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The lies and coverup continue



The crazier Republicans get defending this felonious, heinous president, the more I want to scream! The deal they’ve made with the devil—and I mean that literally—is to give Trump a pass on the unforgivable things he’s doing to America, just so they can get their tax cuts, federal judgeships and anti-abortion agenda. As a strategy it makes some sense, I suppose. But Germans in the early 1930s made the same deal with another authoritarian fascist, and that didn’t work out so well.

For evidence of the irrationality and sheer effrontery of this Republican Party, you need look no further than the op-ed pages of the Wall Street Journal. It’s sad that this newspaper, which once was respected, has fallen so low in moral vision. One gets the sense that its stable of columnists has either become completely unhinged, or—knowing what’s expected of them from the Murdochs—deliberately sets out to write the most dishonest, provocative propaganda they can dream up to make their billionaire overlords happy.

Let’s take a look at some recent entries.

First, there’s Kimberley Strassel’s Feb. 9 screed against Christopher Steele. Now, I know, and you know, that every attack against Steele is nothing other than a smokescreen to deflect attention away from Trump’s behavior, which probably was criminal. Steele was not a Democratic operative. Besides, what difference does his motive in compiling it make? What’s important is the content of the dossier, not who wrote it or why he wrote it. Many if not most of what Steele documented has turned out to be true. And I would venture to say that Trump’s suspicious behavior in protecting Putin and Russia, and in refusing even to indirectly criticize Russia’s meddling in our election, suggests that Putin has something very dark and heavy over Trump. Like a sex tape. Anyhow, here’s Strassel giving her gigantic, Goebbelsian lie: “No credible Steele, no credible dossier.” Well, the dossier’s credibility has already been accepted by Robert Mueller and all rational Americans. Moral of the story: No credible Strassel.

In the same paper, another day, another smear. Here’s a columnist equating Keith Ellison, the deputy DNC Chair, to “Louis Farrakhan.” The strategy here is to choose one of the most hated Black men in America, Farrakhan, and then to make it sound like Ellison is cut from the same mold. I had never heard of this columnist, Jeryl Bier, but a brief Google search told me everything I need to know about him. Among his other articles is one attacking the Southern Poverty Law Center, of all things, which tells me Bier sympathizes with neo-nazis and white supremacists. He also writes for the Weekly Standard’s blog, where, in one of his posts, he snidely summarized the battle over Obamacare this way:

Short Summary of Obamacare and Proposed ‘Repeal and Replace’

Congress passes law to give lots of people free stuff.
Congress considers repealing law.
Headlines: People will lose free stuff.

So healthcare is just socialistic “free stuff” for “lots of people.” What an insult. Maybe Jeryl Bier is auditioning to work for that bastion of truth and objective journalism, Breitbart.

Then there was Andy Puzder’s Feb. 7 op-ed piece bashing people who call the current economy “the Obama boom.” Here are three things to know: One, the boom clearly began under Obama; here’s the Dow’s performance since 2009.

It clearly proves the recovery began in Obama’s first weeks in office. Next, here’s the Dow’s performance over the past week. Would Puzder call this the Trump Crash?

Finally, Puzder ran Carl’s Jr. for 17 years, until 2017. Under his tenure, the city of Los Angeles fined Carl’s Jr. $1.45 million for “paying its workers less than the minimum wage.”

 Here’s Andy Puzder’s lovely home, in the tony Southern California village of Montecito:

A lot of workers were ripped off so his could afford that McMansion.

Puzder also was Trump’s first nominee for Secretary of Labor, but had to pull his nameafter footage surfaced of his ex-wife saying he had physically abused her.” Well, that qualifies Puzder to be a Trump nominee: another abusive straight white male who beats his woman.

