So, Does Anyone Really Need Washington?

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF THE US NEWS AND WORLD REPORT)

By Susan Milligan, Senior Writer | Sept. 22, 2017, at 6:00 a.m.

As Nevada Sen. Dean Heller was trying to convince his colleagues to back the most recent GOP effort to undo the Affordable Care Act, his state’s Republican governor, Brian Sandoval, was thwarting it, signing his name to a bipartisan letter from governors opposing the bill and putting the legislation in peril. Meanwhile, in New York, as President Donald Trump fielded criticism for a United Nations speech many saw as isolating and combative, California Gov. Jerry Brown was doing his own version of diplomacy, meeting with world leaders, including the U.N. Secretary-General, to talk about climate change and adherence to the Paris agreement Trump has lambasted. The previous week, New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo announced that a bipartisan coalition of 14 states and Puerto Rico were already on track to meet or exceed the Paris standards for reducing greenhouse gas emissions.

So who needs Washington?

Congress may be unable or unwilling to pass major legislation. Trump might be threatening to pull out of international agreements on trade, the environment and nuclear security, shrinking America’s footprint on the world stage. But governors and states, lauded as laboratories of democracy at best and recalcitrant junior players at worst, are stepping up to fill the power void. And less than a year into Trump’s presidency, one the commander-in-chief pledged would mark a major upending of policy and politics, it is the governors and state attorneys general who are wielding the influence.



“Governors tend to be more pragmatic than members of Congress,” so while they may have ideological agendas, they are focused on problem-solving and keeping within mandated budget limits, says John Kincaid, a Lafayette College government and public service professor who teaches a course in federalism. And while governors are more empowered to stop federal policies or legislation than to force their enactment, the state players can have a great deal of influence over how the whole nation – and not just their constituencies – live, experts say.

Governors have long pushed back against the policies and mandates of administrations in the other party, notes Robert Mikos, a law professor at Vanderbilt University and an expert of state-federal relations. But the trend may be exacerbated because of Trump’s presidency and Democrats’ minority status in the nation’s capital, he says.

“In part, it reflects the change in administration and having a single party in control of Washington that makes people turn more to the states. It may be accentuated now, given this administration. There may be more hostility to it than there was with prior administrations,” Mikos adds. But while Democratic governors have aggressively pushed back on predictable issues – such as mandating birth control coverage by health insurers, as Oregon has done, or becoming a “sanctuary state” to protect undocumented immigrants, as California is doing – governors are setting the agenda on a bipartisan basis as well.

But there is a great deal of bipartisan efforts by governors as well of late. Most recently, 10 governors (five Democrats, four Republicans and a conservative independent) sent a letter to congressional leaders opposing the Graham-Cassidy bill to undo key elements of Obamacare. The measure would give more authority to the states in implementing details of the law, which is typically appealing to governors. But it also block-grants Medicaid, raising fears that a pot of federal cash many states rely on to pay for constituents’ health care would be cut. Some governors also have already built assumptions of federal Medicaid payments into their budgets – and unlike the federal government, all states except for Vermont are legally required to have balanced budgets.

The letter – which called for a bipartisan approach and “regular order,” meaning congressional hearings and consideration of Congressional Budget Office estimates – is notable because it includes the signature of Alaska Gov. Bill Walker and Sandoval. Alaska’s senior senator, Lisa Murkowski, is a swing vote on the measure, which Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) plans to put up for a vote next week. Sandoval, the chair of the National Governors Association, openly rejected a bill co-sponsored by Heller, who is considered the most vulnerable GOP incumbent senator next year.

Anyone who thinks the governors’ views will get lost in a cacophony of special-interest dissent need only look at Arizona, says John Dinan, a politics and international affairs professor at Wake Forest University. “In casting the deciding vote to kill the earlier repeal effort this summer, Sen. McCain said he was voting no in part because of the concerns of his own state’s governor,” Dinan notes but given Arizona Gov. Doug Ducey’s support for Graham-Cassidy, the governor also “could therefore be decisive in enabling Sen. McCain to vote for the current repeal bill and therefore lead to its passage.”

Meanwhile, as Congress fiddles with legislation to repeal Obamacare, a bipartisan team of governors, Colorado Democrat John Hickenlooper and Ohio Republican John Kasich, are working on their own offer, a plan that would tinker with Obamacare around the edges without undoing its basic tenets, such as the individual mandate.

“The ACA stuff is interesting because it involves bipartisanship among governors in a way Congress has been unable to do,” Mikos says. While Congress is under no obligation to consider a legislative approach proposed by governors, the state chief executives can put pressure on the feds or go their own way in the absence of action from Washington.

Even on matters normally reserved for the nation’s chief executive, governors are taking the lead, ignoring – and arguably underscoring – Trump’s responses. The president, for example, has been criticized for placing blame on both the white supremacist marching in Charlottesville as well as the protesters who opposed them. The NGA, meanwhile, issued an unequivocal statement on the deadly conflict, saying, “The nation’s governors strongly condemn the violent attack perpetrated by white supremacists in Charlottesville.”

On climate change, too, governors in both parties are implementing environmental policies Trump has rejected as too onerous on business. At the U.N., Brown announced that 14 states and Puerto Rico were on schedule to meet the environmental protection standards of the Paris accords, despite Trump’s announcement he intends to withdraw from the pact.

Individual state efforts can go a long way in making de facto national policy, experts note. If states and localities indeed continue their commitments despite new federal policy, the nation will end up meeting half its Paris commitments by 2025 anyway, according to a recent report by NewClimate Institute and The Climate Group.

