Thursday, October 17, 2019

For All To See

Everybody loses their shit every now and then.  If you’re in a very high-profile job with urgent matters coming at you in every direction and everyone expects you to make very tough decisions, you’re going to let off steam.  But you don’t do it in front of people who will walk outside and tell a gaggle of reporters that they just saw someone turn into a six-year-old brat in front of them.  You keep it together until the doors are closed and there’s no one who can hear you.

Not this guy.

Trump faced off against both parties in Congress on Wednesday in an extraordinary confrontation over his decision to abandon America’s Kurdish allies as the vast majority of House Republicans joined Democrats to condemn his policy in an overwhelming vote.

Mr. Trump found himself increasingly isolated after withdrawing troops from Syria and clearing the way for a Turkish offensive against Kurds who had fought alongside the United States. The president all but washed his hands of the conflict, saying that it “has nothing to do with us,” generating withering criticism from Republicans and leading to a stormy clash with Speaker Nancy Pelosi.

Bereft of supporters and under pressure from an impeachment inquiry, Mr. Trump spent much of the day defending his decision and lashing out against rivals. He dismissed the Kurds, who until last week shared outposts with American soldiers, saying they were “no angels” and fought for money. And he berated Ms. Pelosi as a “third-grade politician” or “third-rate politician,” depending on the version, prompting Democrats to walk out of a White House meeting.

“I think now we have to pray for his health,” Ms. Pelosi told reporters afterward. “This was a very serious meltdown on the part of the president.” She said Mr. Trump seemed “very shaken up” by the cascade of criticism.

Mr. Trump said it was the other way around. “Nancy Pelosi needs help fast!” he wrote on Twitter. “She had a total meltdown in the White House today. It was very sad to watch. Pray for her, she is a very sick person!”

Yeah, that last little bit of projection shows that he’s got all the tantrum moves down pat.

This will either be another bit of evidence at his impeachment trial or the invocation of the 25th Amendment.

Tuesday, October 8, 2019

Follow The Money

We’re getting closer to seeing Trump’s tax returns.

A federal judge on Monday dismissed President Trump’s lawsuit seeking to block the Manhattan district attorney from obtaining the president’s tax returns as part of an investigation into hush-money payments during the 2016 campaign.

That decision does not mean Trump’s tax returns will be handed over immediately. Trump appealed within minutes, and an appeals court put the case on hold until it can hear the president’s challenge.

But Monday’s ruling by U.S. Judge Victor Marrero was still a broad rejection of Trump’s precedent-shattering argument in this case.

The president argued that, as long as he is president, he cannot be investigated by any prosecutor, anywhere, for any reason.

Marrero said that was “repugnant” to an American ideal as old as the Constitution: that no man, even a president, is above the law.

So, you ask, why does it matter?  Who cares what’s buried in the morass of IRS mumbo-jumbo and legalistic terms?  Because buried in there is the truth about his dealings with foreign powers, including Russia, Saudi Arabia, and Turkey, all of whom have benefited from Trump’s handling of foreign policy to the detriment of other allies who have not been so willing to work out some kind of deal with Trump’s business ventures.

Paul Waldman:

For instance, Trump has just decided that the United States will be withdrawing troops from an area along Turkey’s border with Syria, which many are justifiably arguing is an abandonment of Kurdish forces there to be overrun and even slaughtered by the Turkish military, our lengthy alliance with the Kurds notwithstanding. Trump apparently made the decision after a phone conversation with Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan.

So one might reasonably ask: How much income does Trump derive from Trump Towers Istanbul? Does that play into his thinking as he tries to balance the interests and desires of two U.S. allies that are in conflict? At the very least, we should know the extent of his financial interests in Turkey.

Imagine, if you will, what the response to the immigration issue on the southern border would be if in 2008 Trump worked out a deal with the president of Mexico to build a luxury hotel in Mexico City or one of the destinations of cruise ships such as Puerto Vallarta, and to get the deal he had to work some way of making the president of Mexico grease his palm and vice versa.  We wouldn’t be building a wall; we’d be building casinos and resorts in Juarez and Nogales and providing jobs for undocumented workers, just like he did in his own little test market, Mar-a-Lago in Florida.

In reality, I think the revelation of Trump’s taxes will show that he’s no different than any other corporation that has done everything they could within the tax code to protect their money from the IRS.  If he had truly broken the law the IRS wouldn’t be auditing him, they’d be ransacking his office; they don’t mess around.  So he’s got something to hide and is loath to reveal it.  Not that he has any sense of shame; he just thinks that it’s nobody’s business.

As to the long-term implications of Trump’s tax returns, they will likely offer the public one of the most vivid possible illustrations of how America’s wealthy avoid paying taxes. In effect, they will be nothing short of an advertisement for the campaign of the Democratic nominee for president in 2020, especially if that nominee is Elizabeth Warren or Bernie Sanders, both of whom want to impose wealth taxes and make it harder for people such as Trump to cheat, remaking the tax code so that the wealthy pay something resembling their fair share.

