What To Think?

You may have missed it with all of the theatrics surrounding the Trump Shutdown, but some potentially mind-blowing news came out last Friday and over the weekend.

Even as I suffer from Trump fatigue, and you know what I think of him as president, it is impossible to ignore this development.  The FBI started a counter-intelligence investigation of the president in 2017. The President. Of the United States.  It is unknown whether that investigation continues under the guidance of Special Counsel Robert Mueller, but it is likely that it does.  A counter-intelligence investigation is totally unlike a criminal investigation.  It is a totally different ball game.  It also puts the possibility of the president’s efforts at obstructing justice into an entirely different dimension.  Perhaps instead of trying to protect himself from embarrassment or through some other motivation, his decision to fire then FBI Director James Comey “over this Russia thing” was with a different outcome in mind.  Coupled with all of the subsequent efforts to stop or disrupt Mr. Mueller’s investigation, it appears he was trying to keep the discovery of conspiracy with a foreign power from becoming known.  In other words, the obstruction was the conspiracy (or collusion as it is popularly, but wrongly, called.)

In this context, the Mueller investigation, and Mr. Trump’s actions as a candidate and as president form a continuum across time and are not a series of discreet events.

It is hard to adequately convey how difficult the decision to do this is.  For the Department of Justice (DOJ), that would have to approve the FBI investigation at its highest level, to sign off on it, would indicate that there is or was extraordinary evidence that something was amiss.  This would be no routine investigation.

Apparently, the FBI became so alarmed at Mr. Trump’s actions that it appeared he was acting on behalf of a foreign power.  They knew that a “normal” president would not talk or act as he was, specifically with respect to Russia and Vladimir Putin, and could only explain it by the concern that he must be under the influence of a foreign power.  In other words, they thought the president could be a Russian agent.  No movie studio would make this movie.  Too preposterous.

To be clear, to be a Russian agent does not necessarily mean that the individual was trained in Russia or by Russians, or even that he was directly controlled by a Russian case agent.  As former CIA Director John Brennan said in testimony to Congress, such people can be “wittingly or unwittingly” agents of a foreign power.  I do not know and cannot make a good guess as to whether Mr. Trump is or is not knowingly a Russian agent.  But I do know that he is acting to further the Russian agenda over the best interests of the United States.

Keep in mind, Mr. Putin was a career KGB agent who attained the rank of Colonel before the end of the Cold War.  He knows what he is doing.

This is scary, mind-blowing, and a conundrum.  Our system of government is based on the premise that the president is above reproach when it comes to national security. One may disagree on specific policy decisions, but we must assume that presidents are doing what they believe are in the best interests of the United States, not a foreign adversary. The president is the final arbiter of military, intelligence, and foreign policy issues.  How do intelligence agencies or law enforcement agencies or the counter intelligence arms of various government agencies deal with an individual who, while under investigation, can over turn, hinder or evade those investigations?  And how should they be held to account?  If by definition the president is the lead diplomat for our country, how can he be wrong?  There are many implications and questions that arise when one starts thinking about our president as a Russian agent.  My head hurts.

Keep in mind that counter intelligence agents are some of the most peculiar people one will ever meet.  Thinking about their job, they are suspicious about everyone and everything that does not fit their mold of the “normal.”  Conspiracies lurk everywhere.  None-the-less, there must have been sufficient reasons to open this investigation or it would never have happened.  They do not investigate the president for the fun of it or for political reasons.  They just do not.  Yes, paranoia runs deep.  Into your life it will creep.  (With apologies to Buffalo Springfield.)  You are not paranoid if it is true.

The possibility gains traction through documented reports that Mr. Trump met one-on-one with Mr. Putin five different times over the last two years with only interpreters in the room.  He then collected the interpreters notes and refused to share what was said with anyone else in the government. Two particularly troubling meetings were the one in Helsinki last summer and an unscheduled meeting at a G-20 dinner in Hamburg Germany where only the Russian interpreter was present. (I have written about these meetings before. I was especially alarmed by the meeting in Germany.)  Rest assured the Russians know what was discussed and agreed to, but not those in the highest levels of our own government.

In my view, the most likely foundation to this arrangement rests on sanctions.  The Russians want them lifted and so does the Trump Organization.  The Russians were heavily sanctioned following their annexation of Crimea and it is hurting their economy.  They want them gone.  The sanctions were the genesis of the 2016 Trump Tower meeting with Russian representatives to get “dirt” on Hillary Clinton.  When you hear “Magnitsky Act” think sanctions.  The Russians want them removed.  Now.  Mr. Trump wants them lifted because following his many bankruptcies, nearly all his money came from Russia. The banks that produced the loans are subject to the sanctions. Continued sanctions means no big money for Trump Org.  Additionally, it is well know that Mr. Trump’s business Holy Grail is to put his name on a Trump Tower Moscow.

My view is that of many possible explanations, the simplest is that Mr. Trump wants to do business in Russia when he leaves office and is willing to bargain with Mr. Putin to get the access.  What other evidence exists?

Let’s look at some of the president’s actions and words.  This list is not exhaustive but representative.

