Changing News Cycles Can’t Save Trump This Time

President Trump has gone from claiming that 15 coronavirus cases would be going away to announcing on Tuesday that this pandemic will kill between 100,000 to 240,000 Americans.  I believe he came up with this staggering death toll because he believes that the final number will be significantly lower than this range.  He will then brag about the great job he did managing the crisis.  Of course, we all hope the U.S. experiences far fewer deaths than this estimate.  But those who will deserve the credit for saving American lives are several of the nation’s governors – Democratic and Republican alike – along with the heroic workers in health care facilities.

The federal government is grossly failing in its response to this crisis and there’s a good reason why.  Over the past three plus years, Trump has fired or otherwise replaced most of the officials who were in a position to influence his erratic performance, particularly former Chief of Staff John Kelly, former Chief Economic Advisor Gary Cohn and former National Security Advisor H. R. McMaster, to name a few.  All were replaced by “yes” men, more or less, who rarely if ever challenge the president’s flawed reasoning and decisions.

By demanding total loyalty and savaging those who say things or make decisions that he doesn’t like, Trump has stymied independent thinking and actions by officials all across the executive branch of government.  Knowledgeable, skill bureaucrats have been replaced by Trump “loyalists” – turnover in his administration has been head spinning – and many agencies have been left with weak and inexperienced “acting” heads.  The bottom line – Trump’s administration wasn’t prepared for ANY national crisis, let alone a pandemic.

Now, while governors seek solutions, the president looks for someone to blame for his mistakes.  Without evidence he questioned the requests for masks at medical facilities: “Are they going out the back door?”  And alleged that, “We have that happening in numerous places.”  This spurious accusation by Trump is simply disgusting.

The president has even refused to take charge of the production and distribution of medical supplies, leaving states to bid against each other and even the federal government.  This lack of coordination by the Trump administration drives up prices and leaves some U.S. hospital systems with severe shortages.  And there is good evidence that Florida – a state which is critical to Trump’s reelection – is receiving the medical supplies its officials requested from the federal storehouse while other states, both Republican and Democratic, are receiving only a fraction of their needs.

Most U.S. presidents would have been coordinating a response to this pandemic with U.S. allies but it’s always “America First” with Trump.  Consequently, China has been taking the lead in helping Italy and other nations fight the coronavirus.  Asia’s richest man, Jack Ma, co-founder of China-based Alibaba, used his charitable foundation and the Alibaba Foundation, to ship testing kits and masks to the United States and other countries.  And Russian President Vladimir Putin scored a huge propaganda coup by sending an enormous transport plane full of medical supplies to the U.S.

Coronavirus cases reached one million on Thursday, having doubled in a week.  The speed with which this disease has spread in a little over three months highlights Trump’s gross negligence in downplaying the threat for eight weeks.  And after finally admitting it was a problem, he has failed to bring the full power of the federal government to bear on protecting the American public.

A Boston Globe editorial on Monday went so far as to state that the president has “blood on his hands”.  The same accusation could be leveled against many conservative media personalities who minimized the coronavirus threat, including talk show host Rush Limbaugh, Sean Hannity and numerous other Fox News commentators.  Fox’s Tucker Carlson was one of the few to sound an alarm.

No thinking person with knowledge of how the coronavirus spread in China and the drastic measures required to quell it would minimize the threat from this disease.  Anyone not living in a cave for the past thirty years had to be aware that millions of Chinese are constantly visiting the U.S.  Yet, Hannity and some other conservative commentators chose to ignore the facts and the obvious logical conclusions.  Their unbounded zeal to protect Trump and denigrate Democrats caused them to frame the news about the coronavirus as an attack on the president and downplay its veracity.  It seems they were blinded by their far-right ideology.

Trump has frequently benefitted from the fast-moving news cycle to avoid scandals that would have destroyed most politicians.  Shortly after the nation was shocked by hearing Trump brag about grabbing women by the crotch on an Access Hollywood video, this sensational story was quickly overshadowed when Wikileaks released a tranche of emails that Russians had stolen from Democrats.  Trump’s affair with Stormy Daniels, his positive comments about the Charlottesville white supremacists and his obstruction of justice as detailed in the Mueller report, all faded from public attention relatively quickly.

Well, neither Russian hackers nor exculpatory legal opinions from Attorney General Bill Barr will shield Trump from blame this time.   The coronavirus pandemic will dominate the news for months and Trump’s indefensible two-month hiatus in responding to it will come under intense scrutiny as the number of deaths rises, the economy falters and this disaster escalates.

MAGA is becoming a cruel joke – and Trump is the punchline.

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Trump Totally Fails His Big Leadership Challenge

President Donald Trump should be the best-informed person in the nation, if not the world.  He gets daily briefings from a highly skilled U.S. intelligence apparatus.  If the Chinese were attempting to minimize the coronavirus severity, these people would have known that.  There can be no doubt, Trump was well informed of the impending threats to this nation in early January.

But the president has a habit of trusting his “gut” more than any expert advice so this may be why he downplayed these warnings.  Still, it’s impossible to know what goes on in this man’s mind.  Sometimes it appears as if he lives in an alternative reality.  The following quotes from a Washington Post article on March 14 clearly serve to prove that point.

When Trump was asked about the first coronavirus case in Washington state during a January 21 interview on CNBC he said, “We have it totally under control. It’s one person coming in from China, and we have it under control. It’s going to be just fine.”  During a February 2 interview with Fox News’ Sean Hannity he assured listeners that, “We pretty much shut it down coming in from China.”

At a February 10 campaign event – and four more days that month – Trump claimed the virus would miraculously go away by April when it gets warmer.  And he substituted wishful thinking for reality during a February 25 news conference with, “We’re very close to a vaccine.”

