Friday, January 19, 2018

Hold my drink




A looming government shutdown doesn't keep the Donald away from the golf course.  He's off to Mar-a-Lago for the weekend while Congresspersons desperately try to reach an agreement on a budget.  Whatever spending bill Congress cobbles together will have to have his imprimatur, but I guess he figures no deal will be reached so why waste my time in this shithole when I could be in sunny Florida.

This last-minute scrambling is the result of Trump's hasty decision back in September to scrap DACA.  He was so desperate to have his wall that he figured he could force Congress to act on it.  Instead, Congress kicked the budget down the road, which I'm sure is what they will do today as well, as there appears to be no agreement.  For the time being, Dreamers have been saved by the federal courts, but this is just a stop-gap measure until Congress has the guts to deal with immigration.

For his part, Chuck Schumer has said having Tom Cotton and Dave Perdue on the Senate committee are a non-starter.  These two guys have no interest in a compromise solution and appear to be egging on the President when it comes to standing tough, even if they walked back his comments on immigration.  A kind of "closet toughness" as if to make themselves appear as though they are arbitrators.  In reality, it is the kind of slinkiness we have come to respect from Republicans, which is why Schumer is having none of it.

The Donald has other things to worry about as well, such as the fate of Pennsylvania House seat, which in any normal election would be considered a safe seat.  After losing a safe seat in Wisconsin this past week, Pennsylvania Republicans are taking no chances and invited His Trumpness to Pittsburgh to make a pitch for Rick Saccone, the kind of ugly Republican voters no longer seem to want. 

CNN kept breaking away from its "State of America" to cover the event, which was impossible to watch.  Trump acted like he was at some television network luncheon trying to see how many persons he could call out around the table, including Saccone, who came up on stage and looked like he was going to kiss Trump before wisely choosing not to.  If Trump loses this race, he's pretty much sunk.  No one will want to get within a mile radius of him during the summer.

I'm not sure where Kate Bolduan has been recently.  Nia-Malika Henderson has stepped into her shoes on the political chat show.  Just as well as Nia-Malika is much less irritating to listen to.  She tried to get her Republican commentators to offer something approximating a candid opinion on Trump's report card for 2017, but it was hopeless.  His surrogates continue to try to prop him up like you would a cardboard dummy that has been left out in the rain.

Surprisingly, this guy still commands an 80% approval rating among Republicans, which is the only thing that keeps him the mid-30s in overall approval rating.  It certainly isn't translating into votes as Roy Moore found out in Alabama.  Republicans may still support Trump, but enthusiasm has clearly waned.  So, Saccone better hope something gets Republicans to the polls on March 13 because his commanding lead is shriveling up. 

He faces a tough challenge in a young, battle-tested Democrat, who has reawakened the party in Western Pennsylvania.  Conor Lamb has both a military pedigree and has served as state prosecutor.  His limited government experience should be an asset in a district that went overwhelmingly for Trump in 2016, but has since soured on the President.  Murphy's sleazy past doesn't help either.

As Barack Obama recently described in an interview with David Letterman, it is the Republicans who now find themselves in a bubble of their making.  They have screened out all the mainstream news, and would still like to think they are riding the 2016 wave.  Democrats have flipped 34 seats since last November '16, the Republicans only four in state and federal elections.  Patty Schachtner shocked Wisconsin Republcians by winning the 10th District state senate seat, a usually reliable conservative seat.  Gov. Scott Walker issued a wake-up call to fellow Republicans but it appears to be too late.  There just isn't any excitement for these conservative candidates, whereas the Democratic Party appears re-energized.  Obama will apparently be campaigning heavily for Democratic candidates across the country this summer, no doubt leading the news media to keep a tally of who comes out on top, Obama or Trump, in their list of endorsements.

In the meantime, our federal government is on hold until a budget can be approved.  So, enjoy your time in sunny Florida, dear Donald, because it looks like things are getting ugly in Washington.


Monday, January 15, 2018

Unfortunately, no trust!




This is starting to resemble a behavioral experiment from the 60s with Republicans ganging up on Dick Durbin and trying to convince him that he didn't hear what he heard last Thursday.  There were at least ten persons in the room when Trump made his comments on immigration reform, including seven senators.  Durbin was the lone Democrat.

After hearing the comments, Durbin immediately went public.  After some time, Lindsey Graham, who is working with Durbin on a compromise solution to save DACA, supported him.  But, no other Republican in the room would substantiate the comments, and on Sunday Dave Perdue and Tom Cotton flatly repudiated Dick Durbin's statement.  This is a little odd because Friday the two conservative senators simply said they couldn't recall Trump saying "shithole countries."  For his part, Trump has since said he wishes he had recorded the meeting, noting "unfortunately, no trust!"

This is quite telling.  Did Trump honestly expect his comments to stay in the room, or was he setting up Dick Durbin and the Democrats for the fall on DACA?  It's very clear Trump has no intention of signing off on any bill that protects DACA unless he gets a "down payment" on his wall.  Durbin, acting on the behalf of Senate Democrats, was willing to give the president $1.5 billion toward the wall in exchange for his support on DACA.  Apparently, this wasn't enough, so Trump went off on a tirade, which Durbin later aired to the public.

Senators Cotton and Perdue are staunchly against any compromise.  They not only want zero tolerance toward illegal immigration but want to cut legal immigration in half, especially those coming in from south of the border.  The other Republicans apparently fall somewhere in the middle and are keeping tight-lipped about the whole thing.

If this is some kind of negotiation strategy it is one of the strangest we have seen yet and not likely to get the Democrats on board the spending bill Republicans are trying to ram through Congress.  This time they can't do it through budget reconciliation, so if Mitch wants to force a simple majority vote he would have to resort to the "nuclear option," which is not going to sit well with ranking Republicans like Lindsey Graham.  Mitch only has two votes to spare.

The thing about DACA is that we are talking about kids here, relatively speaking anyway.  Most Americans don't want to see kids made to pay for the errors of their parents.  Also, most of the kids are now so thoroughly "Americanized" you couldn't tell them apart from any other kid in this country.  But, Trump is so determined to get his wall that he will use anything to get it, including holding these "Dreamers" hostage.

This tells you a lot about the man.  Imagine if it was his daughter or son being threatened with deportation.  After all, Ivana and Melania are both immigrants, and mothers to four of his children.  He is the son of an immigrant mother, who some argue arrived illegally from Scotland.  Yet, he seems to have no feeling whatsoever for these kids who arrived in the country alone or with their parents, most at a very young age, and have since carved out good lives for themselves in America.  They are nothing more than a bargaining chip to him.

Yet, in typical Trump fashion, he tries to make it look as though the Democrats are holding the "Dreamers" hostage by not signing off on a spending bill, which so far has no provision whatsoever for DACA children.

The cynicism is mindnumbing.  Even more mindnumbing is why Republicans would play along with him.  None of them really want this wall.  There are many other ways to deal with illegal immigration.  Yet, they continue to float out various figures they hope will appease our puerile president, and stand by him even when he says the most atrocious things.

It's hard to believe someone didn't catch Trump's words on his mobile phone, just as the Wall Street Journal recorded their conversation with Trump last week, forced to remind him what he said.  As Joe Manchin later said, there is no reason to suspect Dick Durbin and Lindsey Graham made this up, and every reason to suspect Donald Trump is lying.  This wouldn't be the first time Trump was forced to eat his words.  Only now, Dave Perdue and Tom Cotton will be made to eat them as well.

Yes, Donald, unfortunately no trust!


