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The Free Press WV

Political News

The Free Press WV

►  Trump won places drowning in despair. Can he save them?

One-hundred-fifty baskets of pink petunias hang from the light posts all over this city, watered regularly by residents trying to make their community feel alive again. A local artist spends his afternoons high in a bucket truck, painting a block-long mural of a little girl blowing bubbles, each circle the scene of an imagined, hopeful future.

But in the present, vacant buildings dominate blocks. A van, stuffed so full of blankets and boxes they are spilling from the windows, pulls to the curb outside Stacie Blodgett’s antiques shop.

“Look inside of it,” she says. “I bet you he’s living in it.”

Around the corner, a crowded tent city of the desperate and addicted has taken over the riverbank, makeshift memorials to too many dead too young jutting up intermittently from the mud.

America, when viewed through the bars on Blodgett’s windows, looks a lot less great than it used to be. So she answered Donald Trump’s call to the country’s forgotten corners. Thousands of her neighbors did, too, and her county, once among the most reliably Democratic in the nation, swung Republican in a presidential election for the first time in 90 years.

“People were like, ‘This guy’s going to be it. He’s going to change everything, make it better again,’” she says.

Blodgett stands at the computer on her counter and scrolls through the headlines. Every day it’s something new: details in the Russia campaign investigation, shake-ups at the White House, turmoil over Trump’s response to race-fueled riots. His administration’s failed plans to remake the health care system may or may not cost millions their coverage, and there’s a lack of clarity over how exactly he intends to eradicate a spiraling drug crisis that now claims 142 American lives each day — a growing number of them here, in Grays Harbor County.

“Has he done anything good yet?” she asks. “Has he?”

Blodgett was born and raised in this county, where the logging economy collapsed decades ago, replaced by a simmering sense of injustice that outsiders took the lumber, built cities around the world and then left this place to decay when there was nothing more to take. The community sank into despair. Suicides increased, addiction took root. Blodgett is 59, and the rate at which people here die from drugs and alcohol has quadrupled in her lifetime.

She thought opening an antiques and pawn shop with her boyfriend on a downtown street bordered by petunias would be fun. Instead, she’s confronted every day with her neighbors’ suffering. They come to pawn their jewelry to pay for medication. They come looking for things stolen from them. They come to trade in odds and ends and tell her food stamps won’t cover the dog food.

She keeps a bag of kibble behind the register.

Now they come to discuss Trump, and their differing degrees of faith that he will make good on his promise to fix the rotting blue-collar economy that brought this despair to their doorstep.

Many here agree that the thrashing and churning in Washington looks trivial when viewed from this place 3,000 miles away that so many residents have been trying so hard to save. Some maintain confidence that Trump will rise above the chaos to deliver on his pledge to resurrect the American dream. Others fear new depths of hopelessness if he fails.

Blodgett just prays Trump understand the stakes — because in places like this, there is little room left for error from Washington, D.C.

There, he is tweeting insults about senators and CNN.

Here, her neighbors have been reduced to living in cars.

___

Across the country, Trump disproportionately claimed these communities where lifetimes contracted as the working class crumbled.

Penn State sociologist Shannon Monnat spent last fall plotting places on a map experiencing a rise in “deaths of despair” — from drugs, alcohol and suicide wrought by the decimation of jobs that used to bring dignity. On Election Day, she glanced up at the television. The map of Trump’s victory looked eerily similar to hers documenting death, from New England through the Rust Belt all the way here, to the rural coast of Washington, a county of 71,000 so out-of-the-way some say it feels like the end of the earth.

Aberdeen was built as a boomtown at the dawn of the 20th century. Its spectacular landscape — the Chehalis River carves through tree-topped hills to the harbor — offered ships easy access to the Pacific Ocean. Millionaire lumber barons built mansions on the hills. There were restaurants and theaters and traffic that backed up as the drawbridge into town seesawed up and down for ship after ship packed with timber. Now that drawbridge pretty much stays put.

The economy started to slip in the 1960s, slowly at first, as jobs were lost to globalization and automation. Then the federal government in 1990 limited the level of logging in an attempt to save an endangered owl.

Today, the riverbank hosts a homeless encampment where residents pull driftwood from the water to construct memorials to the dead. An 8-foot cross honors their latest loss: A 42-year-old man who had heart and lung ailments made worse by infrequent medical care and addiction. A generation ago, people like him worked in the mills, lived in tidy houses and could afford to see a doctor, says the Rev. Sarah Monroe, a street minister here.

“But instead his life ended living in a tent on the riverbank.”

The county’s population is stagnating and aging, as many young and able move away. Just 15 percent of those left behind have college degrees. A quarter of children grow up poor. There is a critical shortage of doctors. All that gathered into what Karolyn Holden, director of the public health department, calls “a perfect storm” that put Grays Harbor near the top of the lists no place wants to be on: drugs, alcohol, early death, runaway rates of welfare.

“Things went from extremely good to not good to bad to worse, and we’ve got generations now where they don’t know anything else,” she says. “We have a lot of people without a lot of hope for themselves.”

Forrest Wood grew up here; his parents even picked his name in tribute to the local timber history. He watched drugs take hold of his relatives, and he swore to himself that he would get out, maybe become a park ranger. But he started taking opioid painkillers as a teenager, and before he knew it he was shooting heroin — a familiar first chapter in the story of American addiction.

He sits under a bridge next to a park named after Kurt Cobain, the city’s most famous son, the Nirvana frontman and a heroin addict, who shot himself in the head at 27 years old in 1994. Wood is 24. He plunges a syringe full of brown liquid into his vein, though he knows well how this might end.

“My uncle died right over there in his truck,” he says, pointing to a cluster of battered houses and blinking back tears. “He was messing with drugs. He did too much.”

Wood’s mother got treatment at the county’s methadone clinic and has stayed clean for years, paid for by her coverage under the Affordable Care Act.

Holden was so happy on the day President Barack Obama signed the legislation, she cried. It’s an imperfect program with premiums and deductibles rising for some, she says. But thousands here received coverage; the uninsured dropped from 18 percent in 2012 to 9 in 2014 — one of the greatest gains in the state.

She reads about all the proposals Republicans have offered to topple it — repeal and replace, just repeal, do nothing and let it buckle on its own — and believes the consequences of an unstable system will be most painful in counties like hers, where residents die on average three years younger than those in the rest of the state. For two terrifying weeks this summer, no insurer filed to provide coverage for the county through the exchange next year, threatening to leave thousands without an option. Other initiatives seem to be on the administration’s chopping block, too, like family planning programs to combat the high rate of teen pregnancy.

The health department last year collected 750,000 needles at its syringe exchange designed to stem the tide of drug-related disease — an incredible number for a small community, but still down from more than 900,000 the year before. Holden attributes that improvement to the methadone clinic that helps Wood’s mother and nearly 500 more stay off drugs.

Molly Carney, the executive director of Evergreen Treatment Services, says each client costs $14.75 per day for a combination of counseling and medication that prevents the sickness that strangles so many addicts’ attempts to get clean. More than 95 percent of her patients are covered by Medicaid. If the nation’s health care system collapses and patients are left uninsured, Carney says her clinic and others won’t survive, and even more will end up homeless, in jail or dead.

Tarryn Vick and Anjelic Baker line up before dawn every morning outside the clinic. They both beat crushing addictions by drinking their daily cup of pink liquid, and without it they believe they would tumble back into that deadly spiral. On this morning, they worry together over the possibility that Obamacare will be undone. Baker begins to cry.

“Are we going to lose our coverage?” she asks Vick. “Are we going to die?”

Vick shrugs, shakes her head and says she doesn’t know.

“Every day,” she tells her friend, “I wonder more.”

___

Robert LaCount flips open his Alcoholics Anonymous book, the binding frayed from a decade of reading, and pulls out a funeral program he keeps tucked among its pages. The photo on the front shows a woman with long hair and sad eyes, 32 years old, a mother of three.

He walked her down the aisle at her wedding. Eight months later, he carried the casket at her funeral. She had been addicted to heroin, recovered, relapsed and hanged herself.

“It’s too sad,” says LaCount, himself a recovering addict. “But it happens all the time.”

For years, LaCount cycled in and out of jail and it did nothing to stop the addiction. He endangered his own children, spent Christmases in missions, didn’t care if he lived. Then one day it occurred to him that his life was so empty no one would care enough to claim his body from the morgue when he died. He got clean nine years ago, and now runs a sober housing program and fields 10 calls for help a day that he has to say no to because there’s so much need and so few resources.

LaCount is a Trump supporter looking eagerly to Washington for action on the addiction crisis. The president this month declared the opioid epidemic a national emergency, potentially unlocking federal funding for deterrence and treatment. However, other moves by the administration have LaCount concerned.

He was stunned when Trump’s attorney general announced a return to the tough-on-crime sentencing policies of the War on Drugs, and he’s unnerved by Trump’s calls to undo the health insurance system that he and many addicts rely on to get clean. LaCount recently finished a $90,000 treatment that rid his body of the hepatitis C he contracted using injection drugs. Those trapped in addiction have little chance to get out of it without health coverage, he says.

But it’s hard to tell sometimes what news is real and what’s blown out of proportion, he says, frustrated by what he sees as mass obstruction to the president’s every proposal. People in big cities, rooting for Trump’s failure, don’t have nearly as much on the line as they do here, LaCount says.

“We’re banking on him.”

He traded his motorcycle for $30,000 worth of woodworking tools to teach people the skills they’ll need for the jobs Trump promised to create. He sees opportunity all around him: a port, railroads, a lot of open real estate and a beautiful wildness, where deer sometimes meander along city streets. So he’s scraping paint from a run-down church with dreams of building a community center to help other people see it, too.

He considers his old building a metaphor for his community — good bones, a good soul, a working organ that plays beautiful music. It just needs help.

“It’s been sitting empty and it’s tired,” he says. “It needs to get back to life.”

Many others trying to pull their neighbors from despair are similarly optimistic about a future under Trump. People like Chad Mittleider, a paramedic, who applauds Trump’s efforts to renegotiate trade deals and roll back welfare programs and regulations like those that helped drag down his community.

He has brought former classmates back to life from overdoses and responded to their suicide attempts, treating the same people over and over.

“It’s taken us decades to get to where we’re at,” he says, “so it’s not going to be fixed in four or eight years.”

The Rev. Sarah Monroe can’t afford to be patient. Already, she has held seven funerals this year. She tallies the initials of the dead on a tattoo that winds around her bicep: AB, dead at 23; ZV, at 24.

Now she has a new one to add: Shawn Vann Schreck, dead at 42.

Most in her flock are too consumed by the daily chaos of addiction and poverty to be engaged in what’s happening in Washington. But their lives might depend more than most on Trump’s plans for health care, drug policy and the safety net, she says.

Schreck’s girlfriend, Misty Micheau Bushnell, says his death shook her so much she’s ready to move away, and hopes her methamphetamine addiction won’t follow her.

But Monroe has seen this again and again. They claw their way out and get clean— then there’s another friend to bury, the despair returns and the cycle starts anew.

“I don’t think our politicians know how high the stakes are here, and after so many years have gone by with our situation still as devastated as it is, I don’t know if they care,” she says.

“I’m not sure how much worse it can get, and at the same time I’m afraid to see how much worse it can get.”

___

When Blodgett was young, people could walk out of high school, get a job in the woods and make enough money to ascend to the middle class and shop downtown. They didn’t have locks on their doors. But the addiction and despair plaguing the people of Grays Harbor have fostered other problems now.

On a recent Sunday afternoon, Blodgett and her elderly mother got home to find a swarm of police cars clogging their street in the next-door town of Hoquiam. A 95-year-old man who lived in a little house six doors down for 20 years had been found bludgeoned and stabbed to death.

Blodgett adored him. She looked forward to seeing him driving around, his Pomeranian on his lap. He still met friends for coffee twice a day, once in the morning and again in the afternoon, and climbed a ladder to clean out his own gutters.

She held his daughter as she wept, then read the details of his death in the local paper, The Daily World: He’d hired a young woman to mow his lawn. That woman, believed to have a drug addiction, allegedly stole his checks. There was a confrontation, and police say she later confessed that she returned to his home, beat him with a flashlight and stabbed him with a knife.

“It makes me sick to my stomach,” Blodgett says. “I’m sick, just sick.”

And so she checks to make sure her backyard is empty before she goes to sleep every night. As she drives to the antiques shop every morning, she passes block after block of abandoned buildings — homeless people in the doorways, syringes in the streets. She has three grown kids and five grandkids, and she worries about their futures here.

