Friday Reads: Ho Ho Hos in the BeltwayPosted: December 22, 2017
Happy Friday Sky Dancers!
I’m trying to gear myself up for a better 2018. I think I may join the phone bank efforts to unseat Paul Ryan since my Congress Critter’s votes are never a problem. There have been shellackings recently but now we may be talking blood bath and I want to grave dance where ever appropriate.
A few weeks before Alabama’s special Senate election, President Donald Trump’s handpicked Republican National Committee leader, Ronna Romney McDaniel, delivered a two-page memo to White House chief of staff John Kelly outlining the party’s collapse with female voters.
The warning, several people close to the chairwoman said, reflected deepening anxiety that a full-throated Trump endorsement of accused child molester Roy Moore in the special election — which the president was edging closer to at the time — would further damage the party’s standing with women. McDaniel’s memo, which detailed the president’s poor approval numbers among women nationally and in several states, would go unheeded, as Trump eventually went all-in for the ultimately unsuccessful Republican candidate.
It’s comforting to me to think that women look like they may deliver the blow to this administration and the pandering, ass-kissing congress critters who value donors over their own constituents. Black woman already figured this out but hopefully a huge number of white women buy a clue. Kremlin Caligula has wrecked so much havoc on the nation’s institutions already that it’s difficult to imagine that it won’t be a bit of a struggle back to a functional democracy. The Republicans will now own the economy and I can tell you it won’t be pretty.
The GOP tax bill will mark the Trump administration’s first major legislative achievement. It’s likely to jolt the economy more than any one political event since Trump’s election, if not since the Affordable Care Act was passed, and it may well bring about the biggest upward transfer of wealth since the recession. It will also increase the deficit by $1 trillion or more, destabilize the health-insurance market by eliminating the requirement to buy coverage, and probably lower Trump’s personal tax bill significantly. For good measure, it’s set to take effect on January 1, giving the country less than two weeks to prepare for the new regime.
However, given that the congressional year has otherwise been marked by turmoil and inaction, and given the high staff turnover and the parade of scandals at the White House, it’s been easy to miss what this administration has already done. In the background, Donald Trump’s Cabinet members and their collaborators have been working hard to deliver on Steve Bannon’s vision of dismantling the “regulatory state.” With Trump’s blessing, they have made drastic, structural changes on education, immigration, environmental protections, broadcasting and internet laws, and rules of military engagement, among other issues. Most often the changes have taken direct aim at Obama’s legacy, but some apply to regulations and programs that date back decades.
Go examine the list and be appalled. Also, realize that some of the nation’s top scientists and diplomats are fleeing public service. There are few left to contain the damage. It also has been discussed that the IRS will not be able to provide any help on any questions about the tax changes. The chaos of an insane man has spread through almost every agency implemented by talentedless trust fund babies with no clue about their jobs. The EPA has become a scene of these crimes against our country.
More than 700 people have left the Environmental Protection Agency since President Trump took office, a wave of departures that puts the administration nearly a quarter of the way toward its goal of shrinking the agency to levels last seen during the Reagan administration.
Of the employees who have quit, retired or taken a buyout package since the beginning of the year, more than 200 are scientists. An additional 96 are environmental protection specialists, a broad category that includes scientists as well as others experienced in investigating and analyzing pollution levels. Nine department directors have departed the agency as well as dozens of attorneys and program managers. Most of the employees who have left are not being replaced.
The departures reflect poor morale and a sense of grievance at the agency, which has been criticized by President Trump and top Republicans in Congress as bloated and guilty of regulatory overreach. That unease is likely to deepen following revelations that Republican campaign operatives were using the Freedom of Information Act to request copies of emails from E.P.A. officials suspected of opposing Mr. Trump and his agenda.
The cuts deepen a downward trend at the agency that began under the Obama administration in response to Republican-led budget constraints that left the agency with about 15,000 employees at the end of his term. The reductions have accelerated under President Trump, who campaigned on a promise to dramatically scale back the E.P.A., leaving only what he called “little tidbits” in place. Current and former employees say unlike during the Obama years, the agency has no plans to replace workers, and they expect deeper cuts to come.
“The reason E.P.A. went down to 15,000 employees under Obama is because of pressure from Republicans. This is the effort of the Republicans under the Obama administration on steroids,” said John J. O’Grady, president of American Federation of Government Employees Council 238, a union representing E.P.A. employees.
