Thursday, July 27, 2017

Even GOP Congress Doesn't Trust Trump

Congress has now made it quite clear it doesn't trust President Donald Trump--and that includes Republicans as well as Democrats. The House voted 419-3 to toughen economic sanctions against Russia, North Korea and Iran. The Senate followed suit with a 98-2 vote, introduced by Foreign Relations Committee Chairman Bob Corker (R-Tenn). What's especially noteworthy about these bills is an unprecedented clause that the president cannot unilaterally relax sanctions on his own. Instead, if he wants to do so, the bills give congress the authority to hold a vote within 30 days to reverse the president's decision. Read the details here

This is highly unusual. Most of the time sanctions are imposed when a foreign nation is found to be doing such things as violating international law or human rights, committing aggression or supporting terrorism. Presidents are routinely given the authority to roll back the sanctions following an executive branch finding that the offending nation has ceased its objectionable behavior. In this case Iran's violation is in supporting terrorism, North Korea's are its nuclear and missile development programs in defiance of U.N. resolutions and its treaty obligations, and Russia's include aggression against Ukraine and its meddling in the U.S. 2016 presidential election.

Corker and overwhelming supermajorities in both houses are extremely concerned Trump might relax sanctions, particularly against Russia, on his own. He continues to deny or minimize Russian election interference and praise Russian strongman and civil rights abuser Vladimir Putin. The margins of these votes are a clear signal to Trump that if he vetoes the bill congress has the votes to easily override him and pass the legislation with better than the two-thirds majority required by the constitution. That a Republican-majority congress would pass a bill so limiting a Republican president's ability to exercise a customary function speaks volumes about how little even the members of his own party trust this president to act in the national interest when it comes to foreign policy.     

Sunday, July 16, 2017

Trump's Web of Lies

It's the smoking gun. A trusted British intermediary with Russian connections (Rob Goldstone helped arrange Donald Trump's Moscow Miss Universe pageant in Moscow in 2013) contacted Donald Trump, Jr. during the 2016 campaign race. He offered to set up a meeting "with a Russian government attorney" who would provide material that would "incriminate Hillary and her dealings with Russia and would be very useful to your father." He was explicit that this offer was part of a Russian government effort to swing the election in Trump's favor. The candidate's son, son-in-law Jared Kushner, who happens to be the President's most trusted confidante, and campaign manager Paul Manafort were also invited to the meeting, which took place in June of 2016. It's collusion with an adversarial foreign power to further its ends against the United States. To me it fits the textbook definition of treason as spelled out in Article III Section 3 of the Constitution. In addition, American campaign law makes it illegal for a campaign to "accept anything of value from a foreign government." And Trump himself is defending it. As was asked about Richard Nixon, what did the president know and when did he know it? I believe this is impeachable.

The progression of the web of lies is most instructive. Trump and his spokespeople denied any association with Russians beginning in September during the campaign, when Democratic emails began appearing and suspicion was first thrown on Russia as the originator. After the election, so did Trump's staff and nominees, such as Attorney General Jeff Sessions who was later found to have met privately with the Russian ambassador at least twice. Gen. Michael Flynn, the National Security Advisor, was found to have lied about his contacts with and promises to Russia in conversations he held between the election and Trump's inauguration. As more information began to come out, Trump took to calling each latest revelation "fake news" and whining that he was the subject of "the greatest witch hunt in political history." President Trump then had his Attorney General and Assistant Attorney General come up with derogatory performance evaluations of FBI Director James Comey to provide cover for his firing of the Director, to let him maintain the firing was not about Comey's investigation into Russian meddling in the election. Trump's public relations corps, including Press Secretary Sean Spicer, spread this story to every media outlet. In a subsequent interview with NBC's Lester Holt, Trump then stunningly exposed his own lie by asserting that he didn't need the evaluations, that he had already made up his mind and that the real reason for the dismissal was Comey's pursuit of the truth in the Russia investigation.