And while federalism” and “states rights” have historically been connected to anti-civil rights positions, the concepts can also be used to advance minority rights, Yale Law School Dean Heather Gerken points out in a piece on “the new progressive federalism” in the journal Democracy. For example, Gerken notes, the momentum for same-sex marriage built after Massachusetts and San Francisco just went ahead and did it, accelerating an effort that had been limited to editorial pages and public marches. And, advocates have noted, the domino-like approval of same-sex marriage by states made it hard for the U.S. Supreme Court to rule against it.

The sheer size and economic influence of states can push national policy and trends as well. Texas, with its big buying power in school textbooks, has an outsized influence on details such as questioning evolution in science textbooks. And while California’s greenhouse emissions standard might not be much liked by industry, which one would refuse to do business with the Golden State, which has the sixth-biggest economy in the world? And when states can’t stop Washington from passing policies, they can slow-walk their implementation or scream so loudly Washington is forced to regroup. When states complained it was impossible to meet the standards of No Child Left Behind, for example, the Obama administration offered them waivers (and Congress later tweaked the law).

The failure of the White House and Congress to agree on a number of issues, then, may just create the vacuum for governors to step in – and step up, analysts and individual governors say. “America is not run by Donald Trump,” California Gov. Brown said in New York during the U.N.’s annual meeting. “We are a nation of diverse power centers.” And they are already flexing their collective muscles.

Tags: Donald TrumpgovernorsAffordable Care Act


Susan Milligan is a political and foreign affairs writer and contributed to a biography of the late Sen. Edward M. Kennedy, … full bio »

President Donald Trump’s chief strategist Steve Bannon has been fired

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF CNN)

 

(CNN) President Donald Trump’s chief strategist Steve Bannon has been fired, multiple White House officials told CNN on Friday.

Sources told CNN that Bannon’s ouster had been in the works for two weeks and a soure said that while Bannon was given the option to resign, he was ultimately forced out. White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders confirmed Bannon’s departure, but claimed the decision for him to leave was mutual.
“White House Chief of Staff John Kelly and Steve Bannon have mutually agreed today would be Steve’s last day. We are grateful for his service and wish him the best,” Sanders said in a statement.
The President has privately stewed over Bannon in recent days, including Thursday night from his golf course in New Jersey. He was furious with his chief strategist after he was quoted in an interview with the American Prospect contradicting Trump on North Korea and asserting that Bannon was able to make personnel changes at the State Department.
Bannon’s exit comes just seven months after Trump took office and three weeks after retired Gen. Kelly took over as chief of staff, looking to instill order in a chaotic White House beset by internal divisions, staff infighting and a storm of controversies.
Bannon’s exit meant one of the White House’s most controversial staffers, the man generally perceived as the driving force behind Trump’s “nationalist” ideology, would no longer be at the center of the Trump universe.
Bannon joined Trump’s campaign last year, moving from the sidelines as one of Trump’s top cheerleaders to a position atop his campaign apparatus.
He did not travel with the President during the first week of what White House officials described as a “working vacation” at Trump’s golf course in Bedminster, New Jersey. Instead Bannon remained in Washington where he worked out of a temporary office in the Eisenhower Executive Office Building as the West Wing underwent renovations.
Bannon was supposed to be fired two weeks ago, a White House official told CNN’s Jeff Zeleny, but it was put off.
CNN reports the President equivocated after an initial plan was to fire Bannon and then-Chief of Staff Reince Priebus at same time, the official says, because Rep. Mark Meadows, the influential chairman of the conservative House Freedom Caucus, and others urged Trump to keep him on board.
The interview this week was enough for Meadows to change his view, a person close to him says.
The question now is whether Bannon will be an ally or a thorn in the side of the Trump administration outside the White House, where he is likely to return to his role as head of Breitbart, the right-wing news site he ran until he joined Trump’s campaign a year ago.
Whatever his plans, Bannon is expected to remain tightly connected to the billionaire conservative father-daughter pair Robert and Rebekah Mercer, who are major investors in Breitbart News and top Trump donors.
Both Bannon and Trump spoke with the Mercers in recent days, a White House official said.

A quick and contentious tenure

Bannon’s turbulent White House tenure was marked by controversy.
In the administration, Bannon frequently butted heads with other advisers to the President, feuding with son-in-law and senior adviser Jared Kushner, chief economic adviser Gary Cohn and other more moderate members of the President’s administration whom Bannon branded as “globalists.”
Bannon was often suspected by colleagues of badmouthing them to reporters and he rubbed colleagues the wrong way by attempting to ramrod his ideological positions.
“Steve was never a team player,” a senior administration official said.
Bannon viewed himself as the populist defender of Trump’s campaign promises in the White House, working daily to tick off items from the list of promises that hung on the walls of his West Wing office.
Bannon focused especially on pushing a hardline trade agenda, recently working to cue up a series of trade policies to aggressively target Chinese foreign trade abuses and work toward rebalancing the trading relationship between the US and China.
The fiery chief strategist also led the charge against proposals by national security officials to deepen US military involvement in Afghanistan, feuding vocally during meetings of the National Security Council with national security adviser H.R. McMaster and working behind the scenes to water down hawkish proposals for troop increases and a longer-term US military commitment.
The President is meeting Friday with members of his national security team at Camp David to consider options for the future of the US war in Afghanistan as he nears a decision, but Bannon is not there — and was not scheduled to be, based on a list of attendees the White House sent out Friday morning.
This story is breaking and will update with additional news.

(Humor/Poem) Mister W. (My Salute To George W Bush)

Mister W.

