Thursday, June 11, 2020

Trump's goal: Make America hate again

“Under the leadership of Donald Trump, our country is weaker and sicker and poorer.” And, unfortunately, stupider too.
by Tom Maertens, Vox Verax co-editor

Tom Maertens served as a White House National Security Council director during the presidencies of Bill Clinton and George W. Bush.

We are suffering the worst health crisis in a century, with over 5,000 coronavirus deaths per week, while simultaneously enduring a 16% unemployment rate and experiencing the worst civil unrest in more than 50 years.

And what is the president doing during these crises? Making America great? No, making America hate again.

On May 10, Mother’s Day, Trump tweeted 125 insults, bizarre conspiracy theories and false accusations at the rate of one every seven-and-a-half minutes. That is sixteen hours of tweeting.

On June 5, he posted 200 tweets/retweets.

He accused dozens of opponents of criminal acts ranging from murder and treason to espionage and electoral fraud.

Among Trump’s targets were two television news hosts, a comedian, five former officials from the FBI and Justice Department, the state of California, a television station and at least five top national security officials from Barack Obama’s administration.

Trump’s Twitter archive (http://www.trumptwitterarchive.com) shows that he has complained about the media over a thousand times, “fake news” 650 times, referred to 185 people as “stupid” and hundreds more using “dope,” “fool,” “moron,” and other derogatory terms.

He has regularly accused people of perjury or mishandling classified information without evidence, and recently, termed peaceful protesters in Lafayette Park terrorists.

The British writer Nate White wrote that “Trump is a troll. And like all trolls, he is never funny and he never laughs; he only crows or jeers. And scarily, he doesn’t just talk in crude, witless insults — he actually thinks in them.”

Over Memorial Day weekend, Trump mocked former Georgia gubernatorial candidate Stacey Abrams’s weight, ridiculed Nancy Pelosi’s looks, and called Hillary Clinton a “skank.”

He has repeatedly claimed that former congressman and MSNBC host Joe Scarborough “got away with murder” in the death of a former staff member, Lori Klausutis. She died in Scarborough’s Florida office while Scarborough was in D.C., 800 miles away. The police found no evidence of foul play and the coroner reported that the cause of death was a fall against a hard object precipitated by her floppy mitral valve disease.

Trump nonetheless tried to get David Pecker, the publisher of the National Enquirer, to “investigate” him. Pecker is the guy who paid Karen MacDougal, the former Playboy model, $150,000 to “catch and kill” the story of her affair with Trump while Melania was recuperating from childbirth.

Trump continues to claim that Obama officials committed “the biggest political crime in American history, by far,” but he can’t explain what that crime was, so he invokes “Obamagate” because he knows that the Fox Noise Machine will repeat any story he makes up.

He retweeted a video that begins with the line “the only good Democrat is a dead Democrat,” and then claimed the words didn’t mean what they say.

Trump regularly retweets posts from QAnon, a far-right conspiracy theory promoted by anonymous sources that asserts there is a worldwide cabal of Satan-worshiping pedophiles who rule the world, and imagines that Trump and the military will suddenly arrest and execute or imprison top Democrats.

The FBI considers QAnon a potential domestic terror threat; Trump has nonetheless invited QAnon supporters to the White House.

As Max Boot wrote in the Washington Post, “The GOP is becoming a modern-day Know Nothing Party … a cesspool of prejudice and irrationality.”

Trump has been far more vitriolic in attacking mail-in voting than he has Russian interference in our elections, despite the fact that Russia organized at least 60 demonstrations in the U.S. under a false flag during the 2016 elections (Wall Street Journal).

What we know about Trump is that he will blame Obama, China, radical leftists, “thugs” and others for the current conditions — anybody but himself.

The second certainty is that he will lie. The Washington Post fact checker found that Trump tweeted an average of six lies per day in 2017, which turned into nearly sixteen per day in 2018, and then increased to more than twenty-two per day in 2019.

Meanwhile, at least twelve retired four-star military officers have publicly criticized Trump for misusing troops for his political purposes; General Barry McCaffrey called Trump a threat to the Constitution, and Colin Powell called him a liar and a threat to the nation. Bill Cohen, the former secretary of defense and GOP senator for Maine (for whom I worked in the Senate) said Trump is leading us down the trail toward a dictatorship.

The Republican-led Lincoln Project has written: “Under the leadership of Donald Trump, our country is weaker and sicker and poorer.” And, unfortunately, stupider too.

Wednesday, May 13, 2020

Evangelicals enable Trump and his evil doings

by Tom Maertens
“On some great and glorious day the plain folks of the land will reach their heart’s desire at last and the White House will be adorned by a downright moron.” — H.L. Mencken (1920)
According to a recent Pew survey, white evangelicals by nearly a 2-to-1 margin, are more likely than other Americans to agree that Trump is "morally upstanding" and "honest.”

This survey was released almost simultaneously with the latest update from the Washington Post’s fact checking team: Trump has told over 18,000 lies since he took office.

Eighty-one percent of Evangelicals and a majority of white Christians voted for Trump in 2016. Anthea Butler wrote for NBC that what keeps Evangelicals' support for Trump strong is racism. Evangelicals have long participated in and supported racist structures in America, she wrote; they “count on Trump to protect them from socialists, Muslims, independent women, LGBT people and immigration.” And of course, from black and brown-skinned people.

Trump has a well-documented history of racism, among them federal charges of racial discrimination in rentals in the ‘70s; his outrageous campaign against the Central Park Five should have disqualified him from any office. His five-year-long racist birther campaign against Obama, said the National Catholic Reporter, was intended to deprive Obama of citizenship and legitimacy. It was a lie: Obama’s mother was a U.S. citizen, so her children are automatically citizens no matter where they were born.

Rev. Eric Atcheson ("On Earth As It Is In Heaven…”) told NBC News that white churches need to recognize Christianity's complicity in justifying policies like native genocide and slavery.

