‘Trump betrays everyone’

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF THE WASHINGTON POST)

 

‘Trump betrays everyone’: The president has a long record as an unpredictable ally

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Trump confounds conservatives by siding with Democrats
 September 9 at 8:00 AM
President Trump prepared for the pivotal meeting with congressional leaders by huddling with his senior team — his chief of staff, his legislative director and the heads of Treasury and the Office of Management and Budget — to game out various scenarios on how to fund the government, raise the debt ceiling and provide Hurricane Harvey relief.But one option they never considered was the that one the president ultimately chose: cutting a deal with Democratic lawmakers, to the shock and ire of his own party.

In agreeing to tie Harvey aid to a three-month extension of the debt ceiling and government funding, Trump burned the people who are ostensibly his allies. The president was an unpredictable — and, some would say, untrustworthy — negotiating partner with not only congressional Republicans but also with his Cabinet members and top aides. Trump saw a deal that he thought was good for him — and he seized it.

The move should come as no surprise to students of Trump’s long history of broken alliances and agreements. In business, his personal life, his campaign and now his presidency, Trump has sprung surprises on his allies with gusto. His dealings are frequently defined by freewheeling spontaneity, impulsive decisions and a desire to keep everyone guessing — especially those who assume they can control him.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.), flanked by Sen. John Thune (R-S.D.), left, and Majority Whip John Cornyn (R-Tex.) speaks Wednesday at the Capitol after President Trump overruled Republicans and his treasury secretary to cut a deal with Democrats. (J. Scott Applewhite/AP)

He also repeatedly demonstrates that, while he demands absolute loyalty from others, he is ultimately loyal to no one but himself.

“It makes all of their normalizing and ‘Trumpsplaining’ look silly and hollow,” said Rick Wilson, a Republican strategist sharply critical of Trump, referring to his party’s congressional leaders. “Trump betrays everyone: wives, business associates, contractors, bankers and now, the leaders of the House and Senate in his own party. They can’t explain this away as [a] 15-dimensional Trump chess game. It’s a dishonest person behaving according to his long-established pattern.”

But what many Republicans saw as betrayal was, in the view of some Trump advisers, an exciting return to his campaign promise of being a populist dealmaker able to cut through the mores of Washington to get things done.

In that Wednesday morning Oval Office meeting, Trump was impressed with the energy and vigor of Senate Minority Leader Charles E. Schumer (D-N.Y.) and House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) relative to the more subdued Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) and House Speaker Paul D. Ryan (R-Wis.). Far from fretting over the prospect of alienating McConnell and Ryan or members of his administration, he relished the opportunity for a bipartisan agreement and the praise he anticipated it would bring, according to people close to the president.

On Thursday morning, he called Pelosi and Schumer to crow about coverage of the deal — “The press has been incredible,” he told Pelosi, according to someone familiar with the call — and point out that it had been especially positive for the Democratic leaders.

At the White House later that day, Trump asked Rep. Peter T. King (R-N.Y.) how he thought the deal was playing. “I told him I thought it was great, and a gateway project to show there could be bipartisan progress,” King said. “He doesn’t want to be in an ideological straitjacket.”

In some ways, White House officials said, Trump is as comfortable working with Democrats to achieve policy goals — complete with the sheen of bipartisan luster — as he is with Republicans. Though he did not partner with Democrats to spite McConnell and Ryan, aides said, he has long felt frustrated with them for what he perceives as their inability to help shepherd his agenda through Congress, most notably their stalled efforts to undo former president Barack Obama’s signature health-care law.

On Thursday, Trump took to Twitter to express dissatisfaction with his adopted political party, complaining about Obamacare: “Republicans, sorry, but I’ve been hearing about Repeal & Replace for 7 years, didn’t happen!” He also bemoaned the legislative filibuster, which requires Republicans to work with Democrats to meet a 60-senator threshold for most votes, writing, “It is a Repub Death wish.”

Ari Fleischer, press secretary under President George W. Bush, said that Trump deserves credit for staving off, at least in the short term, a possible default and government shutdown.

“It’s going to internally hurt him that he didn’t work with Republicans on this one, but by avoiding a mess, he likely saved Republicans from themselves,” Fleischer said. “I consider it a small victory that congressional Republicans didn’t once again trip themselves up over this issue. At least for now.”

King, a moderate who represents a Long Island district that Trump carried, said: “I think this could be a new day for the Republican Party.”

Trump’s agreement with the Democrats is hardly the first time the president has flouted his allies, including those around the world, sending them skittering nervously in response to a threat or a sudden turnabout.

In April, Trump thrust Canada and Mexico — as well as many of his advisers and Cabinet officials — into a state of panic during a frenetic, if brief, period when he threatened to withdraw from the North American Free Trade Agreement. In May, speaking in front of NATO’s sparkling new headquarters, Trump alarmed European allies when he chastised them for “not paying what they should be paying” and refused to embrace the treaty’s cornerstone — that an attack on one represents an attack on all. And in September, as the crisis with North Korea escalated, Trump abruptly threatened to withdraw from a free-trade agreement with South Korea.

Foreign diplomats euphemistically describe the president as “unpredictable,” and even those with good relationships with the United States say they are “cautiously optimistic” that Trump’s behavior will continue to benefit their nations.

On the issue of the debt-ceiling extension and short-term government funding, a GOP aide familiar with Wednesday’s meeting said many Republicans viewed Trump’s decision as “a spur-of-the-moment thing” that happened because the president “just wanted a deal.”

“He saw a deal and wanted the deal, and it just happened to be completely against what we were pushing for,” said the aide, who spoke on the condition of anonymity to offer a candid assessment. “Our conclusion is there isn’t much to read into other than he made that decision on the spot, and that’s what he does because he’s Trump, and he made an impulsive decision because he saw a deal he wanted.”

From the outset, the meeting did not go as Republican leaders and Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin had hoped. They began by pushing for an 18-month extension of the debt ceiling, with Mnuchin lecturing the group of longtime legislators about the importance of raising the debt ceiling, according to three people familiar with the gathering who spoke on the condition of anonymity.

“It was just odd and weird,” one said. “He was very much a duck out of water.”

The treasury secretary presented himself as a Wall Street insider, arguing that the stability of the markets required an 18-month extension.

