Who ‘turned’ the 2016 GOP Convention Platform?

As Special Prosecutor Robert Mueller hunkers down, subpoenas stalk the corridors of power, and James Comey is set to testify before Congress, how about having a word or two with the Chair and Co-Chairs of the 2016 GOP Platform Committee?

‘Seems like it’s about time to revisit the story of changes to the 2016 GOP Platform that
dramatically altered the party’s position on arming the Ukraine to resist Russian incursions.

Perhaps Sen. John Barrasso of Wyoming (chair), Governor Mary Fallin of Oklahoma (co-vice-chair) and Rep. Virginia Foxx of N.C.(the other co-vice-chair) could shed some light on the subject.

News reports contemporary to the Convention indicated that, at the behest of the Trump team, the party platform was altered,  eliminating a call for lethal defense arms to be supplied to the Ukrainians for their fight against the Russians. That story was later challenged by, among others in the Trump campaign’s inner circle, Paul Manafort, international man of mystery, himself.

On July 18, The Washington Post wrote:

The Trump campaign worked behind the scenes last week to make sure the new Republican platform won’t call for giving weapons to Ukraine to fight Russian and rebel forces, contradicting the view of almost all Republican foreign policy leaders in Washington.images

Trump’s campaign chairman, Paul Manafort, worked as a lobbyist for the Russian-backed former Ukrainian president Viktor Yanukovych for more than a decade.

“This is another example of Trump being out of step with GOP leadership and the mainstream in a way that shows he would be dangerous for America and the world,” said Rachel Hoff, another platform committee member who was in the room.

Of course Mr. Manafort has suffered a marked credibility downgrade since last summer, but the FBI would, nevertheless, very much like a word with him.

If we are to believe the denials of Manafort and the rest of Trump’s retinue, we are forced to accept that the revision to the platform just happened spontaneously, unaided by human intervention. It certainly wasn’t proposed by any mainstream Republicans, who have predictably been even more hostile to the Russians than have Democrats.

One could be forgiven for forgetting Republican hawks’ traditional  hard position on Russia, as they have recently become such fervent apologists for Donald Trump (and, by extension, Russia) tut-tutting the very idea of Russian intervention on Trump’s behalf. Only Lindsey Graham and John McCain seem at all familiar on the subject.

It’s positively surreal; but that’s the new GOP.

Anyway, if the chair and co-chair persons can’t shed some light on this odd transformation of policy, there are a couple of other platform delegates whom I am sure would be more than happy to tell us what happened.

According to NPR (Aug. 21, 2016):

“It started when platform committee member Diana Denman tried to insert language calling for the U.S. to provide lethal defensive weapons to the Ukrainian government, which is fighting a separatist insurrection backed by Russia. Denman says she had no idea she was “going into a fire fight,” calling it “an interesting exchange, to say the least…

The Trump campaign convinced the platform committee to change Denman’s proposal. It went from calling on the U.S. to provide Ukraine “lethal defensive weapons” to the more benign phrase “appropriate assistance…”

…Another GOP delegate on the platform committee, Rachel Hoff, is a national security analyst with the American Action Forum and believe the final platform language signals that a Trump administration would refuse to send lethal defensive weapons to Ukraine.”

Wouldn’t you like to hear from both of these delegates?

Updated: Climate change and a couple of the GOP’s “muted barbs”

[Update:  Good! After it became evident there would be some nudging in the Vermont Legislature by State Sen. Chris Pearson (P/D-Chittenden) Governor Scott has agreed to join a group formed by  New York, California and Washington, calling itself  the U.S. Climate Alliance. This effort is meant to achieve the Paris agreement’s goals of reducing carbon emissions despite of President Trump’s exit from the international accord.]

Now that President Trump has decided the U.S.A. should join Syria and Nicaragua as the only other countries not supporting the Paris agreement setting goals to slow climate change, a significantly heavier burden now falls on state governments to address climate change. Believe it or not at Trump’s festive Rose Garden announcement “ceremony” a jazz band played ‘Summertime.’

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Should we worry here in Vermont? Well, less than year ago Governor Scott’s beliefs on climate change were vague enough that they reportedly might still be “evolving,” and his resistance to wind power is well known.

