Archive for the ‘scandals’ Category

Evil Has No Power

Monday, November 26th, 2018

I have seen the wicked in great power, and spreading himself like a green bay tree. Yet he passed away, and, lo, he was not: yea, I sought him, but he could not be found. Ps 37:35-36

As a warning, this post is about belief. It is the result of looking more closely at our current political situation from a spiritual point of view.

I’ve thought a lot about this Bible citation.

What it means to me is that God is all powerful. He is also the only power, since if there were any other power, it would mean that God is not ALL powerful. As a result, any suggestion that there is a power opposed to God is an illusion. That’s why when you go looking for what appears to be an opposing power, you can’t find it. It’s like looking for that mirage of water on the horizon or the end of a rainbow. They are illusions that lose their reality when closely examined.

Applying those lessons to the current political situation suggests that good (synonym for God) is the only reality. Anything else is an illusion that vanishes on closer inspection.

Trump is a good example.

It appeared as though his rapid rise to power was the result of the anger, resentment, and fear of a significant number of voters.

It seemed that he wasn’t bound by the same rules and norms that previous president’s observed.

You could certainly make the argument that democracy had failed when a minority of the voters could hand power to someone who called so many of our shared values into question. What’s worse, we seem to have elected someone whose first priority is what is best for him. Whether it is deliberate or delusional, he seems to believe that his own interests are always in the best interests of the country.

Here’s how a Wash Post opinion piece describes Trump’s response to the Khashoggi killing.

He’s putting his own naked self-interest over what’s good for America, and prioritizing the real-world policy realization of his own prejudices and hatreds over any good-faith, fact-based effort to determine, by any discernible standard, what might actually be in the country’s interests.

There is no big and unpleasant truth at the core of Trump’s vision of what’s good for the country. That vision is largely a void filled with unchecked self-interest, both disguised and sustained by lies.

Fortunately voters were recently able to express their opinion about Trump’s administration. The House vote was as close as we are going to get to a national referendum until 2020. Trump was certainly helpful in that regard by insisting that the election WAS about him. The result was a huge turnout from both sides.

That’s how democracy is supposed to work. We resolve our differences peacefully at the ballot box rather than through armed conflict.

The election was also a resounding rejection of the Trump agenda. The Democrats flipped more seats than they had in any election since Watergate which was a similar referendum on a sitting president. In total, House Democrats received 8.6M more votes than Republicans. That exceeded the margin of victory in the 2016 election.

Given the turnout, the wider margin of victory can only be attributed to a change in heart for at least some of those who voted for Trump in 2016.

Some of this was voters holding Trump accountable for failing to keep his promises.

Michelle Goldberg from the NYTimes listed some of those broken promises.

Trump’s first two years in office have been rife with debacles, including the botched response to Hurricane Maria and the sadistic policy of snatching undocumented children from their parents.

Tens of thousands of veterans haven’t received promised housing and education stipends because of technical glitches at the Department of Veterans Affairs. Some veterans are facing eviction and homelessness, and at a hearing last week, V.A. officials couldn’t tell Congress when the problem would be fixed. NBC noted that the agency lacks a permanent chief information officer. Over the summer, ProPublica reported that the V.A. was being unofficially run by a trio of Trump cronies out of Mar-a-Lago.

The Times reported on problems with the $12 billion bailout program the Trump administration created to help farmers hurt by its trade policies. Thanks to what the story called “red tape and long waiting periods,” few payments have been made so far.

Under a 2007 law, people in some public service jobs are eligible to have their federal student loans forgiven after 10 years of payments. Last year, according to Department of Education data, only 96 of nearly 30,000 applicants for loan forgiveness were approved, which appears to be partly the fault of the Trump administration. Attorneys general for 10 states and the District of Columbia have written to Trump’s education secretary, Betsy DeVos, about her department’s “failure to keep its promise to borrowers.”

In the spirit of this post, however, Trump can be viewed as a blessing.

As his administration continues to unravel, we are seeing that the American people ARE able and willing to hold him accountable for his actions. His lies and poor performance did erode his 2016 base of support. His power is not only an illusion, it is now working against him. Rather than dismantle democracy, he has reinvigorated it. He has awakened those who stand aghast at his actions. Rather than just complain, they voted in record numbers.

It wasn’t just them who voted in record numbers either. His base of support turned out too. The result was democracy in action. Voters took power away from the incumbent President because they disapproved of that incumbent’s performance. A Democratic congress will certainly serve as a check for at least the next two years.

There were also big gains for Democrats at the state level. Those gains will lay the foundation for an unraveling of the gerrymandering and restrictive voter registration laws which had been giving Republicans an unfair advantage in previous House votes. Michigan even passed a public proposal to hand all future redistricting to a non-partisan citizen’s panel. We don’t know whether any of these actions would have occurred without a Trump presidency. It is clear that making it easier to vote and making those votes of equal value in every conservative district are both going to strengthen democracy.

We don’t know how the next two years will go, but it is clear that the seemingly unstoppable spreading green bay tree that was the Trump administration is losing its power before our very eyes. We may go looking for him in two years and he will be hard to find.

Flopping

Wednesday, October 10th, 2018

via GIPHY

Flopping is a technique in a number of sports. It is an intentional fall by a player after little or no contact from an opposing player. The intent is to fool the official into believing that a foul actually occurred when in fact nothing happened. It is widely practiced in soccer and basketball. To a lesser extent, you see it also in football on almost every incomplete pass. The defender jumps up celebrating his success and the receiver jumps up looking around in dismay for a flag to confirm the fact that his failure to catch the ball was because of interference from the defender.

Flopping has found its way into the politics of victimization. It even has its own acronym – DARVO. That stands for Deny Attack and Reverse Victim and Offender.

DARVO is President Trump’s favorite tactic.

Here is a recent example.

Trump mocked Dr. Ford at a rally and lied about her testimony. He went on to suggest that Kavanaugh and his family are the real victims and blames the Democrats. He then called Democrats “evil people”.  He said their aim is to “destroy people” and create a culture in which people are “guilty until proven innocent”. The ultimate irony, probably lost on those in the crowd, occurred when the crowd began to chant “lock her up”.

The press then held Trump accountable for both his tone and his lies regarding Dr. Ford. His press secretary denied that he was mocking Dr. Ford and said that he was only stating the facts of the case. That was also a lie since the facts of the case include many of the details where Dr. Ford’s memory was clear.

Sprinkling facts with lies is also a common Trump tactic.  Lies, however, taint any claim of stating the facts.  Telling only the half of the story is also misrepresentation.

Dr. Ford, for example, provided solid scientific reasons why she did not remember some details and did remember others.  That science of trauma has been widely corroborated by other psychologists.  Ignoring this important part of Dr. Ford’s testimony was just additional evidence that Trump had no interest in the facts.

Then Sanders repeated the Trump’s claims that the real victim here is Kavanaugh and the real villains are the Democrats who single-handedly turned the confirmation process into “a complete and total disgrace”.

Sanders and Trump also claimed that the FBI had free reign in their investigation.  Later statements from the FBI confirmed that it was in fact “limited in scope”.

Trump later justified his attacks on Dr. Ford as an attempt to “even the playing field” and that Kavanaugh’s ultimate successful confirmation was the direct result of his attacks.  The common statement is “level the playing field”.  Characterizing this as an “uneven” playing field may have been a subconscious admission that Dr. Ford had strong public support.

Political flopping and DARVO are all different versions of a flawed philosophy – the end justifies the means.

Flopping and DARVO are both cheating.

They are attempts to twist the truth in order to gain an advantage.

At this point, partisans are going to be hearing a lot of “yah but” arguments in their head. That’s fine. But just because someone else “flops” does not make it any more ethical for you to flop.

Also just to be clear, Trump earned the right to nominate SCOTUS judges as a result of winning the election. He just happened to pick someone who, like many of his past nominations for other offices, was poorly vetted. Just because Republicans had the votes to confirm Kavanaugh, doesn’t mean that they should have.

The philosophical conclusion of accepting the “end justifies the means” rationale is that ANYTHING is acceptable behavior as long as you can justify whatever is accomplished.

IMHO, that is what has been exposed in the Republican Party by the Trump presidency.

