Tuesday, May 23, 2017
Trump's big play in Israel landed with a dull thud. The second leg of his "historic trip" got off to a bad start when Melania refused to take his hand on the tarmac of the airport. Bibi was having a tough time himself, unable to get his ministers to fall in line behind him to greet the president at the airport. He and his wife ended up complaining about the press to Donald and Melania before he gave his amazing speech on the tarmac.
A big day of events got very little attention beyond his "historic visit" to the Western Wall, a first for a sitting president. We can only guess what is going on in that head of his, but CNN tries its best to fill the void.
Trump was ready to go home after two days, complaining like a little kid at summer camp that he has had enough. Unlike his campaign visits where he usually got back to New York the same night. Trump is having to spend an insufferable eight nights on the road. Not sure why they didn't put his signature Serta mattress into Air Force One. I guess they no longer have any in stock.
Day three has been upstaged by what is believed to be a terrorist suicide bombing at an Ariana Grande concert in Manchester, killing over 20 and injuring 60 more in the audience. Conservatives took to the social media to vent their misplaced rage. Not the kind of advertising you want when you are trying to broker a "historic peace deal" in the Middle East.
Meanwhile, Gen. Flynn is trying to stonewall the Congressional investigation committee by not complying with the Senate subpoena. He is refusing to hand over papers and threatening to invoke the fifth amendment at his mandatory testimony. It only makes him look that much more guilty.
So, not even one third of the way through this "historic trip" and it is already unraveling. It was never anymore than a PR stunt. I suppose his handlers were hoping that if they could keep him on the road for nine days and away from twitter, it might suck some of the juice out of the scandals coming out of his White House. Unfortunately for Team Trump that is not happening.
Everyone knows that no peace deal will come out of the Middle East anytime soon, if at all. It is nice that Trump is even suggesting it given his bellicose rhetoric on the campaign trail and his attempts to impose a travel ban on Muslim nations. However, you can't have it both ways.
Much of what he has said done on this trip is in direct opposition to everything he promised his rabid followers, who want an isolationist America no longer dealing with anyone in the Middle East, especially the Saudis, who he assailed time and again on the campaign trail. This didn't stop him from registering eight companies in Saudi Arabia on the off chance he actually won the Oval Office. He can now reap what he sowed at least in the way of business dealings.
His Trumpness also showed no misgivings over the $100 million Saudi Arabia and UAE pledged to Ivanka's foundation set up for women entrepreneurs. You remember all the heat Trump gave Hillary for taking money from the Saudis for her foundation. This isn't the first time Ivanka has benefited from these state visits. If nothing else, Trump is being a good daddy.
Yet, the mainstream media has given Trump mostly kudos on his first foreign trip. Fareed Zakaria praised the president's speech in Riyadh, saying it was the kind of speech Obama could have given. David Faris was not so forgiving, calling the groveling speech what it was: a callow attempt to curry favor with the Saudis despite their long list of atrocities, not to mention their heinous view toward women, minorities and homosexuals. This is why so many persons turn to the Internet for news and political opinion.
It is really hard do fathom why anyone would give Trump the benefit of the doubt at this point. Melania obviously doesn't. She is just there to be his trophy wife, nothing more. She has kept a notoriously low profile throughout his 120 days in office. One wonders if she will ever move into the White House and if she does you can bet they will have separate wings. Yet, the mainstream media continues to fawn over Trump as if at some point he will change his tune and become "presidential."
It ain't going to happen folks. This is the attitude of a battered wife. I'm glad to see Melania stands up to him. Even if Trump does make it through his first presidential trip abroad without further incidents, you can bet the shit is really going to hit the fan when he gets back to the White House.
I'll leave you with Allan Sherman's classic song about Camp Granada.
Monday, May 22, 2017
His Trumpness was feted by the House of Saud in an evening he probably won't be able to live down anytime soon. Getting a gold chain that even Jay Z would be envious of is standard procedure, but the royal horse escort and the sword dance was something I don't remember seeing before. King Salman went all out to honor Trump, knowing exactly how to appeal to our extremely vain president, who summed up the royal reception as "tremendous!"
At the center of this "historic event" is a $115 billion arms deal, which the Trump administration claims it negotiated itself. In actual fact, it was a deal struck last September before he was even elected, but that Obama had held off on because of egregious human rights violations. His Trumpness appears less concerned about this, as his administration put precision-guided munitions back into the deal. We will see if these warheads come back to haunt us.
Trump was so anxious to deflect attention away from the ongoing probe into Russia collusion in the 2016 election, that he would agree to just about anything to cast him in a favorable light. Not sure how this arms deal does this, but he offered up a speech on Islamic terrorism to make clear what those arms are intended for. It must have taken all the reserve he could muster to tone down his usual rhetoric and call for unity in the face of this scourge, largely bankrolled by Saudi oil sheiks, with connections to the royal family.
You won't find Saudi Arabia on the travel ban the Trump administration is still trying to push through the courts. Trump himself has sizable investments in the oil-rich country. He registered eight companies in the country during his campaign alone, and the deal he ultimately struck with the House of Saud promises up to $300 billion in investments during his term, in addition to a free flow of arms, which is why you see a happy Rex Tillerson joining in the sword dance. I guess this is designed to help offset the stagnant oil prices.
It is going to be pretty hard to top this performance over the next week. Trump had hoped to fly into the Masada by helicopter but Israel nixed the idea. The disgruntled president chose to abandon his trip to Masada all together, but I'm sure he will try to make the best of his short stay in the Levant.
Bibi Netanyahu has to be a bit disappointed that the Trump administration hasn't been more favorable to his government. He is having a very hard time keeping his ministers in line. Meanwhile, Trump's advisers are strongly cautioning him to maintain an even keel here, as one of the goals of this administration is to restart discussions on a separate Palestinian state, something Netanyahu has tried to avoid ever since he came back into power in 2009. Israel has ratcheted up settlements in the West Bank and doesn't seem in any hurry to discuss tedious land negotiations, as Israel has carved off about 10 per cent of the West Bank as its own over the five decades since it annexed the Palestinian territories. But, I'm sure Bibi will make some kind of gesture toward restarting negotiations to please His Trumpness.
Beyond that, who knows how this trip will turn out? He obviously won't get a royal welcome at the Vatican or anywhere else in Europe. He will get the opportunity to address both NATO and the G7, which will at least make him look "Presidential." It's a long time to be on the road, and it is going to a lot of coddling aboard Air Force One to keep His Trumpness happy.
Thursday, May 18, 2017
Virgil, quick, there goes the Robert E. Lee,
And the P.G.T. Beauregard too.
You may or may not know the lyrics to the Band's classic song, but you can hear it playing in the background as New Orleans takes down its Civil War monuments in the dead of night. Workers are even wearing masks to hide their identities out of fear of reprisals.
City officials have now removed three of four monuments. Gen. Beauregard was a native son of Louisiana, born on a plantation outside New Orleans, and rose to prominence in the U.S. Army, serving as an engineer to Gen. Winfield Scott in the Mexican-American War from 1846-48. But, it is not for these deeds that he is remembered. Beauregard was one of the prominent generals in President Jefferson Davis' Confederate Army. He led the siege on Fort Sumter in Charleston harbor in April, 1861, that served as the toll bell for the Civil War.