  • As the Republican nominee he had the Republican National Committee 2016 platform changed regarding Ukraine in order to mirror Russian claims and interests.
  • At every opportunity he incessantly praises Mr. Putin which validates Mr. Putin’s self-proclaimed status, empowers him at home, and comes at the expense of our allies and friends.
  • The primary goal of Mr. Putin is to splinter the Western Alliance so that Russia can fill the void and return to the glory days — as Mr. Putin sees it — of the Soviet Union.  Mr Trump aids that goal in many ways.
    • He launches personal and political attacks against the leaders of Germany, the United Kingdom, France, and others.  He belittles lesser members of the European Union (EU) and NATO.
    • He supports Brexit (The UK departure from the EU) which currently has the UK in turmoil.  This weakens the EU and contributes to chaos in the internal affairs of a key ally.  That internal chaos distracts a force for good and takes a staunch opponent of Russia off of the world stage.
    • When asked in a 2018 interview to name the U.S. “biggest foe globally right now,” Mr. Trump  responded “I think the European Union is a foe.”  The EU contains our closest allies.  The interview was just before he met with Mr. Putin in Helsinki.
    • He continually belittles NATO in public.  It is apparent he does not know how funding for NATO works.  He apparently also does not know that the only time Article V of NATO was invoked (an attack on one nation is an attack on all) was following the terrorist attack in September 2001.  NATO troops have been in Afghanistan from the beginning of the conflict and remain there.  It has been widely reported that Mr. Trump continually pushed his senior aids throughout 2018 to have the U.S. withdraw from NATO.  Such an action would be Mr. Putin’s wildest dream come true.
  • He continually denies that Russia interfered with the U.S. 2016 election. He continually takes Mr. Putin’s word that Russia did not interfere over the facts presented by the entire U.S. intelligence community. Among his justification for taking Mr. Putin’s word is the newly reported reasoning for doing so, including this remarkable quote.  Mr. Trump “said that he raised the election hacking three times and that Mr. Putin denied involvement. But he said Mr. Putin also told him that ‘if we did, we wouldn’t have gotten caught because we’re professionals.’ Mr. Trump said: ‘I thought that was a good point because they are some of the best in the world’ at hacking.”
  • He pushed to have Russia rejoin the G-7 (it was previously the G-8).  The Russians  were expelled following their annexation of Crimea.  Mr. Trump said that he thinks that the punishment is too severe for that act.
  • At the 2018 G-7 summit Mr. Trump opined that of course Crimea belongs to Russia because “they all speak Russian.”  This put fear into the hearts of our Baltic, and NATO, allies that were once part of the Soviet Union and have a large Russian ethnic population.
  • Following the March 2018 poisoning in the UK of the Skirpals, former Russian agents that went over to the West, he said that there was no evidence to support the UK Prime Minister’s denunciations of Russia for an attack on British soil.
  • Last December he called for U.S. troops to withdraw from Syria “now” and turn it over to the Russians.  This is a long-standing goal of the Russians so that they can increase their influence in the Middle East and gain a military presence in the region.
  • He often spouts Russian talking points (propaganda).  The most recent instance was his spontaneous and out of the blue discourse on the Soviet Union, their presence in Afghanistan, and a revisionist history of their reasons for invading. (This was the subject of a recent post in this space, explaining how this promotes Mr. Putin’s view of the restoration of the Soviet empire.)

And so on.  Some big, some small, but all consistent in their praise of Russia and in pushing the Russian agenda.

So, what to think?  Is our president a Russian agent, whether wittingly or unwittingly?  I sincerely hope that the Mueller investigation addresses this issue clearly, either to confirm it or to debunk it.  From where I sit today, and from all that we have seen of Mr. Trump in the last three years, I think it likely.  It is most likely in the nature of long-standing business and other money schemes between Russian oligarchs and Mr. Trump and his family.  That would be in keeping with what we know about him and what he says himself.  With him, no matter the subject, it is all about the money.  Period.

Should this be true, I have no idea how it will be resolved.  It is beyond comprehension.  The President of the United States works for Russia.  Incredible.

The only thing that is clear to me is that Mr. Mueller needs to get the results of his investigation into the open as soon as possible.  I know that he is being meticulous, as he should be.  However, if this is even only a little bit true, our nation is in danger.  We need to know and we need to know before something truly awful happens.  And if it isn’t true, we need to know that as well so that we can move on without distraction to addressing the complex issues that we know await us in 2019

 


A Change To This Blog

With this post, you should see a change in the presentation of this blog.  In reviewing recent posts, it seemed to me that the advertisements — for which I got no compensation — were overwhelming the content.  That should change as of today.

You as a reader do not need to take any action.  You should continue to receive new posts as before.

Thank you for reading and for your comments.


Where Are The Pesos?

(With a bow in the direction of Steve Schmidt, the former campaign manager for Senator John McCain’s presidential bid, for the title.)

Last night the president gave a speech to the nation about the alleged crisis on our southern border.  Lots of figures and statistics continue to be thrown around to support the president’s desire to build a wall.  Most are misleading or purposely distorted in order to support his campaign pledge.  Whether you support the wall or not, here are the facts provided by Mr. Trump’s own administration and other independent sources.  We can disagree on the best way to provide border security, but it should be a fact based discussion.  With the emotion removed it becomes a different situation.