However, nice man that he is, he makes an occasional symbolic gesture in support of addressing climate change. This May, in response to fears that Trump might exit the Paris agreement, Scott and Massachusetts fellow Republican  Governor Charlie Baker sent a letter to Trump’s Secretary of Energy, Rick Perry. Their letter made no specific demands and only called for the federal government to “continue national leadership” in its efforts to address climate change by meeting goals in reducing greenhouse gases. No doubt the former governor from the oil state of Texas was deeply impressed by the effort, and  if he remembered  might have even passed it along to the President.

In practical terms Governor Scott announced yesterday that Attorney Anthony Roisman was his pick for leading the Public Service Board. The PSB sets public utility rates, oversees service quality, and decides on siting Vermont’s energy infrastructure including wind and solar power. Roisman shares Scott’s aversion to wind power. Seven Days reports he represented plaintiffs opposed to wind power here in Vermont. He has also litigated against nuclear power plant operators, and in the 1980’s he represented a group of families harmed by toxic industrial waste. Most recently he was instrumental in killing a proposed  60-megawatt solar array power project in Maryland.

Yesterday, after Trump’s announcement, Scientific American reported some reaction at the state level in the wake of Trump’s decision. Democratic Gov. Jay Inslee of Washington reiterated his support of a carbon tax in his state. And Gov. Jerry Brown (D) of California is headed to China next week to take part in high level meetings on climate change and clean energy. The California legislature recently voted to receive all its energy from renewable and zero-carbon sources by 2045.

Republicans, Scientific American notes, “were far more muted in their barbs.” Scott’s Massachusetts letter-writing partner Gov. Baker said Trump’s action was “disappointing and counterproductive.” And what do we hear from the Green Mountain State?   A spokeswoman for Vermont Gov. Phil Scott (R), who recently penned a letter with Baker calling on Trump to stay in the Paris accord, did not respond to multiple requests for comment. Now, that’s about as “muted barb” as you can find.

To say the least, it seems “moderate” GOP governors like Baker and Scott are unlikely to join the likes of Washington Gov. Jay Inslee (D) or Gov. Jerry Brown (D) of California. But, hey, they write letters to Rick Perry.

False equivalence in a post-justice America

False equivalence is once again rearing its ugly head, as pundits attempt to balance their outrage at the fact-free excesses of the right by calling out the left for being intolerant of opposing views.

Just this morning on CNN, Fareed Zakaria, whom I generally respect, indulged in a little handwringing about students protesting against speakers engaged by their schools who represent an “unpopular” view. Apparently a group of kids walked out on VP Mike Pence during a commencement address. How rude!

This is somehow supposed to be a sign that the left is as bad as the right is about violating civil liberties.

I’m sorry, but that is just not so.

Non-violent demonstrations are central to our civil liberties. They may not be “polite;” they may not conform to an abstract metric of tolerance; but sometimes they are the only means within the grasp of an underclass (no pun intended) to express their strong disagreement, even outrage, at views or behaviors with which, not only do they disagree, but which they find downright abhorrent.

Of course the Ann Coulters of this world should not be barred from speaking; and, of course, colleges should be free to host public speakers who represent extreme views.

However, everyone knows there are reasons why prohibitions exist against yelling “fire” in a crowded theater.  Commonsense should predict that provocateurs will provoke dissent.

It appears that, for the most part the demonstrations that fuel rightwing outrage over their civil rights, are noisy but peaceful, except when “unidentified outside agitators” deliberately invade the protests to initiate violence.

Those “outside agitators” cannot simply be assumed to be sympathetic to the left. It is far more likely that they are either anarchists whose, sole objective is to raise havoc and undermine all authority; or that they are individuals who wish to disrupt the disruption and shed an unflattering light on the left.

They are in any case, an exception to the rule that protests against right-wing speakers are generally peaceful despite the noise.

Should demonstrators be scolded for “intolerance?” I don’t think so.

The fact is that some rightwing viewpoints on social justice issues which have traditionally been considered far outside acceptable boundaries have recently been elevated to a public platform that they have not enjoyed in recent memory. Inevitably the response is visceral.

This is a values judgment. There simply is no other option.

We have already undergone an election in which all the remaining norms of political etiquette and even truthfulness have been forcefully jettisoned by the man who actual succeeded in claiming the White House. Brutality and intimidation were celebrated by the winning candidate. We are learning that it was much less of a level playing field than we even imagined!

How are people on the unjustly marginalized perimeters of power…the actual majority…supposed to react?

The argument that we are somehow guilty of intolerance because we cry out against advocates of social injustice and bigotry is unworthy of our constitutional heritage.

Please, media voices: stop trying so hard to appear “fair” to the extreme right. Fairness has never been something they respect.

