Wednesday, January 31, 2018

Last Call For Smoke 'Em If You Got 'Em

When I have repeatedly said that the Trump Regime strikes me as cartoonishly evil, it's stories like this that perfectly demonstrate what I mean.

The Trump administration’s top public health official bought shares in a tobacco company one month into her leadership of the agency charged with reducing tobacco use — the leading cause of preventable disease and death and an issue she had long championed. 
The stock was one of about a dozen new investments that Brenda Fitzgerald, director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, made after she took over the agency’s top job, according to documents obtained by POLITICO. Fitzgerald has since come under congressional scrutiny for slow walking divestment from older holdings that government officials said posed potential conflicts of interest.

Buying shares of tobacco companies raises even more flags than Fitzgerald’s trading in drug and food companies because it stands in such stark contrast to the CDC’s mission to persuade smokers to quit and keep children from becoming addicted. Critics say her trading behavior broke with ethical norms for public health officials and was, at best, sloppy. At worst, they say, it was legally problematic if she didn't recuse herself from government activities that could have affected her investments. 
“You don’t buy tobacco stocks when you are the head of the CDC. It’s ridiculous; it gives a terrible appearance,” said Richard Painter, who served as George W. Bush’s chief ethics lawyer from 2005 to 2007. He described the move as “tone deaf,” given the CDC’s role in leading anti-smoking efforts. 
Even if Fitzgerald, a medical doctor and former Georgia Department of Public Health commissioner, met all of the legal requirements, “it stinks to high heaven,” Painter said.

Dr. Fitzgerald resigned today after this story, because buying tobacco stocks when you're the head of the government health agency is probably a smart idea financially if you plan on, you know, deregulation of the industry as well as trashing the decades of science behind tobacco being a public health crisis. We see how the Trump regime treats science.

Besides, if Fitzgerald hadn't obviously planned to profit off of tobacco stocks, she would have most likely gone down over profiting off medical and biotech stocks instead as she faced nasty questions from Congress about her stock portfolio last month:

After five months in office, President Trump’s new director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has been unable to divest financial holdings that pose potential conflicts of interest, hindering her ability to fully perform her job. 
Brenda Fitzgerald, 71, who served as the Georgia public health commissioner until her appointment to the CDC post in July, said she has divested from many stock holdings. But she and her husband are legally obligated to maintain other investments in cancer detection and health information technology, according to her ethics agreement, requiring Fitzgerald to pledge to avoid government business that might affect those interests. Fitzgerald provided The Post with a copy of her agreement. 
Last week, Sen. Patty Murray (Wash.), the senior Democrat on the Senate committee that oversees CDC, wrote that Fitzgerald is raising questions about her ability to function effectively.

“I am concerned that you cannot perform the role of CDC director while being largely recused from matters pertaining to cancer and opioids, two of the most pervasive and urgent health challenges we face as a country,” Murray wrote.

The tobacco stocks made it abundantly clear Fitzgerald took the job to personally cash in, just like the rest of the Trump regime, including the guy at the top.  He might have protections, but Fitzgerald certainly did not.

She was just emulating her boss's boss, guys.

The Drums of War, Con't

Vox's Zach Beauchamp sounds the alarm that Trump taking the time in his State of the Union speech to blast North Korea as a deeply evil, deeply anti-Christian regime that cannot be allowed to obtain nuclear weapons capability is the biggest tell yet that preemptive military action against Pyongyang is coming.  After all, we've seen this before sixteen years ago with Iraq.

“North Korea’s reckless pursuit of nuclear missiles could very soon threaten our homeland,” Trump said. “We need only look at the depraved character of the North Korean regime to understand the nature of the nuclear threat it could pose to America and to our allies.”

If this all sounds familiar, it should. In 2002, President George W. Bush gave what’s now the most infamous State of the Union in modern memory. The speech described Iraq, Iran, and North Korea as an “axis of evil” — states that supported terrorists and thus posed a fundamental threat to the United States. We now know that this speech was designed to sell the war in Iraq, to paint Saddam Hussein’s government as an intolerable threat to the United States.