At one point, Schumer intervened with a skeptical question: “So the markets dictate one month past the 2018 election?” he asked, rhetorically, according to someone with knowledge of his comment. “I doubt that.”

At another, Pelosi explained that understanding Wall Street is not the same as operating in Congress. “Here the currency of the realm is the vote,” she told reporters in a news conference Thursday, echoing the comments she had made privately the day before. “You have the votes, no discussion necessary. You don’t have the votes, three months.”

The Republican leaders and Mnuchin slowly began moderating their demands, moving from their initial pitch down to 12 months and then six months. At one point, when Mnuchin was in the middle of yet another explanation, the president cut him off, making it clear that he disagreed.

The deal would be for three months tied to Harvey funding, Trump said — just as the Democrats had wanted.

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On Friday morning, at a closed-door meeting of House Republicans, numerous lawmakers vented their frustrations to Mnuchin and White House budget director Mick Mulvaney. One of them, Rep. Lee Zeldin (R-N.Y.), stood up to say he thought Trump’s snub of Ryan — who had publicly rejected Democrats’ offer hours before Trump accepted it — was also a snub of Republicans at large.

“I support the president, I want him to be successful, I want our country to be successful,” Zeldin said in an interview afterward. “But I personally believe the president had more leverage than he may have realized. He had more Democratic votes than he realized, and could have and would have certainly gotten a better deal.”

Democrats remain skeptical about just how long their newfound working relationship with Trump will last. But for Republicans, the turnabout was yet another reminder of what many of them have long known but refused to openly admit: Trump is a fickle ally and partner, liable to turn on them much in the same way he has turned on his business associates and foreign allies.

“Looking to the long term, trust and reliability have been essential ingredients in productive relationships between the president and Congress,” said Phil Schiliro, who served as director of legislative affairs under Obama. “Without them, trying to move a legislative agenda is like juggling on quicksand. It usually doesn’t end well.”

Mike DeBonis contributed to this report.

CONGRESS AND SENATE PASS BILL PUTTING NEW SANCTIONS ON RUSSIA–TRUMP HATES IT

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF CNN)

CONGRESS AND SENATE PASS BILL PUTTING NEW SANCTIONS ON RUSSIA

 

(CNN) The House and Senate reached a deal Saturday to slap Russia with fresh sanctions and give Congress new veto power to block any easing of those sanctions — an agreement that could send a new bill to President Donald Trump’s desk before the end of the month.

House and Senate negotiators announced an agreement was reached Saturday morning for a bill that would include new sanctions against Russia, Iran, and North Korea.
Despite the White House lobbying for changes to the measure, the legislation will give Congress a new ability to block the administration from easing sanctions on Moscow. Democrats and some Republicans have expressed concerns that Trump is considering giving Russia back two compounds in Maryland and New York that were seized by the Obama administration in December.
“Given the many transgressions of Russia, and President Trump’s seeming inability to deal with them, a strong sanctions bill such as the one Democrats and Republicans have just agreed to is essential,” Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer said in a statement. “I expect the House and Senate will act on this legislation promptly, on a broad bipartisan basis and send the bill to the President’s desk.”
The House will vote on the bill on Tuesday, according to House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy’s schedule, and the Senate is likely to take it up after that, although Senate leaders haven’t said when they will bring it to the floor. Congressional aides say they expect Trump will sign the bill because it will likely pass both chambers with strong, veto-proof majorities.
In a text message to CNN, Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said he sees the agreement “quite negatively.”
The agreement on the sanctions was the result of an often contentious, month-long back-and-forth between the House and Senate after the Senate passed a bill for new sanctions against Russia and Iran 98 to 2 in June.
The bill faced a so-called blue slip constitutional problem that revenue generating legislation must originate in the House. That was fixed after a negotiation between the two chambers, but then House Democrats objected to another tweak that removed their ability to force a vote to stop the easing of sanctions.
McCarthy then said he wanted to add North Korean sanctions legislation that the House passed in May to the measure, prompting Democrats to accuse Republicans of stalling the bill on behalf of the White House, which was lobbying against the congressional review provision.
Numerous US companies also wanted changes over concerns the bill could inadvertently impact their businesses.
“My preference over the last month had been for the House to take up and adopt the legislation that passed the Senate 98-2; however I welcome the House bill, which was the product of intense negotiations,” said Maryland Sen. Ben Cardin, the top Democrat on the Senate foreign relations committee. “I believe the proposed changes to the bill have helped to clarify the intent of members of Congress as well as express solidarity with our closest allies in countering Russian aggression and holding the Kremlin accountable for their destabilizing activities.”
CNN reported Friday that the deal addressed some of the concerns of US companies while keeping in the congressional review portion, besides making technical changes. To address House Democrats’ complaints, the bill gives any House member the ability to force a vote to disapprove of sanctions if the Senate passes it first.
“The legislation ensures that both the majority and minority are able to exercise our oversight role over the administration’s implementation of sanctions,” House Minority Whip Steny Hoyer said in a statement Saturday. “I look forward to seeing this legislation on the Floor next week, where I’m confident it will receive strong, bipartisan support.”
The bill was also changed to ensure that it didn’t affect a major pipeline used to transport oil from Kazakhstan through Russia to Ukraine as well as a natural gas pipeline that goes between Russia and Germany.
The revised bill also clarifies that American companies cannot do business with already-sanctioned defense interests in Russia, as there were concerns US companies that want to finalize transportation deals could be barred from doing so under the initial bill’s restrictions.

The Senate Parliamentarian Warns Republicans That Their Healthcare Bill Can’t Pass

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF THE HILL NEWSPAPER)

The Senate parliamentarian has warned Republicans that a key provision in their healthcare reform bill related to abortion is unlikely to be allowed, raising a serious threat to the legislation.

The parliamentarian, Elizabeth MacDonough, has flagged language that would bar people from using new refundable tax credits for private insurance plans that cover abortion, according to Senate sources.

If Republicans are forced to strip the so-called Hyde language from the legislation, which essentially bars federal funds from being used to pay for abortions unless to save the life of a mother or in cases of rape and incest, it may doom the bill.

MacDonough declined to comment for this article.

Unless a workaround can be found, conservative senators and groups that advocate against abortion rights are likely to oppose the legislation.

