Trump to Bibi and Abbas: “I’m With You Fellers”

by James M. Wall

On Wednesday, President Donald Trump approached the waning days of his first month in office with what he hoped would be a significant foreign policy event, his first White House meeting with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

At their joint press conference, the real estate tycoon now occupying this nation’s highest office, became Delmar (Tim Blake Nelson), from the 2005 Coen brothers movie, O Brother, Where Art Thou (see clip above).

In the film, Delmar and his pals, Everett (George Clooney), the dominant figure who evokes military occupier Bibi Netanyahu, and Pete (John Turturro), in the role of Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas, have escaped from a Mississippi chain gang.

Still linked together by the chains of Occupation, Everett and Pete argue heatedly over which of them should be the Decider of the future.

Ha’aretz writer Ilene Prusher analyzed Wednesday’s Trump-Netanyahu press conference, under this harsh headline: Trump Is Delusional and Ignorant About Israel. His Meeting With Netanyahu Proved It.

Prusher opened her analysis by pointing to what she calls a bizarro moment: “Trump departed from decades of U.S. policy of all administrations, Republican and Democratic, when he said that America was no longer determined to reach a two-state solution to end the conflict”.

Trump’s exact words were: “So I’m looking at two-state and one-state, and I like the one that both parties like. I’m very happy with the one that both parties like. I can live with either one.”

The answer drew laughs. Delmar could not have said it better. Here are clips from the press conference:

When we elected Trump, we did this nation a horrendous disservice.  We put an unqualified and unprepared man in the White House who is prone to making up stuff to suit the moment.

Veteran political journalist Elizabeth Drew, opened her critique of Trump for the New York Review of Books:

When the most unpopular and least prepared president-elect in modern history took the oath of office on January 20, most of Washington, like most of the country and the world, had little idea of the turbulence and disruption that he intended to bring to the job. Nonetheless those who’d watched him closely over the past year and a half were aware that he was manifestly unfit for a job that’s beyond the capacities of most people.

Examples of his turbulence and disruptions abound. Trump’s Delmar moment with the Israeli Prime Minister, is only one of many.

His cabinet choices have consistently been rejected by Democrats, unfortunately not enough Democrats, since Republicans hold a narrow lead in the Senate.

Trump has selected no Team of Rivals, as Doris Kearns Goodwin described Lincoln’s cabinet in her 2005 book of that name. Trump has no feel for how a divided government must serve a divided population.

His cabinet choices have been bizarre. He has catered exclusively to his base of voters, many of whom responded to his campaign of hate and fear, and to his friends in the one percent.

Betsy DeVos, his narrowly-approved Education Secretary, brings to her post a lifetime of support for private and religious schools and a disinterest in public education.

His Attorney General, Jeff Sessions, also narrowly approved, has a record of opposition to minority rights.

On Wednesday, Trump’s choice for Labor Secretary, Andrew Puzder, announced his withdrawal for consideration.

Puzder had been mired in a history of illegal business practices and open contempt for his employees. Puzder has been CEO of CKE Restaurants, Inc., the parent company of Hardee’s and Carl’s Jr. He was clearly hostile to the work of the agency he was appointed to lead.

Another blot on his record was a 30-year-old video tape of his wife describing abuse. The tape was recorded as the couple was embroiled in divorce proceedings. Puzder’s wife subsequently withdrew the allegations.

These stumbles in the cabinet approval process demonstrated a lack of experience and planning by the Trump administration. That same weakness was made even more apparent when Trump’s National Security adviser, General Michael Flynn, resigned before the Wednesday Trump-Netanyahu meeting.

What had been planned as a public boost for the two leaders, was radically transformed into a disaster on both sides of the Atlantic. Israeli media shifted its focus to the chaos in Washington.

Ha’aretz columnist Bradley Burston wrote:

Television broadcasts suggested that Trump’s primary hope for the meeting was to distract the U.S. public from what Yedioth Ahronoth called in a banner headline an ‘Administration in Crisis’.

“Donald Trump is becoming increasingly embroiled and bogged down in that scandal involving Russia,” reported Israel Channel Two correspondent Udi Segal, adding that Trump’s predicament “is also casting dark clouds over the Netanyahu visit, following the Michael Flynn resignation”. . . .

Off screen, you could hear hardline settlement activists breathing a welcome if tentative sigh of relief. This has been an arduous, anxious, humiliating and painful period for the settlement enterprise, punctuated by abrupt disappointment in Trump and what his presidency might mean for what had just recently seemed to be their sky’s-the-limit future.

In short, the hard-line settler movement in Israel now rejoices over Donald Trump’s role as Delmar, an American leader who demonstrated both ignorance and a dangerous naivety, in a central Middle East problem. 

President Trump appears to have no clear understanding of the impact his public statements (nor his tweets) have on foreign or domestic opinion. So this Delmar exchange he has just had in front of a world public, may just be today’s Trumpism.

Elsewhere, Palestinian and Israelis, accustomed to U.S. policy impacting their daily lives, are reading the tea leaves. What they see, to use a Jewish meme, “is good for the Jews” and bad for the Palestinians.

Palestinian media outlet Maan News reported:

Palestinian Ambassador to the UN, Riyad Mansour, released a statement following the press conference saying that peace would not be achieved “without determining the basis of the peace process,” and highlighted the fact that the majority of the international community continued to support a two-state solution despite Trump and Netanyahu’s comments.

Fatah official Rafaat Elayyan also released a statement condemning the meeting, saying that Netanyahu and Trump had “publicly killed the dream of establishing a Palestinian state with East Jerusalem as its capital.”

He also stated that Trump had disregarded international law and all previous agreements between the Palestinians and Israelis to achieve peace in the region.

“We are facing today an occupation that refuses to establish an independent state and aims to annex the West Bank and Jerusalem to Israel by expanding settlements supported by the US administration,” Elayyan said. He went on to urge the Palestinian leadership to “adopt a new strategy” based on unification that can end national conflict within Palestine.

Maan also reported that in Israel:

Right-wing ministers across the board indicated their view that Israel was entering a ‘new era’ not restricted by the two-state solution or longstanding peace standards established by the international community.

Israeli Culture Minister Miri Regev, also from the Likud party, reportedly said that “the era of the freeze has ended. It’s the end of the [construction] freeze in Judea and Samaria,” an Israeli term for the West Bank, adding that “a new diplomatic era began in Washington today.”

Other right-wing ministers expressed their relief that the Israeli government no longer had to maintain an image of supporting the two-state solution which international peace efforts have focused on for decades as a route out of the Israeli-Palestinian impasse.

It is that “scandal involving Russia”, alluded to earlier, that is now Trump’s major burden. The New York Times columnist Nicholas Kristof asks, What did Trump Know and When Did he Know It?”

During the Watergate scandal, until now the most outrageous political scandal in American history, the crucial question was drawled by Senator Howard Baker of Tennessee: “What did the president know, and when did he know it?”

Today the question is the same.

This is not about Mike Flynn. It is about the president who appointed him, who earlier considered Flynn for vice president. The latest revelation of frequent contacts between the Trump team and Russian intelligence should be a wake-up call to Republicans as well as Democrats.

When Vice President Mike Pence was asked by Chris Wallace of Fox News on Jan. 15 if there had been any contacts between the Trump campaign and the Kremlin, he answered: “Of course not. Why would there be any contacts?”

Great question, Mr. Vice President.

Kristof concludes his column with an appeal for a bipartisan investigation, “ideally an independent panel modeled on the 9/11 Commission. It must address what is now the central question: ‘What did the president know, and when did he know it?'”

Meanwhile, a final nod to that press conference where President Trump told Prime Minister Netanyahu what he should do is resolve the issues of peace and settlements.

Daily Show host Trevor Noah revealed Trump’s negotiation strategy which closely resembles what that beer-guzzling man pounding on the bar would do if he could speak to Netanyahu.

And so it comes to pass, another day and another set of self-induced problems for President Trump. 

As the issue of Russia’s involvement in the 2016 election awaits investigation, the world watches to see how deep any contacts with Russia go in the Trump White House.

Be prepared for anything. This is a presidency unlike anything we have ever seen. Will Trump succeed in bringing peace between Israel and Palestine? We now must wait and see.

For the Noah link, click below:–diplomacy-with-israel–donald-trump-style

It loads slowly, but believe me, it is worth the effort.

Posted in -Movies and politics, Donald Trump, Middle East, Middle East Politics, Netanyahu, Palestinians | 4 Comments

“The fault, dear Brutus, is not in our stars, but in us”

by James M. Wall

The Merriam-Webster dictionary has just announced that more than one thousand new words have been added to its latest edition.bill-olearythe-washington-post

One of those new words–snollygoster–arrives just in time to apply to Republican members of Congress, who shut down Senator Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass) as she was reading a letter from Coretta Scott King on the Senate floor.

According to Merriam-Webster, a snollygoster is “a shrewd, unprincipled person”. The word has a history in American English as far back as 1846.