What’s really striking is looking back on the language that Bush used in that speech to discuss Iraq. He made the exact same rhetorical move that Trump did in his story about Ji — painting Saddam’s abuses of his own people as proof that the regime might well turn its fire on innocent Americans:

Iraq continues to flaunt its hostility toward America and to support terror. The Iraqi regime has plotted to develop anthrax and nerve gas and nuclear weapons for over a decade. This is a regime that has already used poison gas to murder thousands of its own citizens, leaving the bodies of mothers huddled over their dead children. This is a regime that agreed to international inspections then kicked out the inspectors. This is a regime that has something to hide from the civilized world.

Trump discussing North Korea in the same way that Bush discussed Saddam is a troubling warning sign. This is how American presidents sell wars absent an imminent threat. They paint the prospective enemy as evil, an enemy of civilization, something that must be defeated both to preserve our own safety and to secure the future of humanity.

You would think that in a case like this we'd want a competent ambassador on the ground with our ally South Korea, something the incompetent Trump still has failed to do for a year, and completely on purpose.  If there was still any doubt over what's coming in 2018, ponder the fact that Trump just got rid of the best choice for Ambassador to South Korea.

Just before Trump’s ominous speech, we learned that Victor Cha, a highly respected North Korea scholar at Georgetown University, had been dismissed from consideration as a possible ambassador to South Korea (a currently unfilled post). This is highly unusual at this stage — Cha had already gone through security checks and been approved by the South Korean government.

The reason, according to reports in the Washington Post and the Financial Times, is that Cha had criticized the administration’s proposed plans for a strike on North Korea in private. Shortly after the news broke, Cha published an op-ed in the Post attacking the proposed plan as too dangerous and unlikely to work.

“I empathize with the hope, espoused by some Trump officials, that a military strike would shock Pyongyang into appreciating U.S. strength, after years of inaction, and force the regime to the denuclearization negotiating table,” Cha wrote. “Yet, there is a point at which hope must give in to logic.”

Cha, it seems, is worried about the Trump administration actually starting a war with North Korea. The State of the Union showed that we should be too.

The main goal of Trump's speech last night was to sell a war with North Korea to the American people.  Expect a lot of this during the upcoming Winter Olympics in South Korea in a couple weeks.  After the games are over, all bets are off.

Oh, and as an aside, Trump openly called for Congress to give his Cabinet the power to fire federal employees at will last night.

Have a nice day.

The Blue Wave Rises, Con't

While the Democrats have excellent prospects in taking back the House this November, the Senate map is still a serious problem.  Democrats have 10 senators now defending seats in 2018 in states that Trump won in 2016.  The latest polling shows that in several of those states, Trump's approval ratings remain pretty good.

President Trump heads into his first State of the Union speech with lousy approval numbers across much of the country — but remains fairly popular in a few states with tough Senate races next fall. 
That’s according to a bevy of state-level polling Gallup released Tuesday, combining data the firm collected from surveys conducted throughout the last year.

Trump has majority approval rating in just 12 states — but three of those have Democratic senators up for reelection next fall, including the two states where Trump’s numbers are the best, West Virginia and North Dakota. He’s also above water in Montana, as well as in Tennessee, where Democrats hope they might be able to seriously contest an open Senate seat. 
These numbers are crucial heading into this fall’s midterms. They’re also powering major strategic decisions with huge policy consequences — including how Democrats will handle ongoing negotiations to try to protect undocumented immigrants who came to the U.S. as children. Sen. Joe Manchin (D-WV) led the red-state Democratic charge to end the shutdown by threatening to retire if Senate leaders didn’t back down.

You may hate Joe Manchin, but he's a Democrat who can win Senate races in a state where Trump still has a 61% approval rating.  You'd better hope he wins in November.

There's good news for the Democrats though.  Even a few months ago picking up seats outside of Nevada and Arizona looked like a very tall order.  Then Doug Jones won in Alabama, and that has opened up opportunities to take other Senate seats that were considered off the board completely.

Slightly more people disapprove than approve of Trump’s job performance in Republican-leaning Missouri and Indiana, both of which have top-tier Senate races next fall, and his approval rating is 10 points lower than his disapproval rating in a bevy of states key to Senate control: Florida, Michigan, Wisconsin, Pennsylvania, Arizona and Nevada. In Texas, according to Gallup, Trump’s approval rating is at just 39 percent, with 54 percent disapproving, a number that should put a scare into Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX) as he faces down reelection.

It's going to be a hard, hard slog for Dems to defend all these seats.  But if they can, and pick up seats in states like Texas (imagine that!) then they can win the Senate back in 2018.

And yeah, that means playing defense when needed.


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