Republicans control 52 seats in the Senate; they can afford only two defections and still pass the bill, assuming Democrats are united against it. Vice President would break a 50-50 tie.

Normally controversial legislation requires 60 votes to pass the Senate, but Republicans hope to pass the ObamaCare repeal-and-replace bill with a simple majority vote under a special budgetary process known as reconciliation.

The catch is that the legislation must pass a six-part test known as the Byrd Rule, and it’s up to the parliamentarian to advise whether legislative provisions meet its requirements.

The toughest requirement states that a provision cannot produce changes in government outlays or revenues that are merely incidental to the non-budgetary components of the provision.

In other words, a provision passed under reconciliation cannot be primarily oriented toward making policy change instead of impacting the budget. Arguably, attaching Hyde language to the refundable tax credits is designed more to shape abortion policy than affect how much money is spent to subsidize healthcare coverage.

 

The abortion language that conservatives want in the healthcare bill may run afoul of a precedent set in 1995, when then-Senate Parliamentarian Robert Dove ruled that an abortion provision affecting a state block grant program failed to meet reconciliation requirements, according to a source briefed on internal Senate discussions.

One GOP source identified the parliamentarian’s objection to the Hyde language along with Republican infighting over how to cap ObamaCare’s Medicaid expansion as two of the biggest obstacles to passing a bill.

A Republican senator confirmed that negotiators have wrestled with the procedural obstacle facing the anti-abortion language.

“That has come up and there well could be a challenge,” the lawmaker said.

The lawmaker, however, said that the problem is surmountable, arguing “there are ways around it.”

One possibility would be to change the form of assistance to low-income people by changing it from a refundable tax credit to a subsidy filtered through an already existing government program that restricts abortion services, such as the Federal Employee Health Benefits program or Medicaid.

A second Republican senator said discussions on the topic are ongoing.

GOP negotiators picked up the pace of their discussions with the parliamentarian after the Congressional Budget Office released an updated score for the House-passed bill in late May.

President Trump is pushing the Senate to pass its version of the legislation by July 4.

If GOP leaders are forced to strip the Hyde language from the healthcare bill and cannot find an alternative way to seal off insurance tax credits or subsidies from abortion services, they would lose the support of anti-abortion rights groups, a devastating blow.

“We’ve made it clear in a lot of conversations and some letters that any GOP replacement plan has to be consistent with the principles of the Hyde Amendment,” said David Christensen, vice president of government affairs at Family Research Council, a conservative group that promotes Christian values.

“Abortion is not healthcare and the government should not be subsidizing elective abortion,” he added.

Christensen predicted that activists would be up in arms if abortion services aren’t barred under the bill.

“If the Byrd Rule were to be an obstacle to ensuring the GOP replacement plan in the Senate does not subsidize abortion, that’s something that would be a serious problem for us and the pro-life community,” he said.

Republican senators who are thought to be safe votes to support the GOP leadership’s ObamaCare repeal and replace plan may suddenly shift to undecided or opposed.

“Would that be a deal killer? I’d have to think about it. I’m inclined to think it would [be],” said Sen. Jim Inhofe (R-Okla.).

Senate Finance Committee Chairman Orrin Hatch (R-Utah), who has jurisdiction over the tax credits in the healthcare bill, acknowledged it could be tough to pass the bill without the anti-abortion language.

“I think a lot of people do think that’s essential,” he said.

Trump Lawyer Cohen Says He Won’t Comply With House, Senate Requests

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF NBC NEWS)

MAY 30 2017, 1:00 PM ET

Trump Lawyer Cohen Says He Won’t Comply With House, Senate Requests

President Trump’s personal attorney, Michael Cohen, confirmed to NBC News that he has received requests for information from the Senate and House intelligence committees as part of their probes into Russian interference in the U.S. election, but says he won’t comply.

“I declined the invitation to participate,” said Cohen, “as the request was poorly phrased, overly broad and not capable of being answered.”

A congressional aide said the request letters, first reported by ABC News, were the same ones sent to former Trump aides Carter Page, Roger Stone, Paul Manafort, Mike Flynn and others. Those letters sought information about Russian contacts, and asked the recipients to turn over any communications with the Trump campaign about Russia.

Cohen is a long-time lawyer for both Trump and his business organization. He has served as executive vice president of the Trump Organization and special counsel to Trump.

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Trump’s Personal Lawyer Asked for Info in Russia Probe 3:17

In the dossier on Trump prepared by former British spy Christopher Steele, Cohen was alleged to have attended a secret meeting in Prague to discuss Russia’s hacking of Democratic targets, something Cohen has adamantly denied to NBC News and others in the past.

Related: FBI Made Deal With Ex-Spy For Trump Dossier

In February, Cohen told NBC News he was in Los Angeles when the Prague meeting was supposed to have occurred, taking his son to a meeting with the baseball coach at the University of Southern California.

Trump’s critics, he said, “are looking to malign President Trump, diminish his historic win and to undermine his presidency by claiming he didn’t win — that it was given to him by the Russians.”

Navy Promotes SEAL Commander In Defiance Of Congress

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF THE WASHINGTON POST)

Navy promotes SEAL commander in defiance of Congress

March 31 at 3:29 PM
In defiance of Congress, the Navy has granted a retroactive promotion, back pay and a bigger pension to an admiral whom lawmakers forced to retire last year after multiple investigations found he had retaliated against whistleblowers, records show.Brian L. Losey, a former commander of the Navy SEALs, rose in rank to become a two-star Rear admiral in January after the Navy conducted a secretive and unusually rapid review of his case during the final days of the Obama administration, according to documents obtained by The Washington Post under the Freedom of Information Act.

Losey’s promotion came two months after he retired from the military under duress, the casualty of a clash between Navy leaders who wanted to reward the combat-hardened SEAL commander and a bipartisan group of senators who demanded his ouster after the investigations determined he had violated whistleblower-protection laws.

The dispute represented a rare public challenge by senior military leaders to congressional oversight of the armed forces, and left lingering resentments on both sides. Lawmakers thought they had prevailed by blocking Losey’s promotion last year, but the newly obtained documents reveal the Navy had the last word.

