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The RussiaGate Four circle the wagons, join coverup at Senate Intel hearing

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Back in 1973-74, “The Watergate Four” were the highest-ranking of the President’s men implicated in the crimes: John Mitchell, John Erlichman, Robert Mardian and Bob Haldeman. All four eventually were indicted, with three going to jail.

Yesterday, we saw the unmasking of the RussiaGate Four:

Dan Coats, Director of National Intelligence

Rod Rosenstein, Acting Attorney-General

Adm. Mike Rogers, Director, National Security Agency

Andrew McCabe, Acting Director, Federal Bureau of Investigation

With their stonewalling, all four publicly joined the coverup. They now find their professional reputations in tatters—like those of almost everyone else associated with this president.

One by one, they took the exact same position: Refusing to answer questions. Punting. Evading. Hiding behind Jim Comey’s skirts.

Typical were exchanges between them and the Democratic Senator from New Mexico, Martin Heinrich, who wanted to know, simply and as a matter of fact, if the meetings between them and Trump actually occurred, as was widely reported

Heinrich did not ask for the content of the meetings, or what was said, or what wasn’t said. He did not ask if any of them felt pressured, or didn’t feel pressured. He simply wanted to know if the meetings happened.

He got no answers.

Coats: “I do not share that with the general public.”

The others agreed.

Why could they not even say whether or not the meetings occurred? We all know they did. The fact that they wouldn’t answer “speaks volumes,” an angry and frustrated Heinrich said.

Immediately afterwards, the Independent Senator from Maine, Angus King, took up Heinrich’s line of inquiry.

“Why wouldn’t you answer Sen. Heinrich?” he asked.

McCabe: “I don’t want to step into the Special Counsel’s lane.”

Sen. King: “I want a legal definition of why you can’t answer. Why does the Special Counsel take precedence over this Committee?”

McCabe declined to explain. Admiral Rogers did instead: “I feel it would be inappropriate to answer.”

King, visibly upset, grew heated.

“I don’t care about your feelings,” he said. “I want an answer. You took an oath to give this committee the truth and nothing but the truth so help you God.”

Admiral Rogers: “I stand by my previous comments.”

I don’t think we’ve seen anything like this since Watergate. Here are the top four intelligence chiefs of America, testifying under oath before a Senate committee, refusing to answer the simplest questions. Their basic excuse was that they didn’t want to interfere with Mueller’s investigation. But, as the Democratic Senators pointed out, Mueller has not asked anyone not to testify; as Sen. Warner said, “Mr. Mueller has not waived you off from answering these questions. So our questions deserve answers and the American public deserves answers.”

But still, the RussiaGate Four stood mute before the bar of history, and of the law, and stonewalled to protect their boss. For me, the most astonishing moment came when Sen. King once again asked the four why they refused to answer questions, or even provide a legal basis for their refusal to do so. Admiral Rogers finally spilled the beans: “Because of Executive Privilege, I have to talk to the general counsel in the White House.”

Wow. There it is, right out in the open. Trump’s people have said he is not going to invoke Executive Privilege, at least in Comey’s case. And he has not yet invoked it in the case of the RussiaGate Four. Yet here is the Director of the National Security Agency stating he has to clear his testimony with the lawyer for the person of interest under investigation, the man who may have broken multiple laws, the man who alone has the power to fire all four of them: the President of the United States.

Ball’s in your court, Mr. Comey.


That Republican anti-regulation push? It’s killing you

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Republicans love to criticize federal regulations, which they blame on Democrats. For decades, it’s been a GOP mantra: cut regulations, and you’ll save Americans billions of dollars, and create millions of new jobs.

The anti-regulatory rhetoric was taken up by Trump early in his campaign, and that’s one promise he’s in the process of keeping. As the National Review reports, “Trump’s [first] 100 days have made a good start of regulation.”

On the surface, Republicans have a case. The U.S. Code of Regulations “is more than 175,000 pages long,” the National Review says. Meanwhile, a new report claims that the U.S. Government also forced Americans to spend an eye-watering $1.9 trillion in 2016 just to comply with federal regulations.” And, according to the same report, “nobody imposed more [new regulations] than Barack Obama.”

