Tuesday, September 17, 2019

Donald Trump is a deeply stupid man who routinely gets his ass kicked on the world stage

Donald Trump is a deeply stupid man, and that stupidity is just one of the many ways he is undermining American national security. The latest example was reported this week:
President Donald Trump has left the impression with foreign officials, members of his administration, and others involved in Iranian negotiations that he is actively considering a French plan to extend a $15 billion credit line to the Iranians if Tehran comes back into compliance with the Obama-era nuclear deal.
Trump has in recent weeks shown openness to entertaining President Emmanuel Macron’s plan, according to four sources with knowledge of Trump’s conversations with the French leader. Two of those sources said that State Department officials, including Secretary Mike Pompeo, are also open to weighing the French proposal, in which the Paris government would effectively ease the economic sanctions regime that the Trump administration has applied on Tehran for more than a year.
The deal put forward by France would compensate Iran for oil sales disrupted by American sanctions. A large portion of Iran’s economy relies on cash from oil sales. Most of that money is frozen in bank accounts across the globe. The $15 billion credit line would be guaranteed by Iranian oil. In exchange for the cash, Iran would have to come back into compliance with the nuclear accord it signed with the world’s major powers in 2015. Tehran would also have to agree not to threaten the security of the Persian Gulf or to impede maritime navigation in the area.
Lastly, Tehran would have to commit to regional Middle East talks in the future.
Let's be clear: At the end of May, the International Atomic Energy Agency reported that Iran was still in compliance with the deal. Iran has been in compliance all along. It was Trump who first threatened to break the deal. The European Union urged Congress to preserve it. And then even though Iran was in compliance with the deal, and it was he who was threatening to break it, Trump also threatened to sanction European businesses that do business with Iran. And then Trump did break the deal. This was a crisis entirely of Trump's own making.

Iran's leaders are not nice, but they are smart. They saw what the Bush-Cheney administration did to Iraq. Saddam Hussein was not Iran’s friend. But he did give up his weapons of mass destruction, and Bush-Cheney took advantage of that. And like all aspirants to nuclear weapons, Iranian leaders understood that they were in a better position to bargain if they had nuclear weapons than if they left themselves open to being invaded and devastated for no reason, the way Iraq was.

So Iran ramped up the development of its nuclear weapons program, and then President Obama and the European Union made a deal with them to end that program. They abided by that deal, and then Trump broke it.

Republican presidents are dangerous to national and world security, but none more than Trump. By breaking the deal with Iran, Trump gave Iran the incentive to resume its arms program, which they have done. Which makes the world less safe. Because that's what Trump's ineptitude does: make the world less safe.

Trump's lickspittle Secretary of State Mike Pompeo was outraged that Iran was again ramping up its nuclear weapons program, nevermind why. And with tensions again rising, Trump did what he always does on the world stage: He got his ass kicked. Now he's considering giving Iran $15 billion dollars in credit to get back in compliance with the deal with which it had always been in compliance—until Trump gave them the incentive not to be. That's Trump's artistry in making deals: getting his ass kicked.

North Korea also learned the lesson from the Bush-Cheney invasion of Iraq, and now has a rapidly developing nuclear weapons program. North Korea's despotic leader Kim Jong Un also wanted to use his weapons program as a bargaining chip to cut a deal with the economically developed world. He is smart where Trump is stupid, and realized that by flattering Trump, by pretending to like and respect him, he could have his way with Trump. And it worked.

Kim and his father and his grandfather always wanted to be taken seriously on the world stage. It would strengthen them at home. It would legitimize their tyrannous regime. And one big prize they'd always dreamed of attaining was a meeting with an American president. It would make them look big. Every American president, Republican and Democrat, refused to give them that gift. But Kim played Trump for the deeply stupid man that he is and got that meeting.

Kim pretended that he might end his nuclear weapons program, and Republicans and some in the American media even hyperventilated when Kim said he'd like to denuclearize the Korean peninsula, as if Trump had attained something. They were as stupid as Trump, not understanding that denuclearizing the Korean peninsula would mean South Korea no longer was protected by the American nuclear umbrella. This would mean that North Korea's massive conventional military would have overwhelming superiority on the Korean peninsula. Kim went ahead and kept building his nuclear program, and then Trump met with him again.

