Investigations Of Trump Expand Along With Speculation That He Will Repeat Saturday Night Massacre

News reports discussed two avenues of investigation being pursued regarding Donald Trump. One of them, his business ties, appears to be of value. The other is of more questionable value–fake news on Facebook.

Bloomberg is reporting that Robert Mueller is expanding the investigation into Trump’s business ties:

The U.S. special counsel investigating possible ties between the Donald Trump campaign and Russia in last year’s election is examining a broad range of transactions involving Trump’s businesses as well as those of his associates, according to a person familiar with the probe.

FBI investigators and others are looking at Russian purchases of apartments in Trump buildings, Trump’s involvement in a controversial SoHo development in New York with Russian associates, the 2013 Miss Universe pageant in Moscow and Trump’s sale of a Florida mansion to a Russian oligarch in 2008, the person said.

The investigation also has absorbed a money-laundering probe begun by federal prosecutors in New York into Trump’s former campaign chairman Paul Manafort.

The Wall Street Journal has further information related to the investigation of Paul Manafort:

Mr. Manafort, a Republican political consultant, spent years working for a pro-Russia party in Ukraine. He served as Mr. Trump’s presidential campaign manager for roughly three months in 2016 before resigning.

New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman and Manhattan District Attorney Cyrus Vance Jr. also are investigating Mr. Manafort’s real-estate transactions, The Wall Street Journal has reported, with both offices examining his dealings for possible money-laundering and fraud. Messrs. Schneiderman and Vance are Democrats.

Mr. Manafort has spent and borrowed tens of millions of dollars in connection with properties in the U.S. over the past decade, including a Brooklyn, N.Y., townhouse and California properties being developed by his son-in-law, the Journal has reported.

The nature of the investigation, along with the contempt for law enforcement expressed by Donald Trump in an interview with The New York Times, has many predicting that Trump will wind up firing Robert Mueller in a scenario reminiscent of Richard Nixon’s Saturday Night Massacre. Periodically I receive comments that such criticism of Trump comes from out of touch left wingers, so I will note that the conservative National Review also predicts, Yeah, Trump Is Probably Going to Fire Robert Mueller.

While I hope to see Manafort pursue investigations into the business dealings of Donald Trump and his associates, I question whether Congressional investigators will really find out much of value in an investigation of fake news and Facebook. CNN reports:

Virginia Sen. Mark Warner, the top Democrat on the Senate intelligence committee, met with Facebook officials in California more than a month ago as part of his committee’s investigation into potential collusion or election interference, and he’s convinced the company can explain whether anyone from the Trump campaign helped Russians boost fake news articles targeting Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton. Warner is testing the theory popular among Democratic operatives that Russia was behind spikes in fake news that were anti-Clinton and that Russia had help targeting those articles from US political operatives…

At the core of Warner’s questioning is a theory among Democratic operatives and former top-level Clinton campaign staff that Russia had help from domestic political operatives to micro-target fake news articles. No evidence has been uncovered to prove that theory.

Last month, Senate intelligence staff interviewed Brett Horvath, a social media technology expert who argues it’s possible that Russian operatives got political data that could then be used for successfully micro-targeting swing voters on Facebook.

“Facebook has all the data that could prove this is happening or not happening, that’s the starting point,” Horvath, a veteran Democratic political operative, told CNN.

The key line above is, “No evidence has been uncovered to prove that theory.”

There certainly was fake news spread during the campaign, as there also was against Barack Obama and John Kerry in their presidential campaigns. Only the Clinton campaign has gone so far as to blame Russia for this, with reporters covering the campaign to write the book Shattered reporting that Clinton developed the strategy of blaming Russia and others for her loss within twenty-four hours of losing, failing to take responsibility for her own mistakes. Whether or not the fake stories being spread came from Russia, they did far less harm to Clinton than the damage caused by her violation of State Department rules (as verified by the State Department Inspector General), and then repeatedly being caught lying about the matter. The truth was far more damaging than fiction.

The questionable business ties involving Donald Trump and others in his family and campaign appears to be worth investigating, but I bet it will be a mistake to divert resources from the more important issues to pursue partisan fantasies. If Democrats rely upon such weak attacks they risk allowing the Republicans to survive the actual Trump scandals.

Clinton’s Popularity Continues To Decline, Possibly Affecting Democratic Voter Enthusiasm

Democrats lead in the generic Congressional polls, but there are warning signs for Democrats. A new Washington Post-ABC News poll shows that by a 52 to 38 percent margin voters want Democrats to control Congress to be a check on Trump. However, 65 percent of Republicans and GOP-leaning adults say they are “almost certain to vote,” only 57 percent of Democrats and Democratic-leaning voters say they are likely to vote.

