Friday, February 24, 2017

Bannon and Trump Want to Destroy the State...Where Does Dean Heller Stand?

Photo Credit
Nevada’s absentee senator Dean Heller has declared that he will hold a town hall provided there is no booing.  The senator who missed an opportunity to meet with hundreds of constituents last night at the library on Flamingo seems to think his responsibilities to his constituents are conditional.
While no one likes to be booed, perhaps Heller should reflect on how his unpopularity is a product of the relationship with his constituents and the Trump administration he has established in the past months.  He has supported nearly all of Trump’s nominees, including an attorney general who wants to roll back voting rights, an EPA director who wants to kill the capacity of the agency to protect our air and water, a Treasury Secretary who ran a foreclosure machine and labored for Goldman Sachs rather than the middle class, an Education Secretary who wants to voucherize public schools, and a CIA director who wants to expand domestic spying and kill whistleblowers.
Unsurprisingly, these nominees were a red flag to constituents who worried about civil liberties, and had good to cause to worry as the Trump administration rolled out deportations, an unconstitutional Muslim ban, and threatened to curtail voting rights.  Heller offered support to the administration, and exactly nothing to his constituents during these weeks.
We have now heard from Stephen Bannon that the goal of this administration is the “deconstruction” of the state, and that Trump’s bumbling and “chaos” are actually the unfolding of a plan to gut government as we know it.  Government has been constructed in the past eighty years as a robust entity to serve a public interest and the needs of diverse citizens.
Anyone who wants subsidized healthcare, social security, clean water and air, safe food, education, support for childcare, workplace protections, access to parks and recreation areas, will be hurt badly by Bannon’s efforts to “deconstruct” our public sector.  In fact, it is no exaggeration to say that virtually every American’s life would be fundamentally and horrifically altered without the array of services and protections we rely on and have charged a fairly responsive public sector with providing.
Many of us have long warned that we were up against something more than a run-of-the-mill administration, and Bannon’s words confirm that this is an administration which sees chaos as a method and an end.  Shutting the New York Times and other outlets out of the White House today indicate the administration’s authoritarian efforts to keep the public from learning about its actions.
In light of Bannon’s declaration that Trump’s cabinet exists to destroy the public sector, mounting authoritarianism, and the implications for all voters, left- or right-wing, Heller’s protestations that he will treat this administration like the two that came before it seem dangerously na├»ve.
Nevadans need to hear from their absentee, spineless Senator now.  Does Heller plan to continue enabling Bannon’s efforts to obliterate the public sphere on which Nevadans of all stripes rely, or will he demonstrate that he understands the gravity of the threat posed by this depraved administration and agents of chaos like Trump and Bannon?  As the elevated, frightened, and angry voices of his constituents suggest, Heller is already too late in answering this crucial question.

