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Trump’s Cabinet Picks Are A Sorry Lot

Lifted from ataxingmatter from Jan 18:

by Linda Beale

Trump’s Cabinet Picks Are A Sorry Lot

As the Friday inauguration date draws near, most ordinary Americans who read, stay informed, pay attention to history and events, and engage in critical thinking are, understandably, aghast at the poor job Mr. Trump has done so far in putting together a workable Cabinet of high-level appointees with the expertise, experience and values that can lead the country.

We Americans share many values.  Among them has always been a view that those who are better off should help those who are less well off. We’ve done that in many ways, beginning with private charity (supported by our tax code) but going much beyond the soup kitchens and church support for a sick parishioner to include a progressive income tax, taxation of the estates of the wealthiest among us upon their deaths (since they were generally almost tax free in life), and the provision of many necessary services through public institutions.  The latter includes things that are important to the everyday life of all of us as well as the opportunities for better lives for those of us not born with a silver (or, in Trump’s case, golden) spoon:

  • a public right to decent health care, made real by the expectation that hospitals (whether for profit or nonprofit) will care for those who enter their emergency rooms in medical emergencies, even if the patients cannot afford to pay the going price for the service needed, and made more substantive by the passage of the Affordable Care Act which provided coverage for pre-existing conditions, allowed young people to remain on their parent’s insurance, and made market exchanges available to provide better to understand choices while providing a federal subsidy for those who otherwise couldn’t afford insurance;
  • public education from kindergarten through college, supported by federal and state funding, with reasonable rules that protect our children, such as not allowing private carrying of guns within protective zones around schools, and –in many states–rules that ensure that public support reaches poor districts as well as wealthy ones;
  • protection of the environment, from national monuments and parks to restrictions on dangerous fracking and oil drilling in sensitive areas (consider the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge), from ensuring that communities have clean water to drink through regulation of corporate waste to ensuring that children have safe homes through regulation of lead paint, from protecting the nation’s waterways so that individual owners and polluters cannot hoard or harm nationally important resources to protecting creatures large and small that represent the genetic diversity of this Earth
  • regulation of commercial enterprises, to ensure that they do not exploit their workers, through fair labor laws and hiring laws and workplace rules that prevent employers from being able to force individuals to work in dangerous conditions or without appropriate rest and meal breaks
  • regulation of financial enterprises, to ensure that those sophisticated ‘quants’ don’t take advantage of less sophisticated customers, to prevent discriminatory practices that disadvantage people of color, to ensure open and fair reporting of financial positions
  • regulation of the foods and drugs that enter our marketplace, to protect Americans, our children and our pets from the kind of pollution of food products that occurred when China’s unregulated marketplace allowed melamine (plastic) to be substituted for protein in pet foods that were exported abroad or the indiscriminate use of toxic pesticides without informing consumers so that we can make good decisions about products that we buy; and on and on

Trump’s appointees for many of the important Cabinet positions seem to be primarily wealthy crony capitalists with radical ideologies that are in direct conflict with the agency missions. Consider just the following three:

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Trump Administration Plays Havoc with Voice of America

by Linda Beale

Trump Administration Plays Havoc with Voice of America

Did you know that the Republicans inserted a change to the administration of the Voice of America (VOA) network in the December military authorization ‘must pass’ bill?  The VOA has always been administered by a bipartisan broadcasting board of governors–distinguished nonpartisan media experts.  The change was to have the $800 million budget Voice of America run by a CEO appointed by and directly responsible to the President of the United States.

Trump has now appointed  (maybe temporarily) two twenty-something Trump political operatives to oversee the VOA.  Matthew Schuck is a 2012 graduate from the nondescript Montgomery College who got his start with the Heritage Foundation and then the (alt) right-wing site Daily Surge and worked for the Trump campaign in Wisconsin. The other, Matt Ciepielowski, does not have even that modicum of (mis)understanding of journalistic standards: he is a 2012 graduate of Quinnipiac University and a Republican political strategist who worked for the right-wing Americans for Prosperity organization before he became the NH state director for the Trump campaign.  He also has ties to Ron Paul (Texas libertarian). See, e.g., Trump moves to put his own stamp on Voice of America, (Jan. 23, 2017); Donald Trump sends two aides to Voice of America studios, raising fears he’s going to politicize the outlet, (Jan. 24, 2017).

In other words, it appears that the Trump enterprise in the White House wants to convert the Voice Of America into a propaganda arm for Trump’s “alternative facts” reality show in the White House, just as Sean Spicer, the Press Secretary, has served as a spouter of misinformation and what Trump’s “beliefs” are rather than what the actual facts are.  Compare Kellyanne Conway’s statement that we shouldn’t listen to what Trump says but should “look at what’s in his heart”.  See e.g., Aaron Blake, Kellyanne Conway’s laughable ‘look at what’s in his heart’ defense of Donald Trump, Washington Post (Jan. 9, 2017). Just ways of claiming that lies and distortions don’t matter and allowing Trump political operatives to say whatever they want.


