A Tale for the Holidays

A Tale for the Holidays

This is a wholly fictional account of what may have really happened. The characters are real, their actions are pure fantasy – or are they? 

Matt Gaetz is the first term Congressman from Pensacola, Florida, one of the most Republican/Conservative districts in the United States. He holds the seat once occupied by Joe Scarborough of MSNBC’s “Morning Joe” fame, and as Scarborough did, maintains a conservative hardline.

Matt also has a problem, drinking and driving. Seven documented stops for DUI has made him vulnerable to any challenger with similar political views. Matt needs alliances with powerful forces to make sure he has the wherewithal to withstand those challenges.

Enter Roger Stone, infamous political operative who learned his trade from the Nixon campaign. Stone was mentored by Donald Segretti and the “Rat-f**kers;” the dirty tricks squad that managed to remove Democrat Ed Muskie from the 1972 Presidential competition, and break into the Watergate office building to bug the offices of the Democratic National Committee.

Stone used his skills to advance political causes all of his life. Forty-five years after Watergate, he found a candidate tailored made for his version of campaigning:  Donald J Trump. And like the “rat-f**kers” of old, Stone wanted to do his work from outside the campaign. Trump “fired” him early in the 2016 election season, but Stone never really left. He continued (as many “Trumpsters” do, Corey Lewendowski being one) to work for Trump from outside the campaign structure. Better Trump didn’t know what goes on, giving him the old Nixon, “plausible deniability.”

And now Trump was in trouble. As the Mueller investigation slowly closed in around the inner-circle of the Presidency, Trump desperately searched for a way out. His lawyers and advisors offered him lousy options.

He could fire Robert Mueller, and risk a Congressional backlash resulting in Congress hiring Mueller themselves, or worse, beginning an impeachment inquiry. Or he could issue Presidential Pardons to everyone involved. While this might emasculate the Federal case against him, it would still leave the state cases, most notably those by New York Attorney General Eric Schniderman, outstanding and immune from Presidential influence.

Even if his Presidency survived, both of these choices would leave Trump unable to pursue his agenda, powerless for his remaining years in office.

Roger Stone no longer “communicated” with the President. But he had a plan to save Trump, a plan requiring a brash young Congressman, properly placed in the House Judiciary Committee; one who could use powerful friends. Stone connected with Gaetz, and the “third alternative” was born.

Stone researched the Mueller “Dream Team” of attorneys, and found that many had made contributions to Democrats, and particularly Hillary Clinton. He discounted those that made Republican contributions, that didn’t further his cause, but he was excited about the fact that one had actually gone to the Clinton “victory party” on election night. While all of these dedicated attorneys were sworn to do their jobs without “fear or favor,” Stone’s plan was to create a public view of the Mueller team as a “Clinton hit squad.”

But he needed a “closer;” information that was convincing enough to create believability in the story. Stone linked up with his contacts at the New York offices of the FBI, the same ones that leaked the information about the Anthony Weiner computer that forced Comey to release the “October Surprise” and cost Clinton the Presidency. Were there any FBI agents involved in the Mueller investigation that had strong views about the Presidential campaign? What was the office gossip?

The NY field office gave him what he needed. Between the texts from Peter Strozk and his extra-marital affair with Lisa Page, a Department of Justice attorney; Stone had enough to bring the whole Mueller operation into question.

But if, after the Franken allegations, this also was discovered as coming from Stone, then that would bias the outcome. One sniff of Stone, and the media, even Fox, would shy away, thinking that the charges were false (which of course, they were.) Stone had to find a way to get these charges into the media without his own fingerprints on them.

Gaetz was the vehicle. As a brash young first-termer with a drinking problem he needed help and friends. Stone could present him with the ultimate friend, Donald J Trump, President of the United States. Stone got together with Gaetz for a number of fundraisers, and presented the mission. Gaetz himself presented the plan to Trump, as they flew on Air Force One to the Pensacola “campaign rally” to support Roy Moore in Alabama. Trump gave his friends at Fox a head’s up about what was to come.

All that was needed was a few of Gaetz’s fellow Republicans on the Judiciary Committee to pick up on the tale and run with it. Fellow “Freedom Caucus” members, looking for a way to silence Adam Schiff and the Democrats investigating Trump, jumped at the chance, using Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein’s appearance as a chance to spread Stone’s “gospel.” Jim Jordan from Ohio especially smelled blood, and drove home his point that the Mueller investigation and any outcome from it was tainted. He called for a different Special Counsel to investigate the investigators.

