22
Wed, May

The Truth is in the Shadows

THE COHEN COLUMN--A riddle: You're in a dark alley late at night, there is a chill in the air and a fog is rolling in. You hear the echo of heavy footsteps behind you, faint at first, but with every step you take they grow distinctly louder and louder

Who are you, and whose footsteps are behind you?

If you are that person we described (aren't you glad you are not) you are Donald Trump. The increasing footsteps you hear pounding on your heels is the truth catching up to you.

For Trump's entire life he has systematically lied about everything, and gotten away with it, more or less, whether it was about who he was dating or how much money he had. But now he has every
investigative journalist in the country working overtime to ferret out the real truth.

Now Trump's lies are about the vital national security interests and the constitutional honor of the United States, not just fodder for society column gossip. And no matter how many times he tries to smear real reporters with integrity as "fake" news, they will ultimately succeed in reporting reality.

Add to that those major investigative committees in both chambers of Congress. With even Republicans mouthing the words that we need to get to the bottom of Russia's role in all this so that it won't ever happen again.

Let's paint a picture, shall we? Let's suppose that Trump's minions did no more than communicate to Russia and said that if Trump was elected it would be better for Russian interests. We've practically had confessions of that already, for example Michael Flynn talking about sanctions with the Russian ambassador.

What face is appearing in the picture frame? And the answer is the face of treason. That’s Treason with a capital “T”, that’s Treachery with a capital “T” and Betrayal with a capital “B”.

Treason + Treachery + Betrayal = Congressional neck tie party

During Trump's campaign he publically encouraged Russia to interfere on his behalf, remember? 

Why would we be surprised to learn that he did the same thing secretly? We are not.

This is all before we talk about Trump associates taking tons of money from Russian operatives, shady business dealings and everything else.

“FBI Director Comey learned about his firing from a TV screen. Comey was addressing a group of FBI employees in Los Angeles when a television in the background flashed the news that he had been fired. In response, Mr. Comey laughed, saying he thought it was a fairly funny prank.” 

It never would have occurred to him that the guy he massively helped get elected would turn on him so coldly and rudely. But then again Trump is also the Commander of Insults.

But now we are told Trump was thinking of firing Comey the very day he was elected. Only he waited until he learned that Comey was digging deeper into the Russia thing, and then he panicked and acted precipitously.

He directed his own Justice Department appointees to make him a case for firing, and like the patsies they now clearly are, they did. That news has come out too. Jeff Sessions, who himself was supposed to be recused grabbed his hatchet again.

We'll say it again, there was good cause for firing Comey, based solely on his public bias of the Clinton investigation. But the TIMING of this firing is what is so incriminating of Trump.

On the morning of May 12, 2017, President Donald Trump tweeted, "James Comey better hope that there are no "tapes" of our conversations before he starts leaking to the press!" Already primed to look at the parallels between Trump’s presidency and Richard Nixon’s, observers jumped on the suggestion that Trump could be following Nixon’s lead in secretly taping conversations in the White House.

This is NOT going away. We're not going away.

Still  not sure if Trump’s activities are that serious?

President Donald Trump’s firing of FBI Director James Comey is “much more serious” than Watergate and could arguably be enough to see him impeached now, says the historian who predicted the Republican’s shock election win. 

Lastly, we'd like to credit Stephen Colbert for one of the best jokes we're heard recently. He was talking about Trump's tweet that everyone would thank him someday for firing Comey. "Yes," Colbert said, "let's get him something special, like a special prosecutor.”

(Michael N. Cohen is a former board member of the Reseda Neighborhood Council, founding member of the LADWP Neighborhood Council Oversight Committee, founding member of LA Clean Sweep and occasional contributor to CityWatch.)

-cw

Trump vs. Comey: Avoiding the Obvious

GELFAND’S WORLD-Trump fired FBI Director James Comey on Tuesday. There was an attempt to blame the timing on a newly installed Assistant Attorney General. That story broke down. There was an attempt to explain the reasoning for the firing on the way the Hillary Clinton email investigation was covered. People laughed. 

How to start? 

George Smiley relit his pipe and ruminated . . . How had his arch-nemesis Karla gotten his hooks into the American president, and how much critical information would be passed to the descendents of his old enemies in the KGB? 

Maybe not. Still, it's almost believable. 

Jack Ryan lifted a vodka and nodded at Marko Ramius. Ramius broke the silence -- "I've something to tell you that had to wait until now, when we both are safe on American soil. Before I took my sub on her last voyage, I heard rumors of a breach in your security that goes all the way to the top." 

If only we had the facts in book form. 

But when you apply logic to the situation, the most obvious conclusion is that this president has something big to hide. And going down that path, the most reasonable conclusion is that Donald Trump had a long-time, ongoing relationship with the Russians that either resulted in a secret deal or in blackmail. 

By Wednesday, numerous commentators, pundits, and the Late Show's Steven Colbert had carefully nailed the firing and the president himself to the scandal over Russian election influence. Heather Digby Parsons (now writing for Salon.com among others, but famous as a blogger early on as "Digby") summarized.  "It's a frantic effort to sidetrack us -- and it won't work." 

The Republicans, who are so dedicated to electoral purity that they question the legality of hundreds of thousands of voters who are a little too old and a little too poor to have a drivers license -- well, they are now so very OK with Russian interference in a presidential election that they are willing to join the coverup. They are willing to excuse the president's firing of the man who was overseeing the investigation. Not all, but quite a lot right now. 

Without stealing from John Le Carre or The Manchurian Candidate, let's consider as a working hypothesis that the treason is at the top, and has been there for at least the better part of a year: The best explanation for the known data is that Trump was compromised by the Russians, perhaps years ago, and cut a secret deal with them sometime between the day he announced his presidential run and the convention. Considering Trump's personality quirks, we should assume that Trump's secret is financial. 

The evidence, if not overwhelming as of now, is at least getting stronger: 

1) The appointment of people to the Trump campaign who were close to the Russian war machine and Putin (Manafort for example). 

2) Trump's questioning of Nato's existence. Remember that this is the same guy who spoke from the fantail of the battleship Iowa, pledging a defense that is so great that nobody would dare challenge us. 

3) Trump's manipulation of the Republican Platform at the convention. 

4) The series of secret communications between Trump operatives and representatives of the Russian government in the period before the inauguration. 

5) Trump acts out the tough guy image except when it comes to Putin, where Trump reverses a century of American policy. He blusters about North Korea and the Chinese, while mewing that it would be nice to have a friendly relationship with Russia. 

6) The timing of the firing of James Comey: This is the man who handed the presidency to Trump through his Hillary Clinton letter. But Comey asked the Department of Justice for additional funding to continue the investigation of the Russian connection a few days ago, and within a few dozen hours he is gone. 

7) Donald Trump's mention in the firing letter that he (Trump) is not under investigation. It seems like a strange topic to include in a notice of termination, but Trump tends to project his actual motives. The investigation into his Russian ties was driving him crazy, so he had to try to undercut it. He would have been better served separating the lies about Russian influence from the termination notice, but that is not how Trump's mind works. 

Admittedly, this is a working hypothesis, but it arises out of multiple independent lines of evidence. There is the family history of financial ties to the Russian oligarchy, the odd events at the Republican National Convention, the staff interactions with a Russian intelligence operative, and the sudden firing of the one man most likely to put a lance into the pustulent boil of Russian interference in western elections. 

Television news anchors have been attaching the word Watergate to Comey's firing due to its eerie similarity to the firing of special prosecutor Archibald Cox by president Richard Nixon. It's been amusing in a depressing kind of way to watch White House spokesmen try to deal with the stress. Sean Spicer agreed to speak to the press as long as they turned the cameras off. Kelly Anne Conway pretended that there was nothing particularly interesting about the firing. 

There is one group that is having a hard time these past few hours -- Republicans in congress coming up for reelection. They already were forced to deal with angry constituents who want to keep their Medicaid and their coverage for preexisting conditions. Now, all of a sudden, congressmen have to deal with a situation that begins to look more and more like that T word, treason. 

Perhaps the most amusing gaffe was committed by a congressman who pointed out that things aren't as bad as they were in Germany in the 1930s.  Now that's grasping at straws.

 

(Bob Gelfand writes on science, culture, and politics for CityWatch. He can be reached at [email protected]

-cw

Turns Out Running the Country Isn’t Like Running a Business

STUDENT PRESIDENT--Our president says he wants to run the country like a business. But it turns out running the government isn’t like running a business after all.

Trump, for his part, says he’s located the source of the problem: the Constitution. All those checks and balances our founders are cramping his style. “It’s an archaic system,” he complained.

Unfortunately for Trump, unlike on his reality TV show, when he doesn’t like a member of Congress, he can’t simply say, “You’re fired.”

Yes, Trump was elected by… well, not a majority of Americans. Or even a plurality of voters. But he was legally elected, and he has some power. Yet he cannot erase or overrule the power of our representatives in Congress.

How does Trump feel about that? “It’s really a bad thing for the country, in my opinion.” 

Yes, he actually said that about our system of government — which, admittedly, is less efficient than running a business. That’s the idea.

A publicly traded corporation has one goal: to make money for the shareholders.

A government, on the other hand, has many goals: economic prosperity, reducing poverty and hunger, keeping the public safe, preserving human rights and civil rights, and so forth.

A successful business leader may excel in making money. It doesn’t follow that they can achieve the many other objectives the leader of a nation must work toward.

A business can pick and choose who it deals with. The CEO can hire and fire employees at will and choose which other companies to work with. It can target its products towards a particular customer base, instead of attempting to sell its products to the entire public. And the CEO is the boss.

The government gets no such choices. The voters are the bosses. Our leaders have to deal with all of us, and they can’t pick and choose which segments of the population they want to represent. We’re all Americans.

Furthermore, Trump doesn’t get to choose who’s in Congress. We do.

Whether our members of Congress are Republicans or Democrats, they’re supposed to represent their districts. If Trump wants something that will harm their constituents, and potentially get them voted out of office, they won’t (or shouldn’t) go along with it. The president can’t simply issue orders and have them immediately followed like the head of a company can do.

In a company, it ultimately doesn’t matter if the marketing and the accounting departments disagree with the CEO. They have to do what they’re told to keep their jobs.

In a democracy, it does matter whether the representatives from Montana or Florida agree with the president. If the majority of Congress doesn’t agree with the president, they won’t roll over and do as he likes. And he cannot fire them, because they’re accountable to their voters.

So, welcome to Civics 101, Mr. President. You’re right. Our Constitution is “archaic” and it limits the powers of the presidency. That’s what our founders intended.

Maybe you ought to take some time out of your busy golfing schedule to read it some time.

