Saturday, January 27, 2018

Editorial: Lack of Trust Shut Down Government

Donald Trump never had a mandate. He barely won the election in 2016 with narrow-margin victories in Michigan, Wisconsin and Pennsylvania — and those margins, totaling less than 80,000 votes overall, could be explained by faulty vote-counting (as well as voter suppression). And remember, Hillary Clinton was the People’s Choice by more than 2.8 million votes. So, with Trump a minority president and Republicans holding narrow majorities in the House and Senate, and needing at least 10 Democratic votes to overcome a Senate filibuster, one might expect some compromise with Democrats. If so, one would be disappointed with the actions of Trump, House Speaker Paul Ryan and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell so far.

Trump billed himself as the ultimate dealmaker, but on Jan. 9 he called on Democrats and Republicans to come up with a bipartisan deal to preserve the Deferred Action on Childhood Arrivals (DACA), which protected nearly 800,000 young immigrants who were brought here illegally by their parents. DACA has bipartisan appeal, and when Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) and Sen. Dick Durbin (D-Ill.) called Trump on Jan. 11 to tell him they had made a deal, which included the DACA fix and and funds for Trump’s border wall, he told them to come over to the White House. But by the time they got to the Oval Office, anti-immigrant zealots on the White House staff, such as Chief of Staff John Kelly and Stephen Miller, had stacked the room with hardliners such as Sens. Tom Cotton (R-Ark.) and David Perdue (R-Ga.). Trump then blew the Graham-Durbin deal out of the water, throwing in his notorious diatribe about not wanting any more immigrants from “shithole countries,” preferring instead immigrants from places like Norway.

It wasn’t the first time Lying Donnie had reneged on a deal with Democrats and it wouldn’t be the last. Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) and House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) thought they had reached a deal to protect the so-called “Dreamers” in a dinner meeting with Trump Sept. 13, only to find Trump backing off from it after his staff learned of the concessions. Schumer made another attempt to strike a deal with Trump the afternoon before the shutdown, but failed, as Schumer explained, “He did not press his party or Congress to accept it. Speaker Ryan and Leader McConnell, without the commitment of the president, would not agree to accept anything either.”

Instead, the Republicans pushed a continuing resolution that would keep the government running through Feb. 16 and reauthorize the Children’s Health Insurance Program for another six years but left DACA and other Democratic priorities, such as reauthorization of funding for community health centers, medical care for at risk-pregnant women and infants, and a special diabetes research program hanging, with no assurance that Republicans would ever revisit those programs.

Republicans immediately accused the Democrats of planning to shut down the government, which would block reauthorization of the kids’ health care and stop pay for military service members overseas, all because, they said, Dems cared more about illegal immigrants than they did about native-born citizens.

Democrats realized they were being set up, and they decided to stand and fight.

Sen. Bob Casey (D-Pa.) noted that the Senate Finance Committee unanimously approved reauthorization of the Children’s Health Insurance Program well in advance of the expiration of the program on Sept. 30, but Republican leaders wouldn’t bring the CHIP reauthorization bill to the Senate floor last fall because they were focused on the bill to cut taxes for billionaires and corporations. Republicans finally included CHIP in the continuing resolution, but they ignored reauthorization of community health centers that serve millions of Americans, Medicare extenders that expired in October and are critical for rural hospitals, and the Maternal, Infant and Early Childhood Home Visiting Program that supports pregnant women and families that are at risk, among other programs, Casey noted.

Sen. Claire McKaskill (D-Mo.) introduced a motion to continue paying military during the shutdown, as Congress did in a 2013 shutdown, but it required unanimous consent in the Senate, and Senate Majority Leader McConnell (R) blocked it.

Sen. Tammy Duckworth (D-Ill.) who lost both legs in combat during the Iraq war, told the Senate Jan. 20, “I will not be lectured about what our military needs by a five-deferment draft-dodger. And I have a message for cadet bone spurs: If you cared about our military, you'd stop baiting Kim Jong Un into a war that could put 85,000 American troops and millions of innocent civilians in danger."

