Saturday, February 11, 2017

Editorial: Trump’s Bait and Switch

Scared stupid is no way to run a democracy, but it seems to work for Donald Trump.

In his first two weeks in power, the Grifter in Chief appealed to the fear and ignorance of his supporters in renewing his insistence that a wall (or maybe a big fence) will be built on the Southern border, and that Mexico somehow will be forced to pay for it, but if it’s financed with a tariff, or “border tax” on Mexican goods, American consumers would end up paying for the wall. And his arbitrary ban on travel to the US from seven predominantly Muslim countries where Islamic terrorists are known to operate, even if travelers have valid visas or green cards after a rigorous review by the State and Homeland Security departments, has the practical effect of banning Muslim refugees as well as ordinary visitors from nations where the Trump Organization doesn’t have properties, even though nobody from those seven nations have attacked Americans in the United States, while citizens of Egypt, Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates and Lebanon were responsible for the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks and citizens of those nations are still welcome here.

Michael Hayden, former director of the National Security Agency under Bill Clinton and director of the Central Intelligence Agency under George W. Bush, wrote in the Washington Post Feb. 5 that Trump’s executive order on immigration, which apparently was drawn up without consulting professionals at the State and Homeland Securities departments, “was ill-conceived, poorly implemented and ill-explained. To be fair, it would have been hard to explain since it was not the product of intelligence and security professionals demanding change, but rather policy, political and ideological personalities close to the president fulfilling a campaign promise to deal with a threat they had overhyped.”

Trump’s travel ban also handed radical islamic groups, such as al Qaeda and Islamic State, a propaganda windfall as they have sought to depict the US as waging war against Islam.

Trump hasn’t been doing much better in talks with US allies. On Jan. 27, in what White House officials later said was a joke, Trump told President Enrique Peña Nieto of Mexico that he would deploy US troops to Mexico if the Mexican government failed to control “bad hombres down there.”

Then, in a Feb. 1 telephone call with Australian Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull, Trump boasted about his election victory, then complained about a deal Turnbull reached with then-President Obama to take 1,200 refugees Australia has been holding, many from Iraq and Iran. Trump accused Turnbull of sending us the “next Boston bombers.” Then he hung up on Turnbull after only 25 minutes of what was supposed to be an hourlong conversation.

Trump’s foreign-policy debacles have perhaps distracted from his abandonment of his promise to clean up Wall Street. Instead, he’s appointed a half-dozen current and former executives from Goldman Sachs to White House posts after he repeatedly attacked Hillary Clinton’s ties to the investment bank during the campaign.

But after meeting with Wall Street executives on Feb. 3, Trump shed his populist pose he had when he signed a directive calling on the Labor Department to reconsider its new “fiduciary rule,” which requires financial advisers to act in their clients’ best interests, instead of steering them into investments in which the advisers have a financial interest. He also issued an executive order designed to weaken the Dodd-Frank financial reform, enacted in 2010 in the aftermath of the financial crisis.

“Both moves are very much in line with the priorities of congressional Republicans and, of course, the financial industry,” Paul Krugman wrote in the New York Times Feb. 6. “For both groups really, really hate financial regulation, especially when it helps protect families against sharp practice.”

Krugman noted that the Obama administration in 2015 concluded that “conflicted investment advice” has been reducing the return on retirement savings by around one percentage point, costing ordinary Americans around $17 billion each year, with that money going largely into the pockets of various financial-industry players. “And now we have a White House trying to ensure that this game goes on.”

On Dodd-Frank, Krugman noted, Republicans would like to repeal the whole law, but probably don’t have the votes. “What they can do is try to cripple enforcement, especially by undermining the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, whose goal is to protect ordinary families from financial scams.”

The bureau was established over Republican opposition and it is designed to deal with problems that afflict consumers in good times and bad. And it has increased transparency, reduced fees, and exposed fraud, such as the Wells Fargo scandal, in which the bank was found to have signed up millions of customers for accounts, credit cards and services without their consent or knowledge.