Slavery is America’s original sin, and most Christian churches supported it, particularly in the South. It was slavery, as Confederate leaders and secession ordnances made clear, that led to secession, the Civil War and the later Jim Crow.

Yolanda Pierce, the dean of the divinity school at Howard University, has written that “early American religious rhetoric is deeply intertwined … with slaveholding: It is pro-slavery.”

The justification was the Bible, which clearly approves of slavery in several passages — and nowhere condemns it. It prescribes how to obtain slaves, how hard you can beat them, and when you can have sex with the female slaves.

It even specifies (Exodus 21) that “When a man sells his daughter as a slave, she will not be freed at the end of six years as the men are.” And, “Slaves, obey your earthly masters with deep respect and fear. Serve them sincerely as you would serve Christ. (Ephesians 6:5). The original texts specify “slaves” who are bought and sold, not servants, bondsmen or other euphemisms.

Only the Southern Baptists apologized for their role in promoting slavery, in 1995 and again in 2018, accompanied by a 71-page confession.

The Southern Poverty Law Center has reported on “racist religious movements within white supremacy” such as the Christian Identity movement, sovereign citizens, militia extremists and violent anti-abortion opponents that use religion and the Bible to justify threats, criminal activity and violence. This includes the KKK and anti-Semitic groups who blame Jews for killing Jesus. Virtually all are supporters of Trump and the Republican Party.

Professor of Religious Studies Bart D. Erhman, the author of 20 books, has written, “…anyone with a grasp of history at all knows just how violent Christians have been over the ages, sponsoring oppression, injustice, wars, crusades, pogroms, inquisitions, holocausts — all in the name of faith…"

As John Adams wrote, if not restrained by law, evangelical Christians in America would “whip and crop, and pillory and roast” just as they did throughout European history (Joseph J. Ellis).

Biblical superstition and self-righteousness can be dangerous. George W. Bush, “a militaristic religious zealot” (biographer Jean Edward Smith), reportedly asked French Prime Minister Chirac to join the U.S. invasion of Iraq because Gog and Magog were “at work” in the Middle East...“The biblical prophecies are being fulfilled …This confrontation is willed by God….”

France declined, but Bush invaded anyway. Tens of thousands died, including 4,500 Americans. There were no weapons of mass destruction. Chirac later said he was boggled by Bush’s call and “wondered how someone could be so superficial and fanatical in their beliefs.”

Many Americans are obviously “boggled” by Trump’s claim that ingesting or injecting disinfectants would kill the coronavirus. Presidential historian Douglas Brinkley called his comment “cavernously stupid.” Ingesting/injecting disinfectants like bleach can be deadly; a Dallas nurse was convicted of murder in 2013 for injecting ten patients with bleach. Five of them died.

H.L. Mencken warned us, to no avail: “On some great and glorious day the plain folks of the land will reach their heart’s desire at last and the White House will be adorned by a downright moron.”

Tom Maertens served as a White House National Security Council director during the presidencies of Bill Clinton and George W. Bush.

Tuesday, April 28, 2020

A COVID-19 poem

"Superhero"

by Leigh Pomeroy

Finally…
All the mammals, birds, amphibians and reptiles;
All the insects, fish, trees, fungi and bacteria;
All the living things of the land and sea and air —
All of them, save for one — have a new superhero
That has brought this one species to its knees,
A species that has claimed “dominion over the fish of the sea,
Over the birds of the air, and over the cattle, over all the earth
And over every creeping thing that creeps on the earth.”

Ha!

And the superhero says to this one species,
“I, for the moment, have dominion over you! Learn what it’s like
To be subjugated, ignored, dispersed and diminished;
To be commodified, minimalized, pushed aside and destroyed!”

But will this one species learn a lesson from the superhero?
Probably not.

Yet for the moment, all the other species on the earth
Can celebrate their new superhero.

Wednesday, April 22, 2020

An Earth Day Lesson from COVID-19

by Leigh Pomeroy

In the midst of this COVID-19 crisis we are focusing on the short run: How to stay healthy. How to care for those who are sick. How to protect our most vulnerable populations. How to protect and help those who are caring for others.

But in the long run the COVID-19 crisis is teaching us some important lessons. First, once we recognize a crisis — which, admittedly, often takes too long — we have the ability to act quickly. Second, we do have the capacity to put aside differences and work together towards a common goal.

It has often been said that there is a silver lining on every cloud and, similarly, that when given lemons make lemonade.

In a way, one could look at COVID-19 as a planetary-wide vaccine itself. That is, while it creates hardship (and even death) for far too many, it can serve to wake us up to the real, long-term challenges that we face — challenges that make COVID-19 look like child’s play: climate change, species extinction, and food and water shortages due to environmental degradation and overpopulation.

While COVID-19 has been a rapid onslaught, these long-term environmental challenges are slowly evolving, though scientists have well documented them and everyone else seeing their effects each year.

Fortunately, what we learn from dealing with COVID-19 can now be applied to facing and reversing these environmental challenges.

The methodology is kindergarten simple: First, we must recognize these challenges and listen to scientists rather than self-interested politicians, pundits, and pandering media. In this pandemic we are doing this, and the results are bearing fruit as the incidence of the virus is now beginning to taper off.

Second, we must act with forcefulness to confront the challenge. Allocating the same amount that Congress has so far passed to deal with COVID-19 — currently over $2 trillion — would go a long way toward funding measures to prevent climate change. Scientists and economists are telling us that we will eventually have to spend at least that much on mitigation efforts if we do little or nothing about prevention.

In other words, pay now or pay much more later.

Those who have fought against doing anything to forestall climate change have used the argument that such measures will wreck the economy. Well, now we know what a wrecked economy feels like. Yes, some are suffering, but the vast numbers of us are still around and relearning old pleasures like how to spend time with family.

