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.

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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.”


The Tumbling Tumbleweed

Yesterday the Trump Administration put a six month limit on the continued use of the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) policy that was in effect for roughly the last five years.  This is the order that allowed undocumented immigrants brought here as children, with no say in the matter, to stay in the United States as long as they met certain criteria.  You may know the recipients of this policy as Dreamers, which came from the Congressional DREAM Act (Development, Relief, and Education for Alien Minors Act) which is legislation proposed in Congress in various forms since 2001 with chances of passage in either the House or the Senate, but never both at the same time.  After the last failure, President Obama in 2012 put the DACA into practice.  The criteria for being designated as a Dreamer are as follows, although under the policy, meeting these criteria does not automatically qualify the applicant as a Dreamer.  They had to:

  • Come to the United States before their 16th birthday
  • Live continuously in the United States since June 15, 2007
  • Be under age 31 on June 15, 2012 (i.e., born on June 16, 1981 or after)
  • Be physically present in the United States on June 15, 2012, and at the time of making their request for consideration of deferred action with US Custom and Immigration Service
  • Have no lawful status on June 15, 2012
  • Have completed high school or have a certified GED or have an honorable discharge from the Armed Forces or be enrolled in school
  • Have no convictions of a felony or serious misdemeanors, or three or more other misdemeanors, and not otherwise pose a threat to national security or public safety.

It is estimated that there are approximately 800,000 registered Dreamers in the United States.

“Registered” could be a problem because they were promised no retribution if they came in out of the shadows and became useful members of society.  How many are now waiting for the knock on the door that they thought would not be of concern to them?  The talking points distributed by the Administration includes this advice to the Dreamers.

The Department of Homeland Security urges DACA recipients to use the time remaining on their work authorizations to prepare for and arrange their departure from the United States — including proactively seeking travel documentation — or to apply for other immigration benefits for which they may be eligible.

No worries.  They will just go back to a country where they probably know no one and do not even speak the language.  Sure.

There is much ado about how “conflicted” Mr. Trump is about this decision because he wants to follow the rule of law and yet he has “great heart” and “loves” the Dreamers.  Just ask him.  His administration portrayed the decision as a moral dilemma.  Hogwash.  Mr. Trump has about as good of a moral compass as a tumbleweed.  Over time, Mr. Trump has had as many moral and political positions on the widest variety of issues as anyone known to have achieved elected office.  You name a position, and he has had it at one time or another, including on Dreamers.

Mr. Trump is not conflicted over moral decisions.  He is only conflicted in terms of what gives him the best political outcome.  In this case, he got himself into a dilemma because there is no good political outcome.  All he cares about is “winning” and not what the impact of the policy might be.  Follow his argument in the ensuing paragraphs and see how circuitous and illogical it actually turns out to be.

His primary purpose for announcing this change in policy now, under less than optimal circumstances given the need before the end of September to raise the debt limit, pass a budget, provide aid to the victims of Hurricane Harvey, deal with the crisis in North Korea, and prepare for what looks to be another major crisis from Hurricane Irma, to name just a few things hanging over our heads, is to satisfy the hard-liners in his base — which continues to shrink.  Arguably, on this issue he is not even following his base.  Most polls show that about 75% of Americans approve of DACA and only about 15% say the Dreamers should be deported.  Of Trump supporters only 25% say the Dreamers should be deported and about 70% think that DACA should stay in place.

Mr. Trump’s motivation is only and purely political. Yesterday, he showed that he does not have the fortitude to stand by the tough calls.  We all know his penchant for the big show and, as he calls them “ratings.”  So here is a big “tell” — he was nowhere to be found when the announcement that DACA would end was made by Attorney General Jeff Sessions.  The Attorney General took no questions from the press after the announcement.  Mr. Trump demonstrated no sense of responsibility for his decision, even as his press secretary constantly turned all questions to Congress and away from Mr. Trump.

There was no moral dilemma for Mr. Trump.  I would say there never is one that impacts his thinking, but I digress.  Instead of addressing the issue, he passed it to Congress in a very Pontius Pilate kind of way.  He washes his hands of it.  If in six months there is no new DREAM Act or something like it, then it is not his fault.  Oh by the way, Mr. Trump gave absolutely no guidance to Congress as to what kind of bill it should be, what he wants to see (or not see) in it, and what problems it should solve.  No guidance whatsoever.  Like many issues, he provided no leadership on the issue.  I suppose as with health care legislation, “I am sitting with pen in hand” to sign a bill.  Any bill.  We are winning.  If nothing passes it is not his fault.  If it does pass he will be the first to proclaim that he solved the problem.  A huge problem.

