Sunday, March 31, 2019

A Different Ballgame

In the wake of the accusation of Lucy Flores that she had been inappropriately touched by Joe Biden when the Vice-President was promoting her for Lieutenant Governor of Nevada, Laura McGann reminds us that Biden had

been caught on camera embracing a female reporter from behind and gripping her above her wait, just below her bust. At a swearing-in ceremony for Defense Secretary Ash Carter, Biden put his hands on the shoulders of Stephanie Carter, Carter’s wife, and then leaned in and whispered into her ear. (He’s whispered into many women's ears.) He’s also touched women’s faces and necks during other photo ops. Once at a swearing-in ceremony for a US senator, he held the upper arm of the senator’s preteen daughter, leaned down and whispered into her ear, as she became visibly uncomfortable. Then he kissed the side of her forehead, a gesture that made the girl flinch.

Nonetheless, it is odd, or hypocritical, or a combination of the two that Erick Erickson would tweet
Far be it for me, of all people, to deny that an individual was given a pass by the media because of his loyalty to Barack Obama. However, that simply is not the reason that a blind eye was turned to the apparent creepiness of Joe Biden.

Biden was 66 years old when he became Vice-President. He would serve either eight years in that position or, if President Obama were to be defeated in 2012, he would have to wait four more years to run for President. A campaign in his '70s would have been very unlikely.

The 2012 election was assumed to be the last electoral effort by ol' Joe, especially because his two previous campaigns for the Democratic nomination for the presidency famously flamed out. And as Vice President, he wielded no power, other than that granted to him by the President to cast a vote in the Senate to break a tie, in which case he would not be exercising independent judgment,. There simply was little reason for an expose of a man who was largely irrelevant.

Enter Donald J. Trump. When he entered office, Trump was 70, the oldest individual to become President in a nation which has always valued youth, and even more so in recent decades. If he is re-elected in 2020, he will be 74 on Inauguration Day 2021. (I've always dazzled with my mathematical acumen.)

Being old had been considered an impediment to being elected President- not as much so now. Additionally, it was assumed that no one who treated women like they were the standard offering of the neighborhood butcher would be seriously considered as President. 

That assumption was eroded upon the election of a man who has been accused by 13 women of having touched them inappropriately, or worse, the man seen on tape stating

I did try and f--- her. She was married....

And I moved on her very heavily. In fact, I took her out furniture shopping. She wanted to get some furniture. I said, ‘I’ll show you where they have some nice furniture.’ I took her out furniture. I moved on her like a bitch, but I couldn’t get there. And she was married.

Then all of a sudden I see her, she’s now got the big phony tits and everything. She’s totally changed her look.

That tape only briefly, and temporarily eroded Donald Trump's popularity and a few weeks later he would be elected President of the United States of America and leader of the free world.

It became evident, though little acknowledged, that unless the victim is oneself, a relative or a friend, Americans care far less about sexual harassment than previously thought. That was reinforced when a man credibly accused of sexual assault was approved for a lifetime position on the United States Supreme Court.

But now Joseph R. Biden is presumed to be a formidable candidate to win the Democratic nomination for President.  He would not be one of 100 United States senators, nor in a powerless position as vice-president.

It therefore is odd to argue that the primary reason that Joe Biden's sexually questionable record was ignored is because he served Barack Obama. Biden is simply far more relevant now than ever before because he could in two years possibly wield tremendous power, all the more for what Trump has demonstrated is possible if the office is abused.

But it's also hypocritical, because Erick Erickson should understand very well that it would have been disproportionate to delve into Biden's behavior when the President is Donald J. Trump. Clearly pleased about the Trump presidency, the once-never Trump Erickson recently wrote 

I will vote for Donald Trump and Mike Pence. And, to be clear, it will not be just because of what the other side offers, but also because of what the Trump-Pence team has done. They’ve earned my vote.

