You’re FIRED!

There was never anything that deemed Kellyanne Conway qualified to sit on the U.S. Air Force’s Board of Visitors.  She has no military experience at all and her appointment to that position by the former guy can only be said to have been a political favour.  Okay, every president has likely meted out such favours, and the next president most often reverses them if they aren’t qualified.

On Wednesday, the White House told 18 officials who had been appointed by the former guy to serve on the boards of U.S. military service academies to resign or be dismissed.  Of the 18, only one that I’m aware of was even remotely qualified for the positions to which he had been appointed:  former National Security Advisor H.R. McMaster.  Among the least qualified were former Trump advisor and one-time campaign manager Kellyanne Conway and former White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer.  Neither had a shred of qualifying experience for the positions to which they were assigned.

A sample of one of the letters from White House assistant Catherine M. Russell read …

“On behalf of President Biden, I am writing to request your resignation as a Member of the Board of Visitors to the U.S. Naval Academy.  Please submit your resignation to me by the close of business today.  Should we not receive your resignation, your position with the Board will be terminated effective 6:00 p.m. tonight.  Thank you.”

And the fight was on … naturally it was, for anything that President Biden says or does is food for the Republican gristmill.  And naturally, Kellyanne’s was the loudest voice of dissent, tweeting …

“President Biden, I’m not resigning, but you should.”

Former Press Secretary Sean Spicer, whose claim to fame was his ridiculous and disproven claim about the size of the former guy’s inauguration crowd in 2017, is also flapping his wings and crying “Foul!”.  Again, not surprising but also neither mature nor professional.  Spicer, in fact, has threatened to sue current White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki for her remarks when asked to comment on the terminations …

“I will let others evaluate whether they think Kellyanne Conway, Sean Spicer and others were qualified, or not political, to serve on this board.  But the president’s qualification requirements are not your party registration. They are whether you are qualified to serve and whether you’re aligned with the values of this administration.”

And so, while wildfires are raging throughout the West, while floods are crippling the northeast, while more than a thousand people per day are dying in the U.S. alone as a result of COVID, while voting rights and women’s rights are being decimated on a daily basis, this … the removal of highly unqualified individuals from positions they never earned, will be in our faces, cost the government wasted time and money, and give more fuel to the GOP fires already burning out of control.  What’s next, I wonder?  The quality of food served in the U.S. Capitol?  Not up to Republican standards?  🙄

More CHAOS In The Oval Office

Thirty-three months Donald Trump has spent tweeting from the potty in the Oval Office, and in that time, he has broken more norms than all the presidents of the 20th and 21st centuries combined!  I am not even addressing his hate-filled spew, his denigration of all who oppose him, but simply the things he has done that will cause this nation troubles for decades to come.

On Monday, it was announced that National Security Advisor John Bolton is no longer an employee of the U.S. government.  It’s debatable whether he resigned, or Trump fired him, and it really matters very little, for the end result is the same either way.  What this means, though, is that now Trump is seeking to hire a new National Security Advisor – it will be his fourth in less than three years.

flynnThe first, of course, was Mike Flynn who took up his position on the day of Trump’s inauguration, 20 January 2017, and lasted exactly 24 days, resigning after information surfaced that he had misled the FBI about the nature and content of his communications with Russian Ambassador to the U.S., Sergey Kislyak.

McMasterThe second was General Herbert Raymond (H.R.) McMaster, who took office on 20 February 2017, just one week after Flynn’s resignation, and he lasted an entire 413 days, until 09 April 2018!  McMaster either resigned or was fired by Trump and his imminent departure announced by Twitter 18 days before his departure date.  The issue between McMaster and Trump was McMaster’s disagreement about foreign policy decisions, particularly those involving Russia, Iran, and North Korea.

bolton-near-tearsAnd then, on April 9th last year, came John Bolton, the one who has had itchy fingers to bomb Iran for decades.  Bolton lasted 499 days, until Monday when he either tendered his resignation, or Trump tendered his bootheel.  Bolton was a war hawk who, given a choice would prefer settling differences by war rather than diplomacy.  He had long advocated for regime change in Iran, Syria, Libya, Venezuela, Cuba, Yemen and North Korea.  He supported the Iraq war, supported withdrawing from the Iran nuclear deal, and was a staunch critic of President Obama.