This President can lie (well documented) with no recourse because those lies advance the agenda (ends) that the Republican party feels cannot be advanced in any other way. Or in fact to be more precise, Republican leaders ignore Trump’s lies because they don’t want to confront him and his supporters. The problem is that Trump has demanded the leaders in his party to declare that they are either with him or against him. He won’t, in fact, even tolerate their silence. Most chose the path of least resistance, actively defend Trump, and regularly praise his good works. Meanwhile the march to autocracy continues.

Trump and his supporters seem to live in an alternate reality where angry protesters are characterized as a mob. Worse yet, they can’t seem to accept that those people who are exercising their first amendment rights to protest are doing so voluntarily. Instead, even Republican Senators circulate the conspiracy theory that the protesters are paid by George Soros, but fail to produce any evidence to support their claim. They seem to forget that the current Republican majorities were won by angry protests by the Tea Party that started in 2010. Instead this protest must be motivated by paid provocateurs or revenge-seeking Clinton supporters.

Another flawed right wing meme is that young men are now somehow at risk from the #MeToo movement. This makes a false equivalence between women who are concerned about their physical security and long term psychological health and men who fear that a false accusation would damage their future employment prospects.

Blaming the victim, particularly when they are women, is a damnable defense that our current president has legitimized. The #MeToo movement started with powerful men in the entertainment industry. It has spread to those in all walks of life. Those who attack women should be held accountable.  Those who employ the DARVO technique are reprehensible cowards.

(rant starting) When multiple women came forward to accuse Kavanaugh of abusive behavior, Republicans including Kavanaugh suggested that this was evidence of “an organized political hit”.  Why are three women who chose to come forward LESS convincing for Republicans than one woman?  Bias is the only reasonable answer.

When Kavanaugh lied about the meaning of entries in his yearbook, everyone paying attention knew this was a lie – but Republicans gave him a pass on the basis of youthful exuberance.  But putting your hand over the mouth of a screaming woman IS NOT youthful exuberance.  It is abuse regardless of the age of the abuser.

It also isn’t that times have changed.  Rape and sexual assault have always been wrong.  I graduated from an all boy’s Jesuit High School.  While there may have been a culture of privilege at Kavanaugh’s school, I can guarantee that he was taught that with privilege comes responsibility.  The core of all Jesuit schools is to teach boys to become “men for others”.  He knew that abusing alcohol was wrong and he knew that attacking women was wrong too.

So please tell me why Kavanaugh couldn’t just admit that he had a drinking problem in his youth?  He could have admitted that he did drink to the point where he was not able to remember everything that happened.  He could have said, whether it was true or not, that he has no memory of the events that these three women described.  At that point, a man for others would have apologized for any harm that he may have caused and promised that his life since that time has been dedicated to seeking justice and protecting the powerless.

Instead he turned it all into a partisan rant and as a result became the LEAST trusted justice in recent history to hold a lifetime appointment. (rant ending)

The conspiracy theorists are also weighing in, but now they happen to be Senators. Tom Cotton for example believes that this is all a Democratic plot orchestrated by Chuck Schumer. Specifically, Cotton claims that a friend of Dr. Ford had worked at one time for Attorney Preet Bharara who had at one time been Schumer’s chief counsel. The problem is that the friend never did work for Bharara and there is no evidence suggesting that Schumer knew about Dr. Ford’s claim any earlier than anyone else. This theory is based on the same magic thinking that suggests that people are incapable of coming to the same conclusion (i.e. trusting Dr. Ford’s testimony) on their own. That the only way to explain such a broad and deep emotional response as we’ve seen from the public is that it had been carefully planned months before. If that was the case, Schumer clearly fumbled the ball because all they got out of it was a week’s delay and a shallow FBI investigation. If they had brought these allegations to the committee earlier, it is likely that there would have been sufficient time to do a more thorough FBI investigation which may have led to a different outcome.

What we can take from this is another turn of the autocratic wheel.

Trump supporters, which include most of the Republican Party now, don’t just have contempt for the truth, but now rush to demonize any and all criticism. In the past this tendency was limited to Trump and a small group of his vocal defenders. Now senior Republicans freely embrace crazy conspiracy theories about what motivated opposition to Kavanaugh and NO ONE in the party is questioning them.

When conspiracy theories move from the delusional fringe to mainstream politics, it becomes a deliberate strategy to delegitimize opposition. This creates excuses for punishing anyone who dares to oppose those in power, because that opposition in and of itself is regarded as treason. Even the high ideal of protecting women from being abused quickly fell by the wayside when the accused abuser was a powerful Republican.  Rather than take these accusations seriously and conduct a thorough and detailed investigation into all claims, those claims were dismissed as being politically motivated and a majority of senators who represent a minority of voters imposed their will on the rest of the country.

The question remains, how is democracy going to respond? It clearly isn’t the Republican Party. If there was any previous question, it is clear now that they are all-in. The Supreme Court is no longer going to be a reliable check on presidential power either. The highly politicized appointment process disregarded any damage that might be done to the credibility of the court in the minds of a large majority US citizens in return for potential short term political gain in the upcoming midterms.

The only thing that stands between Trump and his march toward authoritarianism are the voters. Regardless of the outcome of the midterm elections, Trump will dare both the voters and the courts to try to stop him. It will take more than a defeat in the upcoming midterms.  If Republicans retain their Senate majority, which seems a likely outcome at this point, it is likely that Trump will take action to shut down the Mueller investigation by whatever means available to him.  The only thing that will stop him are Democratic wins in every election between now and the next time we can vote directly on Trump’s political future.  Hopefully, voters and the courts will be up to the task when they are called to make a choice.

 

Intent

Monday, June 4th, 2018

A great oldie from the Castaways is a good theme for this post.

As a follow-up to my previous post speculating on the effect of dishonest President, here’s a little more speculation on the difference between lying and simply being misinformed.

The difference in a word is intent.

The liar knows that they are lying.

It is also possible to spread lies unintentionally.

Here are a couple of examples of that.

People who are ill informed believe what they are saying is true, but that belief is based on inaccurate information.

People who are delusional believe that what they are saying is true, just like those who are ill informed. The difference is those who are suffering from delusion are unable to discern the difference between fact and fiction. That may be because of some illness or disability that is affecting their capacity to make rational judgments.

The way that you tell the difference between the two is how they react to learning that their previous statement isn’t supported by the facts. The ill-informed person will reconsider their statement based on new facts. The delusional person will continue lie because they are either unable or unwilling to accept the fact that what they are saying is not supported by the facts.

Within this context, let’s examine Trump’s behavior.

We start with the basic fact that he and his administration produce statements that are contradicted by the facts at a volume and rate unprecedented in the history of our country. He also repeats these statements long after the error of those statements has been widely documented. You can choose to argue around the margins of some of these claims but the shear volume of material makes it difficult to avoid the obvious. This administration can’t be trusted to tell the truth.

Here’s a link to discussion by CNN’s Brian Stelter where he goes through the challenge of parsing each of the statements that come from this administration.

While this discussion is interesting, I’m less concerned about how many of the President’s statements are distortions versus how many are lies. This is not a discussion of degree. This is a discussion of intent.

The second point before we go further in this discussion is something that Trump told Leslie Stahl. While this conversation was off the record, Trump has not disputed it. Since he disputes pretty much everything that is either printed or broadcast that he feels is negative, I think it safe to assume that Leslie Stahl quoted him accurately.

President Donald Trump told the veteran journalist Lesley Stahl of the CBS program “60 Minutes” that he bashes the press to “demean” and “discredit” reporters so that the public will not believe “negative stories” about him, Stahl said.

Why this is important is that it speaks to intent. Let’s parse this statement. First he says that his attacks on the trustworthiness of the press are intentional. Second, the attacks are in reaction to reporting that he perceives as negative. Third, he purposefully attempts to erode the trust of the public in those reporters that criticize him and the publications that publish those stories as punishment.

There was nothing in this statement about facts.

There was nothing in this statement about accountability.

“And he said: ‘You know why I do it? I do it to discredit you all and demean you all so that when you write negative stories about me no one will believe you.'”

His only purpose is to punish those who write negative stories about him and make it more difficult for those who might consider writing negative stories about him the future.

