Archive

January 30th, 2017

Defense hawks headed for collision with Trump's budget czar

    Republican hawks in Congress are already at odds with President Donald Trump's budget czar, a fiscal conservative who has made clear he will reject spending more on defense if it results in a bigger deficit.

    As a candidate, Trump promised to dramatically increase military spending to pay for tens of thousands of troops, scores of ships, and hundreds of new warplanes. But his pick to oversee the Office of Management and Budget, Mick Mulvaney, is a dyed-in-the-wool budget stickler who as a lawmaker repeatedly voted against defense spending hikes, referring to one Pentagon account as a "slush fund."

    Mulvaney, a former congressman from South Carolina and member of the Tea Party "Freedom Caucus" movement, has a long record of opposing defense spending increases without corresponding cuts elsewhere in the federal budget. And it's not at all clear how his Tea Party outlook fits in with Trump's plans to drastically expand the Pentagon's funding.

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Conflicts of interest like Price's are all too common

    President Donald Trump's choice to lead the Department of Health and Human Services, Rep. Tom Price, R-Ga., held stock in dozens of companies in the health-care, biomedical and pharmaceutical industries even as he was voting on, and often sponsoring or promoting, legislation that could affect the value of his investments. Some of his stock purchases have sparked concerns under the Stop Trading on Congressional Knowledge (Stock) Act of 2012, which makes clear that the insider-trading prohibitions arising under the federal securities laws apply to members of Congress. I testified in Senate and House hearings on the act. As then, I believe it did not go far enough.

    Even if Price's stock purchases were permissible under federal securities law, his sizable investment portfolio nevertheless places his legislative judgments into question: Did personal stock holdings influence his legislative activity? That very question points to the urgent need for new legislation to guard against the possibility - or even just the appearance - of self- interested decision-making by members of Congress.

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Trump can't fix his relationship with the CIA merely by giving a speech

    Somehow, in the midst of all the inaugural celebrating, President Trump got the message. Perhaps his inner circle had a moment of clarity, and somebody asked to see the boss about it. Maybe his newly confirmed secretary of defense pulled him aside for a quiet word. Almost certainly, his nominee to head the Central Intelligence Agency, Michael Pompeo, would have been making strong entreaties to the new commander in chief.

    Their message was this: It's time to try to make up with the CIA.

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Brexit or not, Britain's Parliament reigns supreme

    The British Supreme Court's judgment on Tuesday requiring Parliament to authorize Brexit was conservative in the deepest and best sense of the term. Allowing the government to withdraw from the European Union without a parliamentary vote would have enabled the prime minister and her cabinet to change U.K. law on their own, a violation of Parliament's traditional sovereignty. In practice, if Parliament votes in favor of Brexit, the judgment may not slow down the process very much. But the court nonetheless imposed a respect for orderly constitutional forms -- and required Britain's elected representatives to take full and individual responsibility for their epochal decision.

    Unlike the High Court, whose judgment it was reviewing, the law lords of the U.K.'s highest court avoided high-flown theoretical declarations about the nature of parliamentary sovereignty. Instead, the court presented its ruling as an interpretation of the European Communities Act of 1972, the law that Parliament passed to facilitate the incorporation of European law into U.K. law.

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Park Rangers to the Rescue

    It started at the inauguration, when the uniformed protectors of America’s front lawn took in the sweep of humanity at the National Mall. It seemed obvious that the crowd for President Donald Trump was not nearly as large as that for Barack Obama in 2009. Somebody in olive green retweeted the obvious, using comparative pictures.

    This small act of historical clarification by the keepers of our sacred sites and shared spaces would have been no big deal, had not the response from the new president sounded like an edict from the Dear Leader. A gag order on public servants was issued, and the National Park Service tweet on crowd size vanished, replaced by a picture of a bison.

    But then, flares of defiance! The response to the dawning realization that a crazy man had taken over the White House was truth. From Badlands National Park came a tweet about how there was more carbon dioxide in the atmosphere than at any time in the past 650,000 years. From the Redwood park, a note about the saving grace of ancient trees. From Death Valley, a reminder that Japanese-Americans had once been interned there.