“Kids are being raised around this,” she says. “No wonder when they graduate they get out of it if they can.”

Her worry has turned into anger, directed at the president she once saw as a savior. She sees Trump tweeting about talk show hosts, foreign allies, the nuclear arsenal, his own attorney general — a seemingly endless series of squabbles that will do her and her neighbors no good. Blodgett found Trump’s bluster refreshing when he was a candidate. It seems reckless with the fate of the nation in his hands.

“What he needs to do is quit talking, and do what he said he’s going to do.”

Her brother had a stroke and is in a nursing home, paid for by Medicaid. She has pre-existing conditions, and she’s terrified about what could happen to them both.

She cast her ballot for Trump because he said he’d look after the underdogs, and her community is full of them. But “as soon as he gets in there,” she says, “it’s like to hell with you people.”

Each new headline ignites more regret. So when the computer on her counter beeps to mark the arrival of a news alert, she stiffens.

“Oh my God,” she groans. “What has he done now?”


►  Paul Ryan: Leaders must push beyond ‘passions of moment’

The nation’s leaders “have an obligation” to steer the country past “the passions of the moment,” House Speaker Paul Ryan said Monday in remarks that didn’t explicitly criticize Donald Trump’s handling of this month’s deadly clash in Charlottesville, Virginia.

The written statement by Ryan, R-Wis., came six days after Trump used a news conference to say “both sides” were to blame for the Charlottesville violence, in which neo-Nazis and other right-wing groups clashed with counter-protesters. Trump said there were “very fine people” in each group.

Trump’s remarks have drawn bipartisan criticism for equating the two sides. Many Republicans’ comments have focused on condemning the views of white supremacists without specifically faulting the president for what he said.

In a written statement Monday, Ryan did not mention Trump by name.

Saying the chase for equality sets the U.S. apart, Ryan said, “This goes especially for our leaders. Those of us entrusted with the privilege to serve and represent the American people have an obligation to challenge us to push beyond the passions of the moment.”

Ryan called the issue “a test of our moral clarity.” He added, “The words we use and the attitudes we carry matter.”

He called the episode “a disheartening setback in our fight to eliminate hate. But it is not the end of the story. We can and must do better.”

Ryan also seemed eager to prevent the dispute from becoming a political weapon either party might wield against the other.

“This is not a legislative issue,” he said. “And it certainly isn’t a political one. Let’s not just reduce this to one of the partisan squabbles of the day. It is so much bigger than all that.”

Ryan said last week that white supremacy is “repulsive” and said there was “no moral ambiguity” about that. He had not said how he believes leaders should react to the problem.


►  Boycott the White House – and Trump properties

Donald Trump was forced to disband two advisory business councils this week when CEOs left en masse. He has had to drop the idea of an infrastructure council, one suspects, because it would be hard to round up people willing to attend.

Now ESPN reports:

“Kevin Durant says he will not visit Donald Trump at the White House if the NBA champion Golden State Warriors are invited.

“‘ Nah, I won’t do that,‘ said Durant, the 2017 NBA Finals MVP. ‘I don’t respect who’s in office right now.‘ . . .

“ ‘I don’t agree with what he agrees with, so my voice is going to be heard by not doing that,‘ said Durant, who said it wasn’t an organizational decision. ‘That’s just me personally, but if I know my guys well enough, they’ll all agree with me.‘ “

He added, “So to see (what happened in Charlottesville) and to be where we are now, it just felt like we took a turn for the worse, man. It all comes from who is in the administration. It comes from the top. Leadership trickles down to the rest of us. So, you know, if we have someone in office that doesn’t care about all people, then we won’t go anywhere as a country. In my opinion, until we get him out of here, we won’t see any progress.“

We certainly hope Durant’s teammates, fellow basketball players and indeed all professional and college sports players make the same choice. They are inarguably role models and America could use some role models right about now. Durant and others can emphasize that their extraordinary action is required because of Trump’s deliberate effort to rewrite history and redefine the United States in ways that are antithetical to our founding creed.

We’ve urged public figures of all types – entertainers, civic leaders, public intellectuals, business leaders, scientists, etc. – to make the same decision. Those who publicly decline to attend events deserve praise; those who attend deserve our contempt. No one can honestly say that meeting with the president offers a chance to shape Trump’s views, influence his decisions or help our country. This week should have removed any doubt that Trump is immune to reason, indifferent to history and contemptuous of advice.

Charities are also making some public decisions. Both the American Cancer Society and the Cleveland Clinic have canceled events at Trump’s Mar-a-Lago resort. The Washington Post also reports, “The American Friends of Magen David Adom, which raises money for Israel’s equivalent of the Red Cross, also said it would not hold its 2018 gala at the club ‘after considerable deliberation,‘ though it did not give a reason. The charity had one of Mar-a-Lago’s biggest events last season, with about 600 people in attendance.“ I cannot imagine why any charitable organization that wants the support of a wide array of Americans would think it was in its interest to stage an event under the Trump logo.

I find it appalling, frankly, that the Fund for American Studies (TFAS) – a group that bills itself as dedicated to teaching “limited government, free-market economics and honorable leadership to students and young professionals in America and around the world” – would think to have its event at Trump’s International D.C. Hotel. The group’s actions in selecting its venue speak volumes. (A separate issue has arisen as to whether it is appropriate for Justice Neil Gorsuch to speak there, given the potential for litigation on the emoluments clause reaching the Supreme Court. Legal ethics experts are divided as to the propriety of, in essence, Gorsuch being the star attraction at an event that would enrich the president who appointed him; we find it unseemly.)

Private and public citizens, like politicians, will have to make their own decisions about how they want to conduct themselves with regard to this president. Whatever they decide, however, they will be setting an example for others, if only their children, and they have every reason to be judged harshly by those who find that Trump has not only defiled the presidency but waged an assault on our civic virtues and democratic norms.


►  Senator McCain faces cancer battle with typical feistiness

Senator John McCain’s packed agenda while on break from Congress in his home state of Arizona has hardly been the schedule of a typical brain cancer patient - or even someone about to turn 81.

McCain has been undergoing targeted radiation and chemotherapy treatments at the local Mayo Clinic on weekday mornings before going about his day with vigor.

In the past two weeks, the Republican has discussed a development project with local mayors, given a radio interview and held a Facebook town hall. The chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee outlined a military strategy for Afghanistan, attended an Arizona Diamondbacks baseball game and went hiking several times with his family. He has been active on Twitter, including condemning the white nationalist attack in Virginia while criticizing Donald Trump’s response to the violence.

McCain’s spokeswoman in Washington, Julie Tarallo, said the senator was not available for an interview with The Associated Press. His daughter, Meghan McCain, tweeted Friday that he had just finished his first round of chemotherapy.

“His resilience & strength is incredible,” she wrote. “Fight goes on, here’s to small wins.”

Those who know the former POW well say they aren’t surprised by McCain’s upbeat and feisty approach to his latest challenge.

“This is all so characteristic of him, going back to his early days in Arizona politics,” said Grant Woods, the state’s former attorney general who served as McCain’s administrative assistant while he campaigned in 1982 for a seat in Congress’ lower house. “He outworked everyone, went door-to-door all summer in 110 temperatures.”

McCain’s trip home during the August congressional recess comes as other lawmakers have returned to hostile constituents amid debates in Washington over health care and other elements of the president’s agenda. Despite his busy schedule, McCain has avoided town hall meetings. He has no upcoming election to worry about, having won a sixth term in November.

Still, during McCain’s time in Arizona, tensions have increased with Trump, who recently criticized the senator again for voting against the GOP health-care bill he backed. “You mean Senator McCain, who voted against us getting good health care?” Trump asked when his name came up during a news conference.

Trump’s remark came a day after McCain criticized him for saying both the white nationalists and counterprotesters bear responsibility for the violence last weekend in Charlottesville, Virginia. The senator insisted in a tweet that “there’s no moral equivalency between racists & Americans standing up to defy hate and bigotry” and the president should say so.

Trump also has sharpened his criticism of McCain’s fellow Arizona Republican Senator Jeff Flake in the lead-up to a Tuesday night rally Trump has planned in Phoenix, calling the senator “WEAK” on the border and crime.

McCain’s friend Woods said McCain hasn’t slowed down since undergoing surgery in mid-July to remove a 2-inch (51-millimeter) blood clot in his brain and being diagnosed with an aggressive tumor called a glioblastoma. It’s the same type of tumor that killed Senator Edward M. Kennedy at age 77 in 2009 and Beau Biden, son of then-Vice President Joe Biden, at 46 in 2015.

Glioblastoma is a somewhat unusual cancer, with the American Brain Tumor Association estimating only about 12,400 new cases will be diagnosed this year.

McCain’s natural energy aside, his upbeat attitude is typical of people who’ve recently had a brain tumor removed, said Dr. Michael Lawton, chairman of neurosurgery and CEO and president at Phoenix’s Barrow Neurological Institute.

“They experience a lot of relief from the problems the tumor caused,” such as headaches or seizures from pressure on the brain.

Patients usually do well in the early post-operative stage, Lawton said. “But there could be some tough things down the road,” he added, speaking generally about typical experiences with glioblastoma because Barrow is not involved in McCain’s treatment.

Typical treatment of a glioblastoma involves chemotherapy and radiation to halt division of any possible remaining cancer cells and shrink any existing mass, followed by an MRI every two months to monitor for a recurrence, he said.

McCain’s three-week round of treatments that ended Friday forced the globe-trotter to stay near home rather than travel to meet with troops or international leaders as he normally does each August. The senator said during his Facebook appearance that after this round, doctors will “see if there is anything additional that needs to be done.”

In the meantime, “I feel good. I have plenty of energy.” McCain warned friends and foes with a laugh: “I’m coming back!”

Survival amid seemingly unsurmountable odds has been a constant in the life of this son and grandson of four-star admirals.

As a Navy pilot, McCain lived through a July 1967 fire that killed 134 sailors aboard the aircraft carrier USS Forrestal in the Gulf of Tonkin during the Vietnam War. The following October, his plane was shot down during a bombing mission over Hanoi. He endured more than five years as a prisoner of war.

McCain also has survived several bouts with melanoma, a dangerous skin cancer.

He was first elected to the Senate in 1986. Over his six terms, McCain carved out a reputation as a maverick and became one of the best-known figures in American politics. He ran unsuccessfully for the Republican presidential nomination in 2000 and won it in 2008, but then lost to Barack Obama.

McCain returned to Washington after his operation, entering the Senate on July 25 to a standing ovation from his colleagues. He sported a wound from the surgery above his left brow and bruising under his eye.

In a widely praised speech, McCain complained to his fellow senators they had been “getting nothing done” because of partisanship and called the U.S. health care system a “mess.” He then cast a thumbs-down vote against the latest attempt to repeal and replace Obamacare, winning praise from Democrats and scorn from the right.

Michael O’Neil, an Arizona pollster who writes a political column and has a local radio show, said facing such a serious illness will likely bring McCain even greater freedom to act on his beliefs. “All the political constraints are now gone,” he said.

The American Cancer Society says the odds of surviving for five years or more are only 4 percent for people over 55.

Despite the diagnosis, the senator seems to be a man filled with gratitude as he approaches his 81st birthday on August 29.

“Even those that want me to die don’t want me to die right away,” he said during his Facebook appearance. “Thank you for everything you’ve done for literally the luckiest guy on Earth.”

WV Legislative Update: Delegate Brent Boggs - Minority House Finance Chairman

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Many decades ago, nearly all counties in central West Virginia had some level of mining activity with countless communities in Gilmer, Braxton, Clay and surrounding counties tracing their beginnings to coal, timber, natural gas and/or the railroad.  Unfortunately, the early years of oil, gas and coal extraction left major scars on the landscape with environmental issues left unchecked or untreated. 

Nearly all of these – small sites in comparison to a modern day mining complex – ceased operations prior to 1977 when the Surface Mine Control and Reclamation Act was signed into law.  In recent years, Abandoned Mine Lands and Reclamation funds (AML) have been used to clean up and reclaim many of these old sites.  Also, AML funding has been opened up for local economic development.  Currently, we’re accessing these funds locally to assist with waterline extensions.  Other possible uses are the expansion of broadband access.  Now, another use has been identified and it may have substantial local economic development potential for Gilmer, Braxton, Clay and Kanawha Counties.