So, what happened between Bolton and Trump?  Trouble has apparently been brewing for a while over the same things Trump and McMaster fell out over – policy differences over Iran, North Korea, and recently Afghanistan.  But, it is said that the straw that broke the camel’s back was Trump’s plan to host the leaders of the Taliban at Camp David just days before the 18th anniversary of the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks.  Trump ultimately canceled the visit anyway, though likely not for the reason he claimed, but he was said to be furious with Bolton for disagreeing with him in the first place.

KuppermanSo, what comes next.  Trump says he will announce his new choice next week, but meanwhile, the position will be filled by the Deputy National Security Advisor, Charles Kupperman.  Kupperman came on board 11 January 2018 and is said to be a war hawk very similar to Bolton.  His tenure is likely to be short-lived.

Who, then, might Trump select to fill the slot this time?  Speculation runs rampant, and for once, Trump seems to be keeping his mouth shut!  Some names that are being floated are …

  • Fred Fleitz, Bolton’s former chief of staff
  • Keith Kellogg, a retired lieutenant general and a former acting national security adviser
  • Jack Keane, a retired Army vice chairman currently advising the vice president on national security
  • Robert Blair, an adviser to acting Chief of Staff, Mick Mulvaney
  • Robert C. O’Brien, the administration’s hostage envoy who called Mr. Trump the greatest hostage negotiator in American history Seriously??? 
  • Stephen E. Biegun, United States’ special representative for North Korea
  • Brian H. Hook, special representative for Iran and a senior adviser to Secretary of State Mike Pompeo
  • Douglas Macgregor, retired Army colonel who has written several books on reorganizing the military; is also a frequent guest on one of Trump’s favorite Fox programs, “Tucker Carlson Tonight.”
  • Richard Grenell, U.S. ambassador to Germany who stirred much ire when he first arrived

One foreign policy analyst said that no matter who he hires, the position is no longer as important, for it has been diluted and in essence is likely to be just another ‘yes-man’ to Trump, lending legitimacy to whatever crazy schemes Trump comes up with.

It has been Trump’s tradition since taking office to replace outgoing staff with ones who are even worse for the sake of the nation than their predecessor.  If he continues along that path, then my money is on Douglas Macgregor, if for no other reason than he really hasn’t much relevant experience, but mainly because of his ties to Tucker Carlson and Fox ‘News’.

Trump has more ‘acting’ directors in his cabinet than any president before him, nearly three years into his term.  The Department of Defense, Department of Homeland Security, Federal Aviation Administration, Immigration and Customs Enforcement, Food and Drug Administration, U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services, and Federal Emergency Management Agency are but a few of the departments who have no nominated and confirmed leader.  And, of course there is acting White House Chief of Staff Mick Mulvaney, who also currently serves as Director of the Office of Management and Budget (OMB).  Except for Mulvaney’s position, all the others require Senate confirmation, which is likely why there are no nominees yet.

Acting officials can serve for no more than 210 days, or 7 months.  Trump claims he prefers to have ‘acting’ directors because …

“It’s easier to make moves when they’re acting. I like ‘acting’ because I can move so quickly. It gives me more flexibility.”

In other words, it makes it easier for him to do whatever he damn well pleases.  There will be many words associated with Trump and his administration in the history books – most are not nice words.  One word that must be the keyword of Trump’s nightmarish administration is “chaos”.  We are not in Kansas anymore, Dorothy.

The ‘Grown-ups’ Speak???

While Trump and the bulk of his minions communicate their madness via Twitter, last week (30 May), two of his advisors decided to play at a more ‘grown-up’ table and communicate via an op-ed in the Wall Street Journal. Presumably, either they do not have twitting machines, do not like the constraints of speaking in 140-character spurts, or wanted to ensure that their audience was intelligent enough to actually read.  Either way …

McMaster

H.R. McMaster

When H.R. McMaster was confirmed on 15 March to fill the position of National Security Advisor, a position recently vacated by Michael Flynn who had resigned in shame, I knew little about McMaster.  However, my research led me to believe that he would be a good fit for the position, and had the backbone to do what he believed was right, rather than simply following Trump into the pits of hell. Today, I no longer believe that.

At the end of Trump’s fateful nine-day tour to Saudi Arabia, Israel and Europe last month, it was obvious to most sensible observers both in the US and the EU that Trump had ceded all rights for the US to be called the leader of the free world any longer.  We held the title since 1945 and though there have been many disagreements among western nations during that time, the US has never stepped away from the responsibilities that accompany that designation.  Until last month.