The next day on the 26th Trump remarked that the existing 15 cases, “within a couple of days is going to be down to close to zero,” adding, “that’s a pretty good job we’ve done.” OMG!  He praised himself for a decrease in cases that was never going to occur.  Several days later, a dozen more U.S. infections were identified and a person had died.  After two weeks, 1,000 cases had resulted in 28 deaths.

This news conference produced more notable Trump downplays, “This is a flu. This is like a flu.”  And “I don’t think it’s inevitable [spread of virus]. It probably will. It possibly will. It could be at a very small level, or it could be at a larger level. Whatever happens, we’re totally prepared.”  He definitely wasn’t.

The stock markets ended lower on Friday, February 21 on fears of a faltering Chinese economy, as the Dow Jones Industrial Average (DJI) dipped below 29,000.  During the week of February 24 through 28, however, the markets cratered into correction territory.  By Friday, the DJI had shed almost 3,600 points for the week to close at 25,409, as high volatility prevailed.

In early March, Trump turned defensive after being criticized for his faltering response to the coronavirus threat.  That usually means target the black guy and Trump didn’t hold back.  He claimed that President Obama “didn’t do anything about” the 2009 swine flu outbreak, which was absolutely, provably false.  He also claimed, “The Obama administration made a decision on testing that turned out to be very detrimental to what we’re doing.”  Trump earned Four Pinocchios from Washington Post fact checkers for this dishonesty.

It’s difficult to tell if the president is ignorant, if he just says what he wants to believe in his alternative universe or if he simply lies.  On March 6, however, he assured us that “Anybody that wants a test can get a test,” which apparently isn’t true to this day.  Several days later he offered a false excuse and claimed credit for his reaction to it, “This blindsided the world. And I think we’ve handled it very, very well.”

During his address to the nation on March 11, Trump patted his back again and began messaging to blame outsiders: “This is the most aggressive and comprehensive effort to confront a foreign virus in modern history.”  Later, it became the “Chinese virus.”

The Federal Reserve cut interest rates to near zero on Sunday, March 15 and Trump came up with this beauty the next day, “We have a problem that a month ago nobody ever thought about.”  When asked to rate his response to the pandemic on a scale of 1 to 10, he ludicrously rated it a 10.  But his lie on the 17th was absolutely jaw dropping, “I felt it was a pandemic long before it was called a pandemic.”

Why go back over this history?  Well, on March 15, I accidently tuned in to ultra-conservative Mark Levin’s show on Fox News.  He and his guest were singing Trump’s praises, giving the president great credit for his response to the pandemic.  And some polls indicate that the president’s approval rating has improved significantly.  Really?

Various administration officials, including the totally obsequious Vice President Mike Pence, pile kudos on the president during daily updates on the virus situation, while Trump approvingly absorbs it on camera in the background.  And the White House rejects any criticism of the president as illegitimate and blames Democrats and the media of a relentless, biased political assault.  They claim the president has taken historic, aggressive action to protect the American people.  It’s enough to make one ill.

Well, we can’t let Fox News, conservative media and the White House spin machine convince the public that Trump deserves accolades.  His response to this pandemic has been self-serving, misleading and woefully inadequate.  He justly deserves public outrage over his eight weeks of lies and colossal leadership failures.

 

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Fortunately, Democrats Control the U.S. House

No matter what problems threaten, or how bad they might get, there’s one thing we must always remember – most of President Donald Trump’s decisions are focused on glorifying his time in office and getting reelected.  I see no evidence that he has a long-term vision for the nation or its citizens, whether it’s health care, infrastructure improvements, environmental protection, fiscal responsibility, civil rights, whatever.  He is totally focused on himself.

The coronavirus epidemic is a perfect example:  It was obvious from the outset that Trump’s main concern was preventing a significant downturn in the stock markets, which he sees as a key to his reelection.  So, instead of calling for calm and getting the nation well prepared to handle the crisis, he lied about the potential, saying there were only 15 cases and they would be decreasing soon.  At a political rally, he even called the democratic response to his handling  of the coronavirus epidemic a “hoax.”

After wasting precious time trying to downplay the quickly developing threat, Trump finally handed off the problem to a poorly prepared Vice President Mike Pence.  Later as the virus continued spreading, he was playing golf at Mar-a-Lago.  If President Obama had done this, Republican hair would have stayed on fire for weeks, prompting calls for an impeachment hearing.  And Fox News would have devoted hours of programming, unmercifully bashing Obama.

When Trump finally addressed the nation from the Oval Office, his wooden demeaner and the bungled message he read from a teleprompter caused an all-time record drop in the stock markets the next day.

What Trump never mentions, however, is the 2018 decision by his former National Security Advisor, John Bolton, to eliminate the global health teams that Obama set up in the National Security Council and the Department of Homeland Security to monitor potential pandemics and other global health emergencies.   Nor does he highlight the large funding cuts he has proposed for the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) and other federal health programs.  Trump’s resentment of scientists and others with expert knowledge is dumbing the government down to his ill-informed level.

But here’s the thing.  While a pandemic can’t be stopped by Trump’s lies or angry tweets, his vindictive management style creates a very dangerous stranglehold on his administration.  Cabinet officials and staff are afraid to make a comment or a decision that might anger him.  Consequently, silence and delay are their safest courses of action.  This fear of retribution from the president is what impeded the government’s response to the coronavirus.  But it’s also preventing effective measures to thwart Russian attacks on our election and blocking election protection legislation in the GOP-controlled Senate.

Equally damaging is Fox News and the conservative media that are in lockstep with Trump in misinforming their viewers and listeners.  Fox’s Sean Hannity recently claimed the coronavirus could be a “fraud” perpetrated by the deep state to cause panic and affect the economy.  Fox Business anchor Trish Regan told her viewers that the virus was another attempt to impeach the president.  What some Fox News pundits did in framing this health crisis as a plot against Trump is almost criminal.  Polls show that Republicans are much less concerned about the virus than Democrats, no doubt due to Trump’s initial lies and the conservative media downplay.  Some may fail to take appropriate precautions and die as a result.