Trump thought this was a great success, which it was—for Kim. And Trump again got nothing. Kim keeps developing his nuclear weapons program, because Trump got played again. Because Trump is a deeply stupid man who routinely gets his ass kicked on the world stage.

Trump wanted a trade war with China. Because he thought he could bluster and bully and get his way. But like the rest of the world, China is laughing at Trump, when they're not scratching their heads because Trump is so deeply stupid, and his administration so profoundly incompetent that China doesn't even know with whom to negotiate. But Trump got his trade war. Which he is losing. Because he is a deeply stupid man.

Trump's trade war already has cost 300,000 American jobs. And every time he opens his mouth about China, the American stock markets get spooked. And then after threatening to escalate his trade war, Trump backed down, and now desperately wants to find a way out of yet another crisis that is entirely of his own making. Because he has no idea what he’s doing. Because he is a deeply stupid man who routinely gets his ass kicked on the world stage.

This would be funny if it weren't so serious. Trump's trade war could devastate the American economy. A nuclear armed Iran would be bad for everyone. A North Korea that is ramping up its nuclear program is bad for everyone. And that the guy who sits at the big desk in the Oval Office is a deeply stupid man who routinely gets his ass kicked on the world stage also is bad for everyone.

Except for those foreign leaders who routinely kick his ass.

Monday, September 16, 2019

Someday You'll Understand What I'm Telling You

Garrison Keillor. (photo: MPR)
Garrison Keillor. (photo: MPR)

(EDITOR'S NOTE: Your Gazette Blog editor recently turned 77.  So did Garrison Keillor.  What he had to say on this dubious occasion is worth sharing.)

By Garrison Keillor, Garrison Keillor's Website
16 September 19
y birthday is this week, which I mention by way of saying, “Please. No gifts.” My love and I went through major downsizing in January and we are pretty much done with Things now, even a picture of a wilderness lake taken by you or an inspirational book that could change our lives. My life is good enough. Every day is precious. When you reach 77, you’ll feel the same way. It’s a shame that a con man is in the White House as the Arctic is melting and white nationalists are shooting up our cities, but we’ll be okay, we just need a Trexit vote next year.

I reached my present age thanks to medical advances that didn’t exist for my uncles (than whom I am now somewhat older) nor for Dostoevsky (59) or Thoreau (44). Pharmaceuticals would’ve enabled Dostoevsky to retire from writing agonizing novels and switch over to light comedy in his old age and Thoreau to leave Concord and move to New York and find a girlfriend. He went out on a cold rainy night to look at trees and caught bronchitis, which agitated his TB and he went into a steep decline. As he lay dying, his aunt asked if he’d made his peace with God, and Henry said, “I was not aware that we had ever quarreled.” So he had a good last line, which many people don’t, but think what he and his girlfriend could’ve done with thirty more years. Go into the canoe business, buy a house with a lawn, beget kiddoes, enjoy evenings at home, Isabelle lying with her head in Henry’s lap, reading “Walden,” laughing at the funny parts.

Life is unbearably precious. Two heroes of mine died in car crashes when I was in college, and yet I myself, a couple years later, driving north on Highway 47 in my 1956 Ford, on a straight stretch in Isanti County, gunned it to 100 mph just to see what it felt like. It felt good. Then a pickup truck eased out of a driveway and onto the road. This was before seat belts. In a split second, I swerved to go behind him and it was a good choice — he didn’t back up — otherwise he and I would’ve been forever joined in a headline. I hope he has enjoyed his survival. Whenever I relive those fifteen seconds, all regrets vanish, all complaints evaporate.

I am now older than my older brother, who died ten years ago at 71. He slipped while skating and fell backward and hit his head. I think of him often. He was a scientist and engineer, a problem-solver, a sailor, a family man, and when faced with a personal dilemma, it’s good to ask, “What would Philip have said?” He tends to recommend patience, attention to detail, and taking a break for a few hours, perhaps on a boat, during which the answer may suddenly occur to you.