(OtherWords columnist Jill Richardson is the author of Recipe for America: Why Our Food System Is Broken and What We Can Do to Fix It and an occasional contributer to CityWatch. Distributed by OtherWords.org.) 

-cw

Fake President

COHEN TALK-It is a matter of ongoing astonishment to us that anyone, even his most diehard supporters, could believe a single word that comes out of Donald Trump's mouth. That's what's really "sad" -- a word he has singlehandedly beaten to death. Even blind, unthinking partisanship cannot fully explain trying to defend a person who says things such as, speaking about Andrew Jackson, “He was really angry that he saw what was happening with regard to the Civil War." The problem is, by this time, Andrew Jackson, a mass slave holder, had been dead for 16 years. Trump
says he does not understand why the Civil War happened.

Not content with merely being ignorant of history, Trump makes up history, just like he makes up everything else. He will say whatever crazy thing that will get a roar out of the rally crowd of the moment – and that includes saying the exact opposite moments later.

It's gotten so bad that Trump accuses the media of being "fake news" when they play previous clips of Trump himself speaking. 

The latest Trump ass over tea kettle bloviate happened on Monday, May 1 when he actually claimed a victory even though Congress appropriated nothing to build his wall. Why this claim? Because Congress appropriated $15 billion more money for the military, although it was still less than the $54 billion he had asked for at the end of February

The only way to explain why anyone would have voted for him (except for total Republican automatons) is to recognize the cataclysmic failure of the Democratic Party to be responsive to its own constituents. Nancy knows best, Hillary knows best, Chuck knows best, including when Schumer actually said before the election, "For every blue collar Democrat we lose in Western Pennsylvania, we will pick up two, three moderate Republicans in the suburbs of Philadelphia, and you can repeat that in Ohio and Illinois and Wisconsin." 

We heard with our own ears the audio recording of him saying this. Listen yourself on youtube.  Okay, Chuck, so at least you didn't lose Illinois, the home state of President Obama, but you lost Michigan instead, which is just as bad.

Who will save us from these tone deaf political losing geniuses?

The answer is the same as it has always been. We must save ourselves with our activism. People are speaking out to the Republicans in Congress. They are demanding that they not completely gut health care and education -- and it’s working. They are forcing the Republicans to reconsider, repent and reverse themselves.

But what is missing are more people willing to speak out to their own Democratic politicians, demanding better health care -- specifically Medicare for All. When we find all those people, we will find the missing votes and the needed election victories.

Help us find more of those people, our people. Share this message.

 

(Michael N. Cohen is a former board member of the Reseda Neighborhood Council, founding member of the LADWP Neighborhood Council Oversight Committee, founding member of LA Clean Sweep and occasional contributor to CityWatch.) Edited for CityWatch by Linda Abrams.

Ivanka: ‘Something Very, Very Special Like Nobody's Seen Before’

TRUMP CORRUPTION WATCH--Just another little data point in the ongoing Trump corruption watch: Investors looking to buy a condo at Trump Tower in the Philippines would have found, until this week, some high-powered video testimonials on the project’s official website. 

There was Donald Trump, in a message filmed several years before he was elected president of the United States, declaring that the skyscraper bearing his name near the Philippine capital would be “something very, very special, like nobody’s seen before.” Then there was his daughter Ivanka Trump, now a senior White House adviser, lavishing praise on the project as a “milestone in Philippine real estate history.”

Four months into President Trump’s tenure, his business relationship with a developer who is one of the Philippines’ richest and most powerful men has emerged as a prime example of the collision between the private interests of a businessman in the White House and his public responsibility to shape U.S. foreign policy.

The potential conflict first came into focus shortly before Trump was elected, when the Philippines’ iron-fisted president, Rodrigo Duterte, named the Trump Organization’s partner in the Manila real estate venture his top trade envoy.

The connection burst back into public view this week, after Trump stunned human rights advocates by extending a White House invitation to Duterte, known for endorsing hundreds of extrajudicial killings of drug users, following what aides described as a “very friendly” phone call. Trump aides have said the outreach to Duterte is part of a broader effort to isolate North Korea.

Although the promotional videos were posted online in 2013, the continued presence of Trump and his daughter in marketing materials for the Manila tower reflects the extent to which they remain key selling points even as they have vowed to distance themselves from their global real estate and branding businesses.

After The Washington Post inquired Monday about the use of the Trumps in promoting the Manila project, the links and videos on the corporate website could no longer be accessed. Nonetheless, their lingering connection to the property’s sales pitch shows how difficult it is to separate the president from Trump-branded projects, particularly in foreign markets where there is less oversight of how his image is used.

Amanda Miller, vice president of marketing for the Trump Organization, said the material was “historical clips” that were not related to ongoing sales and marketing activity. Ivanka Trump was not aware that she was still featured in materials touting the Manila project, according to someone familiar with her views. The White House did not respond to requests for comment.

Trump’s company does not own or invest in the Manila project, a luxurious 57-story tower nearing completion in Makati, a bustling financial center that is part of metropolitan Manila.

In a long-term licensing deal, the project’s development company agreed to pay royalties for use of the Trump brand. Trump reported receiving $1 million to $6 million in payments from the project between 2014 and mid-2016, according to his financial disclosures.

Jose E.B. Antonio, chairman of the development company, has retained his leadership of the firm even as he functions now in his official capacity as a Duterte appointee. Kris Cole, a spokeswoman for the developer, said that Antonio’s envoy role is an unpaid, nongovernmental position promoting Philippine business interests in the United States.

Antonio, who Cole said was traveling and could not comment, told Bloomberg News in November that his role is to “enlarge the relationship between the two countries,” adding of his business relationship with Trump: “I guess it would be an asset.”

+++++++++


Ethics watchdogs have all weighed in on what's wrong with this. Here's one from The Brennan Center that lays it out succinctly: 

The first significant risk Trump’s continued business ties pose is of a direct conflict of interest. The Trump Organization is a multi-billion dollar enterprise that does business through over 400 entities in at least twenty countries, including vital partner nations and antagonistic dictatorships. Meanwhile, President Trump enjoys the tremendous powers of the executive branch — robust authority in matters of foreign affairs and domestic policy alike. So long as Trump continues to track the progress of his business empire, he can surely assess how his actions as president might benefit or harm his company’s fortunes. Even intentions to the contrary aside, research shows that, when faced with a financial conflict of interest, individuals demonstrate unconscious bias toward reaching conclusions that benefit them. As such, a cloud of suspicion will engulf some of President Trump’s most momentous decisions, leaving observers wondering whether his personal business interests influenced his policy choices.

The second concern with Trump keeping tabs on his business is that it creates opportunities for bribery. Far from the anachronisms of Tammany-era bribery — a stuffed envelope traded for a quick favor — bribery in this sophisticated context occurs on an industrial scale. Such “indirect lobbying,” as academics who studied media mogul Silvio Berlusconi’s government in Italy politely termed it, is the practice of providing business to a firm that a politician controls, with the expectation that the given politician will, in return, act favorably for the lobbyer’s interests. With Eric Trump keeping his father abreast of the family business’ progress, there exists a credible risk that President Trump may direct the power of the federal government to reward those who benefit his bottom line and punish those who threaten it.

Some might argue it is premature to project these risks onto Trump’s presidency. But, even if one grants President Trump the fullest benefit of the doubt, his awareness of the Trump Organization’s vital financials is damaging to our democracy. When it comes to corruption, optics are critical. Evidence of an opportunity for President Trump to act in an underhanded manner, even absent bad motives, degrades faith in our democratic institutions.


Everyone will be very relieved to find out that nobody involved ever made a contribution to a charity devoted to helping millions of poor people around the world so this is perfectly fine. And as far as I know the Trumps and the Kushners haven't been using a personal email server as they enrich themselves by selling the presidency to the highest bidder. You can relax.

(Heather Parton blogs under the pseudonym Digby at the blog site she created: Hullabaloo and also writes for Salon and ourfuture.org

-cw

 

We ARE a Pre-Existing Condition

FURTHER--Gone is that loathsome sea of smug, suited, doughy, self-righteous, chortling, older white men in the Rose Garden gleefully celebrating the "moral travesty” of passing a billionaires' tax cut bill uncleverly disguised as a health reform bill that will rob 24 million people, many in the most dire need, of health care.

The House passage of the AHCA will abandon millions to their so-called pre-existing conditions, from AIDS, addiction, asthma and autism through cancer, kidney disease, MS, Parkinson's and yes pregnancy to schizophrenia, sexual assault and ulcers. It will hit a disproportionate number of women and Medicaid recipients particularly hard.

A Washington Post editorial headline cogently sums up the latest cruelty of an already- cruel GOP: "Betrayal, Carelessness, Hypocrisy: The GOP Health Care Bill Has It All." 

Before the obscene "party" "celebrating" a trillion-dollar tax cut to the top 2% of Americans came the spectacle of its accomplices blithely streaming out and down the Capitol's broad majestic steps after the vote to the rising sound of protesters chanting, "Shame!" Critics and other sentient beings swiftly joined in the outrage. Talking Points Memo offered crunched numbers and annotated photos of the "Butcher Block Celebration" to show how many constituents of each leering House member will suffer. Enraged constituents flocked to the Facebook pages of House members who voted for the bill, and caustic sites sprang up allowing you to choose your casket or send your remains to Paul Ryan - mailmetothegop.com - after you die of lack of care.

Among the angry hashtags were #ThingsJesusNeverSaid - "The poor shall receive bread and wine, but first we'll give it to the rich and it'll trickle down to you eventually ... Donald my orange son, go forth, take from the sick, bestow their gold on the wealthy, and destroy the world with hate ... Bless the men w/ pills to make their penis stand at attention, but end the place for women to get cancer protection" - and #IAmAPreExistingCondition, documenting hundreds of accounts of adults and, often, children, suffering from illnesses for which they may no longer be able to afford treatment - and, cue reality check, from which any among us may one day suffer.

Among the grievous stories and photos of kids fighting leukemia, Crohn's Disease, cerebral palsy are many brief, grim lists: "2nd trimester pregnancy loss, childhood cancer survivor...Clinical depression, anxiety, scoliosis..Born with a weakened immune system, mental illness, arthritis, migraine...Survived breast cancer ... Stage 4 colon cancer ... I am a woman. Apparently #IAmAPreExistingCondition.

Perhaps Charlie Pierce, often calm before the indignities visited by "an incompetent and vulgar talking yam," best voiced the pure rage sparked by "a bill constructed to be as cruel as possible to as many people as possible ... an altogether remarkable piece of American political history that should follow the people celebrating it to their graves."

"Goddamn them all," he wrote. "Goddamn the political movement that spawned them ... Goddamn anyone who believes that blind, genetic luck is a demonstration of divine design. Goddamn anyone who believes in a god who hands out disease as punishment. Goddamn anyone who stays behind the walls and dances while the plague comes back again."

