Tuesday, March 26, 2019

Russia's Bitch

It's just a thought, an out-of-the-box thought or, as the less generous would put it, eccentric and even a little bizarre. It is prompted by Bill Scher's argument that

By not alleging any illegal collusion, Mueller has liberated Democrats from chasing the impeachment unicorn, which was always a political loser and a substantive dead end. If the Democratic House ever impeached, the Republican Senate was never going to convict, and may not have even held a trial. Impeachment had appeal only to the Democratic base, while doing little for the voters in swing areas who just delivered Democrats the House majority and hold the key to retaking the White House.

Again and again, during the decades since Watergate, opposition parties have tried and failed to exploit scandals for electoral gain....

In all of those cases, regardless of the severity and accuracy of the charges, voters proved less interested in presidential scandals than presidential job performance, especially on the economy. Conversely, when the opposing party parades its investigative zeal, it can look more interested in scoring political points than governing....

Today, Trump barely has a legislative agenda. In turn, Democrats have the opportunity to further the narrative that Trump is a threat to sustainable economic growth, middle-class prosperity and global stability.

It's not an either-or choice, though, especially given that President Trump presents a threat to global stability precisely because of his ties to Vladimir Putin's Russia.

Democrats obviously must emphasize important issues such as health care, immigration, the hollowing-out of the economy, and potential cuts to earned benefits. However, they can address "Russiagate" in the context of a failed presidency.

The President’s campaign manager, deputy campaign manager, top national security advisor, personal lawyer and fixer, and even the “coffee boy”, all convicted of felonies. Roger Stone arrested and indicted. And @PressSec calls that vindication?
Is she high, or does she just lie?

Imagine that prior to the 2016 election we had been told that six individuals associated with the candidate- whether Donald Trump or Hillary Clinton- elected President would be convicted of felonies (as Stone probably will be). We would conclude that the President is either a really corrupt person or an incompetent leader.

If neither President Trump nor his campaign colluded with the Kremlin- as Attorney General Barr suggests Mueller has found- there nonetheless was a profound, ultimately successful, effort by the Kremlin to turn an American election. It was done, in the unlikely effort we are not being snookered, without the Trump campaign and the candidate sufficiently able and strong to resist it.

That is the hallmark of a president who, because his dishonesty and outrageous tweets have distracted us, has been a very weak President. 

He finds it difficult to fire people, Rex Tillerson, HR McMaster, John Kelly, and Jeff Sessions being among those who left the Administration well after their expiration date. James Comey was fired while visiting an FBI field office, and without hearing from the President himself. Trump further

has revealed a weakness that is unprecedented in recent history. The president of the United States is now repeatedly ignored and rebuffed by his own staff, party, and the rest of the federal government. Trump declared the U.S. was leaving Syria, and now hundreds of troops are staying. When he demanded his fellow Republicans prioritize the border wall, they instead pursued tax cuts and health care repeal. Trump can’t even get the military to hold the authoritarian-style parade he’s long demanded.

"Being Saudi Arabia's bitch," Representative Tulsi Gabbard (D-HI) has pointed out, "is not America First.'"

Still, there persists the image of Trump the Winner and Trump the Man of Strength.  Reminding the electorate that indictments and convictions proceeded because of a foreign conspiracy that took place right underneath Donald Trump's notice might go a long way toward shattering the facade.

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Monday, March 25, 2019

Trump Knew What He Had In Barr

On Wednesday, two days before Robert Mueller gave Attorney General William Barr the report on collusion by Russia in the 2016 election cycle

President Donald Trump said he believes special counsel Robert Mueller’s report should be released to the public, even as he disparaged its very existence as “ridiculous.”

“Let it come out, let people see it,” Trump told reporters Wednesday. “Let’s see whether or not it’s legit"...

Trump said he was personally looking forward to reading the findings, even as he scorned the fact that Mueller was empowered to write the report in the first place.

“I just won one of the greatest elections of all time in the history of this country. ... And now I have somebody writing a report that never got a vote?” Trump said. “It’s called the Mueller report. So explain that because my voters don’t get it. And I don’t get it.”

