. But the more I've looked at it and got into the details, I really don't think so. I think Republicans have done a terrible job of explaining it."

"The effect of doubling the standard deduction [for non-itemizers] is huge," the consultant continued. "Nobody is looking at that."

Sragow says: "Is it a good day for Democrats? Sure. They've got dreams of sugar plums in their heads. Republicans are tossing and turning. But that's just tonight."

The stark reality of the bill's effects won’t be known until April 2019 when taxpayers file their tax returns for the first time under the new law. And that will be long after next November's elections.

01-29-2018, 08:42 AM
Another fake news: Trump's climate theory

Associated Press / 07:22 AM January 29, 2018

WASHINGTON - US President Donald Trump's description of the climate on planet Earth doesn't quite match what data show and scientists say.

In an interview with Piers Morgan that aired on Sunday on Britain's ITV News, the president said the world was cooling and warming at the same time and that claims of melting ice caps haven’t come true.

"There is a cooling, and there's a heating. I mean, look, it used to not be climate change, it used to be global warming. That wasn't working too well because it was getting too cold all over the place," Trump told Morgan.

Ten different climate scientists contacted by The Associated Press, however, said the president was not accurate about climate change.

Rutgers University climate scientist Jennifer Francis responded in an e-mail: "Clearly President Trump is relying on alternative facts to inform his views on climate change. Ice on the ocean and on land are both disappearing rapidly, and we know why: increasing greenhouse gases from burning fossil fuels that trap more heat and melt the ice."

The facts: The world hasn't had a cooler than average year since 1976 and hasn't had a cooler than normal month since the end of 1985, according to more than 135 years of temperature records kept by the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (Nasa) and National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA).

4 hottest years on record

The last four years have been the four hottest years on record globally, with 2010 the fifth hottest year, according to NOAA.

Every year in the 21st century has been at least 0.4 degrees Celsius warmer than the 20th-century average and in the top 25 hottest years on record, NOAA records show.

And while a good chunk of the United States had a frigid snap recently, most of the rest of the world was far warmer than normal, according to temperature records.

'Not quite right'

Zeke Hausfather of the Berkeley Earth temperature monitoring program - initially funded by nonscientists who doubt that the world is warming - said in an e-mail: "The world has been warming steadily over the past 50 years, with 17 of the past 18 years being the warmest since records began in the 1850s. It is not accurate to say that the climate has been 'cooling as well as warming.'"

"The ice caps were going to melt, they were going to be gone by now, but now they're setting records. They're at a record level," Trump said in the TV interview.

The facts: It is a bit more nuanced, but not quite right.

While a small number of experts a decade ago had predicted that the Arctic would be free of summer sea ice by now, most mainstream scientists and the UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change did not.

Instead they said Arctic sea ice would shrink, which it has, said Richard Alley, a Pennsylvania State University ice scientist.

Most scientists, including the director of the National Snow and Ice Data Center, are predicting that the Arctic will be free of summer sea ice sometime around the 2040s.

The Arctic set a record for the lowest amount of sea ice in the winter, when sea ice usually grows to its maximum levels, in March 2017.

In 2012, the Arctic set a record for lowest sea ice levels. Sea ice recovered slightly from that record and in 2017 in September, the annual low was only the eighth lowest on record, according to the National Snow and Ice Data Center.

Continuous decline of sea ice

But the 10 lowest years of sea ice have been all in the last 11 years. Arctic sea ice is declining at a rate of 13.2 percent per decade, according to Nasa.

Michael Oppenheimer, a Princeton University climate scientist, said the Antarctic sea ice pack, less directly influenced by global climate change, varied from year to year.

Antarctica hit a record low for sea ice in March 2017, the same month the Arctic hit a record winter low.

Antarctic sea ice also reached a record high in 2014.

"Both of the large ice sheets of Greenland and Antarctica are losing hundreds of billions of tons of ice per year. Sea ice continues to decline significantly in the Arctic decade by decade, and the thickness of Arctic ice is now less than 50 percent of what it was 40 years ago," a National Snow and Ice Data Center scientist, Ted Scambos, said in an e-mail.

01-29-2018, 11:19 AM
The Trump factor and US foreign policy

By: Joschka Fischer - @inquirerdotnet 05:09 AM January 29, 2018

BERLIN - In the first year of Donald Trump's presidency, the damage wrought by his administration's foreign policy fell well short of what had been feared.

Despite his thundering rhetoric and tweets dubbing North Korean dictator Kim Jong-un "little rocket man," the new US president did not start any wars, whether on the Korean Peninsula or in the South China Sea. There was no conflict over Taiwan, either, following Trump's questioning of America's longstanding "One China" policy.

In fact, rather than clashing with China, Trump seems to have forged a close personal relationship with Chinese President Xi Jinping. China’s leaders could hardly believe their luck when one of Trump’s first official acts was to withdraw the United States from the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP), which would have excluded China and shored up Western trade rules in the Asia-Pacific region. It was as if Trump wanted to make China, not America, great again.

Moreover, Trump did not start a trade war by imposing high tariffs on imports from major US trade partners such as China, Germany and Japan. Despite his refusal to recertify the Iran nuclear deal, it remains in place. And the long-term consequences of his unilateral decision to recognize Jerusalem as Israel's capital remain to be seen.

Trump's hope of cooperating more closely with Russia at the expense of US allies also went unrealized, and the official US position in the Ukrainian conflict has not changed. Of course, that is largely due to Russian President Vladimir Putin’s decision to interfere in the 2016 US presidential election, which has made it impossible for Trump to reorient America's Russia policy without triggering a domestic political firestorm.

Similarly, despite having been deemed "obsolete" by Trump, North Atlantic Treaty Organization (Nato) has actually gained strength and legitimacy during the past year, owing to Russia’s military buildup and continued war in Eastern Ukraine. To be sure, Europeans will have to see to their own defense more than in the past. But that would have been no different under a Hillary Clinton presidency (though the message would have been couched in friendlier terms).

All told, the White House "adults in uniform" - Secretary of Defense James Mattis, National Security Adviser H. R. McMaster, and Chief of Staff John Kelly - have ensured continuity in US foreign policy. And the same seems to be true for economic and trade policy.

Does that mean the world can rest easy? Of course not. There is still a big question mark hovering over US foreign policy in the form of Trump himself. It is entirely unclear what the president wants, what he actually knows, and what his advisers are and are not telling him. A coherent foreign policy may not withstand Trump's mood swings and spontaneous decisions.

Making matters worse, the administration's shrinking of the US State Department has weakened the institutional base for implementing official foreign policy to an almost mission-critical degree. And the White House’s recently published National Security Strategy is no more reassuring. In a departure from America’s official position since Sept. 11, 2001, the US will now view its global power rivalry with China and Russia, rather than terrorism by nonstate actors, as the primary threat to national security and world peace.

So, looking back at 2017, one gets the impression that while US foreign policy remained largely intact, it has also become completely unpredictable. To that extent, 2018 seems likely to be a year of substantially increased risks, especially given the tensions in the Persian Gulf and Lebanon, the war in Syria, the hegemonic struggle between Saudi Arabia and Iran, and the nuclear brinkmanship on the Korean Peninsula.

The Trump factor could be the single most significant source of uncertainty in international politics this year. The US is still the world’s foremost power, and it plays an indispensable role in preserving global norms. If America's policies are difficult to predict, and if Trump's behavior undermines the reliability of the US government, the international order will be vulnerable to immense turmoil.

As the US approaches its midterm elections in November, it will be important to consider how domestic political events might shape the country's foreign policy.

The critical question for 2018, then, is what Trump will do if he finds himself threatened domestically at the same time that a foreign policy crisis erupts. Will the “adults in the room” still be able to handle their charge? One need not be a doomsayer to regard the coming months with considerable skepticism and concern. Project Syndicate

01-29-2018, 12:08 PM
Trump blasts EU trade policy with US as 'very unfair'

Agence France-Presse / 08:03 AM January 29, 2018

LONDON, United Kingdom - The European Union's trade policy with America is "very unfair", President Donald Trump said in an interview to be aired Sunday, warning that his many problems with Brussels "may morph into something very big".

"We cannot get our product in. It's very, very tough. And yet, they send their product to us - no taxes, very little taxes. It's very unfair," Trump told ITV News in the interview done Thursday.

"I've had a lot of problems with (the) European Union, and it may morph into something very big from that standpoint - from a trade standpoint."

Trump delivered the warning during a wide-ranging interview on the sidelines of the World Economic Forum in Davos, where he took his "America First" agenda to the global business elite.

In a speech Friday he told the forum that his mantra "does not mean America alone" and hinted that the US could rejoin the Trans-Pacific Partnership, a deal he withdrew from a year ago.

But earlier this month the Trump Administration imposed steep tariffs on imported washing machines and solar panels, and his comments in the interview to air Sunday may cause alarm in European capitals over future trade with the US.

The Trump Administration last year vowed to impose nearly 300 percent punitive tariffs on airplanes manufactured by Canada's Bombardier.

A bipartisan US trade panel blocked that decision on Friday but the dispute, which has inflamed relations with Ottawa - and to a lesser degree Britain, where Bombardier has a large workforce - could be a harbinger for the EU.

'I certainly apologize'

In other remarks released ahead of the interview's airing, Trump appeared to slight British Prime Minister Theresa May's handling of fraught Brexit negotiations, declaring that he would have "negotiated it differently".

"I would have had a different attitude," he said of the talks, which have followed Britain's June 2016 referendum vote to leave the EU, and will continue through to its planned departure in March 2019.

"I think I would have said that the European Union is not cracked up to what it's supposed to be. And I would have taken a tougher stand in getting out," Trump added.

In excerpts of the discussion screened in Britain Friday, the US president apologized for the first time for retweeting a British far-right group's videos apparently showing Islamist violence.

"If you're telling me they're horrible racist people, I would certainly apologize if you'd like me to do that," the president said.

Trump confirmed he will visit Britain later this year, where he believes he is "very popular", according to the interviewer Piers Morgan, who wrote an account of the sit-down in the Mail on Sunday newspaper.

The president said he does not care about those opposed to his British visit, who include London mayor Sadiq Khan and the opposition Labor leader Jeremy Corbyn, amid predictions of large protests.

"I think a lot of people in your country like what I stand for, they respect what I stand for," he told Morgan, according to the presenter.

Asked if he had received an invitation to the royal wedding of Prince Harry and Meghan Markle later this year, Trump replied "not that I know of".

"I really want them to be happy. They look like a lovely couple," he added when pressed if he would like to attend the ceremony.

Not a feminist

During the interview - billed as the first of his presidency with a non-US international broadcaster - Trump was asked if he identifies as a feminist.

"No, I wouldn't say I'm a feminist," he replied.

"I mean, I think that would be, maybe, going too far. I'm for women, I'm for men, I'm for everyone."

Trump also signaled he would be willing to sign the US back up to the Paris climate accord, but only if the treaty undergoes major change.

He was met with global condemnation when he announced in June 2017 that America was pulling out of the Paris climate agreement, painting it a "bad deal" for its economy.

"The Paris accord, for us, would have been a disaster," he said in the interview to run Sunday.

"If they made a good deal… there’s always a chance we'd get back."

01-30-2018, 03:00 PM
Trump's war on Russia probe reaches new peak

Analysis by Stephen Collinson, CNN

Updated 0248 GMT (1048 HKT) January 30, 2018

Washington (CNN)The escalating campaign by President Donald Trump and his allies against the Russia investigation hit a new peak of intensity Monday.

First came news of the resignation of Andrew McCabe, the deputy director of the FBI, after weeks of attacks by Trump and his allies on Capitol Hill and in conservative media that he was a symptom of a "deep state" conspiracy against the President.

Then the House Intelligence Committee voted to release a memo alleging abuses by the FBI of surveillance law when it used a dossier about Trump and Russia to obtain a warrant to eavesdrop on Trump campaign foreign policy aide Carter Page.

The revelations, following a flurry of developments last week that suggested special counsel Robert Mueller was nearing the end of part of his probe, sent shockwaves through Washington, underscoring the gravity of a building political crisis.

The White House insisted it had nothing to do with the sudden departure of McCabe.

But given the political heat being cranked up by Trump, GOP aides on Capitol Hill and in the pro-Trump media, it would not surprise anyone if special counsel Robert Mueller or Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein is next to go.

Though such a step would trigger political mayhem and a potential constitutional showdown that could imperil Trump's presidency, such steps, if they happened, could be seen as the logical outcome of a pressure campaign that has raised concerns about Trump's tendency to rage against legal norms constraining his office.

The swirl of events also comes as speculation mounts over whether Trump will testify in person to the Mueller probe, as some of his friends warn him he could be walking into a trap set by the special counsel's team.

And in a new sign of the President's fixation with the Russia probe, his anger boiled over as he flew to Davos, Switzerland, on Air Force One last week, after he found out that Associate Attorney General Stephen Boyd had said the release of the GOP memo about the dossier would be "extraordinarily reckless," Bloomberg News reported Monday, citing four sources with knowledge of the matter.

Clear and consistent pattern

Events of the last year show a clear and consistent pattern by the President of demanding loyalty from law enforcement officials -- including recently forced out McCabe and fired FBI chief James Comey. Trump has also publicly vented at Attorney General Jeff Sessions, saying he wouldn't have picked him had he known he would recuse himself from the Russian investigation -- another variation on the loyalty theme.

At the same time, the President has shown himself willing to blur the traditional firewalls between the White House and the Justice Department and the FBI, either misunderstanding, or showing disdain for, protocols observed to avoid any impression of political interference in the neutral administration of justice.

The administration has spent weeks cranking up scrutiny on career FBI and Justice Department officials, claiming the Mueller probe is biased against Trump, apparently seeking to discredit its eventual findings and perhaps to shape the political terrain ahead of any calls for impeachment proceedings.

White House spokeswoman Sarah Sanders on Monday admitted that the President had put pressure on those in the investigation "to get it resolved" so he can go back to work she said Americans care about.

But she denied the White House had ordered McCabe's exit.

"I can say the President wasn't part of this decision-making process," Sanders said.

Another building block in the apparent efforts of the administration and its allies to cast doubt on the probity of the Mueller probe could come later Monday.

Nunes memo

Democrats have claimed the House Intelligence Committee memo misrepresents the facts and intelligence officials worry that its release could compromise classified information, though Trump is minded to approve its publication, an official familiar with the matter told CNN last week.

Republicans are adamant that the memo suggests serious problems with the use of the dossier, drawn up by former British spy Christopher Steele, which they claim was the spur for the FBI probe into alleged collusion between Russia and Trump's 2016 campaign.

"I have read the four-page memo. What I read was very concerning. I support making it public and getting this done as soon as possible," Washington Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers, a member of the House GOP leadership, told Fox News on Monday.

The memo cites the role of McCabe and Rosenstein for their roles in overseeing aspects of the investigation, according to a source briefed on the matter.

The cresting intrigue Monday follows a flurry of sensational developments in recent days that suggest that Mueller is approaching a critical point of his investigation and that the President's personal jeopardy could be deepening.

On Thursday, The New York Times reported that Trump ordered the firing of the special counsel in June. CNN reported that pressure to dismiss Mueller prompted the White House Counsel Donald McGahn to tell colleagues he would resign.

The firing never happened, but it could be relevant to Mueller's inquiries into whether Trump obstructed justice by firing Comey, since it could serve as evidence of the President's state of mind and intent in his apparent attempts to end the Russia investigation.

Trump now has Rosenstein in his crosshairs, CNN reported Friday, and has repeatedly suggested removing him, prompting advisers to warn the President off.

In McCabe's case, Trump's advisers highlighted the fact that the former deputy FBI director's wife mounted a Democratic state Senate campaign in Virginia, before he took his final post with the bureau.

The Washington Post reported last week that Trump had directly asked McCabe who he voted for in the 2016 election in a highly unusual move for a president toward a civil servant. CNN established that McCabe voted in the Republican primary in 2016 but did not vote in the general election.

Pressure on key officials

For some of Trump's critics, the pattern of pressure on key officials is already sufficient to raise strong suspicions that the President, in the Comey firing and subsequent actions, is guilty of obstruction of justice, a potentially impeachable offense.

"On perhaps the most important question of all -- whether the President of the United States committed the crime of obstruction of justice -- the answer now seems clear," Jeffrey Toobin, New Yorker staff writer and CNN senior legal analyst, wrote on Friday.

Should he go a step further and seek to fire Mueller, as he apparently recommended in June, Trump could trigger a constitutional crisis.

"I think if the President had gone through with this or tries to go through with it on a going forward basis, we're into uncharted territory, we're into the real question of the fundamentals of our democracy," Virginia Sen. Mark Warner told CNN's Jake Tapper on Friday.