Saturday, January 13, 2018

Our shithole in chief




I suppose Trump's beef with the embassy in London and "shithole" countries around the world is nothing more than a distraction for Republicans unwilling or unable to come to the table to discuss a bipartisan immigration bill.  After all, they had been down this road before in 2013 and it wasn't pretty, so why not let Trump fly off the handle and avoid even discussing such a bill in a hotly contested election year.

Trump let his "shithole" comment linger in the air like a fart for the better part of 15 hours before finally trying to deny he said it.  The only problem is that everyone heard him, and at best the Republicans who were in the room with him can only claim they didn't hear it.  That didn't stop Democrats from responding, and even Lindsey Antebellum has finally come forward to say yes, Trump said it.

Dear old Lindsey wanted to make himself the Republican point man on the new immigration bill, but even he appeared to have second thoughts.  Trump's comments reflect the feelings of most Republicans when it comes to immigration.  They are tired of seeing all these colored folk seeping into America, and would prefer to see more Nordic faces.  Senator Graham knows it is an uphill battle, especially trying to get such a bill through the House, where the last immigration bill stalled when the Speaker John Boehner invoked the so-called "Hassert rule."  Boehner claimed he had to have the majority support of his party to bring the bill to a floor vote, even though there were enough Republicans to go along with Democrats to pass the bill.

Of course Trump would like to pass the blame for the impasse onto Obama, like he did his reason for not attending the grand opening of the new US embassy in London, but it would only be more egg on his face.  The "fabulous new embassy" has received raves across the board, not least of all the fact that it didn't cost US taxpayers an extra penny.  It was financed entirely by the sale of London properties, including the old embassy at Mayfair.  Trump only wants to go where he will be met by an adoring audience, and there is no such audience in London.

Nevertheless, his friends at Fox and across the conservative blogosphere are defending his comments, claiming that this is what you would hear in any bar across America.  I suppose that may be true in Trump country, but is this really the level we want to discuss foreign policy?

Our president has literally turned our foreign policy into a shithole bar.  No one can trust him at this point, as no country knows from one day to the next what Trump will say on a subject, leaving it up to his beleaguered state department to try to explain his comments.  The US ambassador to Panama resigned rather than deal with the fallout from Trump's latest comments.  I suppose Trump can send John Bolton down there for a "friendly visit."

Much of this damage is irreparable, as the US's position in the world continues to erode with China, Russia and Germany filling the void we leave behind.  No longer is the US an initiator of events, but a monkey wrench.  Trump once again signed off on the Iranian nuclear deal despite his voluble misgivings,  but all the other countries involved want at this point is his signature.

Simply put, the US is no longer a player on the world stage.  It is a bystander.  Yes, Trump can get rowdy at times as he has done with North Korea, but whatever strategy that still remains in place is guarded by the Pentagon.  Trump has no real interest in what is going on around the world, except as to how it relates to his business interests.  Diplomacy is a thing of the past, which is why his embassy and "shithole countries" comments are perfectly in keeping with his puerile mindset.

The funny thing is that no one really cares anymore other than to affirm their views on Trump.  This was certainly the case with Sadiq Khan, who hailed the cancellation as Trump getting the message that London doesn't want him.   Madame Tussands couldn't resist the opportunity to park his wax likeness in front of the embassy.

At this point, no one wants him.  To use Jesse Waters' analogy, I imagine much of the "bar talk" these days is how do we get rid of Trump, as you would an unruly patron who has obviously had way too much to drink and is embarrassing everyone around him.

Wednesday, January 10, 2018

Everyone is talking about Oprah




After her Golden Globes speech, Oprah is the most talked about person on television.  She brought the auditorium to its feet with as she recounted how Recy Taylor bucked the system back in 1944, and her impressions of Sidney Pottier winning the Oscar for Lilies of the Field.  It was a life-affirming speech like the ones Barack Obama enjoyed giving and the parallel was not lost on anyone.  Many persons started chanting Oprah for President that evening.

Why not?  Any thoughts that experience matters were thrown out the window when Donald J. Trump won the office last year.  This seemed to be the only thing holding Oprah back.  Now she just says, "oh, oh."

Americans no longer place much value on a candidate's resume, at least when it comes to serving in government.  We have become extremely cynical, believing that a politician is only in it for the money.  Jokes abound like the one where politicians should wear patches of their corporate sponsors like race car drivers do, or that the only good politician is a dead politician, politically dead anyway.

Yet, we have elected our share of first-timers over the years and they haven't proven anymore adept at managing government than have traditional candidates.  Ronald Reagan comes to mind.  Bad actor turned governor and eventually president, he pretty much left management up to those around him.  The result was one of the most corrupt governments in modern history with over 20 indictments.  Trump's administration is well on its way to matching those numbers.

Many Americans are desperate for anyone other than Trump, and feel that only someone with a big personality like Oprah can topple him in an election.  No names are emerging from the Democratic field other than Bernie and Joe Biden, both well past 70.  Oprah seems youthful in her early 60s and is looking better than ever with her wavy black hair and healthy full figure.  She looked absolutely radiant Sunday night.

Oprah is worth considering.  She has been a positive spokesperson for so many issues over the years and has grown into one of the most powerful persons in the entertainment industry.  An unlikely rise when you consider her roots.  Most importantly, she would have the wholehearted support of Democrats across the political spectrum, assuming she runs as a Democrat.

However, I'm afraid this would be a major setback for traditional politics.  The grassroots campaign that gave us candidates like Shirley Chisholm, Jesse Jackson, and Barack Obama will be lost.  How could such a candidate compete with larger-than-life personalities?

Maybe it just a phase we are going through.  The idea of "Oprah" has been tossed about for the better part of two decades.  She couldn't be any worse than Donald J. Trump.  Maybe we should just skip the primaries all together and go straight to the general election in 2020 and let these two battle it out on prime time television -- the Reality Show of the Century!

Sunday, January 7, 2018

The problem with Cory Gardner's argument

or any Republican for that matter




Cory Gardner took exception to Jeff Sessions switch on marijuana.  The Colorado senator claims that Sessions promised he wouldn't go after state legalized cannabis but it seems the Attorney General has had a change of heart.  Sessions has long made it known he doesn't like all this pot being made freely available, and it was only a matter of time before he used his federal authority to contain it.  He not only has the blessing of Trump but many state governors, who have tried to file suits against states that have legalized pot.

The problem goes well beyond marijuana.  Gardner wants to present himself as a moderate Republican by presenting his libertarian view on pot.  This is similar to Rand Paul, who has also been pro-pot.  But, these senators have no problem going after health care and other issues that blur state and federal lines.  Both voted for the tax cuts bill that will eliminate federal mandates for buying state and federal health insurance.  They had previously voted to gut the ACA, and in fact have stuck to the party line on almost every issue.  Gardner has a whopping 94.6 score of voting along with Trump's position on issues.  This is double how he was expected to vote in 2016, according to fivethirtyeight.  The only place he seems to have veered is on pot, which makes you wonder if he bought stock in marijuana companies, which are currently taking a nosedive.

This is a pattern that has emerged over and over again.  Collins, Murkowski and McCain were treated like heroes for voting down Mitch's last ditch effort to gut the Affordable Care Act, only to vote for a tax cuts bill that did the very same thing.  In fact, every single Senate Republican voted for the final version of the notorious bill, including Bob Corker, who had previously been the lone Republican to stand against it.  Yet, we keep hoping that one of these Republicans will emerge to challenge the party orthodoxy.

