Tag: politics

The hidden danger lurking behind Trump’s embarrassing 4th of July spectacle

On March 12, 1938, the vaunted German army was to make its triumphant entry into Austria—the infamous Anschluss by which a compliant Austrian government surrendered to the Nazis without a shot.

A grand parade of the Third Reich’s might was scheduled for the Austrian capital Vienna but the army’s tanks were not as invincible as the generals bragged. They quickly broke down, clogging the roads, stalling the advance, and infuriating Adolph Hitler. And so, French author and filmmaker Eric Vuillard writes in his eloquent essay, The Order of the Day, “the German troops loaded as many tanks as they could onto railroad cars… the trains hauled away the armor the way you’d transport circus equipment.” The parade went on as planned.

It was that image of massive weapons as circus gear that flashed to mind this week when photos were released of tanks on railroad cars in Washington, DC, ready to be placed on display at our National Mall on the orders of Donald Trump. They were part of his plan to hijack the Fourth of July and make our nation’s birthday all about him—a “Salute to America,” featuring the tanks, military flyovers (including the Blue Angels and Air Force One) and a speech made by the man who calls himself, “Your favorite President, me!” The White House, the Republican National Committee, and the Trump reelect distributed VIP tickets.

As per The New York Times, “Pentagon officials have long been reluctant to parade tanks, missiles, and other weapons through the nation’s capital like the authoritarian leaders of North Korea and China. They say the United States, which has the world’s most powerful military and spends more on defense than the seven next largest military spenders combined—China, Saudi Arabia, India, France, Russia, Britain, and Germany—does not need to broadcast its strength.”

Many former military weren’t crazy about the idea either. Retired Army Lt. Gen. David Barno, who commanded troops under George W. Bush, told Politico, “This looks like it’s becoming much more of a Republican Party event—a political event about the president—than a national celebration of the Fourth of July, and it’s unfortunate to have the military smack dab in the middle of that.” Retired Army Maj. Gen. William Nash added, “The president is using the armed forces in a political ploy for his reelection campaign and I think it’s absolutely obscene.”

(Mother Jones reported on Wednesday that soldiers assigned to the tanks and other armored vehicles plopped down among our national monuments had been given a card by the Pentagon about what to say to the public, including,  “I am proud of my job and my vehicle/tank. I am glad to share my experience with American People.”)

Anyone who has ever spent a Fourth of July in Washington knows that it’s a festive fun day in the capital, albeit wilting hot and sopping humid, usually above politics, featuring a parade, a folk life festival, grand music, and fireworks. But this year, the steps of the Lincoln Memorial, usually a prime vantage point for watching the skyrockets, and the surrounding parkland were cordoned off for the invited guests so that they could watch our egomaniacal president and the first lady make a grand entrance across a red-carpeted stage at the spot where Marian Anderson sang “My Country, ‘Tis of Thee” when she was barred from Constitution Hall by the DAR in 1939, and Martin Luther King, Jr., told an eager crowd in 1963 of his dreams for racial harmony and freedom.

Trump’s attempt to wedge himself and his reelection into the festivities—using, in part, taxpayer millions diverted from much needed repairs of the national parks—had the grace of that clown who tries to photobomb a group portrait in the high school yearbook, making faces and wiggling fingers in his ears. The speech, which many feared would be a partisan attack similar to the rants he delivers at his campaign rallies, turned out to be standard if dull rhetoric that sounded more like the third-place winning essay in an eighth grade civics contest than a speech by our putative chief executive. It went on at such monotonous length that CNN actually cut away for a commercial break, something I have never in my life seen happen during a presidential address.

Standing behind a wall of bulletproof glass so rain streaked it appeared he was speaking from behind a car windshield during a cloudburst, Trump was at his best when quoting the eloquence of his predecessors rather than the boilerplate of his speechwriters. (Lincoln’s “government of the people, by the people, for the people ” was trundled out, but there was no mention of Abe’s “malice toward none.”) He lumbered through a rambling litany of moments in American history and named its greats, glossing over our sins, thanking all the branches of the military, and presenting notables in the audience who had been brought there, State of the Union-style, to be lauded for their achievements.

(One of them, Clarence Henderson, introduced by the president as among the first to participate in the Greensboro lunch counter sit-ins in 1960 and cited by Trump as an exemplar of the success of civil rights, has in recent years been an outspoken Trump supporter and president of the North Carolina chapter of the Frederick Douglass Foundation, a group that seeks, according to The Fayetteville Observer, “to grow the ranks of conservative Christian black Republicans.”)

