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Archive for December, 2016

Ranking Trump’s Appointments: Who Is Worst? – posted 12/18/2016 and published in the Concord Monitor on 1/1/2017

December 18, 2016 5 comments

Some commentators have remarked upon the “fox in the chicken coop” quality of President-elect Trump’s appointments. A number of the new appointees are opposed to the mission of the agency to which they have been appointed. Too often it seems like Trump went for the worst imaginable choice.

The question arises: who is the worst appointee? Clearly, there is robust competition.

To properly assess things in a Trumpian way, I suggest using the 10 scale. This was the scale Trump previously used when ranking women on their looks. Think back to that interview when Trump said, “I view a person who’s flat-chested as very hard to be a 10.” Since turnabout is fair play, I think the 10 scale works in this context.

At 10, we have supremely qualified, knowledgeable and vastly experienced. At 1, we have abysmally ignorant, inexperienced and totally unqualified. There are quite a few contestants for this Celebrity Appointee competition. Let the games begin!

As our nation’s chief law enforcement officer and an early pick, let’s begin with the selection of Alabama Senator Jefferson Beauregard Sessions III for Attorney General. Accusations of racism have long dogged his career. In 1986, a Senate committee rejected Sessions for a federal judgeship. His former colleagues testified he used the n-word and joked about the Ku Klux Klan, saying he thought they were “okay, until he learned that they smoked marijuana.” Sessions denies the racism accusations.

He is hardcore anti-immigrant, a climate change denier, and a military hawk. He was one of the first members of Congress to endorse Trump and Trump sometimes rewards loyalty. I rate him a solid 3. Loyalty has its virtues. If you are Black, Latino or a woman, you need to look for friends elsewhere.

Next up: Lt. General Mike Flynn, Trump’s choice for National Security Advisor.He has tweeted that “Fear of Muslims is RATIONAL”. In July, he falsely claimed that Hillary Clinton wore a hijab in solidarity with Islamic terrorists. In October, he retweeted a false claim that the UN was attempting to create a one world church that prohibited Christianity. He has actively called for the imprisonment of Hillary Clinton and he led chants of “lock her up” at the Republican National Convention.

Flynn had retweeted the fake news story about Hillary Clinton’s involvement in sex crimes with minors. After that crazy guy, looking for sex crimes, shot up a Washington pizza place, Flynn and his son both deleted the tweet. Flynn’s son got dismissed but Flynn Sr. stays on. Flynn is buddy-buddy with Vladimir Putin. Seriously, with Flynn, you have to wonder: is there is a screw loose? And I am not even mentioning the anti-semitic tweet. Without equivocation, I give Flynn a 1.5. Who needs Dr. Strangelove?

And let us not forget Stephen Bannon, Trump’s choice for chief strategist. Bannon was head of Breitbart News, a far right conservative site that has provided a haven for white nationalists. Let’s not mince words: white nationalist equals Nazis, Klan and assorted white supremacists.

Bannon denies that he personally is a racist and an anti-semite. Does that make me feel better? As we saw a couple weeks ago at the Washington conference, these folks are Sieg Heiling in their private rooms. Bannon gets a 1. Being a comrade of racists and anti-semites while denying your own racism is not reassuring. Step aside Darth Vader and Dick Cheney.

Moving on to government agencies, I need to mention Secretary of State nominee Rex Tillerson. Tillerson has been ExxonMobil CEO. While much media attention has focused on his ties to Putin (Tillerson was awarded Russia’s Order of Friendship in 2013), the deeper story is what his nomination means for climate change. Tillerson is at the heart of fossil fuel extraction. Will he recommend pulling out of the Paris Agreement? Or will he go forward with pipelines like Keystone XL?

Tillerson has acknowledged that burning fossil fuels does contribute to higher temperatures but he has been part of the oil industry effort to manufacture doubt about climate change. Because he is not a right wing nutcase but a savvy businessman, I rate him a 4, which is generous. Like Trump, he is all about the money.