Dean Heller defends his pro-Trump votes...unconvincingly

Nevada’s senior senator, Dean Heller, is notoriously elusive.  During the confirmation process for Donald Trump’s cabinet nominees, Heller has been strikingly inaccessible to his constituents, refusing to hold a town hall, refusing to expand staff capacity to address constituents’ anxieties, and even shutting down the ability of constituents to comment on or react to his social media presence.  Last night, his constituents held a packed town hall in his absence at the Flamingo library branch in Las Vegas, raising the questions they would expect their representative to address in person.  
One group of constituents discovered the only way to meet Heller face to face: by purchasing tickets to attend a chamber of commerce luncheon in Carson City, and use that opportunity to question the senator.  We have a state representative who is literally adopting a “pay to play” approach to his constituents.
Cornered by irate constituents, Heller defended his support of Trump’s cabinet nominees by saying, “I think every president has a right to put their cabinet into place and I support the cabinet put into place.  But that doesn’t mean I support all the policies…I’m going to treat all the policies that come out of the Trump White House the same way [I have those of other administrations]…they’re not always right, but they’re not always wrong…if it’s good for Carson City, I’ll support it.”
This sounds reasonable, on the surface.
There are, however, significant problems with this line of thinking.  Our country has a president who has no experience of government, no history of public service, and no experience of crafting public policy.  His views on many specific policy points are totally unknown, and his views on other have been established to be very dangerous, and are increasingly being defined by courts as un-constitutional or unlawful.
Trump’s ignorance and inexperience, coupled with his very real contempt for democracy and equality before the law, mean that his cabinet appointees are extremely important.  Because of his ignorance and inexperience, they will in some spheres have tremendous latitude in shaping public policy.  Because of his fascist, authoritarian tendencies, they also need to be able and willing to stand up to him.
While I understand the logic of letting a president assemble his own team, senators should be evaluating the worldview that those people bring to bear on their sphere of responsibility.  If Heller’s framework actually is, “if it’s good for Nevada, I’ll support it,” he should be evaluating the likelihood of Trump’s nominees pursuing policies that are good for Nevada.
Several of Trump’s nominees appear to hold worldviews that ensure that basically nothing they propose or support will be good for Nevada, and Heller should have been fighting those people tooth and nail instead of indulging and enabling a dangerous administration.
The new Treasury Secretary has devoted his career to an organization and sector which works consistently at cross-purposes with the well-being of most Nevadans, exploiting people financially and redistributing wealth upwards.  How is someone with this background and his worldview supposed to suddenly have a 180-degree turnaround and reconstruct himself as a Treasury Secretary for the 99% rather than the 1% he’s made a career of serving?
The new Attorney General has demonstrated his contempt for civil rights, his willingness to erode voting rights, his support for mass deportation, and his co-authorship of a bigoted and unlawful Muslim ban.  How is someone who doesn’t respect voting rights, religious diversity, or the moral imperative to protect children and families from the most vicious effects of deportation policies someone who will make reasonable choices for Nevada?  

Monday, February 20, 2017

Donald Trump's People

Photo by Emilio Labrador
On Saturday at a campaign rally in Florida, Donald Trump declared how happy he was to “be among my friends and among the people...with hard working Americans.”  He gave a rambling, fact-free speech attacking the media, the courts, and anyone who doubted his commitment to the middle and working class.  Those classes, he suggested, are the “friends” and “people” around whom he is most comfortable.
At an elite New Jersey golf club in November, Trump said something rather different, according to recordings.  Surveying assembled members of the American elite, the then president-elect effused, “You are the special people!”  He went on to declare, “So, this is my real group.  These are the people who came here in the beginning, when nobody knew how this monster was gonna turn out to be, right?”  
“He’s going to the Oval Office, right?  You,” Trump told the assembled notables, “are going to make it beautiful.”
Politco described how Trump sidled up to a man who was presumably not a member of the beleaguered working class, and said, “We were just talking about who we [are] going to pick for the FCC, who [are] we going to pick for this, who are we gonna accept--boy, can you give me some recommendations?”
One can assume that the well-heeled member of the Bedminster club didn’t offer the names of people who are committed to holding his class accountable for their contributions to the public welfare and good.  
Trump’s cabinet picks reflect his status as among the most elite of the 1%.  They are CEOs, party donors, and representatives of the financial sector and its toxic priorities.  In power, free to manoeuvre while the president attacks Muslims, refugees, Latinos, judges, and journalists, they will facilitate a massive transfer of wealth from the public treasury to their private purse, from the middle and working class to the wealthy.  

They are already starting this process by dismantling checks on the financial sector, attempting to drive costs up and accessibility down when it comes to healthcare, eroding regulations that keep our air and water clean, and developing tax breaks for the wealthy that will lead to cuts in services and welfare for the middle class.  There will be more to come.  Unless you’re a member of the 1%, you’re not really one of Trump’s “people.” He’ll wear a hat and put on an act for you.  But listen to what he says when he retreats to the ballrooms and golf courses of his natural habitat.  