After the contiuing resolution failed in the Senate, settign up the shutdown, Republicans framed it as an immigrant vs. American issue, a clear attempt to whip up racial divisions. “The Dems just want illegal immigrants to pour into our nation unchecked,” President Trump tweeted Jan. 21. McConnell said his Democratic counterpart, Sen. Schumer, was “playing with all of those lives over the issue of illegal immigration.” A Trump campaign official, Michael Glassner, lauded the president for keeping Americans safe from “evil, illegal immigrants who commit violent crimes against lawful US citizens.”

The first day of the shutdown, on the anniversary of Trump’s inauguration, the president’s re-election campaign starting running an ad approved by Trump that accused Democrats of being complicit with any murders done by illegal immigrants.

Again, the “Dreamers” are young people who grew up in the US, know little of their native land and have stayed in school and out of trouble, got their diplomas and then got a job, or went to college or joined the military. But Trump and his minions still can’t see any difference between Dreamers and drug dealers, rapists and murderers, even though studies by the National Academy of Sciences in 2015 and the Cato Institute in 2017 found that undocumented immigrants commit crimes at a fraction of the rate of American citizens.

Democrats finally agreed to support the continuing resolution through Feb. 8 after McConnell agreed to let the DACA bill get a Senate vote, but he has reneged on such promises before, and there is no guarantee Ryan will allow a House vote. Ryan is believed reluctant to allow an immigration bill to proceed in the House, for fear of a challenge to his leadership by white supremacist Republicans.

Voters must enforce accountability on the Grand Oligarch Party, and at least 29 House Republican incumbents are opting for retirement instead of facing that accountability in November.

Randy Bryce, a Democratic union ironworker who is challenging Speaker Ryan’s re-election in Wisconsin, is on point: “Paul Ryan treated this shutdown like an insider political game, using people’s jobs, Dreamer’s futures, and children’s health insurance as bargaining chips. Now, even as thousands of workers are facing suspension without pay and communities across the country are set to lose access to services, Paul Ryan is still playing games, trying to pin the blame for the shutdown on others. We need politicians in D.C. who won’t play games and who take responsibility for their actions.”

Democrats have plenty of positive reasons for voters to put them in control of Congress. But, for the time being, punishing Trump and Republican congressional leaders who set up this pointless government gridlock is a good motivator for Democrats.

In the meantime, call your senators at 202-224-3121 to tell them to hold the line for people’s needs when the next CR comes along. — JMC

From The Progressive Populist, Febuary 15, 2018

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Selections from the February 15, 2018 issue

COVER/Chauncey DeVega
White supremacists to Trump: Welcome Back! We still love you

Lack of trust shut down government


Polls track Trump’s empathy problem

RURAL ROUTES/Margot McMillen
Time to capture the narrative

‘Citizens United’ may have helped Russians funnel dark money to NRA;
White House might start deporting Dreamers March 5;
Talk shows largely ignore women’s marches;
Repubs fear blue wave;
Paul Ryan gets $500K payday after billionaire tax cuts;
Pa. court strikes down GOP gerrymander, orders new congressional maps for 2018;
Trump fade 2,140 false or misleading claims in first year;
3.2M Americans lost health insurance in 2017;
Bank of America, flush with tax cut windfall, increases fees on low-income customers;
Zinke's 'political stunt' on offshore drilling backfires;
Republican senator blames Medicaid for opioid epidemic;
Ky. gov. says he'll shut down Medicaid for 500,000 if work requirements are challenged ...

Why do we want them?

There are no s—-hole countries 

For that red ball cap: ‘Make America white again’ 

What to expect in 2018

‘King’s Bench’ may foil fraudulent debt collections

When will Democrats start #resisting GOP voter suppression?

Iowa Gubernatorial candidate stresses progressive change

Law, order, and the Dreamers

HEALTH CARE/Joan Retsinas
The fat age

Pharma can buy hasty FDA reviews of new drugs

Trump’s gift for the unemployed: Kicking them off health care

Greed rewarded

The bipartisan fallacy

An explosive election year kicks off in Mexico

Tax cuts don’t guarantee wage hikes

Cop shows have family appeal

SATIRE/Rosie Sorenson
Roll over, George Carlin

MOVIES/Ed Rampell
Raiders of the First Amendment: Spielberg’s ‘The Post’ is masterful storytelling starring free speech — and a woman leader

and more ...