To my way of thinking, to understand any attack on President Obama in the proper context, you have to consider the source. In this case, the new report is from a Washington, D.C. outfit called the Competitive Enterprise Institute (CEI). What is the CEI? One way to judge it is to know who its supporters are. On the organization’s website is a list of fans; they include Ron Paul, Steve Forbes (the ultra-conservative billionaire who ran for president a few times), a fellow named William Armstrong who’s president of Colorado Christian University (and a former Republican Senator) and, oddly, Al Gore. I’ll get to him in a moment.

So, except for Gore, this is your standard lineup of rightwing, Christian conservatives, the same group that’s attacked Barack Obama (and Hillary Clinton, and Bill Clinton, and other Democrats) for decades.

CEI’s chief regulatory policy wonk is a guy named Clyde Wayne Crews. He’s been on an anti-regulatory crusade for a long time. Forbes Magazine (that citadel of capitalism, owned by the aforementioned Steve Forbes) touted him in a recent, anti-regulatory article that cited the specific example of the FDA denying approval of an anti-arthritis drug, Arcoxia, a decision Forbes called “specious.”

Why did the FDA reject Arcoxia, and what can we Americans understand about regulations by its decision? Well, arthritis is certainly a debilitating ailment that affects millions of Americans (including me). You can buy Arcoxia in at least 63 foreign countries, but the FDA still hasn’t approved it here, claiming that the manufacturer, Merck & Co., had not proven the drug’s benefit-to-risk profile.” According to Public Citizen, whose healthcare director, Dr. Sidney Wolfe, testified on the matter to the FDA, Arcoxia “is associated with an increased risk of cardiovascular problems” and “offers no unique benefits but carries a risk not associated with older pain relievers.”

I’m old enough to remember a time when thalidomide was peddled as a sedative and anti-nausea drug, which made it popular with pregnant women. Bad choice: some 10,000 American babies were impacted, many born without limbs; 40 percent of them died before their first birthday. “The thalidomide tragedy moved Congress to pass legislation to protect patients from medical experimentation without their consent and to require testing of new drugs before their distribution.” You’d think Americans would be glad that we can never have a repeat of a nightmare like thalidomide, and yet Big Pharma to this day wants to decrease regulations. It would seem obvious that the fewer and lighter regulations are, the greater the risk for another thalidomide.

In place of drug regulations we could talk about air, water, food, workplace safety, railroads, hospitals, nail parlors, tattoo shops, dentists, airports, roadways and automobiles, cosmetics, veterinarians, banking, insurance, construction—all kinds of products and services that Americans use every day, and trust are safe. I welcome the government monitoring these things in order to protect us; and I distrust a political party, and a president, that wishes to lower regulatory standards to a point where it’s almost a given that more of us will die or get ripped off.

Oh, that Al Gore “endorsement” on CEI’s website? They quote him as saying, “Over 20 years, I have seen them [CEI] have a tremendous impact.” Hashtag misleading. The problem is, Gore said that in a negative sense, decrying the deleterious effects of CEI’s anti-regulatory ideology. Gore has been a frequent target of CEI over the years; CEI was involved in the formation of a conservative group that sought “to dispel the myths of global warming by exposing flawed economic, scientific and risk analysis,” and in 2006, following Gore’s “An Inconvenient Truth” movie, CEI issued a press release announcing “CEI Launches Ad Campaign to Counter Global Warming Alarmism.” And now, we have Trump leaving the Paris accords, just a few weeks after CEI issued this statement: “The President should not listen to Washington’s Swamp, but rather keep his campaign promise to get the United States out of the Paris Climate Treaty…”.

CEI’s funding comes from rightwing sources including the Koch Brothers, the Scaife family (which spent millions digging up dirt on Bill Clinton), and such Big Oil companies as Texaco and Amoco; Big Pharma companies including Pfizer; and Big Tobacco including Philip Morris.