Dean Heller Can't Take the Heat

Nevada Independent
Nevada Senator Dean Heller recently caught the eye of scientists, who are reviewing the fundamentals of Linnaean classificatory systems after discovering that Heller has neither spine nor alimentary canal.  They drew their conclusions on the basis of the Republican’s cowardly capitulation in the face of an authoritarian, incompetent administration.
This does not bode well for Heller’s reelection bid in 2018 in a state that is increasingly swinging left.  The Senator has been coasting on his reputation as a ‘moderate’, something it will be difficult to sustain having backed the leadership of Goldman Sachs and Exxon Mobil to assume control over the upper reaches of foreign and domestic policy, and having given his support to a swivel-eyed economic and religious fundamentalist to run the education department.  
Thus far, Heller’s approach has emulated a vertebrate, rather than one of his fellow invertebrates.  He has essentially played possum and ignored all criticism, refusing to meet with constituents, dodging telephone calls, and refusing to respond to e-mails and letters.  Heller has refused to hold a town hall, and is restricting his events to small, ‘friendly’ communities in the unpopulated areas beyond Reno and Clark County.
Heller seems to think that if he is utterly motionless, we won’t see him enabling a racist, bigoted authoritarian.  He seems to believe that if he ignores Nevadans in Reno and in Clark County in particular, we’ll go away.
His team has now begun aggressively policing his facebook page, deleting critical comments and restricting the ability of some who “follow” Heller to “like” or comment on his dreary, banal offerings.  
Like Trump, who is extraordinarily sensitive to criticism, Heller seems to struggle with vigorous debate, and he and his staff are trying to create a safe space, free of facts and criticism for him, shielding him from constituents, and circumscribing those constituents’ opportunities to interact with their representative.  
But Heller is in for a surprise.  There will be consequences for supporting an Attorney General who attacked voting rights, helped to author the unconstitutional Muslim ban, and has supported mass deportation.  There will be consequences for allowing Trump to staff his Treasury Department with people from the heart of Goldman Sachs.  There will be consequences for enabling the destruction of regulatory agencies that keep the air we breathe, the water we drink, and the food we eat safe.  There will be consequences for supporting an authoritarian administration that is seeking to restrict people’s rights and redistribute wealth to the 1%.

Heller’s fervent hopes aside, those of us living in the state’s population centers will not go away just because he pretends we don’t exist.  Eschewing town halls, ignoring the letters, deleting facebook comments, and retreating into the bunker won’t keep us from turning out in November of 2018 and showing Dean Heller the door.  

Wednesday, February 15, 2017

Deadbeat Doug LaMalfa Sides with Trump Against California

I hate-follow Northern California Congressman Doug LaMalfa on facebook, to see what the slack-jawed representative of my hometown (home forest, more accurately) is up to.  LaMalfa has represented the north state in Sacramento and now D.C. since 2002, with the facile slogan, “He’s One of Us!”  Insular, xenophobic, hypocritical (this critic of ‘big government’ raked in agricultural subsidies in his pre-political life), and loyal to his party’s delusional dogmas, LaMalfa has consistently opposed the expansion of public welfare, public institutions, and public infrastructure to a region that sorely needs to be better integrated into the political economy of the state and the region.
Deadbeat Doug recently “liked” an article in the LA Times which used the crumbling edifice of the Oroville Dam as a symbol of California’s own crumbing civic and moral edifice.  The decline and degeneration narrative has been central to the success of Donald Trump, and his ragtag following of neo-fascists, know-nothings, white nationalists, and bomb-throwers.
But there has been a very real civic decline in California, of late.  There is deep irony in LaMalfa’s endorsement of this narrative. LaMalfa's campaigns for office have been marked by his drumbeat repetition of the argument that the supposedly unique cultures of the North State ("He's One of Us!") are so fundamentally different from their southern brethren, that they have entirely different socioeconomic needs, and would not benefit from affordable public higher education, a reinvigorated preK-12 sector, robust public infrastructure, clean air, water, and soil, and a welfare state that closes the cracks through which too many Californians fall.
Deadbeat Doug, and his fellow swivel eyed economic fundamentalists have clipped the wings of the state and federal government.  They have done so at the state level through their pledge-taking, oath-swearing antics, which allow their wealthy funders to put them on autopilot toward an austerity that punishes their corner of the state far more than it does the lefties they love to hate in San Francisco.  
And they have done so at the federal level through their campaign of sabotage, and scorched earth tactics, designed specifically to decrease public confidence in public institutions, and bring the functioning of government to a halt.  The only beneficiaries of their toxic campaign to bring to life their lie that “government doesn’t work,” are their plutocratic funders--the Donald Trumps of this world--who benefit from a deregulated, predatory economy.
Deadbeat Doug has marched in lockstep for a decade and a half with his gangster-like party, and now with the authoritarian Trump administration.  That administration, in its bid to carve out a fantasyland alternative future, in which people derive satisfaction from violence toward those who are difference rather than from actual prosperity, is seeking to make an example of California, a state which represents a threatening reality: a vital, just, kind, diverse, and ambitious society, held back only by antediluvian troglodytes like LaMalfa and his fellow north state politicians.