Tuesday, January 23, 2018

Double-speak in proposed new U.S. nuclear policy masks fact that it makes it much more likely that America or someone else will drop the big one

By Marc Jampole

The draft of the Pentagon’s proposed plan to “update” the United States’ nuclear weapon strategy is a masterpiece of double-speak.
The plan, titled the “Nuclear Posture Review” proposes that we modernize our nuclear weaponry, which is euphemistic phrasing for building more nuclear weapons and more efficient ways to deliver them accurately. The call for spending more than a trillion dollars on new nuclear bombs continues the unfortunate policy of the Obama administration to increase our nuclear capabilities even while calling for total dismantling of the world’s nuclear force at some future date.
More significantly, the document also proposes to expand the number of reasons that the United States would strike first. In 2010, the Obama administration significantly narrowed the scenarios in which the United States would drop nuclear weapons without first enduring a nuclear attack. Obama ruled out attacking any country that did not have a nuclear capability, and limited our use of nuclear as a response to large-scale conventional, chemical or biological attacks. But of course, that’s not how the documents put the conditions under which we’re willing to drop the bomb. In both 2010 and 2018, the Pentagon talks abstractly about nuclear weapons “playing a role” or making “essential contributions to the deterrence of nuclear and non-nuclear aggression.” Nowhere do these documents ever use explicit language to describe our willingness under certain conditions to poison the Earth’s atmosphere and water.
The new Pentagon report calls for widening the circumstances in which we would unleash the fury of our nuclear arsenal to include cyber threats and terrorism, or as the current draft puts it, “violent non-state actors.”That’s right—the new strategy would consider letting a U.S. president drop an atomic bomb on a country harboring terrorists, killing tens if not hundreds of thousands of innocent civilians and spewing deadly radiation throughout the planet. Interestingly enough, most stories about the updated nuclear strategy fail to mention the expansion of reasons for dropping the big one. Those that do, like the New York Times, focus exclusively on using nuclear weapons to deter “attempts to destroy wide-reaching infrastructure, like a country’s power grid or communications, that would be most vulnerable to cyberweapons.” No one mentions that the U.S. would now consider the nuclear option to fight terrorism, a far scarier change since the definition of terrorism and who is a terrorist is so amorphous and subject to manipulation. As with the past nuclear strategy documents, the 2018 draft also covers about 30 countries we consider allies, which means that at least theoretically, if a country dismantled Great Britain’s electrical distribution capability using a computer virus, the United States might literally go nuclear!
Double-speak is everywhere in the report. Consider this clever bit of logical twisting: “In no way does this approach ‘lower the nuclear threshold.’ Rather, by convincing adversaries that even limited use of nuclear weapons will be more costly than they can countenance, it raises the threshold.” In other words, the report claims that being willing to use nuclear weapons in more scenarios lowers the possibility of using them. It sounds as if the same propaganda machine that belches out the nonsense that allowing more guns will make people safer from gun violence is advising the Pentagon. And in fact, it might be, seeing that a number of companies manufacturing weaponry for the United States and the dozens of countries to which we sell arms also have divisions which sell firearms to individuals.
My favorite instance of twisted logic in the Nuclear Posture Review is the oft-quoted statement: ”We must look reality in the eye and see the world as it is, not as we wish it to be.” Those of us who have watched the current administration develop and implement immigration, tax, trade, environmental and education policies that fly in the face of reality find an enormous amount of chutzpah in the ostensibly sober admonishment to “look reality in the eye.”
But beyond the irony of the Trump Pentagon invoking reality to justify expanding the possibility of a first use of nuclear bombs is the rhetorical slipperiness of the statement. The Pentagon says it looked at reality, but it really only considered that part of reality that helped to justify the decision to spend a trillion dollars on new weapons of mass destruction and loosen first-use standards.
It didn’t look at the interconnectedness of the world through trade, treaties and computerization that makes it much more dangerous to all countries to launch any kind of attack on a big power like the United States—interconnectedness providing the same kind of deterrence that nuclear advocates claim the possession of atomic bombs does. It ignores the great progress we have made in quelling disturbances through negotiations, economic sanctions and treaties. It doesn’t take into account the fact that with non-nuclear weaponry we have managed to reduce the threat of ISIS and that the number of terrorist episodes in the United States is down significantly over the past four decades. It doesn’t look at the reality of limited resources that could better be put to use in strengthening the American economy and helping lift up the poor and inflicted in the United States and throughout the world.
Finally, and most importantly, the Pentagon does not consider the awful reality of nuclear weapons: that they kill so many with one explosion and that the damage is not limited to the bomb site, but affects the entire globe. The writers of this proposal—which will likely soon become the official policy of the United States—should take a hard look at the reality portrayed in the thousands of photographs of the damage to humans wrought at Hiroshima and Nagasaki. Maybe then they would understand that the reality is that no first-use of our nuclear capability is defensible or justifiable. Nor is retaliation against someone dropping a bomb on us, for that matter. The only realistic policy to follow is to stop developing all nuclear weapons and start decommissioning the weapons we have. Our standing army and economic power in a tightly interconnected world should be deterrence enough to prevent others from exploding nuclear weapons and therefore to follow suit by eradicating their weapons.

