The Republican Party is looking more like a cult as its members accept lies told by Donald Trump, as he seeks to divert attention from the suspicious ties of members of his campaign team to Russia.

There is little question that Trump lied about President Barack Obama ordering a wiretap of Trump during the campaign. As of 3/20 PolitiFact had not rated it, though it noted (3/6), “So far, we can’t find any [reason to believe Trump].”

That was before FBI Director James Comey (3/20) told the House Intelligence Committee the FBI is investigating the Russian government’s efforts to interfere in the 2016 president election, and the investigation includes looking at whether Trump’s associates were in contact with Russian officials, and colluded with them, but Comey also said, “We have no information to support” Trump’s assertion on Twitter that President Obama tapped Trump Tower.

National Security Agency director, Admiral Michael Rogers, said he had no knowledge of anyone asking the British or any other ally to wiretap Trump, refuting another claim made by the White House. Rogers then explicitly denied having any indication that Trump was wiretapped by British intelligence at the request of Obama.

Comey also fact-checked a misleading tweet from Trump’s official presidential account in real time.

At 2:25 p.m., Rep. Jim Himes (D-CT) asked Comey about a tweet from the official presidential account, operated by a White House staffer, that posted at 1:42 p.m., which read, “the NSA and FBI tell Congress that Russia did not influence electoral process.”

It apparently took an exchange between NSA Director Rogers and Rep. Devin Nunes (R-CA) that occurred earlier during the hearing well out of context. Rogers, whose intelligence agency focuses abroad, said he saw no evidence of actual vote tampering by Russians.

Later in the hearing, Comey confirmed that both the Democratic and Republican parties were hacked in 2016 by Russians, but that the only information released was hacked from Democrats.

Himes said, “thanks to the modern technology that’s in front of me right here I’ve got a tweet from the president an hour ago saying, ‘the NSA and FBI tell Congress that Russia did not influence the electoral process.’ So that’s not quite accurate, that tweet.”

The FBI director said he hadn’t been following anyone on Twitter at the hearing, and Himes read it again, asking if the tweet, which went out to 16.1 mln people, was accurate.

Comey said, “it’s hard for me to react to that,” and continued, “we’ve offered no opinion, have no view, have no information on potential impact, because it’s never something that we looked at.”

“So it’s not too far of a logical leap to conclude that the assertion that you have told the Congress that there is no influence on the electoral process, is not quite right,” Himes said.

“Right,” Comey said. “It certainly wasn’t our intention to say that today, because we don’t have any information on that subject, and that’s not something that was looked at.”

Recent statements by Trump rated false include his tweet (3/19) that “Germany owes ... vast sums of money to NATO & the United States must be paid more for the powerful, and very expensive, defense it provides to Germany!” and his statement (3/16) to Tucker Carlson on Fox News that “the New York Times wrote about” Barack Obama wiretapping him during the election. The Times reported about intercepted communications used by the FBI in its investigation into some of Trump’s current and former aides — including Roger Stone, Carter Page and Paul Manafort — and their ties to Russia. It does not say Trump and his campaign were under investigation or surveillance. In fact, the author stipulates: “It is not clear whether the intercepted communications had anything to do with Mr. Trump’s campaign, or Mr. Trump himself.”

PolitiFact has rated 381 Trump statements as of 3/20 and found only 4% true, 12% mostly true, 14% half true, 20% mostly false, 33% false and 17% Pants on Fire lies. So, fully half of Trump’s fact-checked statements are lies.

House Speaker Paul Ryan is an up-and-comer in the mendacity race as he stretches the truth to gain approval of a tax cut for the wealthy under the guise of a health care reform bill. PolitiFact Wisconsin has rated Ryan’s statement (3/14) that a report from the nonpartisan CBO “confirms that the American Health Care Act will lower premiums” as “half true,” since the premiums will rise in 2018 and 2019 but are expected to fall by 2026. It rated his statement (2/1) that “Obamacare has failed” as “mostly false” and his statement (1/18) that Obamacare “is in what the actuaries call a death spiral” as “false.”

PolitiFact Wisconsin has rated 73 Ryan statements and found 14% true, 21% mostly true, 18% half true, 27% mostly false, 10% false and 4% Pants on Fire lies.

TRUMP BUDGET HURTS HIS VOTERS. Donald Trump’s new federal budget continues a remarkable pattern of being gratuitously cruel to his own voters, Joe Romm noted at ThinkProgress.org (3/17).

