February 21, 2019

Crisis: Trump's Nuclear Deal, National Emergency, The USA, Constitutional Crisis, Medicare for All

“Nothing in all the world is more dangerous, than sincere ignorance and conscientious stupidity.”
  -- Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.



1. Summary
Crisis Files
     A. Selections from February 21, 2019

This is a Nederlog of Thursday, February 21, 2019.

1. Summary

This is a crisis log but it is a bit different from how it was until 2013:

I have been writing about the crisis since September 1, 2008 (in Dutch, but since 2010 in English) and about the enormous dangers of surveillance (by secret services and by many rich commercial entities) since June 10, 2013, and I will continue with it.

On the moment and since more than three years (!!!!) I have problems with the company that is supposed to take care that my site is visible [1] and with my health, but I am still writing a Nederlog every day and I shall continue.

2. Crisis Files

These are five crisis files that are mostly well worth reading:

. Selections from February 21, 2019:
1. Trump’s Idea of a Middle East Nuclear Deal
2. Trump Admin’s Secretive Talks to Sell Saudi Arabia Nuclear Technology

3. The End of the American Republic

4. We've Sleepwalked Into a Constitutional Crisis

5. An "Exciting But Dangerous Moment" for Medicare for All
The items 1 - 5 are today's selections from the 35 sites that I look at every morning. The indented text under each link is quoted from the link that starts the item. Unindented text is by me:

1. Trump’s Idea of a Middle East Nuclear Deal

This article is by The Editorial Board of The New York Times. It starts as follows:

An interim report from the House Oversight Committee paints a familiar picture of Trump associates skirting the law to curry favor with people who can make them richer. This time, the dealing doesn’t involve Russians but Saudis, and it is not about a lavish tower in Moscow but the sale of nuclear power reactors.

Negotiations were conducted by people who would stand to gain millions, in apparent disregard of the Atomic Energy Act of 1954, which sets out explicit procedures and criteria for nuclear cooperation agreements and is intended to thwart proliferation of atomic weapons. Their conflicts of interest “could implicate federal criminal statutes,” according to the report.

By ramming through the sale of as much as $80 billion in nuclear power plants, the Trump administration would provide sensitive know-how and materials to a government whose de facto leader, Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, has suggested that he may eventually want a nuclear weapon as a hedge against Iran and has shown little concern for what the rest of the world thinks.

The report also warned, “Within the United States, strong private commercial interests have been pressing aggressively for the transfer of highly sensitive nuclear technology to Saudi Arabia — a potential risk to U.S. national security absent adequate safeguards.”

It has been known for some time that the administration has been discussing a nuclear cooperation deal with Saudi Arabia. But it took Democratic control of the House, and the committee, to shine a light on these dark dealings in the report, which draws on claims by multiple whistle-blowers and documents.

To the best of my knowledge, all of the above is true, and there is more on this below.

Here is some more from this article:

Although Iran never produced a nuclear weapon, it had a robust nuclear program until it agreed to an international deal in 2015 that curbed its activities. The deal, opposed by the Saudis, is now hanging by a thread because Mr. Trump abrogated America’s commitment.

Efforts by the Obama administration to negotiate a nuclear cooperation agreement faltered over the Saudis’ refusal to make a legally binding commitment to forgo uranium enrichment and plutonium reprocessing. It’s no surprise that the Saudis would prefer to negotiate over nuclear technology with Mr. Trump, who seems to care far more about profits than about halting the spread of nuclear weapons.
I think the above is also true but the NYT is getting worse and worse: its frontpage is much diminished recently for those reading it on line, and I would not be amazed if they put in Javascript that makes it impossible to copy more than one bit directly, although I do not know this.