Mr. Trump cannot take the lead on solving the Dreamer problem because if he does, it will undermine the entire basis of his campaign and post-election rhetoric.  His demagoguery is based on the argument that immigrants are stealing jobs.  But he suspected, and now knows, that there will be a big backlash to heartlessly tossing out young people that are Americans in every way except on paper. Mr. Trump needs to prop up his campaign lies (fact checkers now have him at 1,114 false or misleading statements in the first 227 days of his administration) that deportation helps US jobs.

He rose to prominence as an anti-immigrant fear monger, starting with the despicable “Birther Movement” claiming President Obama was not an American.  Since then has built his coalition around being anti-immigrant.  Simply compare the record of the average Dreamer and what they have done for America (and perhaps more importantly what they will do in the future) to all of the accomplishments of Mr. Trump’s hero, Sheriff Joe Arpaio.

Even with that, he cannot be consistent.  Mr. Trump makes an economic argument as to why we should deport all undocumented immigrants because they are taking all the jobs.  But then he turns around and pushes Congress to pass a law to keep them.  Great logic, great morality, great demagoguery.

Houston, we have a problem.  Who is going to rebuild following Hurricane Harvey?  Who does Mr. Trump think is going to do the construction and hard-core clean up following the destruction experienced across many, many square miles of Houston, east Texas and Louisiana? Sure, let’s get rid of all those hard-working $10 an hour folks and bring in, who exactly?  Get real.

Most people may understand what Mr. Trump’s decision means on personal terms to those impacted. Most, however, probably do not understand the economic impact.  Every major CEO and most small business owners opposed the termination of DACA based on economic factors.  Studies indicate that about 91% of all Dreamers are employed.  As their work permits expire, about 30,000 will lose their jobs each month. That translates to lots of lost productivity and expertise for the their employers and adds up to reducing the national gross domestic product by $433 billion (yes, with a B) over ten years.  It also means the loss of nearly $25 billion (another B!) dollars in taxes to programs such as Medicare and Social Security.  (Yes, Dreamers pay taxes.)

None of that takes into account the Dreamers currently serving on the front lines in Iraq and Afghanistan and elsewhere.  What happens to them?  What happens to the veterans that honorably served this nation? Just throw them out?

There clearly are some Constitutional issues.  These are worthy of consideration and debate.  Clearly Congress should shoulder the burden and do their job, as they should do in so many areas where they seem unable to govern.  Usually, however, Constitutional issues get settled in the courts, not by a unilateral decision on the part of Mr. Trump or Attorney General Sessions.  As I write, many state Attorneys General have spoken up and plan to take Mr. Trump’s decision to court.  We shall see how that unfolds.

But let me ask this rhetorical question.  Early in his administration, Mr. Trump’s Muslim Ban was touted as being totally within the Constitutional bounds of his office.  They argued that he had “extraordinary powers” in cases of immigration and was totally within the power of the office to keep people out. Does it not seem logical that if Mr. Trump can keep people out, he can also use that power to keep them in?

In all, I find this one more example of a tumbling tumbleweed administration.  Mr. Trump is just blowing in the wind, merely reacting day-to-day with no particular vision (and according to reported sources inside the White House, no understanding of the issues or their implications) other than keeping the dedicated base cheering at his campaign rallies.  And oh, spending time watching “the shows” on television and tweeting.

 


That Was The Week That Was

Some of us of a certain age can remember the 60’s political satire show “That Was The Week That Was”, or TWTWTW, or simply TW3.  The show launched the American career of the British television host David Frost who went on to do many serious interviews including the definitive series of interviews with former president Richard Nixon.  But in the beginning, think of TW3 as an early, ensemble cast version of the “Daily Show.”  I can only imagine what fun they would have had with this week’s news out of Washington D.C.  Actually, it is hard to keep up with the news from the last 72 hours, but I will try to hit some of the highlights.