When circumstances change, the economy changes with it. Before the pandemic, two of the fastest growing jobs in the economy were solar installer and wind energy technician. Today, due to the pandemic, many jobs throughout the economy have been temporarily shed, but others are being created to reflect this new reality.

Let’s look at COVID-19 as a wake-up call and as a lesson from Mother Nature: Humankind is not all-powerful. There are forces against which we are powerless. But if we recognize the rules that have been set up by forces greater than ourselves, that if we learn to play within those rules, then we can together — humankind and nature — succeed to make a better planet for us all.

Friday, April 10, 2020

Trump now deadly for Americans

by Tom Maertens, Vox Verax Co-editor

Tom Maertens served as a White House National Security Council director during the presidencies of Bill Clinton and George W. Bush.

Donald Trump has perpetrated one of the greatest disasters in U.S. history, covering up a looming health crisis that has resulted in unprecedented illness and death.

Americans are dying because of his ignorance and colossal narcissism, willfully misinforming Americans about the coronavirus until months into the pandemic. Conservative historian Max Boot wrote recently: “With his catastrophic mishandling of the coronavirus, Trump has established himself as the worst president in U.S. history.”

The United States received its first official notification of the virus from the WHO on Jan. 3. The CDC issued its first warning on Jan. 8. When Trump was asked about the virus on Jan. 22, he said, “We have it totally under control. It’s one person coming in from China.”

He argued as late as Feb. 28 that it was a hoax by the Democrats; then on March 9, he did a one-eighty: “This blindsided the world.”

During that time, Trump repeatedly called the coronavirus warnings fake; he claimed several times that it was contained and would go away by itself; he spread lies and rumors along with his ignorant, anti-science “hunches;” he falsely compared it to the flu and then denied doing that; he ignored or contradicted his health officials, and gave bad medical advice while watching Fox and tweeting nonsense.

He fired the White House team assembled to deal with pandemics and cut the CDC budget three years in a row, causing the CDC to cut 80% of its efforts to prevent global disease outbreaks.

NPR reported that Trump blocked coronavirus testing in January because it might hurt his re-election chances.

It took 70 days from that initial notification for Trump to treat the coronavirus as a serious threat. That delay allowed the virus to spread exponentially.

By that time, as the Washington Post reported, “the United States (would) see more of its people die than in the wars of Korea, Vietnam, Afghanistan and Iraq combined.”

Despite the human carnage, Trump reiterated March 20 his commitment to repealing Obamacare, which would cost 20 million Americans health care during a pandemic.

In the interim, Trump did nothing to prepare for a pandemic, despite the 69-page playbook the Obama administration prepared after the 2016 Ebola scare. Worse, he cut by 75% a $2 billion request from his HHS secretary for masks and ventilators as late as Feb. 5, according to the Washington Post.

The result is a critical shortage of personal protection equipment along with ventilators and respirators, and thousands of unnecessary deaths. As the Boston Globe said, Trump “has blood on his hands.”

Trump claims he was preoccupied with impeachment and couldn’t focus on the pandemic, but he held nine campaign rallies and played six rounds of golf after the impeachment vote.

He sent 18.7 tons of medical equipment to China, exacerbating the U.S. equipment shortage.

Additionally, as the Washington Post reported, “U.S. intelligence agencies were issuing ominous, classified warnings in January and February about the global danger posed by the coronavirus.”

Trump will be judged harshly for undermining public trust in the government and the free press, discrediting the press as Fake News to protect himself.

Unfortunately, it works. The slack-jawed Trump cult cheers his every ignorant, mendacious statement, and the slobbering pseudo-religious sycophants lay hands on him and proclaim him a man of God; no mention of dozens of sexual assaults, three marriages, mistresses, hush money, defrauding children’s and veterans’ charities and tax fraud, and apparently, drug abuse.

There are multiple sources who claim he abused Adderall on the set of The Apprentice, which caused him trouble reading, and now allegedly accounts for his slurring and stumbling over the teleprompter text and constant sniffling during some press conferences.

Trump likely has a much more serious problem. An open letter, signed by more than 41,000 health professionals declaring Trump to be mentally ill and calling for his removal, was sent to the Senate in 2017.

None of the psychiatrists and psychologists examined Trump personally, but based on his public behavior, they characterized his mental issues as a mixture of narcissism, paranoia, sociopathy and a measure of sadism. Adderall presumably makes his symptoms worse.

What is virtually certain is that the Trump crime family will find a way to rip off the $500 billion corporate slush fund, the stimulus. Trump already promotes hydroxychloroquine, because, well, he owns stock in the manufacturer.

His response to everything: “I don’t take responsibility at all.”

Thursday, March 12, 2020

Trump beholden to Putin in disinformation campaign

by Tom Maertens

Mr. Maertens has worked in national security for both Democrats and Republicans in the White House and in the U.S. Senate. As a foreign service officer, he served in the USSR before its breakup and in Russia after the breakup.

The Trump campaign is conducting the largest disinformation campaign in American history, aided by Russia.

McKay Coppins in The Atlantic and others have described the billion-dollar sabotage operation.

Trump and the Russians are peddling conspiracy theories and lies to discredit journalists and undermine the mainstream media, using deepfake videos, phony news sites, and fabricated stories on Facebook and Twitter about illegal immigrants and voting fraud.

Besides the press, their goal is to discredit the FBI, the DOJ, and the intelligence community, which could reveal Trump’s ties to Russia and his long criminal history.

Intelligence officials have concluded Russia’s goal is to “undermine public faith in the U.S. democratic process.”

The Washington Post reported “swarms of online, false personas” from Russia pushing coronavirus misinformation, more than 2 million tweets in three weeks.

At a recent campaign rally, Trump slammed “dirty cop” FBI agents involved in the investigation of Russian attacks on the 2016 election. He said “There are a lot of dishonest slimeballs out there. Dishonest scum. Dirty cops, lot of dirty cops….”