Speaking of white men, David R. Henderson, in a Feb. 9 WSJ op-ed entitled “A war on the rich won’t help the poor,” pretends that “closing the gap” between poverty and wealth in America has nothing to do with tax policy! Yes, you read that right. Raising taxes on the rich, according to Henderson, isn’t a fair way to transfer wealth from the one percent down to everybody else; it’s “a war on the rich.” It is very hard to understand such a willful distortion of common sense, except to note that Henderson is paid by the arch-conservative Hoover Institution, which long has lobbied for lower taxes on rich people.

So you can see why I sometimes want to scream. The Republican lies pile up, the GOP’s enablers curry favor with Trump, and meanwhile the shame in the Oval Office continues.

Trump parade’s potential downside



Trump’s much-touted military parade “is political genius,” as Matt Latimer writes in Politico, It confronts Democrats with two options, both unpalatable: they can “stand apart and oppose it,” thereby standing on the receiving end of accusations as the anti-military party. Or they can complain about its potential cost—many millions of dollars—thus appearing as “killjoys” unwilling to spend a little money f0r h0noring our brave men and women in the armed forces.

I agree that Trump has put Democrats in “a pretty clever trap.” Americans by and large love the military; in the most recent poll I could find, 73% of adults expressed “confidence” in the military, “higher than [for] any other institution.” Trump has, of course, constantly portrayed himself as strongly pro-military (to me, an obvious political ploy aimed at his white male, rural base), so his parade is all of a piece with that patriotic image.

It’s a Republican slur that Democrats are anti-military. Sure, there are wackos on the far left that hate the military, but the overwhelming majority of Democrats favor a strong military, just as FDR, Kennedy and all subsequent Democratic presidents have. But Democrats also tend to believe that the Pentagon gets too much money, relative to other arms of the U.S. government, at the expense of domestic needs. This surely is a reasonable position. But Republicans smell blood in the water every time they can bash Democrats on the military—which is exactly what Trump is doing with this parade.

Democrats can’t stop it from happening, even though many military leaders themselves oppose it. I love this remark, on Twitter, from retired Major-General Paul Eaton: “For someone who just declared it was ‘treasonous’ not to applaud him, it is clear that a military parade isn’t about saluting the military—it’s about making a display of the military saluting him.” Eaton by the way is a senior advisor to a group representing more than 500,000 veterans, VoteVets, which @realDonaldTrump just blocked on Twitter because they had the temerity to oppose some of his policies.

Still, Dems won’t win on the parade, so they might as well shut up about it and let Trump take a little victory lap. Pelosi, Schumer and other Democratic leaders ought to show up for it (if it actually happens), salute the troops, and stand next to Trump, should he happen to invite them. It won’t be the Democrats’ greatest moment, but the parade will be forgotten by the American people the next day, and then take its place in the annals of history as one of the more bizarre ornamentations of the Trump regime.

Besides, there’s a potential upside to this for Democrats. Most Americans already view Trump as a self-promoting authoritarian, with little respect for our institutions of democracy. Photographs and videos of him standing on the podium, with his chin thrust out like Mussolini, as M1 Abrams tanks and B-1B bombers trundle past down Constitution Avenue, will go over well with his white base. But independents are likely to think he looks ridiculous.

In fact, for someone as acutely sensitive to his image as Trump is, it’s odd that he would set himself up as an American Duce, which he surely will be portrayed as (with the inevitable photos of Mussolini hanging from a lamppost).

That’s Mussolini on the left. His mistress is on the right.

I wonder if Gen. Kelly or anyone else in the White House attempted to warn Trump of this risk. Trump’s parade may cost him far more than he stands to gain.

Have a great weekend!



Who is Mike Pence?



With the odds increasing that Trump will not last out his term, all eyes turn to the man who would succeed him as president: Vice President Michael Pence.

Most Americans know very little of him, except for a few things: He’s a Christian conservative. He’s a rather handsome older man. And his gaze of adoration as he stares at Trump reminds many of the late Nancy Reagan’s worshipful, unblinking gaze at her husband, Ronald.

