Louisiana’s cowering GOP krewe in Washington

By Robert Mann

If the Republican members of Louisiana’s congressional delegation created a new D.C. Mardi Gras organization, we could call it the Krewe of Deilos. This ancient Greek word for fear and cowardice is the perfect moniker for the Congress of the chicken-hearted who cower before Donald Trump.

Cowardice is apparently what prevents Republican “leaders” like House Majority Whip Steve Scalise, Sens. Bill Cassidy and John Kennedy and four other Louisiana GOP House members from voicing public concerns about shocking behavior by Trump and his staff.

Let’s review the highlights:

During the campaign, our GOP delegation said nothing about evidence of Russia’s efforts to influence the election and undermine confidence in our democracy.

They were quiet about the stunning 2005 recording of Trump bragging about committing what amounts to sexual assault.

They’ve been mostly silent about the alarming joint report of the top U.S. intelligence agencies, which concluded Russia not only attempted to influence the election, but did so to help Trump.

They’ve revealed few complaints about the inept, unconstitutional executive order that banned travel to the United States by people from seven majority-Muslim countries. (In an understatement, Cassidy said it should be “further refined.”)

They’ve backed all of Trump’s unqualified Cabinet nominees, including the ridiculously inept Education secretary, Betsy DeVos.

They uttered not a peep when Trump signed an executive order making Steve Bannon — the former publisher of the white nationalist website, Breitbart News — a principal member of the National Security Council, while he demoted the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff and the CIA director.

They seem unconcerned by Trump’s bizarre affection and respect for Russia’s murderous, authoritarian leader, Vladimir Putin. (In what passes for robust criticism in this delegation, Kennedy said on Wednesday, “I do not trust Russia. I do not trust Vladimir Putin.” One presumes he still trusts Trump.)

They were mute when Trump compromised national security by discussing confidential (and maybe classified) information regarding a North Korean missile test, all in full view of the guests at his Florida Mar-A-Lago resort.

None protested when he insulted the prime minister of one of our nation’s staunchest allies, Australia.

They voiced no objections to his false allegations of election fraud in New Hampshire and his baseless charge he would have won the popular vote if not for millions of illegal voters.

Continue reading on NOLA.com at this link.

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Donald Trump’s ‘dreamy’ speech to the Louisiana Legislature

By Robert Mann

I’m not sure if it was a nightmare or a premonition, but I dreamed recently that Donald Trump addressed the Louisiana Legislature. Here’s (vaguely) how it went:

Members, thank you for your kind invitation to speak. You’ve had some terrible, destructive weather. I came down to promise you all the help you need. And when your governor, John Boy, asked me to speak at the opening of this special session, I jumped at the chance. I mean, it’s the least I can do after your state supported me, bigly, in November. No illegals and dead people vote here, right?

Just look at this amazing Capitol building. Someone told me if I’d been here when Bobby Jindal was governor, this could have been mine for an easy four or five million.

And, I had no idea you’d buried Huey Long in the front yard. How is his name not on this building? I mean, a governor builds this Capitol, puts Louisiana on the map and all he gets is a couple of bridges? Sad!

Speaking of Huey, tremendous man, strong leader. He knew how to get things done, believe me. He made great deals. He didn’t take orders from political judges. And when the mayor of New Orleans defied him, he sent in the troops.

Our people need to start winning like Huey. He stuck his finger in the eye of the those who’d robbed this state blind. He spoke truth to the corrupt and powerful and, just like me, he made some people very angry.

I’ve heard he died at an early age. What, exactly, happened to him, John Boy? . . . Oh.

Anyway, I love your state and its people. You send the best people to Washington — like your senators, Bill Cassidy and John Kennedy. They do what I say more than 97 percent of the time. Now, that’s what loving your country looks like, right?

Continue reading this on NOLA.com at this link.

Posted in 2016 presidential election, Bobby Jindal, Donald Trump, John Bel Edwards, Louisiana budget, Louisiana Politics, Politics | Tagged , , , | 7 Comments

Trump’s bigotry, fearmongering will make America weak again

By Robert Mann

Maya Angelou once said, “When someone shows you who they are, believe them the first time.” For years, Donald Trump showed us that he is a bigot. So why is anyone surprised when his policies match his hateful rhetoric about Muslims, Mexicans, black people and others?