This is mafia-boss talk.

As George Packer wrote in The Atlantic, “Every member of the FBI leadership who investigated Trump has been forced out of government service….” Additionally, acting Director of National Security Joseph McGuire was fired for briefing Congress on the current Russian intervention in the U.S. election — his job. Trump had previously said he’d accept help from a foreign power if it intervened in the 2020 election.

Trump admitted he fired FBI Director James Comey to stop “the Russia thing” and even bragged to the Russian ambassador about obstructing the investigation. He still refuses to acknowledge that Russia interfered in the last election. Meanwhile, he has demonstrated his willingness to promote Putin’s agenda by suggesting the U.S. should leave NATO and France should leave the EU.

Trump goes to extraordinary lengths to conceal his discussions with Putin, even confiscating the notes of the interpreter. I’ve sat in on presidential meetings: This is so suspicious, it is alarming.

In 2016, the Russians retweeted Trump’s Twitter account at least 470,000 times, posted thousands of political ads that were seen by at least 126 million Americans, organized dozens of false-front rallies in the U.S. and hacked into Democrats’ emails.

To refresh, the Mueller Report found 10 instances of likely obstruction of justice and concluded that Trump’s obstruction — asking staff to lie, dangling pardons, constructing a false paper trail, destroying evidence, and encrypting crucial communications — prevented law enforcement from discovering the truth. In short, the obstruction was the collusion.

More incriminating, The Moscow Project found 272 Trump campaign contacts and 38 meetings with Russians, which it labeled “collusion in plain sight.” There is no innocent explanation for this. Trump issued 51 false denials but has taken no action to stop the Russian attacks

The implications are obvious:

Former CIA head John Brennan has accused Trump of treason.

Another former CIA director, Michael Hayden, warned that Trump is a “useful fool” who is “manipulated by Moscow.”

A third former (acting) CIA director, Michael Morell, called Trump “an unwitting agent of the Russian federation.”

Former acting Attorney General Sally Yates accused Trump of “using the power of his presidency to conceal” Russia’s influence on the 2020 election.

Malcolm Nance and other former intelligence officers have also labeled Trump a Russian asset or a “useful idiot.”

Max Boot, writing in the Washington Post, listed 18 reasons Trump could be a Russian asset.

John Flannery, a former federal prosecutor, called Trump the “chief criminal who’s running a crime syndicate out of the West Wing.”

The former head of KGB operations in the U.S., General Oleg Kalugin (now a U.S. citizen) has said that Trump was a Russian asset, likely compromised and filmed with women provided by the KGB during his trips to Moscow. Three of the 26 women who have publicly charged Trump with sexual assault (at pedophile Jeffrey Epstein’s) said they were 13 and 14 at the time. Trump’s known predilection for underage girls, acknowledged publicly to Howard Stern, coupled with his ignorance and arrogance, would have made him an easy setup for blackmail, a standard KGB practice.

Craig Unger has said that the Russian mafia, which is controlled by Putin and the FSB, owned Trump, who reportedly laundered money for the mob for three decades. It had its HQ in Trump Tower and bailed him out when he was $4 billion in debt.

The evidence is overwhelming: Trump is controlled by Putin. And he’s not unwitting.

Saturday, February 15, 2020

Trump, McConnell orchestrate impeachment cover-up

by Tom Maertens, Vox Verax co-editor

Tom Maertens has worked in national security for both political parties in the White House and in the U.S. Senate.

The impeachment hearings demonstrated conclusively that President Donald Trump attempted to influence the 2020 election by withholding military aid in order to strong-arm Ukraine into investigating his rival, Joe Biden and his son, Hunter.

There is no evidence that the Bidens committed any crimes; as former Ukraine prosecutor Yuriy Lutsenko said, “Hunter Biden did not violate anything.”

The reality is that Trump and McConnell jointly orchestrated the most egregious cover-up in recent times. Trump has prevented his present and former staff from testifying and blocked responses to any subpoenas for documents, while claiming he is innocent and asserting “absolute immunity.”

Innocent people don’t block witnesses who could exonerate them.

Senate Republicans were in a hurry to vote down witnesses before more evidence leaked out from John Bolton and Lev Parnas that discredited their cover-up.

Bolton’s book reportedly implicates Mick Mulvaney, (chief of staff) Gordon Sondland (former EU ambassador) and Rudy Giuliani in a “drug deal” to strong arm Ukraine, at Trump’s direction.

More ominously for Trump, evidence from Lev Parnas, Rudy Giuliani’s indicted associate, implicates high levels of the government in a conspiracy to smear the Bidens. Parnas accuses Trump, Mike Pence, Rick Perry, Mike Pompeo, Bill Barr, Lindsay Graham, Devin Nunes and his aide, Derek Harvey, along with the Fox News fabricators John Solomon, Joseph diGenova, and Victoria Toensing of participating.

Parnas’s evidence is overwhelming and includes videos, memos and emails.

Joseph Bondy, Parnas’s lawyer, said Parnas personally delivered Trump’s quid pro quos to President Petro Poroshenko in February 2019 and to President Zelensky’s Chief Aide, Sergey Shefir, on May 12, 2019.

Crowdstrike is part of Trump’s conspiracy theory, which he claims sent the DNC server to Ukraine. In reality, the DNC had 100 computers — servers — that the FBI mirrored (copied). Nothing went to Ukraine, despite Trump’s fabrication.

If Trump thought either Biden committed a crime, why has he never ordered the DOJ to investigate? And why has the administration never identified any crime or used the 1998 Mutual Legal Assistance Treaty with Ukraine to request action.

For the record, Hunter Biden has a Yale law degree, was an executive vice president of a major national bank and a partner at a white shoe law firm, specializing in corporate governance (not energy).

If Trump were concerned about nepotism and conflict of interest, he would do something about his family. Ivanka and Jared made $82 million in one year while working in the White House.

