Later On

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Archive for the ‘Trump administration’ Category

Clickbait For the Day (and also ominous): How China Might Rule the World By 2050

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And the US drops back, on all fronts. Read Kevin Drum’s post.

Written by LeisureGuy

20 July 2017 at 8:02 pm

Trump Is His Own Worst Enemy

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Charles M. Blow counts a few of the ways in the NY Times:

I have finally found something about Donald Trump’s arrogation of the presidency in which to take comfort: his absolute ineptitude at legislative advancement.

The country may well be saved from some of Trump’s most draconian impulses by some of Trump’s most pronounced flaws: his lack of seriousness, his aversion to tedium and his gnat-like attention span.

The embarrassing faltering of the Republicans’ plan to repeal and replace the Affordable Care Act might be both history lesson and harbinger. Republicans in Congress weren’t prepared with a workable plan, and Trump never had any plan. He campaigned on applause-line policies: Anything that roused a response from his rabid adherents, he repeated and amplified. He never gave details because the details didn’t exist, and he wouldn’t have been able to understand and articulate them if they did.

Trump was simply a megaphone for the primal screams of Barack Obama-Hillary Clinton haters flipping out over the cultural anxiety accompanying the ascension of women and minorities.

He helped people find the language and the platform to disguise racial worry as economic worry. He helped people who inherently, in many cases maybe even subconsciously, loathe women, at least when they aspire to equality or power, to loathe Hillary Clinton, a woman aspiring to more power.

Trump has a habit of keeping company and confidence with the racially offensive. The fact that Steve Bannon is his chief strategist and has an office in the White House should be proof enough.

But there are other examples. Notably, last summer Trump claimed that Russian President Vladimir Putin had used a racial slur to refer to Barack Obama, but just seconds later Trump was hoping that Putin would like him. Trump said:

“I was shocked to hear him mention the N-word. You know what the N-word is, right? … He has a total lack of respect for President Obama. No. 1, he doesn’t like him and No. 2, he doesn’t respect him. I think he’s going to respect your president if I’m elected and I hope he likes me.”

Now of course this could all be a lie. Our president lies the way other people breathe — with a complete absence of effort. But true or false, it is a curious story to relay. The president claimed that he was “shocked” at the racial epithet, but not too shocked to abandon a desire for Putin’s favor. If you don’t unequivocally reject intolerance, you are passively — and in some cases, actively — encouraging it.

(Also, I thought Trump said he never met Putin. Oh, well …)

Anyway, this kind of base, dog-whistle anger-aggregation was the Trump campaign specialty, and it — in addition to Russia’s assistance, voter suppression and some folks’ heritage panic — propelled Trump to victory.

But now that Trump is in office, the real work of governing begins — not just the flash of rallies, the ovations of the obsequious, the thrilling one-liners. He now has to both focus on the big picture and fuss over the fine detail.

This is simply beyond him. For simpletons, things must be made simple. Bloomberg Businessweek’s Joshua Green, author of the new book “Devil’s Bargain,” told Anderson Cooper that building a border wall was just a framing device used by his advisers to get him to remember to discuss immigration.

According to Green:

“It’s one of Trump’s greatest hits but it wasn’t Trump’s idea. Two of his staffers, Sam Nunberg and Roger Stone, came up with it as a device to keep Trump, whose attention famously wanders, focused on the issue of immigration reform because they thought that was so important. So, Trump tried it out at a speech in Iowa, the crowd responded.”

Imagine that: We now have a “president” so incapable of linear thought that his own advisers had to give him a four-letter word to remind him of one of the most pressing issues facing the country.

It is possible that part of the reason Trump never developed many of his policies was because neither he nor anyone else thought in a million years that he would win. But another explanation is that Trump simply lacks the capacity for complex thought. . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

20 July 2017 at 6:06 pm

Jennifer Rubin raises an excellent point: Why is Trump so loyal to Michael Flynn? He’s not to Jeff Sessions, who did more for him.

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Jennifer Rubin writes in the Washington Post:

In case anyone had forgotten, President Trump’s New York Times blockbuster interview reminded us that he is bereft of loyalty, the glue that holds political parties, alliances and administrations together. He rebukes his attorney general for daring to recuse himself from the Russia matter as was required under government ethics rules — even in light of Jeff Sessions’s subsequent agreement to participate in the firing of FBI Director James B. Comey. Trump’s churlishness is par for the course.

