Senator Corker mocks White House as ‘public relations firm’ for Saudi Crown Prince

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF THE HILL NEWS)

 

Corker mocks White House as ‘public relations firm’ for Saudi crown prince

Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman Bob Corker (R-Tenn.) on Tuesday criticized the White House for acting like a “public relations firm” for Saudi Crown Prince Mohammad bin Salman after President Trump issued a statement defending U.S.-Saudi relations.

“I never thought I’d see the day a White House would moonlight as a public relations firm for the Crown Prince of Saudi Arabia,” Corker wrote in a retweet of Trump’s statement questioning whether the crown prince was responsible for the death of U.S.-based dissident Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi.

Corker, who is set to retire as chairman of the Foreign Relations panel at the end of the year, recently criticized the White House for not sharing intelligence about the details of Khashoggi’s murder. He was killed last month by a team of Saudi agents after entering the kingdom’s consulate in Istanbul.

The CIA recently concluded that Prince Mohammad was involved in the plan to kill Khashoggi based on an intercepted phone call and other evidence, according to multiple reports.

Trump, however, on Tuesday noted that King Salman and the crown prince have vigorously denied any knowledge of the planning or execution of Khashoggi’s murder.

“Our intelligence agencies continue to assess all information, but it could very well be that the Crown Prince had knowledge of this tragic event – maybe he did and maybe he didn’t!” Trump said in his statement.

Corker was the third prominent Senate Republican to criticize Trump’s statement on Tuesday.

He called earlier this month for sanctions against Saudi Arabia that went beyond the punishments the Trump administration has leveled against the 17 Saudi agents found to be directly involved in Khashoggi’s murder.

Corker praised those individual sanctions as “a significant step in that process that hopefully will involve additional action as well.”

Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.), the chairman of the Senate’s State Department and Foreign Operations Appropriations Subcommittee, earlier on Tuesday issued a statement warning Trump not to look past Saudi Arabia’s behavior.

“It is not in our national security interests to look the other way when it comes to the brutal murder of Mr. Jamal Khashoggi,” Graham said in a statement released late Tuesday afternoon.

Graham argued Tuesday that the Senate should act by voting on sanctions legislation.

“I firmly believe there will be strong bipartisan support for serious sanctions against Saudi Arabia, including appropriate members of the royal family, for this barbaric act which defied all civilized norms,” he said in his statement.

“While Saudi Arabia is a strategic ally, the behavior of the Crown Prince — in multiple ways — has shown disrespect for the relationship and made him, in my view, beyond toxic,” he added.

Graham is one of several Republican cosponsors of the Saudi Arabia Accountability and Yemen Act, which would suspend weapons sales to Saudi Arabia, prohibit U.S. planes from refueling Saudi coalition aircraft involved in the civil war in Yemen, and require a report on human rights abuses in Saudi Arabia.

The other GOP cosponsors are Senators Susan Collins (R-Maine) and Todd Young (R-Ind.), members of the Foreign Relations Committee.

Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.), another member of the Foreign Relations Committee, earlier on Tuesday criticized Trump’s statement as promoting a “Saudi Arabia First” policy instead of an “America First” doctrine, as the president claimed.

Paul has called for a vote on legislation blocking an arms sale to Saudi Arabia that Trump has valued at $110 billion.

 

Trump slanders Khashoggi and betrays American values

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF THE WASHINGTON POST)

 

Trump slanders Khashoggi and betrays American values


President Trump speaks to the media before leaving the White House in Washington on Nov. 20. (Manuel Balce Ceneta/AP)