Above all, say progressive groups, make them pay. Donations to support Democrats for upcoming open Congressional seats - and take back the House from these cretins - are pouring in. You may want blood. Take power instead.

A list of pre-existing conditions no longer covered under #Trumpcare:


AIDS/HIV, acid reflux, acne, ADD, addiction, Alzheimer's/dementia, anemia, aneurysm, angioplasty, anorexia, anxiety, arrhythmia, arthritis, asthma, atrial fibrillation, autism, bariatric surgery, basal cell carcinoma, ipolar disorder, blood clot, breast cancer, bulimia, bypass surgery, celiac disease, cerebral aneurysm, cerebral embolism, cerebral palsy, cerebral thrombosis, cervical cancer, colon cancer, colon polyps, congestive heart failure, COPD, Crohn's disease, cystic fibrosis, DMD, depression, diabetes, disabilities, Down syndrome, eating disorder, enlarged prostate, epilepsy, glaucoma, gout, heart disease, heart murmur, heartburn, hemophilia, hepatitis C, herpes, high cholesterol, hypertension, hysterectomy, kidney disease, kidney stones, kidney transplant, leukemia, lung cancer, lupus, lymphoma, mental health issues, migraines, MS, muscular dystrophy, narcolepsy, nasal polyps, obesity, OCD, organ transplant, osteoporosis, pacemaker, panic disorder, paralysis, paraplegia, Parkinson's disease, pregnancy, restless leg syndrome, schizophrenia, seasonal affective disorder, seizures, sickle cell disease, skin cancer, sleep apnea, sleep disorders, stent, stroke, thyroid issues, tooth disease, tuberculosis, ulcers.

These creeps are coming up for reelection, are vulnerable, and need to go.

(Abby Zimet writes for Common Dreams … where this perspective was first posted.)

-cw

What Sanders and Warren Got Right … and Wrong … about Obama’s Speaking Fees

URBAN PERSPECTIVE--Before I get to what Massachusetts Senator Elizabeth Warren and Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders got right and wrong about former President Obama’s big Wall Street speech paydays, here’s a personal note. I have headed a non-profit public advocacy and education foundation for more than a decade, and in that time, every penny that I have received from speaking fees, appearances, and other public activities, has been turned over to the foundation to boost our donor program. Not one penny has been taken for personal use or profit. 

The instant word leaked that Obama would nab a big payday from Cantor-Fitzgerald for a speech in September and another $400,000 for speaking to advertisers at an A&E function, the loud screams were that Obama was shamelessly and even hypocritically profiteering off his name, reputation, and former position to enrich himself. There was little said that he’d put much, if not all, of the heavy-duty cash he received back into the public education and leadership training foundation he has set up. 

Former presidents and other big name public figures and celebrities often do exactly that with foundations they establish. But that’s a detail that’s almost never mentioned in the rush to tag them as greed merchants selling their names for big bucks. 

Now Warren and Sanders didn’t use those words to blast Obama for taking Wall Street and big corporate cash, they took the high road and merely said that it set a terrible example by pandering to Wall Street and big corporate donors. The very people and element that Obama from time to time lambasted and sparred and jostled with in trying to somewhat tighten regulations and toughen oversight over Wall Street. 

They have an arguable case on this point. Obama did often preach about the evils of a financial industry that makes its own rules, skirts, ignores and openly subverts the minimal regulations imposed on it, and rakes in billions in profit with a storehouse of taxpayer backed goodies. Wall Street banks and investment houses are both the symbol and reality of the worst of the worst of financial and corporate abuses. Yet, here is their one time White House antagonist taking their money. It just didn’t look and feel right and the way to make it look and feel right was for Obama to do what other former White House occupants didn’t do, namely the Clintons, and that’s just say no to the hefty corporate dollars dangled in front of him. Obama could have done that, but it would not have registered the slightest tick on Wall Street’s dollar scales. It would not make Wall Street pause for a nano-second in its relentless, never ending war against Dodd-Frank and other financial regulations. 

Obama is now a private citizen and he has absolutely no power to influence any of the doings in Congress, let alone the White House. But Warren and Sanders, as populist senators, are the ones who can parry the assault by the financial industry on the regulations, publicly expose and excoriate Wall Street relentlessly for its financial conniving and manipulation, and rally Democrats to stand tough against Trump and the GOP’s plan to scrap Dodd-Frank regulations. This is where their fight is and will continue to be, not with Obama for being paid a sum that amounts to pocket change for a major Wall Street firm. 

It’s also assumed that a public figure who speaks before a Wall Street or corporate audience just by their appearance puts their stamp of approval on the dealings of the financial industry. But that’s not why a financial group will pay a stiff fee for a noted public figure to speak to them. They are there because they are a media and public draw, enhancing the name and prestige of the company shelling out the fee. It is not expecting scripted and saccharine praise but rather a discussion of the very tough issues and criticisms that businesses have become accustomed to hearing from Warren and Sanders. The likelihood is that Cantor-Fitzgerald will hear those same criticisms from Obama in his speech. 

To their credit, Sanders and Warren did not say that Obama should not accept the $400,000 from Cantor-Fitzgerald, or any other amount of money offered from any other Wall Street outfit. That would be presumptuous at best, and meddling at worst. Obama will be a hot ticket commodity on the speaking circuit for a long time to come. There will undoubtedly be more high fee offerings to speak before a variety of public and even financial groups. And there will also be requests for him to speak before groups that can’t pay him a nickel, but are groups that he believes in their cause. Of course, these freebie Obama speeches won’t be mentioned, since there’s no chance to manufacture a controversy at his expense with them. Obama’s taking money from Wall Street won’t change Wall Street, that’s Warren and Sanders’s fight.

 

(Earl Ofari Hutchinson is an author and political analyst and a CityWatch contributor. He is the author of the new ebook How the Democrats Can Win in The Trump Era (Amazon Kindle).  He is an associate editor of New America Media. He is the host of the weekly Hutchinson Report on KPFK 90.7 FM Los Angeles and the Pacifica Network.) Prepped for CityWatch by Linda Abrams.

‘Old Hickory’ and the Donald … What’s Not to Like?

POLITICAL BRANDING--Donald Trump’s recent statements about his admiration for our seventh president, Andrew Jackson, resulted in a lot of commentary and some good history lessons about “Old Hickory.” So did Trump’s suggestion that Jackson was angry about the causes of the Civil War and that things should have been “worked out” between the North and South. Obviously, Trump never heard the phrase “irrepressible conflict” (coined by another New Yorker and Lincoln’s secretary of state, William Henry Seward).

A few years ago, I visited Andrew Jackson’s plantation, The Hermitage, near Nashville, Tennessee. The front appears to be a classic, white-columned example of Greek revival architecture. Walk around the side and you will see it’s only a façade. The rest of the building is brick. It’s imposing, but not quite what it seems at first glance. Like many politicians, Jackson was aware of the need to (literally) put up a good front.

Like Trump, Jackson was always keenly aware of what the media was saying about him. Among the artifacts that belonged to Jackson will be found bound volumes of newspapers to which he subscribed. Throughout his life, Jackson read press accounts published in papers ranging from New England down through the South and into what was then considered the West.

Many publications excoriated Jackson for what they considered his high-handed attitudes. They called him “King Andy” for his lack of respect for Congress and the courts. Cartoonists were especially merciless. The more harsh accusations leveled at Jackson included adultery and murder. (He fought a number of duels and obviously was undefeated.)

Jackson considered himself the champion of the common man. Despite his backwoods origins, he was an astute politician. People forget that he was a successful lawyer, served on the Tennessee Supreme Court, and in both the U.S. House and Senate. He also made a lot of money, mostly in land speculation. Even now, The Hermitage sits on more than 1,100 acres. At Jackson’s death, it was also home to more than a hundred slaves.

Much is written about Jackson’s negative attitude toward Native Americans. His actions in Florida during the First Seminole War far exceeded his authority as commander of U.S. military forces. While president, he caused the forced removal of the Cherokee, Choctaw, and other tribes from their native lands in the Southeast. The “Trail of Tears” describes their trek westward to territory not yet wanted by settlers.

In 1832, the Sauk and Fox tribe was pushed from Illinois and Wisconsin across the Mississippi. The ensuing “Blackhawk” War (named for the tribe’s chief) provided the young Abe Lincoln’s only military experience. Jackson never had doubts about making room for the white homesteaders pursuing the American Dream. Or considering that people of color were lesser human beings.

Maybe it’s Jackson’s success in business and politics and disdain for those who tried to get in his way that Trump admires. Maybe it’s Jackson’s identification with the less fortunate. Or maybe it’s just because Jackson’s picture is on the $20 bill.

(Doug Epperhart is a publisher, a long-time neighborhood council activist and has served on the Board of Neighborhood Commissioners. He is a contributor to CityWatch and can be reached at: [email protected]

-cw

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'God Have Mercy on Your Souls': GOP Pass Cruel, Destructive Trumpcare

NEED TO KNOW--After weeks of arm-twisting reluctant members and backroom negotiations, House Republicans voted Thursday to pass the much-maligned, "astonishingly evil" American Healthcare Act (AHCA), known as Trumpcare. 

"The GOP Trumpcare plan is a disaster. It would take away health care from millions of people, cost thousands more for middle-class and low-income Americans, and strip protections from people with pre-existing conditions, all to give a massive tax break to insurance company CEOs and the wealthiest Americans." —Ben Wikler, MoveOn.org 

"God have mercy on your souls," Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee (D-Texas) told her GOP colleagues during Thursday's floor debate. The final vote was 217 in favor and 212 voting against. No Democrats voted for the bill.

Indeed, with no Congressional Budget Office (CBO) score on how many people would be affected, and with scant time for lawmakers to even read the latest iteration of the bill (that was not ever made available to the public), House Republicans have now officially backed legislation that would do untold damage to countless Americans.

Outside the halls of power, nationwide protests were held demanding that the GOP back down from this "disaster" of a health plan while Democratic lawmakers in Washington, D.C. joined a host of progressive organizations for a rally outside the Capitol Building.

"The GOP Trumpcare plan is a disaster," said Ben Wikler, MoveOn.org Washington director. "It would take away health care from millions of people, cost thousands more for middle-class and low-income Americans, and strip protections from people with pre-existing conditions, all to give a massive tax break to insurance company CEOs and the wealthiest Americans."

Referring to the last-minute fix that drew reticent Republicans on board Wednesday, Wikler continued, "The Upton amendment is a Band-Aid on a gunshot wound that does nothing to solve the problems that Trumpcare would create. By rushing this bill through Congress, Republicans are creating a manufactured crisis that will devastate millions of families."