Yet, it was clear almost from the beginning of his presidency that Donald Trump’s erratic decision making, his tariffs, his rebuffs of allies, his focus on immigration and his colossal ineptness would cause the bull market to hit the wall eventually.  All it would take would be a crisis that many of us thought he would have no idea how to handle.  Well, it’s here – and we were right.

I have had this nagging fear, however, that after a Democrat is elected president in 2020, the markets would collapse due to Trump’s mismanagement.  That’s exactly what the economy did as Barack Obama was being elected president at the end of President George W. Bush’s two terms.

Yet, Fox News and other right-wing media somehow convinced many of their viewers and listeners that President Obama was at fault for the Great Recession.  It is maddening to hear conservative Obama haters spout this nonsense and rail against his deficit spending.  But of course, it’s hard for them to recognize reality when they have their head up their ideology.

So, they accept huge deficits caused by Trump’s tax cuts and increased spending even though federal red ink is already at unsustainable levels according to the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office.  And now the economy may go into recession, which will require even more federal borrowing.  Some analysts say it’s already there.  Unlike what Trump has done with numerous of his failed business ventures, he can’t declare the United States bankrupt.

After rejecting responsibility for inadequate coronavirus testing and leading from behind, Trump finally declared the coronavirus outbreak a national emergency yesterday and has signaled his support for responsive legislation designed by Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi.  Both will result in greatly increased government spending.  But unlike Obama’s 2009 stimulus package, which they almost unanimously rejected, Republicans will support Trump and pass these necessary measures.

We should all be thankful that Democrats control the U.S. House, led by Speaker Pelosi.  If anyone can help lessen the burden from this crisis on the American people, they will.

 

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Is America Ready for a Democratic Socialist?

A conservative friend who doesn’t particularly like President Trump told me he couldn’t possibly vote for Sen. Bernie Sanders if he becomes the Democratic nominee.  Why?  Well, he believes capitalism has served this nation well for many decades and Sanders is a socialist.

Leaving aside the fact that Sanders’ policies don’t actually fit the definition of socialism, I advised my friend that Republicans were driving this nation toward embracing the democratic socialist programs that Sanders champions.  After giving him some examples, he replied “You mean by what they don’t do for people?”  I said, “Precisely.”

Recent Census Bureau statistics indicate that around 88 percent of Americans have a high school diploma and 33 percent have a bachelor’s degree or higher.  No doubt, the roughly two-thirds who lack a higher education have diminished chances for a decent paying job in today’s high-tech economy.

The old days of graduating high school, joining a union and getting a job where your dad labored for decades are gone forever.  Union membership fell to a record low of 10.3 percent of the workforce in 2019, according to data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics.  Which political party has done everything in its power to stymie organized labor, including promoting charter schools in an effort to weaken the large teachers’ unions?  The GOP.

Unions wouldn’t be so important if the U.S. had a decent minimum (living) wage.  But Republicans strongly oppose raising it from today’s $7.25 per hour rate, which keeps many American workers below the poverty level.

To make matters worse, today’s job seeker faces an environment where companies are automating the repetitive jobs that require minimal skills.  That means even the human jobs remaining in the workplace require a much higher level of education than in the past.

Having a college degree is no guarantee of a secure future but it sure helps.  Yet, college is very expensive and classrooms aren’t always accessible, particularly in many rural areas.  If parents can’t afford the tuition, borrowing to go to college entails a significant risk.  Just ask one of the many individuals attempting to pay off part of the $1.5 trillion in student loans.  And some of them didn’t even graduate.

Trump’s latest budget, however, proposes cutting the Department of Education budget by 8 percent.  This includes eliminating $3.9 billion from the Pell Grant program, which helps low income families afford a higher education.  And some Republicans advocate eliminating this agency and its job training programs completely.

What is so obvious though, is that GOP policies favor corporations and the wealthy.  The prime objective of the Trump/Republican 2017 tax cut was to lower the corporate tax rate from 35 to 21 percent, while significantly benefitting the rich and giving meager cuts to almost everyone else.

Ordinary taxpayers weren’t fooled and they aren’t happy with it at all.  And there are good reasons for their anger.  Corporations didn’t invest in new plants and equipment and create good paying jobs as Republicans promised; they mostly bought back their stock and increased shareholder’s dividends.  This drove the stock market to new highs, which greatly benefited the top 10 percent of the wealth holders who own around 80 percent of the shares.

Well, what about the not so rich?  According to the Census Bureau, approximately 50 percent of households have a 401(k) plan through their employer where they “might” own stock.  For those under the age of 44 who have a retirement account, the average value is $66,250, according to a recent article in TheStreet.com.  Let’s just say that stock market gains haven’t enriched the vast majority of Americans very much.

Then there’s the cost of health care that millions of Americans under the age of 65 struggle to afford.  The Affordable Care Act (Obamacare) significantly increased the number of our citizens who have health insurance from private insurers and Medicaid.  Even more would have coverage if 14 states controlled by Republicans had agreed to expand Medicaid.  Georgetown University researchers reported that children in these states were more likely to be uninsured, thereby missing the medical care that the American Academy of Pediatrics advises is critical for a child’s development in the first six years of its life.

Which political party has worked ceaselessly to repeal Obamacare, greatly cut funding for Medicaid and turn Medicare into a premium support program?  The GOP.

But I think the annual survey on the Economic Well-Being of U.S. Households released by the Federal Reserve last May tells the real story of the inequality that Republicans have helped create with their focus on the wealthy.  It revealed that almost 40 percent of households would have to borrow or sell something in order to pay for an unexpected $400 expense and some would not be able to cover it at all.  Another disturbing revelation from this report indicates that 64 percent of non-retired adults don’t believe their retirement saving is adequate and one-quarter of these “have no retirement savings or pension whatsoever.”