New book on Ulysses Grant shows Grant was the anti-Trump: quiet, modest, honest, competent, an ardent supporter of African-Americans, an American hero

By Marc Jampole

The administration of Ulysses Grant, 1868-1876, marks the beginning of America’s first Gilded Age, an era in which corruption was rampant throughout federal and state governments and a select few ruthless individuals—primarily white males—accumulated enormous fortunes, while incomes in general polarized and inequality of wealth increased. Over a relatively short period, business interests grew to dominate the one party that ruled both houses of Congress and held the presidency. At the same time, the southern states that had unsuccessfully tried to leave the United States experienced a secondary civil war engaged by white racists against the claims of citizenship and full participation in economic and political life of the newly freed black slaves. Violent guerilla attacks throughout the former Confederacy on blacks and whites who supported black equality combined with the vilest sort of racist propaganda in both north and south about the superiority of the white race and the relative backwardness of others.

Kind of sounds like today.

The difference, of course, was the president, Ulysses Grant versus the current occupant of the oval office.

First and foremost, on matters of race, Grant was the polar opposite of the white supremacist Trump. As Ron Chernow’s recent 900+-page biography of Grant details, our 18th president ardently fostered and protected the rights of African-Americans. Against the growing opposition of his own party, which grew tired of re-litigating the Civil War in southern states, he stood steadfast in supporting both the goals and the methods of Reconstruction.  He gave an inordinate number of African-Americans jobs in his administration. He sent troops to a number of communities to fight the Ku Klux Klan and their allies. He never wavered in the respect he gave to African-Americans and the African-American people. Chernow studs his book with many examples of Grant’s generous and open-hearted support of African-American causes. When arguing about what white person did the most to help blacks in America, Grant should rate at the very top of the list with Lincoln and LBJ. In this sense, he was the anti-Trump.

(Not to get sidetracked, but on Native Americans, Grant’s attitudes were not as admirable, maybe equivalent to that of the “I believe in civil rights, but don’t move into my neighborhood” centrist bourgeoisie. He sympathized with Native American tribes, but wanted them to integrate into American society or live a non-nomadic life style on reservations. His desire to see the west settled was greater than his empathy for the peoples being displaced.)

While Grant ruled over a corrupt administration, he was not personally corrupt, nor did he benefit from the illegal and barely legal machinations of certain cabinet members and others in government. He established the first civil service commission as a temporary panel and wanted to make it permanent, only to be overruled by a Congress dominated by practitioners of an earlier form of crony capitalism. The Civil War had created an upsurge in government activity and governmental control of the economy: governments gave land usage rights and awarded large contracts. Without the constraints of a merit-based civil service system and adequate corruption laws, business moguls were able to buy legislation and administrative decisions. Graft lubricated the Gilded Age money machine.

The forces leading to corruption today—much of it legal or impossible to prosecute—are the privatization movement that encourages crony capitalism and the Citizen’s United decision which has enabled the buying of legislators. But instead of being an unwilling victim and mostly opponent of corrupt practices as Grant was, Trumpty-Dumpty and his family’s many conflicts of interests put him at the very center of the current administration’s corruption.

Another difference is in the execution of foreign policy. With the help of Hamilton Fish, his competent and honest Secretary of State, Grant focused exclusively on diplomacy to solve disputes with other countries (not including the native American “nations”). For example, historians consider the settling of the Alabama Claims by Grant and Fish as one of the most important steps in the development of international arbitration. That agreement got Great Britain to pay the United States for the damages done to U.S. ships by Confederate ships built in British shipyards. Brilliant! After his presidency, Grant took a four-year tour of the world in which he was consulted by the government of every country he visited as a great general and unofficial representative of the growing North American powerhouse that was the United States.

