Thursday, December 1, 2016

Temer and Trump

Politicians [are] a set of men who have interests aside from the interests of the people. . . .
— Abraham Lincoln, 1837 Speech in Illinois Legislature

Herewith some remarkable similarities between Brazil’s president, Michel Temer, age 75, (who is married to former beauty queen, Marcela who is 32 years old), and the United States president-to-be, Donald Trump, age 70, (who is married to a former model, Melania, who is 46 years old.)

Mr. Temer became acting president of Brazil on May 12, 2016 following a vote by the Brazilian senate to impeach Dilma Rousseff, its president. As soon as Mr. Temer became acting president, he appointed ministers to serve in his cabinet. One of his first picks was Marcos Periera, a creationist bishop who does not believe in evolution. He was appointed to serve as the Minister of Science. That appointment did not sit well with the scientific community and, as a result, the appointment was rescinded and Mr. Pereira became the Minister of Trade.

Mr. Trump has offered a creationist the opportunity to serve in his cabinet. He nominated Ben Carson to be Secretary of the Department of Housing and Urban Development. The fact that Mr. Carson does not believe in global warming or evolution should not adversely impact his ability to serve as secretary should he decide to accept the offer.

As Minister of Agriculture, Mr. Temer appointed Blairo Maggi, a man known as the “soy bean king” of Brazil. Mr. Maggi has been involved in extensive deforestation projects in Brazil and, prior to his appointment, was promoting a constitutional amendment to get rid of environmental restrictions on public projects.

Mr. Trump has selected Michigan’s Betsy DeVos to serve as Secretary of the U.S. Department of Education. Randi Weingarten, president of the American Federation of Teachers calls her “the most ideological, anti-public education nominee” ever. Ms. DeVos has long been an advocate for charter schools and has advocated putting taxpayer money into vouchers that can support private and parochial schools instead of increasing funding for public schools. Michigan provides $1 billion to charter schools annually. A 2015 federal review of charter schools in Michigan found that an “unreasonably high” percentage of charter schools were considered underperforming. In 2015 Ms. DeVos and a group she backed, successfully defeated Michigan legislation that would have prevented failing charter schools from expanding or replicating. To manage the transition team at the EPA, Mr. Trump has nominated a non-scientist, Myron Ebell, a climate change denier. He helps chair a group that is dedicated to “dispelling the myths of global warming.”

As health minister, Mr. Temer appointed Ricardo Barros who has no background in medicine. Mr. Trump has nominated Tom Price to be Secretary of Health and Human Services. He is a physician, but a dedicated opponent of the Affordable Care Act. He favors reducing the right of people with pre-existing conditions to get coverage, opposes funding for Planned Parenthood, and wants to increase restrictions on abortion.

On November 24, 2016, Marcelo Calero, Mr. Temer’s Minister of Culture, resigned from his post. He did so, he said, because Geddel Vieira Lima, the Legislative Affairs Minister and one of President Temer’s closest allies, had been putting pressure on him to approve the construction of a high rise luxury apartment building in which Mr. Geddel had purchased an apartment. The proposed apartment building, however, was in an historic preservation area that did not permit the construction of such a building. After Mr. Calero resigned, Mr. Temer vigorously defended Mr. Geddel against the charges that were levelled against him by Mr. Calero. Then Mr. Calero went to the federal police and said that Mr. Temer had spoken to him twice about the project and both times had pressured him to approve it. After that was disclosed, Mr. Gedell resigned.

During the campaign Mr. Trump spoke repeatedly of barring Muslims from entering the United States. That upset Turkey’s President, Recep Tayyip Erdogan who responded by demanding that Mr. Trump’s name be removed from Istanbul’s Trump Towers. Following a coup attempt in July, Mr. Erdogan ordered the arrest, detention and suspension of tens of thousands of government officials, academics and others. Commenting on Mr. Erdogan’s action, Mr. Trump said he gave great credit to Mr. Erdogan for defeating the coup and expressed no concern over the mass arrests. In response, President Erdogan appears to have withdrawn his demand that the names on the towers be changed. It could be described as a win-win or a tit for a tat.