Colonel Robert Anderson, from the slave state of Kentucky, chose to defend the federal fort rather than give it up to South Carolina. It was a massive structure, meant to serve as part of the coastal protection system the United States devised should the Brits think of invading America again. Anderson was literally caught between a rock and a hard place, defending the last of the federal military sites in the recently seceded Southern states, while a newly elected President Lincoln tried to hold onto border states like Virginia, Tennessee, Kentucky and North Carolina, hoping to stop this war before it began.
As we know, the sentiments ran too deep among the Secessionists to turn back . Lincoln only succeeded in retaining Kentucky and newly created West Virginia. General Beauregard launched his first cannon balls in the early morning hours of April 12. Surprisingly, no one was hurt in the two-day bombardment. It was only when Anderson chose to surrender the fort, as Lincoln's reinforcements were late in coming, that two Union soldiers died from the backfire of their own cannons in paying tribute to the American flag as it came down.
I had the great pleasure of leading an Historic American Buildings Survey team in the documentation of Fort Sumter during the summer of 1991. I prepared an historic structures report to go along with the meticulous drawings my team did. The fort is steeped in history from before, during and after the Civil War, with reams of documents and drawings available in the national historic park's archives.
I discovered that the fort was actually listing toward the Atlantic side when I surveyed the five corners of the pentagonal walls. At first I thought this was a miscalculation on my part, but later I found in the archive documents that this had been a problem from the outset, as the fort was built on a sandbar and no amount of timber caissons and rock ballast was going to keep the fort level. By the 1950s this tilt was significant enough that the Army Corps of Engineers tried to address the problem, but by my calculations the fort had sunk even more in the 40 years since those reports were prepared. I wrote all this up for the Cultural Resources Management Journal, which you can read in the article, Fort Sumter: Preserving its Crumbling Walls.
History is one thing. Monuments are another. There are any number of cultural heritage sites from the Civil War preserved throughout the Southern states. These are valuable markers in our historic American landscape and need to be preserved. However, monuments come into being for a variety of reasons, mostly political, and serve an entirely different purpose.
These political markers are designed to establish authority, much in the same way statues of Lenin and Stalin were erected throughout the Soviet Union and its satellite countries in Eastern Europe. As we saw in Vilnius and elsewhere when these countries gained their independence in 1991, these statues came down.
For New Orleans this had been a long time coming. The demographics of the city has changed substantially since the Civil War, and most residents no longer wanted to be continually reminded of that era in the form of Lee and Beauregard and Jefferson Davis casting their shadows over the city. There are obviously those who took exception to this decision, and have protested the removal of these iconic statues.
I can understand to some degree the disillusion being expressed here, somewhat akin to that of Virgil in The Night They Drove Old Dixie Down. The idea of a Lost Cause has a noble ring to it, no matter how ignoble the events that inspired it.
When the dust settles I think the vast majority of residents will move on. After all, this is a city far more proud of its jazz heritage and Mardi Gras than it is its Civil War legacy, and deservedly so as jazz is something New Orleans not only gave to the nation but to the world. The Civil War is a painful legacy that one struggles with, like the death of a contentious relative. We don't need to be reminded of this everyday.
I'm sure the bronze statue of P.G.T. Beauregard on horseback will find a place somewhere. Who knows maybe even a Dixieland theme park, like Grutas Park in Lithuania, aka "Stalin World," where these monuments can find a home.
Wednesday, May 17, 2017
Seems our man in the Kremlin is enjoying the way events are unfolding so much that he wants to get his hand in yet again. Vladimir Putin has offered to hand over transcripts of the meeting that recently took place between Trump and Lavrov to calm anxieties in what he regards as a "political schizophrenia" taking place in America.
I'm not sure what the game being played here is, but it is very similar to what took place between Russia and Turkey in Syria. If you recall, Turkey shot down a Russian fighter jet in December, 2015, which Erdogan said encroached on Turkish air space following a bombing mission over a border Syrian town. Things got quite heated with Russia placing economic sanctions of its own on Turkey in the form of a tourist boycott. This apparently shook Erdogan up so much that after a few months he apologized to Putin, and ever since the two have been comrades in arms in the ongoing battle over Syria.
Trump has been unable to even bring up the subject of sanction relief in regard to Russia since assuming office, let alone disavow NATO which he had done repeatedly on the campaign trail. As much as he would like to be friends with Russia, US lawmakers and members within his own cabinet have said no. He even went so far as to order a missile strike on Syria, while eating chocolate cake, over the alleged use of chemical weapons in a recent uprising. All of which has stung Russia but Putin being the ever patient man that he is just bided his time.
Who knows what the inscrutable Russian president has on his mind. Is he trying to save Donald or sink him ever deeper into the vortex of his downward spiraling administration? I don't know how House of Cards is going to compete with the current Oval Office when it begins a new season later this month. What could possibly trump this ever-widening Russian scandal, which Putin so blithely dismisses as paranoia on America's part? Will Trump accidentally divulge he is a closet homosexual and that he went through three marriages, countless affairs, and at least five children in an effort to disguise it?
Putin is right in that we have blown the Russian connections out of proportion to the crimes being committed here. The filtering of "fake stories" into the American news cycle, which Russia is accused of doing through an internet army of trolls and bots, would never have occurred if Americans weren't so gullible. Not only conservative blogs and radio stations picked up these stories, so did the mainstream media in the soap opera that was Hillary's e-mail server scandal and the subsequent DNC e-mail hacking.
None of the mainstream media outlets have yet to admit culpability in this,. They spent so much time poring over the divulged e-mails on wikileaks and other websites that they ignored the statement issued by the White House in July of 2016 that Russia was believed to be behind the hacks. All these e-mails were just too good to pass up on, and so the Russian hacking story got buried.
We also had all those salacious stories of Donald Trump's misogyny that began filling the news cycle in early October. This appeared to doom our would-be President, but FBI Director Comey decided to re-open investigations into Hillary's e-mail server in late October, sending her substantial lead in the polls into a tail spin.
Through it all, the media was riddled with fake stories originating from RT and Sputnik, focusing mainly on Hillary's criminality. These stories linked Hillary to a "shadowy cabal of global financiers" and potentially escalating tensions with Russia to the point of nuclear war. Most of the stories were as absurd as Mel Brook's High Anxiety, but they gained traction in the American media because they fed into the narrative set by conservative media and the Trump campaign of "Crooked Hillary."
Obviously, Vladimir Putin is not willing to leave well enough alone. This latest missive is gauged to put the American news media into a total frenzy. I don't think he is trying to save Donald but rather undermine what little there is left of his administration by giving the American media one more reason to play up the Russian connections.
His aim all along was to undermine what little American faith there is in its news media by planting stories that would turn the general election into a farce. None of it could have happened without American media's complicity, either directly in the case of the more nefarious conservative blogs or indirectly in the case of the mainstream media's insatiable appetite for news stories wherever they came from. With literally no checks and balances on the dissemination of news stories, the American media was an easy mark.