Remember, Trump summoned his political attack dogs to go after senators who opposed his incoherent health-care plan. “Joking” for the cameras, he seemed to threaten one of the most vulnerable Republicans. He pointed to Sen. Dean Heller (R-Nev.): “This was the one we were worried about. You weren’t there. But you’re gonna be. You’re gonna be.” He continued, “Look, he wants to remain a senator, doesn’t he? And I think the people of your state, which I know very well, I think they’re gonna appreciate what you hopefully will do. Any senator who votes against starting debate is really telling America that you’re fine with Obamacare.” Nice Senate seat you’ve got there. Shame if anything happened to it.

Again and again, Trump has undermined U.S. intelligence agencies as part of his effort to deny that he was the beneficiary of help from the Russians in the 2016 election. He’s more than willing to take Vladimir Putin’s word over that of his own appointees and the professionals throughout the intelligence community.

Trump’s endemic disloyalty shouldn’t surprise us. For a world-class narcissist, other people are means to an end; when they are not helpful — or worse, disagree or challenge you — past service counts for nothing. But this is what makes his defense of former national security adviser Michael Flynn so weird. Since when does Trump ever go out of his way to defend underlings past or present? Surely, he must believe that Flynn — like Putin — can do something for him or bolster his standing in some fashion.

Disloyalty comes with risks, however. Sessions for now remains on the job, but what happens when he is questioned by the special prosecutor? And disloyalty to one adviser, especially one as devoted as Sessions, sends a signal to others.

An Associated Press story making clear that national security adviser H.R. McMaster has disagreed with Trump on many aspects of Russia policy reveals that McMaster is done spinning for Trump, as he did when he defended Trump’s decision to share code-word intelligence with Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov.  . .

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Written by LeisureGuy

20 July 2017 at 3:07 pm

No, President Trump, Sessions’s recusal is not ‘very unfair’ to you. This is Ethics 101.

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In the Washington Post Ruth Marcus explains some rudimentary ideas on ethics to Donald Trump, who seems not to have a clue:

 

It is no surprise, but it is still a shock, to see how little President Trump understands about the independence of the Justice Department and the importance of the rule of law.

Trump’s jaw-dropping interview with the New York Times featured an unprecedented and unvarnished invitation to Attorney General Jeff Sessions to quit. Don’t let the door hit you on your way out, Jeff, Trump might as well have said.

Sessions’s sin is failing to do his job, which, as Trump sees it, is not overseeing the impartial administration of justice but assiduously protecting the legal interests of Donald J. Trump. Thus, in Trump’s view, it was “very unfair to the president” — actually, “extremely unfair, and that’s a mild word” — for Sessions to have recused himself from overseeing the department’s probe into Russian meddling into the election and the possible role of the Trump campaign.

Let us review the facts and the law. The facts: Sessions was the first senator to endorse Trump and served as a close campaign adviser. That is conflict enough, but he piled conflict on conflict by meeting during the campaign with Russian Ambassador Sergey Kislyak and then omitting to inform the Senate Judiciary Committee of the meetings when questioned about it.

The law: Justice Department regulations provide that “no employee shall participate in a criminal investigation or prosecution if he has a personal or political relationship” with the subject of the investigation or “any person or organization which he knows has a specific and substantial interest that would be directly affected by the outcome of the investigation or prosecution.” A political relationship “means a close identification with an elected official … arising from service as a principal adviser thereto.”

So Sessions’s situation and the question of whether he could oversee the Russia investigation doesn’t present a close call. As Sessions told the Senate Intelligence Committee last month, “That regulation states, in effect, that department employees should not participate in investigations of a campaign if they have served as a campaign advisor.” In other words, it’s a no-brainer, at least if you understand basic concepts of conflict of interest. What Trump perceives as betrayal is Ethics 101.

Trump’s related argument — that Sessions at the very least should have given him a head’s up in advance so that he could have picked a different attorney general at the start — suffers from a similar flaw. A different attorney general might not have needed to recuse himself, but in the end that attorney general would have come to the same conclusion as the deputy left acting in Sessions’s place, that a special counsel was required to oversee the investigation.

Again, the law: Justice Department regulations require appointment of a special counsel when the attorney general, or someone acting in his stead, determines that investigation through the normal departmental processes “would present a conflict of interest for the Department.” How could this not be true of the Russia matter? Even leaving aside the question of whether the president himself is under investigation, it involves the president’s campaign and closest advisers, including relatives. The special counsel regulations were not put in place to torment presidents but to reassure the public that, even in politically sensitive cases, justice would proceed impartially and unimpeded.

