Tuesday, April 25, 2017

Are You Not Entertained?

We've reached the 100-day mark of the Trump administration and there really isn't much to say about it.  He hoped to hold the spending bill hostage over his wall but has backed down on that threat as he doesn't even have enough Republican backing.  No one really wants this wall, but Trump continues to insist it will get built.

That pretty much sums up his presidency to this point.  Sound and fury signifying nothing.  His attempt to get his first major bill through Congress similarly ended up getting yanked, as there wasn't enough support for it either.  However, Republican leaders seem to think they have come up with a compromise solution that essentially scales back the current Affordable Care Act.

Trump's signature travel ban remains in limbo.  Jefferson Beauregard Sessions seems more upset that a Hawaiian federal judge could block it than he does the legitimacy of such a bill.  Thank god this guy never ended up on a federal court!

The missile strikes and the Mother of all Bombs are distant memories.  The situation in Syria remains the same.  The Taliban inflicted more damage using conventional means in Afghanistan.

Ivanka tried her best to present her father as a "champion for women" at a G20 conference but that didn't go over very well.  I suppose this comes with her new role as one of her father's top advisers.  I wonder if she will try to defend the latest juicy tidbit on her father's relationship with his third wife.

One of the big knocks against Hillary during the campaign was that she would perpetuate the Clinton legacy in the White House by giving her husband a big role and quite possibly her daughter as well.  Yet, Ivanka and her husband Jared both have assumed prominent roles in the Trump White House.  She hasn't made any effort to distance herself from her product line, securing Chinese trademarks while President Xi was at Mar-a-Lago.  The Trump brand is thriving.  Nepotism knows no bounds in this administration.

His Trumpness has confirmed all our worst fears, yet his base loves him.  A recent poll shows that 96 per cent of his supporters would vote for him again, compared to only 85 per cent for Hillary.  This led Trump to boast he would beat Hillary all over again.  This seems out of step with his historically low approval rating.

Americans are accepting Trump whether they like him or not.  Listen to this CNN panel guffaw at Trump's "joke" at Nikki Haley's expense.  It's like watching The Apprentice every night.  Suspense was raised over whether Trump would give Steve Bannon the boot, only to disappoint his national audience by letting Steve off with a warning.

 Michael Moore is already conceding Trump a second term but with one caveat.  He will be impeached during this time.  It seems a bit early to be making such bold predictions, but His Trumpness has a way of doing that.  As his SNL doppelganger would say, "are you not entertained?"

Monday, April 24, 2017

Stolen Valor

His Trumpness seems to have no idea what the Purple Heart stands for.  When a veteran offered him a medal on the campaign trail, Trump loudly proclaimed he always wanted one.  It is hard to say what was going through the mind of Lt. Col. Louis Dorfman when he gave his medal to Trump.  Maybe he thought it was an easy way to score a photo opportunity.

If Trump so badly wanted a Purple Heart, he could have easily picked one up on ebay, as there are over 1,5 million in circulation.  These so-called "medal peddlers" have been doing a brisk trade ever since the Supreme Court rejected a ban on the sale of military medals in 2012.  Veteran Zach Fike has been trying to get the "Stolen Valor" ban reinstated ever since.  In the meantime, he buys back medals and tries to track down their original owners or their families.

The medal has a long history dating back to the Revolutionary War.  Hence, the silhouette of George Washington.  It is awarded to those who were injured during combat and to the families of those who were killed.

This past weekend Trump had a chance to make things right by awarding a Purple Heart to a wounded veteran, but foolishly congratulated the veteran.   While the medal is awarded in the name of the President. it is rare that a President actually awards veterans personally.  Usually this is reserved for the Medal of Honor.  But, I suppose Trump wanted to show he is a man of the people, looking for a photo opportunity of his own at Walter Reed Hospital.

What makes this odd is that Trump is literally surrounded by generals, who should coach their commander-in-chief on military protocol.  Yet, they turn a blind eye just like the conservative electorate that seems to value party affiliation over everything else.  You can bet there would have been hell to pay if Presidents Obama or Clinton had made such blunders.

Sadly, the Purple Heart has been reduced to little more than a trinket that can be handed away or sold depending on the whims of the recipient or his or her family.  Medal Peddler Scott Kraska defends his business by saying he keeps the medals in circulation, since he typically comes across them at garage sales.  Depending on their condition and pedigree he can sell them for as much as $395, but these medals typically go for around 30 or 40 dollars on the open market.

Saturday, April 22, 2017

I was trying to figure out in my head how many Vice Presidents there have been and came up with 48.  I knew FDR had at least 3 and Nixon 2 but beyond that I couldn't think of any other President with multiple VP's.  Not that they served concurrently.  FDR went with different VPs in three of his four election bids, hoping to consolidate the Democratic base.  When Spiro Agnew was forced to resign in October, 1973, Nixon picked Gerald Ford to be his right-hand man.  As it turns out, there were other Presidents who had multiple VPs and Presidents who didn't have VPs, but the number remained 48.

Thomas Jefferson got rid of Aaron Burr when he became a burden in 1804, opting for George Clinton in his second run for office.  Clinton would also serve under Madison, but when he died in 1812, Madison picked Elbridge Gerry to fill his place in the next election.  Clinton was first of seven VPs to die in office.

Andrew Jackson got rid of a toxic John C. Calhoun in 1828 and chose Martin Van Buren to be his running mate in the subsequent election, no doubt to rally New Yorkers and New Englanders behind him.  Van Buren would subsequently win the office of the Presidency in 1836.

John Tyler was the first President to not have a Vice President.  He chose to stay in office alone following the death of William Henry Harrison.   The same was true for Millard Fillmore.  Franklin Pierce chose not to name a second Vice President after William Rufus de Vane King died shortly into his term.  I don't know the reasons for this.  Maybe it was out of respect for their predecessors, or it was felt that the Vice President should not be an executive decision, but be ratified by the Convention.  Later, Andrew Johnson would similarly not name a Vice-President after succeeding Lincoln into the White House.

It seems the only time a President replaced a Vice-President during his term was when Richard Nixon picked Gerald Ford to succeed the disgraced Spiro Agnew in 1973.  It would turn out to be a fortuitous moment for Ford, who had previously been the Republican House Minority Leader.  I vaguely remember the events that swirled around this appointment.  House Speaker Carl Albert was actually next in line to the President when momentum began to build for Nixon's resignation.  Surprisingly, Democrats helped confirm Ford by a resounding 92-3 margin in the Senate, with none other than Carl Albert swearing the new President in.  That must have been a bitter pill.

Most of these Vice Presidents have long been forgotten.  Oliver Stone tried to revive Henry Wallace from the dead, imagining a better world if Wallace had been Roosevelt's VP in 1945 and not Harry S. Truman.

This brings us to Mike Pence.  He seems to have an unusual amount of authority on foreign matters.  Trump is using Pence as a surrogate in meeting with foreign leaders abroad, given his numerous gaffes.  Our current President prefers the comfort of Mar-a-Lago in entertaining foreign leaders, at least those he deems worthy of his "Winter White House."  It has become kind of like the Tsar's Winter Palace.  Trump obviously doesn't like anything more than a one or two-hour plane flight.