First, on the Russian front.  No, not that news, but rather the news that President Trump decided to withdraw the U.S. from a CIA program to provide training and equipment to Anti-Assad forces in Syria. One could argue whether that secret program — different from the American involvement in Syria fighting ISIS — was effective or not, but it was relatively low-cost and showed U.S. support for freedom fighters in Syria.  By pulling the rug out from under them, it seriously undermines confidence in U.S. commitments in the Middle East. Oh, by the way, the Russians’ number one request from the U.S. was to withdraw support from those forces.  They have been demanding it for years.  And now the U.S. has given in to the demand in exchange for, for, well apparently for nothing.  A significant bargaining chip for the U.S. in its relations with Russia (and a symbol of our desire for Bashar al-Assad to go away) is now off the table.  Not sure how or why because the Trump administration doesn’t want to talk about it.

In an extraordinary (in every sense of the word) interview with the New York Times President Trump talked about everything from the healthcare bill, to the French Bastille Day celebration, to Napoleon, to Hitler to NATO and many more topics (you can’t make this stuff up).  In total, a bit disconcerting when it is all put together.  Reading the transcript is actually frightening as it shows that the president thinks that the entire federal government is his personal staff — that they owe allegiance to him first, foremost and only, rather than to the American people and the Constitution.  It cements in my mind that he has no real understanding of what it actually means to be president of the entire United States. It is particularly disconcerting when he speaks about the Department of Justice (DOJ), the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) and the senior leaders in both.  By name and with apparent malice of forethought he disparaged Attorney General Jeff Sessions, Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein, Acting FBI Director Andrew McCabe, and Special Prosecutor Robert Mueller.  For one example, how would you interpret what he said about Attorney General Sessions?

TRUMP: Well, Sessions should have never recused himself, and if he was going to recuse himself, he should have told me before he took the job, and I would have picked somebody else.

HABERMAN {NY Times}: He gave you no heads up at all, in any sense?

TRUMP: Zero. So Jeff Sessions takes the job, gets into the job, recuses himself. I then have — which, frankly, I think is very unfair to the president. How do you take a job and then recuse yourself? If he would have recused himself before the job, I would have said, “Thanks, Jeff, but I can’t, you know, I’m not going to take you.” It’s extremely unfair, and that’s a mild word, to the president. So he recuses himself. I then end up with a second man, who’s a deputy.

To me two things jump out.  First, in the best case scenario, the president does not understand the role of the DOJ and that those attorneys do not work for him as Mr. Trump.  They work for the American people and need to have a loyalty to the Constitution rather than to an individual in the White House. Mr. Trump always insisted on loyalty from employees and so it appears President Trump insists on loyalty to him from his “employees.”  A second more sinister interpretation would be that President Trump would not have nominated Mr. Sessions if he knew that the Attorney General was not going to keep any investigation into the Russian interference in the election and possible Trump campaign involvement in it from gaining any traction.  Apparently, he expected the Attorney General to keep things under control and away from the president and his family.  Otherwise, why appoint him?  Read it for yourself, but if you look closely, you will see that he is castigating Mr. Sessions for doing the right and honorable thing.  There are now reports from multiple sources revealing that President Trump is reviewing his options on pardoning friends, family, and himself.  Very Nixonian.  Take a look at these three quotes and guess which are which from President Trump and President Nixon.

“When the president does it, that means it is not illegal.”

“When you’re a star, they let you do it.  You can do anything.”

“The law’s totally on my side.  The president can’t have a conflict of interest.”

The first one is from President Nixon, the other two from President Trump.

The biggest issue of the last few days is healthcare.  What the House and the Senate decide, or don’t, in the coming days and weeks will have an impact on millions of people and on billions of dollars in our economy.  It should not be something that is just pushed through for the sake of “getting something done” alone.  I agree that the Congress should get something done — so far not much of substance has gained escape velocity from Capital Hill — but something this big should be carefully considered. Kudos to Senator Susan Collins (R-Maine), Senator Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska) and other Republican Senators that examined the proposed bill and found it woefully wanting.

Claims that Trumpcare is dead are, however, exceedingly premature.  Likewise reports of the death of Obamacare are premature.  But the president can murder Obamacare if he wants to, and there is some indication that he wants to do so.  By withholding subsidies for insurance premiums, which he says he may do, and by not enforcing the mandate, which is already the case, the president can make portions of Obamacare collapse — not the whole thing, but parts.  Claims that he “doesn’t own it” will not hold.  If he actively undermines the law, people that lose it will notice.  Bad policy.  Hopefully some of his advisers and others in Congress will convince him not to take that path.