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Saturday, March 30, 2019

Educating White People About Their Privilege

At 5:10 of the video below, South Bend mayor and Democratic presidential candidate Pete Buttigieg tells Bill Maher

I also think sometimes there's a sense of condescension coming from our party. Fairly or unfairly, I think a lot of people perceive that we're looking down on them. And if we allow that to continue, that's going to be a real problem.

If a wealthy coastal liberal professional goes up to a guy pumping gas in South Bend wearing one of those red hats and says "you're voting against your economic interests. You know what that guy is going to say? He's going to say "so are you."

I'd bet Buttigieg a whole lot of money that the last thing someone being confronted about the hat he's wearing will say is "so are you." It might be "shut the hell up" or "if you don't like it, you can get your ass out of here" or "f_ _ _ you." But it wouldn't be "so are you." Additionally, knowingly antagonizing a fellow with a gas pump in his hand is not very wise. You're a little out of touch, Pete.

But it gets worse because when Maher responds "or if he says 'you have white privilege. That rubs people the wrong way," Buttigieg replies

Yeah, well, look, white privilege is real and we should talk about these issues. But we can't paint people into a corner where they have nowhere to go but the far right. That's how radicalization works.

Real, also, is people voting against their economic interest- and more widespread than white privilege.  On social media and elsewhere, progressives often argue that the interests of the poor, the working class, and less obviously, the middle class are served by voting against conservative Republicans.

However, while few people are individually confronted, a great many white voters complain they are labeled "racist" whenever they express an opinion contrary to "political correctness."

These same people may have lost their home or, more likely, are experiencing severe difficulty paying their mortgage.  If a single mother, she may have to work long, even irregular, hours to provide for household needs and be stuck with inadequate or costly child care. Her child may be stuck in troubled public schools- some with a heavy proportion of minority students- with the parent lacking the money to get him or her into a private school.

Or perhaps a couple's children have graduated and are unable to enter college- which they are told is the only ticket to a secure livelihood- even though the father or the mother is working two jobs.

The parent may be stuck in a low-paying job, maybe one with few benefits, and unable to obtain a better job or to commute to for which she is qualified. All around them, the family may see the signs of what once were considered symptoms only of urban decay- declining (probably underfunded) schools, increasing crime, and a neighbor, relative, or a friend of a friend dead from opiate addiction.

Some of these people are white. Then they hear a presidential candidate blithely assuming the existence of "white privilege." Worse yet, the pol may condescendingly say- as those "coastal elites" are wont to do- "we should talk about these issues." They know what that means- we talk, you listen, because it's a "teachable moment."

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Friday, March 29, 2019

More Than Meets The Eye

Lost, inevitably, in the assessment of the Barr memorandum to the chairpersons and ranking members of the House and Senate intelligence committees was further confirmation by Attorney General William Barr that the "Russian efforts" to manipulate the 2016 presidential election.

Lost, too- actually never recognized- was that Vladimir Putin has admitted to this campaign and that he had a role in it. Former FBI agent and current CNN contributor Josh Campbell reminds us 

President Trump tonight on Fox News: "Russia, if they were at all for me—by the way, if you look at all of the things, they were sort of for and against both, not just one way – but you look at all of the different things, Russia would much rather have Hillary than Donald Trump."

As Campbell has made clear many times, he finds this ludicrous, as does the USA intelligence community. So does Vladimir Putin. Asked at the news conference he had with President Trump in July 2018 at Helsinki whether he did "want President Trump to win the election," the Russian President conceded "yes, yes I did. Because he talked about bringing the US-Russia relationship back to normal."

Nearly every response, understandably, to this exchange was to note that Putin had admitted that he favored Trump. When I searched on Google for "putin at helsinki said he directed his officials to help Trumpwin the election," the responses consistently reflected that. In the Atlantic, it was "Putin said in Helsinki He wanted Trump to Win;" in Politico, "Putin: I wanted Trump to win the election;" in The Daily Beast, "Putin Admits He Wanted Trump to Win 2016 Election."