Last Friday, I attended a meeting in Clay with Delegate Hanshaw and county officials from the area.  Frank Jorgenson, President of the Elk River Railroad, Inc. (TERRI) also attended the meeting.  The Elk River Railroad is considering removal of the rail and ties and selling off the right of way for a major Rail to Trails project.  It would extend from Gilmer Station, through Gassaway and continuing down Elk River though Clay County and on to Clendennin.  It is a distinct possibility that the short abandoned rail section on into Charleston may also be in play.  Also, there may be interest in the five miles from Gilmer Station to Burnsville.  If grant funding is approved, it would become the Elk River Rail Trail, creating the second longest Rails to Trails project west of the Mississippi River and ninth longest in the nation.

This proposed trail would be for walkers, hikers, bicyclists and horseback riders.  The area beginning at Gassaway on Elk River is a gentle grade of less than 1% running parallel to Elk River; the section between Gassaway and Gilmer Station is a more challenging 2% grade with two hills and tunnels.

Based on the economic success of the Greenbrier River Trail and North Bend Trail (both abandoned rail right of ways) this could be a considerable tourism windfall for the area, breathing new life into the area businesses and new business opportunities.  As someone that worked as a locomotive engineer over the entire length of the proposed trail, I wish the rail business was still viable and intact.  However, the owner holding the line for the past thirty years has ascertained it’s unlikely that there is a rebound in commerce that requires rail access in the foreseeable future.

Much work remains, but if the grant is approved, this will be a multi-county cooperative.  The Elk River Rail Trail would become the owner of the right-of-way, with some conditions. By turning this into an officially sanctioned rail trail by state and federal definition, the railroad would still retain the option to reopen the line if it ever becomes financially viable.  I think that is an important consideration.

One important distinction needs to be made.  This is not part of the ATV/UTV recreational trail system we are simultaneously working to develop in central West Virginia.  However, both would be a great partners and enhancements in locating lodging, restaurants, service and rental locations, shops and other service opportunities at strategic points along the route to maximize the tourism impact that can be obtained.  It could also help us get infrastructure to areas that were previously inaccessible.

Tourism is a $4.5 billion industry in West Virginia.  Last year, Justin and I spend a couple days fishing, camping and canoeing along the Greenbrier River Rail Trail.  I was well-maintained, quiet, pristine and a wonderful experience.  Local businesses, property owners and entrepreneurs all agree it has breathed new life into that area.

We here in central West Virginia have great access, central location, natural beauty and resources that have the potential to attract visitors from near and far.  As we work to provide better roads, expand broadband, extend water and wastewater service, this may well be one more important piece of the puzzle we need to move forward and make this a hub for family recreation and healthy lifestyles in West Virginia and beyond.

The railroad may yet be providing an unconventional but promising opportunity for economic growth.  I’m excited about the prospects.  The grant decision by DEP may come early this fall.  Stay tuned.

Please send your inquiries to the Capitol office:  Building 1, Room 258-M, Charleston, WV 25305.  My home number is 304.364.8411; the Capitol office number is 304.340.3142.  If you have an interest in any particular bill or issue, please let me know.  For those with Internet access, my legislative e-mail address is:

You may also obtain additional legislative information, including the copies of bills, conference reports, daily summaries, interim highlights, and leave me a message on the Legislature’s web site at www.legis.state.wv.us/.  When leaving a message, please remember to include your phone number with your inquiry and any details you can provide. Additional information, including agency links and the state government phone directory, may be found at www.wv.gov. Also, you may follow me on Facebook at “Brent Boggs”, Twitter at “@DelBrentBoggs” , as well as the WV Legislature’s Facebook page at “West Virginia Legislature” or on Twitter at twitter.com/wvlegislature.

Continue to remember our troops - at home and abroad - and keep them and their families in your thoughts and prayers.  Until next week – take care.

Political News

The Free Press WV

►  Sessions is Trump’s MVP in aftermath of Charlottesville

In the wake of what happened in Charlottesville, everyone should be thankful that Attorney General Jeff Sessions has not quit. That includes Donald Trump.

For whatever reason, Trump wanted Sessions off the team a few weeks ago. But Sessions is now turning out to be Trump’s most valuable player in the aftermath of Charlottesville, Virginia. The irony should not be lost on anyone that it is Sessions who is instinctively doing the right thing at the most important agency after what happened. He toughed out the president’s criticism, and Trump now has Sessions to thank for his Justice Department’s nimble handling of the critical issues associated with Charlottesville.

Sessions’ instincts have been spot-on at every step of the way. And you can bet Sessions is acting with autonomy. He is neither waiting for nor seeking instruction from the White House. He is quickly doing what the law requires, and by any measure, he is doing the right thing.

Last week, Sessions told NBC’s “Today”: “You can be sure this Department of Justice in this administration is going to take the most vigorous action to protect the right of people like Heather Heyer, to protest against racism and bigotry. We’re going to protect the right to assemble and march. And we’re going to prosecute anybody, to the full extent of the law.“

Considering Sessions’ response to the tragedy in Charlottesville, I can’t help but question the motives of anyone who insists on disparaging his character. Let’s not forget, in a blatant example of Democrats playing the race card and pursuing identity politics, it was Senator Cory Booker, D-N.J., who spoke out against Sessions, testifying at his confirmation hearing that “Sen. Sessions has not demonstrated a commitment to a central requisite of the job – to aggressively pursue the congressional mandate of civil rights, equal rights and justice for all of our citizens.“

Give me a break. Booker should call Sessions and admit that he had been wrong the whole time. As should Trump. They should both call him to apologize.

It’s probably a trap, but even the liberal The New York Times is praising Sessions. In one story, Charlie Savage and Rebecca R. Ruiz write that by “aggressively responding to the deadly car attack . . . in Charlottesville, announcing a federal civil rights investigation within hours and labeling the attack an act of domestic terrorism,“ Sessions has earned the praise of civil rights advocates.

Remember, this is the same newspaper whose editorial board described Sessions as “radical” and “extreme” at the beginning of Trump’s presidency.

Sessions is a man of principle. It probably isn’t within Trump to admit he was wrong, but by acting on his instincts and sticking to his principles, Sessions is making a bad situation more tolerable. And Trump is lucky to have him.

Trump’s response to what happened in Charlottesville was inexcusable. But Sessions did everything right. His actions in the immediate aftermath of the attack only serve to further demonstrate his commitment to upholding the law and seeking out justice for the victims of the crimes that occurred.

Trump should recognize that and be thankful.


►  Labor groups step up pressure on Trump to deliver

Labor leaders, once courted by Donald Trump, are stepping up their campaign to turn workers against the White House if it does not deliver more on jobs and trade – and if it does not stop undoing Obama-era regulations.

The most visible effort, which starts in Indianapolis on Monday afternoon, is a two-week tour organized by the coalition Good Jobs Nation that ropes in labor-friendly politicians. The coalition, launched in 2013 to pressure Barack Obama’s White House on trade and wage issues, is organizing rallies throughout the Midwest through Labor Day.

“Trump ran as a working-class hero, so let’s look at the results,“ said Joseph Geevarghese, Good Jobs Nation’s executive director. “We’re seven months into his administration, and wages are flat. People are still getting pink slips.“

The Indianapolis rally, which will feature Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., is designed to highlight the complicated aftermath of an early Trump coup for workers – a deal that delayed layoffs at a Carrier plant in nearby Huntington. In December, Trump came to Indiana to announce that Carrier would lay off only a few hundred of its 1,400-odd workers, thanks to the state’s promise of $700,000 per year in tax breaks to the company and a presidential promise of corporate tax reform.

“Companies are not going to leave the United States anymore without consequences,“ Trump said.

Nine months later, Carrier is well into cutting 632 jobs – more cuts than the president had promised. Chuck Jones, who represented Carrier workers as president of United Steelworkers Local 1999, said that even workers who voted for Trump have learned not to trust him.

“He made promises to working-class people,“ said Jones, who will also speak at Monday’s rally. “He said that if he were president, that jobs would not be leaving this country. Guess what? They still are. He could be signing executive orders. He’s not lifting a finger.“

As the White House eagerly points out, the economy has seen steady job growth every month since Trump took office. Wages have ticked up 0.7 percent in the past year, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics – in line with the increasing cost of living. Trump’s Republican base, meanwhile, has become overwhelmingly positive about the economy, with consumer confidence and the employment rate ticking up to 16-year highs.

Labor leaders, who watched their members break Republican at historic levels last year, however, increasingly suspect that the administration will squander those gains by ignoring actions that could increase wages.

The Trump administration has undone or walked away from a number of regulations that labor lobbied for, and won, under Obama, including one that required companies to disclose labor law violations before bidding on big government contracts and one that made 4.2 million more workers eligible for overtime pay. That rule and several others were challenged in court by business groups, and the Trump administration has defended them less forcefully than its predecessor.

Instead, the administration has synced up with congressional Republicans in rolling back regulations on business, with the expectation that job growth will ensue.

Skeptics in labor and the left see a political opening. After pummeling the Obama administration for steady but slow growth, Trump is bragging about an economy that is exhibiting virtually the same characteristics. Stephen K. Bannon, the political adviser who dreamed of the GOP becoming a “workers’ party” that plowed money into infrastructure, is out of the administration with little of that vision achieved.

“People feel, appropriately, that the political and economic establishments have left them behind,“ Sanders said in an interview. “They ignored people while jobs went to Mexico. We’ve got a chance to be heard, and we’ve got to use that chance to explain what a progressive economic agenda is all about. We want a $15 minimum wage. Donald Trump has said wages should be lower. And that’s our point.“

The Good Jobs Nation tour, which will part with Sanders after Indianapolis, will make stops in other Midwestern cities to ask why the administration hasn’t done more. In Wisconsin, it will team up with Randy Bryce, a Democrat and labor organizer running there against House Speaker Paul D. Ryan (R). There, labor leaders will argue against a Trump-backed deal to entice the Taiwanese company Foxconn in exchange for $3 billion in subsidies.

In other cities, activists will ask Trump to back an executive order to keep call centers in the United States by punishing outsourcers.

“We sent a letter on this to Trump a while ago, and he hasn’t even responded,“ said Chris Shelton, president of the Communications Workers of America. “He should sign the executive order. If companies are going to send their jobs overseas, consumers should have the right to ask for a call center in the United States. If they’re not going to provide one, and provide those jobs, they should not be relying on tax dollars for their bottom line.“

Organizers of the tour were skeptical that the president would sign on to proposals backed by unions but opposed by business groups. If he did, they said, they’d take the victory – and take a lesson in what sort of public pressure worked on a president much more prone to reaction than Obama.

“When me and Trump got sideways,“ Jones said, “it got kicked up to a higher level.“


►  Trump mourns loss of ‘beautiful statues and monuments’ in wake of Charlottesville rally over Robert E. Lee statue

Donald Trump on Thursday mourned the loss of “beautiful statues and monuments” in the wake of the violent clashes in Charlottesville during a white supremacist demonstration protesting the planned removal of a statue depicting Confederate military commander Robert E. Lee.

Trump tweeted: “Sad to see the history and culture of our great country being ripped apart with the removal of our beautiful statues and monuments. You…..

“...can’t change history, but you can learn from it. Robert E Lee, Stonewall Jackson - who’s next, Washington, Jefferson? So foolish! Also…

“...the beauty that is being taken out of our cities, towns and parks will be greatly missed and never able to be comparably replaced!“

Trump’s string of morning tweets made clear the president was not willing to back down over his claims Tuesday that some of the demonstrators had legitimate grievances over the loss of Southern “history,“ and that “both sides” were to blame in the mayhem that left a woman dead and at least 19 more injured. Trump made those claims a day after he had belatedly condemned the neo-Nazi and Klux Klan groups that organized the Unite the Right rally. Politicians from both parties have criticized the president for inflaming racial tensions and failing to provide clear moral leadership for the nation.

Some white supremacist leaders, including David Duke, the former KKK grand wizard, have praised Trump for his “honesty” and “courage.“

During his remarks Tuesday and again in his tweets Thursday, Trump argued that Lee and fellow Confederate general Stonewall Jackson, who commanded Southern forces in the Civil War to secede from the United States, are important and admired historical figures in the South. He said they could be equated to Founding Fathers George Washington and Thomas Jefferson, who owned slaves and thus could potentially be subject to a modern-day backlash that would tarnish their legacies.

The political backlash to Trump’s handling of the situation has left some White House advisers dispirited. But the president appears to have been emboldened to fight back against his critics and create a cultural wedge issue over the matter that could rally his base of hard-core supporters.

Trump’s chief strategist, Stephen K. Bannon, said in interviews this week that he relishes a fight with Democrats over cultural issues because it will allow the president to “crush” his rivals by focusing on the economy.