Here is what we do know:

-Even those covered by employer healthcare are under threat. On Thursday, the Wall Street Journal reported on a newly-inserted loophole that threatens to eliminate the cap on out-of-pocket costs for even those covered by healthcare through their work. This could impact as much as half the U.S. population.

"Under the House bill," WSJ reported, "large employers could choose the benefit requirements from any state—including those that are allowed to lower their benchmarks under a waiver, health analysts said. By choosing a waiver state, employers looking to lower their costs could impose lifetime limits and eliminate the out-of-pocket cost cap from their plans under the GOP legislation."

-Trump lied, premiums for people with pre-existing conditions will skyrocket. A number of so-called moderate Republicans dropped their opposition to the bill late Wednesday after language was inserted to allocate funding to help cover the costs for those with pre-existing conditions who, under Trumpcare, would be placed into "high risk pools." However, a new analysis released on Thursday found that this aid would only cover 110,000 Americans, which amounts just five percent of the 2.2 million current enrollees in the individual insurance market estimated to have some type of pre-existing chronic condition.

Claims by Trump and House leadership that the plan protects people with pre-existing conditions are veritably false, according to observers, who note that while a cancer patient may be able to sign up for an insurance plan, their treatment might not be covered. The far-right Freedom Caucus got behind the plan last month after an amendment was inserted that allowed states to opt-out of a rule that prohibited insurers from charging higher premiums to people with pre-existing conditions.

"The return of discrimination based on medical history could increase insurance costs by tens of thousands of dollars," states an analysis by the Campaign for American Progress (CAP), "rendering it unaffordable for millions of Americans with pre-existing conditions." 

-Being a woman "is a liability." Not only does Trumpcare consider things such as domestic violence, sexual assault, having had C-section, and postpartum depression to be pre-existing conditions, lawmakers have also axed the requirement that insurance companies cover maternity care. According to the aforementioned CAP analysis, a pregnancy with no or minor complications would result in a premium hike of $17,060, which amounts to a 425 percent increase.

"Read closely," wrote Slate's Christina Cauterucci on Thursday, Trumpcare "reveals the basic theory that underlies the GOP's entire legislative wishlist on healthcare: the idea that being a woman is a chronic medical condition and a liability."

-It takes an axe to Medicaid, decimating special education funding. "Because Trumpcare 2.0 would cut Medicaid by a quarter of its current budget ($880 billion) over the next decade and create a 'per-capita' funding cap on groups like children, school districts are saying that the cuts would force them to limit how much they can pay healthcare providers who assist students who require special education assistance," Salon's Matthew Rosza reported Thursday.

-It's a tax break for the rich. As Common Dreams has reported, the bill provides $600 billion in tax breaks to insurance companies and the most wealthy Americans who were taxed under the Affordable Care Act (ACA).

In a press statement on Thursday, Frank Clemente, executive director of Americans for Tax Fairness, outlined "the math behind the Republican healthcare repeal plan: Subtract healthcare from 24 million people. Add $600 billion in tax giveaways, mostly for the wealthy and corporations. Multiply out-of-pocket costs for senior citizens by 5. Divide all Americans. This equation didn't work out the last time they tried it, and it still doesn't work today. That's why Republicans in Congress want to exempt themselves and their staffs from their own lousy plan while refusing to wait for the Congressional Budget Office to estimate its costs."

-Lawmakers are exempt. Despite all of their rhetoric about the supposed failings of Obamacare, House Republicans inserted a provision on Tuesday that "exempts members of Congress and their staff from their latest healthcare plan," Vox reported, meaning they will be able to opt out of the new amendment that charges more for people with pre-existing conditions.

The Center on Budget and Policy Priorities released a series of infographics on Thursday laying out the myriad problems with the plan:

With so much wrong with it, and with so much popular opposition, many wonder why the GOP would push through a healthcare bill that will likely suffer defeat once it gets to the U.S. Senate.  Addressing that question, Huffington Post's Jeffrey Young wrote Wednesday:

Anyone wondering why Republicans are in such a big rush must remember two things. First, Trump suffered a humiliating loss with the first canceled vote and doesn't like looking foolish, so he'll do whatever he can to get a healthcare win. Second, Ryan and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) early this year set in motion a procedural course that makes repealing Obamacare a prerequisite for an even bigger GOP priority: permanent tax cuts for rich people and corporations. 

[...] This isn't exactly the "something terrific" Trump promised. This is what getting something done for the sake of getting it done looks like. The goal now seems to pass a bill―any bill―that the House can call "Obamacare repeal" so they can move on to cutting taxes on the rich and dumping this healthcare mess on the Senate's lawn.

"But if Trump and Ryan get their way and anything resembling the American Healthcare Act becomes the law of the land," Young continued, "the American people are going to notice that it doesn't make their lives any better―and for millions, makes them worse. Perhaps next on voters' agenda will be repealing and replacing Republicans."

As representatives head back to their home districts on Friday, the response should be swift.

(Lauren McDauley writes for Common Dreams … where this report was first posted.)

-cw

We've All Heard of the Big Lie Technique … How about a Big Truth Technique?

GELFAND’S WORLD--At a recent meeting of a liberal coalition, one woman talked about a little experiment she had done at a congressman's town hall forum. She started a conversation with a couple of Trump supporters to see if there might be any political common ground. The discussion was cordial, but as she explained, the Trumpers spoke nothing but Fox News points. 

For more than two decades, the right wing, first through talk radio, then through cable television, has accused the mainstream media -- and therefore by implication our society as a whole -- of being biased towards the left. This alt-media loves to pick up rumors and repeat them endlessly, whether it's lies about what Hillary Clinton did during the Benghazi attack or the claim that Barack Obama ordered Donald Trump's phone wiretapped. 

When you look at the right wing approach, it becomes painfully obvious that we are looking at the big lie as practiced by Nazis in the old days and by national communist parties through most of the twentieth century. This technique has been summarized in the Joseph Goebbels description of telling a big lie and sticking to it. Eventually people come to believe the lie. 

Can there be a countervailing approach that will pick off a few voters from the right wing electorate? Here are a few suggestions. 

Don't ever concede any of the fraudulent points. When the NY Times published an op ed by its new columnist Bret Stephens, finding fault with the idea of global warming, that was a concession that should never have been made to the right wing. The piece was unadulterated propaganda that involved a major logical fallacy. If the Times wants to consider the state of scientific knowledge on global warming, then by all means do so. But apply the same level of journalistic integrity to climate science that you would to a story about governmental misconduct. 

We've spent a couple of decades watching the right wing accuse the mainstream press of bias, and then watching the mainstream press respond with chronic cowardice. It's become the norm for newspapers to run right wing columnists as a sop to the Rush Limbaugh fans. It hasn't really helped, because the problem of left wing media bias was never the problem to begin with. The complaint that the press has a left wing bias is just a club to beat the rational thinkers over the head with. You're going to continue getting beaten, no matter how many Jonah Goldberg columns are run on the editorial page. 

Apologizing to the right wing for faults that you don't actually have is not a useful approach for the media, and it does a disservice to our society. Since the mainstream media doesn't fight back, perhaps it's time that the rest of us led the media in responding to the right wing. Let's make clear that we will respond to right wing media bias because unlike the mythical left wing bias, we know that right wing media bias is real. 

We must start by creating a wider societal understanding that Fox News and right wing talk radio are chronically lying to the public. Let the public hear the words right wing media lies every day. 

An acquaintance recently finished a car trip across America's heartland, and mentioned that almost every hotel lobby and restaurant had Fox News running. We need a national movement to explain to the major hotel and motel chains that they are running right wing propaganda all the time, and many of us are tired of it. This approach worked against Rush Limbaugh (notice where he is on the dial around here?) and it could work against others in the alt-media. Use social pressure to encourage diners and hotels to run something besides Fox News on the tv sets in their lobbies. In this way, create the social pressure against the right wing big lie. 

The idea is to make it less comfortable for people to indulge their right wing fantasies. We have a historical context, in that publicly recited racism was the norm well into the 1950s and early 1960s. Even determined racists were forced by evolving societal norms to pretend otherwise. 

The conversion of societal norms away from the more pernicious right wing fantasies is a necessity. That means we have to continue to expose Trump's lies. May I suggest that it's important that many, many people keep repeating that he lies constantly and is not to be taken seriously. 

I suspect that a lot of conservatives have figured out that Trump just makes things up, and are quietly grinding their teeth. But then there's that couple we spoke about in the first paragraph, the people who recite Fox News positions with monotonous regularity. We have to be equally persistent in exposing Fox News misrepresentations. And we have to talk back to people who repeat those misrepresentations. 

Perhaps we are talking about using big truth in the service of public understanding in a way that is analogous to the technique of the big lie. Why not use persistence in telling the truth at a level that is comparable to the way that the right wing tells lies? 

The thing is, you have to use the word lie when you talk about the latest Fox News talking point and somebody has to do it every day. The idea is to create a widespread public discussion about the Fox lack of realism. From that discussion will come widespread doubt about the trustworthiness of Fox News. 

Pick a right wing lie and go after it repeatedly, even after the right wing has dropped it. That kind of repetition is what the Tea Party faction did over Benghazi and the Clinton emails. We could pick the Trump wiretap story as a good example that shows Trump to be a liar and implies how gullible right wingers can be. 

The best approach might be mockery -- persistent mockery. Late night talk show hosts Steven Colbert and Seth Myers are turning this approach into career builders. We can in turn build on that. 

Keep pointing out to people, "The right wing thinks you are gullible." Then tell them, "Don't fall for it." 

Let me point out that we are pretty good (all of a sudden) at taking the argument to Republicans in congress, most notably attacking them when they claim that Obamacare is a terrible thing. 

Thousands of people have shown up at congressional events to point out why they need coverage for their preexisting conditions. By doing so, we have made more possible the turnover of House control in the next election. Republicans from more centrist districts are in a damned if you do, damned if you don't situation, because they are being arm-twisted by their leadership to vote against guaranteed health insurance. At the end of this week, we should expect that moderate Republicans will be in even more trouble.

 

(Bob Gelfand writes on science, culture, and politics for CityWatch. He can be reached at [email protected]

-cw

The Emperor Has No … Legislative Agenda?

COHEN TALK-Today we update and retell a famous children's fable: "But Mommy," exclaimed the young lass, "the Emperor has nothing on . . . his legislative agenda. The Emperor has no bills." And so, the naked truth has been exposed for all to see.

For in his first 100 days, during which he had expressly promised to pass no less than 10 major legislative initiatives, he had been unable to get Congress to even hold a vote on any of them. That should have surprised nobody, since he had sent them a concrete proposal on none of them at all, though his party controlled both chambers of Congress.