 

Since you were a child it was only evil that ever bent your ear

You learned to dance around the truth, yet never speak it

You were taught that you were born of privilege, and how to use it

In your mind this gives you the right to do whatever pleases you

Curfews and even your parents wishes meant nothing to you

Your someday is now for you are a fully grown excuse of a man

 

 

Now your eyes are set upon the Throne where your daddy once sat

Your dreams now complete, you walk the halls of this House of White

The Scriptures speak the truth about Dark portraying to be Light

Who is it now that once again takes claim to this seat in the Oval Room

Now your butt hits the cushion Throne where your daddy once reigned

You now have the right to choose right and wrong, but which will it be

For awhile the Throne is now yours here at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue

White House’s Omarosa Manigault Jeered During Panel Talk

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF TIME.COM)

 

White House’s Omarosa Manigault Jeered During Panel Talk

2:44 PM ET

(NEW ORLEANS) — White House official Omarosa Manigault-Newman clashed with a veteran news anchor during a panel discussion on policing in black communities held at the largest gathering of black journalists in the country.The director of communications for the White House Office of Public Liaison was a late addition to the Friday afternoon panel at the National Association of Black Journalists convention in New Orleans.Her conversation with anchor Ed Gordon became testy when he attempted to question Manigault-Newman on President Donald Trump’s policies around policing in communities of color. Trump recently said some police officers are too courteous to suspects when arresting them.

The conversation quickly escalated into a tense exchange before Manigault-Newman, a former “Apprentice” contestant, left the stage. Several people in the audience, which included non-journalists, turned their backs in protest during the discussion.

U.S. On Collision Course With Syria, Russia And Iran Once De-Facto ISIS Capital Falls

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF THE WASHINGTON POST)

U.S. on collision course with Syria and Iran once de facto Islamic State capital falls

June 21 at 7:42 PM
Trump administration officials, anticipating the defeat of the Islamic State in its de facto Syrian capital of Raqqa, are planning for what they see as the next stage of the war, a complex fight that will bring them into direct conflict with Syrian government and Iranian forces contesting control of a vast desert stretch in the eastern part of the country.To some extent, that clash has already begun. Unprecedented recent U.S. strikes against regime and Iranian-backed militia forces have been intended as warnings to Syrian President Bashar al-Assad and Tehran that they will not be allowed to confront or impede the Americans and their local proxy forces.

As regime and militia forces have begun advancing eastward, senior White House officials have been pushing the Pentagon to establish outposts in the desert region. The goal would be to prevent a Syrian or Iranian military presence that would interfere with the U.S. military’s ability to break the Islamic State’s hold on the Euphrates River valley south of Raqqa and into Iraq — a sparsely populated area where the militants could regroup and continue to plan terrorist operations against the West.

Officials said Syrian government claims on the area would also undermine progress toward a political settlement in the long-separate rebel war against Assad, intended to stabilize the country by limiting his control and eventually driving him from power.

The wisdom and need for such a strategy — effectively inserting the United States in Syria’s civil war, after years of trying to stay out of it, and risking direct confrontation with Iran and Russia, Assad’s other main backer — has been a subject of intense debate between the White House and the Pentagon.

Some in the Pentagon have resisted the move, amid concern about distractions from the campaign against the Islamic State and whether U.S. troops put in isolated positions in Syria, or those in proximity to Iranian-backed militias in Iraq, could be protected. European allies in the anti-Islamic State coalition have also questioned whether U.S.-trained Syrians, now being recruited and trained to serve as a southern ground-force vanguard, are sufficient in number or capability to succeed.

One White House official, among several who spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss Syria planning, dismissed such concerns, saying: “If you’re worried that any incident anywhere could cause Iran to take advantage of vulnerable U.S. forces . . . if you don’t think America has real interests that are worth fighting for, then fine.”

The official said the expanded U.S. role would not require more troops, comparing it to “The Rat Patrol,” the 1960s television series about small, allied desert forces deployed against the Germans in northern Africa during World War II.

“With our ability with air power . . . you’re not talking about a lot of requirements to do that,” the official said. “. . . You don’t need a lot of forces to go out and actually have a presence.”

This official and others played down reports of tensions over Syria strategy. “No one disagrees about the strategy or the objectives,” said a second White House official. “The question is how best to operationalize it.”

The Pentagon, not the White House, made the decision to shoot down Iranian drones and a Syrian fighter jet in response to their approaches to or attacks against U.S. forces and their Syrian allies, this official said. “They shot down an enemy aircraft for the first time in more than a decade. That’s accepting a high level of risk,” the official said. “. . . We’ve done quite a lot since April that the previous administration said was impossible without the conflict spiraling.”

Ilan Goldenberg, a former senior Pentagon official now in charge of the Center for New American Security’s Middle East program, agreed that the Obama administration “over-agonized” about every decision in Syria.

But Goldenberg faulted the Trump administration with failing to articulate its strategy. “It has been the worst of all worlds,” he said. “A vagueness on strategy, but a willingness to deploy force. They are totally muddying the waters, and now you have significant risk of escalation.”

“I know the president is fond of secret plans,” Goldenberg said. “But this situation requires clarity about our objectives and what we will or won’t tolerate.”

Trump promised during his campaign to announce within his first month in office a new strategy for defeating the Islamic State. That strategy remains unrevealed, and for several months Trump appeared to be following Obama’s lead in avoiding Assad, Iran and Russia and continuing a punishing assault on Islamic State strongholds elsewhere in Syria, as well as in Iraq.

In April, Trump broke that mold with a cruise-missile attack on regime forces after their use of chemical weapons against civilians. Assad and his allies protested but did little else.