Meanwhile, the White House lawyers knew the clock was ticking. If they couldn’t get the Mueller investigation wrapped up before the 2018 elections, they might be facing a less than sympathetic Democratic majority in the Congress. They continued to pressure Mueller with “we know the investigation will be over soon” and “Mueller has questioned all of the White House personnel.” The Republicans on the House Intelligence Committee also got on board, suggesting that they were wrapping up by the end of the year and scheduling no more hearings or witnesses into January, much to the distress of Schiff and the other Democrats.

The table was set. If Mueller presented anything less than ironclad evidence against Trump or the Trump family, then the last “Rat-f**ker” would have pulled off the ultimate dirty trick. He would have made Robert Mueller, Marine, Purple Heart and Bronze Star Winner, head of the FBI after 9-11, look like a Democratic shill.

It was up to Mueller to find such powerful evidence that it transcended the plot.

And that’s where the story starts…

 

Please note – this is a work of fiction surrounded by facts not the other way around

Thanks Bannon

Thanks Bannon

There is a “new” term favored by the media: tribalism. This is the catchall for what has happened to the United States; for the inability of Americans to speak and hear each other. We can’t accept that others’ views might have merit, and we aren’t willing to bend our own.

Tribalism: we hear it on Fox News (and I suppose others would say I hear it on MSNBC.) There are two completely different worlds of facts: as I focus on the next “move” by Mueller; they focus on the “biased texts” of FBI investigators. But it goes even farther than that.

Steve Bannon has corrupted the Republican Party. He brought his alt-right nationalism to a party bereft of a principled core: they have lost their soul to money, and Bannon’s extremism has filled the void. Iowa Republican Congressman Steve King is the latest example of Bannon’s ideology, tweeting:

Diversity is not our strength. Hungarian Prime Minister Victor Orban, “Mixing cultures will not lead to a higher quality of life but a lower one.”

Presidential aide Stephen Miller made the same point in his infamous discussion of the Statue of Liberty with CNN’s Jim Acosta. Miller discounted Emma Lazarus’s Colossus, “…the huddled masses yearning to be free…” saying the United States was only a monumental example, not a promise to the people of the world. In his rant from the press podium came an undercurrent of anti-Semitism (a trend in Bannon’s “tribe” seen again in Kayla Moore’s statement for “… the fake news: one of her lawyer’s is a Jew.”)

The American tradition of the “melting pot;” the idea that we are all immigrants brought together to work together for a common good, is not a part of Bannon’s racist tribe. He believes that we should close our borders and ally ourselves with the other members of the “Northern European Tribes.” That helps explain his affinity for the Russians.

It is this tribalism that has changed the nature of political defeat. In the last year, losing hasn’t just meant the loss of a vote or a seat: it has felt like the loss of the American creed. Last night tribalism took a hit when, by a slim margin, the next Senator from Alabama will be Democrat Doug Jones.

Doug Jones ran against the concept of “the tribe.” He campaigned by being willing to work together with Republicans (as he had to given Alabama’s voting profile.) He will enter the Senate as the first Democrat from Alabama in twenty years. Democrats need to give him the flexibility to represent that state. Alabama has made a small step, and a giant leap, away from extremism. Jones, like Joe Manchin of West Virginia, must represent his constituents, not be forced into some Democratic version of “the tribe.” The Democrats who suffered the calamity of 2016 must be willing to maintain a “big tent” and not force some tribal litmus test.

My Republican friends will say that of course Roy Moore would be defeated. His political views, much less his deviant acts, should have assured his defeat. But the Alabama Republicans chose him to run for the Senate, and the Republican Party came back to support him despite his history.  They picked him, over others.

The real danger for the Republicans is that Bannon will continue his corruption of the Republican soul. His “tribe” is not done; Bannon promises primaries across the country to further his capture. And while I suspect he will have some victories, Alabama has shown the way to his defeat.

Democrats have extremists as well. If they cannot accept the good faith differences of those who share similar overall goals, then they will fall into the same trap the Republicans have found. But, if the Republicans allow themselves to be “primaried” into extremist candidates, and if the Democrats can remain the home of Elizabeth Warren AND Joe Manchin (and Doug Jones) then Democrats won’t have to depend on Special Counsel Mueller to change our nation.