"Are we still going to be a country where the rule of law prevails and that no one, even the President, is above the law?" Warner said.

Still, though it is clear the President is furious about the Russia investigation, and has demonstrably created political pressure on multiple officials linked to it, it does not follow that Mueller is destined to conclude he obstructed justice.

Former independent counsel Kenneth Starr, who led the investigation against President Bill Clinton, said that he did not believe Trump's actions had demonstrated corrupt intent that would be needed to back up an obstruction finding.

"I don't think that those who have been saying this is obstruction of justice have come forward with pervasive authority and have not addressed what I view as a fundamental question, the power of the presidency," Starr said on ABC News "This Week" on Sunday.

Though he maintained that the President has broad jurisdiction over law enforcement officials in his administration, he did allow that any move by the President to fire Mueller would cause "Armageddon."

Still, a case against the President that fell short of the criminal standards for an obstruction inquiry could still be forwarded to Congress for consideration of whether his conduct amounted to a high crime and misdemeanor required to trigger the political process of impeachment.

Yet given the intense skepticism of the Mueller probe and the orchestrated campaign against it that was again in evidence Monday, there must be significant doubt whether the GOP-led House would decide to move ahead.

02-07-2018, 11:00 AM
Tensions in the US-China relationship


By Ian Bremmer (The Philippine Star) | Updated February 7, 2018 - 12:00am

In Davos and during his recent State of the Union address to Congress, Donald Trump made clear that he means to get tough with China. This US president has an “outdated Cold War mentality,” responded China’s foreign ministry. Trade and investment relations between the world's two largest economies are headed for trouble. Trump doesn't want a full-scale trade war. Neither does Beijing. But even short of that, there is much damage that can be done.

Since announcing his presidential candidacy in 2015, President Trump has presented himself to US voters as the consummate maker of deals, a tougher, shrewder and a better defender of the American people than any past president, Democrat or Republican. He knows that his popularity, odds of re-election, and presidential legacy depend on his ability to promote the interests of voters who believe that trade competition has undermined their lives and livelihoods. In that arena, fast-rising China and its state-dominated economy have emerged as the ultimate adversaries.

Trump has begun to argue that economic security is national security. That's his warning to Beijing that righting the wrongs in US-Chinese trade and investment relations is his highest priority. His first moves will include announcements of trade enforcement actions and restrictions on Chinese investment in coming weeks. There will be continued discussion between Congress and the White House of how best to reform the process by which the US government approves proposals for foreign investment. Trump will also push Beijing to change rules that force US firms to transfer intellectual property (IP) to gain access to Chinese markets and to end IP theft.

With these changes, Trump hopes to impose enough pain on China and Chinese companies to force Beijing to take US commercial complaints more seriously. He'll begin with announcements of new tariffs and other restrictions on Chinese products entering the US. Only if these moves fail to win concessions will he threaten to make it more difficult for Chinese companies to operate and invest in the United States. These carefully calibrated measures are designed less to punish China than to push its negotiators to the bargaining table.

China will respond first with criticism and defiance, but both will be limited to avoid unnecessary provocation. President Xi will cast his government as a global leader in cross-border trade and investment and warn that Washington is headed down a dangerous protectionist path. China will certainly challenge US actions at the World Trade Organization.

He will also test the US pain threshold. US companies in many sectors will face new formal restrictions, but also audits, inspections, and other forms of bureaucratic assault that might move the US business community to pressure Trump to tread more lightly. In particular, each government will target the other side's tech companies.

Both sides have good reason to compromise. Xi Jinping will resist changes that prevent China's government from providing subsidies for Chinese firms that can help build a modern, technologically dynamic Chinese economy. But nor will he try to weaken the Chinese currency for tactical advantage or order a sharp slowdown in the purchase of US Treasury bonds to up the ante. Both actions would be self-defeating. Instead, Xi will probably appeal to Trump directly with pledges to give US companies expanded access to Chinese markets without forcing them to share IP and technology. Trump too has reason to compromise. He wants to win enough concessions from China to declare victory without jeopardizing the strong economic numbers that he believes can bolster his popularity.

Here's the problem: Each side believes the other is more vulnerable. Trump officials believe that China needs continuous access to US markets to avoid a sharp economic slowdown that might provoke a political crisis. Chinese officials believe their president is much less vulnerable to pressure than Trump, who must listen to continuous complaints from US business leaders and face voters again soon enough. The risk of conflict rises when each side believes it holds the stronger hand.

Don't expect a quick resolution. Neither side wants to look weak, at home or abroad. US-China frictions will likely last through 2018. Given the importance of relations between the world’s most important rising and established powers — for China, the US, and the entire global economy — let’s hope that Donald Trump and Xi Jinping can find common ground with enough space for both to stand proudly.

* * *

Ian Bremmer is the president of Eurasia Group and author of Superpower: Three Choices for America’s Role in the World.

02-08-2018, 07:25 AM

What defines American politics as we enter year two of the Trump presidency?


FEB 1, 2018

"I'm the least racist person you will ever interview," President Trump told a gaggle of reporters earlier this month. Trump was responding to reports that he had dismissed all 54 countries of Africa as "shitholes" and wondered why the U.S. didn't prioritize immigrants from places like Norway. Previously, the president reportedly insisted Nigerians who come here would never "go back to their huts in Africa," and suggested Haitian immigrants "all have AIDS." Trump began his political career with a loud and completely evidence-free campaign to prove Barack Obama, America's first black president, was born in Kenya. He also repeatedly suggested that Obama, who was editor of the Harvard Law Review, could not have gotten into Ivy League schools legitimately. On the morning Trump formally declared his intent to run for President, he characterized Mexican immigrants as rapists and criminals.

In the 1970s, Trump and his father were sued by the Justice Department for housing discrimination against black New Yorkers. In 1989, he took out a full-page newspaper ad calling for the death penalty for a group of black and brown 14-, 15-, and 16-year-olds convicted in the Central Park Jogger rape case, and continued to advocate for it 14 years later when their wrongful conviction was overturned. During the 2016 campaign, Trump spread disgusting propaganda about black-on-white crime and lied about the flow of illegal immigrants across the southern border. Before his inauguration in January, Trump attacked John Lewis, who marched for civil rights alongside Martin Luther King, Jr. - and was nearly beaten to death by an Alabama state trooper at Selma - as "all talk" and "no action." Trump once said a federal judge could not preside over his case fairly because the judge's parents were Mexican.

Yet the incident in January marked at least the third time Trump has publicly deemed himself "the least racist person" alive. This is a ludicrous thing for anyone to say. Gandhi wouldn't say it. The whitewashed version of Martin Luther King, Jr. that some remember wouldn't say it. It is simply shameless, and there is no better word to describe this president or the political era that he has ushered in.

As we embark on a second year of this presidency, more and more of our public officials now feel they can say anything, even when they previously said the opposite, or when we can readily see their falsehoods. More and more of our country's leaders are steadfastly, almost impressively, impervious to shame.

"Shame is a particularly useful tool in enforcing social norms," says Jennifer Jacquet, a professor at New York University and the author of Is Shame Necessary? New Uses for an Old Tool. "You may risk being arrested by the police for indecent exposure if you appear naked in Washington Square Park, but you certainly risk a lot of shame. That's the thing that the crowd is still allowed to do. I'm not allowed to put you in prison, or throw rocks at you, but the vigilantism, the power of the audience - the crowd - still exists in this role of public opprobrium."

In recent months, there have been signs that shame hasn't utterly vanished from our politics. At the end of 2017, Al Franken and John Conyers, two Democratic members of Congress, were pressured to resign amid sexual harassment allegations. So, too, was Republican Tim Murphy. If anything, though, the larger #MeToo movement is about the establishment of new norms around gender equality and abuse of power. It also doesn't seem to apply to everyone. The nauseating Blake Farenthold of Texas remains a United States congressman despite using $84,000 in taxpayer money to settle a sexual harassment claim. Yesterday, Farenthold backed off his pledge to pay the money back. There's also our president, who has been accused of misconduct by 19 different women. Trump shamelessly called out Franken and continues to insist that the women he himself has been accused by are liars.

Shame may or may not have had an effect on Sean Spicer. The former White House press secretary apologized this week for the "embarrassment" he caused himself and his family while serving in the West Wing. Spicer lied incessantly and rewrote the history of the Holocaust from the White House podium with his infamous "Even Hitler" rant. But nothing compares to his first ever press conference, when he kicked off the Trump presidency with the ludicrous claim his boss had attracted the largest inauguration crowd in history - "period" - and that photos to the contrary were somehow doctored or misleading.

As the title of Jacquet's book suggests, shame is an ancient social tool. It's a punishment for violating social norms that don't quite amount to breaking the law. If you suggested those who march alongside Nazis in the street can be "very fine people" at an office holiday party, your coworkers would probably back away slowly - and file a complaint with HR. Clearly, however, shame has lost a step, at least at the highest levels of our politics.

"Inherently, politics involves exaggeration," says John Geer, a Political Science professor at Vanderbilt University. "But usually those exaggerations had some basis in fact. You were spinning the results, you were spinning the data. But it had some basis - not necessarily a lot - in reality. Right now, the big problem is that the claims people are making are often just inconsistent with what we know. They are lies - or the whole idea of alternative facts."

Trump's particular attitude towards reality is not restricted to his views on people of color. He's also "the least anti-Semitic person you've ever seen in your life." You should know that "nobody loves the Bible more," even if his favorite passage is "Two Corinthians." There's nobody that "respects women more," although he does attack the appearance of any woman, like Megyn Kelly or Mika Brzezinski, who challenges him.

Trump attacked John McCain, a senator from his own party who spent five-and-a-half years in a North Vietnamese prison camp, as a loser who got captured. Trump spent those same years getting draft deferments and called avoiding sexually transmitted disease in '70s New York his "personal Vietnam." He peddled the insane conspiracy theory that Ted Cruz's father was involved in the JFK assassination. He flouted the norm of presidential candidates releasing their tax returns, historically a gesture of transparency meant to show they will not bring conflicts of interest into office. Trump tapped his family, many of whom bring their own conflicts, to be among his most senior advisers. Many of those he appointed to leadership roles essentially made a career out of trying to destroy the agencies they now run.

But above all, Trump continues to disseminate false information at a breathtaking, surely unprecedented clip - then screams that any reporter or news outlet that challenges him is spreading Fake News. By his 355th day in office, The Washington Post assessed that the president had made 2,000 false or misleading claims. Remember when The Wall was going to cost $12 billion and Mexico was going to pay for it? Now the president is asking for $25 billion in American taxpayer cash.

Trump quite clearly does not believe in the concept of truth in the public discourse. He believes anything he says is true so long as enough of his supporters believe it. This has allowed him to trample the norms of our democratic politics with almost complete impunity. As president, he has outlasted any and all attempts by his peers or the public to shame him.

"We've kind of seen a sea change here on shame and shamelessness," says Kevin Kruse, a professor of history at Princeton University. "I'm giving my lecture course this semester, and I did McCarthyism. I played the famous clip of Joseph Welch: 'Have you no sense of decency, sir? At long last.' It took the air out of McCarthy. I don't think it would work today. Now, with the charges that everything is fake news, there's no sense that if you're caught in a lie, the public will turn on you. In a new era dominated by cries that everything is fake news, there can be no truth. And without truth, there can be no shame."

Trump's shamelessness has filtered down into society, much like the apocryphal story about John F. Kennedy eschewing the tradition of top hats. "You have these people in society called 'norm entrepreneurs,'" Jacquet says. "The leadership sets the tone for the country." One of Trump's longest-serving aides, Kellyanne Conway, coined that infamous term, "alternative facts," to unwittingly describe the White House's approach to the truth. She illustrated it at every opportunity, which included cooking up a non-existent terror attack called "the Bowling Green Massacre” to justify the president’s Definitely Not a Muslim Ban. When called out on it, Conway claimed to have misspoken that one time - until it emerged she had peddled the would-be tragedy on other occasions. Conway also once made the astounding claim that a proposed $880 billion Medicaid cut did not constitute a cut to Medicaid.

02-08-2018, 07:26 AM
^ Continued ...

In August, Dave Chappelle marveled at the fact he never knew that things like "government ethics" weren't enforced through legal measures, but through norms. It's easy to see why we've all had to take notice. The Environmental Protection Agency chief's calendar is filled almost completely with meetings with his real constituents: oil, gas, and chemical companies. That man, Scott Pruitt, installed a $25,000 top-secret phone booth for...protecting the environment?

Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke grew up in a tiny Montana town where two-person companies just happen to get no-bid federal contracts. Chief of Staff John Kelly, lauded by some Beltway media types as the paragon of virtue in this administration, smeared a sitting congresswoman from the White House podium. During the campaign, Trump and his surrogates spent day after day blasting Hillary Clinton’s use of private email as an unforgivable breach of national security. After he took office, at least six of his White House advisers used private email for official business.

The signs of shame's collapse as a social force are everywhere. One congressman peddling conspiracy theories literally ran down a staircase in the Capitol to escape CNN, yelling "Fake News!" as he fled. CNN's longtime Trumpist-in-Residence, Jeffrey Lord, once called Trump "the Martin Luther King of healthcare" on national television. He returned to the airwaves twice more that day to defend the statement. The network later severed ties with him over his use of a Nazi slogan, which Lord maintains was a joke.

In Alabama in December, there appeared to be a notable example of shame's resilience in the ultimate defeat of Roy Moore, the Alabama Senate candidate accused by nine different women of sexual misconduct, many of whom were under 18 at the time of the alleged incidents. Moore enjoyed the support of the Republican National Committee, and came within two points of winning. His supporters defended him by referencing the Bible, and his pastor friend suggested he sought out teen girls when he was in his 30s because they were "pure." But Moore did not win - a victory for shame and decency. Except Republican turnout was actually about normal, and Moore primarily lost because of extraordinary turnout among black voters in favor of Doug Jones, his opponent. Was it really shame that doomed Moore?

Elsewhere in the Republican party, Louisiana Senator Bill Cassidy went on Jimmy Kimmel's show and coined The Jimmy Kimmel Test™, Cassidy's humane-sounding criteria for any prospective Obamacare repeal-and-replace bill that he then trumpeted across nearly a half-dozen cable news shows. When it came to write his Repeal and Go Fuck Yourself bill with Lindsey Graham, however, Cassidy included little of what he pledged to do. It was as if he thought all the video clips and the news stories and the tweets documenting what he'd earlier said just wouldn't matter - that in a way, they didn't really exist.

"Cassidy thought, Attention is so fractured that the people who I need in order to stay in office won't even know about this," Jacquet says of the healthcare bait-and-switch. "While you and I know Cassidy was caught - and Jimmy Kimmel did a big expose using his platform and power of shaming - maybe that did not reach his constituents."

This idea hints at the structural problems abetting shame's decline, and the rise of post-truth politics that seems to go hand-in-hand. One reason attention is "fractured" is that the media landscape has become fractured and fragmented, itself. The Washington Post might have had 30 sources corroborating the stories of the first four women who accused Roy Moore. But it's "The Liberal Washington Post," and enough Alabamians dismissed it—automatically favoring the stories peddled by Fox News, or talk radio, or their pastors—that Moore nearly won the election.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell's blockade of Merrick Garland, whom President Obama nominated to the Supreme Court with nearly a year left in his term, was an unprecedented assault on the Senate's political norms based on a stretch, to say the least, of the so-called "Biden Rule."

That was the culmination of a similarly unprecedented campaign of obstruction from McConnell, particularly when it came to federal judicial nominees: Obama handed over 103 court vacancies to Trump, twice the number handed to him by George W. Bush. More Obama appointees were blocked using the filibuster than under all previous presidents combined. That was part of a larger campaign by McConnell, and Eric Kantor and John Boehner in the House, to block any and all Obama initiatives in the interest of pure power politics. It's the same political instinct that led Republicans to feel empowered to wage campaigns of voter suppression throughout the country - campaigns that very well could have had an impact in the Alabama race, and in the 2016 election.

However, Trump's assaults on decorum and common decency didn't emerge from thin air. Congressman Joe Wilson of South Carolina infamously yelled, "You lie!", twice, at Barack Obama, the sitting President of the United States, as he addressed a joint session of Congress. Wilson, though he did apologize, scarcely faced any real consequences - either for his disrespectful behavior, or for being completely wrong.

"He was rebuked in the House on a party-line vote," Kruse says. "No Republicans voted to rebuke him. And then he went out and fundraised off it. He made like a million dollars off that comment. So something that should have sent him cowering in shame was something he bragged about, he made money off of. It was politically profitable for him."