They won't because they are part of a political party that is run like a mafia.  The Republican leaders make very few concessions, instead they threaten their party members by either pulling election funding or reminding them that there is a strong core of Republicans that continues to support Trump, no matter how daft he might be.  In other words, they face certain defeat in the primaries if they go against the grain.   This leaves young turks like Cory Gardner, Ben Sasse, and Rand Paul in a tough bind.  They might want to challenge the orthodoxy, but if they want to stay in the Senate they have to succumb to Mitch's lead.  

It's a little harder to figure out Jeff Flake and Bob Corker, who have said they will not be seeking re-election this Fall.  They love to attack Trump, but in the end pretty much go along with his position on key issues.  Both have a Trump score over 85% on 538.  Susan Collins flirted with running for governor of Maine, but has since decided to stay in the Senate, where she is once again proving loyal to the party, although her score of 82% puts her a little bit in danger in the primaries.  She hopes her vote on the tax cuts bill makes up for it.

In fairness, the Trump Score is a bit deceiving.  It isn't so much that these senators are voting along with Trump, as Trump has taken the party line on almost every issue.  It's his volatility that worries Republican senate leaders, like that time he went along with "Chuck and Nancy" on short-term spending solutions, kicking the budget down the line.  In the end, however, this worked out well for Republicans as they were able to get their tax cuts bill through budget reconciliation rather than bringing it to a full vote in the Senate where they would have needed 60 votes to pass.  Basically, Trump will take a "win" anyway he can get it.  Since that little relapse, he has been very harsh on the Democrats, much to Mitch's approval.

There has also been a long history of the Republican Party letting its members stray on their pet issues, as long as they don't go against the big issues.  As far as Mitch is concerned, Young Cory can go after Jeff Sessions on cannabis, as long as he sticks to the party line on tax cuts, repeal of "Obamacare," cuts in Medicare, overhaul of Social Security, and so on.  

The orthodoxy was a little bit upset with Murkowski, Collins and McCain over the health care vote, but they brought these wayward senators back into the fold when it came to what really mattered -- a sweeping tax bill that used cuts in health care to help fund the $1.5 trillion cost of the bill.  They all plan to eventually seek re-election.

One can argue that we see a similar situation with Democrats.  After all, they were only able to get the Affordable Care Act through Congress by "bullying" some of their wayward members and convincing Arlen Specter to switch parties.  It was much tougher as the Democrats needed 60 votes, and at most had 59 in 2009, until Arlen joined them.  

I think Mitch never forgave the Democrats for this and has demanded total loyalty from his members ever since.  As you might recall Mitch was thrilled as punch when Scott Brown won the Massachusetts Special Election to fill John Kerry's vacated seat in late 2009.  Number 41 they called him.  Democrats were unable to pass anymore major legislation after that upset victory.

It doesn't stop Democrats from hoping they can steer disgruntled Republicans to their party.  They flirted with Murkowski, who won as an "independent" in Alaska after being "teabagged" in the primaries in 2010, but she chose to caucus with the Republicans, and ran as a Republican in 2016.  So, don't let her defiance on some issues fool you.  She knows which side of her bread is buttered.  She along with Susan Collins and John McCain are not "heroes" because they stand up to their Republican Party from time to time.  They consistently vote along the party line, even when it is against their own best interests.  Murkowski introduced the bill to open drilling in the Alaskan Arctic Circle.  Kind of like making Lisa shoot her own family member to prove her loyalty to the party.

As for Young Cory,  he is essentially making a big fuss about nothing in an attempt to endear himself to Coloradans after voting for the noxious tax bill.  Jeff Sessions' position on pot is largely symbolic.  It is doubtful that federal prosecutors will aggressively crack down on possession, cultivation and distribution of cannabis in states where it has been made legal.  Like everything else in the Trump administration, it was about erasing the Obama legacy, which had adopted a policy of non-intervention.  Sessions basically wanted other states to not become part of this "reefer madness" by placing a federal warning on pot.


Saturday, January 6, 2018

13 Reasons Why


The Republicans are determined to protect Trump




The White House likes to push the stories going into the weekend, usually through Trump's tweets, but this weekend the only news is coming from the pages of Fire and Fury.  For his part, Trump tried to put on his best presidential demeanor before being shuttled by helicopter to Camp David, where he said he would discuss his agenda with ranking Congressional Republicans.  He left a list of demands for Democrats, if they want to save the DACA program.  Not surprisingly, Democratic leaders see these demands as a non-starter.

Just the same, CNN devoted virtually its entire programming last night to the book's many allegations, trying to walk a thin line down the middle, in which journalists questioned the veracity of some of Wolff's claims, while giving credence to others.  The talk show panels broke down the way you would expect, with condemnation from conservative pundits and modest praise from liberal pundits.

No one seems to know quite what to make of Michael Wolff.   Maybe it is as Joan Didion writes, "my only advantage as a reporter is that I am so physically small, so temperamentally unobtrusive, and so neurotically inarticulate that people tend to forget that my presence runs counter to their best interests.  And it always does.  That is one last thing to remember: writers are always selling somebody out." 

Basically, Wolff made himself a fly on the wall during the most chaotic period of the Trump administration.  The reaction to his book is similar to the time Buzzfeed chose to present the infamous "Trump dossier" in its entirety, which many mainstream news outlets, including CNN, condemned.  That dossier hasn't gone away, and now Senate Republicans want to file charges against Christopher Steele, purportedly for presenting false information.  I suppose charges will come against Wolff as well, once Lindsey Antebellem and Chuck "Snake in the Grass" Grassley have had a chance to review his book.   Yet, Wolff claims to be able to verify everything he wrote, including his conversations with Trump.

This attempt by Republicans to bury the lurid stories surrounding Trump and his White House is even more amusing than Trump's attempt to be "presidential."   There was no allegation against Hillary Clinton, no matter how absurd, they didn't consider while launching investigation after investigation into her role in Benghazi and her infamous e-mail scandal.  It's still not over, as the FBI reopened the investigation into the Clinton Foundation, the so-called "pay to play" scandal.

You really have to wonder what is it the Republicans are trying to hide, given their overwhelming need to protect Trump?  Bannon described it as sitting on the beach with a category 5 hurricane on the horizon. 

It doesn't matter that Trump has shit on virtually all Republican Congresspersons, including Lindsey Antebellum, yet they continue to pay deference to him.  Even those that have challenged him in public, pretty much go along with his agenda in Congress.  One can only hope that Mueller's probe goes right into the bowels of Congress, as it is hard to imagine at this point that Congressional Republicans weren't involved in the Russian hacking of the 2016 election.  Everything they do appears designed to cover their collective ass.

Wolff states in his book that Trump never expected to win the election, nor did it seem Russia.  What Putin wanted was to damage Hillary Clinton, making it more difficult for her to address key foreign issues like Syria.  Republicans were ready to pounce on Hillary as soon as she came into office, but now here they are having do deal with the freewheeling Donald Trump.

Russian media could have never gained such widespread access into the American market had not many American outlets played along, namely Fox and Breitbart.  But, the RNC also stood to gain, as so many of these Hillary "hit pieces" were targeted at key states like Wisconsin, Michigan and Pennsylvania.  At the head of the RNC was Reince Priebus, who hails from Wisconsin, as does Paul Ryan, the House Speaker.  They have a well-hewn political machine in that state, which helped turn the state to Trump despite having gone overwhelmingly for Democratic Presidential candidates since 1988.  Even Michael Dukakis won Wisconsin.  Obama won by 200,000 votes in 2012.  So how did this state change virtually overnight?