We've seen virtually all the major news networks get punked time and again, forced to issue painful retractions. What really stung the media this time around was how badly they missed the final results of the election, which Trump has continually boasted about. This is obviously something the media hasn't gotten over as it tries now to act as a watchdog to all the malfeasances occurring in the White House, playing each one up like it will be Trump's last act. Putin is a very unsavory figure, but at some point our media has to hold itself accountable for the debacle that occurred last November, when Trump was elected to the highest office.
I don't think that will ever happen so in the meantime we see Count Vlad prodding the American media yet again.
Tuesday, May 16, 2017
Throughout its 120-day tenure, this administration's biggest source of leaks has been the President himself. He has revealed his hand time and again, much to the chagrin of his White House staff, which seems to have absolutely no control over him. As a result, their prime duty is damage control.
No sooner is it revealed that Trump divulged high security "intel" to Russian state department officials, than his Secretary of State and National Security Adviser are sent out to vehemently deny these allegations. By morning Trump negated McMaster by admitting to the leaks in his tweets, saying he had the "absolute right" to share this information with Russian officials. This forced McMaster to come out a second time to explain the angry tweets.
I suppose I could parse all this out, but what's the point? It is reported further down in the Washington Post article that Trump prefers single-page, bullet-point security briefings, and often ignores even these condensed reports. It has reached the stage where Trump doesn't appear to distinguish between classified and non-classified information, pretty much ad-libbing his meetings and phone calls based on his very sketchy idea of the briefings, augmented no doubt by what he hears on television.
So much for the bombshell, as GOP Congresspersons are just saying that is his prerogative. McCain, Graham and Corker are willing to look the other way, offering very little criticism of the latest allegations undermining the credibility of the White House. How much rope do they plan on giving Trump?
The interesting thing to me is how porous the White House has become. Obviously, there are a lot of unhappy campers in the Trump administration with job security being the number one anxiety. Kellyanne Conway is reported as being the most unhappy, if we are to give Morning Joe any credibility. Her duties have been significantly reduced over the last four months, forced to come on shows like Morning Joe principally to do damage control.
Yet, his top advisers continue to defend him, when they should be coaching him. Unfortunately, Trump is not one to see mental or physical exercise of any use. He claims that it runs down our "finite amount of energy," as if we are nothing more than batteries. Of course, one could argue the opposite that exercise serves to re-energize us and that if he took advantage of the White House gym he might actually get himself down below the obese level without lying about his height. For Trump, standing for an hour in front of an adoring audience is all the physical exercise he needs.
Even that is proving hard to do these days with his approval ratings continuing to slump. This may explain why he has taken to the golf course 21 times while in office. He opted for golf rather than arranging to meet his wife and son on Mother's Day.
If Trump can't even bother to read security and intelligence briefings before important meetings, how can we expect him to form anything approaching a coherent foreign policy? Either he is outsourcing this to his son-in-law Jared, or simply letting things lie where they will and leaving it up to others, like Sergei Lavrov, to sort things out. Either way, I would think the Senate Foreign Relations committee would be up in arms, as it was when Obama offered no clear strategy on how to deal with Syria back in 2013.
This was at issue this time around as well with His Trumpness revealing critical sources of information on ISIS to his Russian counterparts. I suppose he sees Russia as our ally in this battle against ISIS, at least in Syria, so what's the harm in giving Lavrov and Kislyak "code-word information?" Just imagine the outrcy if Obama had been so careless in divulging such information.
Sadly, we have come to expect this from Trump, as John Oliver recently demonstrated. We can no longer treat the Trump administration like a reality show. His advisers have to stand up to him, Congress has to stand up to him, before it is too late!
Monday, May 15, 2017
Protests have emerged in New Orleans and Richmond over the removal of Civil War monuments, notably the statues of Generals Robert E. Lee and Stonewall Jackson, two of the most revered figures from the era. The protest in Richmond looked like something out of Birth of a Nation, replete with blazing torches. For many white Southerners these statues represent heritage, but in most cases the monuments were put up long after the war and more in response to federal efforts to "reconstruct" the Southern states.
Lee Circle in New Orleans is a prime example of this. Protests were less ominous in tone but displayed the same ignorance. The Circle was renamed in 1877, the year Reconstruction was officially repealed, and the monument erected in 1884. This monument had less to do with Lee, who died in 1870, than it had to do with winning the battle over Reconstruction.
Southern states had fought this reform act tooth and nail ever since it began in 1863. Louisiana was one of the first states to undergo Reconstruction, having fallen to Union forces in 1862. With the Emancipation Proclamation in 1863, and the imposition of federal authority, New Orleans went through quite a metamorphosis in the 1860s and 70s, often met with violent protests.
The infamous election of 1876 was the turning point. Rutherford B. Hayes edged out Samuel Tilden by one electoral vote thanks in large part to Louisiana, Florida and South Carolina still being under federal authority and the Republicans able to stuff the ballot boxes. In a gesture of compromise, Hayes called for the repeal of Reconstruction, which was pretty much dead anyway, paving the way for Southern states to reclaim their political voice. It was under these circumstances that Place du Tivoli became Lee Circle.
Throughout the South there were many examples of this. The Civil War monuments became a way for Southern states to reclaim their "heritage." However, these monuments were little more than acts of defiance made further manifest in the Jim Crow laws that most Southern states passed in the early 20th century, subjugating Blacks once again to plantation-style politics.
Most of these states had been Democratic before the War and were even more staunchly Democratic after Reconstruction. Louisiana would not see a Republican governor again until 1979. I remember my father registering as a Democrat just so he could vote in primary elections as Republicans were so few in Northwest Florida that they often ran unopposed in the primaries, only to lose in the general election.
The second turning point came with the Civil Rights movement. Southern Democrats, or Dixiecrats as they were referred to then, had long kept the Democratic Party from initiating any change in the plantation-style politics of the South. Franklin D. Roosevelt was too afraid to sign onto an anti-lynching bill in 1938 out of fear he would lose the Southern vote in the 1940 general election. He picked Harry S. Truman to replace Henry Wallace in the 1944 election, similarly to placate Southern interests, as Wallace was deemed too radical in his progressive views.
The South literally held the country by the balls, stopping any sort of Congressional legislation that would affect their interests. This came to a screeching halt with the death of John F. Kennedy. Lyndon B. Johnson was effectively able to use this cathartic moment to pass Civil Rights legislation through Congress, allying Republicans to offset the loss of Dixiecrats. LBJ was being modest when he said "we have lost the South for a generation."
What started as a trickle became a raging torrent with the election of Ronald Reagan, as a vast number of Southern Democrats had turned Republican by the 1980s. They had gotten over their aversion to the Party of Lincoln, and now cast the Democratic Party as traitorous to their cause.
To hear conservative demagogues today, you would never know this. They see their party grounded in Lincoln, thanks to a proliferation of conservative books on the subject, and the Democrats as the ones who initiated all those Jim Crow laws. They have even reframed the Civil Rights Bill as a Republican piece of legislation. Yet, they still want to claim Generals Robert E. Lee and Stonewall Jackson as their heroes, both of whom were Democrats. For obvious reasons, Lee endorsed Horatio Seymour over U.S. Grant in the 1968 election.