 

 

 

Due Process

Due Process

“…if you admit you did something wrong you get it trouble, but if you deny it, they let you keep you job!” (SNL, 12/8/17)

Al Franken and John Conyers resign. Donald Trump and Roy Moore deny. In this new age of recognizing harassment and assault, we take the side of the accusers on faith. While this is the right thing to do, how do we make sure the process is fair?

Due Process: the right of Americans to have their side of the story heard, enshrined in the Fifth and Fourteenth Amendments to the Constitution. From the Supreme Court of the United States to the Principal’ office in any high school, granting due process is a requirement in any government disciplinary or enforcement action.

Today, there is a small movement claiming that Al Franken did not get due process. They call on him to rescind his resignation announcement, and allow the Senate Ethics Committee to investigate, deliberate and reach conclusions. It’s an odd group calling for this ranging from some who clearly support Franken and his work, including the liberal Progressive Change Campaign Committee,[1] to former Republican Speaker of the House Newt Gingrich and Fox News Commentator Laura Ingraham.[2]

Each side of “Franken supporters” has their own axe to grind. The Progressive Change Campaign Committee wants Franken to use his influence in the Senate to lead the cultural change of the “rules” of sexual harassment. Gingrich and Ingraham most likely want Franken to stay so they can continue to attack him (Gingrich, who had an affair with a staffer while married and Speaker and impeaching Clinton may also be looking for personal redemption.[3])

But all of this gives rise to a greater issue. In this dawning age of changing rules, how should sexual harassers and worse be judged? Franken, who admitted to some of the actions his accusers claimed (but not all) resigned under extreme pressure from his Democratic colleagues. Congressmen John Conyers (D) and Trent Franks (R) resigned as well.

None of these legislators were given a “hearing,” nor were the charges against them investigated by some authoritative body. There was only an informal judgment by their political party, and “punishment” applied as pressure to resign. And, of course, from a purely political standpoint, all of them will be replaced by members of their own party.

Roy Moore and Donald Trump both claim “due process” through the election process. Their argument is that the public “judges” by their vote. They claim that once the scandal is out, and the “jury of the electorate” makes their decision, the problem is resolved.

The Alabama election raises a different political question: should Republicans be willing to give up a precious vote in the Senate for their moral scruples, or is their a “higher” cause of political agenda that makes “the end justify the means?” Or can they take a middle course, allowing Moore to be elected, then removing him so a Republican governor can appoint a replacement.

This is the issue that will face the US Senate should Moore win tomorrow’s Alabama election: the Constitution requires that he gets his seat in the Senate (Powell v McCormack) but then the Senate could judge Moore’s ethical standing to stay. The Republican problem is that if they determine Moore should be removed, then what does that say about President Trump with his list of accusers. If the “due process of the electorate” does not absolve Moore, then it shouldn’t absolve Trump either.

If Franken decides to return to elective politics, does his resignation serve as the penance required from him to return? Would reelection “clense” him? Or are his admitted actions a permanent bar from political office? Our new awareness of sexual harassment gives rise to the need for a new set of “rules.”

Those rules are needed soon. The “rumor mill” has the Washington Post prepared to out 20-30 members of Congress as harassers – what will happen then?[4] We are already in one Constitutional crisis with President Trump and Russia: are we ready to handle two?

 

[1] http://www.washingtonexaminer.com/liberal-group-al-franken-can-stay-in-the-senate-help-with-culture-shift/article/2640961

[2] http://thehill.com/homenews/media/363707-gingrich-ingraham-dems-speaking-out-against-franken-a-lynch-mob

[3] http://www.rollingstone.com/politics/news/newt-and-callista-an-affair-to-remember-20120126

[4] https://townhall.com/tipsheet/guybenson/2017/12/08/hoo-boy-wapo-cnn-preparing-to-expose-dozens-of-members-of-congress-on-sexual-harassment-and-misconduct-n2419647

How to Fire a Special Prosecutor

How to Fire a Special Prosecutor

It was the fall of 1973. I was a senior at Wyoming High School in Cincinnati, fascinated with politics and American government. My past summer had been spent engrossed in the Senate Watergate hearings, with Senator Sam Ervin of North Carolina orchestrating the investigation of the Nixon administration; a door left open by the Watergate break-in in June of 1972.