There are probably many reasons why Democratic-leaning voters are less likely to vote, but the damage to the Democratic brand caused by the nomination by of Hillary Clinton in 2016 cannot be underestimated. For those who have voted Democratic in protest against the policies of the Bush administration, it was a great disappointment to see the Democrats nominate a candidate with essentially the same agenda. The undemocratic manner in which the party establishment essentially picks the nominees, despite the charade of a primary system, creates further disenchantment with the party. As bad a choice as Donald Trump was, at least he was nominated due to beating the establishment candidates in a year in which many voters from both parties did not want another Bush/Clinton, with the Republican establishment accepting the decision of its voters.

Normally losing candidates do better in the polls after the election. With Donald Trump doing such a terrible job and dropping in the polls, if she followed traditional patterns Hillary Clinton should be seeing a boost in her support. Instead a Bloomberg National Poll shows that Clinton’s support has declined and that she is even more unpopular than Donald Trump.

This is not based upon opposition to the party in general  as Barack Obama and Joe Biden’s popularity has increased since they left office, and Bernie Sanders has become the most popular politician in the country.

The poll doesn’t provide reasons for Clinton’s further decrease in popularity. Just losing to a candidate as terrible as Donald Trump further highlights how weak a candidate she was, with reports such as those in Shattered providing further confirmation. I would also bet that many people expressed positive views of Clinton in the context of an election campaign against Donald Trump, but now that the campaign is over have no reason to hide their distaste for her.

Clinton’s actions following her loss give additional reasons for an already unpopular politician to now receive even less support. Her frequent statements blaming others for her loss, while downplaying the serious mistakes she made, shows her lack of character. While her far right wing views on civil liberties has received too little attention, her call for Congressional action against fake news, which amounts to censorship of material critical of her, is alarming in light of her long standing support for restricting freedom of speech and dissent.

Clinton’s anti-Russia hysteria, going well beyond what has been proven in the investigations to date, might be fooling some Democratic partisans, but is alarming to others. Clinton does not benefit politically from the revelations involving the Trump administration and Russia when fear of world war with Russia was a motivating factor for some who voted for her. A recent study suggests that her ultra-hawkish views might have played a significant role in her loss. News out of Syria provides further reason to oppose Clinton, considering her push for greater interventionism, even to the point of risking direct conflict with Russia.

Clinton has been out of step with more liberal voters on other issues, including economics, trade, the drug war, and health care policy. While many Democratic leaning voters support a single-payer system (as promoted by people including Bernie Sanders and Al Gore), Hillary Clinton also showed she was out of step in campaigning against  Medicare-for-all.

It is hard for many independents, along with principled Democrats, to be enthusiastic about the Democrats after nominating a candidate which so many dislike for good reason. The attacks on liberals and progressives opposing Clinton from partisan Democrats, showing a gross lack of respect for the basic principles of democracy in thinking that those who oppose her had some obligation to vote for her, further alienates potential Democratic voters. If Democrats are to expand their base and win elections, they need to show more respect for the views of those who oppose their move to the right.

Democrats have done poorly in 2010, 2014, and again in 2016 after moving to the right and running as a Republican-lite party. Bloomberg reports that Democrats are again looking at promoting more conservative candidates in 2018, failing to learn that voters see no reason to turn out to vote for candidates who do not stand for anything. The Democrats should do well in 2018 in response to the Trump disaster, but they also appear capable of pulling defeat again out of what should be sure victory.

Over 2000 Civilian Deaths From Trump’s Air War In Less Than Six Months

Donald Trump said before he was inaugurated that he would “bomb the shit” out of ISIS. This is one of the few promises he has kept, and the consequence is a marked increase in the number of civilian deaths compared to under Barack Obama. The Daily Beast, in a study conducted with the watchdog organization Airwars, reports:

Civilian casualties from the U.S.-led war against the so-called Islamic State are on pace to double under President Donald Trump, according to an Airwars investigation for The Daily Beast.

Airwars researchers estimate that at least 2,300 civilians likely died from Coalition strikes overseen by the Obama White House—roughly 80 each month in Iraq and Syria. As of July 13, more than 2,200 additional civilians appear to have been killed by Coalition raids since Trump was inaugurated—upwards of 360 per month, or 12 or more civilians killed for every single day of his administration…

A number of factors appear responsible for the steep recent rise in civilian deaths—some policy-related, others reflecting a changing battlespace as the war enters its toughest phase. In one of his first moves as president, Trump ordered a new counter-ISIS plan be drawn up. Second on his list of requests were recommended “changes to any United States rules of engagement and other United States policy restrictions that exceed the requirements of international law regarding the use of force against ISIS.”

In short, Trump was demanding that the Pentagon take a fresh look at protections for civilians on the battlefield except those specifically required by international law. That represented a major shift from decades of U.S. military doctrine, which has generally made central the protection of civilians in war…

Though the U.S. military had shifted to such annihilation tactics—a change cited with glee by the Trump White House—Mattis claimed there have been no updates to U.S. rules of engagement. “There has been no change to our continued extraordinary efforts to avoid innocent civilian casualties,” he told reporters.

When Airwars asked the Department of Defense whether, once implemented, the new plan was expected to lead to more civilian casualties, officials did not answer the question and only pointed to Mattis’ remarks.

