Where. Is. The. Outrage?

Yesterday, Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein announced the indictment of 13 Russian nationals and three Russian organizations as a result of the ongoing investigation conducted by Special Counsel Robert Mueller. The indictment shows that the clear intent of their actions was to undermine the 2016 presidential election and to favor the election of Donald Trump.  (Read the full 37 page indictment here.)  The indictment details how the Russians conducted “information warfare against the United States of America.”  This was no fly-by-night operation as the core entity, Internet Research Agency, had at least 80 full-time employees and a monthly budget of approximately 73 million Russian rubles a month (about 1.25 million dollars a month).

According to the indictment, the purpose of the covert Russian activity, which included putting undercover Russian operatives in the United States, was to engage “in operations primarily intended to communicate derogatory information about Hillary Clinton, to denigrate other candidates such as Ted Cruz and Marco Rubio, and to support Bernie Sanders and then-candidate Donald Trump.” Once the nominees were selected, the operation focused solely on supporting Mr. Trump and denigrating Mrs. Clinton, including active efforts to discourage possible Clinton supporters from voting for her by spreading false and misleading information.

The Internet Research Agency had hundreds of additional support employees (trolls and other social media experts) beyond the core 80 and included a graphics department, a data analysis department, a search-engine optimization department, an IT department and a finance department.  It was organized with branch heads and assigned duties.  Very sophisticated.

Ultimately the operation’s interference in the 2016 election was not limited to social media or cyberspace.  They also played “dirty tricks” at campaign rallies, organized their own rallies and otherwise put out derogatory and inflammatory information.  For example, in the indictment it states that at one such event they tried to promote the idea that Mrs. Clinton was pro-Muslim by convincing an unaware American citizen to carry a sign “depicting Clinton and a quote attributed to her stating ‘I think Sharia Law will be a powerful new direction of Freedom.'”  They also bought ads on Facebook and other sources claiming that Mrs. Clinton committed “voter fraud” amplifying one of Mr. Trump’s constant refrains.  And more.

But you can read the indictment for yourself.

Here’s the rub.

What is the President of the United States doing to protect our country from a sophisticated asymmetrical attack on our homeland?  So far?  Nothing.

As the NY Times says, Mr. Trump’s “conspicuous silence” is a clear lack of leadership.  His only reaction as of this writing is to tweet that “Russia started their anti-US campaign in 2014, long before I announced that I would run for President. The results of the election were not impacted. The Trump campaign did nothing wrong – no collusion!”  It’s only about him — not the nation or our security.  Oh by the way, how do you think the Russians and other adversaries around the world view his response?  One word.  Weak.

There are many factual errors in his tweet, among them the fact that the indictment said nothing about whether there was or was not collusion — a totally separate issue from this one — and the start date also has nothing to do with the activities of the Russians or the fact that they favored Mr. Trump and actively worked to get him elected.

(As and aside, for all you conspiracy theorists out there, Mr. Trump visited Moscow in 2013.  Is it not conceivable that he conspired with the Russians then to aid an upcoming presidential campaign?  Even though he had not announced it publicly?  Or maybe the Russians blackmailed him into running with the express purpose of undermining U.S. democracy and attempting to install him in the White House?  The operatives arrived in 2014 because it takes time to set up an effective covert operation, integrate into the community, establish ties and learn the lay of the land before Mr. Trump announced his candidacy in 2015.  But then, I am not a conspiracy theorist.)

Here’s my real point.

Where is the outrage?  Where is the United States’ response to a clear and present danger?  What are we doing to punish the Russians for this grievous attempt to undermine our democracy?  No outrage from the administration.  No warnings to Russia.  Gosh, the president refuses to implement sanctions against Russia already overwhelmingly approved by bipartisan votes in both the House and the Senate last summer.  What is wrong with him?  Will he continue to call the Russian involvement a “hoax” perpetrated by the Democrats as he has consistently and constantly done?  Apparently so, if the statements coming from his press office today are any indication.

Remember that this is only one area of the Special Counsel’s investigation.  Still to come is the result of investigations into the hacking of the Democratic National Committee; the hacking of Clinton campaign chairman John Podesta’s emails; a June 2016 meeting with a Russian lawyer at Trump Tower which Mr. Trump Jr. thought would deliver “dirt” on Mrs. Clinton; and the guilty pleas of Michael Flynn, the president’s former national security adviser, and another campaign adviser.  Mr. Trump’s campaign manager Paul Manafort and his deputy Rick Gates have been indicted. Not to mention possible obstruction of justice charges. There is a lot going on for a “hoax.”  Additionally, just because there is no allegation made in one indictment does not mean that it won’t be made in other ones in the future.  If one saw or reads Mr. Rosenstein’s announcement releasing the indictments, he was very, very careful in his wording.  To me he seemed to be signalling that just because no campaign or other U.S. officials were named in this indictment, it does not mean that there will not be some in other indictments yet to come.

Again.  Read the indictment.  Decide for yourself.  I find it to be dereliction of duty by the Commander-in-Chief if the United States does not respond to this attack by the Russians. I am trying to give the president the benefit of the doubt thinking that maybe a response is being planned even as I write this.  I hope so.  However, even if the administration is planning such a response, one would rightly expect a clear, precise and strongly worded statement from the president condemning the Russian activity by now.  It is discouraging to note that this administration has yet to hold even one cabinet level meeting or even one inter-agency task force meeting to address the issue.  Just this week, all of the heads of our intelligence agencies testified before Congress that the Russians were still trying to disrupt our democracy and would surely attempt to disrupt the 2018 and 2020 elections.  And we do nothing.

Where is the outrage?  More importantly, where is the action to combat an attack by the Russians?

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An American Disgrace. Again.

Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School.  Parkland, Florida.

Seventeen dead.  Fourteen Injured.

18 incidents with guns at schools this year.

Approximately 150,000 children were exposed to a school shooting since Columbine High School in April 1999.

We are killing our children.

We are the only industrialized nation in the world with such a level of violence.

(Graph from everytownresearch.org)

From 2012 to 2016, an average of 35,141 Americans died from guns each yearThat’s 96 a day.

Over eighteen years, from 1956 to 1974, a total of 58,131 Americans died from hostile and non-hostile actions in the Viet Nam War.