During the summer, we heard the testimony of Alexander Butterfield, the deputy assistant to President Nixon, who revealed that all of the conversations in the Oval Office were recorded. Nixon’s goal was to have accurate accounts of his Presidency when he left office, and what better way than to have an actual audio record? What did Nixon know about the Watergate break-in, and when did he know it? The answers were on the tapes.

One of the results of these hearings was the establishment of a special prosecutor, Archibald Cox, investigating the President as a part of the Justice Department. The Attorney General, Eliot Richardson, promised that he would only fire the prosecutor for “cause.”

Cox issued subpoenas to get the Oval Office tapes from the White House. Nixon suggested that instead of turning over the tapes he would have a notoriously deaf Senator, John Stennis, listen to them and summarize what he heard (I’m not making this up, it was called the “Stennis Compromise.”) Cox refused.

On Saturday, October 20, 1973, Nixon ordered Richardson to fire Cox. Richardson resigned rather than obey the President. Nixon then ordered the Deputy Attorney General, William Ruckelshaus to fire Cox, and when he refused, Ruckelshaus was fired (or resigned – there is some controversy). The next in line at the Department of Justice was the Solicitor General, Robert Bork. If Bork resigned, then there were likely to be wholesale resignations in the Department. Both Richardson and Ruckelshaus urged Bork to stay, and Bork proceeded to fire Cox.

As a seventeen year old closely following these events, I was outraged. How could a President under investigation fire the investigator? How is it possible that we might never hear the truth about Watergate? After a summer when it became clear that there was wrongdoing in the White House, were they going to get away with it all?

They didn’t. The outrage I felt was shared by many members of Congress. They forced Nixon to accept the appointment of a new, more independent special prosecutor, Leon Jaworski.   Jaworski took the White House to court for the tapes. The case went to the Supreme Court, who ordered their release. I had completed my senior year and graduated by that time, but before I started my freshman year at Denison University, the House prepared Impeachment charges, and Nixon resigned. My friends and I toasted with champagne.

This week the true Trump loyalists in Congress and the media began the drumbeat to fire Robert Mueller. They are “throwing the kitchen sink” at him: from Mueller exceeding his mandate by investigating Trump finances, to claims that the investigation is based on “poisonous fruit” evidence from the Steele Dossier, to attacking the entire Mueller team as “biased” against Trump (and for Hillary Clinton.)

Listening to the House Judiciary committee question FBI Director Christopher Wray today, it was clear that the “Freedom Caucus” (hard line conservative Republican House members, including Ohio’s Jim Jordan) are trying to build that case. Tonight it was announced that Devin Nunes, the Chairman of the House Intelligence Committee, currently recused from the investigation, has been cleared by the Ethics Committee and may return to the Chairmanship. This can only mean that the Republican leadership is joining in to obstruct the Committee’s work.

As Mueller is closing in on the Trump family, it is very likely that the President will attempt to fire him. The “groundwork” is already being laid. It will be just as ugly as it was in ’73. Attorney General Sessions is already recused from the process, and Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein recently stated that Mueller is operating well within the parameters of his office. If Rosenstein resigns or is fired, Associate Attorney General Rachel Brand, a career Justice employee would be next.

Should she refuse to fire Mueller, next in line is Dana Boente, the US Attorney for Eastern Virginia. Boente has already tendered his resignation from the post, but is staying on until his replacement is confirmed. After Boente there are a series of other US Attorneys. Someone will fire Mueller.

If and when it happens, we will truly find out what our Congressmen and Senators are made of. While you can bet the Democrats will stand up to the President, the question is, will Republicans move to continue the investigation, or will they fall to the pressure of Presidential tweets and Republican donors. Watching them squirm with the Roy Moore issue, I certainly wouldn’t hold my breath.

So what’s left? In 2018 there is an election. Democrats gaining control of the House and the Senate would completely change the dynamics. It only takes a majority in the House of Representatives to impeach the President.   And while it’s unlikely that Democrats will ever have a 2/3 majority needed to remove the President, a Democratic majority might make it easier for a few Republicans to be “profiles in courage.” Or perhaps at that point, President Trump will again mirror President Nixon’s actions and resign.