Yet beginning in March 2017—the month after Mattis handed over the new plan—Airwars began tracking a sharp rise in reported civilian fatalities from U.S.-led strikes against ISIS. In part this was due to the savagery of the battle for Mosul. But in Syria—where almost all strikes are American—likely civilian fatalities monitored by Airwars researchers increased five-fold even before the assault on Raqqa began.

There is much more detail in the full report.

This report is consistent with  a recent UN report cited by Reuters of ‘Staggering’ civilian deaths caused by US-led air strikes in Syria.

In comparing the number of civilian casualties since Donald Trump took office to those under Barack Obama, it should also be considered that Hillary Clinton had supported much greater military intervention in Syria than under Obama, which would probably have also lead to an increase in civilian deaths. There is no way to compare what the number of deaths would be under Clinton compared to Trump.

Last week I looked at a report on the failures from the U.S. war on terror. Another recent study suggested that her support for greater military interventionism might have cost Clinton the election.

Cutting Through Trump’s Game of Distraction

Guest Post by Sandra

It’s hard to tell if Trump and his administration really have an agenda. He won the presidency being “anti-everything,” but this “rage against the machine” attitude doesn’t really offer much as a guiding principle for policy making. This lackluster approach combined with the drama surrounding the Russia investigation, the President’s attacks on the media and his empty threats about North Korea give the impression of chaos and disorder, and subsequently, of inaction.

This can be seen clearly by the repeated failure of the new health care bill. Trump’s only promise was to repeal “Obamacare,” putting himself in line with this “anti-everything” approach, but because he and his advisers have no real plan for an alternative, the bills being drawn up in Congress are downright awful, leading them to stall and generating doubt about whether something will ever get done.

However, this illusion of inactivity does not tell the whole story. Things are getting done, albeit slowly, but more concerning, they are getting done with very little public attention. Without drifting too far into conspiracy theories, we have to wonder if this wasn’t the plan all along. We’re seeing a clear case of Noam Chomsky’s “anti-politics.” The happenings of Washington are so repulsive to the ordinary citizen that many are turning their backs on Washington, paving the way for corporate power to advance quietly in the background. Here is something the current government has done, the consequences of which should be concerning for those interested in preserving democracy.

The Financial CHOICE Act

Remember the 2008 financial crisis? Of course. Who could forget it? Well, after decades of deregulating Wall Street, the world paid a heavy price, and the response by the Obama administration was to push through new regulations to make sure nothing like that could ever happen again. The Wall Street Reform and Consumer Protection Act, more commonly referred to as Dodd-Frank, was born from this idea. It includes countless new regulations for banks to prevent them from making overly risky loans that could lead to instability.

If you haven’t seen it already, the film The Big Short gives an entertaining, although disturbing, version of the events leading up to the crash, and if there is one big takeaway, it’s that the lack of oversight on the banks was a huge driver of what turned out to be the largest financial crisis since the Great Depression. The film is available on Netflix, which you can access even if you’re restricted by location.

However, the Dodd-Frank bill is not perfect. It includes over 20,000 pages of regulations, and it makes some pretty black and white distinctions among banks. Specifically, it outlines rules for banks based on the value of assets, not the level of risk. This has led many smaller community banks to speak out against the bill, saying it prevents them from being able to expand their business because they have to dedicate so many resources to regulation-related paperwork. Others say this is what the bill was supposed to do—limit risky loans—but others say it goes too far. Regardless, it is clear Dodd-Frank could use some reform.

And so Trump and his Republican House reformed it by passing the Financial CHOICE Act. In general, the bill is modest. It reduces some of the red tape banks need to cut through to grant loans, making it easier for them to provide capital to interested borrowers. But the concerning part of the bill is the reduction of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB). This agency was created from Dodd-Frank and serves as a way for consumers to file complaints about banking fraud, to get information on the practices of other banks and to correct errors in reporting (specifically credit reporting).

In the new bill, the CFPB will be prohibited from banning “abusive” products, and it will have an entirely new leadership structure (a bipartisan committee of five people). Given the current state of Washington politics, the word “bipartisan” could easily be replaced with “do-nothing.” It’s hard to imagine the agency having any real direction without clear leadership from the top.

While Republicans are claiming the Financial CHOICE Act is a way to reduce unnecessary government regulation to help community banks, it’s hard to see how reducing the reach of the CFPB does that. One of the main reasons the 2008 crisis happened was that banks were able to operate largely in secret. They were using seriously questionable tactics, but no one was looking over their shoulder until it was too late. Had an agency like the CFPB existed during this time period, perhaps the damage would not have been so bad.

Reforming the CFPB and the Dodd-Frank bill shows a willingness in Washington to slowly drift back to the days where darkness clouded the banking industry, allowing it to do as it wishes while ordinary citizens bicker over daily controversies. The bill still needs to pass the Senate, but all signs point to a similar approach, and since Republicans have the majority, there might not be much hope of stopping it.