The promotion capped a long-running controversy over Losey’s record as a commander of the SEALs and other elite Special Operations forces during a highly decorated 33-year military career.

Three separate investigations by the Defense Department’s inspector general found that Losey had wrongly fired, demoted or punished subordinates during a vengeful but fruitless hunt for an anonymous whistleblower under his command.

Losey denied wrongdoing. Navy leaders dismissed the findings after conducting their own review and decided in October 2015 to promote him anyway. But members of Congress objected strenuously when they learned about the case from a report in The Post, and pressured Navy Secretary Ray Mabus to block Losey’s advancement.

Mabus resisted at first as many other admirals pushed him to stand behind Losey. After the Senate upped the ante by freezing the nomination of the Navy’s second-ranking civilian leader, the service announced in March 2016 that Mabus would reluctantly deny Losey’s promotion, effectively ending his military career.

The documents obtained by The Post, however, show that Mabus later reopened the case. On Jan. 12, during his last week in office as an Obama political appointee, Mabus signed a memo boosting Losey’s rank from a one-star to a two-star admiral.

Losey, 56, will stay retired, but the documents show that his promotion will benefit him financially for the rest of his life.

His higher rank entitles him to a bigger annual military pension. It will swell to about $142,000 this year, an increase of $16,700, according to Defense Department figures.

He will also receive a one-time check for about $70,000 in back pay because the Navy dated his promotion retroactively to the date when he first became eligible for a second star.

Sen. Grassley: Navy commander denied promotion ‘can only blame himself’

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Speaking on the Senate floor April 6, Sen. Charles Grassley (R-Iowa) said Rear Adm. Brian L. Losey was “an honored naval officer” but was “a serial retaliator” who deserved to be denied a promotion. (United States Senate)

Mabus declined to comment. His decision to promote the admiral was based on a recommendation from the Board for Correction of Naval Records, a quasi-judicial panel that fields requests from veterans to review potential errors in their personnel files.

The board has the authority to fix mistakes or “remove injustices” from a veteran’s permanent military record, according to its mission statement.

Losey retired Nov. 1. Three weeks later, he submitted a petition to the board, arguing that he had been unfairly denied promotion because the inspector general and his critics in Congress were biased against him.

“The damning assertions against my leadership are not supported by the facts, and these errors in fact contributed to an unjust outcome,” he wrote.

The Board for Correction of Naval Records receives 12,000 applications annually and typically takes between 10 and 18 months to issue a final decision, according to Navy officials.

Losey’s application was approved by the board and Mabus in seven weeks.

Experts in military law said they had never heard of a case being reviewed so quickly.

“I’m not passing any judgment on his promotion and whether he deserves it or not, but the process certainly does look suspicious,” said Raymond J. Toney, a Utah attorney who specializes in such cases and who reviewed Losey’s file at The Post’s request. “It suggests to me that the Rear Admiral has some friends who did not want to see him go down in flames at the end of his career.”

Eugene R. Fidell, a lecturer on military justice at Yale Law School, said the speed in which Losey’s appeal was heard made it appear that the outcome was predetermined. “The circumstantial evidence suggests to me that this was wired,” he said.

Navy officials denied that Losey was given special treatment.

In a statement, Capt. Amy Derrick, a Navy spokeswoman, said the Board for Correction of Naval Records “provides a full and fair hearing on all requests that are complete and submitted in accordance with established procedures.”

Thomas Oppel, who served as Mabus’s chief of staff until both left office in January, said in an interview that any suggestion the Navy rushed the process during the waning days of the Obama administration was “a whole lot of speculation without foundation.”

“This is a case that had been freshly investigated, and the facts were fairly well-known,” Oppel added.

Losey deferred questions about how his petition was handled to the Navy. “I followed processes available to me,” he wrote in a brief message to The Post. “I do business by the book and have always aimed to be fair.”

Members of Congress who had urged the Navy to hold Losey accountable for punishing whistleblowers said they were dismayed to learn about the admiral’s promotion.

“Cases like these send the wrong message about whistleblower retaliation,” Sen. Charles E. Grassley (R-Iowa), chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, said in an emailed statement. “When accountability is lacking, retaliation continues. Good government suffers.”

Sen. Ron Wyden (D-Ore.), who held up the confirmation of the Navy’s second-ranking civilian leader last year in a tactic to block Losey’s rank advancement, said he was disappointed but not surprised.

“The Navy leadership has long sought to sweep away the inspector general’s findings and make excuses for one of its own, and Secretary Mabus’s decision to grant Admiral Losey a backdoor promotion is yet another disappointing example,” Wyden said.

A spokesman for the Senate Armed Services Committee said the panel was not informed of Losey’s post-retirement request for promotion until after it was finalized. Other lawmakers said they were unaware of his new rank until they were told by The Post.

A prominent figure in the military’s secretive Special Operations forces, Losey served as the head of the Naval Special Warfare Command from 2013 to 2016. He formerly commanded SEAL Team Six, the clandestine unit known for hunting terrorist targets. He deployed to Iraq, Afghanistan, Somalia, Bosnia, Panama and other conflict zones.

The Navy first tried to promote Losey to become a two-star admiral in 2011. The Senate confirmed his nomination that year. But the move was put on hold when the Defense Department’s inspector general began investigating Losey’s actions while serving as commander of Special Operations forces in Africa.

Five of Losey’s subordinates filed complaints that he had unfairly fired or punished them during a ham-handed hunt for a suspected whistleblower. After spending four years interviewing more than 100 witnesses and reviewing 300,000 papers of emails, the inspector general determined that Losey had violated whistleblower-protection laws in three of the cases.

The outcome marked a rare instance of a commander being found guilty of misconduct in a whistleblower case. The Defense Department’s inspector general receives more than 1,000 whistleblower cases each year, but upholds only about three percent of them.

Losey asserted that he had acted within his rights as a commander and that he had merely held his staff accountable for mediocre work.

Despite the findings of the inspector general, the Board for Correction of Naval Records sided with Losey, concluding that there was “insufficient evidence” that Losey had violated whistleblower-protection laws.

Moreover, the board found that Mabus had never signed paperwork formally denying the admiral’s promotion before he retired.

In a unanimous vote on Jan. 11, the panel recommended that Mabus grant Losey’s request for the higher rank and back pay, documents show.

