Donald Trump Archives - Page 3 of 197 - SaintPetersBlog

We don’t have a president. We have a high priest of the American id

I don’t know what to tell you. Honestly.

One of the hallmarks of an unfree society is a lack of narratives to make clear sense of the government’s behavior — especially the government’s preferred narratives.

But this government has no narratives; no coherent, meaningful story to tell to us, the governed; no clear philosophy. We only neurotic and self-serving prevarications that shift as quickly as the ground beneath the lie-manufacturers.

America is in a crisis, and the America that eventually emerges will not be one any of us — liberal, conservative, urban, rural — will much recognize.

In the future, in this space, I hope to piece together some occasional narratives of this decline, accounts that can perhaps put America’s crisis in a useful context. But this week, a month into the most inept, malign, dishonest, infantile, hateful government administration I have witnessed in my lifetime, all I can do is try to pluck out a few waypoints on our rapid ride down the cliff.

For us mere mortals, there have been too many outrages to track, which is probably as close as Donald Trump’s inner circle comes to a strategy. They are prone to crisis and deceit, so they make crisis and deceit perpetual, until the populace adapts to it — like the stench of an unemptied garbage pail in your own home.

As my Pennsylvania-Dutch great-grandmother used to say, “If you hang long enough, you get used to it.”

This week, Michael Flynn, a simple soldier whose lifelong genius for connecting dots and acting on the picture they produce may have worked in an Afghan village but not in a bureaucracy designed to protect 319 million Americans, lost his job as national security adviser, and that is a good thing on its face.

Flynn’s unpardonable sin, per the president who hired him, is not that he spoke before Trump’s inauguration about election-tampering sanctions against Russia with the Russian ambassador, but that he lied about it to the vice president of the United States.

That is a jumbled, nonsensical timeline that begs a thousand questions.

Why did Flynn lie when he must have known U.S. authorities would record his call to a Russian diplomat? Why did Trump pretend, when asked by reporters on Air Force One, that he was unaware of Flynn’s lie, even though the Justice Department had informed him of it right after his inauguration? When Mike Pence told America on TV last weekend that Flynn assured him sanctions weren’t mentioned in his call, how did the vice president not know what the president already knew?

Why did Flynn have the “full confidence” of Trump just hours before he was forced to resign, according to prevaricating administration proxy Kellyanne Conway?

Only one clear answer emerges from the flaming heap of Flynn’s career. Absent investigative reporting by the “disgusting” media, absent an inflamed sense of justice motivating some career FBI and intelligence professionals to share what they knew with “fake news” outlets (like CNN and The Washington Post and The New York Times) the administration would not have cut Flynn loose.

And they would not have to answer questions about its ways of doing business.

The administration still may slip loose of hard questions, since Republican leaders on Capitol Hill — particularly Jason Chaffetz and Devin Nunes — refuse to investigate anything this administration does.

Not the Trump’s broken promise to divest himself of his many conflicts of interest or his already voluminous billing of taxpayers for Secret Security expenses when Donald or Melania or the kids take frequent jaunts, for work and play, to South America, the Middle East, Mar-a-Lago and New York.

Not the addition of political adviser Stephen Bannon, the certifiably power-mad Breitbart propagandist, to the National Security Council.

Not Trump’s refusal to release any of his tax returns, an unprecedented act of opacity and cynicism even in American politics.

Not his administration’s repeated lies, usually laced with racial innuendo, about phantom voter fraud in an election he won.

And certainly not the ties of Trump’s campaign and White House staff to Russian government officials or intelligence assets or hackers or money launderers or what-have-you.

Congressional conservatives, some of whom worked on Whitewater and the Clinton impeachment two decades ago, spent the past eight years looking in vain for gross corruption in a terribly conventional Democratic White House. They spent millions to investigate Benghazi in dozens of venues. They screamed about emails.

Oh, the emails.

They grilled Hillary Clinton with questions in one public hearing for 11 hours and never got the “gotcha” sound bite they sought. They gave the third degree to the Clinton Foundation — not a squeaky-clean organization, but by no means the bloodthirsty leviathan it was made out to be by shrill online fever swamps of resentment, stirred by Trump’s coterie.