This is what Congress should be investigating.  Instead, Republican leaders go out of their way to put the Russian hacking stories behind them, making you wonder how much Ryan and Priebus might have been involved in the hacking, given how close the race was in their home state.

Michigan and Pennsylvania are a bit more murky, but these states have also been reliably Democratic since 1992, voting for Bill Clinton both times.  Obama had an even greater margin of victory in Michigan (400,000 votes) and in Pennsylvania (310,000 votes) than he did Wisconsin in 2012.  So, again what changed in these states, especially since turnout was even higher in 2016 than it was in 2012, which should have favored Hillary.

I think there is a lot to Wolff's claim that the Trump campaign never expected to win. They just wanted to make it close enough so that they could point to a few states as their reason for losing, and hope to undermine Hillary's legitimacy afterward, much like how the Republicans used Obama's birth certificate to try to undermine his legitimacy.

But, a funny thing happened -- Trump won -- and now the GOP scrambles to hide the reasons why.  I think just about everyone was surprised by this huge electoral upset, including the Kremlin, which had to rethink the way it was going to deal with Washington.

Wolff's book is just the beginning.  He went after the tawdry domestic side of the White House.  I expect more books in the coming year that try to answer the many questions that surround Trump's unexpected presidency, as Mueller seems to be taking his time to build his case against the Trump campaign. 

Sadly, the damage has been done.  Unless Mueller's probe reveals widespread complicity throughout the Republican Party, we will be saddled with Pence or Ryan or even Tillerson as President, depending on how many persons were involved.  More likely we are stuck with Trump for the duration, as Mueller simply is unable to find a direct link to the top.  After all, Reagan escaped the many probes surrounding the notorious Iran-Contra Affair, with Ollie North and others taking the fall.

The only saving grace is that it looks like the Republicans will lose "bigly" in the midterm elections, which will render Donald Trump virtually impotent in the White House.   If anything is being discussed at Camp David, it is how do they reverse this perfect shit storm that is headed their way.  They have until November to try to shift this storm onto the Democrats.



Thursday, January 4, 2018

Happy New Year, Donald J. Trump!




If His Trumpness thought he might catch a break at the start of the New Year, he was sadly mistaken.  Michael Wolff has literally pulled the lid off the boiling cauldron that is the Trump White House, offering up a number of juicy anecdotes taken from Steve Bannon, Michael Flynn and even Ivanka, regarding the effort it takes to make her father's hair stand on its own.

The evil Dr. Bannon has pretty much confirmed everything Wolff printed in his name, and added more scintillating stories of his own.  This led a livid Donald Trump to dump on his former strategist after having tried to pretend there was no bad blood between them.  It seems Bannon's prime targets are the Trump offspring and in-laws, calling out Jared, Ivanka and Donnie Jr. each in turn.  Not surprising, since he was never able to win their affection, not that he wanted it.  What he wanted was complete control over the Trump White House to carry out his nationalistic agenda, something "Javanka" warned "Daddy" against, but I guess Papa Trump felt he owed Bannon after his surprising victory.

To read the excerpts from Wolff's book, Trump never wanted to win the White House and Melania was in tears the night he pulled off his electoral upset because of all the pressure that would be put on her to play the role of first lady.  That role instead fell to Ivanka, with Hope Hicks apparently becoming Trump's surrogate daughter.  Melania has of course refuted all these stories, but you figure she was never more than a trophy wife for Donald, lending the allusion that he still had the vigor of a younger man, albeit pumped up on viagra.

You knew a book like this would have to come along soon.  So many persons have left the White House, but Wolff took most of his anecdotes while these figures were still in the West Wing.  The most stinging allegations are Trump's "semiliterate" grasp of language and reading skills, his blatant misogyny, and his insatiable appetite for McDonald's cheeseburgers and Diet Cokes.  The best revelation of all is Trump's unbridled need to gloat to anyone who will listen, which Wolff states is how so many of these stories have leaked to the press.  Trump is his own worst enemy.

Of course, Wolff deals in the sensational, contributing to The Hollywood Reporter, USA Today and the UK edition of GQ, but I imagine most of these revelations can be corroborated, as we are finding out with Steve Bannon, who seems to have given up on the Trump administration and is charting his own course to the White House, as he spilled out to The Atlantic.

This is a pretty good indicator that Trump's "base" is eroding, if he ever really had a strong base to begin with.  It seems the alt-right latched onto Donald for expediency's sake, as there was no one candidate they all could support.  Some liked Huckabee, others Cruz, yet others Ben Carson, and a small few gravitated toward Rand Paul.   About all they could agree on was their antipathy toward Hillary Clinton and "Establishment Republicans" like Jeb Bush.  Somehow, the idea of "Trump" was able to bring them all together under a golden roof, or hair piece if you like.  Now that his administration is unraveling before our eyes, these supporters are looking elsewhere and Bannon is hoping to coalesce them together under the Breitbart banner.  So why not shit on his former boss.  Everyone else is doing it.

Whatever course Trump plots in 2018 will be riddled with land mines.  He has made so many enemies that if the Democrats regain Congress this fall, it is doubtful Republicans will do much to defend his presidency.  Already, Congressional Republicans seem to be looking for ways to distance themselves from the Mad Man in the White House, who has fired off angry tweets not just at North Korea, but Pakistan and Palestine, forcing ambassadors to answer for his comments.  He doesn't seem to understand he is putting many Americans in jeopardy abroad, as the US has a sizable presence in Pakistan, not to mention other volatile countries.

Wolff's book deals mostly with the disarray in the White House, kind of a maniacal "Upstairs Downstairs" for an American reality show audience, revealing a president that has a very poor grasp of the magnitude of his office, and virtually no respect for those around him, including Jared, who he called a "suck-up."  I suppose for those still inside the White House, this is just more fuel to the fire, as they try to contend with Donald's volatility in their own ways.  It is hard to imagine why anyone would stay loyal to Trump, if half of what Wolff describes is true.  Trump is ready to throw anyone to the curb at a moment's notice, including his own children.

The broader story is how Trump is reacting these allegations.  He lashes out at the world at large, not just Steve Bannon, who apparently broke a confidentiality agreement he signed during the campaign. Since the release of the book, White House lawyers have filed a cease and desist order against Bannon, hoping to curb anymore unwanted revelations, but it will do little good when the book will no doubt vault to the top of the New York Times bestseller list.

It also makes a mockery of Trump's puerile "Dishonest Media Awards," which are due out this week, especially now that he finds himself under attack from virtually every press outlet including Breitbart.

We may actually be seeing the last days of the Trump administration.  He might never return from the golf course, but issue a statement of resignation from his Mar-a-Lago resort, rather than face the scrutiny he will suffer back in Washington.  More likely he will return only to find himself a much weaker president forced to answer the many allegations via Twitter, as he is not someone who lets any slight go unpunished.

Happy New Year, Donald J. Trump!


Wednesday, January 3, 2018

The Lost Year




Somehow the NFL managed to survive Trump and the millions of Americans who vowed to boycott the league this past year.  It was around week 12 that Trump lost interest in the national anthem protests, posting a rather lame tweet on November 28 that drew little attention.  X-fans were no longer bombarding the message boards with their faux outrage over the protests, and overall attendance at games remained pretty much the same as in 2016.  The Los Angeles teams had been suffering for lack of fan base, but as the Rams and Chargers playoff prospects improved, so did attendance.  The only place the NFL seemed to suffer was on television, where ratings had dipped, but by December things were pretty much back to normal as the playoff race heated up.