“The Democrats, the longer they talk about identity politics, I got ‘em,“ Bannon told the American Prospect. “I want them to talk about racism every day. If the left is focused on race and identity, and we go with economic nationalism, we can crush the Democrats.“

There is little polling of public opinion over what to do with Confederate monuments. An NPR/PBS survey conducted on Monday and Tuesday by Marist College found that 62 percent said statues honoring Confederate leaders should remain as a historical symbol; 27 percent said they should be removed because they are offensive to some people.

That poll found a large political divide: Republicans prefer to keep statues by 86 percent to 6 percent, while Democrats split 44 percent for keeping them and 47 percent for removing them. African Americans in the survey were roughly split on the question (44 percent keep, 40 percent remove).

Senator Cory Booker, D-N.J., announced late Wednesday that he intends to introduce legislation after Congress reconvenes next month calling for the removal of at least a dozen statues of Confederate soldiers and politicians located inside the U.S. Capitol.

The move follows similar action by many city officials around the country who are considering removal of Confederate statues and other memorials in an effort to avoid the kind of unrest that occurred in Charlottesville as alt-right and white nationalist groups across the country vow to stage more rallies.

Booker made the announcement on Twitter, writing: “This is just one step. We have much work to do.“

House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., issued a statement calling on Speaker Paul Ryan, R-Wis., to join Democrats in efforts to remove Confederate statues from the halls of the Capitol. Those statues are generally selected by individual states to represent them.

“The statues in the Capitol should embody our highest ideals as Americans, expressing who we are and who we aspire to be as a nation,“ Pelosi said. “The Confederate statues in the halls of Congress have always been reprehensible.“

Bannon, who ran the conservative, “alt-right” Breitbart News operation before joining Trump’s campaign, has been at odds with other top White House advisers and grown increasingly isolated. Asked if he still had confidence in Bannon during a news conference Tuesday, Trump called him a “good man” and said he was not a racist. “We’ll see what happens with Mr. Bannon,“ Trump said.

In an interview with the New York Times, Bannon defended Trump’s comparison between the Confederate generals and the Founding Fathers, saying it “connects with the American people about their history, culture and traditions.

“The race-identity politics of the left wants to say it’s all racist,“ Bannon added. “Just give me more. Tear down more statues. Say the revolution is coming. I can’t get enough of it.“

Trump is at his golf resort in Bedminster, New Jersey, on the second week of a working vacation. Aides said he will meet with Governor Rick Scott, R-Fla., and with Linda McMahon, head of the Small Business Administration. McMahon will provide the president an update on the agency’s tax reform and deregulation initiative.

Trump has not yet spoken to the mayor of Charlottesville or Heyer’s parents. The president is scheduled to spend Friday at Camp David with senior aides to discuss the administration’s policy toward South Asia.

Charlottesville wasn’t the first place that white supremacists had gathered to protest the removal of a Confederate statute. They have been doing this in several cities, including once before in Charlottesville, but this was the first one that erupted in mayhem and deadly violence. More rallies are planned for other cities as a show of force to pressure municipal officials into not removing the Civil War-era symbols.

On the campaign trail, Trump said he agreed with the decision in 2015 by then-South Carolina Governor Nikki Haley to remove a Confederate flag from the state house grounds following the mass shooting by Dylann Roof, a white supremacist who killed nine African Americans at a black church.

“I would take it down, yes,“ Trump said at the time. Haley is now serving as the U.S. ambassador to the United Nations. “I think they should put it in a museum and respect whatever it is you have to respect.“

But Confederate flags increasingly appeared at Trump’s rallies and were often sold by unaffiliated vendors outside his rally venues. On Saturday, in his first response to the Charlottesville violence, Trump blamed the actions coming from “many sides” and added: “We must love each other, respect each other and cherish our history and our future together. So important.“

Some white supremacists interpreted that comment as proof that they are right in protesting, and Trump went further on Tuesday by saying many of the demonstrators were not white supremacists and that there were “fine people” among them.


►  U.S. military leaders await Trump decision on Afghan mission

Signaling that the U.S. military expects its mission to continue, the top U.S. commander in Afghanistan on Sunday hailed the launch of the Afghan Army’s new special operations corps, declaring that “we are with you and we will stay with you.”

General John Nicholson’s exhortation of continued support for the Afghans suggested the Pentagon may have won its argument that America’s military must stay engaged in the conflict in order to insure terrorists don’t once again threaten the U.S. from safe havens in Afghanistan.

Donald Trump’s defense secretary hinted Sunday that a new overall strategy for the war might be unveiled soon.

Nicholson said the commandos, and a plan to double the size of the Afghan’s special operations forces, are critical to winning the war.

“I assure you we are with you in this fight. We are with you and we will stay with you,” he said during a ceremony at Camp Morehead, a training base for Afghan commandos southeast of Kabul.

The Pentagon was awaiting a final announcement by Trump on a proposal to send nearly 4,000 more U.S. troops to Afghanistan. The added forces would increase training and advising of the Afghan forces and bolster counterterrorism operations against the Taliban and an Islamic State group affiliate trying to gain a foothold in the country.

The administration has been at odds for months over how to craft a new strategy for the war in Afghanistan amid frustrations that 16 years after 9/11 the conflict is stalemated.

The Afghan government only controls half of the country and is beset by endemic corruption and infighting. The Islamic State group has been hit hard but continues to attempt major attacks, insurgents still find safe harbor in Pakistan, and Russia, Iran and others are increasingly trying to shape the outcome. At this point, everything the U.S. military has proposed points to keeping the Afghan government in place and struggling to turn a dismal quagmire around.

U.S. Defense Secretary Jim Mattis said he is satisfied with how the administration formulated its new Afghanistan war strategy. But he refused to talk about the new policy until it was disclosed by Trump.

He said the deliberations, including talks at the Camp David presidential retreat on Friday, were done properly.

“I am very comfortable that the strategic process was sufficiently rigorous,” Mattis said, speaking aboard a military aircraft on an overnight flight from Washington to Amman, Jordan.

Months ago, Trump gave Mattis authority to set U.S. troop levels in Afghanistan, but Mattis said he has not yet sent significant additional forces to the fight. He has said he would wait for Trump to set the strategic direction first.

Trump wrote on Twitter on Saturday that he had made decisions at Camp David, “including on Afghanistan,” but he did not say more about it. The expectation had been that he would agree to a modest boost in the U.S. war effort, while also addressing broader political, economic and regional issues.

Mattis said Trump had been presented with multiple options. He did not name them, but others have said one option was to pull out of Afghanistan entirely. Another, which Mattis had mentioned recently in Washington, was to hire private contractors to perform some of the U.S. military’s duties.

At Camp Morehead, lines of Afghan commandos stood at attention as Afghanistan President Ashraf Ghani and a host of proud dignitaries sat under flag-draped canopies and welcomed the advancement in their nation’s long-struggling military.

In short remarks to the force, Nicholson said a defeat in Afghanistan would erode safety in the U.S. and “embolden jihadists around the world.”

That’s why, he said, the U.S. is helping to double the size of the Afghan commando force, adding that the ceremony “marks the beginning of the end of the Taliban.”

Maj. General James Linder, the head of U.S. and NATO special operations forces in Afghanistan, said the nearly 4,000 troops requested by the Pentagon for Afghanistan includes about 460 trainers for his staff to help increase the size of the special operations forces.

He said he’d be able expand training locations and insure they have advisers at all the right levels, including on the new Afghan special operations corps staff.

According to a senior U.S. military officer in Kabul, increasing the number of American troops would allow the military to quickly send additional advisers or airstrike support to two simultaneous operations. Right now, the official said, they can only do so for one.

The officer said it would allow the U.S. to send fighter aircraft, refueling aircraft and surveillance aircraft to multiple locations for missions.

The officer was not authorized to discuss the details publicly so spoke on condition of anonymity.

Afghan military commanders have been clear that they want and expect continued U.S. military help.

Pulling out American forces “would be a total failure,” Col. Abdul Mahfuz, the Afghan intelligence agency chief for Qarahbagh, north of Kabul, said Saturday. And he said that substituting paid contractors for U.S. troops would be a formula for continuing the war, rather than completing it.

Mahfuz and other Afghan commanders spoke at a shura council meeting at Bagram air base attended also by U.S. military officers and Afghan intelligence officials.

Col. Abdul Mobin, who commands an Afghan mechanized battalion in the 111th Division, said any reduction in the U.S. military presence “leads to total failure.”

Speaking through an interpreter, he added that operations by Afghan and U.S. special operations forces have been very effective, and that “the presence of U.S. military personnel is felt and considered a positive step for peace.”

He said he’d like to see an additional 10,000 American troops in the country.


►  GOP doubts and anxieties about Trump burst into the open

Donald Trump’s racially fraught comments about a deadly neo-Nazi rally have thrust into the open some Republicans’ deeply held doubts about his competency and temperament, in an extraordinary public airing of worries and grievances about a sitting president by his own party.

Behind the high-profile denunciations voiced this week by GOP senators once considered Trump allies, scores of other, influential Republicans began to express grave concerns about the state of the Trump presidency. In interviews with Associated Press reporters across nine states, 25 Republican politicians, party officials, advisers and donors expressed worries about whether Trump has the self-discipline and capability to govern successfully.

Eric Cantor, the former House majority leader from Virginia, said Republicans signaled this week that Trump’s handling of the Charlottesville protests was “beyond just a distraction.”

“It was a turning point in terms of Republicans being able to say, we’re not even going to get close to that,” Cantor said.

Chip Lake, a Georgia-based GOP operative who did not vote for Trump in the general election, raised the prospect of the president leaving office before his term is up.

“It’s impossible to see a scenario under which this is sustainable under a four-year period,” Lake said.

Trump’s handling of the protests in Charlottesville, Virginia, has shaken his presidency unlike any of the other self-created crises that have rattled the White House during his seven months in office. Business leaders have bolted from White House councils, wary of being associated with the president. Military leaders distanced themselves from Trump’s assertion that “both sides” — the white supremacists and the counter-protesters — were to blame for the violence that left one protester dead. And some members of Trump’s own staff were outraged by his combative assertion that there were “very fine people” among those marching with the white supremacists, neo-Nazis and KKK members.

Importantly, the Republicans interviewed did not line up behind some course of action or an organized break with the president. Some expressed hope the recent shakeup of White House advisers might help Trump get back in control of his message and the GOP agenda.

Still, the blistering and blunt statements from some Republicans have marked a new phase. Until now, the party has largely kept its most troubling doubts about Trump to whispered, private conversations, fearful of alienating the president’s loyal supporters and upending long-sought GOP policy goals.

Tennessee Senator Bob Corker, the chairman of the Foreign Relations Committee and a foreign policy ally of the Trump White House, delivered the sharpest criticism of Trump, declaring that the president “has not yet been able to demonstrate the stability nor some of the competence that he needs to” in dealing with crises.

Corker’s comments were echoed in the interviews with two dozen Republican officials after Trump expressed his views in Tuesday’s press conference. More than half spoke on the record, while the others insisted on anonymity in order to speak candidly about the man who leads their party and remains popular with the majority of GOP voters.

A handful defended Trump without reservation. South Carolina Governor Henry McMaster, an early supporter of the president, said he “proudly” stands with Trump and said he was succeeding despite a “constant barrage of negative attacks from the left.”

But others said recent events had shifted the dynamic between the president and his party.

“I was never one that was convinced that the president had the character to lead this nation, but I was certainly willing to stand by the president on critical issues once he was elected,” said Clarence Mingo, a Republican state treasurer candidate in Ohio. “Now, even where good conservative policies are concerned, that progress is all negated because of his inability to say and do the right things on fundamental issues.”

In Kentucky, Republican state senator Whitney Westerfield called Trump’s comments after the Charlottesville protests “more than a gaffe.”

“I’m concerned he seems to firmly believe in what he’s saying about it,” Westerfield said.

Trump has survived criticism from establishment Republicans before, most notably when GOP lawmakers across the country distanced themselves from him in the final weeks of the campaign following the release of a video in which the former reality television star is heard making predatory sexual comments about women. Many of those same lawmakers ultimately voted for Trump and rallied around his presidency after his stunning victory.

GOP efforts to align with Trump have largely been driven by political realities. The president still commands loyalty among his core supporters, though some recent polls have suggested a slight weakening there. And while his style is often controversial, many of his statements are often in line with those voters’ beliefs, including his support after Charlottesville for protecting Confederate monuments.