It is possible that he believes that he is perfect. As a result, any criticism of his actions by definition had to be a malicious lie. If true, that in itself is evidence of a dangerous delusion which we will try to dig into. If not, he just doesn’t like being criticized and has determined that he is going to use the vast power of his office to punish and undermine anyone who criticizes him. That is authoritarianism.

The Phantom Spokesman
The facts in this case are pretty simple. Trump objected to a NYT article regarding the potential rescheduling of a US NK meeting. Specifically he was upset regarding this part of the article.

“a senior White House official told reporters that even if the meeting were reinstated, holding it on June 12 would be impossible, given the lack of time and the amount of planning needed.”

Here’s what he tweeted.

The Failing @nytimes quotes “a senior White House official,” who doesn’t exist, as saying “even if the meeting were reinstated, holding it on June 12 would be impossible, given the lack of time and the amount of planning needed.” WRONG AGAIN! Use real people, not phony sources.

The problem with all of this is that the “senior White House official” was in fact someone that the White House made available to a pool of reporters to provide background on the quickly changing situation in NK. The meeting, organized by the White House, included 50 reporters in the briefing room and another 200 on the phone.

According to the NYT, the White House was the one who declined to make the name of the person giving the briefing public. They were the ones who provided the term “senior White House official”.

If there was any question of whether this briefing took place, beyond the testimony of all of the journalists who participated, Politifact includes a tweet from a NY Magazine and Huffpost journalist who happened to record the first minute or so of the briefing by accident. Matthew Pottinger is introduced in the audio. He’s the one who provided the briefing. He is the NSC’s senior director for Asian affairs. So it makes sense that he would be someone the White House would trot out to talk about NK.

Trump was clearly wrong.

We don’t know whether he was misinformed, delusional, or malicious. Using our gauge, however, there has been no admission from the White House that Trump was unaware of the briefing and as a result was simply misinformed. That leaves delusional or malicious.

Here’s why those are the only choices. If he only became aware of the briefing AFTER his tweet and then chose NOT to retract that tweet, he has now become malicious. He is taking advantage of the situation to continue his attack on the press even though he KNOWS that it is based on false information.

If he WAS aware of the briefing BEFORE his tweet, then he is certainly being malicious and this is a lie. It is possible that the White House setup this briefing for the purpose of providing another opportunity for Trump to continue his attack on the press. Politifact called this statement Pants on Fire. Their worst rating.

The ONLY OTHER choice is that he is delusional which is also dangerous a possibility.

Revisionist History
When he first fired James Comey, Trump claimed that a memo by the deputy AG criticizing Comey’s handling of the Clinton email investigation was the reason. That excuse lasted about a day. Then Trump told Russians and later Lester Holt on national TV that he fired Comey because he was unwilling to drop his investigation of Michael Flynn. That claim was supported by Comey in his congressional testimony, his notes, and his book. It was also recently supported by memos that Deputy Director McCabe released.

Yet on May 31st, Trump tweeted.

Not that it matters but I never fired James Comey because of Russia! The Corrupt Mainstream Media loves to keep pushing that narrative, but they know it is not true!

Let’s go through our analysis again.

Could this be a case of being misinformed? Hardly. Trump himself has said on multiple occasions both in public and private that Comey’s Russian investigation figured into his decision to fire Comey. No information from any reliable source has disputed this claim.

That leaves us with malicious or delusional.

If it is malicious, it is the same argument as the previous situation. It is clearly a lie and the liar is simply following a strategy that he has already shared with the public. He will lie to undermine the credibility of the press in the minds of the public.

At the risk of putting a finer point on it, Trump’s own attorney Giuliani has admitted that they are actively engaged in a campaign to undermine the credibility of the Mueller investigation too. As a result, they continue to spread lies about that investigation as well.

Or he is delusional. He simply doesn’t remember what he has said in the past and has convinced himself that whatever has been written in the press about his past statements was a fabrication.

Conclusion
Hopefully you can appreciate the challenge that an untrustworthy executive branch presents to our democracy. If not, here’s a brief summary from my previous post.

We don’t know whether the President is intentional or delusional. What we do know is that he is abusing his power to discredit the press and the justice department. If that is the result of intention, as he suggested to Leslie Stahl, then he is a dangerous man following an authoritarian playbook. If it is delusion that is the result of some early stage dementia, he is also dangerous for different reasons. He really does believe what he is saying because his recollection of past and his grasp of the present is damaged. That makes him unreliable, unstable, and incapable of responsibly doing the job that he was elected to do.

Ultimately, it doesn’t matter. Neither choice is good for democracy. But under normal circumstances, the other branches of government should check an executive who is abusing his power or is suffering from diminished mental capacity.

This has become a dangerous situation because the Republican controlled Congress and the leaders in the Republican party have been unwilling to provide a check on either a malicious or mentally ill President.

We had a similar situation in waning years of Reagan’s second term. You can see in the Iran Contra hearings that he was suffering from early stage Alzheimer’s disease. Even though Democrats had control of the House during both of Reagan’s terms, voters also turned the Senate over the Democrats in the last two years of Reagan’s second term because of concerns over his ability to govern.

What does that mean?
It means that when the President says that the NYT FALSELY reported information that came from a White House briefing, leaders in Congress tell the President privately and publicly that he is wrong and needs to set the record straight for the integrity of the office and the good of the country.

It means that when the President says that he NEVER said that the Russian investigation figured in his decision to fire Comey, that leaders in Congress tell the President privately and publicly that he DID in fact say exactly that in private and in public. As a result it is his responsibility for the good of the country and the integrity of the office to own his past statements rather than claim that they were falsely reported.

What are we going to do?
The only thing that we CAN do is to encourage everyone with a shred of conscience and patriotism to vote for a Democrat this next election cycle. It’s not because of policy or platform. It is also not because I think that Trump should be impeached. It’s because the ONLY way to prevent further damage to the fabric of our democracy is for that democracy to register a vote of no confidence in this president and the Republican Party that supports him. That vote will place control of at least one house of Congress in the hands of Democrats. It doesn’t matter whether or not they have enough votes to pass anything. It only matters that Democrats CAN be trusted to serve as a check on the executive branch until the country has a chance to vote for the next president.

I’ll close with Thomas Friedman who is not a liberal and very much a free marketer.

If I were writing the choice on a ballot, it would read: “Are you in favor of electing a majority of Democrats in the House and/or Senate to put a check on Trump’s power — when his own party demonstrably will not? Or are you in favor of shaking the dice for another two years of unfettered control of the House, the Senate and the White House by a man who wants to ignore Russia’s interference in our election; a man whose first thought every morning is, ‘What’s good for me, and can I get away with it?’; a man who shows no compunction about smearing any person or government institution that stands in his way; and a man who is backed by a party where the only members who’ll call him out are those retiring or dying?”

something more fundamental is at stake: It’s not what we do — it’s who we are, how we talk to one another, what we model to the world, how we respect our institutions and just how warped our society and government can get in only a few years from a president who lies every day, peddles conspiracy theories from the bully pulpit of the White House and dares to call our F.B.I. and Justice Department a “criminal deep state” for doing their job.

In the end, I don’t want to see Trump impeached, unless there is overwhelming evidence. I want to see, and I want the world to see, a majority of Americans vote to curtail his power for the next two years — not to push a specific agenda over his but because they want to protect America, its ideals and institutions, from him — until our next presidential election gives us a chance to end this cancer and to birth a new G.O.P. that promotes the best instincts of conservatives, not the worst, so Americans can again have two decent choices.

You Can’t Handle The Truth

Monday, May 21st, 2018

via GIPHY

For those who haven’t been paying attention, our President is a liar.

He isn’t just a garden variety political liar. Or an old-time used car salesman liar.

He is a liar of mammoth historically unprecedented proportions. He lies about small things (like the size of his inauguration crown). He lies about big things (nobody in this campaign had any contact with any Russians). He lies about everything in between. Very few days pass in this administration when he hasn’t lied about something.

I’ve been spending some time thinking about the impact of this level of presidential dishonesty on the country.

The challenge is that our democracy is based on a basic assumption that voters are well informed and make their decisions based on their own self-interest. One of the jobs of the president is to set the moral tone for the country and inform voters about what the government is doing and why.

But what happens to democracy when a significant number of voters are using false information to make their decision?

Turns out that I’m not the only one thinking about this problem.