His two most controversial executive orders since taking office — banning Muslimsfrom seven Middle East countries and ordering a wall to deter Mexicans from entering the United States — reflect the hatreds and irrational fears that motivate Trump.

If you were listening, you heard Trump launch his White House bid with an ethnic slur. “When Mexico sends its people, they’re not sending their best,” said in June 2015. “They’re sending people that have lots of problems. … They’re bringing drugs. They’re bringing crime. They’re rapists. And some, I assume, are good people.”

If anyone was unsure if Trump was an anti-Mexican bigot, he settled that in June 2016 when he attacked the federal judge who presided over the class-action fraud suit brought against Trump University. He called the judge “a hater” and obsessed about the judge’s ethnic background. “He’s a Mexican,” Trump said in one interview. “We’re building a wall between here and Mexico.”mawa

Judge Gonzalo Curiel, of Mexican heritage, was born in Indiana. That Trump believed his ethnic heritage made him unfit to preside over the lawsuit is textbook bigotry.

Trump’s bigotry is not limited to Mexicans. He and some top advisors have made ignorant, offensive remarks about Muslims. “I think Islam hates us,” Trump saidlast March, indicting an entire religion, including 3.3 million Muslim Americans.

After the horrific December 2015 terrorist attack in San Bernardino, Calif. (waged by two Muslims, one of them an American citizen), Trump demanded “a total and complete shutdown of Muslims entering the United States until our country’s representatives can figure out what is going on.”

Not long after that, Trump entertained adding a nationwide Muslim registry to his proposed ban. When challenged on the constitutionality of this, a Trump surrogate pointed to World War II-era Japanese-American internment camps as legal precedent.

One of Trump’s top advisors, National Security Advisor Michael Flynn seethes with anti-Muslim hatred. “Islam is a politicized ideology,” Flynn said in a speech in Dallas last August. “It hides behind this notion of it being a religion.” Flynn went even further, saying Islam is like “a cancer.”

None of this even touches the most persuasive evidence of Trump’s bigotry and racism — his disgusting, years-long campaign to persuade the country that former President Barack Obama was not an American.

So, what does this mean for the United States under Trump? A few observations:

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Posted in 2016 presidential election, Donald Trump, Faith, Politics | Tagged , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Folksy GOP bromides won’t solve Louisiana’s budget crisis

By Robert Mann

Have you noticed how politicians often compare government work to running a household or small business, especially when revenue declines? “If our families or small businesses begin to run a deficit, we don’t have many choices,” former state Rep. Mike Johnson, R-Bossier City, (now a member of Congress) wrote last year about Louisiana’s chronic budget shortfall. “We tighten our belts, cut unnecessary expenses, and make whatever changes are necessary to balance our budgets.”

It’s as if dealing with money problems in either endeavor — business or your family — is nothing more than making a few painful-but-obvious decisions.

That’s the simplistic approach state Rep. Lance Harris, the Republican House leader from Pineville, takes toward the $304 million mid-year budget shortfall he and other lawmakers will address in a special legislative session Gov. John Bel Edwards plans for February.

On Jan. 19, Harris released a one-page document he portrayed as a plan to eliminate the need for a special session to prevent deep cuts to healthcare and education. “If this were my business,” Harris tweeted, “this is how I would solve the mid-year deficit.”

And what is the Harris plan? A cut of 8.12 percent (and, in a few cases, 4 percent) applied across the board to almost every state government department. Those spared cuts in Harris’ “plan” include higher education, Veterans Affairs, Social Services and retirement. Those not spared include the state’s public-private hospitals, prisons and public schools.

What Harris portrays as a plan is using a budgetary meat cleaver to hack away set percentages from the targeted department, regardless of its mission or the vital services it provides. Despite his invocation of shrewd business acumen, Harris’ approach — indiscriminate cuts — is not what a smart business leader would do.

