Tag Archives: Trump

So far, so good: President Trump signed more bills into law than his four predecessors: report

Republican-led House also deemed most productive in the “modern era’

House Speaker Paul Ryan and House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy have issued a very promising report about President Trump so far in his presidency. Compared to his immediate predecessors, Mr. Trump is forging ahead in his bid to better the nation and move forward.

“To date, President Trump has signed 37 bills into law, placing him ahead of the last four administrations,” the two Republican leaders noted in a report issued Thursday.

At this point in his presidency, President Obama had signed off on 24 bills. President George W. Bush signed 15, President Clinton 33 bills and President George H.W. Bush 35.

The two leaders had other news of interest to voters weary of a do-nothing Capitol Hill.

“The Republican-led House has passed 158 bills, making it the most productive in the modern-era,” the pair said in their report, noting that during the equivalent passage of time in the Obama administration, the House passed 131 bills.

The lawmakers had passed 67 bills at this point during the George W. Bush era, 60 during Mr. Clinton’s time in office and 41 during the George H.W. Bush administration. Mr. McCarthy says it’s “record Congressional productivity to date.”

By Jennifer Harper/TheWashingtonTimes

Posted by The NON-Conformist

Saudi Arabia Is ‘Playing’ Donald Trump With Potentially Disastrous Consequences

  President Trump and first lady Melania Trump are welcomed by King Salman bin Abdulaziz Al Saud at King Khalid International Airport in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, in May. (Official White House Photo by Shealah Craighead)

At this point, it’s no great surprise when Donald Trump walks away from past statements in service to some impulse of the moment. Nowhere, however, has such a shift been more extreme or its potential consequences more dangerous than in his sudden love affair with the Saudi royal family. It could in the end destabilize the Middle East in ways not seen in our lifetimes (which, given the growing chaos in the region, is no small thing to say).

Trump’s newfound ardor for the Saudi regime is a far cry from his past positions, including his campaign season assertion that the Saudis were behind the 9/11 attacks and complaints, as recently as this April, that the United States was losing a “tremendous amount of money” defending the kingdom.  That was yet another example of the sort of bad deal that President Trump was going to set right as part of his “America First” foreign policy.

Given this background, it came as a surprise to pundits, politicians, and foreign policy experts alike when the president chose Riyadh, the capital of Saudi Arabia, as the very first stop on his very first overseas trip. This was clearly meant to underscore the importance his administration was suddenly placing on the need to bolster the long-standing U.S.-Saudi alliance.

Mindful of Trump’s vanity, the Saudi government rolled out the red carpet for our narcissist-in-chief, lining the streets for miles with alternating U.S. and Saudi flags, huge images of which were projected onto the Ritz Carlton hotel where Trump was staying. (Before his arrival, in a sign of the psychological astuteness of his Saudi hosts, the hotel projected a five-story-high image of Trump himself onto its façade, pairing it with a similarly huge and flattering photo of the country’s ruler, King Salman.)  His hosts also put up billboards with pictures of Trump and Salman over the slogan “together we prevail.”  What exactly the two countries were to prevail against was left open to interpretation.  It is, however, unlikely that the Saudis were thinking about Trump’s much-denounced enemy, ISIS—given that Saudi planes, deep into a war in neighboring Yemen, have rarely joined Washington’s air war against that outfit.  More likely, what they had in mind was their country’s bitter regional rival Iran.

The agenda planned for Trump’s stay included an anti-terrorism summit attended by 50 leaders from Arab and Muslim nations, a concert by country singer Toby Keith, and an exhibition game by the Harlem Globetrotters. Then there were the strange touches like President Trump, King Salman, and Egyptian President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi laying hands on a futuristically glowing orb—images of which then circled the planet—in a ceremony inaugurating a new Global Center for Combatting Extremist Ideology, and Trump’s awkward participation in an all-male sword dance.

Unsurprisingly enough, the president was pleased with the spectacle staged in his honor, saying of the anti-terrorism summit in one of his many signature flights of hyperbole, “There has never been anything like it before, and perhaps there never will be again.”

Here, however, is a statement that shouldn’t qualify as hyperbole: never have such preparations for a presidential visit paid such quick dividends.  On arriving home, Trump jumped at the chance to embrace a fierce Saudi attempt to blockade and isolate its tiny neighbor Qatar, the policies of whose emir have long irritated them.  The Saudis claimed to be focused on that country’s alleged role in financing terrorist groups in the region (a category they themselves fit into remarkably well).  More likely, however, the royal family wanted to bring Qatar to heel after it failed to jump enthusiastically onto the Saudi-led anti-Iranian bandwagon.