There's little doubt that Donald Trump learned from both McConnell's procedural shamelessness, and Wilson's shameless public attacks on the first black president. He also quickly learned a few things from how his own behavior was received. When Trump launched his birther campaign, Republican leaders by and large failed to condemn it. A number of sitting congressmen welcomed it with open arms.

"No one [in the Republican Party] resisted or spoke up against the campaign that he was running in that regard," Jacquet says, "which did in some fundamental ways roll out the carpet for his arrival." Just as important, mainstream news outlets proved incapable of denting the movement despite debunking Trump's fact-free claims and pillorying his outrageous behavior. Trump was developing a base of support that only listened to him, because he played all the right notes on an instrument dating back to America's founding.

There could be no Donald Trump without an environment ready to receive him. The Republican Party and the conservative movement that provides its energy fostered this environment over the decades, developing its own information ecosystem that gradually became an impenetrable vortex - an alternate reality. Republicans became transfixed on white identity politics and resentment of a changing America over all else, including the concept of truth itself. And they began to rig the machine of our democracy, keeping The Wrong People away from the polls and herding them into districts where their votes only went so far anyway. The Democratic Party had its issues during the primaries, when the party establishment was ultimately exposed as having favored Hillary Clinton over Bernie Sanders. But there simply is no liberal infovortex that rivals the conservative machine.

"It happens across the political spectrum, but if you look at the particular communities Trump tapped into, they've [conservatives] got an even greater level of epistemic closure than we might see in other places," Kruse observes. "Fox News or Breitbart or the alt-right media out there are really living in their own universe." You can't truly equate Breitbart with The Washington Post, or see them as counterweights. Only a fan of Breitbart would.

Trump has simply made the pre-existing qualities more garish and extreme. It is difficult to get the full measure of the damage he has done to the body politic as it still unfolds, though surely the fact Roy Moore was even remotely competitive in a statewide election to a national office is its own thermometer.

"Has Donald Trump and this administration not only weakened the social norms, but also the power of shame itself?" Jacquet asks, without a sure answer. "They have shown such a clear way that you can skirt the traditional shaming channels in our society." She offered that my interest in this article showed we're still aware that some norms are being violated. But does it matter when the president has convinced half the country they shouldn't care?

"If there's something that my research has shown," Jacquet adds, "it's that it's easier to destroy a norm than to restore it." Geer agrees that the challenge is immense: "We need somebody who can rise above this partisan fray. And I don't know who that is, because it's hard to get the nomination without being heavily partisan. And third parties don't work in this country."

You can't rebuild the norms of political behavior if the country exists in two entirely disconnected spheres of existence. To reconnect them would require huge structural changes to how information is disseminated in society, or a uniquely charismatic leader whose message carries over both sides of the fence. Or maybe it may just take us hitting rock bottom before we all agree that something in how we’re processing the world, and holding our leaders accountable, has to change. If Donald Trump isn't rock bottom, then what is?

02-08-2018, 08:06 AM
Republican Ruthlessness and Democratic Ineptitude Got Us Here

Only one party read the tea leaves of the 2010 Census.


FEB 8, 2018

On Wednesday, Salon published a remarkable piece based on documents it sprung from various places, including the inner sanctums of Republican organizations, that paints almost a complete picture of how that party got itself ahead in the long game of redistricting our politics to its complete advantage. In a strictly academic sense, it’s a marvel of planning and execution energized by apparently limitless gobs of corporate money and the vast donations of the country's plutocrats.

The visionaries at the Republican State Leadership Committee, who designed the aptly-named strategy dubbed REDMAP, short for Redistricting Majority Project, managed to look far beyond the short-term horizon. They designed an audacious and revolutionary plan to wield the gerrymander as a tool to lock in conservative governance of state legislatures and Congress. It proved more effective than any Republican dared dream. Republicans held the U.S. House in 2012, despite earning 1.4 million fewer votes than Democratic congressional candidates, and won large GOP majorities in the Ohio, Wisconsin, Michigan and North Carolina state legislatures even when more voters backed Democrats.

They saw the census year of 2010 coming from a mile off. They recognized the importance of electing state legislators for the purpose of redrawing maps so that they more easily could elect more members of Congress.

Republicans, Hofeller said, must be fully prepared and engaged on multiple fronts - and he told state legislators that they would play the starring roles. He explained how in more than 40 states, state legislatures drew both their own state House and Senate districts, along with the vast majority of the 435 U.S. House seats. He walked through the importance of being in the room when the new lines were drawn. He emphasized that the state legislative elections in 2009 and 2010 represented the party’s last chance to influence its position at what he called the "redistricting table" when line-drawing began after the census - and suggested how meaningful it could be to be the only people in the room.

The Democratic Party, at both the state and national levels, was completely wrong-footed on all of this. I'm telling you, people will be studying how the Republicans did this in political science classes for the next 100 years. It's like the Republicans were the only ones that remembered everything they'd learned in civics class.

However, in the real world, and especially in the lives of every American who is not an oligarch, this master plan has come at a terrible cost. Retrograde policies have been enacted by legislatures drawn so crookedly that even the United States Supreme Court recognizes it now. Wisconsin has been changed from the proud laboratory of progressive politics into a conservative policy lab rat second only to the disaster that was Sam Brownback's Kansas. Thanks to a local Kochish clone named Art Pope, North Carolina went so newly insane that an entirely new civil rights movement sprang up almost overnight in reaction.

And, as to the United States House of Representatives, in 2010 and 2014, this long-term project has visited upon the nation the two worst Congresses ever elected. History will blame the Republicans for the damage they've wrought, but it will blame the Democrats for failing to see it coming.

"Maps matter," the RSLC presentation continues. It calls maps the first tool in winning elections. In Texas, it explains, Democrats controlled the congressional delegation by a margin of 17 to 15 before the GOP won back the state legislature. Once Republicans had the pens in their own hands, that swung to 21-11 in the GOP's favor the very next election.

Read the whole thing, as the kidz say. This is how we got here.

02-08-2018, 08:11 AM
Of Course Republicans Will Keep Letting Trump Slide

They'll line up and salute when the time comes.


FEB 7, 2018

The president* certainly has a gift for staying in character. You have to give the man that. I expect his re-elect to produce an ad with him standing in a white uniform on a balcony, tossing pennies to the peasants. But as easily mockable as this proposal for a grand parade and military review is, it shouldn’t blind us to the very real damage this administration* is doing elsewhere. For example, as if John Kelly's remarks on DACA beneficiaries weren't proof enough, the administration* has made it pretty clear what its attitude is toward poor people who are too lazy - or, as it turns out, sick - to get off their asses and do something.

First, there is the concerted effort to turn Medicaid into a welfare program - first, by enacting work requirements for Medicaid recipients, and then to enact a lifetime limit on coverage. The folks at McClatchy have a good rundown of how these two things will work together to do to Medicaid what the 1996 welfare "reform" act did to Aid to Families With Dependent Children - essentially, to "welfare-ize" Medicaid as a prelude to changing the program utterly, or to eliminate it entirely.

Capping health care benefits - like federal welfare benefits - would be a first for Medicaid, the joint state-and-federal health plan for low-income and disabled Americans. If approved, the dramatic policy change would recast government-subsidized health coverage as temporary assistance by placing a limit on the number of months adults have access to Medicaid benefits. The move would continue the Trump administration's push to inject conservative policies into the Medicaid program through the use of federal waivers, which allow states more flexibility to create policies designed to promote personal and financial responsibility among enrollees.

First of all, who says that "enrollees" need their personal and financial responsibility "promoted"? The representatives of the most obviously self-indulgent wastrel ever to waddle through the White House? Please. And, as Ed Kilgore points out in New York, this plan will come with the added bonus of basically killing off the Medicaid expansion that came with the Affordable Care Act.

Not to be outdone, the Department of Housing and Urban Development, under the nepotistic, if barely distinguishable, leadership of Dr. Ben Carson, apparently wants in on this red-hot work-requirement action, too. From The Intercept:

This change would significantly impact those who rely on public housing and housing choice vouchers, often referred to as Section 8 in reference to Section 8 of the Housing Act. The news comes just weeks after the Trump administration announced that states could start imposing work requirements as a condition of Medicaid eligibility…if the draft's proposals are enacted, those families would have to pay the higher of two figures: Either 35 percent of their household's gross income, or 35 percent of what they earn from working 15 hours a week for four weeks at the federal minimum wage. A comment in the margins of the document notes that the latter would equal $152.25, something housing advocates say is effectively a new minimum rent floor.

Additionally, the draft legislation would allow public housing authorities to impose work requirements of up to 32 hours a week "per adult in the household who is not elderly or a person with disabilities." According to the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, more than half of all recipients who lived in subsidized housing in 2015 were elderly or disabled, and more than a quarter of all households had a working adult.

Suddenly, and again, the reasons why congressional Republicans are willing to let the president* run amuck in so many ways are very clear. While he's putting on his freak show that so entertains the rubes, and while everyone is amused by the contortions that the investigations of Russian ratfcking are putting him and his people through, in so many other ways, his administration* is modern conservative nirvana: dismantling the social safety net, knuckling the poor and infirm, destroying the administrative state, and making the lives of millions of voiceless people immeasurably worse while they still have the power to do so.

Of course they're letting him slide. They're getting everything they've wanted since the enactment of the New Deal. He's a dream come true. They'll line up and salute. I guarantee that.

02-22-2018, 02:19 PM
Mueller Has the Goods Now, and Trump Knows It

And any decision to fire Mueller or Rosenstein will (finally) have grave political consequences.


FEB 17, 2018


"A man's or a woman's?"

Dr. Mortimer looked strangely at us for an instant, and his voice sank almost to a whisper as he answered: "Mr. Holmes, they were the footprints of a gigantic hound!”

—Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, The Hound of the Baskervilles

Closer and closer and closer, still. From The New York Times:

The indictment represents the first charges by the special counsel, Robert S. Mueller III, for meddling in the 2016 presidential election - the fundamental crime that he was assigned to investigate. In a 37-page indictment filed in United States District Court, Mr. Mueller said that the 13 individuals have conspired since 2014 to violate laws that prohibit foreigners from spending money to The indictment charges that the foreigners falsely posed as American citizens, stole identities and otherwise engaged in fraud and deceit in an effort to influence the U.S. political process, including the 2016 presidential race. "The nature of the scheme was the defendants took extraordinary steps to make it appear that they were ordinary American political activists," Rod J. Rosenstein, the deputy attorney general overseeing Mr. Mueller's inquiry, said in a brief news conference on Friday afternoon at the Justice Department.

Oh, they're smart fellers, they are. The indictments were rolled out perfectly. It is now absolutely impossible for the president* to fire either Rosenstein or Mueller without the worst possible political consequences. By basing the indictments on federal election law, Mueller has framed the case so as also to include anyone who accepted this criminal help.

And the material in the indictment - which you can read for yourself here - outlines a thoroughly complete campaign of ratfcking aimed exclusively at electing Donald Trump to be president of the United States. This was Donald Segretti on steroids, with the power of a huge apparatus behind them. A few excerpts:

On or about October 16, 2016, Defendants and their co-conspirators used the Instagram account "Woke Blacks" to post the following message: "[A] particular hype and hatred for Trump is misleading the people and forcing Blacks to vote Killary. We cannot resort to the lesser of two devils. Then we'd surely be better off without voting AT ALL."

b. On or about November 3, 2016, Defendants and their co-conspirators purchased an advertisement to promote a post on the Instagram account "Blacktivist" that read in part: "Choose peace and vote for Jill Stein. Trust me, it's not a wasted vote."

c. By in or around early November 2016, Defendants and their co-conspirators used the "United Muslims of America" social media accounts to post anti-vote messages such as: "American Muslims [are] boycotting elections today, most of the American Muslim voters refuse to vote for Hillary Clinton because she wants to continue the war on Muslims in the middle east and voted yes for invading Iraq."

They pushed the "voter fraud" fantasy as well. Kris Kobach must be so proud.

b. On or about August 11, 2016, Defendants and their co-conspirators posted that allegations of voter fraud were being investigated in North Carolina on the Twitter account @TEN_GOP.

c. On or about November 2, 2016, Defendants and their co-conspirators used the same account to post allegations of "#VoterFraud by counting tens of thousands of ineligible mail in Hillary votes being reported in Broward County, Florida."

And, as we saw above, they did what they could to suppress the minority vote.

46. In or around the latter half of 2016, Defendants and their co-conspirators, through their personas, began to encourage U.S. minority groups not to vote in the 2016 US. presidential election or to vote for a third-party US. presidential candidate.

It's important to remember that every one of the tactics mentioned above - especially the voter-fraud canard - have been electioneering tactics used by the former Republican Party for at least two decades. All these Russians are alleged to have done is to weaponized further what already was in place and direct it toward the benefit of the Trump campaign.

The Trumpites (and now the president*, himself) already have mustered a response - namely, that there is no evidence presented here that directly proves any "collusion," which remains their magic conjuring word that makes all the monsters go away. That may get them through the night, but they have to know that Mueller has the goods now, and that none of us know what other goods Mueller may have.

Donald J. Trump

Russia started their anti-US campaign in 2014, long before I announced that I would run for President. The results of the election were not impacted. The Trump campaign did nothing wrong - no collusion!

I can recall a scene from the late Jimmy Breslin's Watergate book, How The Good Guys Finally Won, in which a lawyer working in the office of House Judiciary Council John Doar put together a series of index cards that created a timeline of Richard Nixon's first day in the White House after the Watergate break-in. From the cards, you could see how Nixon and his men were concocting a strategy to bury the story and insulate the president from how they were doing it. At this point, Nixon was still saying he didn't learn anything about the break-in until months later. Breslin talked about what the cards were saying.

"Oh, come on."

We are still supposed to believe that the Russians concocted this amazing scheme to influence the election and the person on whose behalf they were operating the scheme didn't know what they were doing?

Nor did the people running his campaign?

Oh, come on.

Really, come the fck on.

I really don't have anything more to say about what happened in Florida because, frankly, I've been doing this for almost seven years now and I’m goddamn sick and tired of arguing with people over the nuances of mass murder.

02-22-2018, 02:47 PM

Trump Tells Shooting Survivors: Solution to 'Your Problem' Is More Guns in School

During a listening session Wednesday with student survivors and their families, the president proposed arming teachers and making it easier to institutionalize people.


02.21.18 6:39 PM ET

While meeting with survivors of last week's school shooting, President Donald Trump on Wednesday endorsed the idea of preventing school shootings by having more guns on campus.

One week after 17 people were killed at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida, the president sat for a roundtable discussion with some survivors and their families, teachers, and parents of Sandy Hook and Columbine victims, and listened to their harrowing stories, impassioned pleas, and thoughts on how to prevent future massacres.

When Trump spoke about proposed solutions, he suggested that arming teachers in their classrooms could act as a deterrent when a gunman enters a school.

"If you had a teacher with, who was adept at firearms, they could very well end the attack very quickly," the president said. "And the good thing about a suggestion like that, and we're going to be looking at it very strongly, I think a lot of people are going to be opposed to it, I think a lot of people are going to like it. But the good thing is you'll have a lot of people with that."

CNN Politics

Replying to @CNNPolitics
Trump responds to the emotional stories of students and parents: "We don't want others to go through the kind of pain that you've gone through"

CNN Politics

Trump says he will be looking closely at the idea of arming teachers in schools

Broward County Sheriff Scott Israel said that there actually was an armed guard on the high school campus, but that the guard never encountered alleged shooter Nikolas Cruz.

The president, appearing to reference how football coach Aaron Feis died shielding students, suggested: "If the coach had a firearm in his locker… he wouldn't have had to run, he would have shot [Cruz], and that would have been the end of it."

He continued: "This would only obviously be for people who are very adept at handling a gun. It's called concealed carry, where a teacher would have a concealed gun on them. They’d go for special training and they would be there and you would no longer have a gun-free zone."

The president also mentioned a hypothetical scenario in which there would be armed military veterans in every school protecting students.

"You'd have a lot of people that would be armed, that would be ready," Trump said. "They're professionals, they may be Marines that left the Marines, that left the Army, left the Air Force... They'd be spread evenly throughout the school."

If would-be school shooters knew that trained vets and armed teachers populated campuses, "they wouldn't go into the school to start off with," the president said.

"I think it could very well solve your problem."

He went on to say that "a lot of people don't understand that airline pilots, a lot of them, carry guns. I have to say that things have changed a lot."

Trump then proceeded to poll the room of students and their families on whether they liked his idea.