It seems I will soon cease to follow the NYT altogether, as I have done Mother Jones, because that made itself uncopyable. Anyway... this is a recommended article, and there is more on this problem in the next item:

2. Trump Admin’s Secretive Talks to Sell Saudi Arabia Nuclear Technology

This article is by Amy Goodman and Juan González on Democracy Now! I abbreviated the title. It starts with the following introduction:

House Democrats are accusing the Trump administration of moving toward transferring highly sensitive nuclear technology to Saudi Arabia in potential violation of U.S. law. Critics say the deal could endanger national security while enriching close allies of President Trump. Saudi Arabia is considering building as many as 16 nuclear power plants by 2030, but many critics fear the kingdom could use the technology to develop nuclear weapons and trigger a nuclear arms race in the Middle East. We speak with Democratic Congressmember Ro Khanna of California and Isaac Arnsdorf, a reporter with ProPublica. Arnsdorf first wrote about the intense and secretive lobbying effort to give nuclear technology to Saudi Arabia in 2017. His reporting was cited in the House report.

Yes, and this article may be taken as a - longer, more thorough - continuation of the subject of the previous article. Also, I will not quote Arnsdorf in this excerpt.

Here is more:

AMY GOODMAN: (...) Congressmember Ro Khanna, let’s begin with you. What are you doing on the House Oversight Committee? What is the leadership doing there?

REP. RO KHANNA: Well, it’s a very serious matter. Here’s why people should care. The Saudis have been giving arms to al-Qaeda in Yemen. There’s reports of that. And the last thing we want to do as a country is to transfer nuclear secrets to Saudi Arabia, which could lead to proliferation and a threat to our security.

And as the journalist you have on has reported, there is a lot of financial conflict of interest here. Tom Barrack, who headed up the president’s inaugural committee to raise $100 million-plus, is also pushing for this deal and has financial interest in the deal. So the Oversight Committee is going to have an investigation to see what are the financial interests that are driving this administration to potentially sell nuclear secrets to the Saudis and what laws have been violated, because, as you know, they have to come to Congress, under the Atomic Energy Act, and offer certain guidelines, which they haven’t done.

I think the above is all correct. Here is some more:

REP. RO KHANNA: Well, we need to find out more facts. That’s why we need an investigation. We need to know who was in that meeting, what was discussed, whether they followed the law that the Atomic Energy Act requires. I mean, even when we transfer nuclear technology to allies, such as India, when George Bush did that, it requires years of process. It requires the consultation of Congress. Here you’re talking about the potential sale of nuclear secrets to the Saudis, who aren’t an ally, who have engaged in the proliferation of weapons that are being used against our own troops, and there is no process for notification of Congress. And you have extensive reporting of people who gain—stand to gain billions of dollars from these investments.

Again I think all of the above is correct. Here is the last bit that I quote from this article:

REP. RO KHANNA: (...) It’s all about money, whether it’s selling them arms sales or selling nuclear secrets. There’s no moral consideration. I mean, Tom Barrack, as recently as a week ago, was out there defending the Khashoggi murder and defending the Saudi regime’s murder of Khashoggi. He actually said, appallingly, that the United States has done worse, which I totally disagree with. But it gives you a sense of what’s driving this. It’s financial interests. It’s selling interests into the Saudis for money, and no concern for our security and no concern for the morality of the Saudis’ policies.
I mostly agree with this, and there is considerably more in the article, that is strongly recommended.

3. The End of the American Republic

This article is by Jacob Bacharach on Truthdig. This is from near its beginning (and you are supposed to know what Trump's "national emergency" is):

[Trump] declared a state of national emergency and said he was going to take a few billion out of the bottomless billions already allocated to the American military to build at least a few miles of defensive fortifications against the barbarian invasions he and his party conjure up when they talk about the Southern border. He then gave a rambling press conference during which he casually but explicitly stated that his emergency was not an emergency.

Yes, this is mostly correct. It also could be seen as a continuation of the previous two articles,
but it is a bit too unspecific for that. Also, there are quite a few paragraphs on the history of Rome, which I myself do not think very relevant, but then I have read all of Edward Gibbon's "The History of the Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire" (which I can very strongly recommend).