For his part, Trump Jr. knew about his meeting with the Russian agent lawyer, Natalia Veselnitskaya and let his father speak in error for 13 months without saying a word. That is lying by omission. Beyond that, it stretches credibility to think that a meeting including Trump Jr., Jared Kushner and Paul Manafort would not have been known to candidate Trump, particularly since on the campaign trail he publicly called for Russia to hack Clinton's emails and release them. One can easily imagine Trump Junior eagerly telling his father about the oppo-research coup he was about to engineer thanks to the intelligence services of Mother Russia. We do not know yet for certain whether Trump Sr. knew, though between the press's continued digging and the investigation currently underway by former FBI Director Robert Mueller the truth seems to keep finding its way out. In fact, it was the New York Times's call to Trump Jr. that it had the incriminating emails and asking if he wanted to make a public statement they could include in the article they were working on that prompted him to pre-empt the Times by releasing the emails first himself. The President of course released statements praising his son for transparency, ignoring the fact he had lied about the events in question and come clean only after confronted by the Times

Even then the lies continued. The action was held to be "OK because everybody did it." Republican Senator Lindsay Graham was one of the first to fight back against that, pointing to the law and the adversarial nature of the Russian regime and saying, "When a foreign government wants to help your campaign the answer is always 'no.'" Trump Jr.'s "transparency" was quickly discredited when, after alleging that Veselnitskaya was the only Russian in the meeting, it has now come out that a Russian lobbyist and former Russian military man was also there, but ostensibly only to serve as interpreter, if that is to be believed. Trump Jr. also states that nothing of importance was discussed at the meeting, that Veselnitskaya made little sense and wanted only to discuss American adoption of Russian orphans. Anyone who believes that would probably be interested in some Florida swampland Mr. Trump might want to sell them. Having been caught in all the lies described above in today's blog, I leave it to the reader to evaluate to what extent the Messers Trump can be trusted on this contention. At any rate, as one after another of their lies are exposed, all trends point to the conclusion that the Trump campaign colluded with an authoritarian pariah regime currently under NATO sanction for aggression and human rights violations and working against American interests at every opportunity (witness their recent U.N. veto against increased sanctions on North Korea for its latest illegal missile tests). And what is especially remarkable is that for all their vast experience with lying, the Trumps don't seem to be very good at it. The truth is either dug out by the press, ratted out by people within the administration, or blurted out by the astonishingly undisciplined president himself. One thing that becomes increasingly difficult to believe is that this dumpster fire of a presidency will survive to complete its first term in office.

Sunday, July 2, 2017

What Motivates Republican Health Care Proposals?

House Republicans passed a health care bill that the non-partisan Congressional Budget Office (CBO) said would result in 23 million Americans losing their health insurance. Surveys indicate it is wildly unpopular with the American people. This past week Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell revealed the long-awaited Senate Republican health care bill, touted as an improvement over the House version. The CBO said it would result in 22 million people losing their health insurance.

While this may represent an improvement of a million over its House counterpart, this is improvement of the same kind as it being better to contract bubonic plague than the Ebola virus. Also heavily unpopular with the public, there were so many Republican senators voicing public opposition to McConnell's bill that he wound up withdrawing it from consideration. But don't be fooled. Another round of secret GOP deliberations is taking place with an eye to reintroducing something along similar lines in the near future.

You may be wondering, why are they coming up with "health care" bills that result in fewer people having health care? What do they really want? The key to understanding this from the Republican point of view is that these are not really health care bills at all. They are tax cuts, an issue much more dear to Republican hearts than saving people's lives with medical care. This effort is not about health care at all. It is about repealing the taxes President Obama and the Democratic congress imposed on high income earners to provide the funds to expand Medicaid for the poor by several million people and to provide the subsidies people of limited means are getting to make the purchase of health insurance affordable to them.

When these taxes are repealed there is no way to square the circle; Medicaid and premium assistance has to be cut. The only choices to be made are whose medical treatments to cut the most. The AMA, Hospital Associations, AARP, Urban League and Nurses Union all say these Republican repeal plans would be catastrophic. Harvard Medical School says upward of 45,000 Americans will die each year if these "reforms" are enacted. Yet saving the wealthy 3% on their taxes is more important to Republican politicians.