The budget zeroes out the two major programs designed to help low-income and elderly Americans deal with energy costs: the Department of Energy (DOE)’s Weatherization Assistance Program (WAP) and the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS)’s Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program (LIHEAP).

“Families receiving weatherization services see their annual energy bills reduced by an average of about $437, depending on fuel prices,” according to DOE data. In 2010, the program saved low-income families a whopping $2.1 bln. Cutting it will save $121 mln.

The program is targeted toward low-income Americans, “especially low-income persons who are particularly vulnerable such as the elderly, the disabled, and children.”

There is a huge energy burden on low-income people. “Many at the bottom continue spending 25 to 30 percent of their income or more to pay utilities,” Inside Energy reported last year.

That’s why programs like WAP and LIHEAP are so important — and why they tend to spend the most money per capita in a lot of states that voted for Trump. The L.A. Times noted in its report on the impact of the proposed House health care bill, “Americans who swept President Trump to victory — lower-income, older voters in conservative, rural parts of the country — stand to lose the most in federal health care aid under.”

Those same Americans stand to lose big-league with these cuts.

In some rural counties of Michigan and Wisconsin, elderly people on fixed income pay 40% to 50% of their income towards their home energy bill. WAP funding per capita is the highest in states that went for Trump, including both the Dakotas, Michigan, Wisconsin, Iowa, Indiana, and Ohio. (Maine split its electoral votes.)

TRUMP BUDGET DEVASTATES RURAL COMMUNITIES. Trump’s proposal for the federal budget targets a number of programs for elimination that benefit the rural poor. These 19 independent agencies provide, among other things: job training for low-income seniors, after-school programs for kids in high-poverty areas, and housing assistance to low-income families, Casey Quinlan reported at ThinkProgress.org.

These cuts would be particularly harmful if they came along with the end of the Affordable Care Act’s Medicaid expansion, which the House Republican health care reform proposal would eliminate. Health care is often more expensive in rural areas, but Trumpcare does not account for geographical price disparities.

Even without Medicaid cuts, however, advocates say that rural communities could be devastated by provisions of the Trump budget proposal.

Providing people with the skills they need to get jobs has historically been a bipartisan issue, said Brent Parton, deputy director of the Center on Education and Skills with the Education Policy Program at New America. Parton said it’s “odd” that President Trump would want to cut the Department of Labor so steeply — a 21% cut in a $12 bln budget — given his campaign’s focus on helping Americans get jobs.

“You could see that as an area where Trump would see an opportunity for bipartisanship,” Parton said.

The proposed budget would eliminate programs like the Senior Community Service Employment Program, which provides job training for seniors, and cuts programs funded through the Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act (WIOA). These programs benefit low-skill, low-income populations that have been left behind by generational poverty and changes in the economy.

Rural regions would feel the most pain from these cuts, Parton said, because it’s more difficult for these areas to make up for the loss in funding through public-private partnerships and other options that are available in urban areas.

“Distance, access, and child care are major barriers.”

By focusing on the expansion of vouchers through a $1.4 bln increase in school choice funding, the education budget harms rural communities, where vouchers can be particularly damaging to the public school system. In rural communities, it’s challenging to maintain a voucher system because there aren’t enough students to attend a variety of schools in the area. Rural public school staff already make tough choices due to low enrollment. A school choice system would likely exacerbate the problem, said Robert Mahaffey, executive director of the Rural School and Community Trust.

“The idea of a voucher system or choice options doesn’t take into account that a) they don’t exist and b) it takes away vital resources from public schools,” Mulhaney said.

Research has shown that vouchers are harmful to students’ learning at worst, and at best, are not any better than a public school students’ education. Many voucher programs targeted toward students with disabilities ask them to waive their rights under the Individuals With Disabilities Education Act (IDEA).

A recent Center for American Progress report found that voucher proposals are highly unlikely to work in nearly 9,000 sparsely populated school districts where they have four or fewer schools. Vouchers would also force rural school districts to make decisions about eliminating classes, cutting school activities, and reducing student supports, the report found.

Elimination of the Community Development Block Grant, the Community Services Block Grant, Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program, and the Weatherization Assistance Program, would affect a lot of low-income people in rural areas who depend on community organizations that receive funding from these programs. The Community Development Block Grant is responsible for anti-poverty programs, which includes Meals on Wheels. Trump’s budget also cuts $200 mln from the Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants, and Children (WIC).

