Saturday, September 14, 2019

Editorial: After Trump the Deluge

It shouldn’t be a surprise that Donald Trump faces an unprecedented number of investigations into almost every business and organization he has led. After all, he has long been known for associating with questionable figures and cutting corners in his business and financial dealings, and he has brought those methods into government.

During the campaign his rivals made an issue of the lawsuits filed against Trump alleging that Trump University engaged in a variety of illegal practices, ranging from making false claims and fraudulent business practices to racketeering. Before the election Trump said he would never settle the lawsuit, but shortly after his election, on Nov. 18, 2016, he agreed to a $25 million settlement under terms that let him admit no wrongdoing. US District Judge Gonzalo Curiel — the same Indiana-born judge Trump called biased because of his “Mexican heritage” — finalized the settlement in April 2018. It marked the end of two class-action lawsuits and a civil lawsuit from New York accusing Trump of “swindling thousands of Americans out of millions of dollars through Trump University,” in the words of then-New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman.

Most of the attention toward Trump’s legal problems has been directed to the investigation of special counsel Robert Mueller, which brought the prosecution of his former personal lawyer, Michael Cohen, his former campaign chairman, Paul Manafort, and his first national security adviser, Michael Flynn. Mueller laid out evidence that Trump attempted to obstruct justice but he declined to declare Trump’s actions were criminal, apparently because it is Justice Department policy not to consider the incumbent president as a criminal.

But there are plenty of investigations that go beyond Mueller’s probe. Anita Kumar of Politico on June 17 counted at least 15 investigations of wrongdoing by Trump and his organizations. State and federal investigators in California, New York, New Jersey and Washington, D.C., are examining more than $100 million in donations to Trump’s inauguration, checking whether foreign donors illegally contributed to the inaugural committee and whether the organization misspent funds. In New Jersey, investigators are looking into whether undocumented workers were given fraudulent documents at Trump’s Bedminster, N.J., resort.

In New York, the Trump Foundation, was forced to dissolve, but it is still being investigated for potentially spending money on Trump’s company or campaign. The state’s Department of Taxation and attorney general are both on the case.

The New York attorney general also is looking into allegations that undocumented workers were forced to work extra hours without pay at Trump’s golf club in Briarcliff Manor, N.Y. The New York attorney general is also looking into large loans the company received, while the state’s Department Of Financial Services is scrutinizing the company’s insurance policies.

Even the Trump campaign, nearly three years after the 2016 election, is still facing government probes. Federal prosecutors in the Southern District of New York are examining whether the campaign illegally coordinated with Rebuilding America Now, a pro-Trump super PAC, as well as the much-publicized hush money payments Trump’s team made to two women over allegations of extramarital affairs with Trump.

Peter Zeidenberg, a former federal prosecutor who handled cases against public officials, including former Vice President Dick Cheney’s chief of staff, Scooter Libby, told Politico Trump’s situation stands out. Unlike prior administrations, he noted, these cases are all about the president and his personal businesses — not those of his staff. “We’ve seen nothing on this scale,” he said.

The Democratic House plans hearings on Trump’s high crimes and misdemeanors, but the Trump administration is defying the House’s efforts to get information or testimony from current and former administration officials, claiming it is protected by executive immunity, and the Justice Department is loyally working with Trump to oppose the House’s efforts to enforce subpoenas.

House Democrats, back in session after the August recess, are planning to investigate hush-money payments made on Trump’s behalf — and reportedly at Trump’s direction — to at least two women — former Playboy model Karen McDougal and adult film actress Stormy Daniels. Both women say they had affairs with Trump.

Michael Cohen, Trump’s former personal attorney and fixer, cooperated with the investigation, which started with Robert Mueller’s team and was passed on to federal prosecutors in Manhattan. Cohen outlined the arrangement to pay off Daniels to keep her from going public with her story. McDougal was given a similar financial arrangement by the owners of the National Enquirer.

Cohen is serving a three-year prison sentence for conspiracy to violate federal election laws, but prosecutors declined to pursue any further criminal charges, even after Cohen testified under oath that Trump was the one who directed him to make the illegal payments. The Justice Department apparently did not pursue felony charges against Trump because of its policy not to indict sitting presidents.