The Senate will vote on something next week, but even the Senators themselves do not know what that will be.  Not good news. Currently there are at least two basic versions of “repeal and replace” legislation, with the possibility that those two bills will change before voting occurs, and one version of “repeal and replace later” with the possibility that one will also change.  It is surprising and disconcerting that a vote will be held early next week, with wide-ranging consequences on real people’s lives, not just in theory, and no one yet knows what will be up for a vote.

Dare I hope?

Here is what I hope for.  There are definite signs that moderate Republicans and Democrats are making the early moves to work for a bipartisan bill to “repair” the flaws in the Affordable Care Act (ACA), aka Obamacare.  Flaws do exist.  But there is no reason to get rid of the entire program — assuming one believes that health care should be affordable and available to all as I wrote about in my 23 June post. To be realistic, no Democrat will budge until the word “repeal” gets buried.  They also won’t support anything called Trumpcare.  Conservative Republicans such as Senator Rand Paul (R-Ky) won’t support anything that does not completely repeal the ACA “root and limb.”  But I hope that enough good folks, willing to put country above party, still exist in the Senate in both parties and that cooler heads will prevail.  If that happens, it could be the beginning of a wonderful relationship.  Getting something as tough as health care tackled on a bi-partisan basis would go a long way in having Republicans and Democrats getting back together to tackle other long-standing problems.  What a concept. I am always told how naive I am, but I hope that we have a break through on this issue and that it leads to accomplishments in many more areas.

Finally, and I leave it here despite many more developments of the last 72 hours, speaking of putting country above party I have always had the deepest respect for Senator John McCain (R-Ariz).  That doesn’t mean I always agreed with him but I always thought he was trying to do what he thought best for the nation and its people.  As you know, he is battling a particularly nasty form of brain cancer. I hope that he is back on his feet and back to the Senate before too long.  There are not many like him left in today’s Senate chamber.


“Fake News” No More

With the daily evolution of the story of Mr. Donald Trump Jr.’s meeting in June 2016 with a Russian lawyer that offered to help the Trump campaign work against Secretary Hillary Clinton’s campaign for president, one can no longer claim that reports of Russian efforts to impact the election is “fake news.” I have always believed that the Russians clearly worked to influence the election, taking as accurate the consensus of the American intelligence community that they stole emails from the Democratic National Committee and from the Clinton campaign manager Mr. John Podesta.  Other evidence of Russian influence, especially in the realm of social media, is beginning to emerge.  It is fact.  I was not at all certain that senior members of the Trump campaign would have actively worked to aid and abet the Russian effort. One way or the other I figured that the ongoing investigation led by former FBI Director Robert Mueller would conclusively resolve that part of the issue.  Let the chips fall where they may.  Well now we know a lot more.

If you are not familiar with the story, you can read Mr. Trump Jr.’s emails for yourself. In sum, a friend of the Trumps named Mr. Rob Goldstone with close Russian ties offered to arrange a meeting with a Russian national in order to give damaging information about Secretary Clinton to the Trump campaign. In the email exchange Mr. Trump Jr. responded enthusiastically and set up a meeting with the Russian emissary to hear her out.  The key passages of the email that jump out at me follow.   Mr. Goldstone wrote that the Russians “offered to provide the Trump campaign with some official documents and information that would incriminate Hillary and her dealings with Russia and would be very useful to your father.  This is obviously very high level and sensitive information but is part of Russia and its government’s support for Mr. Trump….”  To which Mr. Trump Jr. replied in part “if it’s what you say I love it especially later in the summer.”

At the subsequent meeting were Mr. Jared Kushner, the President’s son-in-law and current Senior Adviser in the White House, and Mr. Paul Manafort, then the Trump campaign manager.  And others, which I will get to momentarily.

End of discussion.  After months and months of denying vehemently that they ever had any meeting with the Russians where cooperation or coordination with the Russians was ever discussed, it turns out that there was one.  At least.  Additionally, since the story broke last Saturday, nearly every day a different story as to what was discussed and who was present came out.  Can you spell “cover up”?

To be honest, I am exhausted by all things Trumpian.  It is very difficult to keep track of all the misleading statements, innuendo and out right lies that come out of the White House or from others associated with President Trump.  The tangled webs of who knows who, or more importantly has significant business ties to the Trump Organization is hard to follow as well, or as they say at the ballpark, “you can’t tell the players without a score card.” But we need to try.