Does anyone know what Ivanka does, except wander in and out of international meetings, like the G-20 and Davos Forum, pretending she’s a cabinet secretary? She has collected dozens of trademarks from China and elsewhere since the election.

Eric Trump has spent millions on business trips at taxpayers’ expense, including at least $97,000 for just one trip to Uruguay; Trump Jr. spent even more for trips to Ireland, India, Indonesia, Dubai and elsewhere.

And how is it that Rudy’s son and Barr’s son both work at the White House?

Trump himself, according to CNN, has spent at least 260 days at a Trump golf club and 340 days at a Trump property as president, at a cost of more than $120 million. A trip to Mar-a-Lago costs taxpayers approximately $3.6 million, according to the GAO.

The New York Times called him “the most corrupt president in modern times.” They could have said the most dishonest too: The Washington Post database shows over 16,000 Trump lies, something he does on a daily basis.

As for Trump’s “concerns” about corruption, Ukraine has 1.8 million companies; Trump has claimed corruption at precisely one of them, Burisma, and only after Joe Biden entered the presidential race.

It was Trump who reportedly proposed eliminating the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act that prohibits American corporations from paying foreign bribes. “It’s just so unfair that American companies aren’t allowed to pay bribes to get business overseas,” Trump whined in spring 2017, according to “A Very Stable Genius.”

It was Russia not Ukraine that interfered in our election: Neither the intelligence community nor the FBI support Trump’s claims, nor did any of the 17 House witnesses, or the Mueller report.

FBI Director Christopher Wray said that “no information indicates Ukraine interfered.” Trump’s own Department of Homeland Security said: “It’s not only a conspiracy theory, it’s completely debunked.”

History will not be kind to participants in the Trump cover-up. In the end, the truth will come out.

Following Watergate, 69 people were indicted and 48 were convicted.

Following Iran-Contra, 14 were indicted and 11 were convicted.

Eight Trump associates have already been found guilty. There will be more.

This article also published in the Mankato Free Press, Feb 12, 2020.

Monday, January 13, 2020

Republicans aim to boost voter suppression

by Tom Maertens

A top Trump 2020 campaign lawyer, Justin Clark, was caught on tape recently telling Republicans in Wisconsin that the party has traditionally relied on voter suppression to compete in battleground states. “It’s going to be a much bigger program, a much more aggressive program, a much better-funded program (in 2020).”

Voter suppression (and gerrymandering) are Republicans’ go-to tactics: Republicans passed restrictive voter ID laws in 22 states after their big win(s) in 2010. The Brennan Center for Justice found that at least 17 million voters were purged from voter rolls nationwide between 2016 and 2018.

Under Republican Scott Walker, Wisconsin passed 33 laws that had the effect of restricting the minority vote. There was no evidence of widespread voter impersonation in Wisconsin — or in any other state.

A 2017 study by Arizona State University identified only 10 cases of alleged voter impersonation in the United States since 2000. The same study found that for every case of voter impersonation, there were 207 cases of other types of election fraud, for which a voter ID would have no impact.

The Wisconsin laws “worked”: Wisconsin’s Voter-ID Law suppressed 200,000 votes in 2016 according to The Nation. A recent study by the University of Wisconsin found that 28 percent of African Americans were deterred from voting, compared with 8.3 percent of white registrants. Republicans in Wisconsin got only 45% of the popular vote for the State Assembly in 2016, but because of gerrymandering, won 64% of the seats. Overall, Trump won Wisconsin by 22,748 votes.

A Government Accountability Office study found that voter-ID laws in Kansas and Tennessee reduced turnout by 2 percent, enough to swing a close election, with the largest drop-off among newly registered voters, young voters and voters of color.

Trump’s voting integrity commission, led by Mike Pence and Kris Kobach, failed to find any evidence of widespread vote fraud and was disbanded.

Kobach led a nationwide effort to purge voter rolls through his notorious “Operation Crosscheck,” which relied on deception, like failing to compare middle names or birth dates in purging minority sounding names he accused of “double voting.”

Kobach was challenged in a Kansas court last year to prove his claims about vote fraud, and they went up in smoke, reported ProPublica. The trial judge, a Bush appointee, found “no credible evidence that a substantial number of noncitizens registered to vote.” She stated in court that the voter ID law kept thousands of qualified citizens from voting in the name of allegedly preventing vote fraud.

The judge also found Kobach in contempt for his “willful failure” to obey her 2016 ruling that ordered him to restore voting privileges of 17,000 suspended Kansas voters. In her contempt ruling, the judge cited Kobach’s “history of noncompliance” with the order and characterized his explanations for not abiding by it as “nonsensical” and “disingenuous.”

Before the trial even began, a federal magistrate judge fined Kobach $1,000 for making “patently misleading representations” about a vote fraud document Kobach had prepared for Trump.

This is Trump’s “policeman” on vote fraud, a guy who perpetrates vote fraud himself.

But then, Trump’s vice-president, Mike Pence, was accused in 2016 of using Indiana state police to seize 45,000 voter registration applications from the Indiana Voter Registration Project offices on Oct. 4, a week before the state’s voter registration deadline.

The U.S. Supreme Court couldn’t find a single instance in which voter impersonation has occurred in Indiana, according to the IndyStar. Justin Levitt, a professor at Loyola Law School in Los Angeles, found in 2014 only 31 credible instances of voter impersonation out of 1 billion votes cast in the U.S. since 2000.

Georgia and North Carolina both have long histories of suppressing minority votes. In 2017 then-secretary of state Brian Kemp removed more than 500,000 Georgians from voter rolls, and then blocked another 53,000 registrations just a month before the election, in which he was successfully “elected” governor. Georgia is currently trying to purge 300,000 voters, disproportionately minority voters.