Aside from the verbal slips he inevitably stumbles into when reading from a teleprompter (“ramparts/airports”) there was no groaner of an improvised joke or insult, although given his draft record, the call for young people to join the military was a little rich. That this failure to further embarrass the nation was cause for kudos from Republican leadership and some in the media gives an idea of how low we’ve let this man set the presidential performance bar.

But as conservative columnist Jennifer Rubin noted in The Washington Post, Trump misconstrues American traditions: “What should be a commemoration of human rights (‘All men … ‘) and the unwavering faith in the rule of law and in democratic governance in Trump’s hands becomes a caffeinated Armed Services Day. He manages to transform a holiday about the greatest experiment in civilian self-government into a garish military Mardi Gras.”

So why spend even a moment wringing hands over such an event when there are horrors perpetrated by this regime on an hourly basis that far eclipse some uninspiring oratory and slipshod pageantry? When Trump perpetually lies, makes policy mayhem worldwide, utters dark threats about the homeless and deportations and allows men, women, and children to cluster in overcrowded squalid cellsalong our southern border?

Why bother? Because, as Eric Vuillard writes of World War II in The Order of the Day, “Great catastrophes often creep up on us in tiny steps.” Because on the same day a company donated $750,000 worth of free fireworks for Trump’s Fourth of July party, he dropped a tariff on imported Chinese fireworks that same company had been lobbying against. Because every bit of graft like that, every small indignity inflicted, each gesture and symbol of disdain, are reflective of a greater, potentially fatal insult to democracy and a degradation of the greater good that was idealized by the men who signed the Declaration.

Trump Administration Moves to Restrict Food Stamp Access the Farm Bill Protected

WASHINGTON — The Trump administration announced on Thursday that it would seek to put in place more stringent work requirements for adults who rely on food stamps, even as the president signed a sweeping farm bill in which lawmakers had rejected stricter rules.

By moving to limit the ability of states to issue waivers to people who say they cannot make ends meet under the requirements for the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, the Agriculture Department found another route to create restrictions, bypassing Congress and drawing immediate criticism that the proposed rule was sure to harm Americans below the poverty line.

The administration, which along with conservatives had fought to include stricter work requirements in the farm bill, continued to argue that food stamps were never meant to be a way of life and that able-bodied adults should be able to find jobs in a healthy economy.

“Long-term reliance on government assistance has never been part of the American dream,” Sonny Perdue, the agriculture secretary, said in a statement. “Moving people to work is common-sense policy, particularly at a time when the unemployment rate is at a generational low.”

The $867 billion farm bill, a huge piece of legislation intended to provide relief for farmers and the poor, encountered a number of obstacles this year as it faced scrutiny from conservative lawmakers who pushed for an overhaul in how the food program’s participants would be evaluated.

In the end, Republican and Democratic negotiators decided to drop two proposals introduced by conservatives and publicly championed by President Trump: one that would have imposed further work requirements on adults using SNAP, and another that would have closed a loophole allowing states to waive the requirements in areas with high unemployment rates.

The proposed rule drew ire from Democrats, who accused the Trump administration of steamrollering a rare bipartisan compromise and ignoring Congress’s mandate to leave the program and its 40 million recipients untouched.

“After a very rough back and forth on that particular issue, basically we left the program alone without restricting people from being able to get it,” said Representative Raúl M. Grijalva, Democrat of Arizona, one of the negotiators on the bill’s bicameral committee. “Now you have Secretary Perdue doing essentially what was, in a bipartisan way, agreed not to do. He needs to know what the intent of Congress is and follow it.”

Senator Debbie Stabenow of Michigan, the top Democrat on the Senate Agriculture Committee, accused Mr. Perdue in a bluntly worded statement of “blatantly” ignoring the bipartisan farm bill and disregarding “over 20 years of history giving states flexibility to request waivers based on local job conditions.” READ MORE:https://www.nytimes.com/2018/12/20/us/politics/food-stamps-trump-administration-snap.html

Why Mattis Had to Go

The defense secretary could no longer serve a president who no longer thinks he needs to listen to anybody. James Mattis is not an imposing man. At five-foot-nine, with a slight build, he doesn’t have the physical presence you might expect from someone whose nickname is “Mad Dog.” He doesn’t have, say, H.R. McMaster’s bull neck or booming voice. Yet Mattis loomed large over U.S. national security policy, such as it is, under this presidency—so much so that his long-expected but still-sudden resignation Thursday had Washington reporters competing to see who could dial up the most hair raising quotes warning of catastrophe ahead.