Those of us who are capable of thinking more globally were appalled and deeply shamed when he cuddled with Saudi Arabia, one of our chief antagonists, while berating our friends.  Further shame came when he rudely shoved the Prime Minister of Montenegro aside during a NATO photo shoot.  And then he refused to commit to NATO Article 5 that calls for mutual defense of NATO nations in the event any one is attacked.  This, despite the fact that such language was in his prepared speech that had been approved by national security advisors. And then, the final blow, his announcement that he intends to retract the US’ commitment to the Paris Accords on climate change.

When General McMaster and chief economic advisor Gary Cohn wrote a joint op-ed in the Wall Street Journal, they undertook to mitigate some of the damage Trump caused during his overseas jaunt.  They failed miserably.

According to McMaster and Cohn, the presidential trip was nothing less than “historic” and represents a “strategic shift”: “America First signals the restoration of American leadership … to enhance American security, promote American prosperity, and extend American influence around the world.” In sum: America First means America First, and not just in America, but everywhere on the globe. It is akin to me saying that I am the head, not only of my own household, but of yours, also.

The US is one of 195 or 196 nations on the globe.  Nobody died and left us boss of the world.  It is no surprise that Donald Trump entertains such delusions … we already knew that.  But it is not only a surprise, but also a major disappointment to find that H.R. McMaster, who we all hoped would bring a bit of oversight into the administration, is also a party to these delusions.

McMaster and Cohn continue …

“The world is not a ‘global community’ but an arena where nations … engage and compete. …Rather than deny this elemental nature of international affairs, we embrace it.” Translation: Might Makes Right.

“In Saudi Arabia, President Trump helped facilitate $110 billion in defense investments that will strengthen regional and American security and create American jobs.” Turns out this is not exactly true, but that is a topic unto itself.

“We are asking a lot of our allies and partners. But in return America will once again be a true friend to our partners and the worst foe to our enemies.”  Our allies are smarter than McMaster/Cohn give them credit for.

I seriously doubt that either McMaster or Cohn actually wrote the op-ed  but since their names are on it, they approved it and the words are theirs, whether they created them or not.  (If you cannot view the op-ed on the WSJ site, let me know and I will email you a transcript) 

No, Mr. McMaster and Mr. Cohn … Trump’s trip abroad was neither historic, at least in the traditional sense, nor was it a success.  It was a disastrous journey that set us back more than 70 years and stripped us of any right to be considered the ‘leader of the free world’.  The most likely candidates for that title are now Angela Merkel and Emmanuel Macron, both of whom have shown compassion, intellect, and good sense. And with your defense of Trump’s words and deeds, you have cost yourselves whatever respect the thinking public may have had for you.

Bye-Bye Bannon …

The Federal government is now filled with newbies who do not understand the jobs to which they have been assigned, do not understand governance, and are highly unqualified for the positions they occupy.  This includes the president, vice president and nearly all cabinet members, as well as other advisors.  They came into office thinking they would make their own rules as they went along, but after nearly three months, they are finding that actions have consequences, and appear to be floundering like fish out of water, while at the same time trying to cover their foibles and give the appearance that this is all part of some grand plan.  Today’s ‘breaking news’ is further evidence of this.

Almost immediately after his inauguration, Trump announced a move that was considered by many to be both dangerous and stupid.  He reorganized the National Security Council by elevating his chief strategist, Steve Bannon, and demoting the director of National Intelligence and the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff.

nscThe National Security Council was established in 1947 by President Harry Truman.  Its primary function is to advise and assist the president on national security and foreign policy issues. It was created because policymakers felt that the diplomacy of the State Department was no longer adequate to contain the USSR in light of the tension between the Soviet Union and the United States.

bannon-2

Steve ‘Breitbart’ Bannon

Steve Bannon, who has been considered Trump’s closest advisor, is a member of the alt-right, a known racist, white-supremacist, neo-Nazi, islamaphobe.  He is the ‘former’ CEO of Breitbart, though most speculate he is still calling the shots there.  He has absolutely zero experience in governance, and nothing in his background qualified him for a position on the Principals Committee of the National Security Council.

Today, Bannon was removed from the National Security Council, and theories about the reason are not in short supply.  The Joint Chiefs chairman and intelligence director are having their roles as “regular attendees” of the Principals Committee restored.  So … what prompted this move?  It depends on who you ask.  Here are a few:

Steve Bannon“Susan Rice operationalized the NSC during the last administration. I was put on to ensure that it was de-operationalized. General McMaster has returned the NSC to its proper function.”