It is not a big leap to say we are in this political predicament because of the 2008 crisis. The consequences of decades of growing inequality and stagnant wage growth were unleashed with the banking collapse. Millions saw their futures disappear in a matter of minutes, and the anger arising from this has polarized even more what was already a divided country. But the answer to this is not more bank deregulation. However, with so many distractions going on in Washington, it is easy to see why this issue has not received much attention, but the potential consequences of this critical first step by Wall Street to return to the glory days of deregulation should be more than enough cause for concern. Much like a magician, Trump is using this “anti-everything” strategy to keep people focused elsewhere so that corporate America can continue its infiltration into politics and its seemingly endless expansion of power.

What do you think of the Financial CHOICE Act? Is it needed reform or a way to return power to the already mighty banks? Let us know by leaving a comment in the section below.

About the Author: Sandra is an alternative news blogger who focuses largely on politics. She is concerned the circus that Washington has become distracts us too much from the important issues. As such, she frequently writes about things such as bank regulation, internet privacy and security, and corporate power, as she considers these to be fundamental issues that few are talking about.

Noam Chomsky On Bernie Sanders, Democrats, Russia, And Donald Trump

“There’s good reason to suppose that Sanders would have won the nomination had it not been for shenanigans of the Obama-Clinton party managers.”–Noam Chomsky

The New York Times has an interview with Noam Chomsky which is primarily about Donald Trump. I found his discussion of the Democratic Party and Bernie Sanders to be among the more interesting portions. Following is an excerpt:

Take the success of the Bernie Sanders campaign, the most remarkable feature of the 2016 election. It is, after all, not all that surprising that a billionaire showman with extensive media backing (including the liberal media, entranced by his antics and the advertising revenue it afforded) should win the nomination of the ultra-reactionary Republican Party.

The Sanders campaign, however, broke dramatically with over a century of U.S. political history. Extensive political science research, notably the work of Thomas Ferguson, has shown convincingly that elections are pretty much bought. For example, campaign spending alone is a remarkably good predictor of electoral success, and support of corporate power and private wealth is a virtual prerequisite even for participation in the political arena.

The Sanders campaign showed that a candidate with mildly progressive (basically New Deal) programs could win the nomination, maybe the election, even without the backing of the major funders or any media support. There’s good reason to suppose that Sanders would have won the nomination had it not been for shenanigans of the Obama-Clinton party managers. He is now the most popular political figure in the country by a large margin.

Activism spawned by the campaign is beginning to make inroads into electoral politics. Under Barack Obama, the Democratic Party pretty much collapsed at the crucial local and state levels, but it can be rebuilt and turned into a progressive force. That would mean reviving the New Deal legacy and moving well beyond, instead of abandoning, the working class and turning into Clintonite New Democrats, which more or less resemble what used to be called moderate Republicans, a category that has largely disappeared with the shift of both parties to the right during the neoliberal period.

Elsewhere in the interview, Chomsky said that, “The most important issues to address are the truly existential threats we face: climate change and nuclear war.” At the end he criticized those who see alleged Russian  hacking as being “the political crime of the century.”  Chomsky said:

The effects of the crime are undetectable, unlike the massive effects of interference by corporate power and private wealth, not considered a crime but the normal workings of democracy. That’s even putting aside the record of U.S. “interference” in foreign elections, Russia included; the word “interference” in quotes because it is so laughably inadequate, as anyone with the slightest familiarity with recent history must be aware…

Is Russian hacking really more significant than what we have discussed — for example, the Republican campaign to destroy the conditions for organized social existence, in defiance of the entire world? Or to enhance the already dire threat of terminal nuclear war? Or even such real but lesser crimes such as the Republican initiative to deprive tens of millions of health care and to drive helpless people out of nursing homes in order to enrich their actual constituency of corporate power and wealth even further? Or to dismantle the limited regulatory system set up to mitigate the impact of the financial crisis that their favorites are likely to bring about once again? And on, and on.

Why The CBO Report On The Senate Republican Health Care Bill Is Devastating

The Congressional Budget Office released its scoring of the Senate health care bill. The New York Times summarizes:

The Senate bill to repeal the Affordable Care Act would increase the number of people without health insurance by 22 million by 2026, a figure that is only slightly lower than the 23 million more uninsured that the House version would create, the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office said Monday.

Next year, 15 million more people would be uninsured compared with current law, the budget office said.

The legislation would decrease federal deficits by a total of $321 billion over a decade, the budget office said.

The results can be seen in the above graph.

The American Medical Association gave this assessment of the bill:  “Medicine has long operated under the precept of primum non nocere, or ‘first, do no harm.’ The draft legislation violates that standard on many levels.”

The increase in uninsured would come from reductions in the number of people covered by Medicaid and by private coverage. Beyond the severe cuts in Medicaid, the Senate bill would provide less assistance in purchasing private plans. One devastating paragraph from the CBO report has been receiving attention:

Under this legislation, starting in 2020, the premium for a silver plan would typically be a relatively high percentage of income for low-income people. The deductible for a plan with an actuarial value of 58 percent would be a significantly higher percentage of income — also making such a plan unattractive, but for a different reason. As a result, despite being eligible for premium tax credits, few low-income people would purchase any plan, CBO and JCT estimate.