Also, in the world of agencies, there is the nominee for Labor Secretary, Andrew Puzder. As CEO of fast food chains Carl’s Jr. and Hardee’s, he has a reputation for exploiting his workers. He opposes raising the minimum wage. He has also opposed Obama’s attempts to update overtime pay rules so that more low wage workers will get time-and-a-half for working over 40 hours a week.

Puzder is a devotee of Ayn Rand. He and his wife donated $332,000 to Trump’s campaign. He is a 2 and a likely winner of the Marie Antionette “Let Them Eat Cake” award.

Then there is Dr. Ben Carson, the nominee for the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD). It is hard to know what to make of this pick. When his name was floated, Carson said he felt unqualified to run a federal agency. He was a brain surgeon with no relevant experience.

During the campaign, Trump said horrible things about Carson. He said Carson had an incurable pathological temper. He likened Carson’s pathology to the sickness of a child molester. But, I guess bygones are bygones and Trump needed a token African American (his African American!) among his cabinet of billionaires and generals.

I guess Carson has lived in a house in an inner city neighborhood so that gives him housing experience. I give him a 1. Experience counts. Carson takes the Alfred E. Neuman “What, Me Worry?” award.

And finally there is the nominee for the head of the Environmental Protection Agency, Scott Pruitt. Pruitt has been Attorney General of Oklahoma. He is known for his close ties to the oil and gas industry. According to a 2014 article in the New York Times, since 2010, Pruitt had received $215, 574 from energy industry donors.

Former Republican Congressman Bob Englis, a conservative environmentalist, had this to say about Pruitt:

“It really is a crazy thought to have somebody who disputes the science of climate change heading up the EPA. It’s like having the president of Delta Airlines be somebody who doesn’t believe it’s possible for humans to fly. It doesn’t work.”

As Oklahoma Attorney General, Pruitt sued the EPA at least 13 times in 5 years. In 2014 he sent a letter to the EPA saying that federal regulators were grossly overestimating the amount of air pollution caused by energy companies drilling new natural gas wells in the state. Devon Energy, one of Oklahoma’s biggest oil and gas companies authored the letter. Pruitt copied it onto government stationery with a few word changes. It is no wonder the oil and gas companies love him.

Christine Todd Whitman, George W. Bush’s EPA chief, went on record about Pruitt:

“I don’t recall ever having seen an appointment of someone who is so disdainful of the agency and the science behind what the agency does.”

The Truitt nomination was particularly jarring because it came the day after Trump met with Al Gore. I have to rate Pruitt a .5. Apparently the word “pollution” is not in his vocabulary.

There are so many others I am going to have to pass on. Tom Price, Betsey Devos, Wilbur Ross, General Mattis, John Bolton and Rick Perry – sorry about that. They deserve grades too.

I know others will disagree and there is plenty of room for argument but I have to go with Scott Pruitt as the worst appointee. Let’s face it: it is not everyday that the polluters’ best friend, someone described as ” an existential threat to the planet” can become head of EPA.

Time will tell who is the true winner of this contest but we already know who will be the real loser – the American people.

Getting up off the floor: The Democrats – posted 12/4/2016

December 4, 2016 3 comments

Probably like a lot of people, I did not see the presidential election result coming. I too was in denial. I just did not see the American people electing Donald Trump. Trump ran one of the worst presidential campaigns ever.

The shock has only somewhat worn off.

Make no mistake about it: this was an epic defeat and the consequences are likely to be grave. I expect Trump will set us back 50 years – not just 10. At this point, it is impossible to know how bad it will be.

I think those of us who opposed Trump need to do some serious soul-searching about what went wrong. How was it possible that this deeply flawed man won the presidency?

Instead of superficial excuses, we need to look hard into the reasons for this debacle. The candidate picked by the Democratic Party was widely disliked. Even before the general election, her negatives were extraordinarily high.