I do not support Sen. Bernie Sanders nor to I believe this nation is ready for his “revolution.”  But as I advised my conservative friend:  If Republicans keep exacerbating an already serious inequality problem by favoring the rich and taking government support away from everyone else, democratic socialist Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez will run for president sometime after she is eligible in four years – and she will win in a landslide.

 

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Trump Will Go Too Far – It’s in His DNA

My last blog introduced the Autocracy Clock, a time piece of my imagination that suggests our democracy will have ended when the midnight hour is reach.  It concluded with: “The Autocracy Clock has not yet struck midnight; but that fateful hour is getting closer by the day.”

Well, President Trump hasn’t wasted any time in manipulating the hands on that clock – and neither have his allies in the Senate.  The president quickly moved to fire NSC European affairs Director, Lt. Col. Vindman and his twin brother, having them escorted off the White House grounds like wrongdoers.  Then he fired EU ambassador Gordon Sondland.  Col. Vindman and Sondland became Trump’s enemies after their impeachment inquiry testimony in the U.S. House angered him.

On the day they voted to acquit the president, Sens. Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa) and Ron Johnson (R-Wis.) sent a letter to the secret service director seeking information on Hunter Biden’s use of government transportation to conduct private business.  These two senators also issued letters requesting records on former VP Joe Biden and his son Hunter from the departments of State, Treasury and Justice and the FBI, according to reports.  A Democratic staffer disclosed that Treasury had supplied highly sensitive financial records about Hunter without a subpoena. Remember, the executive branch stonewalled subpoenas for documents issued by House Democrats during the impeachment inquiry.

Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) has promised investigations into his former friend, Joe Biden.  These senators are attempting to accomplish what Trump failed to get foreign governments to do, smear the Biden’s.

Graham also said that Republicans intend to launch investigations of the whistleblower, whose complaint resulted in the disclosure of Trump’s nefarious call with Ukraine’s President Zelensky.  He warned that they were “going to get to the bottom of all of this to make sure this never happens again.”  Did he mean silence all whistleblowers?

Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) has made several attempts to publicize the whistleblower’s name.  His obvious goal is to subject him or her to abuse and threats so others won’t make the same mistake of disclosing Trump’s illegal activities.  These actions by Senate Republicans are not only appalling and shameful, they strike at the heart of the rule of law and our democratic processes.

A few days later, Attorney General William Barr announced that Justice had begun accepting information on Joe and Hunter Biden’s activities in Ukraine from the field, including from Trump’s personal attorney, Rudy Giuliani.  This might have remained a clandestine operation but for Sen. Graham who had disclosed the process on national television.  Giuliani is supposedly under criminal investigation himself for his activities in that country but Barr has ordered that all probes involving Ukraine be referred to main Justice [Barr] for handling.  Hmm.

It’s too late for Barr to stop prosecution of other high-profile Trump associates.  Some, like Trump’s former National Security Advisor Michael Flynn have pled guilty; Paul Manafort and Roger Stone have been convicted by juries of numerous criminal charges arising from special counsel Robert Mueller’s Russia investigation.  Now it appears, however, that Barr is placing his heavy fingers on the scales of justice to help both Flynn and Stone.

Barr has engaged an outside prosecutor to review the criminal case against Flynn before he is to be sentenced.  And after Trump railed in a tweet against the 7 to 9-year sentencing guidelines that federal prosecutors had recommended in the Stone trial – calling it “a horrible and very unfair situation” – Barr quickly withdrew that recommendation and suggested a lighter sentence.  Today, Stone was sentenced to 40 months in the slammer; Trump hinted about a pardon.

After three of the prosecutors resigned from the Stone case and one resigned from the Justice Department, Barr was called out and embarrassed.  So, he criticized Trump for tweeting about DOJ affairs, saying the president was making it impossible for him to do his job, i.e., Trump’s covert fixer.

Fox News host Lou Dobbs – one of many outspoken Trump supporters on that channel – railed against Barr’s rebuke of the president’s tweets about Stone’s trial.   Dobbs demanded to know why dozens of people in the “politically corrupt deep state within the Justice Department and the FBI” hadn’t been arrested.  He said he didn’t “want to hear any crap about an independent Justice Department.”

Anonymous sources claimed that Barr might resign if the president didn’t relent.  Yet, Trump ramped up his rhetoric, claiming that he is the “chief law enforcement officer of the country,” a title typically given to the U.S. attorney general.  And yesterday he called on Barr to “clean house” at the DOJ and the FBI.  Could it be that Trump had listened to Dobbs?  It wouldn’t be the first time that the president followed Fox News’ reckless commentary.

Barr’s fealty to the president and his dereliction of the rule of law have been dramatically displayed.  One columnist called him “Trump’s stooge.”  And over 2,000 former federal prosecutors and DOJ officials have called for Barr to resign.

Just how far will Trump and Barr have to go, however, before their supporters in Congress attempt to stop them?  Will congressional Republicans object if Hillary Clinton, the whistleblower or Hunter Biden were charged with a crime?  Or are they so deep in Trump’s pocket that they will endorse anything he does?

Well, Trump will go too far – and that could be his undoing at the polls.

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Another Ominous Clock to Watch

Do you remember the Doomsday Clock?  Sure you do.  It’s a metaphor for a man-made, world-ending catastrophe expressed in minutes to midnight.  Members of the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists have been maintaining it since 1947, a year when the world was coming to grips with the possibility of a thermonuclear war.

When the Cold War ended around 1991, the clock was at 11:43 PM, its furthest ever point from doom.  Last month the clock was set at 100 seconds to midnight, 20 seconds closer than in 2019.  Planet-devastating climate change was combined with a civilization-ending nuclear war in making the latest calculation.  This is the closest point to doomsday the clock has ever been.