I will quote one paragraph of Bacharach on ancient Rome:

(..) Rome’s history is one of outsize egos and insufficient intellects, of governing institutions almost entirely compromised by personal avarice, and of a social and economic elite that oversaw the destruction of its sacred offices in no small part because it continually refused to make even superficial concessions to the lower orders. Men like Julius Caesar inspired personal cults not because of their populist governance, but because the state to which Roman citizens had given their devotion had by then become a hollow shell, the best bits long ago auctioned off to the highest bidder.

Perhaps - but this says that the Roman state had "become a hollow shell" at or before 50 BC, which is some 450 years before the Western Empire fell.

Anyway. Here is the ending of this article:

The authoritarian tendencies we see in Trump, after all, are not just a matter of personal temperament: They are the natural outgrowth of a feckless, callow legislature that has ceded more and more authority to executive offices over the last half century. Trump’s interlocutors aren’t incorrect when they point out, in defending his resort to emergency decree, that the law conferring such boundless authority on the president was passed by Congress in the first place!

None of it bodes especially well for the next hundred years, and I worry that a revivified, if still inchoate, socialism that does not forcefully confront empire may secure the dole—Medicare-for-all, perhaps, instead of Roman grain—without slowing the rapid slide into tyranny.

I do not think that Jacob Bacharach is optimistic. Neither am I, but I do not think this is a good article.

4. We've Sleepwalked Into a Constitutional Crisis

This article is by Juan Cole on Truthdig and originally on Informed Comment. It starts as follows:

From Trump’s very inauguration day speech, written for him by the fascist gadfly Steve Bannon and man still without a prom date Stephen Miller, it was apparent that the 45th president was a constitutional crisis waiting to happen.

And now, without our realizing it for the most part, the constitutional crisis is here.

The Constitution gives Congress the right to spend money and to designate how it may be spent. Republicans used that authority to stop the Obama administration from closing the Guantanamo Bay concentration camp, denying the president the funds necessary to shut it down.

Having the power of the purse lie with the legislature goes back to British parliamentary practice of the late medieval and early modern period. Making the king go to parliament for permission to institute a new tax for some new royal enterprise is a feature of the Magna Carta, the ‘Great Charter’ imposed on the king by the barons in 1215.

Trump’s ‘Declaration of Emergency’ over his trumped up border wall crisis is an attempt to sidestep constitutional principle and to have the president instead of Congress decide how appropriated monies will be used.

I think the above is mostly correct. Here is some more:

It seems that Congress will attempt to over-rule Trump. Some 16 states are already suing over the so-called emergency, and the House of Representatives may also sue. Congress may also attempt to stop Trump with legislation, and if he tries to veto it, they will attempt to over-ride the veto in both houses of Congress.

Trump will either get his way on the declaration of emergency or not, but either way he has provoked a constitutional crisis.

Yes, I agree, at least in so far as Trump's declaration of emergency is concerned. Here is the ending of this article:

Trump is of course creating numerous constitutional crises. He call for ‘retribution’ on Saturday Night Live in response to a skit by Alec Baldwin making fun of his wall obsession. In genuine democracies the president does not threaten satirists with ‘retribution.’ That is something Field Marshal al-Sisi would do (and has done) in Egypt. Satirist Bassem Youssef had to abandon his television show lest he face retribution from al-Sisi.

Trump’s attack on the First Amendment and also his calling his top Justice Department and FBI personnel are all part of the general constitutional crisis.

Well... I think this may be a little strong, though I agree that Trump's national emergency is a constitutional crisis. I also think (as a psychologist) that Trump is insane, but I have no idea what Cole (who is not a psychologist) thinks about that.

5. An "Exciting But Dangerous Moment" for Medicare for All

This article is by Michael Winship on Common Dreams. It starts as follows:
Dr. Adam Gaffney is the brand new president of Physicians for a National Health Program (PNHP), the national, Medicare for All advocacy group of medical professionals and others committed to single-payer—universal healthcare “provided equitably as a public service rather than bought and sold as a commodity.”