The dictionary cites one use by former President Harry Truman who “lamented that Dwight Eisenhower had given in to congressional ‘snollygosters’—unprincipled politicians”.

One of the darker moments in this one-sided cabinet battle in a Republican-controlled Senate, came when Senator Warren was not allowed to participate further in the Senate debate over Senator Jeff Sessions, to become Attorney General.

Following a second straight all-night session, Warren’s Democratic colleagues came to her support. Several male senators took to the floor to read the letter. They were not shut down for “breaking Rule 19”.

Senator Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) said in a floor speech Wednesday, “I think Leader McConnell owes Senator Warren an apology”. He joined other Democrats who “were particularly chagrined that a Senate rule could be invoked to prevent a member from criticizing someone who is up for confirmation before the body”.

National Public Radio covered the story Wednesday:

A day after Senate Republicans invoked a conduct rule to end Sen. Elizabeth Warren’s speech against the nomination of Sen. Jeff Sessions as U.S. attorney general, a 1986 letter from Coretta Scott King urging the Senate to reject Sessions’ nomination as a federal judge is gaining new prominence.

coretta-scott-king-mark-wilson-gettyWarren was reading aloud from the letter by King, the widow of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., when she was interrupted by the presiding chair of the Senate, who warned her of breaking Rule 19, which forbids members from imputing to a colleague “any conduct or motive unworthy or unbecoming a Senator.”

The warning mentioned Warren’s earlier quote of Sen. Edward Kennedy, who had called Sessions, then a U.S. attorney, a disgrace. But it was King’s letter that — more than 10 minutes after Warren finished reading it aloud Tuesday night — prompted Majority Leader Mitch McConnell to call her out of order. That resulted in Warren being silenced on the Senate floor.

King’s letter was posted online by The Washington Post.

When Senator Sessions was confirmed Wednesday night 53-47, in a party-line vote, his confirmation was the second narrow confirmation. The only Democrat who supported him was Senator Joe Manchin of West Virginia, a state that voted 67.9% for Trump and 26.2% for Hillary Clinton. 

Betsy DeVos, an anti-public school, billionaire fund-raiser, from Michigan, who has never attended a public school nor sent her children to a public school, became Secretary of Education by an unprecedented single vote (for a cabinet member) cast by Vice President Mike Pence.

DeVos comes from a deeply-conservative religious family. Her husband, Dick DeVos, was a CEO of the beauty and nutrition giant Amway, and her brother is Erik Prince, the founder of the controversial private security company Blackwater.

Much to their credit, two Republican senators voted against the clearly unqualified Betsy DeVos for that job, Susan Collins of Maine, and Lisa Murkowski, of Alaska. One additional Republican senator could have sent her back to her religious private-school advocacy. 

Fox News reported:

By this time in 2001, then-President George W. Bush had his entire Cabinet confirmed. Then-President Barack Obama was just three short of a full Cabinet on Feb. 8, 2009.

Senate Republican leaders asserted this week that — based on numbers provided by the Partnership for Public Service, Plum Book, and — Trump has the fewest Cabinet secretaries confirmed at this point in the presidency of any incoming president since George Washington. 

These cabinet confirmation votes lead to a stark reality. This nation is sharply divided along rigid ideological lines. This division was clear during the campaign. It is certain to continue this way through the remaining votes on cabinet members, all of whom are expected to be confirmed, largely along party lines.

How did this happen? As Cassius says in Shakespeare’s Julius Caesar

“The fault, dear Brutus, is not in our stars, but in ourselves. . . “

It is “ourselves” who are so easily distracted by the “blood and circuses” of our modern culture, that as a nation we remain almost oblivious to the deeper implications of politics and governing.

One such display of an empire’s “blood and circuses”, described this way in the Roman Empire’s declining decades, is the marriage of violence and commerce in the game of football. 

To understand how violent this game is, see Will Smith in his 2015 movie, Concussion.

This year’s professional football season closed with the 51st Super Bowl, played between the Atlanta Falcons and the Boston Patriots. Over one hundred million spectators watched that game on television, a contest which ended in a 34-28 Patriots victory.

Commercial advertisers have made this annual event a money-maker for television, team owners, corporate advertisers, and the players.

It is also a diversion for Americans who revel in the spectacle of the game. To fully grasp the significance of the Super Bowl and its deep involvement in sanctioned violence and commercial exploitation, consider the Super Bowl ads that aired during the game.

The New Yorker reminded its readers that the commercials that run during the game are controlled by Fox, which airs the game, and the National Football League, who together hold veto power over “ads that they decide make controversial or overt political statements”.

One little-known advertiser, 84 Lumber, a Pittsburgh-based building-supply company, almost slipped through the tight net Fox and the NFL wrapped around what was shown on the air.

An ad for 84 Lumber, The New Yorker reported, originally showed a mother and daughter “traveling through Mexico only to be met by a border wall”, in a narrative which was censored by either Fox or the NFL, or both.

What finally ran as viewers sipped their beverages and poked into their cheese and onion dips, was a shortened, softer ad ending before the mother and daughter reached that awful wall which Donald Trump has pledged to create across the entire U.S.-Mexico border.

The full ad, available below, was released on 84 Lumber’s web site.

A much safer immigrant story, in the wisdom of the NFL and Fox, showed a largely fictional version of a German immigrant who made it to St. Louis where he unexpectedly found a partner.

Thus it was, in this advertising fairy tale, that Anheuser and Busch merged their passions for making beer.

Immigrants are safe topics for the NFL and Fox, so long as they come from Europe in an earlier century. 

We conclude this Brutus and Cassius visit with this stern reminder from Benjamin Franklin:

The deliberations of the Constitutional Convention of 1787 were held in strict secrecy. Consequently, anxious citizens gathered outside Independence Hall when the proceedings ended in order to learn what had been produced behind closed doors. The answer was provided immediately. A Mrs. Powel of Philadelphia asked Benjamin Franklin, “Well, Doctor, what have we got, a republic or a monarchy?” With no hesitation whatsoever, Franklin responded, “A republic, if you can keep it.” 

Posted in Bernie Sanders, Donald Trump, Politics and Elections | Tagged , | 5 Comments

White House Islamophobia Dictates Trump Policy



by James M. Wall

When President Donald Trump spoke by phone Saturday, January 28, with Australian Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull, he was speaking (above) from the White House, before an audience of two aides, National Security Advisor Michael T. Flynn and his top strategist, Stephen K. Bannon.

Trump’s conversation with the leader of a major U.S. ally, was supposed to last an hour. Instead, Trump hung up after 25 minutes. 

The Washington Post reported: “It should have been one of the most congenial calls for the new commander in chief — a conversation with the leader of Australia, one of America’s staunchest allies, at the end of a triumphant week”.

Instead, President Trump “blasted Australian Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull over a refu­gee agreement and boasted about the magnitude of his electoral college win”. The details of the call were leaked from “senior U.S. officials briefed on the Saturday exchange”. 

Trump’s diplomatic style is, to say the least, different. “At one point, Trump informed Turnbull that he had spoken with four other world leaders that day — including Russian President Vladi­mir Putin — and that ‘this was the worst call by far’.

Someone in the White House wanted this exchange made public. Bannon and Flynn were there to hear it live. It should be safe to assume they made it public. Trump’s bellicosity is what they want the American public, and the world, to hear.

Trump also wants the world to know, through Twitter, how he feels about “refugees”. His explosive conversation with the Australian Prime Minister involved what Trump, in a tweet called, a “dumb” Obama-era “deal”.

The Washington Post provides a different reading on the “deal”:

Last night, President Trump went off on Australia, criticizing a “dumb” Obama-era “deal” that would, in Trump’s words, force the United States to take “thousands of illegal immigrants from Australia.”

Except  that’s not really what the deal says. Not at all.

Trump is referring to a deal signed in November. According to the agreement, which took months of negotiation, America would accept about 1,200 refugees (not, as Trump called them, “illegal immigrants”) from Australia. 

The United States would prioritize families and children, and all candidates would be subjected to a thorough vetting process. America’s Department of Homeland Security would conduct two rounds of interviews with each candidate. 

The President is following an Islamophobic script, a theme of hatred and fear shared with his aides, Stephen K. Bannon and Michael T. Flynn, that contributed mightily to Trump’s election victory. Australian Prime Minister Trumbull knows this. In a public statement he said he would not comment on the “domestic issues” of other nations.

In a January 30 editorial, entitled,”President Bannon?“, the New York Times laments:

[W]e’ve never witnessed a political aide move as brazenly to consolidate power as Stephen Bannon — nor have we seen one do quite so much damage so quickly to his putative boss’s popular standing or pretenses of competence.

Huffington Post had this to say about Bannon when Trump made him his chief strategist:

Trump has tapped Breitbart News chairman Stephen Bannon as his chief strategist. Thankfully, a firestorm erupted this week as countless media outlets noted that the ultra-conservative website Breitbart, under Bannon’s leadership, has become a platform for the ”alt right” and as such it, “embraces and promotes white nationalism, racism, anti-Semitism, homophobia, transphobia and misogyny.”