And all the palace courtiers and media echo heads and supplicant voters, who had relentlessly flattered the Emperor about his many wonderful accomplishments in passing so many bills, were finally forced to admit…

No, just kidding about that. They will never, EVER admit the existence of a political reality contrary to the Emperor's tweets of the moment; no matter now different they may be from the moment
before. The tweets are that shamelessly partisan.

But, lo, among the populace not partaking of the Kool Aid, many questioned whether the Emperor ever, at any time, had a plan for "great health care for a fraction of the cost." For when it came time to
introduce that proposal, the paper on which it was to be printed remained as bare as a baby's new bottom, for he had no actual proposal to present.

Even on tax reform, there was nothing but a vague one page outline, transparently intended to greatly advantage and favor the Emperor's richest patrons and fellow royalty, not to mention himself
personally.

But nonetheless, the Emperor headed off to yet another public rally of his most loyal and uncritically thinking supporters, where he bragged anew about having passed more bills in 100 days than anybody before in history. 

Actually he just passed by the White House more than anyone else. 

Fooore!

End of fable…we wish.

The simple point is that none of these charades relieve the Democrats in any way from their obligation to put forward their own concrete agenda. If the Emperor has none, at least none that he can even get his own party who control both chambers of Congress to pass, it is all the more incumbent on the Democrats to bring forward their own, and to campaign on that POLICY agenda, not just opposition to the schizophrenic personality of his Majesty Emperor Tweetness.

 

(Michael N. Cohen is a former board member of the Reseda Neighborhood Council, founding member of the LADWP Neighborhood Council Oversight Committee, founding member of LA Clean Sweep and occasional contributor to CityWatch.) Edited for CityWatch by Linda Abrams.

 

A Different Take on the United Airlines Kerfuffle Starting with … ‘Dr. Dao Broke the Law’

GELFAND’S WORLD--I chanced to have lunch with a commercial airline pilot the other day, and the conversation naturally turned to the United Airlines passenger who was forceably dragged from a Chicago flight. The pilot's answers were by parts conventional and in other parts a bit surprising. He started by reminding me that the airline is in the business of squeezing people into a narrow metal tube. In this case, due to the airline's negligence, a number of other passengers were endangered. That's the summary. The guilty parties include the airline, the police, and most importantly, the passenger himself. 

Remember that he's a criminal who should have been put in jail. That's a bit of a paraphrase, but close enough to the more extended argument I heard. In brief, the law is that passengers are required to obey the lawful orders of the flight crew. If you are a passenger and are told to leave the plane, that is what you are required to do. In the case of the United flight, three out of four passengers who were so instructed followed directions without incident and apparently received some compensation for their misfortune. 

One didn't. We've had some reports that Dr Dao not only didn't get up to leave, he made it clear that he would not do so willingly. This is where the next criticism from the pilot comes. 

The crew should have cleared the area around the resistant passenger. Once it became clear to the police and the flight crew that there would be physical resistance, they should have had the passengers in the surrounding seats get out of the way. They should have been told to leave the plane immediately and wait until it became safe to reboard. As the pilot explained, "Suppose my daughter had been in one of those seats and had gotten kicked by one of the police or the passenger." 

The flight crew and the police had plenty of warning that this passenger intended to resist. They had the time to secure the area and thereby protect the other passengers. They didn't do so. They didn't offer other passengers a chance to move out of the way. Why they didn't is a matter of conjecture (more about that below). 

Notice, by the way, that the passengers in the surrounding seats were put in an impossible situation. It would be normal for them to assume, "If I try to get off the plane to avoid the scuffle that is likely to happen, then I will presumably give up my right to fly, even though I've paid for my ticket. I might even get in trouble myself." 

What about the fact that Dr Dao had a paid ticket and had already gotten to his seat? The answer is a bit complicated and obviously not to the liking of most readers, but I will take a shot at it myself: There is a difference between getting treated rudely by an airline and threatening physical violence against the crew and the police. The lawful remedy for the passenger would have been in the courts and through social media (he obviously won at this level). He also had the opportunity to protest in writing and ask for compensation. 

He presumably could have rented a car and driven to Louisville in time for the next morning's work. it would have been a long haul (about equivalent to driving from Los Angeles to Gilroy) but it was possible. Being put in jail wouldn't have helped him to get to Louisville on time. There are lots of legal things he could have done, but physically resisting the acts of the police was not one of them. 

It's the airline's fault for the level at which they overbook flights 

I've rearranged the order of this narrative a bit just to get the more interesting points up front. My lunch companion's first comment was that the largest blame goes to United Airlines for the way they overbooked this flight. I would suggest that there is some nuance in the overall situation and therefore in the argument, because sending flights out full is the way that the industry manages to stay above water financially and, at the same time, sell discounted tickets to all of us over Kayak and Priceline. 

The pilot pointed out that airlines such as United are rushing their boarding in order to get the seats full and the doors shut as early as possible because this helps them to achieve a better on-time record. There is a definite downside for an airline if it has a substantial record of late-arriving flights. That's probably why the flight crew didn't insist that the surrounding passengers get off the flight for a few minutes as a safety measure. 

Nevertheless, United was actually obliged to get a reserve crew onto the plane as passengers, even though this led to an equal obligation to get paid passengers off the flight. 

This is where the more complex part of the argument comes in. The federal rules that protect airline passengers include limits on how long a flight crew is allowed to fly without a break. Fliers need to have the opportunity to sleep, and they are limited in the number of hours they can work without a sleep break. The expression for approaching the legal limit is timed out

The problem in the real world of air transportation is that airlines cannot afford to keep large numbers of reserve crew waiting around in every city. Louisville is a fairly modest aviation endpoint. Chicago is a very large hub, which makes it an appropriate place to site reserve crews (akin to Los Angeles, for example). 

Equally to the point, it's not always possible to know very far in advance that the crew that is supposed to fly the morning flight out of Louisville (presumably flying a different plane into Louisville from somewhere else the night before, or traveling from their homes in different places) is going to be timed out and needs to be replaced. The problem can occur due to weather delays, or sometimes there is an equipment malfunction, and once in a while there is illness. 

Whatever happened to precipitate the problem, United needed to get a crew to Louisville. Sending the Chicago based crew by car was not a reasonable alternative due to the requirements that the crew be allowed to sleep before doing the morning flight. Airlines cannot blithely disregard rules regarding flight crew fitness. 

Obviously we are in an era of increasing passenger frustration due to the security system, fully booked flights, and cramped seating. Long ago, some marketing group did a survey and found that people considered the cost of an airplane ticket as wasted money -- we tend to go for the best price we can find using one of the many online tools. Southwest actually provides pricing choices depending on which flight you book over the course of a day. 

There is one other interesting point. It's not clear to me that the airline did anything illegal at the time that the passenger refused to give up his seat. The ordinary course of events would be to ask the police to deal with the situation, which they did. If the police acted in an overly aggressive fashion, the passenger's complaint should have been against them. It's true that the passenger can complain about airline policy, but as numerous commenters have pointed out, the law is not on his side.

Then why did the CEO of United Airlines throw his own airline under the bus, so to speak? He spoke of his embarrassment and remorse, even though his employees were obeying the law and acting properly. We've now seen reports of a settlement with the passenger, although we don't know for how much. 

What we're seeing, I think, is the effect of bad publicity on business leaders. Cowardice wins out over legal principle. We see the same thing among politicians. What seems to be missing here is any leadership by the federal agencies in charge of flight safety, including the FAA and the TSA. 

Addendum 

As we speak, the story is emerging of an interim federal budget that increases the science budget, including an increase of 6% for the NIH. Maybe all those Marches for Science had an effect.

 

(Bob Gelfand writes on science, culture, and politics for CityWatch. He can be reached at [email protected].)

-cw

Stop the Whining: Single-Payer Healthcare is not Socialized Medicine

COHEN TALK-The latest scuttlebutt from the Trumpster and an important issue for responsible Republicans is that “much of the concern continues to center on gutting Obamacare's protections for those with preexisting conditions,” that is, the rejection of insurance coverage based on preexisting conditions. If they do that, maybe they'll be just as happy to vote en masse to entirely trash our health care system, which is really a just health insurance system.

Taking away the preexisting conditions protection would be a “death panel” equivalent -- both literally and economically -- for many unfortunate Americans excluded by insurance companies. The last thing we can afford is a giant step backwards. Congress needs to hear from you now more than ever on this.

Trump styles himself as a sharp business cookie. What sharp business person ostensibly on our side would not want maximum leverage for us to get the best deal? The answer is the maximum profit insurance company’s business person on the other side of the negotiating table from us.

For those concerned about the solvency of our existing Medicare system, nothing would strengthen it more than letting people under 65 buy into it. Without a doubt this would be less expensive than any of the plans currently offered in the current so-called exchanges. 

The administrative overhead of Medicare is only 3%-5.5% versus the gluttonous nearly 30% for the typical health insurance corporation, with their multi-multi-million dollar salaried CEOs.

Many of the state exchanges now only have one possible provider. This is a single provider system (a corporate monopoly,) the opposite of leverage for us, the American people, and frankly the opposite of the espoused philosophy of Republicans themselves who talk about competition in the market place. 

What could be more self-evident than the fact that the cure is a single payer system, whereby we all pool our buying power so that together we get the best deal?

To review, a single-payer is not socialized medicine, as its misguided or venal critics whine. Single-payer systems are simply able to contract for healthcare services from private organizations, as is the case in Canada where all are covered, and Medicare, which covers only 65 year olds or older. 

Hospitals, doctors, equipment manufacturers, pharmaceutical companies, etc., will still be in private hands. Single-payer will just eliminate the middle man, disintermediation, as has happened in many other industries in the 21st Century information age. 

The U.S. gets the least bang for the buck of any industrialized country. Why? Because in every other case the government sets prices for health-care services and products. Insurers in Switzerland don’t negotiate drug prizes with Pfizer. The Swiss government simply sets its drug prices and lets Pfizer decide whether to sell in Switzerland -- or not. 

“The problem is that in the U.S. payers are fragmented while in other countries they are unified even if there are many insurers,” said Gerard Anderson, director of the Center for Hospital Finance and Management at Johns Hopkins University.” 

It works great in every country where it has been tried, and none of them are going back to the old days and high prices of whatever inadequate system they had before. 

But nothing will happen for the better unless lots more people in our own country speak out. If the Corporatists have their way, it will only get worse. 

Tell them off. Set them straight. 

Here’s a last minute update:  

The Republican’s Obamacare replacement proposal has an amendment by Tom MacArthur (R-NJ) that would exempt Congressional staff from key provisions of the replacement that ordinary citizens would not have. 

The amendment by MacArthur would ensure that Congressional staff continue to have access to Obamacare programs, like a ban on discriminating based on preexisting conditions, while other enrollees (you and me) could lose those policies if their state applied for a waiver.