Ex Secretary of State Rex Tillerson dedicated his whole graduation speech at VMI to this very topic.

I’m not a Tillerson fan, but we are both very much on the same page regarding our concerns about the impact of a dishonest President.

As I reflect upon the state of American democracy, I observe a growing crisis of ethics and integrity,

Here’s what I think that means.

Some of those who voted for Trump, did so because they wanted a change. They felt that government wasn’t working for them. They felt that the economy was rigged against them. They were anxious about their future because of industrial disruption and changing culture. They felt that their conservative and religious values were under attack. They felt disrespected by those who had more education, skills, and money. Trump ran a highly unconventional campaign which aligned itself with this deep feeling of alienation and anxiety.

To the surprise of everyone, Trump did win a narrow Electoral College victory and began the most tumultuous first year of any president in recent history.

The result is that Trump voters have either had to publically renounce their vote or double down on their support regardless of his actions. They had to choose to remain in the Trump tribe even though that might cost them friends and family, or they had to leave that tribe without some clear path to another group of like-minded people.

The challenge of remaining in the Trump tribe is that Trump is an unethical authoritarian figure who has been systematically dismantling the shared values that are at the foundation of our democracy.

That’s what Tillerson is talking about. One of those foundational values is the expectation that the President will both tell and the truth and be accountable when we discover that he didn’t.

Here’s how Tillerson described it.

When we as people, a free people, go wobbly on the truth, even on what may seem the most trivial of matters, we go wobbly on America. If we do not as Americans confront the crisis of ethics and integrity in our society, and among our leaders in both the public and private sector, and regrettably at times even the nonprofit sector, then American democracy as we know it is entering its twilight years.

And

If our leaders seek to conceal the truth or we as people become accepting of alternative realities that are no longer grounded in facts, then we as American citizens are on a pathway to relinquishing our freedom.

And

This is the life of nondemocratic societies, comprised of people who are not free to seek the truth. … A responsibility of every American citizen to each other is to preserve and protect our freedom by recognizing what the truth is and is not, what a fact is and is not, and begin by holding ourselves accountable to truthfulness, and demand our pursuit of America’s future be fact-based, not based on wishful thinking; not hopeful outcomes made in shallow promises; but with a clear-eyed view of the facts as they are and guided by the truth that will set us free to seek solutions to our most daunting challenges.

Here’s a quick review of some of the examples of this problem

Rigged Election
When it appeared the Trump would lose, he refused to commit to accepting the outcome of the election claiming that it was rigged for the benefit of his opponent. This in itself is a staggeringly reckless position. Then when he won the election, he blamed is loss of the popular vote on millions of fraudulent votes which artificially inflated popular vote totals of his opponent. He put together a panel to look for evidence. They couldn’t find anything even close to the scale that he claimed existed. Trump has never backed away from this claim that deeply undermines the confidence his supporters have in the election process.

Fraudulent elections are the stuff of what Tillerson called nondemocratic societies. We see them in places like Russia and just recently in Venezuela. Undermining the public trust in the reliability of the election system for the purposes of vanity is deeply troubling.

The truth is that that our election system is highly reliable because it is highly distributed. It is virtually impossible to rig a national election because thousands of independent voting boards across the country actually run them. The people on those boards are elected locally and are beyond the control of any one party or any administration.

Trump Stormy Giuliani Cohen
Facts are Stormy Daniels got paid $130K before the election in order to keep her from going public with her story about an affair with Trump. Whether or not her story regarding the affair is true, it’s the payoff that is the issue.

When that story came out, Trump and his administration denied that there was any affair or any payoff.

As more facts came out as the press dug into the details, the White House explanation changed from denying the whole thing to just denying the affair, but telling us that Cohen (Trump’s lawyer) did this all on his own using his own money and without Trump’s knowledge.

Then Giuliani (Trump’s new lawyer) said that Cohen WAS paid back in a method (retainer for services) that didn’t violate campaign laws.

Finally Trump files a financial disclosure form that lists the payment that he made Cohen last year from one of his personal accounts. This payment was not listed in the first financial disclosure form Trump filed last year.

In addition to the obvious questions regarding campaign finance reform violations, we have another question of why this payment was left of off the first financial disclosure form. Submitting false financial disclosure forms is also a crime.

Trump continues to deny that there was any affair but suggests that these sorts of payoffs are common for those with high public profiles. But neither he nor anyone in his administration including Giuliani have made any attempt to explain why the story went through so many twists and turns, why it isn’t a campaign finance violation, and why it wasn’t listed on the first financial disclosure form filled last year.

The result is that Trump appears not to hold himself or anyone else accountable for lying to the publc.

Witch hunt
Trump has yet to acknowledge that the investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 election is legitimate. Instead they have taken the position that this whole investigation is something that the Democrats made up because they lost an election. The problem with that position is that Trump and his party have all of the power. There is NOTHING that the Democrats can do to either cause, or continue an investigation on their own. The best example of this is the House Intelligence committee report. Fortunately the Senate did a more responsible job with pretty much the same evidence.

The Congressional investigations began because Jeff Sessions lied to Congress during his confirmation hearings about his contacts with Russians. That forced him to recuse himself from any ongoing investigation, so there was little that he can do to help Trump. That is also the fault of Trump and his administration in preparing Sessions to answer the Senate hearings.

As far as Mueller’s involvement, Trump has no one to blame but himself. He is the one who fired Comey, lied about why Comey was fired, then bragged to the Russians that he fired Comey BECAUSE of the Russian investigation. There was no choice but to hire a special prosecutor. That choice was supported by a majority of his own party.

The facts are that the Russians made a deliberate attempt to manipulate the election in favor of Trump. No one has been able to answer the question of why they chose to work on behalf of Trump.

Trump has made this all about himself, but it isn’t. The public deserves to know how and why the Russians were involved in attempting to disrupt the 2016 election. Anyone who knowingly helped the Russians should be held accountable. Any vulnerabilities in our systems should be identified and corrected. But that’s not how Trump has characterized this effort. Instead he paints it as a partisan personal attack. The result is that the public’s confidence in our election system, Justice Department, the FBI, and the Courts is being deliberately eroded for the sole purpose of political gain.

Obstruction of Justice
Trump fired Comey because he didn’t like the way the FBI was handling the Russian investigation – and then bragged about it to the Russians. Trump’s defense is that he was “fighting back”.

We’ve since learned that he asked the Post Office to raise Amazon’s rates because he doesn’t like the treatment he’s getting from Jeff Bezos’ Washington Post. Is that also “fighting back”?

We give president’s immense power. In return, we have high expectations. Presidents must obey the constitution and our laws. They must tell us the truth. The must not use their power against their political enemies. They must not use their power to enrich themselves, their family, or their associates at the expense of voters. They must not tolerate corruption in Executive Branch of government. They must exhaust every other option before starting a military conflict. They must treat our military with respect. The must treat out democratic norms with respect. They must treat the other branches of government with respect.

Tillerson said,

An essential tenet of a free society, a free people, is access to the truth

A government structure and a societal understanding that freedom to seek the truth is the very essence of freedom itself. … It is only by fierce defense of the truth and a common set of facts that we create the conditions for a democratic, free society, comprised of richly diverse peoples, that those free peoples can explore and find solutions to the very challenges confronting the complex society of free people.

When you call the press an “enemy of the people”, you are reducing access to the truth.

When you call the opposition party “traitors” because they didn’t stand enough during one of your speeches, you undermine the constitutional right of people to hold dissenting views.

The choice is being in the bubble or out. You can live a life committed to seeking truth and being honest. Or you can live a life constrained by conspiracy and ideology.

We are facing an important moment in the history of our country.

The choice is between a cult of personality where tribalism and fear allow an authoritarian to dictate the truth, or a reaffirmation of trust in democracy where the truth is not biased and isn’t owned by any party or ideology.

We’ve faced these moments in the past. We fought a civil war to answer the question of whether the principles on which our democracy was based could survive if some people were allowed to own other people. We went through a deep depression and a world war which questioned whether the free market and democracy were up to the challenges of the modern world. We went through a turbulent time during the Viet Nam War when the government lied, kids died, and the anti-war movement was born. Nixon ran a divisive campaign blaming the anti-war movement for social unrest and won in a landslide. Less than two years later he resigned in disgrace because he had abused his power.