 

 

 

 

Al Franken Did the Right Thing

Al Franken Did the Right Thing

Al Franken announced his resignation from the Senate today. He did so, because seven women have claimed that in some way, Franken acted sexually inappropriately towards them in the past. While those actions should be unacceptable, in this age of Trump and Moore, politicians have followed the path of denial and blame to stay in political life. Franken did not, instead doing the right thing and resigning.

There are concerns about whether Franken was targeted by the alt-right. The fact the original charge against him, brought by radio commentator Leann Tweeden,  first came  to media attention by alt-right tweeter Mike Cernovich, and  was fore-shadowed by Trump’s advisor Roger Stone saying, “…it’s Al Franken’s time in the barrel…” raises questions about the legitimacy of the charges. Franken himself describes his memory of the “rehearsed kiss” as completely different, and the photographer claims the damming photo was staged.

It doesn’t matter. It is all about political math. Before Franken, Democrats could use the GOP support for Roy Moore, an accused pedophile, and the acknowledged statements by the President (“…I just start kissing them, it’s like a magnet…”) to make Republicans the party without principles. They would do anything for a vote or a political win.

Franken cancelled out the equation. Regardless of the severity of the offense, an inappropriate kiss versus a thirty-four year old man “dating” a fourteen year old; Franken (and Congressman John Conyers of Michigan) leveled the playing field. Every party seemed to have its perverts, and as Senator Kristin Gillibrand of New York said yesterday:

“I think when we start having to talk about the differences between sexual assault and sexual harassment and unwanted groping, you’re having the wrong conversation. We need to draw a line in the sand, and say that none of it is ok…”

 Franken before all of the charges would have agreed. His speech on the floor of the Senate today made it clear that he still does. Conyers and Franken have announced their resignations from the Congress. Moore proclaims has innocence against growing evidence against him. Trump is still President.

The Democratic Party is setting the table for the elections of 2018. Should Roy Moore win the Alabama Senate seat, now with the support of President Trump, the Republican National Committee, and multiple Republican politicians; the party that claims to be for Christian and Family Values will be the party without morals. For this, if for nothing else, Franken had to go.

He did the right thing. But now the American people need to put their own morality to the test. The first quiz will be this Tuesday in Alabama. With the little I know about Alabama politics, I am still hopeful that Alabamians will do the right thing and send Roy Moore home. But if they don’t, the Democrats have already cleared the decks, and Senator Moore will be a “target of opportunity” that will hang around each Republican candidate’s neck in 2018.

 

 

Mr. Mueller Please Hurry!!

Mr Mueller Please Hurry!!

In the past few days, the Republicans forwarded a process of cutting taxes for corporations and the very wealthy, and ultimately raising taxes on the poor and middle class. They have fallen in line with support for accused child molester, Roy Moore, as Senator for Alabama. General Michael Flynn pleaded guilty to lying to the FBI, and is cooperating with the Mueller investigation. And the President has accused the FBI of being “in tatters” for an agent who happened to text support for Hillary Clinton during the 2016 election.

But while we were distracted, there was the drip, drip, drip of changes in America: changes that makes America a colder, harder, dirtier and less tolerant place. It starts with the statement by Senator Chuck Grassley of Kansas, Chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee. When asked raising the tax on estates to over those $11 million, Grassley stated:

I think not having the estate tax recognizes the people that are investing, as opposed to those that are just spending every darn penny they have, whether it’s on booze or women or movies.”

This seems to represent the view of the “old men” of the GOP: if you don’t have money it’s your own fault, and the government has no obligation to help you.

This view is made more clear by the lack of Congressional action on the “Childhood Health Insurance Program (CHIP), with nine million children losing their health insurance. In the same way, the Senate version of the “tax cut” bill would ultimately cut thirteen million people from health insurance.

And while we were distracted, President Trump went to Utah to try to dismantle two National Monuments, Bears Ears and Grand Staircase-Escalante. This is not only pristine canyon land, but also sacred land to the Navajo and other tribes in the area. Instead, much of this would be open to “economic development,” including mining for some of the largest coal reserves in the nation. (To be fair, the courts will tie this action up for a while.) Oh, and the “border wall” is planned to go through Big Bend National Park in Texas, another natural wonder which would be marred forever. 