(My contribution: One former top official who speaks regularly to the White House offered only a one-word reaction over email: “Alarming.”)
When I met Mattis for the first time, at Stanford University’s Hoover Institution, the retired Marine general was still fuming over his treatment by the Barack Obama administration—he was fired as Central Command chief, basically, for urging a more aggressive Iran policy—and though our conversation wasn’t on the record, it was clear he was somebody who wasn’t to be trifled with.


Now, he’s aiming his considerable capacity for outrage at a different occupant of the Oval Office, with the stakes far higher given that the president today is, well, Donald Trump.
Every journalist in Washington knew Mattis opposed Trump on the biggest foreign policy issues of the day, be it pushing back against a revanchist Russia, managing the messy conflicts in the broader Middle East, or handling a surging China. He made it known around town that he was only running the Pentagon to protect it, if not the world, from the president, and for nearly two years he was more or less able to prevent an outright crisis.
The question was always when Mattis would reach his breaking point—when the president’s isolationist instincts, impulsive decision-making and attempts to use the military as a political weapon would push him over the edge.


It wasn’t, apparently, Trump’s deployment of U.S. troops to the Mexican border in a transparent effort to swing the November midterms that did it; Mattis went along with that. It wasn’t the president’s repeated snipes at NATO, the transatlantic alliance that has underpinned American national security for seven decades; nor was it his assiduous adoption of Kremlin talking points or his periodic eruptions at U.S. allies—it was basically all of that, Mattis made clear in his extraordinary resignation letter, which contains not a scintilla of praise for his boss and outlines several major points of disagreement.


“Because you have the right to have a Secretary of Defense whose views are better aligned with yours,” Mattis wrote, “I believe it is right for me to step down from my position.”
Obviously, Mattis couldn’t abide Trump’s sudden and apparently unilateral decision to pull U.S. troops out of Syria, where they were supporting predominantly Kurdish forces in fighting against ISIS and keeping an eye on an encroaching Iran. Word soon leaked out, too, that Trump plans to yank a big chunk of U.S. forces from Afghanistan, a flailing war effort the president has long questioned as pointless.
It’s not that these moves are indefensible—one can easily imagine a President Hillary Clinton determining that the juice wasn’t worth the squeeze and ordering U.S. forces home.


But in a normal administration, a big move like that would have taken place only after endless rounds of discussions at multiple levels of governments, arguments between agencies, and consultations with allies. There would be plans for every possible contingency, and a carefully coordinated PR rollout. Trump seems to have just ordered it done at the speed of a tweet, and it’s clear his administration hasn’t worked through the dangers that accompany any withdrawal of troops from a war zone.
On Wednesday, the administration hastily announced a conference call to brief the press on the president’s Syria decision, then struggled to explain what it was and when or how it would happen. The Pentagon pointed reporters to the White House; the White House told reporters to talk to the Pentagon. It was a level of chaos I hadn’t seen in a decade of covering U.S. foreign policy.


So it isn’t surprising that Mattis left—with his advice so conspicuously spurned, he might have realized he could no longer be effective. For years, he had ignored or slow-walked Trump’s wilder ideas, such as his reported order to assassinate Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, but this time the president doesn’t appear to have consulted him at all—and reportedly rejected his desperate final attempt to change his mind over Syria. Any Cabinet secretary would have resigned.
So what now?


Each occupant of the Oval Office claims ever-vaster powers in foreign policy, and Congress has steadily ceded its oversight powers as the complexity of conflicts, and the speed and might of the U.S. military, has increased. So those looking to Capitol Hill for a public intervention may end up disappointed. After all, Republican senators have wished away their differences with Trump on foreign policy for many months, occasionally rebuking him but generally doing little to rein him in.

When Domestic Workers Rose Up in Atlanta

More than 100 years ago, black domestic workers in Georgia organized for better pay. Now they’re getting out the vote for Stacey Abrams.

All across Atlanta, hundreds of domestic workers have been knocking on doors for Stacey Abrams, the Democratic candidate for Georgia governor, hoping to turn her into first black woman in that role.

These domestic workers, mostly black women affiliated with Care in Action, the political arm of the National Domestic Workers Alliance, are using new technologies, like a smartphone app to identify the homes of voters of color.