  • Mexico will not pay for the wall.  Claims that the new U.S., Mexico, Canada trade agreement (NAFTA by any other name with a few improvements) will result in Mexico “essentially” paying for it is false.  Whether or not the new agreement changes the balance of trade between the U.S. and Mexico, that money does not go into the U.S. Treasury.  And the U.S. Senate has yet to take up the new agreement so it is not in force.  No time-table for ratification is set.
  • 800,000 American federal workers are out of a pay check come Friday.  There are hundreds of thousands of more American workers without pay checks that support the Federal government or that provide services to the government that are without pay checks and will not get back pay.
  • Claims that the number of migrants crossing the border are unprecedented are wrong.  According to the U.S. Border Patrol, there were 303,916 apprehensions at the border in 2017.  That is the lowest in 45 years.  In 2018 there were 396,579.  A slight increase, but significantly lower than the 1.6 million apprehended in 2000.
  • The southern border is not the primary way that undocumented immigrants enter the country.  According to the Department of Homeland Security, in 2017, 606,926 people were in the country illegally by over staying their visas.  That is roughly twice the number from the southern border.  101,281 of those who did not leave when their visa expired were from Canada.
  • According to the U.S. State Department, “there was no credible evidence indicating that international terrorist groups have established bases in Mexico, worked with Mexican drug cartels, or sent operatives via Mexico into the United States.”
  • According to the U.S. government, in 2017, 2,554 official encounters in the U.S. occurred with people on the terrorist watch list (which does not mean they are terrorists as it is often a case of mismatched names or other glitches).  Of those, 2,170 attempted to enter through airports.  NBC news reports, based on a DHS report to Congress, that the “roughly 4,000” terrorists cited by Trump Administration officials that were stopped were from around the world, not at the southern border.  This includes stopping some before they get on an airplane overseas.  Again this refers to people on the watch list, not necessarily actual terrorists.  In the first half of 2018 exactly six immigrants were stopped at the southern border for being on the list.  In the same time frame, forty-one were stopped at the Canadian border.
  • Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) personnel deported 5,872 suspected gang members in 2018.  ICE does not break down which gangs these people belong to so it is impossible to know how many belong to MS-13.  Additionally, some of those in the mix that were deported were not actually members of gangs.  It is likely that the number of MS-13 gang-bangers arrested by ICE is in the hundreds.  The total number of gang members deported in 2018 is less than one percent of those entering legally and then staying in the country illegally.
  • Any murder or rape is a tragedy.  Keep in mind that statistics consistently show that immigrants — legal or illegal — are far less likely to break the law than those born in the United States.
  • According to the Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA) about 90% of the heroin entering the U.S. comes through Mexico.  Frankly, no one knows exactly how much enters the country each year.  However, DEA reports that the very large majority of it comes through legal ports of entry by land, sea and air.
  • The vast majority of non-U.S. citizens attempting to enter the U.S. do so at legal ports of entry.  Under U.S. and international law, those seeking asylum must be taken at their word that they are in danger of their lives, or persecution in their native lands until a hearing is held to adjudicate their claim.  Not everyone crossing the southern border seeking asylum is granted it.  Current administrative processes at the border result in extremely long wait times (it could be months) to enter through a port of entry.  This induces desperate people to try to cross illegally and then to turn themselves in to authorities.  This happens quite often and in peaceful ways.  Whether the individuals entered legally or illegally, if they ask for asylum, under the law, they must be heard.

Here is my opinion.

What is really at stake is Article I of the Constitution.  In what is known as the “vesting”clause, all legislative authority is given to the Congress, including appropriations and authorizations to spend money.  Note that it comes before Article II that gives executive power to the president.  Article III creates the judiciary.

In his first two years, Mr. Trump did not have a Congress that would put a check on his whims, desires and plans.  Now he does with Democrats controlling the House of Representatives.  On their part, the House is exercising their Constitutional power of the purse to establish that they are a co-equal branch of government and do not have to give in to the president on every issue.  Frankly, it is about time.  Missing in action is Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky) who got burned by the president’s promises in December and refuses to get involved to end the shutdown.  It is likely that in short order (a few days to a week) Republican Senators will start to come over to the Democrat’s plan and Mr. McConnell will have to bring the Democrats’ bills to the floor to again pass what they already did just before Christmas.

Remember that the bills passed by the House last week are exactly the same as those already passed by the Republican controlled Senate.  Because a new Congress was installed last week, all bills not passed by both Houses need to start over.

The government shutdown over the wall has nothing to do with border security.  All sober government officials, Republican or Democrat, support border security.  They differ on how our money and resources should be spent to protect and regulate the border.

The wall is a political stunt.  The president backed himself into a corner and when a bipartisan deal was presented to him (including the bill passed in the Senate just before Christmas), after agreeing to it, he caved to right-wing pundits and proudly proclaimed that he would own the shutdown.  That he and many of his advisers did not understand that when a shutdown goes into effect it means the government shuts down, hurting countless thousands of people across the country, is a story for another day.

Warning!  Warning!

It appears that there are three ways this situation can be resolved.  Mr. Trump caves.  The House and Senate get together and pass veto proof bills to fund the government.  Finally, Mr. Trump may follow through on his threat to declare a National Emergency, mobilize the military and use Department of Defense funds to build his wall.  This last move is that of an autocrat.  It is Despot 101.  Create a threat where one doesn’t exist, declare an emergency, mobilize the military, bypass the democratically elected legislature and take steps to curtail any opposition.

And all of it is based on a big lie.  I cannot think of a more dangerous scenario.


Absurd

Mr. Donald J. Trump held his first cabinet meeting of the year on 2 January.  In keeping with his reality show background, the meeting was televised.  The meeting was really a 90 minute monologue on just about everything that Mr. Trump stewed about over the holidays.  There were many newsworthy elements to be found in the transcript ranging from the border wall to the economy.  Many of the statements were provably wrong or misleading.  The list of falsehoods is too long to go through here.

Among the many untruths from the meeting perhaps the most troubling, at least in terms of asking oneself “where the heck did that come from?” were his comments on Afghanistan.  In a discussion about a continued U.S. military presence there, he launched into a bizarre statement full of previously unknown “facts”.  In addition to slandering our allies that have fought and died alongside US troops there he said,

“Russia is there.  Russia used to be the Soviet Union.  Afghanistan made it Russia, because they went bankrupt fighting in Afghanistan.  Russia.  So you take a look at other countries.  Pakistan is there; they should be fighting.  But Russia should be fighting.

The reason Russia was in Afghanistan was because terrorists were going into Russia.  They were right to be there.  The problem is it was a tough fight.  And literally, they went bankrupt.  They went into being called Russia again, as opposed to the Soviet Union.  You know, a lot of these places you’re reading about now are no longer a part of Russia because of Afghanistan.”

No one.  No one, on the left, the right or the respective wing nuts of either side have ever said or believed that the Russians went into Afghanistan to fight terrorists or because they had a “right” to invade them.  Bipartisan efforts during the presidencies of Jimmy Carter, Ronald Reagan, and George H.W. Bush worked to isolate and punish the USSR for that invasion.