Eric Prince, brother of Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos and founder of the controversial mercernary firm Blackwater, has proposed that the US government hire private “intelligence networks” run by contractors. This “pay for spies” idea has gained the support of the Director of the Central Intelligence Agency, Mike Pompeo.[1] It would allow President Trump to “bypass” the “Deep State” intelligence agencies that he has railed against since before the election, to have his own private spy agency.

Prince, by the way, is the author of the “privatization plan” for Afghanistan, where he asked for a $40 Billion payment to takeover the Afghanistan war with private forces.  Fortunately the Joint Chiefs of Staff threw out the idea.

President Trump has made it clear that the US will recognize the capital of Israel as Jerusalem, rather than Tel Aviv. This move is sure to inflame the Muslim world, particularly the Palestinians, who believe their capital should be located in Jerusalem (rather than Ramallah.) The President won his “travel ban” (read “Muslim ban”) in the Supreme Court yesterday, allowing him to block travel from some Muslim countries. And the “Dreamers” are still waiting to see what the Congress will do, with the President making it clear he is willing to began the process of driving them back into the shadows of illegality again.

Trump began the dismantling of the Consumer Finance Protection Bureau, placing his Director of the Office of Management and Budget, Mick Mulvaney, in charge. Mulvaney has vowed to take the department apart, and has been one of the strongest opponents of the Bureau from its inception.  The Bureau has saved consumers billions of dollars since is advent in 2010.  The Federal Communications Commission is poised to change the nature of the national internet experience, ending “net neutrality” and allowing “per service” charge for internet services.

As more evidence shows that the President is in the grip of the Russians, the possibility of a Constitutional crisis grows. But every day that Trump is in office, the country grows more at risk. So much is being changed that Americans are forced to choose when to make a stand, to perform triage on all of the issues that matter. Mr. Mueller, please, HURRY!!

 

[1] http://www.newsweek.com/trump-private-spies-deep-state-735091

Fake News

Fake News

In our current political climate it is difficult to determine what is fact and what is fiction. In the past when a President, Press Secretary, or Senior Counselor spoke, we generally understood that what they were saying was the truth as they knew it. The general honesty of those holding high office was expected. There is the story of President Kennedy during the Cuban missile crisis,determing whether to inform his press secretary Pierre Salinger about the seriousness of the situation. His decision: don’t tell Pierre because it would force him to lie to the press. His honesty was more important than his knowing what was going on.

Fiction is distraction: “red herrings” or “straw men.” Bring up a past action by Hillary Clinton like Uranium One or who investigated her emails to keep America’s focus from the pinpoint targeting of the Mueller investigations. Use Fox News to keep the “Trumpsters” from falling into the trap of the truth. And if all else fails, tweet, tweet, tweet.

Alan Dershowitz, retired Harvard professor of law, has made himself a “planet” in the alternative universe that is the Trump/Fox world. Dershowitz brings a unique set of credentials to the cause. He made his bones representing the highest profile clients. Patty Hearst, Mike Tyson, Claus Van Bulow, and most notably, OJ Simpson are on his list.

Dershowitz has liberal credentials and is an avowed Clinton supporter, but he has always been a hawk when it comes to Israel. He was vocal in his criticism of the Obama administration for taking an “even hand” in the Middle East, and supports the Kushner/Trump policy of siding completely with Israel. He even threatened to leave the Democratic party if Congressman Keith Ellison, a Muslim, were chosen as Chairman.

Dershowitz is presenting an “alternate” view of the current Presidential crisis. His argument: that whatever actions were taken by the Trump campaign to contact, coordinate or conspire (collude) with the Russian government to change the election doesn’t matter, as there is no law against it. He further argues that, no matter how reprehensible those actions may be, the Mueller investigation itself is the danger to our political system. The investigation represents, in his view, an effort to de-legitimatize the outcome of the election, and by doing so, threatens the whole American political process.

Dershowitz states that the statutes the could be used: charges of taking campaign aid from a foreign government, coordinating the use of stolen emails, and making “quid pro quo” deals with Russia, do not apply to what was done by the Trump campaign. In fact, he even suggests that the charges of obstruction of justice against Trump and those around him may be moot, as the underlying offenses aren’t really against the law.

He is a distraction: a “liberal” who has taken the Trump side. Lawyer after lawyer, from fellow Harvard professor Lawrence Tribe to multiple federal prosecutors debunk his arguments. He has taken this contrarian view, perhaps to further his own political goals for Israel:  a “wolf” in liberal “sheep’s clothing.”