And that would all be fine, if only Congressional Republicans would lift a finger to challenge its pathos-in-chief. Perhaps they yet will — after they edit Obamacare, “gun-free zones,” and corporate and capital gains taxes out of existence.

In the meantime, we will have more Putin-style televised news conferences, substitutes for the spectacular back-bitings of reality TV that clearly puts The Donald in his natural element, lying to all and entertaining some.

Trump browbeat a Jewish reporter as “unfair” for asking about the rise of anti-Semitic attacks nationwide, told a black reporter to set up a meeting between himself and the Congressional Black Caucus, pretending that 306 electoral votes make him a triumphant second coming of Ronald Reagan — a president who, like Trump, was not especially popular upon his inauguration, but who, unlike Trump, met deep skepticism with charm, calm and professionalism.

Personally, I did not care for most of Reagan’s policies or staff. But he charted out a philosophy, a direction, and a sense that his decisions affected 250 million Americans and billions more people abroad. He also abhorred nuclear weapons and sought to reduce their cloud over humanity.

Trump is no Reagan. Trump is no Ronald McDonald.

Republican indifference to this nasty, brutish — and hopefully short — regime’s myriad offenses against democracy is starting to take hold in a plurality of the populace, too. Just as Hill conservatives’ attitude seems to be “As long as I get my tax cut,” Middle America seems to have adopted “As long as I get mine” as its new mantra and ethos.

Money and revenge on our enemies, that’s all most of us want anymore. Trump was not the cause of this phenomenon, but he is its logically absurd endpoint.

We have elected our own id impulses. There is an ever-present danger — at least among white men of a certain age like me, whose existence or livelihood or bodily integrity is not immediately threatened by Trump’s wobbling whims — that we may tolerate (or even embrace) Trump, because his rule by id validates our own impulse to act on our darkest, ugliest urges.

America’s system was built by its designers to keep these impulses in check, to adapt them to public reason, to remember that government exists not to make us all the same, but to manage our differences.

That America is one that challenges us to know better, do better — and moderate our antipathies and subordinate our id-impulses for the common good.

But now we have elevated our lowest impulses to the highest office. I fear that, in place of electing a president, we have ordained an id-priest. I fear his ministry works well on a populace as broken as ours.

And if it doesn’t work in the long term, he will have broken us even more, perhaps beyond repair, before much longer.

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680 Cubans returned home since end of ‘wet foot, dry foot’

About 680 Cubans have been returned to the island from various countries since then-President Barack Obama ended a longstanding immigration policy that allowed any Cuban who made it to U.S. soil to stay and become a legal resident, state television reported Friday.

Cuba’s government had long sought the repeal of the “wet foot, dry foot” policy, which it said encouraged Cubans to risk dangerous voyages and drained the country of professionals. The Jan. 12 decision by Washington to end it followed months of negotiations focused in part on getting Havana to agree to take back people who had arrived in the U.S.

Cuban state television said late Friday that the returnees came from countries including the United States, Mexico and the Bahamas, and were sent back to the island between Jan. 12 and Feb. 17. It did not break down which countries the 680 were sent back from.

The report said the final two returnees arrived from the United States on Friday “on the first charter flight especially destined for an operation of this type.”

Florida’s El Nuevo Herald newspaper reported that the two women were deemed “inadmissible” for entry to the United States and placed on a morning flight to Havana.

Wilfredo Allen, an attorney for one of the women, says they had arrived at Miami International Airport with European passports. The women requested asylum and were detained.

The repeal of the “wet foot, dry foot” policy was Obama’s final move before leaving office in the rapprochement with the communist-run country that he and Cuban President Castro began in December 2014. The surprise decision left hundreds of Cubans stranded in transit in South and Central America.

Before he assumed the presidency on Jan. 20, Donald Trump criticized the detente between the U.S. and Cuba, tweeting that he might “terminate” it.

Republished with permission of The Associated Press.

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A month into presidency, Donald Trump prepares for a campaign rally

President Donald Trump is holding a campaign rally Saturday in politically strategic Florida — 1,354 days before the 2020 election.

The unusually early politicking follows a pattern: Trump filed his paperwork for re-election on Jan. 20, Inauguration Day. By comparison, President Barack Obama didn’t make his re-election bid official with the Federal Election Commission until April 2011.