Amy Siskind: “BREAKING: Bannon is off the National Security Council! If I’m a betting woman, with the world in chaos, I’d bet McMaster finally told Trump my way or I’m gone!”

Robert Reich, former Secretary of Labour, Professor of Public Policy at the University of California at Berkeley:  “Trump reorganized his National Security Council today, removing his chief strategist, Stephen Bannon, from the NSC’s principals committee. Translated: Bannon screwed up so badly on the healthcare bill that Jared and Ivanka have maneuvered to reduce Bannon’s influence on Trump, at least for the time being. But the White House continues to be such as cesspool of back-stabbing intrigue and chaos that Bannon could be back any moment.”

David Rothkopf, CEO and editor of the FP group, which publishes Foreign Policy magazine: “I think if you give somebody with no experience and a political agenda, and a dubious one at that, a permanency, it casts the on-demand participation of the chairman of joint chiefs and director of national intelligence in a very different light, because it’s saying, ‘We are not prioritizing professional expertise; we’re prioritizing political agenda.’ “

A number of White House officials, speaking on the condition of anonymity, said that Bannon’s sole purpose on the NSC was to keep an eye on (former) National Security Advisor, Mike Flynn, who was terminated within days of accepting his position due to lying about conversations he had in December with Russian Ambassador Sergey Kislyak.  This explanation makes no sense, because if Trump did not trust Flynn and felt he required a watch dog, why did he choose Flynn in the first place?  However, I have quit looking for anything coming out of this administration to make sense, so who knows?

McMaster

Gen. H.R. McMaster

My opinion has no more merit than any of those listed above (except Bannon, as he is speaking the party line), but for what it is worth, I believe National Security Advisor H.R. McMaster may have convinced Trump, either with logic (who am I kidding???) or with threat of resignation.  Before McMaster was selected to replace Flynn, Retired Vice Admiral Robert Harward was selected, but turned down the position because it was made clear that he would lack any degree of autonomy, and not even be allowed to select his own staff.  Perhaps McMaster has taken a tough stand on this issue, and it is certainly understandable why he would not want Bannon, who has nothing to contribute, taking up space on the committee while the important people take a backseat.

McMaster is one of the very few people in this administration who is both qualified for the position and seems to be of good character.  Even a majority of Democratic senators voted to confirm him last month in a vote of 86-10.  I was first impressed by McMaster in February when he pushed back against Trump’s insistence on using the term “radical Islamic terrorism”, saying it is not helpful to the U.S. in working with allies to defeat global terrorism.  It said that he has the courage to stand by his convictions and to stand up to Trump.

We may never know exactly what drove the strange scenario as to why Bannon was given a place on the Principals Committee, then removed less than three months later, but I cannot help wondering if this may signal a cooling of the relationship between Trump and Bannon.  If so, that can only be seen, I think, as a good thing.  Bannon is a loose cannon, a self-professed Leninist who has said he wants to “bring everything crashing down, and destroy all of today’s establishment.” 

cautionOne word of caution … let us not get so distracted pondering the causes and effects of Bannon’s removal from the NSC that we take our eye off the ball … the main issue … the Russian connections between Team Trump and Team Putin.

trump-putin

Trump’s Travel Ban … Still A Bad Idea

Yesterday, Trump signed yet another of his now-infamous ‘executive orders’ calling for a travel ban from, this time only six of the original seven Middle-Eastern nations.  The ban has been cleaned up in hopes of passing the legal smell-test, but is otherwise not much different.  The main difference is that it will not take effect until March 16th, giving time for training of CBP agents and clarification where needed.  But is there any value in such a ban?  I would argue a few factual reasons to say there is not.

Through the years, there have been numerous attempts to define “terrorism”.  One terrorism class I took 2 years ago spent nearly an entire week on the definition alone! I won’t bore you with the history, but eventually the global community settled on a definition by Alex P. Schmid, a Research Fellow at the International Centre for Counter Terrorism (ICCT) in the Hague, and Director of the Terrorism Research Initiative (TRI).  Mr. Schmid’s definition is lengthy, but can be found here if you are interested.

The Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) defines terrorism as “the unlawful use of force or violence against persons or property to intimidate or coerce a government, the civilian population, or any segment thereof, in furtherance of political or social objectives.” Although not quite as comprehensive as Dr. Schmid’s definition, for the purposes of this post, it will do.