Today’s events caused me to say “that’s it” — I cannot ignore the outrageous carrying on any longer. I planned to write about other issues, but when it came out today that at least one other previously undisclosed person (as I write, some news outlets are reporting that it may actually be two other people) with Russian ties (the new attendee was born there, served in the Russian Army and may be a lobbyist or may be a former intelligence officer or both as this unfolding story develops) was in the room.

After days of Mr. Trump Jr.’s denials and obfuscation about everything, until it is uncovered by reporters at which point his story changes — despite his claims of total transparency — this takes the cake. Appearing on the Sean Hannity Show on Fox News, Mr. Trump Jr. was asked multiple times by the very friendly to the Trumps interlocutor Mr. Hannity if there was anything else that would come out or if any other people with Russian ties had met with him.  He gave a vigorous and straight forward “no” answer. Check it out. And yet… there was more to the story.  It seems there is always more to the story with the Trumps.

Mr. Trump Jr. claims that “nothing” came of the meeting and that it was a waste of time.  Given the events of the last week, and many more before that, I am unwilling to take the word of Mr. Trump Jr.  I am sure that Special Counsel Mueller will be very interested in following up on this story.

It is indeed a weak defense of these actions to claim that nothing came of the meeting and that they did not get any “dirt” on Secretary Clinton.  To them this means that it was a “nothingburger” of a meeting. Very troubling.  Read the emails.  The Trump campaign was eager to get negative information on Secretary Clinton.  Fine.  That happens in many, many campaigns.  But not from the Russian government! Or any foreign government.  End of story.  Just because they got nothing — as if we can believe anything Mr. Trump Jr. says about this situation — they clearly were willing to take this information and to use any ties to the Russian government that they thought would help them win. Nice. Strong ethics. Look, I know that politics is a full contact sport and that it can be really nasty. Republicans, Democrats, Independents, it doesn’t matter.  It gets personal.  But really?  The Russians? C’mon man!  It only shows that with this outfit, there are no boundaries.  Mr. Michael Gerson, a conservative columnist and former chief speech writer for President George W. Bush has an excellent piece today.  Basically he argues that the Trumps are clueless about all the fuss because they have no concept of right and wrong, they have a set of values “in which victory matters more than character and real men write their own rules.”  Mr. Gerson explains that “it is the banality of this corruption that makes it so appalling. The president and his men are incapable of feeling shame about shameful things.”

Most troubling to me in terms of national security is the portion of the email train that says, emphasis mine, that this “is part of Russia and its government’s support for Mr. Trump.” Part.  What else was going on?  What else is going on?  Coupled with all that we know so far, and the inability of Mr. Trump Jr. and the White House to accurately and correctly deal in facts, I would read that section to mean that the Russians were actively interfering in the election, and that quite plausibly, the Trump campaign knew about it in other ways.  Just because they may or may not have walked out of this particular meeting with dirt in hand, it clearly implies that they were ready and willing to work with the Russians and may in fact have other sources and methods where they were doing so.

I have no idea what will come of this.  I have no idea if anything illegal occurred or if any of the attendees can be held accountable under the law.  I do have an idea, however, that this is just the tip of the proverbial iceberg.  I am sure more and more will slowly be uncovered as the Senate, House, and Special Counsel’s office continue to investigate the Russian meddling in the 2016 election.

I also know that for the President to continue to deny that it happened is unhelpful to our country. For him to continue, as recently as two days ago, to continue to call this the “greatest WITCH HUNT in political history” (his emphasis) is also unhelpful.  In every way, President Trump is actively working to undermine every U.S. institution that may stand in his way.  Fake news, indeed.

What is clear, is that it is becoming impossible to breathe with all the smoke rising out of the Russian election interference issue.  It is only a matter of time before the conflagration flares up.  I pray that we don’t all get burned by the resulting fire and that we are not left with only the smoldering ruins of our great democracy.


A Soup Sandwich

With increasing frequency, nearly daily, we as a nation wake up to yet another incredible self-created crisis in the Trump Administration.  People that care that our nation’s leader is becoming something of a punch line around the world debate whether President Trump’s actions, statements, and yes, tweets are part of a larger plan or simply the reflection of a man with little to no intellectual curiosity, the attention span of a young child, and who is in way over his head.  I am increasingly falling into the latter category.

In my day the military term for his administration would be that it is a soup sandwich.  The term means exactly what the imagery suggests, something so confused and messy that it cannot be salvaged.

The litany of recent events are well-known.  Whether it is his casual revelations to the Russians of highly critical intelligence, his thinly veiled threats to former FBI Director Comey, his stated reason for firing Mr. Comey because of the “Russian thing”, or the possibility that he tried to stop the FBI investigation of the Russian meddling and specifically Lt General Michael Flynn’s possible involvement with the Russians, his actions have shown a president and an administration that have lost their way.  Put more bluntly, look in the dictionary for “soup sandwich” and you will see a picture of the president.

Note again that all of the crises that the White House staff have dealt with thus far are all self-created by the president.  This does not bode well for handling the inevitable national security crisis or domestic tragedy on the horizon that will test our ability as a nation to deal with all that comes our way.

Most legal scholars and Constitutional law experts point out that nothing that we know about thus far concerning the president’s actions is illegal.  Unethical and/or immoral, perhaps, but not illegal.  This is very troubling.  As Dana Milbank ably points out in a recent opinion piece, just because it is legal, does not mean that it is right.  Or as we used to say, just because you can do something, it doesn’t mean that it is a good idea.  The basic point is that President Trump knows no boundaries, has no self-control and therefore has the ability to do great damage to our nation, whether deliberate or out of ignorance.  As Mr. Milbank points out in his troubling piece, the president is within his rights — legally — to do all of the things that we know about.  But the assumption for all modern presidents is that a president would not do all of those things without the proper justifications and explanations.  In crafting the Constitution, the Founding Fathers assumed that the chief executive would be virtuous , guided by honor, and exhibit self-restraint.  Scholars point out that the Constitution gives many powers to the president, specifically and inherently.  The checks and balances that we rely upon cannot stop the president from wreaking havoc in the short-term.  Although the ultimate power rests with the Congress — impeachment — and the courts — ruling certain presidential actions unconstitutional — it takes time and political capital to bring those counter balancing powers to bear. In the meantime, significant and even irreparable damage can be done to our nation.  With President Trump we have a chief executive that seems to be lacking the knowledge to understand the limits and responsibilities of the presidency combined with unchecked impulsivity that can easily lead to damaging actions and decisions.

Look at President Trump’s background.  His success as a businessman by most accounts was not so much because of his personal knowledge and ability.  It was more about branding.  He sold the Trump Brand to investors and let others actually build the real property.  Recently, few of his Trump buildings were actually Trump projects, he merely sold his name and promotional abilities for use by those doing the work.  He became famous due to his time as a television reality star.  Even today he talks about “ratings” for press conferences and speeches.  The pop psychoanalysis could go on and on, but in every instance, it appears that his personality is ill-suited to lead the greatest nation on earth.  To me, for example, he related the very highly classified information to the Russian Foreign Minister (information that will probably result in lives lost, and certainly the loss of an important avenue of intelligence) not because he wanted to help the Russians. I think he did it because he was showing off and wanted to impress his visitors.  Remember this is the guy that in the midst of the ceremony “celebrating” the House passing Trumpcare, stopped his speech to turn around and ask “How am I doing? Am I doing OK? Hey, I’m president. I’m president. Can you believe it?” Well, no, I can’t believe it.  But it is true.

I hear the “I word” — impeachment — bandied about a lot recently.  From what we know now, we are not there yet.  I also worry that under the current divisive political atmosphere in our country that an impeachment act and subsequent trial would be very bad for our nation.  We might not recover from that trauma for many years.  Therefore any impeachment proceedings must be based on clear violations of the law, should there be any.

The other proposal that floats around from time to time is that the 25th Amendment can be used to remove him from office.  This amendment pertains to the succession to the presidency should the president be unable to fulfill his duties.  The relevant section of the amendment in this case is Section Four which provides a procedure for the Vice President and such other “principal officers of the executive departments” (meaning the Cabinet) to declare the president unfit for duty.  Should the president contest that declaration, it goes to a two-thirds vote in both the House and the Senate.  This too would be a long drawn out procedure that could seriously divide our country should the president resist the take-over attempt.  It seems unlikely in any event that Vice-president Pence and the Trump appointed Cabinet would invoke this avenue of removal, barring some obvious and unassailable problem with the president.

Finally, President Trump could resign.  Many pundits and others think this is the most likely scenario for the current president to leave office.  President Trump himself said that 

“I loved my previous life. I had so many things going. This is more work than in my previous life. I thought it would be easier.  I like to work, so that’s not a problem, but this is actually more work and while I had very little privacy in my old life because, you know, I’ve been famous for a long time, I really, this is – this is much less privacy than I’ve ever seen before.”

None-the-less, I doubt very much that the president has any intention of resigning.  He likes the attention and being on the “inside” — people have to pay attention to him and he likes that.

Potentially compounding President Trump’s negative impact on the nation is the dilemma many of his top advisers are facing.  It is a classic scenario.  The president continually throws good, hard-working and upright people under the bus.  They go out and defend his actions in, I hope, good faith only to have him personally provide a completely different rationale for his actions.  This can only go on for so long before people start to ponder resigning.  This is the dilemma such good people face — resign and save my reputation and integrity or stay and try to change things because they could really be a lot worse if no one of significant knowledge and competence is left to try to hold him in check?

I fear that most people consider the recent events as “typical” Washington politics.  That’s too bad. This is not typical and it is not normal. And it isn’t “sour grapes” that the Democrats lost the presidency.

Many continue to state that as a nation we should give the guy a chance.  He’s only been in office about four months.  Give him time.  I tried.  Sorry, but I do not think that anything is going to cause President Trump to change.

For the Republican majority on Capital Hill I can only say, “Clean up on aisle seven.  Soup sandwich in progress.”  The Republican agenda depends on a functioning presidency.  The deal with the devil is almost gone as more and more of the president’s actions take away from the legislature’s ability to legislate.  Clean up the soup sandwich through comprehensive and bipartisan investigations.  Find out what actually happened, or did not happen, and get it into the public domain.  Use a little Clorox on the clean up of the soup sandwich.

If it turns out there is nothing there involving the Russians or other problems then so much the better. If there is something, hold all involved accountable.  The good news/bad news may be that there is nothing there. The good news is that people will not go to jail and the integrity of the system may be restored. The bad news is that we will still be left with a soup sandwich.

 


Incompetent or Dangerous?

Yesterday, President Donald J. Trump fired James B. Comey Jr., the Director of the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI).  This came in the midst of an ever-increasing FBI investigation into known Russian meddling in the 2016 presidential election and the increasing number of revelations of ties between the Trump campaign and the Russians.  Those are actually two different issues, which our president apparently cannot understand.

There is wide-spread consensus based on the truth and, you know, actual facts that the Russians interfered with the election.  Most likely they interfered because, as former Bush Administration Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice explained, Russian President Vladimir Putin is a pay-back kind of guy.  He hated Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, primarily because she called his election a sham, and sought the opportunity to work against her campaign.  According to Secretary Rice’s theory, he relished disrupting the election in and of itself, but to have Secretary Clinton as the recipient only made it sweeter.

Every American should be gravely concerned that a foreign power aggressively and with malice of forethought worked hard to disrupt the very foundation of our Republic.  Every American.  This is not a political issue.  Consequently both the Senate and the House of Representatives are conducting bi-partisan inquiries into what happened and how we can protect against it in the future.

However, President Trump seems to believe this is unnecessary.  If one pays only the mildest of attention to the news, you know that he is constantly calling the fact of the interference a “hoax” and the investigations “a waste of taxpayer money.”  He won and that’s all he cares about.  In his mind, end of story.

Secondarily, as the investigation of the Russian interference deepened, it became apparent that there may have been some interaction between members of the Trump campaign and the Russians.  The who, why and what questions remain unanswered.  This also is considered “fake news” by the president and he constantly tweets about issues he thinks are “ridiculous” in connection with the investigation.

He does so even though his first National Security Adviser Lt. General Michael Flynn USA (ret.) was fired by the president for working with the Russians, being paid by them, and lying about it.  I suppose we should just let that go.  Nothing to see here, folks, just move along.

This is the short version of the context surrounding the firing of Director Comey.  The president showed real class by not notifying Director Comey of his dismissal, rather the Director learned about it on television while giving a speech in Los Angeles.

So the president whose staff members and campaign members are under investigation by the FBI and the Attorney General of the United States who was forced to recuse himself from the Russian investigation because of his own role in the campaign and “forgetting” to reveal his own Russian contacts, are the folks that fired the Director.  It most definitely does not pass the smell test.

Thus the question, is the president incompetent of trying to cover up misdeeds in his administration? Does he not know what he is doing or is he deliberately undermining our Constitutional balance?  I do not know, but either one is dangerous.

The alleged reason for the firing was the mishandling of the investigation of Secretary Hillary Clinton’s emails back in July.  Of 2016.  The investigation that then Candidate Trump applauded.  Hmmm.  The timing is also suspicious.  Remember the Trumpian tactic of changing the headlines whenever something critical of him makes the news?  On Monday former Director of National Intelligence James Clapper and former Acting Attorney General Sally Yates testified before a Senate sub-committee looking into the Russian connections.  Their testimony was less than flattering to the Trump Administration and in some cases directly contradicted statements made by the president and his spokespeople.  On Tuesday, Director Comey is fired, thus changing the headlines.  I’m just sayin’….

From the time Attorney General Yates notified the White House that General Flynn was compromised and a potential agent of the Russians until he was fired — only after it all became public in the Washington Post — was 18 days.

From the time that the current Deputy Attorney General and Attorney General recommended the dismissal to the president and the FBI director was fired — for something that happened in July 2016 — was minutes.

Also remember that the FBI Director is appointed for a 10 year term.  This is to keep politics and partisanship out of law enforcement in the most critical areas of our national security.  Only one other active Director was fired, and that was William Sessions in 1993 by President Bill Clinton for ethics violations, not for investigating anything to do with the administration.

Many people were upset by the way that Director Comey handled the email investigation of Secretary Clinton.  Some even argue that the way he handled it (a news conference about a lack of evidence to prosecute) was unprecedented and unprofessional and effectively handicapped the campaign of Secretary Clinton.  In a larger context, even as one may have no love for Director Comey, his firing is very troubling at this particular point.  It seems that as the investigation gets closer to the truth, the resistance from the White House increases.  Director Comey must have been very close to finding damaging information.  It only takes a cursory look at any newspaper or other news source to see that this has raised significant bi-partisan concern in the Congress as to the meaning, appropriateness and impact of the firing.  Most Republicans and Democrats have expressed serious concern.  It is not right.

Alarm bells should be going off when taken in connection with this quote from White House spokesperson Sarah Huckabee Sanders during an interview last night with Tucker Carlson on Fox News. In the same vein as the president and other spokespeople in the White House, she spoke about the Russian investigations and said:

I think the bigger point on that is, “My gosh, Tucker, when are they gonna let that go?” It’s been going on for nearly a year. Frankly, it’s kinda getting absurd. There’s nothing there. We’ve heard that time and time again. We’ve heard it in the testimonies earlier this week. We’ve heard it for the last 11 months. There is no there there. It’s time to move on.

President Trump wants the investigation to go away.  Countless efforts by the president and his spokespeople to undermine the investigations have not worked.  They pretend, as does Ms. Sanders, that the American people do not care.  We won.  End of story.  Yet, the investigations continue and it does not go away.  Next step — fire the Director of the FBI.

One can only conclude that the president must really be trying to hide something big.  Maybe yuuge. Reporting today indicates that last week Director Comey quietly asked Congress for a significant increase in funding for the Russian investigation.  Another coincidence?

President Trump undoubtedly thought that by making Director Comey go away, his troubles would go away as well.  They are just beginning.  Reportedly, the president has little interest in history or understanding exactly how the government works.  Fine.  But someone should tell him that time and time again the cover-up is what brings folks to their knees, doing more damage than the “crime” ever would have.  Maybe he should read up on it.  He may learn something about it when he appoints his next Director of the FBI and the Senate holds confirmation hearings.  If you think there is a fire in the Senate during the current hearings, you haven’t seen anything yet.

A civics lesson might help as well.  Trying to run the United States as a family business operation does not work so well.  Unless his aim is to make a lot of money, which that part so far is working. But that’s a piece for another day.

The investigations will not go away.  They will be slowed down dramatically in the near term.  The FBI is extremely unlikely to report the results of their investigations without a Director in place.  That will take weeks or more likely, months.  James Comey was a Republican appointed by President Obama. President Trump should appoint a Democrat with an impeccable reputation as the next Director.  I am not holding my breath.  His appointment will tell us a lot about the future integrity of anything that comes out of the Department of Justice.

The investigations will continue in the interim.  However, the integrity of those investigations is now compromised. Only by appointing a special prosecutor — which the White House and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) are mightily resisting — will there be some assurance to the American people that an independent investigation, unencumbered by political and partisan elements, reports believable results.

This is fundamental to our national security.  Stay awake and keep the pressure on.  Silence and “getting tired of it all” will erode our freedom.