But they’re also carrying on an 140-year-old tradition of domestic workers fighting for economic empowerment. Despite their marginalized positions and the many obstacles in their way, they insist on making their voices heard.

In July 1881, washerwomen in Atlanta, toiling outside in the hot summer as they lugged buckets of well water and scrubbed their white patrons’ laundry, finally had enough. They decided to go on strike to demand increased wages and respect for their work.

They and a few male allies mobilized supporters by going door to door in black neighborhoods, despite threats of being arrested for “disorderly conduct.” The women held meetings in churches, hundreds packing the pews. They formed the Washing Society, a cross between a labor union and a mutual aid organization, with subsidiaries in the city’s five wards.

And in the beginning of the Jim Crow era, domestic work was more than a system of labor. It also symbolized an ordering of society by race in which black people were always considered subservient.

When the strike broke out in July, the women faced a chorus of boos and laughs from employers, city officials, businessmen and reporters from the The Atlanta Constitution newspaper. The women were called “Washing Amazons.”

But the nickname soon proved to be apt. “I tell you, this strike is a big thing,” the police chief admitted after the first week when it was clear that there was no end in sight. Unlike other domestic workers, who labored in isolation in their employers’ homes, the laundresses shared work sites and were thus able to build solidarity.

In Southern cities, black domestic workers, including maids, nurses, cooks and laundresses, performed the most intimate and the most undesirable jobs for white families. They were paid substandard wages, expected to work long hours and were subjected to insults and sometimes even physical assaults.

READ MORE: https://www.nytimes.com/2018/11/05/opinion/atlanta-domestic-workers-vote-stacey-abrams.html?action=click&module=Opinion&pgtype=Homepage

‘Transgender’ Could Be Defined Out of Existence Under Trump Administration

Screen Shot 2018-10-21 at 6.25.10 PMWASHINGTON — The Trump administration is considering narrowly defining gender as a biological, immutable condition determined by genitalia at birth, the most drastic move yet in a governmentwide effort to roll back recognition and protections of transgender people under federal civil rights law.
A series of decisions by the Obama administration loosened the legal concept of gender in federal programs, including in education and health care, recognizing gender largely as an individual’s choice and not determined by the sex assigned at birth. The policy prompted fights over bathrooms, dormitories, single-sex programs and other arenas where gender was once seen as a simple concept. Conservatives, especially evangelical Christians, were incensed.

Now the Department of Health and Human Services is spearheading an effort to establish a legal definition of sex under Title IX, the federal civil rights law that bans gender discrimination in education programs that receive government financial assistance, according to a memo obtained by The New York Times.
The department argued in its memo that key government agencies needed to adopt an explicit and uniform definition of gender as determined “on a biological basis that is clear, grounded in science, objective and administrable.” The agency’s proposed definition would define sex as either male or female, unchangeable, and determined by the genitals that a person is born with, according to a draft reviewed by The Times. Any dispute about one’s sex would have to be clarified using genetic testing.

“Sex means a person’s status as male or female based on immutable biological traits identifiable by or before birth,” the department proposed in the memo, which was drafted and has been circulating since last spring. “The sex listed on a person’s birth certificate, as originally issued, shall constitute definitive proof of a person’s sex unless rebutted by reliable genetic evidence.”

The new definition would essentially eradicate federal recognition of the estimated 1.4 million Americans who have opted to recognize themselves — surgically or otherwise — as a gender other than the one they were born into.
“This takes a position that what the medical community understands about their patients — what people understand about themselves — is irrelevant because the government disagrees,” said Catherine E. Lhamon, who led the Education Department’s Office for Civil Rights in the Obama administration and helped write transgender guidance that is being undone.

The move would be the most significant of a series of maneuvers, large and small, to exclude the population from civil rights protections and roll back the Obama administration’s more fluid recognition of gender identity. The Trump administration has sought to bar transgender people from serving in the military and has legally challenged civil rights protections for the group embedded in the nation’s health care law.

MORE ON THIS STORY: https://apple.news/AApI1C7vASruuUKqJyd5nEA

Donald Trump and the Black Athlete

So we have more evidence that a master of the dog whistle occupies the White House and that black athletes are a favorite target.

The president, Donald J. Trump, took out after LeBron James on Friday in a way that felt instinctive, as the hound dog pursues the hare. The N.B.A. star had criticized Trump, in measured tones, in an interview with CNN last week. When the anchor Don Lemon asked James what he would say if he were sitting across from Trump, James offered a thin smile.

LBJ

“I would never sit across from him,” he said.