Brian Westrate, a small business owner in western Wisconsin who is also chairman of the 3rd Congressional District Republican Party, said Trump supporters long ago decided to embrace the unconventional nature of his presidency.

“I don’t think that anything has fundamentally changed between now and when the election was,” he said. “The president remains an ill-artful, ill-timed speaker who uses Twitter too often. That’s not new. ... The president is still the same guy and the left is still the same left.”

Some White House officials do privately worry about slippage in Trump’s support from congressional Republicans, particularly in the Senate. GOP senators couldn’t cobble together the 50 votes needed to pass a health care overhaul and that same math could continue to be a problem in the fall, as Republicans work on reforming the tax code, which is realistically the party’s last opportunity to pass major legislation in 2017.

Tom Davis, a Republican state senator representing a coastal South Carolina district, said that when Trump can move beyond the crisis of the moment, he articulates policies that could help the country’s economic situation. But Davis said Trump is also part of the reason not much progress has been made.

“To his discredit, he’s been maddeningly inconsistent in advancing those policies, which is part of the reason so little has been accomplished in our nation’s capital these past six months,” Davis said.

Mike Murphy, a veteran Republican strategist who most recently tried to help Jeb Bush win the 2016 GOP presidential primary, said the early optimism some Republicans felt about their ability to leverage Trump’s presidency has all but evaporated in the days following the Charlottesville protests.

“Most party regulars have gone from an initial feeling of guarded optimism that Trump would be able to stumble along while Mitch (McConnell) and (Paul) Ryan do the big lifting and pass our Republican agenda to a current feeling of deep frustration and despair,” Murphy said.

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►  The liberal case for President Mike Pence

Donald Donald Trump’s presidency has produced a proliferation of Eeyores. It’s not their (our) fault. However dismal one’s view of current American politics, Trump is sure to expose it, with a tweet or the lack of one, as a naive and rosy fantasy. Each day, we adjust our sights down. Each day, the president forces our gaze lower.

Some conservatives might take comfort in the prospect – wish, really – of a President Mike Pence assuming office before the current occupant’s term is up. The Indiana Republican is as dull and serviceable a politician as Trump is bizarre and broken. Pence can recite the social conservative catechism by heart and, until he signed on to the Trump carnival, held conventional conservative views on trade and taxes and decency.

I wouldn’t say I’m a big Pence fan. But everything’s relative. He doesn’t approach each hour as a mortal threat to precarious manhood, and it’s hard to imagine Pence groping women, or bragging to others that he did. When Nazis went on a homicidal rampage, Pence’s response, aside from the requisite media bashing that all Trump White House employees must engage in, seemed both professional and perturbed, suggesting he did not, on the whole, approve of murderous thugs.

Compared with the daily degradation that is Trump, a Pence White House looks better than good; it looks grand. I’m consistently perplexed when others don’t share my enthusiasm for the humdrum Hoosier. Liberal friends recoil when I point out the upsides, including the observation that Pence shows no outward signs of sociopathy – as if our recent experience hasn’t taught us what a superb qualification that is for the presidency.

One of the chief liberal concerns about Pence was voiced in June by Democratic Senator Al Franken of Minnesota, who told the International Business Times that Pence, “in terms of a lot of domestic policy certainly would be worse than Trump.“ He went on to point out that Pence was instrumental in promoting some of Trump’s worst Cabinet appointees. If Pence was indeed responsible for dreadful Cabinet picks such as the Environmental Protection Agency’s Scott Pruitt, then President Pence surely couldn’t do any worse than Vice President Pence already did.

Likewise, Pence’s domestic policy priorities have largely been adopted by Trump, whose political survival may depend on continued support from Christian conservatives. Supreme Court Justice Neil Gorsuch, who was confirmed by the Senate in April, is the kind of smart, rigid conservative Pence would’ve nominated himself. On social issues such as abortion or transgender rights, it’s hard to see where Pence would’ve differed from Trump, who reinstituted restrictions on international abortion funding and tweeted a ban on transgender troops without even consulting the Pentagon.

Pence annoys liberals because he seems like a stock movie character – a pinched little sex-phobic Chamber of Commerce preacher harboring a shocking secret that he can’t bear to face. I don’t know anything about Pence’s soul or his secret longings. But with Trump’s sprawling indiscipline and gross appetites perpetually on display, a little self-repression doesn’t sound so bad.

On foreign policy, there’s little chance Pence would be as dangerous and bumbling as Trump, who is a few decades late to the realization that China is not much interested in advancing U.S. interests on the Korean peninsula, and last week clumsily handed a weapon to Venezuelan leader Nicolas Maduro. (After Trump foolishly mused about using force in Venezuela, Maduro used the threat of Yanqui imperialism to thrash his democratic opponents.)

A Pence presidency would also have a clarifying effect for voters choosing our next president, separating Trumpism from conservatism, and making it impossible for Republicans to distance themselves from the former even when it looks like the deranged, identical twin of the latter.

If Trump goes down in a ball of fiery corruption, or if we learn that his abiding admiration for Vladimir Putin stems from an even more unsavory source than Trump’s jackboot reveries, Pence will have difficulty escaping the rubble. He did, after all, aid and abet the catastrophe.

Meanwhile, a transition from Trump to Pence would be like switching to the occasional aspirin after having been force-fed a diet of LSD. This trip has been too strange and it’s already gone on too long. A drab, conservative mediocrity moving into the Oval Office may not be our best chance to make America great again. But it’s the nearest one at hand.


►  Ousting Bannon a risky move for Trump

Stephen K. Bannon caused trouble in the White House. He could have even more of an impact on the outside.

Trump has decided to remove his chief strategist, following a tumultuous week (even by the standards of this White House). Trump drew criticism from within his own party for a take on violence in Charlottesville that bore the fingerprints of Bannon and Breitbart News, the website Bannon once chaired and called “the platform for the alt-right.“

On top of that episode, Bannon phoned a journalist at the American Prospect, unsolicited, and undercut the president’s public stance that all options are on the table in a standoff with North Korea. “There’s no military solution,“ Bannon said. “Forget it.“

Under different circumstances, the latter might have been a fireable offense, automatically. Trump rails against leaks that reveal internal disagreements, and here was Bannon going on the record about national security deliberations and contradicting the commander in chief.

But Bannon came to the White House marked “handle with care.“ He represents the cornerstone of Trump’s base – the populist, nationalist wing of the Republican Party that latched on to the fiery billionaire long before others in the GOP.

If a bitter Bannon were to return to the media and spread disillusionment among Trump’s followers, he could become a problem for the president. But Trump does have a knack for keeping former aides on his side. Roger Stone and Corey Lewandowski are prime examples of people who have devoted themselves to boosting the president in the media after leaving his service.

If Trump can manage another amiable split, perhaps Bannon will remain a valuable ally. The Washington Post’s Ashley Parker, Philip Rucker, Robert Costa and Damian Paletta reported Friday that “Bannon had been expecting to be cut loose from the White House, people close to him said, with one of them explaining that Bannon was resigned to that fate and is determined to continue to advocate for Trump’s agenda on the outside.“

Bannon wouldn’t necessarily have to pull a complete reversal to give Trump a headache, however. He could focus his fury on former White House rivals who pulled the president in different directions. Even that kind of narrative would crack Trump’s image as a swashbuckling Washington outsider determined to “drain the swamp.“

Bannon certainly would have plenty to complain about. As Trump’s posture on North Korea illustrates, the president is not governing as the noninterventionist he played on the campaign trail. He has supported Republican health care plans that fall short of the full Obamacare repeal he promised as a candidate, and he has made little tangible progress on a Southern border wall.

Breitbart News, though loyal to Trump, has criticized him on these issues already.

While it is possible that Bannon could return to Breitbart, he also could launch a new venture. That’s what media entrepreneur Jim VandeHei predicted before news of Bannon’s departure broke.

One other potential drawback for Trump: Bannon was useful, at times, as a shield. The president’s critics sometimes suggested that Bannon, not Trump alone, was responsible for political missteps.

Bannon himself seemed to embrace the role, telling the Daily Mail on Thursday that his call to the American Prospect “drew fire away” from Trump.


►  GOP doubts and anxieties about Trump burst into the open

Donald Trump’s racially fraught comments about a deadly neo-Nazi rally have thrust into the open some Republicans’ deeply held doubts about his competency and temperament, in an extraordinary public airing of worries and grievances about a sitting president by his own party.

Behind the high-profile denunciations voiced this week by GOP senators once considered Trump allies, scores of other, influential Republicans began to express grave concerns about the state of the Trump presidency. In interviews with Associated Press reporters across nine states, 25 Republican politicians, party officials, advisers and donors expressed worries about whether Trump has the self-discipline and capability to govern successfully.

Eric Cantor, the former House majority leader from Virginia, said Republicans signaled this week that Trump’s handling of the Charlottesville protests was “beyond just a distraction.”

“It was a turning point in terms of Republicans being able to say, we’re not even going to get close to that,” Cantor said.

Chip Lake, a Georgia-based GOP operative who did not vote for Trump in the general election, raised the prospect of the president leaving office before his term is up.

“It’s impossible to see a scenario under which this is sustainable under a four-year period,” Lake said.

Trump’s handling of the protests in Charlottesville, Virginia, has shaken his presidency unlike any of the other self-created crises that have rattled the White House during his seven months in office. Business leaders have bolted from White House councils, wary of being associated with the president. Military leaders distanced themselves from Trump’s assertion that “both sides” — the white supremacists and the counter-protesters — were to blame for the violence that left one protester dead. And some members of Trump’s own staff were outraged by his combative assertion that there were “very fine people” among those marching with the white supremacists, neo-Nazis and KKK members.

Importantly, the Republicans interviewed did not line up behind some course of action or an organized break with the president. Some expressed hope the recent shakeup of White House advisers might help Trump get back in control of his message and the GOP agenda.

Still, the blistering and blunt statements from some Republicans have marked a new phase. Until now, the party has largely kept its most troubling doubts about Trump to whispered, private conversations, fearful of alienating the president’s loyal supporters and upending long-sought GOP policy goals.

Tennessee Senator Bob Corker, the chairman of the Foreign Relations Committee and a foreign policy ally of the Trump White House, delivered the sharpest criticism of Trump, declaring that the president “has not yet been able to demonstrate the stability nor some of the competence that he needs to” in dealing with crises.

Corker’s comments were echoed in the interviews with two dozen Republican officials after Trump expressed his views in Tuesday’s press conference. More than half spoke on the record, while the others insisted on anonymity in order to speak candidly about the man who leads their party and remains popular with the majority of GOP voters.

A handful defended Trump without reservation. South Carolina Governor Henry McMaster, an early supporter of the president, said he “proudly” stands with Trump and said he was succeeding despite a “constant barrage of negative attacks from the left.”

But others said recent events had shifted the dynamic between the president and his party.

“I was never one that was convinced that the president had the character to lead this nation, but I was certainly willing to stand by the president on critical issues once he was elected,” said Clarence Mingo, a Republican state treasurer candidate in Ohio. “Now, even where good conservative policies are concerned, that progress is all negated because of his inability to say and do the right things on fundamental issues.”

In Kentucky, Republican state senator Whitney Westerfield called Trump’s comments after the Charlottesville protests “more than a gaffe.”

“I’m concerned he seems to firmly believe in what he’s saying about it,” Westerfield said.

Trump has survived criticism from establishment Republicans before, most notably when GOP lawmakers across the country distanced themselves from him in the final weeks of the campaign following the release of a video in which the former reality television star is heard making predatory sexual comments about women. Many of those same lawmakers ultimately voted for Trump and rallied around his presidency after his stunning victory.

GOP efforts to align with Trump have largely been driven by political realities. The president still commands loyalty among his core supporters, though some recent polls have suggested a slight weakening there. And while his style is often controversial, many of his statements are often in line with those voters’ beliefs, including his support after Charlottesville for protecting Confederate monuments.

Brian Westrate, a small business owner in western Wisconsin who is also chairman of the 3rd Congressional District Republican Party, said Trump supporters long ago decided to embrace the unconventional nature of his presidency.

“I don’t think that anything has fundamentally changed between now and when the election was,” he said. “The president remains an ill-artful, ill-timed speaker who uses Twitter too often. That’s not new. ... The president is still the same guy and the left is still the same left.”

Some White House officials do privately worry about slippage in Trump’s support from congressional Republicans, particularly in the Senate. GOP senators couldn’t cobble together the 50 votes needed to pass a health care overhaul and that same math could continue to be a problem in the fall, as Republicans work on reforming the tax code, which is realistically the party’s last opportunity to pass major legislation in 2017.