Here’s some more skinny on the Veep who might be POTUS. Like Trump, he is a Gemini, born on June 7, 1959. His public notoriety really began when he was a conservative T.V. and radio talk show host in the mid-1990s; his model was Rush Limbaugh. He developed some of the conservative memes he still pushes, like global warming is a “myth.”

Pence was a fierce, uncompromising anti-Clintonite, which he remains to this day: during the campaign, he told a rapt audience at Living World Baptist Church that Bill Clinton lacked “character” because of the Lewinsky scandal, while Donald Trump will bring the highest level of integrity to the highest office in the land.”

The nineteen (at least) women who have accused Trump of sexual assault might disagree with that characterization!

Pence used his talk show host infamy to get elected to Congress in 2000, representing Indiana’s 2nd district, a heavily Republican area. In the Congress, Pence’s star rapidly rose; by 2009 he was chairman of the House Republican Conference. Around that time, he became a member of the House Tea Party Caucus—the first member of GOP leadership to do so. He was also a big supporter of the rightwing Congresswoman Michelle Bachmann. In an interview, he stated that he was “a Christian, a conservative, and a Republican, in that order.”

Give him credit for honesty, in admitting that his religious convictions supersede his loyalty to his political party but also, apparently, his loyalty to the Constitution and laws of the United States.

Pence’s political prominance continued to rise when, in 2013, he became Governor of Indiana. He promptly acted on his political agenda: the biggest tax cut in Indiana’s history, restricting abortion, and signing the Religious Freedom Restoration Act, which notoriously allowed business owners (such as bakers) to refuse to deal with gay people, if they felt that selling a wedding cake to homosexuals would “substantially burden” their “exercise of religion.”

Pence’s homophobia appeals to his hard-core Christian conservative base, but even Trump himself has stated on the record that Pence “wants to hang them all [i.e., gay people].”  Sarah Huckabee Sanders might claim that this was said tongue-in-cheek, as she alleged concerning his “Democrats are treasonous” remark, but as I’ve pointed out repeatedly—as recently as Monday—the extent to which religious fanatics are prepared to act violently against their perceived enemies is a function of the power they possess. There’s no reason not to think that Pence, in his secret heart, really does wish to see LGBTQ people swinging from trees. If that’s too far-fetched, he would at least like to see them forced into “conversion therapy,” which he called for in Indiana, when he said that “Resources should be directed toward those institutions which provide assistance to those seeking to change their sexual behavior.” Those “institutions” included, of course, Bachmann & Associates, the anti-gay, Christian “conversion therapy” center in Minnesota owned by Marcus Bachmann, the husband of Pence’s old Tea Party colleague, Michelle.

This is the man who stands a good chance of being the next President of the United States. I’m all for getting rid of Trump by any means necessary. I fully understand the risks of his being replaced by someone who is, in many respects, even more mentally unstable and dangerous. But my motto is, One fight at a time. Let’s take Trump down. Then we’ll deal with Pence, who, frankly, in my opinion, would be a very weak candidate for re-election.






A worst-case scenario: Trump orders troops to protect his beleaguered presidency



You may have read a bizarre story recently about a political situation in the Maldives, that tiny tropical country in the Indian Ocean, where a standoff exists between the President, Yameen Abdul Gayoom, and the Supreme Court. Gayoom ordered soldiers into the Supreme Court building, where they arrested the Chief Justice, leading Gayoom’s government to declare a state of emergency, while his political opposition called the move “a purge” and is urged his arrest.

The particulars of the Maldives crisis need not detain us. Rather, the interesting part is this open warfare between a sitting president and a Supreme Court that, in the Maldives as here in the U.S., constitutes a separate but co-equal branch of government.

As I followed the news out of the Maldives, my mind returned to a remark I heard an analyst make the other day (I don’t remember his name). The panel he was part of was talking about possible outcomes should Trump refuse to testify before Mueller, refuse a Grand Jury subpoena to testify, and simply refuse to cooperate at all with any aspect of the investigation.