I don’t brood about death as the actual date approaches. My mother (97) enjoyed herself into her mid-nineties, flew places, saw her ancestral Scotland, cruised the coast of Alaska, and seemed, all in all, happier than when she had six little kids to worry about. We grew up near the Mississippi and she thought extensively about drowning. When cousin Roger (17) drowned, trying to impress his girlfriend Susan, Mother sent me to swimming lessons at the Y, but I couldn’t bear it, the instructor was such a bully, so I went to the library instead, a wise choice on my part, and I grew up to earn my way as a writer rather than as a professional swimmer.

Nature is not interested in my twilight years; past 30, semen develops problems, man becomes irrelevant in the furtherance of the species. God created erectile dysfunction because old men can’t be trusted to raise kids. Living past 70 is an artificial idea, a lovely idea, like flying or anesthesia, but still. So an old man needs to justify his continuance, taking up space and being a traffic hazard on the freeway by driving the speed limit. My reason for living is simply this: I am still working and my best work may be yet ahead of me.

I say, 77 is a fine age, way beyond 17 or 37 or 57, but take your time getting there, and remember to marry someone who is good company and can carry one end of the conversation and sometimes both. There’s the real message. That’s worth reading to the end of the column to find out.

Sunday, September 15, 2019

NYT uncovers new allegation against Brett Kavanaugh that the FBI ignored

So remember Brett “Bart O’Kavanaugh” Kavanaugh? He’s on the Supreme Court now because he screamed a lot at one of his hearings and the FBI did at most a 1/16th-ass investigation of the sexual assault and attempted rape claims against him.

Today, in a feature on Kavanaugh accuser Deborah Ramirez, who claimed Kavanaugh thrust his penis in front of her during a drunken dorm party while they were both students at Yale, The New York Times rather nonchalantly dropped this I-would-say-earth-shattering accusation into its story:
We also uncovered a previously unreported story about Mr. Kavanaugh in his freshman year that echoes Ms. Ramirez’s allegation. A classmate, Max Stier, saw Mr. Kavanaugh with his pants down at a different drunken dorm party, where friends pushed his penis into the hand of a female student. Mr. Stier, who runs a nonprofit organization in Washington, notified senators and the F.B.I. about this account, but the F.B.I. did not investigate and Mr. Stier has declined to discuss it publicly. (We corroborated the story with two officials who have communicated with Mr. Stier.)
Mr. Kavanaugh did not speak to us because we could not agree on terms for an interview. But he has denied Dr. Ford’s and Ms. Ramirez’s allegations, and declined to answer our questions about Mr. Stier’s account.
That seems, uh, significant.

Apparently, the FBI disagreed.

Oh, and then there’s this:
Ms. Ramirez’s legal team gave the F.B.I. a list of at least 25 individuals who may have had corroborating evidence. But the bureau — in its supplemental background investigation — interviewed none of them, though we learned many of these potential witnesses tried in vain to reach the F.B.I. on their own.
Hmm. It’s almost as if Republicans didn’t want to get to the bottom of these allegations at all.

Saturday, September 14, 2019

The Air Force didn't make one stop at Trump's Scottish golf course—it was there at least 40 times

When the Turnberry scandal began, it was over the crew of a single U.S. Air Force C-17 transport plane being routed out of its way to spend the night at Donald Trump’s Scottish golf resort. However, the $10 million fuel bill at nearby Prestwick Airport suggested that the count of visiting military jets was much higher.

By Wednesday, it was clear that at least four air crews had visited Trump’s failing resort, as the Air Force reported that it would have to dig through individual trip vouchers to find out if there were more. It found more.

As Politico reports, that shuffling through the paperwork has so far produced no fewer than 40 instances of air crews staying at Turnberry since 2015. The Air Force hasn’t said how many of those stays happened since Trump’s election. 

It’s also not clear how many people were involved in each of these stays. Previous reports showed the number of crew members put up in a single visit ranging from five to 40. So these visits represent hundreds of rooms at Trump’s resort—maybe over a thousand.

Which means that those military rooms aren’t just a drop in the bucket for Trump. They’re a significant part of the million-dollar turnaround at his resort over the last year. At least one of these stays happened this summer.