Many southern conservatives want to hold onto their antebellum history in the form of Civil War monuments and Dixie flags, but also be seen as Lincoln Republicans. I really don't know how you reconcile this, but quite a number of prominent conservatives have tried, recasting Lincoln less as a liberal progressive and more as a conservative pragmatist.
Perhaps the saddest thing in American History is that the Civil War is still alive and well in many persons' minds. It doesn't help that Civil War books are often bestsellers, like Margaret Mitchell's Gone With the Wind, and made into to equally popular movies. You will find reenactments of famous battles throughout the South.
I was once locked out of the antebellum mansion I was staying at near Charleston by a Civil War guard unit that had commandeered the site for the weekend. They wouldn't let me pass in my truck. I had to call the director of the Charleston Historical Society, which owned the mansion, to gain entry. I probably should have just gone away for the weekend, as I had to put up with the infernal racket of musket fire throughout the day and campfires at night.
As long as we keep the embers of this war alive there really will be no reconciliation. The monuments mean different things to different people. Richmond and New Orleans have determined it is time to put the Civil War behind them, as the demographics of these cities have changed considerably since that time. No doubt, there will still be museums to honor this peculiar legacy, but public monuments will come down, just as the Dixie flag has come down at statehouses throughout the South.
You can still have a Dixie flag on the rear window of your pick-up truck or stretch out on a Dixie beach towel at the nearest beach, flaunting this divisive "heritage," as is your peculiar wish, but don't expect the rest of us to play along. As Rhett Butler said to Scarlett, "Frankly, my dear, I don't give a damn."
Sunday, May 14, 2017
Trump's latest gambit to avoid talk about Russian collusion in the 2016 election is to stage his first trip abroad as POTUS. He had Gen. McMaster, his National Security Advisor, loudly announce his itinerary at a press briefing, which also saw the return of Sean Spicer, who was apparently hiding in the bushes this past week to avoid questions about all the shit that came down.
This isn't an ordinary trip, mind you, but an historic one. According to the highly vocal general it is the first time a President has met with leaders of three major religions all on one trip. Trump is going to Riyadh to see the Saudi king and an unspecified number of other Muslim leaders to discuss peace in the Middle East. Then onto Israel where he will meet with both Netanyahu and Abbas, in an effort to finally resolve the Palestinian question. From there it is to Italy to patch up relations with the Pope. Then onto Belgium where he plans to reaffirm America's commitment to NATO, and as the general brazenly pointed out, make sure everyone pays their fair share. And, finally, back to Italy for a G7 conference to cement our role as a world leader.
All well and good, but the trip pretty much mirrors one that Obama took in March of 2014, adding in Israel for good measure. I'm not quite sure how this makes it "historic" other than it is the first time we have had a President with such a loose grip of reality trying to engage prominent world leaders on pressing global matters. The potential for political gaffes is yuge!
What I found most odd about this briefing is that the National Security Advisor was called in to announce the President's upcoming trip. Isn't this something the State department arranges? It was clear that the general had no idea about the specifics of the trip when he was asked who the other Muslims leaders would be in Riyadh. It seems his only purpose was to lend a booming voice of authority to the announcement. Maybe Trump should get Michael Buffer to announce his trips in the future.
After eighteen or so minutes, Spicey took the podium to field questions. The press corps got a little more out of him than they had McMaster, who pretty much scolded them as a headmaster would his unruly students at a school assembly. Spicey seemed refreshed after his naval reserve duties. He did his best to answer questions surrounding Comey's firing and Trump's interviews and tweets in the aftermath, which appeared to contradict the official reason for the abrupt firing.
The Press is still trying to make sense of the "tapes" Trump later threatened Comey with, should the former FBI chief go public. This sounded an awful like extortion, but Spicey dismissed such wild thoughts and urged the press corps to move on.
Of course the Press isn't moving on, instead speculating on the meaning of the tapes. Smerconish had Pat Buchanan on his show to discuss taping in regard to the Nixon administration, although it seemed more like a plug for Pat's new book. CNN also had a split screen conference call addressing the subject of the intimidation tactics Trump was using not only on Comey but Yates and Preet Bharara as well. One of their legal analysts said it would be pretty hard to prove obstruction in the court of law, but all this was ample fodder for impeachment hearings. Surprisingly, Smerconish and Buchanan didn't go there.
The lies and deceit are what ultimately brought down Nixon in regard to the Watergate scandal, not the bungled break-in itself. In Trump's administration, we see history repeating itself, as all these attempts to deflect attention away from the investigations into Russian collusion in the general election are only drawing more attention to the matter.
Former National Security Advisor James Clapper and Acting FBI Director Andrew McCabe debunked Trump's claims that James Comey was a "showboat" and "grandstander," referred to in this interview. Clapper also questioned the nature of the dinner Trump mentioned, saying he had met with Comey the same day, January 27, and it was Trump who had invited Comey to dinner, which Comey was unsure about going to as it would call his independence into question. You can literally see Trump making it up as he goes along in that interview.
At what point do Congressional Republicans say enough is enough? Clearly, we have a president not in full control of his mind. Mitch McConnell has repeatedly suggested that the President should cut back on the tweets, but twitter seems to be the only means Trump has to air out his anxieties. Maybe Ivanka should spend more time with her father, as she is reportedly such a good influence on him.
Something has to be done as Trump has become an international embarrassment. One of the reasons he doesn't like to travel abroad is because he is not very well received. Even in Scotland, his home turf sort of speak, he found himself the brunt of a local prankster who dropped swastika golf balls on the new lawn of his reopened Turnberry golf course. Trump is almost universally reviled.
This is a pretty safe trip, however, as there won't be any such hooligans in Saudi Arabia or Israel, and the meeting he will have with the Pope and world leaders in Italy and Belgium will be behind closed doors. However, his staff should lock him out of his twitter account during this time so that he doesn't make anymore unwarranted tweets.
Thursday, May 11, 2017
The White House tried to do damage control yesterday, employing a wide range of surrogates to go on the airwaves to defuse the summary dismissal of James Comey. We had Newt and Rand and Condi, among many others saying it was a long time coming and/or it was time to move on from the investigation into Russian collusion. But, probably the most interesting of all was Sarah Huckabee Sanders the lead press secretary at yesterday's press conference. Where's Spicey?
Meanwhile, Trump was hosting none other than the Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov and Russian ambassador Sergei Kislyak at the White House. I don't know about you, but this doesn't look any better for Trump than did Bill Clinton meeting Loretta Lynch on the tarmac of a Phoenix airport when the Justice Department was conducting an investigation into Hillary's role in the Benghazi attack. Many pundits point to that "chance encounter" as one of the main reasons for Hillary's loss, as it cast further doubt on her integrity. Then Candidate Trump simply called the meeting "Terrible."
I don't know which is more terrible? Bill trying to cozy up to Attorney General Lynch, or Trump to Foreign Minister Lavrov, who is the official mouthpiece of the Kremlin. Throw in Kislyak, who is at the center of the Senate and House probes into Russian hacking, and you really have to wonder what the White House is thinking?