The plan also fails to lower premiums for most people, or help to increase the number of insurance plans offered. In other words, it fails to solve the problems which Republicans criticize Obamacare over.

The Republicans face two fundamental problems in trying to develop their own health plan. The first is that Obamacare is essentially the Republican alternative to Hillary Clinton’s health care plan. Obamacare does more than the old Republican plan to regulate insurance companies, but the basic structure is the same. Republicans widely supported the individual mandate and the other aspects of Obamacare which they now attack before it was proposed by Obama. This forces them to come up with something different, and there really are not that many ways to handle health care coverage.

The other problem is that the problems we now see on the individual market were not created by Obamacare. Insurance coverage has always been expensive for those buying coverage on their own, as opposed to being in an employer or government plan, provided that the insurance provided decent coverage. The market has never been able to solve this problem and the only realistic options short of a single-payer plan are ones which involve further government involvement, such as a public option or Medicare buy-in. Republicans are not going to back this.

It is also questionable if enough Republicans will back their current plan for it to even pass in the Senate.

Republicans Have Neither Tapes Of Trump/Comey Meetings Or A Viable Health Care Plan

Today we found that Donald Trump does not have any secretly recorded tapes of James Comey and the previously secret Senate Republican health care plan has been released. Neither was a surprise. If Trump had any tapes proving he was telling the truth, he would have already released them, and if there happened to be tapes which showed he was lying, he would never admit to having them. Also, as expected, the Senate plan includes deep cuts to Medicaid, decreases subside for lower income individuals, and increases costs for those who are older.

Barack Obama described the plan:

Simply put, if there’s a chance you might get sick, get old, or start a family – this bill will do you harm. And small tweaks over the course of the next couple weeks, under the guise of making these bills easier to stomach, cannot change the fundamental meanness at the core of this legislation.

I hope our Senators ask themselves – what will happen to the Americans grappling with opioid addiction who suddenly lose their coverage? What will happen to pregnant mothers, children with disabilities, poor adults and seniors who need long-term care once they can no longer count on Medicaid? What will happen if you have a medical emergency when insurance companies are once again allowed to exclude the benefits you need, send you unlimited bills, or set unaffordable deductibles? What impossible choices will working parents be forced to make if their child’s cancer treatment costs them more than their life savings?

To put the American people through that pain – while giving billionaires and corporations a massive tax cut in return – that’s tough to fathom. But it’s what’s at stake right now. So it remains my fervent hope that we step back and try to deliver on what the American people need.

It is far from certain that the Republicans can even pass this plan, despite using reconciliation so that they only need fifty votes. They can only afford to lose two votes, but four conservatives have already expressed reservations. From NPR:

Senate Republicans’ health care bill may already be on life support, with four key lawmakers announcing their opposition just hours after the GOP’s latest effort to repeal and replace the Affordable Care Act was released.

“Currently, for a variety of reasons, we are not ready to vote for this bill, but we are open to negotiation and obtaining more information before it is brought to the floor,” Sens. Rand Paul, R-Ky.; Ted Cruz, R-Texas; Mike Lee, R-Utah; and Ron Johnson, R-Wis., said in a statement Thursday afternoon.

They cannot easily move further to the right to appease the conservatives as some more moderate Republicans already have their own objections:

Sen. Dean Heller, R-Nev., who faces a competitive re-election race in 2018, says he has “serious concerns about the bill’s impact on the Nevadans who depend on Medicaid.”

“As I have consistently stated, if the bill is good for Nevada, I’ll vote for it and if it’s not — I won’t,” Heller said.

Annie Clark, a spokeswoman for Sen. Susan Collins, R-Maine, said the centrist has some misgivings about the bills as well.

Whether or not it passes, Republicans will now be able to tell their constituents that they have attempted to keep their promise to repeal and replace Obamacare. If their plan fails, the blame could be placed on Democrats and whichever Republicans vote against it, as opposed to the party as a whole. If that doesn’t work, McConnell could always take something from the Clinton playbook and blame Russia.

Members of Presidential Advisory Council On HIV/AIDS Resign In Protest Over Policies Of Trump Administration

Six members of the Presidential Advisory Council on HIV/AIDS (PACHA) have resigned in protest over the lack of concern by the Trump administration for treating HIV. They have publicly announced their decision in an open letter published in Newsweek.  The letter notes that, “It is indisputable that the Affordable Care Act has benefitted people living with HIV and supported efforts to combat the HIV/AIDS epidemic.” It notes that, in contrast, provisions of the American Health Care Act which reduce access to health care “would be particularly devastating for people living with HIV.”

Following is the text of the letter:

Five of my colleagues and I resigned this week from the Presidential Advisory Council on HIV/AIDS (PACHA).