Our current president doesn't look in the best of health and now that the dust has settled from his bombing missions, the investigation into his administration's ties with Russia is once again edging into the news.  This could mean we see VP Pence succeed Trump before 2020.  Whether Pence would pick a VP or not depends largely on the outcome of the 2018 midterms.  Should the Democrats stage an upset in the Congressional elections, Pence would have no other recourse than to nominate a no. 2 man to insure the White House stay in Republican hands if god forbid anything happened to him.

For now, Vice President Pence is content to wear the cuff links of no. 48.

Saturday, April 15, 2017


His Trumpness has discovered the power of the military to deflect attention away from the scandals swirling around his White House.  If the Tomahawk chop on Syria wasn't enough, we now have the Mother of All Bombs, MOAB for short, to contemplate.   Our fearless commander-in-chief has also set up a High Noon situation with North Korea, vowing retaliation if the country's "boy king" goes through with his inter-continental ballistic missile test in honor of his grandfather Saturday.  All this anxiety has certainly served the purpose of attracting media attention far and wide.  Not all good, mind you, but that doesn't matter as long as the media is talking less about the allegations of his administration's Russian connections.

The icing on the cake is how the attack on Syria has served to alienate his administration from Russia, with several top Kremlin officials voicing their outrage.  If I were a conspiracy theorist, I would say this is too good to be true and that Russia is playing its part in this dangerous game by helping Trump create some distance.  After all, his administration gave the Kremlin a "courtesy call" before bombing an isolated Syrian air base, which doesn't appear to have had any connection to the purported gas attacks that so incensed Trump.

Like the Syrian air strike, the MOAB was dropped in some out of the way region along the Afghanistan-Pakistan border, which ISIS members purportedly use as an underground staging area.  Death tolls vary as does the size of the hidden cache.  The US military is relying on Afghan sources to determine the extent of the damage.

If all this is starting to sound like a movie, you are getting closer to what the "tactical" use of these strikes were designed for.  Picking some remote place that would have little collateral damage was the work of the generals in this case, but the story is the same -- get Americans to look the other way.  The MOAB is really nothing more than a glorified "bunker buster," or a MOP as they like to call it in the Air Force. These were used extensively in the invasion of Iraq and the MOAB is simply the next generation.  Reports vary widely as to its cost.  The Air Force claims $170,000, but social media has seized on a figure of $314 million, which apparently takes in R&D and delivery to the site.  No one seems to know for sure, but it is expensive, and seemingly way out of proportion to the target.  But, dropping an experimental bomb like this in the Moab desert wouldn't have had its desired effect.

Trump has discovered a vast arsenal at his disposal.  It is convenient having Congress in recess, as he has no one to challenge him.  Nancy Pelosi called for Congress to be reconvened early, but Paul Ryan has no intention of returning to Washington anytime soon.  Congressional Republicans seem content to let Trump play his war games as long as he doesn't go too far.

This "red line" is anyone's guess.   From a military point of view, this latest move seems to be designed to put pressure on China to put pressure on North Korea, which to some extent China is doing.  However, North Korea's boy king moves to the beat of his own drum, and I don't think is going to allow himself to be stared down by Trump.  If Kim Jong Un goes through with the proposed missile test, what next?

One doesn't get the sense the Trump administration has thought this out anymore than he and his advisers thought out their Syrian strike.  These moves are designed for effect only, and as such are pretty hollow threats.  I think Russia knows this, which is why it is preferring a war of words at this point.  But, Trump has the emotional intelligence of a toddler so this is a very dangerous game being played and no one seems to be advising him accordingly.

Wednesday, April 12, 2017

That's just bully!

Suffice it to say, there is never a dull moment at the White House.  No sooner does the Donald drop the bomb on Syria than a civil war break out between the evil Dr. Bannon and Diamond Jared Kushner.  Even odder is that Ivanka is apparently taking credit for the Tomahawk chop on Syria.  Meanwhile, Spicey tried to explain just how bad a guy Bashar al-Assad is to the media.  At some point you would think these guys would get their act together, but for now we are forced to witness what may be the most dysfunctional White House in history!

Trump seems to think he is still in the midst of a heated campaign and that the missile strike would give him a bounce in the polls.  Whatever favorably he managed to garner (surprisingly a lot) has already waned, with the Chinese media calling it "the act of a weakened politician who needed to flex his muscles."  Xinhau news agency went on to say that this was no more than a diversion from Trump's ongoing scandals.  No comment from President Xi, who was visiting His Trumpness at Mar-a-Lago when the decision was made.

This looks more like a stunt the evil Dr. Bannon would concoct than one Ivanka would dream up, but maybe Dr. Bannon convinced the Donald he was doing it for his daughter.  Who the fuck knows anymore!

Donald seems to have his chain pulled all too easily, working solely on impulse.  I suppose if it has gotten him this far, why stop now?  He sent a navy strike force to the Korean peninsula, which has everyone's dander up, not least of all North Korea's boy king.  If Trump was trying to show what kind of statesman he was by hosting President Xi, he has turned America's foreign policy into a pissing contest.  Not even our former War President George Bush was this brash.

One can't help but think that the strategy here is to gain war powers so that His Trumpness will no longer have to answer to Congress or the American people.  As it is, Republicans are fit to be tied they were left completely out of the loop on these two military decisions, even if some of them thought it was a good decision to bomb Assad.  Not that it has done a lick of good.  The Syrian tyrant dug in his heels and Russia and Iran have vowed retaliation, even though Putin was apparently forewarned, which is more than you can say for Congressional Republicans.

So, what is going on in the White House?  Do we have any clear voice emerging?  As of last week, Trevor Noah had declared Jared Kushner "the real president."  That may change this week as Ivanka has gained considerably more clout.  This may be the end of the evil Dr. Bannon, whose influence appears to have waned considerably over the last month.  It's going to be awfully hard for him to overcome Jared and Ivanka together,  but one can never rule out a comeback.

Whatever the case, the surge in military activity had its desired effect on the mainstream media.  I couldn't believe Fareed Zakaria was actually praising Trump on the strike.  I suppose that means the Donald is no longer the rocking horse president.   That's just bully!

Thursday, April 6, 2017

Willie Lincoln's Ghost

Over the years, this forum has gone from being a history book club to a political blog, so it is nice to return to the roots once in a while.  I picked up a copy of Lincoln in the Bardo by George Saunders.  He's best known for his quasi-science fiction books like CivilWarLand and Pastoralia, where he looks at history through the lens of demented amusement parks.  In his most recent book, he digs into the depths of Lincoln's despair after losing his son Willie at the age of 11.

Willie goes through a bardo, a form of purgatory, in his crypt, which Lincoln visits.  Saunders blends historical pieces with what he imagines Willie was going through as his father had a very hard time letting go of him.  Saunders brings in a number of "speakers" from the cemetery, who work to move Willie onto the next stage.  Certainly a unique perspective on this tragedy, and I think a more satisfying one than Seth Grahame Smith's vampire novel.

