When Distracted

The talk of collusion between the Trump campaign and the Russians is getting tiresome. Donald Trump kept saying that there was no real proof of anything – a sensible but narrow defense – but suddenly there was proof. On June 9, 2016, a Russian lawyer was sitting in an office on the twenty-fifth floor of Trump Tower, just one level below the office of the future president – talking to his son, and his son-in-law, Jared Kushner, and his campaign manager, Paul Manafort. They had been told, in a series of emails from a family friend in Russia, that the Russian government had amassed – or stolen – all kinds of dirt on Hillary Clinton. Did the Trump campaign want that? The emails said the Russian government really wanted Trump to win. It was good stuff. Meet with this Russian lawyer and you’ll see.

Donald Trump’s son replied that “he loved it” and forwarded the email chain to Kushner and Manafort. They must have loved it too. The three of them met with the Russian lawyer – but then it turned out she didn’t have the goods. Still, the mere fact that Trump’s son asked for information from a Russian national about Clinton, and heard her out as she attempted to describe it, might have constituted a federal crime. Kushner and Manafort might be equally guilty. That’s because it’s illegal to seek foreign help of any kind in a political campaign.

The rest is damage control. Trump’s son fessed up, but maintained he didn’t do anything wrong. He was just curious, and that Russian lawyer didn’t have the goods on Clinton anyway. The president lauded his son’s transparency – and in Paris for Bastille Day he said that everyone, or many, do this sort of thing all the time – collusion with a foreign government to win an election is no big deal. Yes, it’s against the law. He seemed to think the law was pretty stupid.

The others didn’t think so. Paul Manafort admitted he had attended the meeting but said he hadn’t even bothered to read the email chain, so he couldn’t be guilty of anything. Jared Kushner said nothing – he always says nothing – and they all said no one told the president about the meeting – so the president was guilty of nothing.

Of course it’s all falling apart, and each new detail is fascinating in its way – one mare nail in the coffin – but the justified fascination with it all is a bit of distraction. Catherine Rampell argues that’s a dangerous distraction:

Focusing on the terrible things Team Trump did during the campaign and transition conveniently distracts you from all the terrible things Team Trump is doing during the presidency.

The administration is repealing consumer and environmental protections left and right. The Education Department is making it easier for for-profit colleges to defraud students. The Environmental Protection Agency has delayed an air pollution rule that the agency had determined would likely prevent the poisoning of children.

The Trump deregulatory team is rife with former lobbyists and others who have conflicts of interest. President Trump and his family members likewise appear to be financially benefiting from his role in the White House.

Yet fussing over regulatory decisions and vaguely sleazy behavior is itself a distraction from an even more important issue: the fact that Republicans are trying to remake one-sixth of the U.S. economy, largely in secret, while ripping health insurance away from 22 million Americans.

They’re laying out changes opposed by insurersproviders and patient advocacy groups. They are doing so with no hearings and no expert input, and reportedly with a scheme to sideline the one neutral referee of the law’s potential impact, the Congressional Budget Office.

And that itself is a distraction:

All the noise over “health-care reform” is itself a ruse intended to distract voters from Republicans’ real policy agenda: tax cuts for the rich.

The entire point of the Obamacare repeal, at least for House Speaker Paul D. Ryan (R-Wis.), is to pave the way for tax cuts. Slashing Medicaid and tax subsidies for people on the individual insurance market would help offset the costs of repealing taxes on rich people imposed by the Affordable Care Act.

The latest Senate health-care bill has complicated that plan somewhat, but plans for major tax cuts for rich people and corporations are still advancing behind the scenes and garnering precious little news coverage.

That is dangerous too:

What scant awareness is being given to tax cuts, however, is diverting the public’s deficient attention from a far more insidious scheme: efforts to systematically undermine democratic values and institutions.

There’s the Election Integrity Commission’s fishing expedition for state voter data – which may have been deliberately bungled in an attempt to distract voters from Republicans’ real, secret goal of dismantling the National Voter Registration Act, or “Motor Voter” law.

There are also the unending attacks on freedom of the press and other First Amendment rights. This includes a fight picked with MSNBC hosts, which White House aides lamented as a distraction from the far more important fight with CNN.

But wait, there’s more:

All of this silliness is really a form of misdirection so that Americans will forget North Korea recently fired an intercontinental ballistic missile capable of hitting Alaska. And that no one is even nominated for critical diplomatic and national security posts, such as ambassador to South Korea and assistant secretary of state for international security and nonproliferation.