More recently, however, there have been direct clashes between the United States and the regime. Trump’s campaign calls to join forces with Russia against the Islamic State have largely disappeared amid increased estrangement between Washington and Moscow and investigations of Trump associate’s contacts with Russian officials.

Despite U.S. warnings, regime and militia forces have moved toward the Syrian town of At Tanf, near the Iraq border, where U.S. advisers are training Syrian proxies to head northeast toward Deir al-Zour, the region’s largest city, controlled by the regime and surrounded by the Islamic State. It is a prize that the regime also wants to claim.

At the end of May, Syrian and Iranian-backed forces pushed southward to the Iraq border, between At Tanf and Bukamal, where the Euphrates crosses into Iraq. In Iraq, Iranian-backed militias have, in small but concerning numbers, left the anti-Islamic State fight and headed closer to the border, near where regime forces were approaching.

On at least three occasions in May and June, U.S. forces have bombed Iranian-supported militia forces approaching the At Tanf garrison. Twice this month, they have shot down what they called “pro-regime” armed drones, including one on June 8 that fired on Syrian fighters and their American advisers.

On Sunday, two days before the most recent drone shoot-down near At Tanf, a U.S. F/A-18 shot down a Syrian air-force jet southwest of Raqqa.

In response, Russia said it would train its powerful antiaircraft defense system in western Syria on farther areas where U.S. aircraft are operating and shut down the communications line that the two militaries have used to avoid each other in the crowded Syrian airspace.

“The only actions we have taken against pro-regime forces in Syria . . . have been in self-defense,” Gen. Joseph F. Dunford Jr., chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, said this week.

Dunford also made clear that victory against the Islamic State in Raqqa, and in Mosul, where the U.S.-led coalition and Iraqi forces are in the last stages of a months-long offensive, will not mark the end of the war.

“Raqqa is tactical. Mosul is tactical,” Dunford said. “We ought not to confuse success in Raqqa and Mosul as something that means it’s the end of the fight. I think we should all be braced for a long fight.”

In a report Wednesday, the Institute for the Study of War, referring to intelligence and expert sources, said that the Islamic State in Raqqa had already relocated “the majority of its leadership, media, chemical weapons, and external attack cells” south to the town of Mayadin in Deir al-Zour province.

Neither the U.S.-led coalition and its local allies nor what the institute called the “Russo-Iranian coalition” can “easily access this terrain — located deep along the Euphrates River Valley — with their current force posture,” it said.

At the White House, senior officials involved in Syria policy see what’s happening through a lens focused as much on Iran as on the Islamic State. The Iranian goal, said one, “seems to be focused on making that link-up with Iran-friendly forces on the other side of the border, to control lines of communication and try to block us from doing what our commanders and planners have judged all along is necessary to complete the ISIS campaign.” ISIS is another name for the Islamic State.

“If it impacts your political outcome, if it further enables Iran to solidify its position as the dominant force in Syria for the long haul,” the official said, “that threatens other things,” including “the defeat-ISIS strategy” and “the ability to get to political reconciliation efforts.”

“For us,” the official said, “that’s the biggest concern.”

Thomas Gibbons-Neff contributed to this report.

Syria Has Changed The World

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF THE SAUDI NEWS AGENCY ASHARQ AL-AWSAT AND THE NEW YOUR TIMES)

Syria Changed the World

Istanbul- The world seems awash in chaos and uncertainty, perhaps more so than at any point since the end of the Cold War.

Authoritarian-leaning leaders are on the rise, and liberal democracy itself seems under siege. The post-World War II order is fraying as fighting spills across borders and international institutions — built, at least in theory, to act as brakes on wanton slaughter — fail to provide solutions. Populist movements on both sides of the Atlantic are not just riding anti-establishment anger, but stoking fears of a religious “other,” this time Muslims.

These challenges have been crystallized, propelled and intensified by a conflagration once dismissed in the West as peripheral, to be filed, perhaps, under “Muslims killing Muslims”: the war in Syria.

Now in its seventh year, this war allowed to rage for so long, killing 400,000 Syrians and plunging millions more into misery, has sent shock waves around the world. Millions have fled to neighboring countries, some pushing on to Europe.

The notion that the postwar world would no longer let leaders indiscriminately kill their own citizens now seems in full retreat. The Syrian regime’s response to rebellion, continuing year after year, threatens to normalize levels of state brutality not seen in decades. All the while Bashar al-Assad invokes an excuse increasingly popular among the world’s governments since Sept. 11: He is “fighting terror.”

“Syria did not cause everything,” said the Syrian dissident Yassin al-Haj Saleh, a secular leftist who spent nearly two decades as a political prisoner under Mr. Assad’s father and predecessor, Hafez. “But yes, Syria changed the world.”

The United Nations Security Council is paralyzed. Aid agencies are overwhelmed. Even a United States missile strike on a Syrian military air base, ordered by President Trump in retaliation for a chemical attack on a rebel-held town, seems little more than a blip in the turmoil, the latest unilateral intervention in the war. Two weeks later, the Syrian regime, backed by Russia, continues its scorched-earth bombings.

There remains no consensus on what should have been or could still be done for Syria, or whether a more, or less, muscular international approach would have brought better results.

The Obama White House kept Syria at arm’s length, determined, understandably, to avoid the mistakes of the invasion and occupation of Iraq. And Western leaders surmised that unlike the 1990s civil war in Bosnia, the Syrian conflict could burn in isolation from their countries.

Moral or not, that calculation was incorrect. The crisis has crossed Europe’s doorstep and is roiling its politics.