Still, there seemed to be something missing this year.  There wasn't as much excitement even as new teams like Jacksonville and Tennessee emerged as playoff contenders in the AFC, while Philadelphia and Minnesota made surprisingly strong showings in the NFC.

Injuries played a big part in this.  Indianapolis was Luck-less again this year.  Green Bay lost Aaron Rodgers in Week 6.   DeShaun Watson was turning in an amazing rookie season until he went down in a practice session after his huge game against Seattle.  Houston had already lost J.J. Watt for the season.  The "All-Injured Team" was loaded with potential Pro Bowl players.

Surprisingly, no team picked up Colin Kaepernick despite so many being shorthanded at QB.  Green Bay insisted on Brett Hundley, who posted a miserable passer rating of 70.6.  Kaepernick had a passer rating of 90.7 on the woeful 49ers last year.  Houston only had one win after Watson went down.  It was to Arizona, which also had lost its star quarterback for the season, and finished 8-8 on the year.

Colin seemed to take it all in stride, continuing his civic outreach.   He only received $39 million of his "record" $126 million contract, yet he donated substantially to numerous causes, which earned him GQ Citizen of the Year, Sports Illustrated Muhammad Ali Legacy Award and a slough of other honors including finalist for Time's Person of the Year.  This would have been quite a poke in the eye of Trump.  Of course, this only further outraged many Americans who held Kaepernick personally responsible for the national anthem protests.

One of the most amusing moments this year was seeing Papa John CEO, John Schnatter, try to sue the NFL for lost revenue due to the protests, only to find himself shaded by Pizza Hut, which noted  no fall off in revenue this year.  Just the same, Dallas Cowboy owner, Jerry Jones, came to Schnatter's defense, leading some to speculate that Jones might have actually prodded Schnatter to file the lawsuit.  In the end, Papa John's apologized for Schnatter's pathetic publicity stunt, and forced him to step down as CEO in December.

Jones saw his Cowboys crumble down the home stretch after Ezekiel Elliott was finally made to serve his 6-game suspension for domestic violence.  The Cowboys had filed numerous appeals, hoping to put off the suspension as long as possible, similar to New England's unsuccessful attempt two years back to overcome Tom Brady's suspension.  If the Cowboys had taken the suspension at the beginning of the year, they may have more easily overcome the loss of the star running back.  As it was, Jones paid dearly for the late season suspension, with the Cowboys missing the playoffs.

However, I do think the protests impacted teams, particularly my home team Seattle that seemed visibly torn over the proper response.  Michael Bennett even got into a tussle with Las Vegas police, claiming they unduly roughed him up.  Videos showed otherwise, but Michael held his ground.  These wayward emotions impacted their vaunted team unity, often looking disoriented in games, particularly their 42-7 loss to the Rams at home in Week 15, which pretty much ended their playoff hopes.  This after beating the high-flying Eagles two weeks before.

Fans want to see this matter cleared up over the off season and a return to normalcy next season.  It is doubtful that Colin Kaepernick will return to the NFL, but the owners will have to address the issues that emerged this season, namely the collusion that obviously took place to keep Colin off the playing field.  No player will ever feel comfortable again if they know they can get blackballed like this.

In the meantime, we have the playoffs to draw our interest.  The AFC looks pretty similar with New England and Pittsburgh at the top, but who would have figured Philadelphia and Minnesota would own first week byes in the NFC, or that New Orleans and the Los Angeles Rams would win their divisions?  Let the games begin!


Sunday, December 31, 2017

Year of the Donald




I suppose it could have been worse.  Trump could have set the White House on fire or got us in a war with North Korea.  Instead, we pretty much had to put up with his bluster all year.  Not even his ban on transgenders in the military was able to make it through the courts, and in the new year transgenders will once again be able to enlist in the armed forces.

As Presidents go, Trump has already placed himself squarely at the bottom with his petulant behavior and his inability to stay focused on any one issue.  It reached a point where Congressional Republicans wanted Trump to keep his distance given his outbursts when any Republican broke ranks.  It was better that he go play golf rather than try to solicit votes, although he did try to do that with Lindsey Graham and Rand Paul on the golf course.  Not that he had to make much effort with Lindsey Antebellum, or even Little Rand for that matter.  Ultimately, the Donald got his way with Senate Republicans, even if they only gave him one-third of the "Cut, Cut, Cut" tax bill he wanted.  No matter, he blew it up to $5.5 trillion in his White House List of Accomplishments.

Now the President is touting a new infrastructure bill.  No one is sure how this will work.  It initially started out as a trillion dollar pipe dream, but now he wants big business to ante up most of the money.  I suppose this is payback for all the tax cuts they will get in the New Year.

He lashed out at amazon once again, saying the USPS charges them too little for shipping, oblivious to the fact that the tax bill he signed gives companies like amazon nearly $5 billion in tax breaks, almost enough to cover the USPS debt.  It is politically motivated, as Jeff Bezos, the amazon guy, also owns the Washington Post, which has posted some unsavory stories on the Donald the past year that really got his goat.

At one time Jeff Bezos was on Trump's American Technology Council, but when the President pulled out of the Paris Climate Agreement, Bezos like many of the others on this panel left.  Not that they had accomplished anything as I think they held only one tech summit.  These are the guys who were supposed to be advising Trump on how to improve infrastructure in this country.

In his 11+ months in office, Trump has unleashed one of the greatest "brain drains" in government.  Not only was he forced to disband his tech council after the remainder threatened to walk out on him over his Charlottesville remarks, but the censorship he has imposed on the National Park Service and Environmental Protection Agency have resulted in many top scientists leaving these federal agencies.  In turn, he tries to replace them with persons like these.  Instead of the "Best and the Brightest" we now have "Dumb and Dumber."

Even faithful supporters like Jeff Sessions and Rex Tillerson constantly find themselves under fire from the President.  Both have had to endure twitter assaults during the year, but remain loyal to Trump like one would a mafia don who is in the late stages of dementia.  Our last hope of sanity in the White House, former Gen. John Kelly, similarly chose fealty when defending the President's outrageous remarks to a war widow, turning the blame on a Florida Congresswoman who was privy to the call.  Still, Rex and Jeff tried their best to carry out the duties of their office, unlike their Commander-in-Chief, who continually undermined their efforts throughout year one.

While he hasn't let go of any cabinet members yet, Trump has virtually rebuilt his office staff.  The first to go was former Gen. Michael Flynn, who apparently lied to VP Mike Pence about his communications with Russia.  Just the same, the Donald heaped praise on a man who had been one of his most loyal supporters during the campaign, and was installed as Director of Homeland Security despite warnings from the Dept. of Justice, including Jeff Sessions himself.  Trump went with Jared on this one and paid the price.  He had to let go of Flynn less than a month into his term.

Sean Spicer never seemed comfortable in his role of Press Security, and when he became the brunt of SNL jokes you knew his time would soon be up.  Still, it was kind of sad to see Spicy go.  Like others who have come and gone in the White House, Sean is enjoying an afterlife as frequent talk show guest, as hosts hope he might have some juicy stories to tell about his former boss.  However, no one has yet to say much except the evil Dr. Bannon, who feels "Javanka" has far too much influence on the President.