Huge rallies were the hallmark of Trump’s presidential campaign. He continued to do them, although with smaller crowds, throughout the early part of his transition, during what he called a “thank you” tour.

The Florida event will be his first such one as president.

“I hear the tickets — you can’t get them,” Trump said Thursday during a meeting with lawmakers. “That’s OK, that’s better than you have too many.”

Trump responds well to the supportive crowds, who often chant, cheer and applaud enthusiastically when he speaks. The rallies serve a practical purpose by enabling his campaign to continue building a list of supporters. To attend, people must register online, giving their email address and other personal information that the campaign can use to maintain contact and raise money.

Trump’s upcoming evening event is set for an airport hangar in Melbourne, Florida, and it comes as he makes another weekend trip to what he calls his “Winter White House,” his Mar-a-Lago resort in Palm Beach.

Trump also said he would play golf this weekend with Ernie Els, a South African professional golfer. It will be his Trump’s third consecutive weekend at Mar-a-Lago.

White House spokesman Sean Spicer said the rally is “being run by the campaign.” It follows an official trip Friday to South Carolina, where Trump will visit a Boeing facility in North Charleston.

Spicer and others at the White House have not responded to repeated questions about why Trump’s embryonic campaign is organizing this rally, or about who will pay for the event and transportation to and from it. Presidents regularly hold large campaign-style events to build support for their policies. Those events are often considered part of their official duties and organized by the White House.

Michael Glassner, executive director of Trump’s campaign committee, also did not respond to questions.

Trump’s campaign is running the event because Trump does not want to spend taxpayer dollars on it, a person close to him said. The person requested anonymity to discuss private conversations.

Although Trump is getting started far earlier than his predecessors, it’s common for presidents to combine political and governing events into the same trip. When that happens, the campaign picks up the tab for part of the trip and taxpayers for the rest.

Trump’s campaign account had more than $7.6 million in the bank at the end of the year, according to fundraising reports. He’s continued raising money postelection by selling popular merchandise, such as the ubiquitous red “Make America Great Again” ball caps.

On Thursday, as the president wrapped up a confrontational press conference with the media — during which he repeatedly referred to coverage as “unfair” and “fake news” — one of Trump’s campaign accounts emailed a “media survey” to his supporters.

The 25 multiple-choice questions included: Do you believe that the mainstream media has reported unfairly on our movement? Do you believe that our Party should spend more time and resources holding the mainstream media accountable?

After clicking through the survey, there’s a prompt to donate money.

Republished with permission of The Associated Press.

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Producers can’t keep politics from edging into Oscar show

Meryl Streep ushered politics into Hollywood’s awards season when she used her Golden Globes acceptance speech to condemn President Donald Trump for what she called his “instinct to humiliate.” Stars were even more outspoken at the Screen Actors Guild Awards, held just days after Trump’s travel ban caused havoc at airports across the country. Even last week’s performance-heavy Grammy Awards had a political edge when members of A Tribe Called Quest raised their fists and Q-Tip repeated a call to “Resist.”

The Feb. 26 Academy Awards are the final stop of the industry’s annual two months of self-adulation, and while show producers aren’t planning any political content, the night’s winners might be.

As much as first-time Oscar telecast producers Michael De Luca and Jennifer Todd may want their show to focus on the magic of the movies, they say they support any message spoken from the heart, even if it means turning the Oscar podium into a political pulpit.

“The show has to stand behind the free exchange of ideas,” De Luca said in a recent interview. “I do believe a little bit in the famous Sam Goldwyn quote about movies: ‘If you want to send a message, call Western Union.’ And there’s a school of thought that says people are tuning in to celebrate the storytelling that’s moved them, and should we limit what we say to a celebration of that?”

But Oscar-caliber artists “are the kind of people that do get moved by the environment and the world they live in,” De Luca said, and they may want to use their moment on stage “to share those feelings the same way you shared the story that you’re being nominated for, and we want to honor that, too.”

Given the tone set by celebrities at other awards shows this season — and on social media since the election — some anti-Trump rhetoric at the Oscars wouldn’t be surprising. The show already has a political element: The Iranian director and star of foreign language film nominee “The Salesman” have said they will not attend the ceremony in protest of Trump’s travel ban.