We have had corrupt presidents in the past. We have had presidents who weren’t up to the job. We have never had a president who has used the power of his office to undermine the very system that elected him. My hope is that even as he seeks to dismantle the government in war against what Steve Bannon called the deep state, the press and the judiciary are holding firm and will ultimately uncover the truth of his actions.

What happens then?

That’s where the choice will ultimately be made. There are some whose support of Trump is part of their identity. They wear it as a rebel badge of courage. They feel all of this animosity proves that they were right all along about how the rich and powerful feel about them. They will never admit that he was wrong because that will mean they were wrong. It is a zero sum celebrity death match where only one will leave alive, and they have placed their bet on Donald Trump.

Authoritarianism in the defense of populism is NOT OK.

Our democracy works because we respect the outcomes of free and open elections.

My hope is that when the truth does come out, a majority of the country will recognize that this is not an “us versus them” conflict. This is an effort to hold our elected officials accountable for their actions. I hope a majority will appreciate that demanding decisions be made on the basis of facts is not a partisan position. It is a position that we should all support because ultimately we will all be better as a nation if we start from a shared set of facts.

In starkest terms here are a couple of warnings. The first is from Yale History Prof Tim Snyder. The second is from Hillary Clinton’s address to Yale Law School grads.

To abandon facts is to abandon freedom. If nothing is true, then no one can criticize power because there is no basis upon which to do so. If nothing is true, then all is spectacle.

Attempting to erase the line between fact and fiction, truth and reality is a core feature of authoritarianism! The goal is to make us question logic and reason and to sow mistrust toward the people we need to rely on: our leaders, the press, experts who seek to guide public policy based on evidence, even ourselves.

I hope that the next occupant of the White House will help heal the wounds and repair the damage that Trump is doing to both our government and our society.

This Is The End

Sunday, April 15th, 2018

This was the beginning of the end for the Nixon administration. One guy, Alexander Butterfield, decided to tell the truth that Nixon taped all of his Oval Office meetings. A year later Nixon resigned.

We are at that some point with the Trump administration. Though recent reports that Cohen could become a cooperative witness, does raise the possibility that Cohen could become the John Dean of this generation.

The reason is that reports coming out of Cohen investigation indicate three things.

1. Cohen lied about this trip to Prague
2. Cohen kept extensive notes of his conversations with Trump including tapes of phone conversations.
3. The investigation has been going on for months. Emails, phone conversations, maybe even meetings were all captured.

In order to answer the WHY this might be the beginning of the end, we have to back up a little bit.

The Trump organization isn’t really all that it is cracked up to be. It was a small organization run mostly by his two children and Michael Cohen. If President Trump has shown anything, it is that he is not a good manager. He let his kids do it under the watchful eye of his most loyal employee, Cohen.

If you take a look at the sorts of deals that they were cutting, it was with shady characters that couldn’t find more reputable partners. Those who have taken a look at those deals also suggest that the Trump organization sold their brand for far less than they could have received for giving legitimacy to developers that had none.

Here are a few examples.

In Azerbaijan, Trump was part of a hotel project that may have been a money laundering front for oligarchs tied to Iran’s Revolutionary Guard. In the Republic of Georgia, Trump partnered with the group that is being investigated for the largest known bank-fraud/money-laundering case in history. In Indonesia, his development partner is up to his knees in dirty politics. His deals in Brazil are being investigated. The FBI is looking into his daughter’s role getting a Malaysian family who have already admitted to financial fraud to provide financial backing for a Vancouver Trump Hotel. The investigation into DTjr and Ivanka’s SoHo Trump Hotel was halted with no notice. His Taj Mahal Atlanta Casino was fined a record amount for money laundering.

As Adam Davidson pointed out in his New Yorker article.

It was not a company that built value over decades, accumulating assets and leveraging wealth. It burned through whatever good will and brand value it established as quickly as possible, then moved on to the next scheme.

The reason why we are near the end is that each of these shady business deals has its own set of risks and questions. But the questions boil down to the same set. How much did Trump and his kids know about the criminal backgrounds of their partners? Did that criminality have any effect on the price they were charging for the Trump “endorsement”? Cohen is the person who knows the answers. Those answers will determine who else besides Cohen goes to jail and for how long.

Some of the other things that the FBI are investigating include a business loan where Cohen used his three taxi companies as collateral. The license to operate a taxi in NY used to be a lucrative business. Cohen’s licenses at one time were worth over $1M. Their value has plummeted because of ride hailing services like Uber and Lyft. Cohen’s licenses may now only be worth $300,000. So there is interest in what he claimed they were worth when he took out the loan and what he used the loan money for.

They are also concerns about money laundering and campaign-finance violations.

The bottom line is that the authorized search had such a high bar for approval, that most informed observers believe that the NY prosecutor may already have had sufficient evidence to convict at least Cohen. There is also speculation that at least some of the justification for seizing the evidence is that FBI surveillance picked up discussion that the evidence was going to be destroyed.

As I’ve said before, I don’t think that Trump will be indicted on a charge of collusion. First of all, it’s just hard to prove. Second, it is just doesn’t fit with the Trump organization culture. A complex plan with a long-term uncertain payoff. Many reports suggest that Trump wasn’t convinced himself that he could win the election. Why would he ask Russians for help unless there was something else in it for him? The fact that the FBI now says that Cohen DID go to Prague supports a key element of the Steele Dossier. It also indicates that there was a deal in the works, or else Cohen would not have been involved.

That’s what we are going to find out.

With all this as background, it is easy to see why Trump said Mueller would be crossing a red line if he started investigating Trump’s businesses. Mueller not only crossed that line. He obliterated it. Even worse, he turned the business investigation over to the NY federal prosecutor. So even if Trump manages to fire Mueller and Congress does nothing in response, this investigation will continue. Even if Trump manages to dissolve Mueller’s Grand Jury, this investigation will continue. Even if Trump pardon’s Cohen, the information that the Feds already have on Cohen can likely become the basis for charges against Trump’s kids.

It may take a long time for all of this information to become public. We give the President a lot of executive power. If he chooses to use it, and Congress doesn’t hold him accountable, he can fight a very effective rear guard action. Eventually, however, all of this information will come out and Trump will finally be revealed for who he really is – a cheat, a liar, and a thief.

Pinocchios As Far As The Eye Can See

Tuesday, April 10th, 2018

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Michael Cohen’s office, his home, and a hotel room were searched recently by the FBI.

Here are some of the responses from President Trump.

I just heard that they broke into the office of one of my personal attorneys

Attorney–client privilege is dead!

Disgraceful situation

It’s a total witch hunt

It’s an attack on our country,

It’s an attack on what we all stand for.

Let’s go through what actually happened and compare it to Trump’s response.

The FBI executed a search warrant obtained by federal prosecutors in the Southern District of New York. What that means is that a federal judge had to issue this search warrant. What that means is that the evidence that the federal prosecutor presented to this judge was sufficiently convincing that the judge agreed that whatever evidence they were looking for was at risk if an immediate search did not occur. What THAT means is that the judge and the prosecutor who are both very aware of the concept of attorney client privilege, determined that the possible criminal activity here was not protected by that privilege. According to the Wash Post.

Searches of an attorney’s office are extremely rare and are not favored, due to their potential to impinge on the attorney-client relationship. Prosecutors must jump through multiple hoops to get such a warrant approved, both within their own office and at the criminal division of Main Justice. (Notably, this would likely have included approval by Trump’s own guy, the new interim U.S. attorney for the Southern District, Geoffrey S. Berman, who was just appointed by Attorney General Jeff Sessions this past January.)

And

Approval of a search warrant suggests prosecutors were able to demonstrate not only the gravity of the potential case but also the risk that evidence might be destroyed or otherwise go missing if they pursued a less aggressive option.

Trump and the White House knew all of these facts. Yet Trump characterized it as a “break-in”. It was nothing of the sort. The FBI had a warrant.

As far as the attorney-client privilege, it does not protect communications used in committing either fraud or a crime. Also if Cohen acted on his own, as Trump claims he did in the Stormy Daniels payoff, that action isn’t protected because the “client” part of the conversation is missing. Finally, fraudulent or criminal documents are not protected just because they passed through an attorney’s hands.