U.S. District Judge Loretta Biggs just blocked North Carolina’s photo ID requirement, scheduled to begin in 2020; courts had rejected an earlier version on grounds that it intentionally discriminated against racial minorities.

Steven Levitsky and Daniel Ziblatt wrote in How Democracies Die that “The greatest threat to our democracy today is a Republican Party that plays dirty to win.”

Republicans regularly claim to be defenders of constitutional values like “originalism” and “judicial restraint;” in reality, their attempts to steal elections show they are the threat to democracy.

Tom Maertens has worked in national security for both political parties in the White House and in the U.S. Senate.

This article was also published in the Mankato Free Press Jan. 9, 2020.

Sunday, December 08, 2019

Universal health care is right, affordable

by Tom Maertens

The World Health Organization said in a September 2014 report that the United States is “currently the only high-income country without nearly universal health-care coverage.”

In fact the Trump administration is trying to cut Medicare and Medicaid and to kill the Affordable Care Act.

Trump said in October, “We have a great Republican plan” to replace the Affordable Care Act.

There has never been a serious Republican plan to replace Obamacare. “Repeal and replace” is an empty slogan designed to snooker the gullible.

In reality, the administration has thrown its full weight behind a lawsuit to kill the ACA. It said in court filings: “The proper course is to strike it down in its entirety.”

Trump recently issued an executive order that purports to save Medicare, but would have the opposite effect, according to Pulitzer-winning L.A. Times columnist Michael Hiltzig. It promotes a false narrative about Medicare competing in the open market, when in fact, its major advantage is that it pays physicians 40% less than commercial plans and pays hospitals only half to two-thirds of what private insurers pay. Trump’s sleight-of-hand would raise the Medicare price structure and bankrupt it.

Consumers are already being subjected to shady dealing and secret negotiations between hospitals and insurance companies, and price gouging by Big Pharma (see My View, April 19, 2019). Hospitals have many different prices depending on who pays: group plans, unions, Medicare, Medicare advantage, worker’s compensation, tort, out of network, and self-pay.

Hospitals and insurers typically treat prices for specific medical services as closely held secrets, which makes it difficult to comparison shop. The WSJ cited the example of a magnetic resonance image of the lower back that costs $141 at an imaging center in Jefferson, La., but $7,646 at a hospital in Torrance, California.

Congress added to the problem. Sen. (R-Utah) Orrin Hatch’s Dietary Supplement Health and Education Act of 1994 all but eliminated government regulation of the (now) $50 billion dollar dietary and herbal supplements industry— for which his son was a lobbyist. As Dr. Peter Lipson has stated, DSHEA, was intended to facilitate the legal marketing of quackery.

Over-the-counter products frequently contain little or none of the active ingredient(s), but unless the manufacturer claims to treat some illness, or people are injured/killed, the FDA cannot intervene.

U.S. health care spending in 2016 totaled 17.2 percent of GDP, compared to just 8.9 percent for the other OECD countries, which for them is sufficient to fund universal health care. Workers on average pay $6,015 toward their coverage, according to a September survey by the Kaiser Family Foundation, plus average deductibles of $1,655 for a single plan. The average premium for family coverage is $19,616 per year, says the Kaiser.

The Center for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) projects that health care costs will climb to $6 trillion, or about $17,000 per person, roughly 19 percent of GDP by 2027.

Universal health care inevitably provokes cries of “socialism” among opponents, who invoke communist countries like North Korea as examples of socialism. For some reason, the multi-trillion dollar Bush bank bailout, the $1 trillion annual subsidy to fossil fuel, the $20 billion annual ag subsidy, and Trump’s $28 billion in handouts to farmers to cover his China tariffs are not socialism. For the record, the VA system is socialized medicine because, well, only the best for our veterans.

In contrast, democratic socialist countries such as Denmark, Finland, the Netherlands, Canada, Sweden, Norway, and Ireland provide universal health care and education for all; they have higher life expectancy, much less poverty and significantly higher overall life satisfaction than in the U.S.

Gallup does a worldwide survey for the U.N. every year of the world’s happiest countries: for 2019, they are, in order: Finland, Denmark, Norway, Iceland, Netherlands, Switzerland, Sweden, New Zealand, Canada, and Austria. The U.S. is #19. Health care is a major factor.

Most universal health care plans would raise taxes on the wealthy, who, largely as a result of Trump’s 2017 tax cut, now pay a lower tax rate than the middle class, according to The New York Times and the Washington Post.

“The Triumph of Injustice,” by economists Emmanuel Saez and Gabriel Zucman, reports that the richest 400 families have more wealth than the bottom 60 percent of households, while the top 0.1 percent own as much as the bottom 80 percent.

CNBC recently reported that the wealthy will avoid/evade $5 trillion in taxes in the next decade.

It’s clear where the money is to pay for universal health care; what’s missing is the willingness to go after it.

Tom Maertens was a naval officer, a Peace Corps Volunteer and a Foreign Service Officer who served around the world, in the White House and in the U.S. Senate.

Also published in the Mankato Free Press Dec. 8, 2019.

Sunday, November 03, 2019

Trump violated law, covers up with lies

by Tom Maertens

Tom Maertens was a naval officer, a Peace Corps Volunteer and a Foreign Service Officer who served around the world, in the White House and in the U.S. Senate.

Under U.S. law, it is illegal for anyone to solicit, accept, or receive anything of value from a foreign national in connection with any election in the United States.

The crime is soliciting help, regardless of whether anything is given or even offered in exchange; the quid pro quo argument is a red herring.

Donald Trump solicited electoral assistance from Ukraine and China, and through Attorney General William Barr, from Italy, Australia and the UK.

Igor Fruman and Lev Parnas, Ukraine-born American citizens, have been accused of helping the president’s personal lawyer Rudy Giuliani instigate a Ukrainian investigation into former Vice President Joe Biden and his son Hunter, and indicted for illegally funneling foreign money to Trump’s campaign.