ProPublica and The New York Times analyzed the comings and goings from the E.P.A. through the end of September, the latest data that has been compiled, obtained under the Freedom of Information Act. The figures and interviews with current and former E.P.A. officials show the administration is well on its way to achieving its goal of cutting 3,200 positions from the E.P.A., about 20 percent of the agency’s work force.
Jahan Wilcox, a spokesman for the E.P.A., said the agency was running more efficiently. “With only 10 months on the job, Administrator Pruitt is unequivocally doing more with less to hold polluters accountable and to protect our environment,” he said.
Within the agency, science in particular is taking a hard hit. More than 27 percent of those who left this year were scientists, including 34 biologists and microbiologists; 19 chemists; 81 environmental engineers and environmental scientists; and more than a dozen toxicologists, life scientists and geologists. Employees say the exodus has left the agency depleted of decades of knowledge about protecting the nation’s air and water. Many also said they saw the departures as part of a more worrisome trend of muting government scientists, cutting research budgets and making it more difficult for academic scientists to serve on advisory boards.
Meanwhile, House investigations of Russian attacks on our elections and the involvement of the Trump Campaign continue for the time being. Bannon and Lewandowski have been called to testify.
President Donald Trump’s former chief strategist Steve Bannon and his former campaign manager Corey Lewandowski have been asked to testify to House lawmakers investigating Russian interference in the 2016 election.
Both men were sent letters this week by the House Intelligence Committee asking them to testify in early January, according to an official familiar with the panel’s schedule.
The committee hasn’t yet received a response from either Bannon or Lewandowski. The invitation, which didn’t come in the form of a subpoena compelling them to testify, was for a “voluntary interview” in the committee’s offices, which would mean it would be held behind closed doors, the official said.
The letter doesn’t lay out specific reasons the committee wants to interview them, or the questions the panel wants to pose, but it makes clear that the interviews are part of the Russia investigation.
Bannon, who worked as Trump’s top strategist during the campaign and for several months in the White House, hasn’t been publicly accused of any wrongdoing.
Bannon was a key member of Trump’s team when the president fired national security adviser Michael Flynn and FBI director James Comey.
During the campaign, Bannon was also a liaison to its data-analytics firm, Cambridge Analytica.
Alexander Nix, the chief executive officer of Cambridge Analytica, met with the House Intelligence probe earlier this month. Nix faced questions about whether he sought material from WikiLeaks publisher Julian Assange that was stolen from computers of the Democratic National Committee and John Podesta, who managed Democrat Hillary Clinton’s presidential campaign.
A look into the matter of collusion was explored yesterday in Newsweek by Jeff Stein. It’s worth a look. BB’s discussed the possibility that Trump is a Russian asset this week. It appears to be the hypothesis of our Intelligence communities.
Until now. In a December 18 interview on CNN, retired Air Force Lieutenant General James Clapper, the former director of national intelligence, virtually called Trump a Putin puppet. The Russian president, Clapper noted, is a former KGB “case officer,” or spy recruiter, who “knows how to handle an asset, and that’s what he’s doing with the president. That’s the appearance to me.” (Pressed to clarify his “asset” comment, Clapper said, “I’m saying this figuratively.”)
“Wow,” tweeted former CIA Russian hand John Sipher. “The rest of us try to find other clever ways to say the same thing. Good on him for having the courage to call out Putin’s behavior. Our president shouldn’t have fallen for it.”
Veteran spy handlers have judged Trump an easy mark for Putin, who spent years in the KGB sizing up and exploiting a target’s vulnerabilities. They note how easily he falls for praise, as when Putin thanked him and the CIA for helping him thwart a bomb attack plot in St. Petersburg. “POTUS is a [spy] handlers’ dream,” Asha Rangappa, a former special agent in the FBI’s counterintelligence division, said. “He responds, without fail, to praise and flattery and telegraphs his day-to-day thoughts on Twitter. Likewise, said Harry “Skip” Brandon, a former FBI deputy assistant director of national security and counterterrorism. “He often very publicly states he goes by his instincts. If that is accurate, he may be the ultimate unwitting asset of Russia.”
And so on. The steady drip of revelations emerging from multiple Trump investigations—his business deals with Russian investors, his associates’ many undeclared meetings with Kremlin agents, his resistance to accepting evidence of Russian meddling in the 2016 election and his indiscretion with Israeli intelligence—draws a far darker picture.
Some veteran intelligence operators think it’s well past time to shift the narrative on Trump’s disturbing affinity for Putin, which the president insists is innocent and good for world peace. “Everyone continues to dance around a clear assessment of what’s going on,” says Glenn Carle, a former CIA national intelligence officer responsible for evaluating foreign threats. “My assessment,” he tells Newsweek, “is that Trump is actually working directly for the Russians.”