But worry about such personnel vacancies is of course a distraction from the fact that the man at the top of the food chain is impulsively tweeting out provocations to both enemies and allies.

And Trump’s tasteless Twitter feed is also cleverly designed to distract you from noticing that an iceberg nearly the size of Delaware just broke off Antarctica.

Getting drawn into a debate about whether climate change is to blame, and whether American global leadership could make a difference either way, would surely sidetrack us from the vital question of whether our president is in hock to Russia.

That’s quite a list, but Michelle Goldberg adds something else to the list:

Donald Trump’s name adorned the first casino in America to have an in-house strip club. He is the first American president to have made a cameo appearance in a soft-core pornography film, and he has called his struggle to avoid sexually transmitted diseases while sleeping around his “personal Vietnam.” When Trump the candidate was asked last year whether any of his paramours had had an abortion, he refused to answer.

This is not a man who shares the longtime Republican goal of rolling back the sexual revolution. Nevertheless, after nearly six months in office, Mr. Trump has already surpassed George W. Bush as the American president most hostile to reproductive rights and measures to promote sexual health. There is a deeply insulting irony in this: American women are being stripped of their sexual and reproductive autonomy not by a moralizing puritan but by an erotically incontinent libertine.

The House and Senate healthcare bills would do that:

That assault includes blocking Planned Parenthood from collecting Medicaid reimbursements for a year. This would force the more than half of Planned Parenthood clients who rely on the program to seek care elsewhere, whether or not alternatives exist. (In many places, they don’t.) Medicaid itself, which pays for half of American births, would be severely cut. States would be allowed to let insurers opt out of guaranteeing coverage for maternity care. Tax penalties would restrict individuals and small businesses from buying private insurance plans that cover abortion. And the Senate bill, which would free some insurance plans to charge co-pays for preventive care, would end Obamacare’s guarantee of no-cost birth control.

Phasing out birth control is what comes next:

Although Mr. Trump has not yet been able to eviscerate Planned Parenthood, he has already taken steps to damage it. On April 13, the president signed a law repealing an Obama-era rule protecting Planned Parenthood from state efforts to withhold money allocated by Title X, the only federal program expressly devoted to family planning. (Planned Parenthood cares for about a third of the four million Americans served by Title X.) Adding insult to injury, the official appointed by Mr. Trump to oversee Title X is an anti-abortion activist named Teresa Manning, who has said that contraception “doesn’t work.”

Ms. Manning isn’t the only anti-abortion, anti-contraception advocate Mr. Trump has brought into the federal government. Another is Charmaine Yoest, the former president of Americans United for Life, who has been made assistant secretary for public affairs at the Department of Health and Human Services. Katy Talento, who has written attacks on birth control pills for a right-wing blog, sits on Mr. Trump’s Domestic Policy Council. The Trump administration has also appointed Valerie Huber, a former president of Ascend, an association that promotes abstinence education, to be chief of staff to the assistant secretary for health.

The writing is on the wall, and on paper:

The influence of the Trump administration’s anti-contraception views is very apparent in a draft regulation recently leaked to Vox that would drastically expand the number of employers allowed to opt out of birth control coverage in their insurance plans. If enacted, the rule will allow any employer, even large, publicly-traded corporations, to refuse to cover birth control simply by citing a moral objection.

This could result in hundreds of thousands of women losing contraceptive coverage.

That’s the plan:

Poor women will bear the brunt of this administration’s policies on sexual and reproductive health, but millions more women will feel the pain as well. Under Republican plans, Americans with private insurance stand to lose coverage for birth control, abortion and maternity care. If Planned Parenthood were to lose the 40 percent of its budget that comes from federal funding, it would result in a rash of clinic closings nationwide, depriving women of access whether or not they’re on Medicaid.

And there is the very real possibility that Roe v. Wade could be overturned during Mr. Trump’s tenure. The president’s first Supreme Court appointee, Neil Gorsuch, has already staked out a place well to the right of the conservative chief justice, John G. Roberts Jr. Should Mr. Trump have the chance to replace one of the five justices committed to upholding Roe – two of whom are in their 80s – we will once again see the widespread criminalization of abortion in this country.