In the announcement of his election, Dr. Gaffney said, “We’ve been so successful in popularizing the idea of ‘Medicare for all’ that everybody wants in on the slogan—even if they have something completely different in mind, like a public option. But tweaks won’t solve the fundamental problems of American health care: persistently high uninsurance, rising underinsurance, unaffordable drugs, narrow provider networks, and the growing corporate domination of health care that prioritizes profits over patients.”
Yes indeed: I think all of the above is quite correct. Also, I found the interview that follows interesting and I will quote some bits of it, but it is too long to excerpt properly in Nederlog.

Here is the first bit I quote:
So you are completely convinced that single-payer is the best way to go?

Yes. I am also completely convinced that imposing costs on patients at the time of healthcare use has no useful purpose. That seems like a radical idea, and even people on the liberal-left side of the spectrum sometimes say, well, having a reasonable copay is not such a bad idea to ensure that healthcare is not used sort of frivolously. I think some people think a system where you don’t impose costs is pie-in-the-sky and unrealistic. It’s of course not unrealistic, considering that in the UK this already exists. In the UK, there are no copays for doctor’s visits, no deductibles, no payments to hospitals. In Scotland, you don’t even pay for parking at the hospital if you’re visiting a loved one. It’s clearly doable and I think it’s a better system.

At the end of the day, maybe people paying for healthcare only really affects working class and poor people because well-off people are always going to be willing to pay a forty-dollar copay, right? It really is just a way of punishing the sick and the poor.
Yes, I think all of that is correct. In Holland, where I live, the system is a bit like the Englihsh NHS, but the premiums are much higher than they were before 2000, but then those with very
little money, like myself, get substantial financial support for their medical insurance.

Here is some more:
Let’s talk about the 2020 elections. In the PNHP announcement of your presidency it’s said that Medicare for All has become such a catchphrase that some candidates may be misusing it.

We’ve had the idea for a long time. But what happened was that the idea has become very popular, something that everyone is rallying behind. So I do think there’s an effort to steal some of that thunder and use the branding on other types of healthcare proposals that fall well short of what we’re talking about.

We’re talking about a national health insurance program that covers everyone in the country. These other proposals are not that.  Some of them still might help many people but they’re not what the country needs. They wouldn’t fix the fundamental problems of the US healthcare system.
I think that is correct. Here is the ending of the article:
Finally, I wanted to ask you about immigration. PNHP is calling for coverage of all undocumented and documented immigrants.

We are calling for coverage of all US residents. I think that’s important. Look, everyone needs healthcare. You’re not going to deny people healthcare simply by virtue of the country they were born in, nor should we. Healthcare is a human right. That’s imperative. At the end of the day, the reality is that unless you’re willing to push people away from the doors of hospitals and call in the goons to throw them into the streets, you need to take care of people, right? It’s just common decency.

The irony is there’s also some research that immigrants actually pay more into the healthcare system. If that wasn’t the case it wouldn’t change my opinion but it is a funny irony. The reason is pretty simple – immigrants in general are younger and healthier, they use less healthcare and they pay more into the system.

But that’s not the motivation. The motivation is to envision healthcare as a human right that everyone deserves by virtue of belonging to the human race.
Yes, I quite agree and this is a recommended article.

[1] I have now been saying since the end of 2015 that is systematically ruining my site by NOT updating it within a few seconds, as it did between 1996 and 2015, but by updating it between two to seven days later, that is, if I am lucky.

They have claimed that my site was wrongly named in html: A lie. They have claimed that my operating system was out of date: A lie.

And they just don't care for my site, my interests, my values or my ideas. They have behaved now for 2 years as if they are the eagerly willing instruments of the US's secret services, which I will from now on suppose they are (for truth is dead in Holland).

The only two reasons I remain with xs4all is that my site has been there since 1996, and I have no reasons whatsoever to suppose that any other Dutch provider is any better (!!).
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