Because of the sensitive nature of this investigation, prosecutors go through extraordinary lengths to shield those involved in the prosecution from those involved in the investigation. That protects the prosecution from any claims of bias that could develop during the investigation. This is evidence of the legal system working at a high level to insure that there is no taint of bias.

There are likely going to be legal wrangles on what documents actually end up being used in this case. That’s why it was important to secure them. The courts will ultimately decide which documents are admissible in Cohen’s trial.

Trump called this a disgrace and the end of attorney-client privilege. It is nothing of the sort. Instead it is the highest demonstration of how our legal system works to both protect the attorney-client privilege and prosecute those who seek to abuse it.

The New York Federal prosecutor was involved because of a referral from Mueller. What that means is that in the course of the Mueller investigation they came across evidence that implicated Cohen, but that evidence was not directly related to the Mueller investigation of Russian involvement in the 2016 election. As a result, Mueller did what he was supposed to do. Rather than go outside the limits of the investigation set by the Deputy AG, he turned his information over the Federal prosecutor in NY and let them decide what to do with it.

If this was the witch hunt that Trump has claimed, Mueller would have pursued this himself. He didn’t because it isn’t.

What’s likely going on here is that Mueller gained access to information regarding the Stormy Daniels payoff. That information probably didn’t implicate Trump, but did suggest that Cohen broke the law. Cohen will have an opportunity to defend himself in court. As a lawyer, however, Cohen knew what risks he was taking when he agreed to broker this payoff. He is now suffering the consequences.

So, is this an attack on our country?

I say yes, but not in the context that Trump meant it. Trump isn’t the victim. He is the attacker. He is actively undermining the public trust in our system of justice. A judge has decided that there was enough information to authorize searching an attorney’s office. It is HIGHLY likely that the information that the Federal prosecutor already has is sufficient to convict Cohen. It will be interesting to see if Cohen will make a deal in order to avoid jail time.

Is this an attack on what we all stand for?

Yes again. It is another example of authoritarianism at work. No one is above the law. What we all stand for is equal protection under the law.

Trump is claiming that he is being persecuted. But Cohen isn’t being investigated because of his relationship with Trump. He is being investigated because there is strong evidence that he broke the law. If Trump is to be believed, Cohen broke the law on his own. Cohen will have his day in court.

Similarly, Trump has only himself to blame for the Mueller investigation. He was the one who fired Comey. He was the one who lied about Russian involvement in the election. He is the one who has chosen to pick a fight with the media. He is the one broke his promise to release his taxes. He is the one who refused to divest himself of his investments. He is the one who ignored nepotism rules. He is the one who chose to seek the support of authoritarians. He is the one who continues to undermine our democracy with his words and action.

In the meantime, the foundations of Trump-world crumble as one after another of his allies resign, are fired, or are indicted. While Trump may retain political support, in a democracy there are unavoidable legal consequences to lying. Holding those accountable who break the law is what we all stand for.

Pants On Fire

Wednesday, January 10th, 2018

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Trump is liar.

It isn’t that he is just a liar. He is a liar of historic proportions.  The NYT has a complete list and a couple of charts comparing Trump’s lies (repeats excluded) and Obama’s lies.

 

In our political system, public officials normally pay a price for lying.  That’s because a candidate makes promises to voters in order to secure their votes.  While most voters are sophisticated enough to realize that even a President can’t do everything that they promise, our system does include an expectation that whomever holds the office will in fact respect the office and the power voters have put in his/her trust.  Breaking that trust may be just another example of Trump “shaking up Washington”, but according to the polls, most voters don’t like it.

This post is about an upcoming scenario where Trump may finally pay that price.

Obstruction of justice is a very difficult charge to prove because it relies on intent.

There is plenty of smoke to suggest that Trump had intent to obstruct the FBI investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 election.

That smoke does not need to include any evidence that the 2016 election results were altered by Russian activity. The charge isn’t that Trump made the Russian efforts more or less effective. The charge is that he interfered with the investigation into Russian efforts.

The smoke also doesn’t need to include any evidence of collusion with the Russians. Whether or not there was collusion is a separate charge. The obstruction charge is that he interfered with the investigation into whether or not there WAS any collusion. Trump could be cleared of the collusion charge and still be liable for the obstruction of justice charge.

Finally that smoke doesn’t need to include any evidence that Mueller somehow overstepped his authority. He was given broad authority by Dept. AG Rosenstein to follow whatever threads he found that would lead to evidence of criminal activity. When he finally presents his case, Trump supporters are going have a hard time convincing the public that Trump’s crimes were outside the scope of what Mueller was originally supposed to investigate.

Here’s the short list of the things that support a potential obstruction of justice charge.

  1. Trump and his staff put a lot of pressure on Sessions NOT to recuse himself from the Justice Department investigation BECAUSE Trump expected Sessions to protect him from that investigation. This speaks to a state of mind that suggests that Trump felt that he needed protection.
  2. Trump drafted a letter to Comey suggesting that Russian investigations were “fabricated and politically motivated”. Comey was later fired because he refused to stop the investigations even though Trump’s initial public statements were that he was fired because of the FBI’s handling of the Clinton email inquiry. This also speaks to state of mind regarding a cover-up.
  3. The Wolff book claims that Trump and his lawyers concocted a misleading statement on Air Force One regarding DTjr’s Trump Tower meeting with Russians. They did that in “an explicit attempt to throw sand into the investigation’s gears”. Wolff also claims that a staffer (Mark Corallo) quit over the incident because of the obvious obstruction of justice implications. This alone would meet the standard for prosecution.  It should not be too hard for Mueller to find out from Mark Corallo whether or not Wolff quoted him accurately.
  4. NYT reports that Mueller has substantially corroborated Comey’s notes regarding his dealings with Trump. That corroboration includes notes kept by other WH staffers that Mueller has obtained.

If these Wolff claims are true, that means that other staffers on the flight DID knowingly participate in obstructing justice. Mueller will have the opportunity to interview them under oath for their version of events.

Trump’s defenders continue to suggest that Trump can’t be prosecuted for taking actions that are within his legal authority. That misses the question of intent. The courts have clearly ruled that legal authority does not immunize a government official from abusing that authority with corrupt intent.

But that ultimately isn’t going to be the issue.

The issue will be that at some point in the not too distant future, a sitting President will again be summoned to testify in front of a grand jury. This is a man who doesn’t read, doesn’t have the patience to sit through policy briefings that last more than a few minutes, admittedly didn’t prepare for campaign debates, lies regularly to inflate his own accomplishments, has an overinflated view of his own capabilities, and seems to have only a tenuous grasp on facts. How is this man going to perform when confronted with a detailed discussion of his actions as described by the sworn testimony of others?

This will be a situation where his usual strategy of bending the truth will not work. This is also situation where inexperience, “negotiation”, or even delusion are unacceptable excuses for failing to tell the truth. He won’t be able to deny that he said things because government lawyers and the grand jury will have the transcripts. He won’t be able to deny that he was present at a meeting when the sworn testimony of others who were there confirmed his presence. His experience as a performer will not help him. He won’t be able threaten. He won’t be able to settle. He won’t be able to leave after ten minutes. He will just have to answer the questions to the best of his ability. The recent NYT interview is a perfect example of the sort of disaster that this President is facing.

This is a minefield of Trump’s own making. It is hard to believe that he will be able to navigate it without stepping on at least a few of them. When he does, Mueller won’t need to prove intent to get an obstruction of justice claim to stick. He will have Trump on tape lying to a Grand Jury.

It is also ironic that a deeply flawed book that contains a lot of misinformation may end up being the publication that takes down a president who has a similar disregard for the truth.

Postscript:

At the time of this posting, two more Republican members of the house have announced their retirement (Issa and Royce). That brings the number retiring to 32 (compared to 15 Democrats). 20% of the 23 House Republicans running in districts won by Clinton in 2016 are not seeking re-election to those seats. Since 1962, an average of 40 house seats have been lost in midterm elections by the president’s party when the president’s approval rating fell below 50%. Trump says that polls don’t matter, but a lot of Republicans appear to be acting as if they do. Democrats only need 24 seats to regain a majority in the House.

Where’s The Beef?

Thursday, November 9th, 2017

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One of responses from the Trump administration with regard to the claims of Russian involvement in the 2016 election has been to call the investigation a “nothingburger”.