Trump’s resort is over half an hour away from Prestwick, and getting there means driving past many lower-cost hotels. But Trump signed an agreement with the airport that puts the resort at the top of a list of locations where air crews are sent for the evening. That agreement came just a year after the Air Force signed a deal with the Glasgow-area airport as a potential refueling site.

The House Oversight Committee has launched an investigation into why the military has been taking Trump up on so many free rounds of golf at Turnberry, even as Trump is cutting into the military budget to take away funds for building his border fence. 

Democratic senators have been pushing the Senate to take up this investigation, along with passing a bill that would prevent the Pentagon from spending money at a number of Trump properties.

Friday, September 13, 2019

Defeating Trump

Donald Trump. (image: Guardian UK)
Donald Trump. (image: Guardian UK)

By Marc Ash, Reader Supported News
12 September 19
he ascension of Donald J. Trump to the US presidency is not the fault of a single social group or political faction. It was rather a broad societal failure borne by all Americans.

We have become a society obsessed with convenient solutions, fixated on self-interest, and immune to human suffering. What leader could better personify those traits than Donald J. Trump?

Still, the harm Trump is doing to the country from the Oval Office under the cloak of the presidency is all but incomprehensible. The indelible mark of disgrace he is branding on the country’s soul and honor will not be washed away for generations.

Yes, it is of paramount importance for the country to unify in an effort to remove this charlatan who would be President from the heart of our nation’s government.

There seems to be an odd notion that the only way to remove Trump from office is by popular election. That is a colossal red-herring argument and a convenient one at that. If true, the President is in fact above that law.

The Mueller report contains enough evidence of illegal conduct and collaboration with a hostile foreign power to justify the impeachment of ten presidents. Further, the oft-cited OLC memo that has become the guiding legal authority on indicting a sitting president is totally unproven and untested in the courts. Yet it seems to have been mysteriously elevated to holy grail status by an American political system now more comfortable with the specter of autocracy than at any time in our history. If ever there was a time to test the OLC memo, that time is now.

As it may well come to the 2020 election to remove Trump from office, it is vitally important that the public discourse about how to do that be elevated. The urgency is palpable.

There seems yet another illogical concept guiding the political decision-making process as well. The proposition is presented that a candidate with poor popular support is better suited than candidates with far greater popular support. That notion makes so little sense it demands suspicion.

The process of choosing a challenger to Trump is no formality.  Rather it is an essential contest. The challenger must prove himself or herself worthy of the main event in open competition with peers and rivals alike.

The best candidate will be the winner of a fair and transparent nominating process, not the chosen one. What is at stake is immeasurable.

Marc Ash is the founder and former Executive Director of Truthout, and is now founder and Editor of Reader Supported News.

Thursday, September 12, 2019

Moscow Mitch's message to America: I don't give a damn if you are gunned down

EL PASO, TEXAS - AUGUST 05: Handmade crosses memorializing the victims of a mass shooting, which left at least 22 people dead, are lined up before being carried to a nearby makeshift memorial on August 5, 2019 in El Paso, Texas. The crosses were made by retired carpenter Greg Zanis, who has made thousands of crosses for victims of mass shootings and disasters. A 21-year-old white male shooting suspect was taken into custody in the city which sits along the U.S.-Mexico border.  (Photo by Mario Tama/Getty Images)
These deaths are now owned by Mitch McConnell.
Congress returned to work Monday after a very long August recess, one that was particularly deadly for dozens in Texas and Ohio. The mass shootings in El Paso, Odessa and Midland, and Dayton have kept gun violence at the forefront of the public awareness, made all the more fraught with the nation's children going back to school. So all eyes were on Senate Majority Leader Moscow Mitch McConnell Monday, to see how he would lead. Short answer: he won't.

In his opening floor speech, he said nothing about gun violence. He didn't even bother with empty thoughts and prayers. This is as close as he came to acknowledging that the country has been turned into a shooting gallery: "The American people know this is a highly charged political moment, but they haven't sent us here to stage pitch battles or score political points." That's right. He won't do anything to stop the mass slaughters because it's too much of a political issue.

He continued, "They elected us to make a difference for them and their family. We do that by taking care of the people's business, collaborating in good faith to complete our work and attend to the pressing matters that are before us." The people's business doesn't include protecting their very lives, apparently.