Gun safety is not un-American or against the Second Amendment.

Our elected officials need to grow a spine.

As a nation, we should be ashamed of ourselves.

So horribly sad.  So meaningless.  So disgraceful.

 


Trump Is Winning. The Rule of Law Is Losing.

It is likely that by the time you read this post, a classified memo put together under disputed circumstances, will be released to the public.  The entire process and related story is long, arcane, a little bit of “inside baseball” and dangerous to the rule of law.

In short, Representative Devin Nunes (R-CA) as the Chair of the House Intelligence Committee had his staffers compose a memo accusing the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) and the Department of Justice (DOJ) of misusing the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) in the investigation of the Russian interference in our 2016 election.  In contrast, the Democrats on the committee, the DOJ and the FBI argue that Congressman Nunes misused the data that was reluctantly turned over to him to present a misleading portrayal of how the system was used and indeed to condemn the system itself.  As the story unfolds, remember that the protesting members of the DOJ and of the FBI, including Director Chris Wray are appointees put in office by the current president.

The DOJ and FBI are concerned on two fronts.  First, the memo could reveal sensitive “sources and methods” to our adversaries.  (Sources meaning where intelligence comes from and methods meaning the ways in which the intelligence is collected.)  It is not hyperbole to say that this could easily put lives at stake.  Second, they are concerned that the memo will inaccurately portray the way that the FISA warrants (issued by a special court for wiretaps and other methods of collecting information on suspected foreign operatives and their collaborators) are obtained and thereby undermine the confidence of us, as citizens, in the process and in the results.

Mr. Nunes is using an arcane rule of Congress to release the information.  The rule has never — never — been used before.  The intent of the rule is to provide a method for revealing relevant information when there is a gross misuse of intelligence that provides a clear and present danger to the nation.  Mr. Nunes is using it for purely political purposes.  At best, he is attempting to sow doubt about the investigation into Russian interference conducted by Special Counsel Robert Mueller, thus undermining possible damaging information about the president.  At worst, he is aiding and abetting the president in providing a rationale for ending the investigation entirely.

As background I point out that this week the president refused to implement sanctions against Russia under a law passed with overwhelming bipartisan support and signed by him.  In a show of sloppy staff work or lack of seriousness (you choose), individuals on the sanctions list were reportedly lifted by administration staffers from a list published annually by Forbes magazine naming the richest people in the world.  Anyone from Russia with over a billion dollars in assets was placed on the Forbes list which was transcribed to the administration’s list — even though some are known to be anti-Putin.  Although I suppose it doesn’t really matter because Mr. Trump will not implement the sanctions. Perhaps this is a quid pro quo?  Who knows, but there certainly have been a bizarre list of actions and statements by the president regarding President Vladimir Putin and Russia.  As someone said, there is a long list of the “whats” that have occurred but there is still no answer as to the “why”.

How serious is this possible breach of national security?  Representing the DOJ position, Assistant Attorney General Stephen Boyd wrote to Mr. Nunes and the committee asking that the information not be released.  In the letter he said that to release it would be “extraordinarily reckless” and that the department had reviewed its processes and found no wrongdoing regarding the FISA process.

An official FBI statement concerning the possible release states:

The FBI takes seriously its obligations to the FISA Court and its compliance with procedures overseen by career professionals in the Department of Justice and the FBI. We are committed to working with the appropriate oversight entities to insure the continuing integrity of the FISA process.

With regard to the House Intelligence Committee’s memorandum, the FBI was provided a limited opportunity to review this memo the day before the committee voted to release it. As expressed during our initial review, we have grave concerns about material omissions of fact that fundamentally impact the memo’s accuracy.

Mr. Nunes and the president also know that there is a Catch-22.  Several in fact.

The Democrats wrote a memo telling “the rest of the story” to put Mr. Nunes’ memo in context.  He refuses to release it and the Democrats are trying to follow the rules and therefore won’t release it without committee approval.  More importantly, the DOJ and FBI cannot refute the memo without themselves using classified information that would do further harm to the nation.  By following the rules and taking national security seriously they find themselves in a bind that allows the president and his enablers to get away with their shenanigans.

Further complicating the response is that Congress has, and should have, over sight responsibility for the DOJ and the FBI.  They should exercise that responsibility fully.  Speaker of the House Paul Ryan (R-WI) contends that that is what is happening.  (A further question for another day is why the Speaker did not step in, as he could do, and stop the release of the memo or at least allow a fully vetted process determine its viability.  He abdicated his responsibility.  I had hopes for Mr. Ryan as a buffer to the worst tendencies of the president, but apparently my hopes were misplaced.)

To fully understand how shady this entire undertaking is, read the unclassified transcript of the committee meeting where the issue was discussed.  (You will find it here.)  Among other things, it is apparent that Mr. Nunes never read the supporting information from which his memo was crafted.  You will also note that Mr. Nunes never denies that the his staff may have worked with White House staffers as to the content of the memo.  You will also find that the FBI and the DOJ requested to come in and explain the impact of releasing the memo and the harm it will do to national security but the request was denied.  And on and on.  One might think that the fix was in.  Oh, and by the way, Mr. Nunes would not release the memo for review by the Republican Chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee Senator Richard Burr (R-NC).  Why?

Additionally, under normal circumstances, should the FBI concerns be ignored, “grave concerns” not-with-standing, and the administration releases the memo, FBI Director Wray should resign.  I hope that he stays and continues to fight for what is right.

The word “unprecedented” gets used a lot these days.  This event is truly unprecedented.  The House and Senate intelligence committees are historically known for their bipartisanship, concern for the safety of our country, very, very careful in their use and review of sensitive information and generally known as a model for how the government should work.  Well, that’s over.

I cannot over emphasize how critical this is to the norms of honest government and the impact on our leading law enforcement agency and the intelligence community as a whole.  The politicization of intelligence is a dangerous precedent.  Once the genie is out of the bottle, there will be, inevitably in my opinion, other instances of one or both parties (“paybacks are hell”) undertaking similar political use of sensitive information.