At 11:37 Friday night, after the interview had been rebroadcast, Trump replied with one of those tweets that offer an X-ray of his ego, psyche and soul. “LeBron James was just interviewed by the dumbest man on television, Don Lemon. He made LeBron look smart, which isn’t easy to do. I like Mike!”

There was a breathtaking quality to this attack, and not just because white men demeaning the intelligence of black people is one of the oldest and ugliest tropes in American history.

James had appeared on CNN not to criticize this thin-skinned and choleric president but to talk of growing up poor with a single mom and of trying to pay back those who helped him by underwriting a public, noncharter school for at-risk youth in his hometown, Akron, Ohio. His foundation also committed tens of millions of dollars to help provide college scholarships for Akron public school graduates.

James will give every child in this school a bike and a helmet. He is a biking enthusiast for reasons that extend beyond cardiovascular benefit: From James’s earliest childhood days, when he lived in a tiny apartment just up an embankment from Cuyahoga Valley railroad tracks, the bike stood as a symbol of freedom. It allowed him to pedal out of his down-at-the-heels neighborhood and explore a larger world.

The bike and sport gave him freedom, he told Lemon, and allowed him to meet and befriend white kids and to see a world laden with possibility. “I got an opportunity to see them and learn about them,” he said of white kids, “and they got an opportunity to learn about me, and we became very good friends.”

You wonder how Trump could listen to James saying all of this and take away nothing but offense and pique. Then again, it’s difficult to know where the line between genuine annoyance and political calculation stands for a man who so willfully stirs the coals of class and racial resentment.

READ MORE: https://www.nytimes.com/2018/08/05/sports/trump-lebron-james.html

Trump’s stealth attack on Obama’s legacy

While many of us have been distracted by Rudy Giuliani’s latest legal theories — and President Trump’s latest tweets — the Trump administration is making two big moves that will get him closer to his goal of erasing President Obama’s biggest policies.

What’s happening: The administration is allowing the sale of health insurance plans that undermine some of the main rules of the Affordable Care Act. And today, it will freeze federal fuel efficiency standards, undermining Obama’s goal of making them progressively tougher.

obama

Why it matters: This is being done through rulemaking, which gets the attention of health care and environmental reporters, yet flies under the radar of the cable news networks. These moves have huge, long-term consequences — and they show how easily Trump can achieve his policy goals while the TV cameras are focused on the outrage of the day.

  • “The President’s daily feeding of the outrage machine allows us to get work done on the agency level that would invite much more scrutiny in a ‘normal’ administration,” a former senior Health and Human Services official tells Swan.
  • “Cable news anchors spend hours and hours of airtime dissecting the latest Trump tweet, yet they barely notice when we achieve long-sought conservative policy goals” — like adding work requirements to Medicaid and stripping federal funds from Planned Parenthood.

The details on the fuel rollback, from energy columnist Amy Harder:

  • The proposal includes a range of options, but the administration’s preferred one is the most aggressive: Freezing the standards at 35 miles per gallon in 2020 for six years, instead of rising to 50 mpg under Obama’s plan.
  • It would also revoke a federal waiver California has to issue tougher standards, which a dozen states also follow. The rollback goes further than most automakers have said they want.
  • Between the lines: Early in Trump’s administration, business urged him to slow down on deregulating, stressing that narrow regulation is better than none in a changing political climate. Today’s announcement is one of the starkest signs that Trump is throwing that advice out the window — and inviting lawsuits and regulatory uncertainty.

The details on the health care rule, from health care editor Sam Baker:

  • HHS finalized new rules yesterday that expand access to inexpensive, bare-bones insurance plans that don’t have to comply with the rest of the ACA’s rules. They’re technically “short-term” plans, but they can be renewed for up to three years.

This isn’t the only swipe the Trump administration has taken against Obama’s health care law since the repeal effort failed:

  • The administration has also expanded access to other forms of non-ACA coverage.
  • Plus, it has slashed the budgets for programs that promote enrollment.
  • Congressional Republicans nullified the law’s individual mandate, and now the Justice Department is using that move to try to knock out pre-existing condition protections.
  • None of those cuts are fatal in isolation. But they’re not happening that way: Each one will pull a few more healthy people out of the ACA’s insurance markets.

The bottom line: There’s a lot that the agencies can do to wipe out Obama’s legacy on their own — and they’re making full use of the space that Trump’s rhetorical battles are giving them.

Go deeper: What Trump’s latest changes mean for the ACA.