Son of Citizens United?

Weary as we all are of the daily news about the Trump administration, it occasionally foreshadows general issues that could achieve much greater importance in the future.

This past week, as Donald Trump and son-in-law, Jared Kushner, “lawyered up,” and Mike Flynn’s prospects looked increasingly bleak, there was speculation that everyone’s business records would soon be the subject of subpoenas.

Not so fast, came the counter-argument from Flynn’s attorneys; the Citizens United decision might extend to protection of corporate records. If an individual has the right to refuse to testify on the grounds of self-incrimination, so might the corporation refuse to share it’s “testimony” (corporate records) on the same grounds.

A desperate claim, for sure, but the idea of civil rights for corporations, once elevated to that of the individual, was certain to raise bigger issues down the line. If money is the corporation’s constitutionally protected “voice,” why wouldn’t all the protections for the individual against self-incrimination be equally valid for corporations?

The favorite fantasy scenario has always been around attempting to convict a corporation for first degree murder. Who would potentially serve the sentence? You can’t execute a corporation or lock it up for life.

Now we are seeing the real nub of the question. If a corporation succeeds in arguing its fifth amendment right to remain silent; and sharing its records is deemed to be a violation of that right; we might as well wave goodbye to legal resolution of disputes, entirely.

It’s unlikely that such an argument would succeed in the normal course of court proceedings; but given the unprecedented nature of the circumstances and recent partisan incursions on the justice department, it’s worth considering.

One would naturally think that the corporation, like any citizen, could still be compelled to share its records, but the flawed Supreme Court logic that awarded civil rights to corporations might just as easily favor the argument that documents, like money, are a form constitutionally protected “voice” for the corporation. It would then be a fairly simple matter to extrapolate from that narrow protection to a broader protection against self-incrimination through documents for all citizens.

Poof! There go the underpinnings of our justice system.

Gov. Scott picks former ALEC chair for Green Mountain Care Board head

The Governor’s veto of the marijuana bill on Wednesday today may suck all the air out of Vermont newsrooms for the next day or so but he quietly made a couple appointments that will likely have as big an impact on the state.Scottkevinalec 2

Scott appointed state Senator Kevin Mullin (R-Rutland) to chair the Green Mountain Care Board and Maureen Usifer to the board. The legislature created  the independent GMCB in 2011. Its responsibilities include health insurance rates, hospital budgets, and major capital expenditures.

“Healthcare makes up approximately 20 percent of our economy, so it is critical to have strong, experienced leaders on this Board. Kevin is a proven leader with decades of business, management and public service experience, which he will bring to bear in this important leadership role. And, as an experienced chief financial officer and board director for respected companies, Maureen’s expertise in finance, management and oversight will be incredibly valuable to the Board and Vermonters,” said Scott in a press release [added emphasis]

So who is Senator Mullin, Scott’s choice to chair the Green Mountain Care Board? What kind of Republican is he? And what do we know about his view on the role of government in say, healthcare? Well, Mullin does have a long resume at the State House. He served as State Rep. from Rutland for four years, was appointed to the Senate in 2003, and won re-election to the seat ever since. He is currently chair of the Senate Committee on Economic Development, Housing and General Affairs and sits on the Senate Committee on Education.

Senator Mullin served two separate times as Vermont state chair of one of the Koch Brothers’ many organizations, The American Legislative Exchange Council. A national franchise, ALEC supports right-wing state legislators with model legislation favorable to its corporate members. According to sourcewatch.org: ALEC’s agenda extends into almost all areas of law. Its bills undermine environmental regulations and deny climate change; support school privatization; undercut health care reform; defund unions and limit their political influence; restrain legislatures’ abilities to raise revenue through taxes; mandate strict election laws that disenfranchise voters; increase incarceration to benefit the private prison industry, among many other issues.

Mullin did not support Trump in last year’s GOP presidential primary. He sort of sat on his hands preferring John Kasich but when rumors that speaker Paul Ryan might jump in the race Mullin said he’d support him. Paul Ryan never ran but he is now champion of the GOP’s despicable American Health Care Act, which the CBO says would leave 23 million Americans uninsured by 2026 if it replaces the ACA (Obamacare) in its current form.

Ryan favors making millions of Americans uninsured, and ALEC wants to undermine regulations. I wonder which part of Mullin’s two favorite leadership models Governor Scott wants him to bring to bear on the Green Mountain Care Board Speaker Ryan’s health care lies, the Koch Brothers’ anti-government corporate-fueled juggernaut or both.