There will be more distractions like Dershowitz. Trump may soon create one himself by agreeing to Israel’s demand that Jerusalem be recognized as their capital. The fact that this will disrupt and possibly destabilize the Middle East is small price for him to pay for the change of topic from his judicial woes.  And that won’t be “fake news.”

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Clear and Present Danger

Clear and Present Danger

This morning General Michael Flynn will appear in Federal District Court to plead guilty to a single count of lying to the FBI. This is a felony count, carrying a possible prison sentence of five years. General Flynn was exposed to many more charges, including acting as a foreign agent and conspiracy to  kidnap. He clearly has made a deal.

Michael Flynn was the man beside Donald Trump from early in the campaign. He travelled with Trump, he spent evenings and days with Trump, he advised Trump, and he spoke for Trump (remember – “…that’s right, lock her up!”) Unlike Paul Manafort, who spent a brief few months in the campaign, Flynn was there near the beginning, through the campaign, the transition, and moved into the White House. Whatever Trump knew about contact, conspiracy and cooperation with Russia; Flynn probably knows.

Trump has risked a lot for Trump.  He asked multiple leaders of the US intelligence family to “go easy” of Flynn, including then FBI Director James Comey.  The basis of possible obstruction of justice charges against the President revolve around Mike Flynn.

This is already a “bad week” for the President. He blew up negotiations on the debt ceiling with the Democratic Congressional Leadership by a tweet, his precious tax cut (targeted towards corporations and the one percent) is on the rocks in the Senate, and he re-tweeted racist and neo-fascists videos, getting chewed out by the Prime Minister of the United Kingdom. He has made it clear that he is going to fire his Secretary of State. And of course, North Korea launched a more powerful Intercontinental Ballistic Missile.

News sources have also reported that the Trump Administration is considering “out-sourcing” US intelligence operations to private contractors, including possible renditions of foreign nationals.[1]

And there has been a growing drumbeat in the media questioning Trump’s mental state. His tweets, his public comments, and even the background statements from the White House (Trump lawyers are telling him the investigation is going to end by Christmas to keep him happy;) all have raised question about the condition of his mind.

And now, Flynn has cut a deal. We don’t know what he will say, but Donald Trump does.

What is the clear and present danger? As the pressure of the Mueller investigation has grown greater, Trumps’ actions have become more erratic. In a world seemingly poised on the brink of a nuclear war in North Korea, where the US is considering using private contractors to do our spying, and where the President sees no problem in putting his stamp of approval on racist (and unverified) videos; we don’t know what he will do next.  He is the master of distraction:  to what lengths could he go to distract his base from this?

For those of us who have been holding our breath for the Mueller Investigation to reach the top, this is the beginning of the end (though the end is still a long, long way away.)  But THE PRESIDENT still controls the levers of American might. While it may be we can see the light at the end of the tunnel, it doesn’t mean the tunnel won’t collapse before we get there.  Hang on.

[1] https://www.buzzfeed.com/aramroston/trump-administration-mulls-private-rendition?utm_term=.wvNyrPZaL7#.spElvKX6wa

Won’t Get Fooled Again

Won’t Get Fooled Again   (Thanks Pete Townsend) 

The Congress is dead set on passing a tax cut. As it’s a Republican tax cut, there should be no surprise that the bulk of the “cut” will be for corporations (especially big ones) and the very wealthy. This falls right in line with the core Republican belief that: “if those that have money have more money, they will spend it and the economy will ‘do better.’”

There is a great deal of argument about whether that belief is valid. Whether corporations will pass on the money saved by the tax cut to employees or consumers, or whether it will be absorbed by shareholders and top executives, is certainly open to question. The efficacy of “trickle down” economics is questionable; after the last “tax reform” passed by Reagan Republicans in 1986, the GDP growth rate fell for years.[1]

What we know for sure is that this is NOT a tax cut for everyone else. The Congressional Budget Office has estimated that the lowest income levels will see dramatic tax increases in the next few years. This does not include the “sunset” provisions of the current tax proposals. The corporate tax cuts proposed are permanent, the individual cuts will expire by 2027, raising taxes even more. [2]

In fairness, Republicans believe that the corporate tax cuts will increase economic growth to such an extent that it will overcome the tax increases that lower incomes will suffer. The concept: “a rising economy lifts all incomes.” They also believe that growth will increase the government revenue to overcome the $1.4 trillion their plan currently adds to the US debt. And for Republicans, there is a “win-win” proposition to these changes. If the economy does respond and grow, fine. But if it doesn’t, the increased US debt will hamstring any future Congress from spending on programs beyond current entitlements. If Democrats regain control, they still won’t be able to legislate outside of the constraints of the debt.