One must also think of the willingness of future potential sources of information to put themselves on the line knowing that what they do covertly could be blasted to the public for political reasons.  Think also of foreign intelligence agencies and their willingness to work with the United States if they also think that sensitive sources and methods could be compromised.  Some reports already indicate that other nations’ intelligence agencies have significantly cut back on the information that they share with us because they are wary of the ability of this administration to keep a secret — as evidenced by the president sharing such intelligence in the Oval Office with the Russian Foreign Minister and Ambassador last year.

Credible reports indicate that the president has been pushing for the release of the memo — even without having read it until last night — since last week.  He reportedly thinks that it will “prove” that the “deep state” is out to get him (remember that those opposing its release are his own political appointees).  More ominously, it has been reported that he may use this memo as an excuse to fire Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein.  This is significant because Mr. Rosenstein, following the recusal of Attorney General Jeff Sessions, oversees Mr. Mueller in the conduct of the Russian investigation.  Mr. Rosenstein has repeatedly said that he would never fire the Special Counsel barring egregious and unlawful actions on his part.  This infuriates the president.  By removing the Deputy AG, Mr. Trump would look for a replacement willing to fire Mr. Mueller or at least inhibit and undermine the investigation.  That would be a travesty of justice.

As I’ve said many times over the last year or more, whatever one thinks of Mr. Trump, we should all be livid and concerned that the Russians clearly interfered (as even Mr. Trump’s own appointees to lead the intelligence community concede).  And yet, not only will Mr. Trump not say that there was interference, more importantly there is not one federal agency or inter-agency task force looking into it or planning how to counter it for this year’s elections.  In a recent interview with the BBC, CIA Director Mike Pompeo said that the Russians continue to interfere in our internal policy and that he fully expects that they will try to interfere with our next elections and continue to do so as long as they can.  And we sit on our hands?  Apparently this administration, abetted by Republicans in the House, would rather investigate the FBI and the DOJ rather than the Russians.

The sanctions that this administration is refusing to implement were designed specifically to punish the Russians for interfering in 2016.  What they hey?

If Mr. Trump has nothing to worry about (even though two of his aides pleaded guilty and two others are under indictment — hardly a “nothing burger”) then why not let the investigation continue without interference and come to a quick conclusion exonerating him?  In my mind it is because he is afraid of what will be found.  Each event unto itself could be dismissed, I suppose.  But it is compelling when one looks at all the things we already know happened between the Trump campaign and the Russians.  I am positive that what we know is only the tip of the iceberg compared to what the Special Counsel already knows.

There are many more twists and turns behind this unfolding sordid episode.  Because it is happening in slow motion, and involves arcane House and DOJ rules, I suspect many Americans are unaware of the details and even more than that are unaware of the implications behind this unprecedented action.  Perhaps Mr. Trump and Mr. Nunes are counting on that.  Meanwhile, the DOJ and FBI are under attack as independent protectors of the nation.  The rule of law is in danger.

We are on the verge of a Constitutional crisis.  It has been creeping up on us for several months.  Soon its full-blown existence will make it so that no one can ignore what is happening.  Mr. Trump will not do the right thing when the time comes.  As he said last week at an impromptu meeting with the press when asked about the investigation, he said he is “fighting back.”  One can only imagine what that will bring.


Who Cares?

Not like the brazen giant of Greek fame,
With conquering limbs astride from land to land;
Here at our sea-washed, sunset gates shall stand
A mighty woman with a torch, whose flame
Is the imprisoned lightning, and her name
Mother of Exiles. From her beacon-hand
Glows world-wide welcome; her mild eyes command
The air-bridged harbor that twin cities frame.
“Keep, ancient lands, your storied pomp!” cries she
With silent lips. “Give me your tired, your poor,
Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,
The wretched refuse of your teeming shore.
Send these, the homeless, tempest-tossed to me,
I lift my lamp beside the golden door!”

— The sonnet “New Colossus” by Emma Lazarus inscribed on the base of the Statue of Liberty.

I don’t want to get off into a whole thing about history here, but the Statue of Liberty is a symbol of American liberty lighting the world. The poem that you’re referring to was added later (and) is not actually part of the original Statue of Liberty.

— Senior White House Adviser Stephen Miller in response to a question about new immigration proposals as compared to the sentiment from the sonnet.

Happy New Year!  I hope that 2018 brings us all health, prosperity and happiness.  Hopefully, you had a joyful holiday season.

I was fortunate to participate in several social gatherings during the last few weeks and to spend eleven days traveling in the great state of California.  The gatherings and travel afforded an opportunity to forget about politics for a while and yet at the same time to get a snapshot from friends, acquaintances, and family as to their views on the state of politics in our great country.  The comments were wide-ranging.

Among other things, I was asked why I write an “anti-Trump” blog.  “We get it.  You don’t like him.  Move on.”  Others asked why I don’t write about him more often.  Some are thrilled with the current president, or at least his policies.  Others despair over the future of our nation.  Many said that they had stopped following the news because it was just too upsetting.  Others advised that they just ignore what the president says, and especially tweets, and are much happier for doing so.  It set me to wondering.

I must admit that I was happier without hearing “all Trump all the time”.  I thought that maybe it would be a good idea to stop worrying about him and what he is doing to the office of the president and to our country.  I reflected on this course of action at length.  It certainly would be easier.

In the end I find it impossible for me to ignore what is going on with the president and I worry that too many people are choosing to tune him out.  This is dangerous.  If citizens do not pay attention to what our government is doing, then the politicians are free to do whatever they want.  If we do not understand the issues and their implications then we are doomed to living out the results of decisions that change our way of life.  In reflecting on the current state of affairs I asked myself how the president’s actions are impacting me, personally, and my day-to-day life.  In truth, I had to answer very little if at all.  So why get upset?  The answer is easy and not a shoulder wrenching pat on my own back — if no one pays attention then eventually it will impact my life and that of my family but it will be too late to do anything to change it.  More importantly, I realized that many people around me are being impacted right now.  Today.  And it is life changing for them.  As Americans, we do care.

This brings me to a representative example of what I see as very disturbing trends under this president.  That is his views on immigration.  It is what I used to tell my staff in my sea-going days:

“Know the difference between what things are and what they mean.”

In that context let’s look at Mr. Trump’s comments made last week regarding immigrants from non-white countries.