It has to be asked: why did the Democratic Party establishment push forward such a widely disliked candidate, someone whose baggage had baggage? Whether the reasons for the dislike were fair or not, the reasons were there. Why did the Democratic Party ignore that?

I ascribe it to arrogance. The Democratic Party knew best. Except it did not. The Democratic Party proved to be utterly out of touch with the American people. And they were clueless about how out of touch they were. If you look at a map of the voting, it is shocking how little of rural America the Democrats won. Not to mention the battleground states.

In New Hampshire, we had the odd spectacle of virtually every Democratic Party leader in the state endorsing Clinton followed by Sanders winning the primary by 22 points. Not exactly an example of a leadership in sync with the rank and file.

While Clinton won primaries, the lack of enthusiasm for her candidacy was widely noted. Millennials overwhelmingly supported her rival, Bernie Sanders. Bernie captured the enthusiasm factor. As Clinton was the realpolitik candidate, party leaders rationalized how tepid and lukewarm her support was.

The Democrats promoted a status quo candidate in a change election. Where Trump said “make America great again” , Clinton’s response was “America is already great”. That was the wrong message this year. Saying America is great already translates into there is not much that needs to be done. For a party that is allegedly progressive, that is a disastrous message.

Trump had a better handle on the harm that has been done to American working people. Even though he is a demagogue and a chronic liar, he spoke to needs. People liked that he appeared to buck elites and speak his mind. He emotionally connected better than her.

We live in an era defined by income inequality. Clinton was not a credible foe of income inequality. It was hard to know what she stood for. As Wikileaks showed, she believed in having a public and private position on difficult issues. She and her husband had amassed a fortune of over $130 million. Add in the speeches to Goldman Sachs and it was hard to see her as a defender of working people.

Her campaign ran against Trump on the grounds of his unfitness, his lies, racism and misogyny, without articulating a compelling vision for what she would do as president. That failure to offer a resonant message for how the lives of everyday Americans could benefit from her presidency, as evidenced in pivotal rust belt swing states, was a fatal flaw.

I think her worst moment was the basket of deplorables comment. That smacked of elitism and class bias. She came off as looking down her nose at people. Unbelieveable as it seems now, she never even campaigned in Wisconsin, a critical swing state. It was an egregious mistake to assume working people had no choice but to vote for her.

American working people have been getting royally shafted for at least 35 years now. Is it any wonder that so many people end up dead early or addicted to opiates? Yet the Democratic response to this tragedy has been so weak.

I hold the Democratic party establishment responsible for the enormous loss sustained. They themselves said it was the most important election of our lifetime. They committed political malpractice. The patient died. It is not just at the presidential level either. Democrats have been losing in governorships and state races all over.

The Clinton wing needs to go. They managed to lose to the worst candidate in my lifetime. The damage is incalculable.

Give the Bernie Sanders-Elizabeth Warren wing of the Party a chance. They at least have a bold message and vision.

The same old does not cut it any more. Finding some Clinton centrist clone who relies on big money from corporate interests is a repetition compulsion. Liberalism of the rich devoted to the interests of the professional class is a recipe for failure in the future. Democrats must not abandon working people as they have.

People who think Trump will shake things up are in for a big disappointment. He has surrounded himself with right wing extremists and crony billionaires. This is “draining the swamp”? We will see how hard Trump fights for working people. His track record is the opposite. He must be held accountable.

Republicans, Trump included, have a long history of supporting the 1% at the expense of the 99%. It is a matter of class interest. Trump can work the media and make symbolic gestures but he will not deliver. The Republicans remain a backward-looking party mired in climate change denial, opposition to voting rights, and softness toward white supremacists.

At least the Democrats remain on the right side of most critical issues. They now have to protect Medicare from vouchering and privatizing schemes designed to weaken the program. God only knows how awful Trump will be on the environment. The same could be said about a laundry list of areas. The Democrats must resist.

Maybe losing the election can shake the Democrats out of their timidity. For so long they have been the play it safe party. I no longer think that is possible.

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