The current particulars of the legislation are even more egregious. The Senate version will end the individual mandate to buy health insurance with an estimated 13 million people losing their coverage. It will impact “blue” state citizens more than “red,” by taking away much of the state and local tax deductions. And it will cripple graduate students, requiring them to take as income their stipends for school.

So let us be very clear. When the President claims that this is a “major-major tax cut” he isn’t talking to those who most need it.[3] This is NOT a tax cut to folks who earn less than $40000, and it won’t be a tax cut for those who earn less than $75000 after a few years. Don’t be fooled by the title: this is a tax cut for corporations and the wealthy, and it is clear that that this “cut” will bleed those who can least afford it.

[1] https://data.worldbank.org/indicator/NY.GDP.MKTP.KD.ZG?locations=US

[2] https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/wonk/wp/2017/11/26/senate-gop-tax-bill-hurts-the-poor-more-than-originally-thought-cbo-finds/?utm_term=.d709068823f4

[3] https://www.nytimes.com/2017/11/02/us/politics/middle-class-tax-cut-republican-bill.html

Bête Noire and Other Things

Bête Noire and Other Things

In every political movement there is a need to have a focal point, a single term that draws all of the goals of the movement together. In the Donald Trump campaign it was the old Reagan slogan of “Make America Great Again,” with all of its implications of how America under prior Presidents had somehow lost its greatness, a greatness vaguely remembered back “in the good old days.” I wrote about that trend in one of my first essays, “Trump World and the Beaver.”

But aspirational goals need to have a counter-point, a “bête noire” (black beast) of evil that is the ultimate result of failure. The Trump campaign chose carefully: while it could have been President Obama, those racial overtones might have been too much even for Trump’s organization. Instead, it was “Crooked Hillary” and “Lock her Up” that became the battle cry of Trump rallies and advertisements.

Like it or not, attacking Hillary resonated with a lot of Americans. Add that to the amplification provided by the Russians, and the inherent misogyny against a woman candidate, and it worked.  But campaigning is different than governing, or at least, it used to be. So why does the Trump machine continue its attack on Clinton, constantly referencing her in the same bitter terms they used during the campaign?

The Trump Presidency is a personal one: it’s all about what the President does. This week’s example, the tweet storm over LeVar Ball’s comments (basketball player father, not LeVar Burton of Roots, Star Trek and Reading Rainbow fame.)  Trump demanded fealty for his personal intervention to free the UCLA basketball team shoplifters, when father Ball refused, Trump attacked.

This personal, quasi-authoritarian Presidency means that all of the success, and more notably, all of the failures are Trump’s alone. In order to distract and excuse from these failures, Trump requires a “bête noire.” Hillary continues to fit the bill, and is rising to take the bait, as her visibility increases with her current book tour. It’s not that she’s wrong to tour, or that she shouldn’t be saying what she sees as the truth; it’s that it does play into Trump’s need for someone to attack.

This is similar to Turkish President Recip Erdogan’s use of Fethullah Gulen. Erdogan is in the process of ending democracy in Turkey, he needs an outside attacker to make his “emergency procedures” seem necessary. Gulen, safely ensconced in rural Pennsylvania, is perfect. Erdogan blames every attempt to maintain democracy in Turkey as subversion by “Gulenists,” and has even gone so far as to try to subvert the US government to get Gulen out. In reality, Gulen in the US is probably better for Erdogan than getting to actually put him on trial in Turkey. He can blame him from the outside, instead of actually having control.

Look for Trump to go even farther in attacking Clinton in the next several weeks, as the walls continue to crack in the Russiagate investigations. Last night it was announced that General Flynn’s lawyers will no longer cooperate with Trump’s attorneys. This can only mean that they are seeking to cooperate with the Mueller team, in order to gain some leniency for Flynn or his son. Flynn is the most likely candidate to deliver information on the family circle of the Trump campaign, Jared, Don Jr, or the Donald himself. There will be more to come.