And right now, they don’t. As David Leonhardt details, in recent decades the combined rate of taxes paid by the ultra-wealthy (he uses the richest 400 families as an illustration) has fallen down and down: In 1950, their combined federal, state, and local taxes were 70 percent; today, the figure is only 23 percent. The result is that despite what you might think, we don’t actually have a progressive tax system but something more closely resembling a flat tax.

At their second debate in 2016, Hillary Clinton suggested that Trump was hiding his tax returns because he didn’t want the public to know that he doesn’t pay any taxes. Trump interrupted her, leaning into his microphone to say, “That makes me smart.”

That may fly in the boardroom, but when the public realizes that the guy making $7.50 an hour pays more in taxes dollar for dollar than Trump does and brags about it, it could blow up in his face.  And when it turns into how foreign policy is guided and people are literally dying for the sake of a hotel in Istanbul, it’s impeachable.

Tuesday, October 1, 2019

Foreign Aid

This is weird.

Trump pushed the Australian prime minister during a recent telephone call to help Attorney General William P. Barr gather information for a Justice Department inquiry that Mr. Trump hopes will discredit the Mueller investigation, according to two American officials with knowledge of the call.

The White House curbed access to a transcript of the call — which the president made at Mr. Barr’s request — to a small group of aides, one of the officials said. The restriction was unusual and similar to the handling of a July call with the Ukrainian president that is at the heart of House Democrats’ impeachment inquiry.

Like that call, Mr. Trump’s discussion with Prime Minister Scott Morrison of Australia shows the president using high-level diplomacy to advance his personal political interests.

The discussion with Mr. Morrison shows the extent to which Mr. Trump views the attorney general as a crucial partner: The president is using federal law enforcement powers to aid his political prospects, settle scores with his perceived “deep state” enemies and show that the Mueller investigation had corrupt, partisan origins.

In a way, it’s kind of a relief to find out that Attorney General Barr is just as much of a political lackey and bag man as the guy who hired him.  Having a cabinet member who has morals and a sense of what’s legal would be so out of character.  It will also assure the historians that the ongoing efforts to rehabilitate the reputation of President Harding and his gang is going to be a lot easier now that there’s even more blatant corruption lying out there in the sun.

Aside from that, what is it telling our allies and adversaries in other countries about who’s running the store here?  They have their own problems and interests at stake in dealing with the U.S., and all of it has to be funneled through Trump’s political ambitions.

If that’s all he cares about, why should they lift a finger to help us when we really need it?

Monday, September 23, 2019

Lying And Dividing

Anyone who’s watched law and order TV shows, including the actual “Law & Order” series and their offspring (all over cable TV if you look beyond the paid programs for skin cream and boner pills) knows the drill: a suspect will first deny any knowledge of the alleged crime.  “I had nothing to do with it; it’s all bullshit.”  Then under questioning and faced with the evidence, the line will shift to “Well, maybe I did know something, but it wasn’t me.”  Then with more evidence, such as pictures or recordings, it becomes “Well, yeah, okay, but there was nothing wrong with it; it was just two people talking.  Can I see my lawyer now?”

I think we’re getting to that last part now with Trump and the whistle-blower and Ukraine.  He’s gone from claiming it never happened (“Fake News”) to admitting — boasting — that he did bring it up more than once in his phone call in July with the president of Ukraine.

“The conversation I had was largely congratulatory, was largely corruption, all of the corruption taking place, was largely the fact that we don’t want our people, like Vice President Biden and his son, creating to the corruption already in the Ukraine,” Trump told reporters Sunday morning. “And Ukraine, Ukraine’s got a lot of problems.”

And while Trump and his minions may try to cling to their stories as well as their Miranda rights, a large number of Republicans are making tracks.

Since Trump’s inauguration, a Washington Post analysis shows, nearly 40 percent of the 241 Republicans who were in office in January 2017 are gone or leaving because of election losses, retirements including former House speaker Paul D. Ryan (Wis.), and some, such as [Rep. Paul] Mitchell, who are simply quitting in disgust.

As the article in the Post notes, as they go, the party is remaking itself in the image of Trump.  That means that for every Republican that retires or quits, there’s a bench of MAGA-hat wearing xenophobic evangelical hypocrites and know-nothings who will rush in to fill the void, especially in blood-red districts where fear and loathing of Others runs rampant even as their businesses and crops go rotting thanks to Trump’s tariffs and immigration deportations continue.

That scenario may be making it easier for the Democrats to take control of the House by a wider margin than they have now, and take back the Senate.  But that’s more than a year away, and meanwhile, we have a White House that is being run like a bad spinoff of “The Sopranos.”  And our adversaries are watching it.

Thursday, September 19, 2019

Can’t Keep His Mouth Shut

Via the Washington Post:

The whistleblower complaint that has triggered a tense showdown between the U.S. intelligence community and Congress involves President Trump’s communications with a foreign leader, according to two former U.S. officials familiar with the matter.