The real reason the Soviets invaded was the Brezhnev Doctrine.  In 1968 Leonid Brezhnev as leader of the Soviet Union put forth as a basic tenet of Soviet foreign policy the right to interfere in the affairs of any communist country anywhere in the world.  The Afghan government was communist when the Soviets invaded in 1979 and they occupied the country until their withdrawal in 1989.  While true that the occupation was a drain on the Soviet military and the occupation became unpopular with the Soviet people, it did not bankrupt them or otherwise lead to the fall of the Iron Curtain.  There were numerous reasons for the fall, but Afghanistan was more of a symptom of all that was wrong with the Soviet system rather than the cause.  They definitely did not enter Afghanistan to fight “terrorists.”

Only one person is pushing the narrative that the Soviet Union had a “right” to invade Afghanistan to stop “terrorism.”  That one person is Vladimir Putin.  He is pushing a new revisionist history that is pure propaganda and is designed to restore his view of the glory of the Soviet empire in order to stoke nationalist sentiment in Russia, entrench his own power, and provide the basis for his adventurism in Ukraine, the Baltic states, and elsewhere in the hope of restoring that empire.

And now I guess there are two people pushing that line, one of which is the President of the United States.

As the Wall Street Journal put it in part in an editorial,

“Right to be there? We cannot recall a more absurd misstatement of history by an American President. The Soviet Union invaded Afghanistan with three divisions in December 1979 to prop up a fellow communist government.

The invasion was condemned throughout the non-communist world. The Soviets justified the invasion as an extension of the Brezhnev Doctrine, asserting their right to prevent countries from leaving the communist sphere. They stayed until 1989.

The Soviet invasion of Afghanistan was a defining event in the Cold War, making clear to all serious people the reality of the communist Kremlin’s threat. Mr. Trump’s cracked history can’t alter that reality.”

Is the president ignorant of history or is someone feeding him propaganda that he willingly repeats?  I am not a conspiracy theorist, but this should raise alarm bells.  Either the president really is ignorant of important world events that continue to shape international relations today, or he is willingly repeating Mr. Putin’s revisionist history meant to restore the luster of the former Soviet Union.  Either answer is deeply troubling.

What are we to make of this?  In the continued chaos of this administration it is easy to lose track of the multitude of “absurd” statements and actions coming out of the White House.  However, given the president’s propensity to support and defend all things Putin, one must ask again, “what is going on?”  The answer may be even more troubling than we can imagine.


A Life Unfulfilled

I hope that you all had a joyous holiday season and found time for renewal of body and spirit.  We attended Mass on Christmas morning at our local parish and I found it to be an oasis of calm in an otherwise stressful world.  The sense of community spirit and an appreciation that there are forces larger than all of us was the right formula for me on Christmas morning.  I experience a sense of inner peace whenever I sing along with the entire congregation and we cover the old favorites such as Silent Night, O Come All Ye Faithful, and Joy to the World.

With that in mind, I write the following literally, without ulterior motives, a sense of superiority or criticism thinly veiled.  I pity Donald J. Trump.  I do not pity him in any sense other than its intended meaning.  I feel sorry for him as a person.  His seems to be a life unfulfilled without spiritual support.

As I pondered the spirituality of Christmas — or anyone’s personal understanding of spirituality in your own context — coupled with the sense of community I realized that Mr. Trump enjoys none of that.  On Christmas Eve he filled the air waves with Tweets that ranged from plaintive, to mean, to just plain wrong.  Included in those Tweets was this phrase, “I am all alone (poor me) in the White House.”  To be sure, it was probably intended as a political slam to the Democrats in Congress who left town after Mr. Trump reneged on a deal brokered by Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky).  However, I think that there was more to it than just that.  I think he did feel lonely, alone, and bored.  Rather than reveling in the spirit of the day and the time of the season, and perhaps taking stock of his life, family and place in the world as spiritual folks are wont to do from time to time, instead he blasts out mean and insulting Tweets.  The poor man — literally in my view — has no spiritual light to guide him.

In case there was any doubt that Mr. Trump had little understanding of the moment, on Christmas morning he held a “press availability” in the Oval Office where he continued to disparage just about anyone he could think of that, in his view, was standing in his way.  He finished by saying, “It’s a disgrace what’s happening in our country.  But other than that, I wish everybody a very merry Christmas.”  (You can’t make these things up.)

I pity him because it must be difficult to go through life without any joy.  Without any sense of wonder.  Without any idea that other people care about each other for who they are rather than for what they can do for you.  There may be other people out there with the same life view, but since Mr. Trump is constantly in the bright lights of the cameras it is easy to read him.

His whole life seems to be a zero sum game.  He must believe that whenever someone else gets what they want, it is at his loss.  Therefore, one must be ruthless, never show compassion, and take what you want before others take it from you.  It is almost too easy to make comparisons to literary and movie characters that embody this same spirit, but it was suggested to me that his world view seems to be epitomized by Mr. Potter in It’s A Wonderful Life.  

Obviously I have no idea what Mr. Trump thinks or if he is a spiritual person.  From observation I would say he is not.  And that is sad.  For him.  Watching him at the service for President George H.W. Bush, Mr. Trump sang none of the hymns, read along with none of the prayers, and generally looked extremely uncomfortable in the setting of the National Cathedral.  One does not have to sing church hymns or read standardized prayers to be spiritual, but I would be surprised if Mr. Trump gives glory to God or any other force of nature.

It must be sincerely sad for an individual to go through life with no sense of joy, no compassion, no empathy for the condition of others and no sense of the things that are bigger than all of us.  To be constantly on the look out for someone trying to screw you over, trying to screw them over first, to not just “win” but to have to humiliate anyone that dares to stand in your way and on, and on, with the now well-known temperament of Mr. Trump, makes for a very sad person.  Not sad by my judgement, but sad in that he must at heart be an  individual that sees little to no good in others.  And I would guess, he therefore lacks the self-confidence and inner fortitude that comes from knowing that you are at peace with yourself.

That is why I say I pity a man who cannot find joy in the Christmas spirit or find happiness in the small things in life that help to nourish our joy, celebrate the human spirit, and provide a sense of inner peace.