Film academy President Cheryl Boone Isaacs was clear at the annual nominees’ luncheon last week that the organization supports artists and freedom of expression.

“Each and every one of us knows that there are some empty chairs in this room, which has made academy artists activists,” she said. “There is a struggle globally today over artistic freedom that feels more urgent than at any time since the 1950s.”

Oscar host Jimmy Kimmel hasn’t given much hint of his approach for the show. Winners are free to use their allotted 45 seconds of speaking time as they please.

“I hope that the Oscar speeches, whatever they are, are just well said,” co-producer Todd said. “I loved when Patricia Arquette talked about fair pay (when accepting the supporting actress Oscar in 2015). She did a beautiful job and she spoke from her heart. So I just think that as long as you’re going to do it, do it well.”

Passionate expressions also make for compelling television, De Luca added.

“Those feelings can create moments for the telecast that are really memorable,” he said. “And spontaneity is our friend. Anything that’s not scripted, that’s natural and from the heart, is a good thing for the telecast.”

And if viewers who disagree with the politics decide to tune out?

“We’re of a mind of: Let people be the people they are and not worry about the public reaction,” De Luca said.

Oscar nominees and guests say they expect politics to have a presence at the 89th Academy Awards.

“I suppose each Oscar show represents its time on some level,” said Viggo Mortensen, nominated for lead actor for “Captain Fantastic.” ”I think the Trump White House so far is not about being, let’s say, completely honest and above board. It’s not really about intellectual curiosity. It’s not about listening to people who think differently. It’s about, to some degree, shutting people up who you don’t like or who don’t agree with you, and I think the Oscars will probably be the opposite of that.”

Republished with permission of The Associated Press.

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CNN: Donald Trump attacks haven’t hurt the news network

The president of CNN said Thursday that neither the network’s journalism or business have been hurt as a result of President Donald Trump‘s attacks.

Jeff Zucker, president of CNN Worldwide, spoke Thursday at the same time Trump was holding a news conference in Washington in which he continued his barrage against media coverage of the administration.

Zucker said he was worried enough about Trump’s labeling of CNN as “fake news” through the campaign and after that he ordered a study last month to see if it had damaged the network’s reputation with viewers. He said it hadn’t. Less than a third —or 31 percent — of 2,000 Americans surveyed said they believed CNN’s coverage of Trump had been unfair, the internal study found.

The survey also reported that a little more than half of respondents said they trusted CNN, but that was well above the trust level for Trump or members of Congress.

“The CNN brand has been as strong as it has ever been,” Zucker said. Network executives said CNN had its most profitable year in 2016 and was on pace to do even better this year.

The administration has reportedly banned its officials from appearing on CNN, although there have been sporadic exceptions. The dispute has been most apparent on Sundays, where on two weekends Vice President Mike Pence and presidential aide Stephen Miller were guests on other network political affairs shows but not on Jake Tapper‘s CNN show, “State of the Union.”

Zucker, who said he had not spoken with Trump since December on this or other issues, said it hasn’t affected CNN’s ability to tell the political story.

“We don’t feel it’s hurt us in any way,” he said.

Angered by the Pence snub, CNN said that it declined an administration offer to instead have aide Kellyanne Conway on Tapper’s show, saying she had credibility issues. Conway has said she wasn’t available that day. But Tapper interviewed her two days later. “Saying that we have questions about her credibility does not mean that we would never interview her,” Zucker said.

Like its rivals, particularly Fox News Channels, CNN has benefited from extraordinary interest in the new administration. CNN’s ratings are up 51 percent this year compared to last, he said. That’s unusual because news network ratings usually tumble after a presidential election.

Trump’s lengthy news conference on Thursday was filled with media criticism. But he took questions from a range of reporters; many White House reporters — including CNN’s Jim Acosta — had been concerned over the past week when Trump bypassed the mainstream media in three separate news conferences connected to visits by foreign leaders, instead calling on representatives from more friendly news outlets. On Thursday Trump even took questions from Acosta, but also specifically criticized some of CNN’s coverage of him.

The president said that CNN’s 10 p.m. news show, hosted by Don Lemon, “is almost exclusive anti-Trump.”

