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Archive for February 4th, 2019

Trump Is Doing the Same Thing on Iran That George W. Bush Did on Iraq

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Understandable in that Trump is devoid of originality and thus naturally must copy. Jonathan Chait writes in New York:

Last week, intelligence officials testified publicly that Iran has not resumed its efforts to acquire a nuclear weapon. The next day, President Trump called these officials “extremely passive and naive when it comes to the dangers of Iran,” and advised, “Perhaps Intelligence should go back to school!”

The first-blush response to this presidential outburst was to dump it in the same category as Trump’s other public eruption against members of his government who undercut his preferred narratives with inconvenient facts. That response is probably correct: this Trump tantrum is probably like all the other Trump tantrums. But there is another possible meaning to this episode: Trump’s rejection of intelligence assessments of Iran’s weapons of mass destruction capabilities eerily echoes the Bush administration’s rejection of Iraq’s WMD capabilities a decade and a half earlier.

Shortly after their testimony, the intelligence officials were summoned to the Oval office for a photographed session in which they publicly smoothed over their breach with the president, and (according to Trump) assured him that their remarks had been misconstrued, despite having been delivered in public and broadcast in their entirety. Yet Trump’s interview broadcast Sunday with Margaret Brennan on CBS made clear how little little headway they made in regaining his trust.

Trump told Brennan he plans to maintain troops in Iraq because, “I want to be able to watch Iran … We’re going to keep watching and we’re going to keep seeing and if there’s trouble, if somebody is looking to do nuclear weapons or other things, we’re going to know it before they do.” But would he accept the assessments that he received? No, Trump replied, he wouldn’t.

His reason for rejecting this intelligence was consistent. Trump is unable to separate the question, Do I like Iran’s government and its foreign policy? from the question Is Iran building a nuclear weapon? Tell Trump that Iran is abiding by its nuclear commitment, and what he hears you saying is, “Iran is a lovely state run by wonderful people.”

If that account of Trump’s thinking sounds too simplistic, just look at his answers:

I’m not going to stop [intelligence officials] from testifying. They said they were mischaracterized — maybe they were maybe they weren’t, I don’t really know — but I can tell you this, I want them to have their own opinion and I want them to give me their opinion. But, when I look at Iran, I look at Iran as a nation that has caused tremendous problems …

My intelligence people, if they said in fact that Iran is a wonderful kindergarten, I disagree with them 100 percent. It is a vicious country that kills many people …

So when my intelligence people tell me how wonderful Iran is — if you don’t mind, I’m going to just go by my own counsel.

In fact, intelligence officials did not deny Iran has caused problems. They simply asserted facts about its nuclear weapons. Trump cannot hear those facts without translating it into Iran being comprehensively “wonderful.”

Even more remarkably, Trump explained that intelligence assessments could not be trusted because they had failed in the run-up to the Iraq war:

MARGARET BRENNAN: I want to move on here but I should say your intel chiefs do say Iran’s abiding by that nuclear deal. I know you think it’s a bad deal, but—

PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: I disagree with them. I’m — I’m — by the way—

MARGARET BRENNAN: You disagree with that assessment?

PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: —I have intel people, but that doesn’t mean I have to agree. President Bush had intel people that said Saddam Hussein—

MARGARET BRENNAN: Sure.

PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: —in Iraq had nuclear weapons — had all sorts of weapons of mass destruction. Guess what? Those intel people didn’t know what the hell they were doing, and they got us tied up in a war that we should have never been in.

Trump’s understanding of this history is almost perfectly backwards. U.S. intelligence officials never said Iraq “had nuclear weapons,” or even anything close to that. They did overstate Iraqi weapons capabilities. But — crucially — the Bush administration also pressured intelligence agencies to inflate their findings, as John Judis and Spencer Ackerman reported in 2003, and administration officials overstated the intelligence that was produced, as the Senate Intelligence Committee found in 2008.