I’m not saying there’s not room to pull back on the regulatory leash. Finding the right balance is tricky. But, to my way of thinking, clearly the Republican Party leans towards no regulation at all, and if they can’t have that, they’ll push for as little as possible. That, to me, is gambling with our health and welfare. These mega-corporations are not on the side of average Americans; their concern is the short-term performance of their stock. We need adequate government supervision of their activities, and anyone who argues to the contrary needs to be considered suspect, including–especially–this current president.


Why are Republicans such snobs?

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Republicans and especially tea party types love to cast aspersions on “liberals” for their snobby “elitist” ways, but you know what? There’s a snobbery among right wingers that’s as parochial and mean as they accuse “liberals” of being, and it’s time they owned up to it.

What I’m talking about are people who scorn the kinds of things they imagine “liberals” like. Here’s an example. It’s from a Wall Street Journal columnist, Lou Weiss, from Pittsburgh, who describes himself as “a carpet salesman,” which I guess is meant to let us know he’s an “ordinary” working stiff, white and straight, as opposed to some coastal elite.

On May 5, in a piece that attempted to satirize the left’s notion of “white privilege,” he wrote, I don’t know what a single malt scotch is, let alone ever tasted one.” This is supposed to mean that “liberals” have fancy-schmancy tastes that good old-boy heartland conservatives would never think of having. (Mr. Weiss perhaps prefers Coca Cola.) For “single malt scotch” you could replace “Chardonnay” or “tofu” or “membership in the Sierra Club” or “eco-tourism” or “supports gay rights” as liberal things Mr. Weiss wouldn’t get caught dead eating, drinking, supporting or doing. In a similar piece, in yesterday’s Journal, called “Yes, Pittsburgh Trumps Paris,” Mr. Weiss was at it again, defending Trump’s ridiculous “Pittsburgh-Paris” conceit, and celebrating “French fries” and the “Big Mac” over duck confit, Heintz ketchup over the “heavy sauce” in which he wrongly imagines French food to be smothered (has he dined there in recent decades?), and praising “cargo shorts” over “Dior and Chanel.” Then Mr. Weiss lands his hardest jab to the jaws of liberals: “Much of my wardrobe is from Costco.”

Well, isn’t that special? This is reverse snobbery, pure and simple. I suppose I could insult southern states for their high rates of obesity, diabetes, infant mortality, school dropouts, out-of-wedlock births, alcoholism, suicide and so on, but I’m not a mean person: southerners make those choices. To paraphrase Pope Francis, who am I to tell them how to live their lives?

As a free American, Mr. Weiss is entitled to his opinions, of course, and so is everyone else who likes high-fat, high-cholesterol fast food. But really, is it necessary for the tea party to be so insulting towards things that tens of millions of Americans enjoy eating, wearing and doing?

I’ve long wondered about this attitude. These rust belt people visit San Francisco every chance they get (especially if their employer is paying for it), enjoying our natural beauty, fabulous weather, world-class dining, sightseeing and so on. Then they go home and trash San Franciscans. Today, on Facebook, some denizen of Trumpism, who objected to a comment I had made, sent me a picture of two very fat ladies whom I assumed to be Lesbians, naked from the waist up except for pasties, with the caption: California, Land of Fruits and Nuts. It was obviously an attempt to insult me and my neighbors. It didn’t work, of course; I simply replied to the woman who sent it and asked which of the two lovely ladies was her mother. This bigotry or prejudice or whatever you want to call it against Democrats is most unseemly in America, and does not speak well of a Republican Party that claims to be for everyone.