Mabus signed a memo approving the decision the next day.

I Am One Single ‘Independent’ Voting Unit: So Tired Of Extreme Politics

 

I remember about a year ago during the Republican Presidential Debates Texas Senator Ted Cruz chided one of the other Candidates because ‘he’ would compromise with the Democrats. Mr. Cruz swore to the Voting Public that when He is President that he will not negotiate/compromise with the Democrats. I guess the reason this statement didn’t attract more attention was that by this point in time the Media was more focused on the ‘Trump Show’ (the Republican Debates). Think about that statement for a moment folks. Politics, the whole Chess Game of it, always wanting Check and then Check Mate. The reason they are in Politics tend to be Super Ego’s, wealth and the fame. Trouble for most people is that they don’t have or do not wish to spend their own money to finance these hugely expensive Political Campaigns. Here is where a very small handful of people in the top of the DNC and the RNC run/ruin Our Country and everyone’s lives. Those who dictate where the ‘contributions’ will go to, these way too few people, point to polar ends, thus destroying Our Country from the inside.

 

Well, President Trump and the Republicans themselves defeated themselves on the Health Care Issues earlier today. I think what happened earlier today was a good thing, I do mean that. We witnessed individual Congressmen/Women break from the ‘Rank and File’ ‘Party Line’. We witnessed quite a few politicians who were of a President’s own Party stand up to the Party Leadership and say No. You know something? Didn’t ‘We The People’ put these people in ‘Office’ to do what ‘we’ put them in there for? Wouldn’t this be great if it could be the pebble that breaks and now the mountain face falls off? Yep I know it’s just a pipe dream that Elected Officials could actually care something for us ‘little people’, us little ole Voters.

VA Denied Stay On Paying Emergency Care Claims: Good Luck On Actually Getting Them To Pay Their Bills Though!

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF THE PENSACOLA NEWS JOURNAL)

VA denied stay on paying emergency care claims

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The U.S. Court of Appeals for Veterans Claims has rejected with stunning speed a motion from the Department of Veterans Affairs that it be allowed to stop taking steps toward reimbursing hundreds of thousands of veterans, for the non-VA emergency care costs they have paid, until higher courts rule on VA’s appeal.

Warning of possible “accounting chaos” if payments must begin before appeals are exhausted, VA lawyers Friday filed a motion with the Veterans Claims court to stay the “precedential effect” of the court’s decision last year in Staab v. McDonald, now renamed Staab v Shulkin with a new VA Secretary in office.

VA should not have to continue to take complex and costly steps toward reimbursing these veterans or survivors for non-VA emergency health care claims, VA lawyers argued, because the Veterans Claims court decision is likely to be overturned, which would mean VA isn’t liable to pay a rising mountain of claims.

By Monday, however, the Veterans Claims court applied a rubber stamp of red ink to VA’s stay request, ruling “Motion Denied.” Judge Alan G. Lance Sr. signed the stamp on behalf of a three-judge panel.

“It’s the quickest judicial ruling I’ve ever seen,” chuckled Barton F. Stichman, one of three attorneys for the appellant, Richard W. Staab. Staab is an 84-year-old Air Force veteran who had to pay roughly $48,000 in unreimbursed medical expenses following emergency health surgery in the private sector in 2010.

VA claim experts told Staab that because he was eligible for Medicare Part A, any additional out-of-pockets costs he incurred tied to non-VA emergency care were his responsibility. Under a 1999 law, VA only has covered outside emergency care if a veteran has no other health care coverage, which would include Medicare.

Staab sued, arguing that Congress changed that law in 2009 but that VA chose to ignore the change and continued to deny emergency care reimbursements to any veteran with alternative health care coverage.

Last April a three-judge panel on the U.S. Court of Appeals for Veterans Claims agreed with Staab, finding that VA, in rewriting regulations, ignored the “plain language” of the 2009 statute which Congress passed to protect VA-enrolled veterans from out-of-pocket costs when forced to use non-VA emergency care.

VA’s plea for reconsideration by a full panel of judges on the Veterans Claims court also was denied last summer. This month attorneys for VA and the Justice Department filed a fresh appeal brief with the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit, urging its judges to overturn the Veterans Claims decision.

They argue that Congress in 2009 did change language of one relevant provision of law, but it left another provision untouched, which VA appropriately used to continue to deny claims for reimbursement of non-VA emergency care.

In their motion to stay the effect of Staab until the decision is overturned or appeals are exhausted, VA attorneys told the lower court that the volume of claims affected is “indeed significant.” Since April 8, the date of the Staab decision, VA has suspended consideration of 373,000 emergency care claims it previously would have denied. VA estimates reimbursements for such claims, filed in 2017 alone, would fall between $75 million and $273 million. Over five years, the added costs would fall between $394 million and $1.45 billion, and over 10 years the total could exceed $6.5 billion. Meanwhile, VA work toward paying the claims is proceeding.

“Policy program officials, revenue officials, rulemaking professionals, legal and other subject matter experts across the Department have already been directly involved in this undertaking and will continue until its completion,” wrote VA in its stay request. “Preliminary steps have been completed to craft the regulations and identify computer needs, and absent the grant of the stay, VA will need to proceed with costly software upgrades and continued investment in resources.”

Despite the “strong possibility” Staab will be reserved, VA argued, without a stay it will continue a “heavy and irreversible investment in rulemaking and implementing” the decision, using up resources that VA should be applying “to health care programs that would undisputedly benefit veterans now.”

VA has been fighting the Staab decision in Congress too. Sen. Mike Rounds (R-S.D.) revealed during the Feb. 1 confirmation hearing of Dr. David Shulkin to be the VA Secretary, that some senators schemed twice last year with VA to try to offer quietly, and to pass by unanimous consent, bills that would reverse the effect of Staab and modify the 2009 law on VA emergency care reimbursements.

Rounds referred to them as “hotline bills,” which he and other senators blocked. Rounds asked Shulkin his opinion of such back-door efforts.

“My opinion doesn’t matter because this is law,” Shulkin said. “The judges have ruled … I have instructed VA to start putting together (the) regulation that it’s going to take to be able to start paying these emergency room bills. Every day we delay, veterans are going to be put in the middle and that’s really unfair to them.”