Talking Points Memo wrote about Flynn when he was announced as National Security Adviser:

The outspoken retired intelligence officer, who served as a close adviser to Trump throughout the 2016 election, believes that Islamic extremism poses an existential threat to the United States. He has called Islam a “malignant cancer” and a “sick” ideology, while his active Twitter feed is full of posts assuring his followers that fearing Muslims is “rational.”

Islamophobia is alive and well in the White House. We must assume this will continue to be a driving force throughout Trump’s administration.

Gallup has monitored the growth of Islamophobia through its expert polling.  For future reference as we follow the Trump White House in action, here is the definition of Islamophobia that Gallup offers:

A phobia, according to the Merriam-Webster dictionary, is an exaggerated, usually inexplicable and illogical fear of a particular object, class of objects, or situation. It may be hard for the afflicted to sufficiently determine or communicate the source of this fear, but it exists.

In recent years, a specific phobia has gripped Western societies – Islamophobia.

Researchers and policy groups define Islamophobia in differing detail, but the term’s essence is essentially the same, no matter the source:

An exaggerated fear, hatred, and hostility toward Islam and Muslims that is perpetuated by negative stereotypes resulting in bias, discrimination, and the marginalization and exclusion of Muslims from social, political, and civic life.

In the past, and now in the White House, Trump aides Bannon and Flynn have displayed full-fledged Islamophobia. Trump himself, on the other hand, appears to have adopted Islamophobia as yet another tool in his personal self-aggrandizing tool box.

He uses it when he needs to whip up crowds so that he might bask in their anger and their approbation for a fellow hater. Now, safely in the White House, he uses it to demonstrate his strongman image.

The Obama-negotiated deal with Australia, did not involve Muslims, but they were still, to Trump, “refugees”, and right now he is playing the strongman on “refugees”. He knows the boys in the bars must be pounding their fists with this latest Trump outburst, confirming that their hatred is, in fact, the Gospel Truth.

Trump was on a roll this past weekend. Saturday night he was on the phone with the Australian Prime Minister.

On Friday night, January 27, President Trump issued an executive order banning travel by Muslims from seven largely Muslim nations. His acting Attorney General, Sally Quinlan Yates, refused to allow the Justice Department to defend the order.

President Trump fired his acting attorney general on Monday night, removing her as the nation’s top law enforcement officer after she defiantly refused to defend his executive order closing the nation’s borders to refugees and people from predominantly Muslim countries.

In an escalating crisis for his 10-day-old administration, the president declared in a statement that Sally Q. Yates who had served as deputy attorney general under President Barack Obama, had betrayed the administration by announcing that Justice Department lawyers would not defend Mr. Trump’s order against legal challenges.

Trump fired Yates with the angry zeal his fans loved when he fired contestants on his television reality shows.

Contrary to his repeated campaign rhetoric, Trump’s executive order did not cover all Muslims.

The travel ban targets only those Muslims in nations where there are no Trump towers, casinos, office complexes, or golf courses, specifically, as the Independent reported:

The executive order Mr Trump signed blocks entry for the next 90 days to travellers from Syria, Iran, Iraq, Yemen, Sudan, Somalia and Yemen.

Excluded from the list are several wealthier Muslim majority countries where the Trump Organization has business interest, including Saudi Arabia, Lebanon, Turkey, the UAE, Egypt and Indonesia.

Those two lists reveal just how little forethought, experience or planning, went into the executive order. 

The marches and protests around airports and elsewhere that sprang up in the nation following the Islamophobic executive order, did evoke some White House scrambling and more lies.

Trump claimed he had linked his ban to the list President Obama employed in a 2011 executive order. Foreign Policy nailed him on this bogus claim:

There are so many reasons to detest the Donald Trump administration’s executive order on “Protecting the Nation From Foreign Terrorist Entry to the United States” that it’s hard to know where to start.

Others have already argued eloquently about its cruelty in singling out the most vulnerable in society; its strategic folly in insulting countries and individuals the United States needs to help it fight terrorism (the ostensible purpose of the order in the first place); its cynical incoherence in using the 9/11 attacks as a rationale and then exempting the attackers’ countries of origin; its ham-handed implementation and ever-shifting explanations for how, and to whom, it applies; and, thankfully, its legal vulnerability on a slew of soon-to-be-litigated grounds, including that it may violate the establishment and equal protection clauses of the U.S. Constitution.

In light of all that, and particularly in light of the new White House’s acknowledged aversion to facts, it may seem like a minor point that President Trump and his advisors, in seeking to justify and normalize the executive order, have made a series of false or misleading claims about steps taken more than five years earlier by the Barack Obama administration. In case you missed it, a statement from the president published Sunday afternoon read:

“My policy is similar to what President Obama did in 2011 when he banned visas for refugees from Iraq for six months. The seven countries named in the Executive Order are the same countries previously identified by the Obama administration as sources of terror.”

Foreign Policy states that Trumps’ claim that he is following an earlier Obama executive order, “obscures” at least “five enormous differences between the executive order the White House issued Friday and what the Obama administration did”.

The five differences Foreign Policy lists, in considerable detail, involved:

The Obama administration’s 2011 review was narrow. It covered the vetting procedures applied to citizens of a single country (Iraq). It applied only to refugees and applicants for Special Immigrant Visas (SIVs), created by Congress to help Iraqis (and later Afghans) who supported the United States in those conflicts.

Obama’s 2011 order was not a ban. It “did not ban visas for refugees”. Refugees do not travel on visas.

The Obama administration’s 2011 review “came in response to specific threat information, including the arrest in Kentucky of two Iraqi refugees, still the only terrorism-related arrests out of about 130,000 Iraqi refugees and SIV holders admitted to the United States”.

The 2011 Obama review involved a dozen deputies and principals committee meetings, including cabinet and deputy cabinet-level officials from all of the relevant departments and agencies — including State, Homeland Security, and Justice — and the intelligence community.

In contrast to this involvement of pertinent government agencies, the Trump executive order “was reportedly drafted by White House political officials and then presented to the implementing agencies a fait accompli.”

Not only is this, Foreign Policy concludes, “bad policymaking practice; it led directly to the confusion, bordering on chaos, that has attended implementation of the order by agencies that could only start asking questions (such as: ‘Does this apply to green card holders?’) once the train had left the station.”

That bad policy making and confusion bordering on chaos comes from a White House now led by purveyors of Islamophobia. 

This is Day Fourteen of the Trump presidency.  We have 1446 days left until the next inauguration, January 20, 2021.

In those 1446 days, do not despair. Instead, cling to, and work from, the reminder often quoted by Martin Luther King, Jr.:

“The arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends towards justice.”

Picture at top is a ©Pete Marovich/Pool photo via European Pressphoto Agency

Posted in Donald Trump, Middle East, Middle East Politics, Stephen Brannon | 2 Comments

Obama Gives PA $221 Million in Final Hours

getty-image-the-hillby James M. Wall

In his final hours as President, Barack Obama ordered authorized funds for the Palestine Authority to be sent to Ramallah.

The funds had been “delayed” by two Republican members of the House, Ed Royce of California, chair of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, and Kay Granger of Texas, a member of the House Appropriations Committee.

Those two GOP House members had placed “holds” on the funds, which has been authorized by Congress in budget years, 2015 and 2016.

Royce and Granger said their reason for holding the funds were “moves the Palestinian Authority had taken to seek membership in international organizations”.

News of Obama’s decision to release the authorized funds were reported by the Associated Press, and reported in several publications, including The Times of Israel.

The Times explained that “Congressional holds are generally respected by the executive branch, but are not legally binding after funds have been allocated”.

Congress members Royce and Granger had their reasons for delaying the funds. Among those reasons could be the influence of the Israel Lobby which shapes American politics toward what it perceives to be in Israel’s best-interests.

The website Jerusalem Online, reported:

A senior level US Department of State official and several congressional aides said that the outgoing Obama administration “formally notified Congress” that the money would be transferred to Ramallah just hours before Donald Trump was sworn in.

The funds for the Palestinian Authority were part of more than $227 million in foreign affairs funding that was released simultaneously during Obama’s last day in the White House.

In addition to the funds that went to the Palestinian Authority, $4 million went to climate change initiatives and $1.25 million to UN organizations.

A conservative site was less than charitable over the release of funds, starting with a question shaped by the Lobby/Fox News world view.

Here is the site, Hot air, in which you may also find a short clip from Fox News:

Is this legal? Congress had held up foreign-aid funds allocated to the Palestinian Authority after Mahmoud Abbas tried an end-run around direct and unconditional peace talks with Israel for a two-state solution, by having international organizations recognize them as a state.