As advocates for people living with HIV, we have dedicated our lives to combating this disease and no longer feel we can do so effectively within the confines of an advisory body to a president who simply does not care.

The Trump Administration has no strategy to address the on-going HIV/AIDS epidemic, seeks zero input from experts to formulate HIV policy, and—most concerning—pushes legislation that will harm people living with HIV and halt or reverse important gains made in the fight against this disease.

Created in 1995, PACHA provides advice, information, and recommendations to the Secretary of Health and Human Services regarding programs, policies, and research to promote effective treatment, prevention, and an eventual cure for HIV.

Members, appointed by the President, currently include public health officials, researchers, health care providers, faith leaders, HIV advocates, and people living with HIV. PACHA also monitors and provides recommendations to effectively implement the National HIV/AIDS Strategy, which was created by the White House Office of National AIDS Policy in 2010 and revised in 2015.

The decision to resign from government service is not one that any of us take lightly. However, we cannot ignore the many signs that the Trump Administration does not take the on-going epidemic or the needs of people living with HIV seriously.

While many members of the public are unaware of the significant impact that HIV/AIDS continues to have in many communities— or that only 40 percent of people living with HIV in the United States are able to access the life-saving medications that have been available for more than 20 years—it is not acceptable for the U.S. President to be unaware of these realities, to set up a government that deprioritizes fighting the epidemic and its causes, or to implement policies and support legislation that will reverse the gains made in recent years.

Signs of President Trump’s lack of understanding and concern regarding this important public health issue were apparent when he was a candidate. While Secretary Clinton and Senator Sanders both met with HIV advocates during the primaries, candidate Trump refused. Whatever the politics of that decision, Mr. Trump missed an opportunity to learn—from the experts—about the contours of today’s epidemic and the most pressing issues currently affecting people living with HIV.

In keeping with candidate Trump’s lack of regard for this community, President Trump took down the Office of National AIDS Policy website the day he took office and there has been no replacement for this website 132 days into his administration.

More important, President Trump has not appointed anyone to lead the White House Office of National AIDS Policy, a post that held a seat on the Domestic Policy Council under President Obama. This means no one is tasked with regularly bringing salient issues regarding this ongoing public health crisis to the attention of the President and his closest advisers.

By comparison, President Obama appointed a director to this office just 36 days into his administration. Within 18 months, that new director and his staff crafted the first comprehensive U.S. HIV/AIDS strategy. By contrast, President Trump appears to have no plan at all…

We believe he should embrace the important work accomplished by the National HIV/AIDS Strategy. Public health is not a partisan issue, and this important document could easily be ratified by the Trump Administration. If the President is not going to engage on the subject of HIV/AIDS, he should at least continue policies that support people living with and at higher risk for HIV and have begun to curtail the epidemic.

While these actions and others are gravely worrisome to us as HIV advocates, the final straw for us—more like a two-by-four than a straw—is President Trump’s handling of health care reform.

It is indisputable that the Affordable Care Act has benefitted people living with HIV and supported efforts to combat the HIV/AIDS epidemic. Gains in the percentage of people with HIV who know their status, the percentage engaged in care, the percentage receiving successful treatment, and a decrease in new cases of HIV were seen in Massachusetts under Romneycare. We are beginning to see similar effects on a national level under Obamacare.

People living with HIV know how broken the pre-ACA system was. Those without employer-based insurance were priced out of the market because of pre-existing condition exclusions. And “high risk pools” simply segregated people living with HIV and other health conditions into expensive plans with inferior coverage and underfunded subsidies—subsidies advocates had to fight for tooth-and-nail in every budgetary session.

Because more than 40 percent of people with HIV receive care through Medicaid, proposed cuts to that program would be extremely harmful. Prior to Medicaid expansion under ACA, a person had to be both very low income and disabled to be eligible for Medicaid.

For people living with HIV, that usually meant an AIDS diagnosis—making the disease more difficult and expensive to bring under control—before becoming eligible.

Between reinstating that paradox by defunding Medicaid expansion, imposing per-person caps on benefits, and/or block granting the program, the changes to Medicaid contemplated by the American Health Care Act would be particularly devastating for people living with HIV.

And we know who the biggest losers will be if states are given the option of eliminating essential health benefits or allowing insurers to charge people with HIV substantially more than others.

It will be people—many of them people of color—across the South and in rural and underserved areas across the country, the regions and communities now at the epicenter of the U.S. HIV/AIDS epidemic.

It will be young gay and bisexual men; it will be women of color; it will be transgender women; it will be low-income people.

It will be people who become newly infected in an uncontrolled epidemic, new cases that could be prevented by appropriate care for those already living with the disease.

While we are in agreement that the ACA needs to be strengthened to lower premiums, improve competition, and increase access to care, it makes no sense to dismiss gains made under the ACA just to score political points.

Experts with real facts, grounded in science, must be in the room when healthcare policy decisions are made. Those decisions affect real people and real lives. If we do not ensure that U.S. leadership at the executive and legislative levels are informed by experience and expertise, real people will be hurt and some will even die.