What we have is a conspiracy led by the president, assisted by Rudy Giuliani, to persuade foreign actors to investigate Trump’s political opponent in order to influence the outcome of U.S. elections.

In addition, he openly invited Russia to interfere in the 2016 election (“Russia, if you are listening…”). Russia began hacking Democratic servers five hours later.

The Mueller report listed 10 examples of Trump obstructing justice that could have warranted impeachment, including asking staff to lie for him, dangling pardons, constructing a false paper trail, destroying evidence, encrypting crucial communications, and now, defying subpoenas.

Now Trump has his corrupt, lapdog attorney general flying around the world seeking foreign help to discredit the Mueller investigation by investigating the investigators — the typical abuse of power by would-be totalitarians.

The Republican-led Senate Intelligence Committee concurred with Mueller that Russia tried to harm Clinton in the 2016 election to help Trump. He has never explained why his campaign had 272 contacts and 38 meetings with Russians and lied about every one of them, but the record makes clear that Putin has some leverage over him.

As Nancy Pelosi said, with Trump, all roads lead to Putin. It was the Republican House minority leader, Kevin McCarthy, who told his GOP colleagues privately: “There’s two people I think Putin pays: Rohrabacher and Trump. Swear to God.”

The recent evidence of Trump’s wrongdoing is unambiguous, including the so-called transcript of the phone call attempting to shake down Ukrainian president Zelensky – with a dozen witnesses listening in; the statements of at least two whistleblowers; the press conference by his acting chief of staff; and testimony by several Foreign Service ex-colleagues, including Masha Yovanovitch and Bill Taylor, whom I consider highly reliable. His own ambassador to the EU, Gordon Sondland, described the quid-pro-quo policy as coming directly from Trump.

According to Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington (CREW), “There is compelling evidence that Donald J. Trump may have personally committed up to eight criminal offenses while campaigning for president and during the first year of his presidency. The potential offenses include violations of laws regulating campaign contributions and their disclosure, making false records and statements, and a conspiracy to defraud (or to violate the laws of) the United States.”

Trump is attempting to cover up his criminal activity with daily Twitter lies and disinformation, claiming endless grievances, citing a witch hunt, a hoax, treason, a coup, and a lynching.

Predictably, his cult members, including most evangelicals, cheer his bald-faced lies on command, now averaging more than 13 lies per day, and totaling over 13,000, according to the Washington Post.

He is attempting to discredit any organization that threatens his tenure; the danger is that he will destroy public confidence in organizations like DOJ, the FBI and the CIA, that maintain order and defend national security.

The rot has gone so far that the Chairman of the Senate Homeland Security Committee, Sen. Ron Johnson, R-Wisconsin, a Trump apologist, said on national television that he doesn’t trust the FBI or CIA.

The latest outrage is Trump’s betrayal of the Kurds, the ones who provided crucial information on Baghdadi, by providing Turkey with US intelligence on Kurdish military positions. He also greenlighted Turkish ethnic cleansing, which forced 200,000 Kurds into the desert and set hundreds of ISIS members free.

Trump has claimed that the Kurds were “incredibly happy” with his actions, but General Barry McCaffrey called his claim “…simply absurd, it’s cruel, it makes him look stupid.”

General David Petraeus called them a betrayal.

Retired Admiral Bill McRaven, a former NSC colleague who led the raid on bin Laden, has written “our Republic is under attack from the president…he's undermined the intelligence community, the law enforcement community, the Department of Justice, the State Department…” in order to distract attention from his illegal actions.

This article was also published in the Mankato Free Press.

Sunday, September 29, 2019

Trump declares war on the environment

by Tom Maertens

A major new U.N. report, based on 7,000 scientific studies, warns that the oceans are under severe strain from climate change. Warmer ocean waters and rising sea levels are fueling ever more powerful tropical cyclones and floods, killing fish stocks, coral reefs, sea birds, and sea grasses and threatening millions of people who live in low-lying coastal zones.

It has led to mass die-offs and algal blooms that threaten the survival of phytoplankton, the base of the food chain.

In 2019, the Pentagon identified climate change as an important and tangible threat to the U.S. military, citing sea level rise, wildfires, climate refugees, recurrent flooding, drought, desertification and thawing permafrost.

By the end of the century, 13 million Americans will need to move just because of rising sea levels. The state of Florida, which averages only six feet above sea level and has 40% of the riskiest coastal land in the country, is beginning the exodus, buying homes to bulldoze them and clear a path for rising seas before the neighborhoods get flooded out.

Harris County, Texas, which includes Houston, has done more than 3,000 FEMA buyouts, and New Jersey, battered by Superstorm Sandy, has allocated $300 million to buy up coastal houses.

The Union of Concerned Scientists recently cited extreme weather events, all exacerbated by climate change, to predict a housing crash worse than the 2008 foreclosure crisis.

The heaviest downpours now drop 67 percent more precipitation in the Northeast, 31 percent more in the Midwest and 15 percent more in the Great Plains than they did 50 years ago. Jefferson County Texas received as much as 43 inches of rain in 72 hours last month from Tropical Depression Imelda; Hurricane Harvey in 2017, dropped more than 50 inches in some places.

Longer and more severe droughts are increasing pressure on groundwater supplies. Seventeen countries around the world, affecting a quarter of humanity, are currently using almost all the water they have, according to new World Resources Institute data.

Niti Aayog, an Indian government think tank, said in a 2018 report that twenty-one Indian cities are expected to run out of groundwater by 2020, and 40% of India’s population will have no access to drinking water by 2030.

As rural wells and dams dry up, Indian farmers in the state of Marathwada alone are committing suicide at the rate of almost 1,000 per year.

Such desperation is creating a flood of climate refugees; a study reported by Vice projects 1.5 billion migrants by 2050 with no place to go. More than 100,000 Guatemalans migrated just in 2018 because of food insecurity, according to NBC News.