November 20 at 5:03 PM

PRESIDENT TRUMP on Tuesday confirmed what his administration has been signaling all along: It will stand behind Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman even if he ordered the brutal murder and dismemberment of journalist Jamal Khashoggi. In a crude statement punctuated with exclamation points, Mr. Trump sidestepped a CIA finding that the crown prince was behind the killing; casually slandered Mr. Khashoggi, who was one of the Arab world’s most distinguished journalists; and repeated gross falsehoods and exaggerations about the benefits of the U.S. alliance with the kingdom. Mr. Trump has betrayed American values in service to what already was a bad bet on the 33-year-old prince.
As with Russian President Vladi­mir Putin’s interference in the 2016 election, Mr. Trump is justifying his affinity for a brutal and reckless leader by disregarding the findings of the U.S. intelligence community. The Post reported Friday that the CIA has concluded with “high confidence” — a rating it does not apply lightly — that Mohammed bin Salman ordered the murder of Mr. Khashoggi, who while living in self-imposed exile in Virginia, wrote columns for The Post that were moderately critical of the crown prince.
Mr. Trump’s response is to grudgingly acknowledge that “it could very well be that the Crown Prince had knowledge of this tragic event” before adding “maybe he did and maybe he didn’t!” He declares the truth unknowable and thus irrelevant: “We may never know all of the facts surrounding the murder.”
In fact, the truth about Mr. Khashoggi’s death is not only knowable but largely known. Audio recordings in the CIA’s possession record his actual killing as well as phone calls from the hit team to Mohammed bin Salman’s close aides. Five members of the team have been identified as probable members of the crown prince’s personal security team.
While discounting these facts, Mr. Trump bases his continued backing for the regime on false claims, including his thoroughly debunked boast that Saudi Arabia will “spend and invest $450 billion” in the United States. He says the kingdom has “been very responsive to my requests to keeping oil prices at reasonable levels,” though Riyadh is reportedly preparing to cut production to raise prices.
Worst of all, Mr. Trump libels Mr. Khashoggi, saying that “representatives of Saudi Arabia” had called him an “enemy of the state” and a member of the Muslim Brotherhood. The crown prince did make those allegations in a phone call to the White House — but the regime itself was so embarrassed when The Post reported on the call that it denied making them. Mr. Khashoggi’s family has confirmed that he was not a member of the Brotherhood.
Mr. Trump concluded his statement by inviting Congress “to go in a different direction.” As in the Russia case, it must do so. Bipartisan legislation mandating sanctions for all those implicated in Mr. Khashoggi’s death is pending in the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. Chairman Bob Corker (R-Tenn.) last week gave us a statement indicating he wanted to know “what more would be done” by the administration before Congress responded. Now he knows. If Mohammed bin Salman is to be held accountable, as Mr. Corker said he must, the committee must act. The alternative is a world where dictators know they can murder their critics and suffer no consequences.

Republicans: Trump Is a Mad King — Vote for Us to Give Him Unchecked Power

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF THE INTELLIGENCER NEWS AGENCY)

 

Republicans: Trump Is a Mad King — Vote for Us to Give Him Unchecked Power

All power to this person. Photo: Rick Loomis/Getty Images

Throughout 2018, the Democratic Party has had two core messages for the American people: Donald Trump is a dangerouscorrupt president whose power must be checked — and the GOP are a corrupt, dangerous party thatwants to take away health care from the sick.

Now, as the midterm campaign hits the homestretch, Republicans are making the Democrats’ case for them.

In an anonymous New York Times op-ed published Wednesday, a senior Trump administration official wrote that President Trump has “anti-democratic impulses,” is bereft of “any discernible first principles,” behaves in an “erratic” manner that is “detrimental to the health of our republic,” and is so psychologically unstable, “there were early whispers within the cabinet of invoking the 25th Amendment” (which allows for a president to be removed for physical or mental incapacity). The official went on to insist that all of this “would be more concerning if it weren’t for unsung heroes in and around the White House” who “have gone to great lengths to keep bad decisions contained to the West Wing, though they are clearly not always successful.”

The op-ed never advises its readers to vote for Democrats this fall. In fact, it suggests that unified Republican government serves the American people’s interests, as it has led to “effective deregulation” and “historic tax reform.” But when GOP strategists were sketching out the ideal message for their party to run on in 2018, they probably didn’t choose: “The health of our republic requires Donald Trump’s power to be checked — but don’t vote to place any additional checks on his power because his insubordinate staff is sometimes successful at blocking his worst ideas, and if you vote Republicans out of office they won’t be able to pass any more corporate tax cuts that you don’t like.

What’s more, it isn’t just a single, anonymous Republican official saying that President Trump cannot be trusted with power. Following the anonymous op-ed’s publication Wednesday, GOP senator Bob Corker told reporters, “This is what all of us have understood to be the situation from day one … I understand this is the case and that’s why I think all of us encourage the good people around the president to stay. I thank General Mattis whenever I see him.”

Corker’s comments echo remarks he made in October 2017, when he told theTimes that the president’s recklessness threatened to put America “on the path to World War III”; that “every single day at the White House, it’s a situation of trying to contain him,” and that “the vast majority” of the Republican caucus knows these things to be true.