Saunders' story is not without precedent.  Mary Todd held a spirit circle in the Red Room of the White House, hoping to call her son from the beyond, and there are those who believe the ghost of Willie is one of many that still haunt the White House.  After all, this is a place that has seen many deaths over the years.

Tuesday, April 4, 2017


The Los Angeles Times posted the first in a string of editorials entitled Our Dishonest President.  I see Part II is now available.  I was a bit put off by the first installment because the editors implied they didn't see it coming.  They, like many others in the media, were expecting some sort of "pivot," or as the editors believed,

" ... the White House would act as a check on his worst instincts, or that he would be sobered and transformed by the awesome responsibilities of the office."

I suppose it was easy to give Trump the benefit of the doubt when he sat down with the President in the White House back in November and made a big show about how impressed he was with Obama.  However, there were plenty of indicators shortly after that meeting which showed Trump had no intention of honoring Obama's legacy.  It was a painful transition in which Trump put up many dubious picks for cabinet posts that gave a very clear indication he would be pushing an alt-right agenda.  But, the selections of Mattis, Haley and to some degree Tillerson gave some hope he would balance this agenda with a level-headed foreign policy.

That was shattered immediately when Trump broke off trade talks with Mexico over the Wall.  Attempts by Tillerson and Kelly to patch up the broken relationship were "lukewarm" at best.  No matter how you dress up the Wall it is a non-starter as far as diplomatic relationships with Mexico and for that matter all of Latin America are concerned, which Obama worked hard to rebuild.

The only glimmer of hope is that Trump has yet to revoke Obama's executive orders regarding Cuba.  We still have relatively free travel between the two countries and the embassy has remained in Havana.  However, the slashes Trump is proposing in the State Department suggest that ultimately the Havana embassy will be closed once again.

His Trumpness is literally looking for any way to fund his Wall, since Congress has refused to budget it separately.  It is kind of like a perverse take on that scene in Dave, where he calls in his accountant friend to help find ways to cut the budget, only Dave was looking for a more humanitarian approach.

Not Trump.  His is a budget that has been described as malevolent, with deep cuts in many domestic departments, threatening to defund popular programs like Meals on Wheels.  He is also going after the education department, trimming off teacher training, summer programs and subsidized lunches.  At one point, Pell grants were on the chopping blocks.  In the words of his budget director, Mick Mulvaney, there's just no way to justify these programs to coal miners in West Virginia.

The LA Times would like to pretend they didn't see this coming, but the writing was on the wall throughout his campaign and transition period.  The very fact that he kept Stephen Bannon on as his top adviser was a strong indication Trump was going to make every attempt to fulfill those campaign promises, which amount to a total repudiation of the Obama administration.  The alt-right is his ace in the hole.  It now represents a major segment of the Republican Party, which he can use against Congressional Republicans on pivotal issues.

Unfortunately, I don't see any self-examination on the part of the LA Times and other respected news journals as to why they let Trump get away with many of the things he said on the campaign trail, while going after Hillary tooth and nail over the faux e-mail scandal that proved to be her scarlet letter.   What I see instead is a media still trying to capitalize on the revenue Trump brings in.  Whether pro or con, there is money to be made off covering Trump.

Throughout the campaign we saw a false equivalence being made between Trump's and Hillary's misdeeds, leading voters to think one was just as bad as the other, so you might as well go with your ideological leanings.   The press was so sure the Republican Party would cut its losses, like it did with Dole in 1996 and Goldwater in 1964 and focus on Congressional and state elections.  But, obviously the GOP worked with Trump, particularly in key Midwestern states where it was able to swing the vote in his favor.  He rewarded Reince Priebus, the GOP chairman, by making him Chief of Staff.  How did our vaunted news media miss this?  I guess they were too busy pouring over all those hacked e-mails from Hillary's and the DNC accounts.

Trump is Trump.  He is exactly how he billed himself.  Anyone who thought he would be someone else once he became president is utterly deluded, which is why it is hard to take these LA Times editorials seriously.  They begin with a false premise and work from there, hoping to shed culpability.

The mainstream media became so infatuated with Trump, giving him an estimated $5 billion in free media time, obsessing over his every move.  They made the election into a reality show, focusing far more on Trump's and Hillary's character than they did issues that concern us.  As such, the election become a personality contest, which Trump won.

The damage is done.  Even if Trump is taken down by the scandal swirling around his Russian connections, we will still have a Republican administration in the White House and a Republican-led Congress hell bent on undermining the social welfare programs in this country.  They couldn't repeal and replace the ACA as easily as they thought, but they will certainly find ways to undermine it to the point there will be very little left of "Obamacare" after four years.  There may be no Wall, but Congress will continue to push anti-immigration policies that are eroding our status as a world leader.  And, there is nothing to suggest there will be any shift in the battle over environmental, safety and health regulations, which this Congress doesn't feel are necessary.

The time to have gone after Trump is over.  What we need to focus on is how to rein in Congress and eventually vote these malevolent legislators out of office.  The Dems should have put up more a fight over Trump's cabinet appointments, like they are now doing over Supreme Court nominee Gorsuch. But, hopefully this is a lesson learned and one they can use to focus on the midterm elections.  Unfortunately, they will be spending most of their money defending their seats in the Senate, as there are far more Democratic seats up for grabs than there are Republican ones.  They can make a big push at the House, which is cracking under the failed leadership of Paul Ryan.

We have to quit thinking about Trump 24/7 and look at other ways to take back our country.  State elections are also imperative.  We have to oust Republican governors and state houses in Wisconsin, Michigan, Ohio and Pennsylvania (state assembly), all states Hillary should have won. This was the big difference between 2016 and 2008.  She had to battle against Republican political machines in these states, Obama didn't.  Even Illinois currently has a Republican governor.

What Trump was effectively able to do during the campaign is draw all the media attention toward him, allowing the GOP to hold onto key states.  Republicans hold a 64-35 edge in the Wisconsin state assembly and a 20-13 advantage in the state senate, essentially making themselves bulletproof.  This was a state that was reliably Democrat for decades.  Now it is as red as any Southern state.

Democrats have a huge job ahead of them overcoming the losses they took across the board in 2016.  They can take some solace in winning governor's seats in North Carolina, West Virginia, and Louisiana, but these states are still by and large conservative.  Jim Justice, the new governor of West Virginia, only changed parties in 2014.  A billionaire who made his money off coal mining and the agro-industry.  Hardly the kind of guy the Democrats want to promote.

This is where the LA Times and other respectable news journals should be wanting to focus their energy, not telling us how bad Trump is.  We know that!  These periodicals have the ability to make failed governors like Scott Walker (Wisconsin) and Rick Snyder (Michigan) front page news.  The LA Times should also be going after its own state representatives like Devin Nunes, Darrell Issa, and Kevin McCarthy tooth and nail.

It is not Trump, but Trumpism that we should be concerned with because it has infected the entire body politic.