Let’s get one thing out of the way up front.  In the end, it is not important that the president used vulgar language in expressing his disparaging view of immigrants.  Whether it was “hole” or “house” is hardly relevant.  If Senators Tom Cotton (R-Ark) and David Perdue (R-Ga) want to lose their integrity over the changing stories and provable lies in their interpretation of the suffix to the president’s vulgarity they will have to face themselves in the mirror.  The actual words don’t matter as much as the sentiment does.  Mr. Trump is not the first president to swear in the Oval Office and he won’t be the last.  It is embarrassing to the nation and unbecoming of the office, but in the end it isn’t the most important thing.  It is what it is.

What it means is something else.  Mr. Trump’s temper tantrum in response to a bi-partisan plan proposed by Senators Lindsey Graham (R-SC) and Dick Durbin (D-Ill) set in motion a string of events that will have both long and short-term impact.

Only days before the blow up the president said that he “would sign anything” that the Congress brought forward on solving the Trump created crisis concerning the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) or “Dreamers”.  If not resolved very soon, the Administration could cause roughly 800,000 law-abiding hard-working people to be deported from the only country they have ever really known.  Whether or not the Graham-Durbin bill was the final answer, it did have bi-partisan support and gave the president much — but not all — of what he wanted regarding increased border security, changes to immigration quotas and other immigration procedures.  If nothing else, it was a starting point.  Only two hours before the Oval Office meeting, the president tentatively agreed to the outlines of the bill when it was explained to him over the phone.  Unfortunately, hard liners like Stephen Miller — quoted above — were afraid that the president would agree to the deal and thus called in Senators Cotton and Perdue to talk him out of it.  They succeeded.

What is the fallout?  In the short-term it significantly increases the likelihood of a government shutdown at midnight on Friday 19 January.  Democrats have been under intense pressure to “solve” the DACA dilemma quickly.  Their best leverage is to use a spending bill to do so because the Republicans cannot get enough of their members to pass it on their own.  There is still a lot of negotiating underway as to how to keep the government running, but membership on both sides of the aisle is tired of short-term Continuing Resolutions (CR) which are in and of themselves detrimental to an efficient government.  It could get ugly and there will be lots of finger pointing.  The rest of us suffer.

Longer term the president has exhibited — again! — that he does not understand what makes America the country that it is.  As has been written often, and more eloquently than I can, we are a nation of immigrants.  Most of them poor and from nations that in their day were not any more appreciated than those that the president now disparages.  For example, look at the history of Italian, Irish and Eastern European immigrants in the 19th and early 20th centuries.  Look to many of our own family histories.  These were not lawyers, doctors, bankers or other wealthy immigrants.  Most could not read or write their own language, much less English.  But they worked hard.  They assimilated over time.  They produced generations of lawyers, doctors and bankers.  Many became wealthy and contributed to the development of industries we now tout as “all American.”  Mr. Trump clearly does not know this.  Probably he does not care.  Mostly, it does not interest or impact him so he pays little attention other than to what he thinks will appeal to the “base” that seems to be the only America he is interested in leading.

Longer term he has changed the way that the rest of the world looks at these United States.  Lady Liberty’s torch no longer seems to be a beacon to those “yearning to breathe free” but rather a torch searching out those not like us.  Mr. Trump revealed — again!–  who he really is.  For goodness sakes, our closest ally is the United Kingdom and they don’t want him to visit.  The UK is very divided politically right now, but all parties agree that Mr. Trump can stay home.

Longer term Mr. Trump’s actions hinder and impede our national security.  When allies question their level of cooperation with our own intelligence agencies because of his actions, we suffer.  When nations that are friendly to us send official diplomatic requests for an explanation of the president’s remarks we may find that they won’t stand with us when needed.  When we have military forces under fire in Africa and in other nations (remember we lost four good soldiers fighting terrorism in Niger) will they be reliable in the common defense if they think the commander-in-chief declares them unworthy to come to our country?

Everyday the list gets longer as we count the attacks on our nation as an idea and an ideal.  I do not think that Mr. Trump understands that.  By his words and actions he is steadily destroying what we stand for in the world and at home.  I am surprised at the number of folks that told me that they don’t care for Mr. Trump that much as a person but that they like what he is doing.  I have to assume that they mean they like the tax cuts and Supreme Court appointment and not his actions infringing on the First Amendment, claiming that the FBI actively worked against his campaign, his besmirching the judiciary whenever they rule against him, and the countless list of daily insults that spew forth and inexorably demean our nation and undermine our way of life.

His views on immigration are only one example of how he is changing our nation.  Reasonable people can reasonably disagree on the path forward in many areas of policy.  What concerns me more than Mr. Trump’s policies is the steady erosion of our American ideals.

So, yes.  It would be easier to just ignore it all and go on with my daily life.  But we all need in our own ways to have our voices heard and let it be known that it is not okay.  I am not anti-Trump in my writings.  I am pro-America and what we stand for.  A president that wants to be president to only 33% of the country needs to come to understand that he represents all Americans.  Those of Haitian ancestry as well as those of Norwegian ancestry.

Who cares?  We care.


The Dark Days to Come

As we approach the end of a tumultuous 2017, let me offer my wish that each of you have a joyous holiday season and that 2018 brings you all the best.  Happy Hanukkah, Merry Christmas and a fine Festivus!

While I sincerely hope that all of us have a wonderful 2018 in our own ways, I am concerned that as a country we will hit turbulent waters at best or worse, experience a Constitutional crisis.  I gave up prognosticating some years ago.  However, since it is the end of the year, I will offer up my scenario as to how the coming year will unfold as the investigation led by Special Counsel Robert Mueller plays out.  There are certainly other very important events to come in 2018 that the administration will face, such as dealing with a bellicose North Korea, implementing a tax cut by expanding the deficit, undermining the Affordable Care Act, retooling immigration and someday passing a budget.  All of these will be overshadowed by the unfolding drama surrounding Mr. Mueller’s investigation and its final results.  It will not be pretty.