Remember that the White House first denied Trump had an affair with Daniels. then, after the Wall Street Journal broke the news of the hush money payments, Trump himself denied having any knowledge of the financial arrangement. Then his personal attorney Rudy Giuliani acknowledged that the president had reimbursed Cohen for the $130,000 he paid Daniels. So if Cohen committed a felony, Trump did too.

Yet with all the legal scrutiny, Trump is still embraced by the Republican establishment. They stayed with him through his racist rhetoric aimed at Mexican Americans as well as the tape in which he is heard boasting of sexually assaulting women. They have closed ranks around him because he has put corporate lobbyists in key government positions to slash government regulations, he gave their billionaire backers the tax cut they demanded and he has put two right wingers on the Supreme Court and may have tipped the balance in the judiciary.

Many Republicans believe Trump can fight back against the allegations of racketeering by dismissing the probes as partisan “witch hunts,” on which he can raise money from his true believers. Bryan Lanza, who worked on Trump’s 2016 campaign and transition and remains close to the White House, told Politico Trump doesn’t plan to shy away from talking about the inquiries.

“You have to lump these together, too. They’re all the same. They’re all witch hunts,” he said. “He’s comfortable telling the American public that these are partisan hit jobs.”

The American people cannot accept these evasions from responsibility. Trump is crooked and so are his enablers. Republican leaders are normalizing the Great Misleader’s lying and contempt for the rule of law. While Trump remains unpopular, even in the Midwestern states that provided his margin of victory in the Electoral College in 2016, Republicans are proceeding with voter suppression efforts, including purges of voting rolls, to deny working-class people access to the polls next November.

Trump’s incompetence and the scope of his corruption may be his undoing, but smarter and more ambitious Republicans have studied his methods and are lining up to take his place. There is more to do in restoring democracy than simply turning Trump out of office next year. His enablers need to go, too. — JMC

From The Progressive Populist, October 1, 2019

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Copyright © 2019 The Progressive PopulistPO Box 819, Manchaca TX 78652

Selections from the October 1, 2019 issue

COVER/Art Cullen
Trump’s trade wars fuel Amazon forest fires

After Trump the deluge


Criminalizing free speech in Ohio and elsewhere

RURAL ROUTES/Margot McMillen
Getting to know farmers

US military stopovers in Scotland help struggling Trump resort;
Trump took a big loan from Trump and never paid it back, in just one more apparent scam;
Trump security risk causes CIA to pull top Kremlin spy;
NOAA probe NOAA's 'political' response to Trump's lies;
Trump takes money from FEMA for border seurity with with hurricane season ramping up;
Trump diverts funds from military to build wall;
Trump administration plans to gut food stamps, hitting red states hardest;
NC Supremes drop hammer on partisan gerrymandering;
Jobs report for August falls 30,000 short of prediction as retail jobs decline for 7th month;
Trump to Ukraine: No aid nless you smear Joe Biden;
DHS spent $120M on office furniture as migrant kids go without soap ...

The view from behind the ox is not that clear

Farmers need a bill of rights

Get ready for unnatural disasters this hurricane season

Hostages of lobbyists and hobbyists

Saving our earth

Falling: Job growth down at very small farms

In praise of scabby the rat

Bad news from home: The white knights ride again

BOOK REVIEW/Heather Seggel 
Three is a magic number

HEALTH CARE/Joan Retsinas 
The know nothings redux

Who will benefit from opioid settlement money?

Wile E. Trump

Politics and local weather broadcasters

Put US manufacturers on equal footing with government-paid comprehensive health insurance

Mind your pollinators

Dealing with the Trump cult

Jobs is survived by his machines

SATIRE/Rosie Sorenson 
A new day, a new lexicon

New film blows the whistle on war

Feeling betrayed

and more ...

Saturday, August 31, 2019

Editorial: Don’t Settle for ‘Safe’

As Donald Trump digs a deeper hole for himself in public opinion, Democrats should disregard warnings from corporate media pundits that they must nominate a “safe” centrist to take on Trump next year.

The pundits have been warning that if Democrats choose a progressive candidate, such as Bernie Sanders or Elizabeth Warren, they’ll revive Trump’s re-election chances, because moderate voters will be scared by their progressive proposals, such as expanding Medicare to cover everybody, protecting and extending Social Security, and taking action to reverse climate change. But we fear that if Democrats nominate a “moderate,” they might put their progressive base to sleep.