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McCain should stand up to Trump on Russia

    Donald Trump is speaking with Vladimir Putin on Saturday amidst reports of an already-drafted plan to drop U.S. sanctions against Russia. It's no surprise that Trump has a pro-Kremlin tilt. But where are the Senate Republican Russia hawks? After all, it's clear that a majority of the Senate supports these sanctions, and probably even tougher ones.

    The Senate, right now, has leverage. Its members have not yet confirmed secretary of State nominee Rex Tillerson. Tillerson himself was suspected by Sens. John McCain of Arizona, Lindsay Graham of South Carolina, Marco Rubio of Florida and others of being insufficiently hostile to Russia; presumably, their announced support means that he sufficiently assured them that his friendliness to Moscow while in the corporate world would not carry over to his actions in office. That's normally how the process works: Senators support executive branch nominees, allowing presidents to have the people they want, but use the process to influence the policies that executive branch departments and agencies will carry out.

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Billionaires Are Tampering with Our Constitution

    When you think of America’s great constitutional minds, names like Madison, Jefferson, Washington, and Franklin come to mind. And, of course, Abbott.

    Wait, who’s Abbott?

    Last year, Texas Governor Greg Abbott revealed that he’d penned nine new amendments to the U.S. Constitution. His proposals amount to a bill of sale, effectively transferring our national government from The People to The Plutocrats.

    His “tweaks” would outlaw government actions that restrain corporate abuse of workers and consumers, while also preventing future Congresses from meeting crucial public needs such as health care, voter rights, and restoration of our national infrastructure.

    However, Abbott isn’t the force behind this tampering with our constitution.

alec-constitution-koch-democracy

    (Photo: thegirlone / Flickr)

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How did the White House stumble on Theresa May's visit? Let us count the ways

    There is a storied history of the United States accidentally disrespecting its closest ally, the United Kingdom.

    In 2009, U.K. Prime Minister Gordon Brown gave U.S. President Barack Obama "an ornamental pen holder made from the timbers of the Victorian anti-slave ship HMS Gannet." In exchange, Brown received a bunch of DVDs. That same year, Obama gave Queen Elizabeth II an iPod (to be fair, she gave him a photo of herself). In 2011, at a banquet at Buckingham Palace, Obama mistakenly spoke over the British national anthem. And not to get into the removal of the bust of Winston Churchill from the Oval Office, but . . . Obama took the bust of Winston Churchill out of the Oval Office.

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Bickering At New York Times Let Trump Off The Hook

    Now that the horses have left the barn, trotted out the front gate and are galloping headlong down the county road, editors at The New York Times have taken to public bickering about who left the stalls unlatched.

    Not that it's doing the rest of us much good.

    How the Times retains its pre-eminent place in American journalism after decades of politicized bungling at the highest levels continues to mystify. Almost regardless of how many fruitless "investigations" it flogs or catastrophic wars the newspaper enables, its editors' invariable response to criticism remains "We're The New York Times, and you're not."

    Even when, as in the latest public challenge to the Times's high opinion of itself comes from inside the building. Public editor Liz Spayd wrote a recent column arguing that regarding Donald Trump's strange "bromance" with Vladimir Putin, the newspaper definitely left the stall doors ajar.

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Trump won't voluntarily release his tax returns. But maybe he can be forced to.

    Hey, the new Office of the U.S. Trade Representative website is up! Let's take a look to see what it says about opening up trade opportunities for American firms and consumers:

    "[The] new America First trade policy will make it more desirable for companies to stay here, create jobs here, pay taxes here, and rebuild our economy. Our workers and the communities that support them will thrive again, as companies compete to set up manufacturing in the U.S., to hire our young people and give them hope and a real shot at prosperity again."

    So that sounds . . . interesting, but almost entirely unrelated to what trade representatives traditionally do. I guess President Donald Trump's trade office will be dedicated to reducing trade with the rest of the world.

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