The conflict began in 2011, with political protests. Syrian security forces cracked down, and with Western support stronger in rhetoric than reality, some of Assad’s opponents took up arms. The regime responded with mass detentions, torture, starvation sieges and bombing of rebel-held areas. Extremist jihadists arose, with ISIS eventually declaring a caliphate and fomenting violence in Europe.

More than five million Syrians have fled their country. Hundreds of thousands joined a refugee trail across the Mediterranean Sea to Europe.

Images of crowds of desperate refugees — and of the extreme violence they had faced at home — were used by politicians to fuel fears of Islam, and of Muslims. That lifted far-right European parties already riding on resentment of immigrants, from Finland to Hungary.

The refugee crisis has posed one of the biggest challenges in memory to the cohesion of the European Union and some of its core values: freedom of movement, common borders, pluralism. It heightened anxieties over identity and culture, feeding off economic insecurity and mistrust of governing elites that grew over decades with globalization and financial crises.

Suddenly European countries were erecting fences and internment camps to stop migrants. While Germany welcomed refugees, other countries resisted sharing the burden. The far right spoke of protecting white, Christian Europe. Even the Brexit campaign played, in part, on fears of the refugees.

In the United States, as in Europe, right-wing extremists are among those embracing authoritarian, indiscriminately violent responses to perceived “Islamist” threats. White nationalists like Richard Spencer and David Duke, the former Ku Klux Klan leader, post adoring pictures on social media of Assad, who portrays himself as a bulwark against extremism.

In my decade of covering violence against civilians in the Middle East, mass murder by states has often seemed less gripping to Western audiences than far smaller numbers of theatrically staged killings — horrific as they are — by ISIS and its Qaeda predecessors.

The United States’ own “war on terror” played a part in making violations of humanitarian and legal norms routine: detentions at Guantánamo Bay, the torture at Abu Ghraib and the continuing drone and air wars with mounting civilian tolls in Syria, Iraq, Yemen and elsewhere.

Then, too, Syria’s war broke out when the global stage was set for division and ineffectiveness. Russia was eager for a bigger role, the United States was retreating, Europe was consumed with internal problems. Russia and the United States saw opposite interests in Syria, deadlocking the Security Council.

The New York Times

Is President Trump Getting Ready To Dump Alt-Right Strategist Steve Bannon

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF CNN)

(CNN) It’s easy to forget, after a whirlwind 82 days in the White House, that chief strategist Steve Bannon only formally joined Donald Trump’s presidential campaign fewer than three months before Election Day.

For Trump, however, the timeline is crystal clear. He is keenly aware of when Bannon joined the team and, more to the point, how far he’d gone without him.
“I like Steve,” the President told the New York Post on Tuesday, “but you have to remember he was not involved in my campaign until very late.”
Trump in the same breath went on to list his pre-Bannon accomplishments and remind the world, “I’m my own strategist,” making clear what many had suspected — that the former Breitbart executive is on the presidential chopping block. Bannon picked the wrong rival in Trump son-in-law Jared Kushner, also a top adviser, and it’s become expressly clear that if the two can’t, as Trump said, “work this out,” Bannon will be the one who pays.
The prospect of Bannon’s dismissal will bring unalloyed joy to Democrats and the anti-Trump resistance, who view him as an right-wing extremist with a direct line to the Oval Office, and no small measure of relief to moderate Republicans turned off by his ideological aversion to most forms of American engagement overseas.
All of which begs the question: What becomes of Trump and his administration if the Bannon gets the boot?
The emerging wisdom is that Bannon’s departure would set off a centrist drift, with aides like daughter Ivanka Trump, Kushner and former Goldman Sachs No. 2 Gary Cohn, Trump’s top economic adviser, leading the way. Firebrands like Stephen Miller, one author of the initial travel ban, would be sidelined or dismissed.
By this logic, Trump, too, would moderate. Tweets aside, he might be more inclined to engage the establishment, whether that means seeking some kind of bipartisan consensus on trade or getting in the trenches with House Speaker Paul Ryan and fighting for more familiar GOP policies.
It would be, in short, the “pivot” that so many conservatives in Washington have clamored for and hopefully anticipated since it became clear Trump would be the GOP nominee.

Source: No one is leaving the White House

 Source: No one is leaving the White House

There is a concern, however, among some Trump allies that firing Bannon — who helped amplify Trump’s outside-the-beltway base with his particular brand of economic populism and pledges to “deconstruct the administrative state” — could backfire.
One senior White House official told CNN’s Jim Acosta some are worried Bannon will turn Breitbart against Trump if he leaves the White House.
But those worries seem to crumble when you consider the brief history lesson imparted by Trump during his chat with the Post.
“I had already beaten all the senators and all the governors, and I didn’t know Steve,” Trump said, referencing a primary he successfully navigated while Bannon was at Breitbart. “I’m my own strategist, and it wasn’t like I was going to change strategies because I was facing crooked Hillary.”
Trump is correct here. The “psychic connection to the issue palette” that drove his base was firmly in place ahead of Bannon’s arrival. Breitbart played a part, of course, in boosting Trump, but it was not the author of his worldview. That, for anyone who hasn’t followed Trump since the New York City tabloids were fat and literally dripping with classifieds, predates this past political cycle by a decades.
While the Breitbart website could potentially turn on Trump, a scenario that supposes Bannon is unceremoniously dumped and doesn’t leave declaring victory, it would hardly unmoor the zealous core of support that has stood by Trump through countless political tsunamis.
The more likely outcome if Bannon goes is that he returns to Breitbart and continues to expand on its emerging media empire. And you don’t do that by going to war with the most popular politician in its pages.
Would the alt-right be unhappy? To the extent they are a coherent movement with shared interests beyond trolling women and minorities, sure. But they would get over it, and faster than one might expect. Trump is their meal ticket, too.
As for the actual voters, well, they might not even notice. Bannon is, after all, a staffer — one that Trump, CNN’s Sara Murray reports, believes was getting a little too much attention.
Despite his outsize outsider persona, Bannon’s profile is more prominent in Washington than in the blue-collar districts Trump feasted on during the election.
He does not represent the “silent majority” that turned the 2016 election — a cohort that, as much as anything else, was joined by its uniform disdain for the political and cultural establishment.
Trump does.