Conflicts over water, especially in the Middle East and South Asia, will worsen. Even in the U.S., the Great Lakes Compact was created by the states/provinces around the Great Lakes to control proposed irrigation pipelines to the plains states which are faced with the eventual depletion of the Ogallala Aquifer, their principal water supply, which is dropping 325 billion gallons per year.

The average temperature in U.S. cities will rise 9 degrees and close to 12 degress in Fairbanks by the end of the century, compared to 1960-1990, according to University of Maryland researchers.

Warmer winters mean that some diseases and insect pests like carpenter ants and pine beetles are not killed off by the cold, and that some fruit and nut trees don’t have the cooler winter they need to trigger pollen production in the spring.

The Trump administration is actively opposing efforts to combat climate change. It has repealed 84 environmental rules so far and decreed that the U.S. will leave the Paris Climate Accord.

Trump has directed the reversal of the mileage efficiency and emission standards that California negotiated with several car companies and revoked Obama’s Clean Power Plan, which regulated carbon dioxide emissions from fossil fuel plants.

He has promoted oil drilling on public lands previously designated as national monuments, and in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, and opened virtually all coastal waters to oil and gas drilling while repealing most drilling safety regulations, virtually assuring another Deepwater Horizon disaster.

A 2011 EPA study showed that the Clean Air Act amendment of 1990, which cost $65 billion to implement, will save $2 trillion over 30 years in health costs and prevent 160,000 early deaths and 13 million lost work days per year.

So why has Trump declared war on the environment?

Because he is obsessed with overturning Obama’s legacy, indebted to the fossil fuel lobby, and indifferent to the costs.

Tom Maertens held several science and technology positions in the U.S. government, including minister-counselor for Environment, Science, and Technology at the U.S. Embassy in Moscow.

Monday, September 02, 2019

Trump ignores evidence of warming threats

by Tom Maertens

The Greenland ice sheet lost 12.5 billion tons of ice on Aug. 1 of this year, the largest loss in its history. That single-day melt followed another large loss the previous day, 10 billion tons, according to Danish researchers.

Daily ice losses on this scale were forecast in the climate models for 2070; they are 50 years ahead of schedule.

That is enough melt water in just two days to cover Florida in almost five inches of water.

If all the ice in Greenland melted — an estimated 684,000 cubic miles — global sea levels would rise 24 feet. The Antarctic ice cap is even larger, more than the combined area of the lower 48 states and Mexico combined.

The United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) warns that even a two-degree Celsius (3.6 F) global temperature increase could cause both a massive sea level rise and kill all the world’s coral reefs.

This year alone, according to Marco Tedesco of Columbia’s Lamont Doherty Earth Observatory, about 248 billion tons of ice has melted. That’s enough to raise sea levels by more than half a millimeter.

The melting could also threaten the ocean conveyer belt, including the Gulf Stream, which transfers tropical heat to the northern hemisphere; that is what keeps northern Europe habitable and makes farming possible.

July 2019 was the warmest month since records began. According to NOAA, July 2019 marked the 415th straight month that was warmer than the 20th century average.

The heat wave this summer pushed Greenland’s temperatures more than 30 degrees above average and led to temperatures of 114.6 degrees in France, the highest on record.

Temperatures in the San Joaquin Valley, California, rose to 100 degrees or above on 15 days in July. The previous July, temperatures reached at least 100 degrees on 26 consecutive days the hottest July ever, which followed the hottest June ever.

Climate change is a global phenomenon which affects both temperatures and precipitation, but they do not affect every place uniformly. Furthermore, the overall warming trend doesn’t mean that some areas can’t have extreme winters anymore, as the uninformed regularly proclaim whenever there is a cold snap. Polar vortex events, in which frigid Arctic air descends into the lower 48, can still bring biting cold.

Warmer winters can be self-perpetuating as they mean less snow cover, which reflects solar radiation back into space. That means less mountain snowpack; California, the Colorado River, all the big rivers of Asia, and many other areas of the world depend on glacier meltwater for irrigation, and even for drinking water.

There is no longer doubt about the cause of global warming. The large-scale burning of fossil fuels has increased the concentration of heat-trapping carbon dioxide in the atmosphere by more than 40 percent since the industrial revolution began.

The carbon dioxide spewed from smokestacks and cars remains in the air for decades; in addition, the pollution from burning fossil fuel is now the fourth leading cause of death in the world, killing an estimated six million people prematurely in 2016.

Despite that, the fossil fuel industry got a whopping $5.2 trillion in government subsidies in 2017, according to the IMF. That money should be used to convert the world to a carbon-free economy.

The National Bureau of Economic Research warns of a 10 percent GDP loss for the U.S. by 2100 and a far bigger cut to economic growth if global warming goes unchecked. The cost of doing nothing must be measured against the cost of taking remedial action now: fossil fuel companies are not paying the full cost of carbon-based energy: the people do, in health costs.

Despite these facts, Donald Trump wants to increase the use of coal, the dirtiest fuel and highest in carbon emissions. Ironically, his Mar-A-Lago resort is threatened by sea rise. NOAA is predicting a 12-inch sea rise by 2030 for Miami Beach, which is already planning to raise its streets two feet because rising seas regularly flood the streets at high tide.

Meanwhile, the Amazon rain forest is being consumed by tens of thousands of fires, set by ranchers and loggers clearing land, as promoted by Brazil’s Trump, right-wing president Jair Bolsonaro.

As for Trump, the Washington Post wrote “whether for political advantage or out of sheer pigheadedness or both, President Trump continues to deny and ignore reality. It is beyond unforgivable.” The Post left out two other possible explanations: ignorance and stupidity.

Tom Maertens held several science and technology positions in the U.S. government, including minister-counselor for Environment, Science, and Technology at the U.S. Embassy in Moscow.

Also published in the Mankato Free Press, 9/2/2019.