Mr. Weiss, I really don’t care if you shop at Costco and grab a Big Mac with fries on the way home. It’s your heart, your weight, but guess what? Liberals shop at Costco too (and conservatives actually wear French fashion, if they can afford it. Just ask Melania Trump). Someday, Mr. Weiss, you might realize that you are the snob, putting down other people you don’t even know (aside from Fox “New”’s portrayal of them) with your nasty, bitchy and—dare I say it?—drag-queeny put-downs. Just like the president whom you admire, which reminds me, once again, to ask the eternally unanswerable question: Why do working-class people like Mr. Weiss–a “carpet salesman”–vote for politicians like Donald Trump who are so inimical to their interests? Trump will cut taxes on himself and his wife (so she can afford more French fashion), and then he will cut the Medicare that many of Mr. Weiss’s neighbors and family members depend on (and which I’m sure Mr. Weiss, who is 60, will sign up for as soon as the law allows). And yet the Mr. Weisses of this country (and their friends, the Lesbian haters) line up to support a horrible person who grabs women’s pussies, cheats vendors, insults Gold Star parents, makes fun of people with disabilities, lies with profligate pathology and appears to be amoral, if not sociopathic. Next time you’re slipping into your cargo pants, Mr. Weiss, think about that. Oh, and while you’re at it, remember: They’re not “French fries,” they’re “Freedom fries.”


Trump, Treason and Misprision of Treason: A Primer

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The American Constitution contains a single reference to “treason,” which Article III says “shall consist only in levying War against them [the United States], or in adhering to their Enemies, giving them Aid and Comfort.”

Treason was a big concern of the Founders, which is why it is one of only three crimes defined in the Constitution (the others being piracy and counterfeiting). Just seven years prior to the Constitution’s writing, Benedict Arnold had committed treason against the fledgling United States by seriously compromising West Point in favor of the British; Arnold later joined the British Army and waged war against America. The stinging memory of Arnold, who they thought was a trusted general, was fresh in the Founders’ minds when they wrote Article III.

Treason was further defined in the United States Code, which spelled out its penalties: anyone convicted of treason “shall suffer death, or shall be imprisoned not less than five years and fined under this title but not less than $10,000; and shall be incapable of holding any office under the United States.”

The Code also added a less severe version of treason: “misprision of treason [from an Old French word meaning “to misunderstand”]: “Whoever, owing allegiance to the United States and having knowledge of the commission of any treason against them, conceals and does not, as soon as may be, disclose and make known the same to the President or to some judge of the United States, or to the governor or to some judge or justice of a particular State, is guilty of misprision of treason and shall be fined under this title or imprisoned not more than seven years, or both.” The difference, then, between “treason” and “misprision of treason” is roughly the difference between an act of commission and an act of omission.

In the centuries since the Constitution’s ratification, in 1789, only 13 Americans have been charged with and convicted of treason. The reason the number is so low is because treason is relatively rare, and hard to prove. Axis Sally’s case was simple enough: her radio broadcasts during World War II certainly gave “aid and comfort” to Nazi Germany. But Tomoya Kawakita’s case was complicated: the last person ever to be convicted of treason (in 1952), Kawakita lost his appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court by a close 4-3 decision, and, in October, 1963—mere weeks before he was assassinated—President Kennedy commuted his sentence.

There’s plenty of talk today about Donald Trump and/or his associates having committed treason in their relationships with Russia. It’s looking more and more like the deal that went down was:

  1. Russia got to interfere in the election on Trump’s behalf, with the collusion or at least the approval and knowledge of Trump and/or his associates.
  2. Meanwhile, what Russia got from the deal was the Trump administration’s promise to end sanctions imposed by the U.S. after Putin’s invasion of Ukraine.

The evidence for this is mounting. We already knew that sanctions are hurting Russia badly. Then, there was the report late last week that Trump “was gearing up to lift sanctions on Russia.” There also was the additional news that Trump sought to return those seized Russian diplomatic compounds (in Maryland and New York) back to Russia.