President Trump ‘quietly’ Signs Law To Prevent Federal Money Going To ‘Abortion’ Clinics

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF CNN)

Washington (CNN) President Donald Trump privately signed a bill on Thursday that allows states to withhold federal money from organizations that provide abortion services, including Planned Parenthood, a group frequently targeted by Republicans.

The bill, which the usually camera-friendly President signed without any media present, reverses an Obama-era regulation that prohibited states from withholding money from facilities that perform abortions, arguing that many of these facilities also provide other family planning and medical services.
The bulk of federal money Planned Parenthood receives, though, goes toward preventive health care, birth control, pregnancy tests and other women’s health services. Federal law prohibits taxpayer dollars from funding abortions and Planned Parenthood says 3% of the services it provides are abortions.
The signing comes weeks after Vice President Mike Pence, a social conservative who regularly touts his anti-abortion stances, cast the tie-breaking vote in the Senate after two Republicans opposed the measure.
“(Women’s) worst fears are now coming true. We are facing the worst political attack on women’s health in a generation as lawmakers have spent the past three months trading away women’s health and rights at every turn,” Dawn Laguens, executive vice president of Planned Parenthood, said in a statement.

Ivanka Trump’s influence

The law once again raises questions about the power Ivanka Trump, the President’s daughter and aide, actually wields inside the West Wing. The first daughter met with president of Planned Parenthood shortly after her father was inaugurated in an attempt to better understand the group that is regularly targeted by Republicans. She has also cultivated an image of a moderating force inside the White House.
The President has even said Ivanka Trump would be his guide on women’s health issues.
“Ivanka is so much into that whole issue of women’s health and women,” Trump said in a 2015 interview with Fox News. “And she’s my guide on that whole subject.”

fight to save obamacare marquez pkg ac_00000415

 What is being done to save Obamacare?

But the first daughter has been hesitant about publicly speaking about her views on abortion, despite saying she would be an advocate for women’s health inside the White House.
“I don’t talk about my politics,” she told Boston Public Radio in 2016. “I don’t feel like it’s my role … I’m the daughter. I don’t think my politics are relevant to the discussion.”
What is clear is that the meeting with Planned Parenthood — and whatever information Trump took away from it — did not sway her father’s administration, which has since targeted the organization. The Republican health care bill, which was fully backed by the White House, would have defunded Planned Parenthood.
Democratic organizations blasted the bill on Thursday.
“Stripping millions of Americans of the critical health care services that Planned Parenthood provides doesn’t just hurt women — it hurts entire families and their economic security,” said Stephanie Schriock, the head of EMILY’s List, a Democratic political action committee. “This is just one more example of Donald Trump’s White House and this Republican Congress taking every single opportunity to chip away at women’s rights, and we won’t stand for it.”
House Speaker Paul Ryan called the signing a “a major pro-life victory.”

The Emerging Trump Doctrine: Don’t Follow Doctrine

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF THE NEW YORK TIMES)

Photo

The damage on Friday after a reported airstrike by the Syrian government in the rebel-held town of Douma, on the outskirts of Damascus. CreditAbd Doumany/Agence France-Presse — Getty Images

WASHINGTON — As he confronted a series of international challenges from the Middle East to Asia last week, President Trump made certain that nothing was certain about his foreign policy. To the extent that a Trump Doctrine is emerging, it seems to be this: don’t get roped in by doctrine.

In a week in which he hosted foreign heads of state and launched a cruise missile strike against Syria’s government, Mr. Trump dispensed with his own dogma and forced other world leaders to re-examine their assumptions about how the United States will lead in this new era. He demonstrated a highly improvisational and situational approach that could inject a risky unpredictability into relations with potential antagonists, but also opened the door to a more traditional American engagement with the world that eases allies’ fears.

As a private citizen and candidate, Mr. Trump spent years arguing that Syria’s civil war was not America’s problem, that Russia should be a friend, and that China was an “enemy” whose leaders should not be invited to dinner. As president, Mr. Trump, in the space of just days, involved America more directly in the Syrian morass than ever before, opened a new acrimonious rift with Russia, and invited China’s leader for a largely convivial, let’s-get-along dinner at his Florida estate.

In the process, Mr. Trump upended domestic politics as well. He rejected the nationalist wing of his own White House, led by Stephen K. Bannon, his chief strategist, who opposes entanglement in Middle East conflicts beyond fighting terrorism and favors punitive trade measures against Beijing. And Mr. Trump, by launching the strike on Russia’s ally Syria, undercut critics who have portrayed him as a Manchurian candidate doing the bidding of President Vladimir V. Putin after the Kremlin intervened in last year’s election on his behalf.

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Given his unpredictability, none of this means that Mr. Trump has pivoted permanently in any of these areas. The White House has prepared an executive order that the president may sign in coming days targeting countries like China that dump steel in the American market. And Mr. Trump is sending Secretary of State Rex W. Tillerson on Tuesday to Moscow, where he will have the additional task of trying to smooth over the rancor of recent days, in addition to exploring whether Russia could be a real partner in battling the Islamic State in Syria.