Lest we forget, as I see it there are four distinct areas of investigation for the Special Counsel.  Three have been his focus from the beginning and the fourth I surmise got added as the investigation looked into the activities of Mr. Paul Manafort and others and the resulting relationship to the original three areas of interest.  The four are concerns over Russian interference in the election, possible collusion between the campaign and the Russians, whether or not the FBI investigation into these matters was obstructed by the president or his advisers, and my fourth, money laundering and/or tax evasion by the president and/or family.  Let’s look at them one by one.

Many of us forget that the original intent of the investigation, starting with the FBI and CIA in 2016, was to determine the extent, methods, and impact of Russian interference in that year’s election.  The combined intelligence community in the United States and elsewhere concluded some time ago that the Russians did interfere.  End of discussion.  The questions of how, why, whether it mattered or not and what to do stop it in the future remain unanswered.  Reportedly, the president refuses to discuss it with his top advisers, has yet to hold any cabinet level discussions as to how to protect future elections and continues to deny that it ever happened.  This is unconscionable.  Regardless of one’s political views, all of us should be upset that there is overwhelming evidence that it occurred and there is no evidence that anyone is doing anything substantive to prevent it in the future.  There is still no federal coordinated action to stop it from happening again.  As Americans we should be appalled.  Michael V. Hayden had a lifetime of experience in the intelligence community and was CIA director under President George W. Bush.  His view of the Russian meddling?  That it is the political equivalent of the attack on September 11.  He further said,

“What the president has to say is, ‘We know the Russians did it, they know they did it, I know they did it, and we will not rest until we learn everything there is to know about how and do everything possible to prevent it from happening again. He has never said anything close to that and will never say anything close to that.”

Perhaps some in Congress will wake up to the fact that action is needed, and soon.  I won’t hold my breath for the president to initiate any action.  When Mr. Mueller’s findings come forward, we may have an impetus for action by the rest of the government.

The second area of investigation, and the one most focus on including the president, is whether or not the president’s campaign colluded with the Russians to interfere in the election and impede Secretary Hillary Clinton’s chances of victory.  This one is more complicated and takes more than a sound bite or Twitter statement to unfold.  In short, the theory is that in exchange for “dirt” on Mrs. Clinton and other “aids” during the election, the new administration, if they won, would lift sanctions on Russia imposed for a variety of reasons generated by Russian bad actors, and not just during the election.  This one is less clear as to the extent that the campaign organization knew what they were doing.  Their best defense, if one can call it that, is that they were incompetent.  That line of  reasoning is becoming less tenable as more and more instances of meetings between campaign representatives and Russian representatives become known.  In addition, both campaigns were briefed in August 2016, following the official nominations, that the Russians were trying to interfere in the election, that other bad actors might also try, and the two campaigns need to notify the FBI if they detect any Russian overtures or other activity.  The Trump campaign made no such reports to the FBI.  It is hard to claim ignorance under those circumstances.

The third area of investigation involves possible obstruction of justice.  This stems in one way from the aforementioned meetings with Russian operatives during the campaign.  Various campaign officials initially denied any such meetings.  It grew bigger after the president fired then FBI Director Jim Comey and bragged in a Lester Holt interview on NBC and later in a private conversation with the Russian (!) Foreign Minister and Ambassador that it was over the “Russia thing.”  Director Comey testified under oath that the president asked him to drop the investigation into former NSC Director Michael Flynn’s interactions with the Russians.  (The same Michael Flynn that pleaded guilty to lying to the FBI about those very interactions.)  As if that is not enough, the investigation also includes the president himself pushing prevarications on Air Force One concerning his son Donald Trump Jr. and his interactions with the Russians.  They made a very weak attempt to cover it up, allegedly at the president’s direct involvement in the cover up story.

You can’t tell the players without a program.

Not on the “official” list but the area that will cause the biggest consternation, and at the same time pull everything together, is my notion that the Special Counsel and his office are looking into the Trump Organization’s and family’s financial dealings.  I think that they will find instances of money laundering and tax evasion.  Very much like what they come up with concerning Mr. Manafort and Mr. Gates — only with Russians rather than corrupt Ukrainians.

Many focus on Mr. Trump’s visit to Moscow for the Miss Universe Pageant and his subsequent attempts at creating new business opportunities in Russia.  Lost to some is the knowledge that he started visiting Russia in 1987 and has made trips off and on since then.  If his son is to be believed, lots of their investment money came from Russian sources.  U.S. banks would not underwrite his endeavors after four bankruptcies and he was desperate.  Think of it as a “Godfather” scenario.  “Donnie, don’t worry.  We’ll take care of the problem.  Relax.  But at some time in the future we may come and ask you for a favor.”  Or as Don Corleone says it much better in the original, “Someday, and that day may never come, I will call upon you to do a service for me. But until that day, accept this justice as a gift on my daughter’s wedding day.”

My opinion as to the results?

  • The Russians interfered in many, many ways in the election but the number of votes that changed because of those actions (none of which were by actual vote tampering) is unknown.
  • Aides to Mr. Trump did collude with the Russians but the president will benefit from plausible deniability as there will be no way to tie it directly to him.
  • The investigation will conclude that Mr. Trump and some of his aides did try to obstruct justice by interfering in the attempt to investigate his family and campaign ties to the Russians.
  • The Special Counsel will conclude that prior to becoming president, Mr. Trump knowingly engaged in unethical and illegal financial transactions.  These transactions helped Russian oligarchs launder money in Trump investments and real estate purchases.  His hundreds of LLCs and shell corporations were used to hide these transactions and to limit the taxes he was by law responsible for paying.

That’s when the “fun” starts.

First, prior to the Special Counsel’s findings, the House committees investigating these matters will rush out findings — possibly in early January — that will find that there is no evidence of collusion, they did not look at obstruction of justice because it is a criminal matter, and did not investigate his finances.  They will say that the Russians interfered in the election but it is unclear to what extent and in any case, the interference did not change the election.

The president will seize on this report, claim that it proves his innocence and that there was “no collusion!”

The president will try to fire Special Counsel Mueller because, he will reason, the House committees already proved that there was “no collusion!” and so there is no need for the investigation to continue.  To do so would make it a “witch hunt” based on the Democrats efforts to push a “hoax” and an attempt to disenfranchise millions of Trump voters because of a deep hatred of Mr. Trump.  Fox News and some House Republicans will cry long and loud that this is an attempted FBI “coup” to overthrow the duly elected President of the United States.  (By the way, this has already happened in the last 48 hours.  The attacks on the FBI and Department of Justice from certain Republican Members of Congress are despicable.  Please note that they are not attacking the facts, the results so far or any other substantive issue.  They only attack the people and the institution with the goal to sow doubt in advance of just this scenario.)