Gary Cohn, the Goldman Sachs banker appointed to head Trump’s National Economic Council, says the fiduciary rule is like “putting only healthy food on the menu” and denying people the right to eat unhealthy food if they want it.

Trump says the financial reforms hurt credit availability. “I have so many people, friends of mine that had nice businesses, they can’t borrow money,” he said, without elaborating. “It would be interesting to learn what these ‘nice businesses’ are, Krugman noted, as bank lending has been “quite robust” since Dodd-Frank was enacted, but “US banks have generally shunned Trump’s own businesses — from which, by the way, he hasn’t separated himself at all — perhaps because of his history of defaults.”

‘Pro-Lifers’ Need to Expand Life

Trump’s nomination of Neil Gorsuch, a right-wing appeals court judge, to the late Justice Antonin Scalia’s seat on the Supreme Court is widely considered a payback to conservative Christians dedicated to outlawing abortion.

Democratic senators should stand united to stop Republicans from completing their theft of the vacant seat on the high court, which has been open for a year while Republicans refused to consider Obama’s moderate nominee, Merrick Garland. If Republicans follow through on their threat to elimate the Senate filibuster rule to seat Gorsuch, then the filibuster doesn’t mean much anyway.

Republicans would have been sitting on Hillary Clinton’s nominee for the Supreme Court if Catholics hadn’t ended up voting 52% for Trump, a swing of five points from 2012.

That swing in Catholic support away from Clinton may be attributed to Trump’s promise to nominate a Supreme Court justice who would vote to overturn Roe v. Wade, the court decision that legalized abortion in 1973. But single-issue Christian voters who oppose abortion need to answer for electing Republican lawmakers whose only “pro-life” nod is to force women to bear unwanted children, but GOP skinflints don’t want the state to help those children after they’re born as they cut funding for birth control, food, housing, education and medical assistance for the working poor to pay for tax breaks for the rich.

The same goes for Republican governors, like Greg Abbott of Texas, who claims to be “pro-life” but blocked the federally-funded expansion of Medicaid under the Affordable Care Act that would have provided health care for a million working poor Texans. A study by researchers from Harvard Medical School, published in January 2014, estimated between 1,840 and 3,035 Texans would die needlessly every year the state denied the medical care — the highest death toll among 25 states who were resisting implementation of “Obamacare” at that time. The study anticipated up to 17,104 unnecessary deaths annually in those states. Today, 19 states still refuse Medicaid expansion. People who consider themselves “pro-life” should work to moderate Republicans in Congress on life after birth. — JMC

From The Progressive Populist, March 1, 2017

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Selections from the March 1, 2017 issue

COVER/Nomi Prins
Goldman Sachs conquers Washington

Trump’s bait & switch; ‘Pro-lifers’ need to expand life

Partying like it’s 1939


America’s construction carnage

RURAL ROUTES/Margot McMillen
We need more like Kathy Ozer

Kellyanne Conway's explanation for ‘Bowling Green Massacre’ also a lie;
Trump baselessly accuses media of covering up terrorist attacks;
Trump’s Treasury pick says his bank didn’t robo-sign, court papers say it did;
Trump quickly changed his mind on drug prices, expect the same on Obamacare;
Obamacare sees 9.2M signups;
Pro-life goes both ways;
Cable news channels hike ad rates for shows Trump watches;
Obama era ends with152M at work increase of 9M;
S.D. declares 'state of emergency' to reject ethics reform initiative;
Hawaii Republican leader ousted for rebuking Trump;
Trump's new FCC chief could have big effect on Internet.

Ruling by chaos

How do you unravel what NAFTA has bound?

The impermanence of Trump the temp

10 good omens since Trump’s inauguration

Debtors’ prisons, then and now

Profiles in cowardice

Trump’s ban a win for ISIS

Trump’s first test on taxes

SATIRE/Rosie Sorenson
Who put the ‘con’ in Conway?

HEALTH CARE/Joan Retsinas
Alas Pollyanna!