Either way, stock up on Band-Aids, since that’s all the healthcare many of us will be able to afford under Mullin and TrumpDon’tCare.

 

GOP governors fit that image

As you can see from the actual Google news screen shot (not photo-shopped) it’s  easy to confuse one Republican governor’s image and policy for another.

phildouglas

Now, former Vermont Governor Jim Douglas never had to decide whether to sign marijuana legislation. But he did wield threats of a budget veto similar to what Governor Phil Scott is now doing attempting to bend the Democratic majority legislature to his agenda. Some key people now members of Scott’s staff were part of Douglas’ administration eight years ago

In June 2009, Republican Governor Jim Douglas carried out his threat and issued an historic  2,000-word veto message, becoming the first Vermont governor to veto the state budget. He had hoped to draw a line in the sand, but although the move made history it was quickly blown away when the solid Democratic House and Senate majorities overrode his veto.

Fast forward to now. Like Douglas, Governor Scott has threatened a budget veto. He has targeted any budget the legislature sends him not including a requirement for teachers to pay 20% of their health care premiums. Since the Democratic majorities are not as large as in 2009, an override is not guaranteeddriving them into negotiations on Scott’s key demand. Where Douglas’ veto leverage failed, Scott may succeed getting part of his agenda implemented.

As talks on a negotiated deal began and details took form, the teachers’ union begged to differ: Martha Allen, the Vermont NEA president and a librarian at a school in Canaan, said the Scott administration’s “assault on collective bargaining is straight out of the Donald Trump and Scott Walker anti-union playbook.”

Over-stated? Well, the threats are real. It is worth recalling the $3 million in campaign support Phil Scott enjoyed getting from the Republican Governors Association. The union-busting Koch Brothers were the largest contributors to the RGA in 2016. according to opensecrets.org. And in the last election cycle as in the one beforethe Republican State Leadership Council (another Koch Brother project) helped the Vermont GOP by targeting a half-dozen Democratic legislators for defeat.

Sure Google algorithims mix up their images one GOP governor is pretty much just like another, eh? and with great gobs of funds from Koch Brothers organizations behind them all, is it any wonder the playbook and goals are similar? After all, Wisconsinonce progressive, “blue” and heavily unionized and the birthplace of public sector unionsis now in the bottom third of states for unionized workforce.

Given time and small steps and removing teachers’ health care from the collective bargaining process is exactly one of those “small” steps I am not so sure that Trump/Walker anti-worker laws could never happen here in blue Vermont.

GOP wrecking crews are still hard at work

Priority efforts to gut or eliminate Obama era rules that Republicans claim unfairly restrict their industry and business buddies are continuing. Over a dozen Obama rules protecting waterways near coal mines, disclosure requirements of labor law violations (wages and workers rights) for businesses bidding on federal contracts and restrictions on broadband companies (such as Verizon, AT&T and Comcast) selling personal data have already been individually overturned this year under the Congressional Rules Act. Currently under the CRA Congress can overturn one executive rule at a time – but that may soon be turbo-charged by the GOP. demolish

To speed their frenzy  to demolish, the Midnight Rules Relief Act of 2017, now in the Senate, would amend the CRA to enable legislative disapproval of multiple (executive) rules at once. Midnight Rules was passed in the House and is now sponsored in the Senate by chair of the Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee Ron Johnson (R-WI) , and a Senate panel is considering the legislation. The Midnight Rules Relief Act would save Congress time, by allowing lawmakers to strike down multiple regulations in one vote, Johnson explained.

While Republicans have seen the Congressional Review Act as a valuable tool to strike regulations, Democrats are hoping to abolish the CRA, fearing it is being used to eliminate environmental, health, and safety protections.

So while Trump noisily babbles and blunders his way to whatever fate awaits him keep an eye on Republicans in Congress while they take care of business — scurrying around demolishing rules intended to protect individuals and the environment.

We have to wonder if the title of the bill the Midnight Rules Relief Act is another bit of inadvertent truth-telling by the GOP. It’s the thieves’ hour when a lot of questionable legislation gets shoved through an inattentive body.

 

What next, Democrats?

A respected Special Prosecutor, former FBI chief Robert Mueller, has been appointed to investigate the Trump campaign/Russia question; and though still early days, the process is in motion to neutralize Donald Trump’s current threat to the Republic.

He is, it would seem, the lamest of ducks.