Fair enough. But the question was not merely about the Russian president's preference. Julia Davis has it all:

Vladimir Putin was asked not only "did you want President Trump to win the election?" He was asked also "and did you direct any of your officials to help him do that?"

Putin could have ambiguously responded, "Yes I did. Because he talked about bringing the US-Russia relationship back to normal." Or he could have made it clear that he merely wanted Trump to win the election but did not direct any officials to help.

Instead, Putin responded "yes, I did," followed by "yes I did." This was a critical (two-part) question and the betting here is that Putin was responding to both parts: "yes, I did help him win the election" and "yes, I did direct officials to help him do that."

The intelligence community had concluded in January 2017 "Russian President Vladimir Putin ordered an influence campaign in 2016 aimed at the US presidential election."  Admittedly, it is critical to contrast that with the American president's dishonest claim that "Russia" probably wanted Clinton elected. 

(Note that he doesn't say "Putin" because it would have suggested that his buddy helped that bad woman, and it would have reinforced the notion that Putin had his hand in the election. Mama Trump didn't raise a dope.)

Remembering that Putin probably actually has acknowledged (June 2018) being the ringleader of a counter-intelligence campaign may be of limited value. It is not as important, for instance, as recognizing that when Attorney General Barr wrote "the Special Counsel recognized 'the evidence does not establish that the President was involved in an underlying crime related to Russia election interference," he is likely acknowledging evidence, albeit insufficient evidence.

But it is not nothing and reminds us that when we get to see a (much redacted) report from the Special Counsel, there may be more to it than the lawyers, journalists, and national security experts see. 

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Thursday, March 28, 2019

Government God

The Buffalo Springfield, circa 1966 :There's something happening here. What it is ain't exactly clear.

There is something going on, probably not exclusively in Pennsylvania.

Voters of the State of Pennsylvania, after twice voting for Barack Obama for President, rejected (the slightly more religious) Hillary Clinton while opting for Donald J. Trump. Oddly (or appropriately), then, (state) Representative Stephanie Borowicz, forced-birth extremist (quelle surprise!)

was on the ninth “Jesus” of her opening prayer in the Pennsylvania statehouse when other lawmakers started to look uncomfortable.

Speaker Mike Turzai, a fellow Republican, glanced up — but Borowicz carried on, delivering a 100-second ceremonial invocation that some of her colleagues decried as an offensive, divisive and Islamophobic display shortly before the legislature swore in its first Muslim woman.

“God forgive us — Jesus — we’ve lost sight of you, we’ve forgotten you, God, in our country, and we’re asking you to forgive us,” Borowicz said, followed by a quote from the Bible’s second book of Chronicles that implores God’s followers to “turn from their wicked ways.” Then she praised President Trump for his unequivocal support of Israel.

“I claim all these things in the powerful, mighty name of Jesus, the one who, at the name of Jesus, every knee will bow, and every tongue will confess, Jesus, that you are Lord, in Jesus’ name,” Borowicz said.

By the time she said “Amen,” Borowicz had invoked Jesus 13 times, deploying the name between prayerful clauses as though it were a comma. She mentioned “Lord” and “God” another six times each and referenced “The Great I Am” and “the one who’s coming back again, the one who came, died and rose again on the third day.”

You are outraged, as you should be, and as many of her fellow legislators were:

As the prayer reached a crescendo, at least one member shouted objections. Turzai, standing behind her, looked up again and nudged her elbow, prompting her to quickly conclude the address. Afterward, the protests only grew louder.

“It blatantly represented the Islamophobia that exists among some leaders — leaders that are supposed to represent the people,” Rep. Movita Johnson-Harrell, the newly sworn-in Democrat who is Muslim, told the Pennsylvania Capital-Star on Monday. “I came to the Capitol to help build bipartisanship and collaborations regardless of race or religion to enhance the quality of life for everyone in the Commonwealth.”