If doomsday isn’t enough to worry about, there’s another ominous countdown that should horrify all Americans – the Autocracy Clock.  When it reaches midnight, our democracy will have ended.

I’ve been wondering when this clock started ticking.  No, it wasn’t when President Trump took office; it has evolved over time, as authoritarian leaders unethically attempted to suppress their opposition.  President Richard Nixon provided a good example.

No question, Nixon and his inner circle were corrupt.  Although his reelection in 1972 was not seriously threatened, Nixon’s associates burglarized the Democratic headquarters in an attempt to insure his victory.  They would do anything to crush their opponents.  Fortunately, there were patriotic Republicans in Congress back then who forced Nixon’s resignation.

The Iran-Contra scandal during President Ronald Reagan’s administration showed that the executive branch could setup a secret government operation to engage in illegal activities in complete defiance of congressional oversight.  I believe the GOP began moving toward authoritarianism during the Reagan years but far-right Rep. Newt Gingrich (R-Ga.) hastened the process in the 1990s.

Gingrich initiated a hate campaign against Democrats that still permeates the GOP.  Instead of treating them as fellow Americans who had different political views, Gingrich labeled Democrats as “sick,” “traitors” and “corrupt.”  He forced a partial government shutdown for 26 days in 1995-1996 over conservative budget issues and later led an effort to impeach Democratic President Bill Clinton.  Gingrich wrote the playbook for the radical Tea Party Republicans that took control of the U.S. House in 2011.

Fox News began broadcasting in 1996 when Gingrich was at the height of his power as speaker of the House.  Its Republican-centered commentary supplemented his efforts to demonize Democrats and the conservative rhetoric of Fox pundits helped Gingrich steer the GOP further to the right.  For almost 25 years, Fox has given a voice to right-wing Republicans who lambast the federal government and constantly disparage liberals.

Then-Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) must have learned some lessons from Gingrich’s tactics too.  It was credibly reported that he advised the Republican leadership in 2009 that nothing would be gained by compromising with newly elected President Barack Obama.  Thus, he began a program of obstructing the president across the board, using the Senate filibuster as a weapon.  McConnell still openly brags about the success of his efforts, particularly in preventing Obama from confirming Merrick Garland to the Supreme Court.

Oh, and let’s not forget the conservative-controlled Supreme Court.  Its 5-4 ruling in the 2010 Citizens United case opened the floodgates of special interest money pouring into the political system from super PACs, anonymous billionaires and even foreign interests.  Then in 2013 the court’s conservatives gutted key sections of the Voting Rights Act in the Shelby County case.  This decision unleashed a concerted effort by Republican-controlled states to suppress minority voters.  These two cases seriously weakened our democratic processes and disenfranchised millions of Americans.

I believe the GOP/Fox News war on the federal government and the gridlock in Congress caused by McConnell and Tea Party Republicans helped outsider presidential candidate Donald Trump immensely.  He easily thrashed 17 or so of the best primary candidates the GOP had to offer and narrowly defeated Democratic candidate Hillary Clinton.  Voter suppression, Russian meddling and then-FBI Director James Comey also deserve a lot of credit for Trump’s victory.

President Trump displayed authoritarian tendencies from the get-go.  This led to his impeachment and trial in the GOP-controlled Senate for abuse of power and obstruction of Congress.  Senate Republicans, however, prevented important witnesses from testifying and turned the trial into a sham.  Apparently, they are terrified of Trump.

Well, we should be terrified too.  Republicans not only defended Trump, they argued that he has almost unlimited power.  They rubbered stamped his refusal to allow administration officials to testify before congressional committees and turn over documents.  This is a shockingly undemocratic precedent that nullifies the oversight powers of Congress and the separation of powers.  Clearly, Republican Senators have a much higher loyalty to the GOP and the president than the Constitution.

So, with compliant William Barr as attorney general, power-hungry Mitch McConnell as Senate majority leader and cowardly Senate Republicans ready to agree with whatever Trump does, this president is near to having total control over the United States government.  Is there any doubt he will now feel free to use this power to hide his crimes and suppress his political opponents?

Trump has brazenly stated that Article II of the Constitution allows him to do whatever he wants.  Senate Republicans have now told him – Go Ahead!  They’re attempting to elevate Trump from president to potentate.

The Autocracy Clock has not yet struck midnight; but that fateful hour is getting closer by the day.

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Why Republican Politicians Protect Trump

Could it be that Republicans believe President Trump will actually “Make American Great Again?”  Nah!  They know that’s just a campaign slogan to enthuse his base.

Are they enamored by his visionary leadership?  That’s laughable!  Virtually everything Trump does is transactional, without much consideration of the consequences.  He decides issues based on his gut feelings at the time, like abruptly pulling U.S. troops out of Northern Syria and ordering a drone strike on Iranian General Qassim Soleimani.

Perhaps it’s Trump’s unwavering conservative ideology?  Oh my! No!  Republicans see their president as totally focused on himself.  That’s why they try to stroke his ego so they can shape the policies he supports.  I suspect that Trump can be talked into supporting just about anything if he thinks it will enhance his image.  And I’m sure he’s being told by his conservative advisors that dismantling the “oppressive” federal government will make him a Republican hero.

That’s why my concerns spiked when Trump’s then-chief advisor, Steve Bannon, proclaimed in February 2017 that Trump would, “deconstruct the administrative state.” Was this Trump speaking through Bannon, or was Bannon attempting to nudge Trump toward this right-wing objective?  Either way, conservatives at their annual CPAC meeting loved it.

So, just what is this amorphous threat that Bannon claims that Trump will take apart?  Well, it’s the Environmental Protection Agency, the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, the Departments of Labor and Education – among others – and the Dodd-Frank regulations on the financial industry.