LaMalfa’s constituents, conservative and liberal alike, will suffer from Trump’s efforts to crush California.  They should be disturbed that rather than defending their livelihoods and the generous, ambitious, dynamic society their fellow citizens are trying to build, their representatives are colluding with a monstrous authoritarian who is seeking to eviscerate the public sphere, redistribute wealth to elites, and distract his supporters from his attacks on their livelihoods by goading them to turn on their neighbors.

Monday, February 6, 2017

Dean Heller in the Case of the Senator's Missing Spine!

You read it here first.  Yes, indeed, the Senator’s spine is missing!  What this writer is calling the Nevada mystery of the year, and what the R-J won’t cover: Senator Dean Heller’s spine is nowhere to be seen, and when confronted by the malice and incompetence of Donald Trump’s nominees, the senator collapsed like a jellyfish and slid between the cracks in his office floor, out of sight, out of reach, and out of phone range of his constituents.
According to the Los Angeles Times, Donald Trump’s immigration orders mean that as many as eight million undocumented migrants “could be considered priorities for deportation.”  The Times describes how “people could be booked into custody for using food stamps or if their child receives free school lunches.”  
Many of these people could be Nevadans.  This could mean children wrenched from school, or else separated from their parents.  Our neighbors could disappear.  Co-workers could vanish.  
But no matter!  Heller has time to comment on the Super Bowl and beat the war drums with Iran.  Just don’t ask him about attacks on refugees, migrants, financial regulation, healthcare, clean air and water, public education, or the Swamp Cabinet!  
There are certainly other possible explanations for the Senator’s invertebrate like behavior in the face of these threats to Nevada citizens.  His gut went for a walk.  Stephen “Bedsheet” Bannon made him an offer he couldn’t refuse.  Betsy’s naughty brother Erik had his mercenaries abduct Heller and replace him with a mannequin.  Which of course begs the question of how we’d be able to tell.  I, however, firmly believe that the Senator lacks a spine.
This raises several burning questions.
How did Heller lose his spine?  Was it misplaced by a baggage handler at McCarran Airport?  Is it being kept in a very small box in a vault at Goldman Sachs?  Did Ben Carson remove it, and did the brain surgeon take more than Senator Heller’s backbone?  Did a grizzly bear bite it out during a school visit?   
Are invertebrates eligible to serve?  Will Heller’s staff have to carry him in a briefcase?  How can he genuflect to Trump without a spine?  Is he hiding behind his beard?  Why do Nevadans put up with this absurdity?  

Stay tuned, as this blog continues its relentless investigation into these and other burning questions.  Next week...scientists marvel over Senator Heller’s ability to wield rubber stamp without a spine!