This has always been a family affair for Donald Trump.  He pretty much made Jared his surrogate despite the young real estate developer's many shortcomings, and has gleefully promoted Ivanka throughout the year, like a good father would.  As John Oliver pointed out in one of his segments, neither have any qualifications for the enormous burden they have taken on in their father's White House.   Among Jared's many other overwhelming jobs has been tasked to forge a peace deal between Israel an Palestine, something that has eluded every presidential administration since Harry S. Truman.  It doesn't seem Jared has convinced Palestinians of his abilities to broker a deal.  And, we all feared the nepotism that might ensue if Hillary had been elected President.

Trump is trying to run the White House like he does his far-flung enterprises.  He invests way too much authority in his children, while driving businesses into the ground because he has no real interest in them other than collecting them as part of his portfolio.  "President" is simply the latest "accomplishment" he can add to his brief case.

He has shown no real interest in the job since the transition period, which he seemed to enjoy since he had no real responsibilities other than entertaining potential cabinet members and staffers.  Anyone who was anyone came through the revolving doors of Trump Tower during those two and a half months, including Al Gore an Leo DiCaprio who hoped they might turn Donald's ear on the environment.  In the end, Trump rewarded his cronies rather than seek a balanced administration, and so we pay the price.

Unfortunately, we can't turn back time, but we can put the pressure on Congress to hold the President accountable for what has been a very toxic administration, in which he has dragged the American flag into the mud.  Outside of Bibi Netanyahu in Israel you will find few world leaders that have any respect for him.  Countries are quickly learning how to work around the US, including Russia, which had hoped to forge a new relationship in the wake of Trump's shocking victory, which many still believe the Kremlin had a role in.

Trump seems content to ride out Robert Mueller's investigation, even as the focus turns to Jared and Donald, Jr.  He has noted there is nothing illegal about collusion, but when it crosses the line into treason that's another story.  We can only wait and see if Mueller comes up with the goods on the Trump family connections with Russia.

Meanwhile, we also hope Trump doesn't get us into a war we will sorely regret.



Friday, December 29, 2017

Trump Fatigue


Trump as Sisyphus rolling a golf ball up a hill.

Roy Moore's last ditch challenge to the Alabama special election was rejected and Doug Jones declared the winner in the hotly contested Senate race.  Few imagined a Democrat could take a Deep South seat, but you combine a notoriously bad candidate with what appears to be fading support of Trump, who backed Moore, you get Trump Fatigue.  Many Americans, including those in the Deep South, have had their fill of our Reality Show President and his reality show politics.

Nevertheless, we see our president gloating over his many accomplishments on twitter while he used a cargo truck to disguise him playing golf for the 87th time this year.  He spent virtually one-quarter of his first year on the golf course.  The most of any president since Eisenhower, who averaged 100 rounds per year.  Trump might still catch Ike, as he has a month left in his first year with plenty of vacation time on his hands.

This from a President who said during his campaign that he would have no time to play golf, while chastising Pres. Obama for the numerous times he played golf  -- 306 to be exact over an eight year period.  At Donald's rate, he should surpass Barry's record early in his fourth year, assuming he lasts that long.

We can go through Trump's "3800 word screed" listing his "rookie year" accomplishments and find numerous false claims.  The one that jumps out is ballooning the $1.5 trillion tax cut package Congress approved into $5.5 trillion, and claiming that 60% will go to middle class families.  Nothing could be further from the truth.  He also boasts of removing "Obamacare's burdensome individual mandate," which he credits for boosting GDP.  It doesn't matter that the greater portion of the "Tax Cuts and Jobs Act" won't take effect until 2019, including the repeal of the health insurance mandate.  The screed goes onto list all the jobs created during his first year, $5 trillion in wealth added to the economy, and numerous other boasts that should more duly be ascribed to his predecessor, as the economy was booming before he stepped into office this past January.

This is quintessential Trumpian rhetoric.  He takes over a company and claims credit for its success without so much as having to lift a finger.  Fact of the matter is that many of the executive orders he signed and the tax cuts package he approved at the end of the year will have an adverse effect on the economy in the coming months, as it begins to weaken.  The boost in the housing market should be a warning sign, not a reason to gloat, as we went through this once before and it wasn't pretty.

Developers have a tendency to overbuild when times are good, flooding the housing market with new units only to have a hard time selling them.  Then come the too-good-to-be-true mortgage rates to try to sucker first-time home-buyers.  Donald should know this as he was involved in many shady real estate deals that left investors with little to hold onto when the dust settled.  Many of these projects never got off the ground, like this one in Tampa.  No matter for a wheeler-dealer like Trump, who had little invested in the project other than his name.

For whatever reason, voters ignored all these warning signs last November and flipped the switch for Trump anyway.  I suppose they thought the real estate developer and reality show star would become more humble once he understood the magnitude of the office, but obviously that hasn't happened.  Trump still revels in the same childish behavior that drew mean-spirited laughs during the campaign, but now only serves as a continual embarrassment as President.

At 71, it was wishful thinking to imagine him "growing up."  Trump is a man-child, or more appropriately a man-toddler.  His emotional and intellectual development appears to have peaked at 4 years old, judging by the way he has had his daily briefings reduced to bullet points to make it easier for him to glance over and usually dismiss out of hand.  Instead, he relies on Fox and Friends and other conservative news outlets to inform him on subjects, often retweeting the conservative talking points on his personal twitter account, without bothering to check their veracity.

Former General John Kelly has done a very poor job of reining Trump in, but the Chief of Staff claims it is not his job to watch over the President like a "church lady."  Instead, Mr. Kelly tries to limit those who come in contact with Donald, hoping this will allow the President to focus on his job.  He should be monitoring the President's internet usage.

As a result, we get this constant stream of tweets, with the news media pouring over virtually every one in turn.  Trump has managed to bemuse and anger just about everybody, becoming more surly as his approval ratings dip, in turn venting his rage on "fake news."  CNN seems to relish this ongoing battle with Trump, if for no other reason than its viewing audience has risen since the President made the cable news network the brunt of his attack.

Little wonder people are tired of Trump, whether they like him or not, and this certainly played out in Virginia and Alabama, whether the President is willing to admit it or not.  Republicans virtually lost control of the Virginia House of Delegates, with the House majority coming down to one seat.  As it is, the Democrats gained no less than 15 seats this year.

Whether politically motivated or not, the accusations against Roy Moore revealed a deeply flawed candidate, much like Trump himself, that most Alabamans weren't willing to accept.  Unlike the 2016 general election, there is no electoral college and Moore is being forced to accept the popular vote whether he likes it or not.

It still is worth noting that Trump was elected based on the electoral votes of three close Midwest states, which were seen as part of Hillary's "blue wall."  He lost the popular vote by nearly 3 million, but that's the way our system works.  A voter in California has far less electoral clout than one in Alaska or Wyoming, and so we ended up with Donald J. Trump.

I think many who voted for him were just as surprised by the results as was CNN, which appeared rather somber election night, rather than reveling in all the red states turning blue as John and Wolf had done in the mid term elections of 2010 and 2014.  John King almost seemed to be looking for a way for Hillary to win Pennsylvania as the Philadelphia vote was slow to roll in.

If it is any consolation, CNN will probably delight in all the red states turning blue in the 2018 midterm elections, as all signs point to a major turnover in Congress.  Trump will then find himself virtually alone in Washington, as he went out of his way to alienate "Chuck and Nancy,"  making him look more a fool than Congressional Democratic leaders Schumer and Pelosi, who chose not to attend his WH photo op, after he belittled them on twitter.

So, Mr. President, enjoy the White House while you can.  2018 promises to be a very rough year for you.  If nothing else, you can retreat to the golf course or one of your many properties to avoid the "fake news" of your diminishing political stature.  People are exhausted from you.  It was one thing to tune in to you from time to time on television, quite another to have to endure your petulant rants on a daily basis.  Not even Alabama wants you anymore, and I imagine the same is true of Kentucky.