Obviously, Bannon has been getting his way.  The Trump administration has spent the past three years trashing every regulation they can and hollowing out various federal agencies.  The “too big to fail” banks that were bailed out by taxpayers after they caused the Great Recession are high-fiving.  The energy, chemical and other industries that had previously been restricted from filling our air and water with pollutants and despoiling our federal lands are ecstatic too.

This war that Trump is waging on executive branch departments got me thinking about how American citizens have been losing power to the special interest money that floods the political system – and how government is our only protection against corporate hegemony.

Fact is, the federal government has been pushing back against corporate power for over a century.  Oligarchs of the early 1900s, Henry Ford, Andrew Carnegie, John D. Rockefeller, J. P. Morgan, etc. were called “robber barons” for good reason.  They built their empires and became fabulously wealthy by exploiting American workers, many of them children ages 10 to 15 or younger.  It was only after Washington politicians began focusing on industrial age abuses during this period that things started to change.

Most Americans remember Republican President Theodor Roosevelt (1901-1909) as the “trust buster” who dismantled J. P. Morgan’s Northern Securities Company, a behemoth railroad trust and John D. Rockefeller’s massive Standard Oil Company.  But many other dramatic changes were occurring in the U.S. around this time.

In 1913, the 16th Amendment to the Constitution clarified that Congress could increase revenues by imposing taxes on income and the 17th established that U.S. senators would be elected by the popular vote.  With the 19th Amendment in 1920, women finally achieved the right to cast a ballot, which was really huge.

Unfortunately, the excesses of the “Guilted Age” of the late 19th century and “Roaring Twenties” culminated in the Great Depression of 1929.  Unemployment reached a peak of almost 25 percent by 1933 and remained above 14 percent until 1940.

It was during the dismal 1930s period that labor unions began to flourish and Democratic President Franklin D. Roosevelt was able to enact much of his progressive “New Deal” legislation, including the Social Security Act of 1935.  The GOP has been trying to rollback these achievements ever since.

The top rate on individual taxpayers was 7 percent in 1913 and the top corporate rate was 1 percent.  But during World War II, the top tax rate soared to 94 percent on individuals and 40 percent on corporations.  These high rates supported an expanding, more socially responsible federal government and the individual rate remained north of 90 percent until 1964.

Another decade of landmark, progressive legislation occurred in the 1960s, with the passage of the Civil Rights Act, the Voting Rights Act and the Medicare and Medicaid amendments to the Social Security Act.  Republicans want to weaken or bulldoze these important social legislative accomplishments too.

I believe the anti-labor, low-tax policies of conservatives hark back to the early 1900s when the federal government wasn’t involved in education, health care and extensive regulation of corporations.  They plan to emasculate the government by cutting off its revenues.  And Republicans cheer Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) as he packs the federal judiciary with right-wing judges that will strike down or weaken existing progressive laws and block any social legislation that Democrats might pass.

Sure, candidate Donald Trump claimed he wouldn’t touch Medicare, Medicaid and Social Security – but he lies about everything.  When President Trump was recently asked if “entitlements” would be on his plate he replied, “At some point they will be.  And at the right time, we will take a look at that.”

No doubt, Republicans realize they have finally found an unscrupulous leader in Trump who will help them turn the clock back to the era of American oligarchs.  Is it any wonder why they’re so desperate to keep him in office?

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The Real Truth About Trump’s Economy

Candidate Donald Trump’s proposals on trade and some other issues didn’t seem at all compatible with conservative Republican ideology.  So, after watching congressional Republicans obstruct President Obama for almost eight years, I expected some of the same pushback for incoming President Trump.  And I thought the stock markets would react negatively.  Oh, how wrong I was.

Of course, Trump never misses an opportunity to claim credit whenever the S&P index sets a new record or the unemployment rate falls.  In fact, his supporters are glorifying the past three years as “the Trump economy” even though it has simply followed the positive trends established under Obama.

When Obama took office though, the unemployment rate was soaring.  It reached a peak of 10 percent in October 2009 and remained above nine percent for two grueling years as the global economy staggered from the powerful blow of the Great Recession.  When Trump was inaugurated in 2017, unemployment was at 4.7 percent and falling.  The positive jobless trend that started in 2010 just continued all the way down to 3.5 percent in 2019.

Trump and the Republicans assured us that economic growth would average 3 percent or more after they passed a huge tax cut for corporations and the wealthy at the end of 2017.  Yet, recession fears caused the Fed to cut interest rates three times last year.

A report by the Institute on Taxation and Economic Policy revealed that almost 400 of America’s largest corporations had an average tax rate of around 11 percent for 2018, almost half the rate in recent years.  It also found that 91 Fortune 500 corporations, including many worth billions of dollars, paid zero federal taxes that year.

Conservative dogma dictated that these companies would invest their tax benefits in new plants and equipment that would supercharge the economy.  Instead, they have mostly bought back stock and increased dividends, which drove the stock markets to record highs and rewarded shareholders.  U.S. manufacturing was actually in recession for most of 2019.

Hmm, if lower taxes aren’t fueling today’s economy very much, what has Trump done to deserve credit for it?  Well, it’s clear to me; Republicans have assiduously avoided what they constantly demanded of Obama’s administration – cutting spending and balancing the federal budget.

Remember July 2011?  Tea Party Republicans in the U.S. House nearly caused a default on the nation’s debt over deficit spending.  The result was the Budget Control Act of 2011 that forced the Obama administration to accept caps on the amount the federal government could spend each year through fiscal year 2021.  More on these caps later.

Still, there was a battle to fund the government and raise the debt limit so the government could continue borrowing almost every year thereafter.  Republicans shut down the government over spending and Obamacare in 2013; they nearly caused another disastrous default on the debt in early 2014; and they threatened to oust Speaker of the House John Boehner (R-Ohio) in 2015 because he had – Gasp! – compromised with Democrats to keep the government running.

Before resigning from Congress, however, Boehner negotiated the Bipartisan Budget Act of 2015 with Obama.  This legislation funded the government through FY 2017 and suspended the debt limit.

