Trump breaks campaign promise, proposes federal budget that would cut Medicare by $845 billion and Medicaid by $241 billion

During the 2016 campaign, Donald Trump repeatedly promised that, if elected president, he would cut neither Medicare nor Medicaid. [See video below.] Today, however, his administration proposed a federal budget that would cut Medicare by $845 billion, and Medicaid by $241 billion, while giving the Pentagon more than requested, and allocating $8.6 billion for the construction of a wall along our southern border that, according to national security experts, would be completely ineffective. [The Trump budget would also slash the Department of Education budget by 10%.]

Interestingly, the over $1 trillion that the Trump administration is proposing that we cut from crucial social safety net programs is roughly equal to the amount given to America’s most wealthy last year as part of the enormous Republican tax cut, which we were assured, at the time, would “pay for itself” by generating enough growth to offset any loss in tax revenues. Well, that growth never came, and, now, just as we’d predicted, they’re putting programs like Medicare and Medicaid on the chopping block.

For what it’w worth, this was the Republican plan all along. Republicans knew that their unprecedented tax cuts for the wealthy would not pay for themselves. And they knew that, if they passed them, they’d then have an excuse the following year to cut so-called entitlement programs like Medicare and Medicaid, which they’ve wanted to gut for decades. What we’re seeing now is just the final blow of the one-two combination thrown by Republicans. Thankfully we now have a Democratic majority in the House that will stop this from happening, but today’s budget clearly demonstrates what the Republican priorities are.

I don’t know if it’s related, but I found it curious that, after over a month of avoiding the press, Sarah Huckabee Sanders decided that she’d hold a White House press conference today, and that, during said press conference, she’d both suggest that Democrats hated the Jews, and wanted to legalize the murder of toddlers… If I were the suspicious type, I might be inclined to think it was a planned distraction from a budget that, you can be sure, will be unpopular with Americans of every political persuasion.

Posted in Civil Liberties, Politics, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 46 Comments

Lady in Red

I had a plan for tonight. I was going to post about how Donald Trump ordered that his daughter Ivanka be given top-secret security clearance over the warnings of national security officials, and then how both of them lied about it lied about to the press. But, then, on my way home from the grocery store this evening, something unforeseen and horrible happened. The DJ on WOMC, transitioned directly from Led Zeppelin’s Stairway to Heaven to Chris De Burgh’s Lady in Red. And now I just want to stay up all night doing research into how one goes about getting a radio station’s license revoked.

For what it’s worth. I don’t listen to the radio very often anymore. I generally listen to podcasts while in the car, alternating between shows about classic Hollywood and ones about this current political nightmare that we’re all living through. But my daughter was in the car with me, and it seemed like a good time to impress her with my complete mastery of the classic rock genre. So you can imagine how happy I was when, shortly after switching the radio on, Stairway to Heaven began, allowing me not only to showcase my legendary vocal range, but also give her a quick tutorial on to steer with one’s knees while playing air drums. [She’ll be starting drivers ed soon, so I don’t have much time left to impart my wisdom.] Then, however, it went right to Lady in Red, without even an ad break in between. And the transition was jarring… And not just because one song was great, and the other one sucked. It was jarring because it demonstrated to me that culture had turned some kind of corner, and enough time had passed that the work of Led Zeppelin and Chris De Burgh not only resided in the same bucket, but that they were pretty much interchangeable. And that’s the kind of thing that makes a person feel old… the realization that the songs I grew up with all just oldies radio filler now, the same way the songs of Frank Sinatra, Perry Como, and Dinah Shore were when I was a kid.

Stairway to Heaven came out in ’77, when I was about 9 years old. I still have distinct memories from that time, of sitting in doctors’ offices and the like, listening to old Sinatra songs. And the weird things is, those songs were only about 30 years old at the time, whereas Stairway to Heaven is already well over 40 years old right now. I guess it’s because people are living longer, but it’s weird just how long certain things manage to survive… And it’s troubling, at least to me, that the target demographic radio stations are focusing on is one that wouldn’t change the station when Stairway to Heaven gave way to Lady in Red. I don’t think, as someone who grew up in the ’70s and ’80s, that I’d ever see the day. And it makes me sad for the future of our species.

OK, so now go and read about Jared Kushner’s top-secret security clearance on your own, OK? I’ve got nasty letters to write.