Which raises the question of what Trump hoped to achieve by taking his beef against Sessions public. What does the president imagine would happen if, as he seems to hope, Sessions goes and, along with him, Deputy Attorney General Rod J. Rosenstein?  . . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

20 July 2017 at 11:22 am

Trump administration did not enter government service to help the public: “I’m a scientist. I’m blowing the whistle on the Trump administration.”

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Joel Clement was director of the Office of Policy Analysis at the U.S. Interior Department until last week. He is now a senior adviser at the department’s Office of Natural Resources Revenue. He writes in the Washington Post:

I am not a member of the deep state. I am not big government.

I am a scientist, a policy expert, a civil servant and a worried citizen. Reluctantly, as of today, I am also a whistleblower on an administration that chooses silence over science.

Nearly seven years ago, I came to work for the Interior Department, where, among other things, I’ve helped endangered communities in Alaska prepare for and adapt to a changing climate. But on June 15, I was one of about 50 senior department employees who received letters informing us of involuntary reassignments. Citing a need to “improve talent development, mission delivery and collaboration,” the letter informed me that I was reassigned to an unrelated job in the accounting office that collects royalty checks from fossil fuel companies.

I am not an accountant — but you don’t have to be one to see that the administration’s excuse for a reassignment such as mine doesn’t add up. A few days after my reassignment, Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke testified before Congress that the department would use reassignments as part of its effort to eliminate employees; the only reasonable inference from that testimony is that he expects people to quit in response to undesirable transfers. Some of my colleagues are being relocated across the country, at taxpayer expense, to serve in equally ill-fitting jobs.

I believe I was retaliated against for speaking out publicly about the dangers that climate change poses to Alaska Native communities. During the months preceding my reassignment, I raised the issue with White House officials, senior Interior officials and the international community, most recently at a U.N. conference in June. It is clear to me that the administration was so uncomfortable with this work, and my disclosures, that I was reassigned with the intent to coerce me into leaving the federal government.

On Wednesday, I filed two forms — a complaint and a disclosure of information — with the U.S. Office of Special Counsel. I filed the disclosure because eliminating my role coordinating federal engagement and leaving my former position empty exacerbate the already significant threat to the health and the safety of certain Alaska Native communities. I filed the complaint because the Trump administration clearly retaliated against me for raising awareness of this danger. Our country values the safety of our citizens, and federal employees who disclose threats to health and safety are protected from reprisal by the Whistleblower Protection Act and Whistleblower Protection Enhancement Act.

Removing a civil servant from his area of expertise and putting him in a job where he’s not needed and his experience is not relevant is a colossal waste of taxpayer dollars. Much more distressing, though, is what this charade means for American livelihoods. The Alaska Native villages of Kivalina, Shishmaref and Shaktoolik are perilously close to melting into the Arctic Ocean. In a region that is warming twice as fast as the rest of the planet, the land upon which citizens’ homes and schools stand is newly vulnerable to storms, floods and waves. As permafrost melts and protective sea ice recedes, these Alaska Native villages are one superstorm from being washed away, displacing hundreds of Americans and potentially costing lives. The members of these communities could soon become refugees in their own country.

Alaska’s elected officials know climate change presents a real risk to these communities. Gov. Bill Walker (I) and Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R) have been sounding the alarm and scrambling for resources to help these villages. But to stave off a life-threatening situation, Alaska needs the help of a fully engaged federal government. Washington cannot turn its back. . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

19 July 2017 at 8:15 pm

More thickening of the plot: Manafort Was in Debt to Pro-Russia Interests, Cyprus Records Show

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Mike McIntire reports in the NY Times:

Financial records filed last year in the secretive tax haven of Cyprus, where Paul J. Manafort kept bank accounts during his years working in Ukraine and investing with a Russian oligarch, indicate that he had been in debt to pro-Russia interests by as much as $17 million before he joined Donald J. Trump’s presidential campaign in March 2016.

The money appears to have been owed by shell companies connected to Mr. Manafort’s business activities in Ukraine when he worked as a consultant to the pro-Russia Party of Regions. The Cyprus documents obtained by The New York Times include audited financial statements for the companies, which were part of a complex web of more than a dozen entities that transferred millions of dollars among them in the form of loans, payments and fees.

The records, which include details for numerous loans, were certified as accurate by an accounting firm as of December 2015, several months before Mr. Manafort joined the Trump campaign, and were filed with Cyprus government authorities in 2016. The notion of indebtedness on the part of Mr. Manafort also aligns with assertions made in a court complaint filed in Virginia in 2015 by the Russian oligarch, Oleg V. Deripaska, who claimed Mr. Manafort and his partners owed him $19 million related to a failed investment in a Ukrainian cable television business.

