Signs of authoritarism and the loss of Democracy

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A woman with a miscarriage (the embryo has died) walks into a Walgreen’s drug store in Peoria, Arizona with a prescription for Misoprostol from her doctor. The drug will induce her body to release the dead embryo. The pharmacist refuses to fill the prescription. Instead, he told her to come back when he was not working, or he could send the prescription to another pharmacy. The woman became distraught and called her husband crying. This person decided he knew what was best for the woman, superseded her doctor’s prescription and delayed the treatment she needed. Today, the highly politicized supreme court today ruled in favor of a version of DJT Muslim travel ban. A trade war started by one man, DJT, has caused the Harley-Davidson to begin to move some of its manufacturing out of the country.

The following is a composite of disturbing stories that clearly illustrate the decline of America.

Other sign of creeping authoritarianism and the decline in democracy. Corruption is rampant in the Trump administrations – Corruption and conflict of interest – Trump is the greatest. He sets the standard. The rest of the Cabinet just follows his lead.

Axiois reported the following list of Scott Pruitt scandals on 13 June:

(1) He reportedly ordered raises for two aides, despite the White House rejected his request. He later said he was unaware of the raises. (2) He spent $3 million of taxpayer funds on an extensive security detail, which was three times bigger than his predecessor’s. Biometric locks were installed on his office doors for $5,700, Politico reports. (3) He came under fire for renting a bedroom near Capitol Hill from a lobbyist for $50 a night. He told the Washington Examiner: “I’m dumbfounded that that’s controversial.” The agency installed a $43,000 private phone booth in his office.  (4) He has spent over $105,000 on first-class flights, per Politico, citing “threats to his safety.”  (5) He had a tendency to want to use flashing lights and sirens on his motorcade to cut through D.C. traffic — including at least one trip to a popular French restaurant, Le Diplomate. (6) A former Comcast lobbyist helped the agency set up a trip to Morocco in December, which cost $100,000, despite original claims that it would cost $40,000.
(7) Pruitt accepted seats at a University of Kentucky basketball game for him and his son from a billionaire coal executive. (8) His staff spent over $1,500 on fountain pens, CNN reported, and more than $1,600 on journals. (9) His director of scheduling and advance, Millan Hupp, says Pruitt asked her to perform personal tasks, which included a request for a Trump hotel mattress. (10) He told his allies in the conservative movement that Hupp lied in her testimony and could not be trusted implying that “she should not be hired at their prospective institutions,” reports the Daily Beast. (11) He tried to use his position to get his wife a job as a Chick-fil-A franchisee, per the Washington Post.
(12) Pruitt requested that his 24/7 security detail help him find “a favorite moisturizing lotion” offered at Ritz-Carlton hotels, and retrieve his dry cleaning without him, the Washington Post reported. (13) He sent employees during the work day to “pick up his favorite snacks and treats,” per the Daily Beast, including particular finger foods, Greek yogurt, and more.

The Zinke-Ross scandals.

At least once a week, a member of the Trump administration demonstrates in an entertaining way that public service can be a great way to make a buck. This week’s installment is a double feature, starring Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke and Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross. Politico reported on business dealings involving Zinke, his wife, their foundation and a Montana business development pushed by a group founded by David Lesar, chairman of energy group Halliburton. Halliburton, one of the world’s biggest oil field services firms and a company that, does quite a bit of business with the U.S. government, including the Interior Department, on matters related to such matters as fracking and oil field worker safety. That would seem to indicate that maybe Zinke going into business with Lesar isn’t the best idea? But this is the Trump administration, where conflicts of interest are to be imitated, not eliminated.

Lesar’s company wants to develop a former industrial site in Zinke’s hometown of Whitefish, Mont., into a retail and entertainment space, with shops, a hotel, and a brewery. Zinke’s family foundation, now run by his wife, Lola, has “pledged in writing” to permit the company to put in a parking lot on land donated to the foundation. Never mind the fact that land was donated in 2008 to create a park that would honor veterans. (Zinke says he resigned his position with his family foundation early last year, but he continued to be listed as an officer in filings with the state of Montana government until journalists began asking questions this week.) As Politico reports, the Zinke family owns land that’s contiguous to the proposed development — land that would likely increase in value because of all the new business. “Deceitful,” proclaimed the Vet Voice Foundation.

And on Thursday, Politico reported that Zinke met with Lesar and others involved with the development at Interior Department offices last August and went out to dinner with them later that evening. A participant in the meeting claimed the men talked about the “history of the DOI” at the government offices and then the development at dinner.