Though not technically "Islamaphobic"- a phobia is a fear- the prayer was an intended rebuke of Islam at a public gathering and intended to offend many people, especially Johnson-Harrell.  We learn that Borowicz's prayer provoked an interesting reaction

Johnson-Harrell won a special election earlier this month to fill a seat vacated by the resignation of Democratic Rep. Vanessa Lowery Brown, who had been re-elected in November after being convicted of bribery. Johnson-Harrell's swearing-in drew 55 guests, a majority of them Muslim. A Muslim prayer was said from the House dais during the ceremony....

Another Muslim lawmaker, Rep. Jason Dawkins, D-Philadelphia, opened the session on Tuesday by reading from the Quran. His invocation was followed by applause.

We have a problem, Harrisburg.  Atheist Deana Weaver already has delivered the invocation/prayer in the state Senate twice but Assembly Speaker Mike

Turzai has blocked atheists from delivering the opening prayer in the chamber, a matter currently tied up in federal court. Last year, when the House lost in federal court – it has appealed – Turzai went to great measures to block nonbelievers from delivering the invocation, abandoning the use of guest chaplains and allowing House members to deliver the opening prayer.

This would have been a great big clue for Turzai, were he not so politically correct as to ignore it. The prayer in these circumstances is anachronistic and should be retired.

The prayer should be eliminated not only because it's obviously an establishment of religion, whatever a court might say.  It need not be eliminated only because there will be an increasing number of Muslims performing, which would offend not only the likes of Borowicz and other narrow-minded Christians, but also open-minded believing Christians.

But it should be excised because it is in fact becoming a performance.  Presumably both Borowicz and Dawkins are sincere in their beliefs, devoted to their religion, usually referred to in polite company as faith.

While a prayer is not technically a performance, it might as well be, when such invocations of "faith" are increasingly cheered, as in "his invocation was met with applause."

Elimination of the "invocation," as it is euphemistically described, would not require elimination of the communal expression of religious faith among lawmakers upon the occasion of a government meeting or other event. 

They could follow the lead of National Football League players, some of whom upon completion of a game swiftly and voluntarily, meet on the field, kneel, and very briefly pray. Public officials could meet either before or after the event, praying as they wish, in combination with or apart from  Christians, Jews, Muslims, members of any other religion, or even as New Age spirit worshipers.

In fact, they already can do so, yet another indication that a public prayer at a government gathering is, in pertinent part, largely a performance.

Blogger's note in the interests of full disclosure: upon request, I once delivered a prayer at the opening of a municipal council meeting. By choice, it was- other than reference to "Father" (a term typically invoked only by Christians)- completely monotheistic and non-sectarian. (Thankfully, no applause.)

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Wednesday, March 27, 2019

Et Tu, CNN?

William Barr sent a 3 1/2 page alleged summary of the Special Counsel's report to the chairpersons and ranking members of the Senate and the House Judiciary committees on March 24, and the "liberal media" reacted as should have been expected.

The New York Times, though otherwise relatively objective, claimed "the investigation led by Robert S. Mueller III found no evidence that President Trump or any of his aides coordinated with the Russian government's 2016 election interference."

Politico Editor-in-Chief John F. Harris, on March 27 practicing worse than bothsiderism, lamented "We can’t all seem to agree that it’s a good thing the president didn’t conspire with Russia, nor can we all admit that the Kremlin may have helped elect Trump."

Of course, the President didn't conspire with Russia- but the Kremlin may have helped elected Donald Trump. (And the President at that time was Barack Obama.)

 CNBC's headline of March 24 read "Trump did not collude with Russia, says Mueller, and is cleared of obstruction by the attorney general."

The only problems here are that

1) Barr cleared the campaign of having committed an "obstruction-of-justice" offense not because Donald Trump was found by Mueller not to have obstructed justice. Instead, Barr rationalized, it was not proven beyond a reasonable doubt that an underlying crime had been committed, in part because corrupt intent is unlikely when the obstruction took place in public view.