“I would be your biggest fan in the world if you treated me right,” Trump said. “I sort of understand there’s a certain bias, maybe by Jeff or somebody, you know, whatever reason. And I understand that. But you’ve got to be at least a little bit fair and that’s why the public sees it. They see it. They see it’s not fair. You take a look at some of your shows and you see the bias and the hatred.”

Acosta, for his part, told the president that “just for the record, we don’t hate you. I don’t hate you.”

After the news conference, CNN’s Tapper said the president was “unhinged.” He said that Trump’s performance might play well among people who voted for him, but “a lot of people are going to say, ‘that guy isn’t focused on me. I don’t know what he’s focused on.'”

A few minutes later on Fox News Channel, Bret Baier said that Trump’s “mesmerizing” performance was an illustration of why people had supported him.

“There are people who are going to say that it was unhinged, or their heads are going to explode at something he said, but this is Trump being Trump,” Baier said.

Republished with permission of The Associated Press.

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Out like Flynn: The Firing of National Security adviser Mike Flynn

“In like Flynn” has been part of American language since the 1940s.

The San Francisco Examiner in February 1942 contained the first known use of the term when it stated: “Answer these questions correctly, and your name is Flynn, meaning you’re in …”

Within a few months, the term became closely identified with movie idol Errol Flynn. Flynn had developed a reputation as a fighter, drinker and womanizer. In November 1942, Flynn was accused by two underage girls of statutory rape. Flynn was cleared of the charge in 1943 and “in like Flynn” became part of the actor’s persona. The phrase has had a sexual connotation ever since.

A final variation of the origin of “in like Flynn” is tied to New York political boss Edward J. Flynn, who dominated politics in the Bronx during FDR’s administration. Boss Flynn’s “Democratic Party machine exercised absolute political control over the Bronx … The candidate’s he backed were almost automatically in.”

Whatever the origins, we may now coin a new term: “Out like Flynn.” “Out like Flynn” refers to someone who supposedly has the complete support of his boss, but is quickly fired. It is also associated with a political appointee who was quickly hired and quickly fired. Mike Flynn‘s tenure as National Security Adviser lasted 24 days.

Although Kellyanne Conway, Donald Trump‘s campaign manager and now presidential adviser noted on MSNBC that Flynn “does enjoy the full confidence of President Trump, a few hours later press secretary Sean Spicer told the press that Trump was “evaluating the situation.”

Within hours, Flynn submitted his letter of resignation.

At issue was whether Flynn gave Russian Ambassador Sergei Kislyak assurances that the Trump administration would reverse sanctions imposed by President Obama after the intelligence community concluded that they were involved in trying to influence the 2016 presidential election.

Flynn denied discussing sanctions with the Russian ambassador several times, including in conversations with Vice President Mike Pence. Pence went on national television and used Flynn’s remarks in stating that the Trump Administration never discussed the sanction issue before assuming office.

Flynn then modified his statement to say “he had no recollection of discussing sanctions” with the Russian ambassador, but “he couldn’t be certain the topic never came up.”

The same day that Conway said that Flynn enjoyed “the full confidence of President Trump,” Flynn submitted his resignation stating that “I inadvertently briefed the vice president-elect and others with incomplete information regarding my phone calls with the Russian Ambassador.”

In announcing Flynn’s resignation, press secretary Spicer noted the resignation was due to “eroding trust” between Trump and Flynn, and for misleading the president and others in the administration.

During the presidential campaign, it appeared that Trump was encouraging Russian intervention in the election. At many campaign appearances, Trump told his supporters: “Russia, if you’re listening, I hope you’re able to find the 30,000 emails that are missing.” Foreign intervention in American elections is illegal. Trump could say he was joking, but the integrity of elections is no joking matter.

When the American intelligence community investigated the Russian involvement in the presidential election, they uniformly concluded that we are “confident that the Russian Government directed the recent compromises of emails.” One of those released emails led to the resignation of Debbie Wasserman Schultz as Chair of the Democratic Party when it was clear that Schultz and the Democratic Party were favoring Hillary Clinton over Bernie Sanders in the presidential primaries.

Instead of defending the intelligence community, Trump attacked their credibility. “You ever notice anything that goes wrong, they blame Russia? Russia did it. They have no idea.”