Trump’s interaction with the foreign leader included a “promise” that was regarded as so troubling that it prompted an official in the U.S. intelligence community to file a formal whistleblower complaint with the inspector general for the intelligence community, said the former officials, speaking on the condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to discuss the matter publicly.

It was not immediately clear which foreign leader Trump was speaking with or what he pledged to deliver, but his direct involvement in the matter has not been previously disclosed. It raises new questions about the president’s handling of sensitive information and may further strain his relationship with U.S. spy agencies. One former official said the communication was a phone call.

People who are much more knowledgeable about the inner workings of operations like this are speculating that this phone call and the risk to U.S. intelligence are what caused John Bolton to quit/resign/get fired.

If so, and if what was in the phone call to the foreign leader was such a breach, it’s just another log on the fire of what should constitute grounds for impeachment.  And now the House Intelligence Committee, lead by Rep. Adam Schiff (D-CA) will, after threats of contempt of Congress citations, get to hear from the acting DNI next week.

So who did Trump call?

Intelligence Community Inspector General Michael Atkinson determined that the complaint was credible and troubling enough to be considered a matter of “urgent concern,” a legal threshold that ordinarily requires notification of congressional oversight committees.

[…]

The complaint was filed with Atkinson’s office on Aug. 12, a date on which Trump was at his golf resort in New Jersey. White House records indicate that Trump had had conversations or interactions with at least five foreign leaders in the preceding five weeks.

Among them was a call with Russian President Vladimir Putin that the White House initiated on July 31. Trump also received at least two letters from North Korean leader Kim Jong Un during the summer, describing them as “beautiful” messages. In June, Trump said publicly that he was opposed to certain CIA spying operations against North Korea. Referring to a Wall Street Journal report that the agency had recruited Kim’s half-brother, Trump said, “I would tell him that would not happen under my auspices.”

He’s running the White House like he ran his businesses — always skirting the law and ethics — and compromising our intelligence networks to make some kind of deal  — for what, who knows? — and all to prove that he’s the bestest dealmaker around ever, especially better than that gay Kenyan Muslim with the butch wife and funny-looking dog.

This is madness.

Monday, September 9, 2019

Optical Illusion

Whoever it was that put it in Trump’s head to invite the Taliban to come to Camp David for a secret meeting around the same time as the anniversary of the September 11, 2001 attacks needs to be fired.  Oh, wait… it was probably Trump himself.

But never mind.  Trump called the whole thing off, firing off a series of tweets that both revealed this mind-spinning idea and then put the kibosh on it because the Taliban did what the Taliban does: blow up cars and kill people.

Digby:

The fact that the president tweeting out a temper tantrum about a supposed secret meeting with the Taliban at Camp David that was scheduled for the next day being canceled isn’t even considered weird is astonishing enough. That he thought this would be a good idea in the first place is simply gobsmacking. Presumably, he wanted to have the Taliban leaders around for the 9/11 commemorations so he could do some sort of Kim Jong Un photo-op and declare the Taliban a lovely group of guys who are looking to build some condos in Kabul.

Unfortunately for him, they don’t seem to understand the way to Trump’s heart is to kiss his ass first and save the violence for later when he will defend them in order to save face.

It also occurs to me that someone — certainly not Trump himself — remembered that Jimmy Carter negotiated a peace agreement between Anwar Sadat of Egypt and Menachem Begin of Israel at Camp David in 1978, and Bill Clinton did the same with the PLO and Israel in 2000.  It was great optics for the presidents and there were Nobel Peace Prizes in play.  So someone must have put a bug in Trump’s ear that if he was able to work out some kind of deal with the Taliban, he’d be hailed as a peacemaker and have a lock on the Nobel.  (Trump’s interest in making the trip to Stockholm is based solely on his obsession with Barack Obama and his winning the prize in 2009.)

The fact that the high-profile meetings that Trump has had with our foreign adversaries such as Russia, China and North Korea have all blown up like a wet firecracker and that Putin, Xi, and Kim have played Trump like a five-dollar fiddle doesn’t mean anything to Trump.  He wants the optics and the BREAKING NEWS banners on cable so he can call into Fox and Friends and bloviate about what a Dear Leader he is.  That’s all that matters to him, and he knows the base will eat it up.

Friday, August 16, 2019

Desperadoes

Aside from the blatant bigotry that it exposes on the part of both Trump and Netanyahu, the move to bar two U.S. members of Congress from visiting Israel strikes me as a truly desperate move.

Trump is being his usual infantile self, striking out at Rep. Ilan Omar (D-MN) and Rep. Rashida Tlaib (D-MI), the only two Muslim women in Congress.  Getting Netanyahu to go along with him shows that the Israeli prime minister, already in a precarious position in his upcoming election — called because he couldn’t form a government after the last one — is not only a sniveling bigot — not a shock — but is Trump’s puppet, dancing to his tune.  How does that convey strength?  All it tells the Israeli electorate is that Bibi is under the thumb of a foreign power, and a manifestly dangerous one at that.  That’s how he conveys strength?  Oy.