A CPA friend of mine, who advises businesses on budgeting and strategic planning, observed that an across-the-board cut to fix a business revenue shortfall is often the wrong approach. “You might be ignoring things that need to be cut by 100 percent,” the CPA told me, “and there are things that you might need to increase to help you make your business run more efficiently.”

For example, one might spend more on document management software to achieve net cuts by eliminating more costly photocopies. Cutting software and photocopies by the same amount might reduce spending but could damage the business. A more creative approach might yield real savings and a more efficient operation.

An effective business owner wouldn’t look only for spending cuts, but also smart ways to increase revenue. You might double down on advertising or hire additional sales staff to increase profits. Some businesses also might adjust their prices to account for inflation or lagging demand. And if the company had cash reserves — analogous to the state’s Rainy Day Fund — you might dip into it to get through hard times.

That’s the savvy budgeting and management practices we expect from our political leaders and that is lacking from Harris and his Republican caucus.

Continue reading on NOLA.com at this link.

Posted in John Bel Edwards, Louisiana budget, Louisiana higher education, Louisiana Politics, Politics | Tagged , , , , , | 7 Comments

Trump owes Putin, big league, and that makes him illegitimate

By Robert Mann

Watching the president’s swearing-in every four years has always seemed like a civic duty. I have tuned into the broadcasts of 10 inaugurations since 1968. And I’ve attended two others (George H.W. Bush in 1989 and Barack Obama in 2013).

This time, however, it was my moral duty to ignore Donald Trump’s swearing-in. It’s a small act of defiance, but I could not take part in normalizing this abnormal presidency. I could not pretend his swearing-in was anything but a travesty.

I agree with what Eliot A. Cohen, a respected conservative authority on national defense, wrote the other day, “The beginning of wisdom will be to treat his office with respect, but him with none, because it will achieve nothing, and because as a human being he deserves none.”

Trump may legally be the president. He is not legitimate. I’m not arguing that he had no right to take office. Instead, I rely on one widely accepted definition of the word “legitimate” (“in accordance with recognized or accepted patterns and standards”) to assert that Trump is an illegitimate president.

Why? I could cite, for starters, GOP voter suppression efforts in several key states, Trump’s admission of sexual assault, his refusal to release his income taxes and his massive financial conflicts of interest. Much of that makes him ethically bankrupt, if not morally illegitimate.

But one set of facts is more than sufficient to explain Trump’s illegitimacy: His election resulted from what the FBI, CIA and the National Security Agency (and many Republican leaders) consider a brazen, multi-pronged attack on American democracy by Russian President Vladimir Putin. And, they’ve concluded, Putin hacked our election in an attempt to help Trump.

Trump’s associates may or may not have coordinated with Putin. (The FBI and five other federal agencies are reportedly investigating this and other allegations of collusion.) But they were clearly accessories after the fact.

Trump and his staff — several of them with ties to Russia and Putin — knew the intelligence agencies suspected the Russians of hacking the emails of the Democratic National Committee and Hillary Clinton’s campaign chair. And they celebrated and trumpeted every salacious, ill-gotten detail released by Russia’s online handmaiden, Wikileaks. Trump even encouraged the Russians to hack Clinton’s personal email account.

Whatever the reasons — and I hope the FBI and congressional investigators will uncover them — Trump is deeply indebted to Putin. And it shows. Since his election, he has criticized or attacked President Obama, Clinton, House Speaker Paul Ryan, Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, Rep. John Lewis, NBC’s “Saturday Night Live,” Meryl Streep and the cast of the hit Broadway show “Hamilton.”

He has not whispered an uncharitable word about Putin or Russia.

Continue reading on NOLA.com at this link.

Posted in 2016 presidential election, Donald Trump, Hillary Clinton, Politics | Tagged , , , , , | 12 Comments

Barack Obama’s amazing grace

By Robert Mann

Among dozens of moments that define the historic, consequential presidency of Barack Obama was his moving eulogy of the Rev. Clementa Pinckney of Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in Charleston, S.C., in June 2015.

Pinckney and eight of his parishioners had died days earlier, victims of a young man’s violent racism. It was a day that justified cries of rage and retribution from those in attendance. Obama, instead, appealed to what Lincoln called “the better angels of our nature.”