Because we do not believe the Trump Administration is listening to—or cares—about the communities we serve as members of PACHA, we have decided it is time to step down.

We will be more effective from the outside, advocating for change and protesting policies that will hurt the health of the communities we serve and the country as a whole if this administration continues down the current path.

We hope the members of Congress who have the power to affect healthcare reform will engage with us and other advocates in a way that the Trump Administration apparently will not.

Scott A. Schoettes is Counsel and HIV Project Director at Lambda Legal . He resigned from the Presidential Advisory Council on HIV/AIDS on June 13, along with Lucy Bradley-Springer, Gina Brown, Ulysses W. Burley III, Michelle Ogle, and Grissel Granados.

Trump Supporter Roger Stone Forming Coalition To Push For Legalizing Marijuana

As has been the case with other issues, Donald Trump has been inconsistent in his statements and actions related to marijuana. One longtime adviser, Roger Stone, plans to work with people of various political ideologies to push for legalization of marijuana. Another goal is to have marijuana rescheduled to Schedule I so that it can be prescribed by doctors. Business Insider reports:

Longtime Trump adviser and staunch conservative Roger Stone has a new mission: legalizing marijuana nationwide.

Stone announced on Friday at the Cannabis World Congress and Business Expo in New York the formation of the bipartisan United States Cannabis Coalition, an advocacy group with the express purpose of protecting state’s rights to legalize and regulate marijuana…

“I am going to be working with a coalition of Republicans and Democrats, progressives and libertarians, liberals, and conservatives to persuade the president to keep his campaign pledge,” Stone said in a talk on Friday, “and to remind the president that he took a strong and forthright position on this issue in the election.”

Former Minnesota Gov. Jesse Ventura will join Stone in the advocacy group, as well as a host of both Republican and Democrat political strategists.

Stone pointed to the decreased rates of incarceration for low-level drug offenses and opioid-related overdoses in states that have legalized marijuana, along with the boon in tax revenue and job creation.

During the campaign, Trump told The Washington Post that legalizing marijuana should be a “state issue,” and he expressed “100%” support for medical marijuana in an interview with Bill O’Reilly in 2016…

Trump hasn’t been friendly to marijuana since he took office. Attorney General Jeff Sessions is a noted opponent of marijuana legalization, and he asked Congress in recent days to roll back federal protections for medical marijuana.

The protections in question, the Rohrabacher-Farr Amendment, directs the Department of Justice to refrain from spending money to enforce federal medicinal marijuana laws.

Sessions has also called for a review of a 2013 directive from the Obama Administration, known as the Cole Memo, which stipulates that the Justice Department place “low priority” on enforcing marijuana laws against businesses and organizations that comply with state law.

“In all honesty it’s time for [President Trump] to tell Attorney General Jeff Sessions to cut the shit,” Stone added.

Stone also called out Homeland Secretary John Kelly, who has called for a federal crackdown on legal marijuana.

Geek.com has more, but prefaced this with a look at Stone’s record:

Roger Stone is bad. This is known.

The depths of the veteran Republican strategist’s consummate shittiness are like a rotting onion. Layer upon layer of dirty political tricks and cons from a conspiracy theorist and serial liar who has found his way behind the scenes into most of the major political controversies and scandals of the past 40-plus years. The Nixon acolyte been allegedly involved in everything from Watergate and the 2000 Florida recount to the Eliot Spitzer prostitution scandal and of course, his decades-long friendship and association with President Donald Trump (and alleged back-channel involvement with WikiLeaks in the current Russian hacking scandal).

Stone has routinely made racist, sexist, and Islamophobic statements in public and on Twitter, which led to a ban from appearing as a commentator on CNN and MSNBC. Stone showed up to President Trump’s inauguration in an outfit that can only be described as 19th-century robber baron Mr. Peanut meets Oswald Cobblepot. He has a website called the Stone Zone. These trifles alone are irrevocable proof of his objective shittiness.

Nonetheless, Roger Stone may be one of our best hopes for marijuana legalization in this the Year Of Our Lord 2017…at least while Donald Trump is still running the show.

This is an issue which crosses party lines, as Stone himself noted when he praised Bernie Sanders and chastised Hillary Clinton, who has also been a hard line opponent of ending marijuana prohibition and was the most conservative candidate on the issue during the last presidential campaign:

“I’ve looked, I can’t find Hillary Clinton ever coming out for the legalization of cannabis, and this astounds me. I salute Bernie Sanders because he had the courage to say it. I salute Gary Johnson and Dr. Jill Stein; they had the courage to say it. Donald Trump had the courage to stand up for medical marijuana on a states’ rights basis. Where was Hillary?”

While Stone was right that Clinton was too conservative on this (along with other social/cultural issues), Donald Trump has not done any better in turning the matter over to others who are conservative on the issue. It is unknown whether Stone has enough influence on Trump to change this. His description of the political spectrum is also flawed:

“The essence of old-fashioned Barry Goldwater-style conservatism is I don’t want the government telling me what I can smoke,” said Stone. “To me, when the government tells you how to live, what you can ingest, well that’s the essence of big government liberalism, which I oppose.”