Monday, July 1, 2019

Idiots Abroad

Can’t take these people anywhere.

Via TPM:

Trump brought Fox News host Tucker Carlson to North Korea on Sunday instead of his own national security adviser, John Bolton.

Several journalists reported seeing Carlson on the sidelines of Trump’s historic visit to the the demilitarized zone separating North and South Korea, and the hosts of “Fox & Friends” confirmed Carlson was there during a phone interview with him.

Meanwhile, Bolton was shipped off to Mongolia over the weekend.

While speaking to his Fox colleagues, Carlson defended Trump’s friendliness with the brutal North Korean dictator.

“[North Korea]’s a disgusting place, obviously. So there’s no defending it,” Carlson said. “On the other hand, you’ve got to be honest about what it means to lead a country. It means killing people.”

“Not on the scale that the North Koreans do, but a lot of countries commit atrocities, including a number that we’re closely allied with,” he continued.

Carlson’s declamation is the diplomatic equivalent of “I’m not a racist, but…” or “Some of my best friends are gay.”  And we’ve heard this bothsiderism excuse from Trump himself when asked about Russia’s treatment — and murder — of dissidents and journalists.

Tuesday, June 4, 2019

Monday, May 20, 2019

Foreign Cars

Sixty years ago imported (or “foreign”) cars were an interesting if not important part of the U.S. auto market.  If you wanted to go exotic you could get a Mercedes-Benz through the local Studebaker dealer, and of course everybody thought the VW Beetle was cute but not what you’d call a family car if you were used to driving a Ford Country Squire with room for nine passengers and a dog.  Japanese cars?  Are you kidding?

Well, that was then, and so was Ike and the Edsel.  Today the American car market is dominated by vehicles whose headquarters may be in Tokyo or Seoul but who build them here to the point that they’re exporting cars built in Ohio back to Japan.  Not only that, they have taught the American manufacturers how they did it, and now if you buy a Ford or Buick chances are it has parts brought in from their factories overseas (my 2007 Mustang’s engine is from Germany) and even certain models are badge-engineered to look and sound like American cars.

But apparently this represents a national security threat to some dipshit in the White House.

A US Commerce Department report has concluded that American auto imports threaten national security, setting the stage for possible tariffs by the White House, two people familiar with the matter said Thursday.

The investigation, ordered by President Donald Trump in May, is “positive” with respect to the central question of whether the imports “impair” US national security, said a European auto industry source.

“It’s going to say that auto imports are a threat to national security,” said an official with another auto company.

The report, which is expected to be delivered to the White House by a Sunday deadline, has been seen as a major risk for foreign automakers.

Trump has threatened to slap 25 percent duties on European autos, especially targeting Germany, which he says has harmed the American car industry.

Toyota is neither amused or impressed.

“Today’s proclamation sends a message to Toyota that our investments are not welcomed, and the contributions from each of our employees across America are not valued,” the company said.

The statement says Toyota has 10 manufacturing plants in the United States, some 1,500 dealerships, an extensive supply chain and directly and indirectly employs 475,000 US workers.

“Most every American has a Toyota story and we are very proud of the fact that over 36 million Toyota and Lexus vehicles are still on U.S. roads today. Our operations and employees contribute significantly to the American way of life, the U.S. economy and are not a national security threat.”

But Trump promised those workers at the Studebaker plant he’d save their jobs, and by golly he’s gonna do it.

PS: The last Studebaker plant to build cars for the U.S. market was in Canada.

Wednesday, May 15, 2019

Trade Marks

Via the New York Times:

Trump’s tariffs were initially seen as a cudgel to force other countries to drop their trade barriers. But they increasingly look like a more permanent tool to shelter American industry, block imports and banish an undesirable trade deficit.

More than two years into the Trump administration, the United States has emerged as a nation with the highest tariff rate among developed countries, outranking Canada, Germany and France, as well as China, Russia and Turkey. And with further trade confrontations brewing, the rate may only increase from here.

On Tuesday, the president continued to praise his trade war with China, saying that the 25 percent tariffs he imposed on $250 billion worth of Chinese goods would benefit the United States, and that he was looking “very strongly” at imposing additional levies on nearly every Chinese import.

“I think it’s going to turn out extremely well. We’re in a very strong position,” Mr. Trump said in remarks from the White House lawn. “Our economy is fantastic; theirs is not so good. We’ve gone up trillions and trillions of dollars since the election; they’ve gone way down since my election.”

He called the trade dispute “a little squabble” and suggested he was in no rush to end his fight, though he held out the possibility an agreement could be reached, saying: “They want to make a deal. It could absolutely happen.” Stock markets rebounded on Tuesday, after plunging on Monday as China and the United States resumed their tariff war.

Additional tariffs could be on the way. Mr. Trump faces a Friday deadline to determine whether the United States will proceed with his threat to impose global auto tariffs, a move that has been criticized by car companies and foreign policymakers. And despite complaints by Republican lawmakers and American companies, Mr. Trump’s global metal tariffs remain in place on Canada, Mexico, Europe and other allies.