In a last-minute act of defiance, John Kerry sent the money anyway, only informing Congress of the transfer just hours before Donald Trump’s inauguration…. To answer the question in the lead, it does, in fact. appear to be legal. Congress allocated the funds to the State Department, but later put a “hold” on its disbursement . . . . The executive branch normally honors those holds, but is not legally obligated to do so, having already attained the funds in an appropriation.

The last-minute decision to release the funds still smells pretty badly, and reflects on the character of Kerry and Barack Obama.

How it smells, of course, is in the nose of the smeller. As for reflecting on the character of Kerry and Obama, there is a different conclusion to be reached than the one Hot air wants to convey.

It should be apparent to anyone who smells beyond the bubble of the noses of the Israel Lobby and Fox News, that government leaders who want to act for justice, carry the burden of operating in a democracy where Congress has yielded its moral compass to its Tel Aviv masters.

But it must be noted that Bibi Netanyahu is having his own palpitations over Donald Trump.

A large number of those U.S. Neo-Conservatives, who would ordinarily have been major players in the Trump foreign policy circle, are currently being ignored by Trump. 

These Neo-Con warriors were faithful soldiers for George W. Bush’s Middle East team, many of whom started with his ill-fated invasion of Iraq. If Trump wants to follow Israel’s wishes, as Bush consistently did, why not call on the Neo-Cons?

The answer, as the Washington Post’s David Nakamura outlined in a January 16 article, are to be found in “Never Trump” letters they signed. Nakamura wrote:

They are some of the biggest names in the Republican national security firmament, veterans of past GOP administrations who say, if called upon by President-elect Donald Trump, they stand ready to serve their country again.

But their phones aren’t ringing. Their entreaties to Trump Tower in New York have mostly gone unanswered. In Trump world, these establishment all-stars say they are “PNG” — personae non gratae.

Their transgression was signing one or both of two public “Never Trump” letters during the campaign, declaring they would not vote for Trump and calling his candidacy a danger to the nation.

One letter, with 122 names, was published by War on the Rocks, a website devoted to national security commentary, during the primary season in March.

The other, with 50 names, including some repeat signatories, was published by the New York Times during the general-election campaign in August. 

As Trump Energy Secretary appointee Rick Perry, might put it, Oops.

Meanwhile, Trump has a pro-Israel loyalist ready to make deals that hold and, hopefully, will not require the Neo-Con “shock and awe” solution to every problem.

That would be his son-in-law Jared Kushner. The Jewish News writes that Trump sees Kushner as a deal-maker:

Donald Trump has said he will put his 35-year old Jewish son-in-law in charge of Israeli-Palestinian peace negotiations. . . In the president-elect’s first major interviews with European media, with The Times and German newspaper Bild, he said that Jared Kushner – the husband of his daughter Ivanka – would “secure an Israel deal”.

Last week Kushner was appointed senior adviser to Trump, but despite critics accusing the incoming commander-in-chief of nepotism, the new U.S. president has stuck to earlier suggestions that his son-in-law would play a key role in securing a Middle East peace deal.

Trump said: “You know what? Jared is such a good lad. He will secure an Israel deal which no one else has managed to get. You know, he’s a natural talent, he is the top. He is a natural talent. You know what I’m talking about – a natural talent. He has an innate ability to make deals. Everyone likes him.”

Even though those gushing words of praise sound a bit naive, they do reveal Trump’s understanding of how foreign policy works: Make deals. 

Watching from outside, in the cold, is a whole passel of Neo-Con veterans aching to get back into the game. And they probably would be at the table, except that Donald Trump has a list, two lists to be precise, with names that said “Never Trump”. 

We will have to wait and see how President Trump and the Prime Minister of Israel get along in their early February meeting.  Rest assured, that “natural talent” son-in-law, Jared Kushner, will be close at hand. 

Finally, if like many listeners of National Public Radio, you have missed the Saturday afternoon Prairie Home Companion programs hosted by Garrison Keillor, our amiable Minnesota companion, has not entirely left us. 

He is no longer with NPR, alas. But he is still with us through his syndicated column for the Washington Post. 

Here are samples from the latest Keillor column on Trump and the marches that followed the inauguration:

The man is clueless, tightly locked inside his own small bubble. A sizable minority of Americans, longing for greatness or wanting to smack down an ambitious woman and to show those people in the hellhole coastal cities what the real America is all about, has elected him. To him, this minority is a mass movement such as the world has never seen. God have mercy. . . .

It is up to Republicans to save the country from this man. They elected him, and it is their duty to tie a rope around his ankle. They formed a solid bloc against President Obama and held their ranks, and now, for revenge, they will go after health insurance subsidies for people of limited means, which is one of the cruelest things they can possibly do. . . .

The only good things to come out of that inauguration were the marches all over the country the day after, millions of people taking to the streets of their own free will, most of them women, packed in tight, lots of pink hats, lots of signage, earnest, vulgar, witty, a few brilliant (“Take your broken heart and make it art”), and all of it rather civil and good-humored. That’s the great America I grew up in. It’s still here.

Yes, that America is still here. And our hopes for a better future lies in knowing that citizens who marched and citizens who believe in this nation’s high ideals, will continue to watch this man with their “withering gaze“.

They will watch, and they will act each day in response to how this man handles the high position we have given him. 

The picture of former President Obama is a Getty Image from The Hill.

Posted in Donald Trump, Media, Middle East, Netanyahu, Obama, Palestinians | 5 Comments

Trump’s Attack on Congressman John Lewis

by James M. Wallmarch-cover

President-elect Donald Trump posted several insensitive and ill-informed tweets against Congressman John L. Lewis on the Saturday before Martin Luther King, Jr.’s birthday. 

The tweets displayed an ignorance of the facts about both Lewis’s history of public service, and of the 5th congressional Georgia district Lewis has served since 1987. 

They also displayed an indifference to a time when the nation pauses to honor Martin Luther King, Jr. Instead, our next president acted with a naughty child’s petulance over a congressman’s questioning of his election victory.

If Trump’s staff and family allow him to keep his personal Twitter account, we can only assume our next president will display that same unfettered ignorance and insensitivity, for four years, through January 20, 2021.

What led to Trump’s attacks on Lewis? Marlee Kokotovic reports on the site Nation of Change that in a television interview, Congressman Lewis said, “I think there was a conspiracy on the part of the Russians and others to help him get elected. That’s not right. That’s not fair. That’s not the open democratic process.”

Lewis added that he would not attend the Friday inauguration.

In an UPDATED list released Tuesday morning (January 17), Politico Huddle identified  
 40 House Democrats who have announced they won’t attend the inauguration Friday, many “in protest of Trump’s weekend Twitter attacks against Rep. John Lewis”.

The Democrats who have announced they will boycott the inauguration are: Reps. Karen Bass, Don Beyer, Earl Blumenauer, Brendan Boyle, Anthony Brown, Judy Chu, Katherine Clark, Yvette Clarke, Lacy Clay, Steve Cohen, John Conyers, Mark DeSaulnier, Keith Ellison, Adriano Espaillat, Dwight Evans, Marcia Fudge, Al Green, Raúl Grijalva, Luis Gutiérrez, Jared Huffman, Pramila Jayapal, Barbara Lee, Zoe Lofgren, Ted Lieu, Jerrold Nadler, Chellie Pingree, Marc Pocan, Lucille Roybal-Allard, Raul Ruiz, José Serrano, Kurt Schrader, Carol Shea-Porter, Darren Soto, Mark Takano, Nydia Velazquez, Maxine Waters, Bonnie Watson Coleman and John Yarmuth. 

Donald Trump might have avoided some of these no-shows had he avoided attacking Lewis, and then pointed out that his election is legitimate because the Electoral College counted the votes of each state and declared it to be so. 

Instead, Trump displayed both his immaturity and his inability to grasp just how inappropriate his attacks on Lewis were, by attacking Lewis on the weekend prior to King’s birthday.

I know from personal experience how a temporary lack of maturity can expose anyone. As a young pastor in Georgia, I joined friends and family of a parishioner gathered in a living room. I engaged in a few words of banal social chit chat with the lady of the house. 

Another church member finally turned to me and said, “You know why we are here, Reverend, her husband has just died”. Of course I knew it. 

I mumbled a few words of condolence and sneaked away, permanently scarred with the dark memory of a moment when I failed to be present to others. 

Donald Trump, in a far more significant moment, was not present for the nation he will soon lead. He attacked a civil rights icon on this King weekend.

We have seen no sign that he is even aware of the immaturity of those tweets. The only sign is a negative one; he canceled a Monday appearance at an African-American museum.

It was early Saturday morning when Trump attacked Lewis for not “taking care of his crime infested” district, a false statement which reveals a racist bias. In his petulant anger, Trump did not bother to find out that crime in Georgia’s 5th district has fallen by 30 percent in recent years.

The New York Times reported the language of Trump’s tweets:

“Congressman John Lewis should spend more time on fixing and helping his district, which is in horrible shape and falling apart (not to mention crime infested) rather than falsely complaining about the election results.” 