Michelle Goldberg is not happy:

This cumulative attack on women’s ability to control their reproductive lives would be infuriating no matter who presided over it. But there’s an extra shudder of degradation in losing reproductive rights at the hands of a lubricious playboy like Mr. Trump. Unlike longtime anti-abortion activists, Mr. Trump doesn’t bother pretending he’s acting in women’s best interests – hence his frank admission during a town-hall meeting last year that if abortion were banned, women having abortions would have to be subject to “some form of punishment.”

There is no veneer in this administration of “compassionate conservatism” or of promoting a “culture of life.” There is simply power and convenience: Mr. Trump doesn’t care about women’s health or rights, and it’s easy to outsource policy to the activists of the religious right who helped elect him.

Everyone seemed to miss all that, because the stories about Trump and Russia seem so important, but everyone misses lots of things:

The U.S. will seek to use a United Nations fund designed to aid nations hard hit by climate change to promote the construction of coal-fired power plants around the world.

The U.S. already donated $1 billion to the so-called Green Climate Fund, and it can now use its seat on that board to advance American-energy interests globally, a White House official said.

Thus more than pulling out of the Paris climate accord:

Financial support for the Green Climate Fund was seen as a critical tool to win broad support for the global carbon-cutting pact. Former President Barack Obama pledged $3 billion for the initiative, though he only provided a third of that before leaving the White House.

Trump has made clear the U.S. won’t be sending any more checks to the fund as long as he is president, but the U.S. gets to keep a seat on the managing board for a year or more based on that previous $1 billion contribution.

That’s a swaggering in-your-face move to sneer at the rest of the world, and Obama, but this is more subtle:

An environmental group has filed a federal lawsuit challenging the Trump administration’s withdrawal of proposed limits on the number of endangered whales, dolphins and sea turtles that can be killed or injured by sword-fishing nets on the West Coast.

Oceana Inc., which lodged the case late Wednesday in Los Angeles, alleges that the government violated required procedures for rescinding the proposed caps that had been recommended in 2015 by the federal Pacific Fishery Management Council.

Named as defendants in the District Court case are Secretary of Commerce Wilbur Ross and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and the National Marine Fisheries Service.

“The withdrawal of this important protection for whales, sea turtles, and other species is plainly illegal,” said Mariel Combs, Oceana’s attorney. “The law requires the fisheries service to respect the fishery management council’s expertise in managing fisheries.”

That’s a swaggering in-your-face move too:

The proposed caps applied to endangered fin, humpback and sperm whales; short-finned pilot whales and common bottlenose dolphins; as well as endangered leatherback sea turtles, loggerhead sea turtles, olive Ridley sea turtles and green sea turtles.

It just might be that Donald Trump, glancing through the window of his limousine a few years ago, saw a “Save the Whales” bumper sticker on a Volvo, thought of smug Al Gore, and got pissed off. Now he can stick it to guys like Gore, and many others:

The Trump administration is weighing a new policy to dramatically expand the Department of Homeland Security’s powers to expedite the deportations of some illegal immigrants.

Since 2004, the agency has been authorized to bypass immigration courts only for immigrants who had been living in the country illegally for less than two weeks and were apprehended within 100 miles of the border.

Under the proposal, the agency would be empowered to seek the expedited removal of illegal immigrants apprehended anywhere in the United States who cannot prove they have lived in the country continuously for more than 90 days, according to a 13-page internal agency memo obtained by the Washington Post.

The new guidelines, if enacted, would represent a major expansion of the agency’s authority to speed up deportations under President Trump, who has made border security a top priority.

Two administration officials confirmed that the proposed new policy, which would not require congressional approval, is under review.

Trump can do it, so he will:

Immigrant rights advocates denounced the proposed expansion of the expedited deportation authority, warning that the policy would strip more immigrants of due-process rights to seek asylum or other legal protections that would allow them to remain in the country.

“This is a radical departure from current policy and practice, which takes one giant step towards implementing Trump’s deportation force across the nation,” said Marielena Hincapié, executive director of the National Immigration Law Center.

They should stop whining:

Trump has also lifted the Obama-era restrictions that shielded millions of undocumented immigrants from deportation if they had no criminal histories or were the parents of American-citizen children. Now, immigration agents are free to arrest anyone who is in the United States illegally.

In May, U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement said it was arresting more than 400 immigrants a day. In the president’s first three months in office, ICE arrested 41,318 immigrants, up 37.6 percent over the same period last year. Most had criminal records, but the largest increase was among immigrants with no records at all.

The hammer will fall:

An expansion of the expedited removals process would be “a recipe for disaster,” said Lee Gelernt, the deputy director of the American Civil Liberties Union’s Immigrants Rights Project.