Trump’s lawyers will argue that he committed no treason, because there’s no evidence of direct communication between him and Russian officials, and no evidence of a quid pro quo; Trump simply wanted better relations with Russia. But there’s certainly evidence of misprision of treason: “having knowledge of the commission of any treason against them, conceals and does not, as soon as may be, disclose and make known the same…”. Did Donald Trump know that his associates (Stone, Flynn, Manafort, Jared, etc.) were doing just that? Was it at his behest, or did they go rogue? Did he disclose such knowledge, even if it was just a suspicion, to any responsible legal or political authority? No. Instead, Donald Trump did his best to cover up, deny, obfuscate, hide, screen, conceal and excuse what was done; indeed, he still is doing so. It seems likely that he also attempted to obstruct justice, and Mueller may well charge him with that. But it would be even more sensational if Mueller finds the president committed misprision of treason, and Trump is sentenced to seven years in jail, probably in one of the “white collar” prisons: the Federal Correctional Institution in Butner, in North Carolina, where Bernie Madoff is incarcerated, would be ironic. Two busted billionaires!


The Paris accord, and the challenge for America’s allies

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Between Ivanka’s champagne popsicles, the Paris climate accord, next week’s Comey testimony, and the NBA finals, I’m positively verklempt. So much news!

To tell you the truth, I’m not as upset by Trump breaking the climate agreement as some of my friends are. It’s not that I’m in favor of coal, but the whole issue of climate change is complicated, and I’ve reached a point in my life where I no longer take strong positions on stuff I don’t fully understand. There’s enough of that going on in the Oval Office! I do think I understand enough about the future of energy to know that coal is a really bad way to generate energy and the world is going to have to move away from it, and other forms of fossil fuel. But, like I said, it’s not something I’ve studied. I do think that the Democratic Party was a little cavalier in not taking seriously the concerns of people in states like West Virginia, Pennsylvania, Indiana and Ohio about coal miners losing their jobs. Trump connected better with them than Hillary did. I think he conned them—coal is a dying industry and there’s nothing Trump or the Republican Party or anybody can do about that. I don’t imagine that canceling the Paris accord is going to save a single coal mining job in America, though, so if I were a coal miner I wouldn’t hold my breath. It’s a very tough situation: what happens to middle-aged workers when progress makes their jobs obsolete? And things are just going to get worse. Self-driving vehicles are going to displace hundreds of thousands of drivers. Robots will displace millions of factory workers. And artificial intelligence might even replace information workers. I have no idea how America, or the world, is going to deal with that massive disruption, but I do believe in science, and in the kind of progressive liberal thinking we see in Silicon Valley, to help us solve the problem. Unfortunately, the current president doesn’t seem to believe in science.

The most horrible thing about him (and there are so many awful traits it’s hard to pick just one) is how thoughtless he seems to be. He told lie after lie after lie in the campaign, thinking he wouldn’t get elected, but when he did get elected, he suddenly realized that all his voters were expecting him to deliver on his promises. Ending “the war on coal” was one of them. That was something he could do through executive order, rather than through Congress, where he appears completely inert. So this trashing of the Paris accord is red meat to a few of his voters.

Germany, France and Italy are upset by what he did to Paris. Of course, they were already fed up with Trump anyway, so this just adds to their disillusionment. I was thinking yesterday, when this news came out, that it would be helpful if those three countries did something to signal their extreme displeasure with this Trump regime. They probably won’t break diplomatic relations, but sooner or later Merkel, Macron and Gentiloni (prime minister of Italy), and probably others such as Trudeau in Canada, Peña Nieto in Mexico, Modi of India, Xi of China and Abbot in Australia are going to have to figure out the right symbolism for repudiating Trump. You can feel them struggling with this. You know they think he’s a dangerous fool, but how to telegraph that to the world is a challenge. It’s important that they do, because Trump is such a liar he will say that his relationships with them are “really great” even though they’re not, and his surrogates will repeat that fantasy, and his credulous followers will believe it. I can’t imagine that Angela Merkel likes it when Sean Spicer says she and Trump have a “fairly unbelievable” relationship.

What exactly these leaders can do to correct this lie and others like it is beyond my capacity to determine, but it is necessary that they do so, clearly, and that they speak with one voice. The bizarre thing is that, even if they did something extreme, Trump’s right wing supporters would celebrate it, since they don’t like foreigners anyway. Fox “News” would tout America’s “liberation” from the wicked, corrupt Old World, the triumph of his MAGA policy. It would just another episode of Trump! the Reality Show.


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