Later Wednesday, the Broward County superintendent, Robert Runcie, pushed back against Trump's suggestions, saying before a CNN town hall: "We don't need to put guns in the hands of teachers. You know what we need? We need to arm our teachers with more money in their pocket."

The president also spoke about mental health issues, suggesting that it should be made easier to confine an individual who hasn't yet committed a crime. "Years ago, we had mental hospitals, institutions, we had a lot of them and a lot of them have closed. Some people thought it was a stigma," Trump said. "Today, if you catch somebody, they don't know what to do with him. He hasn't committed the crime, but he may very well and there’s no mental institution."

He also assured his audience that he supports strong background checks for gun purchases, an idea that has gained some traction in the White House.

"We're going to be very strong on background checks," Trump declared. "We'll be doing very strong background checks. Very strong emphasis on the mental health of somebody. And we are going to do plenty of other things."

02-28-2018, 10:08 AM
Trump son-in-law Kushner loses top security clearance

Agence France-Presse / 09:06 AM February 28, 2018

United States President Donald Trump's son-in-law and senior aide Jared Kushner has lost his top-level security clearance, sources familiar with the matter said on Tuesday, a decision with potentially profound implications for the administration.

Two sources, who could not speak on record because the status of security clearances is classified, confirmed US media reports that the 37-year-old White House aide will no longer be able to access America's most closely protected secrets.

The White House - up to and including the president himself - refused to comment on the record, but officials insisted that the decision would not have any impact on Kushner's role.

Still, Kushner’s loss of access to "Top Secret/SCI (Sensitive Compartmented Information)" casts serious doubt on his status as a powerbroker inside the White House and his ability to negotiate Middle East peace.

Kushner had been an integral part of Trump’s election campaign and, among White House advisors, is seen as something like a first among equals.

The soft-spoken aide is married to the president's daughter Ivanka Trump and has been a leading figure in efforts to reach a peace deal between Israelis and Palestinians.

He has also been a strong proponent of Washington's intensified support for the government of embattled Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

Politico and CNN first reported that his clearance might have been rescinded late last week.

The decision comes just days before Netanyahu visits the White House.

Former US negotiator Aaron David Miller said Kushner now risks losing "credibility" with interlocutors in the Middle East.

"They know you can't be reading about them," he said, and "you can't possibly know what you don't know."

Kushner’s lawyer had earlier admitted that he has not yet completed the formal clearance procedure, despite reportedly getting access to the most secret material contained in the president’s daily briefing – the crown jewels of US intelligence.

White House Chief of Staff John Kelly ordered changes to the clearance system after a top aide Rob Porter worked for months without full clearance because of allegations he abused both his former wives.

"I will not comment on anybody's specific security clearance," Kelly said in a statement.

Kelly has told Kushner he had "full confidence in his ability to continue performing his duties in his foreign policy portfolio including overseeing our Israeli-Palestinian peace effort and serving as an integral part of our relationship with Mexico."

"Everyone in the White House is grateful for these valuable contributions to furthering the President's agenda. There is no truth to any suggestion otherwise," Kelly added.

Ivanka Trump’s level of security clearance has also been in question.

She recently visited South Korea and briefed that country's president Moon Jae-in on new North Korea sanctions.

For almost any staffer other than Kushner, his future in the White House would now be under serious doubt.

He had already been forced to repeatedly revise statements to US intelligence and law enforcement about his contacts with foreign officials and his business interests.

He put himself firmly in the sights of special prosecutor Robert Mueller after secretly meeting Russian ambassador Sergey Kislyak and Sergei Gorkov, a banker with ties to Vladimir Putin as well as attending the notorious "Trump Tower meeting" with a Kremlin-connected lawyer.

On Tuesday, even before the stunning news broke, close Kushner advisor Josh Raffel announced he was leaving the White House and Kushner was accused of breaking the "Hatch Act" which forbids, among other things, White House aides using their official titles in campaign statements.

And later on Tuesday the Washington Post reported that at least four foreign governments - the United Arab Emirates, China, Israel, and Mexico - had wondered how to leverage Kushner's business and political vulnerabilities.

That sparked several calls from lawmakers, including Congressman Ruben Gallego, who took to Twitter to ask "what DOES Jared have to do to get fired?"

Boy wonder

The answer to that question remains unclear. Since the first days of this administration, Trump has seemed to believe there was no challenge too confounding, no conflict too intractable for his son-in-law to tackle.

Beyond resolving the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, Kushner was handed a to-do list that included solving America’s opioid epidemic, prison reform, and injecting the nation’s bureaucracy with entrepreneurial spirit.

In person, Kushner is polite and self-deprecating; offering little of the hubris the president has shown about his abilities.

"Jared's done an outstanding job. I think he's been treated very unfairly," Trump said just last Friday. "He's a high-quality person. He works for nothing, just so - you know, nobody ever reports that, but he gets zero. He doesn't get a salary, nor does Ivanka."

But Trump also indicated the decision on Kushner's security clearance would be up to chief of staff Kelly.

"He's going to do what's right for the country. And I have no doubt he'll make the right decision," Trump said. /kga

03-07-2018, 08:37 AM
Top Trump economic aide Cohn resigns

Andrew Beatty, Agence France-Presse

Posted at Mar 07 2018 07:49 AM

WASHINGTON - Donald Trump's White House was rocked by another high-profile resignation Tuesday, as top economic adviser Gary Cohn quit in protest at the president's decision to levy global steel tariffs.

"It has been an honor to serve my country and enact pro-growth economic policies to benefit the American people," Cohn said in a statement.

Cohn is just the latest in a long string of senior Trump advisers to resign or be fired, a virtually unprecedented turnover of administration staff.

The 57-year-old had strongly opposed Trump's decision to levy tariffs on steel and aluminum, which has sparked fears of a trade war.

"For several weeks Gary had been discussing with the president that it was nearing time for him to transition out. His departure date is to be determined but will be a few weeks from now," a White House official said.

A former Goldman Sachs executive, his departure prompted concerned murmurs on Wall Street and could portend a rocky trading session on Wednesday.

The aide, who is Jewish, had threatened to resign after Trump refused to condemn neo-Nazi groups who protested in Charlottesville, Virginia.

Then, like now, allies had tried to keep Cohn on board with the prospect of a future cabinet-level position or passing tax reform - which he helped usher through Congress.

A long-time Democrat, he was seen as a moderating influence that curbed Trump's nationalist economic instincts and those of advisors like Peter Navarro.

In a statement, Trump praised Cohn's as a "rare talent."

"Gary has been my chief economic advisor and did a superb job in driving our agenda, helping to deliver historic tax cuts and reforms and unleashing the American economy once again," Trump said.

"He is a rare talent, and I thank him for his dedicated service to the American people."


Cohn's departure presents a political problem for Trump, as he wrestles Congressional Republicans who share the aide's concern about tariffs and a looming trade war.

It also blows a hole in Trump's claim, made just hours earlier, that his White House is running smoothly, despite a wave of resignations and FBI investigators circling his top aides.

In an early morning tweet, Trump said there was no "CHAOS in the White House" describing it as a "Fake News narrative" as he tried to reassure supporters that his administration has not careened off the rails.

"Wrong! People will always come & go," he said after his closest aide Hope Hicks and staff secretary Rob Porter stepped down amid interwoven scandals.

Trump's first year in office has been a frenzy of departures and infighting, which insiders put down to clashing interests, inexperience and the president's unique management style.

"I want strong dialogue before making a final decision," Trump said, defending his method of promoting staff argument.

But the former real estate developer also hinted that things were not perfect.

"I still have some people that I want to change (always seeking perfection). There is no Chaos, only great Energy!" he said.

03-07-2018, 08:39 AM
Trump claims EU has made it 'almost impossible' for US firms

Agence France-Presse

Posted at Mar 07 2018 06:59 AM

WASHINGTON - President Donald Trump lashed out at European Union trade rules Tuesday, saying the bloc has made life near "impossible" for US firms, and threatening to ramp up tariffs on imports into the US.

"The European Union has been particularly tough on the United States," Trump said as he hosted Swedish Prime Minister Stefan Lofven at the White House.

"They make it almost impossible for us to do business with them, and yet they send their cars and everything else back into the United States."

Meanwhile, the US is "subsidizing" Europe militarily, he said.

"The European Union has not treated us well. And it's been a very, very unfair trade situation."

Trump, who has threatened to institute 25 percent import duties on steel from all foreign producers and 10 percent on aluminum, said he was not afraid of sparking a conflict over trade.

"When we're behind on every single country, trade wars aren't so bad," he said.

"The trade war hurts them. It doesn't hurt us. So we'll see what happens."

He warned that he was ready to ramp up import duties on European cars in the US, most of which come from Germany.

"They can do whatever they'd like. But if they do that, then we put a big tax of 25 percent on their cars and believe me, they won't be doing it very long."

Speaking after bilateral meetings in the White House, Lofven cautioned that open and free trade is "crucially important" for Sweden and the EU.

He noted that it is "very, very complicated to see" how global supply chains meld materials and inputs from many countries into a final product like a car or airplane.

"I know for example, when we start our aircraft, a very good aircraft, the content is American," Lofven said.

He also pointed out that tariffs would come down hard on European factories even though they produce only about 10 percent of the steel in the world, while China produces about 50 percent, he said.

"I am convinced that increased tariffs will hurt us all in the long run," he said.

"I of course support the efforts of the European Union to achieve trade with fewer obstacles and as few as possible."

03-13-2018, 10:08 AM
House panel finds ‘no evidence’ of Trump-Russia election collusion

Agence France-Presse / 07:41 AM March 13, 2018

WASHINGTON, United States — A Republican-dominated House panel announced Monday that its investigation into alleged Russian meddling in the 2016 election found no collusion by Donald Trump’s presidential campaign.

“We have found no evidence of collusion, coordination or conspiracy between the Trump campaign and the Russians,” the majority Republicans on the House Intelligence Committee said in a summary of their report.

The panel also said it accepted US intelligence agencies’ conclusion that Russians had sought to interfere in the election, but rejected the idea that Moscow had specifically attempted to boost Trump’s White House effort.

The report had yet to be presented to Democrats on the deeply divided committee, who can be expected to object loudly, ensuring that it would not put the issue of alleged collusion to rest.

The summary made no mention of the alleged theft and leaks by Russians of embarrassing documents and communications from the campaign of Trump rival Hillary Clinton in mid-2016, which top US intelligence officials have stated as a fact.

Instead, it flipped that allegation on its head by claiming that anti-Trump research “made its way from Russian sources to the Clinton campaign.”

And it criticized Barack Obama’s government for “a lackluster pre-election response to Russian active measures.”

“After more than a year, the committee has finished its Russia investigation and will now work on completing our report,” said panel chair Devin Nunes.

“We hope our findings and recommendations will be useful for improving security and integrity for the 2018 midterm elections.”

03-15-2018, 09:58 AM
The 'Voter Fraud' Myth Is Just Embarrassing at This Point

And Kris Kobach, its patron saint, is getting embarrassed in court.


MAR 15, 2018

Here at the shebeen, we’ve been tracking the ongoing festivities in a federal courtroom in Kansas City, where Kansas Secretary of State and patron saint of all vote-suppressors, Kris Kobach, is mounting his own defense of one of his pet laws against the onslaught of the local ACLU. Remember that old saw about a lawyer who defends himself having a fool for a client? Well, the reverse is true, too. A client who becomes his own lawyer has a fool for a lawyer.

The court has been merciless toward Kobach and toward his prime witnesses, including the notorious Hans von Spakovsky, who has been a vital member of the posse in pursuit of the franchise ever since the Republicans dreamed it up. For his part, Kobach has evinced all the legal skills of a marmoset. His feet haven’t touched the bottom of the pool since he entered the court. The federal district judge, a patient woman named Julie Robinson, is completely fed up with having to preside over a trial while filling in the gaps in Kobach’s legal education, as this story from The Kansas City Star explains.

U.S. District Judge Julie Robinson has repeatedly warned Kobach’s team about trying to introduce evidence that has not been shared with the plaintiffs during the first three days of the high stakes trial, which will determine whether thousands can vote in Kansas this November. Kobach complained that the parties in the case “are relying on numbers that are stale” after the judge blocked a line of questioning to Bryan Caskey, the state director of elections, on data that had not been provided to the American Civil Liberties Union, which is representing the plaintiffs in the case before the U.S. District Court in Kansas City, Kan.

This triggered a rebuke from Robinson after three days of polite warnings on the rules of legal procedure in the face of multiple hiccups from Kobach’s team. “We're not going to have a trial by ambush here... You're stuck with what you provided to them by the deadline,” Robinson said. "No, no. That's not how trials are conducted," she told Kobach during the exchange. Sue Becker, an attorney on Kobach’s team, tried to interject. “Let me finish,” the judge said as she continued on with her admonishment.

Jesus H. Christ on torts, I learned that just by watching every Law & Order episode 20 times.

Kobach’s witnesses have been no better. First, there was Jo French, a merry septuagenarian called by Kobach and his team in order to show that the voter-suppression law did not unduly burden the elderly. She did not do Kobach or his cause any favors. From Talking Points Memo:

A feisty woman who was eager to crack a joke or wander off topic, French described a lengthy process, and at times made comments suggesting it was tougher on her than she was letting on. She also raised questions about her contacts with Kobach’s office leading up to her appearance Monday. “I wanted [Kobach] to look good,” she said at one point, when asked about when the Secretary of State’s office reached out to her about testifying.

Kobach’s experts were no better than Ms. French. Drawn from the dingier precincts of the wingnut ideas industry, they included Stephen Camerota, of the extremist Center for Immigration Studies. Camerota’s research was shredded by the ACLU lawyers, whom Camerota repeatedly interrupted until Judge Robinson had enough and told him, according to The Kansas City Star:

“She can only take down one voice at a time or we’re going to kill her,” Judge Julie Robinson said of the court reporter at one point. “And then I’m going to kill everyone else.”

If Judge Robinson, who was appointed by President George H.W. Bush, isn’t on the short-list for the Supreme Court the next time we have a Democratic president, I’m going to be considerably frosted.

Then there was Jesse Richman, a researcher from Old Dominion. It was Richman’s testimony that got Kobach accused of a “trial by ambush” by Judge Robinson. Richman also made the mistake of talking over Judge Robinson.

“Wait, wait, wait!” the judge called out as the situation heated up and more people in the courtroom began speaking simultaneously. “Especially you,” she added to Richman, instructing him not to talk except when answering questions. “You’re not here to trash the plaintiff. You’re not here to argue with me.”

(Also vital to keeping up with the latest from this flea circus is to get on the electric Twitter machine and follow Jessica Huseman—@JessicaHuseman—of the invaluable ProPublica. Huseman even became part of the trial when one of Kobach’s lawyers accused her of having secretly recorded an interview with von Spakovsky. This was blatantly—and hilariously—untrue.)

The basic problem with Kobach’s case, of course, is that it’s built atop a fake talking point that has been turned into an outright fantasy by years of repetition in the conservative terrarium. He’s asking the wrong judge to rule in favor of something that doesn’t exist. This trial is just the farce that Kobach’s entire career deserves.

03-26-2018, 10:38 AM
From the New York Times online ...

At a Crucial Juncture, Trump’s Legal Defense Is Largely a One-Man Operation


As President Trump heads into one of the most critical phases of the special counsel’s investigation, his personal legal team has shrunk to essentially just one member, and he is struggling to find any top lawyers willing to represent him.

Working for a president is usually seen as a dream job. But leading white-collar lawyers in Washington and New York have repeatedly spurned overtures to take over the defense of Mr. Trump, a mercurial client who often ignores his advisers’ guidance. In some cases, lawyers’ firms have blocked any talks, fearing a backlash that would hurt business.

The president lost two lawyers in just the past four days, including one who had been on board for less than a week.

Joseph diGenova, a longtime Washington lawyer who has pushed theories on Fox News that the F.B.I. made up evidence against Mr. Trump, left the team on Sunday. He had been hired last Monday, three days before the head of the president’s personal legal team, John Dowd, quit after determining that the president was not listening to his advice. Mr. Trump had also considered hiring Mr. diGenova’s wife, Victoria Toensing, but she will also not join the team.

That leaves the president with just one personal lawyer who is working full time on the special counsel’s investigation as Mr. Trump is facing one of the most significant decisions related to it: whether to sit for an interview.

That lawyer, Jay Sekulow, is a conservative commentator who made his name on religious freedom cases. Mr. Sekulow is in talks with other lawyers about joining the team, although it is not clear how far those discussions have progressed.

Hours before the announcement of Mr. diGenova’s departure, which Mr. Sekulow said was related to a conflict of interest, the president took to Twitter to reject any suggestion that lawyers do not want to work for him.