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Jerome Corsi, Julian Assange and the attempt to blame the DNC hack on the Democrats

Yesterday, Jerome Corsi, the man who once held the hilariously ridiculous title of “InfoWars DC Bureau Chief,” publicly apologized for his role in spreading the disgusting conspiracy theory that 27 year old Seth Rich, an employee of the Democratic National Committee (DNC), had been murdered in Washington, DC the early morning of July 10, 2016, not by an unknown assailant in a robbery gone wrong, as reported by the police, but by someone affiliated with Hillary Clinton’s presidential campaign, as payback for his role in leaking stolen Democratic emails to Wikileaks. This, of course, was total bullshit. And, as we learned several months ago, when email exchanges between the far-right conspiracy theorist and Trump associate Roger Stone were made public in Department of Justice court filings, they knew it as well… In an August 2, 2016 email between the two Trump supporters, Corsi conceded that “hackers” were behind the WikiLeaks releases… But this knowledge didn’t stop Corsi from pushing the false narrative about Rich having been the Wikileaks source, and having been killed for it.

According to the ridiculous theory advanced by Corsi, Rich was a supporter of Senator Bernie Sanders, and he stole the Democratic emails as an act of revenge against the DNC, which, in his view, had unfairly treated his candidate for president. Corsi, in his posts on the subject, referred to Rich as the “likely perpetrator” of the theft, and said that he’d been “implicated in breaches of email systems.” Rich’s parents, through their spokesperson, called Corsi and his fellow conspiracy theorists “disgusting sociopaths” for using their son’s death in order to obfuscate the fact that the DNC hack had been perpetrated by the Russian government in order to aid the Trump campaign. [For those who may still doubt who was responsible for the hack, I’d encourage you to read Robert Mueller’s July 13, 2018 indictment of the 12 Russian military intelligence agents who conducted the operation.]

So, all of this begs the question… If Corsi and Stone knew that Rich wasn’t responsible for stealing the emails and delivering them to Wikileaks, why did they go to such lengths to push this false narrative? Could they have been doing this on someone’s behalf? Well, maybe there’s a hint to be found in the fact that, according to former National Security Agency analyst and counterintelligence officer John Schindler, the story, as put forward by Corsi, was “scripted” by the SVR, the Foreign Intelligence Service of Russia.

I don’t know that hard evidence exists that this lie — that it was Rich and not the Russians who gave Wikileaks the stolen DNC emails — was actually written out by SVR officers, but it certainly seems likely. After all, the whole thing started with Russian asset Julian Assanage, who first floated the idea in August 2016 on Dutch television…. The following comes by way of an opinion piece in the Washington Post by former CNN producer Frida Ghitis.

…That has prompted some observers to recall a remarkable appearance by Assange on Dutch television in August 2016. At the time, Trump’s campaign was foundering, even after Russian intelligence agencies had mounted a campaign to help him by stoking U.S. divisions on social media, promoting fake stories and hacking into the servers of the Democratic National Committee.

Assange was asked whether WikiLeaks had material that could help Trump. He responded by detonating a conspiracy theory, despite knowing it to be untrue. “There’s a 27-year-old who works for the DNC who was shot in the back, murdered for unknown reasons,” Assange said. He was referring to Seth Rich, killed in a robbery, whose death has since been weaponized by anti-Clinton activists.

Assange was in a unique position to energize the notion of a politically-motivated assassination. “What are you suggesting?” the Dutch interviewer asked. Assange coolly replied: “I’m suggesting that our sources take risks.” Though declining to confirm Rich was a source, he did manage to imply that Rich had handed WikiLeaks the documents. Assange’s remarks fueled countless far-right conspiracy theories used by Trump and his defenders to divert public attention from the compromising findings of Mueller’s investigators and the U.S. intelligence community.

The GRU (Russian military intelligence) created a character it called “Guccifer 2.0,” an alleged Romanian hacker, to divert attention away from the Kremlin after the DNC and U.S. intelligence officials discovered Russian fingerprints on the cyberintrusions. Four days after the DNC hack, WikiLeaks became the beneficiary of Guccifer 2.0’s work. Assange told Britain’s ITN that “WikiLeaks has a very big year ahead,” acknowledging it had “emails related to Hillary Clinton which are pending publication.”

Guccifer 2.0 confirmed he was working with Assange, and Wikileaks became an important tool in the Russian operation. Oddly enough, Assange’s quest for documents never extended to the Trump campaign, which was more secretive than any in recent U.S. political history. WikiLeaks didn’t appear to have much interest in Trump’s tax returns, or in any of the communications between top campaign officials and Russian figures. Nor has WikiLeaks ever provided any sensational revelations from the databases of the Kremlin.