Trump, who clearly knew nothing about the subject, accepted the Saudi move with alacrity and at face value. In his normal fashion, he even tried to take credit for it, tweeting, “During my recent trip to the Middle East I stated that there can no longer be funding of Radical Ideology.  Leaders pointed to Qatar—look!”  And according to Trump, the historic impact of his travels hardly stopped there.  As he also tweeted: “So good to see Saudi Arabia visit with the King and 50 countries paying off… Perhaps it will be the beginning of the end of the horror of terrorism.”

Bruce Riedel of the Brookings Institution hit the nail on the head when he commented that “the Saudis played Donald Trump like a fiddle.  He unwittingly encouraged their worst instincts toward their neighbors.” The New York Times captured one likely impact of the Saudi move against Qatar when it reported, “Analysts said Mr. Trump’s public support for Saudi Arabia… sent a chill through other Gulf States, including Oman and Kuwait, for fear that any country that defies the Saudis or the United Arab Emirates could face ostracism as Qatar has.”

And Then Came Trump…

And what precisely are the Saudis’ instincts toward their neighbors?  The leaders in Riyadh, led by King Salman’s 31-year-old son, Saudi Defense Minister and deputy crown prince Mohammed bin Salman, are taking the gloves off in an increasingly aggressive bid for regional dominance aimed at isolating Iran.  The defense minister and potential future leader of the kingdom, whose policies have been described as reckless and impulsive, underscored the new, harsher line on Iran in an interview with Saudi-owned Al Arabiya TV in which he said, “We will not wait until the battle is in Saudi Arabia, but we will work so the battle is there in Iran.”

The opening salvo in Saudi Arabia’s anti-Iran campaign came in March 2015, when a Saudi-led coalition, including smaller Gulf petro-states (Qatar among them) and Egypt, intervened militarily in a chaotic situation in Yemen in an effort to reinstall Abdu Rabbu Mansour Hadi as the president of that country.  They clearly expected a quick victory over their ill-armed enemies and yet, more than two years later, in a war that has grown ever harsher, they have in fact achieved little.  Hadi, a pro-Saudi leader, had served as that country’s interim president under an agreement that, in the wake of the Arab Spring in 2012, ousted longstanding Yemeni autocrat Ali Abdullah Saleh.  In January 2015, Hadi himself was deposed by an alliance of Houthi rebels and remnants of forces loyal to former president Saleh.

The Saudis—now joined by Trump and his foreign policy team—have characterized the conflict as a war to blunt Iranian influence and the Houthi rebels have been cast as the vassals of Tehran.  In reality, they have longstanding political and economic grievances that predate the current conflict and they would undoubtedly be fighting at this moment with or without support from Iran.  As Middle Eastern expert Thomas Juneau recently noted in the Washington Post, “Tehran’s support for the Houthis is limited, and its influence in Yemen is marginal. It is simply inaccurate to claim that the Houthis are Iranian proxies.”

The Saudi-Emirati intervention in Yemen has had disastrous results.  Thousands of civilians have been killed in an indiscriminate bombing campaign that has targeted hospitals, marketplaces, civilian neighborhoods, and even a funeral, in actions that Congressman Ted Lieu (D-CA) has said “look like war crimes.”  The Saudi bombing campaign has, in addition, been enabled by Washington, which has supplied the kingdom with bombs, including cluster munitions, and aircraft, while providing aerial refueling services to Saudi planes to ensure longer missions and the ability to hit more targets.  It has also shared intelligence on targeting in Yemen.

The destruction of that country’s port facilities and the imposition of a naval blockade have had an even more devastating effect, radically reducing the ability of aid groups to get food, medicine, and other essential supplies into a country now suffering from a major outbreak of cholera and on the brink of a massive famine. This situation will only be made worse if the coalition tries to retake the port of Hodeidah, the entry point for most of the humanitarian aid still getting into Yemen. Not only has the U.S.-backed Saudi war sparked a humanitarian crisis, but it has inadvertently strengthened al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula, which has increased its influence in Yemen while the Saudi- and Houthi-led coalitions are busy fighting each other.

Trump’s all-in support for the Saudis in its war doesn’t, in fact, come out of the blue. Despite some internal divisions over the wisdom of doing so, the Obama administration also supported the Saudi war effort in a major way. This was part of an attempt to reassure the royals that the United States was still on their side and would not tilt towards Iran in the wake of an agreement to cap and reverse that country’s nuclear program.