These programs are vital for rural communities, many of which are experiencing a housing crisis. About 50% of low-income rural people have housing expenses that make up over half of their incomes, the lack of density makes it challenging to start affordable housing projects, and Low-Income Housing Tax Credits are more difficult to use in rural areas, according to a 2016 National Rural Housing Coalition report.

In some communities, there is only one small agency that provides low-income people with nutrition programs and improvements to housing.

REPUBS SEEK TO BRIDGE IMPASSE ON HEALTH PLAN. A number of Republican appearances on Sunday morning TV programs (3/19) showed how scattered Republicans were in their support of the American Health Care Act four days before the bill was to come up for a vote in the House, Casey Quinlan reported at ThinkProgress.org (3/19).

House Speaker Paul Ryan, who said he has been dreaming of taking health care away from the poor since he was in college, is willing to make changes to the Republican plan in an effort to appeal to both moderate Republicans and conservatives who oppose the plan, and in doing so, risks losing even more support for the bill. On Fox News Sunday, Ryan said lower-income older people should receive more assistance from tax credits than under the current bill.

He added that Republicans are seeking changes that allow for federal block grants to states for Medicaid. Ryan told Fox News Sunday’s Chris Wallace that he felt “very good” about the chances the bill would pass the House.

“I feel very good about it actually. ... And the reason I feel so good about this is because the president has become a great closer. He is the one who has helped negotiate changes to this bill ”

Sen. Rand Paul (R-KY) offered a very different perspective in his interview with This Week’s George Stephanopoulos. When Stephanopoulos asked Paul whether there are enough conservatives in the House who will vote for it, Paul said, “I don’t believe so.” Conservatives have called the health care bill “Obamacare-lite” said tax credits are too similar to those under Obamacare.

After offering changes to the bill that would allow states the option of including optional work requirements for Medicaid recipients “who are able-bodied and without dependents,” and Medicaid block grants instead of per-capita grants, the conservative House Republican Study Committee endorsed the legislation. But on 3/17, the even more conservative House Freedom Caucus tweeted that it still opposes the bill in its current form.

If the bill moves too far to the right, however, it may not have enough support to pass in the Senate. Eighteen Republicans senators said they have reservations about the bill. Sen. Susan Collins (R-ME) said the bill will leave rural Americans and seniors behind.

Health and Human Services Secretary Tom Price told Stephanopoulos that Medicaid work requirements were “restorative to people’s self worth” and that Medicaid recipients should “contribute to society.”

WHITE HOUSE INSTALLS POLITICAL MINDERS AT KEY AGENCIES. Most members of Donald Trump’s Cabinet do not yet have leadership teams in place or even nominees for top deputies. But they do have an influential coterie of senior aides installed by the White House who are charged — above all — with monitoring the secretaries’ loyalty, the Washington Post reported (3/20).

The White House has installed at least 16 of these advisers at departments including Energy and Health and Human Services and at some smaller agencies such as NASA, according to records first obtained by ProPublica through a Freedom of Information Act request. The aides report not to the secretary, but to Rick Dearborn, the White House deputy chief of staff for policy, according to Administration officials. A top Dearborn aide, John Mashburn, leads a weekly conference call with the advisers, who are in constant contact with the White House.

Charles Pierce of Esquire.com noted, “If this makes no sense to you, that’s only because you probably didn’t grow up in East Germany.”

Lisa Rein and Juliet Eilperin reported in the Post, “The political appointee charged with keeping watch over Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Scott Pruitt and his aides has offered unsolicited advice so often that after just four weeks, Pruitt has shut him out of many staff meetings, according to two senior Administration officials. At the Pentagon, they’re privately calling the former Marine officer and fighter pilot who’s supposed to keep his eye on Defense Secretary Jim Mattis ‘the commissar,’ according to a high-ranking defense official with knowledge of the situation. It’s a reference to Soviet-era Communist Party officials who were assigned to military units to ensure their commanders remained loyal.”

Pierce noted that the Post reporters groped desperately for some examples of this being at least a quasi-regular practice in earlier administrations “but, once again, they are failing because this administration, and this president* [sic], are both sui generis. In the hands of an unstable president and his unstable stable of spalpeens and sycophants, this system is just as bad as it appears to be.”