Kislyak has been the connection for many of Trump's advisers. In addition to Flynn, there are recorded meetings with Kushner, Carter Page, Jeff Sessions and his own son Donnie. much of which has been leaked to the press. I suppose one of the reasons Comey was let go is because the Trump administration may have thought the FBI was leaking this information itself. How else?
The meetings could have been cordial and had nothing to do with the election, but the fact that most of these persons did not disclose these meetings makes you wonder what was really going on. My guess is that the level of intrigue goes far beyond the White House, as Jeff Sessions was still a Senate member at the time he met with Kislyak. It seems that Russia not only compromised Flynn but a great number of other high level politicians in an effort to lift the sanctions placed by the Obama administration.
This would also explain why Mitch McConnell is so reticent to name a special prosecutor, claiming it would only serve to muddy the ongoing Congressional investigations. Flynn, Sessions and Jared Kushner are just the tip of the iceberg.
During the Senate hearings, I believe it was Sen. Coons who asked James Clapper if there was any collusion between American alt-right blogs and the Russian propaganda channels that were disseminating the fake news stories that sought to undermine Hillary's campaign. Clapper seemed to think the American blogs unwittingly picked up the stories because they fed into their narratives. He couldn't prove otherwise.
RT and Sputnik are the two main arms of the Russian propaganda machine, and it was at a tenth anniversary gala of RT that Flynn was paid 35 to 45,000 dollar to sit next to Putin. During the campaign, Flynn often interacted with alt-right blogs, re-tweeted their stories, including the infamous "pizzagate conspiracy" that Alex Jones was later forced to admit he had been punked.
While Flynn was an operative, others more likely just fed off the RT and Sputnik fake news stories because it supported their views. Russia very cleverly packaged these stories to fit snugly into pre-existing conservative beliefs. As James Clapper also noted, the Soviet Union had been doing this since the 50s and no doubt Putin saw an inexpensive ways to create unrest in the American body politic. The only question is how many others were involved in this.
My guess is that Newt was more than willing to be used in this regard, not just because he has voiced his admiration for Putin in the past, but he has an ax to grind. Not only was Newt forced out of Congress, but he was made a buffoon on the 2012 campaign trail when he ran for President. Gingrich was on Newsmax yesterday saying Democrats should be cheering the firing of James Comey.
We will probably never know how many persons were involved in this elaborate election scam, at least not in the near future. However, I have to think we haven't heard the last from James Comey, who has been invited to speak before the Senate Judiciary Committee next week.
As for Trump, it is just "terrible" how he tries to cover up his involvement in the scandal, going so far as to hire a team of Washington lawyers to reaffirm he had no role in the collusion that is believed to have taken place between the Russian government and his administration members in engineering the outcome of the 2016 election. Lavrov and Kislyak were grinning ear to ear during the WH meeting. All we have to see now is an executive order freeing US oil companies to engage with Russia in tapping their Arctic oil reserve. Something Rex Tillerson no doubt would like to see done. Coincidence, perhaps?
Wednesday, May 10, 2017
Sarah Huckabee Sanders made the case for the White House on Fox News that it was time to move on from the Russian probe, but this summary dismissal of Comey is only calling more attention to it. Fox News followed what it believed to be James Comey's motorcade in LA, making him look like O.J. Simpson fleeing police custody.
Tucker Carlson and other Fox News pundits continue to claim "there's nothing there," despite what was rather damning testimony by Sally Yates that the White House refused to heed her warnings regarding General Flynn. Instead, she was fired when she wouldn't stand up for the Trump administration's proposed travel ban. The White House forced Flynn to resign only after Yates' concerns had been "leaked" to the press.
Not content to ply just Fox, the White House has found a convenient ally in Condi Rice, who has taken to the mainstream airwaves to tell the same story. She sees the Russian hacking investigation as nothing more than sour grapes on the part of the Democrats and liberal media and says it is time to move on as well. Quite a turn-around from last October when she called on Trump to quit the campaign after his divulged Access Hollywood tape.
Not content to ply just Fox, the White House has found a convenient ally in Condi Rice, who has taken to the mainstream airwaves to tell the same story. She sees the Russian hacking investigation as nothing more than sour grapes on the part of the Democrats and liberal media and says it is time to move on as well. Quite a turn-around from last October when she called on Trump to quit the campaign after his divulged Access Hollywood tape.
I do have to agree with Tucker that the whole thing is getting absurd. Not since Nixon have we seen an administration go so far to bury a potentially very damaging investigation. Unfortunately, for a lot of Americans Fox is their primary source of news, which has been feeding them conspiracy theories for the past two decades so that they have come to believe that Washington is a duplicitous cabal of Democrats and moderate Republicans whose sole aim is to undermine the Trump administration or any conservative administration for that matter.
We won't mention that radical conservatives hounded Obama throughout his entire administration on his birth certificate, or that Republicans churned out investigation after investigation to determine Hillary's role in the Benghazi attack, which ultimately led to the e-mail server scandal.
These same folks were pleased as punch when Comey dropped his October bombshell that he was re-opening the investigation into Hillary's questionable purging of her e-mail server when new e-mails surfaced in the Anthony Weiner case. Weiner's wife, Huma Abedin, had apparently used this server to send e-mails to her estranged husband, as she worked in Hillary's state department at the time. Comey's actions were praised by Jefferson Beauregard Sessions, who is said to have urged Trump to fire the FBI director because of this very same investigation.
Needless to say, there is not much introspection at Fox News, despite the salacious stories that swirl around their news room. They continue to present an alternative reality, which feeds directly into the Trump administration, promoting the White House narrative in opposition to the news stories being filtered through the mainstream media, or "fake news" as Trump so much loves to call it.
For many Americans it is a real struggle to sort through these competing narratives. Like Fox Mulder of the X-Files, they want to believe what is coming out of Fox News and their host of conservative blogs is true. For them this is their basis of reality. CNN, MSNBC and the host of liberal blogs are seen as the "Smoking Man," or better yet "Cancer Man," who was manipulating poor Fox throughout his eight-year run on the highly popular television show.
There is no longer a firm baseline of fact, as Agent Scully was so insistent upon. Many Americans' views have become so shrouded in the many conspiracy theories floating around that they no longer can separate fact from fantasy. They refuse to accept anything coming out of the government, mainstream media and what they view as liberal academia. For them, it is all tainted by what they see as a coordinated attempt to undermine their way of life.
Trump has become their standard bearer, which is why he continues to garner so much support among the conservative base despite the very serious allegations that his administration has been compromised by Russian connections. For them, this is nothing more than a diversion from the "real issues" at hand like restoring Christian religious identity, ending Obamacare or any form of "nanny state," and purging the godless from our society. In their minds, it has become a holy war, and Trump has proudly assumed the mantle of this new American theocracy.
As such, it is not surprising that so many Republican Congresspersons are scared to challenge Trump. By doing so they threaten their own support among this deeply religious base that doesn't seem to care how Trump goes about imposing this new order as long as they are free to express their peculiar religious identity. The two issues may seem completely detached to the rest of us, who believe in a separation of church and state, but to Trump's loyal supporters church and state are one in the same. Just read David Barton.