That Was The Week That Was

With apologies to the old 1960’s era television show — the precursor to shows on now such as the Daily Show — That Was The Week That Was, or as it was commonly known TWTWTW, or TW3, we just experienced among the craziest weeks in recent history.  Like the Daily Show, TW3 took actual news events and gave them a “can you believe it” comical twist.  Unfortunately, there was nothing comical about this past week.  If you were busy shopping or attending holiday parties, here are the highlights of what you missed over the past seven days.  In some semblance of chronological order, of which very little exists today in this administration, they include:

  • Late last Friday night a federal judge declared the entire Affordable Care Act (ACA) unconstitutional.  The judge said that since Congress lowered the tax for the Individual Mandate to zero, they essentially repealed the tax.  In two Supreme Court decisions the ACA was ruled constitutional because of the tax — which is a right held by Congress.  Since there is now no tax, the whole law was deemed unconstitutional, ignoring the long-standing legal precedent of “severability” which means that just because one part of a contract or law is deemed to be wrong, the whole contract or law is not voided.  More on this in a future post.
  • Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke resigned from the Cabinet to avoid investigation of his actions while in office.  This now means that since the mid-term election in November, Mr. Trump has fired or accepted the “resignations” of the Attorney General, his Chief of Staff, the Ambassador to the U.N., and the Secretary of Defense.  There are still countless White House staff positions, Assistant Secretaries, and Ambassador positions yet to be filled two years into this administration.
  • It was revealed that there are currently at least 17 investigations of Mr. Trump, his organizations, and associates by at least seven different jurisdictions.  (The Special Counsel, the U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of New York, the U.S. Attorney for  the District of Columbia, the U.S. Attorney for the Eastern District of Virginia, Attorneys General from New York City, New York State and other states, and a “mystery” investigation that is under court seal.)
  • Two independent studies reported to the Senate Intelligence Committee that the Russians’ involvement in social media and efforts to help Mr. Trump and to hurt Secretary Clinton were more widespread than previously understood.  It continued well after the election and shifted focus to undermining Special Counsel Robert Mueller and his investigation of Mr. Trump.  In particular, the Russians took actions to suppress the minority vote.  Since Mr. Trump won the Electoral College by a total of approximately 80,000 votes spread across the three states of Pennsylvania, Wisconsin and Michigan it is probable, but not provable, that their actions changed the election.
  • General Michael Flynn arrived for sentencing thinking that he would get probation.  Judge Emmet Sullivan disabused him of that perception and threatened to lock him up.  “I am not hiding my disgust, my disdain, for this criminal offense,” said the judge.  Keep in mind that the judge has seen the redacted parts of the case that detail the full extent of the former National Security Adviser’s role in the campaign, transition and administration.  The sentencing was postponed for 90 days to give General Flynn another chance to cooperate with the investigation.  (Hint. Hint.)
  • In an ongoing civil suit in New York State, the Attorney General of New York attained a court order for the Trump Foundation to shut down.  The Foundation will distribute its remaining funds under court supervision.  The suit continues.  The N.Y Attorney General argued that the Foundation was little more than a slush fund for Mr. Trump, the Trump Organization and the Trump campaign.  All illegal activities.
  • Acting Attorney General Whitaker refuses to recuse himself.  The senior career ethics professional in the Department of Justice told the Acting A.G. that he should recuse himself from the Mueller Investigation.  Mr. Whitaker decided not to do so.  Remember that A.G. Sessions forever will feel the wrath of Mr. Trump for having rightly recused himself last year following the appointment of the Special Counsel.
  • The president unilaterally announced the withdrawal of U.S. forces from Syria within 30 days. On Twitter. He further ordered that plans be drawn up to withdraw most if not all of our forces from Afghanistan.  This decision was met with great joy and celebration in Russia, Iran, and by Syria’s despotic ruler.  It takes the U.S. out of any significant role in the future of the Middle East and sends a message to our friends and allies that we cannot be trusted.  The Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) are the Kurds.  Through U.S. training, equipping and our Special Forces fighting alongside, they have become the most effective fighting force in Syria and were our partners in driving ISIS out of the cities.  We are now throwing them under the bus.  The Turkish government (along with Iran) does not want the Kurds to be a strong entity in the region and indeed the Turks are planning to attack them as soon as we leave.  Likewise negotiations to end the conflict in Afghanistan are now in jeopardy because the president wants us to leave.  All of our opponents now know to just wait us out.  We have lost all credibility in much of the world, but especially in Asia.  We also undermine Israel with this decision as the Syrians, Iranians, and Hezbollah and others can now consolidate their power, gain new territory and not worry about a U.S. presence in the area.  This is a dream come true for Vladimir Putin.
  • The president agreed to a Continuing Resolution to keep the government open until 8 February, the Senate unanimously voted to approve it and then he changed his mind and refused to go along unless he got at least $5 billion for a border wall.  Ironically the approximately 800,00 federal personnel that will be impacted are significantly represented by TSA agents, Border Patrol agents, Coast Guardsmen (the Coast Guard is not part of the Defense Department but falls under the Department of Home Land Security) and others charged with keeping our borders safe.  They will keep working but not get paid until the budget bill passes. For those that have mortgages, Christmas presents to buy, groceries to feed their family and other obligations, getting paid sometime in the future is not helpful to their current situations.  Mr. Trump promises a “very long shutdown” if he doesn’t get his way.  Remarkably, Representative Mark Meadows (Trump-NC) said that federal employees knew what they were getting into.  “It’s actually part of what you do when you sign up for any public service position.”  (Someone should tell Mr. Meadows that a well-run government does not shut down.  Furthermore, the Republicans have controlled the House, Senate and White House for two years.  Apparently that isn’t enough time to, you know, do your job and pass a budget.)
  • Secretary of Defense James Mattis resigned.  Take a look at his resignation letter here.  Those familiar with the way such things normally work, Secretary Mattis’ letter is a direct rebuke of Mr. Trump and his policies and his leadership.  Through the eloquent and gentlemanly language, the Secretary basically tells Mr. Trump that he is full of it and an anathema to all that the United States stood for, for over seventy years.  This is unprecedented in modern times.
  • The stock market is on track to have the worst December on record since 1931 and the Great Depression.  The reasons are varied but include the uncertainty created by Mr. Trump and his impulsive policy decisions, especially regarding trade and tariffs.

