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Thursday, 15 February 2018 08:29

Trump's Double Standard on House Russia Memos


trumphypocrisyDonald Trump, hypocrisy is thy middle name. (Photo: Gage Skidmore)

On Friday, February 9, President Donald J. Trump blocked release of the Democratic Party’s ten-page Russia memo that attempts to rebut the Republican Russia memo, and sent it back to the House Intelligence Committee for redaction. The President has alleged that the memo contains sensitive information that cannot be released. However, the President has a conflict of interest that arguably legally disqualifies him from making such a decision in the first place.

Trump released the Republican memo even though the FBI warned that it contained sensitive information that could jeopardize national security. In fact, he announced that he would release it apparently before he even read it. Then, after releasing it, he tweeted that it “totally vindicated” him and showed that there was “no collusion” between him and Russia during the 2016 presidential election. Now, Trump refuses to release the Democratic memo which attempts to refute the validity of the Republican memo, alleging that it contains sensitive information that could jeopardize national security. However, Trump can’t have it both ways. His impartiality in deciding against releasing the Democratic memo can therefore be reasonably questioned in light of his double standard. It is not remarkable, therefore, that the question may be raised as to whether permitting a sitting president such authority is even legal. In fact, there is federal law that may disqualify Trump from attempting to make a decision involving even the appearance of such a conflict of interest.

According to paragraph (a) of 28 U.S. Code § 455 (‘Disqualification of justice, judge, or magistrate judge”), “any…magistrate judge of the United States shall disqualify himself in any proceeding in which his impartiality might reasonably be questioned.” Further, the President of the United States serves as the nation’s “Chief Magistrate.” The president is the chief magistrate of the United States just as the governors are the chief magistrates of their respective states. A Chief Magistrate is “the head of the executive department of government of a nation, state, or municipal corporation.” Indeed, this judicial, discretionary authority to make judgments within the confines of the Constitution was adopted from English law and asserted from the nation’s very inception by Alexander Hamilton and George Washington.

There is no doubt that in deciding whether it would even be lawful to release the Democratic memo, and if so, in what form, Trump would be exercising judicial discretion in his capacity as Chief Magistrate.


clichangechildClimate change is hazardous to the health of children. (Photo: Environmental Illness Network)

We are not just leaving the legacy of a toxic and volatile environment to our children; we are negatively impacting them today.

In a recent article, the Inter Press Service (IPS) describes how young people are pushing back against adults' failure to take aggressive action to mitigate climate change:

In the United States, the 21 young people who are plaintiffs in the case Juliana v. United States will soon make their case against the government for failing to take action against climate change. Similar lawsuits have been filed in countries including Portugal, India, and Pakistan.

And in the 2017 Bonn climate change conference, a 12-year-old Fijian boy whose village had completely been devastated by cyclone linked to climate change, addressed negotiators and urged them to find solutions to the changing climate.

Sadly, these children are outliers and millions of their peers in other parts of the world, including children from sub-Saharan African countries, will never have the chance to tell the world how climate change harms them. All too often, children are the unseen victims of climate change.

However, the IPS notes that "children’s plight is not addressed by the major stakeholders in the climate change negotiations." Climate change is, according to IPS, something that adults will discuss, without the input of children.


 putinvotingTrump should be more concerned about voting cybersecurity than cozying up to Putin. (Global Panorama)

Last November, at the Asia-Pacific summit, Donald Trump was eager to once again vouch for Vladimir Putin.

In this case, it was in regards to an issue hanging over the president's head like a Damocles sword: Did the Russian government interfere with the 2016 election? More specifically, it is a question of whether the Trump campaign colluded with the Russian government to defeat Hillary Clinton in the electoral vote. However, Trump has been backing Putin's denial of any interference in the election, including hacking into state election systems, regardless of whether or not his campaign had knowledge of it.

Trump praises Putin and gives him the benefit of the doubt on a regular basis. Most recently, he even refused to enforce sanctions Congress had passed against Russia for, in part, interfering with the US elections. A CNN report from the November summit once again revealed Trump's abiding faith in the veracity of Putin.


gerrymandering123Gerrymandering suppresses an inclusive democracy. (Photo: Victoria Pickering)

BuzzFlash and Truthout depend on reader support -- can you make a tax-deductible donation and help publish journalism with real integrity and independence?

Republican legislators have vigorously and successfully used underhanded tactics to gain majorities in statehouses and Congress, even when the majority of statewide votes are Democratic. Although the GOP employs many strategies to suppress non-white voting, its most successful tool has been gerrymandering.