The backdrop to this episode does have some important differences with the current moment. The Bush administration had been plunged into an adrenal panic by the 9/11 attacks. Its rush toward war was largely choreographed by Dick Cheney, a skilled bureaucratic operator, and enjoyed broad public legitimacy created by the national unity bestowed upon Bush by the surprise attack. None of these conditions apply to the easily distracted, childlike, and deeply unpopular sitting president.

And while Cheney has departed the scene, National Security Council director John Bolton has assumed a somewhat parallel role. An ultrahawk with a long record of punishing subordinates who undermine the factual basis for his preferred policies, Bolton has emerged as Trump’s most influential foreign policy adviser. Bolton in 2015 insisted that Iran was racing toward a nuclear weapon. (“Even absent palpable proof, like a nuclear test, Iran’s steady progress toward nuclear weapons has long been evident.”) He likewise concluded that diplomacy could never work (“The inescapable conclusion is that Iran will not negotiate away its nuclear program”) and that “only military action” could stop it.

As Trump has grown alienated from his national security apparatus, Bolton appears to be the one remaining official who has retained a measure of his trust. And while he may not have a Cheney-like ability to manipulate the president, Bolton does benefit from a near vacuum in rival power sources. . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

4 February 2019 at 4:46 pm

Trump doesn’t believe his own damaging rants about ‘fake news’

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Great column by Margaret Sullivan. From the column:

It’s as simple as this: Trump doesn’t believe that the news about him is fake. No matter how many times he says it.

He merely objects to the fact that it doesn’t reflect well on him.

The right-leaning Media Research Center found that 92 percent of network news stories about Trump over a four-month period last year were negative. The MRC called this “the most hostile coverage of a president in TV news history.”

But negative doesn’t mean untrue. It doesn’t even mean unfair.

And at his core, Trump knows this.

The “fake news” he complains about is merely accurate coverage that he doesn’t like.

Read the whole thing.

Written by LeisureGuy

4 February 2019 at 3:50 pm

GOP Kills Bill That Would Extend Agent Orange Benefits To US Navy Vietnam Vets

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It’s difficult to understand why the GOP has a reputation for “supporting the troops.” The GOP supports the military-industrial complex and doesn’t seem to care at all about the men and women in uniform. Jake Thomas writes in The Intellectualist:

Sen. Mike Enzi of Wyoming—who voted for tax cuts—objected to the bill on the basis it would increase deficit spending.

Two Republican senators killed a bill on Monday that would provide benefits to American veterans who served in the U.S. Navy during the Vietnam War and now suffer the effects of Agent Orange.

The reason? Extending benefits to those veterans would constitute deficit spending. . .

Continue reading.

Nikki Wentling reports in Stars and Stripes:

 A final deal to provide Department of Veterans Affairs benefits to thousands of veterans who served off the coast during the Vietnam War failed in the Senate on Monday night with little time remaining in the 115th Congress to try again.

The Blue Water Navy Vietnam Veterans Act would extend eligibility for disability compensation and health care to “Blue Water” Navy veterans – servicemembers who were aboard aircraft carriers, cruisers, destroyers and other ships, some of whom have fought for years to prove they were exposed to Agent Orange. The dioxin-laden herbicide has been found to cause respiratory cancers, Parkinson’s disease and heart disease, as well as other conditions.

The House voted 382-0 in favor of the legislation in June. Since then, it’s been stuck in the Senate. VA Secretary Robert Wilkie voiced his opposition to the bill in September, citing cost concerns and insufficient scientific evidence. He urged lawmakers to hold off until a new study is released in 2019.

On Monday night, Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand, D-N.Y., went to the Senate floor and asked for unanimous consent to pass the bill. Unanimous consent expedites approval but can be stopped if one senator objects.

Citing cost concerns, Sen. Mike Enzi, R-Wyo., chairman of the Senate Budget Committee, objected.

“On this bill, many of us have been made aware of the potential cost growth and the budgetary and operational pressures that would happen at the VA,” he said. “They’re having a lot of problems, anyway.”

