Sunday, April 30, 2017

Minority Report




It took a while for Nicky, I mean Hasan Minhaj to hit his stride but when he did he had some good jokes, mostly directed at the White House Correspondents Association itself.  Donald Trump was reduced to an elephant in the room as he decided to hold a rally in Pennsylvania, which David Gergen called a "deeply disturbing speech."  And so we mark 100 days.

Hasan prefaced his monologue by saying he was the only person who would do it.  Everyone else had backed out.  There was a time Alec Baldwin might stand in for the President, but it seems Alec is tiring of this impression as there is only so much you can do with a caricature.  Twenty-five minutes is a long time to stand in front of a cynical bunch of journalists and try to make them laugh.

There were few celebrities on hand.  There was absolutely no one from the White House administration, not even Sean Spicer, who fields the White House correspondents every day.  Panning the room, the only recognizable faces were news celebrities like Wolf Blitzer.  The camera eventually did find Darrell Issa, who laughed when Hasan made a joke about the news media being treated like a minority.

The WHCA was clearly on its own and had to fend for itself.  Hasan tried to encourage them by saying the news media had to rebuild trust with its audience, going after CNN as well as Fox, the two biggest providers.  He joked that it felt like CNN was giving him homework not news, by asking whether he thought there was a Russian connection in the Trump administration.  "I don't know?  I'm watching the news.  You're supposed to tell me!"  He later quipped that when a journalist speaks, he speaks for all the press. "Just think about that?  Right now Geraldo Rivera is out there speaking for you."

It is odd that no one representing Trump was on hand for this annual gala.  This was the clearest sign of the firewall the Trump administration has put between itself and the press.  The last President to skip a Correspondents Dinner was Ronald Reagan 36 years ago, and that was only because he was recovering from an assassination attempt.  George W. Bush sat there and took the thinly veiled rebuke he was given by Stephen Colbert in 2006.

I guess His Trumpness feels he goes through this every night so he decided to spend the evening with his loyal fans in Harrisburg, PA, where you guessed it, he assailed the press.  This is the equivalent of firing a warning shot at Syria or dropping a bunker buster on Afghan caves.  It went over well with his loving audience, because as Hasan pointed out, they trust him.  It doesn't matter what the media says at this point, Trump has the unquestioning support of his political base.

Trump made no attempt to reach out to a broader audience.  This was a visceral campaign rally, repeating virtually all the same themes he has done for the past two years.  He views his election as the ultimate repudiation of the news media despite losing the popular vote by 3 million.  All that matters to him is that he won, and the mainstream news media lost.  Through it all, the audience cheered "CNN sucks!"

Poor CNN has come to represent the "lamestream media" in the minds of his conservative base.  You can't go into an airport or pretty much any public place that has television monitors without seeing CNN.  Yet, for the most part CNN has been kind to Trump continuing to offer paid slots for his surrogates when it is definitely not on its best interest to do so.  In fact, it is this split personality of mainstream media outlets that has eroded trust.

It isn't so much balanced reporting that the news media is trying to offer, but rather a venue for staged arguments and angry retorts that have become the staple of nightly news.  Pitting Kayleigh McEnany against Van Jones is sure to make sparks fly.  Just look at this segment following Trump's victory, as protesters gathered throughout the country.  CNN continues to follow the same format five months later.

When you look at Kayleigh's resume, you see why CNN hired her.  You would think that someone with degrees from Georgetown and Harvard, not to mention a brief stint at Oxford, would be able to hold her own in an argument.  Yet, she relishes the opportunity to spread disinformation, relying on her poise and confidence to win over the audience.  Van doesn't stand a chance against this no matter how sound his arguments for obvious reasons.  So why is Donald so angry at CNN?

If CNN cut off his surrogates I could understand, but they just continue to bring on more surrogates to defend him.  On the same panel with David Gergen was Rick Santorum, who comes in at the 2:37 mark in this clip to defend Trump.

Santorum is not the most ardent Trump supporter.  What was interesting about Santorum's comments is that he said Obama had this way of talking down at people and that conservatives deeply resented this.  Trump, on the other hand, says exactly what the conservative base wants to hear.  The former Congressperson left it to the others to parse out his words.

Trump has become the embodiment of the former Tea Party Movement, appropriating it like he would a business and rebranding it as his own.  He speaks for the underbelly of America that feels it has been forgotten, whose ways have been tread upon, and whose freedom of speech has been squelched.  As such, this underbelly gives His Trumpness a tremendous latitude in which to move in, as opposed to the codified language George Bush often found himself employing to signal to his base that he was with them even if it may not sound like it sometimes.  "Compassionate conservatism" has given way to "bellicose conservatism."  As I understand from Rick Santorum, we have Obama not Trump to blame for this.

With Trump, there is no questioning where he stands even as the ground appears to fall out from under him as it did on his failed attempt to push an Obamacare replacement through Congress.  He is safe in knowing that his base will blame Congress or Obama, not him.

The news media doesn't have such luxury, as Hasan Minhaj pointed out.  It has been reduced to minority status, where it is forced to defend itself no matter how baseless the 3 am tweet coming out of the White House.  Hasan offered no answers to this dilemna other than to say we live in an Age of Lies with a Liar-in-Chief.  The only thing the news media can do is keep up the good fight.



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

Yeehaw!





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

Trumpism




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.