A second tweet added, “All talk, talk, talk — no action or results,” he added. “Sad!”

For the record, Georgia’s 5th Congressional District includes parts of wealthy Atlanta areas like Buckhead; the world’s busiest airport, Hartsfield-Jackson; the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention; and the Georgia Institute of Technology.

johnlewisAnother web news site, Newsmax, shared more on Lewis, writing:

Lewis is among the most revered leaders of the civil rights movement and devoted his life to promoting equal rights for African-Americans. He suffered a fractured skull while leading the march in Selma, Alabama more than a half century ago.

“The tweet is unnecessary, it’s unfortunate,” former Republican National Committee chairman Michael Steele, who is African-American, said on MSNBC. He added:

“John Lewis has a walk that very few people in this country — least of all Donald Trump — have ever walked. So you have to respect that and pay attention to that.” 

Of course, the degree to which Russia interfered in Trump’s election will need to be examined by appropriate agencies and individuals. The Congress should act according to our established laws to respond to that alleged interference.

That, Mr. President-to-be, is known as civility in the way this nation is governed by its laws.

Trump has demonstrated no ability to curb his self-absorbed Twitter impulses. His family and staff have shown no indication they will remove his tweets from his daily schedule.

If Donald Trump really wants to lead this nation, he could spend his Twitter time in a more important task, reading about its history.

He could start with three volumes of a graphic novel entitled March. Civil rights leader John Lewis is one of its award-winning authors.

In a New York Times (November 17, 2016) book review of March, Julian Lucas traced John Lewis’s literary contribution to a history in which he played such an important role. 

There are few people better qualified to remind us of what democracy really looks like than John Lewis, the Georgia congressman, civil rights icon and, most recently, the author, with the writer Andrew Aydin and the artist Nate Powell, of a three-part graphic memoir called March.

A galvanizing account of his coming-of-age in the movement, it’s a capsule lesson in courage of conscience, a story that inspires without moralizing or simplifying in hindsight. 

The trilogy’s title is season, setting and imperative: March begins and draws to a close with scenes from the march Lewis led in Selma, Ala., on March 7, 1965, forever known as “Bloody Sunday” after state troopers and the local police attacked the nonviolent  protesters. 

The opening panels depict the marchers gathered at the Edmund Pettus Bridge, then move from their tense, prayerful faces to the phalanx of billy clubs and white helmets on the opposite bank. Lewis, then only 25, was beaten that day; five months later, Lyndon Johnson signed the Voting Rights Act.

The three volumes of March (the second won an Eisner Award at Comic-Con, and the third won this year’s National Book Award for young people’s literature) aren’t just a record of Lewis’s activism but one of its brilliant examples, designed to help new generations of readers visualize the possibilities of political engagement.

If an unfettered, emotional indifference to facts by our next president is to be our fate through January, 2021, then each false, damaging Trump tweet must be exposed for what it is, an outburst directed at anyone whose opinion or action fails to pour praise into his  self-esteem bucket.

It is that bucket that could plague us for the next four years. Unfortunatelyas the folk song puts it, “There’s a hole in the bucket, dear Liza, dear Liza. There’s a hole in the bucket, dear Liza, a hole.”

The picture of Congressman Lewis is from the site, Nation of Change.

Posted in Donald Trump, Folk Music, Politics and Elections | 4 Comments

Using Fake News To Demean Trump Is Wrong

by James M. Wall220px-united_states_intelligence_community_seal-svg

One week before his inauguration, President-elect Trump was dealt an irresponsible, “warped and self-destructive” blow by the CIA and its allies in the media.

This conclusion was reached by Glenn Greenwald, in The Intercept.

Greenwald was quick to point out that the “serious dangers posed by a Trump presidency are numerous and manifest. There is a wide array of legitimate and effective tactics for combating those threats: from bipartisan congressional coalitions and constitutional legal challenges to citizen uprisings and sustained and aggressive civil disobedience”.

But, as Greenwald also noted, “cheering for the CIA and its shadowy allies to unilaterally subvert the U.S. election and impose its own policy dictates on the elected president is both warped and self-destructive”. . .

This subversion involved the granting of official credence to a salacious, unsubstantiated document by a former British MI6 operative which claimed to have proof of conduct in a hotel room by President-elect Trump while he was in Moscow.

The document, which became known as the Trump dossier, originated from “opposition research” funded by enemies of Trump, first by Republicans who opposed his nomination, and then by Democrats who wanted him to lose to Hillary Clinton.

The salacious document, Greenwald writes, “was just an anonymous claim unaccompanied by any evidence or any specifics.”

Of course, the anonymous claim was of a sexual nature. Sex and violence are media’s bread and butter.

The document was circulated through unofficial channels during the presidential race, but on Thursday, January 12, it received a guaranteed ticket to public attention. Greenwald wrote:

At some point last week, the chiefs of the intelligence agencies decided to declare that this ex-British intelligence operative was ‘credible’ enough that his allegations warranted briefing both Trump and Obama about them, thus stamping some sort of vague, indirect, and deniable official approval on these accusations.

What prompted this move from the dark corners of rumor and innuendo, to the glaring sunlight of media attention? Why did the salacious document become sufficiently “credible”?

If you want to believe “the chiefs of the [American] intelligence agencies”, the document was moving so rapidly through social media and other internet channels, that it was necessary to brief both Trump and President Obama.

The intelligence chiefs thus stamped “some sort of vague, indirect and deniable official approval” on what could be pure fiction conjured by a retired British spy now doing political dirty work.

Or, the spy’s document may be rooted in reality. Take your choice. Give it credence, or not. But remember, if there are video or written proofs of the alleged hotel hanky-panky, it has yet to surface or be verified.

So here we are, one week before the inauguration, and our next president is being harassed by unsubstantiated allegations of sexual conduct in Moscow. The harassment continues in the unholy alliance between intelligence agencies and media outlets, initially BuzzFeed and CNN.

What could be behind that alliance? Greenwald offers his answer:

It is not hard to understand why the CIA preferred Clinton over Trump. Clinton was critical of Obama for restraining the CIA’s proxy war in Syria and was eager to expand that war, while Trump denounced it.

Clinton clearly wanted a harder line than Obama took against the CIA’s long-standing foes in Moscow, while Trump wanted improved relations and greater cooperation.

In general, Clinton defended and intended to extend the decades-long international military order on which the CIA and Pentagon’s preeminence depends, while Trump — through a still-uncertain mix of instability and extremist conviction — posed a threat to it.

What changed was the intelligence community’s resolution to cause this all to become public and to be viewed as credible. 

Greenwald opened his piece on the CIA and Trump by recalling the farewell January, 1961 address by outgoing President Dwight Eisenhower. He wrote:

Dwight Eisenhower delivered his farewell address after serving two terms as U.S. president; the five-star general chose to warn Americans of this specific threat to democracy:

‘In the councils of government, we must guard against the acquisition of unwarranted influence, whether sought or unsought, by the military-industrial complex. The potential for the disastrous rise of misplaced power exists and will persist.’

That warning was issued prior to the decadelong escalation of the Vietnam War, three more decades of Cold War mania, and the post-9/11 era, all of which radically expanded that unelected faction’s power even further.

This is the faction that is now engaged in open warfare against the duly elected and already widely disliked president-elect, Donald Trump. They are using classic Cold War dirty tactics and the defining ingredients of what has until recently been denounced as ‘Fake News.’

Greenwald traces the arc along which this “Fake News” traveled from the former spy’s oppo research document to the intelligence agencies and then to the decision by those agencies to brief Obama and Trump.

Once the spy’s document reached the current and next president, Greenwald writes: 

Someone — by all appearances, numerous officials — then went to CNN to tell the network they had done this, causing CNN to go on air and, in the gravest of tones, announce the “Breaking News” that “the nation’s top intelligence officials” briefed Obama and Trump that Russia had compiled information that “compromised President-elect Trump.”. . .

Was the decision to give a vague form of “credibility” to the Trump dossier, well-intentioned? I doubt it. The intelligence agencies have  made what they may consider part of their assignment: Alert the nation on the character of the president-elect.

Is this their governmental role? Wikipedia offers this official definition of the task of the intelligence agencies:

Intelligence is information that agencies collect, analyze, and distribute in response to government leaders’ questions and requirements. Intelligence is a broad term that entails:

Collection, analysis, and production of sensitive information to support national security leaders, including policymakers, military commanders, and Members of Congress.

Safeguarding these processes and this information through counterintelligence activities.

Execution of covert operations approved by the President. The IC strives to provide valuable insight on important issues by gathering raw intelligence, analyzing that data in context, and producing timely and relevant products for customers at all levels of national security—from the war-fighter on the ground to the President in Washington.

Does the deliberate release of negative data on the President-elect during this transition period, fall within that mandate?

That is a question we must all answer honestly. This is no time for lazy, partisan, biased thinking. 

Intense dislike of Trump is not an excuse to merely sanction the actions by our intelligence agencies because we do not like Trump.