Now that Barr has given his spin on the Special Counsel's report, Trump has stated of its release "It's up to the Attorney General. It wouldn't bother me at all."

But don't be fooled (and if you're reading this blog, you rarely are).  Mary Ann MacLeod Trump may have raised a crook, sexual predator, and coward, but she didn't raise a fool.  In 2017, as a private attorney and former Bush 43 Attorney General, Mueller staunchly defended President Trump's decision to fire FBI director William Comey. The following year, he wrote that the Special Counsel's inquiry into obstruction of justice was "fatally flawed" and

Mueller should not be able to demand that the President submit to an interrogation about alleged obstruction. If embraced by the Department, this theory would have potentially disastrous implications, not just for the Presidency, but for the Executive branch as a whole and the Department in particular.

Cagey Trump knew what he was getting in William Barr. Thus, when Trump says he would not be bothered by release of the Mueller report, he does so with a nod and a wink.

The President knows there can be so many redactions that the report is blacked out to near irrelevance.  So it was with the eventual release of the "28 pages," previously classified, of the House Intelligence Committee's investigation into alleged Saudi involvement in the 9/11/01 terrorist attacks. The "pages" came out, but with more than 140 redactions and tens of thousands of documents still classified.

There is a reason 193 of the Republicans in the House of Representatives joined last week with their Democratic colleagues to call for release of the Special Counsel's report.  There is release, and there is release, and the likelihood that Trump's man at the Justice Department is going to allow the public to see all the evidence accumulated by Robert Mueller's team against Donald Trump's inner circle is minimal.

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Sunday, March 24, 2019

English Translator Needed

Attorney General William Barr has sent to the chairperson and ranking member of the House and Senate Judiciary committees a letter summarizing Robert Mueller's report. Malcolm Nance, conceding error, gets down to brass tacks:
Oh, yes. The apparent cover up, or attempt thereof, has begun.with the money quote

The investigation did not establish that members of the Trump Campaign conspired or coordinated with the Russian government in its election interference activities.

"The Russian government" herein presumably means the Russian government de jure- Vladimir Putin and other officials with a title- rather than de facto. Russian plutocrats, operating only with President Putin's approval and many of them closely connected with Putin, are not officially part of the "Russian government." David Cay Johnston notes

Aside from Nance, Johnston, and a few others, the response to this critical sentence has been pitiful, and telling. We expect President Trump, who tweeted "No Collusion, No Obstruction, Complete and Total EXONERATION. KEEP AMERICA GREAT!," to lie. Ditto Sarah Sanders, who added "The Special Counsel did not find any collusion and did not find any obstruction. AG Barr and DAG Rosenstein further determined there was no obstruction. The findings of the Department of Justice are a total and complete exoneration of the President of the United States.”

In Sunday's 5:00 p.m. hour, CNN's  lead political anchor Wolf Blitzer and Senior Justice Correspondent Evan Perez concluded that the investigation established that the Trump campaign did not conspire with the Russian government in election interference.  This is from the network Trump most closely associates with "fake news" and attacked by the right as being anti-Trump.

Fooled also was NBC's justice correspondent, Ken Dilanian, who comments "Folks, this is a total legal exoneration of the president. Congress will want to know more, of course. But the topline: no conspiracy, no obstruction." Also fooled, almost unbelievably (in the actual meaning of the word) was the reliable Will Bunch, who responded to Dilanian with "except for the part that says he wasn't exonerated on obstruction."

Except that he wasn't exonerated even on collusion/conspiracy.

Assuming Barr's quote is accurate, Mueller did not conclude that the campaign did not coordinate with the Russian government. Mueller wrote that his people did not establish coordination. If Mueller were convinced, or the investigation had concluded, that the campaign did not conspire or coordinate he would have said so. Instead, he maintained that the Special Counsel's Office did not establish....

Of the many people who don't understand English, that "did not establish" does not mean "established that it didn't," are: a great, liberal/progressive journalist; at CNN, derided by hopelessly left-wing and "fake news":  a multi-millionaire news anchor taking down a multi-million dollar salary and a justice correspondent: and at NBC/MSNBC, another part of the alleged "liberal media," a justice correspondent.