We’ve heard a few forecasts of a potential Republican sweep if Sanders or Warren is the standard bearer — a 40-state loss, or even a McGovernite 49-state loss.

Of course, McGovern was a liberal Democrat when the party was badly split over the Vietnam war as well as backlash against attempts to desegregate public schools and other domestic troubles. And Richard Nixon, while corrupt, was an experienced politician who at least pretended to be concerned about the whole country, not just the people who voted for him and donated to his campaign.

Trump won the White House in the political equivalent of drawing the inside straight in poker — beating Hillary Clinton in the traditionally Democratic strongholds of Michigan, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin by a combined total of fewer than 80,000 votes, while Clinton beat Trump in the popular vote by 2.8 million votes nationwide. The Electoral College held sway, but Trump has ruled since then as if the people who voted against him — and the cities and states where they live — are his enemies, to whom he owes only revenge. So he has played to his base, and he is the only president in the history of the Gallup poll never to crack 50% approval. As of Aug. 14, the Gallup poll showed 41% approval and 54% disapproval.

Trump has made little effort to reach out to swing voters. “I think my base is so strong, I’m not sure that I have to do that,” he told Time in June. The mantra of Trump 2020 is “turnout, turnout, turnout,” campaign manager Brad Parscale said. “People all think you have to change people’s minds. You have to get people to show up that believe in you.”

An NBC/Wall Street Journal poll in August found 52% either would or were likely to vote for the Democratic nominee, while only 40% said they would or were likely to vote for Trump. A separate Morning Consult tracking poll of Trump’s support in the states showed that, as of the end of July, Trump was “under water,” with more disapproving him than approving, in at least six states Trump carried in 2016, including Arizona, Iowa, Michigan, Wisconsin, Ohio and Pennsylvania, and Florida and North Carolina were statistically tied. Of course, this comes with the caveat that polls this early are not predictive. But they do show Trump is very vulnerable.

How can Democrats excite their base to get out the vote? They should start with promoting popular initiatives, such as expanding Medicare to cover everybody, as polls have shown 70% of adults — including a majority of Republicans — support. At least they support it until they’re told that it will result in higher taxes, or that they’ll lose their private insurance — and the for-profit health industrial complex is already working to stir up voters’ fears that the government will mess things up.

Under Bernie Sanders’ Medicare for All plan, individuals would get comprehensive health coverage, including dental and vision care, with no deductibles or copayments, for less cost than they now pay in premiums and copays. Seniors who now get Medicare will get better coverage, along with those under 65. And reputable businesses, who struggle to find affordable health insurance plans to cover their employees, will no longer have to compete with skinflint businesses who don’t offer health coverage for their workers. But if it makes voters feel better, we can let for-profit companies still try to sell insurance.

Democrats also should campaign on protecting, and expanding, Social Security, as Republicans are drawing up plans to slash Medicare and Social Security if Trump wins a second term. The New York Times reported Aug. 21 that, with the budget deficit set to surpass $1 trillion in 2020 thanks in large part to Trump’s tax cuts for the rich and his trade war, Republicans and right-wing groups are pressuring the president to take a sledgehammer to Social Security and Medicare, widely popular programs Trump vowed not to touch during his 2016 campaign.

Sen. John Barrasso (R-Wyo.) told the Times his party has discussed cutting Medicare and Social Security with Trump and said the president has expressed openness to the idea. In his budget for fiscal year 2020, Trump already has called for $845 billion to be cut from Medicare and $25 billion to be cut from Social Security.

Democrats should raise alarms about Trump’s plan to cut Medicare and Social Security, and embrace the Social Security 2100 Act, sponsored by Rep. John Larson (D-Conn.), that would lift the cap on wages subject to the Social Security tax, which is now $128,400. Removing that cap would take care of the shortfall expected after 2035, when the Social Security surplus of $2.9 trillion will otherwise be exhausted. Taxing the wages of the wealthy would also allow an increase in Social Security benefits for the first time in more than 40 years. The Republican “plan” is to let benefits be cut 20% in 2035.

Perhaps most importantly, Democratic presidential nominees should promote mobilization to avert climate catastrophe. The Democratic National Committee apparently doesn’t think climate change deserves a debate on its own, but voters want to know what the candidates will do. Warren released her own climate plan in June, a $2 trillion package that commits the federal government to spend $150 billion a year over 10 years on low-carbon technology, increases energy research funding and funds a $100 billion Green Marshall Plan to aid poorer countries projected to suffer the worst as global temperatures rise.