2) Even Barr does not claim that Mueller stated that Trump did not collude with Russia, but rather "the investigation did not establish that members of the Trump campaign conspired or coordinated...." Absence of proof is not proof of absence.

3) Barr carefully referred to the "Russian government" and "Russia," never addressing "Russian actors" or "Russians."  Given that Vladimir Putin's power and influence extend well beyond government officials, that is a significant, if not telling, distinction.

But the worst mangling of the findings came from Manu Raju and Jeremy Herb- not members of an editorial board, columnists, or analysts- but reporters at CNN.

 "Democrats' past statements on Trump and Russia are facing new scrutiny," they maintain, though the only scrutinizers cited are the "Trump campaign." They claim "Special counsel Robert Mueller found that no one in the Trump campaign conspired with the Russian government in 2016," though even Barr chose to claim only that Mueller "did not find" collusion" rather than stating definitively that no one conspired.

Although a determination is "the resolving of a question by argument or reasoning"- and the question has not been resolved- the reporters complain Democrats refuse to believe the "determination" that no collusion transpired. Barr invoked a less definitive "did not establish" for a reason.

Raju and Herb believe Democrats "demanding the full release of the Mueller report" and promising to "continue investigating ties between Trump  and Russia" is a strategy which "risks political backlash for Democrats "if they are viewed as overreaching and probing into an area that has already been exhaustively investigated..."

There is no acknowledgement of (overwhelming) public supportfor release of the report nor of the implied constitutional obligation ofCongress to render oversight of the Executive branch.

This was not Breitbart, Fox News, or even the Washington Examiner. It was CNN, periodically cited by Donald Trump as "fake news." As a former Vermont governor notes

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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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Tuesday, March 19, 2019

Hopeful Step

Well, this prediction, in the short-term, didn't hold up well (fortunately).

On March 9 I remarked that with Nancy Pelosi's actions and rhetoric suggest she believes Ilhan Omar

is not anti-Semitic, leading one to wonder how obvious a colleague must be before the Speaker recognizes anti-Semitism. Hopefully, Omar will learn to curb her tongue and Twitter finger- or we will find out how far the leader of the Party will go in condoning the hate she purports to be offended by.

In light of the failure of the Democratic-controlled House of Representatives to condemn Representative Ilhan Omar or her comments specifically, nor to dismiss her from the Foreign Relations Committee, I did not expect the Minnesotan to tone down her criticism of Jews or Israel.

It took a mere eight days for me to be proven wrong, at least somewhat and at least temporarily because on Sunday morning there appeared in The Washington Post an op-ed in which Rep. Omar wrote

U.S. support for Israel has a long history. The founding of Israel 70 years ago was built on the Jewish people’s connection to their historical homeland, as well as the urgency of establishing a nation in the wake of the horror of the Holocaust and the centuries of anti-Semitic oppression leading up to it. Many of the founders of Israel were themselves refugees who survived indescribable horrors.

We must acknowledge that this is also the historical homeland of Palestinians. And without a state, the Palestinian people live in a state of permanent refugeehood and displacement. This, too, is a refugee crisis, and they, too, deserve freedom and dignity.

A balanced, inclusive approach to the conflict recognizes the shared desire for security and freedom of both peoples. I support a two-state solution, with internationally recognized borders, which allows for both Israelis and Palestinians to have their own sanctuaries and self-determination. This has been official bipartisan U.S. policy across two decades and has been supported by each of the most recent Israeli and Palestinian leaders, as well as the consensus of the Israeli security establishment. As Jim Mattis, who later was President Trump’s defense secretary, said in 2011 , “The current situation between those two peoples is unsustainable.”

Working toward peace in the region also means holding everyone involved accountable for actions that undermine the path to peace — because without justice, there can never be a lasting peace. When I criticize certain Israeli government actions in Gaza or settlements in the West Bank, it is because I believe these actions not only threaten the possibility of peace in the region — they also threaten the United States’ own national security interests.