WikiLeaks became fully engaged in helping Trump and Russia. In July 2016, just before the Democratic Convention — the launch of the final stage of the Clinton campaign — WikiLeaks released DNC emails that suggested the party had favored Clinton over Sen. Bernie Sanders. The timing roiled the convention, forced resignations among top Democratic officials, and unquestionably hurt Clinton’s efforts to gain the support of Sanders’s supporters…

Oh, and I should add that, while Corsi did put out a statement yesterday saying that, “Dr. Corsi acknowledges that his allegations (about Rich’s involvement) were not based upon any independent factual knowledge,” he’s still toeing the MAGA party line, saying that the DNC hack was an inside job, with the implication being that the Russians weren’t involved, in spite of the voluminous evidence to the contrary. For what it’s worth, it sounds as though the family of Seth Rich has accepted Corsi’s apology, and shifted their attention toward those conspiracy theorists who have yet to recant. According to a statement released by the family today, while they see Corsi’s retraction being an “important step toward obtaining justice,” they still plan to “litigate (their) defamation claims against conspiracy theorists who refuse to retract and apologize for similar false statements.”

I could go on, but I think you probably get where I’m headed with this… For all that we talk about the now well-established fact that Russian military officers hacked the email accounts of Democratic Party officials in order to aid the Trump campaign, and the fact that Donald Trump and his enablers in the Republican Party continued to deny this fact long after the evidence became irrefutable, we talk very little about the cover-up, and the role played by people like Jerome Corsi who, either wittingly, or unwittingly, helped the Russians obscure their tracks… by socializing fairy tales intended to sew doubt in the minds of America’s least sophisticated consumers of information. And one hopes that Corsi, and others who joined him in this task, will eventually pay the price. What they did was beyond disgusting, and it’s incumbent upon to us to make an example of them, in hopes that doing so might help ensure that something like this never happens again.

One last thing… In writing tonight’s post, I had cause to revisit the Washington Post timeline of the 2016 Russian election interference operation, and it’s really incredible to see just how well all of the pieces fit together… Here, for those of you who haven’t seen it, are just a few highlights, assembled by the Washington Post from those court filings and government reports that have already become public.

March 15, 2016. The Russian hackers allegedly begin trying to identify vulnerabilities in the network of the Democratic National Committee.

March 19, 2016. Clinton campaign chairman John Podesta and others are sent “spear-phishing” emails meant to steal the login credentials for their email accounts.

March 21, 2016. Hackers allegedly gain access to Podesta’s account and steal over 50,000 emails.

March 25-28, 2016. Hackers allegedly target a number of additional campaign staffers with spear-phishing emails. That effort apparently included researching staff on social media.

…Spring 2016. From April through June, hackers allegedly install malware on DCCC computers that allows them to steal information and maintain access to the network. Information from this breach, including screenshots and keystroke information is sent to a server in Arizona via an overseas connection. Files were compressed and then transferred allegedly to a server based in Illinois. Hackers allegedly went back and deleted log file of their activity.

June 3, 2016. Donald Trump Jr. receives an email from a publicist working for a Russian pop star named Emin Agalarov offering to set up a meeting to “provide the Trump campaign with some official documents and information that would incriminate Hillary and her dealings with Russia and would be very useful to your father. This is obviously very high level,” the email reads, “and sensitive information but is part of Russia and it’s government’s support for Mr. Trump.”

June 8, 2016. DCLeaks launches. The site will eventually publish material allegedly stolen by the hackers including emails, DNC files and information stolen from Republicans in 2015. The same day, the hackers allegedly also create Twitter and Facebook pages for DCLeaks. The computer used to operate the Twitter account was also used to operate Twitter accounts associated with the Russian effort to influence the campaign over social media.

June 9, 2016. Trump Jr., Manafort and Jared Kushner meet at Trump Tower with a Kremlin-linked attorney.

June 12, 2016. In an interview with ITV, WikiLeaks’ Julian Assange says the organization has more emails from Hillary Clinton.

June 14, 2016. With the public revelation that the DNC network had been hacked, the Russians allegedly created the “Guccifer 2.0” persona, mimicking a prominent Romanian hacker from several years prior.

July 27, 2016. At a news conference, Trump dismisses the idea that Russia is behind the hacking — and makes a request.