Corker’s Republican colleagues have not moved to expel him from the Senate for telling outrageous lies about the president. Many have declined to even dispute the senator’s account. Which is to say: A large swath of elected Republicans have tacitly conceded that Donald Trump poses a threat to global security, and that this threat is mitigated primarily by the systemic insubordination of officials who serve at Trump’s pleasure.

Once all this is stipulated, the only plausible argument for allowing Republicans to retain full control of Congress (instead of putting a check on Trump that he could not summarily fire) is that the GOP is ready and able to check Trump’s authority itself.

But in recent weeks, congressional Republicans have explicitly assuredvoters that they will not provide effective oversight of the Executive branch. In campaign advertisements, Republican congressional candidates have devoted more airtime to proclaiming their loyalty to Donald Trump than they have to defending their party’s signature tax reform legislation. In recent weeks, many Republicans have reframed their 2018 message around a pledge to protect Trump from overzealous oversight. Last month, Senate Majority Whip John Cornyn warned voters that a Democratic Congress would seek “to reverse the election by whatever means possible.”

Around the same time, Republicans on Capitol Hill compiled a list of all the White House scandals that a Democratic House would likely investigate — which is to say, a list of scandals that the current Congress is actively covering up. Among them, per Axios:

• President Trump’s tax returns

• Trump family businesses — and whether they comply with the

Constitution’s emoluments clause, including the Chinese trademark grant to the Trump Organization

• Trump’s dealings with Russia, including the president’s preparation for his meeting with Vladimir Putin

• The payment to Stephanie Clifford — a.k.a. Stormy Daniels

• James Comey’s firing

• Trump’s firing of U.S. Attorneys

• Trump’s proposed transgender ban for the military

• Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin’s business dealings

• White House staff’s personal email use

• Cabinet secretary travel, office expenses, and other misused perks

• Discussion of classified information at Mar-a-Lago

• Jared Kushner’s ethics law compliance

• Dismissal of members of the EPA board of scientific counselors

• The travel ban

• Family-separation policy

• Hurricane response in Puerto Rico

• Election security and hacking attempts

• White House security clearances

It’s hard to imagine any Democratic consultant putting together a better advertisement for divided government than this.

Meanwhile, the Trump administration has been doing everything in its power to bolster the other pillar of Team Blue’s midterm message. It’s long been clear to Democrats and Republicans alike that health-care policy is the House majority’s biggest liability. The Obamacare repeal bill that House Republicans voted for last year proved to be the most unpopular piece of major legislation in America’s modern history. Shortly after the bill’s introduction last spring, the Democratic Party opened a double-digit lead in polls of the 2018 generic ballot, while President Trump’s job approvaldipped. Subsequent surveys showed the public favoring the Democrats over the Republicans on health-care policy by wide margins.

In May, Republican congressman — and longtime GOP strategist — Tom Cole told CNN that he wasn’t worried about the repeal effort hurting his party on Election Day. After all, by then, it would be water under the bridge. “It’s hard to beat you on a vote you didn’t succeed on,” Cole reasoned.

Alas, the Trump administration — and red-state attorneys general — has made that task much easier for Democrats. Earlier this summer, the Justice Department announced that it would not defend the Affordable Care Act (ACA) from a challenge brought by a group of red states, which claims that Congress’s repeal of the individual mandate rendered the law’s protections for people with preexisting conditions invalid. This claim — that Congress is not constitutionally allowed to eliminate the ACA’s insurance mandate, unless it also repeals the law’s other regulations of the health-care market — is not some sacred principle of originalist jurisprudence. Rather, it’s an ad hoc rationalization for right-wing judicial activism so specious, it makes theNational Review blush. And yet, Attorney General Jeff Sessions concluded that his department could make no honest argument against the plaintiffs’ case, and thus, had no choice but to forfeit its responsibility to defend federal law.

Oral arguments in that case began this week — and a Republican-appointed judge in Texas signaled that he buys the red states’ case. Judge Reed O’Connor “gave only cursory treatment to the baseline question of whether the individual mandate without an accompanying penalty could stand as constitutional,” according to Modern Healthcare’s Susannah Luthi, devoting most of his questions to the matter of precisely how much of the Affordable Care Act he is constitutionally obligated to strike down. On Wednesday, the judge indicated that he expects to deliver a ruling soon on whether the ACA’s consumer protections can remain in force.