The longer Trump stays in power the more opportunity he will have to impose this religious order, one he feels he is immune from much like past tyrannical kings. He will remove anyone who represents a threat to his administration and he will refuse to recognize any authority other than his own. He wants to create an autocracy just like Putin has created in Russia, using the religious base of the Republican Party to bully and intimidate GOP congresspersons to follow his lead. As such, it is highly doubtful we will see a special investigative committee, much less a special prosecutor unless moderate Republicans come to their senses and join Democrats to depose King Trump.
Enough is enough. It is not time to move on, as Sarah Huckabee Sanders and Condoleeza Rice insist, but to dig deeper into this mess and expose it for what it is -- a huge pile of shit -- or as Jon Stewart so much liked to call it "Bullshit Mountain!"
Tuesday, May 9, 2017
I can't say we learned anything new from the Senate hearing yesterday given that both Sally Yates and James Clapper were limited to what they could say in public. However, what was said was damning at least in regard to Ret. Gen. Mike Flynn. Not only was he presented as a severely compromised national security adviser but that many of his actions are punishable in a court of law, carrying sentences of two to five years each.
Democratic senators tried to get as much as they could out of Clapper and Yates without compromising the ongoing investigation, while Republican senators went out of their way to discredit Sally Yates. This was particularly apparent in the lines of questioning from Sens. Ted Cruz and John Neely Kennedy, who focused almost exclusively on former Attorney General Yates' refusal to defend Trump's initial travel ban.
I was pleasantly surprised to see Sen. Ben Sasse, a Republican from Nebraska, take a less combative approach, preferring to stick with the the depth of the Russian hacking, rather than try to discredit Yates or Clapper. Sasse comes in at the 35:10 minute mark. His questions were to the point and he gave them both time to answer.
Unfortunately, Patrick Leahy is cut off in the above video, but he had the question of the day when he asked Clapper, if Trump may be helping Russians by continuing to deny their involvement in the hacking. Clapper said yes.
The big question now is how much Trump is aware of what is going on around him or if various persons in his administration have formed a cabal, controlling information that comes into the White House? Yates claimed she had made WH lawyer Donald McGahn fully aware of how badly Flynn was compromised, but this information either stopped there, or others chose to brush it under the table or Trump saw Flynn as loyal to him and was willing to look the other way. None of which speaks well for this administration, as Flynn lingered on in office for another 18 days before finally being fired.
The White House continues to try to pawn him off on the Obama administration, saying there had been no need to vet him. Yet, as former White House officials have noted, Trump was warned during the transition period that Flynn was a loose cannon. Trump himself continues to praise Flynn, which seems in sharp contrast to Spicey's latest press briefing.
All this makes for a very murky picture that we don't have much access to give that so much of the information remains classified. Enough has leaked out to make one question the White House, much to the Republicans' chagrin, as they seemed more concerned about this than what those leaks implied. The most amusing moment came when Sen. Kennedy tried to implicate Clapper and Yates in the leaks. Kennedy lumped classified and non-classified information together, to which Clapper replied that divulging non-classified information is not leaking.
This is a far cry from the time Republicans were all cheering wikileaks for disclosing the DNC's hacked e-mails. As Sen. Leahy and other Democrats pointed out, what is good for the goose is apparently not good for the gander.
An independent investigation is now more necessary than ever to cut through the partisan feelings, which Ben Sasse noted. He seemed to be one of the few Senators more concerned with the long term implications of this breach rather than seeing it as a political football, as most of the others did. Sen. Franken used his period to mount his high horse and launch broad accusations at the White House without really asking Clapper or Yates any questions.
For his part, Clapper said that hacking like this is a low budget weapon that can provide huge returns. The information Russia or any other country gathers through such breaches can be used to seriously compromise government officials. A practice long used during the Soviet era, to which Sen. Kennedy made pointed references to the 1968 and 1984 elections, as if Republicans had also been victims of such political intrigue. Clapper wisely said he couldn't comment on such incidents.
Both Yates and Clapper comported themselves well, refusing to give in to the partisanship expressed by most of the senators. Why Trump chose to threaten Yates through his tweets is beyond me, as there wasn't much she could really say in public to hurt him. All he succeeded in doing is calling more attention to the hearing, in which Yates more than held her own against his Republican surrogates.
Monday, May 8, 2017
At his victory speech before the glass pyramid of the Louvre there were as many EU flags as French flags among his assembled supporters. He came to the podium with Beethoven's 9th symphony playing, which has been redubbed "Ode to Europe."
It remains to be seen what Macron will do in France but for the moment Europe is breathing a huge sigh of relief. Few doubted he would win the election, but Macron needed a resounding victory to push this ugly strain of nationalism creeping into Europe back into its dark corner. He got it, scoring a whopping 66% of the vote, ending all talk of "Frexit."
He took virtually every French voting district in the process. Le Pen managed to win only two northern districts. Still one can argue that 34% is a lot of dissatisfied French, but Macron has five years to make his case and restore confidence in the country after what had been a disappointing decade of French politics.
Macron not only stood behind the EU, he championed it! The Far Left as well as the Far Right were calling for Frexit. Those in the middle were of two minds, much like our lovely Theresa May in Britain, willing to go whichever way the electoral wind blew. Macron refused to give up on the EU, representing a much wider favorable sentiment that most pundits are willing to recognize.
The reason is simple. Most Europeans benefit from the EU, especially younger Europeans who very much enjoy the freedom of travel and work opportunities available. There are drawbacks. The large open market of goods and trades makes it much more competitive. Countries are prohibited from adopting protectionist measures to safeguard what they see as their national products from outside competition. The regulations and guidelines for business and agriculture are overwhelming, requiring an army of lawyers to sort it all out. Macron represents the new wave of European leaders who want to cut through these regulations and streamline the process to allow greater access to the common market.
For others this is just globalization made easy, speeding up the declince of national identity. Persons like Le Pen and Farage (UK) and Wilders (Netherlands) play on these anxieties, making it sound like soon we will have a United States of Europe and there will be no national identity left whatsoever. Farage and his UKIP party were lucky enough to catch the front of this wave and ride it to victory last summer in the Brexit vote. Wilders and La Pen were unfortunate to be left on the backside of the wave, and see their political hopes washed away. Farage wasn't so lucky in this latest round of UK elections, although Theresa May continues the road toward Brexit.
The biggest loser is Russia, and to a lesser degree the United States. Putin is still smarting from the sanctions imposed by the US and EU following his annexation of Crimea. Ever since 2014, Russia has been working hard to create the same economic turmoil in these countries that it is going through itself. Putin tried to take the methods his media teams had effectively used to stir up anxiety in Eastern Europe and project them on Western Europe, using RT or Russia Today, as a channel for these fringe figures to have a larger audience. Nigel Farage, the campaign leader of Brexit, is a frequent contributor to RT, as are numerous other right-wing European leaders.
Putin took the very bold step in endorsing Marine Le Pen by inviting her to Moscow. He had previously been content to use guerrilla media tactics to undermine elections. I'm not sure what gave him this false sense of confidence. He never offered such a bold endorsement of Trump.
He had to know Marine was never going to win. She was lucky to even get into the second round, narrowly edging out Fillon for second place. The best she could hope for was to not make a complete embarrassment of herself as her father did in 2002, when he was wiped out by Chirac, 82-18 in the second round.