The evening is young and there is plenty of time to reinforce what President Trump wants us to believe Mueller wrote rather than what he evidently did.  Surely there are many other men and women in journalism who do not understand the English language and hence serve as foils for Donald J. Trump. This does not bode well for America or its representative democracy.

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Saturday, March 23, 2019

No Time For Neutrality

On Thursday, Joy Behar asked her fellow panelists (co-hosts? conversationalists?) on The View

... and his claim about having to "approve" the McCain funeral is a flat-out lie. I'm glad the crowd stayed pretty silent. You'll notice they weren't screaming and giving him support like they usually do.But why are so many Republicans silent about this, too?why are these cowards siding with a draft dodger over a war hero?

It's a good question, though largely a rhetorical one because we know why GOP politicians are silent about this, as they are about virtually every Trump evil: the President's endorsement is gold in a Repub primary, his opposition a lump of coal. They are intimidated by him, and most of them will consistently choose personal ambition over country.

As expected, each individual (Navarro, Hostin, Huntsman, and  Behar) on ABC's program criticized Trump's attacks against the McCain family, with Meghan McCain stating "there's a lot of power on this show" (actually, influence, but whatever).

Even a church, albeit the renowned Washington National Cathedral,stepped up:

The National Cathedral in Washington, D.C. clapped back at President Donald Trump Thursday, with a spokesman clarifying that no funerals held there, including the late Sen. John McCain’s (R-AZ), require the approval of a President.

“Washington National Cathedral was honored to host the funeral service for Senator John McCain. All funerals and memorial services at the Cathedral are organized by the family of the deceased; only a state funeral for a former President involves consultation with government officials,” said Chief Communications Officer Kevin Eckstrom in a statement. “No funeral at the Cathedral requires the approval of the President or any other government official.”

 Trump took credit for giving McCain the “funeral he wanted” during a speech on Wednesday, proceeding to complain that he wasn’t thanked for the ceremony.

There is, however, one major institution which so far has punted on the controversy. That would be the United States Congress- and not only its Republicans.

When Representative Ilhan Omar (D-MN) recently let her anti-Semitic flag show, House Democrats responded, albeit with a resolution which condemned hatred across-the-board rather than by addressing the sentiment which forced their hand. When Representative Steve King (R-IA) endorsed white nationalism, he was taken off House committees by Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy.

But President Trump has remained completely unscathed, as he usually does, in this latest display of the Trump signature combination of anger, self-congratulation and dishonesty.

This should not stand. There is little the United States Congress can do, yet there is a little. The Senate, controlled by the GOP, will do as it invariably has. It will do nothing, and only one individual Republican senator has denounced Trump's remarks.

It is, therefore, up to the House of Representatives to take action, if only symbolic. A motion of disapproval can be placed on the House floor, presumably by a Democratic Representative.  It is wise politically, in part because it paints Republicans in a corner. They would be faced with a Hobson's Choice, either to vote in favor, thereby antagonizing the President- or vote in opposition, thereby laying bare their preference for party over country.

However, it's also simply the right thing to do.  Defending John McCain does not require a positive assessment of everything he did, nor even concluding that the good outweighed the bad. Donald Trump understands. He attacked McCain for his service record, standing for principle in opposing repeal of the Affordable Care Act, and for handing the Steele dossier (as any loyal American would have) over to the FBI.

Saving health care for a few million Americans, demonstrating exceptional courage in wartime, and informing law enforcement of a security threat to the nation are reasons to defend John McCain, especially in death. If the National Cathedral and the women of The View can slap back at President Trump, so, too, can Speaker Nancy Pelosi.

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Friday, March 22, 2019

Forever Strong And Wrong

Host Nicole Wallace posed an excellent question (at approximately 5:52 of the video here) on Wednesday's Deadline: White House,. Discussing President Trump's recent tweets about the late John McCain, she asked "why isn't there a political price to pay for being a wuss?"