My goal in speaking out at all times has been to encourage both sides to move toward a peaceful two-state solution.

This does not seem heart-felt and, with boilerplate Mideast remarks, appears to have been written for her.  "A two-state solution, with internationally recognized borders, which allows for both Israelis and Palestinians to have their own sanctuaries and self-determination" and some Israeli actions "threaten the United States' own national security interests" sound like what mildly pro-Israel politicians have been saying for many years. Her arm may have been figuratively twisted to help keep peace in the Party.

Yet, she wrote it- or at least signed on to the op-ed, thereby taking responsibility. Although it does not confirm that she has had a change of heart pertaining to Israel or even Jews, it seems that as a member of the Foreign Affairs committee, she is more balanced on Mideast policy than her earlier remarks suggested she was.

She may change her mind. Or she might put a little meat on the bones of a relatively general statement of principles, and that might renew concern about her support of a two-state solution in the Middle East. (She might, for instance, favor a Jewish state on only a small fraction of the land on which it now sits.) But as for now, my fear that Ilhan Omar would be only encouraged in her hateful speech appears unfounded now that she has taken one fairly significant step forward.

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Monday, March 18, 2019

Back It Up, Congresswoman

A few days before being sworn in as a US Representative from Michigan, Rashida Tlaib promised of President Trump "we're gonna impeach the mother****er." Promptly after being sworn in, Tlaib stated she "will never apologize for being me and for being passionate and upset."

It didn't help when her freshman buddy, Representative Ilhan Omar of Michigan, accused a pro-Israel lobby ( and only a pro-Israel lobby) of being "only about the Benjamins baby," then warned American Jews of "allegiance to a foreign country" (albeit without saying "Jews"), and avoided being specifically criticized by Democratic congressional leadership. So we shouldn't be much surprised that Representative Tlaib, the first Muslim Palestinian-American in Congress

said Sunday that she believes Islamophobia "is still very present on both sides of the aisle" in Congress.

The remark from Tlaib, who represents Michigan, came as she was discussing criticism aimed at Rep. Ilhan Omar, who, along with Tlaib, serves as one of two Muslim women in Congress. Omar faced scrutiny in February and March for controversial comments she made about Israel. In the wake of her comments, the Minnesota Democrat also became the subject of death threats.

"I pause and think to myself 'is it because she's a black American and she's Muslim?' And so that's where I pause and say to myself, 'Is there an issue here?' And I guess our mere presence there. The fact that now there's not only one but now three Muslim Americans serving in Congress," Tlaib said to CNN's Jake Tapper on "State of the Union"...

"That our mere presence is going to able to possibly break down any of these kinds of racialized, you know, opinions, this kind of Islamophobia that I do feel like is still very present on both sides of the aisle. And I think my colleagues are not seeing that as an attack. It's just saying that we just have a lot of work to do," she said.

It's not because Omar is black or Muslim. More likely, inasmuch as the House is controlled by the Democratic Party, the Minnesotan was given nary a slap on the wrist precisely because she is Muslim. She is tolerated because she is not Christian. Jewish. or openly agnostic/atheistic. And now, with congressional Republicans marching in lockstep with Donald Trump and 90% of GOP voters backing him, to her it's "both sides."

Inarguably, the decision by Pelosi & Company not to condemn Representative Omar's comment(s), instead opting to criticize speech directed toward a myriad of groups, meat loaf, bad quarterbacks, and loud police sirens (other things, additionally) was motivated in part by a fear of being labeled "Islamaphobic."

When a Democratic member of Congress has publicly reinforced the media's bothsiderism narrative (as she did previously, below), it is only a matter of time that Republicans boast that "Democrats" agree that racism and "Islamaphobia" is a problem in both parties. In the long run, directly or indirectly, this will prove to be a major problem for the only party which resists President Trump.

Richard W. (not house) Painter has it right:

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