Tom Davis, a Republican state senator representing a coastal South Carolina district, said that when Trump can move beyond the crisis of the moment, he articulates policies that could help the country’s economic situation. But Davis said Trump is also part of the reason not much progress has been made.

“To his discredit, he’s been maddeningly inconsistent in advancing those policies, which is part of the reason so little has been accomplished in our nation’s capital these past six months,” Davis said.

Mike Murphy, a veteran Republican strategist who most recently tried to help Jeb Bush win the 2016 GOP presidential primary, said the early optimism some Republicans felt about their ability to leverage Trump’s presidency has all but evaporated in the days following the Charlottesville protests.

“Most party regulars have gone from an initial feeling of guarded optimism that Trump would be able to stumble along while Mitch (McConnell) and (Paul) Ryan do the big lifting and pass our Republican agenda to a current feeling of deep frustration and despair,” Murphy said.


►  Colleges grappling with balancing free speech, campus safety

When Carl Valentine dropped off his daughter at the University of Virginia, he had some important advice for the college freshman: Don’t forget that you are a minority.

“She has to be vigilant of that and be concerned about that, always know her surroundings, just be cautious, just be extremely cautious,” said Valentine, 57, who is African-American. A retired military officer, he now works at the Defense Department.

As classes begin at colleges and universities across the country, some parents are questioning if their children will be safe on campus in the wake of last weekend’s violent white nationalist protest here. School administrators, meanwhile, are grappling with how to balance students’ physical safety with free speech.

Friday was move-in day at the University of Virginia, and students and their parents unloaded cars and carried suitcases, blankets, lamps, fans and other belongings into freshmen dormitories. Student volunteers, wearing orange university T-shirts, distributed water bottles and led freshmen on short tours of the university grounds.

But along with the usual moving-in scene, there were signs of the tragic events of last weekend, when white nationalists staged a nighttime march through campus holding torches and shouting racist slogans. Things got worse the following day, when a man said to harbor admiration for Nazis drove his car into a crowd of counter-protesters, killing one woman and injuring 19 others.

Flags flew at half-staff outside the university’s Rotunda, and a nearby statue of founder Thomas Jefferson was stained with wax from a candlelight vigil by thousands of students and city residents in a bid to unite and heal. Some student dormitories had signs on doors reading, “No Home for Hate Here.”

In an address to students and families on Friday, UVA President Teresa Sullivan welcomed “every person of every race, every gender, every national origin, every religious belief, every orientation and every other human variation.” Afterward, parents asked university administrators tough questions about the gun policy on campus, white supremacists and the likelihood of similar violence in the future.

For Valentine, of Yorktown, Virginia, the unrest brought back painful memories of when, as a young boy, he couldn’t enter government buildings or movie theaters through the front door because of racial discrimination. “We’ve come a long way, but still a long way to go for equality,” he said.

His daughter Malia Valentine, an 18-year-old pre-med student, is more optimistic.

“It was scary what happened, but I think that we as a community will stand together in unity and we’ll be fine,” she said.

Christopher Dodd, 18, said he was shocked by the violence and initially wondered if it would be safe at UVA.

“Wow, I am going to be in this place, it looks like a war zone,” Dodd, a cheerful redhead, remembered thinking. “But I do think that we are going to be all right, there is nothing they can do to intimidate us. I am not going to let them control my time here.”

Others feel less confident.

Weston Gobar, president of the Black Student Alliance at UVA, says he’ll warn incoming black students not to take their safety for granted. “The message is to work through it and to recognize that the world isn’t safe, that white supremacy is real, that we have to find ways to deal with that,” he said.

Terry Hartle, president of the American Council on Education, said colleges are reassessing their safety procedures. “The possibility of violence will now be seen as much more real than it was a week ago and every institution has to be much more careful.”

Such work is already under way at UVA.

In an interview with The Associated Press, Sullivan said the university will be revamping its emergency protocols, increasing the number of security officers patrolling the grounds and hiring an outside safety consultant.

“This isn’t a matter where we are going to spare expense,” Sullivan said.

Hartle said some universities may end up making the uneasy decision to limit protests and rallies on campus and not to invite controversial speakers if they are likely to create protests. “There is an overarching priority to protect the physical safety of students and the campus community,” he said.

Student body presidents from over 120 schools in 34 states and Washington, D.C., signed a statement denouncing the Charlottesville violence and saying college campuses should be safe spaces free of violence and hate.

Jordan Jomsky, a freshman at the University of California, Berkeley, said his parents had advice he plans to follow: “They told me to stay safe, and don’t go to protests.”

“I wish people would just leave this place alone. It’s become this epicenter. We’re just here to study,” said Jomsky, an 18-year-old from a Los Angeles suburb.

The school has become a target of far-right speakers and nationalist groups because of its reputation as a liberal bastion. In September, former Breitbart editor Ben Shapiro is scheduled to speak on campus. Right-wing firebrand Milo Yiannopoulos has vowed to return for a “Free Speech Week” in response to violent protests that shut down his planned appearance last February.

UC Berkeley Chancellor Carol Christ told incoming freshmen last week that Berkeley’s Free Speech Movement in the 1960s was a product of liberals and conservatives working together to win the right to hold political protests on campus.

“Particularly now, it is critical for the Berkeley community to protect this right; it is who we are,” Christ said. “That protection involves not just defending your right to speak, or the right of those you agree with, but also defending the right to speak by those you disagree with. Even of those whose views you find abhorrent.”

“We respond to hate speech with more speech,” Christ said to loud applause.

At the same time, though, she said, there’s also an obligation to keep the campus safe. “We now know we have to have a far higher number of police officers ready,” she said.

Concerns for safety are compounded for international students, many of whom have spent months reading headlines about the tense U.S. political situation and arrived wondering if their accents or the color of their skin will make them targets.

“It was scary taking the risk of coming here,” said Turkish international student Naz Dundar.

Dundar, 18, who considered going to university in Canada but felt relief after attending orientation at Berkeley. “So far, no one hated me for being not American.”

She plans to stay away from protests. “Especially as a person of another race — I don’t want to get stoned,” she said.

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The Free Press WV

►  Why Trump must fire Bannon, Kushner

In the wake of the events in Charlottesville, Virginia, and the president’s reaction, some activists, including conservatives, are renewing their focus on removing Steve Bannon from the White House. Their reasons are familiar by now: He represents the so-called nationalist wing of the administration most closely tied to this weekend’s violence and once bragged that his Breitbart.com was the “platform for the alt-right.“

It seems like an easy call, but Maggie Haberman at the New York Times is offering a note of caution. “The notion some folks are telling themselves is that if Bannon is gone, this all magically changes. It does not,“ the reporter tweeted Wednesday.

Is there really anyone who thinks that Trump is a benevolent character, or even a blank slate, who says bigoted things only because Bannon is whispering them in his ear? If so, well, yeah. Bannon may reinforce the president’s long-established bigotry, but he’s hardly unique in that regard. Trump will always have people who can do that, in the White House or not.

The bigger problem is Trump’s susceptibility to flattery and, as Greg Sargent suggested in an excellent Washington Post piece on August 14, before Trump’s ugly remarks, his inability to see beyond himself. I’d add his thin skin, too.

The president’s attraction to the fringiest of the fringe is beyond any ideological sympathy carefully molded by an adviser in the shadows. He rather openly prizes their adulation on Twitter and at rallies (one was just scheduled in Arizona for next week). By the same token, his lashing back in their defense is likely as much a (warped idea of) self defense as it is a real attempt to lend support the Confederacy or the Klan or Nazism.

So that’s all going to be in play, Bannon or not.

Why, then, should Bannon be fired?

Because even a dumpster fire can be more or less contained, and having Bannon there encouraging bigotry almost certainly makes containment more difficult. The chief strategist was “thrilled with the remarks” roiling the nation at the moment, a friend of Bannon told Politico.

Because White House symbolism matters, too, and Bannon (whatever his private beliefs) has richly earned his place as a symbol of the mainstreaming of white supremacy hate groups.

Most of all, because when the president isn’t remotely qualified for his job and shows no sign of learning the necessary skills, it’s important to have a highly professional staff and not a clownish group of equally unqualified hangers-on.

That’s what I’ve been saying from the get-go, and that’s why I said getting rid of Bannon was the first test of whether John Kelly was going to be an adequate White House chief of staff.

And that’s why getting rid of Bannon isn’t enough. Jared Kushner has to go as well. He may not be a bigot (although the only visible effect of that are the frequent leaks to the press in which he and the president’s daughter have ineffectively opposed whatever crazy thing the president has done), but he’s simply not a governing professional. That doesn’t magically change by giving him a fancy title – senior adviser to the president – and a wide portfolio of supposed major initiatives, from modernizing the federal government to bringing peace to the Middle East. In a White House desperate for people who actually know how the government works, that’s a fireable offense.

Still, dropping Bannon and Kushner is not enough to make this White House the “fine-tuned machine” that Trump bragged about before replacing his chief of staff, national security advisor, communications director (two or three times), press secretary, and others. But it will help contain the chaos and the damage that it can cause.

It’s also still the case that Congress, especially Republican senators, have a tremendous amount of leverage they could use if they wanted to. Technically, of course, Congress doesn’t have to appropriate any money at all for the White House staff. But even without threatening that drastic step, senators can – and should – threaten to shut down confirmation of some Trump executive branch nominees until he un-beclowns the White House staff.

Granted, hiring new qualified professionals may prove rather difficult for an administration with the reputation and (lack of) popularity of this one. But removing Bannon and Kushner (and some additional lower-level unqualified folks) would be addition by subtraction, even if they are replaced by empty desks.


►  Trump defends Confederate statues, berates his critics

With prominent Republicans openly questioning his competence and moral leadership, Donald Trump burrowed deeper into the racially charged debate over Confederate memorials and lashed out at members of his own party in the latest controversy to engulf his presidency.

Out of sight but still online, Trump tweeted his defense of monuments to Confederate icons — bemoaning rising efforts to remove them as an attack on America’s “history and culture.”

And he berated his critics who, with increasingly sharper language, have denounced his initially slow and then ultimately combative comments on the racial violence at a white supremacist rally last weekend in Charlottesville, Virginia.

Trump was much quicker Thursday to condemn violence in Barcelona, where more than a dozen people were killed when a van veered onto a sidewalk and sped down a busy pedestrian zone in what authorities called a terror attack.

He then added to his expression of support by reviving a debunked legend about a U.S. general subduing Muslim rebels a century ago in the Philippines by shooting them with bullets dipped in pig blood.

“Study what General Pershing of the United States did to terrorists when caught. There was no more Radical Islamic Terror for 35 years!” Trump tweeted.

Trump’s unpredictable, defiant and, critics claim, racially provocative behavior has clearly begun to wear on his Republican allies — and also has upset the mother of Heather Heyer, the young woman killed in the Charlottesville violence.

Heyer’s mother, Susan Bro, told ABC’s “Good Morning America” on Friday that she initially missed the first few calls to her from the White House. But she said “now I will not” talk to the president after a news conference in which Trump equated violence by white supremacists at the rally with violence by those protesting the rally.

Heyer was killed when a driver rammed a car into a crowd of demonstrators protesting the white nationalists.

Trump found no comfort in his own party, either. Tennessee Senator Bob Corker, whom Trump had considered for a Cabinet post, declared Thursday that “the president has not yet been able to demonstrate the stability nor some of the competence that he needs to” in dealing with crises. And Senator Dan Sullivan of Alaska tweeted, “Anything less than complete & unambiguous condemnation of white supremacists, neo-Nazis and the KKK by the @POTUS is unacceptable. Period.”

Senator Tim Scott of South Carolina said Trump’s “moral authority is compromised.”

Trump, who is known to try to change the focus of news coverage with an attention-grabbing declaration, sought to shift Thursday from the white supremacists to the future of statues.

“You can’t change history, but you can learn from it,” he tweeted. “Robert E. Lee. Stonewall Jackson — who’s next, Washington, Jefferson? So foolish. ...

“Also the beauty that is being taken out of our cities, towns and parks will be greatly missed and never able to be comparably replaced!”

“Sad to see the history and culture of our great country being ripped apart with the removal of our beautiful statues and monuments,” he tweeted.

Trump met separately Thursday at his golf club in nearby Bedminster with the administrator of the Small Business Administration and Florida Governor Rick Scott. Trump also prepared for an unusual meeting Friday at the Camp David presidential retreat in Maryland with his national security team to discuss strategy for South Asia, including India, Pakistan and the way forward in Afghanistan.