Biden was scored 83% pro-environment from the League of Conservation Voters during his 36 years in the Senate. He presented a climate platform in June that embraced the Green New Deal as a framework and foresees $1.7 trillion in spending over 10 years, along with $3.3 trillion in investments by the private sector and state and local governments.

Sanders on Aug. 22 proposed his own Green New Deal plan that would transition the US economy to 100% renewable energy and create 20 million union jobs over a decade. The cost — $16.3 trillion — might sound like a lot, but Sanders says it will pay for itself through a combination of new taxes, fees and litigation against fossil fuels companies, new taxes on corporations and wealthy people, together with cuts in military spending related to US reliance on oil and savings across the economy, reported. Republicans who still claim the 2017 tax cut for the rich will pay for itself have no room to complain.

In short, whoever gets the Democratic nomination will get framed by the corporate media as a socialist — even if it’s Joe Biden. Republicans called Barack Obama a socialist, so why not his running mate? And we’ll vote for any of them against Trump.

With the election year coming up, Democrats should embrace the spirit of Franklin D. Roosevelt — who was not really a socialist, either, but made capitalism accountable to the people. Democrats should give voters a reason to believe, once again, that government can make their lives better. — JMC

From The Progressive Populist, September 15, 2019

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Copyright © 2019 The Progressive PopulistPO Box 819, Manchaca TX 78652

Selections from the September 15, 2019 issue

COVER/Jonathan Cohn
Health care rationing? It’s already reality under private insurance

Don’t settle for ‘safe’ in the presidential race


Dental care (and lack thereof) in rural America

RURAL ROUTES/Margot McMillen  
Follow the bouncing tweets

Trump’s G-7: No trade deal, no military deal, no climate deal, yes on helping himself;
Trump promises Britain ‘very big trade deal’ post-Brexit;
Trump trade war drives 'free trade' to new high in poll;
GOP immigrant bashing may turn Texas blue;
FEC can’t function, thanks to Mitch McConnell;
Hurricanes make spiders more aggressive;
DEA marks beginning of end of 'reefer madness';
Judge says Georgia must use paper ballots if new voting system not ready;
Cargill's family owners get largest payout since 2010 ...

Farmers pay more attention to organic, resilient ag

As the school year starts, I’m grateful for the ADA

Whom do you trust? My goodness, not him

We need change in health coverage

To save rural hospitals, pass Medicare for all

The foreclosure machine is hard to stop

Joe Biden’s biggest problem is the enthusiasm deficit

A tire that should inspire fear in the heart of workers

Feds neglect to arrest billionaire CEO of poultry plant that employed undocumented workers

Trump’s re-election strategy: Pit us against each other

Progressive Jewish groups defend detained migrants

USDA Secretary Perdue is just part of a loathsome administration

How did we get here? And how do we get out?

HEALTH CARE/Joan Retsinas
Harmful to your health: The dying newspaper

How to get a handle on controlling gun violence

Without the base alloy of hypocrisy

Progressives, moderates and capitalists

Impeachment and the Democratic prospect

Trade war with China is good for US — if we win

BOOK REVIEW/Heather Seggel
When you just can’t even

‘Veep’ offers relief from Washington dysfunction

SATIRE/Rosie Sorenson
The grapes of crass

Voter suppression: Report from the field

Ironies abound in the Obama documentary, ‘American Factory’

What it’s like to grow up hunted

and more ...

Monday, August 19, 2019

New York Times disseminates false assumption that there will be assault weapons in the streets for at least a century even after a ban