McConnell standing on the floor and talking about "collaborating in good faith" is his middle finger to the entire country. It's bald-faced trolling in the face of a deepening crisis; one that he is personally making worse.

While McConnell refused to even acknowledge the massacres, Minority Leader Chuck Schumer and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi held a press conference to highlight it, "the No. 1 question looming over the Capitol." They pointed out, again, that there's a background check bill supported by 90% of the people ready and waiting for the Senate. "Two people in Washington can decide if the background check bill passes: Donald Trump and Mitch McConnell," Schumer said. "It is totally up to them and is on their shoulders. They can't escape that responsibility."

In reality, it's just up to McConnell. If he brought the bill to the floor and let his Republican conference vote freely, it would probably pass. He's likely the one person who could talk Trump into signing it. 

Don't forget that one of the first things Trump landed on after El Paso and Dayton (before the NRA's Wayne LaPierre got to him) was background checks. But for whatever reason, McConnell isn't going to do that. Because he really couldn't care less about preventing scores of people from needlessly dying violent deaths.

Wednesday, September 11, 2019

For Rural America, Medicare for All Is a Matter of Life or Death

A corn farmer. (photo: Austin Public Library)
A corn farmer. (photo: Austin Public Library)

By Barb Kalbach, Guardian UK
11 September 19

Insurance firms are gobbling up airtime in Iowa to attack Medicare for All. They claim it hurts the very hospitals their business model has spent years bleeding dry

ural hospitals are often the economic heart of a community. Worse, when minutes mean the difference between life and death, every hospital that closes leaves patients in danger. Since 2010, 113 rural hospitals have closed their doors, leaving more than 30 million Americans an hour or more away from critical care. As many as 700 more are in danger of closing.

Meanwhile hospitals that remain open are often cutting services to survive. Since 2000, 33 of 118 rural and small-town hospitals in Iowa have closed their birthing units.

There are many reasons rural hospitals are hurting, but for-profit insurance companies are the nail in the coffin. Over decades, these multibillion-dollar companies have driven premium costs up and put profits over patients. More and more patients can’t afford insurance and can’t pay their hospital bills, leaving rural hospitals and hospitals in low-income areas left holding the bag.

The insurance companies are working hard to shift the blame and stop the movement for Medicare for All. They are gobbling up airtime in Iowa and across rural America to attack Medicare for All. They claim it would hurt the very same hospitals their business model has spent years bleeding dry.

With Medicare for All gaining steam, it’s no surprise that big pharma and multibillion-dollar for-profit insurance companies are responding with distortions and scare tactics. We have seen this before. The same industry-backed tricksters fought hard – and failed – to defeat the Affordable Care Act (ACA).

In spite of their fearmongering, the ACA didn’t cause disaster. In fact, states who expanded Medicaid under the ACA saw fewer hospitals close while states who refused saw rural hospital closures spike. The greatest concentration of hospital closures has been in the south, where a number of states have not expanded Medicaid.

Now, industry front groups such as the Partnership for America’s Health Future (founded to stop Medicare for All, according to their own documents) and America’s Health Insurance Plans (AHIP) are pouring millions into deceptive advertising to scare voters about Medicare for All and attack any plan that could undermine their ability to make billions off patients.

We won’t be so easily fooled. Americans know that we deserve guaranteed, comprehensive healthcare, including hospital visits, dental, vision, mental health care and dignified long-term care. We know that no one should have to beg for help on GoFundMe to pay for life-saving care. We know that doctors and hospitals can’t keep paying the cost of care for patients who can’t afford insurance.

Medicare for All means that rural hospitals would no longer be burdened by uncompensated care. A little-known provision of the Washington representative Pramila Jayapal’s Medicare for All bill is that it includes funding to invest directly in areas without enough health coverage, including rural and low-income urban areas.

The industry is hanging on for dear life to a business model that returns obscene profits for insurance executives at the expense of cancer patients, cardiac patients and people struggling to pay for their insulin.

We can’t let big pharma and billion-dollar insurance companies pull a bait and switch. Rural America needs Medicare for All, not more big corporations lining their own pockets and paying PR firms to hide the truth.