Mike Pence cut short a long-planned Latin America tour to attend.

Before the trip to Camp David, Trump tweeted Friday morning that “Radical Islamic Terrorism must be stopped by whatever means necessary!” In a separate tweet, he added that the Department of Homeland Security and law enforcement are “on alert & closely watching for any sign of trouble.”

Though out of public view for two consecutive days, Trump sought to make his voice heard on Twitter as he found himself increasingly under siege and alone while fanning the controversy over race and politics toward a full-fledged national conflagration.

He dissolved two business councils Wednesday after the CEO members began quitting, damaging his central campaign promise to be a business-savvy chief executive in the Oval Office.

And the White House said Thursday that it was abandoning plans to form an infrastructure advisory council.

Two major charities, the Cleveland Clinic and the American Cancer Society, announced they are canceling fundraisers scheduled for Trump’s resort in Palm Beach, Florida, amid the continuing backlash over Trump’s remarks.

And the CEO of 21st Century Fox, James Murdoch, has denounced racism and terrorists while expressing concern over Trump’s statements.

Murdoch writes that the event in Charlottesville and Trump’s response is a concern for all people. “I can’t believe I have to write this: standing up to Nazis is essential; there are no good Nazis. Or Klansmen, or terrorists.”

Murdoch is the son of the company’s co-executive chairman, Rupert Murdoch, a Trump confidant.

Meanwhile, rumblings of discontent from Trump’s staff grew so loud that the White House was forced to release a statement saying that Trump’s chief economic adviser wasn’t quitting. And the president remained on the receiving end of bipartisan criticism for his handling of the aftermath of the Charlottesville clashes.

On Thursday, he hit back hard — against Republicans.

He accused “publicity-seeking” Senator Lindsey Graham of South Carolina of falsely stating Trump’s position on the demonstrators. He called Arizona Senator Jeff Flake “toxic” and praised Flake’s potential primary election opponent.

Graham said Wednesday that Trump “took a step backward by again suggesting there is moral equivalency” between the marching white supremacists and the people who had been demonstrating against them. Flake has been increasingly critical of Trump in recent weeks.


►  U.S. condemns Spanish attack, pledges justice for terrorists

The United States swiftly condemned Thursday’s deadly attack in Barcelona and offered assistance to authorities in Spain.

Donald Trump, who remained out of public view for a second straight day, denounced what authorities are calling a terror attack in a statement on Twitter. “The United States condemns the terror attack in Barcelona, Spain, and will do whatever is necessary to help. Be tough & strong, we love you!” the president said.

Trump is on a working vacation at his private golf club in New Jersey. He was being briefed on developments in Spain by his chief of staff, John Kelly, the White House said.

First lady Melania Trump tweeted her “thoughts and prayers” to Barcelona before the president condemned the attack.

At least 13 people were killed and scores were wounded, some seriously, after a van was driven onto a sidewalk and down a pedestrian zone in Barcelona’s historic Las Ramblas district. The Islamic State group claimed responsibility.

Secretary of State Rex Tillerson offered condolences to victims of the attack during an appearance before journalists at the State Department shortly after it happened. He said the incident “has the hallmarks of what appears to be yet another terrorist attack.”

Tillerson said U.S. diplomats in Spain are assisting Americans there, and he asked those who are safe to notify friends and families. Tillerson said the United States will never relent in tracking down terrorist suspects and holding them to account for their actions.

“Terrorists around the world should know that the United States and our allies are resolved to find you and bring you to justice,” Tillerson said.

Spanish authorities said there have been two arrests in connection with the attack.


►  Trump approves plan to create independent cyber command

Donald Trump has approved a long-delayed Pentagon plan to create an independent and more aggressive cyber command in order to beef up cyberwar operations against the Islamic State group and other foes.

The White House announcement Friday means U.S. Cyber Command may eventually be split off from the intelligence-focused National Security Agency.

For now, Trump has agreed to raise the stature of Cyber Command within the military and give it more autonomy. He did not say who would serve as commander of the organization.

“This new Unified Combatant Command will strengthen our cyberspace operations and create more opportunities to improve our nation’s defense,” Trump said in a written statement. “The elevation of United States Cyber Command demonstrates our increased resolve against cyberspace threats and will help reassure our allies and partners and deter our adversaries.”

Making cyber an independent military command will put the fight in digital space on the same footing as more traditional realms of battle on land, in the air, at sea and in space. The move reflects the escalating threat of cyberattacks and intrusions from other nation states, terrorist groups and hackers, and comes as the U.S. faces ever-widening fears about Russian hacking following Moscow’s efforts to meddle in the 2016 American election.

The goal is to give Cyber Command more autonomy, freeing it from any constraints that stem from working alongside the NSA, which is responsible for monitoring and collecting telephone, internet and other intelligence data from around the world — a responsibility that can sometimes clash with military operations against enemy forces.

The plan has been languishing since last year when then-Defense Secretary Ash Carter sent a proposal to President Barack Obama to make Cyber Command an independent military headquarters and break it away from the NSA. At the time, he believed that the NSA’s desire to collect intelligence was preventing the military from eliminating IS’ ability to raise money, inspire attacks and command its widely dispersed network of fighters.

After Trump’s inauguration, officials said Defense Secretary Jim Mattis endorsed much of the plan. But debate over details dragged on for months.

Officials say the Pentagon plan sent to the White House calls for Army Lt. General William Mayville to be nominated to lead Cyber Command, although that has not been announced. Leadership of the NSA could be turned over to a civilian.

The U.S. has long operated quietly in cyberspace, using it to collect information, disrupt enemy networks and aid conventional military missions. But as other nations and foes expand their use of cyberspying and attacks, the U.S. is determined to improve its ability to incorporate cyber operations into its everyday warfighting.

The NSA, however, has a great deal of expertise, and officials acknowledge it will take some time for a more independent Cyber Command to get up to speed. Until then, Cyber Command and NSA will operate under a single, “dual-hatted” military commander. The cyber operation currently relies on the NSA’s expertise, staff and equipment.

The two highly secretive organizations, based at Fort Meade, Maryland, have been under the same four-star commander since Cyber Command’s creation in 2009.

But the Defense Department has been agitating for a separation, perceiving the NSA and intelligence community as resistant to more aggressive cyberwarfare, particularly after the Islamic State’s transformation in recent years from an obscure insurgent force into an organization holding significant territory across Iraq and Syria and with a worldwide recruiting network.

While the military wanted to attack IS networks, intelligence objectives prioritized gathering information from them, according to U.S. officials familiar with the debate. They weren’t authorized to discuss internal deliberations publicly and requested anonymity.

Cyber Command was created by the Obama administration to address threats of cyber espionage and other attacks. It was set up as a sub-unit under U.S. Strategic Command to coordinate the Pentagon’s ability to conduct cyberwarfare and to defend its own networks, including those that are used by combat forces in battle.

Officials originally said the new cyber effort would likely involve hundreds, rather than thousands, of new employees.

Since then, the command has grown to more than 700 military and civilian employees. The military services also have their own cyber units, with a goal of having, by September 30, 2018, a total of 133 fully operational teams with as many as 6,200 personnel.


►  Strategist Steve Bannon leaves Trump’s turbulent White House

Steve Bannon, a forceful but divisive presence in Donald Trump’s White House, is leaving.

Trump accepted Bannon’s resignation on Friday, ending a turbulent seven months for his chief strategist, the latest to depart from the president’s administration in turmoil.

White House spokesman Sarah Huckabee Sanders said Friday would be Bannon’s last day on the job.

“We are grateful for his service and wish him the best,” she said in a statement confirming reports of Bannon’s departure.

A combative and unorthodox Republican, Bannon was a key adviser in Trump’s general election campaign, but he has been a contentious presence in a White House divided by warring staff loyalties.

The former leader of conservative Breitbart News has pushed Trump to follow through on his campaign promises and was the man behind many of his most controversial efforts, including Trump’s travel ban and decision to pull out of the Paris Climate agreement.

But Bannon repeatedly clashed with other top White House advisers and often ran afoul of the president himself.

Bannon offered his resignation to Trump on August 7, according to one person close to the adviser.

The resignation was to go into effect a week later, August 14, which was the one year anniversary of when he officially joined Trump’s presidential campaign. It was then held back a few days after the violence in Charlottesville.

But Bannon had been on shaky ground for weeks, and his standing appeared in jeopardy when Trump’s new chief of staff, John Kelly, embarked on a personnel review of West Wing staff. Kelly had indicated to aides that significant changes could be coming, according to an official familiar with Kelly’s plans but not authorized to speak publicly.

The president had also repeatedly diminished Bannon’s role in his campaign in recent remarks and refused to express confidence during an impromptu news conference Tuesday.

“He’s a good person. He actually gets very unfair press in that regard,” Trump said. “But we’ll see what happens with Mr. Bannon.”

The decision whether to drop Bannon was more than just a personnel matter. The media guru is viewed in some circles as Trump’s connection to his base and the protector of Trump’s disruptive, conservative agenda.

“It’s a tough pill to swallow if Steve is gone because you have a Republican West Wing that’s filled with generals and Democrats,” said former campaign strategist Sam Nunberg, shortly before the news of Bannon’s departure broke. “It would feel like the twilight zone.”


►  Tillerson condemns hate speech, says bigotry is un-American

Secretary of State Rex Tillerson is condemning hate speech and bigotry as un-American and antithetical to the values the U.S. was founded on and promotes abroad.

In his most extensive comments on race and diversity since last weekend’s violence in Charlottesville, Virginia, Tillerson on Friday called racism “evil.” He said freedom of speech is sacrosanct but that those who promote hate poison the public discourse and damage the country they claim to love.

Speaking to interns and young minority staffers at the State Department, Tillerson pledged to diversify the overwhelmingly white ranks of the senior diplomatic corps. He also sought to calm fears he might eliminate programs designed to recruit minorities. He said an earlier suspension of the programs was only temporary.

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►  Trump aide: No military solution in North Korea

Contradicting a boss already under pressure to fire him, Donald Trump’s chief strategist Steve Bannon says there’s no military solution to the threat posed by North Korea and its nuclear ambitions. Just last week, Trump pledged to answer North Korean aggression with “fire and fury.”

In an interview with The American Prospect posted online Wednesday, Bannon tells the liberal publication that the U.S. is losing the economic race against China and talks about purging his rivals from the Defense and State departments.

Asked about the white supremacist movement, whose march on Charlottesville, Virginia, last weekend led to deadly violence, Bannon dismisses them as “losers,” ″a fringe element” and “a collection of clowns.”

A White House spokeswoman said “Bannon’s comments stand on their own.”

In a separate interview with the DailyMail.com, Bannon said his comments to The American Prospect “drew fire away from” Trump and that he successfully “changed the (media) narrative” around Trump with the earlier interview.

Bannon, one of the most contentious members of Trump’s inner circle, is again facing an uncertain future in the White House, a situation that could be further complicated by his decision to give the initial interview.

Trump passed up an opportunity this week to offer a public vote of confidence in Bannon, who was a key campaign adviser during the general election and has become a forceful presence in a divided White House. But the former leader of the conservative Breitbart News has drawn fire from some of Trump’s closest advisers, including son-in-law Jared Kushner.

The latest anti-Bannon campaign comes as Trump finds himself increasingly isolated, except among his core supporters, for insisting that white supremacist groups and those who opposed them were both at fault in Charlottesville.

Others believe Bannon is behind a campaign conservative groups and the Breitbart website are waging against national security adviser H.R. McMaster, arguing he is insufficiently supportive of Israel and soft on Iran. Trump recently issued a rare public statement of support for McMaster.

Bannon’s comments on North Korea, which contradict Trump’s tough approach, could add to pressure on the president to fire him. Bannon has survived earlier rounds of having fallen out of favor with Trump, who is irked by perceptions that Bannon was the mastermind of Trump’s winning campaign and that he guides policy in the White House.

“There’s no military solution (to North Korea’s nuclear threats), forget it,” Bannon says. “Until somebody solves the part of the equation that shows me that 10 million people in Seoul don’t die in the first 30 minutes from conventional weapons, I don’t know what you’re talking about, there’s no military solution here, they got us.”

Trump tweeted early Wednesday that North Korean leader Kim Jong Un “made a very wise and well-reasoned decision” by backing down after heightening fears of nuclear conflict in a series of combative threats, including against the U.S. territory of Guam.