 

(Michael N. Cohen is a former board member of the Reseda Neighborhood Council, founding member of the LADWP Neighborhood Council Oversight Committee, founding member of LA Clean Sweep and occasional contributor to CityWatch.) Edited for CityWatch by Linda Abrams.

Tampering: White House Putting Thumbs On the Trump-Russia Investigation Scale

TRUMP WATCH--Dana Boente was just named by the Department of Justice (DOJ) as the acting assistant Attorney General for the national security division, which will give him oversight of the FBI’s investigation into coordination between the Trump campaign and Russia. 

But in January, as he was leaving office, President Barack Obama issued an executive order that specifically took Boente, who is the U.S. attorney for the Eastern District of Virginia, out of the line of succession for Attorney General. There was no explanation given for the change, but the order meant that if the Attorney General died, resigned, or became incapacitated, Boente would not be in line to be the country’s chief law enforcement officer.

After acting Attorney General Sally Yates was fired by Donald Trump, after she said his Muslim ban was in violation of the law, Trump put Boente in that top job, which he held until the confirmation of Jeff Sessions as AG. Reversing Yates’ position, Boente said, he would demand that DOJ lawyers “defend the lawful orders of our President.”

Apparently our federal law enforcement professionals don't think foreign meddling in our election campaigns is worth worrying about much. They figure whomever these foreign actors choose for us will be fine, probably better than anyone a bunch of a lily-livered liberals and blacks and browns would pick anyway. Look at the winner they picked this time! He's awesome.

Update: This too 

Marc T. Short, the White House director for Legislative Affairs, is leading the Trump administration’s obstruction of the congressional inquiry into Michael Flynn and Russia. Short is also a major player in Vice President Mike Pence’s political operation, and further connects Pence to the Flynn scandal.

As previously reported, Pence was in charge of the Trump transition team, which ostensibly included vetting Donald Trump’s appointments to his White House. Pence received information detailing Flynn’s status as a lobbyist for a foreign government, but later denied knowledge of the entire affair, claiming Flynn had lied to him. That claim led to Flynn’s removal from the position of national security adviser.

But a recent report from NBC News reveals that Pence did conduct a background check, albeit “very casually,” and was aware of Flynn’s connections to foreign governments, which the Trump team apparently ignored in order to appoint Flynn anyway.

The House Oversight Committee is seeking documents related to this process, but the White House is actively obstructing that investigation. Short authored the April 19 letter to the committee, refusing to turn over the requested documents about what the Trump team knew about Flynn and payments he received from the Russian government for an appearance at an event that was followed by dinner with Vladimir Putin.

In the letter, Short said it was “unclear” how the documents requested “would be relevant” to the inquiry. Both Democrats and Republicans have indicated that they view Flynn’s actions as potentially criminal, as he received guidance from the Department of Defense that taking money from Russia as a former military officer could break the law.

Rep. Jason Chaffetz (R-UT), the chairman of the oversight committee, said if Flynn took the money, “it was inappropriate, and there are repercussions for the violation of law.” Rep. Elijah Cummings (D-MD), the ranking member of the committee, said the payments to Flynn “are extremely troubling.”

 

(Heather Parton blogs under the pseudonym Digby at the blog site she created: Hullabaloo and also writes for Salon and ourfuture.org

-cw

Why Protests Matter

RETROSPECTIVE--The protests following President Donald Trump’s inauguration and recent protests calling for the president to release his tax returns have this in common: his the-rules-don’t-apply-to-me behavior is a presidential style rejected by both our tyranny-fearing founding fathers and the majority of voters in last November’s election. 

To guard against an autocrat in the White House, our ancestors in 1787 replaced the political power once held by sovereign monarchs in Europe with a popular sovereign, placing the nation’s political power, collectively, in the hands of the people. 

With this power shift, each American now shares responsibility for the manner in which political power is wielded and a civic obligation to challenge abuse of power in Washington. 

Historically, engaged Americans have aimed their anger against major close-to-home issues, not anti-democracy presidents. Tax protests in the late 18th century were followed by abolition, woman’s suffrage and workplace conditions protests in the 19th century. 

Citizen activism took off in the 1800s, so much so, that some observers warned that the spread of popular sovereignty fever was endangering democracy itself.  

By the 1830s, Alexis de Tocqueville, in his famous, Democracy in America, wrote, “In America the principle of the sovereignty of the people is neither barren nor concealed, as it is with some other nations….If there is a country in the world where the doctrine of the sovereignty of the people can be fairly appreciated….and where its dangers and its advantages may be judged, that country is assuredly America…[where] the people reign in the American political world as the

Deity does in the universe.” 

But Tocqueville also tempers this glowing account by pointing out some dangers associated with America’s rush toward mass democracy.

“It is a constant fact that at the present day the ablest men in the United States are rarely placed at the head of affairs…I hold it to be sufficiently demonstrated that universal suffrage is by no means a guarantee of the wisdom of the popular choice. Whatever its advantages may be, this is not one of them.” 

Fifty years later, Princeton University professor Woodrow Wilson sized-up the hectic late 19th century period of social and political change by declaring that government by the people was not working, that an elite public workforce was needed to make democracy work. 

“There is,” he wrote, “scarcely a single duty of government which was once simple which is not now complex; government once had but a few masters; it now has scores of masters.” He declared none other than the founding principle of popular sovereignty of the people was standing in the way of a more efficient government.

“The very fact that we have realized popular rule in its fullness has made the task of organizing that rule just so much more difficult…An individual sovereign will adopt a simple plan and carry it out directly…But this other sovereign, the people, will have a score of differing opinions.”

The protests matter because they are a reminder that with the election of Mr. Trump we are once again, as a nation, engaged in a tug-of-war between autocratic efficiency and popular government.

Efficiency has never been the foremost goal of our democratic government. Rather, democracy is designed to be responsive to the values and traditions near and dear to liberty loving citizens. Public officials who do not understand the difference do not understand democracy. 

And, because it is a dangerous step toward tyranny, the office of the president is no place for an autocrat.

 

(Ronald Fraser, Ph.D., is the author of a new book, America, Democracy & YOU: Where have all the Citizens Gone? He can be reached at [email protected].) Prepped for CityWatch by Linda Abrams.

Keep Truth Alive

THE COHEN COLUMN--Back in his college days George W. Bush was infamous for denying he'd said what he just said 30 seconds earlier. Lately, Trump has repeatedly claimed he never promised he'd do in 100 days all the things he put in his 100 day "contract" as a candidate.

It is interesting, given his history of breaching contracts, that Donald Trump would call his campaign promises a contract.

This is not the first time that a Republican candidate has offered America a contract, framed just that way. In 1994, the Republicans took back Congress behind such pledging by Newt Gingrich, but at least they actually tried to pass the legislation they promised they would bring to a vote.

BTW: That legislation was their undoing when voters booted them out in the next bout of Congressional elections. After which Newt resigned as Speaker of the House of Representatives. If only Trump would act so.

Trump hasn't even bothered to introduce most of what he promised. He did not have idea one about how to draft a "great" health care bill. And even now it is not clear how the Republicans in congress, who also campaigned on a health care repeal promise, are going to get it together to pass anything.

It’s like his campaign promises? What campaign promises?

What will he tell us he never said next?

What's a contract with Donald J. Trump worth? Not much if you ask the guy who sold him pianos for his casino, who Trump then refused to pay, along with innumerable other contractors he stiffed on his way to four bankruptcies. He has even espoused this as a smart business strategy, breach your contracts and force people to sue you.

This brings us to the so-called wall. You remember the wall … the one Mexico was going to pay for? Now Trump wants Congress to pay for it. They won't, even though Trump said he wouldn’t sign a budget unless it was included. Now it's "Mexico will pay us BACK." Sure they will. Maybe we can sue them for the money.

BTW Read how Trump’s lone border visit foreshadowed his flawed vision for a wall and [spoiler alert] how afraid he actually was.

Trump said he would fight for his supporters. Trump is not even willing to go to the wall (so to speak) for his own boondoggle folly of a wall.

He promised them a big, beautiful wall. But at most all they may end up with is a fence, like what we ALREADY have on at least 1/3 of our 2000 mile southern border.

The reason we go on like this is because someone needs to keep truth alive out here.

Somebody needs to keep calling him out on his relentless output of bigger and bigger lies.

Somebody needs to constantly be setting the record straight and asking 'who's the real fake here?'

The news media is starting to seriously editorialize instead of just repeating his lies as if they could be taken at face value,

Be one of those voices calling Trump out for his lies.

Keep truth alive. And somehow we'll all make it through this.

 

(Michael N. Cohen is a former board member of the Reseda Neighborhood Council, founding member of the LADWP Neighborhood Council Oversight Committee, founding member of LA Clean Sweep and occasional contributor to CityWatch.)

-cw

The Worst Presidential 100 Days Ever

URBAN PERSPECTIVE-#45 Trump got one thing right about the media-hyped first 100 days measuring stick of a new president. It’s a silly measure. In fact, presidents from John F. Kennedy to Obama have derided the 100-day fetish and correctly noted that the far better to gauge how effective or bumbling an incoming president is the first 1000 days. A quick look at the presidency of Clinton and Bush is enough to prove that. Clinton bombed badly in pushing Congress for a $16 billion stimulus package; he bungled the “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy regarding gays in the military, and got the first flack on his healthcare reform plan. Yet, the Clinton presidency is regarded as one of the most successful, popular and enduring in modern times. 

Then there’s the Bush presidency. He got off to a fast start. At the 100-day mark in April 2001, his approval ratings matched Obama’s. He was widely applauded for his trillion-dollar tax cutting program, his “Faith-Based” and disabled Americans Initiatives, and for talking up education, healthcare reform and slashing the national debt. But aside from the momentary adulation he got after the 9/11 terror attack his presidency is rated as one of the worst in modern times. 

But while Trump, like Kennedy and Obama, got it right in ridiculing the 100-day time span as being way too short to call a new presidential administration a success or failure, it’s not too short a period to call his White House stint the worst 100 days ever. It’s not his consistent bottom wallowing popularity rating that tags his administration the worst first time start ever. It’s not even his record of non-accomplishment which amounts to a slew of inconsequential executive orders that mostly attempt to torpedo some of Obama’s executive orders, and his disastrous, court-derailed Muslim immigrant ban. It’s the utter lack of any hint that things will get any better during his next 100, or even 1000 days in the White House. 

The tip offs of his future cluelessness are everywhere. He’s the least politically equipped winning presidential candidate to ever sit behind the desk in the Oval Office. Now that was the great asset that got him elected since so many Americans were supposedly so fed up with the insular, corrupt, deal making, corporate dominated, politics of Beltway Washington. Trump was supposedly the remedy for that. This delusion should have been shattered with the parade of Goldman Sachs tied, Pentagon connected generals, and Trump corporate cronies that he plopped into his cabinet and top staff positions. This could only mean one thing, the corporate and political regulars that Trump pretended to sneer at would do what they always do and that’s run the government show for him, as they have for other GOP presidents. 