When the intelligence community stated that Russia was seeking to help Trump win the election, Trump attacked them by saying “these are the same people that said Saddam Hussein had weapons of mass destruction.”

I do not know of any American political candidate, let alone the president, who has so uniformly attacked the intelligence community. I hope I never see another one engage in such undeserved attacks.

The basis of Flynn’s firing is the Logan Act, passed in 1798. The law essentially says that no United States citizen can attempt to influence the conduct of a foreign government without the authorization of the United States. No one has ever been convicted of violating the law, and there has only been a single indictment.

Even though there has never been a conviction associated with the law, the Logan Act frequently pops up with respect to foreign policy. Democratic Majority Leader Jim Wright was attacked for negotiating with Cuba and Syria for the release of American prisoners. More recently, 47 Republican senators were accused by Democrats of violating the Logan Act when they sent a letter to Iran opposing President Obama’s nuclear agreement with that nation. Critics of the Act contend it violates the First Amendment freedom of speech provisions.

Although Flynn is out as the head of the National Security Administration, the issue is not over. Trump will need to find a replacement for Flynn. Favorites are the Acting Director of the NSA, Lt. General Joseph Kellogg, Retired Vice Admiral Robert Harward, formerly a Navy SEAL and deputy director of CENTCOM in Tampa, and retired general David Petraeus. Petraeus had a distinguished military career and then directed the CIA before being forced to resign for sharing classified records and having an extramarital affair with his biographer.

Remaining issues include an investigation into Flynn’s actions. Did Flynn act on his own or was he directed to call the Russian ambassador? If so, who directed him and did they expect Flynn to discuss sanctions? If there is an investigation, should Attorney General Jeff Sessions lead that investigation because he was the first member of the Senate to endorse Trump for president?

We are only a month into the Trump Administration and we already have a major problem in one of the most important segments of government. If this is an indication of what is to come, what can we expect in the next three years and 11 months?

___

Darryl Paulson is Emeritus Professor of Government at USF St. Petersburg.

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White House taps billionaire to head intelligence review

The Trump administration asked the founder of a New York-based private equity firm to lead a review of the intelligence community as President Donald Trump vows to crack down on what he describes as “illegal leaks” of classified information.

A senior White House official said Thursday that Stephen Feinberg of Cerberus Capital Management has been asked to head the review of the various intelligence agencies and make recommendations on improvements to efficiency and coordination between the various intelligence agencies.

The official was not authorized to discuss private personnel matters and spoke on condition of anonymity. The official said that Feinberg’s role is not official until he completes an ethics review.

The president has vowed to crack down on leaks and add new oversight over intelligence. His moves have not been well received and look to many like retaliation against intelligence officials who are investigating his campaign aides’ ties to Russia.

Trump on Tuesday tweeted, “The real scandal here is that classified information is illegally given out by “intelligence” like candy. Very un-American!”

On Thursday, he accused Democrats of planting “fake news” stories on Russia in retaliation for their loss in the general election.

Republished with permission of The Associated Press.

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Court: Florida docs allowed to ask patients about guns

A federal appeals court ruled on Thursday that Florida doctors can talk to patients about gun safety, declaring a law aimed at restricting such discussions a violation of the First Amendment’s right to free speech.

The 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals found that the law does not trespass on patients’ Second Amendment rights to own guns and noted a patient who doesn’t want to be questioned about that can easily find another doctor.

“The Second Amendment right to own and possess firearms does not preclude questions about, commentary on, or criticism for the exercise of that right,” wrote Circuit Judge Adalberto Jordan in one of two majority opinions covering 90 pages. “There is no actual conflict between the First Amendment rights of doctors and medical professionals and the Second Amendment rights of patients.”

Circuit Judge William Pryor, who was a finalist in President Donald Trump‘s search for a Supreme Court nominee, said in a separate concurring opinion that the First Amendment must protect all points of view.

“The promise of free speech is that even when one holds an unpopular point of view, the state cannot stifle it,” he wrote. “The price Americans pay for this freedom is that the rule remains unchanged regardless of who is in the majority.”

The law was passed in 2011 and signed by Republican Gov. Rick Scott with strong support from the National Rifle Association. It was the only one of its kind in the nation, although similar laws have been considered in other states.