The Voice of America director Amanda Bennett did pull a tweet on Spicer’s erroneous statement reiterating Trump’s “biggest inauguration ever” claim.  Her claim is that stories aren’t “balanced” unless they have a response from the Trump administration. That’s hooey.  Having to have Trump’s version of alternative facts embedded in every VOA story converts the story from news to propaganda.

This is sounding more and more like a tin pot dictatorship.  As Stuart Stevens tweeted (noted in the Politico article cited above): “Irony is that VOA’s reason for existing was to provide truth to those who lived where the government controlled the press.” (emphasis added)

And this matters for tax policy.  Ask yourself.  How can we have any kind of legitimate discussion or legislation on tax when the Trump administration distorts information and presents “alternative facts” that suit the 70-year-old narcissist in the White House, whether or not they have anything to do with the evidence or issues at hand?

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A Review of “Out of America: A Black Man Confronts Africa” by Keith Richburg

I just finished Out of America: A Black Man Confronts Africa by Keith Richburg. Richburg spent three years in Africa while working for the Washington Post, and his tenure overlapped with the 1993 Battle of Mogadishu and the 1994 Genocide in Rwanda, among other atrocities and outrages.

Richburg is not a particularly good wordsmith, but he is unflinching and that makes this book transcend. He tells it like he sees it, and varnishes nothing. Well, almost nothing. His fellow expat journalists do receive favorable treatment. But everyone else – Black Africans, White Africans, Black foreigners and White foreigners alike get it in the proverbial jugular. The book has the feel of truth.

If there is any criticism I have, it is that the book was written in the late 1990s and events have since moved on, usually in unfortunate directions. One of the few parts of Africa that Richburg identified as having the potential to be a success story, Zimbabwe, has since become, well, Zimbabwe. And that more or less confirms Richburg’s pessimistic view of Africa.

As I write this review, I realize I haven’t yet mentioned that Richburg is an African-American.  It’s in the title of the book, and the fact that he is Black does figure into the book – unlike most foreigners in Africa, he often gets treated like a local by the locals.  However, the main relevance of Richburg’s skin-tone, by my reading, is that it makes his “there but for the grace of God go I” moments more poignant.  It also confers on him an implied permission to write frankly about topics that would be off-limits to other reporters.

At this point in a book review, it is standard to pepper in some quotes from the book. Honestly, the book is so raw and covers so much ground from Detroit to South Africa that it is difficult to find the right piece of it to illustrate what the book is about. I settled on few. The first quote and a half lays out the problem of Africa in a way that has been bothering me for a while:

Why has East Asia emerged as the model for economic success, while Africa has seen mostly poverty, hunger, and economies propped up by foreign aid? Why are East Asians now expanding their telecommunications capabilities when in most of Africa it’s still hard to make a phone call next door? Why are East Asians now wrestling with ways to control access to the Internet, while African students still must use cardboard drawings of computer keyboards because they don’t have real computers in their classrooms? Why are East Asian airlines upgrading their long-haul fleets, while bankrupt African carriers let planes rust on weed-strewn runways because they can’t afford fuel and repair costs? Why are the leaders of Southeast Asia negotiating ways to ease trade barriers and create a free-trade zone, while Africans still levy some of the most prohibitive tariffs on earth, even for interregional trade?

There was nothing inevitable abut Asia’s success and Africa’s despair. Both regions emerged from colonialism at about the same time and faced many of the same obstacles. In 1957, when Ghana gained its independence from Britain, it was one of the brightest hopes of black Africa, with a higher gross national product than South Korea, which was itself still recovering from a destructive war, and before that, from thirty-five years as a Japanese colony. Today South Korea is recognized as one of Asia’s “dragons,” an economic powerhouse expanding into new markets throughout the region and the world. Ghana, meanwhile, has slid backward. Its gross national product today is lower than it was at independence. World Bank economists like to point to Ghana as an example of an African country that is “recovering” under a strict fiscal discipline program; what they don’t tell you is that the economy today is propped up by foreign aid.

A couple of paragraphs later, he continues:

Talk to me about Africa’s legacy of European colonialism, and I’ll give you Malaysia and Singapore, ruled by the British and occupied by Japan during World War II. Or Indonesia, exploited by the Dutch for over three hundred years. And let’s toss in Vietnam, a French colony later divided between North and South, with famously tragic consequences. Like Africa, most Asian countries only achieved true independence in the postwar years; unlike the Africans, the Asians knew what to do with it.