All of the panelists said, in effect, “Don’t worry. This will go to the Supreme Court, and even though it’s dominated by Republicans, they will decide the same way they did in United States v. Nixon, when they unanimously ruled that a president is not above the law, and must comply with legal court orders.”

The analyst replied, in effect, “Trump already has let us know he doesn’t respect any of the institutions of government. What makes anyone think he’d abide by a Supreme Court decision?”

That remark caught the rest of the panel off-guard, as I’m sure it did many people who were listening in on T.V. What happens when a president says to a Supreme Court, “What are you going to do about it?”

There is an anecdote, a bit of Churchilliana, that Winston Churchill once asked Joseph Stalin, during one of their meetings, to consider the views of the Vatican in making decisions. Stalin is supposed to have replied, “How many divisions does the Pope have?”, a reflection of the brutal realpolitik Stalin employed in all his dealings with his World War II Allies. The point Stalin meant to make, of course, was that it didn’t matter how much the Vatican complained about anything the Russians did, such as occupying Eastern Europe and making life hard for the Roman Catholic Church in countries like Bulgaria, Romania, Poland and the eastern part of Germany which they occupied. What mattered, to an old revolutionary like Stalin, was who had military power. He, Stalin, had hundreds of divisions; the Pope had the Swiss Guard.

Trump, who also thinks in terms of realpolitik, may already be several months ahead of the rest of us, in planning the broad outlines of his political strategy should worse come to worst for him. Sometime later this year, events rush to a climax. Mueller issues a scathing report, with indictments, subpoenas, the whole nine yards. An increasingly furious and isolated Trump holes up in the White House. The Supreme Court is asked to rule quickly on something pertinent to the scandal: perhaps whether or not the president must comply with a Grand Jury subpoena to testify (although it could be any one of several other issues). Trump says no, he will comply with nothing; he attacks the Supreme Court itself, declaring it “treasonous” despite its Republican majority. A standoff ensues in which Stalin’s remark becomes pregnant with new meaning: for the President of the United States of America is Commander-in-Chief of all U.S. armed forces, which number about 2.2 million men and women.

These uniformed personnel are sworn by oath to obey their commanders, up to and including the president. The question then becomes, if the Supreme Court rules against Trump, and Trump refuses to recognize the Court’s legitimacy, what role might the troops play? We can dismiss the importance of Congress in such a standoff. Democrats will, of course, be outraged. Some Republicans will call for immediate impeachment. A majority of Republicans in the Senate might even agree that Trump is in criminal violation of the U.S. Code and the Constitution; but impeachment must originate in the House of Representatives, which, for the remainder of this year at least, will be dominated by the most rightwing conservative coalition in modern American history, a coalition that will support Trump to the bitter end. They cannot be expected to go along with anything that is antithetical to Trump’s interests. The situation might change with the fall elections, but even if Democrats retake the House, they will not be seated until late January, 2019, and by then, enormous damage might have been done to the country, and events could well be completely out of control.

So let’s play this out. There’s Trump, squirreled away at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue, at the center of a firestorm, but still wielding more power than anyone else in America through his as Commander-in-Chief. He surrounds the White House with, say, airmen from Langley Air Force Base, soldiers of the 3rd Infantry from Fort McNair, and Marines from their base in Quantico. Ten thousand elite troops surround the White House, heavily-armed, sworn to repel anyone who approaches with malicious intent. If Congress and the Supreme Court protest, Trump might well inquire, “How many divisions do they have?”

In other words, Trump breaks the back of Congress and the Supreme Court, the two co-equal branches of government to his executive, and uses “his” troops the way Banana Republican strongmen use their troops: to keep themselves in office. Defiantly, through Twitter, Trump does the same thing to his perceived “enemies”—and to the American people—he did to Kim Jong-un: threatens, bullies, dares, taunts, and rattles his big sabers. What then?

Who the hell knows? But it’s not too early for every citizen of this country to ask herself: If things get really ugly, which side will I be on?

