Saturday, March 11, 2017

Beware Trump Distractions

Donald Trump was supposed to be basking in the good reviews of his speech to the joint session of Congress on Feb. 28, which included a dozen false or misleading statements (see Dispatches), but he impressed many commentators by sticking to the script better then he has in the past.

However, continuing questions about Russia’s involvement on Trump’s behalf before the election keeps roiling the administration. Before Trump’s big speech, Michael Flynn was forced to step down as his national security adviser when it became clear that Flynn had lied about talking to the Russian ambassador after the election to undermine President Obama’s sanctions on Russia. Then, the day after the speech, Trump’s choice for attorney general, Jefferson Beauregard Sessions III, chairman of the Trump campaign’s National Security Advisory Committee, who had denied during his Senate confirmation hearing that he had talked to Russians before the election, was forced to recuse himself from the investigation of Russian interference in the election because, it turned out, he actually had talked to Russian Ambassador Sergey Kislyak at the Republican National Convention in July, and again in his Senate office in September. Sessions still insists he did nothing wrong.

Trump has had success in using the con-man’s trick of misdirection to distract the public from damaging news, as he creates his own alternative reality.

Still, Trump’s bizarre pre-dawn tweets on March 4 accusing then-President Obama of ordering Trump’s phones tapped before the election had many observers scratching their heads. Trump produced no evidence of such a wiretap; he apparently was relying on claims made by right-wing radio talker Mark Levin and that Obama and his administration used “police state” tactics last fall to monitor the Trump team. Obama’s spokesmen categorically denied that the president had ordered the wiretap, which he could not do on his own, nor did he seek a court order for such a wiretap, as the law would require.

If anything, Trump’s tweets reinforced reports that the FBI in October had obtained a court order authorizing a wiretap of Trump campaign officials, which would have required the investigators to convince a judge there was evidence of illegal activity by the Trump campaign -- if not Trump individually.

Despite the widespread doubt cast on Trump’s claims, he was pleased March 5 that his allegations against Obama were the dominant story in the Sunday newspapers, instead of the Sessions story, the Washington Post reported. Trump was angered later in the day as few Republicans were defending him on the Sunday talk shows.

“The president knows the media cannot ignore him when he says something so inflammatory, and he believes there will be no real consequences for him if it turns out that everything he said was nonsense. After all, there haven’t been up until now,” James Hohmann wrote for the Post.

“Moreover, Trump’s core supporters also got a new talking point. Whenever they’re confronted with the links between Trump associates and Russia, millions of people are now going to reply that the real story is Obama’s wiretapping — even if that claim is shown definitively to have no basis in reality.”

Trump had some success with his controversial executive order on Jan. 27 that effectively barred people from seven Muslim-majority nations and all refugees from entering the US, even if they had visas or “green cards.” A Morning Consult/Politico poll in early February found 55% approval of the travel ban, though other polls showed majorities opposing the ban, but most polls show an overwhelming majority of Trump’s Republican base supports him, many of whom say he is following through on his campaign promises.

After federal courts, including the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals on Feb. 9, blocked enforcement of the travel ban, Trump privately signed a new ban on March 6 that imposes a 90-day ban on the issuance of new visas for citizens of six majority-Muslim nations (letting Iraq citizens in this time). He is also suspending the admission of refugees for at least 120 days and set a cap on 50,000 refugees in a year, down from the 110,000 cap set by the Obama administration. But the order remains a thinly veiled Muslim ban — and it still doesn’t target nations whose citizens participated in the 9/11 attacks.

There is less support for Trump’s order that immigration agents start rounding up undocumented immigrants. A CBS News Poll Feb. 23 found that a majority think not enough is being done to ensure that foreigners who enter the US from other countries are not a risk to security, but 60% think that undocumented immigrants currently living in the US should be allowed to stay and apply for citizenship, while 23% would require them to leave the US. Only 43% of Republicans support deporting all illegal immigrants, but that likely comprises Trump’s base.

A more equitable solution to the immigration problem would be to go after the businesses that employ undocumented people — particularly those who then don’t deduct or pay their share of payroll taxes for the undocumented.

Meanwhile, David Johnson of Campaign for America’s Future noted, the pro-corporate and anti-worker agenda unfolds:

The new head of the Environmental Protection Agency, Scott Pruitt, scrapped a crucial greenhouse gas rule requiring oil and gas companies to report methane pollution, which was part of the Paris climate deal, which Trump wants to scrap. Trump’s budget proposes to pay for a $54 billion increase in military spending with deep cuts to other agencies. A proposed 25% cut to the EPA budget would dramatically cut climate-change programs and those designed to prevent air and water pollution as well as lead contamination.

Trump’s budget would slash the EPA program that pays for Great Lakes pollution cleanup by 97%, from $300 million to $10 million. Trump is reportedly proposing cuts of 90% for programs to restore the Chesapeake Bay, the Puget Sound and San Francisco Bay. Grants to states for lead cleanup would be cut by 30%, to $9.8 mln, Reuters reported. Spending for enforcement of environmental protections would be cut 11% to $153 million..

The Trump administration also proposes a 17% cut in the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, which would require steep cuts to research funding and satellite programs.

The proposed cuts to NOAA, the nation’s premier climate science agency, would eliminate funding for a variety of smaller programs, including external research, coastal management, estuary reserves and “coastal resilience,” which seeks to bolster the ability of coastal areas to withstand major storms and rising seas.

Trump’s FCC chairman plans to undo “net neutrality,” which will help four giant companies consolidate control of the Internet. By undoing the rules that create a level playing field online, Trump’s FCC will empower companies like Comcast to decide who gets Internet access, and at what price. This could have an impact on people’s ability to organize online.

Republicans have introduced the National Right-to-Work Act in Congress. This would defund labor unions by removing requirements that workers benefitting from union contracts pay dues to cover the union’s costs of negotiating, administering and meeting the union’s obligations under the contract.

Populist activists also have reservations about Trump’s commitment to negotiate trade deals that protect worker rights and the environment. “Trump promised to ‘drain the swamp,’ but right now, he seems poised to allow the same corporate leaches that created NAFTA and subsequent pacts to rewrite the new ones,” said Arthur Stamoulis, executive director of Citizens Trade Campaign.

So look beyond the tweets and Trump’s alt-reality to the rest of the damage the Grifter in Chief is planning for America. — JMC

From The Progressive Populist, April 1, 2017

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Selections from the April 1, 2017 issue

COVER/Amanda Marcotte
West Texas says no to wall

Beware Trump distractions


Wisconsin’s image has turned upside down

RURAL ROUTES/Margot McMillen
Homeschoolers want fed check, no balance

‘Trumpcare’ plan would leave millions uninsured;
Trump’s way: always attack, attack, never apologize;
Recess actions spur health care accountability;
Trump’s disregard for truth;
Trump tosses more than 90 regs ...

Putin’s aggression ringing alarm bells 

It’s only my health

The big faker and his big date with big data

The border game

CBP demands ID to get off domestic flight

Is Trump a Populist? 

Coping with Trump stress disorder

Policing America’s plutocracy

HEALTH CARE/Joan Retsinas
Lunchtime for the president

Billions for defense, not one cent for arts

That’s a fact, Jack

Labor loses its way

Trump and his corporate media accomplices 

Oh Canada! Get off our back!

BOOKS/Seth Sandronsky
Cooperators then and now

The cowardly states of America

Bob Dylan finally gets some recognition

MOVIES/Ed Rampell
Life of a Salesman: Is this the enemy?

and more ...