The flop on the repeal of the Affordable Care Act and the polarizing vote on his Supreme Court pick Neil Gorsuch did two seemingly impossible things. It turned off legions of hard right GOP House conservatives and moderate Senate Democrats who had made some soundings about trying to work out an accommodation with Trump on some legislative and policy issues. The future here is going to be one of never-ending, time consuming, get nothing done rancor and in-fighting between Trump and Congress. 

The Russia election meddling scandal, Trump’s refusal to disclose his taxes, and his dubious conflict of interest business dealings insure that the screams for congressional investigations will only get louder in the days and months to come. This will continue to keep the tens of millions who want Trump bounced from office revved up. They’ll continue to turn up at GOP and Democratic congresspersons town halls and shout them down on any defense they try to make of Trump’s policies and actions. 

Trump’s weak defense against prolonged and guaranteed failure is to toss a few missiles or drop a bomb every now and then or saber rattle the usual suspect villains, ISIS, Assad, the Taliban, and the North Koreans. The media will run with this for a time, and some commentators who should know better will even call his acts forceful and presidential. This will wipe his political and legislative flops off the front page for a day or so, and give him a point or two bump up in the polls. But even here, he can only go to the well so often with the military tough guy act before this starts to wear thin, and some begin to catch on to his wag the dog game. 

The 1000-day mark that Obama, Kennedy and other presidents cited as the more realistic time frame is not an arbitrary number. That marks the near end of a president’s first White House term. The honeymoon is over, and the president has fought major battles over his policies, initiatives, executive orders, court appointments and programs with Congress, the courts, interest groups and the media. Battles that by then have been won or lost, or fought to a draw, and there’s enough time to gauge their impact and the president’s effectiveness. In Trump’s case, it won’t matter. His first 1000 days will be like his first 100, the worst presidency ever.

 

(Earl Ofari Hutchinson is an author and political analyst and CityWatch contributor. He is the author of the new ebook How the Democrats Can Win in The Trump Era (Amazon Kindle).  He is an associate editor of New America Media. He is a weekly co-host of the Al Sharpton Show on Radio One.) Prepped for CityWatch by Linda Abrams.

-cw

Conscientious Justice-Loving Alabamians, Speak Up!

CALIFORNIA DEATH PENALTY FANS … TAKE HEED--Appointed February 13 by ousted “Love Gov” and misdemeanant Robert Bentley, Alabama’s Attorney General (AG) Steven Marshall is new on the job. 

This could, in theory, be one reason AG Marshall is taking to Twitter, Facebook, and Alabama’s news media to drum up support for the so-called “Fair Justice Act.” He promises the proposed law will speed the state’s executions by hacksawing the amount of time already overwhelmed and underfunded death penalty attorneys have to effectively represent their clients. 

Vociferous in his support of the “Fair Justice Act” – a bill there’s nothing fair about  – it’s notable and unacceptable that AG Marshall has yet to make any public statement explaining the horrible circumstances of Alabama’s last execution – the horrendously botched execution of Ronald Bert Smith on December 8, 2016; Mr. Smith endured a thirteen-minute death-rattle as lethal injection chemicals ravaged his insides – when he was supposed to be unconscious – heaving, coughing, clenching his fists, moving his lips, and opening his left eye. 

Smith’s grisly torture followed Alabama’s January 2016 execution of Christopher Brooks, an execution where questions remain whether, like Smith’s patently brutal and violent poisoning, Brooks too was not properly anesthetized and then burned alive from the inside with caustic chemicals. Other than opaque and blanket denials in court filings, AG Marshall has thus far adopted the same officious silence on the possibility Alabama tortured Brooks to death – just as it did Smith. 

Conscientious Alabamians can’t let AG Marshall get away with it. 

Conscientious, justice-loving Alabamians who want to ameliorate Alabama’s long, dark history of capital punishment – and its reputation around the world for human and civil rights abuses – must demand AG Marshall investigate and publicly address the circumstances of both Smith and Brooks’ deaths. 

Conscientious, justice-loving Alabamians should harangue AG Marshall and the Fair Justice Act’s legislative sponsor, state senator Cam Ward, to answer: Why are you pushing a poorly drafted, unstudied, confusing new death penalty law to speed up executions? Why are you doing it right now – when all available evidence shows the last two executions in Alabama went horribly wrong? 

Moreover, although the current version of the bill under consideration by the House of Representatives provides a meager 365 days (provided for by current law) instead of the disastrous proposal of chopping it to 180 days for the filing of postconviction motions – the shortened time period the bill would impose is still way too short for even the best, most committed, most hard-working lawyers to effectively investigate and litigate motions for death-sentenced clients in Alabama. 

That’s because of yet another one of the Fair Justice Acts’ proposed time-accelerators for the filing of these complex Last Chance Not to Be Executed (Tortured) Despite Your Constitutional Rights Having Been Violated-type motions – motions advancing claims of juror misconduct or that the defense lawyer was a train wreck – not infrequent occurrences in capital cases in Alabama. 

This additional cockamamie time-accelerator in The Fair Justice Act was deconstructed at the end of last week in a cogent op-ed by Birmingham attorney, Lisa Borden.  Borden writes how the bill “would require persons convicted of capital offenses to pursue post-conviction legal claims at the same time the direct appeals from their convictions are being considered.” 

Mincing no words, Borden waves the red flag of warning at all folks who care about the Constitution and preventing injustice in Alabama, opining that this “proposal is neither fair nor just, and [it] will only increase the already substantial likelihood that Alabama will execute a wrongfully convicted person . . . . [It] take[s] a long time to untangle the convoluted mess that is created by Alabama’s haphazard rush to send poor people to their deaths.”       

Conscientious Alabamians concerned that, like Ray Hinton, freed after a hellacious thirty years on Alabama’s death row proclaiming his innocence, additional innocents might be unjustly thrust towards terrible and inhumane deaths – without an adequate chance to prove their innocence and/or that their constitutional rights were violated – you need to speak up. You need to speak up now! 

Demand that instead of potentially innocent, unfairly convicted poor Alabamians, that it be this unprincipled, unconstitutional, blood-thirsty Fair Justice Act that’s killed. 

And killed fast.

 

(Stephen Cooper is a former D.C. public defender who worked as an assistant federal public defender in Alabama between 2012 and 2015. He has contributed to numerous magazines and newspapers in the United States and overseas including CityWatch. He writes full-time and lives in Woodland Hills, California. Follow him on Twitter @SteveCooperEsq)

The Next Mid-Term Election Is Already In Progress

THE COHEN COLUMN-The 2018 mid-term elections are in full swing, happening right now. Every word you hear coming out of the mouth of every politician is spoken with that in mind. And it's not just about that special election on April 18 in Georgia where a Democrat was the top vote getter, though falling just short of 50% necessary for an outright win. The next highest candidate in that race came in a distant second with about 20% of the vote. A runoff in June will follow with this Republican opponent. (Ossoff pictured above campaigning.)
What we need to know from you is this: What should we be doing right now that we may not be doing to take our government back from the hands of the arrogant, the greedy, the mean spirited, the dishonest, and the incompetent?

Talk to us.

In Great Britain, nearly 1.9 million people have signed a petition calling for the cancellation of Trump's state visit to their country. Maybe they got turned off by his demand to ride in a gold plated carriage. Seriously, that's what he wanted, although he denied it through his press mouthpiece. 

In our wildest dreams could we ever imagine that in our country this many people would speak out about something – anything? And our population is way bigger than Great Britain’s. 

So let Trump eat his own beautiful piece of chocolate cake. But I am still stumped about something: Is there a cure for apathy and disconnectedness?

Trump says again and again that the election is over. But he should not be able to keep the ball and just sit in the White House for the next 8 years doing meaningless photo-op executive order signings.

He can't even be honest about the fact that he's still campaigning, including in the ongoing State of Georgia Congressional contest. In fact, campaigning is about all he's doing in office. He's still spewing the same spelling-challenged tweets attacking everyone else and even doing some of the same rah-rah rallies.

Just today the President was talking about the great healthcare bill he's going to pass real soon, the same campaign "promise" he's made all along. Nobody believes a word of it, let alone the Republicans who have all the votes they need to do this assuming they ever get on the same page – just like the Democrats in 2010.

Jimmy Kimmel did an instructive segment on Wednesday night. He asked Trump supporters on the street outside his studio if they would agree to have Charles Manson visit the White House to advise Trump on murder issues and be given a cabinet post for that purpose. 

It is truly breathtaking how far Republican partisans will go to make excuses and defend the indefensible by using ignorant reflex. No matter what Trump does they will never admit he is doing anything wrong.

 

(Michael N. Cohen is a former board member of the Reseda Neighborhood Council, founding member of the LADWP Neighborhood Council Oversight Committee, founding member of LA Clean Sweep and occasional contributor to CityWatch.)

Will Trump Give America’s Science Lead to China?

INFORMED COMMENT-The marches for science in the United States and around the world are an expression of alarm about the Trump administration’s budget proposals, which slash public funding for science, medical and technology research and seek to increase the Pentagon budget by $54 billion. 

Federal funding for certain kinds of research is absolutely crucial. There are diseases, for instance, that private companies don’t see as a priority because they strike a small number of people or the cure for which is unlikely to produce big profits because most victims are poor and live in the global south. 

If you live in Florida or other semi-tropical parts of the U.S., and your family is expecting a child, you may be alarmed at the rise of the Zika virus. It is the National Institute of Health that is funding the search for a vaccine. Perhaps you remember the deep public concern about the Ebola outbreak in West Africa in 2014. Who is working on a vaccine? The U.S. government and Merck.  In the U.S. system, vaccine development is a government-private-public partnership: “Of the $1.4 billion that fund U.S. vaccine research and development annually, 46% comes from vaccine sales, 36% from taxpayers, and 18% from risk capital.” 

As for technology, entrepreneurs most often build on government-funding. Of a ten-mile journey toward innovation, 9 of the miles are often traversed by government-backed research, and the entrepreneurs come in for the last mile. Forbes admits, “the basic technologies that Apple AAPL -0.13% products are built on (and those of all tech firms), from the chips, to the Internet, to GPS, to the software protocols, were all supported or wholly developed by government programs.” 

Trump’s cuts will not only make us sick and retard the technological advances that make our lives more convenient, he will harm us in precisely the area he imagines himself to champion – U.S. competitiveness. 

You don’t compete with the rest of the world by giving an extra $54 billion to the military and deeply cutting research and development (R&D) funding. 