By Marc Jampole

A signed New York Times editorial by Alex Kingsbury over the weekend presented the false assumption that even after outlawing automatic weapons, these weapons of mass destruction will be on the streets for at least another century.
The piece, presented as the lead editorial in the print edition of the Times only several days after it appear online, is titled “It’s Too Late to Ban Assault Weapons.” It makes the false assumption that there is nothing we can do to get existing guns off the streets, so we will have to live in a gun-clogged nation for generations to come, even if we ban assault weapons and pass other gun control laws.
Kingsbury’s harrowing factual beginning sets us up for his false premise: “With proper care and maintenance, an AR-15 rifle manufactured today will fire just as effectively in the year 2119 and probably for decades after that. There are currently around 15 million military-style rifles in civilian hands in the United States.”
So what.
If we can pass a law outlawing the sale of military style (assault) weapons, we can also pass a law making possession of one a federal crime, with penalties including a steep fine and jail time.
Don’t scoff at the power of such a law: if it were in place, when local police investigated a case of domestic violence and found an assault rifle, they could take custody of the weapon and the owner. We could create a computer program that goes through the rolls of every gun seller who does background checks to identify everyone to whom they ever sold an assault weapon and contact that individual to arrange the surrender of their now illegal weapons. A gun call-back program would represent no invasion of privacy, since at the time of sale the gun owner voluntarily surrendered his information for the purpose of registering the purchase.
The federal government could also provide funds for local task forces to stop illegal sales of the weapons that have been outlawed.
On the softer side, a law banning assault weapons could mandate and subsidize gun buyback programs. I am fairly certain that many large corporations would fund the buyback, either in hard cash or in gift certificates. About twenty years ago, deep in the heart of rural upstate New York, my public relations firm developed and coordinated a gun buyback program in Syracuse that was a joint effort of the Syracuse Mayor’s office, the police department and my client, the largest supermarket company in upstate New York at that time, P& C Foods, and its parent company Penn Traffic. P&C provided the buyback premium–$100 gift certificates, good in any P&C store. The results blew away our goals for the program, and also the P&C’s budget. The company didn’t mind, though, as the good will with both the public and municipal officials was very important to the company. In total, people handed in 316 weapons, a lot considering the small size of Syracuse and the fact that there was no legal mandate to surrender the weapons.
Imagine an assault weapons buyback with a premium of $250-$500 versus the authorities discovering you have illegally kept possession of your AR-15 and fining you $5,000 and throwing you six months in jail for six months.
There can be no doubt that no matter how many of these “fixes” we establish to make sure that outlawing assault rifles actually gets these horrible weapons off the streets, we will never collect all of the weapons out there. We can also assume that those already prone to commit crimes will be more likely to break the new law and keep their AR-15s.
Again, so what?
We should never make the impossible-to-achieve perfect the enemy of the achievable good. A combination of public relations, education and aggressive law enforcement will harvest virtually all of assault weapons out there. All research tells us that the more guns in a society the more people die or are injured by gun violence, and conversely, removing guns from society reduces those killed and injured. Thus, if a law outlawing the possession of assault weapons is passed and aggressively enforced leading to the collection of 12 or 13 million assault rifles it would assuredly reduce deaths and injuries.
Kingsbury ends his signed editorial with another typical Times effort to blame the “left” for pushing too hard and not understanding the mentality and needs of the rest of the country. He uses a classic club-the-reformer formulation: “Perhaps if gun control advocates frankly acknowledge that military-style rifles are going to be present in American society for many generations to come, it will help assuage fears of mass confiscation and give gun owners the space they need to support sensible safeguards that will save lives.”
Note the conflation of “gun” owners” with assault weapons owners; and the corresponding conflation of confiscation of assault weapons with “mass confiscation.” A mere one-third of the adult population owns guns—and not all of them own assault weapons. When surveyed, most gun owners are in favor of banning military style weapons. They are also in favor of increased background checks and other gun control and safety legislation. Once AR-15 are outlawed, the next step of getting them off the streets shouldn’t be that hard for responsible gun owners and the rest of the population to stomach. Keep in mind that after winning the battle to prevent the sale and possession of AR-15 and their ilk, the momentum will be on the side of gun control advocates. As long as hunters, shooting range enthusiasts and rural inhabitants who feel they need a firearm to protect their homes have other options, I don’t they are going to care that much about others having to surrender their illegal firearms.
Instead of giving space to hand-wringing and pessimism in way that is tantamount to saying “we might as well do nothing,” the Times should publish more information on the implementation of gun safety laws. Once gun owners see how convenient and easy it will be for responsible gun owners to register their legal weapons and once they understand how universal gun checks, a robust national no-gun list, the banning of AR-15 and the end of open carry and stand-your-ground laws protect everyone, including their families, most will “have the space they need to support sensible safeguards.” The National Rifle Association gains its power because of lies and loosey-goosey rhetoric. Instead of taking that rhetoric for granted, the Times should join in the battle to correct NRA mendacity. It should be helping to prepare the country for a program to confiscate assault weapons instead of assuming it’s impossible to implement.