His claim of “big government liberalism” being on the other side of the issue might apply to some liberals, but in general polls have shown that liberals are more likely than conservatives to support legalization. Fortunately Stone does understand this enough to be forming an alliance with liberals along with conservatives and libertarians.

T.A. Frank Wants Hillary Clinton To Go Quietly Into The Night

There is considerable political polarization in this country, but there is one thing which many on the left and right can agree on–it is time for the Clinton’s to go away. Since running one of the most mismanaged political campaigns in history, burdened by an extraordinarily terrible candidate (herself), and losing to a candidate as terrible as Donald Trump, Hillary Clinton has been spending her time an an excuse tour to blame everyone except herself for her loss.

Clinton’s apology tour is harmful for at least three reasons. It leaves Democratic partisans in denial as to why they really lost, preventing necessary reforms in the party, has Democrats defending many of Clinton’s disastrous policies out of party loyalty, and inflames anti-Russian hysteria.

T.A. Frank asks the key question: Can Hillary Clinton Please Go Quietly Into The Night? Some excerpts:

There’s a fine line—or maybe not even so fine a line—between boosting morale and monopolizing the spotlight. One reason Bill Clinton was able to make a name for himself decades ago was that previous candidates had the grace to get out of the way. Jimmy Carter and Walter Mondale and Michael Dukakis weren’t trying to place themselves at center stage during the campaign of 1992. The Clintons, by contrast, kept sticking around. When it comes to power, and a few other things, they can’t control their urges. As a friend of mine recently wrote to me in an e-mail, “They both had to be president?”

Even the name of Clinton’s PAC has a presumptuous ring to it. When someone has driven a bus off the road and hurled passengers out of their seats, it’s a bad time for the driver to stagger back to the wheel and call out “Onward together!” Onward, fine. Together, maybe not.

All of this would be easier to take if Hillary were on a crusade for a distinctive cause, in the manner of Bernie Sanders or Pat Buchanan or Jesse Jackson or Ross Perot. But when she offers her take on the world, she speaks in clichés and vague generalities like “progress” versus “turning back the clock.” Such teleological smugness (to which Barack Obama was likewise prone) doesn’t just attract the ire of conservatives; liberals can get miffed, too. Is “progress” on the side of expanding NATO or the opposite? Is it on the side of greater National Security Agency surveillance or of less? Is it in favor of immigration amnesty or high-tech border security? We all want to move forward, but maybe we’re not all facing Hillary’s way.

Even without a clear cause to illuminate them, Hillary’s beliefs could have been sharpened a lot just by explaining what, in hindsight, she felt Bill got right or wrong in his presidency. But she never offered up such a critique, nor, oddly, did anyone really press her to do so. Throwing open our markets to China as much as we did—that looked wiser back then. So did deregulating the financial industry. So did pushing for three-strikes laws. So did the bailout of Mexico. So did focusing on deficit reduction. So did high levels of immigration. So did humanitarian interventions in the former Yugoslavia. So did welfare reform. Bill’s calls, like all big calls, were controversial, but they were far more justifiable in light of the data we had at the time. But what about with the data we have now?

Negotiating a different landscape requires the Democratic Party to return to some basic questions. Times have changed. America is no longer a lone hyperpower triumphing amid squabbles about same-sex marriage. We’re an overstretched empire fighting about fundamental questions of economy and national identity. The Clintons see that, sort of, but they’re stuck in time. Worse, their network, which is vast and powerful and heavily dependent on them, is stuck in time, too. Precisely when those on the left ought to be negotiating today’s fault lines and creating new coalitions, Democrats are getting dragged back into last year’s fights and letting personal loyalties drown out thoughts about core principles. The indefatigability of the Clintons isn’t just a nuisance but a hindrance.

We can’t expect them to accept this, of course. Psychologist Martin Seligman, author of Learned Optimism, has famously observed that optimists tend to do better in life but exhibit more delusion. They tend to attribute failure to changing external factors rather than enduring internal qualities, blaming outside causes, not themselves. Hillary—who has been pinning her defeat on Comey and Vladimir Putin and the Democratic National Committee and Wikileaks and “a thousand Russian agents” and high expectations and the press and sexism and voter suppression and, for all I know, static cling—is a major optimist. That’s great for persistence and mental well-being. She’s ready to keep driving the bus. But it’s not so great for knowing when to quit. That’s where the passengers come in.

The Clintons were already too conservative for the era in which Bill was elected. By 2016, with the Republican Party being taken over by Trumpism, Hillary Clinton had become ideologically the conventional Republican candidate, supporting the neoconservative views of the Bush era. Hillary Clinton is totally out of place in the 21st century–too conservative for liberals who back principle over party but, having the Clinton name, will never be accepted by Republicans either.