High IQ no guarantee of performance

Aberration and culmination

Donald in trade land

Resisting Trump; building alternatives

Globalizers fret over collapse of Trans-Pacific Partnership

Hundreds charged with felony rioting in inauguration protests

Thanks for the laughs in Trumpland

MOVIES/Ed Rampell
2016’s best progressive films and filmmakers

An America first energy policy? 

and more ...

Tuesday, February 7, 2017

Times gives torture advocate John Yoo another chance to rehabilitate himself by blaming Trump for doing worse

In its continuing attempt to characterize as illegal the Trump Administration’s ban on immigrants and refugees from seven Muslim countries, the New York Times has either allowed itself to be manipulated by a long-time supporter of torture or doesn’t really mean when its editors frequently write that the Times thinks torture is illegal.

How else to explain why the Times published an opinion piece by torture advocate John Yoo?
Yoo, as some will remember, was the Bush II lawyer who wrote the infamous Justice Department memo that said, among other things, that:
  • Waterboarding is not torture
  • Torture does not begin until injury to a vital organ
  • If the President of the United States orders it, it isn’t torture
  • The President is not bound by any international agreements regarding torture.
In his article titled “Executive Power Run Amok,” Yoo goes over some of the actions Trump has already taken that Yoo believes are unconstitutional, such as the orders to build a wall, pull out of the North American Free Trade Agreement , fire acting attorney general Sally Yates and halt immigration from selected countries.

The American Enterprise Institute scholar begins his article by stating the obvious: that he is a strong defender of the power of the executive. He explicitly states that he feels himself the heir of Alexander Hamilton in advocating the “unitary executive,” which essentially means that the Constitution grants the president all powers not expressly given to other branches of the government. Using himself to demonstrate how truly unique Trump’s power grab has been, he writes, “But even I have grave concerns about Mr. Trump’s uses of presidential power.”

Yoo, and the Times, are both saying that even this extreme advocate of presidential power thinks Trump has overstepped the bounds of presidential power.

But the power Yoo gave the president was to approve something illegal and immoral, and that’s the problem. By presenting Yoo as yet another expert in presidential power who says Trump is acting against the constitution, the Times gives de facto approval to Yoo and the actions he advocated. Here is the key statement in Yoo’s latest attempt at rehabilitating himself by being a mainstream expert on Constitutional law:
“As an official in the Justice Department, I followed in Hamilton’s footsteps, advising that President George W. Bush could take vigorous, perhaps extreme, measures to protect the nation after the Sept. 11 attacks, including invading Afghanistan, opening the Guantánamo detention center and conducting military trials and enhanced interrogation of terrorist leaders. Likewise, I supported President Barack Obama when he drew on this source of constitutional power for drone attacks and foreign electronic surveillance.”
Note all the deception in this paragraph: Like others in the Bush II, he refers to torture as “enhanced interrogation.” He equates torture with invading Iraq and opening a detention center as “extreme” measures taken to protect the country. He calls Gitmo a “detention center,” which kind of misses the point that torture occurred there. He connects his advice that torturing is okay to constitutionally questionable actions Obama took.

All these things are okay, Yoo proclaims, but not what Trump is doing. By accepting Yoo’s premise that action A and B were okay but actions C and D are not, the New York Times accepts Yoo’s assertion that torture is legal if the president orders it.  Yoo did not write, “What I recommended was illegal and so are Trump’s actions.” No, what he is saying is he may have taken it to the extreme, but he remained within the lines, whereas Trump has crossed over into illegality.

This article is not the first time since the revelation of Yoo’s central role in justifying the establishment of a torture gulag that the Times has given him a chance to enhance his reputation by appearing as an expert in its pages. Why does a supposedly liberal newspaper continue to participate in the rehabilitation of this intellectually bankrupt individual? Are the Times editors that stupid that they don’t see they are being used? I know politics makes strange bedfellows, but rightwing, centrist and leftwing scholars, pundits and politicians are falling over themselves to distance themselves from Trump’s obnoxiously racist and stupidly counterproductive immigration ban. Couldn’t the editors find someone else for their daily “Trump is a dangerous ignoramus” guest column?