Sunday, February 5, 2017

Trump Attacks the Courts

When is a judge not a judge?  When does a member of the United States’ judiciary lack credibility and legitimacy?  When he or she rules against Donald Trump’s authoritarian administration, it seems.  On Thursday, the tantrum-prone president lashed out at the judge who ruled against his discriminatory travel ban, referring to him as a “so-called judge.”  
Trump followed up, musing angrily aloud, “What is our country coming to when a judge can halt a Homeland Security travel ban and anyone, even with bad intentions, can come into the US?”
There are at least two levels of pernicious dishonesty in Trump’s tweets, that get to the heart of how this authoritarian man works and thinks.
The first is his attack on the integrity of the judiciary by referring to the judge as “so-called.”  An angry Trump could have used any number of words that criticized the judge and his rulings, but respected his status as a confirmed and legitimate member of our judiciary.  Instead, Trump chose to call into question--crudely--the legitimacy of the judge.
This isn’t the first time Trump has attacked the courts, which he undoubtedly sees as the primary obstacle to being able to rule unchecked, despite having won nearly three million fewer votes than his election opponent.  During the primary, he attacked the credentials of a judge who ruled unfavorably against his fraudulent university, claiming that a Latino judge was inherently biased and could therefore not pronounce judgment on Trump.
This was a deeply troubling suggestion, namely that race is the primary, core factor influencing how a member of a judiciary--or a person more broadly--processes information and makes decisions.  The subtler extension of Trump’s argument is that Latino judges are not fit to sit on cases involving white Americans, or perhaps that American Latinos do not possess the full rights of citizenship allowing them to serve in the capacities open to other Americans.  
When it appeared likely that he would lose both popular and electoral college votes, Trump again suggested the courts have little place in his thinking about how American politics function.  Rather, violence and confrontation would rule.  He recommended that his supporters shoot Hillary Clinton, suggested that he would provoke a constitutional crisis, and leading surrogates threatened a “blood bath” if Trump would lose.  
Finally, when a New York judge issued a limited stay against the functioning of Trump’s order, the administration instructed border security to ignore the courts, setting up a confrontation between rogue agencies and a rogue administration on the one hand, and the judiciary on the other.  
The second layer of dishonesty in Trump’s tweeting--which could also be abject ignorance or the fascist fingers of President Bedsheet Bannon--revolved around his almost comical surprise that a judge could rule against the discriminatory ban.  I’m sure someone in the Bannon/Trump Whitehouse is feeling some heat, as Trump rages around, demanding, “What do you mean, I can’t just do whatever I want?  Why didn’t someone tell me that!” as his enablers cower.
As the BBC noted mildly, “No one--not even a president--gets to pick and choose which court rulings to listen to and which to ignore.”  In other words, Trump shouldn’t be surprised that a judge was able to halt his order.  The purpose of the judiciary is among other things, to check a president when that president oversteps his power.  
Trump’s tweets also badly misrepresented what the ruling does.  Perhaps his small hands can’t handle the keys well, but when Trump wrote that the judge had “halt[ed] a Homeland Security travel ban and anyone, even with bad intentions, can come into the US,” he was, as usual, lying.
Trump’s travel ban did at least three things: it froze entry and suspended visas for 90 days for people from a number of countries which were clearly selected based on the Muslim majority of their populations, omitting several terrorist-sponsoring states, including those with a Trump business presence; it froze the entire U.S. refugee admission program, impacting people fleeing dangerous situations who had already been vetted by the U.S.’ stringent, two-year process; and it indefinitely halted the processing of Syrian refugees, those perhaps most in need, fleeing a conflict exacerbated by American policy and the devastating violence inflicted by Trump’s Russian ally.
In light of these facts, the judge’s ruling did not, as Trump claimed, mean that anyone, even those wishing us ill, could enter the U.S.  The already incredibly rigorous vetting process remains in place.  The trickle of refugees into the U.S. will continue, but the small numbers of people admitted will be vetted and subjected to serious scrutiny.
Visa seekers and holders from the named countries will be able to enter the U.S, but again, only if cleared by the agencies to whom they routinely submit information and which work hard to ensure they represent no public threat.  In other words, the agencies and processes that have been quite successful at protecting the U.S. public since 9/11 will continue to function as they have.  They will simply be unable to discriminate in the illegal, blanket fashion envisioned by Trump’s order, which was greeted with enthusiasm by jihadist organizations who had the wit to recognize it for what it was--a recruiting tool for international terrorists who claim that the U.S. has an anti-Muslim agenda.
Trump and his supporters seem wildly ignorant of how vetting and immigration work, and are highly resistant to hearing the rigorous realities that migrants and visitors experience when they seek to enter the U.S. as it is.  
It has fallen to the Vice-President to defend Trump from the criticism his ignorant, authoritarian, dangerous language provoked.  
It must feel a little strange for Mike Pence.  Here is the vice president who joined Trump’s campaign because the fascist was supposedly a straight-talking truth-teller.  And yet from his debate to this morning, most of Pence’s life has come to revolve around explaining why a) Trump doesn’t actually mean any of the things he’s said; or b) common understandings of the English language aside, Trump’s arrangements of words mean something completely different from what most of us thing.  All the while, of course, Pence is trying to cover up his own savage homophobia, dangerous religious bigotry, and fairytale economics.
USA Today reported that Pence described Trump as simply “speaking his mind” when he questioned the legitimacy of the judge.  We all accept that.  But the difference between most people’s interpretation of those comments and Pence’s interpretation, is that we believe Trump’s words have meaning, and that they must be understood as such.
He was speaking his mind.  And in that mind, the judiciary doesn’t have legitimacy, doesn’t have the right to rule against a president, and doesn’t represent the public interest in the same way that Trump sees his administration as doing, in spite of the fact that he won nearly three million fewer votes than his opponent.  