The trade barriers are putting the United States, previously a steadfast advocate of global free trade, in an unfamiliar position. The country now has the highest overall trade-weighted tariff rate at 4.2 percent, higher than any of the Group of 7 industrialized nations, according to Torsten Slok, the chief economist of Deutsche Bank Securities. That is now more than twice as high as the rate for Canada, Britain, Italy, Germany and France, and higher than most emerging markets, including Russia, Turkey and even China, Mr. Slok said.

The shift is having consequences for an American economy that is dependent on global trade, including multinational companies like Boeing, General Motors, Apple, Caterpillar and other businesses that source components from abroad and want access to growing markets overseas.

While trade accounts for a smaller percentage of the American economy than in most other countries — just 27 percent in 2017, compared with 38 percent for China and 87 percent for Germany, according to World Bank data — it is still a critical driver of jobs and economic growth.

For now, the American economy remains strong, with rising wages and the lowest unemployment rate in 50 years. But with less trade, American jobs up and down the value chain that are seemingly unrelated to importing and exporting goods could suffer, including research and development, retail and marketing products.

Trump has promised, as he has in the past, to make it up to the farmers who lose money by having China hit back with retaliatory tariffs against their products.  In other words, he’s saying he’ll get them $15 billion in subsidies to keep them afloat because of something he did (as opposed to helping, oh, say, Puerto Rico recover from a hurricane or Flint get drinkable water).  He apparently thinks the farmers of America can be bought off like his one-night stands with women-not-his-wife.  And I think we all know how well he keeps his promises.

The sad fact is that the majority of the farmers who are hit by these tariffs in all likelihood supported Trump in the last election and are with him now even as he takes away their markets and promises to put them on the welfare rolls.  He’s seen it work before — frighten them with abstract fears about Others like undocumented immigrants (many of whom keep farms in business by doing the labor) or lesbians getting married in New York, unlike that nice couple who run the candle store in town — so why not try it again?  He knows his marks; he’s run his businesses that way for fifty years and gets his jollies — if not his profits — by getting away with the con.

Monday, April 29, 2019

Don’t Take Our Word For It

Via Axios, National Security Advisor John Bolton confirms we scammed North Korea.

WALLACE: Did North Korea demand money for the release of Otto Warmbier?

BOLTON: It appears that they did. This occurred before I came into the administration, but that’s my understanding.

WALLACE: Did the U.S. official who was there to get him out of the country, Joseph Yun, did he sign a document pledging the money in order to get him out.

BOLTON: That is what I am told, yes.

WALLACE: I guess the bottom line question is, did the U.S. pay any money to North Korea, however it was disguised, after Warmbier was released?

BOLTON: Absolutely not. And that’s the key point.

At first Trump said it was all fake news, never happened, and claimed it was all Obama’s fault anyway.  Now we know it was all a con.

Look, I don’t have any soft spots for North Korea, unlike Trump and his “love” for Kim Jung-un, but you have to wonder what other countries are thinking if they try to negotiate with a country that has no problem cheating you just to get what they want out of you.  And Bolton apparently thinks this is good.  He’s just as much of a scammer as Trump.

Well, actually, it’s not like no one could have expected this.  Trump has a long history of not paying for anything; just ask the hundreds of contractors and vendors who have sued him over the years for non-payment.

Thursday, April 25, 2019

The Real Threat

Hillary Clinton in the Washington Post:

Our election was corrupted, our democracy assaulted, our sovereignty and security violated. This is the definitive conclusion of special counsel Robert S. Mueller III’s report. It documents a serious crime against the American people.

The debate about how to respond to Russia’s “sweeping and systematic” attack — and how to hold President Trump accountable for obstructing the investigation and possibly breaking the law — has been reduced to a false choice: immediate impeachment or nothing. History suggests there’s a better way to think about the choices ahead.

Obviously, this is personal for me, and some may say I’m not the right messenger. But my perspective is not just that of a former candidate and target of the Russian plot. I am also a former senator and secretary of state who served during much of Vladi­mir Putin’s ascent, sat across the table from him and knows firsthand that he seeks to weaken our country.

I am also someone who, by a strange twist of fate, was a young staff attorney on the House Judiciary Committee’s Watergate impeachment inquiry in 1974, as well as first lady during the impeachment process that began in 1998. And I was a senator for New York after 9/11, when Congress had to respond to an attack on our country. Each of these experiences offers important lessons for how we should proceed today.

First, like in any time our nation is threatened, we have to remember that this is bigger than politics. What our country needs now is clear-eyed patriotism, not reflexive partisanship. Whether they like it or not, Republicans in Congress share the constitutional responsibility to protect the country. Mueller’s report leaves many unanswered questions — in part because of Attorney General William P. Barr’s redactions and obfuscations. But it is a road map. It’s up to members of both parties to see where that road map leads — to the eventual filing of articles of impeachment, or not. Either way, the nation’s interests will be best served by putting party and political considerations aside and being deliberate, fair and fearless.