Sunday, April 2, 2017

It has become April Fools everyday

It seems the April Fools joke of the day was Trump walking out on his own signing party without signing his latest executive order.  He was distracted by questions surrounding his former national security adviser, "Iron Mike" Flynn.  Vice-President Pence tried to grab His Trumpness by the arm only to be brusquely brushed aside.

The signing party was nothing more than a distraction anyway.  An attempt to push the on-going investigation into Trump's Russian connections to the sideline.  It failed badly.  He had to know these were the first questions that would come from the pool of reporters yet chose to ignore them.  He didn't even use the opportunity to fly off into a rant on "fake news" like he did the announcement of his new Labor Secretary pick a few weeks back.  Rather, he chose to gather his thoughts in the back room and take to twitter to voice his indignation with the press.

It is hard to assess what Iron Mike's request for immunity means.  There is certainly plenty of speculation floating around but you have to figure he isn't going to incriminate his commander-in-chief.  More likely he will take down some incidental figures in an effort to bury Kremlingate once and for all.  Why else would the White House put its seal of approval on his upcoming testimony?

The only problem is that asking for immunity makes him look guilty.  After all, this is what Flynn and Trump both said about Hillary when staffers in her state department were offered immunity to testify in her e-mail investigation.  "Have you ever seen a greater embarrassment to our country?" He asked a Florida rally.  Not until now.

Our Commander-in-Chief has tried every trick to bury the allegations swirling around, but there seems no way to deflect attention away from Kremlingate.  This must be tough for a guy who was successfully able to brush away sexual abuse allegations during his campaign as well as a number of other charges.  Even talk of Russian connections during the campaign fell to the wayside in the wake of the flood of Clinton and DNC e-mails.  Unfortunately for him, he doesn't have Hillary to kick around anymore, try as he might.

The media focus is squarely on him and the mounting number of advisers and family members who have ties to Russia.  Flynn is at the center of this vortex, as he failed to disclose money he took from Russian companies, purportedly for speeches, including from the news service RT TV.  While Flynn's money isn't in the millions like Manafort, it is significant enough to suggest deep ties to the Kremlin.

New stories have also emerged regarding the extent the Kremlin used trolls to try to affect the news cycle in Midwest battleground states in the waning days of the campaign.  These trolls would funnel fake stories emanating from RT and Sputnik "news," creating what Clinton Watts called a "Potemkin Village" amplifying the appearance of these stories.

Top Internet stories are usually based on hits, and so these trolls made sure their stories had the most hits by spreading them through a web of fake identities, or bots, and watching the stories get picked up by the mainstream media.  What makes this particularly insidious is that these trolls specifically targeted key states hoping to influence elections where the polling numbers were close.  The million-dollar question is how much collusion took place?  Did popular right-wing media outlets like Breitbart and the New York Observer unknowingly pick up these stories or did they purposefully disseminate them, knowing the origin of these stories.

Flynn is looking more and more like a distraction.  This could very easily be a ploy by Bannon and Kushner to deflect attention away from their own activities at Breitbart and the New York Observer.  Flynn may have acted as a go-between the Kremlin and the Trump campaign and subsequent transition team, but it is highly unlikely he had any affect on the outcome of the election, which is what this Congressional investigation centers on.  One hopes the Senate and House committees will eventually focus on Bannon and Kushner, who both have deep ties to the right-wing media industry.

If it is shown that Russian media worked with American conservative media to spread these fake stories regarding Hillary's health, complicity in Benghazi and numerous other tawdry tales, this calls the entire election into question.  If Trump is ultimately forced to step down that would mean we would get Pence as President, who wouldn't be where he is if the election hadn't been influenced by the spread of this "fake news."  We are still left with a Republican administration that would continue to carry out its insidious policy of promoting a military-industrial state at the expense of domestic programs, just no longer saddled by the national embarrassment the Trump administration has become.

The Republican establishment has essentially become a hall of mirrors.  It is impossible to know who is who anymore in this increasingly muddled investigation that seems to be following a number of false leads put out by conservative operatives as we saw with the Devin Nunes incident.   The only saving grace is that they are doing such a bad job of it that they are only drawing more attention to themselves.

The White House is trying desperately to steer this investigation in the wrong direction and we should be highly dubious of the depth of Flynn's role in this scandal.  His is a superficial role at best.

This insidious operation is far more intricate and buried deep in the news media.  It is very difficult to sort out all the trolls and the bots from the real users and trace these trolls and bots back to their original source.  Bannon is one of the dark figures here, as it his Breitbart that helped propagate many of these false stories.  The only way to really get to the bottom of this is to follow the planted stories back to their original source and then sort out the trolls that helped spread the stories.

Thursday, March 30, 2017

Some Weird Shit

or The Gang that Couldn't Shoot Straight

Leave it to W to sum it up perfectly.  He was referring to Trump's inauguration speech but it just as easily describes Trump's time in office.  Not a day goes by without some weird shit happening.

While we are still digging ourselves out from Devin Nunes "deep throat" contact on the White House grounds, Ryan Zinke tells us clean energy is a hoax and that he is all for his commander-in-chief lifting the temporary bans on coal mining leases on federal lands.  Dig, baby, dig!

The Secretary of Interior doesn't say that wind energy requires a certain amount of fossil fuels to get the turbines moving, he cites the loss of migratory birds as an inhibiting factor.  This has been an argument tossed out by birders, anti-wind groups and conservative pundits for years now.  The energy department devoted a paper to this during the Obama years, noting that efforts were being made to better locate turbines so that they kill less birds.  However, wind turbines kill a lot less birds than cars, windows, high tension wires, communication towers and cats.  But that isn't stopping our man who rode in on horseback his first day of work from spouting this nonsense.  He's the same guy whose first act was lifting Obama's ban on lead bullets on federal lands.  Hunting kills far more birds than wind turbines as well.

Our new administration doesn't seem overly worried about pesticides either, as EPA chief Scott Pruitt sided with pesticide lobby groups over science in overturning a ban on chlorpyrofis, whose toxins have been known to cause brain damage in children.  Pruitt doesn't see anything wrong with leaded gasoline either.  He too seems to think much of this environmental awareness is a bunch of bunk.

Meanwhile, Energy Chief Rick Perry is more worried about Texas A&M (his alma mater) electing its first gay student body president than he does anything going on in his new department.  Chief Rick was furious, as he felt the election had been stolen when the other candidate was disqualified for trying to intimidate voters.

As if that weren't enough, Spicey scolded a black woman reporter for shaking her head as he tried to brush off her question about the image problems the Trump administration has.  This incident certainly didn't help matters.

Trump's administration has become The Gang that Couldn't Shoot Straight.  It would be funny if all these actions didn't have serious consequences.  The shift back toward fossil fuels and the repeal of environmental regulations threaten to undo much of what the Obama administration accomplished in making a bold move toward sustainable energy and greater environmental awareness.

Under Obama we saw solar and wind energy soar.  In 2016, the solar energy sector created over 260,000 new jobs, or roughly two per cent of the entire new work force that year.  By comparison, oil and gas were forced to shed over 20,000 jobs the same year.  I would think a self-proclaimed business man could understand those numbers and see which direction the economy is headed?