Did Republicans cause gridlock and fiscal drama over federal spending during Obama’s tenure?  Absolutely!  Do I believe this was about deficit reduction?  No!  It was more about obstructing a Democratic – dare I say black – president.

Sure, Republicans still pay lip service to fiscal restraint.  Trump’s yearly budget proposal for 2017 called for trillions of dollars in spending reductions that would virtually gut the federal government.  And the Republican-controlled House passed the Budget for a Brighter American Future for fiscal year 2018 that would slice $6.5 trillion from spending over a decade – mostly from federal health care programs like Medicaid.

The 2011 budget caps for fiscal years 2014 through 2017 had been exceeded by small increases in federal spending.  But with Republicans in complete control of Congress in February 2018, Trump signed the Bipartisan Budget Control Act of 2018.  This legislation added almost $300 billion in additional funding for FYs 2018 and 2019.

The Bipartisan Budget Control Act of 2019 that Trump signed in August 2019 added over $320 billion more to federal spending for FYs 2020 and 2021.  Republicans had almost no problem letting Trump obliterate the spending caps they imposed on Obama.

But here’s the thing.  Over the past three years, Republicans have totally destroyed the credibility of their core policies – cut taxes for economic growth and balance the budget.

  • The 2017 tax cut failed to produce a surge of investment by businesses or the wealthy that received most of the benefit.  It’s consumer spending that has propped up the economy, even though middleclass taxes weren’t lowered significantly.
  • Instead of demanding that the federal budget be cut by $6.5 trillion over the next decade and balanced – as proposed in their Budget for a Brighter American Future – most Republicans voted to add over $3 trillion to the national debt since Trump’s inauguration.

In reality, it’s the massive government spending that Republicans always rail against that has provided the stimulus to keep the economy chugging along and unemployment at record lows.

Trump and his Republican allies have replaced sound, coherent policies with obfuscation and lies like “Tax cuts pay for themselves;” and “Trade wars are easy to win.”

“The Trump economy” is just another one of them.

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Trump Adds to U.S. Mistakes in the Middle East

Let me make it clear, the following isn’t intended to defend the dictatorial Islamic regime in Iran, mitigate its terrorist activities in the Middle East or “mourn” for assassinated Iranian military commander Qasem Soleimani, as Republicans ridiculously accuse Democrats of doing.  I believe the history of U.S. involvement in this troubled region, however, sheds light on current developments.

It is well documented that the CIA and Britain’s MI6 engineered the 1953 coup that replaced Iranian Premier Mohammed Mossadegh with the pro-western Shah of Iran – Mohammad Reza Pahlavi.  Mossadegh had nationalized the British Anglo-Iranian Oil Company and there were fears that he might fall under the influence of the Soviet Union.  Yet, many Iranians were angered by this audacious act.

Various U.S. administrations supported the Shah for 26 years.  Some observers claim he was a cruel dictator whose vicious crimes drove Iranians into the arms of Ayatollah Khomeini?  Others believe it was the Shah’s attempts to westernize the nation and his close ties to America that motivated radical Islamists to revolt as his power and health deteriorated?

Regardless, anti-American feelings in Iran were running high after President Jimmy Carter allowed the deposed Shah to enter the United States for medical treatment in October 1979.  In November, students supporting the revolution stormed the U.S. embassy in Tehran and took 52 Americans hostage.  Most were treated horribly; some were beaten and many were severely physiologically tortured.  But when released after 444 days in captivity, none had died.

Nine months later, my legal job in the Middle East put me face to face with representatives of the Islamic Republic of Iran at the annex to the Iranian embassy in Vienna, Austria.  The negotiation involved compensation for my employer’s manufacturing plant in Tehran that had been nationalized during the 1979 revolution.  It was an enlightening, yet surreal experience.

Over a year later, I was having dinner at a hotel in Kuwait City.  In the distance I could hear muffled explosions and asked about a construction project.  My Lebanese host smiled at my naivety.  The sounds, he said, were probably from an artillery duel between Iraq and Iran near Kuwait’s border.  Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein had invaded Iran in 1980 and the war was still raging.

It was no secret that President Ronald Reagan supported Iraq with money and intelligence during the fighting.  Estimates indicate that hundreds of thousands of Iranian civilians and soldiers were killed in this bloody nine-year war, many of them child combatants.  Iranian officials may still believe the U.S encouraged Hussein’s invasion and that America shares the blame for these casualties.  But they certainly blamed the U.S. when its war ship in the Persian Gulf mistakenly shot down an Iranian passenger jet in July 1988, killing all 290 people on board

In August 1990, Hussein launched a massive attack on tiny Kuwait.  President George H. W. Bush masterfully organized an international coalition of armies that swiftly drove the invaders out in 1991 – but he declined to pursue them into Iraq.

Iraqi forces escaping in various military and stolen civilian vehicles were bunched up in a three-mile-long convoy that was mercilessly attacked for 10 hours, mainly by U.S. aircraft.  Over a thousand vehicles were reported destroyed and hundreds of Iraqi soldiers died in the resulting conflagration.

Some observers called the ghastly scene of twisted metal and charred corpses an unnecessary massacre. Others saw it as justice for the “rapists and murderers” who had invaded Kuwait.  Iraqi parents and relatives probably viewed it as a vicious, unwarranted execution of their loved ones.

Apparently, President George W. Bush didn’t learn much from his father’s experience.  Based on what appears to be flimsy evidence of Hussein’s weapons of mass destruction, he ordered the invasion of Iraq in 2003.  The Iraqi military was totally destroyed and according to a 2013 study, an estimated 500,000 Iraqis were killed, including many civilians.  Many call this war the greatest foreign policy blunder in U.S. history.  Regardless, it greatly increased Iran’s power and terrorist capabilities in the region.