Bannon also outlined his push for the U.S. to adopt a tougher stance on China trade — without waiting to see whether Beijing will help restrain Kim as Trump has pressed China’s leader to do. Trump also has lamented U.S. trade deficits with China.

“The economic war with China is everything,” Bannon says. “And we have to be maniacally focused on that. If we continue to lose it, we’re five years away, I think, 10 years at the most, of hitting an inflection point from which we’ll never be able to recover.”

A Chinese foreign ministry spokeswoman, Hua Chunying, said Thursday that both sides have benefited from trade.

Asked at a regular news briefing about Bannon’s comments, Hua said “there is no winner in a trade war. We hope the relevant people can refrain from dealing with a problem in the 21st century with a zero-sum mentality from the 19th or the 20th century.”

Hua appealed for dialogue to “preserve the sound and steady growth of China-U.S. relations.”

In the interview, Bannon muses about getting rid of administration officials who disagree with his stance on China and North Korea and replacing them with “hawks.”

“We gotta do this. The president’s default position is to do it, but the apparatus is going crazy,” Bannon says.

One official Bannon mentioned by name is Susan Thornton, currently America’s top diplomat for Asia.

On Thursday, Secretary of State Rex Tillerson signaled support for his senior adviser. After greeting Japan’s defense chief and top diplomat at the State Department, Tillerson pointedly shook Thornton’s hand in front of the cameras as their meeting began.


►  Pelosi calls for removal of Confederate statues from Capitol

House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi called Thursday for the removal of Confederate statues from the U.S. Capitol as the contentious debate over the appropriateness of such memorials moved to the halls of Congress.

Pelosi asked Speaker Paul Ryan to join Democrats in supporting legislation to remove the Confederate statues. The legislation can’t pass without support from Republicans, who control both chambers of Congress.

Pelosi said the statues in the Capitol should “embody our highest ideals as Americans, expressing who we are and who we aspire to be as a nation.”

Pelosi’s challenge comes as violence during a rally in Charlottesville, Virginia, has stoked calls to remove Confederate statues elsewhere. About 10 statues in the Capitol’s Statuary Hall are of men who served as Confederate soldiers or politicians.

“The Confederate statues in the halls of Congress have always been reprehensible,” Pelosi said in a statement. “If Republicans are serious about rejecting white supremacy, I call upon Speaker Ryan to join Democrats to remove the Confederate statues from the Capitol immediately.”

Each state is allowed to place two statues in the Capitol’s National Statuary Hall. Doug Andres, a spokesman for Ryan, said the display of statues is a decision for the states to make.

The statues in Statuary Hall are required to be of someone deceased for at least 10 years and must be made of marble or bronze. An exception was made for the statue of Rosa Parks, which was moved to its current location in 2013, as well as for any replacement statues, according to a Congressional Research Service report.

Among the statues present are of General Robert E. Lee, Virginia; Jefferson Davis, president of the Confederate States of America, Mississippi; and Alexander Hamilton Stephens, the Confederate vice president, Georgia.

Senator Cory Booker, a New Jersey Democrat, announced earlier that he would be sponsoring legislation to remove Confederate statues from the Capitol building.

“This is just one step,” Booker said. “We have much work to do.”

Donald Trump is strongly criticizing efforts to remove memorials and tributes to the Civil War Confederacy.

“You can’t change history, but you can learn from it,” he tweeted Thursday. “Robert E. Lee. Stonewall Jackson — who’s next, Washington, Jefferson? So foolish. ...

“Also the beauty that is being taken out of our cities, towns and parks will be greatly missed and never able to be comparably replaced!”


►  It’s past time to bury Confederacy for good

They may call themselves “white nationalists,“ but the adjective nullifies the noun. In Charlottesville, Virginia, few of them hoisted American flags. They marched under banners the United States took up arms to fight. Their stated cause was preserving a statue of a man who committed treason against our country: Robert E. Lee.

Confederate flags, statuary and memorials have defenders who wish to have nothing to do with neo-Nazis or white supremacists. They say that they mean to honor the valor of Confederate soldiers rather than the cause for which they bled. Or they say that we should have visible and uncensored reminders of our history. If Lee statues go, they ask, will Monticello be next? Mount Vernon?

Our national mythos has come to celebrate Thomas Jefferson less than it once did: His reputation has suffered, as it should have, as we have reckoned with slavery. We remember Jefferson the slave master; but we also remember the Declaration of Independence, the University of Virginia, a role in our national history that is not reducible to his slaveholding. Jefferson Davis, on the other hand, to this day has a highway with his name on it in Virginia because, and only because, he tried to found a nation with slavery as its cornerstone.

It was not necessary to have a vicious character to fight for the Confederacy in 1861, though one is required to root for it today. Good people – otherwise good people – did. The time and place mitigates their guilt. But only somewhat. Ulysses Grant acknowledged that Lee had fought “long and valiantly,“ but in the same breath noted that he “had suffered so much for a cause, though that cause was, I believe, one of the worst for which a people ever fought, and one for which there was the least excuse.“ To judge such choices with mercy is not to honor those choices.

Those who defend Lee statues and worse often say they are motivated by “heritage not hate.“ There is no reason to doubt them. But the meaning of a public symbol is not a private possession. They may tell themselves that the statue should stay to honor Lee’s (allegedly) conciliatory behavior after the war. Can they really tell black people who interpret it differently – who look at that statue, erected in the same period as “The Birth of a Nation” and the second Ku Klux Klan, and see a public display of contempt for their dignity and rights – that their reaction is absurd? The marching racists were vile and stupid. But they weren’t crazy to treat the statue as a vestige of white supremacy.

There are, as always, prudential considerations. Removing memorials will cost city governments money. The Charlottesville experience could be read either to suggest that Confederate statues must be taken down to keep white supremacists from having a rallying point, or that trying to take them down gives them one.

But our deliberations should not dwell too long on these cretins. The South has and deserves its pride, but it ought not center it on the most shameful moment in its history. The statues and the flags should come down. They will come down, as Southerners of all races come to see that this cause, too, is better off lost.


►  Trump’s business councils disband as CEOs repudiate president over Charlottesville

Donald Trump’s relationship with the American business community suffered a major setback on Wednesday as the president was forced to shut down his major business advisory councils after corporate leaders repudiated his comments on the violence in Charlottesville, Virginia, this weekend.

Trump announced the disbanding of the two councils – the Strategy & Policy Forum and the Manufacturing Council, which hosted many of the top corporate leaders in America – amid a growing uproar by chief executives furious over Trump’s decision to equate the actions of white supremacists and protesters in remarks Tuesday at Trump Tower.

But those groups had already decided to dissolve on their own earlier in the day, a person familiar with the process said. JP Morgan Chase chief executive Jamie Dimon, a member of the “Strategy & Policy Forum,“ told employees in a note on Wednesday that his group decided to disband following Trump’s bizarre press conference on Tuesday, in which he appeared to show sympathy for some of the people who marched alongside the neo-Nazis and white supremacists in Charlottesville.

“Constructive economic and regulatory policies are not enough and will not matter if we do not address the divisions in our country,“ Dimon wrote his employees. “It is a leader’s role, in business or government, to bring people together, not tear them apart.

Earlier Wednesday, the CEOs of Campbell Soup and the conglomerate 3M resigned from the manufacturing council. “Racism and murder are unequivocally reprehensible and are not morally equivalent to anything else that happened in Charlottesville,“ Campbell Soup chief executive Denise Morrison said. “I believe the president should have been – and still needs to be – unambiguous on that point.“

General Electric chairman Jeff Immelt, who was also on the manufacturing advisory group, made a similar argument, saying in a statement that he had decided to resign after finding Trump’s comments on Tuesday “deeply troubling.“

“The Committee I joined had the intention to foster policies that promote American manufacturing and growth,“ he said. “However, given the ongoing tone of the discussion, I no longer feel that this Council can accomplish these goals.“

As the number of resignations swelled, Trump announced on Twitter Wednesday afternoon that he’d shut down the councils. “Rather than putting pressure on the businesspeople of the Manufacturing Council & Strategy & Policy Forum. I am ending both,“ he wrote.

The dissolution of the councils was a remarkable moment for Trump, who has made his corporate experience and ability to leverage America’s business potential as one of his chief credentials. It also marks a rapid descent for a president who has alternatively praised and attacked the decisions of corporate leaders, sometimes making unverified or false claims, and whose policy choices on issues like immigration and climate change have been criticized as anti-business.

Many corporate leaders have still stayed close to the White House, in hopes that having a voice at the table was better than none at all, and with an eye toward winning favor as Washington eyed changes to the tax code and infrastructure spending that could be worth trillions.

But Trump’s insistence that blame fell on “many sides” for the violence that occurred in Charlottesville over the weekend, which included the alleged killing of a woman by a white supremacist driving a car into a crowd of protesters, seemed to push many chief executives to reconsider their relationship.

Merck chief executive Ken Frazier, one of the few African-Americans represented among the business leaders advising Trump, was the first to resign from the manufacturing council. Trump lashed out at the decision, alleging that Merck was boosting drug prices and therefore a bad corporate actor.

The decision to disband the councils offered the companies a chance to sever ties as one and not leave any firm isolated by an individual decision. Some appeared willing to wait it out on Monday and earlier Tuesday as the White House was in cleanup mode, but his press conference at Trump Tower on Tuesday afternoon proved to be a breaking point.

Johnson & Johnson chief executive Alex Gorsky, who had previously said he would remain on the manufacturing council in order to have a voice at the table, announced Trump’s latest remarks were not sustainable. “The President’s most recent statements equating those who are motivated by race-based hate with those who stand up against hatred is unacceptable and has changed our decision to participate in the White House Manufacturing Advisory Council,“ Gorsky said.


►  Scholars say Trump went afoul in lumping Lee with founders

Both were great generals. Both Virginians. Both came from slave-owning plantation families.

Is it really so far-fetched to put Robert E. Lee in the same category as George Washington, as Donald Trump suggested Tuesday?

Many historians say yes.

“It’s a ridiculous conflation,” said Professor Alice Fahs of the University of California, Irvine. “He’s not a founding father, and it’s as though Trump thinks he is. It’s really astonishing. It’s amazing.”

Trump’s remarks on Tuesday came as he was defending those who have sought to preserve the statue of Lee in Charlottesville, Virginia, the focus of a violent weekend clash in which an anti-racist protester was killed. The president didn’t exactly equate the Confederate general with the nation’s founding fathers. But he noted a similarity sometimes glossed over — ownership of slaves by figures who nobly stand or sit astride horses on U.S. pedestals — and he asked: If you’re going to be pulling down statues, “where does it stop?”

“So, this week it’s Robert E. Lee,” he said. “I wonder, is it George Washington next week, and is it Thomas Jefferson the week after?”

There is no notable movement to tear down the Washington monument.

Most historians are in agreement that Washington and Jefferson’s ownership of slaves has tainted the positive legacy they left. And some monuments and memorials to both men attempt to address that part of their lives.

For some, monuments to those founding fathers “force us to contemplate the centrality of slavery to the making of the nation,” said Gregory Downs, a history professor at the University of California, Davis who studies the impact of the Civil War on the United States. But he also said the difference between the nation’s first president, George Washington, and then man who sought to secede from the nation, Robert E. Lee, isn’t complicated.

“It is obvious that traitors in arms to the nation are not equivalent to those who created it,” he said.

Adding to the complexity of the debate, many Lee memorials were erected long after the Civil War as part of an effort to rehabilitate Lee’s reputation and denigrate his victorious opponent Ulysses S. Grant, who fought to preserve the nation and later defended black civil rights as president.

In that sense the memorials “celebrated two historical crimes,” Downs said. “First, treasonous secession for the purpose of preserving and expanding slavery forever. Second, the violent and fraudulent creation of Jim Crow segregation.”

Associate Professor Michael Green of the University of Nevada Las Vegas added, “A lot of Southerners glorified Lee into something more than he was.”

Lee has been portrayed as kindly to slaves, which he was not, and conflicted about which side to fight for, which is inaccurate, Green said.

He concedes, however, that if “my ancestors had fought for the Confederacy, it’s possible I would feel a little differently. It’s important to look at historical figures so that we don’t look up at them or down on them, but from all angles.”

He said that historical consensus is very different now than when Trump learned it in school decades ago. People like Lee were presented as heroes and people like Frederick Douglass, about whom the president seemed to have little knowledge earlier this year, weren’t presented at all.

Lee and Washington in the same class? Said Downs: “Had the Confederacy won, a new nation founded on perpetuating slavery would have celebrated Robert E. Lee as its George Washington. Luckily for us, that effort failed.”

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