Unfortunately, our commander-in-chief relies way too heavily on conservative blogs and ignores the business magazines that all show the positive impact solar and wind are having on the economy.  Even Rick Perry was forced to admit wind energy might not be a bad thing his last years as governor of Texas, but in the end former Governor Rick chose coal over wind.

No matter how hard you try to reverse America's energy policy, coal is not coming back on the scale Trump and his supporters imagine.  There is simply no longer a great need for it.  Like the dinosaurs, this is an industry that is dying out and good riddance.  It has been the dirtiest form of energy for decades, resulting in respiratory ailments that are incurable.  Oh, and coal kills far more birds than wind, solar, oil and natural gas combined.

So, Cowboy Zinke, that's some pretty weird shit you are trying to pull on us!  Maybe you and your buddy, Scott, should crack open a book on energy sources before spouting off on clean energy and the environment.

Wednesday, March 29, 2017

The Deep State

His Trumpness has tried to imply there is a silent coup going on, pinning much of the blame on the former Obama administration.  Spicey in a March 21 press conference sent everyone googling the term "Ramspecking," claiming the Obama administration had planted moles in bureaucratic positions who are now thwarting Trump's agenda by leaking information to the public.  The Ramspeck Act, which he was referring to, expired in 1997 and has not been renewed, so it would be illegal for Obama or any president to do this.  But, of course that doesn't stop this administration from slinging wild accusations.

However, the idea of a "deep state" has been around for a long time, although such conspiracy theories usually refer to the national security departments teaming together or working independently to push their own agenda counter to that of the President.  This season's Homeland is exploring just such a "deep state" during the transition of one president to the next.

The creators of Homeland have gone to great lengths to link elements within the CIA to right-wing movements that want to see a certain agenda pushed in foreign policy.  When a President doesn't go along with that agenda, they will use whatever means at their disposal to force her (in this case) to stick with the game plan or face ruthless consequences.  It's not a big stretch as the CIA long used these tactics in third world countries, even taking out foreign leaders if necessary.  So-called Black Ops are still in use, although seem to be subcontracted to private companies these days to avoid incrimination, which Homeland also explores.

All this got me thinking what would the CIA or other national security agencies do if they didn't like the way an election was turning out?  For the better part of four years we saw what could only be described as a hit job on Hillary in regard to Benghazi to undermine her credibility as a Presidential candidate.  This eventually led to the e-mail scandal that was dragged through the campaign and many believe proved to be her ultimate downfall when FBI director Comey revived it in an October surprise statement.

I don't think the national security agencies were too excited about the idea of a Trump presidency, especially after some of the things he said on the campaign trail, but they might have felt they had enough dirt on him to keep him in line, and if not they could always expose him when necessary.  For whatever reason, Hillary Clinton was seen as a threat to their autonomy.  

The investigation into alleged Russian hacking of the DNC headquarters was launched by the Obama administration back in July, 2016, but didn't gain much traction in the media because of the flood of e-mails that ensued.  Julian Assange adamantly denied Russia provided him this information, but his links to the Russian sponsored news program RT call his assertion into question.  After the election, the FBI expanded their investigation into possible election tampering and the links Trump campaign managers and advisers had with Russian officials and surrogates.

Trump felt he was partially vindicated by the message Devin Nunes relayed to him that some of his campaign advisers had been subject to incidental surveillance as a result of the FBI probe, but his "source" apparently came from the White House grounds the night before.  This "Deep Throat" may very well be Stephen Bannon or Miller hoping to cast shade on the investigation.

Others feel Comey has become the latest incarnation of J. Edgar Hoover, who was notorious for keeping files on politicians, which he could use against them if his authority was challenged.  This in itself implies a deep state where persons within the labyrinthine national security apparatus can secure their place in government for a very long time.  They don't need the Rampseck Act and can pretty much maintain their autonomy under any presidential administration.

Not surprisingly, the Trump administration would prefer to keep on reasonably good terms with the FBI and CIA, so it makes the former Obama administration its punching bag.  It's one thing to take down a Presidential hopeful like Hillary, but quite another to tarnish the reputation of the White House, which national security departments would like to keep intact.  After all, these same agencies worked with Obama for eight years and were pretty much able to maintain their influential role.  Who is Trump to call this special relationship into question?

His volatility is a major concern, not just because of our relationship with traditional allies, which his administration recently called into question, but for his casual handling of confidential information as witnessed at Mar-a-Lago where he shared sensitive material with the Japanese prime minister in an "open-air situation room."  As a result we are seeing more and more incriminating information being leaked as to Trump's Russian connections.

He doesn't seem to be taking the hint.  He has doubled and tripled and even quadrupled down on his absurd accusations of wiretapping.  Reince Priebus dismissed FBI director Comey's appraisal of the situation in an interview with Chris Wallace.  And, Spicey keeps pressing the issue in daily briefings.  This can't sit well with the FBI or any other national security agency.

The national security network has a president-in-waiting in Mike Pence, who is much more discreet in his demeanor.  It seems to be only a matter of time before they force Congress to take action against Trump.  The only question is whether His Trumpness will quietly abdicate his presumptive throne or if he makes an even bigger stink out of the situation.  I guess it all depends on how the right-wing media reacts, as they are not one to turn their backs on a juicy conspiracy theory.

Maybe I've just been watching too much Homeland, but it seems Trump has drifted into the deep end of the pool.  It's just a matter of whether he will be able to keep his head above water or find out the hard way just how deep this "deep state" really is?

Monday, March 27, 2017

It's a rare day when a conservative radio talk show retracts a statement much less what he regarded as a "major story," but Alex Jones did just that.  He has apologized for spreading the inflammatory "pizzagate" conspiracy theory that had actually drawn former National Security Adviser Michael Flynn into its web.  We are still waiting on Jones to drop his long standing view that Sandy Hook was a "false flag."

These faux news outlets are coming under increased scrutiny now that we have a President who draws heavily from them.  Trump's wiretapping claim was pulled from Breitbart, and Spicey spread a story aired by Judge Nap that Obama outsourced surveillance on Trump Tower to the UK Government Communications Headquarters.  Fox News later took action against Judge Nap for spreading a false story.

The basis for much of this fake news emanates from Russian and Eastern European sources.  Some of it is child's play like these Macedonian kids who were taking advantage of the gullibility of Trump supporters to score hits on social media, hoping to draw advertising dollars.  But, the UK outsourcing story emanated from RT, or Russia Today, an English propaganda news site sponsored by the Kremlin.  Once these stories get picked up it is pretty hard to shake them, as they are shared widely through social media and picked up by news commentators to provide credence for their opinions.

What makes the wiretapping story particularly noxious is that it was given credence by the White House.  While some Republicans are questioning Trump's grasp of reality, no Republican has yet to accuse him of lying.  I suppose if the story first came from Mark Levin, Trump isn't lying but rather spreading an erroneous story, which Spicey augmented by referencing Judge Nap's additional accusations.

Rather than disown the story,  Trump stated he was "somewhat vindicated" by the report Congressmen Devin Nunes gave him that some members of his campaign team were the subject of "incidental surveillance" after the election.  Trump had specifically accused Obama of tapping Trump Tower before the election.