The National Science Foundation observes that China, South Korea and India are putting enormous government money into R&D, as well as investing in science education and the production of skilled science and engineering students. Trump, in contrast, gave away U.S. education to Betsy DeVos, who ruined Michigan K-12 education and wants Americans brought up in fundamentalist charter schools.  

The NSF writes, “Indicators 2016 makes it clear that while the United States continues to lead in a variety of metrics, it exists in an increasingly multi-polar world for S&E that revolves around the creation and use of knowledge and technology. According to Indicators 2016, China is now the second-largest performer of R&D, accounting for 20 percent of global R&D as compared to the United States, which accounts for 27 percent. 

China is already increasing its annual outlay far more than the United States, growing R&D spending nearly 20 percent a year every year from 2003 to 2013. That rate of increase far outstripped that of the U.S. in those years, and now Trump actually wants us to slash spending, while the Chinese go on investing in technological innovation.

The day when China outspends the U.S. on research and development annually is just around the corner, and Trump’s budget would bring it even more quickly. 

In some areas, China is nipping at our heels. The global share of the US in high-tech manufacturing? 29%. 

The global share of China in high-tech manufacturing? 27%! Almost half of all the bachelor’s degrees awarded every year in China are in Science and Engineering. 

In the U.S. it is only one third. 

While China and South Korea massively ramp up government R&D investments, the Tea Party Congress in the U.S. has been deeply cutting ours. 

“In 2013, government funded R&D accounted for 27 percent of total U.S. R&D and was the largest supporter (47 percent) of all U.S. basic research”... “Indicators shows that Federal investment in both academic and business sector R&D has declined in recent years… Since the Great Recession, substantial, real R&D growth annually -- ahead of the pace of U.S. GDP -- has not returned.” 

Inflation-adjusted growth in total U.S. R&D averaged only 0.8 percent annually over the 2008-13 period, behind the 1.2 percent annual average for U.S. GDP. 

The world will not stand still while Trump walks the nation’s science and technology into mere clay.

In fact, if Trump gets his way on the science budget, my advice to Americans is to start studying Chinese. 

Ooops. Trump is cutting money for that, too.

 

(Juan Cole is the Richard P. Mitchell Collegiate Professor of History at the University of Michigan and an occasional contributor to CityWatch. He has written extensively on modern Islamic movements in Egypt, the Persian Gulf and South Asia. This post originally ran on Juan Cole’s website.) Prepped for CityWatch by Linda Abrams.

What Happened to Russiagate?

RUSSIAN RELATIONS ROULETTE-Democrats, liberals and some progressives might be feeling a little perplexed over what has happened to Russiagate, the story that pounded Donald Trump every day since his election last November -- until April 4, that is. 

On April 4, Trump fully capitulated to the neoconservative bash-Russia narrative amid dubious claims about a chemical attack in Syria. On April 6, Trump fired off 59 Tomahawk missiles at a Syrian airbase; he also restored the neocon demand for “regime change” in Syria; and he alleged that Russia was possibly complicit in the supposed chemical attack. 

Since Trump took those actions -- in accordance with the neocon desires for more “regime change” in the Middle East and a costly New Cold War with Russia -- Russiagate has almost vanished from the news. 

I did find a little story in the lower right-hand corner of page A12 of Saturday’s New York Times about a still-eager Democratic congressman, Mike Quigley of Illinois, who spent a couple of days in Cyprus which attracted his interest because it is a known site for Russian money-laundering, but he seemed to leave more baffled than when he arrived. 

“The more I learn, the more complex, layered and textured I see the Russia issue is -- and that reinforces the need for professional full-time investigators,” Quigley said, suggesting that the investigation’s failure to strike oil is not that the holes are dry but that he needs better drill bits.

Yet, given all the hype and hullabaloo over Russiagate, the folks who were led to believe that the vague and amorphous allegations were “bigger than Watergate” might now be feeling a little used. It appears they may have been sucked into a conspiracy frenzy in which the Establishment exploited their enthusiasm over the “scandal” in a clever maneuver to bludgeon an out-of-step new President back into line. 

If that’s indeed the case, perhaps the most significant success of the Russiagate ploy was the ouster of Trump’s original National Security Adviser Michael Flynn, who was seen as a key proponent of a New Détente with Russia, and his replacement by General H.R. McMaster, a protégé of neocon favorite, retired Gen. David Petraeus. 

McMaster was viewed as the key player in arranging the April 6 missile strike on Syria and in preparing a questionable “intelligence assessment” on April 11 to justify the rush to judgment. Although McMaster’s four-page white paper has been accepted as gospel by the mainstream U.S. news media, its many weaknesses have been noted by actual experts, such as MIT national security and technology professor Theodore Postol. 

How Washington Works 

But the way Official Washington works is that Trump was made to look weak when he argued for a more cooperative and peaceful relationship with Russia. Hillary Clinton dubbed him Vladimir Putin’s “puppet” and “Saturday Night Live” portrayed Trump as in thrall to a bare-chested Putin. More significantly, front-page stories every morning and cable news segments every night created the impression of a compromised U.S. President in Putin’s pocket. 

Conversely, Trump was made to look strong when he fired off missiles against a Syrian airbase and talked tough about Russian guilt. Neocon commentator Charles Krauthammer praised Trump’s shift as demonstrating that “America is back.” 

Trump further enhanced his image for toughness when his military dropped the GBU-43/B Massive Ordnance Air Blast Bomb (MOAB), nicknamed the “mother of all bombs,” on some caves in Afghanistan. While the number of casualties inflicted by the blast was unclear, Trump benefited from the admiring TV and op-ed commentaries about him finally acting “presidential.” 

But the real test of political courage is to go against the grain in a way that may be unpopular in the short term but is in the best interests of the United States and the world community in the longer term. 

In that sense, Trump seeking peaceful cooperation with Russia -- even amid the intense anti-Russian propaganda of the past several years -- required actual courage, while launching missiles and dropping bombs might win praise but actually make the U.S. position in the world weaker.

Trump, however, saw his fledgling presidency crumbling under the daily barrage of Russiagate, even though there was no evidence that his campaign colluded with Russia to interfere with the U.S. election and there wasn’t even clear evidence that Russia was behind the disclosure of Democratic emails, via WikiLeaks, during the campaign. 

Still, the combined assault from the Democrats, the neocons and the mainstream media forced Trump to surrender his campaign goal of achieving a more positive relationship with Russia and greater big-power collaboration in the fight against terrorism. 

For Trump, the incessant chatter about Russiagate was like a dripping water torture. The thin-skinned Trump fumed at his staff and twittered messages aimed at changing the narrative, such as accusing President Obama of “wiretapping” Trump Tower. But nothing worked. 

However, once Trump waved the white flag by placing his foreign policy under the preferred banner of the neoconservatives, the Russiagate pressure stopped. The op-ed pages suddenly were hailing his “decisiveness.” If you were a neocon, you might say about Russiagate: Mission accomplished! 

Russiagate’s Achievements 

Besides whipping Trump into becoming a more compliant politician, Russiagate could claim some other notable achievements. For instance, it spared the national Democrats from having to confront their own failures in Campaign 2016 by diverting responsibility for the calamity of Trump’s election.

Instead of Democratic leaders taking responsibility for picking a dreadful candidate, ignoring the nation’s anti-establishment mood, and failing to offer any kind of inspiring message, the national Democrats could palm off the blame on “Russia! Russia! Russia!” 

Thus, rather than looking in the mirror and trying to figure out how to correct their deep-seated problems, the national Democrats could instead focus on a quixotic tilting at Trump’s impeachment.

Many on the Left joined in this fantasy because they have been so long without a Movement that the huge post-inaugural “pussy hat” marches were a temptation that they couldn’t resist. Russiagate became the fuel to keep the “Movement” bandwagon rolling. #Resistance! 

It didn’t matter that the “scandal” -- the belief that Russia somehow conspired with Trump to rig the U.S. presidential election -- amounted to a bunch of informational dots  that didn’t connect.

Russiagate also taught the American “left” to learn to love McCarthyism since “proof” of guilt pretty much amounted to having had contact with a Russian -- and anyone who questioned the dubious factual basis of the “scandal” was dismissed as a “Russian propagandist” or a “Moscow stooge” or a purveyor of “fake news.” 

Another Russiagate winner was the mainstream news media which got a lot of mileage -- and loads of new subscription money -- by pushing the convoluted conspiracy. The New York Times positioned itself as the great protector of “truth” and The Washington Post adopted a melodramatic new slogan: “Democracy Dies in Darkness.” 

On Thanksgiving Day, the Post ran a front-page article touting an anonymous Internet group called PropOrNot that identified some 200 Internet news sites, including Consortiumnews.com and other major sources of independent journalism, as guilty of “Russian propaganda.” Facts weren’t needed; the accused had no chance for rebuttal; the accusers even got to hide in the shadows; the smear was the thing. 

The Post and the Times also conflated news outlets that dared to express skepticism toward claims from the U.S. State Department with some entrepreneurial sites that trafficked in intentionally made-up stories or “fake news” to make money. 

To the Post and Times, there appeared to be no difference between questioning the official U.S. narrative on, say, the Ukraine crisis and knowingly fabricating pretend news articles to get lots of clicks. Behind the smokescreen of Russiagate, the mainstream U.S. news media took the position that there was only one side to a story, what Official Washington chose to believe. 

While it’s likely that there will be some revival of Russiagate to avoid the appearance of a completely manufactured scandal, the conspiracy theory’s more significant near-term consequence could be that it has taught Donald Trump a dangerous lesson. 

If he finds himself in a tight spot, the way out is to start bombing some “enemy” halfway around the world. The next time, however, the target might not be so willing to turn the other cheek. If, say, Trump launches a preemptive strike against North Korea, the result could be a retaliatory nuclear attack against South Korea or Japan. 

Or, if the neocons push ahead with their ultimate “regime change” strategy of staging a “color revolution” in Moscow to overthrow Putin, the outcome might be -- not the pliable new leader that the neocons would want -- but an unstable Russian nationalist who might see a nuclear attack on the U.S. as the only way to protect the honor of Mother Russia. 

For all his faults, Trump did offer a more temperate approach toward U.S.-Russian relations, which also could have tamped down spending for nuclear and other strategic weapons and freed up some of that money for infrastructure and other needs at home. But that was before Russiagate.

 

(Robert Parry is an Investigative reporter who broke many of the Iran-Contra stories for The Associated Press and Newsweek in the 1980s. You can buy his latest book, “America’s Stolen Narrative,” either in print here or as an e-book (from Amazon and barnesandnoble.com). This piece appeared originally on Consortiumnews and Truthdig.com.) Prepped for CityWatch by Linda Abrams.

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