Moreover, the missile strike, in response to a chemical weapons attack, was intended to be a limited, one-time operation, and the president seemed determined to quickly move on. After announcing the attack Thursday evening, he made no mention of it Friday during public appearances, nor on Saturday during his weekly address. As of Saturday morning, the Twitter-obssessed president had not even taunted President Bashar al-Assad of Syria online, although he did thank the American troops who carried out the missile strike.

“Our decisions,” Mr. Trump said in the Saturday address, “will be guided by our values and our goals — and we will reject the path of inflexible ideology that too often leads to unintended consequences.”

That concept, flexibility, seems key to understanding Mr. Trump. He hates to be boxed in, as he mused in the Rose Garden last week while contemplating the first new military operation of his presidency with geopolitical consequences.

“I like to think of myself as a very flexible person,” he told reporters. “I don’t have to have one specific way.” He made clear he cherished unpredictability. “I don’t like to say where I’m going and what I’m doing,” he said.

That flexibility was a hallmark of his rise in real estate, and if critics preferred the word erratic, it did not bother Mr. Trump — it has since worked well enough to vault him to the White House. But now that he is commander in chief of the world’s most powerful nation, leaders around the world are trying to detect a method to the man.

“There is no emerging doctrine for Trump foreign policy in a classical sense,” said Kathleen H. Hicks, a former Pentagon official who is now at the Center for Strategic and International Studies. “There are, however, clear emerging characteristics consistent with the attributes of the man himself: unpredictable, instinctual and undisciplined.”

On Syria, Mr. Trump had mocked President Barack Obama for setting a “red line” against the use of chemical weapons and urged him not to launch a punitive strike against Syria after Mr. Assad crossed it in 2013. That attack, with a death toll of 1,400, dwarfed last week’s toll of 84. And just days before last week’s attack, Mr. Tillerson indicated that Washington would accept Mr. Assad’s remaining in power.

Photo

An injured child being treated after the strike. CreditAbd Doumany/Agence France-Presse — Getty Images

Indeed, critics, including Senator Marco Rubio, Republican of Florida, argued that Mr. Assad felt free to launch a chemical attack precisely because Mr. Trump’s administration had given him a green light. Russia, critics added, did not constrain Mr. Assad because it has had a blank check from an overly friendly Trump administration. And Mr. Trump’s efforts to bar Syrian refugees from the United States, they said, sent a signal that he did not care about them.

“President Trump seems not to have thought through any of this, or have any kind of broader strategy, but rather to have launched a military strike based on a sudden, emotional decision,” Senator Christopher S. Murphy, Democrat of Connecticut, wrote in an article for The Huffington Post on Saturday.

Mr. Assad is not the only leader testing Mr. Trump. North Korea has test-launched missile after missile in recent weeks, almost as if trying to get Mr. Trump’s attention. So far, he has been measured in his response, urging President Xi Jinping of China during his visit at Mr. Trump’s Mar-a-Lago estate in Florida to do more to rein in North Korea. But national security aides have also prepared options for Mr. Trump if China does not take a more assertive stance, including reintroducing nuclear weapons in South Korea.

Mr. Trump’s action in Syria was welcomed by many traditional American allies who had fretted over Mr. Obama’s reluctance to take a greater leadership role in the Middle East, and feared that Mr. Trump would withdraw even more. After the missile strike, Israeli news outlets were filled with headlines like “The Americans Are Back,” and European leaders expressed relief both that he took action and that he did not go too far.

“We have learned that Trump is not so isolationist as many Europeans feared he would be — he appears to care about victims of a gas attack in Syria,” said Charles Grant, director of the Center for European Reform in London. “We have learned that he understands that U.S. influence had suffered from the perception — which grew under Obama — that it was a power weakened by its reluctance to use force.”

That touches on another animating factor as Mr. Trump deals with foreign challenges — doing the opposite of whatever Mr. Obama did. Mr. Trump’s first instinct after the Syrian chemical attack was to blame Mr. Obama for not enforcing his red line, never mind that Mr. Trump had urged him not to at the time. Even as he announced the missile strike on Thursday night, Mr. Trump asserted that his predecessor’s handling of Syria had “failed very dramatically.”

Intentionally or not, though, Mr. Trump adopted language similar to that used by Mr. Obama and many other presidents in defining American priorities. While in the past Mr. Trump said the United States did not have a national interest in Syria, last week he said instability there was “threatening the United States and its allies.”

He also said that “America stands for justice,” effectively espousing a responsibility to act in cases of human rights abuses, as other presidents have at times.

Until now, Mr. Trump has largely eschewed such language. Just three days earlier, he had hosted Egypt’s authoritarian president, Abdel Fattah el-Sisi, and made no public mention of the thousands of people the Cairo government has imprisoned in a political crackdown.

“What is striking to me is a subtle yet clear shift away from the rhetoric of pure American self-interest narrowly defined, as espoused by candidate Donald Trump,” said Robert Danin, a former Middle East negotiator who is now at the Council on Foreign Relations. “What has emerged is a new language of American leadership in the world that we have not heard before from President Trump.”

Mr. Grant and others noted that the strike, coming as Mr. Trump shared a meal with Mr. Xi, could resonate in Asia as well, leaving North Korea to wonder whether the president might resort to force to stop its development of ballistic missiles.

But Ms. Hicks said Mr. Trump’s flexibility — or unpredictability — was itself “extremely risky.” If other countries cannot accurately predict what an American president will do, she said, they may act precipitously, citing the example of China’s extending its maritime claims in the South China Sea.