After the national Census, state legislatures are responsible for carving up state legislative and congressional districts. In 2010, the cast was set, according to a revealing article in Salon about the way in which Republicans worked to ensure a majority in most statehouses and in Congress:

It [the redistricting strategy] proved more effective than any Republican dared dream. Republicans held the U.S. House in 2012, despite earning 1.4 million fewer votes than Democratic congressional candidates, and won large GOP majorities in the Ohio, Wisconsin, Michigan and North Carolina state legislatures even when more voters backed Democrats.

By diluting the Democratic vote in several districts, while drawing the district lines to include more Republicans, an artificial majority can be created that mocks democracy.

The Republicans control both chambers in 36 statehouses. They have total control, including a GOP governor, in 26 states. Of course, they also have majority status in the House of Representatives.


trumpcaudilloIs Donald Trump becoming our caudillo? (Photo:Gage Skidmore)

Vladimir Putin restored the Soviet Union tradition of putting on an annual military parade to showcase the country's ability to wage war to the world. It used to be that the annual hours-long show of military wares and troops was a way of intimidating the West during the Cold War. CNN reported on the 2017 event in Red Square:

Russian President Vladimir Putin showed off ballistic missiles, armored tanks and new aircraft systems at a World War II commemorative parade in Moscow on Tuesday.

More than 10,000 troops marched in formation through Red Square to mark Victory Day, an annual event to celebrate the Soviet Union's triumph over Nazi Germany in a series of battles that ended on May 9, 1945....

Yars intercontinental ballistic missiles were among more than 100 pieces of military equipment rolled through the square.

Now, the Washington Post reports, Donald Trump wants to institute a similar parade to demonstrate US military might, to be held on Pennsylvania Avenue sometime this year. The idea is apparently under active discussion between the Pentagon and White House, and Trump is reportedly set on holding it in the next few months. The specific date has reportedly not been set yet.

Trump claims that his inspiration was a special military review he attended on Bastille Day (July 14) last year in France as a guest of French President Emmanuel Macron. Nonetheless, it is hard to think that a president with authoritarian tendencies is not also thinking of promoting US militarization. After all, the US has at least 800 military bases abroad in at least 80 nations. A White House military parade would be a bellicose assertion of US empire. It is consistent with Trump's tendency toward grandiose military statements, such as when he tweeted that he had a bigger nuclear launch button than Kim Jong-un.

Combined with Trump's other authoritarian actions, the idea of a national military parade is another indicator of the president's efforts to consolidate power.


cfpbarbThe Consumer Financial Protection Bureau is under withering assault from the Trump administration. (Photo: Michael Licht)

Former Rep. Mick Mulvaney is a busy man. He was not only selected by Trump to serve as the director of the White House Office of Management and Budget, but Trump also appointed him -- in a controversial move -- to be interim head of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB). The CFPB, of course, was the brainchild of Elizabeth Warren, before she was elected senator. It was intended to protect consumers against the exploitative practices of financial institutions. It opened its doors in 2011, and, according to the agency's website, has obtained $11.9 billion dollars in relief for more than 29 million consumers.

However, under Trump and Mulvaney, the CFPB is under danger of becoming the financial institution protection bureau. A January 23 New York Times article disclosed an internal memo Mulvaney sent around to CFPB staff. The Times characterized Mulvaney's approach:

Mr. Mulvaney made clear that under his direction, the consumer bureau would be more reluctant to target companies without overwhelming evidence of wrongdoing and suggested that the effect on a business should be weighed more heavily when considering cracking down on potential consumer abuses.

Mulvaney, who in the past called the CFPB "a joke," is a "tea party drone," according to Charles P. Pierce of Esquire. Just the other day, Reuters revealed that the CFPB, under Mulvaney, had stopped a multi-pronged investigation into the Equifax computer hack that affected more than 140 million people. This means that the CFPB is protecting Equifax over the online identity security of millions of consumers.

Friday, 02 February 2018 06:02

Donald Trump Is Distractor-in-Chief


donaldtrumpmedDonald Trump tames the media. (Gage Skidmore)

It is quite tempting to dismiss Donald Trump as a gaudy con man who is feverishly stumbling his way through the presidency. However, that would be a mistake. Trump is the sneering lion tamer of the mainstream corporate press, snapping his whip with Twitter bursts that distract from the egregious destructiveness of his administration on so many fronts.

One could argue that the mass media has continued to bring up Robert Mueller's Russia investigation, but the rollout of the so-called "Nunes memo" is an example of how Trump uses the press as his foil. The release of the GOP report that chastises the FBI for investigating former Trump adviser Carter Page has been the subject of speculation for a week. Trump has teased the press about whether he will approve of release of the document with classified information, when all the while the White House may very well have coordinated the action with Rep. Devin Nunes (R-California), chair of the House Intelligence Committee. The general assumption is that the memo will discredit the FBI and the Mueller investigation of Trump.