The Senate will try to protect the Special Counsel but at the same time expand their investigation to include the other nominees — Jill Stein and Hillary Clinton — to show that it wasn’t just Mr. Trump.  When the Special Counsel’s findings start to leak out, the Senate, caught in a bind as to how to act as the president continues to undermine, ignore and invalidate the non-partisan results, delays action.

The Special Counsel will name Mr. Trump as an un-indicted co-conspirator.

Mr. Trump will not step down  from the presidency and tries to pardon those indicted as well as himself.  This will lead to a Constitutional crisis.

The “#metoo” movement continues to build pressure against Mr. Trump as more allegations of harassment by multiple women come out and he calls them all “liars.”

To make sure that justice prevails, state prosecutors step in to bring state charges — especially on money and tax issues. Mr. Trump cannot pardon violations of state law, only federal.

The issue of pardons for whom and for what gets challenged in court and follows an expedited path to the Supreme Court.

Pressure will build for the Congress to act.  However, the House and Senate will not act to impeach the president and will cite the upcoming 2018 elections as the reason.  “Let the American people decide.”

Democrats win big in the elections.  While campaigning they will not use the word “impeach” but will insist that Mr. Trump needs to be held accountable for his actions with Congressional oversight.

Mr. Trump, Fox News, and some House Republicans continue to cry that the system was rigged and that an attempted “coup” is underway.  Mr. Trump embarks on a series of campaign rallies to build support among the minority of voters that still support him. Angry demonstrations ensue.

Most Americans are appalled at the complete story and the fact that Mr. Trump will not step down plus the fact that he is trying to pardon the wrong doers — especially close family members.  The Democratic landslide is a result of voters being fed up because Congress will not act.

Very bitter disputes break out in violence on both sides of the issue as Mr. Trump continues purposely to stir up animosity and anger.

There is very little energy left to try to tackle the big issues facing our nation.  American influence in the world continues to wane and other nations take advantage of our inward rage and lack of attention to international affairs.  The Russians continue to meddle in western European elections and to support Syria and Iran.  China consolidates its economic power and pulls other Asian nations closer to its orbit as they become the de facto leader of the region under the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP).

2018 ends without resolution of the Constitutional issues surrounding Mr. Trump and his associates’ actions.  Trials begin for Mr. Manafort, Mr. Gates, and Mr. Kushner and others close to the president.

Merry Christmas to all and to all a good night!

 

 


The First Amendment Is Under Attack

“You are a slow learner, Winston.”
“How can I help it? How can I help but see what is in front of my eyes? Two and two are four.”
“Sometimes, Winston. Sometimes they are five. Sometimes they are three. Sometimes they are all of them at once. You must try harder. It is not easy to become sane.”

— George Orwell in 1984

Our current president has always had a problem with the facts.  Past presidents have often had an adversarial relationship with the press.  We now reach new levels of concern as both trends continue to grow under one man.  This week they reached very troubling levels.

In case you missed it,  the president has been busy on Twitter again.  Not content to fume and attempt to merely belittle the press, he now actively undermines it.  Today Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders reached the same troubling level as did Presidential Adviser Kellyanne Conway’s infamous declaration that “we feel compelled to go out and clear the air and put alternative facts out there.”

I’ll explain.

Hardly anyone, whether paying attention or not, can be unaware of the president’s constant attack on the news media — except Fox and Friends of course.  Constant.  Fake news.  Liars.  On and on.  You’ve heard it.  It is far beyond normal criticism.  Many of his tweets I take to be based either on his ego, or his perverted sense of humor, or some mostly spontaneous spasm of mind that causes him to blast the world with another tweet.  I think his attacks on the media fall into a different category.  The attacks have been relentless and continuous from well before his election.  They have escalated in the time since he took office.  I think the attacks are considered, premeditated, and part of a larger plan to make it difficult to separate truth from fiction and thus cover up his shenanigans and wrong doings in and out of government.  It reached a new peak this week.

This past weekend he tweeted out (in this and all other tweets quoted the capitalization is all his):

“Fox News is MUCH more important in the United States than CNN, but outside of the U.S., CNN International is still a major source of (Fake) news, and they represent our Nation to the WORLD very poorly. The outside world does not see the truth from them!”

Another mindless attack?  I think not.  Especially I think not because the international reaction was swift.  Those that support a free press were quick to condemn the tweet and those that would prefer to hide the truth from their populations — and the BBC and CNN International are the main reliable sources of information for many around the world as those of us that travel frequently know — can now point to the president of the United States as saying it is all fake and no one should believe it.  Reckless behavior on the part of our president.  This sure does help us promote democratic ideals.  By the way, this week President Putin, the only person in the entire world our president refuses to criticize, required all U.S. reporters to register in Russia as “foreign agents”– reinforcing the idea that all news is propaganda and not real.

And it keeps getting worse.

Two days ago he tweeted:

“We should have a contest as to which of the Networks, plus CNN and not including Fox, is the most dishonest, corrupt and/or distorted in its political coverage of your favorite President (me). They are all bad. Winner to receive the FAKE NEWS TROPHY!”

Ha.  Ha.

Of note is the fact that a merger between AT&T and Time-Warner is blocked by the Justice Department.  Time-Warner owns CNN.  Whether or not you think the merger is a good idea for us as consumers we might be concerned that at one point the suggestion was made that if Time-Warner sold off CNN the merger would be approved.  The issue is now heading to court and one can be sure that the lawyers on the side of the corporations will certainly bring up the many, many, many attacks on CNN from the president.  In the military this is called “command influence.”  The person in charge by deed or dialogue influencing, directly or indirectly, the outcome of what is supposed to be an impartial hearing.

It has now been widely reported that according to private conversations the president had with some friends and advisers, he now doubts  the “authenticity” of the Access Hollywood tapes where he admits assaulting women.  Additionally, to many of those same people he continues to espouse his belief that President Obama was born in Kenya.  One wonders if he is Orwellian or just losing his grip.