Supporters in the Republican-controlled Florida Legislature insisted it was necessary because doctors were overstepping their bounds and pushing an anti-gun, anti-Second Amendment agenda.

The law was challenged almost immediately by thousands of physicians, medical organizations and other groups such as the American Civil Liberties Union as a violation of free speech in what became known as the “Docs v. Glocks” case. A legal battle has raged in the courts since then, with several conflicting opinions issued.

“We are thrilled that the court has finally put to bed the nonsensical and dangerous idea that a doctor speaking with a patient about gun safety somehow threatens the right to own a gun,” said Howard Simon, executive director of the ACLU of Florida.

The 11th Circuit noted that Florida lawmakers appeared to base the law on “six anecdotes” about physicians’ discussions of guns in their examination rooms and little other concrete evidence that there is an actual problem. And doctors who violated the law could face professional discipline, a fine or possibly loss of their medical licenses.

“There was no evidence whatsoever before the Florida Legislature that any doctors or medical professionals have taken away patients’ firearms or otherwise infringed on patients’ Second Amendment rights,” Jordan wrote for the court.

The NRA and Florida attorneys had argued that under the law doctors could ask about firearms if the questions were relevant to a patient’s health or safety, or someone else’s safety, and that the law was aimed at eliminating harassment of gun owners. But the 11th Circuit said there was no evidence of harassment or improper disclosure of gun ownership in health records, as law supporters also claimed.

“There is nothing in the record suggesting that patients who are bothered or offended by such questions are psychologically unable to choose another medical provider, just as they are permitted to do if their doctor asks too many questions about private matters like sexual activity, alcohol consumption, or drug use,” the court ruled.

The ruling did determine that some parts of the law could remain on the books, such as provisions allowing patients to decline to answer questions about guns and prohibiting health insurance companies from denying coverage or increasing premiums for people who lawfully own guns.

The case will return to U.S. District Judge Marcia Cooke in Miami for a ruling that follows the 11th Circuit’s direction. The case could, however, also be appealed to the U.S. Supreme Court.

Republished with permission of The Associated Press.

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Donald Trump says White House ‘fine-tuned machine,’ despite turmoil

Donald Trump mounted an aggressive defense of his young presidency Thursday, lambasting reports that his campaign advisers had inappropriate contact with Russian officials and vowing to crack down on the leaking of classified information.

Nearly a month into his presidency, Trump insisted in a freewheeling White House news conference that his new administration had made “significant progress” and took credit for an optimistic business climate and a rising stock market.

The president denounced media reports of a chaotic start to his administration marked by his contentious executive order — rejected by a federal appeals court — to place a ban on travelers from seven predominantly Muslim nations. Trump said he would announce a “new and very comprehensive order to protect our people” next week.

“This administration is running like a fine-tuned machine,” Trump declared in a lengthy news conference that saw the new commander in chief repeatedly interrupting reporters’ questions and airing his grievances.

Throughout the encounter the new president delivered recurring criticism of the news media, accusing it of being “out of control” and promising to take his message “straight to the people.”

He dismissed recent reports in The New York Times and on CNN that Trump campaign aides had been in contact with Russian officials before his election. Trump called Paul Manafort, his former campaign manager who has ties to Ukraine and Russia, a “respected man.”

Pressed repeatedly, Trump said that “nobody that I know of” on his campaign staff had contacted Russian officials. He called such reports a “ruse” and said he had “nothing to do with Russia.” Trump added, “Russia is fake news. This is fake news put out by the media.”

Amid reports of widespread leaks within his administration, Trump also warned that he would clamp down on the dissemination of sensitive information, saying he had asked the Justice Department to investigate. “Those are criminal leaks,” adding, “The leaks are real. The news is fake.”

He blamed any problems on the outgoing Obama administration. “I inherited a mess at home and abroad — a mess,” Trump said.

The president announced that Alexander Acosta, the dean of the Florida International University law school, would be his nominee for Labor secretary. That came a day after fast-food executive Andrew Puzder withdrew his nomination for Labor after losing support among Republican senators.

Trump, a reality television star and real estate mogul who was elected as an outsider intent on change, said his ousted national security adviser, Michael Flynn, was “just doing his job” in talking with Russian officials before the inauguration. But he said he was “not happy” with how Flynn described his phone call with a Russian diplomat to Vice President Mike Pence.