It’s time for Democrats to turn the lion’s share of their attention to the needs of the people, as urgently expressed since well-before the last election cycle.

Meet or even precede every Republican policy pitch with a well-developed counter-pitch. They are in complete disorder, with a mortally wounded leader who, at the best of times, can’t think in a straight line.

This is Democrats’ chance to show what they can offer in the way of measured, human-friendly policy around job creation, improvements to Obamacare, infrastructure priorities, social justice, education and national security.

If Democrats waste this opportunity by focussing only on the Trump melt-down, they will have squandered the advantage they should have in 2018.

Job 2 is to begin a serious look at reforming the presidency. In the words of the president, “who knew” that so many ethical issues were not codified, but simply left to the discretion of the president?

Nothing speaks so clearly to the eighteenth century sensibilities of the “Founding Fathers” as their apparent confidence that gentlemen will behave as gentlemen should when elected to the single highest office in the land. Those esteemed founders did not trust unbridled democracy. They imposed restrictions on the roll of the individual electorate, but not, curiously enough, on the power of the head of state. The United States was, after all, the immediate if rebellious offspring of monarchy, retaining a fundamental affinity for the institutions of its royalist parent.

What was once little more than a quaint convention of the past, has, under Trump’s administration, erupted into a full-on constitutional crisis.

I don’t expect the Republican-held Congress to lift a finger while they are in power to repair the mighty gaps in the powers of the presidency through which an autocrat (or a selfish child), carried into office on a whim of the electorate, might throw centuries of ethical convention to the four winds and behave like an absolute monarch.

If Democrats are wise and see to the urgent business of their constituents, they can seize the House in 2018. It then behooves them to set about codifying some limits on the presidency; like, for instance, he/she must share his taxes both as a candidate and throughout his/her administration. In order to qualify to appear on the ballot in the first place, every candidate’s tax returns for at least three years should be publicly available.

Divestiture of financial interests by the president must also be codified under the law; and conflict of interest must be more clearly defined, including specific rules governing the president’s family members, former business partners etc. Remedies for violation of these rules must be clearly laid out and include stiff penalties.

While they are at it, a scrub of gerrymandering is very much in order, too! Partisan divisions are too great to allow one “side” or the other full discretion to control districting.

Until some of the vulnerabilities in presidential privilege and voter suppression are effectively addressed, we are in no position to pontificate to younger nations on the lessons of democracy.

We have the high-ground here; and the vast majority of Americans disapprove both of this president and of the Republican controlled Congress. It’s a perfect opportunity for Democrats to win over hearts and minds. Let’s not squander it by focussing entirely on the toddler in the room.

H.R. McMaster shreds the Honor Code

You are undoubtedly familiar with the Honor Code H.R. McMaster was required to adhere to when he was a cadet at West Point. Everyone knows “A cadet will not lie, cheat, steal, or tolerate those who do.” A seemingly simple rule that anyone can comprehend and follow, but you may not know the rest of it. In this case it is clear beyond clear that McMaster violated the Code by quibbling.

LYING: Cadets violate the Honor Code by lying if they deliberately deceive another by stating an untruth or by any direct form of communication to include the telling of a partial truth and the vague or ambiguous use of information or language with the intent to deceive or mislead. The term for this kind of evasive, misleading statement is “quibbling”, and it is considered a violation of the Code.

In the administration’s effort to discredit the report of the president revealing sensitive classified intelligence to Russian officials in the White House, they had McMaster make this statement:

The story that came out tonight, as reported, is false. … At no time, at no time, were intelligence sources or methods discussed. The president did not disclose any military operations that were not already publicly known. … I was in the room. It didn’t happen.

This was a clear attempt to lead the listener to conclude that the press story was false, but it did so in what has been termed a classic non-denial denial. He categorically denied certain actions, discussing intelligence sources or methods and disclosing military operations that were not already publicly known. By listening to his statement we are expected to conclude that the story reported by the Post and others was false and shouldn’t be relied upon. If you look more closely, though, you see that the stories in question never claimed that he discussed sources and methods or military operations.

In other words, in order to give the false impression that the Post story was wrong McMaster denied facts that were never alleged. That is, he told a partial truth and used vague or ambiguous language with the intent to mislead.

I don’t know if a military officer remains bound to the Honor Code when he is no longer a cadet, but at a minimum he violated the most basic principles that those seeking a commission in the armed forces are expected to follow.

Can you possibly argue that this can be tolerated?