The Republicans, of course, will not listen to this.  All they will say is that she’s a sore loser and E-MAILS!  But what is so striking is that they and a lot of other people were willing — and still are — to take Trump’s word that the Russians did nothing to interfere with the election of 2016 and are just as likely to do the same next year.  Oh, but our real national security is threatened by refugees from Central America who are begging, with their last dime, for asylum.  But the systematic corruption of our electoral system?  Nah.

We have to get this right. The Mueller report isn’t just a reckoning about our recent history; it’s also a warning about the future. Unless checked, the Russians will interfere again in 2020, and possibly other adversaries, such as China or North Korea, will as well. This is an urgent threat. Nobody but Americans should be able to decide America’s future. And, unless he’s held accountable, the president may show even more disregard for the laws of the land and the obligations of his office. He will likely redouble his efforts to advance Putin’s agenda, including rolling back sanctions, weakening NATO and undermining the European Union.

Of all the lessons from our history, the one that’s most important may be that each of us has a vital role to play as citizens. A crime was committed against all Americans, and all Americans should demand action and accountability. Our founders envisioned the danger we face today and designed a system to meet it. Now it’s up to us to prove the wisdom of our Constitution, the resilience of our democracy and the strength of our nation.

The very fact that Trump and his toadies are saying “Move along, folks, nothing to see here,” is reason enough to hold hearings and get to the truth.  It may lead to impeachment; it may not.  But to sit back and do nothing is exactly what the Russians are expecting us to do.  They know we’re too easily distracted by trivial bullshit and shiny objects; while the country is obsessed with the latest Kardashian sighing, they’re robbing us and getting away with it.

Wednesday, April 10, 2019

Bibi Or Benny?

I have not been following the election in Israel other than the fact that I knew it was going to happen yesterday.  The outcome is very close between Prime Minister Benjamin (“Bibi”) Netanyahu and his major rival, Benny Gantz.  As of this morning (early Wednesday), Bibi’s party had a very slight lead but with strong supporters in the other parties, enough to form a coalition.

As a friend noted last night, in a country of 8 million people with 39 political parties, it’s meshugge.

Wednesday, January 30, 2019

Agree To Disagree

There’s Trump and his assessment of threats from overseas, which seem to consist of brown people under the age of six from Central America, and then there’s the people he appointed to run the intelligence services and actually read and evaluate the information they’ve been getting from their assets overseas.

CIA Director Gina Haspel, FBI Director Christopher A. Wray and other top officials joined [Director of National Intelligence Daniel] Coats in a discussion that covered a wide array of national security challenges, including cyber attacks that will aim to disrupt the 2020 presidential election and the continued threat posed by the Islamic State and other terrorist groups.

Coats, speaking on behalf of the assembled officials, gave a global tour of national security challenges, focused mainly on Russia, China, Iran and North Korea.

He said that North Korea was “unlikely to completely give up its nuclear weapons and production capabilities,” which the country’s leaders consider “critical to the regime’s survival.”

That assessment threw cold water on the White House’s more optimistic view that the United States and North Korea will achieve a lasting peace and that the regime will ultimately give up its nuclear weapons.

It was not the first time that U.S. intelligence has determined North Korea is not on the path to surrendering its weapons. And throughout the hearing, officials found themselves repeating earlier assessments on subjects that also were at odds with the president’s public statements.

The statement on North Korea drew extra attention coming ahead of a planned summit meeting next month between Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong Un. Their first summit last year ended with a vague agreement that contained few concrete goals and deadlines.

The distance between the intelligence community and the White House extended to areas that have ignited fierce political debates in Washington.

None of the officials said there is a security crisis at the U.S.-Mexico border, where Trump has considered declaring a national emergency so that he can build a wall.

Coats noted that high crime rates and a weak job market are likely to spur migrants from Central America to cross into the United States. But he also sounded optimistic that Mexico will cooperate with the Trump administration to address violence and the flow of illegal drugs, problems that Trump has said Mexico isn’t addressing sufficiently.

Officials also warned that the Islamic State was capable of attacking the United States and painted a picture of a still-formidable organization. Trump has declared the group defeated and has said he wants to withdraw U.S. troops from Syria as a result.

So when the people who really know what’s going on are at odds with a president who refuses to read anything that doesn’t have pictures or coloring instructions, what happens when the non-nuclear North Korea launches an ICBM at Guam or the defeated ISIS loads up another 757 and heads towards the new World Trade Center?  Are we going to suddenly realize that building a mythical wall across the Sonora desert was a huge waste of resources and criminally negligent?

Wednesday, January 16, 2019

No Confidence

It sounds like the British government is facing a rather sticky wicket.

Theresa May’s government faces a vote of no confidence later after MPs rejected the PM’s Brexit deal.

Labour launched the bid to trigger a general election after the deal setting out the terms of Britain’s exit from the EU was rejected by 230 votes.