The President pays no political price for being a "wuss" because he doesn't seem to be a wuss. Looked at objectively, of course, he is weak; but rationality and objectivity often are thwarted by subjective impression.  Among the reasons that Donald Trump has been able to convey the image of strength rather than being recognized as a "wuss" are:

1) Trump's praise frequently emphasizes strength. The President described Putin as "very, very strong" after the two spoke together and and Trump has said admiringly that Putin "has very strong control" over Russia. Kim JongUn "is the head of a country and I mean he is the strong head."  In regard to Egyptian strongman el-Sisi, "the United States has, believe me, backing, and we have strong backing." It's part of the reason that Trump recently warned "I can tell you I have the support of the police, the support of the military, the support of the Bikers for Trump – I have the tough people, but they don’t play it tough — until they go to a certain point, and then it would be very bad, very bad.'

2) Trump's criticism often pertains to weakness, as when Senator Graham in January 2016 endorsed John Edward Bush ("JEB") and Trump responded in part "His thinking. He says, ‘I know so much.’ He knows about the military? I could push him over with a little thimble.”  More famous was Trump remarking, while campaigning the previous summer for the Iowa primary "He’s not a war hero. He was a war hero because he was captured. I like people who weren’t captured.” The implicit message: "John McCain is a loser. I like winners like myself."

3) Trump is big. He is 6'3" and not skinny, and is an imposing figure physically. (Supporters of Pete Buttigieg, take notice.)  Reagan, Clinton, Bush 41, and Obama all have been tall. George W. Bush was short- but with his swagger knew how to wear a flak suit far more effectively than, say, Michael Dukakis knew how to sit in a tank.

Having died, John McCain has (in the common phrasing) "lost his life." He cannot defend himself just as none of us will be able to once we have lost our lives. For a weak man whose popularity is founded on an appearance of strength, there can be no more inviting target than an individual who cannot defend himself.

Donald Trump realizes his best strategy is to punch down, and in so doing he not only demeans the late Arizona senator, but reinforces a facade of strength. For America's finest actor- perhaps ever- it his his greatest role.

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Thursday, March 21, 2019

The Obnoxious Mrs. Conway And Pathetic Ms. Bash

After all these years, I don't know what to make of the James Carville-Mary Matalin marriage, let alone of the George Conway-Kellyanne Fitzpatrick Conway marriage. Is it real- or is it Memorex?

But Dana Bash knows- or thinks she does.

In a puff piece to end all puff pieces, the CNN reporter begins her profile "Kellyanne Conway is a consistent figure in the otherwise revolving-door world of the Trump White House. She is a survivor."

Remarkably, it went downhill from there. It's bad enough that she gushed "But to really understand Conway's survival skills, we went to where the Jersey Girl honed them -- Atco, New Jersey, to be exact."

A trivial point: MIss Fitzgerald, as he was then, does not hail from Atco, which is merely a place name in a state in which every place is incorporated. She actually grew up in Waterford Township, a relatively rural municipality in a highly urbanized state.

Less trivial: the young Miss Fitzgerald was not a "Jersey girl." A slang term, it connotes someone from the northern, rather than the southern (where she grew up), part of the state, at a time when there was a large and distinct difference. It is not synonymous with "obnoxious."

This clarification is crucial because Bash's caricature is of a tough and genuine gal who wouldn't let circumstances keep her down. Bash writes

After law school Conway entered the man's world of Republican polling where she said she often missed out on getting clients because she wasn't on the golf course or in the bar where one would normally learn about a chance to bid on a project.

"I didn't know when I was being excluded, because I had no idea that they were doing big projects, or that five firms got to bid on something, and I never did," she said.
"But it happened."

She's making sure that she's not being excluded now. An insider with Trump both during the campaign and since his election, Conway now has made it clear what she thinks of the man's world, and she likes it just fine. Politico reported Wednesday

George Conway, often referred to as Mr. Kellyanne Conway by those who know him, is VERY jealous of his wife’s success & angry that I, with her help, didn’t give him the job he so desperately wanted,” Trump tweeted Wednesday morning. “I barely know him but just take a look, a stone cold LOSER & husband from hell!”

Trump later on Wednesday took the Twitter feud offline, telling reporters that George Conway is a “whack job” and doing a “tremendous disservice to a wonderful wife.”