But Rounds reminded Shulkin that the VA is appealing Staab and so its lawyers “continue to do battle on this.”

Shulkin agreed he should “clarify our position.” He said, “While VA is moving forward to start paying these bills” it also “does not believe that the court interpreted the statute correctly … and so we will see what happens. But in the meantime, I am not going to allow veterans to be put in the middle like we have been continuing to (do). We are going to move forward and we will do it with speed to make sure we start paying these bills as soon as we possibly can.”

Rounds noted the costs involved, as much as $10 billion over 10 years, which will fall on veterans “if the VA doesn’t pay it. You don’t have the money in your budget. Are you prepared to ask Congress for appropriate funds,” he asked.

Shulkin expressed concern that Staab and the 2009 law change is “a new interpretation of a benefit for veterans who have other health insurance” and need emergency care, in many cases for conditions that are not service connected.

“If we do not get additional funds authorized, that money will come from the services we provide today to veterans, and they will have less health care,” Shulkin warned. “So, yes, we will … ask (Congress) to help support with additional funding this new benefit — if it is not overturned on appeal from the Department of Justice.”

Staab’s attorney Stichman, who is joint executive director of the National Veterans Legal Services Program, said the court was right to reject VA’s stay request because its chances of winning on appeal actually are low. Also, more delay in paying claims would cause “irreparable harm” to elderly veterans.

“If they happen to die while the claim is on appeal then they’ll never see the money and the debt would pass on to the estate,” Stichman said.

Send comments to Military Update, P.O. Box 231111, Centreville, VA, 20120, or email [email protected], or twitter: Tom Philpott @Military_Update

Democracy Lebanon Style

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF AL-AWSAT NEWS AGENCY)

Opinion

Opinion: When Lebanese Democracy Talks

The controversy surrounding the election of Donald Trump as US president made many outside America have another look at how its electoral system works. However, controversy is surely not limited to America; it extends to Lebanon, a faraway small country that boasts being an ‘institutional democratic’ state built on consensus and entente.

Many pose questions about the logic behind the American political system which values the electoral votes of individual states more than the direct popular votes of the electorate. The fact is that the USA is a federal country, thus its political representation needs to reflect two fundamental principles without which no healthy democracy can survive:
-The first is simple direct democracy whereby the numerical majority has the advantage over the numerical minority; and this is embodied in the House of Representatives where each state is represented by a number of congressmen relative to its population.
-The second is respect for national unity in a diverse society, where an individual in a populous state must enjoy no advantage over another individual from a less populous state before the federal law which must treat all Americans equally. The principle of national unity is enshrined in the Senate where all states, regardless of population, are equally represented by two senators each.

This great vision has helped make the American political system as a whole, one of the fairest and most advanced in the world. It has sustained an ever growing and geographically expanding country since the 16th century, attracting wave after wave of immigration; and through the years each American state based on its topography, natural environment, and economic resources had specific attributes and qualities despite free and smooth inter-state movement.

Of course Lebanon is far too small compared to the USA. Its ‘democratic’ experience is also pretty modest to compare with that of America’s ‘Founding Fathers’ and the legislations and agreements they adopted, even though these legislations and agreements failed to prevent the American Civil war (1861-1865), some vestiges of which remain until today. In fact, Lebanon too had a civil war in 1860 that helped create its almost ‘independent’ status; and as in America’s case, the vestiges of the war remain, while its borders have changed.

Still, size and global influence aside, there is another major difference between the American and Lebanese examples, which is that the Americans have learnt from their experiences, respected their institutions, and stopped bluffing themselves, which is not the case with the Lebanese.

In the USA no less than five presidents trailed their opponents in the popular votes, but abiding by the Constitution, the process led them to the White House. Moreover, despite the huge diversity in a country of 320 million inhabitants, there remains a good deal of healthy co-existence. We don’t hear people calling every day for a new electoral law that enhances the share of his or her ethnicity or religious sect. Nor do we hear of people calling for foreign intervention in their favor in the light of changing international policies.

Lebanon’s case, however, is totally different. Here, even the Lebanese constitution does not deal with its people as citizens but rather as members of sectarian flocks. The constitution which recognizes 17 sects, has “permanently” allocated each sect what has been deemed as its fair share of governmental position although population changes are continuous as are political disagreements.

Another interesting fact is that any Lebanese may spend his/her lifetime within the confines of his/her sect without interacting with other sects, beginning with birth, death, inheritance and marriage registries, and ending with education, health and employment. Thus, religious sects in Lebanon are de facto quasi-independent ‘states’, that have their own leaders, political parties, schools, universities, hospitals, and even sport clubs!

Given this situation and bearing in mind the vestiges of the past, the Lebanese have two living obsessions: the first is the ‘unfairness’ lamented by the Muslims who believe they are the majority that is long prevented from enjoying what it deserved under the French Mandate (1920-1943); and the second is the ‘fear’ felt by the Christians towards the ‘sea of Muslims’ surrounding them. The latter, led at first to separating Mount Lebanon from its surrounding area in 1861 and giving it the status of an ‘autonomous district’, i.e. “Mutassarrifiyya”, under the joint rule of the Ottoman Government and the European Powers, in order to ensure the ‘protection’ of the Christians. Then in 1920, it led to the creation of the current Lebanon (Grand Liban) under a Christian president, and a 6 to 5 parliamentary representation in the Christians’ favour that lasted until the ‘Taif Agreement’ in 1989.

Now, after ending ‘the presidential vacuum’ and forming the new cabinet, all that remains is electing a new parliament to replace the current one. The latter ended its four year term in 2013, but due to ongoing disagreement the scheduled elections were cancelled and its term extended. Still, disagreements continue regarding under what electoral law the forthcoming elections should be conducted, noting that almost all political parties and blocs refuse to carry on under the current multiple seat constituency law, popularly known as ‘The 1960 Law’.

There are many alternatives being put forward by parties and blocs ranging from full ‘proportional representation’ as preferred by Hezbollah and followers – which is understandable given its virtual armed hegemony – to the ‘Greek Orthodox Law’ whereby each sect elects its own members of parliament, including different ‘mixed’ versions combining direct vote and PR.