It was only after concerted pressure from Congress and a coalition of peace, human rights, and humanitarian aid groups that the Obama administration finally took a concrete, if limited, step to express opposition to the Saudi targeting of civilians in Yemen.  In a December 2016 decision, it suspended a sale of laser-guided bombs and other precision-guided munitions to their military.  The move outraged the Saudis, but proved at best a halfway measure as the refueling of Saudi aircraft continued, and none of rest of the record $115 billion in U.S. weaponry offered to that country during the Obama years was affected.

And then came Trump.  His administration has doubled down on the Saudi war in Yemen by lifting the suspension of the bomb deal, despite the objections of a Senate coalition led by Chris Murphy (D-CT), Rand Paul (R-KY), and Al Franken (D-MN) that recently mustered an unprecedented 47 votes against Trump’s offer of precision-guided bombs to Riyadh.  Defense Secretary James Mattis has advocated yet more vigorous support for the Saudi-led intervention, including additional planning assistance and yet more intelligence sharing—but not, for the moment, the introduction of U.S. troops.  Although the Trump foreign policy team has refused to endorse a proposal by the United Arab Emirates, one of the Saudi coalition members, to attack the port at Hodeidah, it’s not clear if that will hold.

A Parade for an American President?

In addition to Trump’s kind words on Twitter, the clearest sign of his administration’s uncritical support for the Saudi regime has been the offer of an astounding $110 billion worth of arms to the kingdom, a sum almost equal to the record levels reached during all eight years of the Obama administration. (This may, of course, have been part of the point, showing that President Trump could make a bigger, better deal than that slacker Obama, while supporting what he described as “jobs, jobs, jobs” in the United States.)

Like all things Trumpian, however, that $110 billion figure proved to be an exaggeration.  Tens of billions of dollars’ worth of arms included in the package had already been promised under Obama, and tens of billions more represent promises that, experts suspect, are unlikely to be kept.  But that still leaves a huge package, one that, according to the Pentagon, will include more than 100,000 bombs of the sort that can be used in the Yemen war, should the Saudis choose to do so.  All that being said, the most important aspect of the deal may be political—Trump’s way of telling “my friend King Salman,” as he now calls him, that the United States is firmly in his camp.  And this is, in fact, the most troubling development of all.

It’s bad enough that the Obama administration allowed itself to be dragged into an ill-conceived, counterproductive, and regionally destabilizing war in Yemen. Trump’s uncritical support of Saudi foreign policy could have even more dangerous consequences. The Saudis are more intent than Trump’s own advisers (distinctly a crew of Iranophobes) on ratcheting up tensions with Iran.  It’s no small thing, for instance, that Secretary of Defense James Mattis, who has asserted that Iran is “the single most enduring threat to stability and peace in the Middle East,” and who advocated U.S. military attacks on that country during his tenure as head of the U.S. Central Command, looks sober-minded compared to the Saudi royals.

If there is even a glimmer of hope in the situation, it might lie in the efforts of both Mattis and Secretary of State Rex Tillerson to walk back the president’s full-throated support for a Saudi confrontation with Qatar. Tillerson, for instance, has attempted to pursue an effort to mediate the Saudi-Qatari dispute and has called for a “calm and thoughtful dialogue.” Similarly, on the same day as Trump tweeted in support of the Saudis, the Pentagon issued a statement praising Qatar’s “enduring commitment to regional security.”  This is hardly surprising given the roughly 10,000 troops the U.S. has at al-Udeid air base in Doha, its capital, and the key role that base plays in Washington’s war on terror in the region.  It is the largest American base in the Middle East and the forward headquarters of U.S. Central Command, as well as a primary staging area for the U.S. war on ISIS. The administration’s confusion regarding how to deal with Qatar was further underscored when Mattis and Qatari Defense Minister Khalid Al-Attiyah signed a $12 billion deal for up to 36 Boeing F-15 combat aircraft, barely a week after President Trump had implied that Qatar was the world capital of terrorist financing.

In a further possible counter to Trump’s aggressive stance, Secretary of Defense Mattis has suggested that perhaps it’s time to pursue a diplomatic settlement of the war in Yemen.  In April, he told reporters that, “in regards to the Saudi and Emirati campaign in Yemen, our goal, ladies and gentleman, is for that crisis down there, that ongoing fight, [to] be put in front of a U.N.-brokered negotiating team and try to resolve this politically as soon as possible.” Mattis went on to decry the number of civilians being killed, stating that the war there “has simply got to be brought to an end.”