The investigation: Where we are to date



We’re coming up on the one-year anniversary of Robert Mueller’s appointment as Special Counsel by Rod Rosenstein, the Deputy Attorney-General.

The news these days breaks with such breathtaking fury that it can be hard to discern just where things stand. So I thought this would be a good time to take stock.

What we know, for sure and no matter what else is happening, is that Mueller is proceeding relentlessly. There’s no reason to assume otherwise. His office is notoriously leak-proof, so we don’t know much about what he’s finding, apart from the very few times he’s made announcements, such as the indictments of Paul Manafort, Michael Flynn, Rick Gates and George Papadopoulos. We know, also, from the charges against these individuals, the general areas Mueller is investigating: conspiracy against the United States (by colluding with a foreign government to influence our elections), conspiracy to launder money, failure to report on key meetings and bank transactions, and false statements, AKA lies.

No one has, as yet, been accused of obstruction of justice. But that’s because obstruction is a difficult case to prove in court, and the four individuals who already have been charged are low-hanging fruit for which Mueller evidently has all the proof he needs to send them to jail, unless they cooperate.

What we don’t know, but strongly suggest, is that Mueller is zeroing in on Trump’s son, Don. Jr., son-in-law Jared Kushner, and possibly others in his inner circle, a circumstance said to infuriate Donald Trump. We suspect, furthermore, that all this is relevant to Mueller making a case that Trump himself has committed felonies, similar to those performed by the four indicted individuals, and probably including other crimes, most notably obstruction of justice: Trump’s repeated, and rather clumsy, attempts to halt the investigation in its tracks, e.g. by firing James Comey.

We know, too, that, despite the clumsiness of these attempts, the Republican Party is standing by their man. We have assumed, for more than a year, that a “red line” exists, in theory, beyond which sane Republicans finally will desert Trump and support justice and law. But we know—sadly—that the GOP is no closer to that red line than they were six months ago, and probably they’re further away from it.

Then there’s the money. Trump famously declared his own red line last December, when, asked by New York Times reporter Peter Baker if “looking at your finances and your family finances…is that a red line”, and Trump replied, I would say yeah. I would say yes.”

So that’s a known known. What we don’t know is whether Trump is simply resistant to outside scrutiny of his finances for philosophical reasons, or if he actually has something to hide. Is Mueller looking at Trump’s money trail? We know that, last December, Mueller “subpoenaed President Donald Trump’s financial dealings with Deutsche Bank,” and we can assume, with some surety, that Mueller is looking at other deals between banks and Trump’s various companies. Is Mueller also looking into Trump’s taxes—the ones he refuses to make public? It now appears likely special counsel Robert Mueller has crossed what President Donald Trump has said is a clear red line by gaining access to the president’s tax returns as part of a broadening investigation looking for links between Trump’s business interests, his presidential campaign and Russia,” U.S. News and World Report wrote.

It’s important to keep in mind these basic facts of what we know and what we reasonably suspect to be true. It can be difficult to keep one’s eye on the ball, though, amidst the clutter and obstruction of Republican efforts to throw up smokescreens: the Devin Nunes memo, Benghazi, Hillary’s emails, the sexual affairs of FBI agents, alleged tapping of Trump Tower phones, and on and on to the latest GOP faux-scandal du jour. The Republican attack machine, which is basically a cabal of Fox “News,” Republican operatives, dark money and Trump family members, never ceases to amaze for the vapidity and desperateness of their counter-attacks.

None of it will work. Bob Mueller wakes up every morning and does his job, as does his staff. They don’t care about shifting developments in the news; they care about facts, and these they gather with the plodding relentlessness of lawyers going about their cases. Finally, what else do we know? Trump still wants to fire Rosenstein and Mueller. He has no proof that doing so will do him any good, except to assuage his ego. What we don’t know, and can’t know until and if it happens, is how Congressional Republicans will react. Will they tolerate a Rosenstein firing? In my opinion, yes. Will they tolerate a Mueller firing? I think we’re going to find out.

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