“Many lawyers and top law firms want to represent me in the Russia case … don’t believe the Fake News narrative that it is hard to find a lawyer who wants to take this on,” he wrote. “Fame & fortune will NEVER be turned down by a lawyer, though some are conflicted.”

Adding new lawyers, he said, would be costly because they would take months “to get up to speed (if for no other reason than they can bill more).”

“I am very happy with my existing team,” he added.

This month, the president met with the veteran lawyer Emmet Flood about the possibility of joining the legal team. But Mr. Trump was put off by the fact that Mr. Flood, a Republican, had represented Bill Clinton during his impeachment process, and Mr. Flood has made clear that he will not represent the president if Marc E. Kasowitz, his brash longtime personal lawyer, has any role in the effort.

Mr. Trump also tried to recruit Theodore B. Olson, a well-known Republican lawyer, but Mr. Olson has said he would not be representing the president.

The first phase of legal work for Mr. Trump in the inquiry by the special counsel, Robert S. Mueller III, was led by a White House lawyer, Ty Cobb. That work, which in part involved the production of documents and the arrangement of interviews with White House officials, has been largely completed.

The second phase, which is now focused on the question of a presidential interview with Mr. Mueller, had been led by Mr. Dowd. One reason Mr. Dowd quit was that, against his advice, Mr. Trump was insistent that he wanted to answer questions under oath from Mr. Mueller, believing that it would help clear him.

Mr. Dowd had concluded that there was no upside and that the president, who often does not tell the truth, could increase his legal exposure if his answers were not accurate.

Roger Cossack, a seasoned legal analyst, said the key to successfully defending a high-profile client under immense scrutiny was to have a cohesive legal team with a consistent strategy.

“In these types of cases, you need highly competent lawyers and a client who will listen and follow their advice,” Mr. Cossack said. “If you don’t have both, you have what we’re seeing here: chaos and disaster.”

“You have a client who clearly thinks he has a better idea of how things should work than the lawyers who, from time to time, have told him things he doesn’t want to hear,” he added. “He is looking for the guy who can say, ‘I know how to handle Mueller, I know you think he is bad, and we’ll take care of it.’ Problem is you can’t find that lawyer because no one will be able to do that.”

People close to the president say the upheaval in the legal team was inevitable. When Mr. Kasowitz took the lead after Mr. Mueller was appointed in May, he wanted to follow a model used by Mr. Clinton, with a separate team of lawyers and communications professionals handling issues related to the inquiry, so that the White House staff could keep its distance.

But Mr. Trump, who trusts few people and considers himself his best lawyer, spokesman and strategist, never wanted that type of system. As a result, his legal and public relations strategies have been out of sync, with the president at times publicly contradicting his lawyers, and the White House often finding itself flat-footed in the face of new disclosures about the Russia investigation.

The president’s decision has also exposed many of his aides, leaving them deeply enmeshed in an inquiry that is likely to cost them tens of thousands of dollars in legal fees.

But while Mr. Trump has struggled to find lawyers, his family and his close associates are being represented by some of the country’s top legal talent.

His son-in-law, Jared Kushner, has hired Abbe Lowell, a longtime Washington lawyer who recently got the Justice Department to drop corruption charges against Senator Robert Menendez, Democrat of New Jersey, after a lengthy court fight.

Three prominent current and former White House officials — the former chief strategist, Stephen K. Bannon; the former chief of staff, Reince Priebus; and the White House counsel, Donald F. McGahn — are being represented by William A. Burck, who turned down the chance to represent the president. Mr. Burck, a former federal prosecutor, represented FIFA in its legal problems in the United States and has worked for high-profile witnesses in federal investigations, including Maureen McDonnell, the wife of a former Virginia governor.

The turmoil in Mr. Trump’s legal team started within weeks of the appointment of Mr. Mueller. Mr. Kasowitz pushed for an adversarial approach to the special counsel, which the president was poised to follow. But Mr. Kasowitz clashed with Mr. Kushner, and he was soon pushed aside after a series of missteps and embarrassing incidents.

The president then hired Mr. Cobb, a veteran Washington lawyer, to lead efforts within the White House, as well as Mr. Dowd, who was put in charge of his personal legal team. They advocated a strategy of cooperation, telling the president that the sooner he gave Mr. Mueller’s office what it wanted, the sooner his name would be cleared.

While Mr. Cobb had told the president that the investigation would be over by now, it seems to be accelerating. Mr. Mueller is still looking into a wide range of matters related to Mr. Trump’s corporate activities, his 2016 campaign, his associates and his time in office.

Mr. Trump, hoping to bolster his team, met with Mr. diGenova and Ms. Toensing in recent days but, according to two people told of details about the meeting, did not believe he had personal chemistry with them.

There were also significant conflict-of-interest issues, but Mr. Trump could have waived them if he wanted. Ms. Toensing is representing Mark Corallo, who was the spokesman for Mr. Trump’s legal team in 2017 before they parted ways. Mr. Corallo has told investigators that he was concerned that a close aide to Mr. Trump, Hope Hicks, may have been planning to obstruct justice during the drafting of a statement about a meeting between a Russian lawyer and Donald Trump Jr. during the campaign.

Ms. Hicks’s lawyer has strongly denied that suggestion, and White House aides said Mr. Corallo’s assertion had come up in discussions with the president as he weighed whether to go ahead with Mr. diGenova and Ms. Toensing.

Mr. diGenova had been expected to serve as an outspoken voice for the president as Mr. Trump has increased his attacks on Mr. Mueller. Mr. diGenova has endorsed the notion that a secretive group of F.B.I. agents concocted the Russia investigation as a way to keep Mr. Trump from becoming president, a theory with little supporting evidence.

“There was a brazen plot to illegally exonerate Hillary Clinton and, if she didn’t win the election, to then frame Donald Trump with a falsely created crime,” he had told Fox News in January.

03-26-2018, 10:47 AM
From the New York Times online ...

Gun Marches Keep Republicans on Defense in Midterm Races


The passionate gun control rallies Saturday that brought out large crowds around the country sent a vivid signal that the issue is likely to play a major role in the 2018 midterm elections, and that Republicans could find themselves largely on the defensive on gun issues for the first time in decades.

The gun debate could play out very differently in House and Senate races, as Republicans strain to save suburban congressional districts where gun control is popular, and Democrats defend Senate seats in red states where the Second Amendment is sacrosanct.

But, in a year of extraordinary political intensity, and in the first national election of the Trump presidency, Republican and Democratic leaders say the gun issue appears to have become a potent rallying point for voters opposed to Mr. Trump and fed up with what they see as Washington’s indifference to mass shootings. The scale of demonstrations over the weekend was reminiscent of the Women’s March, earlier in Mr. Trump’s presidency, and underscored the intense energy of activists on the left ahead of the fall campaign.

The commitment of the young march organizers to keep the issue front and center makes it unlikely to fade before November. But they are certain to face considerable resistance from pro-gun forces, particularly the National Rifle Association, which has formidable financial resources at its disposal and a long record of successfully mobilizing conservatives and helping win elections.

Still, Republicans have already been struggling to keep their footing in densely populated suburbs where Mr. Trump is unpopular and the N.R.A. is an object of widespread scorn. The gun issue appears likely to deepen Republicans’ problems in these areas, further cleaving moderate, pocketbook-minded suburban voters from the party’s more hard-line rural base and raising the risks for Republicans in swing House districts around the country.

Gun control may be a complicated issue for Democrats, too, because of the makeup of the Senate races on the ballot in November. If Democrats have a path to capturing the House through mainly moderate, well-educated districts, they are also defending Senate seats in strongly conservative states, like West Virginia and North Dakota, and in Republican-leaning states like Missouri and Indiana, where pro-gun positions have long been safe political terrain.

But several prominent Republicans warned on Sunday that the party could end up alienating groups that tend to vote for candidates to the right of center if they are seen as unresponsive to the rising outcry around guns. In an atmosphere of frustration with Washington, inaction on guns could add to voters’ anger at entrenched lawmakers there.

Gov. John Kasich, Republican of Ohio, warned in a CNN interview on Sunday that voters “do want changes” on gun policy and Republicans were ignoring them at their peril.

“People should absolutely be held accountable at the ballot box,” said Mr. Kasich, a critic of Mr. Trump who is contemplating a run for president in 2020.

It is not only the Republican Party’s dwindling moderate wing that sees danger in the gun issue. Dan Eberhart, an energy executive and major conservative donor, said Republicans risked driving away suburban voters if they did not do more to defy the N.R.A.

Mr. Eberhart pointed to Gov. Rick Scott of Florida, a Republican with an A-plus N.R.A. rating for supporting the organization’s agenda. Mr. Scott, who is contemplating a bid for the Senate seat held by the Democrat Bill Nelson, signed incremental new gun regulations after last month’s shooting in Parkland, Fla., over the N.R.A.’s objections.

“Republicans are going to have to move a little to get 51 percent-plus in elections, and the N.R.A. will have to deal with it,” Mr. Eberhart said. “The N.R.A. is really out of step with suburban G.O.P. voters.”

While Democrats have little hope the demonstrations will lead quickly to legislation, they predict the broad-based outpouring of protest will increase pressure on Republicans. Addressing reporters on Sunday, Senator Chuck Schumer, the minority leader and Democrat of New York, said even Republicans in the “stranglehold” of the N.R.A. must be “smelling the change in the air.”

“This wasn’t Democrats only,” Senator Brian Schatz, Democrat of Hawaii, said of the protests. “This was people just sick and tired of a ruling party that refuses to take action on something so morally urgent.”

Public opinion polls show powerful support for a range of gun measures, with overwhelming support for stricter background checks for gun purchasers and a smaller majority favoring an outright ban on assault-style weapons. A Fox News poll conducted last week found that three in five voters supported a ban on military-style weapons, while about nine in 10 supported universal background checks.

But the same poll found scant optimism among voters that Congress would act in accordance with their preferences: Only about a fifth of voters thought it was highly likely Congress would act.

The doubters are probably correct: There is relatively little time left on the congressional calendar this year, and the Republicans who control the House and Senate have shown no great appetite for tackling gun control. The $1.3 trillion spending bill that Mr. Trump signed on Friday included modest school safety measures and improvements to the background-checks system, but it did not include a number of more ambitious and popular measures, like raising the age requirement for purchasers of assault weapons.

And while the Justice Department announced last week that it would try to follow through on a promise to ban so-called bump stocks through regulation, Mr. Trump has not indicated that he intends to take any further executive action to address the issue.

Against a backdrop of plodding debate in Washington, a number of Democratic candidates in important races have already made prominent appeals to voters on the issue of gun violence, combining support for new gun restrictions with rhetorical denunciations of the N.R.A.

Several of the Democrats campaigning most assertively on firearm regulation are also competing in areas recently afflicted by gun massacres. In Nevada, Steve Sisolak, a leading Democratic candidate for governor, vowed in his first television commercial to “take on the N.R.A.” A member of the Clark County Commission, which includes Las Vegas, Mr. Sisolak was among the most visible officials responding to the mass shooting in October, which left 58 people dead and hundreds wounded.

Debbie Mucarsel-Powell, a Democratic congressional candidate in South Florida, in a district not far from Parkland, said voters were fired up because of their horror at mass shootings and their outrage at congressional inaction.

“This is a symbol of everything that is wrong right now, that is happening in Washington, D.C.,” said Ms. Mucarsel-Powell, who is challenging Representative Carlos Curbelo, a Miami Republican.

Ms. Mucarsel-Powell, who marched against gun violence in Key West on Saturday, has aired commercials describing her personal experience with gun violence: When she was 24, her father was shot and killed in Ecuador.

Other Democrats have been more timid on gun issues, particularly in more rural and heavily white, working-class districts where broad gun rights are more popular. When Democrats won an upset victory in a Pennsylvania special election this month, in a heavily conservative congressional district outside Pittsburgh, they did so by nominating a distinctly moderate candidate, Conor Lamb, who declined to back any new gun regulations after the Parkland massacre.

Val DiGiorgio, the chairman of the Pennsylvania Republican Party, said that while Democrats won that special election, the race had shown “the passion of Second Amendment supporters.” But Mr. DiGiorgio said voters were also seeking remedies for gun violence.

“It’s clear that Americans on all sides of the debate are looking for solutions,” Mr. DiGiorgio said.

But the energy in the Democratic base is with those who favor gun restrictions.

While the colorful signs and pleading speeches of the students drew attention on Saturday, state and local Democratic parties across the country also used the marches to register voters and sign up volunteers.

In Florida, volunteers circulated at protests in over 30 cities, passing out “commit to vote” cards that the party can later use for voter turnout purposes. And in Virginia, Democrats descended on the cities where buses were departing to the Washington march to register voters.

The efforts were not confined to large liberal and swing states. In Columbia, S.C., the local Democratic Party used the march in the state’s capital to sign up voters for what could be a competitive governor’s race this fall. The liberal group Indivisible also used the protests to kick off a campaign pressuring members of Congress during the legislative recess.

Jim Hobart, a Republican pollster, said the marches illustrated the enormous energy of the Democratic base and revealed generational changes in the electorate that Republicans will have to grapple with.

“As we have seen in special elections, Democratic enthusiasm is already very high and the gun issue just adds to that,” Mr. Hobart said, noting that students in his hometown Atlanta had traveled by bus for 10 hours to join the march in Washington. “These same students are much more likely to not just vote, but volunteer.”

03-26-2018, 11:10 AM
From Esquire online ...

There's No Going Back From What Happened This Weekend. The Gun Debate Is Over.

The only question is how far and how fast change will come.

MAR 26, 2018

Our national debate about guns is over. It ended in a dark movie theater in Aurora, Colorado, and at an outdoor concert in Las Vegas. It ended in a first grade classroom in Connecticut and at a high school in Florida. It ended a thousand times on the streets of Chicago, or Baltimore, or Memphis, with a thousand grieving mothers who never got invited to come onto cable television.

It ended the last time a child found his daddy's gun and killed his sister in their living room. It ended the last time a person in crisis found a handgun. It ended when a bunch of high school students, who didn't know any better, decided that they could no longer trust the adults to protect them. It ended on a day in March when millions of ordinary Americans, angry and frustrated and mourning, took to their streets to declare it over.

There is no going back from what happened this weekend. There is only the question of how far and how fast the change will come. If the people who marched on Saturday vote—and why wouldn’t they—the National Rifle Association and its lackeys in Congress and state legislatures around the country have no chance this November and beyond.

For those craven politicians, elected and re-elected on the blood of innocents, beholden to an organization that long ago betrayed its founding principles, forever contorting law and logic to justify assault rifles for teenagers and peanuts for gun research, the game is over, the bluff's been called. You can only fool so many people for so long.

Saturday was about passion and about the expression of grief, but the movement right now, the latest iteration of it, is about the numbers as much as anything. The gun lobby is losing whatever real constituency it ever had, one act of gun violence at a time. In the past 20 years alone, hundreds of thousands of teenagers and young adults have had direct experiences with school shootings and they are refusing to allow their own children to be as traumatized as they were.

Add to this constituency the families ripped apart by individual acts of gun violence, the poor mothers and fathers who lose their kids in stories that never get told, and you see how the tide has turned. Not just in the poll numbers, which show declining support for the NRA and growing support for gun restrictions, but in real life.

Robert Kennedy gave us his "ripples of hope" speech in South Africa 52 years ago, and it resonates here with a twist. We saw in America Saturday the impact of ripples of grief. Each instance of gun violence ripples out to a family, a clan, a neighborhood, a community, a village, until, as we saw this weekend, "crossing each other from a million different centers of energy and daring those ripples build a current which can sweep down the mightiest walls of oppression and resistance."

The ripples abound now. The current has arrived. The oppression and the resistance of the gun lobby and its allies in political office will not survive it.

After the crowds had dissipated in one city and town after another, and the talking heads took back the stage, they hedged: What if the protesters don't vote? What if all the glory and the grit is for naught? Please. They already are voting. And registering, too. The constituency that changed American life in the face of drunk driving deaths is changing it again in the face of unremitting gun violence. Thank God for them.

So long as Donald Trump and Paul Ryan and Mitch McConnell continue to bow down to the gun lobby, they’ll remember. How could they forget? Every day brings a new tragedy and so all these brave, determined mothers and sisters and daughters and aunts and grandmothers will be reminded every day from now until November what's at stake: the lives of their children. In the 37 days since the Parkland massacre 73 more teens have been shot to death.