On November 23, 2016, the editorial page of the New York Times suggested Congress should create a process to review future deals Mr. Trump enters into with foreign governments, so that we can all rest assured there will be “no arrangements that could affect Mr. Trump’s policy decisions.” There is no need for Congress to do that. As Mr. Trump said in a tweet: “Prior to the election, it was well known that I have interests in properties all over the world. Only the crooked media makes this a big deal!” To prove that it is not a big deal he resorted to twitter to say that steps were being taken to “take me completely out of business operations,” without saying what steps they were. He did say he and the children would hold a press conference on December 15th to provide more details. That will be awaited with great anticipation by the crooked press as well as the rest of the country.

Thursday, November 24, 2016

Transition, Tweets and Trump

The gods have their own rules.
— Ovid, Metamorphosis

It’s been a couple of really exciting weeks for President-elect Trump and a very busy time at that. Some visitors have come by just to establish rapport with the new president, others simply to offer congratulations, and others looking for work.

It started when Prime Minister Shinzo-Abe of Japan stopped by to say “hi” barely a week after the election. That visit was especially welcomed by Mr. Trump since his daughter, Ivanka, an executive in the Trump hotel chain, happened to be present when the prime minister arrived. Sitting in on the meeting she could watch how her father comported himself in the company of this very important person, and served to give her a first-hand look at how he would be acting as president. Some people thought it a bit odd that his daughter, who has no security clearance, should be privy to a conversation between two world leaders. In fairness to Ivanka, however, that should not have been of concern. She did not get to be as important a part of the Trump family as she is, without learning to be discrete. The Prime Minister of Japan was, of course, not the only exciting visitor the president-elect hosted.

Three very important business men and Trump colleagues from India made a special trip at their own expense, simply because they wanted to personally congratulate Mr. Trump on his election. Although three of his children were present at the meeting, a security clearance was not needed for a meeting of this kind since the businessmen are the family’s business partners rather than political types. A spokesman for the family did not say whether the family’s business investments in India were discussed. A picture was posted, however, showing the businessmen and Mr. Trump standing side by side giving a thumbs up gesture that suggests the men had agreed on something that pleased all of them.

Mr. Trump’s pleasure at all the visitors he received was probably matched by his delight that the number of lawsuits confronting him because of his business practices was reduced by one. Although he has always maintained that he doesn’t settle lawsuits, he very sensibly permitted his lawyers to settle the one involving former Trump University students who said he had defrauded them. He agreed to pay $25 million to the plaintiffs since he realized that having to testify in court would take away from the valuable time he needs to get ready to assume office.

Of course it has not all been as easy as greeting sycophants, supplicants and business colleagues. Some real problems have introduced themselves to Mr. Trump. The most troubling may well be the suggestion that Mr. Trump’s business interests conflict with his duties as president. He at first said that by turning over all his business interests to his children he would avoid all conflicts of interest. That was contrary to the advice he has received from assorted places, including the editorial page of the Wall Street Journal. In an editorial published November 18, 2016 the WSJ told him his best way forward was “to liquidate his stake in the company.” Later in the same editorial the editors said: “There is no question that a Trump business sale would be painful and perhaps costly.” And without backing off that suggestion, it nonetheless went on to observe that there was a double standard in play in making him sell his business interests. It observed that “public-interest lawyers can move in and out of government without a peep of protest. Unlike liberals, Republicans like to work in the private economy.” By pointing out that liberals sup at the public trough rather than get into the hurly burly of the private economy, the paper seeks to make the fact that Mr. Trump has interests he must divest a badge of honor rather than an inconvenience.

It is unclear what Mr. Trump’s intentions with respect to divestment are. As he explained in his interview at the New York Times, “The president of the United States is allowed to have whatever conflicts he or she wants but I don’t want to do that.” During the interview he also observed that: “In theory I could run my business perfectly and then run the country perfectly.”

For those who have grown accustomed to learning of the innermost thoughts of president-elect Trump by means of the tweet, there is no reason to think that affairs of state will hold presidential pettiness at bay. His three tweets attacking the cast of the New York musical “Hamilton” are well known. The tweet, however, is more than an attack mechanism. It can impart information. Mr. Trump used a tweet to let his followers know that he is hard at work on Thanksgiving day trying to persuade Carrier Air conditioning company not to leave the United States.

During the campaign Mr. Trump often attacked what he described as the failing media. Under his inspired leadership the country may soon find that the tweet has replaced all other ways historically relied on by the public to obtain information. That would seem appropriate for a country that elected Mr. Trump as president.

Thursday, November 17, 2016

The Swamp

Drain the swamp.