These are only the quick highlights.  And only one week’s worth of news is listed here.  In “normal” times this much activity in a month would be noteworthy.

Much of this will play out over the next few weeks and months.  I am sure we will all have plenty to say about it as events unfold.  Right now I want to emphasize what much of this means to us with respect to national security and foreign affairs.

Mr. Trump campaigned on an “America First” agenda.  Nice slogan.  As has been pointed out by many, this was also the slogan of the fascist leaning, isolationist wing of American politicians in the 1930s that refused to oppose the rise of Hitler and Mussolini.  I am not hinting that Mr. Trump is a fascist sympathizer, I am merely pointing out that there are historical roots to the thoughts, and policies he espouses.

Given Mr. Trump’s use of hyperbole in everything that he does, many thought that “America First” was just a catchy phrase that he liked.  What is becoming increasingly clear is that the words are more than a slogan.  He believes them in the sense that it governs his views on trade, national security, military action and our role in the world.  It is reflected in his decisions (against nearly unanimous caution not to do so) to withdraw from Syria and Afghanistan, his decisions to impose tariffs, and his desire to build a wall on the southern border.  It is an entirely isolationist, transactional way of thinking.  In this way of thinking we do not help or stand by allies unless there is something tangible in it for us — in Mr. Trump’s view, money.

This way of thinking is dangerous — to the interests of the United States and to peace and stability in the world.  It cedes the playing field to Russia and China who are more than happy to fill the void.

Re-read Secretary Mattis’ resignation letter. He resigned because of those “America First” policies.  This is what he is not so subtly saying.  Mr. Trump is a danger to all that we as a country have held dear for over 70 years and a danger to the influence and power for good that the world used to count upon from the good old U.S. of A. Not anymore.

Expect it to get worse as Mr. Trump has systematically removed all of those in his administration that were not afraid to tell him “no” and stood against his misguided plans.  The president acts impulsively and erratically and it seems that with two years of data, we now know that his instincts are either no good, or his knowledge of the world is sorely inadequate.

We are fast approaching a time where the United States government is run like the Trump Organization.  It will be in the hands of Mr. Trump, his daughter and son-in-law.  Period.

Likewise, the world — our friends and allies as well as our enemies — now know that the president is weak and ill-informed.  The decision to leave Syria proves it to them.  The icing on the cake was his decision to cave to the whining from hard-core right-wing pundits on television calling him out on not shutting down the government over his wall.  It makes Mr. Trump look scared of losing his base and gives power to the likes of Ann Coulter, Laura Ingraham and Rush Limbaugh.  Along with Sean Hannity, those apparently are his real cabinet.

On the other hand, this is a season of great joy!  Celebrate with friends and family.  Remember that we are all God’s children and enjoy the gift of life.  For a few days, we can put aside the worries of the secular world and revel in the power of the spiritual world.

Best wishes to all.


American Values For Sale

While many of us were busy with family and friends during the Thanksgiving weekend, spending time appreciating what we have and treasuring the value of those around us, the President of the United States took no time off from his argumentative, derisive, self-centered approach to his office.  Whether in the White House or at his gold-plated palace at Mar-a-Lago, he hit on topics wide and far.  He raged against the independent judiciary, taking on Chief Justice John Roberts in the process, he stated that no one should worry about the troops on the Mexican border missing Thanksgiving with their families, and many topics in between.  His most troubling comments came last Tuesday when he released a statement about the U.S. relationship with Saudi Arabia and the brutal murder and dismemberment of U.S. resident and Washington Post reporter Jamal Khashoggi.

As you remember, Mr. Khassoggi was lured into the Saudi Embassy in Turkey and tortured, murdered and dismembered by a hit squad sent to do the deed by the de facto head of the Saudi government Mohammad Bin Salman, commonly called MBS by those that want him to be a positive factor in the future development of Saudi Arabia.  Those that know the truth know that he is a reckless and ruthless autocrat bent on solidifying his own power as the Crown Prince in order to ensure that he has complete domination as the future king of Saudi Arabia.

Released on White House letterhead, this is the complete transcript of the statement, a statement that could only have been written by the president himself given the syntax, grammar and punctuation therein.  We would be lucky if it only exhibited poor writing skills, but instead it runs counter to everything the United States stands for during the last seventy years or more.

America First!

The world is a very dangerous place!

The country of Iran, as an example, is responsible for a bloody proxy war against Saudi Arabia in Yemen, trying to destabilize Iraq’s fragile attempt at democracy, supporting the terror group Hezbollah in Lebanon, propping up dictator Bashar Assad in Syria (who has killed millions of his own citizens), and much more. Likewise, the Iranians have killed many Americans and other innocent people throughout the Middle East. Iran states openly, and with great force, “Death to America!” and “Death to Israel!” Iran is considered “the world’s leading sponsor of terror.”

On the other hand, Saudi Arabia would gladly withdraw from Yemen if the Iranians would agree to leave. They would immediately provide desperately needed humanitarian assistance. Additionally, Saudi Arabia has agreed to spend billions of dollars in leading the fight against Radical Islamic Terrorism.

After my heavily negotiated trip to Saudi Arabia last year, the Kingdom agreed to spend and invest $450 billion in the United States. This is a record amount of money. It will create hundreds of thousands of jobs, tremendous economic development, and much additional wealth for the United States. Of the $450 billion, $110 billion will be spent on the purchase of military equipment from Boeing, Lockheed Martin, Raytheon and many other great U.S. defense contractors. If we foolishly cancel these contracts, Russia and China would be the enormous beneficiaries – and very happy to acquire all of this newfound business. It would be a wonderful gift to them directly from the United States!