“This whole week, I’ve been reflecting on this idea of grace,” Obama said of the murders in the church’s basement. “The grace of the families who lost loved ones; the grace that Reverend Pinckney would preach about in his sermons; the grace described in one of my favorite hymns, the one we all know — Amazing Grace. How sweet the sound that saved a wretch like me. I once was lost, but now I’m found, was blind but now I see.”

Obama ruminated further on grace and admonished mourners to focus not on their anger but, rather, on redeeming the tragedy. In particular, he urged banishing the Confederate flag (with which the killer had posed in a photograph) from the state’s Capitol.

“I’m convinced that by acknowledging the pain and loss of others, even as we respect the traditions, ways of life that make up this beloved country, by making the moral choice to change, we express God’s grace,” Obama said.

Obama suggested Americans also could find grace in the midst of pain by entering into a serious dialogue about our country’s history of racial division. “If we can tap that grace, everything can change. Amazing grace, amazing grace.”

And then Obama broke into song, leading the mourners in the first stanza of the hymn, written in 1772 by the Rev. John Newton, a former slave-ship captain. It was a stunning and emotional moment, one I will never forget for what it represented about what Obama and his presidency meant to the nation.

Continue reading on NOLA.com at this link.

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Indivisible: Protecting progressivism in the Trump era

By Robert Mann

During almost 20 years working in the U.S. Senate, I learned how simple acts — a phone call, a letter, a face-to-face conversation — can influence a member of Congress. When I worked in Sen. John Breaux’s Baton Rouge office, we sometimes took 100-plus phone calls a day on an issue. That was a tiny fraction of the state’s population, but we let the Washington office know we were being inundated.  Those calls and letters turned heads and often made a difference.

Consider how public outrage this past week forced clueless House Republicans to drop plans to abolish the Office of Congressional Ethics. These Republicans surrendered quickly because they feared their constituents’ wrath.

For weeks, friends have asked me what they can do now that Donald Trump has won the White House. The answer I’ve arrived at: We should work to stop Congress from doing Trump’s bidding. That must be the priority of every committed progressive.

And now a new online publication describes how to do it. “Indivisible: A Practical Guide for Resisting the Trump Agenda,” published by several former congressional staffers, reminded me of the importance and efficacy of an organized resistance movement. These staffers have performed a public service in illustrating practical steps citizens can take to resist Trump’s racist, corrupt or self-dealing proposals.

The authors found inspiration in the methods of the Tea Party movement in 2009. “We saw these activists take on a popular president with a mandate for change and a supermajority in Congress,” the authors write. “We saw them organize locally and convince their own [members of Congress] to reject President Obama’s agenda.”

While rejecting the Tea Party’s bigotry, “Indivisible” advocates “a resistance built on the values of inclusion, tolerance, and fairness.” In progressives’ favor is Trump’s unprecedented unpopularity. “He does not have a mandate,” they observe. “If a small minority in the Tea Party can stop President Obama, then we the majority can stop a petty tyrant named Trump.”

How? By pursuing a local strategy that targets members of Congress and a “defensive approach purely focused on stopping Trump from implementing an agenda built on racism, authoritarianism, and corruption.” These two tenets come straight from the Tea Party’s decentralized and locally focused movement.

“Tea Party groups could be fewer than 10 people, but they were highly localized and dedicated significant personal time and resources,” the authors found. “Members communicated with each other regularly, tracked developments in Washington, and coordinated advocacy efforts together.”

Just as important was the movement’s defensive character. “The Tea Party focused on saying NO to Members of Congress (MoCs) on their home turf,” they write. “While the Tea Party activists were united by a core set of shared beliefs, they actively avoided developing their own policy agenda. Instead, they had an extraordinary clarity of purpose, united in opposition to President Obama.”

The authors suggest replicating three Tea Party tactics: “Showing up to the MoC’s town hall meetings and demanding answers”; “Showing up to the MoC’s office and demanding a meeting”; and, “Coordinating blanket calling of congressional offices at key moments.”

Continue reading on NOLA.com at this link.
Posted in 2016 presidential election, Donald Trump, Louisiana Politics, Politics | Tagged , , , , , | 10 Comments