George Conway responded in kind to the latest attacks, sending more than two dozen tweets on Wednesday in which he called Trump “nuts” and re-upped his claim that the president suffers from narcissistic personality disorder.

Mrs. Conway told Bash "I think my gender helps me with the President in that he has never been afraid, and in fact, always been willing to treat men and women in his employment the same." So when the man who treats male and female employees the same called her husband "whack job." she told Politico

The president is obviously defending me. He could privately say to me, ‘Honey you’re a distraction. We love you. You'll always be a part of the family but go be with your kids. They need you. Go make a million dollars an hour. Go do that honey.’ It’s the opposite.

"I don't feel like he listens to me any less or any differently, or any less seriously," says the woman who evidently enjoys being called "honey" and wants to be thought of as "part of the family." 

This may all be choreographed by the Conways. Otherwise, it's a woman who either wants to smack her husband around in public or one who likes her man, Donald Trump, to smack her around, figuratively.   It's one of the oldest games in the book: man or woman sells out to power, media figure portrays her as heroic.

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Wednesday, March 20, 2019

The Very Definition Of An Insignificant Presidency

In an op-ed The Washington Post should have had more sense than to print, the Joe of Morning Joe displays impressive imagination. He concedes "the rise in bigotry shown to Muslims, Jews, Hispanics, blacks and 'others' has been so discouraging in the age of Trump" that "any policy differences I had with Obama now seem so insignificant."

But he claims also "100 years from now, Obama's presidency will be hailed as the most transformative of our lifetimes" and concludes

If changing the Constitution and reelecting Obama two more times would break the fever that now ravages Trump’s Washington, I would cheerfully champion the passage of that constitutional amendment, slap a “Hope and Change” sticker on my shirt, and race to the nearest voting booth to support the man historians will remember as the most significant president since Abraham Lincoln.

Presidents busted up trusts, successfully prosecuted one world war or another, ended the Great Depression, unleashed the nuclear age, integrated the armed forces, built the interstate highway system, established health and income insurance for the elderly, put the full force of the federal government behind the civil rights movement, helped end the Cold War while ushering in a still-continuing period of income inequality by trashing unions and deregulating the economy..

But President Obama ended a recession with the most sluggish economic recovery in the post-war era, so there is that.

Matt Stoller, who is far less generous toward President Obama than I ever have been, found the ex-President's acceptance of 400,000 "from a Wall Street investment bank for the first paid speech of his post-presidential career" in April of 2017 to be emblematic of Obama's policy toward financial institutions.  He notes

The policy path of the Obama administration, like the Bush and Clinton administrations before it, and in some ways like Hamilton’s Treasury Department, was largely construed around aiding the big, and hurting the small. Local banks lost out during the crisis, as did community-oriented banks. Black-owned banks, for example, were ten times less likely to receive bailout money than non-black-owned banks. This hit at the individual level as well. People in foreclosure were treated with one set of rules, while large Wall Street firms with significant debt were treated with another.

Noting "these policies were an assertion of a Hamiltonian moral vision," Stoller explains

This Hamiltonian process of concentrating power was most obvious in the banking sector, but it is also part of an overall trend towards the monopolization of our commercial society and increasing control over our lives, our liberties, and our democracy by private financiers. Some within the Obama administration noticed problems towards the end of the administration. His administration challenged the Comcast-Time Warner merger and issued an executive order on monopoly. Antitrust chief Renata Hesse made a speech explicitly rejecting the modern pro-concentration treatment of antitrust. But this was far too little, loo late.

On foreign policy, there were- still is- ISIL,. Korea, Syria, statelessness of Palestinians. Limited progress was made on the first, and little if any on the last three, each of which defies an easy solution. That does not confirm a failed presidency, and President Obama's failure to transform the earned benefits of Medicare and Social Security through a Grand Bargain was a great victory for future generations of elderly people.

Whether with Wall Street, foreign policy, or domestic policy, President Obama's presidency can be viewed favorably, unfavorably, or somewhere in between. However, to label it "transformative" is as accurate as to label Harrison, Nebraska a "seaside resort."

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Russia's Bitch

It's just a thought, an out-of-the-box thought or, as the less generous would put it, eccentric and even a little bizarre. It is pr...