The crime against Jamal Khashoggi was a terrible one, and one that our country does not condone. Indeed, we have taken strong action against those already known to have participated in the murder. After great independent research, we now know many details of this horrible crime. We have already sanctioned 17 Saudis known to have been involved in the murder of Mr. Khashoggi, and the disposal of his body.

Representatives of Saudi Arabia say that Jamal Khashoggi was an “enemy of the state” and a member of the Muslim Brotherhood, but my decision is in no way based on that – this is an unacceptable and horrible crime. King Salman and Crown Prince Mohammad bin Salman vigorously deny any knowledge of the planning or execution of the murder of Mr. Khashoggi. Our intelligence agencies continue to assess all information, but it could very well be that the Crown Prince had knowledge of this tragic event – maybe he did and maybe he didn’t!

That being said, we may never know all of the facts surrounding the murder of Mr. Jamal Khashoggi. In any case, our relationship is with the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia. They have been a great ally in our very important fight against Iran. The United States intends to remain a steadfast partner of Saudi Arabia to ensure the interests of our country, Israel and all other partners in the region. It is our paramount goal to fully eliminate the threat of terrorism throughout the world!

I understand there are members of Congress who, for political or other reasons, would like to go in a different direction – and they are free to do so. I will consider whatever ideas are presented to me, but only if they are consistent with the absolute security and safety of America. After the United States, Saudi Arabia is the largest oil producing nation in the world. They have worked closely with us and have been very responsive to my requests to keeping oil prices at reasonable levels – so important for the world. As President of the United States I intend to ensure that, in a very dangerous world, America is pursuing its national interests and vigorously contesting countries that wish to do us harm. Very simply it is called America First!

There is so much wrong, facts as well as policy, that it is difficult to know where to start.  Let’s start at what should have been the beginning, the death of Jamal Khassoggi.  Instead of starting with that fact, he does not address his brutal murder until the fourth paragraph, coming even after he has to congratulate himself on his trip to Saudi Arabia.  To add injury to insult, he repeats the canard that Mr. Khassoggi was “an enemy of the state and a member of the Muslim Brotherhood.”  Even the Saudi government did not state that he was, after a trial balloon using that as a mitigating factor was vehemently denounced by multiple countries around the world.  Mr. Trump brings it in as if it was some acceptable reason for murder.  One of the president’s typical tricks.  He paints someone negatively and then denies doing so saying that he didn’t say that, they did.

Even more troubling is Mr. Trump’s denouncing the American media as the “enemy of the people” and then using the term “enemy of the state” to describe a murdered journalist.  No subtlety there, Mr. Trump just gave every dictator and two-bit autocrat in the world the green light to eliminate any journalist that they designate as an “enemy.”

As I and countless others have pointed out, the president grossly exaggerates the so-called “record amount of money” the Saudis will spend and invest in the United States.  So far the Saudis only committed to spending about 14 billion dollars for a missile defense system.  The other “hundreds of billions” of purchases and investments are only possibilities, ideas or something for an unspecified future.  There is nothing on paper to justify the claims made by the president.  Certainly, there is nothing to support the claim that any of it will “create hundreds of thousands of jobs.”  The idea that the Saudis would spend that money buying Chinese or Russian goods and military equipment is, in a word, preposterous.  Since World War II the Saudis sought out and continue to use U.S. training, equipment, spare parts, ammunition and logistical support for their military.  They can not and would not turn to any other country over night to spend money on military items.

Once again for the record, Mr. Trump seems to be influenced by no other world events since the 1973 oil embargo when it comes to assessing the impact of Saudi oil on the market.  The U.S. is a larger producer of oil than Saudi Arabia (thanks to fracking and shale oil, but that’s another story).  The entire Saudi economy (and all of those claimed purchases and investments in the U.S.) depend on oil.  They can impact prices, but not to the extent that Mr. Trump claims.  Indeed the crown jewel of ARAMCO refineries, the national Saudi oil company, is in the United States in Port Arthur, Texas.  Would they really cut off oil shipments to their own refinery?  (The products from the refinery ship to many places in the world, not just the United States.)  And oh by the way, the Saudis do not work “closely with us and have been very responsive to my requests to keeping oil prices at reasonable levels – so important for the world.”  They do what is best for them.  Lower oil prices right now, according to economic analysts, are due primarily because the impact of the embargo on Iran was minimal (its oil is still mostly on the market), the world economy has not expanded as quickly as expected and thus demand is lower, and other economic reasons, not Mr. Trump’s relations with the Saudis.

I could go on and on debunking the myths and out right lies in Mr. Trump’s statement.  You get the idea.  Here is the worst part in my opinion.  The President of the United States clearly states that “it could very well be that the Crown Prince had knowledge of this tragic event” but that it doesn’t matter to the president because their money and the price of oil is more important than upholding human rights, American values and freedom of the press.  Yet another signal to any dictator or would be autocrat that not only will we allow journalists to be killed if they are an “enemy of the state” but that if you pay us enough money, we’ll look the other way.  Unbelievably, the president finishes his statement by saying “maybe he did, and maybe he didn’t!” (are we in the fifth grade?).  In other words, it just doesn’t matter.

Anyone that reads the paper and follows this story knows that the preponderance of evidence is that Mr. Khassoggi was murdered and that the Central Intelligence Agency of the United States calculates that there is the highest probability that the Crown Prince was behind the entire sordid affair.  (That is about as close as the CIA will come to saying he all but dismembered the guy himself.)  Not to worry.  Mr. Trump assures us that he personally talked to the Crown Prince and to the King and that they “vigorously deny any knowledge of the planning or execution of the murder.”  Just as he accepted President Vladimir Putin’s vigorous denial that Russia interfered with the 2016 election, despite the conclusion of the entire intelligence community of the United States.