It remains to be seen whether Tillerson’s and Mattis’s conciliatory words are hints of a possible foot on the brake in the Trump administration when it comes to building momentum for what could, in the end, be a U.S. military strike against Iran, egged on by Donald Trump’s good friends in Saudi Arabia.  As Ali Vaez of the International Crisis Group has noted, if the U.S. ends up going to war against Iran, it would “make the Afghan and Iraqi conflicts look like a walk in the park.”

In fact, in a period when the turmoil has only risen in much of the rest of the Greater Middle East, the Saudi Arabian peninsula remained relatively stable, at least until the Saudi-led coalition drastically escalated the civil war in Yemen.  The new, more aggressive course being pursued against the royal family in Qatar and in relation to Iran could, however, make matters much worse, and fast.  Given the situation in the region today, including the spread of terror movements and failing states, the thought that Saudi Arabia itself might be destabilized (and Iran with it) should be daunting indeed, though not perhaps for Donald Trump.

So far, through a combination of internal repression and generous social benefits to its citizens—a form of political bribery designed to buy loyalty—the Saudi royal family has managed to avoid the fate of other regional autocrats driven from power.  But with low oil prices and a costly war in Yemen, the regime is being forced to reduce the social spending that has helped cement its hold on power. It’s possible that further military adventures, coupled with a backlash against its repressive policies, could break what analysts Sarah Chayes and Alex de Waal have described as the current regime’s “brittle hold on power.” In other words, what a time for the Trump administration to offer its all-in support for the plans of an aggressive yet fragile regime whose reckless policies could even spark a regional war.

Maybe it’s time for opponents of a stepped-up U.S. military role in the Middle East to throw Donald Trump a big, glitzy parade aimed at boosting his ego and dampening his enthusiasm for the Saudi royal family.  It might not change his policies, but at least it would get his attention.

William D. Hartung, a TomDispatch regular, is the director of the Arms and Security Project at the Center for International Policy and the author of Prophets of War: Lockheed Martin and the Making of the Military-Industrial Complex.

Follow TomDispatch on Twitter and join us on Facebook. Check out the newest Dispatch Book, John Dower’s The Violent American Century: War and Terror Since World War II, as well as John Feffer’s dystopian novel Splinterlands, Nick Turse’s Next Time They’ll Come to Count the Dead, and Tom Engelhardt’s Shadow Government: Surveillance, Secret Wars, and a Global Security State in a Single-Superpower World.

By William D. Hartung/TomDispatch

Posted by The NON-Conformist

Gutting Health Care in Darkness

WASHINGTON—Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell once had passionate views about how carefully Congress should consider sweeping changes to the health care system.

“Fast-tracking a major legislative overhaul such as health care reform or a new national energy tax without the benefit of a full and transparent debate does a disservice to the American people,” McConnell said in 2009, referring to the two big issues of the moment. Democrats using such means, he added, “would make it absolutely clear they intend to carry out their plans on a purely partisan basis.”

Republican hypocrisy is now so rampant that it’s typically ignored or, worse, granted the political class’s all-purpose form of absolution: “Everybody does it.”

But everybody doesn’t do it. McConnell is trying to eviscerate the Affordable Care Act using methods completely at odds with how the law was originally brought to life seven years ago. The ACA was debated for more than a year and went through an elaborate hearing and amendment process, including some changes urged by Republicans.

By contrast, the bill Senate Republicans are writing is being held as close as the nuclear codes. In the meantime, President Trump and his administration (including, most recently, Attorney General Jeff “I don’t recall” Sessions) keep providing McConnell excellent cover as their assorted outrages dominate the news and deflect attention from Capitol Hill. The wrecking squad works in the shadows knowing that if the public were given time to absorb the damage in store for millions of Americans, the pushback would be enormous.

Cleverly, Senate Republicans say their coverage-destruction bill will be better than the one Speaker Paul Ryan pushed through the House. (Trump helpfully described the House measure as “mean” during a meeting Tuesday with Republican senators.) Well, great, and a Category 4 hurricane is a bit less harrowing than a Category 5. Most of us would prefer to avoid both.

One of the so-called “improvements” that has leaked out: People will be thrown off Medicaid more slowly under McConnellcare than under Ryancare. But they’ll still be thrown off, and to pay for this reprieve, the Senate would reportedly include additional cuts to Medicaid elsewhere. To finance all their tax cuts for the rich, Republicans will have to gut insurance for a lot of people one way or another.

Why all the secrecy? McConnell is trying to keep the pressure off the many Republican senators who have offered pledges of varying degrees of specificity to protect Medicaid and other aspects of the ACA that benefit their constituents.