Trump knew for weeks that Flynn had misled Pence but did not inform the vice president, according to a timeline of events supplied by the White House.

Trump said he had identified a strong replacement for Flynn, which made the decision to let him go easier.

Trump is said to favor Vice Admiral Robert Harward, a former Navy SEAL, as his next national security adviser, according to a White House official. Harward met with top White House officials last week and has the backing of Defense Secretary Jim Mattis. He was meeting with officials later Thursday.

Addressing immigration, one of the biggest issues of the past campaign, Trump said it was difficult dealing with the policy known as DACA, which allows young adults to get work permits and Social Security numbers and protects them from deportation. Referring to the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals rule, he said he would “deal with DACA with heart.”

While Trump has promised to halt illegal immigration as a cornerstone of his administration, he has also promised to focus on people who have committed crimes. He said he had the “best lawyers” working on the policy now and the “new executive order is being tailored to the decision we got from the court.”

Earlier in the day, Trump had a breakfast meeting with some of his staunchest House supporters.

The White House has said Trump asked for Flynn’s resignation because he had misled Vice President Mike Pence over his dealings with Russia and whether he had discussed sanctions with Russia’s ambassador to the U.S. before Trump’s Jan. 20 inauguration. Flynn previously had denied those conversations to Pence and other top officials.

On Thursday, he warned in a pair of tweets that “lowlife leakers” of classified information will be caught. As journalists were being escorted out of the breakfast meeting, Trump responded to a reporter’s question on the subject by saying: “We’re going to find the leakers” and “they’re going to pay a big price.”

Republished with permission of The Associated Press.

 

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Donald Trump’s F-35 call, overheard by rival CEO, threatens chaos in system

Donald Trump’s ascension to president of the United States has created more than its share of chaos, both in Washington D.C. and across the country.

Bloomberg Politics reports on one such muddled event – a demonstration that Trump, quite possibly, is a leader of the gang that simply can’t shoot straight.

Days before inauguration, President-elect Trump placed two calls to the Pentagon. He spoke with Lieutenant General Chris Bogdan, who manages the F-35 program, the nation’s biggest weapons project, which is built by Lockheed Martin.

Of course, unsurprisingly in retrospect, Trump made those calls within listening range of Dennis Muilenburg, CEO of Boeing Co., Lockheed’s chief rival. Muilenburg was in Trump’s New York office for a meeting; he caught part of the second call.

On the campaign trail, Trump blasted the $379 billion F-35 program, calling it “out of control.” Boeing, obligingly, suggests that they can provide an alternative with its Super Hornet fighter.

After the phone calls with Trump, Bloomberg says that Bogdan put his notes down in two memos Jan. 10 and 18 – titled “phone conversations with President-elect” – each labeled “For Official Use Only.”

Bogdan noted Trump’s questions about the capabilities of the Super Hornet, the Boeing product to compete with Lockheed’s F-35C. The memos were distributed to about a dozen people, Bloomberg reports.

By speaking directly to a program manager, questioning a government contract signed more than a decade and a half ago, Trump threatens to upset the entire F-35 program.

“When a president ignores the chain of command by going directly to a program manager, it creates chaos in the system,” said analyst Loren Thompson of the Arlington, Virginia-based Lexington Institute. Thompson has tracked the F-35 program since Lockheed beat Boeing in winning the contract in October 2001. She also serves as consultant to Lockheed.

“Behavior that looks decisive in the business world can unhinge a military organization that depends on order and discipline,” Thompson told Bloomberg.

Making matters worse, Trump failed to comprehend (perhaps willingly?) that comparing the F-35 and Super Hornet is like apples and oranges; the F-35 is designed with significantly superior radar, communications and sensor capabilities. The Super Hornet would need a massive, and expensive, retooling to truly compete.

In addition, to keep costs down, the F-35 has been aggressively marketed to U.S. allies worldwide; several countries have already picked up contracts for maintenance and production.

So, the F-35 is not just a “plane” that can be bartered, but a complex weapon system and network of partnerships and agreements, many of which established long before Trump entered the White House – and will remain long after he leaves.

But an offhand comment, and overheard phone call, could put all that in jeopardy.

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