Once again, as happens in case after case after case with Mr. Trump, he refuses to believe what he does not want to believe and will look for any out available be it an opinion expressed on Fox News, a piece on an alt-right blog, or “the word” of ruthless dictators and autocrats.  Merely deny any wrong doing and the best intelligence agency in the world cannot convince him of anything else.  If one doubts that words have consequences when spoken by the president, consider that Mr. Trump continually belittled U.S. intelligence agencies because they were wrong about WMD in Iraq in 2002.  This weekend the Foreign Minister of Saudi Arabia used that same argument to say that the CIA’s conclusion that the Crown Prince was involved in murder was wrong.

The real reason Mr. Trump will not come down hard on Saudi Arabia and especially the Crown Prince is because he likes them.  More accurately, he liked the way that they played him during his visit to Riyadh and treated him, literally, like visiting royalty.  He has a misguided view of the Saudi ability, or desire, to help solve the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.  They can act as a counter weight to Iran, but not without U.S. backing which could suck us into a war that we do not want.  In particular, Mr. Trump frequently expressed his appreciation to the Saudis for bailing him out of one of his many bankruptcies.  Likewise his son-in-law Jared Kushner has particularly close ties with the Crown Prince and his company was also intimately involved with Saudi bail outs in the past.

Make no mistake about it.  I am not advocating for breaking diplomatic or military ties with Saudi Arabia.  The world is indeed a dangerous place and we should use all assets at our disposal to promote our national security interests.  That said, Mr. Trump speaks as if the Saudis hold all of the cards.  They do not.  We have vastly more leverage over them than the other way around if Mr. Trump had the ability to utilize the advantage.  He either chooses not do so (because of his personal financial ties?) or is lost in the 70’s with a misguided view of the world, or he is incompetent.

There are numerous ways to make clear our disgust and dissatisfaction with Mr. Khassoggi’s murder.  Here are only a few examples of actions we could take:

  • Sanction the Crown Prince or parts of his world-wide investments and hurt him where it counts.  The 17 Saudis Mr. Trump says we sanctioned include 15 relatively low-level security (hit?) men.  Those assessed by the CIA as primarily responsible for ordering the murder are not sanctioned.
  • Stop supplying the Saudi military in Yemen.  The U.S. is providing assistance that, should it be with held, would severely limit their ability to continue the war in Yemen.  The United Nations assesses the situation in Yemen as the biggest humanitarian crisis taking place in the world.  Their calculations indicate that roughly 85,000 young children have died of hunger during the war.  About 2 million are homeless.  22 million are in need of assistance, especially food.  1.1 million suffer from diarrhea and cholera.  The war is portrayed as a proxy war with Iran to stop Islamic terrorism but in fact, Mohammad Bin Salman intervened in a civil war for his own purposes.  Iran supports the opposition but the Saudi involvement is far larger, bloodier and indiscriminate in hitting civilian targets.
  • Push Mohammad to actually get involved in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and take concrete steps to help the Palestinians form a functioning government and offer substantive proposals for resolving the situation.  Put some of that oil money to use providing for investment in the West Bank and to raise the average Palestinian out of the depths of poverty.  (Fun fact:  Many mid-level to upper-level bureaucrats in Arab countries are of Palestinian heritage.  They make the countries run.  The Arabs have no desire to resolve the situation because it is a convenient scapegoat for distracting their own people by providing a cause to rally around and to continue to rant against Israel.)
  • Stop the Saudi economic and diplomatic attacks on Qatar.  (The headquarters for U.S. forces in the region are in Qatar and it is the location of the largest U.S. air base in the region.  Mr. Trump supports the Saudi assault on the integrity of Qatar.)
  • Stop Mohammad from meddling in Lebanon.  (Last year he kidnapped the Prime Minister of Lebanon while he was in Saudi Arabia, forced him to resign and held him hostage until world diplomatic pressure caused his release.  Theoretically this was to put pressure on Iran and to lessen the influence of Hezbollah in Lebanon.)

These are but a few ideas off the top of my head.  I am sure the regional experts at the State Department and CIA could come up with many more.  Instead, the United States capitulated lock, stock and barrel to the murderous whims of a 33-year-old autocrat in the Middle East.

The president’s statement is really “Saudi Arabia First!”  Bipartisan efforts in the Senate to make Saudi Arabia feel the pain are talked about, but only time will tell if they can get a bill together during the lame duck session coming up given all the rest of the issues they have to deal with in the interim.  Realistically, it could be months before the Congress takes action, if at all.  Meanwhile, the Crown Prince goes his merry way having learned the lesson that he can con Mr. Trump out of anything with a little flattery and some money.

The President of the United States betrayed American values.  He pretends that the facts are unknowable but asserts that they are irrelevant in any case.  He bases his decision on a widely discredited claim that they are spending hundreds of billions of dollars in the U.S. and keeping oil prices low, when in fact, the Saudis are espousing a cut in their oil production in order to try to increase prices.  He disparages the victim by falsely hinting that he was a member of some terrorist network, a claim originally floated by Mohammad in a phone call to the White House and then denied when the world condemned the allegation as totally false.  (Parts of Mr. Trump’s statement were clearly word for word restatements of things the Saudi Crown Prince told him.)  He belittles and ignores the best analysis by his own intelligence agencies.  He shows the worst of his talents and little disposition to take appropriate actions if it does not meet his personal needs, desires and perceptions.  Again, Mr. Trump demonstrates that under his leadership, the United States is weak.

In short, Mr. Trump sold out the United States and our values.  Dictators and autocrats around the world now know that they can kill journalists with impunity if they flatter the president and pay enough money.

The United States is fast losing its place in the world as a leader.  Congress must act to rectify this situation and to set the standard that we will not forsake our values or place in the world for a few dollars more.