Thursday, December 28, 2017

The Jackson Magnolia




As Magnolia trees go, the Jackson Magnolia has lived a long life, nearly 200 years, but as with any venerable tree it is hard to see it go.  Not surprising the decision to cut back the tree significantly is being met with some indignation, especially since the burden of the decision fell on the Trump White House.  It remains to be seen what will be left of the tree.

Andrew Jackson had planted the tree back in 1829, in memory of his late wife, Rachel, who died shortly after he was elected President.  He took a seedling from his farm in Tennessee and had it brought to the White House.  Probably one of the few warm stories surrounding "Old Hickory."  The tree has literally spanned 38 succeeding presidencies and is immortalized on the $20 bill along with Jackson himself.

You might recall that Jackson was scheduled to be scrubbed from the $20 bill and replaced by Harriet Tubman, but like many of former President Obama's executive orders, this one is in danger of being rolled back by Trump, who has a special affinity for Andrew Jackson, as well as an overwhelming disdain for Barack Obama.

It seems it is this special affinity that led Trump, or rather his wife in this case, to retain a remnant of the Magnolia Grandiflora with the hope that it will regain some of its former glory.  More likely, the tree will be replaced by one of the seedlings taken from the Jackson Magnolia that have been secretly cultivated in a greenhouse-like location nearby.  All though, I don't think a seedling can grow to 8-10 feet in a matter of months.  As you read down the linked CNN article, you find Michelle Obama began this project in 2009.  Rest assured, Trump will give full credit to his wife.

Melania has tried to display her horticultural skills during the year, but was met mostly with derision given her designer clothes.  At least she has carried on one tradition left from the Obama administration, which is more than can be said for her husband.

As for Andrew Jackson, probably best to remember him as a tree.


Tuesday, December 26, 2017

The Palestine Problem




Back in the 70s, my sister wrote a book on the situation in Palestine.  The PLO was still regarded as a terrorist organization, so there was little attempt to arbitrate a settlement after Israel annexed the Palestinian territories in 1967.  It wasn't until the 1991 Madrid Conference that the US and Israel entered into reluctant talks regarding Palestine, which ultimately led to the PLO recognizing Israel's "right to exist."  A new Palestinian Authority was established with its capital in Ramallah, about 6 miles north of Jerusalem, to avoid conflict with Israel, which had established its knesset in Jerusalem.

No foreign country recognized Jerusalem as Israel's capital.  Instead, they located their embassies in Tel Aviv, which became the de facto capital of Israel.  All that changed on December 6, when Donald Trump formally stated that the US would be moving its embassy to the disputed city.  The US, like several other countries, had consulates-general in Jerusalem to ease diplomatic relations with Israel without coming into direct conflict with the 1947 UN resolution, which declared the city a "corpus separatum" under international control.

Of course, the UN has little jurisdiction over Jerusalem.  The city falls under Israeli control.  The best the UN has been able to do is help accommodate Palestinian interests in the city, which still amount to about 35% of the population.  As a result, we have East and West Jerusalem.

None of this seems to matter much as far Donald Trump is concerned.  He was looking for some juicy headline at the end of the year, as his "cuts, cuts, cuts" bill appeared to be in jeopardy.  He got it, and the UN duly responded with a resolution demanding he revoke his executive order.  In turn, Nikki Haley, our UN ambassador, issued a blistering condemnation of the UN resolution, in which she said the US will slash its share of UN funding by 25 per cent.  The most amusing part is Ms. Nikki chastising the UN for its "budgetary excesses," when the US hasn't balanced a budget in decades and carries a national debt in excess of $20 trillion.  Like the decision to pull out of UNESCO earlier this year, this is simply in response to the UN "favoring" Palestine over Israel.

The UN finds itself in a similar quandary to the League of Nations between the World Wars.  Its continued existence largely remains dependent on big nations, usually at the expense of small nations, or in this case a disputed territory that the US tried desperately to push under the rug after failing to negotiate a settlement between Israel and Palestine back in 1999.

The war in Iraq was largely designed to shift attention away from Israel.  This after President Bush and Prime Minister Sharon had bullied the Palestinian Authority into selecting a new leader, since they both refused to negotiate with a "known terrorist," Yasser Arafat.  While American forces waged battles against Iraqi insurgents, Israel literally walled off Palestine, hoping it would disappear from international attention.  But The Question of Palestine remained.

Our dear President may have unwittingly brought the issue back into the forefront with his latest declarations.  The UN hasn't been this outspoken on Palestine in a long time, but now there seems to be some genuine fervor to reopen discussions on a two-state solution despite the difficulties of piecing together a nation from the tattered remains of the 1947 Palestinian territory.

How effective the UN will be in such negotiations remains to be seen, which I suppose is why Mahmoud Abbas, the Palestinian President, is currently in negotiations with France to act as mediator, flatly refusing to work with the United States after Trump's December 6 statement.  Not surprisingly, Palestinians are now pushing to make East Jerusalem the capital of its future state.

In fairness to Trump, Congress had long ago penned an Jerusalem Embassy Act, which no president had acted upon until now.  President Bush toyed with the idea early in his tenure, but dropped it when he got bogged down in Afghanistan and Iraq.  No sense further inflaming the Muslim world.

No one thought much about this act since then, but I guess Jared, our so-called special envoy to Israel, or someone else close to the president gave him a reminder, and here we are adding fuel to the fire in a region still very much in conflict.  Virtually every Muslim country has spoken out against the act, including Saudi Arabia, which thought it had gained Trump's ear with the lavish celebration they gave him earlier this year.  But, it seems Trump has long forgotten whatever advice King Abdullah gave him.

It remains to be seen if this move comes to pass anymore than the wall along the Mexico border.  All Trump has done is give Congressional Republicans one more contentious issue to defend in what promises to be very bitter midterm elections.  But, this seems to be the way our flamboyant president operates.  He relishes conflict, thinking he can somehow gain the upper hand in these situations, like he did on The Apprentice.  He runs the White House as he did his reality show.  Whatever blood comes out of it, he will wipe on someone else's hands.

One can only hope that this decision not only undermines what little is left of Trump's credibility as a world leader, but that of Bibi Netanyahu, who barely survived the last election cycle in Israel.  As for Palestinians, they have had to deal with oppressive Israeli rule for 50 years.  They will survive Bibi and Donald.

Monday, December 25, 2017

Merry Christmas, America



If we are lucky, this will be our first and last Christmas under Trump.  He has done about all he can do to divide this holiday season by rekindling the faux "War on Christmas," and declaring Jerusalem the capital of Israel, knowing full well the protests he would inspire, not least of all a universal rebuke by the United Nations.   No matter, the Trump band plays on.

He and his rowdy right-wing friends are doing their best to turn this holiday season into a family feud.  It will be pretty hard not to avoid Trump at the Christmas table, as he has put himself front and center this holiday season, gloating over his first major "legislative victory."  If that weren't enough, he managed to get Congress to go along with his "Drill, Baby, Drill" policy in the Arctic, formally approving his earlier executive order to open up the Arctic national wildlife refuge to the oil companies.  It was a busy December.

I guess it doesn't matter how unpopular these legislative victories are.  Congressional Republicans were determined to pay back their political benefactors, freezing Democrats out of the legislative process on all votes.  Even the so-called conscientious Republicans who voted against the "skinny repeal" earlier this year, went along with the tax bill that cut the mandates for the Affordable Care Act, in an attempt to balance the massive tax cuts that will make any future health care legislature difficult to finance.