And it keeps getting worse.

Today the president re-tweeted three inflammatory videos from “Britain First”, a white nationalist organization in the United Kingdom.  All three were anti-Muslim.  They have proven to be false and/or out of context.  They were distributed by a hate group intent on enraging non-Muslims, perhaps to violence.  British Prime Minister Theresa May felt compelled to put out a statement condemning our president for tweeting these videos, saying that it was “wrong.”  The statement said in part:

“Britain First seeks to divide communities through their use of hateful narratives which peddle lies and stoke tensions.  They cause anxiety to law-abiding people.  British people overwhelmingly reject the prejudice of the far right, which is the antithesis of the values that this country represents: decency, tolerance, and respect. It is wrong for the president to have done this.”

Way to go Mr. President!  And that’s from our closest ally.

Besides wondering why he would re-tweet something from that group in the first place, one might wonder what he is doing on a white nationalist web site anyway.  Why?  Why would the president patrol hate group web sites?  Doesn’t he have other things to worry about such as, oh I don’t know, maybe that the North Koreans tested an ICBM that can reach all of the United States?  Or maybe he has a staffer that patrols such web sites for him.  Not really much better.  Where are the filters?  Oh, yea, I forgot.  His is not a “conventional presidency.”  Conventional or not I would think that there are certain conventions of human decency that should also apply to the President of the United States.

And it keeps getting worse.

After the realization set in of what the president had done, reporters asked White House Press Secretary Sarah Sanders — the voice of the president to us as citizens and to the world as the voice of our nation — about it and she said that it didn’t matter if the videos are real or not.  “Whether it’s a real video, the threat is real.”  Mrs. Sanders, welcome to the Kellyanne Conway Club.

All of this in the span of a few days.

And it will keep getting worse.

Our president, and apparently those that work for him, have no respect for the First Amendment.  We should be very concerned.  His antipathy for anything even remotely critical of him is more than troublesome.  He is creating an atmosphere where nothing can be trusted by anyone unless he says it is true.  This is the first, most basic move of any autocrat.

Also recall that the president only allowed Russian media into his office when he met with the Russian Foreign Minister and Ambassador.  (Where he famously — perhaps eventually infamously — bragged he fired FBI Director Comey and said “I just fired the head of the F.B.I. He was crazy, a real nut job.  I faced great pressure because of Russia. That’s taken off.”)

Recall that the president agreed with Chinese President Xi Jinping that the press should not be allowed to ask questions during his visit to China earlier this month.  The first time in memory that the President of the United States acquiesced to a dictator to keep the American press silenced.

Recall that during that same trip the president laughed when autocratic Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte responded to press questions by telling them no questions were allowed as they are “spies.”  The same President Duterte that is on record saying “just because you’re a journalist you are not exempted from assassination if you’re a son of a bitch.”

These are but a few recent examples.

We might discuss whether the current administration is merely incompetent or malicious.  Hard for me to say except as it pertains to freedom of the press.  Regardless, the result is the same — a threat to our freedoms. I think the constant attacks against the press are part of a larger plan.  They are not accidental or merely reflective of his natural tendency to lash out at criticism.

By nature I am not an alarmist.  This pattern alarms me.  He is doing great harm to our nation and to our friends and allies around the world.  It is becoming “normal.”  That worries me the most.

I think a tweet from General Michael Hayden (ret.), former director of the CIA says it best for me.  In response to the president’s tweet about CNN (above) he wrote:

“If this is who we are or who we are becoming, I have wasted 40 years of my life. Until now it was not possible for me to conceive of an American President capable of such an outrageous assault on truth, a free press or the first amendment.”


While You Were Tweeting

I trust that you all had an enjoyable Thanksgiving weekend.  In many ways we have so much to be thankful for so it is always nice to take time out and to reflect on our good fortune — whatever form that may take.

In our nationally induced tryptophan haze, one may have noticed, or more hopefully ignored, a bevy of tweets and other distractions that obscure the many important legislative challenges coming up in the next four weeks.  Or more accurately, in the few days that the House and Senate are actually in session before Christmas.  Nearly all of the following impact Americans in some form or another and are important to the smooth functioning of our nation.  These are important issues that deserve serious consideration and discussion.  I will let you decide whether or not that will happen.

To name a few:

  • Tax cuts.  The president promised a “great big beautiful Christmas present” with completion of the Republican tax cut.  Both the House — which passed its version before Thanksgiving — and the Senate — which hopes to pass its version this week — have significantly different bills designed to permanently cut corporate taxes and to cut some lower and middle class taxes for a while.  The Republican leadership is touting both bills as a boon to the middle class.  Sorry, but I don’t see it.  Besides adding at least 1.5 trillion dollars to the national debt over the next ten years, it makes some puzzling changes.  For example, nearly all deductions (mortgage, student loan, state and local taxes, medical expenses, moving expenses and about 40 some more) are removed from the individual taxpayers’ ability to use them but keeps them in place for corporations.  The argument is that the individual standard deduction will greatly increase (roughly doubled) and therefore there will be no need to itemize.  At the same time, corporate taxes drop roughly 40 percent (from 35% to 20%) but they still keep all itemized deductions, including those listed above that go away for the rest of us.  The real kicker is that corporate tax rates and rules are permanent and the rules for the rest of us are temporary.  The non-partisan Tax Policy Center (TPC) estimates that for many of us, our taxes will actually go up over the next ten years as compared to current law.  This happens primarily because of the “sunset” provisions impacting everyday Americans.  Many Republicans are arguing that some time “in the future” Congress will make them permanent and so in the end, we all benefit.  Except.  Except.  There is no guarantee that they will become permanent.  If they don’t, we are victims of a big lie.  And if they do, then it all has been a sham and a trick.  In order to meet the rules of the Senate, they cannot exceed the 1.5 trillion dollar addition to the national debt.  (To do so, they need 60 votes in the Senate, which means getting Democrats onboard, who, so far, have been shut out of any input to the bill.)  Thus, the permanent cuts for corporations are paid for by the average tax payer.   But not to worry, according to the Director of the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) Dick Mulvaney, it is all a trick.  A “gimmick.”  As he said on Meet the Press, in order to meet the Senate rules, “certain proposals can only have certain economic impact.  One of the ways to game the system is to make things expire.”  Or as he went on to say, “a lot of this is a gimmick… to get through these rules in the Senate.”  This from the president’s point man on the cuts and in charge of explaining them to the public.  There is a whole lot more to this issue, but it deserves a separate piece as the issues are complex with wide impacts on each of our futures.  Keep an eye on this.