They include Dean Heller of Nevada and Jeff Flake of Arizona, both up for re-election next year, as well as Rob Portman of Ohio, Shelley Moore Capito of West Virginia, Lisa Murkowski of Alaska, Cory Gardner of Colorado and Bill Cassidy of Louisiana. So far, Susan Collins of Maine has stood honorably as one of her party’s firmest skeptics of this fiasco-in-the-making, but even she seems to be wobbling.

Since Democrats have 48 votes against dismantling the existing law, any three Republican senators could put a stop to this fantastically anti-democratic process. They could walk into McConnell’s office and say they’ll oppose any bill that is not made public for at least a month of real scrutiny and discussion. Is this too much to ask of legislation that could threaten the health care of countless Americans (the exact number being unknowable because the bill’s architects won’t admit to what they’re doing)?

There is work here for activists, politicians and the media. Activists must understand that they have less time to save the Affordable Care Act than they might think. Democratic Senators must take every opportunity to force this issue to the fore. Disruption in the face of this violation of legislative norms is no vice.

As for the media, Jacob Leibenluft, a former Obama administration official, described the problem well in an interview: “If you don’t have hearings, and you don’t have big moments for television, you don’t have bandwidth for coverage.” Leibenluft, now at the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, says individual reporters on the health care beat are doing good work, but their stories are getting limited attention.

He added: “I hate to think that looking back on this period, we’ll realize that the most regressive piece of social legislation in modern American history was passed, and no one was paying attention.”

We know that the Trump/Russia story will still be there in a month. We cannot say the same about the health insurance millions of Americans count on. By then, it may be on the road to extinction.

By E.J. Dionne Jr./Truthdig

Posted by The NON-Confromist

Are We Getting the Trump-Russia Story Right?

  A caricature of President Donald Trump on sale in a shopping mall in Moscow. (Alexander Zemlianichenko / AP)

In the rush for daily scoops in the Donald Trump-Russia investigation, facts are hard to come by. Stories based on leaks and relying on unnamed sources can only leave the news consumer hopelessly confused.

The stories come in torrents, feeding the hunger of the 24/7-news cycle. From administration officials to those on the edge of the Trump circle, people find themselves tainted by stories linking them to Russian President Vladimir Putin, his top aides, his security police and his web of business contacts. To students of history and those of us with long memories, it’s reminiscent of the Red Scare days of post-World War II America when leaks about accused “commies” went from congressional investigators to reporters and then to newspapers and magazines.

These are the questions that should be asked by readers and viewers, no matter where they stand politically or philosophically:

Are today’s media outlets completely reliable?

Will some of their bombshells turn out to be misstated, overblown or just plain wrong?

Must we take the stories from leaks and anonymous sources by their teams of national security reporters at face value—or should we view them with the same skepticism that the reporters, themselves, are supposed to bring to their work?

I, for one, want better answers than we’ve been getting.

Our strange, secretive President Trump deserves investigation. He and his family seem entangled with Russian oligarchs tied up with Putin. The Russians could be squeezing the Trump clan, which could explain Trump’s friendliness, or at least lack of hostility, toward the Russians. It’s not a far leap to think of Trump negotiating with a tough creditor to Trump and his associates shifting the conversation to politics and policy with the Russians, welcoming their participation in the volatile American presidential election and promising to lift those sanctions.

Or perhaps the answer, as unimaginable as it seems, is that Trump is a foreign affairs visionary, as Nixon was with China, seeing his presidency as an opportunity to work with a former adversary with whom we share some interests. In that fanciful scenario, when the Trump-Russia investigation is completed, Trump and Putin will shake hands in their macho way while accepting the Nobel Peace Prize.

It may take years to get answers, even if special counsel Robert Mueller and Senate and House committees do a good job. Unfortunately, the years of investigation, with their inevitable leaks to journalists, especially from Congress, will take a heavy toll on democratic institutions while providing material for a steady stream of hot stories.

Robert Parry put it this way on Consortiumnews.com on May 7:

Congressional demands for personal and business information from several of Donald Trump’s campaign advisers demonstrate how the Russia-gate investigation continues to spill over into a new breed of McCarthyism infringing on civil liberties, including freedom of speech and freedom of association. … But the reality of Official Washington is that once momentum builds up around a “scandal,” someone has to get convicted of something – or all the Important People who have weighed in on the “affair” will look stupid. In Russia-gate, however, important principles about the right to dissent, the right to privacy and the right to associate freely are getting trampled.