Contempt for the courts, an inflated sense of mandate, and a disregard for the rights of U.S. citizens and the need to protect refugees in need is putting Trump on a collision course with the judiciary.  Egged on by white supremacists and fascists in his administration, Trump is fanning the flames of conflict.  And if he continues along these lines, he will fracture the institutions that have hitherto been the last line of defence for those who are persecuted by bigoted, authoritarian elites like Trump.  

Saturday, February 4, 2017

The Senator's Spine is Missing! or Dean Heller, Senator in Absentia

In the 1980s, British television ran a political satire called Spitting Image, which skewered the leading public figures of the day.  It featured puppets (better than it sounds, I promise!) and periodically mocked Ronald Reagan with its segment, "The President's Brain is Missing", which featured said president, various members of his cabinet and family, and Bono, on a perpetual mission in search of the elusive grey matter.
Here in Nevada, in the opening weeks of Donald Trump's authoritarian administration, we're in bad need of a segment called "The Senator's Spine is Missing!"  
You see, Trump’s cabinet nominees, executive orders, twitter feed, pocket white supremacists, and every utterance have revolved around attacking things that a majority of Nevadans value: liberty, migration, diversity, and their health and welfare.
So I can only suppose that as we speak, Nevada Senator Dean Heller’s staffers are engaged in a mad scramble, up and down the state in search of the spine Heller must have misplaced in the course of his official perambulations.  There is virtually nothing else that could explain his studied silence on most issues, and deliberate inaction on those where he has whispered his reservations.
Some longtime residents of my adopted home have informed me, more in sadness than in anger, that Nevada Senator Dean Heller is a bit dull, and so expectations must be lowered.  But there is also something pretty cagey about the way that he has handled the Trump administration’s concerted assault on the rights and welfare of mounting categories of Americans, as well as our global brothers and sisters.  
Heller made much of--and won applause from progressive groups as a result of--his questioning of Trump’s Goldman Sachs appointee to the Treasury.  But his reservations about the economic fundamentalism, corporate welfare, and slashing attacks on the middle class that have characterized the early days of this administration have not translated into concrete action or language.  Given that Goldman Sachs represents everything that Trump claimed to oppose, I would expect Heller’s hackles to go up.  But hackles presumably require a spine for anchorage.  
In other cases, Heller has hitched his wagon to more popular and cerebral figures like Nevada’s governor, Brian Sandoval, using this as cover for his support of nominees whose policies clearly run at cross-purposes to the well-being of the constituencies Heller and Sandoval represent.
As of a few days ago, Heller had supported each one of Trump’s nominees.  This means endorsing Rex Tillerson’s corporate takeover of our foreign policy and Mike Pompeo’s anti-whistleblower and anti-oversight national security agenda.  Heller has also offered a verbal commitment to back Betsy DeVos’ promised assault on public education and by extension on Nevada’s children and their future.  
Heller has had almost nothing to say about Jeff Sessions, whose history of racism, contempt for the Voting Rights Act, and role in shaping Trump’s disastrous and discriminatory refugee order make him a truly awful nominee to head the Justice Department.
Presumably after a months-long scramble, Heller’s staffers will turn up evidence of their boss’ vertebrate status after the votes in question.  In the meantime, their strategy seems to be to unplug the office phones and wait out the storm in the bunker, since Heller is presumably incapable of moving anywhere until his backbone is recovered.  

But if the find the Senator’s spine in the meantime, I recommend that they perform a very rapid transplant followed by a denunciation of Trump’s actions and nominees.  Political survival alone should dictate that our Senator in Absentia should not only speak out about Trump’s policies and nominees, but should also be organizing his party’s caucus in opposition to the people and measures that threaten Nevada and Nevadans.