After The Times shared some of the documents with representatives of Mr. Manafort, a spokesman, Jason Maloni, did not dispute that the debts might have existed at one time. But he maintained that the Cyprus records were “stale and do not purport to reflect any current financial arrangements.”

“Manafort is not indebted to Mr. Deripaska or the Party of Regions, nor was he at the time he began working for the Trump campaign,” Mr. Maloni said. “The broader point, which Mr. Manafort has maintained from the beginning, is that he did not collude with the Russian government to influence the 2016 election.” (Mr. Manafort resigned as campaign manager last August amid questions about his past work in Ukraine.) . . . .

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We’re beginning to see the mechanism of the scheme: the parts that made it work and the energy source.

Written by LeisureGuy

19 July 2017 at 4:22 pm

Trump can’t make a health care deal because he doesn’t understand health care

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Ezra Klein reports in Vox:

The blame in the Senate’s health care omnishambles is attaching to Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, and understandably so — he wrote the bill, he designed the process, he owns the result. But the absence of President Donald Trump from the story is, itself, an important part of the tale.

For better and for worse, policy leadership in the modern era tends to come from the White House. Take the Affordable Care Act. Though the bill was written in Congress, President Obama and his staff were involved at every step of its construction — they set the policy vision, used the technical resources of the executive branch to work through trade-offs, were deeply involved in the legislative process, and led the communications effort on the bill’s behalf.

The apex of this was the Blair House summit. As the bill was floundering, Obama invited congressional leadership from both parties to the Blair House to debate the legislation on live television for hours. Obama was trying to prove to congressional Democrats that they could win the argument on health care, that he could win the argument on health care, and that they should trust him and pass the bill. It really is worth watching a few minutes of Obama’s performance in this, and contrasting it with Trump’s role in the replacement effort:

[watch the video at the story]

Obama’s performance was effective because it was, to Democrats, persuasive. Obama knew the details of the legislation, he knew the issue, and he knew how Democrats thought — and so he made arguments they believed, and persuaded them that even if the Affordable Care Act was a dangerous vote to take, it was still a vote worth taking.

What happened publicly at the Blair House happened privately every day. Obama and his team were constantly working to sell wavering Democrats on the bill, to persuade them that the trade-offs made were the right ones, to convince them this was a historic opportunity to achieve the Democratic Party’s 80-year dream of universal health care. It’s no accident that Obama’s health care address to a joint session of Congress ended by wrapping the bill in the legacy of the late Sen. Ted Kennedy, and framing it as the “great unfinished business of our society.”

The campaign worked. In the Senate, Democrats had 60 votes, they needed 60 votes, and they got 60 votes.

The Affordable Care Act was a heavy lift, and there are many who deserve credit for its passage — notably Nancy Pelosi and Harry Reid. But I don’t know anyone involved in that effort who thinks it could’ve been done without Obama and his White House.

The GOP’s repeal-and-replace effort was also a heavy lift, and it’s been done without the productive involvement of Trump and his White House — in fact, Trump often made the process considerably harder.

The core problem is Trump has no idea what he’s talking about on health care and never bothered to learn. “Nobody knew health care could be so complicated,” he famously, and absurdly, said. His inability to navigate its complexities meant he couldn’t make persuasive arguments on behalf of the bills he supported, and he routinely made statements that undercut the legislative process and forced Republicans to defend the indefensible.

Trump’s post-election promise of “insurance for everybody” with “much lower deductibles” set up a standard Republicans had no intention of ever meeting but kept having to answer for. At his occasional meetings with wavering members of Congress, he’s made superficial political arguments to people who had deep policy concerns. The discussions left legislators feeling insulted and annoyed that the president hadn’t bothered to do the barest amount of homework.

Because Trump doesn’t understand the legislation or the trade-offs it made, he can’t make persuasive arguments on its behalf in public or private, and so he mostly doesn’t try. Trump and his team are not frequent presences in the public debate trying to sell the legislation they’re so keen to sign. That’s one reason the various bills routinely polled around 20 percent — without Trump using the bully pulpit to argue on behalf of the legislation, critics, terrible Congressional Budget Office reports, and news of congressional infighting filled the void.

When Trump does weigh in, it’s often a disaster. . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

19 July 2017 at 2:38 pm

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