The right to dissent was at the heart of an investigation I did for Truthdig last December on an organization called PropOrNot, short for Propaganda Or Not. PropOrNot had combed through many websites and identified more than 200 of them as being pro-Russian or unwitting tools of the Kremlin. Truthdig made the PropOrNot blacklist, as did many other sites. They ranged from progressive, like us, to one that’s alt-right. Its purpose was to identify pro-Kremlin “fake news.” I wondered how we got on the list. When I dug into the operation, I found PropOrNot had “sparse evidence indeed” that we were Kremlin collaborators. ProOrNot had an anti-Russian slant and was aimed at the dissent that makes our site and others so valuable to democracy.

The PropOrNot blacklist, whose compilers are anonymous, illustrates the danger of many stories with anonymous sources in the Trump-Russia investigation.

I’m not denying the worth of anonymous sources. I’ve used them throughout my career. Sometimes, that’s the only way of getting valuable information from an insider who doesn’t want her or his name used. But I’ve always viewed it as a last resort. My editors didn’t like the practice. Nor did I when I became an editor. Give me a name, a real person, any time.

Anonymous sources are at the heart of some of the biggest Trump-Russia stories. There has always been intense competition among the news media to be first with the news, competition to be even a few minutes ahead of a rival. The first story dominates the internet. It’s quoted by the rest of the media pack, giving the first one clicks, publicity and the acclaim of the digital world. The volume and speed of the news—coming from respected sources such as The New York Times and Washington Post—probably convince many news consumers to accept it at face value.

The chroniclers of the Trump-Russia story have been portrayed as heroes—21st century Woodward and Bernsteins—by cable television. Let The New York Times, The Washington Post, Reuters or the others pursuing the story get a scoop, and one of the authors will be hustled onto a cable network. Once humble reporters, they have been elevated to media celebrities, with network analyst positions, lecture appearances and maybe even a new job awaiting them.

I was taught the importance of being first in my 10 years as a reporter for The Associated Press. If you weren’t first, if the opposition beat you, you’d get bawled out. But like generations of AP reporters before and after me, I was also taught to be right, to make no mistakes. It’s better to be right than to be first. Try balancing that while reporting a big story, or a small one. It’s not easy. But we knew that to be wrong was a stain that could linger for years. It was lesson I have carried with me.

At the beginning of this column, I asked readers to consider whether some of the anonymously sourced stories, produced under heavy time pressure, were misleading or even wrong.

Rachel Maddow provided a good insight into the dangers of this process on her May 25 show. The MSNBC host was talking about an important story in the Russia affair. Numerous news outlets, including NBC, had reported that, days before he was fired, FBI Director James Comey asked for more resources for the investigation, including prosecutors and other personnel, to speed things up. His request, various news media implied, was a factor in Trump firing him. If Trump were trying to interfere with the investigation, this would be a figurative nail in the president’s coffin, possible evidence of obstruction of justice.

The Justice Department and the deputy attorney general, Rod Rosenstein, denied the story.

In her broadcast, Maddow admitted the story was wrong. She said that after reporting by the MSNBC staff she concluded, “What was widely believed to have happened, actually what was widely reported to have happened in this key point of time, what we know about it, I think, is wrong, and I think we can correct this record tonight.”

She said “what went on here was something akin to a game of ‘telephone’ on Capitol Hill.” That’s a game in which something is whispered into the ear of another person, who passes it on down the line. At the end, it usually is distorted.

Maddow said MSNBC journalists had learned that Comey had conferred with Chairman Richard Burr of the Senate Intelligence Committee and Sen. Mark Warner, the ranking member. Burr and Warner, she said, relayed conversation to fellow committee members.

“From there, word started to spread,” Maddow said, “and this resulted in multiple press reports that Comey had asked for more resources just days before he was fired.” Maddow, however, said that “if a request was made it was more like a nebulous thing than a direct appeal.”

Maddow concluded that if obstruction of justice is central to the Mueller investigation, “I think it is worth being very specific about what evidence we’ve got on obstruction of justice by the White House and by the president.”

Then in words that should be heeded by all journalists, she said, “Boy, is it important we get this story right.”

By Bill Boyarsky/Truthdig

The NON-Conformist

The High Price of Presidential Impeachment

President Andrew Johnson’s impeachment shows how removing a president can inflame tensions in an already divided nation.

About 150 years ago, as Congress prepared to impeach President Andrew Johnson, someone discovered two bottles of what seemed like nitroglycerin in a Senate passageway. Hysterical politicians fled the building—until some bold newspaperman swigged the liquid. It was just bourbon.

The incident provided a powerful metaphor for the way impeachment turned a substance politicians could usually handle into something highly explosive. After months of drama, Lincoln’s former secretary John Hay concluded: “Impeachment is demonstrated not to be an easy thing. The lesson may be a good one some day.” The lesson, as good in 2017 as it was in 1868, is that removing a president is an ugly process, which can dangerously inflame tensions in an already divided nation.