“If it is Russia — which it’s probably not, nobody knows who it is — but if it is Russia, it’s really bad for a different reason, because it shows how little respect they have for our country, when they would hack into a major party and get everything,” he said. “But it would be interesting to see — I will tell you this — Russia, if you’re listening, I hope you’re able to find the 30,000 emails that are missing [from Clinton’s private server]. I think you will probably be rewarded mightily by our press. Let’s see if that happens. That’ll be next.”

Trump’s press conference began in the morning in Florida, late afternoon in Russia. The same day, the GRU hackers allegedly try to access Clinton’s personal email server in addition to targeting 76 more email addresses within the campaign. The indictment doesn’t mention any other attempt to access the server.

July 31, 2016. The FBI begins investigating possible links between the Russian government and Trump’s campaign. The investigation is triggered when Australian authorities contact the agency to say that Papadopoulos had mentioned stolen material in a May conversation with one of their diplomats…

I’ve said it before, but we really are living in a nightmare world.

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Trump threatens to withhold research funding from universities that aren’t more welcoming to those who disregard facts and refute science

Last night, after watching highlights from Donald Trump’s disturbing performance at CPAC, I posted the following to Twitter. And, as a few people have asked me what I meant by it, I thought that I’d post an explanation here.

While I, of course, found much of what our President said last night to be troubling, like his repeated suggestion that Democrats want to make the murder of babies legal, I was particularly struck by the threat he leveled at America’s institutions of higher education, as it reminded me of something that we’ve seen in this country before… something that a lot of us hoped we’d never see again.

As I heard Donald Trump announce last night that he would soon be signing “an executive order requiring colleges and universities to support free speech if they want federal research grants,” I was immediately taken back to a conversation I’d had about half a dozen years ago with Ann Arbor native Alan Haber, the first president of Students for Democratic Society (SDS). Specifically, I was reminded of a memory that Haber had shared with me from the Fall of 1954, when, as a freshman at the University of Michigan, he’d happened across a small protest on the steps of Angell Hall, where a group of graduate students and university employees had gathered to protest the firing of professors Chandler Davis, Mark Nickerson, and Clement Markert, all of whom had been fired after refusing to cooperate with the House Unamerican Activities Committee. [This is a part of U-M history, like the fact that Ann Coulter, Herman Webster Mudgett, and Theodore Kaczynski all attended school here, that many of us otherwise proud alumni would like to forget about.]

If you have the time, I’d encourage you to watch the video of my conversation with Haber, which goes into some detail about the impact of McCarthyism on campus, as men like Davis, Nickerson and Markert were pushed aside in favor of far-right academics like my old European Intellectual History professor, the very conservative Stephen Tonsor, who was hired in ’54, just as these other three men were leaving. [For what it’s worth, I valued Tonsor’s perspective, and still think fondly of his lectures, which seemed to be delivered without the least bit of concern as to how they might be received by the students present. I have a particularly vivid memory of a lecture that he began by slamming his briefcase on his desk and declaring quite loudly that pop-singer Madonna was “a whore.” If you don’t believe me about that, by the way, you can ask my friend Dr. Peter Larson, who, back in ’92 or ’93, after weeks of hearing my Tonsor stories, and assuming they were total bullshit, demanded that I allow him to tag along and attend class with me. Well, I took him with me to class one morning, and it just happened to be on the day that Tonsor decided to lecture on Madonna, who, by the way, had attended the university a decade or so earlier. Tonsor, for what it’s worth, would have been about 70 at the time.]

Of course, we have no idea if Donald Trump will actually sign an executive order designed to make college campuses more friendly to the views of his followers. He does, after all, tend to say things like this quite often, and not follow through. And it’s impossible to know, even if he did demand research institutions to shift right, what that would look like in practice. How, after all, does one make a world-class research institution more friendly to those who disregard facts and refute science?

If changes did happen, I imagine they would start subtly, as they did during the era of Joseph McCarthy. Universities wouldn’t immediately start firing climate scientists and announcing endowed chairs in QAnon Studies… No, they’d start by trying to curry favor with the administration, hiring people known to be friendly with the President. And things would evolve from there. Faculty members like Juan Cole would find themselves without jobs, and faux-academics like Sebastian Gorka would find themselves in demand. And, over time, if there wasn’t some kind of correction, our nation’s research institutions would turn to shit… at a time, I might add, that we need our academic research institutions more than ever. [Remember, the window to address global climate change is closing fast.]