Republicans probably know the gig is up and are looking to plunder the budget for whatever they can get while they are still in power.  This certainly appeared to be the case with Bob Corker, an adamant opponent of the tax bill until provisions were added that favored his personal interests -- the so-called "Corker Kickback."  It now seems "Liddle Bob" is back in Trump's good graces with Ivanka doing her best to defend his reversal.

It's not like they needed his vote, but apparently Susan Collins felt she had been duped and there were some worries the GOP would not get the votes it needed to pass the revised tax bill after it returned from the House.

Lost in all this merriment is that Trump originally asked for $6 trillion in tax cuts.  His financial team of Mnuchin and Mulvaney whittled it down to $4.5 trillion, using some phony GDP projections to claim the unprecedented tax cuts would pay for itself.  In the end, the Trump White House only got $1.5 trillion, which isn't even as much as the Bush tax cuts of 2002-2009, which came to about $1.8 trillion.  This has to hurt a little because Trump is not one to settle for second best.

At the end of the year, all the Republicans were back on the same page.  It seems the big upset in Alabama cowed "mavericks" like McCain and Murkowski into submission as they realized their seats are now in jeopardy.  If you can't win a special election in the Deep South, no matter how bad your candidate, your goose is cooked.  Republicans now try desperately to salvage what remains of a horrible legislative year by speeding bills through Congress before Doug Jones comes into office early next year, as their margin of error just became one less.

Not surprising that Trump rekindles the "War on Christmas," but this has always been a right-wing gimmick meant to placate its most conservative audience.  It does little to disguise the fact most Americans feel they have been fleeced by this tax bill.  It has received almost universal condemnation.  It's only saving grace is that much of it won't take effect until after the midterms, but it is doubtful that will save their hides in what promises to be a very rowdy election cycle.  After all, Republicans similarly used the Affordable Care Act bill to tar and feather the Democrats in the 2010 midterms, when they took back the House, although the health care act didn't take effect until four years later.

What goes around comes around, and once again the Republicans have fallen victim of their own dirty tactics.  They have proven very good at undermining legislation, but not so good at proposing any meaningful legislation of their own.  One would like to think the American public has wised up a little, given what we saw in Alabama, which turned out to be the best Christmas gift of all.  If 2017 taught us anything it is that we can never take anything for granted.

This holiday season will hopefully be a time to ponder the future.  If we want good governance, we have to elect leaders capable of governing, not reality show presidents and weak-kneed legislators who prostrate themselves before their corporate sponsors.  The GOP has proven time and time again it is incapable of leading.  It thrives only as an opposition party.  We can only hope we have seen the last of the "Trump Effect."



Sunday, December 3, 2017

Flynnfammed

or "Moscow Muellers" anyone?





While the late night passage of the Senate tax bill has garnered the most attention, perhaps the most telling event this past week was the guilty plea by Michael Flynn for lying to the FBI.  The White House and Congressional Republicans have tried their best to push this unsavory bit of news under the carpet so that they can bask in the glory of their first major legislative victory of the year, but this is the type of story that is going to grow in the succeeding months and there really is nothing they can do to stop it.

For Hillarycrats the Flynn plea has to provide a small measure of comfort, as he was the one chanting "Lock Her Up!" at the Republican Convention two summers ago.  It seems Flynn will avoid jail time for the testimony he is giving on his relationship with Russian officials. This doesn't look good for the Trump administration, which the former general was an integral part of.  In particular, it doesn't look good for Jared Kushner, who was perhaps Flynn's biggest champion.  It also doesn't look good for Donnie, Jr.

The major questions are: how much "Mogul" was aware of all these backdoor negotiations, and why was the Trump administration so anxious to appease Russia?  Mueller apparently now has access to Trump's financial records dating back decades to the original Trump Tower, with a long paper trail of real estate deals involving dubious Russian buyers.  It seems the Donald liked to Party like an Oligarch, even before Putin came to power.  This of course would have made him an easy target, as James Clapper pointed out at the beginning of the year.

Meanwhile, Trump tries to play "smart," claiming he was well aware of Flynn's lies at the time of his firing.  He should have been, since he had been warned by Sally Yates that Flynn was a security risk.  But, this doesn't explain why he took Flynn on in this capacity to begin with since he had previously been warned by the Obama administration during the transition period.  So, he either chose to chuck all this information aside as worthless intel, or Flynn was a valuable go-between the Trump team and the Kremlin, which had been cultivating the disgruntled former general for quite sometime, and invited him to a high profile dinner with Putin in December, 2015, on the eve of the US election year.

My guess is these connections are also intertwined with Kushner's New York Observer, Breitbart, and other conservative outlets that funneled RT (Russia Today) stories through their websites.  What seems to have developed in 2016 is an elaborate set of ties between Russian and American conservative "news" sites allowing for the dissemination of "truthy" articles aimed at convincing fence-sitting conservatives and moderates that Trump was their man.

This was an active orchestration of news stories, not just happenstance, as the editors of these online news journals would like us to believe.  It still goes on today, as we see Trump reference not one but three articles from a far-right fringe group in Britain on his twitter feed, leading to a stern rebuke from Theresa May.  This was apparently meant to stir dissent over the deal the British Conservative government is trying to reach with the EU over Brexit.  Seems Brexiteers aren't happy about the 50 billion pound divorce settlement.  They would prefer no deal at all.

Flynn can shed a lot of light on all these connections, as he would have been a major part of it, given his close ties with the Kremlin.  In fact, his own son helped spread some of these stories, like the infamous Pizzagate conspiracy, which led to his ouster from the transition team.  It seems the Trump administration would like to make Flynn into an "Ollie North," a lone wolf who pursued these negotiations without any authority from the top.

How much any of this influenced the 2016 elections is anyone's guess, but it certainly casts a cloud not only over the Trump administration but the GOP as a whole.  Reince Priebus, the former Chair of the Republican National Committee, worked hand in hand with Flynn and other officials close to the Trump campaign team throughout the election and was rewarded with the position of Chief of Staff in the Trump White House.

This is particularly worrisome as one of the states that came under intense scrutiny after the election was Wisconsin, where Priebus hails from, as does Paul Ryan, the House Speaker, who is next in line to the President after the Vice-President.  Many of these coordinated Russian-inspired news stories were aimed at Wisconsin voters and other battleground state voters in hopes of turning key state elections in Trump's favor.  There is also the matter of whether the GOP would have sanctioned the tampering  of electronic ballot boxes by a mysterious third party?  After all, they showed no concerns when the Russians hacked the DNC e-mail server, a felony in its own right, passing it off as weak internet security on the part of the Democrats.

The only thing that might save the Trump White House is that the scandal is so murky that Mueller may never get to the bottom of it.  All he can do is work his way around the edges and hope to get persons like Flynn and Papadopoulos to come clean, but I imagine to a certain degree these two fear for their own lives knowing how the Kremlin has dealt with snitches in the past.

In the meantime, Trump and the Republicans will no doubt have another Rose Garden Party to celebrate their tax bill victory.  If the lighting of the White House Christmas Tree is any indication, there won't be much enthusiasm for the event.  This could very well be Trump's first and last Christmas in the White House.  As for the Republicans, many of them are likely to find they no longer have a seat in Congress after the 2018 midterms, given how unpopular this bill is among Americans, as they won't have the luxury of using the Russian political cyber-war tactics so easily this time around.