There were, in the late 1860s, real fears that impeachment could spark a second Civil War. That rebellion was barely over, and posed a number of unanswered questions. What did the nation owe to millions of freed slaves? How should the federal government treat Confederate leaders and seceded states? What should northerners do about the atrocious outbreaks of racist violence unfolding in cities like New Orleans and Memphis?

Things were little calmer in Washington. A victorious, sometimes-cocky, Republican Party controlled more than three-quarters of both houses of Congress. Yet in the White House sat Andrew Johnson, put into power not by a popular vote, but by Lincoln’s assassination. And Johnson, it was painfully clear, was hostile to blacks, lenient with rebels, and hell-bent on fighting Congress.

Johnson was, possibly, the worst man to lead the country at such a tense moment. Racist, crude, and grumpy, Johnson nursed an incredible persecution complex. At best, he was a formerly illiterate tailor who had worked his way up from poverty to the most powerful position in the nation, like his fellow Tennessean and personal hero, Andrew Jackson. At worst, he was paranoid, resentful, narcissistic. Washington politicos described a man who “always hated somebody,” “always defeats himself,” and was “always worse than you expect.”

There were, still, millions who sided with Johnson. White Democrats, especially in the lower north and the south, felt overwhelmed by Republicans. To them, Republicans were social-justice warriors intent on revolutionizing race relations and centralizing Federal power; most Democrats just wanted to return to the old union and old Constitution. Such Democrats launched the most bitterly racist campaigns in American history, rallying behind Andrew Johnson as a symbol of their struggle against change.

Johnson put his presidency on a collision course with Congress. He referred, constantly, to his unfair treatment and to his many enemies, at whom he spat bold, baseless claims. After white police officers slaughtered dozens of black activists in New Orleans, Johnson ridiculously blamed “the radical Congress” for the massacre. On a disastrous speaking tour across the Midwest—in which he drank heavily and compared himself to Jesus—Johnson called for the lynching of his most hated congressional rival, Thaddeus Stevens. Even relatively neutral observers like Senator John Sherman eventually concluded that he was beyond help, sighing: “The truth is, he is a slave to his passions and resentments.”

Johnson’s enemies were nearly as intent on conflict. They set a trap for the president, making it illegal for him to fire certain officials. Of course, Johnson promptly fired them. His nemesis, Stevens, was heard hollering in Congress: “Didn’t I tell you so? If you don’t kill the beast, it will kill you.” Congress moved in, voting for impeachment in March 1868.

But impeachment means more than merely a trial in Washington. As news spread across the nation, many citizens assumed that politics was once again bleeding over into violence. Some braced for a second Civil War, this time fought not just by north and south, but also between Republicans and Democrats in places like New Jersey and Ohio. One man in Illinois was reminded of “Fort Sumpter times. Everybody is for fight,” while a Massachusetts woman, tired of warfare, merely shrugged: “Another revolution is upon us (Heaven help us that it be a peaceful one).”

An angry president, resentful of the political establishment; a devoted minority, supporting their leader as a symbol of the country they feared they were losing; a trial which blurred the lines between legal and political charges—it was all enough, 150 years ago, to threaten renewed war. Americans live in far more peaceful times today, but it’s not difficult to imagine how impeachment could rile an already agitated nation.

So, over the course of that trial, Congress stepped back from convicting Johnson. For one thing, he had only a few months left in his term before the presidential election in the fall. For another, if removed he would be replaced by the radical Ohio Senator Benjamin Wade—so pugnacious that he attempted to fight in the First Battle of Bull Run, as a sitting senator, armed only with his squirrel gun.

Impeachment, some cool heads hoped, would be enough to scare the president into behaving, without convicting him. “I think Johnson,” John Hay prayed, “will put some water in his whiskey now.”

Some see Johnson’s impeachment and trial as a key step towards a true Reconstruction of the South—putting Congress, which was far more supportive of black rights, in charge. Johnson was clearly in the way, spitefully vetoing more bills than all presidents before him combined. But impeachment also gave the impression that the Republican Party was stepping beyond the usual democratic process. Tired of what William Tecumseh Sherman dismissed as “the game going on at Washington,” many voters simply turned off. “One irony of Reconstruction,” argued the historian Mark Wahlgren Summers, was that the fear of a second Civil War probably made northerners give up on the whole process prematurely.