I know this probably goes without saying for many of you, but I think it’s worth pointing out, for those who don’t work in academia, that federal research dollars aren’t exactly easy to come by. Academics compete for federal research dollars, and, at least in theory, only the best projects are funded, after having gone through an intensive peer review process. And, historically speaking, the results of this system have been incredible. Without federal research investments, it’s doubtful, for instance, that we’d have smartphones, the internet, or many of the drugs we benefit from today… Now, just imagine, instead of choosing the most promising projects, with the best research teams, for funding, you eliminated from consideration any projects coming from campuses thought to be unfriendly to the followers of Donald Trump? And what would that look like for America?

To those of you who agree with Donald Trump on this, I have one simple question… Would you rather have scientists at Berkley, or at Bob Jones University, working on the cancer drug that you might one day need to save the life of your child? I know, in the moment, it may feel good to lash out and punish those “ivory tower intellectuals” who, in your opinion, don’t understand what it really means to earn a living, but, really, by doing so, you’d just be hurting yourself.

Like I said, there’s a very good chance that nothing will come of this most recent threat. Trump has said as much before, and done nothing. With that said, though, all of us here in the greater Ann Arbor area, which is so dependent on the University of Michigan’s research operation, should be concerned that our President is talking about restricting research dollars to universities that he perceives as unfriendly. [UM is the number one public research institution in the nation in terms of federal research expenditures.] We just can’t afford to take such threats lightly… Here, with more on this, is an except from The Chronicle of Higher Education.

…The Pew Research Center found last year that 79 percent of Republicans said they were unhappy with professors who inject their political and social opinions into class discussions, and 75 percent said colleges were too worried about protecting students from views that might offend them.

Before making the announcement, President Trump brought to the stage a conservative activist who was punched in the face last month at the University of California at Berkeley.

The activist, Hayden Williams, had been helping the university’s chapter of the conservative group Turning Point USA.

Williams told the crowd that students like himself face “discrimination, harassment, and worse if they dare to speak up on campus.”

The president told Williams that he has a great lawyer and suggested that he sue the university, and possibly the State of California.

“Ladies and gentlemen — he took a punch for all of us. … Here’s the good news: He’s going to be a very wealthy young man. Go get ’em, Hayden.”

The president’s latest threat echoes one he made in 2017 against Berkeley. He said he would cut off federal support for the university after unrest over the visit of a right-wing provocateur, Milo Yiannopoulos, turned violent.

It’s worth noting, by the way, that neither Williams, nor the individual who struck him, were Berkley students… So this example offered by Trump has absolutely nothing to do with Berkley.

I should also add that I may not have reacted quite so strongly to Trump’s comment about withholding research dollars from institutions that he perceives as too liberal, had it not been for the fact that he doubled down on his Joseph McCarthy impersonation during the same rant, saying that he had ‘a list of names’ of people in Congress who “hate our country.” Here, if you haven’t seen it, is the video.

So, yeah, the President of the United States, after declaring the Justice Department case against him to be “bullshit,” then went on to say, “We have people in Congress who hate our country… and I could name names if you want, but I think you know who I mean.”

This is not normal.

This is dangerous.

And more people will die.

I could go on for hours, but it would just make me more depressed. So I’m going to search for Phil Silvers videos on YouTube instead.

Posted in Ann Arbor, History, Politics, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 268 Comments

Casting myself in a reboot of The Swimmer

I know I’ve yet to make good on my last great film idea — a shot-for-shot remake of the Hall and Oates video for the song “She’s Gone,” starring me and Dr. Pete Larson in the roles of Hall and Oats respectively — but, laying here in my sickbed tonight, I think I’ve got an even better idea. I want to remake the 1968 Burt Lancaster film “The Swimmer” with me in the lead. Only, instead of having me — the protagonist — attempting to swim his my across an upscale Connecticut community, by going from swimming pool to swimming pool, I’d be making my way across Ypsilanti, going bathtub to bathtub, discovering things about myself along the way.

And, yes, I know that Donald Trump said today that he’d decided to “take (Kim Jong-Un) at his word” when he said that he wasn’t aware of Otto Warmbier’s systematic torture, but I just can’t address it tonight. The cold medicine won’t allow it… If anyone wants to discuss The Swimmer, though, let me know and I’ll set up a conference call.

Posted in Mark's Life, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , , , , | 7 Comments

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