The Israelis can’t say they weren’t warned. In January 2017, a few weeks before Trump’s inauguration, top U.S. intelligence officials welcomed a delegation of their Israeli counterparts to Washington. The meeting proceeded uneventfully, according to veteran Israeli intelligence journalist Ronen Bergman, although the Americans vented their dismay over a president who had loudly disparaged their past work. “Just as their meeting was wrapping up,” according to Bergman and a later report in Vanity Fair, “an American spymaster solemnly announced there was one more thing: They believed that Putin had ‘leverages of pressure’ over Trump.” His advice: “Be careful.”
Five months later, the Israelis came to rue what they had shared with Trump’s new CIA director, former Republican Representative Mike Pompeo. They were astonished to read media reports that Trump had told the Russian foreign minister and ambassador about their top secret operation in Syria to penetrate a cell of the Islamic State militant group (ISIS). U.S. intelligence experts assumed the Russians had shared the information with their allies in Iran, Israel’s mortal enemy.
Former CIA Director John Brennan has not minced words about Kremlin Caligula. ‘ Donald Trump shows ‘qualities usually found in narcissistic, vengeful autocrats’, says former CIA Director. President ‘expects blind loyalty and subservience from everyone’, says John Brennan.’ This is about the trick pulled by Haley this week at the UN.
The resolution to declare Washington’s decision on the city’s status “null and void” was backed by 128 countries at the UN General Assembly, including the UK, despite American ambassador Nikki Haley promising the US would be “taking names” of any nations who supported it.
Only nine countries voted against the motion but 35 abstained. Twenty-one were not present. Experts had predicted at least 150 countries would back the resolution, prompting speculation that some nations had caved in to US threats.
“Trump Admin threat to retaliate against nations that exercise sovereign right in UN to oppose US position on Jerusalem is beyond outrageous,” Mr Brennan tweeted. ”Shows Donald Trump expects blind loyalty and subservience from everyone – qualities usually found in narcissistic, vengeful autocrats.”
Meanwhile, Trump signed the Tax Bill to destroy middle and working Class Americans and headed off to Florida where holiday celebration tickets prices have been bumped up once again. He must need the extra change for the junk food machines at Fort Leavenworth he’ll be patronizing soon.
President Trump signed a bill Thursday ordering $4 billion in “top of the line missile defense,” before signing the $1.5 trillion GOP tax legislation. Now he’s jetting off to Mar-a-Lago for the holidays.
Timing: Trump said he was planning to sign the bill in January, but after watching the news this morning and seeing “every one of the networks” ask if he will he keep his promise and sign it before Christmas, he “called everyone up and said get ready we have to sign this now … I didn’t want you folks to say I wasn’t keeping my promise.”
What’s next: Trump said they’ll have a formal signing ceremony in two weeks.
- Trump said his friend Robert Kraft, CEO of the New England Patriots, called him to praise him for the tax bill, and promised to build a “tremendous paper mill” in North Carolina after the news.
- “I think that essentially Obamacare is over because we got rid of [the individual mandate].”
- He made nice with reporters: “Many of you have worked very fairly.”
- He wants to see a lot more bipartisanship in 2018.
I’m pretty sure the bipartisanship spirit has flew the coop this year.
Meanwhile, the Senate has begun to release details of taxpayer funded harassment settlements by members of its body. It’s incomplete but I’m assuming more will be forthcoming.
Nearly $600,000 worth of taxpayer-funded settlements have been paid out for workplace misconduct in the Senate over the past 20 years, according to new data released by the Senate Rules Committee Thursday night.
But the release lists just one claim for $14,260 for “sex discrimination and reprisal” — failing to include a $220,000 settlement for sexual harassment in 2014 that was recently made public.
The information was released as pressure has been mounting for more transparency on how cases of harassment are handled in Congress and how much public money is spent on such settlements especially in light of the the wave of revelations about sexual harassment in the workplace. The Senate had been holding on to the information as it has rested with the chairman of two Senate committees: Rules and Appropriations.
So, I’m just finishing up grading and trying to get some time off next week. I’m usually not in much of a holiday mode but this year seems more bleak than others. I feel unmoored by the unpredictable and insecure future in store for me. The rules of the game have so changed recently that it appears there’s no much you can depend on other than businesses trying to find a way to screw you out of money.
Take care! Hugs your friends and family! Grab every bit of peace and happiness you can find as the year winds down.
What’s on your reading and blogging list today?