Let’s check to see how much beef there really is in this nothingburger.

The most important recent development is the guilty plea of George Papadopolous.  He admitted that he lied to federal agents about his efforts to arrange meetings between Moscow and the Trump campaign.  The Trump administration used their standard response that Papadopolous didn’t have an important role in the campaign, but his role isn’t what is in question (though there is plenty of evidence that he was active as a foreign liaison to Britain and Greece).  The important questions (the beef) are why the Russians were interested in talking with him, why did he want to talk with the Russians, and who else in the Trump campaign knew that he was talking to the Russians?

It isn’t clear why the Russians were talking with him.  What is clear is that the Russians only began to respond to his requests for a conversation AFTER it was announced that he had joined the Trump campaign.

Papadopolous said that he wanted to talk with the Russians because they were offering him “dirt” on Clinton.  That “dirt” was thousands of hacked emails.  Worse yet, his emails show that he was in regular contact with senior Trump campaign officials regarding not only the information but also a proposed meeting between Trump and Putin.  Reports are that Trump received a briefing from Papadopolous.  According to sources who attended the meeting, Trump “didn’t say yes and didn’t say no”.  As a result, Papadopolous continued his conversation with the Russians and received some encouragement from campaign staffer Sam Clovis.  Clovis has since said, through his lawyer, that he was just being polite.  But Papadopolous was told that a meeting between Trump and Putin had bad optics.  Instead the meeting “should be someone low level in the campaign so as not to send any signal”.  This whole scenario flies in the face of Trump’s repeated denials that there was no contact whatsoever (polite or otherwise) between the campaign and Russians.

Trump isn’t the only one who has issued a blanket denial of any contacts.  Jeff Sessions was also at the Trump briefing.  This is the same Jeff Sessions who testified before Congress that he knew nothing about any contacts between Russians and the Trump campaign.  Even though, at this point, we know that his department had already accepted a guilty plea from Papadopolous.  This is also the same Jeff Sessions who was told of Carter Page’s trip to Moscow in July to give a speech.  In Sessions’ most recent appearance he narrowed that earlier statement to mean, he did not “conspire with Russia or an agent of the Russian government to influence the outcome of the 2016 presidential election.”

What this also means is that the Trump campaign knew a month before the meeting that Kushner, Manafort, and DTjr took with a Russian lawyer, that the Russians may have had millions of Clinton emails.  Even more importantly, Trump himself knew when he helped author DTjr’s response when news of the meeting broke, that the meeting was about Russian hacked emails.  The response claimed the meeting was about Russian adoptions.

Based on published reports, we now know that there were at least nine Trump associates who were actively engaged in conversations with Russians during the campaign.  Those include Paul Manafort and Rick Gates who have already been indicted by Mueller for pre-campaign money laundering.

In order to defend his “nothingburger” position, Trump’s response to all of this has been to create an alternate reality which castes large swaths of the government as corrupt.  What this does for him is create a rationale for him to pardon those in his administration as they are inevitably held accountable for their lies.

Trump campaign advisor Sean Hannity’s Trump defense has revived his flagging Fox career and laid the groundwork for Trump’s assertion of executive privilege when the investigation starts to close in on him.

Those include reviving the made-up Clinton uranium and Steele Dossier scandals, and the claim the Comey decided not to indict Clinton well before the FBI investigation concluded.

This leads to the conspiracy theory that Mueller is using the current Trump investigation to cover up his previous failure to investigate Clinton when he was heading up the FBI.

The depth of this delusion should hopefully answer the obvious question about beef.

If there were no beef, there would be no reason to question Mueller’s motivations.  The ONLY reason Mueller was appointed is because Trump fired Comey, Sessions had already recused himself from the Russian investigation, and deputy AG Rosenstein refused to be the fall guy in the Comey firing.  Suggestions that Mueller somehow engineered this whole thing is way beyond the fringe.

The beef is Trump’s lies regarding his knowledge of contacts in his campaign with Russians seeking to influence the outcome of the election.  The beef is the efforts by the Trump campaign and the Trump administration to cover up the contacts that they had with Russians.  The issue is not whether there was collusion.  That may never be proven.  The beef is that the Trump campaign was willing to do anything to defeat Clinton including talking with Russians about hacked Clinton emails.  The Trump administration has been lying about it ever since.  Those lies are the beef that will bring this administration down.

Our Failing Naked Emperor

Friday, October 6th, 2017

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One of the defining characteristics of the Trump campaign and administration is the utter disregard for the facts.  There was some hope by Trump supporters that once he transitioned from campaign mode to presidential mode, he would also abandon his strategy of habitual fabrication.  That hope died with the inauguration.  Trump’s inaugural crowds were factually smaller than Obama’s, but no one in the Trump administration and no one in the Republican establishment were willing to call Trump out as a liar.  Instead we’re dealing with this interesting situation where he, his administration, and his supporters blame media bias for every report that details yet another Trump lie.

But that doesn’t change the fact that the emperor is still naked.

That “nakedness” is finally causing more than embarrassment.  This “strategy” has made it more difficult for Republicans to govern.  We are now 9 months into a legislative session where Republicans control all branches of government, and the ONLY enduring evidence of this control is Gorsuch’s SCOTUS appointment.  Even that has an asterisk because McConnell had to remove the 60 vote filibuster in order to get it done.

The fundamental operating principle of this administration is that Trump can never fail, he can only be failed.  As a result, any form of failure must either be a lie or someone else’s fault.  I won’t try to go into the psychology of this particular form of egotism.  We’ll save that for another day.  At this point, let’s just look at the consequences of never admitting that you’ve been wrong.

One example is the recent failure to pass healthcare which Trump blamed on the filibuster rule in the Senate.  The FACT was that the healthcare reform bill wasn’t subject to a filibuster.  It only required a simple 50 vote majority to pass because of reconciliation rules.  It failed to get 50 votes because several Senators from the President’s own party refused to vote for it.  McCain refused to vote for it because Republicans bypassed the normal committee process where all interested parties would have an opportunity to comment and all points of view could be considered.  Paul refused to vote for it because it wasn’t conservative enough.  Collins refused to vote for it because she feared it would have resulted in the loss of healthcare insurance coverage in her state.  The bill died before it could ever get a vote, so we don’t know how many others would also have voted against it.

Another example is his regular rant about the biased media and fake news failing to report on his accomplishments.  The problem is, just like the inauguration, there isn’t much there.  Worse yet, Trump’s own obsession to dominate every news cycle makes it difficult for even his modest accomplishments to get much play.  Instead he regularly distracts from his legislative agenda by picking fights and fanning the flames of the culture war.

A third example is the Republican establishment who, in Trump’s description have let the Russian investigation get out of control and secretly oppose his agenda.

What is true is that Trump’s agenda, if in fact he truly has one, is failing because he hasn’t provided the policy to support his bold promises.

Healthcare failed three times because he had promised to provide better coverage to more people at a lower cost.  None of the bills that were proposed accomplished that, even though Trump at one point or another supported all of them.  Instead they were thinly (and in the last case not so thinly) veiled attempts to dismantle Medicaid.  As those realities became apparent to more people, opposition mounted and the bills failed.

Tax reform will suffer a similar fate.  Though Trump promised a bill that would benefit the middle class and not reward the wealthy, the bill that is currently being considered does what every other Republican tax initiative has done.  The bulk of the benefits go to the wealthiest 1% of the country.

This is not the result of a conspiracy of the Republican establishment to undermine Trump.  If anything, Trump has passively allowed Congressional leadership to fill in the blanks on his promises.  The problem is that the bills in their final form were not even close to what Trump promised, and he didn’t seem to care.

The cause is years of Republican bad faith campaigning.  Republicans promised that they could replace Obamacare with something better if they only had the majority to implement their ideas.  They never actually proposed any new ideas.  Instead they were content to demonize liberal Democrats.  When voters finally gave Republicans a chance to prove they could do better, they failed.

The same thing will be true about taxes.  Trickle down tax cut plans that were supposed to make life better for the middle class have failed spectacularly at the state level and nationally.  But here it comes again in even a worse form than what was passed during the Bush years.