It’s hard to overstate how inconvenient such a ruling would be to the GOP’s electoral strategy. The only thing Republicans want to discuss less than repealing Obamacare is repealing that law’s most popular provision. Last year, the idea of letting the market decide who can get chemotherapy without having to declare bankruptcy proved so politically toxic, Paul Ryan and Mitch McConnell retained versions of the ACA’s protections for people with preexisting conditions in all of their health-care bills. Even for a House Speaker whose signature policy idea is privatizing Social Security, scrapping those protections outright was a bridge too far.

Now, as voters head to the polls, Republicans may be forced to defend the god-given right of insurance companies to deny coverage to anyone who’s ever seen a psychologist. In fact, in some of 2018’s most competitive Senate races, Republicans nominated state attorneys general who brought the lawsuit to begin with.

In general, the relevance of messaging to midterm election outcomes is greatly exaggerated. But to the extent that campaign themes influence voter behavior, the Republican Party is doing its best to turn the long-forecasted “blue wave” into a tsunami.

Tax Bill Lets Trump and Republicans Feather Their Own Nests

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF THE NEW YORK TIMES)

 

Photo

CreditTom Brenner/The New York Times

To understand the cynicism and mendacity underlying the Republican tax bill, look no further than a provision that would benefit President Trump and other property tycoons that is in the final legislation Congress is expected to vote on this week.

The provision would allow people who make money from real estate to take a 20 percent deduction on income they earn through limited liability companies, partnerships and other so-called pass-through entities that do not pay the corporate tax. The beneficiaries would also include members of Congress like Senator Bob Corker, who last week decided he would vote for the bill even though Republican leaders did nothing to address his concerns about an exploding federal deficit.

The biggest winners would be people like Mr. Trump, his family and similarly advantaged developers who make tens or hundreds of millions of dollars every year on swanky office towers and luxurious apartment buildings. An earlier version of the bill passed by the Senate provided a 23 percent deduction but put limits on its use that would prevent wealthy developers from profiting from it. The House version would simply have reduced the rate at which pass-through income is taxed.

Republican leaders and Mr. Corker, who owns a real estate partnership in Tennessee, say the new loophole was not put in place to win over his vote. Mr. Corker has become more important because his party can afford to lose only two votes, and Senator John McCain will be absent because of the aftereffects from his cancer treatment.

Republicans insist, further, that the provision was not “airdropped” — Mr. Corker’s term — into the tax bill during conference committee negotiations, and that its main purpose was to make sure pass-through businesses were not treated unfairly because corporations would be getting a big tax cut to 21 percent, from 35 percent now. Whatever the Republicans’ protestations, this malodorous loophole is further confirmation that congressional leaders are doing everything they can to maximize benefits for the wealthy at the expense of almost everybody else.

As for Mr. Trump, he has been going around saying the tax bill would “cost me a fortune” and his accountants “are going crazy now.” This claim has always been “fake news.” But with the new loophole it has become even more nonsensical. Having done nothing to drain the Washington swamp, the president now luxuriates in its warm waters.

Continue reading the main story

All told, the 20 percent deduction for pass-through income would cost the government $414.5 billion in lost revenue over 10 years, according to Congress’s Joint Committee on Taxation. To put that number into context, it is about 29 times as much as the roughly $14 billion a year that the federal government spends on the Children’s Health Insurance Program, which covers nearly nine million kids from low-income families. Congress let authorization for that program lapse at the end of September.

The tax bill’s generosity toward real estate titans stands in stark contrast to its stinginess toward the average wage earner as well as its very real damage to taxpayers in high-cost states. Average wage earners who would get modest tax cuts in the early years would see them evaporate into thin air after 2025. Homeowners and others in high-cost states like California, New Jersey and New York would see their once-sizable deductions for state and local taxes shrink to a maximum of $10,000 a year, which could in turn reduce home values. Further, the tax bill would permanently change how tax brackets are adjusted for inflation so that more people would be pushed into higher tax brackets over time even if they received only modest raises in salary.

356COMMENTS

Details aside, here in broad numbers is the bill’s impact 10 years from now, according to the Urban-Brookings Tax Policy Center: Nearly 70 percent of families with incomes of between $54,700 and $93,200 a year would pay more in taxes than they would under current law. By contrast, 92 percent of families whose incomes put them in the top 0.1 percent of the country would get a tax cut averaging $206,280.

This bill is bad enough. No less revolting is the dishonest and sneaky way it was written.

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