The reason the conversation is over, the reason that so many millions of people have had enough with gun violence, the reason you saw so many Republicans on the streets with signs this weekend, is that the relentless misery guns bring into our lives is something we all can see, and feel, while the dark conspiracies and “toxic masculinity” peddled by the NRA and its tribunes sound more deranged by the day.

Did you catch the NRA "hot take" on Saturday? The trolling of the brave Parkland students? How "no one would know their names" if their classmates had not been gunned down by a mentally ill teenager who had easy access to a weapon of war? That's how you know the conversation is over. One side finally is willing to trust what it sees with its own eyes. The other side mocks the teenage survivors of a gun massacre.

The conversation’s over because at some point there’s no use talking any longer. I know plenty of people who want reasonable gun reform, including many gun owners. I bet you do, too. They see, like most rational people see, that there is no good reason on God's green earth to hand out assault rifles to children.

But I don't know a single person who wants to take a shotgun or a rifle from the hands of a hunter or a handgun away from a sane homeowner who wants to feel protected in her own home. And I bet you don’t, either. Who’s coming for their guns? No one. How many more children have to die before they are convinced? None. Because the protesters no longer are interested in trying to convince them.

The goal of the movement is much more modest than the gun lobby can admit, which accounts both for the growing popularity of the activists and the despair on the part of the NRA. The debate today is not over core gun rights. It’s over gun restrictions that are well within the parameters of the precedent that Justice Antonin Scalia, the charlatan of the Second Amendment, had to agree to in his landmark gun-rights ruling in 2008 that first recognized a personal right to bear arms.

In the decade since that ruling, the Supreme Court has signaled over and over again that it is comfortable with gun restrictions. Just ask Justice Clarence Thomas, the NRA’s man at the Court, who has repeatedly expressed frustration with the limitations his colleagues have accepted about the scope of the Second Amendment.

Here's an idea. How about we implement the gun restrictions and reforms most commonly discussed? How about we invest at last in federal gun research to better understand what we are up against? (Congress took a step toward this last week.) How about we deny assault weapons for anyone under the age of 21 - or, better yet, under the age of 25? How about we give teeth, at last, to universal background checks? How about we make sure the mentally ill cannot get their hands on weapons? How about we treat gun manufacturers the way we do every other company and strip from them the extra immunity Congress gave them in 2005? How about we crack down on gun sales in states like Indiana, where gun trafficking spreads onto the streets of Chicago? How about we ban bump stocks?

How about we try all these things and save countless American lives each year and then have a conversation about the Second Amendment? How about we slide just far enough down that slippery slope so we can stop the bleeding, literally, and then see where we are as a country? How about we try for a few years to allow hundreds of thousands more of our fellow citizens to live or avoid being wounded and see what that feels like?

That's all the protesters want. That, and to go to school without a fear that they will be cut down in their classroom. That, and to send their kids outside to play and not have to worry about a stray bullet. That, and to see their grandchildren grow into what they are meant to be. The debate is over. Now all that is left is to implement the noble and needed national consensus that has emerged from it.

03-27-2018, 01:53 PM
Stormy Daniels' interview holds a mirror up to Trump and the picture isn't pretty

By Michael D'Antonio

Updated 1408 GMT (2208 HKT) March 26, 2018

(CNN)It was not about Stormy Daniels, it was about Donald Trump.

With a huge TV audience watching Anderson Cooper interview her on "60 Minutes" on Sunday, the adult film star who said she was paid to keep silent about her 2006 sexual encounter with the married man and future president served as a mirror that reflected Trump's dishonesty and disrespectful nature for all the world to see.

"He knows I'm telling the truth," declared Stormy Daniels, whose real name is Stephanie Clifford. She then went on to describe a mutually exploitative relationship consistent with the Donald Trump known by many. As in so many things, Trump apparently approached his time with Daniels as a transaction, and he used Trump-like superlatives -- he called her "special" she reported -- to sweeten the exchange.

Like the Playboy model Karen McDougal, who told of an affair with Trump in another interview with Anderson Cooper on Thursday, Daniels said Trump spoke of how she reminded him of his eldest daughter Ivanka. And like McDougal, Daniels mentioned that Trump dangled a reward for the sex. McDougal said she was offered cash, which she said she refused. Daniels said Trump suggested she could appear on his TV show, "Celebrity Apprentice."

Although she said she doubted the TV gig would materialize, "at the same time," she added, "maybe it will work out." It didn't. (Trump's spokespeople have denied the allegations of affairs.)

In calmly responding to Cooper's questions, Daniels gave the lie to anyone who would dismiss her intelligence. Unlike the President, who often speaks in a disjointed way that is full of emotion and devoid of meaning, she offered declarative sentences that left no doubt about her meaning

Yes, she had an affair with Trump that began shortly after his wife, Melania, gave birth to his youngest son.

Yes, the man who would be president did not practice safe sex.

No, she's not willing to be silent.

None of what Daniels told Cooper about her experience seemed inconsistent with what we know already about Trump and his team. The affair is what we expect from a man with his record of scandal and heedless self-indulgence. The hush money aligns with his transactional nature. Lawyer Michael Cohen's claim to have paid it himself out of personal concern for his boss is consistent with the cult-like devotion common among longtime employees of the Trump organization. Enabling seems to be in the job description for everyone who seeks to remain in Trump's service.

Her tale of an attempted cover-up had elements familiar to seasoned Trump-watchers. First there was Cohen, his longtime lawyer, serving as the aide who sought to make something unpleasant go away. Then came the alleged effort at intimidation, which is something I experienced personally when Cohen was concerned about my book about Trump and threatened to sue if I didn't do what he wanted. (Cohen said to Vanity Fair, "I have never threatened her in any way, and I am unaware of anyone else doing so.")

The interview, and Cooper's additional reporting, did not leave Daniels unscathed. She had to account for three statements she made denying the affair. However, unlike Trump, who seems incapable of taking responsibility for any of the thousands of distortions he has made, Daniels copped to her deceptions. "I was concerned for my family," she said convincingly, "and for their safety."

Although some seem willing to grant Trump endless mulligans for his sins against his family, and the basic tenets of human decency, the much-awaited Daniels interview undoubtedly turned even some ardent supporters against the man in the Oval Office.

How did Daniels come to play this role? Proud to identify herself as an adult entertainer, she is invulnerable to the President's usual methods of counterattack, which involve degrading others who present themselves in conventional terms -- remember the names he called political opponents? -- and attempting to make them seem hypocritical. No one is in a better position to call out Trump than the woman who came forward to name herself as his partner in infidelity and note that it was he who pursued her.

Daniels offered a direct and credible account of how, just before the 2016 election, Cohen paid her $130,000 to keep quiet about Trump, who by then was the GOP candidate for the presidency. Cohen has said it had nothing to do with the campaign, but the timing suggests it did. More recently Cohen sought to enforce a nondisclosure agreement, but Daniels defied him and his client by speaking out.

Besides Daniels' candor, one can't help but be impressed by her tactical brilliance.

Outplaying Trump at his own game, Stormy Daniels showed that she knows the media-savvy world hates hypocrisy and lies. A stripper and porn star by trade, she has never pretended to be someone she's not and has a reputation for demanding respect. Recent press profiles suggest she set high business standards for herself and others. Unlike the President, who pretended to fire people on TV but won't do so directly in real life, Daniels is known for dismissing those who fail her, and she does it face to face and on the spot.

The political impact of the must-watch interview will develop over time. It speaks to the current state of politics in the era of Trump that an interview with a porn actress can be as influential as this one is likely to be.

Should the fever of fear, confusion and acquiescence that has marked the Trump era begin to break, we can thank Stormy Daniels.

03-27-2018, 01:57 PM
Mueller's critics are wrong about his role

By Michael Zeldin, CNN Legal Analyst

Updated 2315 GMT (0715 HKT) March 26, 2018

Michael Zeldin, a CNN legal analyst, has served as a federal prosecutor in the Criminal Division of the Justice Department and was a special counsel to then-Assistant Attorney General Robert Mueller. The opinions expressed in this commentary are his own.

(CNN)Recent criticism of the appointment of Special Counsel Robert S. Mueller by Alan Dershowitz and Ken Starr, among others, appears to have created some confusion about the reasons for Mueller's appointment and what specifically is within his investigative mandate.

As the investigation seems to be moving forward at a fast pace and in several directions, it may be helpful to take a step back and recall why Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein appointed Mueller in the first place, what Mueller is charged with doing, and why it is in the public interest for his investigation to proceed to its conclusion.

The reasons for appointing a special counsel

Professor Dershowitz agrees that a "broad and open investigation of Russian involvement in our elections" should be conducted. He believes, however, that a special counsel should never have been appointed because "there was no evidence of any crime committed by the Trump administration." Starr, on the other hand, believes that while Mueller is handling the probe in a professional manner and that his investigation is not a witch hunt, its focus should only be on what happened during the 2016 election in terms of collusion, as that is the "key idea."

These perspectives reflect a misunderstanding of the legal rationale underlying the special counsel regulations generally, and/or disregard the full scope of Mueller's investigative mandate.

The Code of Federal Regulations, 28 C.F.R. Section 600.1, establishes the grounds for appointing a special counsel. It provides:

The attorney general - or, in cases in which the attorney general is recused, the acting attorney general - will appoint a special counsel when he or she determines that criminal investigation of a person or matter is warranted, and

(a) That investigation or prosecution of that person or matter by a United States Attorney's Office or litigating division of the Department of Justice would present a conflict of interest for the Department or other extraordinary circumstances; and

(b) That under the circumstances, it would be in the public interest to appoint an outside special counsel to assume responsibility for the matter.

Rosenstein appointed Mueller given the unique circumstances presented by this case -- the events surrounding and including the presidential removal of National Security Advisor Michael Flynn on February 13, 2017, and the activity leading up to and including the firing of FBI Director James B. Comey on May 9, 2017, in the midst of an FBI counterintelligence investigation into the 2016 presidential election.

Rosenstein determined that to "ensure a full and thorough investigation of the Russian efforts to interfere with the 2016 presidential election," the public interest required him to place the investigation under the authority of a person who would be able to exercise a degree of independence from the normal Department of Justice chain of command.

Mueller's mandate

In his order appointing Mueller on May 17, 2017, Rosenstein authorized the special counsel to conduct the investigation into the Russian government's efforts to interfere in the 2016 presidential election confirmed by then-FBI Director Comey in testimony before the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence on March 20, 2017 and related matters.

On March 20, Comey testified that, "I have been authorized by the Department of Justice to confirm that the FBI, as part of our counterintelligence mission, is investigating the Russian government's efforts to interfere in the 2016 presidential 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. As with any counterintelligence investigation, this will also include an assessment of whether any crimes were committed."

Included within Mueller's overarching counterintelligence mandate is the investigation of:

- any links and/or coordination between the Russian government and individuals associated with the campaign of President Donald Trump; and
- any matters that arose or may arise directly from the investigation; and
- any other matters within the scope of 28 C.F.R. § 600.4(a), i.e., any federal crimes committed in the course of, and with intent to interfere with, the special counsel's investigation, such as perjury, obstruction of justice, destruction of evidence, and intimidation of witnesses.

The mandate also provides the special counsel with the authority to prosecute federal crimes arising from the investigation of these matters, if he believes it is necessary and appropriate.

At the conclusion of his work, the special counsel is required to provide the attorney general with a report explaining the prosecution or declination decisions he reached, according to 28 C.F.R. 600.8.

Thus, Mueller was appointed to carry on a pre-existing counterintelligence investigation that included, among other things, determining whether there was interference by the Russian government in the 2016 presidential election and, if so, whether there was any coordination with the Trump campaign.

Contrary to Dershowitz's view, the regulations governing the appointment of a special counsel do not require the Trump administration to have committed a crime. Indeed, much of what Mueller has been authorized to investigate predates Trump's inauguration.

03-27-2018, 01:58 PM
^ Continued ...

How Mueller appears to be carrying out his mandate

1. Potential Russian interference in the 2016 presidential election

The counterintelligence investigation aspect of Mueller's work to date that is publicly known principally involves an investigation into the actions of parties outside of the United States, e.g. the Russian government or persons who may be associated with the Russian government, to interfere in the 2016 presidential election.

One aspect of this interference was outlined in the multi-count indictment returned by Mueller this past February. The indictment charged 13 Russians and 3 Russian corporations with a conspiracy to defraud the United States through the use of social media platforms (Facebook, Instagram, etc.) to influence voter opinion against presidential candidate Hillary Clinton and in favor of candidate Trump. The second aspect, which is still under investigation, is believed to involve the hacking of the Democratic National Committee's computers and of Clinton campaign chairman John Podesta's emails.

2. Potential cooperation/association with the Russian government

Secondary to this primary counterintelligence objective is the question of whether anyone associated with the Trump campaign cooperated -- knowingly or unknowingly -- with the Russian government or persons associated with the Russian government.

Again, while no one has been charged with any criminal conduct, interest has focused on whether the Trump campaign's data analytics operation and the data research firm Cambridge Analytica potentially coordinated with a Russian social media campaign or others to influence the presidential election.

Similarly, were Mueller able to determine who hacked the DNC's and/or John Podesta's computers, he then would look to see if any individuals associated with the Trump campaign potentially conspired to receive, use and/or distribute the hacked information.

And, while former Trump national security adviser Michael Flynn and former Trump campaign foreign policy adviser George Papadopoulos each pleaded guilty to one count of making false statements, the underlying conduct that gave rise to their broader cooperation agreements may address cooperation/conspiracy with foreign nationals.

3. Matters potentially arising out of the investigation

Beyond the counterintelligence and coordination aspects of the investigation, Mueller is authorized to investigate any other matters that arose, or may arise directly, from the investigation. These matters are referred to as the "arises out" of aspect of his mandate.

The indictments of Paul Manafort, Trump campaign chairman, and Rick Gates, deputy campaign adviser, for money laundering, tax evasion and foreign registration act violations, as well as the plea agreements by former Skadden attorney Alex van der Zwaan (one count of making false statements) and California businessman Richard Pinedo (one count of identity fraud), would appear to fall within this column.

The grand jury subpoena reported to have been served by Mueller on the Trump organization also may relate to an investigation of matters not directly tethered to the counterintelligence/coordination investigation, but which may fit within the "arises out" aspect of the Mueller mandate.

4. Potential obstruction/interference in the investigation

Finally, Mueller is empowered to investigate whether, during the investigation, anyone endeavored to interfere with or obstruct his investigation. This potentially could include any conduct to interfere with or obstruct the FBI's investigation following former FBI Director Comey's March 2017 testimony.

The investigation of obstruction/interference is not straightforward, especially when it comes to the actions of President Trump. The publicly available information appears to focus on events, such as the firings of Comey and Flynn, Donald Trump Jr.'s potentially misleading statements describing the June 9, 2016 Trump Tower meeting with certain Russians, and any possible efforts by the Trump administration to have the intelligence community push back against the FBI investigation.


The 2016 presidential election was unprecedented. The allegation that the Trump victory may have been achieved, in part, with the possible help of foreign nationals working in a coordinated way with Trump campaign officials is very serious.

Understanding what, if anything, occurred is of paramount importance to the nation. For this reason, the appointment of a special counsel with a broad mandate was warranted. In the interests of justice and the public interest, Mueller should be allowed to complete his work without executive or legislative branch interference.

Only when his final report is released will we know all the facts: who, if anyone, participated; what their level of responsibility was; and, most importantly, how we can prevent interference in our elections in the future.

04-04-2018, 06:54 AM
Trump administration seeks to close immigration ‘loopholes’

Associated Press / 07:29 PM April 03, 2018

WASHINGTON - Trump administration officials said they’re crafting a new legislative package aimed at closing immigration “loopholes” following the president’s calls for Republican lawmakers to immediately pass a border bill using the “Nuclear Option if necessary” to muscle it through.

“As ridiculous as it sounds, the laws of our country do not easily allow us to send those crossing our Southern Border back where they came from. A whole big wasted procedure must take place. Mexico & Canada have tough immigration laws, whereas ours are an Obama joke. ACT CONGRESS!” President Donald Trump wrote in a series of continual, sometimes-misleading tweets Monday after a weekend in Florida with several immigration hardliners.

Trump also declared protections for so-called Dreamer immigrants “dead,” accused Democrats of allowing “open borders, drugs and crime” and warned Mexico to halt the passage of “caravans” of immigrants or risk retribution.

“Honduras, Mexico and many other countries that the US is very generous to, sends many of their people to our country through our WEAK IMMIGRATION POLICIES,” he wrote. “Caravans are heading here. Must pass tough laws and build the WALL.”

Trump has been seething over immigration since realizing the major spending bill he signed last month barely funds the “big, beautiful” border wall he has promised his supporters. The $1.3 trillion funding package included $1.6 billion in border wall spending, but much of that money can be used only to repair existing segments, not to build new sections.