(Please note that there is no need to place a time limit on getting this legislation right. It is an arbitrary political goal to “deliver” a tax cut by Christmas.  Remember that as it crowds out the following issues, many of which do have — or have already reached — a drop dead date to accomplish.)

  • Government Shutdown.  Funding to operate the federal government expires on 8 December.  Here we go again.  Both Republicans and Democrats are using the imminent expiration of the spending authorization to promote their political agendas.  As in the past, it is unlikely that the Republicans can pass a spending bill without at least some Democrats voting for it as well (there is always a hard-core Republican group opposed to the amount of spending and the impact on the deficit — although they mysteriously voted for the increased deficit from the tax cuts).  There is a “summit” planned tomorrow involving the leaders of both parties from both houses and the president to try to come to accommodation on this and other issues.  Probably there will be a short-term extension to keep the government operating — a continuing resolution or CR.  CRs wreak havoc on all government agencies from defense to agriculture as they limit immediate spending and give no clear guidance for the future, thus severely inhibiting planning for the future.  Predictions are not optimistic as to a quick resolution because the Republican leadership remains laser focused on getting the tax cuts finished first.
  • Defense Spending.  As part of the overall objective of setting spending levels for 2018 many want to see defense spending increased from about $549 billion to about $600 billion.  In order to do that, Congress must rescind a bipartisan 2011 budget deal that set spending caps on all areas of government.  Democrats are insisting that any increases in defense spending must be matched by increases in non-defense spending or they will not vote to lift the 2011 caps.  Under Senate rules, 60 votes are required to change the bipartisan agreement providing the limits so Democrats have a say in how this is resolved.  Very little progress in resolving the issue is apparent and this impacts the funding for the government as a whole (see above).
  • Health Care. Politicians on both sides of the aisle want to see the market stabilized for health care.  Not surprisingly, there are differences on how to do it.  The Alexander-Murray health care bill is a bipartisan effort to bring some continuity and stabilization to health care under the Affordable Care Act (ACA).  The administration opposes this bill and the Senate version of the tax cut plan eliminates the penalty for not having insurance — thus creating the possibility of increased premiums for those with insurance and eventually driving a predicted 13 million from the roles.  (See my previous posts about the “three-legged stool” needed to keep the system stable.)  Democrats say the Alexander-Murray bill is off the table if the repeal of a key provision of the ACA is enacted.  Republicans are still making noise about “repeal and replace in 2018.”  Compromise seems unlikely and the public suffers.
  • The Children’s Health Insurance Program.  The generally popular CHIP provides health coverage for about 9 million poor children and others.  The current legislation expired on 30 September and it is unknown when this usually bipartisan issue will be addressed.  To date, the states have picked up the slack to keep the program going in the short-term but many say that funds will run out at the end of the year.  This is also caught up in the “need” to address tax cuts before other legislation.
  • Immigration.  The president announced the expiration of the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) (the Dreamers) program last September and gave Congress until March to come up with a system for dealing with the children brought here illegally by their parents.  Many Democrats say that they will not vote for any spending bills unless this issue is addressed by the end of the year.  Some Republicans say that they will not address immigration unless “The Wall” is part of the bill.  There are also Republicans that agree that the Dreamers issue needs to be addressed and that may actually favor their remaining in the country.  But, again, they argue this cannot be part of any spending bill and can only be addressed after the tax cuts pass.
  • Intelligence Gathering.  On 31 December of this year Section 702 of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act will expire.  This section of the law, approved by Congress in 2008 as a part of the response to the terrorist attacks on 11 September 2001, is intended as a tool to track and thus foil foreign terrorists.  It is meant for use in conjunction with foreign citizens outside of the United States and has specific provisions to protect American citizens.  Unfortunately, critics of the provision claim that vast amounts of information is collected on U.S. citizens as they communicate with foreigners — any foreign national, not just those suspected of being terrorists.  Known as “incidental surveillance” it raises many questions of privacy and government intrusion into the lives of innocent, ordinary U.S. citizens.  The NSA considers this provision to be among their most important collection capabilities and fear that if they lose the ability to continue the surveillance that it will severely inhibit their counter-terrorism capability.  There is general bipartisan support to extend the statute, but with some restrictions to further try to protect Americans’ privacy.  Currently, there are no plans to address the expiring statute by the end of the year.
  • Disaster Relief.  The Administration asked Congress for $44 billion in disaster relief for help in mitigating the impact of the hurricanes and wildfires that affected many areas of the country this year.  To pay for it, they have asked for reductions in other expenditures, such as benefit programs.  By all accounts, 44 billion — a lot — is inadequate to meet the need.  Puerto Rico alone estimates that it will cost $99 billion to get the island back on its feet.  Congress has promised to provide the aid, but does not plan to address the issue with concrete action (money duly appropriated) until the tax cut plan is finished.
  • Iran Sanctions.  By declaring in October that Iran was not in compliance with the international deal to limit Iran’s ability to develop nuclear weapons, the president activated a 60 day period which expires in December for Congress to act to impose new sanctions or not.  The general sense is that there is mostly bipartisan agreement not to extend new sanctions on Iran and thus to keep the deal in place.  However, at the end of the 60 day period the ball is back in the president’s court and it may be that inaction on the part of Congress will lead to action by the president and thus put the deal in jeopardy.

And there’s more!  But you get the idea.  Not much of anything will get done until the tax cuts are passed, which is not a sure thing in the Senate.  Even if it does get through the Senate this week, or soon after, they still need to reconcile the two versions of the bill — no easy task as they are significantly different in several important areas.  All deadlines discussed for the tax cuts are purely political and self-imposed, unlike many other items in need of Congressional attention.

It is sure to be a busy political December.  Enjoy!  And don’t let the tweeting distract you from the real action going on.