I seriously doubt we will ever get an apology from Trump.  Chris Wallace pressed Reince Priebus on the matter, and Trump's chief of staff adamantly stated that they don't accept the findings of the FBI chief on the wiretapping.  In their minds, Mark Levin's unfounded story stands.

This makes Alex Jones a better person than Donald Trump as he was finally able to let one of his conspiracy theories go.  That had to be a bitter pill to swallow for a man who has only two entries in the correction section of his website.

Sunday, March 26, 2017

"Nobody knew health care could be so complicated."

It's been a another rough month for the Donald.  This Presidential thing isn't working out quite like the flamboyant one thought it would.  Granted, he wasn't too keen about the health care bill GOP Congressional leaders were offering, but he threw his support behind it, even tried to strong arm wavering House Republicans into accepting it or face the consequences at the polls.  Anti-climactically, the bill couldn't even get through committee, leading Trump to tell Ryan to pull it from a floor vote so that was spared the ultimate indignity for "Trumpcare."

This is what happens when you have no game plan but rather try to do things on the fly.  Of course, Trump can blame Paul Ryan, which I'm sure he will do, as he is the one who came up with this noxious health care plan that no one wanted.  Only 17 per cent of Americans showed support for it, and it is highly doubtful any of these persons knew what was in it.  

Republicans had been met by raucous town halls in their Congressional districts, demanding they come up with something better or leave Obamacare alone.  Too many persons have come to rely on the current affordable care act to have it gutted the way Ryan and his Republican cronies wanted to do, essentially dressing up a trillion dollars in tax cuts for the wealthy as a health care bill.

One would like to think that the veil has been lifted and conservative voters will finally realize they have been had, but it is unlikely that is the case.  Trump still has an approval rating in the high 30s, which means most rank-and-file Republicans continue to support him despite what has been a horrid two months in office.

His attempt to establish a travel ban on predominantly Muslim countries was shot down again.  This time in a Hawaiian federal court, leading many Trumpkins to voice their indignation at the Aloha State rather than a President who doesn't know how to write an executive order that sticks.  

It takes months to prepare an executive order.  It has to be run through any number of legal experts to see if it will hold muster in a federal court.  Still, there are no assurances, as former President Obama found out several times.  The Constitution is the Holy Grail of our American legal system.  Even Neil Gorsuch believes himself bound by it, although his "textualist" approach to the Constitution is deemed heartless by some.   

Paul Ryan tried to brush off the raucous town halls, believing Republicans would fall in line behind his bill.  Unlike the Affordable Care Act that went through any number of agonizing revisions, the American Health Care Act was presented as if handed down from up high in tablet form and no one should question it.  But, House Republicans weren't too anxious to face the wrath of their Congressional districts with elections coming up within a year and doubted its legitimacy.  Ryan could barely hide his contempt.  He tried to strong arm wayward Republicans only to find opposition grow.  So, he enlisted Trump to take the GOP health care bill on the road, only to find the Donald was more interested in the latest Mack truck than he was so-called "Trumpcare."

There was no easy answer, as Trump himself proclaimed, which may explain his reluctance to enthusiastically sign onto this stinker of a bill.  Republicans were essentially forced to come up with an alternative, when many wanted to do away with subsidized federal health insurance all together.  The bill called for massive cuts in Medicaid and Medicare that would have left the most disadvantaged Americans shit out of luck.  The CBO estimated as many as 50 million Americans would lose their health insurance as a result of this bill.  How could Trump or any Republican Congressperson explain this to his or her constituency?  For the moment, Democrats can gloat as Hillary is doing in this epic fail by the new Republican administration.

While some Republicans may be holding their heads down in shame, there will be a round two.  They didn't work this hard to gain control of all branches of federal government only to see Obamacare become "the law of the land."   Most likely they will wait till the new fiscal year to find ways to defund it.

Of course, it is convenient this way as Republicans can continue to blame the Affordable Care Act for rising premium rates.  This had proved a very effective campaign mantra the past 6 years.  But, having failed to get an alternative bill through their own Congressional committee it is going to be hard to push this issue once again on the campaign trail.  More likely they will press ahead with tax cuts and try to pretend this ugly little chapter never happened.  A somewhat humbled Trump seems quite prepared to move on from this debacle.

Friday, March 17, 2017

Last year Tony Toccone and Lisa Petersen adapted Sinclair Lewis' 1935 novel, It Can't Happen Here, into a play at the Berkeley Repertory Theatre.  They avoided updating the setting to reflect the ongoing election, preferring to stay in the Depression era when fascism was a palpable threat.  Lewis had teamed up with John C. Moffitt to first stage the book in 1936.

Since the rise of Trump, many periodicals have called attention to the novel.  However, critics then saw Lewis' principal inspiration as being Huey Long, who was toying with the idea of a run for President before being assassinated the same year.  Lewis certainly gave "Buzz" Windrip a down-home feeling, but he was projecting the rise of autocratism in Europe on America.

Oddly enough it was Roosevelt who took on an authoritarian air after his victory in 1936, as he tried to stack the Supreme Court in 1937 to obtain favorable rulings on his New Deal legislation.   Congress blocked these efforts, dealing the President one of his biggest blows in office.

For these reasons and others, I thought it would be fun to revisit the book and draw our own conclusions.  All readers are welcome.  Please feel free to comment.

Sunday, March 12, 2017

Trump's Left-hand man

There seems to be an odd alignment taking place in politics.  Listen to Dennis Kucinich defend Trump's allegations that he was wiretapped.  Kucinich also came out very favorably on Trump's first major speech to Congress.  He has become a Leftie apologist for Trump on Fox News, defending numerous positions the President has taken, including Syria.

Kucinich views Trump as a "transitional figure," although it is pretty hard to discern what that means.  It seems our erstwhile legislator thinks Trump will force a reassessment in traditional party alignments.  He is oddly optimistic that the new President will take a softer approach to climate change and foreign policy than his rhetoric suggested during the campaign.  However, Trump's first two months in office has pretty much made it clear that this will be a pro-fossil fuels administration and that its foreign policy will not be a radical departure from that we have seen the last 60 years.  Nevertheless, Kucinich is willing to "see how this plays out."

The former Ohio representative has always been one to move to the beat of his own drum.  He was a vocal critic of the affordable health care when it was being moved through Congress back in 2009 and 2010, preferring the single-payer plan the House Democrats first proposed, and was very critical of Obama throughout his administration, particularly of the ongoing drone war.

He has become the Ron Paul of the Democratic Party, pitching from the left wing of the Libertarian Party.  In part because he has an ax to grind.  The congressional district he once represented in Ohio was merged into another, forcing an election against fellow Democrat Marcy Kaptur, which he lost.  Rather than take his ire out on the Republican legislature that merged the districts, he seems to be venting his anger on the Democrats who didn't vote him back into Congress, preferring Kaptur instead.