Glenn Greenwald is not a lazy thinker. He closed his piece with these words of caution:

There are solutions to Trump. They involve reasoned strategizing and patient focus on issues people actually care about. Whatever those solutions are, venerating the intelligence community, begging for its intervention, and equating its dark and dirty assertions as Truth are most certainly not among them.

Doing that cannot possibly achieve any good and is already doing much harm.

President-elect Trump was elected as our 45th President. He deserves careful scrutiny, and unwavering attention. His public persona is new to the White House. We cannot avoid noticing what he says and how he says it.

Donald Trump will soon be our president. He deserves a fair judgment on what he does once he is in office.

Posted in Donald Trump, Hillary Clinton, Media, Politics and Elections, Television | 4 Comments

Trump: Stay Strong Israel; 1/20 Coming Fast

by James M. Wall


As soon as the Congress arrived back to do the nation’s business on January 5, it bowed to Tel Aviv.

Politico reports that “the House voted overwhelmingly [342 to 80] to rebuke the United Nations for passing a resolution that condemned Israeli settlement construction, a bipartisan slap that also targets the Obama administration while signaling a rocky road ahead for U.S.-U.N. relations under soon-to-be-President Donald Trump”.

The encouraging sign, however, is that while 342 members supported the resolution, 80 members opposed House Resolution 11: Objecting to United Nations Security Council Resolution 2334 as an obstacle to Israeli-Palestinian peace, and for other purposes.

To see how your local House member voted, click on this link

Alternet examined that list and found that only four Republicans voted against the resolution, joining 76 Democrats who voted to support President Obama. Given a choice between Israel’s far-right government, 109 Democrats voted with Israel, while 76 stood with the UN and Obama.

Democratic PEPs (Progressive except for Palestine) stayed with Israel. 

Former DNC chair, Florida Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz, supported Bibi.
Even self-described progressive members of the party, including “Maryland Rep. Jamie Raskin — who dubbed himself an ‘effective progressive’ and was described by The Washington Post as the ‘most liberal congressional candidate in a crowded field’ — voted for the anti-UN bill”.

Rep.Ted Lieu, a progressive Democrat from Los Angeles who has been perhaps the most outspoken critic of US support for the brutal war in Yemen, joined the Republicans in supporting the pro-Israel legislation.

PEPs are predictable in their fear of, or fondness for, Israel. But do not despair. Remember, the game is on; it is not over. The unknowns dominate the knowns.

Putin and Trump are clearly amigos. Bibi and Trump appear ready to create a new reality show,  Three Amigos: Trump, Bibi and Putin. But trouble looms in this three-way bromance.

To update Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s Sherlock Holmes, “the Twitter game is on”.

In his December 29 column, Israel First or America First?, Pat Buchanan wrote: “Having tweeted, ‘Stay strong Israel, January 20th is fast approaching,’ and having named a militant Zionist [David Friedman] as his ambassador, [Donald] Trump is certain to tilt U.S. policy heavily toward Israel”.

Perhaps he will. But he may also be driven in a different direction when he discovers he is on the same pro-Israel glide path as the U.S. Congress. Trump prefers to glide alone, showering his affections and dislikes online through @realDonaldTrump.

The Palestine Chronicle editor Ramzy Baroud offers the silver lining that Trump’s egotistical needs just might inadvertently land him with the righteous in the new era of Trump.

Baroud writes:

The US blind support of Israel throughout the years has increased [Israel’s] expectations to the point that it now anticipates US support to continue, even when Israel is ruled by extremists who are further destabilizing an already fragile and unstable region

According to Israeli logic, such expectations are quite rational. The US has served as an enabler to Israel’s political and military belligerence, while pacifying the Palestinians and the Arabs with empty promises, with threats at times, with handouts and with mere words.

The so-called ‘moderate Palestinians’, the likes of Mahmoud Abbas and his Palestinian Authority, were duly pacified, indeed, for they won the trappings of ‘power’, coupled with US political validation, while allowing Israel to conquer whatever remained of Palestine.

But that era is, indeed, over. While the US will continue to enable Israel’s intransigence, a Trump Presidency is likely to witness a complete departure from the Washingtonian doublespeak.

Bad will no longer be good, wrong is not right, and warmongering is not peacemaking. In fact, Trump is set to expose American foreign policy for what it truly is, and has been for decades. His presidency is likely to give all parties a stark choice regarding where they stand on peace, justice and human rights.

Trump will not do this out of some idealistic notion of human rights, a phrase that may not even occur to him. Trump is not good at subterfuge. He says what he thinks at 3 in the morning and puts it down in a 140-character tweet.

What he feels on a given day is not derived from a lobby. He follows the 16th Century proverb, “Every man for himself and the Devil take the hindmost.”

In this case, Trump may wake up one day and poke his finger in the eyes of the
Congressional poo-bahs who love or fear Israel and its deep-pocket supporters. How would he do it? He doesn’t even know yet. He only know that he is now The Man.

Trump is not the sort of man who wants Congress to pay obeisance to a foreign leader. Anticipating Netanyahu’s visit to speak to Congress in 2015, Independent foreign correspondent Robert Fisk wrote:

Congress members of both parties have grovelled and fainted and shrieked their support for Bibi and his predecessors with more enthusiasm than the Roman hordes in the Colosseum.

Last time Bibi turned up on the Hill, he received literally dozens of standing ovations from the sheep-like representatives of the American people, whose uncritical adoration of the Israeli state – and their abject fear of uttering the most faint-hearted criticism lest they be called anti-Semites – suggest that Bibi would be a far more popular US president than Barack. And Bibi’s impeccable American accent doesn’t hurt.  

Adoration for others does not sit well with our New Leader. Be prepared for future Tweets making this clear in 140 characters.

The Trump Twitter game is on with both old and new tweets.

Last week, Vermont Democratic Senator Bernie Sanders, stood on the floor of the Senate next to an enlarged copy of a Candidate Trump Tweet, posted in May, 2015.

The Tweet reads: “)I was the first & only potential GOP candidate to state there will be no cuts to Social Security, Medicare & Medicaid. Huckabee copied me.”

The Republican-controlled Senate, voting along party lines, has begun its repeal of Obama’s signature legislation, the Affordable Care Act. It has revealed no plan for what will replace the ACA. 

What care they for earlier Trump tweets? 

One Democratic senatorChuck Schumer (D-NY), does. He has warned Trump against relying so much on Twitter.

With all due respect, America cannot afford a Twitter presidency. Many Americans are afraid, Mr. President-elect, that instead of rolling up your sleeves and forging serious policies…that, for you, Twitter suffices.”

Schumer added, according to The Wall Street Journal, that if Trump attempts to adopt the  “time-worn policies which benefit the elites, the special interests, corporate America — not the working man and woman — his presidency will not succeed.” 

Schumer also took aim at Trump’s cabinet appointments:

.  .  .too many of his cabinet picks support the same, hard-right, doctrinaire positions that many in the Republican Party have held for years, policies that the American people have repeatedly rejected.

How will the Democrats handle the cabinet confirmations? 

Politico reports that Senate Leader Mitch McConnell will take up six Cabinet-level confirmations hearings on one day, January 11. The jammed list includes attorney general, secretary of state, CIA director, education secretary, homeland security chief and transportation secretary. 

While Democrats worry about the cabinet, Trump has his own priorities. On Friday, January 6, our next president was bragging about his previous life on the television reality show, The Apprentice.

wikipedia-commons-nate-mandosTrump’s successor on the show, movie star and former California governor Arnold Schwarzenegger, appeared on his first episode.

Time for a Trump congratulatory word to a successor?

Hardly, remember this is Trump, whose daily focus is solely on himself. Two weeks to the day, before his January 20 presidential inauguration, Trump tweeted:

“Wow, the ratings are in and Arnold Schwarzenegger got ‘swamped’ (or destroyed) by comparison to the ratings machine, DJT.

“So much for being a movie star — and that was season 1 compared to season 14. Now compare him to my season 1. But who cares, he supported Kasich & Hillary.”

Schwarzenegger responded with his Twitter“I wish you the best of luck and I hope you’ll work for ALL of the American people as aggressively as you worked for your ratings.”

The Trump Twitter game, Dr. Watson, is very much on.

The picture of President-elect Trump is by Gage Skidmore from Flickr. The picture of former Governor Schwarzenegger is from Wikipedia Commons by Nate Mandos.

Posted in Bernie Sanders, Donald Trump, Israel, Middle East, Middle East Politics, Netanyahu, Obama, Palestinians, Politics and Elections | Tagged | 7 Comments

Reich’s Counsel To Trump: Grow Up

by James M. Wallford22a-4-web

New York Daily News headline published October 30, 1975, is one of the most famous headlines in modern journalism.

The headline did not quote President Gerald Ford, but it editorialized exactly what the Daily News wanted to convey.

The headline read: “Ford to City: Drop Dead“.