Many of those who oppose Trump believe that he is on the ropes and desperate. However, there is another way of looking at his actions: He is masterful at redirecting the media to what he wants to focus on at any given moment -- and that often changes by the hour. Whether or not the public dissemination of the GOP House Intelligence Committee memo will tarnish the FBI enough to gain Trump support in his battle with the special prosecutor remains to be seen. However, it is another example of how Trump manipulates the media into focusing on his ongoing charges, outrageous remarks and general agenda of distraction.


HurricaneMariaHurricane Maria (Photo: Antti Lipponen)

Puerto Rico achieved Commonwealth Status under President Harry Truman's administration in 1952, after being a territory since the end of the Spanish-American War in 1898. However, the United States Congress and presidents over time have continued to treat Puerto Rico like a colony.

The relationship is riddled with contradictions. Residents of Puerto Rico are citizens of the US, but can only vote in federal elections if they move to and live in a state. The island is supposed to have an independent Commonwealth legislature, but its financial affairs are now being overseen by a seven-person Puerto Rico Fiscal Control Board appointed in 2016 by President Obama. The island had been on the brink of bankruptcy -- more than $70 billion in debt. Typical of the island's treatment as a colony, its governor is on the Control Board but cannot vote.

According to USA Today, the relationship of the US government to the island is generally not understood by people in the 50 US states:

The destruction wrought by Hurricane Maria on the 3.4 million residents of Puerto Rico resurfaced a disturbing fact – many Americans don't know the first thing about the Caribbean island. 

A USA Today/Suffolk University poll conducted in March [2016] found that fewer than half of Americans (47%) believe that Puerto Ricans are U.S. citizens by birth.


obamacareimageDespite Trump administration roadblocks, 2018 enrollment in Obamacare is robust. (Luis Rodriguez)

Obamacare has been a singular obsession for Donald Trump and the Republicans in Congress since its creation, signed into law by President Barack Obama on March 23, 2010. In the mouths of the GOP, the health insurance program has taken on a monstrous image, as though it were a monster preying upon Americans. It has been a tragically intractable attack on a healthcare insurance system that -- although far from ideal -- has assisted millions of people in the US.

Despite the ongoing attacks from the GOP, it is worth noting that Obamacare was no progressive innovation: Its structure is based on a system put into place and championed by Mitt Romney when he was governor of Massachusetts -- and implemented with the support of the George W. Bush administration, which helped fund it.

However, Trump and Congress recently took another swipe at the Affordable Care Act (ACA), and according to Politifact, their action may destabilize the entire insurance market:

The Republicans' successful drive to pass a massive tax bill allowed President Donald Trump to take another slice off of the Affordable Care Act. Effective 2019, the sweeping tax package repeals the penalty on people who might be able to afford health insurance but choose not to buy it. The individual mandate affects a relatively narrow sliver of Americans, but it has been a pillar of Obamacare.


slavepatrolsSlave patrols were one of the reasons we have a Second Amendment. (Patrick Feller)

In her new book, Loaded: A Disarming History of the Second Amendment, author and historian Roxanne Dunbar-Ortiz fiercely debunks contemporary memes about the Second Amendment. She ties the clause to the US's militaristic culture, which was born of the war on the Indigenous people of North America and the brutal suppression of chattel slaves. Both of these violent endeavors involved militias, a point that Dunbar-Ortiz contends provided the impetus for putting the phrase "a well-regulated militia" into the Second Amendment.

In October 2017, I wrote a commentary entitled "Gun Violence Created the United States." Dunbar-Ortiz argues that the endlessly debated Second Amendment can only be understood in such a context. The colonies, such as Virginia, who put together the Bill of Rights knew exactly what the Second Amendment meant because militias of individually armed men were an accepted fact in many states. At the time of the founding of the nation, 1776, they were vital to the theft of land from the Indigenous population and the pursuit of escaped chattel slaves. The Second Amendment enshrined that state right.

After all, both endeavors were inextricably tied to the growth of the United States. The stealing of Indigenous land and the brutal pursuit of people who'd escaped from slavery were essential to the early formation of the US. Seizing Indigenous lands fulfilled the so-called "manifest destiny" of the United States, while the chattel slave economy was the primary means by which the agrarian infrastructure of the South operated. Meanwhile, the North benefited from inexpensive cotton for its textile mills and other agricultural products.

In a Truthout interview with Dunbar-Ortiz to be published soon, I asked her, "How does the Second Amendment contribute to the United States' culture of violence?"

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