Since then, he has not only been pitching up at Fox regularly, where he is a paid contributor, but also at CPAC conferences like this one in Cleveland.  Dennis said he felt comfortable holding a joint interview with the notorious Steve King, and proudly boasted he wasn't afraid to work both sides of the aisle in Congress despite the many obvious differences.

That may help explain why he is dredging up a phone call with a foreign official from 2011 in defense of Trump's wiretapping allegations.  He was only made aware this "extralegal tap" took place when the Washington Times offered him a tape of a conversation he had with the son of Moammer Qaddafi.  The meeting took place in a Chinese restaurant in Washington in 2015, four years later.

Kucinich claims it was within his constitutional rights to communicate with Libyan officials, having cleared it with the House general counsel.  No attempt apparently to reach out to the state department or the president, whose authority on such matters he was overstepping.   He really played up this call, suggesting it might have been used as a homing beacon for a drone strike, so he used a disposable cell phone to receive the call to minimize such risks.  Sounds like he had a lot of contempt for the White House.

This story appears as far-fetched as Trump's 3:35 am morning tweet.  The tape apparently turned up in Tripoli, so it is just as likely Libyan authorities were monitoring the call, if such a call even took place.  After all, we are relying on an infamous right-wing newspaper that was using the call as part of its smear campaign in regard to Hillary's role in Benghazi, which Kucinich seemed to have no problem playing into it.

Even odder is how Kucinich can square Trump's willingness to side with Russia in Syria with his own opposition to Obama's engagement in Libya?  The civil war that started back in 2011 has led to one of the worst humanitarian crises in recent decades and is the prime cause of the refugee crisis in Europe.  If Dennis Kucinich is any indication, the Libertarian Left has lost its moorings.

Bernie recently said he believes many of his supporters did vote for Trump in the general election, particularly in the Midwest.  It appears the Left has turned on the Democratic Party and having nowhere else to go many Leftists lodged their protest vote with Trump.  The odd thing is that Kucinich seems to be actually aligning himself with Trump, touting the president's infrastructure pipe dream and other parts of his agenda on Fox News.

Why is anyone's guess?  We have to figure Kucinich is smart enough to know that Trump has long dealt in such pipe dreams.  The Donald was going to resurrect Atlantic City back in the early 1990s with the grand opening of his Taj Mahal.  The city was declared bankrupt in 2016 and taken into receivership by the state of New Jersey. The Taj Mahal had gone belly up long before.  Sadly, this is what has happened with most of Donald Trump's ventures so why should anyone, particularly a tenacious bulldog like Dennis Kucinich, have any faith in Trump's plans?

It seems a lot of persons want to ride the Donald's coattails to celebrity status, maybe even make another bid for Congress or the Presidency itself in 2020.  Kucinich tried twice before in 2004 and 2008.  He didn't get very far with either campaign because his ideas sit too far on the Libertarian left for many voters beyond his former Congressional district to identify with him.

Before his 16-year tenure as the US Congressional Representative of Ohio's 10th District, he was the youngest mayor of Cleveland at the age of 31.  It was a tumultuous two years which even saw the mafia take a hit out him for trying to clean up the city.  Cleveland was on the verge of bankruptcy but Kucinich refused to go through with a fire sale of the city's assets, particularly its publicly owned electric utility, which earned him the enmity of the local mob that had its eyes on this utility.  He lost the subsequent municipal election but won the hearts of local residents for standing up to the banks and the mob.

It's the kind of play a guy like Trump would make, so I suppose this could be another reason Kucinich feels he has found a kindred spirit in the President.  I well understand the frustrations that Lefties have with the Democratic Party, but they would be truly fooling themselves to think Trump represents their interests.  Trump's little trip to Flint, Michigan, was nothing more than a photo op, just like that little jaunt down to Louisiana when the floods ravaged the state last Fall.  He has no real interest in the American people.  The only thing he is interested in is protecting his brand name.

If Lefties like Kucinich genuinely want to see the country invest more in itself then I suggest they start by retaking cities like Cleveland and putting their plans into action, not lodging protest votes against the only political party we have that offers anything akin to a European socialist vision for this country.  The health care plan the Republicans are currently promoting to replace the Affordable Care Act should make a guy like Kucinich cringe.  And, you can bet that whatever "infrastructure plan" the Republicans eventually propose will be one that favors oil companies and other major industries not local redevelopment projects.

Unfortunately, the Lefties in this country are mostly talk and little action.  They love to stage rallies to call attention to themselves but rarely if ever offer a constructive plan much less vision of what they hope to accomplish.  Even Bernie, who I love, was notoriously vague on how he would pull off many of the promises he made on the campaign trail.  But, Bernie at least understands the legislative process, which it appears Kucinich never really made the effort to learn.  Too busy trying to negotiate backdoor peace deals with Libyan officials I guess.

He is perfect for Fox News, filling the void left by Alan Colmes, whether it be engaging in faux debates or offering Leftist support of Trump's agenda.  Good luck, Dennis, don't let the door hit you on the way out.

Friday, March 10, 2017

Fearless Girl takes on Wall Street

A Day Without a Woman sounds like the title of a campy science fiction movie from the 60s, but it was an attempt to show the world how important women are in the work force.  Unfortunately, it didn't gain the kind of groundswell the March on Washington and its sister marches did, and left some women wondering if this was more about privilege, as many women couldn't afford to take the risk of striking against their employers.

Nevertheless, the general strike created plenty of photo opportunities, keeping the issues of equal pay and health care in the public light.  On the same day, the little tiny country of Iceland, with the highest representation of women in parliament, went one step further by passing legislation that forces businesses to prove they are paying genders equally.  Little chance of that here in the US.  Most states have equal pay laws but they go largely unenforced.

Politicians pay lip service to the idea of equal pay.  Even His Trumpness tweeted how much he respects women.  It's the kind of patronizing attitude many women are rebelling against, but unfortunately just as many women seem to accept the status quo.  How else to explain that 54 per cent of white women voted for Trump?   So, yes, it is a matter of privilege, but not quite the way news pundits are presenting it.

This is why the attempt to evoke Lysistrata failed.  Unless you can get the overwhelming majority of women on board, these kinds of protests are doomed, and usually end up working against women in the collective American mind.

The news media loves presenting the women's movement as fanatical.  Some years ago, Rush Limbaugh coined the term "Feminazi" and it has stuck.  It didn't help matters when the organizers of the Women's March on Washington turned a cold shoulder to pro-life feminists, which was heavily reported in the conservative press.  Many pro-life feminists turned out for the march just the same, as they feel the issue of feminism is much broader than choice, which has been at the center of the movement ever since the 1973 Roe v. Wade decision.  However, it is not likely that the National Organization of Women will bend on this issue.

That's exactly how conservative politicians want it.  They know there is a lot of sympathy for a number of issues the feminist movement promotes, but as long as these politicians can create a divide over the issue of abortion they can effectively splinter this movement.  This has been the case in party politics as well, and why less than half of white women voted for Hillary in November.

You'd be hard pressed to find a woman who doesn't support equal pay for equal work, which was what this "strike" was about.  However, the stigma of "feminism" keeps many women from showing their support in public.  So, it seems a greater grass roots effort is necessary to make more women feel comfortable with such a "movement."