However, one senior party figure has suggested it is unlikely to succeed, with Northern Ireland’s DUP and Tory rebels saying they will back the PM.

The confidence vote is expected to be held at about 19:00 GMT.

Mrs May has told MPs she will return to the Commons with an alternative plan next week, provided she survives the confidence vote.

“The House has spoken and this government will listen,” she said on Tuesday night, offering cross-party talks to determine a way forward.

My knowledge of the inside workings and ramifications of British politics wouldn’t fill a teacup, but even to the casual observer the fall of a government over such a divisive issue as Brexit, along with the turmoil in the U.S. and the abrupt changes of course in the Middle East leads me to believe that the only possible beneficiary of this whole cock-up is Vladimir Putin.

Or, to put it another way, Russian collusion and interference didn’t start with the 2016 election in the United States and is still going on.

Tuesday, January 8, 2019

The Wrong Border

The Trump minions have been telling us that thousands of terror suspects have been pouring over the southern border which is why we need a state of emergency to end the horror.

Yeah, no.

U.S. Customs and Border Protection encountered only six immigrants at ports of entry on the U.S-Mexico border in the first half of fiscal year 2018 whose names were on a federal government list of known or suspected terrorists, according to CBP data provided to Congress in May 2018 and obtained by NBC News.

The low number contradicts statements by Trump administration officials, including White House press secretary Sarah Sanders, who said Friday that CBP stopped nearly 4,000 known or suspected terrorists from crossing the southern border in fiscal year 2018.

Secretary of Homeland Security Kirstjen Nielsen told reporters on Monday the exact number, which NBC News is first to report, was classified but that she was working on making it public. The data was the latest set on this topic provided to Congress. It is possible that the data was updated since that time, but not provided to Congress.

Overall, 41 people on the Terrorist Screening Database were encountered at the southern border from Oct. 1, 2017, to March 31, 2018, but 35 of them were U.S. citizens or lawful permanent residents. Six were classified as non-U.S. persons.

On the northern border, CBP stopped 91 people listed in the database, including 41 who were not American citizens or residents.

So it’s the Canadians who are the real terrorists, with their hockey pucks and Tim Horton donuts sneaking in to overtake our nation.  And the way they do it is especially crafty: y’see, most of ’em are white with names like Gordie and Justin.  Very clever.

Monday, December 31, 2018

Looking Back/Looking Forward

Time for my annual recap and predictions for this year and next.  Let’s look back at how I did a year ago.

  • There will be indictments at a very high level in the administration as the Mueller investigation rumbles on.  Plea bargains and deals will be made and revelations will come forth, and by summer there will be genuine questions about whether or not the administration will survive.  But there won’t be a move to impeach Trump as long as there are Republican majorities in the Congress, and invoking the 25th Amendment is a non-starter.

I’ll give myself a B on that since it was pretty much that way a year ago and the gears of justice grind slowly but irresistibly.  No high-level members of the administration were indicted, but shame and scandal did bring down an impressive number of folks who had hard passes to the West Wing.

  • The Democrats will make great gains in the mid-term elections in November.  This is a safe bet because the party out of power usually does in the first mid-term of new president.  The Democrats will take back the Senate and narrow the gap in the House to the point that Speaker Paul Ryan with either quit or be so powerless that he’s just hanging around to collect pension points.  (No, he will not lose his re-election bid.)

I’ll go with a C on that since I hit the nail on the head in the first sentence; I should have just left it there.  But no; I had it backwards: the House flipped but the GOP still has the Senate, and who knew that Paul Ryan would decide to quit?

  • There will be a vacancy on the Supreme Court, but it won’t happen until after the mid-terms and Trump’s appointment will flail as the Democrats in the Senate block the confirmation on the grounds that the next president gets to choose the replacement.

I’ll take an A- on that since I got the timing wrong, but I think Brett Kavanaugh did a great job of flailing (“I like beer!”) before the Senate Judiciary Committee.  The predator still got on the court, though, and we all hold RBG in the Light for at least another two years.

  • There will be irrefutable proof that the Russians not only meddled in the 2016 U.S. election, but they’ve had a hand in elections in Europe as well and will be a factor in the U.S. mid-terms.  Vladimir Putin will be re-elected, of course.

A+ Duh.

  • Raul Castro will figure out a way to still run Cuba even if he steps down as president, and there will be no lessening of the authoritarian rule.

Another A+, but what did anyone expect?  Trump’s half-assed attempts to restrain trade with Cuba, along with Marco Rubio doing his yapping perrito act, only make it more ironic when it’s the administration’s policy to cozy up to dictators like Putin and the Saudis.  If Trump owned a hotel in Havana he’d be down there in a second sucking up to the regime with video to prove it.

  • The U.S. economy will continue to grow, but there will be dark clouds on the horizon as the deficit grows thanks to the giveaways in the GOP tax bill.  If the GOP engineers cuts to entitlement programs and the number of uninsured for healthcare increases, the strain on the economy will be too much.