Of course, we can't tie the massive e-mail dump at the eleventh hour of the campaign on the Kremlin, but all the signs point to Russia. It was a very similar hacking to that of the Democratic National Committee last summer, which is still under investigation. This final gesture seemed to work against Marine, as Macron saw a 5-point gain in his poll numbers on election day.
One assumes that Putin was not so much trying to boost Le Pen over the top as he was trying to cast doubt on Macron. A strategy many suggest Putin was hoping to accomplish with Hillary Clinton, as he didn't think Trump would actually win. The Kremlin hopes the e-mail dump will tarnish Macron and make it difficult for him to build the coalition he needs in parliament to govern effectively. In other words, Putin is thinking long term, hoping that the EU slowly unravels as a result of ineffectual leadership, as he does the US.
This is the cyber era of the Cold War, where both sides use hackers to try to undermine the legitimacy of the other. Some of this is conventional in the use of mainstream media outlets to sow seeds of dissension. Other methods will be far more pernicious, as hackers try to cut into electric grids, banks and other electronic infrastructure to create panics. You might call this the "Mother of All Hackers." As such, countries are beefing up their on-line security.
Russia has a particular advantage in on-line hacking, as it has a dark space in an old Soviet Union domain, which is a favorite hang out for cyber-criminals. To be fair, you don't have to be Russian to get into this domain. It is very hard to track hackers once inside. I'm sure there are other more complex means of hiding these illicit activities, but Russia hasn't done anything to close down this very effective hide out.
All could be that this .su portal has a life of its own, much like on-line pirate video, music and software sites, allowing virtually anyone anywhere to keep their activities in the dark. Just that much the better for Putin, who can keep himself safely removed from such cyber-attacks.
Macron steps into a brave new world of international politics. We will see if this young banker is up to the task. He certainly appears to have no time for Putin and the nationalist front movements he supports in Europe. It will be an enormous challenge to not only lead France but help lead the EU into a brighter future, which will see itself battling against the national interests of Russia and the United States, as it has throughout this post-war era. Maybe we will finally see the EU come to the fore?
Thursday, May 4, 2017
This time it was Trump who got "schlonged" on television. Needless to say, there was plenty of controversy over Stephen Colbert's monologue this past Monday, but Stephen says he has no regrets. Why should he? Trump can't even bring himself to take back his absurd allegations that he was wiretapped by Obama, which is what set Colbert off. I suppose he could have called the President a stooge or other choice epithet but he chose "cock holster."
Members of the gay community found this equally offensive, so poor Stephen was taking it from both sides. PC is dead. All gloves, or should I say all holsters are off.
I was curious if this was a term Stephen made up or one he appropriated. It's been around since 2003 according to Urban Dictionary, and is typically used by Marines to suggest mouth. Leave it to a drill sergeant to come up with the term.
This incident is sure to boost Colbert's ratings on the Late Show. Ever since he turned his monologue into a critique of the Cock Holster in Chief, his ratings have soared. Colbert even brings back his old persona from time to time to "defend" conservatism, but I think no one is fooled anymore. The amazing part is that he was able to get away with it so long. Seemed many conservatives actually thought he was one of them until he took the Late Night gig.
As for His Trumpness, he is looking more like an addled Queen these days than a King. His White House appears to be in total disarray judging from this failed conference call with the media that ended in farce. Mick Mulvaney was trying to spin the new budget deal as a win for the administration, which resulted in laughter on the other end of the line.
The President got virtually nothing he wanted. There was no "down payment" on the wall. The National Institute of Health, Corporation for Public Broadcasting, and numerous other "liberal" agencies were spared the ax. Basically, Congressional Republicans and Democrats got together and worked out a deal in spite of Trump. How Mulvaney could project this as a "win" is indeed laughable.
Trump has to be feeling more lonely than ever in the White House. His famed deal-making skills have yet to materialize. Congress, Europe, Canada and Mexico are all finding ways to work around him. Even the infamous Strongman of the Philippines rebuffed an invitation to the White House, as he sees no advantage in having Trump on his side.
Kim Jong Un is smelling victory after Trump inexplicably suggested meeting with the boy king. North Korea has been wanting such recognition for decades. It is also very odd timing considering Trump had a naval strike force maneuver into position off the Korean coastline and dumped a missile defense system on South Korea, which it has no intention of paying for after Trump suggested they should.
Not only pundits and comics, but our traditional allies are openly questioning the mental state of our President, who seems to have no idea what is going on. Regardless, Putin would like to meet with Trump to see if there is anyway they can get on the same page before things get too far out of hand.
There has never been a time in recent history where a White House has looked so hopelessly out of touch with the world. Part of the reason is that this is an administration made up of novices, with way too much decision making falling into the lap of Jared Kushner, the 36-year-old scion of a disgraced real estate developer. Jared has been tasked with everything from arranging meetings with world leaders to peace in the Middle East.
Kushner is essentially acting as President for his mentally deficient father-in-law, who seems content to fire off tweets at all hours of the day and night and attend political rallies among die-hard conservatives, with rounds of golf in between. It isn't the first time a President has deferred his duties to family members. Many felt Wilson had vested most of his power in his wife Edith when he became too infirmed to lead in his second term. Many felt that Nancy Reagan held an inordinate amount of sway in the Gipper's White House. It is not unusual for first ladies to play strong roles in their husband's White House, but this may be the first time a son-in-law came to be the dominant force in the Oval Office.
As John Oliver points out in this segment, it might not be so bad if we knew that Kushner had the credentials to lead the nation, but John quite rightly states that it would be dangerous to trust Jared and Ivanka, who have become America's version of William and Kate.
Besides, no one elected Jared and Ivanka. They have literally assumed these duties because their father is too lazy to do so himself. He has no real interest in the job, which he has made painfully clear time and again. He pined for his "old life" in this recent interview.
Nevertheless, Trump continues to enjoy incredible support among his faithful, despite the fact he has yet to accomplish much in the White House. All you have to do is look at Steve Bannon's whiteboard. This from a President who vowed never to reveal his hand.
His executive orders have largely been paper tigers. The ones that could have done real damage are currently held up in court, notably his travel ban and his attempt to cut off federal funding to "sanctuary cities." His executive order on opening up mining and oil rights on national monuments could ultimately cause a lot of harm, but I imagine this order will also be challenged in court.
Sadly, he has admitted he doesn't really read what he signs. He often contradicts these orders in tweets and interviews afterward. They are being prepared by those with vested business interests, like Jared. Many of these executive orders overstep his authority, leading to frustration with the Constitution, which Trump recently deemed "archaic." Yet, he appoints a Supreme Court Justice who firmly believes in the original intent of the Constitution.
I know that Emerson said that "a foolish consistency is the hobgoblin of little minds," but one could say the same for a foolish inconsistency, which is exactly what we have in a Commander-in-Chief. As Colbert rightly points out, it is a fair fight, as he has jokes and the President has launch codes.
What is scary is that this administration is apparently looking into changing the first amendment, if we are to take Reince Priebus at his word. A further sign that this administration has become not only unmoored from the Constitution but reality itself. It is this very same "free speech" that Trump used so effectively on the campaign trail to brandish Hillary Clinton a criminal, regardless of anything to back up his allegations.