In 2015, the United States and four other permanent members of the UN Security Council, China, Russia, France and the UK, plus Germany negotiated the Iran nuclear agreement, officially the “Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action.”  It restricted Iran’s nuclear program for ten years.  In May 2018, President Trump withdrew the United States from this agreement and reinstated U.S. sanctions on Iran.  Tensions between the two nations have escalated ever since.

Trump claims his decision to kill Soleimani on January 2nd was necessary to prevent impending attacks on American interests and personnel.  Personally, I believe he was motivated by a desire to deflect attention from his impeachment and enhance his reelection chances.

But justified or not, here are the results:

  • Recent protestors of the Tehran government are now its supporters.
  • Iran’s leaders say they will renounce the 2015 nuclear agreement.
  • The Iraqi parliament has voted to expel U.S. troops from their country.
  • During heightened tensions over Soleimani’s death, a Ukrainian passenger jet was likely shot down accidently by Iranian forces, with a loss of 176 lives.
  • Iraq will fall further under the influence of Iran’s revolutionary leaders.
  • Russian President Vladimir Putin will gain power in the Middle East.

Unquestionably, Trump has weakened the national security of the United States and compounded its mistakes in the Middle East.  When will it ever end?

 

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A Letter to Rural Americans

Both Rep. Steve Scalise (R-La.) and Rep. Jim Jordan (R-Ohio) recently claimed that Democrats not only hate President Trump, they hate the 63 million people who voted for him.  That would include many of you folks who live outside urban areas.

President Trump and Republicans like Scalise and Jordan want you to think that urbanites are socialists and leftist elites that look down on blue collar Americans, farmers and everyone like many of you who don’t have a college degree.  They want you to hate liberals back so you won’t vote for Democrats.

Certainly, rural areas are suffering.  They have fewer good-paying jobs; hospitals are closing; adequate health care is scarce; public schools are substandard; and a way of life formed over the decades seems to be diminished.  The population is aging all over the nation but more so in the heartland.  Younger, college educated people are drawn to the cities where the better jobs are.  That may be the way it is – but Democrats didn’t cause this.

Think back to 2008 when the nation was on the cusp of the Great Recession.  Loosely regulated financial institutions were making billions of dollars trading over-valued assets involving subprime mortgages.  The housing bubble burst and those securities became “toxic.”  President George W. Bush wasn’t totally at fault for millions of Americans losing their jobs, their homes and their employer provided health insurance – but his Republican administration should bear the lion’s share of the blame.

President Obama entered office in 2009 with a Democratic-controlled Congress.  They immediately passed a large stimulus package to help create jobs and they began work on the Affordable Care Act, commonly called Obamacare.  It was designed to provide more Americans with health insurance, specifically those without employer coverage, like many of you.

It’s been widely publicized – and is quite obvious from his actions – that then-Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) initiated a policy among congressional Republicans to obstruct everything Obama attempted to accomplish.

Not one Republican in the U.S. House and only three Republican senators voted for the stimulus legislation even though it included substantial tax cuts for working Americans.  No Republican in either chamber voted for Obamacare in 2010.

Obama’s stimulus helped end the recession in June 2009 but unemployment still reached 10 percent that October.  The entire nation was struggling and the economy was in the doldrums.  Yet, McConnell refused to help the president alleviate your suffering and speed a recovery.  He claimed that his “main goal” was to make Obama a one-term president.  How un-American and politically corrupt was that?

Americans for Prosperity – a Koch brothers organization funded mainly by billionaire conservatives – and the GOP railed against the stimulus and viciously attacked Obamacare, both in the courts and in the media.

Obamacare was designed to force every state to expand Medicaid coverage.  A Republican-backed lawsuit in the Supreme Court sought to invalidate Obamacare in its entirety but failed in that objective.  It did, however, achieve a ruling that states could refuse Medicaid expansion.  That’s exactly what numerous Republican states did after the GOP took control of state governorships and legislatures in 2011.  They deprived millions of you in rural areas from having health insurance and 14 of these states still do that to this day.

Candidate Trump made numerous claims in the run up to the 2016 election, one of which was to immediately repeal Obamacare and replace it with a much better plan.  He also claimed he would bring manufacturing jobs back to the United States and renegotiate trade agreements that he claimed were a disaster for U.S. manufacturers and farmers.

Yet, a Republican-controlled Congress failed to fulfill Trump’s Obamacare repeal promise in 2017 because their replacement plan would cause around 20 million Americans to lose their health insurance.  Hospitals and health care providers depend on Medicaid and other insurance dollars to remain viable, particularly in the countryside.  And many small hospitals have closed as a result of GOP attacks on Obamacare, particularly in Republican states that didn’t expand Medicaid.

Trump did manage to sign a massive tax cut in 2017 that mainly benefited corporations and the wealthy.  That’s one reason why Census Bureau numbers indicate that income inequality in the U.S. is at a 50-year high.  Companies primarily used this largess to buy back stock and increase dividends to their mostly urban, rich shareholders.

Yes, Trump renegotiated the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA).  But his trade war with China and tariffs he imposed on products from other countries have damaged U.S. farmers and disrupted manufacturers, many of which are in small communities.  As of the year ending in September, farm bankruptcies had increased 24 percent over the same period in 2017-2018 and U.S. manufacturing is currently in recession.  When farms aren’t profitable and these businesses are idled, you folks in the surrounding areas really feel the pain.

No, Democrats don’t hate you.  In fact, the Democratic-controlled House recently passed Trump’s NAFTA replacement.  And they’re eager to raise taxes on the wealthy to provide comprehensive, low-cost health care for your family and better education for your children.

Actually, it’s the conservative billionaire supporters of the Koch organization that really hate you.  They despise Democratic programs that would provide rural American families with better health care and education because that might increase their taxes.  And like Scalise and Jordan, they want you to hate liberals so Republicans can remain in power to protect their wealth.

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