Donald J. Trump

It’s great news for Kansas-and who’d have thought it. Of course it hasn’t happened yet, but it seems to be a possibility.

When President-elect Donald Trump was campaigning, one of his favorite refrains was that when elected he would drain the swamp, and the common assumption was that he was referring to Washington D.C. and the people who had traditionally been involved in assorted administrations there. It never occurred to the listener that the swamps he was planning to drain were, in some cases, far from the nation’s capital. That, of course, is exactly what seems to be happening. One of the swamps is a state. The citizens of that state, including those who supported Mr. Trump’s election, as well as those who did not, can be pleased at the possibility that their political swamp will be drained by sending two of its most prominent inhabitants to the new administration. Supporters of Mr. Trump will be pleased that the inhabitants may bring glory to Kansas by being given important roles to play in the new administration. Non-Trump supporters will be pleased to get the two men out of Kansas.

The first person to leave the Kansas swamp may be its Secretary of State, Kris Kobach. Kris made news outside Kansas when he served on the Republican Platform Committee prior to the 2016 Republican National Convention. As a member of that committee, he was successful in inserting language into the platform addressing the border wall that, Mr. Trump now suggests, may be only a fence in some places. The language he successfully inserted was: “The border wall must cover the entirety of the southern border and must be sufficient to stop both vehicular and pedestrian traffic.” In addition to the insertion of that language in the platform, Mr. Kobach was also able to persuade the committee to condemn the U.S. Supreme Court opinion that legalized gay marriage, saying it was “obviously incorrect.”

Mr. Kobach’s swamp-like activities in the state of Kansas were the extensive efforts he undertook, as secretary of state, to make it more difficult for people to register and vote in Kansas. Although he was apparently successful in making it difficult for Kansans to vote in state elections, if they registered without presenting their birth certificates, his efforts to impose that requirement in federal elections were struck down by a federal court. Addressing Mr. Kobach’s assertion that the impediments to voting that he wanted to impose were necessary to avoid fraudulent voting, the federal judge who rejected his efforts said: “There is evidence of only three instances where noncitizens actually voted in a federal election between 1995 and 2013.” She further observed that during this period, only 14 non-citizens attempted to register.

Mr. Kobach is a member of Mr. Trump’s transition team. In that capacity he has been involved in, among other things, discussing the possibility of drafting a proposal to “reinstate a registry for immigrants from countries where terrorist groups are active.” The proposal has raised alarm among civil rights activists as well as other groups who believe the proposal is reminiscent of the Japanese-American internment camps that were used during World War II. Mr. Kobach is rumored to be in the running for attorney general. If he is appointed, the Kansas swamp would be emptier by one.

Another resident in the Kansas swamp who may be called to greater things is its governor, Sam Brownback. His accomplishments as Kansas governor are legion, especially when it comes to state taxation. When he became governor of Kansas in 2011, he slashed personal income taxes and assured his constituents the cuts would result in new hiring and business expansion that would more than offset the loss of revenue that resulted from the tax cuts. He reduced the top personal income tax rate by 29 percent and exempted more than 330,000 farmers and businesses from paying taxes. According to the Kansas Center for Economic Growth, as a result of the Governor’s policies, “Kansas is coming close to scraping the bottom of the barrel-both on state finances and job creation.” According to CBS News, in 2016 the governor “ordered $17 million in immediate reductions to universities and earlier . . . delayed $93 million in contributions to pensions for school teachers and community college employees. . . .” According to the report he also siphoned off more than $750 million from highway projects during the preceding two years. Tax collections in 2015 fell below projections in 11 months of 2015. In campaign speeches Mr. Trump has applauded the governor’s tax policies as a model for America, describing them as the “Kansas solution.” On August 16, Governor Brownback was named an advisor to Mr. Trump for agricultural policy. He is now rumored to be a candidate for Secretary of Agriculture.

Commenting on the possibility that Messrs. Kobach and Brownback might join the Trump administration, Kelly Arnold, chairman of the Kansas Republican party, observed that Mr. Trump would have his pick of qualified people to serve in his administration and Kansas had some good people to offer. Kansans are probably holding their collective breath, albeit for different reasons, hoping the two people being considered will be appointed. The rest of the country is holding its nose out of fear that the two men will be appointed.

(For links to sources please go to my site on Huffington Post.)