This is what Colbert very effectively took exception to in his Monday night monologue. I would only say that Trump is not so much a cock holster for Putin as he is for the alt-right in this country, as he plays right into their worst instincts.
Monday, May 1, 2017
"I mean, had Andrew Jackson been a little later, you wouldn't have had the Civil War. He was a very tough person, but he had a big heart. He was really angry that he saw what was happening with regard to the Civil War. There's no reason for this."
Leave it to the Donald to give us a revisionist view of the Civil War. It is relatively safe to say that Jackson would have been against the Civil War given his position on South Carolina's nullification bid, but the two events were thirty years apart. This is what happens when you are spoon-fed little morsels of history from Stephen Bannon.
I was wondering where all this interest in Jackson came from? It probably stems from the decision reached last year to put Harriet Tubman on the $20 bill. Trump questioned this decision during the transition and one of his first acts as President was to prominently hang a portrait of Old Hickory in the Oval Office. This is a very alt-right thing to do. No one in the administration, including Trump himself, has explicitly stated he wants to reverse the Treasury Department decision, but all the signs are there. It wouldn't be until 2020 that we would actually see a Tubman 20.
This isn't the first time someone tried to resurrect Jackson. Arthur Schlesinger saw our first log cabin president as the embodiment of American values both past and present in The Age of Jackson. He linked this populist fervor described by Walt Whitman and others at the time of Jackson's election to Roosevelt in the 1930s. It seems both Art and Walt were willing to forgive Jackson's many transgressions, including the war he waged against American Indians. Jackson has mostly been remembered for the Battle of New Orleans, saving us a second time from British rule. Here's Old Hickory leading the charge on a 1965 commemorative stamp.
It is not surprising Trump identifies with Jackson, given the frontier president's stand against big government in the form of the Second US Bank. The odd part about Jackson is that he was very much a states' right president and supported the extension of slavery into the western territories, he just didn't cotton to secession. He felt the whole country should live under southern laws. In this sense, he embodied the current GOP thinking.
Sunday, April 30, 2017
It took a while for Nicky, I mean Hasan Minhaj to hit his stride but when he did he had some good jokes, mostly directed at the White House Correspondents Association itself. Donald Trump was reduced to an elephant in the room as he decided to hold a rally in Pennsylvania, which David Gergen called a "deeply disturbing speech." And so we mark 100 days.
Hasan prefaced his monologue by saying he was the only person who would do it. Everyone else had backed out. There was a time Alec Baldwin might stand in for the President, but it seems Alec is tiring of this impression as there is only so much you can do with a caricature. Twenty-five minutes is a long time to stand in front of a cynical bunch of journalists and try to make them laugh.
There were few celebrities on hand. There was absolutely no one from the White House administration, not even Sean Spicer, who fields the White House correspondents every day. Panning the room, the only recognizable faces were news celebrities like Wolf Blitzer. The camera eventually did find Darrell Issa, who laughed when Hasan made a joke about the news media being treated like a minority.
The WHCA was clearly on its own and had to fend for itself. Hasan tried to encourage them by saying the news media had to rebuild trust with its audience, going after CNN as well as Fox, the two biggest providers. He joked that it felt like CNN was giving him homework not news, by asking whether he thought there was a Russian connection in the Trump administration. "I don't know? I'm watching the news. You're supposed to tell me!" He later quipped that when a journalist speaks, he speaks for all the press. "Just think about that? Right now Geraldo Rivera is out there speaking for you."
It is odd that no one representing Trump was on hand for this annual gala. This was the clearest sign of the firewall the Trump administration has put between itself and the press. The last President to skip a Correspondents Dinner was Ronald Reagan 36 years ago, and that was only because he was recovering from an assassination attempt. George W. Bush sat there and took the thinly veiled rebuke he was given by Stephen Colbert in 2006.
I guess His Trumpness feels he goes through this every night so he decided to spend the evening with his loyal fans in Harrisburg, PA, where you guessed it, he assailed the press. This is the equivalent of firing a warning shot at Syria or dropping a bunker buster on Afghan caves. It went over well with his loving audience, because as Hasan pointed out, they trust him. It doesn't matter what the media says at this point, Trump has the unquestioning support of his political base.
Trump made no attempt to reach out to a broader audience. This was a visceral campaign rally, repeating virtually all the same themes he has done for the past two years. He views his election as the ultimate repudiation of the news media despite losing the popular vote by 3 million. All that matters to him is that he won, and the mainstream news media lost. Through it all, the audience cheered "CNN sucks!"
Poor CNN has come to represent the "lamestream media" in the minds of his conservative base. You can't go into an airport or pretty much any public place that has television monitors without seeing CNN. Yet, for the most part CNN has been kind to Trump continuing to offer paid slots for his surrogates when it is definitely not on its best interest to do so. In fact, it is this split personality of mainstream media outlets that has eroded trust.
It isn't so much balanced reporting that the news media is trying to offer, but rather a venue for staged arguments and angry retorts that have become the staple of nightly news. Pitting Kayleigh McEnany against Van Jones is sure to make sparks fly. Just look at this segment following Trump's victory, as protesters gathered throughout the country. CNN continues to follow the same format five months later.
When you look at Kayleigh's resume, you see why CNN hired her. You would think that someone with degrees from Georgetown and Harvard, not to mention a brief stint at Oxford, would be able to hold her own in an argument. Yet, she relishes the opportunity to spread disinformation, relying on her poise and confidence to win over the audience. Van doesn't stand a chance against this no matter how sound his arguments for obvious reasons. So why is Donald so angry at CNN?
If CNN cut off his surrogates I could understand, but they just continue to bring on more surrogates to defend him. On the same panel with David Gergen was Rick Santorum, who comes in at the 2:37 mark in this clip to defend Trump.
Santorum is not the most ardent Trump supporter. What was interesting about Santorum's comments is that he said Obama had this way of talking down at people and that conservatives deeply resented this. Trump, on the other hand, says exactly what the conservative base wants to hear. The former Congressperson left it to the others to parse out his words.
Trump has become the embodiment of the former Tea Party Movement, appropriating it like he would a business and rebranding it as his own. He speaks for the underbelly of America that feels it has been forgotten, whose ways have been tread upon, and whose freedom of speech has been squelched. As such, this underbelly gives His Trumpness a tremendous latitude in which to move in, as opposed to the codified language George Bush often found himself employing to signal to his base that he was with them even if it may not sound like it sometimes. "Compassionate conservatism" has given way to "bellicose conservatism." As I understand from Rick Santorum, we have Obama not Trump to blame for this.
With Trump, there is no questioning where he stands even as the ground appears to fall out from under him as it did on his failed attempt to push an Obamacare replacement through Congress. He is safe in knowing that his base will blame Congress or Obama, not him.
The news media doesn't have such luxury, as Hasan Minhaj pointed out. It has been reduced to minority status, where it is forced to defend itself no matter how baseless the 3 am tweet coming out of the White House. Hasan offered no answers to this dilemna other than to say we live in an Age of Lies with a Liar-in-Chief. The only thing the news media can do is keep up the good fight.