TRUMP PLAN TO ZERO OUT PUBLIC BROADCASTING WOULD HURT ‘TRUMP COUNTRY.’ For the better part of two years, Donald Trump has waged a war of words against serious journalism and freedom of the press in the United States, John Nichols noted at TheNation.com (3/16). “Now his words have been weaponized.” The president’s first federal budget seeks to eliminate all federal funding for public broadcasting—zeroing out the $445 mln annual allocation to the Corporation for Public Broadcasting, the not-for-profit entity created by the Public Broadcasting Act of 1967 to keep local public radio and television stations on the air.

ProtectMyPublicMedia.org set up a petition reminding members of Congress that “The federal investment in public media is relatively small—roughly $1.35 per American taxpayer annually. Cutting funding won’t erase our national debt. But it will devastate our communities. Public media funding enables local stations to provide virtually every household—over 98% of the US—with thousands of hours of free, noncommercial programming and services.”

ECONOMY GROWS AS CO2 EMISSIONS DROP, MOCKING TRUMP CLIMATE POLICY. The premise of Trump’s plan to kill the Environmental Protection Agency’s carbon pollution standards is that restricting CO2 hurts the economy. But Trump’s oft-repeated claim that EPA standards kill jobs is bogus, Joe Romm reported at ThinkProgress.org (3/20).

“Global energy-related carbon dioxide emissions were flat for a third straight year in 2016 even as the global economy grew,” the International Energy Agency reported (3/17), “signaling a continuing decoupling of emissions and economic activity.”

In fact, while CO2 emissions were flat, the global economy grew 3.1%.

“Renewables, coal-to-gas switching, and improvements in energy efficiency contributed to stalling emissions growth last year,” the IEA explained. “In 2016, renewables supplied more than half the global electricity demand growth.”

What has been happening in this country is even more remarkable. The IEA noted, “emissions in the United States last year were at their lowest level since 1992, a period during which the economy grew by 80%.”

The decoupling of economic growth from carbon pollution in this country really took off from 2000–2015, as the Brookings Institution reported in December.

The decoupling trend continued last year, where the US led the way again in slashing carbon pollution, as the IEA noted: “The biggest drop came from the United States, where carbon dioxide emissions fell 3% or 160 million tons, while the economy grew by 1.6%.”

In addition, the IEA pointed out that “coal demand fell worldwide but the drop was particularly sharp in the United States, where demand was down 11% in 2016.” This is yet more evidence that Trump’s promises to bring back coal and coal jobs amount to little more than hot air.

“In China, emissions fell by 1% last year, as coal demand declined while the economy expanded by 6.7%,” the IEA notes. China’s electricity demand grew 5.4%, and two thirds of that growth was supplied by carbon-free power.

Trump’s plan to undo the Obama administration’s Clean Power Plan, coupled with his similarly backward-looking budget proposals, won’t help the US economy at all, Romm wrote.

“Quite the reverse, in fact. It will slow the economy by reducing US investment in clean energy. And it will cost us millions of jobs, as the rest of the world uses our historic blunder to leapfrog ahead of us in the clean technologies that have already started to dominate the global economy.”

China plans to invest $360 bln in renewable generation by 2020, creating 13 mln jobs.

GOP SEN. THINKS EPA CUTS WILL KEEP AGENCY FROM ‘BRAINWASHING OUR KIDS.’ Sen. Jim Inhofe (R-OK) is probably best known for bringing a snowball to the Senate floor in a sad, failed attempt to demonstrate that climate change is a myth (It’s not), Samantha Page noted at ThinkProgress.org (3/16).

Now that Trump has proposed cutting the budget for the Environmental Protection Agency — which oversees clean air and water programs — by over 30%, Inhofe, a member and former chair of the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee, is excited that the agency will stop “brainwashing” the nation’s children with its science.

“We’re going to take [out] all this stuff that comes out of the EPA that’s brainwashing our kids, that is propaganda, things that aren’t true,” Inhofe said during a CNN interview (3/16).

FAITH LEADERS AREN’T HAPPY WITH TRUMP BUDGET. Donald Trump’s new budget proposal has already been lambasted by scientists, comedians, and elected officials from both parties for slashing funds for agencies across government and eliminating some federal programs altogether, Jack Jenkins reported at ThinkProgress.org (3/17).