“If you have to give people genuine due process, you can’t just move people out of the country with the snap of your fingers,” Gelernt said. “But once you start instituting summary removal processes all over the country, then you can start seeing mass deportations.”

Trump promised mass deportations. No more Mexicans. Now he’s doing it, and doing this:

Donald Trump and his aides are quietly working with two conservative senators to dramatically scale back legal immigration – a move that would mark a fulfillment of one of the president’s biggest campaign promises.

Trump plans to get behind a bill being introduced later this summer by GOP Sens. Tom Cotton of Arkansas and David Perdue of Georgia that, if signed into law, would, by 2027, slash in half the number of legal immigrants entering the country each year, according to four people familiar with the conversations.

We don’t want illegal immigrants. Mass deportations will take care of that. We don’t even want legal immigrants. These guys will fix that too, particularly these two guys.

The senators have been working closely with Stephen Miller, a senior White House official known for his hawkish stance on immigration. The issue is also a central priority for Steve Bannon, the president’s chief strategist, who has several promises to limit immigration scribbled on the walls of his office.

While everyone was thinking about Trump and Russia, Trump’s in-house white-nationalists made their move:

The last time Republicans seriously attempted to curb legal immigration was over two decades ago, in 1996, when a Republican Congress led by Newt Gingrich pressured President Bill Clinton to include a provision that slashed legal immigration in a broader immigration reform package. It was ultimately dropped from the bill, though, after Clinton faced opposition from some of the country’s top business leaders.

The country’s top business leaders may scream about this again, but who will hear them now? Everyone is screaming about Trump and Russia. The radical changes to everything in America go unnoticed.

That’s the danger here, but Colbert King says we asked for this:

The vaudeville show that’s running at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue didn’t book itself into the White House. Nearly 63 million Americans sent that burlesque comedy with headliner Donald Trump to Washington. That 66 million other voters thought otherwise is beside the point. Trump didn’t anoint himself president. Millions put him in office.

What does that tell us about the country?

Was hatred of President Barack Obama, fear of Hillary Clinton, outrage over America’s perceived direction enough to transfer the reins to Trump?

Whatever it was, it worked:

Trump didn’t seize the presidency by deception. For months on end, he was out there for all voters to see, measure and judge…

Well in advance of the vote, the country heard Trump’s vile insults and claims: Mexican immigrants are criminals and rapists; Obama wasn’t born in the United States and was an illegitimate president.

And his attacks on people. Megyn Kelly: “You could see there was blood coming out of her eyes, blood coming out of her wherever.” Jews: “The only kind of people I want counting my money are little short guys that wear yarmulkes every day.” Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.): “He’s not a war hero… I like people that weren’t captured.” My journalist colleague Serge Kovaleski, who has limited mobility in his arms: “Now the poor guy, you ought to see this guy,” Trump said, before contorting his arms in an apparent impersonation.

Trump the candidate showed himself to be an ignorant, undisciplined, ranting bully who exaggerated and lied without shame. A man who wore tough-guy masculinity but was actually a coward, who picked on women, demeaned minorities and was thoroughly lacking in human decency.

Trump’s character defects were on full display well before the polls opened… The country can’t claim not to have seen this coming… Now what does that say about us?

Colbert King poses that as a rhetorical question. It isn’t. We are easily distracted.

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About Alan

The editor is a former systems manager for a large California-based HMO, and a former senior systems manager for Northrop, Hughes-Raytheon, Computer Sciences Corporation, Perot Systems and other such organizations. One position was managing the financial and payroll systems for a large hospital chain. And somewhere in there was a two-year stint in Canada running the systems shop at a General Motors locomotive factory - in London, Ontario. That explains Canadian matters scattered through these pages. Otherwise, think large-scale HR, payroll, financial and manufacturing systems. A résumé is available if you wish. The editor has a graduate degree in Eighteenth-Century British Literature from Duke University where he was a National Woodrow Wilson Fellow, and taught English and music in upstate New York in the seventies, and then in the early eighties moved to California and left teaching. The editor currently resides in Hollywood California, a block north of the Sunset Strip.
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One Response to When Distracted

  1. Andrew Berman says:

    Respectfully disagree. The Russia connection is a viable path to getting Trump out of office. His domestic and foreign policy are odious, but do not themselves provide a clear path to his removal. Nixon was chased out, not because of his genocidal war in Vietnam, but because he conspired to cover up a burglary.

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