It’s unclear whether anything will come from all the current impeachment talk. But trying to remove a president can come at a very high price to the political culture. No Congress has ever successfully removed a president from office; it is impossible to predict the long-term effect it might have on American democracy. It’s hard to imagine that it will help calm partisan politics. Removal is a very blunt tool, an extraordinary measure that can be both entirely called for, and deeply damaging, all at the same time.

As the arch Ohio politician John Sherman wrote, back in the 1860s, it’s incredibly difficult to get rid of a president. Sherman complained that impeachment is slow, difficult, and ugly. “The Constitution provided against every probable vacancy in the office of President,” he griped, “but did not provide for utter imbecility.”

By Jon Grinspan/TheAtlantic

Posted by The NON-Conformist

Trump’s budget slashes $3.6 trillion from domestic programs over 10 years

Trump’s budget slashes $3.6 trillion from domestic programs over 10 years

Trump’s budget slashes $3.6 trillion from domestic programs over 10 years
The Trump administration’s $4.1 billion budget proposal calls for increased spending on law enforcement, the military and the US-Mexico wall, but cuts spending for programs for the poor by slashing funding for Medicaid and cutting food stamps.

“We looked at this budget through the eyes of the one’s paying the bills,” said Office of Management and Budget (OMB) Director Mick Mulvaney told reporters at the White House on Tuesday.

“[F]or years and years we’ve looked at the budget in terms of the people in the back end of the program, the recipients of the taxpayer’s money, and we haven’t spent nearly enough time focusing our attention on the people who pay the taxes. Compassion needs to be on both sides of that equation,” he said.

Under this view, Medicaid, a federal-state health care program for the poor and disabled, would be slashed by more than $600 billion over 10 years. It also envisages capping payments to states and providing more flexibility to manage Medicaid recipients.

During question time, a reporter asked Mulvaney about Donald Trump’s announcement as a candidate that he would “Save Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid without cuts – gotta do it,” and whether the Trump was keeping his promises now that he’s president.

“We are not kicking anyone off any program who really needs it,” Melvaney responded. “We have plenty of money in this country to take care of everyone who needs help. But not enough for everyone who doesn’t need help.”

Trump is the first president to propose parental leave, Mulvaney said.

The budget outlines a paid parental leave program that accesses a state’s unemployment insurance scheme, but doesn’t include how the federal government will allocate funds to the program or how much. That’s because the states are being asked to figure out how to fund the program, which will probably fall on employers to fund, as unemployment insurance does in most states.

“The proposal will allow states to establish paid parental leave programs in a way that is most appropriate for their workforce and economy. States would be required to provide six weeks of parental leave and the proposal gives it broad latitude to design and finance the program,” stated the budget.

Under the budget plan, $191 billion would be cut from the food stamp program over a decade, representing a 30 percent reduction. The program currently serves 42 million people, a number that hasn’t changed much in a sluggish, recovering economy.

“We need people to work,” Mulvaney told reporters on Monday. “If you are on food stamps, we need you to go to work. If you are on disability and you should not be, we need you to go back to work.”

More than eight in 10 food stamp recipients, or 83 percent, are for households with children, the elderly or a disabled person. The average food stamp benefit is $133.85 a month, or the equivalent of $1.50 a meal. Working people who rely on food stamps are often times using it to supplement their lower income jobs where state and federal minimum wages have not been adjusted to meet living expense increases.

 

More from RT

Posted by The NON-Conformist

Palestinian Rights Not a Topic of Discussion During Trump’s Visit

Palestinians See Trump’s Talk of Peace as Empty Promises

President Donald Trump’s visits with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and President Mahmoud Abbas come with a lot of expectations, at least from Trump’s perspective, that he can make some progress in advancing the peace process between the two sides.

There are a lot of topics that are off limit, however, and perhaps none more glaringly so, at least on this leg of the visit, than the subject of basic Palestinian rights, which Trump is eager to avoid bringing up, knowing the implications that even a tacit recognition of such rights would have for Israel’s far-right government.

Trump styles himself the greatest deal-maker in the world, and has embraced the idea of making a deal between the Israelis and the Palestinians since taking office, but also remains determined to protect his status as a “pro-Israel” president, with a collection of aides to match.

That has done much to temper Palestinian excitement about Trump’s talk of peace, as they see the talk of peace, with no plan, and a US Ambassador to Israel that is openly supporting settlements in occupied Palestine, and conclude the talk of peace is as empty as ever.

As Israel celebrates 50 years of military occupation of the Palestinians, it’s impossible not to figure that the moment the peace process becomes inconvenient to US-Israeli relations, it will again be cast off, to wait for another administration’s half-hearted efforts.

by Jason Ditz/AntiWar

Posted by The NON-Conformist

%d bloggers like this: