Dereliction of Duty

There are a number of perplexing events unfolding in and around the White House.  My sense is that many Americans are uninterested, unaware, or just minding their own business until all of the facts are in.  I hope that the lack of concern is the latter and not that we as a nation have become inured to the unprecedented developments and are numb to the plethora of constant noise and fury emanating from the White House.  There are so, so many troubling developments surrounding this administration.  Thus far, only one is an existential threat to our democracy.

Yes, Russia again.

It is now over two weeks since Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein announced the indictment of 13 Russian nationals and three Russian organizations as another step in the ongoing investigation conducted by Special Counsel Robert Mueller into Russian interference in our 2016 election. The indictment shows that the clear intent of their actions was to undermine the presidential election by active measures to disrupt the process, and specifically, to hurt Secretary Hillary Clinton and to favor the election of Mr. Donald Trump.  But don’t take my word for it, if you haven’t done so already, read the full 37 page indictment.  The indictment details how the Russians conducted “information warfare against the United States of America.”  Warfare.

News reports today indicate that Mr. Mueller will soon file more indictments, this time specifically naming Russian hackers and outlining their methods in stealing emails from the Democratic National Committee and from Secretary Clinton’s campaign manager Mr. John Podesta.  Please recall that the hacking of the DNC and the campaign were the original reasons for the investigation into the Russian meddling.

Additional reports inform us that seven states had their systems compromised in some way including in at least two cases, getting into the voter registration data bank.  Attempts were made on a total of twenty-one states to get into the voting system.  While there is no evidence to date that any actual votes were compromised or voter information changed to prevent people from voting, many experts consider these to be “probing attacks” to find vulnerabilities for exploitation in the future such as in the 2018 mid-term elections and/or the 2020 national elections.

Last month the heads of the major U.S. intelligence agencies testified before the Senate Intelligence Committee about the Russian meddling attacks.  This included the Director of National Intelligence Dan Coats, CIA Director Mike Pompeo, FBI Director Christopher Wray, National Security Agency Director Admiral Mike Rogers, Defense Intelligence Agency Director Lt. General Robert Ashley and the National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency Director Robert Cardillo.  They were in agreement that the Russians did interfere and that it would happen again.  As Director Coats put it, “There should be no doubt that Russia perceived that its past efforts as successful and views the 2018 U.S. midterm elections as a potential target for Russian midterm operations.”

When asked by committee member Senator Jack Reed (D-RI) if the FBI had been directed by the president to take any specific actions against the Russians, FBI Director Wray said the FBI is undertaking “a lot of specific activities” to counter the Russians but was “not specifically directed by the president.”  If you saw the body language as Mr. Wray answered, it would sound even worse than it does here.

And it does get worse.

This week during testimony before the Senate Armed Services Committee, Admiral Rogers, Director of the National Security Agency and the head of the U.S. military Cyber Command, said that he was using his existing authorities to combat the Russian attacks. When asked a question similar to that asked last month of Director Wray — had the president given him any direction — he acknowledged that the president had not asked his agencies that are charged with conducting cyberoperations to find ways to counter the attackers and had not been granted new authorities to conduct counter operations.

Director Wray and Admiral Rogers are saying that they are on the defensive and doing the best that they can.  However, they are inhibited by the apparent lack of interest from the Commander-in-Chief and have been given no authorization to go on the offensive.  I am sure that the hard-working men and women in the intelligence agencies are doing what they can to protect our country, but they are having to do so with their hands tied and with no consequences for our attacker.

Here is the plain truth from Admiral Rogers during his testimony:

“President Putin has clearly come to the conclusion that there’s little price to pay and that therefore ‘I can continue this activity.’ Clearly what we have done hasn’t been enough.”

I can go on, but you know the story.  And it isn’t pretty.

Here are Mr. Trump’s responses, warnings, actions, deterrent activities, and punishments for Russia, in order: Bumpkiss, Nada, Zilch, Nothing, Goose Egg, Diddly-Squat.

Thank you Commander-in-Chief for keeping us safe from our adversaries and protecting our greatest democratic principle.

The latest story from the administration is that it is all President Obama’s fault.  Should one take that story hook, line and sinker, it still begs the question as to why the president, in office for nearly 14 months, has directed nothing to be done to dissuade and deter further Russian meddling, much less to punish them and hold them accountable for their actions in 2016.  He won’t even implement the sanctions voted on by both parties in the House (by a vote of 419-3) and Senate (98-2) last year designed specifically to punish Russia for their attack.

Why?  The most common answer from pundits, politicians and prognosticators is that in his eyes, to even acknowledge that the Russians interfered, much less to help him as delineated in Mr. Mueller’s court papers, lessens his election victory and somehow makes it less legitimate.

I have other ideas as to why he won’t hold Russia and Vladimir Putin accountable for their actions, but so far, that would be pure speculation.  Let’s go with the “my feelings would be hurt” reason.

Why does anyone accept that as an answer?  Even if he feels that way, he is the president.  As president he took an oath “to preserve, protect and defend the Constitution of the United States.”  To my knowledge there is nothing that precludes that responsibility just because the president’s ego may be bruised.  As Commander-in-Chief he has an obligation to do his duty.  If he refuses, then he is derelict in his duties as delineated in the Constitution.

Why do we continue to pretend otherwise?

 

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Trump Is Winning. The Rule of Law Is Losing.

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

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

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

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

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

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

An official FBI statement concerning the possible release states:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Who Cares?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Who cares?  We care.


The 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.