Among the measures the administration is pursuing: ending special safeguards that prevent the immediate deportation of children arrested at the border and traveling alone.

Under current law, unaccompanied children from countries that don’t border the US would be placed under the supervision of the Department of Health and Human Services and undergo often-lengthy deportation proceedings before an immigration judge instead of being deported.

The administration is also pushing Congress to terminate a 1997 court settlement that requires the government to release children from custody to parents, adult relatives or other caretakers as their cases make their way through immigration court. Officials complain that many children never show up at their hearings.

The proposals appear the same as those included on a White House immigration wish list that was released in October but failed to gain traction during negotiations over the border wall. Such proposals are likely to face opposition from moderate Republicans and Democrats going into the midterm elections. But Trump appears intent on ensuring the issues remain at the forefront of public conversation, even though the omnibus was widely seen as the last major legislation likely passed this year.

Trump spent much of the weekend at his Mar-a-Lago resort, having meals with his family, watching cable news shows and rubbing elbows with conservative commentators including Fox News host Sean Hannity, according to several club members. Also spotted at the club: champion golfer Dustin Johnson, MyPillow maker Michael J. Lindell, boxing promoter Don King and former New York Police Commissioner Bernie Kerik.

Staffers with Trump over the Easter holiday included policy adviser Stephen Miller, one of the chief architects of the administration’s anti-immigration policies

Trump’s past calls to use the “nuclear option” – changing Senate procedure to require a simple majority of 51 votes to override a rule instead of 60 – have been repeatedly dismissed by Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, who argues that Republicans will welcome the filibuster if they return to being the Senate minority. The current split is 51-49 favoring Republicans.

“Dreamer” immigrants are due to lose coverage under a program that Trump tried to eliminate. Notably, his favored solution for extending protections to them mustered only 39 votes in the Senate, meaning it couldn’t have passed even with the nuclear option.

Trump’s tweets calling on Mexico to halt “caravans” filled with immigrants in the country illegally came after a “Fox & Friends” report Sunday that featured the leader of the union representing border patrol agents predicting that those in the caravan would create havoc and chaos in the US as they wait for immigration reform.

About 1,100 migrants, many from Honduras, have been marching along roadsides and train tracks in the southern Mexican state of Oaxaca.

These “Stations of the Cross” migrant caravans have been held in southern Mexico for at least the last five years. They began as short processions of migrants, some dressed in biblical garb and carrying crosses, as an Easter-season protest against attacks against Central Americans as they cross Mexico.

Individuals in the caravans often try to reach the US border but usually not as part of the caravan. The caravans typically don’t proceed much farther north than the Gulf Coast state of Veracruz. The current march is scheduled to end this month with a conference on migration issues in the central Mexican state of Puebla.

04-05-2018, 10:21 AM
Trump orders National Guard to Mexican border

Agence France-Presse / 08:19 AM April 05, 2018

United States President Donald Trump has ordered the National Guard to deploy to America’s southern border, ratcheting up pressure on Mexico and taking another step in his quest to clamp down on illegal immigration.

Trump’s latest border move on Wednesday came the same day as a caravan of Central American migrants – whose trek across Mexico had infuriated the US president – scrapped their highly publicized plans to try to enter the US.

Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen said Trump had directed the Pentagon and the Department of Homeland Security to work with border state governors to figure out how to deploy National Guard forces to assist Border Patrol agents.

“The president has reiterated this many times: A sovereign nation that cannot – or worse, chooses not to – defend its borders will soon cease to be a sovereign nation,” Nielsen said.

“We do hope that the deployment begins immediately,” she added. “Today is the day we want to start this process. The threat is real.”

The sudden action, which comes as lawmakers are out on Easter break, follows Trump taking to Twitter to rail against “ridiculous liberal” border laws, and warn of an inbound “caravan” of immigrants, threatening to axe the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) if Mexico did not stop them.

Caravan leaders on Wednesday said most of the group – about 80 percent – would now remain in Mexico, where authorities are working with individual migrants and families to get temporary papers.

“All they want is a place to live in peace, where they can work without having guns pointed at them, without being forced to join a gang,” said Irineo Mujica, the head of migrant advocacy group People Without Borders (Pueblo sin Fronteras).

Mujica said a handful of migrants with strong asylum claims will continue to the US border on their own.

“Donald Trump wanted the world to crush us, to erase our existence. But Mexico responded admirably and we thank the government for the way it handled this caravan,” Mujica told AFP in the town of Matias Romero, in the southern Mexican state of Oaxaca.

Trump has ratcheted up pressure on both Congress and America’s southern neighbor Mexico in recent days to take action to stem illegal immigration.

“Until we can have a wall and proper security, we’re going to be guarding our border with the military,” Trump said on Tuesday, referring to his financially challenged pet project to build a wall along the frontier.

The commander-in-chief’s seemingly off-the-cuff military directive caught Pentagon officials by surprise, and planners scrambled to find ways to support the edict on Wednesday.

Nielsen said the US continues to see “unacceptable levels” of illegal drugs, dangerous gang activity, transnational criminal organizations, and illegal immigration flow across the southern border.

She and other administration officials boasted of a “Trump effect” that saw illicit border activity drop when Trump took office, but said the numbers of illegal border crossings had now risen back to previous levels.

Last stop: Mexico City

In Mexico, the 1,000 or so migrants who currently make up the caravan – many traveling in families of up to 20 people – have been camped in Matias Romero since the weekend, deciding their next move.

The group, mainly Hondurans, also includes Salvadorans, Guatemalans, and Nicaraguans, mostly fleeing the brutal gang violence that has made Central America home to some of the highest murder rates in the world.

The caravan is in fact a yearly event held since 2010 and its goal is more to raise awareness about the plight of migrants than to reach the US – though some participants have traveled to the border in the past.

Mexico’s former foreign minister, Jorge Castaneda, called Trump’s reaction to the caravan “a little hysterical,” telling Mexican radio that he suspected the US president was more worried about his Republican party losing this November’s mid-term elections than the migrants.

“He’s just mobilizing his conservative base,” he said.

The caravan, which set off on March 25 from Tapachula, on the border with Guatemala, now plans to travel to the central city of Puebla for a conference, then on to Mexico City for a series of demonstrations – and end its journey there.

The Mexican government, which bristled at Trump’s criticism and his move to militarize the border, said on Monday that it was up to the US to decide whether to admit such arrivals or not.

Many of the migrants said they had no intention of trying to enter the US.

Carol Torres, a 26-year-old Honduran woman, told AFP she joined the caravan after her abusive husband hired gang hitmen to attack her, forcing her to leave her two children behind.

She said she planned to settle in Tijuana, on the Mexican side of the border – not cross into the US.

“I don’t believe in the American dream, because the president over there is a son of a bitch who doesn’t like immigrants,” she said.

04-16-2018, 10:13 AM
From Inquirer online ...

Trump lashes out at ex-FBI chief over book revelations

07:24 AM April 16, 2018

UNITED STATES – Donald Trump launched into another furious Twitter tirade against James Comey on Sunday, hours before the broadcast of an extended interview with the fired former FBI director and with a memoir detailing his interactions with the president soon to hit US bookstores.

Excerpts of the interview with ABC News already have been aired, as have reviews of Comey’s memoir, “A Higher Loyalty: Truth, Lies and Leadership.”

The book, which is due out Tuesday, likens Trump to a dishonest, ego-driven mob boss and says he demanded Comey’s personal pledge of loyalty — a damning account that has infuriated the president at a moment of intensifying legal pressure on other fronts.

“I never asked Comey for Personal Loyalty. I hardly even knew this guy. Just another of his many lies. His ‘memos’ are self serving and FAKE!” Trump said in one of his latest tweets.

The president again called Comey, who has said he took detailed notes of his meetings with Trump, a “slime ball” and said he “stupidly” handled a probe into Trump’s 2016 election rival Hillary Clinton.

In another tweet, the president undertook a mini-review of Comey’s memoir: “The big questions in Comey’s badly reviewed book aren’t answered like, how come he gave up Classified Information (jail), why did he lie to Congress (jail), why did the DNC refuse to give Server to the FBI (why didn’t they TAKE it), why the phony memos, McCabe’s $700,000 & more?”

The jumble of references appeared to allude to unsubstantiated accusations Trump has previously made claiming Comey lied in Senate testimony last May in denying he had served as an anonymous news source.

“Look, it’s been very clear that James Comey is a self-admitted leaker. He lied to Congress,” White House press secretary Sarah Sanders said on ABC’s “This Week.”

A Justice Department inspector general’s report released this week took aim at former deputy FBI director Andrew McCabe on similar grounds, finding that he improperly authorized release of information to a Wall Street Journal reporter in 2016 and misled investigators about it.

But McCabe, who was fired last month, has charged his dismissal was an attempt to discredit a probe by special counsel Robert Mueller into possible Trump campaign collusion with a Russian effort to sway the 2016 elections.

The escalating feud comes as the Mueller probe gathers momentum - and with the president under pressure on other legal fronts.

In the latest twist, the Justice Department revealed this week that Trump’s personal attorney, Michael Cohen, has been under “criminal investigation” for months by the US attorney’s office in New York.

On Monday, investigators took the unusual step of searching Cohen’s New York residence, office, hotel room, safety deposit boxes and cellphones. Materials seized could include evidence related to payoffs to keep two women — a porn star and a former Playboy playmate — from talking about their past sexual encounters with Trump.

Email probe

Trump and his aides have countered Comey’s media blitz by attacking his handling of an investigation into Clinton’s use of a private email server while secretary of state.

Comey, who was fired by Trump last year, acknowledged in the ABC interview that his belief that Clinton would be elected president “was a factor” in his decision to reopen the email probe 11 days before the US election, a development that Clinton blames for her surprise defeat.

“I don’t remember spelling it out, but it had to have been, that she’s going to be elected president and if I hide this from the American people, she’ll be illegitimate the moment she’s elected, the moment this comes out,” Comey said.

His comments echoed a quote from his memoir, in which he said it was “entirely possible” his concern over Clinton’s legitimacy “bore greater weight than it would have if the election appeared closer or if Donald Trump were ahead in all polls.”

“Unbelievably, James Comey states that Polls, where Crooked Hillary was leading, were a factor in the handling (stupidly) of the Clinton Email probe,” Trump tweeted.

“In other words, he was making decisions based on the fact that he thought she was going to win, and he wanted a job. Slimeball!” he wrote.

In another tweet he accused Comey of throwing former attorney general Loretta Lynch “under the bus,” an allusion to Comey having criticized Lynch in the memoir for suggesting that he refer to the Clinton probe as only a “matter,” rather than an investigation.

“Was she promised a Supreme Court seat, or AG, in order to lay off Hillary,” Trump asked. /cbb

04-25-2018, 03:19 PM
From GQ Online ...

Patagonia vs. Donald Trump


April 5, 2018

We all knew the legendary outerwear company Patagonia lived and breathed the adventurous life. We knew they cared about the environment. But it wasn’t till Trump came along that we realized they were ready to fight.

Patagonia was built in the image of its founder, Yvon Chouinard. In late January, when we met for the first time, that image included a flannel shirt, beat-up trousers, and flip-flops. Chouinard is an unlikely nominee for wealthiest man in the room. He walks with an air of deflection, as if to duck attention. “It's funny, the first time I met him,” the celebrated mountain climber Tommy Caldwell told me, “I walked into the cafeteria at Patagonia, and I was like, ‘That guy looks like a homeless dude.’ ”

Chouinard is both a beatnik dropout and a renegade capitalist. A revolutionary rock climber in his day, who still disappears regularly to surf and fly-fish, he oversees a corporation that did $800 million in sales last year. At 79, Chouinard looks like a recovering mountain troll who enjoys sunshine, food, and wine but will probably outlast the rest of us if the apocalypse hits tomorrow. “I've spent enough time in the mountains,” he told me, “that I can get from point A to point B safely and efficiently. If shit hits the fan, I could feed my family off the coast. But I'm totally lost in the desert. I don't understand the desert at all.”

In the months leading up to our meeting, Chouinard and Patagonia had seen a few disasters. The Thomas wildfire, the largest in California history, torched the hills around the company's Ventura headquarters. Five employees lost their homes, and then came the mudslides. All of which took place while Patagonia dealt with a crisis back east: a decision by President Trump, the great un-doer, to shrink some of his predecessor's national monuments. The pledge was a first for an American president; limiting the size of monuments like Bears Ears in Utah would mean the largest reduction of protected land in U.S. history. Which is what led Patagonia, in early December, to change its home page to a stark message: “The President Stole Your Land.”

In response, the U.S. House Committee on Natural Resources sent out an e-mail with the subject line “Patagonia: don't buy it.” This wasn't just Trump whining on Twitter that Nordstrom wasn't supporting his daughter's fashion line. The federal government, run by allegedly pro-business Republicans, basically called for the boycott of a privately held company—provoking a former director of the Office of Government Ethics to label the action “a bizarre and dangerous departure from civic norms.”

Chouinard has been known to be a prickly contrarian. He doesn't do e-mail. His cell phone goes largely untouched. But he's adept at delivering powerful sound bites. In December, Chouinard went on CNN—wearing what looked to be the same flannel shirt from the day we met—and said, “I think the only thing this administration understands is lawsuits. We're losing this planet. We have an evil government.… And I'm not going to stand back and just let evil win.”

Which explains why Patagonia is presently suing the White House in federal court.

This is not your parents’ fleece-maker. We're past the old jokes about Patagucci or Fratagonia. Sure, you still see a Synchilla vest on every venture capitalist in Palo Alto; not for nothing does the Jared Dunn character on Silicon Valley possess a Patagonia collection supreme. But the vest also crisscrosses popular culture: DeRay Mckesson, one of the faces of Black Lives Matter, wears Patagonia so often his vest has its own Twitter feed. A$AP Rocky shows up in Snap-T sweaters. Louis Vuitton cribbed its Classic Retro-X jacket for a mountaineering look. Universities from Oregon to Ole Miss are Patagonia-saturated, and meanwhile, vintage finds—the rarest featuring the original “big label” logo—fetch a premium on eBay.

The company's HQ looks like a cross between a college campus and a recycling center. Solar panels everywhere. Wet suits drying on the roofs of cars—the five-acre spread is a short walk from the beach. The company has an on-site school where employees can enroll their kids through second grade, one of the reasons that Patagonia has near gender parity among employees. Many of its CEOs have been female, including the current one, Rose Marcario. Chouinard writes in his memoir–cum–business bible, Let My People Go Surfing, “I was brought up surrounded by women. I have ever since preferred that accommodation.”

Chouinard was born in Maine but formed in California. The son of a hardworking French-Canadian carpenter, he moved with his family to Burbank, just north of Los Angeles, in 1946, when Chouinard was 8; it was his mother's idea, to improve his dad's asthma. In California, Chouinard stood out, not in a good way. He was short, spoke French, and had a name like a girl. He hated school. High school history class was for practicing holding his breath, so he could free-dive deeper to catch wild lobster off Malibu. “I learned a long time ago that if you want to be a winner,” he told me, “you invent your own games.” So he ran away, to Griffith Park to hunt rabbits, the Los Angeles River to catch crawdads. It was a funny wilderness in the Valley—his favorite swimming hole was fed by a movie studio's film-development lab. “Yeah, I used to swim in the outfall,” he said, cracking up.

Then he discovered climbing. In the 1950s, age 16, Chouinard drove to Wyoming and climbed Gannett Peak, the state's highest mountain. Soon he met other young climbers, like Royal Robbins and Tom Frost, and migrated to Yosemite, where he lived off scraps—at one point, tins of cat food—and made first ascents up the granite walls. “In the '60s, it was kind of the height of the fossil-fuel age,” he said. “You could get a part-time job anytime you felt like it. Gas was 25 cents a gallon. You could buy a used car for 20 bucks. Camping was free. It was pretty easygoing.”

Chouinard and his friends would transform rock climbing, helping to bring about the modern “clean” version, where you no longer hammer iron spikes into the cracks to aid your progress. This led to athletes like Caldwell, a Patagonia “climbing ambassador,” pulling off accomplishments no one thought possible—like the first free climb of Yosemite's Dawn Wall. Chouinard also met his wife of 47 years, Malinda, in Yosemite. At the time, she was a climber who worked as a weekend cabin maid. According to Chouinard, the moment that clinched it was a day they were hanging out and Malinda saw some women pull up and throw a beer can out the window. She told them to pick it up. They gave her the finger. Malinda went over, tore the license plate off their car with her bare hands, and turned it in to the rangers' office. Chouinard was in love.