Talk to me about the problem of tribalism in Africa, about different ethnic and linguistic groups having been lumped together by Europeans inside artificial national borders. Then I’ll throw back at you Indonesia, some 13,700 scattered islands comprising more than 360 distinct tribes and ethnic groups and a mix of languages and religions; Indonesia has had its own turbulent past, including a bloody 1965 army-led massacre that left as many as a million people dead. But it has also had thirty years since of relative stability and prosperity.

The next quote shows that is going on in Africa is more than tolerated, it is supported (and more or less why that is the case):

I got to see Strasser again about a year later in Libreville, the capital of the small, oil-rich central African state of Gabon. The occasion was a summit meeting between Africans and African Americans organized by the Reverend Leon Sullivan, the veteran civil rights campaigner and anti-apartheid activist who had authored the “Sullivan Principles” outlining fair employment practices for U.S. firms doing business in apartheid-era South Africa. The summit brought together some of the most prominent luminaries from the American civil rights establishment—including Coretta Scott King, former UN ambassador Andrew Young, Jesse Jackson, the comedian Dick Gregory, the Reverend Joseph Lowrey, Nation of Islam leader Louis Farrakhan, and Virginia governor Douglas Wilder. Hundreds of African diplomats and some twenty heads of government were also in attendance.

When Strasser entered the meeting hall, sporting his now-trademark sunglasses and his camouflage battle fatigues, the crowd of mostly middle- and upper-class black Americans went wild with cheering, swooning from the women, some hoots, and frenzied applause. Sitting in that hall, you might be forgiven for thinking Strasser was a music celebrity instead of a puny boy-dictator. These black Americans were obviously more impressed with the macho military image Strasser cut than with the fact that he represents all that is wrong with Africa—military thugs who take power and thwart the continent’s fledgling efforts to move toward democracy. The chanting and hooting was a disgusting display, and to me it highlighted the complete ignorance about Africa among America’s so-called black elite.

The reception for Strasser wasn’t the only thing sickening about that summit meeting. I sat there and listened as speaker after speaker heaped a nauseating outpouring of praise on some of Africa’s most brutal and corrupt strongmen and their repressive regimes. An uninitiated listener might not have noticed the farcical nature of Jesse Jackson’s fulsome tribute to Nigerian strongman Ibrahim Babangida. Jackson called Babangida “one of the great leader-servants of the modern world in our time,” proclaiming, “You do not stand alone as you move with a steady beat toward restoring democracy” Jackson also called on President Clinton to reward Babangida with an official visit to the White House on what would be a “triumphant tour as we herald the restoration of democracy” in Nigeria.

Along the same theme, Richburg has this a few pages later:

It’s as if repression comes only in white.

So I was disgusted and angry in Gabon. And to keep from venting my disgust, I decided to have some fun by asking the various black leaders at the summit about the lack of human rights and democracy in black Africa. I enjoyed watching them wrap themselves in their own contradictions when I pointed out their contrasting views on South Africa versus the rest of the continent. I found the whole affair in Gabon so distasteful, I actually liked watching them squirm.

I asked Doug Wilder, Virginia’s first black governor since Reconstruction, about the problem of democracy in black Africa. “We cannot and should not force them to undergo a metamorphosis in seconds,” he replied. “If they are on track and on the path and giving evidence of trying to adjust, then our job is not to interfere, and to understand that there is a difference from what they are accustomed to.”

Interesting. Now imagine the conversation was about South Africa, and the year is, say, 1980, and imagine a white governor of a southern state saying of the apartheid regime, “We cannot and should not force them to undergo a metamorphosis in seconds…. Our job is not to interfere.” I can imagine that white politician would immediately be branded a racist or worst, and probably by no less a personage than Doug Wilder.

And consider the comments of Leon Sullivan on the question of democracy in black Africa: “We must be on the side of human rights and democracy,” he told me. “Many African leaders recognize it must be done and are trying to find a way to bring it about.” Then he added, “I don’t like to see anything stringent from America, saying you must do this or you must do that.”

Really? I seem to remember Reverend Sullivan being made of stronger moral fiber. What were the Sullivan Principles, after all, if not a way to bring pressure on the morally bankrupt apartheid regime? And they worked. So is Reverend Sullivan now trying to tell me that it’s okay to be stringent with despots when they are white racists, but for black despots we’ll let our standards slide a bit?”

At no point in the book is there much optimism about Africa or its future. I have never been to Africa, but I have spent a fair amount of time in Latin America and I can recognize a lot of what he wrote in the parts of the “developing” world that I know. The attitudes of the populace, and how they lead invariably to poor outcomes is certainly a factor in common.  And based on what I know about Latin America, I share Richburg’s concerns about the future of Africa.

In closing, I would say I finish less than 10% of the books I start. I finished this one, and expect to re-read it within the next year or two. I highly recommend it to anyone who wants to understand more about Africa, and the United States.

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