Thursday, February 2, 2017

Trump's Hubris Claims its First Victims

Back in December, Donald Trump opined that he would not require a daily intelligence briefing as president.  “I get it when I need it,” Trump declared, adding, “I’m, like, a smart person.  I don’t need to be told the same thing in the same words every single day for the next eight years.”
On Wednesday, the American military began an investigation into a raid in Yemen which led to the death of a Navy SEAL and at least 30 additional people, some noncombatants.  Reuters reported that “US military officials [said] that Trump approved his first covert counterterrorism operation without sufficient intelligence, ground support, or adequate backup preparations.”
Following up on reports from the ground the military is also seeking to determine whether the noncombatant death toll could be much higher than reported.  
The U.S. has been involved militarily in Yemen for some time, a presence that might aid in the short term suppression of what we deem terrorist organizations, but which is also calculated to provide recruiting propaganda for the same organization over the long term.
The merits of the endless extension of the war of terror aside, Trump’s handling of a key early national security decision is telling.  The man who rejected the need for detailed intelligence briefings has just sent American soldiers into harm’s way without adequate preparation, intelligence, or context, with lethal results for one of those soldiers and an as-yet-unclear number of Yemeni civilians.
Now there was a grain of truth in Trump’s words.  There is a ritualistic element to the national security briefings, and surely there is repetition of material.  Presumably, the briefings serve as much to keep the national security apparatus on the president’s radar as anything else.  And in advance of an operation like this he might well have received additional briefings.  
Nonetheless, what Trump’s mentality presupposes is his own ability to determine a number of different things.  What is relevant?  Which decisions require extensive scrutiny?  In which instances are minute details required?  When do you set aside your hubris and do the serious thinking and analyzing?  
Trump told us endlessly during the campaign--and has continued doing so during the early weeks of his flawed presidency--that he was so smart and that he knew the best people.  But it seems that he is so busy boasting that he doesn’t have time for pesky details, planning, and contingencies.
These things that he regards as beneath his office and his person, and which he won’t give the time he devotes to his twitter account, have just cost the life of a U.S. soldier, who put himself in harm’s way under the assumption he served a commander in chief who would place a high value on his life and the sacrifice of the same.
Trump’s arrogance just cost the life of an uncertain number of Yemeni civilians, people whose lives have been destabilized by a long-running conflict, and whose country is embroiled in turmoil at least in part thanks to a bombing campaign by the U.S. and its Saudi ally.  

The American president wears many hats, and the conduct of international and military policy is but one of them.  Trump’s early actions--antagonizing Mexico, threatening Iran and Australia, illegally banning refugees, christianizing U.S. aid, etc--do not speak highly of his ability to shape a complex world in ways that represent the American public interest.  As this sad episode in Yemen demonstrates, he appears to be just as flawed in his approach to the small but essential details of overseeing operations and making judgment calls that affect the lives of American servicepeople and civilians abroad.  

Wednesday, February 1, 2017

Nevadans Won't Tolerate Heller's Devastating Silence in the Twilight of Democracy