A greater awareness of the discrepancies needs to be shown, and this means reaching out to men as well.  The value of a woman goes far beyond equal pay and to the way she is treated in the work force.  Too many companies objectify women.  Not just restaurants like Hooters but throughout the workforce and especially in the entertainment industry.   Not much has changed since the images Mad Men and Masters of Sex presented of the late 1950s.

Women may have greater access today but it comes at a price.  They are constantly being graded not just for their ability but for their looks, and are expected to remain "feminine."  The double standard is nowhere more apparent than in sports, where lady tennis players are still required to wear skirts in most tournaments.  The internet is filled with images of nubile young women athletes constantly being graded for their looks.  When women come across as too masculine they are often "shamed," as has been the case with Serena Williams throughout her long illustrious career.  This is just as true in everyday life, which is how we end up with terms like "bulldyke."

The entertainment media could do much more to help shatter these stereotypes but for the most part plays into them.  Even women's magazines have a tendency to objectify women.  Noah Berlatsky points out in this article from The Atlantic that many women's magazines still use the same tropes from the Victorian era, not to mention that the women represented are often very attractive and helped feed many a young boy's erotic fantasies before discovering Playboy, as these magazines are readily available in most homes.

For these and many other reasons, the women's movement needs to be taken to a much broader level, not continue to be narrowly defined by spokespersons and pundits, whether from the left or right of the political spectrum.  The situation at Fox was a valuable "teaching moment" but now seems largely lost because the news media has gone right back to the same old double standards.  Maybe what we need is a day without the objectification of women, reminding us that women are a valuable part of our life at every level.

Friday, March 3, 2017

The Rocking Horse Presidency

Just when it seemed that the Trump administration had found its footing, one of its key figures turns out to be neck deep in what is quickly becoming Russiagate.  The wily little former senator from Alabama wasn't forthcoming during his confirmation hearings for Attorney General and now finds himself on the hot seat.  Not only that but Donnie Jr. and his son-in-law Jared are similarly being implicated in the confidence game the Trump campaign played with Russia to undermine Obama's sanctions back in December.

All this came after the news media essentially gave His Trumpness a free pass on his Address to the Nation, heaping all sorts of praise on him for having found his presidential bearing after one month.  Van Jones, one of his fiercest critics, even opined that Trump could very well be a two-term president if he keeps giving speeches like that.

It wasn't like Trump offered any broad bipartisan plan.  What the media reported favorably on was his tone, with many comparing the speech to that of Reagan.  Music to Mr. Trump's ears, but he still chose to freeze CNN out of the loop the next day, with Mr. Pence skipping a stop at the cable news studio in favor of other news outlets.  So much for playing nice.

CNN seemed willing to shift the narrative but allegations of Sessions' link to the Russian ambassador has forced the little weasel to recuse himself from the ongoing investigation.  This opens the door once again for journalists to investigate this matter even deeper, as Congressional Republicans so far have dragged their feet.  The media should have never dropped its guard in the first place, but those favorable polls following the speech probably had them thinking the public is tired of their critical stance and wanted them to look on the bright side of the Trump administration.

The address was riddled with the half-truths and lies we've come to expect from Trump.  Politifact pointed out his whoppers, such as continuing to insist nearly 100 million persons are out of work, failing to consider that the vast majority of these persons are either retired or in school, and do not participate in the work force.  He uses this hyperbolic rhetoric to try to convince Americans we are in a deep shit hole, despite conventional unemployment figures like the U4 and U6 that put the unemployment rate at 4.7 and 9.4 per cent respectively.  This simply doesn't fit into his narrative so he continues to peddle the same campaign rhetoric that won him the presidency.

Unfortunately, the major news outlets refuse to hold him accountable to facts.  Most of these outlets want to stay on his good side so that they don't get frozen out of the White House Press Corps as was the case with CNN, the Washington Post and other major news outlets.  If Trump is trying to delegitimize these press outlets, it isn't working as the Washington Post and New York Times are both recording a spike in subscriptions and CNN is enjoying a surge in viewership.  In other words, it pays to remain on the Donald's bad side.

Yet, the staunchest criticism is coming from late night comedy, as it was during the Bush years.  MSNBC did manage to catch an unguarded Trump practicing his speech in his limo, which became instant fodder for jokes, but it too became the brunt of jokes by Seth Meyers, who skewered the media coverage of His Trumpness' speech, noting all the faux anticipation and salivation that followed.  It was like a debutante ball for Trump.

Never mind that the guy signed an executive order to erode the clean water act earlier that day, while proclaiming himself an "environmentalist."  Or, his brazen use of the widow of a Navy Seal to promote his strong relationship with the military, without owning up to the failed raid.  He first blamed the military for the botched raid, then had Sean Spicer try to play it up as a "successful operation by all standards."  It's this ability to play both sides of an issue that keeps the media off balance and leaves the public to wonder where Trump actually stands on the issues.

Nothing is more confusing than the Russiagate scandal that is unfolding.  It is clear that Trump's campaign and congressional advisers met with Russian officials during the campaign and transition period, but Trump continues to insist it is no big deal.  Everybody does it!  As a result, much of his constituency feels the same way.

His advisers were actively engaging Moscow and giving Russian officials the impression that his administration would immediately move to lift the sanctions Obama imposed on their country in late December.  This flies in the face of the Logan Act, and points to a clear attempt to undermine US policy that is in direct response to Russian aggressive acts over the past two years.

Because of the pressure put on him by the media and members of Congress, Trump has backed away from lifting the sanctions, which no doubt has left the Kremlin feeling uneasy.   As a result, they are increasing military movements in the Baltic region.  This has led Sweden to reinstate the draft, and other Baltic countries to increase military spending.

To a large degree, Trump feeds off this confusion.  It has long been his modus operandi in the business world to create a volatile market which he feels he can take advantage of.  However, when dealing with governments, such a tactic undermines confidence and gives foreign leaders false impressions that very well could plunge regions of the world into chaos.  All we have to do is look at the lessons of WWI and WWII and most recently the Ukraine.

There is no clear idea who his most trusted advisers are.  We hope that he listens to General Mattis and VP Pence, who both support a strong NATO and European stability.  However, it seems he is drawn more to the rhetoric of his son-in-law Jared and his chief strategist Stephen Bannon, who both have used conservative media to promote conflict.  Bannon undermined Pence's recent European tour by offering support to separatist movements in the EU.

Many of the high rollers that support Trump are profiteers and a war pays big dividends.  There is a huge private military industry that profited immensely from the Iraq War and no doubt feels that it could profit even more from a larger global conflict.  Trump himself has intimated war several times, even implied that maybe we would get another chance to seize Iraq's oil supply.  Freudian slips?

Whatever the case, the media should never drop its guard with Trump.  It should continue to challenge him on every issue and force him to define his overall policy, which to this point he has not done.  His executive orders have largely been superficial, designed more to give the impression that he is a "decider."  However, as Fareed Zakaria correctly pointed out, we shouldn't confuse motion with progress, comparing Trump's first month in office to a kid on a rocking horse.