One alternative, however, that seems to be intentionally and stubbornly dismissed is the one calling for a bi-cameral parliament comprising: A Senate or Upper House elected by each sect, whereby all religious sects are equally represented and enjoy a ‘veto’ on issues adversely affecting their interests; and a House of Deputies or Representative, elected with no sectarian quota, with Lebanon as a single constituency, thus encouraging proper issue-based political parties after ridding the country of the two obsessions, i.e. the Muslims with ‘unfairness’ and the Christians with ‘fear’!

Why the idea of a Senate looks like being rejected out of hand, is not really surprising, if one keeps in mind the Lebanese eternal gamble in external forces and changes of regional and international balance of power. This remains the case despite the fact that the Lebanese Constitution, as adopted in Taif, called clearly for ‘wide decentralization’ and a ‘senate’.

Indeed, it has become a habit of Lebanon’s factions to demand justice and fairness when they are the underdogs, but seek hegemony when they feel they are winning.

Given such a mentality, any authority devised to curtail the ambitions of the powerful and defended the rights of the weak, has no chance of being accepted; as every faction hopes one day to be powerful enough to monopolize the country, and obliterate the others. Even the one who may be weak today would rather hope for an opportune moment to gamble again, and settle old scores.

In short, this is ‘electoral democracy – Lebanese Style’!

Eyad Abu Shakra

Eyad Abu Shakra

Eyad Abu Shakra is the managing editor of Asharq Al-Awsat. He has been with the newspaper since 1978.

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$15 Minimum Wage Is Not The Real Issue: $3 Per Hour Could Be Okay If…

 

This article today is going to be about humanity, and the political situation here in the U.S., yet this same discussion is true within all Nations on Earth. As the World economic picture becomes more and more automated and global, this situation becomes more true of every Nation. Last month when the U.S. held their Presidential election I voted for a “3rd Party” Candidate, not for Ms. Hillary or for Mr. Trump. This article is simply my opinions and beliefs and I am well aware that many of you folks reading this article will not agree with parts of, or maybe even with any of what I am going to say in it.  I know, as you do, that there is no such thing as pleasing any of the people all of the time so quite honestly, I don’t even bother trying to. I have one goal in my articles and that is in saying what I believe to be %100 truthful with my readers. The reason that I could not vote for Ms. Hillery is because she has proven herself over and over again to be an habitual liar. The reason I could not vote for Mr. Trump is because he is a total egomaniac and quite frankly, I don’t trust either of them to be honest with the people of this Country, at all. I believe that both are very dangerous to not only this Country, but to every Country on Earth. Also being that I am a fundamentalists believer of the Christian faith, I do believe what the Scriptures say about Demons possessing humans who do not have the Holy Spirit residing within them. Quite simply I do not believe that either of those two folks “Temples” are occupied by the Spirit of God.

 

I had the same issue as millions of other people last month when it came down to whom to vote for. I knew that one of the “big two” would win the election and that both of them were saying some good things about what they wanted to do to/for the Country and yet worried about what each would do to the Country. I believe that with Ms. Hillary that the minimum wage would go up and that with Mr. Trump having a Republican Congress and Senate, that the minimum wage may actually go down. There are many other issues that are worthy of discussion but today, this article is going to be about the $15.00 per hour minimum wage that Democrats have been pushing for the past year or so. Now remember (for those of you who know me) that I am a registered Independent and I do vote that way, I am closer to neither party.

 

Now let’s begin with my form of  “logic”. Do I believe that the minimum wage should be $15.00 per hour, or more? My answer to this question is basically, no, but it depends on a few other factors. Do I believe that flipping burgers for a living is worth a $15.00 per hour minimum wage, my answer is no, but then neither are thousands of other jobs here in this Country. If a your wage is $8.00 per hour, $15.00 per hour or $100.00 per hour yet it will only buy the same amount of things that you are able to buy with your current income right now, what does it matter what that minimum wage is? If your Country’s economy goes to ‘hell’ like it has in Countries like Zimbabwe and the inflation rate is in the thousands of percent per month, your currency is worthless. What my two parents could afford in 1965 with both of them working minimum wage factory jobs, I could not afford working two minimum wage jobs, one in a factory and the other an unarmed Security job in 1975. By 1981 when I moved to North Texas I witnessed many places where people working minimum wage jobs had rented three bedroom apartments where each apartment had three couples working just so they could afford a roof over their heads. What I also noticed was that in most cases between the three couples they never had more than one vehicle that they were sharing but in most cases, all six people were having to walk to work because they could not afford transportation.

 

There used to be a television show called “The Jefferson’s”  where a man named William Sherman was the lead Actor as Mr. Jefferson. I believe that many of you folks know this program, it was a rather good comedy. In one of the programs Mr. Jefferson dreamed that he had died and came back 25 years later so he checked in on his wife to see how she was doing. In one part of the skit a small girl came into their apartment and asked her Grandpa if she could have $5.00 so that she could get an ice cream, Grandpa’s response was “what, only $5.00” and you could hear the studio audience laugh. At the time you could buy and ice cream off of one of those portable ice cream trucks for a dollar of less. The joke was about the inflation rate during those 25 years Mr. Jefferson was dead and gone. Today, many of those ice creams will cost a person $3-4.00, it is not so humorous any more.

 

Inflation is pushed Nation wide by local politicians. The reason I say this is simple, all politicians at all levels want two things from the people, your vote and more of your money. Basically all local, County, and State Governments can never manage the tax revenues they get well enough so they are always wanting increases so that they can meet their obligations. How do they do this? Homeowner’s know, people want equity in their homes, the way you get this equity is to make your payments which gives you a tiny bit that goes on your principal each year, but the biggest fastest way is when the local politicians raise the value of your home. The kicker is that you had to pay more taxes, but hey, your home is worth more, meaning that you are worth more. But are you really? As the home values goes up each year the rest of the Nation’s economic cost factors build on the housing “boom” and everything goes up, except the wages of the working class people. Think about this issue, I am 60 yrs old and not once in my lifetime has the Federal minimum wage gone up when there has been a Republican in the White House and with Mr. Trump this worker’s wage may well go down.