Sounds like the antithesis to Trump, who is tearing up treaties, getting us knee-deep in another shooting war in Syria and has the reputation in virtually every foreign capital as dangerously misinformed, offensive and erratic.        

Grant’s background before assuming the highest office of the land has some similarities to but a major difference from Trump’s. Although both failed at every business they tried early in their careers, Trump’s fame came because of the self-promoted lie that he was a business genius, a lie boosted by the scripted reality TV program on which he pretended to be successful in business. By contrast, while he had many stumbles in his first military and his business career, once he returned to active duty at the beginning of the Civil War, Grant experienced unparalleled success, almost exclusively through his own competence. His reluctance to be a self-promoter actually slowed down his rise to the top of the Union armed forces, but made him a more effective general.

(Another diversion: The objections to Grant’s military greatness raised by southern apologists for the tactically sound but strategically hopeless Robert E. Lee all prove to be false. These historians, who dominated university history departments during the first half of the 20th century, aver that Grant won because he was a butcher —yet he firmly established and executed a policy to take from the civilian population only what was needed to prosecute the war. No rape, no senseless destruction. He was generous in his treatment of enemy soldiers who surrendered. Those claiming Grant won because he had a superiority of forces to Lee forget that the prior generals prosecuting the war in the east had a similar edge, but they failed to end the conflict. The claim that Lee was tactically better ignores the fact that Grant won every battle he ever led, typically with daring tactics like creating a safe 40-mile long supply chain through hostile territory to feed hungry Union soldiers at Chattanooga or his frequent use of naval forces to transport soldiers to the other side of enemy armies.)

The question is not whether Grant is the greatest general in U.S. history, but whether he is the greatest general in the history of organized warfare. A similar question could not reasonably be asked of a man who sent six companies into bankruptcy, has had a long string of failed businesses and has been involved in thousands of business lawsuits.

Observers all agree that the best words to describe Grant were modest, honest, disciplined and a man of his word. Another way that Grant is the anti-Trump, or Trump the anti-Grant.

Chernow’s book did reveal one similarity between the two men. Grant was and Trump is a true believer in strict pro-business orthodoxy in economic matters. Grant’s first administration enjoyed boom times, fueled by the rapid construction of new railroads. But Grant agreed with Congress that it was necessary to fight inflation by ending the policy of coining silver and helped to pass an 1873 law that essentially put the U.S. on a gold standard and deflated the currency. There was now less money around, which meant less money for railroads to borrow. The houses of cards which were the financial structures of most of the railroads toppled, starting with the Panic of 1873. Deflating the currency had a similar impact in 1873 as the 1929 stock market crash and the bursting of the housing bubble in 2007 did. All led to a rapid decrease in the money circulating in the economy. Some historians say that the ensuing world-wide depression started in 1873 lasted only six years, others say it went on for two decades!

Trump and the GOP have already set into motion the next major recession or depression through the passage of the Tax Cuts and Jobs Bill of 2017. Because most of the money being taken from the government in this tax cut will be given to the ultra-wealthy, it will leave the economy and instead be invested in dead assets. A bubble will form in one or more assets. After it bursts, the hard times will come.

All of our presidents have been flawed. All have been products and reflections of their times, captive to the prevailing myths and enthusiasms of the ruling elite that identified them as appropriate candidates for national election. There are many examples of presidential actions reflecting the zeitgeist or their party: Grant in his obsession with the gold standard; Theodore Roosevelt’s trust-busting and his imperialistic foreign policy; LBJ with his escalation of Viet Nam; Nixon with his opening of relations with China; Clinton with welfare reform and mass incarceration policies; Obama with his continuation of Bush II’s wars. To a large degree, presidents are acted upon as well as actors.  

It’s in that context that we have to consider the phenomenon of Donald Trump. He is the apotheosis of the narcissistic politics of selfishness and the gaudy materialistic and anti-intellectual culture of consumption that has dominated the Republican Party and America since the late 1970’s. If Trump is our great national shame, it is not because he is an outlier, but rather because he is a symbol of the times.