Note that in the FBI definition, it does not mention that in order to qualify as terrorism, the act must be perpetrated by a Muslim, nor by a member of Daesh, nor by a person of Middle-Eastern descent.  It is a fairly broad definition, and covers nearly any violent crime … or could be said to.

Donald Trump continues to claim that in order to “keep America safe”, in order to combat terrorism within the borders of the U.S., we must ban most, if not all, immigrants from Middle-Eastern, predominantly Muslim nations.  But if that is true, why are most violent crimes that would fit well into the FBI definition not labeled terrorism?  And … is terrorism from the Middle-East really a threat to the U.S.?  Let us look at a few factual examples.

While I have quoted these figures from 2015 before, they bear repeating at this juncture. The number of Americans killed in acts of terrorism – both on U.S. soil and abroad — between 2001 and 2014 is 3,412 (including the victims of the 9/11 attacks). During the same period, 440,095 people died by firearms on U.S. soil (homicides, accidents, and suicides). In 2014, for every one American killed by an act of terrorism in the United States or abroad, 1,049 Americans died in the United States because of guns.

The daily average for drunk-driving fatalities is 30 per day, and on average 3 women per day are murdered by their spouse or boyfriend.

Not a single terrorist fatality has been carried out by any refugee or immigrant from Iran, Libya, Somalia, Sudan, Syria, or Yemen, the six nations included in Trump’s most recent version of his travel ban, since 11 September 2001. However, as of 2015, at least 22 fatal terror attacks had been carried out in the United States since 2001 by white male United States citizens motivated by white supremacist or other extremist beliefs. 

There have been 65 episodes of white supremacists attempting to recruit on college campuses just since Trump took the oath of office.  These include a visit by white supremacist Richard Spencer at Texas A&M University.  Also, you will recall the scheduled visit to UC Berkeley by Milo Yiannopoulos that was cancelled amid student protests.  At the cancellation, Trump railed, “If U.C. Berkeley does not allow free speech and practices violence on innocent people with a different point of view – NO FEDERAL FUNDS?”

There have also been some four mosque burnings already in 2017.

Are not all these incidents, by the FBI definition, terrorism?  And not by Middle-Easterners, not by Muslims, or Hispanics.  By mostly white U.S. citizens.  So would somebody please explain to me how banning the very people who are NOT committing acts of terrorism in this country, and who are, in fact, often the victims of violence, is going to make us safer?

Trump’s latest National Security Advisor, Lt. Gen. H. R. McMaster, told the staff of the National Security Council last month, in his first “all hands” staff meeting, that the label “radical Islamic terrorism” was not helpful because terrorists are “un-Islamic,” according to people who were in the meeting. And he is right.  I have a number of Muslim friends, and I have read some parts of the Quran, and Islam is indeed a religion of peace and tolerance. In his language, General McMaster is closer to the positions of former Presidents Barack Obama and George W. Bush. Both took pains to separate acts of terrorism from Islamic teaching, in part because they argued that the United States needed the help of Muslim allies to hunt down terrorists.

While I do not deny that Daesh and other terrorist groups made up mainly of people of Middle-Eastern origin exist, the reality is the U.S. is not their primary target.  However, the travel ban is likely to make the U.S. more prone to terrorism from without.  More than 800 career diplomats signed a dissent cable addressed to Rex Tillerson, secretary of state. The cable said Mr. Trump’s order will have “little practical effect in improving public safety” because a “vanishingly small number” of immigrants to the U.S. have committed acts of terrorism. “The net result… will not be a drop in terror attacks in the United States,” it said, “rather it will be a drop in international good will toward Americans.”  There are a number of ways in which the ban may make us less safe:

  • It supports terrorists’ claims that the U.S. is at war with Islam
  • It harms critically important U.S. relations with our partners in the Middle East.
  • It will increase anti-American sentiment
  • It directly undermines our key allies in the Middle East.
  • It discourages all Muslims — at home and abroad — from assisting U.S. anti-terrorism efforts.
  • It puts U.S. troops in grave danger.
  • It could lead to retaliation from other countries.

To those who cheer and applaud this ban, let me just say that you are safer among a crowd of Middle-Eastern immigrants than you are among the same size crowd of white Americans.  The Middle-Easterners are almost certainly not carrying loaded guns under their belts.  Think about it.

muslim-meme