 

This suggestion will never happen, I have no doubt about the fact, but please consider the concept for a moment. If I am making $15,080 per year before all the taxes I have to pay out of that salary and I have to pay rent and usually some of the utilities, mainly the power bills this can very easily in most markets be at least $800.00 per month. The $15,080 figure is what a minimum wage worker can earn per year if they do not miss one single day of work all year-long for any reason. After taxes if you are lucky you may clear $13,000, housing $9,600. This leaves $3,400 for things like required insurances, food, clothing, medical care, furniture, transportation cost like payments, gas, repairs, insurance and the list goes on and on. Yet the average CEO here in the U.S. makes 791 times more than their employees make.

 

If you or I could buy a new car for  $2,500-3,000 like we could in 1965, if you could still buy an 8 Acre farm for $8,500 dollars like you could in 1965 or rent a 3 bedroom house for $50 per month like you could then and you could go to the grocery store and buy food to feed a family of 5 for $20 per week, a $3 per hour minimum wage would have looked good because it would have been a “livable wage”. By the way, in 1965 the minimum wage was $1.25 per hour. What I am saying is that it does not matter if the minimum wage is $7.25 or $15.00 per hour if that wage is not a “livable wage”. The issue is that here in the U.S. the problem is greed at the very top levels, the top 1/10 of 1%. In Congress and in the Senate you have all of these multi millionaires and now all these billionaires in the White House (also most of the Cabinet) telling the working class that they can’t afford to pay the people a livable wage. Folks, it is the working class who actually does all the work that makes these greedy A-holes their millions and billions. They sit in their mansions being chauffeured to their offices while having other people going to the grocery stores for them and cooking their meals and cleaning their houses and doing their laundry for them complaining about how much they are having to pay “these people” who are walking to work and living in a slum or a pay by the week motel room. If you are making a million dollars a week clear money but you can’t afford to live any better than you are today at $15,000 per year what does it matter what the minimum wage number is? If a person is working a 40 per week job that person must be compensated at a “livable” rate! I do have one idea, it is one of those ideas that will never happen because the folks who have all the money, ie all the power, will never ever agree to it. The average CEO makes 791 times the amount of their workers. Make it a federal law that no one in a company can be compensated more than 50 times what their bottom wage earner makes. Why isn’t 50 times more, more than fair? I am sure many “top end ” folks would choke on their lobster tails and Caviar at the mere thought of having to survive on such a pittance!

 

Mr. Trump Sticks Up For One Of Our Allies And The Cowards Start Whining

 

In the U.S. Media all I had heard for at least the first 24 hours after the event was Mr. Trump being blasted for calling the President of Taiwan, Ms. Tsai Ing-wen. This afternoon it took me reading about the event in the Times of Israel News Paper that Mr. Trump hadn’t actually called the President of Taiwan, the truth is that she called him. Evidently Mr. Trump was supposed to act like Mr. Obama did and say, no thank you, China’s leaders wouldn’t like that. There are so many reasons that the politicians in Washington D.C. are perceived as being weak kneed and undependable by most Countries throughout the world. Our Allies throughout the world are and have been worried that the U.S. will not help them if they are attacked by a larger Nation. Here in the U.S. our politicians are always playing games with real life issues. Our politicians only seem interested in increasing their bank accounts and conning people out of their vote, not in handling the real world issues that we voted them in office to do. Putting it bluntly, we have a bunch of cowards in the Congress and the Senate as well as someone bought and paid for in the Oval Office. This is not an issue with just one of our ‘National’ parties, it is both.

 

Earlier today I read in the Shanghai Daily News and the Times of Israel how the “American Chamber Of Commerce” in Beijing was worried about China clamping down on American businesses that are in China because of their ‘displeasure’ of Mr. Trump taking that phone call from Taiwan’s President. Here in the U.S. our great and wonderful “State Department” whom we all know is always looking out for the best interest of the American people also was chastising Mr. Trump for taking the call. They were more concerned about how China would react to this (basically treason) of breaking protocol regarding the “One China Policy.” Our Media have been talking of late how Mr. Trump has been ‘flying by the seat of his pants’ in regard to his actions instead of relying on ‘the professionals.’ Today the ‘unnamed’ representative at the State Department said that Mr. Trump needed to consult with them as they are the ones that sets what is proper protocol. To this arrogance I have only one thing to say, well, actually two things. One, it is the President who sets what Protocol is and will be, not midlevel ‘managers’ at the State Department. Two, I hope that people like this person at the State Department have their U-Haul trucks reserved for late January because there are going to be a lot of folks moving out of D.C. soon.

 

Taiwan is one of our Allies in Southeast Asia, China is just going to have to get over that fact. China has been trying to scare the life out of every Nation in the region of the South China Sea for at least the past two years minimum. I have no problem with the people of China at all. China could be a great friend to every Nation in the region if they chose to, the issue is their Government. Communism is and has always been an enemy of all people who simply want to have some freedom in their lives. In a lot of ways I think well of their current President Mr. Xi Jinping but he has a blade at his throat if he decided to step out of line with the Ruling Communist Party Leadership. I have one thing to tell Mr. Trump that I hope he will tell the Leadership in Beijing and that is that we agree about the ‘One China Policy’.  The issue is that the Country of Taiwan is not China, there is China and there is the Country of Taiwan, one China, one Taiwan, not two China’s. Communist Leaders only respect one thing in other Leaders and that is strength. If a leader of a Country is weak, China or Russia or North Korea will dominate you and take away all of your freedoms.

 

People of Nations that are supposed to be America’s Allies have been very scared for at least the past 8 years minimum that the U.S. would not come to their aid if they are attacked. Our current President is far more likely to issue sanctions against a Nation attacking one of our Allies than to actually physically assist them at getting the knife away from their throat. In the real world of blood, sweat and fears, both responses must be able to be counted on for people to feel any sense of safety. America’s leaders have spent at least the last 8 years cowering down to Russia and to China and the world is a much more dangerous place because of these actions. We have been trying to destroy relationships with our real Allies like Israel while showing indecision and weakness as well as ignorance in Middle East foreign policies in places like Libya and Syria. I did not vote for Mr. Trump nor did I vote for Hillary but I am old enough and wise enough to know that if the U.S. doesn’t quit acting like cowards toward Russia and China and start acting like we have a backbone and some basic intelligence, very soon, we are not going to have any Allies.

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