Nevada Senator Dean Heller represents one of the most diverse states in the country.  Across the board, Nevadans voted in November for candidates who spoke up for the rights of immigrants, women, workers, refugees, and others who have been subjected to discrimination.  Even more conservative citizens in this western state share a strong commitment to the idea of liberty, though they might have different issues foremost in their minds.
Now Heller finds himself on the frontline in a struggle against an administration that is mounting an assault on everything this blend of new and old Nevadas seems to stand for.  The Trump-Bannon regime came to power in an election in which barely over half of eligible voters turned out.  The racist ticket topped by a candidate who boasted about sexually assaulting women with impunity not only failed to win a majority, but fell far short of a plurality, being trounced by Hillary Clinton in the popular vote.
Nonetheless, Trump, backed by a white supremacist who has flirted with the toxic ethnic nationalism of Russian-inspired Eurasianism (which sees the kind of diversity we have in Nevada as a threat to civilization rather than a marker of its progress), is pushing ahead on a range of policy fronts.
The administration is moving to slash access to healthcare, which will leave a range of Americans either without healthcare or facing dramatically rising costs for that care.  The administration is rolling back regulations which offer workplace protections, limit corruption, and help to ensure the basic health of our citizenry by keeping the water we drink, the air we breathe, and the food we eat safe.
In spite of an inauguration pledge to not seek to remake the world in America’s image, Trump’s first international actions involved refusing U.S. funding to any organization which supports abortion as an option for women in the developing world.  Having criticized Hillary Clinton for being too interventionist, Trump has now gone further than the Obama administration she served, putting U.S. soldiers on the front lines in Yemen.  Having attacked Clinton for speaking to Goldman Sachs employees, Trump is now packing his administration with insiders straight from the belly of that Wall Street beast.
Trump has sidelined the uniformed military within the National Security Council, replacing them with Stephen Bannon.  This means the kill lists and control of national security policy is being politicized to an unprecedented degree, in the hands of a self-described bomb thrower.  Trump has ordered the construction of a border wall, and is attacking those cities which give shelter to undocumented migrants.  
The manner in which Trump is approaching the latter issue suggests that he is interested in creating a corrupt, patrimonial state, in which he uses immigration as a casus belli to embark on an open pillaging expedition in particular states, shifting wealth, resources, funds, and welfare from his political opponents to his allies.  His efforts to appoint Betsy DeVos to the education department corroborates this suspicion, given DeVos’ interest in transferring public funding from the public schools that educate the overwhelming majority of American children to the selective charter schools that predominantly benefit the affluent or special religious interests.
Trump has also claimed loudly and repeatedly that there was massive voter fraud in the election.  There is no evidence to support his claim, and much to the contrary, but Trump’s claims are less concerned with reality than with sowing confusion in advance of a calculated assault on voting rights in the next election.
Trump then issued a discriminatory executive order targeting Muslim refugees, visa holders, and would-be migrants.  Although his administration claims that the ban is not targeting Muslims, the countries it is set to affect (conspicuously omitting some where Trump does business) gives the lie to the claim, and Rudy Giuliani has bragged that he was commissioned by the administration to draw up an order that would introduce a “Muslim ban” through the back door.
Many of the people affected by this attack on global refugees are fleeing conflicts fueled if not started by the Republican Party, and jihadist groups have greeted the order with glee and enthusiasm.  Trump’s intervention in Yemen is calculated to create more refugees, but those too will find the door slammed in their faces.  In the meantime, Trump excoriates European countries for not spending enough on their militaries, ignoring the extent to which those countries subsidize irresponsible U.S. policy by taking in hundreds of thousands of refugees.
Trump’s nominee to be Attorney General, Jeff Sessions, has exhibited contempt for the Voting Rights Act, and is also said to be a brainchild of the discriminatory refugee executive order. When a judge issued a stay against Trump’s order, enforcement officers were ordered by their superiors to disobey, setting the administration on a collision course with courts. Heller soon has the opportunity to vote on the confirmation of DeVos, Sessions, and a host of other Trump nominees.
Dean Heller has attempted to shield himself from scrutiny by asking a few probing questions of Trump’s treasury nominee, while refusing to speak with clarity on some of Trump’s other disturbing nominees, or the disturbingly authoritarian character of the administration.
Nevadans, who made their preferences clear in November, need their voices heard.  Catherine Cortez Masto is doing her bit to push back against the unconstitutional actions of the administration and its discriminatory rhetoric and practice.  Governor Brian Sandoval has warned that “lives are at stake” if Trump and the Republicans repeal Obamacare without a serious replacement.
But Nevadans are still waiting on Dean Heller.  What does he think about the threatened assault on voting rights, the discriminatory executive orders directed at Muslims, the turning back of vetted refugees, and the contempt for the courts?  I wonder what Heller thinks about the sidelining of the uniformed military, the plunder of public funds for the private sector, and attacks on healthcare, access to which should be a fundamental social right of all Americans.
It’s time to hear more from Dean Heller.  And crucially, it’s time for him to match words with action.  Nothing less is required to protect our states and the welfare of its citizens, and to defend the constitution against an authoritarian administration.  Senator Heller, please stand up, speak out, and act.  We could be in the twilight of American democracy, and we need all hands on deck.