Republican voters are unhappy that the party isn’t delivering on Trump’s promises.  Trump used this anger to get himself elected.  But voters haven’t stopped there.  They continue to elect bomb throwers at the state and local level.  Newly elected Senator Moore in Alabama has said he shares Rand Paul’s view regarding healthcare reform and would have joined him to vote against that bill.  Moore will likely make it more difficult rather than easier to get Trump’s agenda through the senate.

The bottom line is that Trump lies have painted the party into a corner on many issues.

The claims that Obamacare is failing make it more difficult to pass bipartisan legislation that most agree would solve the current set of problems.  Passing that legislation would force Trump to admit that Obamacare isn’t failing and can be improved with a couple of simple tweaks.  If that’s true, then why the continued effort to tear it down and replace it with something that kills Medicaid and takes coverage away from millions of people?

Claims that we have to build a very expensive wall across our southern border to protect our country from the threat of illegal immigration makes it more difficult to pass a bill to address the plight of “Dreamers”.  Trump’s base perceives a dreamer deal to be a loss for Trump in the fight to kick illegal immigrants out of the country.

The obsessive insistence by Trump that the various Russian investigations are a hoax, fake news, and a politically motivated witch hunt makes it nearly impossible to make any progress on preventing future Russian election hacking.  That’s because Trump simply can’t acknowledge the obvious fact that Russians did attempt to disrupt the 2016 election and continues to be engaged in social media meddling.  Trump’s war with the legit press in this country has given Russians all of the cover they need to continue their REAL fake news activities.  The latest example is coverage of the Las Vegas shooting where Russian sources promoted stories that the shooter was an anti-Trump liberal jihadist who had secretly converted to Islam.

Trump’s various lines in the sand regarding Korea have only encourage Kim Jong Un to become more aggressive.  In other administrations, tough talk in public is cover for behind the scenes diplomacy that ultimately resolves the issue.  That doesn’t work in Trump-world where he has to win and is willing to undermine his own Secretary of State’s efforts to defuse this dangerous escalation.  Tillerson became the person who failed Trump on Korea.

Trumps pathological need to always be right was on public display in his response to the hurricane devastation in Puerto Rico.  While people were suffering because of the logistics challenges of getting aid from the ports out to the people, Trump was picking a fight with professional athletes.  When the mayor of San Juan called him out on it, he suggested that it was her fault and a cultural failing of the Puerto Rican people that there weren’t enough truck drivers willing to leave their struggling families to get supplies off the docks.  Doesn’t the army have truck drivers?  I thought that disaster relief was all about sending a bunch of people into an area to do those things that the local population couldn’t do for themselves.  We fill in the gaps until the local population can get back on their feet and take care of their own needs themselves.

During his tour of the island, he told those without shelter, food, clean drinking water, sanitation, and medical services that they should be grateful that it wasn’t a real disaster like Katrina.  The implication being that if it were a REAL disaster like Katrina, the government would have been better prepared and would be providing more help.  But the government WASN’T prepared to deal with the aftermath of Katrina and it wasn’t prepared to deal with the humanitarian crisis in Puerto Rico.  That’s Trump’s fault.

We all know how the story of the naked emperor ended.  It will be interesting to see when and how truth ultimately takes down this naked President.

 

Forgive Me Father For I Have Sinned

Monday, August 21st, 2017

For those unfamiliar with this Catholic meme, it is the opening sentence Catholics whisper to the priest to start confession.

My confession is that I find this particular point in our history fascinating.

We have a President who appears determined to self-destruct, a party that is uncertain they are willing to go down with him, and his supporters who have swallowed the kool-aide and have lost touch with reality.

So here’s a little bonus coverage courtesy of one of my favorite academics, Jonathan Haitt of Righteous Mind fame.  He has a great article in The Atlantic which explains the widespread negative reaction to Trump’s Charlottesville comments.

This IS NOT a political rant.

It is simply an explanation of a taboo that Trump broke.

All societies have taboos.  I won’t go through why, though Haitt does in his article.  Suffice it to say that we use a common set of deeply revered values, people, or places to hold all our citizens together in a shared bond.  That bond is our willingness to sacrifice our individual interests for the greater common good.

Charlottesville was a clash of sacred symbols.

The far right displayed their sacred symbols including swastikas, confederate flags, and guns – lots of guns.  They were marching to defend another symbol – the statue of Robert E. Lee.  The goal of the rally was to bind white people together with a shared hatred of Jews, African Americans, and other minorities using claimed white victim-hood and racial purity. (BTW racial purity is a myth.  Skin color is the result of a not well understood interaction between about 100 genes rather than the presence or absence of a particular set of genes.  Commonly available genetic ancestry tests are causing real problems for those advocating a “pure white” society.)

For UVA students, “the lawn” in the center of campus is also hallowed ground.  Students rushed out, unarmed, to defend the Jefferson statue from the approach of the torch-bearing armed white supremacists.  The marchers weren’t planning on vandalizing the statue, but from the student’s point of view these particular marchers would have “contaminated” the statue if allowed to approach unopposed.  That’s because for a Jeffersonian, neo-Nazi’s are taboo.

That’s what the country saw.  Unarmed students spontaneously opposing an organized group chanting the worst slurs against Jews and African Americans and making Nazi salutes.  It was a desecration of our most cherished American story based on the belief that “all men are created equal”.  We all know that this creed is aspirational, but we demand that all of our political leaders accept this premise as a requirement to hold office.  Denying this premise is blasphemy.  As a result white supremacists, the KKK, and neo-Nazis are widely regarded as blasphemous outsiders.

We treat our Declaration of Independence and our Constitution as sacred texts.  We erect monuments to our martyrs.  We punish or shame anyone who ignores our documents or dishonors our martyrs.  We expect our president to play the role of high priest and chief unifier in times when those texts and martyrs seem under attack.

In Trump’s press conference on Tuesday August 15th, Trump fumbled his opportunity to play the role of the high priest and chief unifier because he failed to condemn the blasphemers exclusively.  In response to the public outcry, the President read a staff-written speech to right that wrong.  If it had stopped there, perhaps he could have recovered.  Instead just 24 hours later, he committed the greatest sacrilege of his presidency by saying that there were “very fine people on both sides”.  That’s because our basic belief is that Nazi’s aren’t just bad – they are taboo.

Trump has become taboo by embracing those that we have decided are taboo.  The moral stain of the blasphemers has rubbed off on him.  That’s why you saw such a scramble by all those who understood what he had just done.  Those who fail to distance themselves from the taboo will also become taboo, just as Trump has done.  That’s also why most people in this country were willing to condemn those who just walked in the march.  They didn’t have to carry a flag, shout a slogan, or salute.  Just being there made them taboo too.  They got fired.  They were disowned by their families.  People won’t want to live next to them any more than they would a sex offender.

You can’t apologize for breaking a taboo, particularly one as deep as the Nazi or KKK.  You can’t even use the excuse of ignorance because that would suggest ignorance of our basic values.  In Trump’s case, it doesn’t matter, because he is not going to admit that he did anything wrong.

the stain, the moral pollution, the taint, will linger on him and his administration for the rest of his term. Business leaders have quit his panels and projects; artists who were due to receive honors from the president have changed their plans. Pollution travels most rapidly by physical touch, so be on the lookout for numerous awkward moments in the coming months when people refuse to shake the president’s hand or stand next to him. It is unclear how far the contagion will spread, but it will surely make it more difficult to attract talented people into government service for as long as Trump is the president.

Further this is going to do generational damage to the Republican Party.

people’s political orientations are shaped for life by events that happen when they are young, particularly between the ages of 14 and 24. The young generation—iGen, as Jean Twenge calls them—is extraordinarily progressive and passionate about matters of race and prejudice. If Republicans stand by their tainted president rather than renouncing him, an entire generation of voters may come to see the GOP as eternally untouchable.

It’s hard to say what will come next, but right now the country is unbalanced.

Extraordinary sacrilege has occurred, but divine retribution has not yet come down from the heavens.  We have no priest and no scripture to guide us.  The country may suffer for failing to remove this apostate.

What I can see in the not too distant future, however, is an emotional pivot toward impeachment as a cathartic recovery of purpose and balance.  Trump will be blamed.  Some in his administration will go to jail.  All will be disgraced.  The country will heal.  I saw this happen with Nixon.  It could very well happen with Trump too.  All that is missing is the smoking gun of corruption or scandal and the game will be over.