I’ll take a B on this since I didn’t factor in tariffs and the trade war(s) he’s launched that led to wild uncertainty in the markets, not to mention Trump’s bashing of the Fed chair that he appointed and told him to do what he’s doing.

  • This “America First” foreign policy will backfire.  All it does is tell our allies “You’re on your own.”  If we ever need them, they’re more likely to turn their backs on us.

I get an A on this because it has and they are.

  • The white supremacist movement will not abate.  Count on seeing more violence against minorities and more mass shootings.

Sadly, a very predictable A on that.

  • A viable Democratic candidate will emerge as a major contender for the 2020 election, and it will most likely be a woman.  Sen. Elizabeth Warren is considered to be the default, but I wouldn’t rule out Sen. Kamala Harris of California or Sen. Kristen Gillibrand of New York just yet.  (Sen. Gillibrand would drive Trump even further around the bend.  She was appointed to the Senate to fill Hillary Clinton’s seat when she became Secretary of State in 2009.)

I get a B on this because it was rather easy to spot and I’m already getting begging e-mails from Ms. Harris.

  • On a personal level, this will be a busy year for my work in theatre with a full production of “All Together Now” opening in March and several other works out there for consideration.  I will also be entering my last full year of employment in my present job (retirement happens in August 2019) but I’ll keep working.

This was a great year for my playwriting with a lot of new friends and opportunities out there and more to come in 2019 (see below).

  • People and fads we never heard about will have their fifteen minutes.

Yep.  I’ve already blocked them out.

Okay, on to the predictions.

  • Barring natural causes or intervention from an outside force, Trump will still be in office on December 31, 2019.  There is no way he will leave voluntarily and even with the House of Representatives in Democratic control and articles of impeachment being drafted they will not get to the Senate floor because the Republicans are either too afraid to rile up the base or they’re too enamored of their own grip on power to care about the government being headed by a poor imitation of a tin-pot banana republic authoritarian douche-canoe.
  • The Mueller Report will be released to Congress and even though it’s supposed to be classified it will be leaked with great fanfare and pundit predictions of the end of the Trump administration with calls for frog-marching him and his minions out of the West Wing.  Despite that, see above.
  • There will be no wall.  There never will be.  Immigration will still be a triggering issue as even more refugees die in U.S. custody.
  • There will be no meaningful changes to gun laws even if the NRA goes broke.  There will be more mass shootings, thoughts and prayers will be offered, and we’ll be told yet again that now is not the time to talk about it.
  • Obamacare will survive its latest challenge because the ruling by the judge in Texas declaring the entire law unconstitutional will be tossed and turned into a case study in law schools everywhere on the topic of exasperatingly stupid reasoning.
  • Roe vs. Wade will still stand.
  • With the Democrats in control of the House, the government will be in permanent gridlock even after they work out some sort of deal to end the current shutdown over the mythological wall.  House Speaker Nancy Pelosi will become the Willie Horton for the GOP base and blamed for everything from budget deficits to the toast falling butter-side down.
  • We will have a pretty good idea who the Democratic front-runner will be in 2020.  I think Sen. Elizabeth Warren’s chances are still good (she announced her exploratory committee as I was writing this), as are Sen. Kamala Harris’s, and don’t count out Sen. Sherrod Brown of Ohio, but who knew that Beto O’Rourke, a charismatic loser in the Texas senate race, would raise a lot of hopes?  That said, fifteen years ago when I started this blog, Howard Dean looked like the guy who was going to beat George W. Bush.
  • The economy will continue with its wild gyrations, pretty much following the gyrations of the mood of Trump and his thumb-driven Twitter-fed economic exhortations.  The tax cuts and the tariffs will land on the backs of the people who provide the income to the government and the deficit will soon be out there beyond the Tesla in outer space.  But unlike that Martian-bound convertible, the economy will come crashing back to Earth (probably about the time I retire in August) and Trump will blame everyone else.
  • There will be a natural event that will convince even skeptics that climate change and sea level rise is real and happening.  Unfortunately, nothing will be done about it even if lots of lives are lost because [spoiler alert] nothing ever is done.
  • I’m going out on a limb here with foreign affairs predictions, but I have a feeling that Brexit will end up in the dustbin of history.
  • Personally, this will be a transition year.  My retirement from Miami-Dade County Public Schools occurs officially on August 31, 2019, and I’m already actively looking for something both meaningful and income-producing to do after that.  (E-mail me for a copy of my resume; nothing ventured, nothing sprained.)  My play “Can’t Live Without You” opens at the Willow Theatre in Boca Raton, Florida, for a two-week run on March 30, and I’m planning on returning to the William Inge Theatre Festival for the 28th time, either with a play or most assuredly with a scholarly paper.  I have my bid in for a variety of other theatre events and productions; I think I’m getting the hang of this playwriting thing.
  • I will do this again next year.  I hope.  As Bobby says, “Hope is my greatest weakness.”

Okay, your turn.  Meanwhile, I wish continued good health and a long life to all of you and hope you make it through 2019 none the worse for wear.