Enzi said he wanted more details about how many veterans would be made eligible for benefits under the legislation and how much it would cost.

According to initial estimates from the Congressional Budget Office, the bill would come at a price of $1.1 billion for the next 10 years. VA officials have argued the true total could be billions of dollars more. To offset costs, the bill includes a new fee for VA home loans – a proposal some lawmakers oppose.

“There’s clearly more work to do just on figuring out the spending and administration of this and the deficit impacts this bill will have,” Enzi said on the Senate floor.

Rep. Tim Walz, D-Minn., later criticized Enzi’s objection, arguing the same senator voted in favor of the GOP tax cuts estimated to increase the national deficit.

“I must say that it is a bit disheartening to see a bill that was passed unanimously by the House blocked by just a handful of senators over supposed fiscal concerns when those same senators voted to add trillions of dollars to the deficit last year to score a political win on the back of American taxpayers,” Walz said in a statement.

The Veterans of Foreign Wars also issued a scathing criticism of Enzi on Monday night, describing his objection as “obstruction,” and adding, “the VFW nor its members will forget this.”

Enzi’s opposition came after Sen. Johnny Isakson, R-Ga., pressured senators to approve the bill. Isakson, chairman of the Senate Veterans’ Affairs Committee, has worked for months to address concerns from some of his fellow Republicans.

Enzi wasn’t the only senator with concerns. Sen. Mike Lee, R-Utah, opposed the effort because he wanted to wait for the scientific study the VA promised in 2019, according to a Military Update report.

Isakson rebuked requests Monday to wait for the study and said: “This thing has been studied as long as it needs to be studied. We’ve got the best information we need to get.”

“I would just ask every member before they consider casting a ‘no’ vote, think about what you’re doing,” Isakson said. “I would ask each of you to search your heart… think about the veterans in your state and cast a vote for doing the right thing for the right people at the right time and not object to the motion.”

Gillibrand and Sen. Jon Tester, D-Mont., the ranking Democrat on the Senate Veterans’ Affairs Committee, held a news conference Tuesday with veterans groups and requested the Senate try again to pass the bill.

Senate leadership could still bring the issue up under regular order in its remaining days, though it appeared unlikely Tuesday. Tester said senators could also try again for unanimous consent, like they attempted Monday.

If the Senate fails to approve the bill before the end of the 115th Congress, advocates will have to start from the beginning next year.

“The truth is, we can’t wait another six months or nine months or a year for Secretary Wilkie,” Gillibrand said. “We don’t have that time. Our veterans are dying now. I think any delay by the secretary of the VA is morally wrong.”

John Wells, an attorney and director of the group Military-Veterans Advocacy, has been fighting on behalf of Blue Water Navy veterans since 2008. He was doubtful Tuesday about the Senate’s ability to approve the bill.

“I’d be very shocked,” Wells said. “It would be very nice if it did pass, but I’d say the odds are tremendously against it at this point.”

In addition to the legislative effort, Wells has been fighting for the benefits in court. He argued this year in the Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit in a case that could result in the same extension of benefits.

“I think it’s going to happen, whether . . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

4 February 2019 at 12:03 pm

Kell’s Original Energy shave stick and the German 37

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Continuing my foray into glycerin-based soaps, this morning I used Kell’s Original Energy shave stick. “Energy” is name for a pleasing fragrance described as “A stimulating blend of Citrus, including Grapefruit, Lemon and Lime, with hints of fresh Cucumber and Jasmine, and a touch of Pineapple, Blackberry and Champagne.” Overall, it’s a very pleasant fragrance.

As you can see in the photo, I purchased this prior to Kell’s moving to a waterproof label, which I believe he now uses.

My Rod Neep brush brought forth the usual excellent lather I’ve been getting from glycerin-based soaps, and the redoubtable German 37 razor from ItalianBarber.com removed all traces of stubble. A splash of Vide Poche aftershave from Chatillon Lux, and the week is launched.

Written by LeisureGuy

4 February 2019 at 6:40 am

Posted in Shaving

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