The succinct reference was explained by writer Frank Van Riper in his opening Daily News paragraph: “President Ford declared flatly today that he would veto any bill calling for ‘a federal bail-out of New York City’ and instead proposed legislation that would make it easier for the city to go into bankruptcy.”

Van Riper’s second paragraph from 1975, conveyed more of Ford’s distress over the city: “In a speech before the National Press Club, Ford coupled repeated attacks on the city’s fiscal management with a promise that, if default came, the federal government would see to it that ‘essential public services for the people of New York City’ would be maintained”.

President Ford was not dismissing the people of New York. He was dissing their political leadership. 

The headline on this posting (above) does not quote former Clinton Labor Secretary Robert Reich. It is intended, rather, in the spirit of the New York Daily News, to convey Reich’s meaning.

What provoked Reich and led to his counsel, was Donald Trump’s final 2016 tweet: “Happy New Year to all, including to my many enemies and those who have fought me and lost so badly they just don’t know what to do. Love!”

Robert Reich explains why that Trump tweet is so dangerous and so wrong:

The man who is about to become President of the United States continues to exhibit a mean-spirited, thin-skinned, narcissistic and vindictive character [who] sees the world in terms of personal wins or losses, enemies or friends, supporters or critics.

Reich’s closing word to Trump was his hope that the president-elect would simply “grow up” and discover the missing maturity of an adult soon to be president. Reich wrote:

You have 20 days in which to learn how to act as a president. All of us – even those who oppose your policies and worry about your character – sincerely hope you do.

Based on Trump’s compulsive adolescent tweeting and his crony-inspired cabinet choices, Reich’s counsel is badly-needed. Unfortunately, everything we have heard or seen from president-elect Trump assures us the counsel will be rejected. 

The man we elected as our next president is a former TV reality-show rich guy who defeated 15 Republican wanna-be presidential candidates, and then outran his establishment-blessed Democratic opponent, Hillary Clinton, to become the 45th president of the United States.

Trump’s long-running gig for TV’s The Celebrity Apprentice, is no longer available. It has been filled by another larger-than-life personality, twice-elected California governor and international movie superstar Arnold Schwarzenegger.

Trump’s old reality show even has a new name. Starting with the 2017 season premier that aired on Fox Monday night, the new name is, get ready for the drumroll, folks: The New Celebrity Apprentice.2016-0513-nbcu-upfront-2016-thecelebrityapprentice-about-image-1920x1080-ns

In any case, these days Donald Trump is too busy for TV reality shows. He is busy both with his compulsive tweets, and the construction of his cabinet.

The Democratic Party poo-bahs promise to examine Trump’s choice closely before they allow Senate confirmations.,

If he loses a few of his Cabinet preferences, Trump has a deep bench of wealthy moguls and Republicans he considers Trumpites, to bring into the game.

He will need his bench. The Boston Globe reports that Democratic Senate Minority leader, Chuck Schumer (NY), has notified Mitch McConnell (R-KY), Senate Majority leader, that the Democrats will zero in on at least eight of Trump’s proposed cabinet appointees (bold face type added), listed by The Boston Globe.

Rex Tillerson, Trump’s choice for secretary of state; current Senator Jeff Sessions, an Alabama Republican who’s Trump’s choice for attorney general; Representative Mick Mulvaney, a South Carolina Republican tapped to lead the Office of Management and Budget; and Betsy DeVos, set to serve as education secretary.

Additional names expected to be under pressure from Schumer’s forces include: Representative Tom Price of Georgia, Trump’s pick to lead the Department of Health and Human Services and oversee changes to Obamacare. He will be attacked by Democrats for his support for privatizing Medicare.

Andrew Puzder, a restaurant executive set to serve as labor secretary, will face scrutiny for past comments on the minimum wage, among other policies. Also on the Democrats’s close-watch list are Steve Mnuchin, a former Goldman Sachs partner set to serve as treasury secretary, and Oklahoma Attorney General Scott Pruitt, Trump’s pick to lead the EPA.

Senator Schumer fired the first shot in the confirmation battle when he reported  the Senate Democrats’ plans:

President-elect Trump is attempting to fill his rigged cabinet with nominees that would break key campaign promises and have made billions off the industries they’d be tasked with regulating/

Any attempt by Republicans to have a series of rushed, truncated hearings before Inauguration Day and before the Congress and public have adequate information on all of them is something Democrats will vehemently resist. If Republicans think they can quickly jam through a whole slate of nominees without a fair hearing process, they’re sorely mistaken.

Not on the Democratic hit list are retired Marine General James N. Mattis, set to serve as defense secretary; Governor Nikki Haley of South Carolina, who Trump has nominated to serve as ambassador to the United Nations; and John Kelly, a former Marine general and Trump’s selection to lead the Department of Homeland Security.

On Sunday, the president-elect received what he should feel is the “good news” that his proclivity to reshape the truth to suit his purposes, was granted  a free pass by one major news outlet, the conservative Wall Street Journal.

In an appearance on Meet the Press, the WSJ editor-in-chief Gerard Baker, said his paper has a strong desire to maintain what he described as “objectivity”. 

The Informed Comment website quoted Baker as saying, “The Wall Street Journal would not call a lie a lie if it was told by President-elect Donald Trump”

Politico has more on the Baker comments:

Wall Street Journal editor Gerard Baker said that despite the fact Trump often makes “questionable” and “challengeable” statements, he’s instructed his staff to keep their social media postings straight laced in order to maintain the trust of the readers.

Asked by host Chuck Todd whether he’d be willing to call out a falsehood as a “lie” like some other news outlets have done, Baker demurred, saying it was up to the newspaper to just present the set of facts and let the reader determine how to classify a statement.

“I’d be careful about using the word, ‘lie.’ ‘Lie’ implies much more than just saying something that’s false. It implies a deliberate intent to mislead,” Baker said, noting that when Trump claimed “thousands” of Muslims were celebrating on rooftops in New Jersey on 9/11, the Journal investigated and reported that they found no evidence of a claim.

“I think it’s then up to the reader to make up their own mind to say, ‘This is what Donald Trump says. This is what a reliable, trustworthy news organization reports. And you know what? I don’t think that’s true.’ I think if you start ascribing a moral intent, as it were, to someone by saying that they’ve lied, I think you run the risk that you look like you are, like you’re not being objective,” he said.

Wrong, dead wrong. Handing Donald Trump unchecked freedom to say things that are not true, is irresponsible journalism. 

Media alert: Our new President must not be allowed to get away with saying, “the dog ate my homework”.

Posted in Donald Trump, Hillary Clinton, Politics and Elections | 8 Comments

Kerry: Settlements Put Two States “in Jeopardy”

by James M. Walljohn_kerry_official_secretary_of_state_portrait

In a hard-hitting, long-overdue speech, U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry on Wednesday strongly criticized Israel’s government, saying that Israel’s settlements put the two-state solution “in jeopardy”.

Barak Ravid, diplomatic correspondent for Haaretz, reported that Kerry said “trends on the ground are leading to a one-state solution”.

In his speech, delivered 23 days before the U.S. turns the presidency over to Donald Trump, Kerry said:

“If the choice is one-state, Israel can either be Jewish or democratic, it cannot be both and it will not ever live in peace.” 

Kerry also presented the principles of a what he described as a “future final status agreement: An Israeli and a Palestinian state based on the 1967 lines; full rights to all citizens; a solution to the Palestinian refugee issue; Jerusalem as the capital of both states; an end to the occupation, while satisfying Israel’s security needs, with a demilitarized Palestinian state; an end to all claims by both sides”.

One key foreign policy voice agrees with Kerry. David Rothkopf wrote for Foreign Policy that “The settlements are hurting Israel, and true friends have the courage to tell each other what they need to hear, even when they don’t want to hear it.” 

From the Palestinian side of what has always been an unequal “two sides”, Ali Abunimah, director of the Electronic Intifada, was harsh in his reminder of the past: 

John Kerry just gave an eloquent eulogy for the two-state solution. His detailed critique of Israeli settlements and occupation was striking in its forthrightness — rare from US officials. But it serves more than anything as an indictment of the United States, which funded, enabled and protected the brutal reality Palestinians have lived under for so long. Weeks before Obama leaves office, Kerry’s speech only underscores what a total failure this administration’s policies have been. Why did Obama wait until now when it is too late for him to do anything meaningful?

The Guardian  provided a short video of key moments in the speech. Click at left to view.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s office was ready with its rebuttal:

Just like the resolution that John Kerry advanced at the United Nations, the speech he delivered was biased against Israel. For more than an hour Kerry dealt obsessively with the settlements and almost did not touch on the source of the conflict – Palestinian opposition to the existence of a Jewish state with any borders.

This is a repeat of Israel’s narrative which treats “existence of a Jewish state” as a sacred mantra which excites its loyalists and infuriates the Palestinian people held under a military occupation.