Also, Zinke has been trying to start a brewery for several years. An attempt to set it up on a family-owned property foundered when the neighbors complained. But there is always a second chance. A Whitefish city official told Politico he’d been informed by the Lesar’s company that the Zinke family would own the brewery in the proposed development, though a firm representative helpfully said nothing is final, and Zinke wouldn’t respond to questions about it one way or the other.

Zinke’s financial kegger would be a grade-A scandal under almost any president. But in the Trump administration, it may not even be the largest ethics scandal of the week. Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross — who claimed he would offload any business interest that could be perceived as a conflict — instead dinged by Forbes for holding on through most of last year to “stakes in companies co-owned by the Chinese government, a shipping firm tied to Vladimir Putin’s inner circle, a Cypriot bank reportedly caught up in the Robert Mueller investigation and a huge player in an industry Ross is now investigating.” Up against a deadline, he sold some to Goldman Sachs and moved the rest to trust benefiting his family members — and we all know how disinterested we are when the finances of relatives are at stake. It gets better. At the time Ross became aware that the Panama Papers investigation was homing in a company he invested in called Navigator Holdings (thanks to questions the New York Times helpfully sent him while reporting the story), Ross shorted shares in the firm, pocketing somewhere between $100,000 and $250,000 as a result. Perhaps Ross needed the money: He may publicly claim a billion-dollar fortune, but when he filed financial disclosures, it turned out he was worth a mere nine figures. The problem: You’re not supposed to trade stocks based on non-public information. Ross says that’s not what’s going on; he says the whole thing is just a coincidence. The Times, he claims, said it was investigating his personal holdings, not Navigator. (Untrue, says the Times.) Instead, Ross claims he was in the process of selling off the remaining shares he owned in the firm when reporters just happened to come calling. Because the remaining holdings were hard for him to access, he shorted the company instead.

The Resignation of Anthony Kennedy & a billion dollars of loans to Trump
The Daily Koz reported today that Justice Anthony Kennedy didn’t announce his retirement until after Donald Trump had put one of Kennedy’s former clerks onto the Supreme Court with him and floated two others as future nominees. Trump sweet-talked Kennedy in various other ways, hoping to hasten his retirement, but Trump also had a very interesting tie to Kennedy: the justice’s son. In recent years, pretty much the only major bank that’s been willing to lend to Trump has been Deutsche Bank, but luckily for Trump, Deutsche Bank has been willing to lend him more than $1 billion. And the bank’s global head of real estate capital markets during that time? One Justin Kennedy, son of Anthony Kennedy. So this was the scene after Trump’s first address to Congress, in February 2017: As he made his way out of the chamber, Mr. Trump paused to chat with the justice. “Say hello to your boy,” Mr. Trump said. “Special guy.” It’s another Trump moment that would seem way, way over the top as a plot point in the most lurid of political thriller novels: the judge whose retirement gives the president elected with the help of a foreign government the ability to appoint a judge who is likely to hear that president’s own case is the father of the last major bank executive willing to give the president’s business a loan. But that’s our real world now.

But why bother to come up with a good story when Donald Trump is the boss? President Trump’s Washington hotel has turned into a place to see and to be seen by many of those hoping to do business with the administration. Prices are up at Mar-a-Lago as politically conservative causes hold annual benefits on its grounds. His sudden concern for the employees of Chinese telecom company ZTE came days after the Chinese government invested in an Indonesian development containing Trump-branded hotels, homes and a golf course.

The good news is that Americans overwhelmingly still support the concept of democracy and believe it’s important to keep the system we’ve inherited. That’s in contrast to the years before World War II when many people got caught under the spell of communism and fascism. Asked to rank the importance of living in a democracy on a scale of one to 10, with 10 being “absolutely important,” 60 percent picked 10 in the new poll. Overall, 84 percent picked a number between six and 10. Among Democrats, it was 92 percent. Among Republicans, it was 81 percent.  The Washington Post reported yesterday on a major bipartisan poll commissioned by the Democracy Project, with the goal of monitoring the health of the American system. The new poll found half of Americans think the United States is in “real danger of becoming a nondemocratic, authoritarian country.” A majority, 55 percent, see democracy as “weak” — and 68 percent believe it is “getting weaker.” Eight in 10 Americans say they are either “very” or “somewhat” concerned about the condition of democracy here. “We hope this work can be a step toward restoring faith in democracy and democratic institutions,” Bush said in a statement. The concern about the condition of democracy inside the United States transcends the tribal divide between Republicans and Democrats, with majorities across races, genders, age groups, levels of education and income brackets expressing fear. Americans are deeply worried about the health of their democracy and want to make it stronger,” said Michael Abramowitz, the president of Freedom House. “There appears to be a crisis in confidence in the functioning of our democracy, and it is not a party-line issue.”