But now faith leaders are adding their voices to the chorus of detractors, with many arguing that the budget disproportionately impacts the needy in America and abroad.

A group of more than 100 Christians — many of whom are conservative — blasted the White House proposal in a letter (3/16), saying its cuts to the international development initiatives will hinder humanitarian programs abroad. Trump’s plan would slash the US Agency for International Development and the US State Department by $10.1 bln (28%), both of which are part of the International Affairs Budget.

“With just 1% of our nation’s budget, the International Affairs Budget has helped alleviate the suffering of millions; drastically cutting the number of people living in extreme poverty in half, stopping the spread of infectious diseases like HIV/AIDs and Ebola, and nearly eliminating polio,” the letter, which was addressed to congressional leaders, reads. “As followers of Christ, it is our moral responsibility to urge you to support and protect the International Affairs Budget, and avoid disproportionate cuts to these vital programs that ensure that our country continues to be the ‘shining city upon a hill.’”

National Hispanic Christian Leadership Conference president Samuel Rodriguez and Cardinal Timothy Dolan — both of whom led prayers at Trump’s inauguration —are among the letter’s signatories. The list also includes Leith Anderson, President National Association of Evangelicals; Tom Lin, head of InterVarsity Christian Fellowship; and Dr. Ronnie Floyd, former president of the Southern Baptist Convention.

Other, more progressive faith groups also expressed disdain for the budget. Sister Simone Campbell, head of the Catholic social justice lobby NETWORK, said Trump’s cuts “disproportionately affect the same group of people — women, people of color, and all at the economic margins.”

Campbell previously spearheaded an effort to oppose the House Republican-backed budget in 2012, leading a “Nuns on the Bus” tour around the country to raise awareness of how funding slashes can harm the poor.

“The President’s Budget is not a faithful budget; it eviscerates funding for housing, doesn’t fund the census, and creates more demand for mass deportation and detention while funding a massive and impractical border wall,” Campbell wrote in a press release. “The President’s Budget does not reflect the values and priorities of everyday Americans.”

LONGTIME COP DETAINED BY CUSTOMS AND BORDER PATROL. A retired North Carolina police chief says he was profiled and unlawfully detained at a New York City airport (3/13), leading him to believe that “no one is safe” from this type of government intrusion, the Raleigh News & Observer reported (3/19).

Hassan Aden, who retired from Greenville’s police force in 2015 after nearly 30 years in law enforcement, including 25 years as deputy chief with the Alexandria Police Department in Virginia and consulting with the Department of Justice and federal courts, said he was returning home from a trip to see his mother in Paris when he was detained for an hour and a half at John F. Kennedy airport.

It was an overseas trip that he said he’s taken “countless times” without any issues since becoming a US citizen 42 years ago. This time was different, however.

“I was taken to a back office which looked to be a re-purposed storage facility with three desks and signs stating, ‘Remain seated at all times’ and ‘Use of telephones strictly prohibited’ ― my first sign that this was not a voluntary situation and, in fact, a detention,” he posted on Facebook (3/18).

Aden said that Customs and Border Patrol officials told him that his name had been used as an alias for someone on a watch list and that officers had to reach out to “another agency” to clear him before he could be permitted entry into the US.

As he waited, he said he witnessed at least 25 foreign nationals brought in and released within five minutes. He called their brief detentions “reasonable and appropriate.”

“I was held for an hour and a half,” he said. “I asked several times, ‘How long of a detention do you consider to be reasonable?’ The answer I was given by CBP Officer Chow was that I was not being detained ― he said that with a straight face. I then replied, ‘But I’m not free to leave ― how is that not a detention?’”

After finally being released, he said he was able to catch his second flight to Washington, D.C. with minutes to spare. Ironically, because of his frequent air travel, he said he had Transportation and Security Administration Pre-Check status, allowing him to be “whisked through security without a hitch.”

Aden told the Huffington Post he has not since been contacted by either CBP or the Department of Homeland Security following the event. He shared that he has contacted lawyers to discuss the matter further.

“If this can happen to me, it can happen to anyone with attributes that can be ‘profiled,’” he said on Facebook. “No one is safe from this type of unlawful government intrusion.”

He added that the experience left him “feeling vulnerable and unsure of the future of a country that was once great and that I proudly called my own.”

From The Progressive Populist, April 15, 2017


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