Patagonia got its start as Chouinard Equipment, selling the climbing gear that Yvon was making for his friends. The first apparel was equally functional, designed to resist rock: sturdy corduroy trousers, stiff rugby shirts like the ones Yvon brought back from a climbing trip in Scotland. When the clothing started to take off, they decided to separate the garments from the gear; they just needed a good name. As Chouinard explained: “To most people, especially then, Patagonia was a name like Timbuktu or Shangri-la—far-off, interesting, not quite on the map.”

These days, that “far-off” land is thriving. With Marcario at the company, revenue and profits have quadrupled. In addition to clothing, the company produces films, runs a food business, even has a venture-capital fund to invest in eco-friendly start-ups; one, Bureo, makes skateboards and sunglasses from former fishing nets. Along the way, Patagonia began donating 1 percent of its sales to environmental groups—$89 million as of April 2017—and led the garment industry in cleaning up its supply chains, demanding better practices from factories overseas. (Chouinard, his wife, and their two adult children remain the sole owners of Patagonia.)

For all the success, an enduring thorn sticks in Chouinard's side: A clothing company can't help but pollute. This season's new puffy jacket is tomorrow's landfill. “The best thing you can do for the planet as far as clothing goes is to buy used clothes and wear them until you just can't wear them anymore,” Chouinard said. “It's like a car. If you get rid of your Chevy and buy a Prius, you're not doing anything for the planet—you just put one more car on the road. Someone else is going to be driving your Chevy.”

In 2011, on Black Friday, Patagonia ran a full-page ad in The New York Times, headlined “Don't Buy This Jacket.” The company vowed to repair or recycle old garments while also pleading for customers to stop buying crap they didn't need. Of course, Patagonia's ad made headlines—and the company sold a ton of jackets. “But it also forced us to put in the largest garment-repair center in North America,” Chouinard said. “I made a commitment to our customer that we were going to put as much quality as we could into the product. If it breaks down, we were going to fix it, and if you no longer want it, we're going to find another home for it, and then when it's finally completely finished, we were going to recycle it into more product.” He added, “It wasn't a way to sell more product, even though, of course, that jacket sold like crazy. It's kind of Zen. You do the right thing and good things happen.”

04-25-2018, 03:21 PM
^ Continued ...

In the Trump era, Chouinard and his company feel galvanized. Following the election, a junior employee had the goofy idea to give away Patagonia's Black Friday profits to hundreds of grassroots environmental organizations, the kind that often work for changes the current administration hates. But not just a share of the day's revenue: all of it. The idea was kicked up the chain. Within days, the company had made a promise on social media. Sales started to pour in.

The previous year, Patagonia had done $2.5 million on Black Friday. In 2016 it was $10 million—and they gave it all away. “It cost us a bunch of money,” Chouinard said, “because it was total revenue. But 60 percent of the customers were new buyers. Sixty percent. It was one of the best business things we've ever done.”

In Ventura, weeks after the Thomas fire, the air still smelled of smoke. Patagonia's headquarters had been used to house evacuees until the fires got too near. Later, the Ventura store gave away long underwear to firefighters working nights in the mountains and fishing waders to crews trying to find people in the mud. I felt a little awkward, then, considering the context, when I told Chouinard that Patagonia's activism seemed pretty convenient when it did so well for the bottom line. What's “Zen” to his mind might sound to others like “good marketing.” He conceded the point, somewhat, but strongly disagreed: “What we say we're doing, we're actually doing. A lot of companies are just greenwashing, and young people can see right through it. Kids are smart, so we don't talk down to them. Our marketing philosophy is just: Tell people who we are. Which is, tell people what we do, and don't try to be anything more than that.”

I asked Chouinard about the lawsuit and his personal feelings about Trump. He thought for a moment, perhaps to contain himself. “What pisses me off about this administration is that they're all these ‘climate deniers’—well, that's bullshit. They know what's happening. What they're doing is purposely not doing anything about climate for the sake of making more money.” He paused, bowed his head, and scraped his fingernails on the table. He sat up again. “That is truly evil. That's why I call this administration evil. They know what they're doing, and they're doing it to make more money.”

Gradually, the conversation went even darker. About Trump, Chouinard added, “It's like a kid who's so frustrated he wants to break everything. That's what we've got.” I asked sarcastically if any part of him was an optimist. Marcario, sitting next to him, laughed loudly. “Did you just ask Yvon if he's an optimist?” Chouinard smiled and cocked his head. “I'm totally a pessimist. But you know, I'm a happy person. Because the cure for depression is action.”

In December, Chouinard was invited to Washington to testify before the House Committee on Natural Resources. He refused. In a response Patagonia made public, Chouinard wrote to the committee chairman: The American people made it clear in public comments that they want to keep the monuments intact, but they were ignored by Secretary Zinke, your committee, and the administration. We have little hope that you are working in good faith with this invitation. To me, he scoffed and shook his head; Washington's the kind of desert a man like him could get lost in. “You sit down in a little chair, and they're up on high chairs looking down at you, and they give you two and a half minutes to give your testimony,” he said. “I'm not going to play that game.”

It reminded me of how Chouinard had described his childhood, growing up in Burbank, facing off against teachers and bullies. When I asked him how it felt to be attacked by the administration, he laughed. “I'm stoked. If you're not getting attacked, you're not trying hard enough.”

Utah is currently feeling the effects of one of the company's political actions. The outdoor-retail industry gathers each winter at an enormous trade show to flaunt new gear. Traditionally, the event had been held in Salt Lake City, giving the city a roughly $20 million boost—until last February, when Patagonia led the charge to move the show. Along with companies like REI and The North Face, Patagonia had gotten fed up with Utah's Republican governor, Gary Herbert, who was determined to roll back protections on his state's public lands.

Herbert was reportedly furious. Montana senator Jon Tester said the relocation had sent “a hell of a message.” At this year's show, in Colorado, it was a topic of conversation everywhere I went. An industry veteran pointed out to me how, for one example, REI has plenty more members than the NRA but no lobbying muscle to compare. Now maybe that could change.

I wandered the trade show for two days. Among the tens of thousands of attendees, Patagonia was easily the unofficial clothier of the convention, if not the city of Denver. Backpacks, jackets, trucker hats. On the street, outside the convention center, a man selling a newspaper that benefits the homeless, the Denver Voice, was wearing a Patagonia hat and top-of-the-line down jacket.

At one point, I caught a panel of executives discussing access to public lands. Corley Kenna, Patagonia's director of global communications, mentioned that, in addition to what had happened in Utah, numerous other monuments were on the chopping block—not to mention the Arctic Refuge, which Trump had just opened for oil drilling, or U.S. coastlines, which he'd vowed to exploit for drilling, despite resistance from the vast majority of the states themselves. Kenna pledged that the company, with its partners, would maintain its resolve: “We're fighting an administration that lies, that flat-out lies.”

Building off the momentum around public lands, Patagonia is doubling down on its activist streak. In February, it launched a new online platform to connect customers with environmental groups. This spring it will announce a certification it's spearheading for “regenerative organic agriculture,” Chouinard's latest obsession. That's the practice where farmers, through topsoil management, absorb carbon from the climate. As Chouinard sees it, it's possibly our best shot against climate change—and likely good for Patagonia's bottom line. “In business, this is what we do here—we just break the rules,” he said. “Life is so much easier by breaking the rules than trying to conform to the rules. It's so much easier.”

For a doomsayer on the verge of becoming an octogenarian, Chouinard stays awfully busy: writing op-eds, developing new products, stoking outrage. Assuming he doesn't get cancer from those childhood swims in photo-processing chemicals, I don't just think he'll outlast Trump, who's eight years his junior; he'll probably outlast me, and I'm only staring down 41. The solution, Yvon-style, would appear to be to remain active, to remain engaged. In a 1992 letter to employees titled “The next hundred years,” Chouinard wrote, “I have a little different definition of evil than most people. When you have the opportunity and the ability to do good and you do nothing, that's evil. Evil doesn't always have to be an overt act. It can be merely the absence of good.” The cure is action.

Rosecrans Baldwin's latest novel, The Last Kid Left, was one of NPR's Best Books of 2017.

Sam Miguel
07-27-2018, 10:11 AM
From the New York Times online - - -

What Trump Doesn’t Get About Conservatism

By Roger Scruton

Mr. Scruton is a conservative author and commentator.

July 4, 2018

I have devoted a substantial part of my intellectual life to defining and defending conservatism, as a social philosophy and a political program. Each time I think I have hit the nail on the head, the nail slips to one side and the hammer blow falls on my fingers.

Like many others, both conservative and liberal, I did not foresee the political career of Donald Trump, nor did I imagine that such a man could occupy the highest office of state, in the name of a party that specifically makes appeal to conservative voters. Is this simply an aberration, or are there some deep links that tie the president to the great tradition of thought that I describe in my recent book, “Conservatism: An Invitation to the Great Tradition”?

When describing the history of an idea, one naturally looks for its best expression. A history of liberalism will have a lot to say about John Locke and Jean-Jacques Rousseau, somewhat less to say about Hillary Clinton. A survey of the conservative idea will dwell at length on Edmund Burke and Thomas Jefferson and devote only a paragraph or two to Margaret Thatcher.

On the other hand, Mrs. Thatcher, and to some extent Mrs. Clinton, are known for invoking the great figures of political philosophy and for showing an educated awareness that “ideas have consequences,” as the American conservative Richard Weaver expressed the point. In Mr. Trump we encounter a politician who uses social media to bypass the realm of ideas entirely, addressing the sentiments of his followers without a filter of educated argument and with only a marginal interest in what anyone with a mind might have said.

Americans are conscious of their constitutional rights and freedoms. These assets are not guaranteed by human nature and exist only because Americans have fought for them. And they have fought for them as a nation, facing the future together. National identity is the origin of the trust on which political order depends. Such trust does not exist in Libya or Syria. But it exists in America, and the country has no more precious asset than the mutual loyalty that enables the words “we, the people” to resonate with every American, regardless of whether it is a liberal or a conservative who utters them.

Those first words of the United States Constitution do not refer to all people everywhere. They refer to the people who reside here, in this place and under this rule of law, and who are the guardians and beneficiaries of a shared political inheritance. Grasping that point is the first principle of conservatism.

Our political inheritance is not the property of humanity in general but of our country in particular. Unlike liberalism, with its philosophy of abstract human rights, conservatism is based not in a universal doctrine but in a particular tradition, and this point at least the president has grasped. Moreover he has understood that the legal order of the United States is rooted in customs that the Constitution was designed to protect. In this, too, Mr. Trump has shown himself to belong to the wider conservative tradition, seeking a Supreme Court that applies the Constitution, rather than one that constantly revises it, regardless of the elected legislature.

But as Edmund Burke pointed out in one of the founding documents of modern conservatism, his “Reflections on the Revolution in France,” we must “reform in order to conserve.” Institutions, traditions and allegiances survive by adapting, not by remaining forever in the condition in which a political leader might inherit them. Conservative thinkers have in general understood this. And the principle of adaptability applies not only to law but also to the economy on which all citizens depend.

In another of conservatism’s founding documents, “The Wealth of Nations,” Adam Smith argued that trade barriers and protections offered to dying industries will not, in the long run, serve the interests of the people. On the contrary, they will lead to an ossified economy that will splinter in the face of competition. President Trump seems not to have grasped this point. His protectionist policies resemble those of postwar socialist governments in Europe, which insulated dysfunctional industries from competition and led not merely to economic stagnation but also to a kind of cultural pessimism that surely goes entirely against the American grain.

Conservative thinkers have on the whole praised the free market, but they do not think that market values are the only values there are. Their primary concern is with the aspects of society in which markets have little or no part to play: education, culture, religion, marriage and the family. Such spheres of social endeavor arise not through buying and selling but through cherishing what cannot be bought and sold: things like love, loyalty, art and knowledge, which are not means to an end but ends in themselves.

About such things it is fair to say that Mr. Trump has at best only a distorted vision. He is a product of the cultural decline that is rapidly consigning our artistic and philosophical inheritance to oblivion. And perhaps the principal reason for doubting Mr. Trump’s conservative credentials is that being a creation of social media, he has lost the sense that there is a civilization out there that stands above his deals and his tweets in a posture of disinterested judgment.

Roger Scruton, a senior fellow at the Ethics and Public Policy Center and a fellow of the British Academy and the Royal Society of Literature, is the author, most recently, of “Conservatism: An Invitation to the Great Tradition.”

Sam Miguel
07-27-2018, 10:18 AM
From the Los Angeles Times online - - -

Europeans are free traders now? That's rich

By Beth Baltzan

Jul 26, 2018 | 1:05 PM

After President Trump met with European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker on Wednesday, tensions between the two economic powerhouses abated, as the United States and the European Union announced an agreement to move forward on trade negotiations.

But all is not as it seems. The “deal,” such as it is, is vintage EU: the agricultural sector is excluded, except for soybeans. This won’t be good news for American farmers, who struggle to gain a foothold in a highly protected European market. The Obama administration refused to accept an agriculture carve-out when negotiating a trade agreement with the Europeans.

Our friends across the pond have deftly taken advantage of President Trump’s rejection of the global status quo to cast themselves as defenders of free trade. But actions speak louder than words. As recently as the G-7 summit in June, the United States floated the idea that the members of the G-7 simply eliminate all their tariffs. The self-proclaimed free trader nations, including those from the EU, were caught with their tail between their legs.

We need real reform at the WTO, not surgical agreements here and there.

German Chancellor Angela Merkel, for example, faltered, saying that eliminating tariffs would require intense negotiations and “take a long time.” In truth, every WTO member could simply take its tariff commitments and change all the positive numbers to zero.

That certainly puts Wednesday’s announcement in context.

As current and former U.S. trade negotiators, including me, know all too well, the EU and others are no more free traders than is Trump. The Europeans like to protect their markets — like agriculture — they just don’t like it when U.S. leaders protect ours. To be clear, in the aftermath of World War II, the United States created this asymmetrical system: We slashed our tariffs more than our trading partners did. The Europeans could charge up to 6% on primary aluminum imports, whereas the United States, for the most part, capped itself at zero.

In that regard, Europe’s outrage at the president’s imposition of a 10% tariff on aluminum is a bit rich. The WTO expressly authorizes members to protect their essential security interests. Steel and aluminum fall in that realm; it was an open secret on Capitol Hill that the Obama administration shared that view and considered invoking the same provision.

In response to Trump’s action, the EU manipulated the rules to reject the U.S. national security claim and imposed counter-tariffs, bypassing WTO dispute settlement.

How is dodging the very rules of a structured system a defense of that system? It is not.

Amidst all this cynicism, all is not lost. A true champion of the system may finally have emerged: Norway. The Norwegians have chosen to do what champions of the system are supposed to do — forgo the instant gratification of retaliation and instead work through the dispute settlement system, however plodding it may be.

Some Europeans recognize the systemic imbalance. The political editor of the German newspaper Die Zeit acknowledged in a recent New York Times op-ed that “[the] Europeans have basically been free riders … spending almost nothing on defense, and instead building vast social welfare systems at home and robust, well-protected export industries abroad. Rather than lash back at Mr. Trump, they would do better to ask how we got to this place, and how to get out.”

The point about vast social welfare systems is one that Democrats must bear in mind. It is Democrats, not Republicans, who have a proud tradition of fighting for a social safety net for dispossessed workers so that job losses, due to trade or otherwise, don’t have to destroy lives.

Democrats will not reclaim the Midwest, which decided the 2016 election by less than 100,000 votes, by rejecting Trump’s willingness to disturb the global trading system, by welcoming half-measures such as the one the Europeans pitched Wednesday, or by buying into the notion that the Trans-Pacific Partnership is a magic bullet. Remember that Trump borrowed critiques of TPP from Midwest Democrats, such as Sherrod Brown and Sandy Levin, not Republicans such as Mike Pence and Paul Ryan, who embraced the deal.

Democrats have long known that trade theory and trade reality are two different things, and that our trading system needs reform. Even the WTO director-general commented that the systemic “shake-up” is positive in many ways and encouraged member nations to use this as an opportunity to improve the multilateral trading system.

But we can’t be fooled by the kinds of deals we saw Wednesday. We need real reform at the WTO, not surgical agreements here and there. Trump’s presidency is at least in part the product of exasperated workers who’ve been left behind by globalization. If that fundamental unfairness isn’t addressed, he won’t be the last president elected on a platform of blowing up the system.

Beth Baltzan is a recent U.S. WTO litigator in the Executive Office of the President of the United States. From 2012 to 2016, she served as Democratic House Ways and Means trade counsel.