“Imagine if Donald Trump then took exception in ways they didn’t anticipate and major wars ensued,” she said. “Bright lines, derived from clear interests and enforced well, are generally best, and I don’t think Donald Trump likes to be constrained by bright lines.”

U.S. needs to stop Russian electoral interference, NSA’s top civilian leader says

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF THE WASHINGTON POST)

U.S. needs to stop Russian electoral interference, NSA’s top civilian leader says

March 25 at 6:48 PM
The U.S. government has not figured out how to deter the Russians from meddling in democratic processes, and stopping their interference in elections, both here and in Europe, is a pressing problem, the top civilian leader of the National Security Agency said.The NSA was among the intelligence agencies that concluded that Russian President Vladi­mir Putin ordered a cyber-enabled influence campaign in 2016 aimed at undermining confidence in the election, harming Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton and helping elect GOP nominee Donald Trump.“This is a challenge to the foundations of our democracy,” said NSA Deputy Director Richard Ledgett, 58, who is retiring at the end of April, in an interview at Fort Meade, Md., the agency’s headquarters. “It’s the sanctity of our process, of evaluating and looking at candidates, and having accurate information about the candidates. So the idea that another nation-state is [interfering with that] is a pretty big deal and something we need to figure out. How do we counter that? How do we identify that it’s happening — in real-time as opposed to after the fact? And what do we do as a nation to make it stop?”The lack of answers, he said, “as an American citizen . . . gives me a lot of heartburn.”

Ledgett, known as a straight-shooting, unflappable intelligence professional, began his NSA career in 1988 teaching cryptanalysis — how to crack codes — and rose to become the agency’s top civilian leader . The NSA, with 35,000 civilian and military employees, gathers intelligence on foreign targets overseas through wiretaps and increasingly by cyberhacking. Its other mission is to secure the government computers that handle classified information and other data critical to military and intelligence activities.

Asked whether the NSA had any inkling that the Kremlin was going to orchestrate the release of hacked Democratic National Committee emails last July, he demurred. “I actually don’t want to talk about that.”

At the same time, he said, what Moscow did was “no strategic surprise.” Rather, “what may have been a tactical surprise was that they would do it the way they did.”

Campaigns of propaganda and disinformation, dating back to the Soviet Union, have long been a staple of the Kremlin’s foreign policy. Now, however, it is making effective use of its hacking prowess to weaponize information and combine it with its influence operations, or what intelligence officials call “active measures.”

“In general, if you’re responding to nation-state actions like that, you have to find out what are the levers that will move the nation-state actors and are you able and willing to pull those levers?” said Ledgett when asked how the United States should respond.

The Obama administration slapped economic sanctions on two Russian spy agencies involved in hacking the DNC, three companies believed to have provided support for government cyber operations, and four Russian cyber officials. The administration also ordered 35 Russian operatives to leave the United States and shut down Russian-owned facilities on Maryland’s Eastern Shore and on Long Island believed to have been used for intelligence purposes.

Yet, intelligence officials including NSA Director Michael S. Rogers and FBI Director James B. Comey said on Monday that they believe Moscow will strike again — in 2020, if not in 2018.

So should the government mull other options, such as hacking Russian officials’ emails or financial records and releasing them in a bid to embarrass or show corruption? “I think every element of national power is something we should consider,” he said. “That would probably fall under something like a covert action. But if that’s the right answer, that’s the right answer.”

Ledgett is probably most well-known for leading the agency task force that handled the fallout from the leaks of classified information by former NSA contractor Edward Snowden in 2013. The disclosures prompted a national and global debate about the proper scope of government surveillance and led Congress to pass some reforms, including the outlawing of bulk collection of Americans’ phone metadata.

But the disclosures also caused great upheaval in NSA’s collection efforts, hurt morale, and damaged relations with allies and with tech firms that enable court-ordered surveillance, Ledgett said. “It was a terrible time for the agency,” he said.

He oversaw the probe of the internal breach; relations with Congress, the White House, foreign governments and the press; and the effort to prevent a recurrence. “There was a bit of a narrative on the outside about this evil agency that hoovered up all the communications in the world and rooted through them for things that were interesting, and that wasn’t actually true.”

The operational hit was significant, he said. More than 1,000 foreign targets — whether a person or a group or an organization — altered or attempted to alter their means of communications as a result of the disclosures, he said. They “tried with varying degrees of success to remove themselves from our ability to see what they were doing,” he said.

The agency, which has some 200 stations worldwide, reworked capabilities including virtually all of its hacking tools. “In some cases, we had to do things very differently” to gather the same foreign intelligence as before.

Raj De, a former NSA general counsel, said Ledgett was relied on heavily by both Rogers and Rogers’s predecessor, Keith B. Alexander. “He has really been a source of steadiness for the agency,” said De, now head of the Cybersecurity & Data Privacy practice at Mayer Brown, a global law firm. “What is particularly notable about Rick is his willingness to engage with all types of people, to keep an open mind.”

In December 2013, Alexander, when he was the NSA director, said that Snowden should be given no amnesty. But Ledgett told CBS’s “60 Minutes” then that “my personal view is yes, it’s worth having a conversation about.”

In his interview earlier this week, however, he said what he meant was that by engaging Snowden in conversation, the agency might have been able to learn what material had not been released and where it was.

Today, he said, there is no longer any need to talk to Snowden. “He’s past his usefulness to us.” Snowden, who is living in Moscow under a grant of asylum, has been charged with violating the Espionage Act, and Ledgett said he should not be pardoned. “I’ve always been of the idea that ‘Hey, I think he needs to face the music for what he did.’ ”

Julie Tate contributed to this report.

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