Kerry was aware that the new Trump administration brings a strongly pro-Israel attitude to the issue. Since the American voters have just delivered the presidency to the most right-wing government in this nation’s history, it was left to the Secretary to leave Trump with this warning:  

Although Netanyahu said he supports the two-state solution, his government was the most right wing in Israel’s history, and its agenda was driven by the ‘most extreme elements.’

Unspoken, but implied, was the current White House leadership saying to the next White House leadership, when the Middle East sinks deeper into a quagmire of grief and destruction, “we told you so.”

The Kerry speech was overdue by about eight years. During Obama’s two terms, Israel has marched in full view of a grumbling world, across Palestine like so many panzer divisions, imprisoning a population and stealing land for itself.

The case could be made that the U.S. Congress, accurately described by Pat Buchanan as “bought and paid for” by the Israel Lobby, has remained more loyal to Israel than it has to its own American values.

Eight years ago, Obama made his choice: In order to get Congressional support in other areas, he chose not to exert his bottom-line presidential prerogative on Israel against the wishes of a Congress that remains essentially, Israel’s puppet.

bloomberg-via-getty-imagesThe American voters chose Donald Trump as their next president, a man who has displayed little awareness of American history or the nuances of diplomacy.

He, in turn, has begun to reveal what he plans to do with this issue, naming as his ambassador to Israel, David Friedman (at left with Trump), described by the British-based Guardian as “a bankruptcy lawyer who represented the president-elect over his failing hotels in Atlantic City”.

Friedman has served on Trump’s advisory team on the Middle East and “set out a number of hardline positions on Israeli-Palestinian relations, including fervent opposition to the two-state solution and strong support for an undivided Jerusalem as Israel’s capital”.

The Guardian adds:

[Friedman] has called President Barack Obama an antisemite and suggested that US Jews who oppose the Israeli occupation of the West Bank are worse than kapos, Nazi-era prisoners who served as concentration camp guards.

Liberal Jewish groups in the US denounced the appointment as “reckless” and described Friedman – a man with no experience of foreign service – as the “least experienced pick” ever for a US ambassador to Israel.

Yossi Dagan, a prominent Israeli settler leader and friend of Friedman, welcomed the news, describing him as “a true friend and partner of the state of Israel and the settlements”. Morton Klein, the president of the Zionist Organization of America, said Friedman had “the potential to be the greatest US ambassador to Israel ever”.

Elections do have consequences. 

The picture of Secretary Kerry at top is an official State Department portrait from Wikipedia. The picture of Friedman and President-elect Trump is from Bloomberg via Getty.


Posted in Israel, Middle East Politics, Netanyahu, Obama, Uncategorized | 10 Comments

Danger Ahead: First Unfettered Twitter President

by James M. Wallgoogvle

President-elect Donald J. Trump will be sworn in January 20th as the nation’s 45th president, following the most contentious, hate-filled presidential campaign in the nation’s history.

Hillary Clinton, Trump’s Democratic challenger, won the 2016 popular vote by more than a 2 percent majority. According to the Cook Political Report, Clinton’s final vote was 65,844,610, compared to Donald Trump’s 62,979,636. That is a difference of 2,864,974 in Clinton’s favor. The total number of votes for other candidates was 7,804,213.

How did this happen? History will blame Trump’s victory on the archaic Electoral College. But that will not be accurate. We, the American voting public, did it to ourselves. 

The Electoral College has been the basis of our presidential elections since the Founding Fathers at the 1787 Constitutional Convention, arrived at a compromise to keep the smaller states within the newly formed democracy.

There is agitation to change the process, but don’t hold your breath. Those smaller states still demand their place at the election table. It is difficult to tinker with such time-honored procedures. The sole tinkering came in 1804, when electors were instructed to vote twice, once for president and once for vice-president. 

Meanwhile, we have to accept the fact that on Monday, December 19, the 538 Electoral College electors met in their respective state capitals to confirm Donald J. Trump as the 45th president of the United States, and Mike Pence as vice-president. 

We gave Donald Trump and Mike Pence 304 elector votes, well beyond the 270 needed to win. Their Democratic challengers, Hillary Clinton and Tim Kaine, received 227 elector votes. Seven “faithless electors” defected from the voting majority in their state, two from Trump-Pence states and five from Clinton-Kaine states.

Blogger John Whitbeck produces a daily group email on matters political. He writes that the seven defectors were the most defectors from a living presidential candidate in Electoral College history.

In a small historic irony, Whitbeck also found that one of the seven defectors cast a protest vote, “for Ms. Spotted Eagle, a member of the Yankton Sioux Nation who helped to block (at least for the time being) development of the Keystone XL and Dakota Access pipelines. She became the first Native American to receive an Electoral College vote for the office of president.”

What exactly did the Founding Fathers send down the chimney this 2016 Christmas season? We have been gifted our first unfettered Twitter President. He will say what he wants to say, full speed ahead.

His actions will be curtailed by our procedures and laws, but his words will go forth from the world’s most important political office, unfettered.

This is a man without a single day’s experience in governance. I have my serious doubts that he has ever walked a precinct. 

If I am wrong about the precinct-walking, should I expect a correction via Twitter, or in one of his rallies before the faithful? Probably not, but many others, including a former president, will be reprimanded. 

Trump communicated with disdain and bar room bluster to a criticism from Bill Clinton. He did so via Twitter, a strange way of relating to one of his twice-elected predecessors.

There are plenty of strange things emanating from Trump’s Twitter world, mostly revelations of hatred, revenge and anger at anyone who questions or challenges him. 

What we should not expect from his Twitter feeds and controlled rallies are the essential planning and policies of a Trump administration. Trump has shown no sign he wants to reach the public through our traditional intermediaries, the media (people who ask questions).

Our new leader has held no press conference since July 27, 2016. He promised one such conference on December 15, but his minions canceled it. Will Trump hold a press conference after he is inaugurated? Don’t count on it. 

win-mcnameegetty-images-north-americaIn an interview with Democracy Now’s Amy Goodman, Robert Reich (left) discussed Trump’s refusal to openly interact with the media.

Goodman noted that the last time Trump met with the media on the third day of the Democratic National Convention, “he famously called on Russia to hack Hillary Clinton’s email”. Goodman played a video clip of his comment:

Trump: Russia, if you’re listening, I hope you’re able to find the 30,000 emails that are missing. I think you will probably be rewarded mightily by our press.. .

This bantering with a foreign power about an American election, displays an attitude, if continued beyond his inauguration, that will confirm his time in office as uninformed and dangerous.

Goodman reminded Reich he had written that Trump seeks “to turn the public against the media”. She played a clip from a Trump rally when Candidate Trump expressed his disdain for the traveling press corps in the building.

Trump: You know my opinion of the media. It’s very low. … The press are liars. They’re terrible people. … And the media—look at all those people back there: scavengers. They’re like scavengers. … Show ’em the crowd, press. Show ’em the crowd. Show ’em the crowd. Look, they’re not turning the cameras. They don’t even turn the cameras. They don’t even turn the cameras, because, you know what, they’re very dishonest people. … Disgusting reporters, horrible people. Sure, some are nice. … They’re scum, absolute scum. Remember that. Scum.

Reich, a former Secretary of Labor in the Clinton administration, responded further:

Donald Trump’s modus operandi seems to be to communicate directly with followers and with the public through tweets and through rallies. And he’s signaled that he wants to continue to use rallies even after January 20th, when he becomes president.

Tweets and rallies are designed to belittle those he dislikes and remind his followers why they follow him. This is not presidential. It is not leadership and it is not a responsible way for any adult to behave in the White House or on Main Street.

Assuming President Trump maintains his campaign modus operandi, as experience tells us he will, he will communicate through Tweets and rallies while living in his fantasy bubble where what he thinks is supreme, and questions are forbidden. 

He is headed for “The Big Rock Candy Mountain”, where

        “The cops have wooden legs
        The bulldogs all have rubber teeth
        And the hens lay soft-boiled eggs
        The farmers’ trees are full of fruit
        The barns are full of hay
        I want to go where there ain’t no snow
        Where the sleet don’t fall and the wind don’t blow
        In that Big Rock Candy Mountain”

In a more pragmatic vein, Reich explains:

The fear is that . . .  what Donald Trump wants, [is] to be able to continue to state things that are simply not true,—doubting climate change, for example, or saying that the CIA report on Russian hacking was not true—and have a larger and larger number of his followers, and, indirectly, their friends and their associates and families, believe him and not believe science and not believe the media, not believe policy analysts and not believe people who are investigative reporters and not believe the actual facts out there, believe this counter-universe that is of Donald Trump’s creation.

Will Trump change, once he is inaugurated? Will a man who views the world entirely from his own narrow perspective, who shows no signs of compassion or concern for anyone or anything, outside his own private orbit, would such a man change? 

Short of a Damascus Road experience, such a man does not change. 

The picture of Robert Reich is by Win McNamee for Getty. The Electoral College map is from Google. 

Posted in Uncategorized | 8 Comments